Thursday, July 31, 2014


When I looked at my photos from last night's supper on the Harlem terrace, I could tell at a glance that I did not take the one above. The Frenchman had picked up my camera (his old camera). So I give you his.

When friends came to share my wild dinner in the Cape Town winter of two weeks ago, they brought gifts. Rupert Koopman brought this barely-labeled red, and last night we attacked it. It was wonderful. Thank you Rupert. For a bottle that traveled far it fared very well. 

The red Bordeaux blend (Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Shiraz, Merlot) accompanied our pretty much annual porterhouse, purchased yesterday not from old, dear Los Paisanos in Brooklyn, but from Harlem Shambles, who source locally-raised meat, and where two butchers seemed about as excited about it as I was. It was trimmed very lovingly, and given a little pat. I grilled it over well-ashed coals, on a bed of oregano flowers, with a galvanized metal (zinc, for non Americans) bath over it to insulate. The neighbors must think I'm gaga. 

...marjoram butter drizzled over at the end, and a side salad of terrace mint, chile, lime and pineapple (bought from a very sweet vendor on Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 116th, who also sells the nicest litchis I've seen out of Chinatown. I'll go back).

I gardened for several hours, in the afternoon, and the terrace is more tamed. I transplanted strawberries smothered by thyme and marjoram, relocated some full size Nicotiana (don't do this at home), cut off all the parsley and dill flowers (see vase above) and tossed the plants, fed the demanding beans and roses, cut the blueberries* back very hard - this is always terrifying - and left a bucketful of herbs at the font door for our upstairs neighbours.

*The blueberries in the freezer are calling me. I think the peach and blueberry cake is in our immediate future.

And now I'm off to Central Park on a reconnaissance mission - I'm leading a private walk for some Peninsula Hotel guests tomorrow and must see what is what.

My next public walk is August 16th, Dead Horse Bay (think sumac, black cherries and bayberry), then August 23rd, Central Park. See the link below for details.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pop up jungle

The yellow cab from JFK dropped me, my suitcase and my box of wine at the door on 127th Street. We had flown nine thousand miles, crossed several time zones and two hemispheres and found ourselves in a new season.

I hauled everything inside, greeted the startled cat, and went out to the terrace. And I began to garden.

A jungle has appeared in my absence. Hot weather, long days and plenty of water (French and sky in origin) and suddenly the purple runner beans have made that bean screen I dreamed of, in the long, very dark start to the year. There weren't even flowers when I left. The Malabar spinach is a slender python trailing in search of prey. The shiso (aka Perilla, below) is shiso-ing. The Nicotiana look tropical and are shouldering the roses. All the herbs are in bloom. Even the parsley. I started deadheading.

Then I pulled myself together and forced myself inside to unpack - which I detest - and shower, before letting myself out again. With a glass of sparkling elderflower cordial (about which more later) and bubbly water and lots of ice, I gardened some more.

Then Vince came home, which was wonderful, and I showed him all the goodies I had brought and we had a drink at the stone table.

Last night as we sat eating on the terrace he looked rather sadly at the de-flowered lemon basil. I realized guiltily that he has become proprietorial after being the garden keeper for four weeks, and I should have asked him. They were pretty, he said, taking a sip of prosecco. And they are, and bees love them. But I'm greedy and want the leaves, which give up after full bloom. So, no flowers for now. There will be more.

It's good to be home.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The road

We drove 25 minutes from home, over Ou Kaapseweg.

The clouds were splitting and reknitting, after three days of continuous rain. 

We were heading for some lunch at the Cape Point Vineyards.

Lunch had a good view, good service, and good smoked yellowfin tuna. And otherwise very on the ball maitre d's who squeezed your shoulders affectionately (with both hand, either side) every time you asked them something. Table at the window? Squeeze. Pepper? Squeeze. Bill? Squeeze. I hated that. Someone has told them the customers like it. This customer wanted to bite their arms off. Do not be touching me...(is it just me?). My dad might say, As jy my daar vat, moet jy my trou. If you touch me there, you must marry me.

And then we drove home, again.

There will be more Cape Town posts, but they will be loaded from Harlem. I am leaving home. I am going home.

See you there.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Home cooking

My mother and I have been having supper in front of the study fire, these winter nights in Constantia. My father is still in Europe, so it is just the two of us.

