Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy lunar new year

Mott Street. Shopping for the Year of the Horse.

Are you a horse?

May it be a good one for you.

Lenox Avenue, 4.30pm

I walked north up Lenox Avenue, below 125th Street, in the good light.

Lenox Avenue Midnight

The rhythm of life
Is a jazz rhythm,
The gods are laughing at us.

The broken heart of love,
The weary, weary heart of pain,-
To the rumble of street cars,
To the swish of rain.

Lenox Avenue,
And the gods are laughing at us.

Langston Hughes

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter terrace

This will be a useful "before" picture.

I just hope that the after version isn't a complete fluff up.

Tomorrow I look for birch branches for a very open (feet apart) series of verticals. The horizontals may just be wire, or perhaps much thinner branches. I just don't want to build  stockade.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Spring Street at the Bowery

I found myself downtown, yesterday.

"This is the rare month, the only month, when I cannot tell time by what is in bloom. The botanical city is on lockdown. Street trees are naked, the sidewalks are tightlipped and weed-free. Discarded Christmas trees cast adrift on curbs weep dry needles, waiting for trash pick up. Concrete and metal and rust and empty earth are laid bare. The city is stripped. The only thing in bloom on the exposed streets is graffiti..."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

God bless the grass

Goodbye, Pete Seeger.

God bless the grass that grows through the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows through,
God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It's green and it's tender and it's easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that's gentle and low,
The roots they are deep and the will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing round the poor man's door,
God bless the grass.

Malvinia Reynolds, 1964 - written in reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy

as sung by Pete Seeger

Jam muffins

I hadn't made these muffins for years. But, invited to a brunch upstairs at Wolfgang's (where Champagne and prosecco and wonderful espresso flowed, and where his friend Marjam whipped up batches of Dutch poffertjes), I baked a dozen and carried them up, still warm. They disappeared before I could eat one. So yesterday I made some more, just for me. The joys of being a grown up.

I ate three for breakfast. They are very, very good. The jam is D'Arbo (sour cherry). Might have something to do with it

This was the original recipe, with an egg and ordinary flour, unlike the version I posted at 66 Square Feet (the Food) some years ago. It comes from the pages of the handwritten recipe book my mom gave me when I left South Africa, and its origin is The Silwood Kitchen's Breads, Buns, Cakes and Cookies, printed in South Africa a long time ago. It is one of the best baking books I know.

I added a teaspoon of mahlab to the dry ingredients, and after scooping a little batter into each muffin cup in the tray, I added some sour cherry jam, then more batter to cover.

When you have made them once, you can make them again in your sleep. Throw everything in a bowl, mix, plop in tray, and twenty minutes later, scarfscarfscarf.

I updated that original post, adding this jam muffin recipe.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The dandelion diaries

It has been a weekend of dandelions.

Dandelion pie.

Dandelion pickles, with spicebush.

Dandelion stems with miso and grilled chicken.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Warm window...


Last night I snuck a hot water bottle onto the Frenchman's side of the bed. He was cold.

He never gets cold.

This man has been ice diving in a Quebec winter.

For fun.

He knows how to build survival igloos.

He's fallen from a canoe into the icy St Lawrence River (with his sister).

No problem.

But in Harlem, he is cold.

To keep warm I order lablab seeds, gloriosa lilies and plan my birch branch palisade.

I may have ordered some purple and scarlet runner beans, too.

Summer will be warm. Screened behind annual climbers.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I stumbled out of The Cave (the Frenchman's new name for our wintery apartment), my head still filled with thoughts of spring foraging,  to shop at The Wild Olive. New Yorkers, obsessed with snow-clearing, had salted the sidewalks and it was a snow-free trudge. 

I found good-looking chard, and when I asked whether they might have any organic ground beef lurking, they said, Why yes, we do, and opened a just-delivered box. Beef from boxes... So I got that, too. 

Back at home this was all turned into a vaguely Middle Eastern style pizza. No tomato sauce, the chard wilted with lemon and some salt, the beef seasoned with cumin, sumac and pomegranate molasses. The crust was especially good (I knew that because the Frenchman started putting butter on his), which is frustrating, as I just tossed, without measuring. Interestingly, I barely kneaded it. There's a head scratcher.

I work in the bedroom today. It's a beautiful, big, white room - I am so tired of the Darkness on the northern side. The birds on the terrace, which is beside the bedroom, delight me, and I can see them through the window. They actually sing! The snow is still deep out there.  I waded through it in bare feet to replenish this morning's feeder. That was interesting.

There are drills and hammer-bangings in the walls. The landlord's never-ending yet intermittent construction project. Wasn't water torture intermittent? There is a new leak under the sink, the heaters come on in the wrong room, even if they are turned off, and I am fending off mental collapse. But we have a working buzzer after three months and tomorrow the awful bath will be reglazed. The cat will go upstairs to Wolfgang while they work - to escape The Men. Now if only we could persuade the shower to become more than a mere warm trickle. These things are sent to test us.

Then again, the forced narcissus bulbs on my desk are beginning to bloom.

So there is that.

