Saturday, October 31, 2015

Full circle

A five minute stroll west takes you to Red Hook. The Gowanus Nursery has some very tempting selections (I have already bust my gardening budget so must twiddle my thumbs for a while).

Giant shopping malls cruise liners berth another five minutes way. The giant screen on board was playing giant music videos.

15 minutes south and you are near the waterways behind Fairway, where Sandy wreaked havoc two years ago.

An empty building is painted, near the projects.

And the edges still look like a ghost town - this will not last: already the condos are rising.

Asters on the water.

And back north again, 25 minutes, into Gowanus, the neighbourhood flanking the great green greasy canal, also subject to major real estate development.

Bug services required?

Still in Gowanus, on 3rd Street, just past the new-ish Wholefoods.

And in Boerum Hill, the other excellent little nursery, GRDN Brooklyn. These asters would be perfect in rock gardens or as ground covers full sun - Aster ericoides. I could shop here every week.

West again from Boerum Hill to Brooklyn Heights and the water of the East River and New York Harbor, at Brooklyn Bridge Park, whose phoenix-like development I have witnessed from scratch (though not too long ago the common milkweed patch outside the park's headquarters was destroyed to accommodate a carpark - a little ironic, given that so much indigenous material has been planted).

It is still golden rod season, in the city.

The smooth cordgrass grows with its feet in the salty water. It has fared better than the pickerel weed that used to be in the marsh just above it, which has since been swallowed by more aggressive plants.

Circling home again on Henry Street... 

...where there is a window cat. Carroll Gardens is a place of cats.

A grey cat in a front garden nearby - we see it in our garden, sometimes, but it is very scared when called. I think it is feral but is fed at this house. It and an all-grey friend are often waiting, a few doors down.

Petro is on the sidewalk almost every day, a friendly little greeter of passers by.

So skinny, though. She must weigh 5lbs.

The tantalizing grapes ('Niagara,' I think) on the arbour outside the Dunkin Donuts on Court Street. Who picks them? I asked the girl who sold me my Catskills jelly donut a week ago - the owner, she smiled, pointing upstairs But he doesn't. They just hang there. It's killing me.

And much later a rising moon over the sunken and roaring BQE, a useful bridge to Columbia and Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, and the adventures they offer.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Monarchs in the park

Central Park: monarchs resting on an indigenous black cherry (Prunus serotina) tree.

And feasting on an invasive butterfly bush (Buddleia). So..?

It does raise all the interesting questions regarding the native/invasive plant divide. Could the park plant more milkweed species? Yes. There are very few. But even if there were many, these butterflies are feeding on nectar, in October. Milkweed blooms in June. And it is their larvae that eat the milkweed leaves. 

More native nectar? And what is that, at this time of year? Suggestions welcome.

(Speaking of parks: six five spots left on my Ramble in the Ramble, on Nov. 15, see below to book.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Who's your honey?

I knew I had spotted something interesting in the upstate woods, but I also knew that it would be a few days - and perhaps never - before I tasted these perfect little mushrooms.

They were young, and in pristine condition. I collected most of them by slicing the stalks, but kept this entire cluster for identification purpose. All parts of a mushroom are needed for an accurate ID.

Above: In mushroom identification, recording and observing the caps as well the gills is important. So is knowing that there is a veil, or partial veil attaching cap to stalk.

Accurate identification involves a series of important steps, and every detail counts. And you always make a spore print. Each is like a finger print for a species.

People who dismiss eating wild mushrooms as dangerous tend to think that it is a case of Russian Roulette. Maybe the next one will get you. But there is a protocol to follow, and if observed minutely, you will lead a long and well-fed life.

** I guess I have to say it: if you have never collected mushrooms before, don't start with the gilled ones. Aim for pored mushrooms. They are easier. People who cut corners can get into serious trouble with gills. **

Once I had done my reading at home, submitted my photos to several mushroom groups, made my spore print (WHITE - if it is a rusty colour you may have collected a deadly Galerina, or a big laughing gym, Gymnopilus junonius, which will make you sick) and consulted with members of the New York Mycological Society, I was ready: I had a species of Armillaria - all are edible, and are collectively known as honey mushrooms. The species itself was probably gallica, based on the bulbous stem, but several species are apparently so hard to tell apart that it requires microscopic analysis.

So that took 24 hours.

I cooked and ate six tiny ones, on the off chance that I had an allergic reaction (it can happen with mushrooms). I didn't.

