Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The gardens around us

In this week's article for Gardenista, I wrote about gardens in the hood. It is called Carroll Gardens, after all. Click that link for lots more pictures. A little local colour, literally. And I met some neighbors.

The garden above belongs to Polina Siterman, who grew up tending strawberries in the family's dacha garden in Russia.

Sadly, the pink flamingoes did not make the cut for the story. That is perhaps a whole other story. Every third or fourth garden in Carroll Gardens is stuffed with statuary. Flamingos, gnomes, Catholic saints, the virgin Mary, Jesus, baby sheep, mangers...

Monday, May 30, 2016


Before the heavy rains of last night I snapped a picture from the rear of the long back garden here at Chez 66 in Carroll Gardens. After snipping the tops of these fava beans (to eat raw in salads), I pulled them out. I love them - they have been a staple of my New York gardening life, perhaps especially as they are the first up in spring and the last down in winter, but I did not feel like doing daily battle with black aphids and a squirt bottle of soap (though it has worked on my Camassia flowers, also besieged).

I chopped the bean plants up, dug unaffected parts back into the soil, and used the lower stalks (also no aphids) as a leafy mulch in one very difficult and sloped corner that stays very dry (under the viburnum). It is planted with some volunteer purple perilla and sunchokes.

The umbrella from Patio Living has been even more useful than I had anticipated. In these months the sun actually clears the building well enough to make the area where the table is very hot in the morning, so if I have coffee out there, I can hide from it (the sun, not the coffee). And the Frenchman likes to keep it open for dinner because it creates a room beneath, a screen that gives us some sense of privacy.

This photo has made me decide: Those paths have got to go. I really dislike the color and texure of those pavers, especially in photographs. I have a nice little Rewards Card from my credit card company (points mostly due to long distance air tickets) and I'm going to blow it on river gravel, which will camouflage them.

It's decided. Phew.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ready, set, garden!

The week has been busy. Which is why I have not been here. Also, May turned into summer, like that. So I picked some of the Boscobel and the Windemere (white) that are flourishing in pots in front of our bedroom windows. They would have fried by the next day

Earlier I gave myself 45 minutes to garden inbetween other things, and set my alarm: charged into the garden in my denim dungarees (the best gardening clothes in the age of low rise jeans) and mowed down the bolting spinach and cilantro (eaten for supper) then spread 3lbs of pulverized egg shells (it takes 5 minutes in the food processor - lots of fine dust) and dug it in - still raising the pH.

Instead of tossing or composting the remnants of my mache plants two week ago I snipped them into bits and left them in a layer on top of the soil, and I did the same with the spinach bottoms, today - they'll decompose eventually, but right now are a much-needed mulch, as this soil loses moisture fast. Beneath them I planted 'Dragon's Tongue' and painted pony beans - both bush beans. I must still remove the fava beans - suddenly besieged by aphids. They are in the prime and the sunniest spot where the test tomatoes will go (back left of the central plot, below). Not sure that we have enough sun, but it's not bad right now - from now till August this spot will receive 6 hours, before waning. And at the back the tall tomatoes will not shade anything else.

My alarm sounded, I went in, showered, turned myself into a human, and headed to Manhattan. 

Back home, a box of books arrived - I have lots of reading to do. All I need is...time. 

If you have any to spare, I am collecting it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Grow Journey season shifts at Chez 66

Here we are, in May's final stretch. The 10 x 10 vegetable plot in the middle of Chez 66 is producing daily salads. The Grow Journey spinach 'Verdil' - such a baby just the other day, is now sending up flower heads. When I bump one, an eruption of improbable pollen rises several inches and drifts away. I pick the bolting stalks as fast as I can, and we eat them in nightly salads. They are also very good wilted quickly in a hot pan and used as a bed for a poached egg. The leaves are still lush and upright, and just a few have been bothered by leaf miners (I pick those leaves and throw them far, far away, where the sun don't shine).

Nearby, the first sowing of arugula is trying very hard to flower and I won't let it. The upright budding stems are very peppery and good, raw.