* Wait, there's more good news. Our friend Frank has found a pig us to share. Locally raised and slaughtered. It will probably be from this farm. Conventionally raised pigs lead terrible lives. Don't eat 'em.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday's snow

There will be more tomorrow. There is more, now. But Now is dark.

I went snow shopping, down Lenox Avenue. 

After negotiating the sawdust-sprinkled chute that leads into Fine Fare, I found in the produce section bunches of culantro - not cilantro - which is a new favourite herb. Eryngium foetidum. So whoever named it really didn't like it.

Some white chap.

And it is like pungent cilantro. Which many people loathe. 

Do you know that what North America calls cilantro (coriander - Coriandrum sativum - for the English and Commonwealth) is considered native to England (and southern Europe)? Yet it is associated almost exclusively with Latin American and Southeast Asian culinary traditions.

My culantro become a raw sauce, with cilantro, lime slices, sugar, a load of black pepper, garlic and lime juice, for chicken roasted on a bed of sweet potatoes.

Juggling shopping bags, umbrella for in-the-face snow, gloves for freezing hands and camera was tricky.

Maraschino trees. If only I liked Manhattans (I have decided that I do not).

More tomorrow. I have granted myself a snow day. Where should I go?

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge?
Central Park's Ramble?

Somewhere else?

Bird news

The feeder is working at last.

I wonder if the birds might like hot soup.

Warm soup, then?

For the humans, there are some Italian meatballs next door.

Monday, January 20, 2014


The backlit fire of invasive wineberry - Rubus phoenicolasius - in Central Park's North Woods.

Last year's pokeweed. Phytolacca americana. There were a lot of dry canes about, excellent clues to delicious shoots in spring.

I am very excited about two invitations to forage in the spring - in the Delaware Valley (the wilds of Pennsylvania), and in the Hudson Valley. Add local Japanese knotweed, field garlic and garlic mustard, which I find in northern Manhattan and in the Bronx, and a trip out to the Catskills, and I am really, really looking forward to the greening of the year.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Sunday office

I was dictating a note to myself, but my personal assistant fell asleep.

The biggest news, this Sunday, is that the juncos have found the hanging bird feeder. I can see them from bed. I mean, the office.

The sun is shining. A sliver of it falls across the narcissus on the table. Soon, we'll head to the park.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Waiting, on 127th Street

Funny weather. I mean, isn't it always? It is a mild (by polar vortex standards, which recalibrated everything I knew about cold) 38'F/3'C - acceptable in the January sun. I walked out onto the deck in bare feet to photograph the blueberry buds.

It occurred to me, in the middle of the night - as these things do - that I will need another blueberry bush if this one is to set good fruit. Cross pollination with a different cultivar. In Brooklyn our neighbour, inspired by ours, planted one on her next door terrace. She occupies the same space in terms of square feet. Her rent, she told me, shortly before we left, was $600 less than ours. And ours was set to be raised by another $600 per month.

Whaddaya gonna do?

Well. We did it.

Perhaps I can give a blueberry to our landlord to plant in his garden. Or perhaps I just have to squeeze it in on the terrace. And does it matter?  It occurred to me, too, that perhaps I should sketch the layout of the terrace the way I would for a client. Watercolours and everything. I have rarely applied the principles - if you can call them that -  I use to design design gardens to my own efforts, which are a far more loose and frankly undisciplined eruption of instinct, whimsy and necessity. Like my mother I tend towards plant collection, never able to say no to something new and interesting, or simply in bloom at that moment.

I think the rosemary - that had survived a winter or two on the  Brooklyn rooftop, is toast. The figs are both alive - I scratched their branches and saw green. One clematis has put out shoots. Idiot. But amazing, anyway. The roses never dropped their last leaves, which droop like camouflage scales from their branches where new red buds are waiting to break.

Seeds have arrived. Low tech. The shiso is to send to Lily, and one packet for myself. I didn't plant any last year and regretted it. The nasturtiums are ostensibly for leaves. I am going to miss my usual fava bean and pea shoots this year. I suppose I could plant some. Should I? I miss the order of having just food in one place, on the old roof farm. The Nicotiana are for the hummingbirds (well, you never know) and for scent and for tallness. I want tallness. Before tallness, of course, there will be Waiting. I'm not good at that part, which is why so many of my annual plants during the growing year are impulse buys - already rooted and growing and about to bloom. But I have decided to exercise restraint.

At least, that is what I say now.

It will be an interesting year.

Speaking of seeds. This was very nice. Their new catalogue. Thank you, Botanical Interests.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cape Town from Tafelberg Road

I dropped the Frenchman on Tafelberg (Table Mountain) Road on a warm December afternoon, so that he could do a trail run, whee, whee, whee, all the around Devil's Peak, above Rhodes Memorial, down through Newlands Forest and into Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, where I picked him up about two hours after drop off.

The view I snapped from the window of the car is of the city bowl (on the slopes) and city center, that part of Cape Town where the Dutch decided to put down their five-pointed stone fort and their garden to re-supply scurvied European sailors rounding Africa on their way to and from the East Indies, in the second half of the 17th century.

If you like historical fiction, Dan Sleigh's book Islands (translated from the Afrikaans Eilande) explains it all far better than I can, told from all points of view. It's a South African War and Peace.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Last night's shopping from The Wild Olive.

