Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Central Park in spring

I wish I could press Pause on this part of spring.

This is perfect.

Above, North Woods' tree architecture with a suggestion of fresh green.

Beneath the trees, an indigenous bluebell wood: Mertensia virginica, being stalked by yellow lesser celandine, which never gives up.

The ball fields are populated.

The hill above the Conservatory Garden is pale green.

There are violets in the grass.

And the magnolias are in peak bloom.

The outer circles of the English garden here are filled with perennials in spring (and summer).

And while the blocks of bulbs are very springy, they are stiffly alarming to me. I prefer the looser summer iteration of these beds.

                      The Berberis julianae hedge is pretending to be a holly and vibrating with bees.

In the Italian garden the spirea is engulfing a lamp post...

...and there is just one visitor to the only beach in Harlem.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring in the hood

East 125th Street at Madison. 

Madison Avenue, looking south.

And Marcus Garvey Park. I climb the rock every now and then but the top is blocked off right now while paths and the clock tower are being renovated. I sometimes meet trios of cops walking down, And at the top are the solitary men. The park's lower regions are widely populated by cross sections of Harlemites, from kids and nannies to homeless people, to chess players, to geezers with stories, to basketball teenagers. Whereas the top is no person's land. Unless you are me, or the solitary men, or a cop.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Teak folding chairs for spring

I was contacted some months ago by Teak Closeouts. Would I like a teak bench, or perhaps four folding chairs, for the terrace? Plus matching items for a giveaway?

Hmmmm. The wrought iron chairs' feet are beginning to fall off. Good timing. Yes, please.

But first, some questions:

Sustainability is an issue, with teak (Tectona grandis). When I asked, I was told that Teak Closeouts began a program in 2014 where one tree would be planted in central Java for every item sold; this will be documented on the website as the planting season gets under way in 2015.

The company is based primarily in Indonesia, with a warehouse that stores, cleans, photographs and boxes the furniture, with a Kentucky office answering calls and shipping, stateside. They do not manufacture, but buy up overstock, slightly damaged furniture, or stock from companies that closed. They then restore it if necessary, in-house.

When I arrived home from Cape Town there they were, already unpacked and on the terrace, a really beautiful welcome home surprise. The Frenchman, who received them, says the packaging was thorough. They were actually much newer-looking than I was expecting, and with time will weather to that silvery grey.

Here is the giveaway:

A winner drawn at random from the comments below will receive four chairs, shipping included, within five days of the draw.

Only residents of the 48 contiguous states are eligible.

To qualify, please leave a comment below, telling us where your chairs will go. Comments must include:

1. Your name
2. Your state

Comment deadline is noon, April 28th, EST. 

Good luck!

Lucky winner is: Gabriela Harvey, NYC

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Inwood Forage

My first wild foods walk was really the second (the first was canceled because of a longer South African stay), up in Inwood. It was a beautiful day, and I started it by marching west with a heavy backpack to the 125th Street A train. The A took its time. But after 20 minutes on the platform I was on board.

The end of the line: 207th Street.

I had met Kathryn, a regular walk attendee, on the subway, and we headed to the park together and met the rest.

And into the woods, with plenty of spicebush still in bloom. We scratched and sniffed the fragrant twigs, below.

Philip, another repeat-walker, spotted an old nest hanging high, probably belonging to bald faced hornets - Dolichovespula maculata. I believe they sting hard.

Soon, we found a good patch of garlic mustard - Alliaria petiolata - at the perfect stage for picking weeding.

The tender flower stems indicate a second-year plant, milder than the first. Picking the flowers also deprives them of seed, and continued invasion of the woodlands.

We were not the strangest people in the woods. Hey, it's New York.

We ignored one stand of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) that had obviously been sprayed the previous year, and headed to another patch where the previous year's canes still stood tall and dry.

Because nothing but invasive knotweed, Rosa multiflora, field garlic and brambles grew here, I set my little group loose to slice at will, after demonstrating how to prep the shoots at home.

Above, cut shoots and old canes (and some annual jewelweed seedlings, too).

