Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer living

The bean screen is in full swing. New tendrils tilt skywards and every morning I twine them around their wires. The more leaves the fewer windows we see, when sitting outside at night. The purple runner beans have even begun to make tiny-tiny beans.

Suppers are outdoors most nights.

This evening we ate a wild summer herb: American burnweed (Erechtites hieraciifolius, see image below). It is virtually unknown, in the eating world. It grows tall in wasteland and woodland at this time of year.I stumbled across it in 2012 and have been playing with it in moderation every summer since.

It is pungent, the smell reminiscent of lime skin and of cilantro, and of neither. The older leaves are bitter. I like it with the strong flavours of soy, lime, garlic, lemongrass. It would also be good as a foil for sushi, the way shiso is used. This salad was made with terrace herbs: shiso, Thai and purple basil, nasturtium, cilantro - each assertive. The dressing was sesame oil and lime, with a little sugar and black soy sauce. And those are our own favas. One whole handful!

Pine Ridge Chenin blanc-Viognier. Dry but very fruity, perfect for bold food.


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Saturday, June 27, 2015

You like it? Use it!

My editor asked me to sneak around Cape Town to steal some ideas for Gardenista....

Read the story in the link:  11 Garden Ideas to Steal from Cape Town. 

(Two of the gardens pictured - one is above, also where the kitty lives) were open to the public last November, for Open Gardens Constantia, held every two years to raise money for two Cape Town NGO's that teach people in underserved local communities to garden and to grow food for home use and for profit.)


Friday, June 26, 2015

The day of the rainbow

Better late than never. 

Sometimes, there is good news.

Marriage equality. 

In South Africa gay marriage was legalized in 2006. 

A big rainbow hug to all our gay American friends.

A big kiss for the activists and quiet fighters who made it happen.

And a steadfast wish that discrimination everywhere will find an end.

(Now, do I have what it takes to make a rainbow cocktail?)


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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Northeastern botanicals, bottled

This month's project is one that could last a lifetime, and travel wherever we go.

I like vermouth. It is mild enough to drink on its own, and very good to mix into cocktails. I heard that Kobus van der Merwe was tinkering with local flavours in South Africa to create a Strandveld vermouth, and that made me think. And read. A lot. Creating commercial vermouth sounds fascinating. A blend of white wines, about 20 herbs and spices, fortifying with spirit infusions, which are then distilled again, infusing the white wine itself, then aging the mixture in barrels that are left in the sun for a year.


Over the last several years I have played with local flavours, infusing them simply, and cooking, sometimes not so simply; and some indigenes stand out: spicebush, bayberry, sumac, sweetfern. Then there is mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) - not local, but abundant. And in France it is not vermouth unless it includes Artemisia. By law.

I started steeping, and cooking and infusing. Even the terrace contributed herbs.

The result is pink, tinted by the raspberry-spirit infusion, the deep yellow of the spicebush and the green of mugwort and bayberry. And maybe the pink peppercorns played  a part. Since I don't have a still, I could not clear the liquid via a second distillation. Pink it will remain.

I find it appealing. The wildcard is the spicebush, which needs to be kept in check, but the mugwort is an excellent base note. Now that I have an acceptable version there will be many experiments.

A taste of place.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brooklyn Bridge Park Walk

Monarda (bee balm)

Due to incoming storms, June 23's wild foods walk has been re-scheduled for next Tuesday.

On a stroll from Pier 1 to Pier 6, come and discover the wild edible plantings of Brooklyn's most botanically rich and Northeast-native inclined park. It has the best view in New York, too.

Beyond the bog

Sassafras and blueberries, cattails and spicebush, bayberry and sweetfern, sumac and sweet serviceberries (pie recipe in  66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life), here is an outdoor classroom that allows us to spot and identify a wealth of indigenous wild edibles.

Afterwards there will be a botanical tipple or two.

We meet in the park at 5pm at Pier 6, at the extremity of Atlantic Avenue, see map link: look for green markers.

The closest subway is at Borough Hall, a 15 minute walk away.

The walk will end on the lawns at Pier 1, where we will enjoy our snack and botanical cocktails. From there you can walk to York Street or Clark Street subways, or go on to dinner at Vinegar Hill in Dumbo.


Monday, June 22, 2015

City terrace life

It has been a busy week, so a little terrace catch-up is in order:

On our terrace, the (surviving) blueberries are fat I eat a handful every morning.

I have also worked out why two of the bushes have not been very happy. The good news is: It is not. My. Fault. But a Union Square market seller deserves a kick in the pants: the bushes were field-dug so that the main roots were cut off. I discovered this only when I transplanted two ailing bushes to 'hospital' pots on a cooler part of the terrace, recently. After winter's attrition the surrounding soil fell away, and the original root ball was exposed - tiny, and a perfect, shallow half circle, with those fat severed roots sticking out like amputated limbs. Someone dug them last year with no concern whatsoever for their future well-being, put them in a pot with clay and sold them. I did not remove all the clay when I planted them out last year, but now it had worked off and the truth was exposed. I am guessing that they might have been older shrubs past peak bearing age. No wonder they were so cheap.

Blueberries dislike having the roots disturbed at all. No new feeder roots formed and I'm surprised they last as long as they did.

But the happy ones? Are happy.

I have eaten most of the black raspberries. Slurp. It was so humid on Saturday morning that my lens fogged up, above. They were in peak ripeness over the weekend, which was excellent timing, as they had several visitors last week, bearing notebooks and cameras. We met and fed the lovely Lucy Anna Scott and photographer Jon Cardwell, who are collaborating on a book called My Tiny Garden. Lucy is the author of Lost in London, almost an English cousin to 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life, each exploring the green underbellies of their respective cities.