Callaloo. I can't see the word without hearing Bill Cosby.

(Fast forward to 8 minutes and 20 seconds, about three quarters of the way through video:)


I bought the can to see what is really inside. Because callaloo is the Jamaican name for pigweed (probably Amaranthus palmeri, I've learned recently - a very tall pigweed, and maybe the one I bought in bunches at Wild Olive soon after we moved to Harlem), and I am gathering intel on edible weeds - one of my favourite subjects, as many of you know.

 But callaloo also the name for another plant - taro (its huge tubers are widely sold local stores, too), and what I call elephant's ear, and properly Xanthosoma species. Not sure I'll be able to tell which plant it is, from canned leaves. 

The greens on the table are unrelated - arugula and mustard.

All of which makes me hungry.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Last night as I lay awake before sleep, I thought about the plane that made an emergency landing on the Hudson one year. I wondered whether the pilot had spoken to the passengers about what was going to happen, or whether he was too intent on the difficult task ahead of him. I wondered how they felt, how I would have felt, whether they could find the life vests that are said to be under every seat. I Imagined flight attendants going seat to seat to help. In my head I saw the whole thing through to touchdown and water and escape rafts. I wondered how boats had arrived fast enough to get people off the plane.* Then, this morning, I read that today is the five year anniversary of that remarkable landing. But yesterday I had not read about it, or heard about it. It was very strange.

I think about the sea when we take off from Cape Town International. The planes often take off towards the southeast, and False Bay (home of the great white), make a broad turn to the right and fly this way (above), up north, past the Atlantic coast of Cape Town, and towards the rest of the huge continent of Africa. It is one of the most beautiful views in the world, but I rarely see it, as I am too frightened, and thinking, with closed eyes and even breathing, calming thoughts, which involve the purring of the cat, the hands and faces of the people I love. The melodrama of the phobic. Sometime into flight, after those first early, climbing minutes, I open my eyes, and think about my book, or a movie.

We parked here, Vincent and I, sometime in December. We had taken a long drive around Cape Town, followed everywhere by the summer wind. We stopped at last, pointing towards Lion's Head and Camps Bay. The wind was so strong that the whole vehicle shook. Vince filmed the two glasses we had filled with gin and tonic and ice. On the armrest between us the ice clinked as each new wind gust hit us, broadside.   It was our planned sundowner, sipped around 6pm (and hours before the sun would set in high summer). When he opened the downwind door to drop the ice from his empty glass the cubes were caught by the wind and flew parallel to the ground for a few metres before smashing on a low rock wall. The wind was racing down the steep slopes of the Twelve Apostles, the name for the outcrops in Table Mountain's back table. The Cape Doctor, the bane of paragliders and sensitive souls who must endure it summer-long in some parts of town.

It even reached my parents' house this year, located in a small, freak, wind-free pocket in a shallow valley on the other side of the mountain. The poplars lining the stream in the greenbelt would roar and bend in succession as it came, and then the awning over the patio would begin to flap. Candles would snuff out.

*The answer to the boats was in this morning's Times:

"The commuter ferries were just about 45 minutes from starting the evening rush, and all of them had gone full speed for the plane, including one with a 20-year-old woman in her first week as a captain."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cheese supper

The winner in last night's cheese off (with a side of fennel saucisson) was definitely Lagrein - a Northern Italian cows' milk cheese smelling pleasantly of grassy hillsides and drifting leaves. The official tasting notes say something completely different. But my palate and official tasting notes never do concur.

The cat preferred the Taleggio.

Oh - salad tip: shave strips of Bosc pear with a carrot peeler and mix them with finely-sliced fennel. Dress with lemon and olive or walnut oil, surround with greens (in this case, peppery cress and sunflower shoots). I also used some of my knotweed pickles from last year - very spicy, very good foil for the sweet ear and anise-y fennel.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What lies ahead

 Dead nettle

I'm fast forwarding three months. Early to mid-April. I was marking up my early spring calendar to see when and where I could lead some walks, and found these pictures I'd taken last spring on a reconnaissance mission.

I know I say something like this every year, but anticipating this early green riot is almost the best part.


 Field garlic

These plants excite me.

 Garlic mustard

There will be a lot of experimenting and recipe-writing. Late April and May will be busy in the kitchen.

 Japanese knotweed

We are closer now, in Harlem,  to two excellent foraging grounds - Inwood and Pelham Bay.

But I'm also scouting for private land whose owners don't mind the presence of a grazing plantswoman. I want more clean space, and the freedom to gather unfurtively; I really dislike the feeling that a park employee might jump out and say, Hold it right there! - while I'm collecting the juicy shoots of the most invasive and expensive weed on the planet: Japanese knotweed. As far as I know there is no collation of data on Japanese knotweed removal in the US, but the budget figures I have seen for its annual removal in the UK range from £70 million to £166 million.

The UK takes Japanese knotweed very, very seriously.

 Lesser celandine

 May apples



Also on the spring menu, the early cresses, cattails (I really need a clean source for those), and upstate ramps.

Got land? Have knife, can cook.