The haul. I foraged here last spring, too, but hardly made a dent, as the tall canes demonstrated. I'd like to see multiple foraging parties harvest shoots here, to see what becomes of the colony. Creative management of invasives is possible. What about the first Knotweed Festival? Foragers, farmers, chefs, rangers, communal tables and set menus. If indigenous ramps (which take forever to recover) and pokeweed can have their own festivals, why not an edible invasive?

We finished up beside the Spuyten Duyvil, the trees just beginning to leaf out on the mainland, across the water.  The knotweed soup (recipe in April chapter of my book) was still piping hot in its thermos, and I set out the sliced field garlic bread I'd baked the night before, with a pot of garlic mustard and walnut pesto (recipe to follow).

Beautiful day.

The next walk is in Central Park's North Woods, and we'll be back in Inwood on the 16th of May. Details in link below. And I discussed  a bespoke Staten Island walk with some of the regular attendees. Email me if you are interested, via the Find/Follow link.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Eggs, for fortifying

I've had this thing with eggs, lately.

This was breakfast: two long-boiled eggs (8 minutes) and Cape Malay papadums that I brought back from Cape Town. They're delicious (Pick 'n Pay, Capetonians: Spice brand, 'Cape Malay chilli poppadums').

You fry them in grapeseed oil for about 10 seconds, drain them and that's it. I know. FRY! There's a kick of spice in them, which goes beautifully with the eggs.

The coffee must be good, the milk hot.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Forage walk in the wild woods

Spicebush - Lindera benzoin

Despite my late return from South Africa, this Saturday's edible botanical walk in Inwood will take place. There are a couple of spaces left. Weather Underground promises that it will be a lovely, sunny, 60' day.

25 April 2015, 12pm - 3pm
Inwood Hill Park

In the valley of the shadow of the spicebush, some yellow blossoms will probably still be on the trees as they begin to leaf out. We will scratch and sniff the twigs and talk about how to use them in the kitchen. Violets and squirrel corn will have opened, and jewelweed seedlings will have appeared like green confetti on the forest floor (I planted a couple on my terrace last year, and a hummingbird visited the flowers in August). They are an excellent nettle sting antidote.

 Day lilies - Hemerocallis fulva

There are edible and invasive day lilies here.

Confit of day lily bulbs with aromatics

We'll see the notorious but strongly delicious garlic mustard. I'll show you how to recognize the milder second year plants. Field garlic, one of the earliest spring edibles to appear, is one of the most versatile of all wild plants and weeds. Cook it, pickle it, make oil from its leaves.

Garlic mustard pesto, field garlic butter and field garlic bread

Tart Japanese knotweed should still be collectable. 

Japanese knotweed - Polygonum cuspidatum: one of the worst plant invaders on the planet

It's one of my favorite spring walks; it's hardly a city, up here: On one side, the Spuyten Duyvil, separating Manhattan island from the mainland, and on the other, the mighty Hudson, separating us from Governor Christie (if he's home - does anyone know?).

Early spring in Inwood

Pack a lunch for a forest picnic. Bathroom at start and end of walk (my mother thinks this is very funny - why would anyone want a BATH on a walk? South Africans call a toilet a toilet).

Early spring forages

We meet at 12pm sharp at the entrance at Seaman Avenue and Isham, returning there by 3pm or a little later. The closest subway is the A to 207th. More information will be emailed to confirmed walkers closer to the time.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Press Pause for Lunch

This Cape Town trip has been less about a holiday than it has been about trying to help sort out family matters.

But for two days I put The Matters into a box, stapled the lid down, duct taped it, put some bricks on it, pushed it under the bed and threw a lunch under the tree for friends. Two Days? Well, one for cooking, of course.

Even faraway friends were there in essence: above, Gabrielle Langholtz's delicious New Greenmarket Cookbook - which I brought to Cape Town as a New York gift for my mother - provided the herby cucumber soup (contributed by Marlowe and Sons).

One of the unexpected bonuses of Lunch is the trove of interesting and beautiful gifts that accompanies it. Here is a hand axe which Dave told me is 250 000 years old. Resting on a brand new tea towel printed and sewn by the lovely Lily. The striped shade cloth below came from Mustafa.

