Friday, October 31, 2014

Spiced squash

We'll be having this spiced sweet squash for supper (I'll be using butternut, tonight). Find the recipe and a squash-growing story on Gardenista.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


It is Thursday, October 30th:

Do you know where your nuts are?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Terrace report

The afternoons end quickly, now, and my summer habit of early evening gardening ends in the dark, as the sun sinks below Bill Clinton's office. The gins and tonics and the crushed mint drinks of the sunlit terrace have been replaced by cider.

Recently I dug up the last of the gloriosa lilies, pulling out long, fat tubers belonging to the last plant, a threefold return on the initial investment. I may dig up the lily bulbs for the first time this winter, too. The long freezes and many, rotting thaws of last winter have me spooked. The boxwoods will be sprayed with Wiltpruf. Also a first. I may wrap them, against snow breakage...

Temperatures will dip below 40'F late this week, and I'll try to collect some Malabar spinach seed before then. The raspberry's offspring have been divided from the mother plant, and the Plectranthus cuttings I bought from Cape Town in June are about to bloom.

Perhaps I'll mulch the blueberries.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Foraged finds at Ssäm

As a birthday treat, Vince dragged me by my heels from under my rock and I ventured out of Harlem, and into the East Village, an old stomping ground.

At Ssäm Bar (and sitting at the bar), a favourite haunt - along with Momofuku - from long ago, I sipped a Celery Sour. And then we ate some of the nicest and most thought-provoking food I've had in a long while.

We really have been in seclusion during our Harlem year. Of course, when one can cook, forages for interesting ingredients and can shake up one's own cocktails, the edge is taken off cave life.

But. But: it's really, really good to drink someones else's drink, and to eat food on which you have had no influence and upon which you have never laid a hand.

The outstanding plate was one where scoops of smoked liver mousse sat on a crunchy bed of what looked like sand (I suspect it was supposed to be forest floor), but turned out to be bread crumbs toasted in brown butter, with...wait for it...pickled autumn olives, and topped with hen of the woods! See, it's like eating at home. But not. Our server called the autumn olives (Eleagnus umbellata) 'olive berries,' which is fine, but he also said the hens came from Oregon - not sure about that. They're a mushroom generally occurring east of the Rockies and are in season here now

Evan, he said, when I asked who the resident forager is. A quick Internet search makes that Evan Strusinksi. And this article makes very nice reading.

Go to Ssäm and eat that mousse. And don't order the bread to go with it. Completely unnecessary with those wonderful crumbs.

And no, don't skip the pork buns. That would be wrong.

Monday, October 27, 2014

True Blue

That dirty, dirty, New York sky...

Above Lenox Avenue, at 123rd Street.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A good slice

Sometimes, this is as good as a day gets.

Sometimes, it's as good as a year gets. And that is not a bad thing.

If I could lift one good thing from this difficult 2014 it would be sourdough bread - the baking of, the satisfaction of, the good smell of, the chewiness of, the chestnut-honey-dropping-through-the-holes of. I made the first loaf in many months last night. The nights are cool enough to turn the oven up full blast, now.

I am very glad I can cook. I am glad I enjoy eating. I am glad people taught me how to make a table welcoming. As superficial as these acts of pleasure are, sometimes they feel like they are the only real things I can rescue from life. Along with gardening, or creating of any kind, for that matter. Life is horrible, and hard and I have no idea why people keep making more people, to perpetuate the whole damn mess. Someone once wrote that my book has no darkness in it. I had to laugh. Sadly. Because it is all about darkness. All the gardening, the cooking, the foraging, the flowers. My light sabers, swung and sliced at the darkness.

I'm not sinking into the abyss. Don't fret. It's inside me, always has been, always will be.

The most important question is: do I make mushrooms à la Grecque tonight, to eat with what we have managed not to consume of the wonderful bread, or a mushroom soufflé ?

Soufflés are powerful light sabers, too. They defy the abyss. Its the air in the egg whites.

What would the Frenchman like better?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

From the road

New Jersey: snapshops from the road.

 Of the fields...

Of the parking lots...

This sticker made me pause behind this car for a long while. Then the driver and his wife got out. The man who owns this car and who elected to sport this sticker was in his sixties, and was wearing Bermuda shorts. Pure white, with large, fuchsia pink, turquoise and yellow polka dots. I walked away then to look at some pumpkins, during which interval I composed a very good little speech. Mainly about his shorts, what they told me, with a short aside for his wife. Unfortunately (fortunately?), by the time I had turned back again and was ready to deliver this speech, the car had pulled out and driven off. Pity.

Of the stone houses, where it is dahlia season.

Of the river bottoms, the last wildflowes to set seed. This may be a Silene...does anyone know?

October has galloped by.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Drive by shooting

We drove the cat to Brooklyn, to see his doctor. 

I miss this lovely view.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sumac cocktail

Sumac vodka, quince and lemon cordial, shaken up.


Fall Back.

The business of spores

There has been quite a lot of this going on in the last week.

We ate the ones above in our risotto last night. Agaricus campestris - meadow mushrooms.

I had found some earlier in the week, too. ( I ate those privately, on toast)

Brown spore print from pink or chocolate-y gills, no staining on cap or stem when cut = Good to Eat.

And they were.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn in the hood

Happening right now on a rainy night in Harlem: smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) vodka shaken up with a lick of maple syrup (cocktail Since I didn't collect and make the maple syrup myself I'll omit botanical name. But you should talk to our friend, Steve...

Puffballs (Calvatia fragilis) and meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) sauteeing. In the oven, hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) are roasting...

...wild mushroom risotto for supper.

