Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye, hello

New Year's Eve. Tomorrow is another day. All the rest is pressure. 

For us, this evening? Some ritual crab cakes, with a citrus and spicebush sauce. Preceded by baby baked potatoes with sour cream, salmon roe, and South African bottarga. Not for us? The ritual (see the December chapter of my book) walk to the Brooklyn Promenade. It is bloody freezing: 12'F/-12'C.

Cold, by our standards. We're staying put.

Now I go back to editing. The dishwasher is running, the house is warm, the Frenchman is reading his blog, and tomorrow there will be fresh brewed coffee, and work to be done.

The future? Do the small things well. Be kind. Pull your own weight. Hang out with people who know more than you do.

Carry on.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Apple magic

In case you missed it, I wrote an apple-loving cocktail post for Gardenista. Above you see 'Winter Banana'  at the top, with 'Honey Crisp' below, fizzing away. Why not use good apples to make new drinks?

In the story you will learn to make that fizzy apple cordial (ingredients: apples, water, sugar), an intensely flavoured apple and rosemary essence, above, and a handful of refreshing cocktails.

This is the Apple Rosemary Essence, made with the same apples you used for the fizzy cordial.

And this is a completely delicious cocktail I called Cold Snap, without an ounce of alcohol. Mocktail indeed, but it tastes kind of convincing (I am not sure that is the point, but it is very grown up). Go and read the story for that recipe, too (it will also send you to the cranberry cocktail post, for that tart Cranberry Sour recipe, above right - one of the cheapest and easiest mixers you will ever make).

That original apple fizz (which inspired it all) is now vinegar - on purpose! And I must taste and bottle it, soon. Lots of fun.

Who needs egg nog?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Pain d'epice

My holiday recipe for pain d'epice - little spice loaves, based on an MFK Fisher recipe (if you can call it that), with my own native American twist, is over at Gardenista.

My first batch was made with a honey and flour paste that had aged, probably fermenting very slowly, for a couple of months.

My friend Bevan WhatsApp'd me yesterday from Istanbul to inform me that the traditional medieval decoration for pain d'epice was boxwood leaves held in place "with cloves with gilded heads." Hm.

Maybe one day. I have box leaves. I have cloves. I just need the gold leaf and the bevy of indentured serfs to gild each clove. I imagine the cloves helped preserve the loaves, too. I am going very untraditional, heretical, even, and covering them with a think layer of rosehip jam, marzipan and royal icing, as we speak. Purely for looks.

But they are really best simply sliced very, very thinly, and buttered. With good butter. My go-to decent butter is actually just Land O'Lakes. But I love the Belgian one with with salt from the Camargue. I stocked up on it recently and the freezer is filled with the little salty bricks.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Winners, Come Forward!

Two out of the five winners of the giveaway have not checked back to see who won the fabulous-fabulous draw - the results were announced on Monday.

Please email me or I have no way to contact you.

Winners of copies of Toast and Jam are:

Patricia Forsyth, from the Hill Country of Texas
Sevans10, from outside Pittsburg, PA

If I have not heard from you by Monday the 18th, I will do a re-draw.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas giveaway winners!

As of 11pm EST 10 December 2017 (phew) this giveaway is closed. 

Thank you for your comments! They make wonderful reading and give me a real sense of good lives being lived, across the US, as well as very close to home.

The winners have been chosen by random number generator.

And the winner of the ten gifts is...

Jo, from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Congratulations!

The four runners up who will receive a copy of Toast and Jam are:

EmmyG from Flushing, NY
Patricia Forsyth, from the Hill Country of Texas
Sevans10, from outside Pittsburg, PA
Anita K, Jackson Heights, Queens

Please email me so that we can arrange for your gifts to reach you.


Christmas could come early. I am so excited to share this giveaway with you.

For Gardenista I compiled my Gift Guide for Botanically Minded Cooks and Mixologists. It's a personal selection of my favorite things -  things that have made me happy, and that I think would be lovely gifts for you or for the cooks and cocktail lovers in your life. They range from lime trees to purple potatoes, and from books to beach plum gin.

Every item on that list can be won here by one lucky commenter. (I contacted everyone on the list and they each generously offered to be part of this giveaway.)

The monetary value is just under $500, before shipping, and shipping will be covered, so no need to worry about that, either. You can keep them all, or have them sent to friends. There is even a consolation prize for three runners up: a copy of Toast and Jam, provided by Roost Books.

The giveaway is open to US residents only (for shipping reasons). To enter, please leave a comment below telling us: 1. Where you live, garden, cook and shake up drinks. The deadline for the giveaway is Sunday, 10 December, 11PM EST.