Also on the menu: Ajo blanco (sometimes called white gazpacho - recipe in my own book) made with a South African strain of garlic so strong that I had to toss half the soup and dilute it with with more broth and almonds! Wow. Even so the soup sippers' eyebrows were a bit singed.

The trestle tables and wooden chairs were given a work out, and every pillow was put to good use.

An ice bath took care of the wine.

My mom, Mustafa (visiting from Turkey), Connie and my dad.

My mother's garden bursts with plectranthus in the autumn. Also in the jugs, from the garden, were tree fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica), salvia and honeysuckle; plus indigenous plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), drought-tolerant Bulbine frutescens, and diascia (the small pink flowers).

And finally, the overcrowded pavlova. I don't like things that are too sweet, so I prefer the meringue to be subservient to the tart passion fruit, tree tomatoes and luscious prickly pears (cactus pears, for Americans).

Add autumn sunlight, and stir.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Feast of Fynbos - the Kirstenbosch Plant Fair 2015

Blue sage - Salvia africana-caerulea at the OZCF

Wake up, Cape Town!

I know it's Friday and that you left work at lunch time, and that the glass of Eagle's Nest viognier/Inverroche G&T/Klippies and coke are all dewy with condensation, but, this weekend, go and taste some Strandveld vermouth:


No, you don't have to drive to Paternoster.

Go to the Feast of Fynbos, in the beautiful green field opposite Kirstenbosch, surrounding the three little stone houses.

Spekboom - Portulacaria afra, carbon sponge, and tart ingredient in salads, sauces and green drinks

The 40th annual whatusedtobecalledkirstenboschplantsale is no longer just one of the most hotly anticipated sources of unusual and indigenous plants in Cape Town, but has developed laterally and has adopted for this year an edible wild foods theme. Rrrrright up my alley.

Wild rosemary - Eriocephalus africanus, delicious  with lamb ribs, growing in the Hex River Valley

Not only will you be guided towards edible local plants to use in your garden (and we've just begun to scratch the surface in terms of our exploration of them), but you will have a handful of top notch local wild edible plant teachers, growers and chefs on hand to give you nibbles and sips (Kobus van der Merwe's vermouth, say), as well as excellent advice on what and why.

This is a unique event. It speaks to the growing awareness of our immediate environment, to the use of landscape as a form of identity, and a flavour. In gardening terms it is a concerted move away from the repetitive knee jerk deployment of lavender hedges and Iceberg roses in a region whose floristic wealth leaves the rest of the botanical world salivating and a little shellshocked.

It is a sentient appreciation of the wild diversity of the Cape floristic region, a nod to environmental awareness, conservation, and practical appreciation of our home-grown resources. Whether you live in damp Newlands or baking Camps Bay, in the sea-mist hamlet of Scarborough or on the plains between the mountains, there will be plants for you to grow, and experts to tell you how.

Who will be there? Here's a sampling:

The lovely Marijke Honig, below - friend, and author of Indigenous Plant Palettes, who will be signing her must-have (yes, I have it) and stunning book.

Marijke Honig, garden designer and author at Open Gardens Constantia

Loubie Rusch (Making Kos) will be selling her local fare (I can attest to the deliciousness of her buchu cordial, which is incredible shaken up with gin).

Plants foraged in Kommetjie with Loubie Rusch

Roushanna Gray from Good Hope Gardens Nursery, a coastal forager who leads edible coastal plant courses and who grows plants adapted to Cape Town life.

The menu at one of Roushanna's vegetarian foraging courses

And Kobus van der Merwe, West Coast chef and author of the gorgeous Strandveldfood. He'll be offering his West Coast flavoured vermouth, as well as - I am told, and my mouth waters - tacos with vygies (see the leaves below).

Mosselbank at Low Tide, a Kobus van der Merwe dish featuring Mesembryanthemum crystallinum

The plants and the people are all in one place, for two days only. So go.

Saturday 18 April: 9am - 4pm
Sunday 19 April: 9am - 1pm

(And while you are there, sign up for membership of the Botanical Society of South Africa. It will get you free entry to all national botanical gardens, for one and thing, and it will plug you straight into one of the most active, optimistic and meaningful volunteer organisations in the country.)

Other Plant Fair links:

Notes from a Cape Town Botanist

SANBI Plant Fair