We had a terrace supper of fava bean and garlic scape bruschetta, bagna cauda, fire-grilled lamb in sour cream with terrace oregano (above, and recipe in my book), grilled scallions, and cherry clafoutis to end. It was a good night, crowned by a firefly's light.

In other news, the beans are beaning, and screening.

And the scarlet runners are already in bloom.

Every recent evening, when we sit down to dinner, a bumblebee visits the southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia, a spring acquisition - indigenous up and down the East Coast).

And last night I strained and filtered the orange wine - above - that I had made the day I learned that Roger Vergé had died. The recipe is in his Entertaining in the French Style, a book whose spirit is part of me.

 The infused wine was very good, but had a kick like an angry ostrich. Treat it as the aperitif he suggests or cut it with some sparkling water. VergĂ©'s is fortified with cognac, but I made do with a raspberry infused vodka, and a lot less sugar than he prescribes. The other ingredients are bitter oranges, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper (I have been tinkering at a Northeastern-inspired vermouth recipe over the weekend, so infusions are very much part of the late June house).

Last night's Caprese salad was with grilled red peppers (skins removed), Wisconsin burrata, terrace basil and a slick of melted anchovies.

So that was that.

Tomorrow's wild foods walk is in Brooklyn Bridge Park, if it does not thunderstorm on us. I'll be packing a recent wildflower infusion, something serviceberry-ish, and possibly a bottle of bubbles.


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Saturday, June 20, 2015


The bedroom in late afternoon light, before dinner is taken out to the terrace.

The blooming of the bare root rose, after rain.

Sweet melon and salty prosciutto.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Garden seats

It has been a busy on the terrace and it's not quite over, yet. But these chairs are looking quite inviting, right now. I think I might go and sit on one.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Raspberries and roses

The black raspberry has risen high on my list of Toughest Plants - so much died after last winter, but it and its rooted offspring kept going. The fruit is ripening overnight. It has made many new canes which will produce fruit next year (and perhaps even this fall).

And the first roses have opened. Above - supposed to be Boscobel (to replace last year's, which died after winter)...but I wonder. It is very pale (and pretty). I was less impressed with this year's David Austin shipment: the bare root roses were pruned badly, random cuts way above buds, so that there was a lot of dieback. I liked Boscobel because of its performance in muggy heat.

Below it is an ornamental portulaca, but you know me: it will find its way into our daily salads - it is stuffed with omega-3's.


Saturday, June 13, 2015


Northeastern summer flavours: bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), juneberry (Amelanchier canadensis) and sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina).

Plant them.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The June days

The terrace is settling into ideas of early summer.

There are annuals, gasp! Scaevola, above (Urban Garden Center provenance) - low fuss and very forgiving of the extreme shade-sun ratio deployed in these square feet.

A yellow and blue theme has evolved.

The nemesias above, I could not resist. I found them at the Union Square Greenmarket. They speak of late winter and early springtime on the West Coast of South Africa. They will probably expire in the long humid days. But perhaps  they will revive after cutting back. The pelargonium behind the nemesias is probably 'Citrosa' - a cultivar bred in Canada in the 90's and sometimes sold as citronella, which it is not. But I have a soft spot for the genus, which became one of my first plant loves, when my family moved to Cape Town from South Africa's hinterland. The leaves smell quite rose-y.

Golden oregano, above. Found at the little Mushtari hardware store on 125th.

And the landlord's sour cherries are beginning to ripen, Until two weeks ago there was also a very healthy grape vine down there, but then it was hacked right back.

The sheep continues to do sheepy things, all day, day in, day out. It sleeps standing up. 

And the pretty foxgloves ('Gold Crest') all collapsed after a hard drenching in the night. I cut them back. They are alleged to re-bloom, and I did see the beginnings of new shoots, but I cut them back below those shoots, for stronger stems. So...

And we have been eating outside, in the evenings. This was a good clafoutis. Cream, eggs, sugar, wonderful vanilla. And I pitted the cherries, as a special favour to the Frenchman.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mt Loretto State Park Wild Foods Walk

Mt Loretta woodland

The summer wild food walk season kicks off on Staten Island.

13 June 2015, 1.15pm - 4.30pm (plus travel time)
Mt Loretto Unique Area, Staten Island

This is an adventure. The New York kind. Plus lots of nature. In one outing we combine the big city, a sea voyage, a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty, a woodland walk, a grassland ramble and a shoreline visit.

Staten Island is one of the city's best-kept green secrets. Mt Loretta is a state park on the island.

From the entrance meeting point we'll spend some time scouting the woodland floor, and will emerge into the light to walk through grasslands.

Trifolium repens

If we are lucky we will see native roses, a little choked by mugwort.

Rosa virginiana

We will encounter wild edible weeds and indigenous common milkweed (and hopefully also some poisonous dogbane, often confused with edible milkweed).

Apocynum cannabinum

We may spot the occasional bunny, ospreys on the hunt and perhaps a taciturn groundhog (perhaps even the one that made the New York Times?).

Asclepias syriaca

On the beach we may find edible sea rocket.

For variety it is hard to beat.

Cakile edentula

Pack a picnic, drinks and tick repellent. This walk requires a reasonable level of fitness, and the day is long, but you will think of the forgotten borough quite differently, afterwards.

For the mass transiters:  Catch the 12pm Staten Island ferry across New York Harbor to St George. From St George take the 12.36pm SIR subway to Richmond Valley (37 minutes).

Here is the SIR schedule.

Drivers: Here is a map of where to park and rendevouz. We will meet up in the carpark at 1.15pm.