The last of the garden cress has been eaten and the remnants tilled into the soil as a very light green manure - any organic matter helps, here. I have to re-water our abused soil often, as it loses moisture fast. And what about fertilizer? I have not used any, unless you count the many pounds of crushed oyster shell to raise pH. Last fall's soil test revealed high phosphorus levels, so someone before me fertilized a lot. And I am discovering that the use of fertilizer should never be automatic: This blogpost is enlightening.

Now the upland cress is flourishing and I mix it with the pretty beet greens ('Early Wonder Tall Top') for bagel toppings and stuffing for breakfast omlets/omelettes.

What's next? I have sown the Seeds-of-the-Month dill 'Goldkrone' and it has risen in a spiny little row. Thai basil and garden huckleberry (actually a variety of Solanum nigrum) are in a seed tray and soon I must transplant them. The basil will go into pots as I do not trust the European starlings to leave it alone, but the Solanum must go in-ground into the sunniest part of the plot, where it will be joined by some cherry tomatoes from Grow Journey as well as their beautiful 'Painted Pony' beans. When the arugula comes out.

Sun. I have to make myself remember The Dark of Winter. Because right now the whole garden is in sunlight as the rising Northern sun clears the tall townhouse. Closest to the house the shade begins again by late morning, while the back stays in sun more or less all day. In late fall, winter and early spring, not a ray of sun pierces our gloom.

It is challenging to choose the right plans for this space. But now I pretend that we are Alaska. Night, and then day, and then the longest night, again.

What did you plant today?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A long table

Supper outside last night, on our new table from Rustic Productions on Etsy (if you visit the link, ours is a newly-built version of the 'very rustic' sale item table - $350, made from reclaimed oak). It would have had six legs, which didn't look right to me, and Deena and Paul very kindly modified it with a reinforced center section. It shipped in three boxes from Ohio. Amazing Internet.

 We are very happy with it. Having space to spread out is wonderful.

As we ate and it grew dark the possum climbed back over the fence towards us, climbed down, snuck around the side, crossed the garden and went about its business...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Chez Possum?

A swearing squirrel drew me to the screen door. And there I saw, walking across the garden in May daylight, the possum. So I fetched my camera. The sheep says, What the f-f-f-f-f-f-u-u-u-u-u-...?

I didn't got too close, just in case it was sick, and after it got over the frozen-possum attitude, it high-tailed it (low tailed it?) up the fence.

And back down, after thinking about it for a bit. It drooled a little on the way down, which worried me, but I have looked it up, and that is what possums do when stressed. Opossums are very resistant to rabies, apparently.

Then it sprinted across Carlos' yard to its hole in the shed.

Who needs to go camping in Africa?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


I have always wanted to grow ornamental alliums, and now I do. In Cape Town, my mom has used leeks to similar effect. Most of the alliums have been fine but a few curled up on themselves and did not produce flowers. Their bulbs are blue with mold.

I have learned new things in this, our third New York garden, and the first in-ground. That squirrels eat viburnum blossoms. That European starling love herbs - parsley, summer savory and fenugreek have been decimated.

No one bothers the salad leaves - arugula, spinach, mache, upland cress, an Asian mustard, mesclun, peas, fava greens. Which is good, because we eat them every night.

We have learned that a raccoon uses the utility wires highway strung from pole to pole in our backyards as a suspension bridge. We saw one in the dark, the other night, walking the highwire. And the possum comes nosing round at ground level, from Carlos and Rose's side. Without our own animal to watch, we watch the other animals, like campers at a watering hole.

The formidable Rose passed away recently. We did not know, our neighbor Carlos told me, through the fence. We can now grow flowers on that fence. He says that there is a kitty in her house, which he helps feed. It shows itself to no one. He likes cats.

I am searching for a better name for this garden. Chez Mosquito feels too aggressive. Although, we did swat out first skeeter, today. Any suggestions? Short, catchy, accurate. No pressure. It needs a label for easy filing. Chez 66? Our new table is just a bit bigger than our first terrace (isn't that COOL!?). Hardly seems possible.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hot, fiery and bold

...and I mean dinner!