Blocks on blocks

Chelsea skyline, from The High Line.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do you smell mushrooms?

Good mushroom weather, we've been having. Rain, the first cold nights, a little warmth in the day.

Blewits - Clitocybe nuda - the typical pale lavender is fading in these specimens, but still a fresh enough clutch for a light lunch, on toast. The spore print is pale buff. Spore prints are important.

I had never seen these, before, below. Very striking.

Turns out they are Leucoagaricus americanus, and are edible. They caused some excitement in a mushroom forum.

See their distinctive, fat stems...

This cap was about five inches across. 

I'm not  a very adventurous mushroom eater, and I do my homework, so don't panic. I only brought one home to identify, and it will not be lunch.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Concord air

They perfume the whole apartment. From the tiny, one-stall farmers market on 117th and Lenox Avenue.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

From Woodlawn, with love

Puffball hunting

Rain, lawns, puffballs. After it poured with rain at the end of the week I could hardly wait to go out and search for mushrooms.

It's been years since I found decent puffballs.

The one above was about eight inches across.

Puffballs and imposters, possibly a species of Leucoagaricus - yet to be identified.

Rock, not puffball. Yes, I did try.

Puffball, emerging.

Old exploded or stomped-on puffball. The purple gives it its one common name: purple-spored puffball. 

Puffballs safely at home with a bonus of meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris).

The puffballs are probably Calvatia fragilis. They definitely are Calvatia. 

The 'probably' in this case is not rash carelessness: there are no poisonous true puffballs, though there are a couple of similar-ish mushrooms that you should be aware of, if you're puffball hunting. Purple inside when young means you have found a Scleroderma citrinum - do not eat. You want pure white, in cross section. 

And the creepy silhouette of a mushroom inside, when sliced in half, means you have the button stage of a destroying angel, or death cap, Amanitas you really, really don't want to eat. 

And, at last, lunch. I roasted the smaller ones whole, after peeling, then sliced, burning my fingers. They retain heat worsen' baked potatoes.

I love puffballs, though I don't know that the texture would appeal to everyone: buttery-silky, very tender, like the most delicate tofu, or, closer: roasted or poached bone marrow.

But then, I eat such things.

Recommended reading:

Mushrooms Demystified, by David Arora

Friday, October 17, 2014

The twilight hour


...are you...

will you be...moving on...


No...? Ah. 

Well, I'll just uh...go this way, then, and...

Oh!'re still there...

do you mind if I uh...I was just going to...

I was just busy...

...that is to is quite late and, I mean,

...for you, to be in the park...that is. This is my time, ...well, mostly

and I was...are you planning to stay much...longer...?

...Is that thing a gun?

...I have, uh, claws...if, you know...if necessary, that is to say...

I'll just go this way...and

Oh! You're there, ah...too. I see.

I see. Yes...


Do you have marshmallows?


Tomorrow's Wild Edibles Walk - last of 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Harlem anniversary

The roses are making a modest comeback after hot summer, as the fava beans and peas are rising like skinny snakes from the planters on the terrace. The sun's four hour reign over the garden is interrupted now by the roof of the homeless shelter on 126th Street, so we get sun on one side of it, for an hour or so, a shadowed pause, and then some more on the other, western side, for another two.

Shadows are longer, the apartment is darker, and we have been here exactly a year.

I like the life on the street. The life where you greet neighbours sitting on their stoops, and where you are greeted by strangers on the sidewalk. I like the voices I hear through the window, at loud conversation, in accents only known from movies - deeply black American, a sense of the South. There is eye contact - I like that. I like the ease of communication between people who have never met. In Cobble Hill people studiously and coldly avoided it. I like the diversity. I like the Nigerian dress and the dapper suits and the sense of identity. I like the saxophone practising down the block and the opera singers exercising their voices as they walk to the subway. I don't like the screaming matches and the motorbikes that tear down the street. Nor having to skirt certain blocks at night. I like knowing which blocks to skirt.

I miss having a horizon. I'd give a lot for that bare silvertop rooftop where we could sit and watch the shipping traffic on New York Harbor, and watch the sun's path from its rise to to its setting over Jersey. We both need horizons.

It has been an interesting year. I have learned a lot about myself. In some ways I am weaker than I would like, in some ways I have done well, and have improved. One thing we both also know, and expressed last night - we need to think. I mean, we need time to think. I haven't really thought for a long time. So we need to find a place where we can both think, and a lifestyle that permits it.

Horizons help. One needs a view.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blocks on blocks

Chelsea skyline, from the High Line.

It ends with cheese

Party's over. The flowers on the table are volunteers from the terrace - the snakeroot and asters, which are three feet tall, now.

Two good, kind, generous friends came to dinner for the first time - we have been to several lunches in their gorgeous garden in New Jersey, and have been their guests on more than one special occasion. But how to repay the men who have everything?

The least I could do was cook.  

They were good, and kind and generous and the octogenarian gave us stern advice for the decisions we make about where to live, and why.  I tucked my tail between my legs. Then he offered his wonderful garden and kitchen to me if I ever want to cook dinner for rather high-paying guests.

What do you think?

I liked the first course best: two tiny baked potatoes each, slit and stuffed with crème fraîche and shaved bottarga. Carrot, cumin and curry soup followed, then a rather boring salad of quick pickled beets, orange and wild arugula (I know, zzzz - it needed nice nuts and more interesting greens), then roasted monkfish wrapped in happy-pig, no-nitrate bacon, with caramelized grapes and creamy-buttery puréed cauliflower, and finally some brûléed chocolate mousses, white and dark. 

And cheese. We managed to fit in some cheese.