Here are the details:

1. Any size tree from Lemon Citrus Tree.

I bought my beloved Thai limes (now overwintering in our bedroom windows, first picture) from Carol Kim, the new owner, is generously offering a choice of any tree you like on the site, as well as any size tree. It could be a Meyer lemon, a Thai lime like mine, a Key lime, Persian lime, a minneola,  an orange - there are lots of citrus choices. There also avocados, pomegranates, loquats and figs. And olives! All my favorite things. Go over and have a look.

Important: Not all states may receive citrus trees, and Lemon Citrus Tree spells that out on every tree's listing. If the winner (or receiver you designate) resides in one of those states, you may choose a non citrus.

2. I first met Cecil and Merl's delicious, small batch Apricot and Cherry bitters at a party for Remodelista, where I shook up - memorably - 500 cocktails. Their latest bitters batch is turmeric, with burdock. Right up my foraging alley. For this giveaway Cecil and Merl are offering the pictured combo of their handsome tote bag, Apricot and Cherry Bitters (both fantastic), and Made in Brooklyn, an inspirational catalog of the artisans and makers at the epicenter of Brooklyn's food and drink renaissance.

Bitters are not just for cocktails. Check out Cecil and Merl's recipes, too.

3. Two 1 oz packets of spicebush. My favourite spice, usually foraged, and native to the US east of those Rockies. If you can't forage it you can find it at Integration Acres. I will mail two packages to the winner.

If you like it, you can head over there and buy more. Include it in your holiday cookies and cakes.

4. Sansho, sumac, saffron and mahlab (above - cherry kernels) are my selection of spices from Raw Spice Bar, who contacted me some months ago about their spice offerings. I usually forage and grow these spices, but not everyone can. And I am including many recipes using sansho, sumac and mahlab in Forage, Harvest Feast, my new book. Having a good resource for readers who only forage online is fantastic. If you don't like my choice of four (but you should!), you may instead choose four other spices from their selection using a code that will be provided.

5.  Greenhook Ginsmiths make my favourite dry gin. And their beach plum (Prunus maritima) gin, above, is just plain exciting, especially for a forager. Our native fruits and herbs and spices are still massively underexplored or forgotten. These beach plums, ripe in very late summer, come from Long Island and are given a good, long soak in gin, with the addition of some sugar. A dash of this in your Champagne flute will make a very good Plum Royale...

6. Californian wildcrafter and foraging friend Pascal Baudar's New Wildcrafted Cuisine is stellar. It is packed with innovative techniques and original research, and has a wonderful list of edible Californian flora in its pages. The methods Pascal details can be applied to any region. His work is authentic and trend setting, and packed with integrity. His next book will be all about wild brews...

7. Emily Han's Wild Drinks and Cocktails is an elegant handbook on making just about anything botanical into something very good to drink. Her recipes are clear, simple and very appealing.

8. Stephen Orr's The New American Herbal is, for me, one of those classics that is not only collectable but hugely practical and informative. It is a fat, solid, beautifully photographed collection of hundreds of herbs, A - Z (some very unusual), and many ways to use them, including recipes. When he is not writing books, Stephen is the editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens. He will sign the copy that wings its way to a winner.

9. From ceramicist to rosarian to baker to award winning cookbook author, nothing Sarah Owens does is mediocre. Toast and Jam is her new book and it is filled with...toast, and jam! And tons more. Loads of bread, cracker, cake and scone recipes make up Part One, while everything that you can possibly put on top of them is Part Two. It's a beautiful, mouthwatering book. (You can read my 2014 story about Sarah in Edible Brooklyn.)

10. Ending on an earthy note: 5lbs of Purple Majesty potatoes could be yours from Grow Organic (shipped for spring planting). Even though I planted my potatoes way too early this year, and had them zapped by a hard freeze, they made it (there they are, above). A mound of mulch over the rows may have helped.

I planted Grow Organic's garlic just a few weeks ago, and my vegetable garden is amended with their crushed oyster shells (to raise its pH, which it did, admirably). Their packaging is how all packaging should be: plastic free.

There you have it.

What do you think?

Reminder: This giveaway is open to US residents only (for shipping reasons). To enter, please leave a comment below telling us: 1. Where you live, garden, cook and shake up drinks.

The winner and runners up will be chosen at random and announced on Monday the 12th of December, here. Please check back, then.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

First snow

We had snow. I went out into it to buy the ritual Reuben sandwich that the Frenchman and I share at weekends. The wait was so long at The Court Street Grocers that I placed my order and then took home my shopping and flowers and went straight back out again to pick up the sandwich. It still wasn't ready.

It's a good sandwich.

It has not been very cold - temperatures were hovering just above freezing, so very little stuck. But wet snow clings beautifully to branches.

Carroll Gardens - our Brooklyn neighborhood - was well frosted.

Later we went out to buy our tree. The Vermont sellers also have good maple syrup, so we stocked up.

I did not grow up with these winters. So it is still like theatre, to me. Watching people walk home with their trees is very touching. Everybody smiles.

