Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Year's Day Forage Walk

North Woods, Central Park

So here is a new thing:

I will lead a wild flavors walk in the teeth of winter, on New Year's Day, 2016.

(A whole month from now  - collective gasp. Yes, next year is one month away.)

We have seen a year of global surprises and sorrow. A New Year's Day walk is a clean, cold and wild way to begin 2016.

Cattails - Typha spp, at the Harlem Meer

I should add that walking in the cold has never bothered me. This is why we have clothes, after all, but I know it's not for everyone.

If there is snow, all the better, but it can't be promised.

North Woods

North Woods Frigid Forage
1 January 2016
1pm - 3pm

What will we see? you ask, with raised eyebrows.

We will see fragrant spicebush, whose twigs are packed with flavor in cold weather. We will see the skeletons of Japanese knotweed and the ghosts of pokeweeds past, whose luscious edible spring shoots will emerge 14 weeks later.

Pokeweed - Phytolacca americana

We will see the shadow of Cornelian cherries and sumac silhouettes, and serviceberry trees. We will find furry wineberry canes and rigid catbriar.

All in the waiting winter landscape that makes possible the temperate explosion of spring.

The same route will be repeated in late April - the contrast is stunning.

Jetbead - Rhodotypos scandens, not for eating

We will only cancel this walk in the event of a bona fide blizzard. As usual confirmation emails will be sent out in the week before the walk, with last-minute weather or MTA updates on the morning of, if bad weather is looming and a transport shutdown imminent.

North Woods

Needless to say, dress for the weather. The snack will be warm, in the form of a hot, wild-inspired soup.

We meet at 1pm sharp on the SW corner of Central Park North and Lenox Avenue, under the empty gingko tree.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Keep walking

At Pier 6, Crataegus "Winter King." At least, I'm going out on a hawthorn limb and calling it. I should check the park's plant list (and point out some typos). The fruit tastes a little like apple, and is very seedy.

The water- and landscapes of Brooklyn Bridge Park are still changing. Pristine floating docks have appeared. Not too many of those, in New York

Asters are still in bloom.

A wild black cherry turns bright.

And a beach rose - invasive Rosa rugosa - burns with rosehips.

The Piers that walk into the water offer river-wrapped views.

The Frenchman had not been here since we moved to Harlem, and he offered complimentary murmers. That doesn't happen often, either.

There are the death stars, of course: the apartments that have risen like fungi between the water and the BQE, fruiting from the mass of everpresent and swarming mycelia beneath the paving, offering high-cost living spaces squeezed irrepressibly between park and highway.

The city is change. The homes on the Promenade, below, sigh in relief, knowing that only a green berm lies between them and the million dollar view. Others have not been as lucky.

But access to these waterways is for everyone. And I think that in some ways little has changed there from the time of Whitman, and Melville - the men with words and water in their veins.

I love this park.

We walked to what we used to call thenoisiestparkintheworld, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, where the trains rage overhead, and wolfed a late-afternoon Shake Shack burger each (my first - fast food is interesting). Bridal parties, engaged couples, and quinceaƱeras groups posed around us. White and turquoise dresses, retinues, Manolo Blahnik stilletos.

Fortunately, we did not have to resort to a white stretch Hummer to get home.

We turned and walked back into our hood, heading down Court Street and pausing outside Moo Burger to appreciate the 5pm-rush stroller parking. This neighborhood has more strollers per capita than any other. We fantasize about buying one, and putting our fullgrown tiger in it. Leaving him parked outside Union Market with all the leashed dogs...

Monday, November 23, 2015

66 Square Feet goes wide, and long

Well, there it is. My third New York garden: The one in the middle. Let's call it #1, after our apartment number. Rose's lot is on the left, our condo neighbors' shared garden to the right.

A top-floor neighbor moved out and I was invited to take some pictures.

It needs some structure. A fat boxwood or five (I know, it's an addiction). I might river-gravel the path around the earth patch as I don't  like those rough pavers, very much. And the concrete slabs that the table and pots are sitting on are just something we must live with. I had two seconds of a hot pink (or turquoise?) fantasy, but surely one would regret it?

Maybe. One. Wouldn't.


And I would love a bigger table. Oh dear. I just noticed the sheep fell down. See the sheep?

What you can't see on the earth edges are the bulbs planted (Allium, lilies, Camassia), or the perennials, waiting for next spring and summer. At the back are many North Americans: Solomon's seal, sweetfern, Joe Pye weed, my three blueberry bushes, foam flower, asters and golden rod, agastache; plus Alpine strawberries, calamintha, the existing day lilies and violets, divided and transplanted, and my herbs, scattered about.

The viburnum in the top right corner has been hard-pruned - it was a thicket of very old, vertical suckers, and I removed about a third. It was fed, probably for the first time in its life. And I removed a lot of crushing wisteria from its crown, The wisteria originates in the hedge on the right, with an ancient English ivy.

