Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Salad days

I love salad. And arugula is still at the top of the leaf list, for me, peppery and very nutritious (vitamin A, and loads of K - good for bones).

It seems that one of the best things about Chez Mosquito is that I might be able to grow as much salad as I can eat. Which is a lot.

The arugula and red mustard are being eaten now, and I sowed the rest of their seeds a few days ago, along with mesclun and radishes. The m√Ęche germinated very poorly (1%, maybe) and after a lot more reading I have realized that the soil needs to be much cooler for successful germination. I have sown another batch and ordered more seed, so we shall see.

Today's lunch was a happy one: toasted sourdough from the loaves I baked earlier in the week, just-picked arugula and red mustard, and Vinaigrette Germaine (very garlicky, as my mother-in-law makes it).


                             Book an Autumn Walk 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The first bread

I forgot to ask Vince to feed the sourdough starter when I left for Cape Town (it is usually fed weekly). By the time we both returned it had been starved for four weeks. But it frothed right up (above) after a snack of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and a little drink of nice Brooklyn tap water.

I made bread. So much more fun in September than in the humidity of summer. The dough is different, and the hot oven not so much like hell.

Our new kitchen is small but actually has more work surface than the one in Harlem - allowing me to leave the loaves to rise on the counter.

I baked them after the crisp-skinned roast chicken had been take from the oven.

One we eat now, one we slice, bag and freeze. Excellent toast.


                             Book an Autumn Walk 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tomorrow's Table

When we returned from Cape Town I found a package wrapped in ribbon waiting for me. In it was a book from a friend, Leon van Eck. Yesterday I opened it and began to read (yes, I did wipe the cover after I removed my drink).

Tomorrow's Table is written by Pamela Ronald, a geneticist, and Raoul Adamchuck, an organic grower. They are married.

Leon - who is also a geneticist -  and I have had digital scraps in the past about GMO's. When I hear the acronym, I (and thousands like me) think dark Monsanto thoughts. And we recoil.

There is so much more to the story, and while I am only a couple of dozen pages in, I am hooked.

If you read labels, if you care about how your food is grown, if you are a grower of edible plants, this book is for you. It is essential and easy reading for people who consider themselves responsible and informed eaters.

Thank you,  Leon.

Friends don't let friends dine in the dark.


                             Book an Autumn Walk 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fall garden tips

I have two autumn gardening pieces on Gardenista this week.

One is about fall-beautiful perennials, to inspire a small move away from mum monoculture. Above, Vernonia photographed on the High Line. Read the story here: Fall Flowers

The second is one of my favorite topics - cool-season edible plants, especially pertinent right now as I prepare the neglected and uber-weedy in-ground beds I have inherited here on 1st Place.

Above - rainbow chard grown on the rooftop of the original 66 Square Feet. And yesterday I sowed more salads: mesclun, mustard, arugula and radishes.

It is rewarding always to include images from my edible gardening experiments - the picture of the arugula shows our first crop, here in Carroll Gardens, above (we ate this bunch last night, wilted in a warm potato salad).

Follow the link to see what other greens are best sown now, or in spring: The New Vegetable Garden.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Coming to rest

Unconsciously inspired (I figured it out afterwards) by plates of French snacks that my friends Stacey and Laura have been posting from Provence and Paris, I put together a Brooklyn collection to tide us over till dinner, last night. Also, I had skipped lunch.

New York Concord grapes, sausage from Los Paisanos, mutt olives, and Emmenthaler. As cosmopolitan as Carrol Gardens, minus the strollers. This is a neighborhood of young children and their parents, and old Italians. We like our new neighborhood very much, but find it, after Harlem and South Africa, very white. I miss the mix.

But we will always miss something about somewhere.

We sleep very well at night - as in, the whole night through. No thumps and bumps and crashes from below.

I am still getting used to the character of the outside space. A lot of windows look at us, from the houses opposite, whose backyards adjoin ours, so it is not a very private space. There is Rosa next door, who seems to watch every move. We'll see how that unfolds.

I'll write soon about garden things; there is a lot to tell.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cardinal vine, RIP

First piece of gardening news. Not quite what I was expecting to report:

91-year-old Rosa, who lives alone in her multi-storey townhouse next door, asked me, through her son Henry (who was sweeping her yard), to not grow vines on her fence.  My cardinal vine had just begun to bloom on top of it.

But vines are messy.

The fence in question is black and rusty and is what separates us from Rosa's bare concrete and astroturf yard. Not messy. Some day I'll show you a picture of her front garden.

So I have snipped my flowering cardinal vine down.