Actually a very rustic supper. I was testing a recipe idea for an article. Despite its appearance it was delicious. A few more tweaks and we'll be there.

In one pan shallots and a few ramps were cooked slowly in unscented oil, with black bean paste and a lot of dried chile. In another I browned some humanely raised pork. Meanwhile I cooked till just tender, young pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) shoots - they are ready to eat now, in our hood. The pork was added to the spicy onion mixture, and I stirred in a spoonful of Kiyoko's wonderful sansho miso paste (sansho is Japanese Sichuan  - Zanthoxylum piperatum, and she used the leaves and seeds). Finally I added the cooked pokeweed stems.

It was powerful, but pokeweed is very juicy and mild, and works well with serious heat.

In other forage-related news, today I strained and bottled two liters of rhubarb-spruce syrup, three liters of autumn olive flower cordial (very fizzy - if you hear a muffled boom it is Brooklyn, exploding) and a liter of pine tip-dandelion flower cordial - only fizzy after I added some of the dregs of my milkweed cordial for last year; that yeast was still alive and kick started the sulky pine tip infusion. Fascinating! (I know, I am talking myself.)


Sunday, May 15, 2016


I was thrilled to receive this wonderful surprise-gift yesterday from my friend Kiyoko, who has attended several of my forage walks, and who joined us yesterday in Inwood: Unripe ume (Prunus mume) - very hard to find.

Don't eat them raw, said Kiyoko. You will die.

She also provided a recipe for making ume syrup - you pack them in sugar, after pricking holes in each fruit and turning them every day. They will ferment, a little. I am very excited. Last year Kiyoko gave me a gift of her own homemade ume syrup and it was delicious. Also good for sore throats, she says.

In other preserving and fermenting tales, I must bottle my by-now-very-fizzy-after-8-days autumn olive flower cordial as well as the decidedly-not-fizzy rhubarb cordial and a pine-tip and dandelion cordial. Each tastes very much of the chief ingredient, but of course the bubbles are the most fun.

There is one more spring forage walk - Fort Tryon, this Saturday. After a catastrophic commute to the one in Inwood, I may leave at daybreak to beat the MTA (Metropolitan Transport Authority) at its own game.

Other news? We now have a seven foot long table in the garden. Pictures to follow.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Lucky leaves

A Friday-the-13th bowl of green goodness, just picked from the rained-on vegetable plot here at Chez Mosquito. In the bowl? Arugula buds and leaves (I sowed the second crop just ten days ago as the first thinks of bolting), fava bean tips, pea shoots, sheep sorrel (kidnapped in a snow flurry from the Catskills last year and flourishing here) and my own mugwort. Yes, I know - it seems odd to grow a 'weed,' but I like having my own supply.

The leaves will help to fill Vietnamese-style summer rolls for tomorrow's Inwood wild foods walkalong with foraged indigenous Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum americanum) leaves, burdock root, winter cress and garlic mustard flowers. The rest will be salad for tonight's supper (with mushroom pizza). The mugwort is about to be made into a fresh herb salt for hard boiled quails eggs, another walk snack. The other tidbits include rolled pokeweed tea sandwiches with miso-mayo and mahlab cookies.

Now...will it rain? We don't know. If I have to cancel the Frenchman and I will have a pretty fabulous picnic.

The last walk of spring, by the way, is on May 21st, at Fort Tryon. If you're good, I'll bring prosecco.

Happy weekend!

Fort Tryon Forage Walk

I'll be leading a wild foods walk in Fort Tryon Park in late May. While Fort Tryon is familiar to residents of Washington Heights, many New Yorkers from Manhattan neighborhoods further south have never visited it. It's beautiful. One of the unusual aspects of the Heather Garden, above, is that it is situated high on a bluff above the Hudson River, with views of the river, George Washington Bridge and the Palisades, in New Jersey.

I know this park well under deep snow or in the bright colours of fall. Spring will be a new time for me.

Our point-not-pluck part of the walk begins in this cared-for garden, where we'll identify weeds and ornamental edibles, before turning wilder and woodsier as we head east and down some winding forest paths. I expect to find a collection of edible urban weeds (burdock should be out in profusion) as well as indigenous plants.