The earth patch in the middle is designated edible-only: right now the few rows are arugula, fenugreek, red mustard and lambs lettuce (mache) that has at last come up, in the cold weather. In the spring I'll plant much longer rows. And I have sent off four cups of soil to Cornell for heavy metal analysis.

The thing is, right now? Not a drop of sun. Not a drop. So I remember August when it baked in sun-heat, and when I hauled out armfuls of weeds and cursed at squadrons of mosquitoes. And I pray that there are enough hours of sun to support what I have planted. I think it will be fine - but the shadow for these long months is a hurdle. I do miss the sunlit heights.

Because up there, there is this view:

Same house. Forty feet up. or top floor, garden or top floor? I chose garden.

And we shall see.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Grey Brooklyn

I walked a lot, last week.

The proximity of the water is wonderful. While Harlem trained me to leave the house and head for Central Park's North Woods when the narrow days grew too dark for me, Carroll Gardens offers Brooklyn Bridge Park within ten minutes.

And here you find the harbor, the slapping wakes and the rising and falling tides of this great estuary, the Mahicantuck, the North River, the Hudson, the great waters in constant motion, the river that flows both ways.

The Freedom Tower hid.

The berm between the park and the BQE has greened over (I spotted wild mustard growing on it).

Bayberries (Myrica pensylvanica) were covered in fruit - boil enough of them long enough and the floating wax will make candles for you, if you are desperate for light.

And dozens of winterberries (Ilex verticillata), newly planted, showed off their raison d'etre.

Heading home I saw Eshete's cats - he is their Ethiopian boss, a familiar figure in these streets, swaddled in layers of fabric and riding a bicycle, often spending hours at a time with his street pets, who wait for him, and are fed and watered.

I did not see him this day - it was damp, but the cats were waiting.

Yes, I know.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Courtesy of PoetryFoundation

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Neighboring hoods

The sidewalk of the Gowanus Nursery on Columbia Street in Red Hook is pretty with late annuals and perennials. The nursery is still well stocked with plants, and very good ones for shade, especially. I was very pleased to find sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), there. This is a good time to plant. Open weekends only.

In the Carroll Gardens streets it is still fall, and ginkgos are like beacons in the darkening afternoons.

Boerum Hill, below.

It is also clamping season, for pacifists:

Gowanus, a block from the canal:

And on my walk to Whole Foods (where I buy three things: organic chicken, Meyer lemons and ...wait. OK, two things).

The Venice of Brooklyn. One day.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sourdough, and Sarah Owens

We arrived early to Sarah Owens' Sourdough book party recently, and watched the baker-gardener-author arrange some extravagantly fetching flowers.

I'd like to use the picture above to illustrate to the gluten averse's OK to eat bread, people. Unless it actually makes you sick. And it does not make most people sick, nevermind the Banting-Noakes fundamentalism that has swept South Africa, the Paleo cults everywhere, and the 'eat clean' phobes. Check in with a therapist, but Eat Good Food.

You will be OK. Until you're not. Cos we're all gonna gettit in the end, right? Right.

But that is part of Sarah's point. How fermentation of grains makes all the difference. You'll have to buy the book to see.

Sourdough is a beautiful book. Ngoc Minh Ngo's images are compelling. And after baking my beloved ole boule for a year and a half I am ready for some fresh instruction and inspiration. Sourdough is filled with both.

Extra appealing? The botanical emphasis. Beets, kale, rhubarb, sweet potatoes, roses, elderflowers, nettles, fiddleheads and walnuts. And from lemon madeleines to pizzas, tacos, scones and Dutch pancakes (above - that might be the one I try first, the recipe inspired by Fort Defiance, in Red Hook). The book is arranged seasonally, so now you can dive right into fall.

Sarah has a gimlet eye for beauty: its composition, structure, and texture - as her groaning, detailed Dutch master snack table at the Sourdough book party demonstrated. These qualities are essential for heavenly bread, too. Her beet bread is dark red, earthy, beety (of course), and I will never forget my first bite, one hot summer in her top floor Brooklyn apartment, with a sip of cold cider and slick of black currant jam. The story I wrote for Edible Brooklyn is credited as being one of the inspirations for the book which followed. That is a very happy thing.

One of the many appealing qualities about Sarah is that, for a woman who knows a lot (she is the former Brooklyn Botanic Garden rosarian), she is always learning. While she was in town from Kentucky, where she moved from Brooklyn, she was taking a pickling class. Guess who ate the pickles? We did!

Thomas Brown, an ice sculptor friend, contributed the drippily beautiful centrepiece for the smorgas table. There was bread, of course, cut into dozens of bite-size pieces for the many-many spreads and marmalades and chutneys and cheeses and compound butters and compotes.

And there was dessert, also from the book - honey rose cake and chocolate port.

The author with her book.

Cocktails being discussed.

A Frenchman (what is he hiding behind his back?).

Begonia leaves in Dead Horse Bay bottles, with conversation.

Book buyers.

And book signers..

And finally, harts with darts. Because it is Williamsburg.

Excellent evening, better book. Sarah is my friend, but I am not steering you wrong when I say, Buy it. You will not be disappointed.