While I have been making many of our suppers, recently she made an old favourite - cottage pie. The lamb was ground up from the leftovers of two legs I'd roasted for the wild dinner party last week, and topped with smooth mashed potatoes, then slices of tomato and bacon. Hello, childhood. I had forgotten about those finishing touches.

Home keeps changing its meaning.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

False Bay

This is one of those perfect winter days in Cape Town. 

More beautiful than the long days of summer.

                                                         When the bay is as placid as a Swiss lake.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chameleon Wednesday

I took the spirit of the Frenchman with me for a walk to find the Constantia chameleons. 

The spirit was strong because I discovered two new green dragons. 

The bored corgis lolled at my feet.  

Polite walkers wondered but did not ask what I was doing, staring at trees for long silent stretches. 

The one above has lost the tip of its prehensile tail.

This tiny one below is always in the same spot. Once the eye is used to their patterns they become easier to notice, but it's remarkable how fast they are lost, once you look away again.

The beautiful clear days are almost over again, as another weekend of winter storms approaches.

My mission here is not altogether accomplished. There are obstructions and labyrinths and a dark tunnel or two to negotiate, spanning the impressive range of country, family and livelihood. Like the lesson of the chameleons, we must adapt, and dye. And focus hopefully until we identify that which we came to find.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bokbaai vygies

Enjoying the late winter sun in Constantia.

Previously seen here.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Wild at heart - a Cape winter forage

Supper, before orchestration. 

Wild leeks, three-cornered leeks, white bluebelll (Allium triquetrum - Mediterranean origin): buds and flowers, tubers and leaves. These invasive onions are similar to garlic chives in taste, and quite mild after cooking. They will feature in a cauliflower, suuring and curry leaf soup, topped with some curry leaf, coriander and mustard seed oil, and the sauteed buds.
Thistles (Sonchus oleraceus): a well known garden invader whose tender leaves are very slightly bitter. They will cook under some slow-roast leg of lamb, which is our main course, spiced with cardamom, cumin, black pepper and cinnamon.
Suuring ("souring," in Afrikaans; Oxalis pes-caprae - indigenous to the Western Cape) - chopped and stuffed inside the leg of lamb
Chickweed (Stellaria media - European origin) - the tender tips and leaves will be tossed in a watercress and roast carrot salad.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Being here

Friends took me on a quiet ten minute ramble on the hill behind their house, in Noordhoek. Winter rains had filled a seep area, ringed with restios, clicking with invisible frogs. To reach the sandy path we walked across a neighbour's garden and through a gate where a rusty lock swung, about which Rosie was unhappy. Locks, gates, accessways, and domestic vulnerabilities are a part of many days' conversation, here. A raptor glided above us on a thermal, impersonal, waiting for prey to show itself, and for its opportunity to strike.

Bulbine abyssinica

At the traffic lights people beg. Children hunt through trash cans. Under the arches of city highways the homeless sleep. In the brush the woodcutters make their camps. Behind the walls the well fed dine, and receive their crime watch newsletters, and count the burglaries for the last few weeks, or choose to read them no more. At home I prowl like a thief, checking the perimeters and the outer doors, their locks and their frames, trying to see familiar things with new eyes for weaknesses.

Manulea tomentosa

The perfect days pass and the rain returns, sweeping in on its winter wings. In the middle of the city the mountain rises, covered with fynbos, blooming now, with pin cushions and proteas, clean water dripping from the rocks and through the green moss.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cape Town's wild menu

My mother and I drove from Constantia's green mountainside country up through the mist clinging to Ou Kaapseweg and down to coastal Kommetjie. We had signed up to walk with my friend Loubie Rusch to find local ingredients for a handmade lunch.

The venue for Loubie's workshop is a gorgeous, light, bright house with a view over dunes and the wide open sea. Unbeatable, really, and puts a lump in your throat, especially when you see whales blowing, far out on the shining water.

There is a very fresh food scene in Cape Town. It is awake. And the foraging thing is new enough, and the community small enough, that you can still trace its path. A year ago I introduced Loubie to dune parsley (above) and dune spinach, growing right outside this Kommetjie house. I had learned about them, in turn, from Kobus van der Merwe, of Paternoster's Oep ve Koep (watch out for his cookbook, later this year). The dune parsley flavour is rather lovage-y and I still think it may make useful bitters (remembering that wonderful cocktail Laura Silverman mixed for us in April in the woods of Pennsylvania - long ago and far away).