We will move in a wide circle, stopping for the traditional wild-inspired snacks on the way, before returning (steeply uphill) to our starting point. You may break off instead, and head north to the nearby Cloisters, and their kitchen gardens (this is a good way to have a taste of the best that botanical New York has to offer: public garden, park, and private institutional garden).

We meet at 1pm at top of the steps above the A subway stop at 190th Street. More details mailed to confirmed walkers the week before the walk.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Ahead of Wednesday evening's forage tour of Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1 (tickets here) I did some reconnaissance. But first I gazed longingly though the chainlink at some wild lettuces volunteering on a heap of earth and mulch. Very tender, very delicious. If you like that sort of ting.

 Rhus aromatica - fragrant sumac

Lots of this planted at Pier 6, too. The fruit will be ripe in late summer.

Thlaspi arvense - pennycress

The white flowers of a few weeks ago have gone to seed. Peppery.

 Myrica pensylvanica - northern bayberry

A kitchen staple, for me

 Aquilegia caandensis - columbine

Pretty masses of columbines are in bloom on a side path.

 Osmunda cinnamomea - cinnamon fern

An easy fern to ID, and one of the few whose fiddleheads are eaten

 Matteuccia struthiopteris - ostrich fern

The most common source of edible fiddleheads. 

 Stylophorum diphyllum - celandine poppy

In bloom now before turning summer-dormant. Not for eating. But it has yellow blood!

 Asarum candense - wild ginger

The rhizomes are where the action is. Grow your own and find out... Full shade lover.

 Viburnum prunifolium, I think - blackhaw

Tons of flowers, this year, perhaps in fall there will be fruit.

Zizia aurea - golden alexanders

People eat these flowers but I am interested in the fragrant leaves, and am reading to find out more. Zizia belongs to the tricky Apiaceae family that swings from one end of the ingestion spectrum to the other: from parsley and carrots and fennel to poison hemlock and blister bush. Yum, yum, yum, death rattle, skin rash. 

If you have a free hour before dinner this evening, come along. 


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Inspiration on a tree

A chance encounter with an elm tree in Brooklyn helped me fill the Vietnamese summer rolls for our Dead Horse Bay walk on Saturday. The samara (the seeds inside their green-winged sheaths) have an interesting flavor that I have only been able to describe obscurely as like the smell-of-snow-on-nearby mountains.

And then there was all this winter cress in bloom.

So, at the tail end of a grey and rainy week, I had a good forage that included a pheasant back mushroom (also called hawks wing and dryad's saddle, and more properly Polyporus squamosus - very nice when very young and tender). The pine tips, far right - are fermenting right now with the dandelion flowers, destined to become pine tip fizz. I hope. If the wild yeasts are feeling cooperative. In the middle, above, is a bunch of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)stems, which we have been eating this last week. For the picnic I rolled them - cooked, do not eat pokeweed raw - into soft slices of Wonderbread with a schmear of miso-mayonnaise.

The two little sliced cakes above belong to my new favourite recipe, courtesy of friend-neighbour Julia and her Sicilian husband Carmelo - involving two cups of extra virgin olive oil with, in this iteration, mahlab, the powdered kernels of black cherries (Prunus serotina, in this case), which adds a marzipan-y element. I have also made it with spicebush (Lindera benzoin), while the original calls for orange zest.

The next walk wild foods walk mit picnic is in Inwood Hill Park, this coming Saturday, with a midweek evening stroll in Brooklyn Bridge Park (you must book for the latter via the Conservancy website).

How was your weekend?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Inwood Hill Park Wild Foods Walk

Inwood Hill Park
14 May 2016
1pm - 4pm

Inwood Hill Park - home to the last natural forest in Manhattan - is one of the most beautiful in the city. While the grassy ballfields near the entrance are buzzing with outfielders and smacking with bats, the woods to the west and south are almost deserted.

Mugwort - Artemisia vulgaris

Here, there is a the valley of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) - the small, fragrant indigenous trees whose berries are called Applachian allspice and whose twigs can make teas, sugar and infused drinks. Higher up the trees are tall and the sense of green enveloping. This is New York City?