Yesterday, I thought that perhaps the birch pole screen I erected some weeks ago on our side of her iron fence had been a mistake. Now, I think not.  Henry says that yes, we may grow whatever we like on our fence. He was apologetic, he said, and speaking for Rosa, not himself. Rosa waved from a window - one of the ones from which she feeds flocks of city pigeons every morning. You know, neat, toilet-trained city pigeons.

I waved back.

I exchanged telephone numbers with Henry, in case Rosa ever needs anything.  I would be happy oblige, unless it is with a request to napalm the rest of my garden.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sweet treat

We will be unplugged for a while as we head north to see flowers and mountains and spring in the desert.

Closer to home, we spotted this Cape sugarbird feeding on Leucaspermum reflexum at Kirstenbosch, where we spent some happy hours yesterday.

Monday, September 7, 2015


We returned to the mountain, meaning to walk. But as we walked, rain fell, and we returned to the car, wet. A few minutes later the clouds had lifted enough for us to see Lion's Head again. It was warm. We shed layers.

So we drove, and walked the broad hill whose flowers change daily. It was cold. We added layers.

There were Moraeas and orchids, the first - above - perhaps Moraea vegeta. 

I don't know what the plant above is, yet. The sweet little orchids below are known as oumakappies - grandmother bonnets: Pterigodium catholicum.

And a tiny fern, with black stems.

Driving back, low hedges of Lobostemon were lit up in the late afternoon sun.

Over the last two days a wind raged summer-hot and then cold. And when it lay down and died sheets of rain followed, and then a penetrating drizzle. One side of the mountain rarely mirrors the other.

This week, mushrooms may appear in forests, and bulbs will continue to push up and to unfold. We will try to see as much as we can, inbetween being at home.

The Rand is at an all-time low right now, making South Africa an even better place to visit, if your currency is feeling strong.

Book your tickets.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

An arrival

The jet-lagged Frenchman, fresh from his long-haul flight, was met at No. 9 by pink bubbles, and pink ham.

And one of my mother's beautiful salads, with pink segments of Cara Cara orange from Babylonstoren, and nasturtiums and mint from the garden.

And by a pink-dressed corgi or two.

He brought summer with him. The temperature turned from spring to 30'C/86'F, and a warm wind is blowing.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Picnic on a hill

My mom and I picnicked on Signal Hill yesterday, in bright spring sunlight. I threw together a quick lunch of tomato soup and cucumber sandwiches. 

Every few minutes, tandem paragilders carrying excited tourists took off with a  rustle of their wing, before floating slowly to land on the grass of the Sea Point Promenade.

We were visited by bold guinea fowl who clearly understood the local call of,  Kiep, kiep, kiep! and came running.

I took the daisy-and-mountain picture again. Hard to resist.

Everywhere in Cape Town, beside the airport runways, on verges, in open fields, the tiny daisies grow like carpets - Cotula turbinata. The bigger white daises are the rain daisies, Dimorphotheca pluvialis.

The yellow may or may not be canola - I must look at the leaves more carefully.

And, above, the bietou bushes - Chrysanthemoides monilifera - are in full bloom above the bright houses of the Bo Kaap.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Signal Hill spring

After a walk on Table Mountain - above - with my friend Marijke, a whim led me to point the Landcruiser towards Signal Hill, on the off chance that I might see some spring flowers.

What a whim!

I made noises as I walked.

Happy noises.

How beautiful. And on the first day of South Africa's spring.

The white flowers like snow are Cape daisies, or rain daisies - Dimorphotheca pluvialis. And it has rained for a couple of days, after a lower-than-average winter rainfall. Between them, the geophytes (bulbs, corms, tubers - all underground storage organs) are beginning to open.

The unfortunately named Morea flaccida, above. [Correction: I think it is M. miniata]

Oxalis obtusa, above, in mats inbetween the white.

Lotononis prostrata, above - no more than an inch tall. 

Hermannia althaefolia, above. I love the Hermannias, like little bells.

Nemesia barbata  - occurs mostly after fire, and fire was here. So tiny, so perfect, so dramatic in miniature.

Hm. I don't know, above. [Ha, got it! Zaluzianskya divaricata]

What a city.

On a side note:

I renewed my Botanical Society of South Africa membership yesterday. It gains me free entry to any national botanic garden - like Kirstenbosch - in South Africa (I boosted my membership this year to include a guest). If you appreciate our plants and their environment, please buy a membership. Membership fees keep this extraordinary NGO alive, staffed by volunteers. The Botanical Society produces the exceptional field guides  that describe our flora by region, and it supports vital conservation work and education. I consider membership of the Botanical Society to be part of our floral civic duty.

You can purchase membership at any national botanical garden (much faster and easier) or online.