Above - so sure I was that this must be edible that I nibbled. It reminded me of the Northeast native, Cakile edentula (sea rocket), with none of its pungency. Turns out it is a Senecio, probably maritimus. Interestingly, its Afrikaans name is strandhongerblom (beach hunger flower)... All I can find out is that it may have been used in a tea to stimulate appetite, and that some Senecios contain alkaloids. Still...?

Back at base camp, the collection. Suuring leaves (Oxalis pes-caprae), num num fruit (Carissa macrocarpa), waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos), nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp), more suuring flowers, dune parsley (Dasispermum suffruticosum), and dune spinach (Tetragonia decumbens).

Anna Shevel of The City Eden (food heritage walking tours) helping to prep for lunch. Waterblommetjies in the foreground.

Chicken liver, courgette and wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) pâté, garnished with sauteed mushrooms, dune spinach and raw dune parsley.

A cup of dune spinach and veldkool leaf (Tracheandra) soup

Wild prettiness.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Perfect winter

There are two kinds of days in a Cape Town winter: wet, and perfect.

The winter light on the perfect days is like light falling through shallow water in a blue lagoon. The sky is unmarked, the wind does not blow. It makes you wonder what winter means (it will remind you a few days later, when the cold rain floods the Flats and landslides slip from the moutainsides).

Yesterday was one of the perfect ones. We had lunch on the patio watching sunbirds and white eyes come and go, the corgis lying at our feet inbetween brief charges to the lawn to take care of sending dog messages to passing canines in the greenbelt below.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bitten by the Boomslang

After a good lunch in the winter sunshine, my lovely friend Marijke Honig* led me up a garden path through the rockery at Kirstenbosch.

In the Cape winter, it is aloe season, and  bright sunbirds were twitttering amongst the high flowers. I am an IDIOT not to have brought the telephoto to South Africa. Yes, Vince, you were right, I was wrong. Again.

We were heading to the foot of The Boomslang, the affectionate name for what is properly known as The Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, built to celebrate Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden's 100th birthday, this year.

Perhaps the common name is partly responsible for its astounding success (the garden has drawn record numbers of winter visitors, making even in-season summer tallies pale by comparison). 

Boomslang means tree snake (for curious non-South Africans, the pronunciation is kind of along the lines of WORM-tongue). The walkway is inspired by the skeleton of a snake. And a boomslang is a timid green, tree-dwelling South African reptile with a deadly bite.

The structure is stunning. In design, in execution, in effect.

The architect is Mark Thomas, the engineering firm Henry Fagan and Partners.

The view across the Cape Flats, as the snake spine vibrates under your feet.

* Look out for Marijke's book Indigenous Plant Palettes, later this year, published by Quivertree. *

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The changing High Line

When Paul and Sonya visited recently and told us about their walk along the High Line, I realized it might have been over year since I had been there, last. So after a quick trip into the weekend crush of tourists walking at the pace of cold moh-lasses at the Chelsea Market, we climbed the stairs at West 16th and hiked the High Line's length, north.

The orange Helenium were at their peak of flowering.

It is still Allium time, too.

I have only seen lead plant growing on the beaches of Staten Island, before, and those are golden. This is Amorpha canescens, I think.

The biggest change along the whole High Line, is construction. Like this: CONSTRUCTION.

We think we counted about 15 major sites, on either side of the old railway (Vince has written about this.)

High Line above.

What will rise beside it, below.

The significance of this, as any gardener will know, is shade, and a changed microclimate. Right plant = right place. But now the right plants will be the wrong plants. The shade is a real pain, because the plants that enjoy the prairie light  from the east and the west right now, will have to be removed and replaced. Thousands of them. Think of the money.

The High Line is already a highly managed horticultural environment. It is naturalized, but it is not natural; the effect remains wonderful. The massive numbers of perennials needing care - dead heading, cutting back, dividing, removing as they outgrow a tight space - all of this is tightly controlled. But the loss of the light must be a blow, and an ironic sign of the High Line's success. I am sure real estate values have risen not just because New York is New York, but because the High Line has made this sliver of aerial park one of the hottest spots in town.

Soon to be become considerably cooler.