Pokeweed - Phytolacca americana

Along our route expect to see invasive field garlic, burdock, and mugwort as well as the elusive (in Manhattan) stinging nettle, and indigenously delicious pokeweed.

Columbine - Aquilegia canadensis

Our walk will take us up a hill, along a ridge, and down to overlook the Hudson River. 

Celandine poppy - Stylophorum diphyllum

We will see indigenous wildflowers en route: false and true Solomon's seal, columbine, celandine poppy. Learn to ID poison ivy and how to spot its folk-remedy antidote, jewelweed.

Jewelweed - Impatiens capensis

This is a fairly long walk over uneven terrain, and a reasonable level of fitness is required. Bring water, and expect a wild-inspired snack en route (no, we don't graze,  I make it at home).

Take the A to the end of the line - 207th Street, and walk west to the park's entrance at Seaman and Isham. More details will be emailed to confirmed walkers closer to the time.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Read all about it

Since spring is springing and I have been writing (and making rhubarb soda pop, above), here is a catch-up post with links to some of the articles I have written recently. Follow the links for stories, and by all means leave comments.

Edible Brooklyn - my story about eating sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), whose fresh, fragrant young leaves are just fluffing out, here in Brooklyn. Chances are it is growing near you, if you have a cabin or summer retreat almost anywhere east of the Rockies! This indigenous herb is unfamiliar to most people even though Native Americans knew it well.

Pelham Bay in the Bronx is a botanical hotspot? See why in my Secrets in Plain Sight story for Gardenista.

Weeds You Can Eat -  Japanese knotweed and why you should eat it (and-by-the-way-did-you-know-that-Scott's- Miracle-Gro-is-in-bed-with-Monsanto?). Plus a hummus recipe to take the nasty taste out of your mouth.

BBG in Spring - their Plant Sale begins tomorrow evening (for members) and on Thursday for the rest of us. Definitely worth a visit - plus petals.

It has been raining beautifully all night and is still drizzling. We really needed it. It will help push up new growth at Dead Horse Bay this Saturday - there are still spots on that wild foods walk, so come and join us. The moon will be new. The tide will be out. The rhubarb pop will be there, too.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spring, with flowers and grit

There is rarely watercraft action on the great, green, greasy Gowanus. But when I crossed the 3rd Street Bridge the other day, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, for non-Americans) was puttering along on the slick water - one of the most toxic waterways in the country. Despite that fact, and in anticipation of a Superfund cleanup, the banks of the Gowanus are being beadazzled heavily by developers, and vast lofts are rising in open lots.

Which led to this very funny subway ad by Streeteasy, a user-friendly real estate website that lets you refine your apartment search by applying filters: neighborhood, size, amenities, rent, etc.

On the other side of the bridge is Wholefoods. And its canal-edge garden of mostly indigenous plants.

For full sun, this is a wonderful shrub: Aronia arbutifolia, red chokeberry. The flowers are prolific and the fruit that ripens late in the year is tart but very good in cordials, sauces and jams.

Pick the fruit after the mouth-puckering tannins have dissipated.  Google Aronia and you'll find hysterical antioxidant claims on its behalf, in pill form. The fruit is much more fun.

Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) had a very good spring, this year. They are an understorey tree in the eastern United States.

And there is bayberry (Myrica pensylvania), which is typically a shoreline shrub with very aromatic leaves.

Gowanus still has the grit whose loss in some neighborhoods many people  mourn; under the bridge in a homeless man's encampment was an open suitcase, still neatly packed. A silent question mark.

I'll be leading two other Brooklyn walks, soon: one around the distinctly gritty Dead Horse Bay, on May 7th, where weeds, edible indigenous plants, low-tide bottle scavenging and our picnic will compete for attention.

The next is in the non-gritty and very plant-saturated Brooklyn Bridge Park, on behalf of the BBP Conservancy. That's May 11th and is in the early evening, from 6.30pm - 7.30pm. The Conservancy underwrites the walk and the tickets are just $10. If I were you I'd follow it with a chaser of dinner at Vinegar Hill House, in Dumbo.