36 hours after collecting them, I dived in. 

Mushrooms on toast. These honey mushrooms are firm and a little nutty, and do not lose moisture in the way that store-bought button mushrooms (Agaricus) do.

Mushrooms with crisp pancetta, a poached egg and mugwort-infused butter.

And the rest - along with regular button mushrooms - on a tart, with a dandelion base. 

I used the olive oil pastry recipe in my book (page 111) and adapted that lambs quarter tart recipe to use dandelions. The mushrooms I sauteed  each in their own pan, till cooked, topped the cooked greens with the cooked mushrooms, and poured over the cream and egg yolk mixture from that recipe.

The Frenchman hummed.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tasting the land

Suuring - a tablespoon of sour

Read all about the edible potential of a Cape spring in the piece I wrote for Culinary Backstreets: Suuring and Sow Thistles.

Nettle tart

Our friends Johan and Peter kindly let me forage for as many stinging nettles as I liked, behind their house in Koringberg. Back in Cape Town some of them became this tart, above (very much based on the lambsquarter tart in my book).


And I tramped up and down the green byways of Constantia, once with Tipsy (pictured in the Culinary Backstreets article) collecting three cornered leeks, suuring and sow thistles.

Sow thistles, suuring and three-cornered leeks

She now knows where the biggest stash of morogo is in the southern suburbs. 

Sow thistles

The Frenchman knows by now that where I go, there goes my appetite for plants and new flavors, and he was remarkably patient on our trip through Namaqualand, munching on unusual vegetables, like veldkool, below, and strange herbs.

Trachyandra falcata - only unopened buds are eaten

On our trip to the drier places I found bitter buchu, a species of Diosma, and was blown away by its intense fragrance, preserved right through cooking.

Veldkool, Hantam lamb, Cape lemons and bitter buchu

This is the true flavor of a country, and the bredie I made with the wonderful lamb from the farm Brandkop was excellent, eaten in a room lit only by oil lamps, with the enormous landscape knocking on the room's French doors in the darkness outside.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A day in the Catskills

We Zipped out of the city.

At my feet a flask of espresso and hot milk, the way we like it.

In my hand the ritual Catskills donut. The only time I ever eat a donut: One jelly donut en route. Vince's is Boston cream.

We found the leaves, on the climb called Devil's Kitchen. We had not been here since 2009.

It was very cold. A few degrees above freezing. I was shivering when I got back into the car.

There were icicles.

And wraparound beauty.

Even the poison ivy was gorgeous, below:

I did not grow up with woods, and they remain magical.

Two hours from New York City, the wilds.

Then it began to snow.

We Zipped on, heading for our favourite spot in the narrow Peekamoose valley.

...stopping often for leaves.

...and views.

...and crabapples. So many Posted signs. Private. Beware of Dog. Stapled to trees or fence posts on the road. Why does the countryside sound so paranoid?

...and flowers.

...and garlic mustard, Too close to the road to collect but I did munch surreptitiously on a leaf to try and quell the non-stop sneezing and sniffing fit that had besieged me since Brooklyn. I can't say if the garlic mustard was the reason, but the fit stopped, after two solid hours of nose blowing. Naturally, now the Frenchman is sick - we shared the coffee cup - but I am fine.

The valley has steep sides striped with water.

And then we crunched down the familiar path. We were last here in January. We found this place in 2009, with my mom.

Mushrooms! They turned out to be Armillaria (often called honey mushrooms), and probably A. gallica

All Armillaria are edible, but it took a lot of reading, and asking, and spore printing before I had a bite, 36 hours later (delicious).

The water in the stream was low but rushing nicely.

And our spot was as deserted as ever. It has never disappointed us.

We broke out the picnic - hen of the woods soup (left over from my forage walk in Prospect Park), and bacon and Brooklyn arugula sandwiches.

Vince eats picnics standing up. It might be a Canadian thing.

On the way back we saw lots of barberries - these pretty but invasive shrubs have devastated parts of the Catskills woods, shoving out more reticent natives.

And then it was back home. 

Re-entry on a Sunday is always a lengthy process, when you are New York-bound.

Over the Hudson-spanning Tapanzee Bridge towards Tarrytown, to avoid the potential nightmare of the George Washington Bridge from Jersey.

And back home again, in thick traffic.

Hugging the Brooklyn Bridge Park on the BQE, trying to remember that we had just been in a place of nothing but trees and pristine water and leaves falling across the open road.