At home the sparrows and their one eccentric all-American sparrow cousin - a fat Eastern towhee, not pictured - bickered over the seed I tossed for them.

In the back garden less snow melted. It is never in the sun at this time of year and the ground must be colder. Inside, we put up the tree, and I baked a savarin and cooked a pot of fragrant borscht.

Everything is falling apart, but some things keep it sticking together.

(Remember - you have one more day to enter the Christmas giveaway - ten very nice gifts.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cranberry syrups and cocktails

Cranberries: so pretty. So sour.

I had a lot of fun last week creating cocktails featuring this late fall and winter fruit for Gardenista. The syrup above is not really syrup at all. It is sour - like lemons meet pomegranates.

Over in my Festive Recipes story you will find five new cocktails, two syrups and this Cranberry Sour.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Road

As we drove north on the N10 from Addo to Mokala, Eastern Cape to Northern Cape, rain came down. In terms of biomes we were leaving coastal thicket for grassland and thornveld, with the Great Karoo inbetween, and all three needed rain. In early October, in this part of the country, we were on the cusp of the summer rainfall season. 

The N10 is a beautiful road that cuts almost precisely north.

For Vince and me, this is the time and space we would like to preserve. Driving, alone, an endless view, a Thermos of espresso at our feet, promise ahead.

I had back issues (too much heavy lifting + genes) so every couple of hours we stopped so that I could walk, jump around and stretch. This allowed us to smell the rain bursting in pockets on the horizon.

We drove through an area of what I call aloes, but I don't actually know what these succulents are. Flowers like cotyledons. As far as the eye could see. The fields were red. So was the mud. My driving shoes were my bright pink Rothy's, bad for slick mud walking, but I can now attest to their washability. Brand as new. [Identified as Aloe striata by my cousin, Kate Webster, who lives in the Eastern Cape]

We made a much anticipated stop (always a dangerous thing). Years ago, traveling in the opposite direction from the Mountain Zebra National Park we had chanced upon the Daggaboer Farmstall and had ventured in, finding warmth, welcome, and some delicious, very fresh roosterkoek (yeasted rolls that are cooked over the hot coals of a fire) being baked in the warm place. I had been thinking about the roosterkoek for days. After our early start it was time for breakfast.

The mysterious succulent grew at the door and I planned to ask what it was.

Inside, black nightshade jam - a South African thing at farmstalls. But the place was very cold, both in temperature and in atmosphere. The door to the warm kitchen shut and everything stank of cigarette smoke. We wandered around the shelves. Three women were working there, an owner in an office, where the smoke was thickest, and a mother and daughter, moving about. No one even glanced up at us. No other customers. In the middle of nowhere. In friendly South Africa.

I greeted the daughter, who was unable to crack a smile in return. I asked if they still had roosterkoek, and she shoved a menu at me. I asked whether it had rained, yet, a dry country question. She replied nonsensically that fillings cost extra. My heart hardened in disappointment. This is not how you run a business. Things had changed.

We bought things. Fancy wool slippers, from allegedly local sheep, for Tipsi, back home. Droƫwors for the road. Preserved green figs. We waited for our roosterkoek to come from the kitchen.

The only warm thing in the frigid place was this little cat, who wanted to come with us.

Back in Mogashagasha we poured the last of the coffee and ate our roosterkoek as we drove. Mine was stuffed with grated biltong, the Frenchman's with cheese. We swapped halfway. They were not the fresh roosterkoek of memory and possibly microwaved. But enough to fill partially the hole that memory had made.

We opened the koeksisters (traditional braided deep fried and syrup soaked pastries) that we bought a few miles further into our drive. Dry as little bones. I looked at their sell by date. Two weeks past.

If we ever pass that way again, we will drive on.

It was a long day's drive, about eight hours, with our stops.

The weather played with us all the way.

We drove into that black storm, through sheets of water and lighting bolts being thrown down at the Karoo plains around us. I closed my eyes, glad the Frenchie was driving. Lightning makes me jump.

At the tail end of the dry season up here every view was still brittle and brown, with white highlights. The last time we had driven through this part of the country, in the middle of summer, it had been green. There is never much rain, here, but when there is the veld responds, fast.

Near every roadside cellphone tower I indulged in roaming data (free with our cellphone plan) and enjoyed my Instagram feed before it blinked out into the vast disconnect, again.

We both like roads, because we both like driving. And roads to me are a sign, too, of a country's health. They are tax money at work, they are civic engagement, they are an expression of a functioning governing body. This beautiful N10 filled me with optimism.

As we entered each town, this optimism was replaced by despair. For non South Africans, a small, dark backstory: During apartheid black and brown South Africans were not allowed to own homes or property within white towns and cities. The Group Areas Act forbade it. And so on the edge of every ostensibly white town grew its mirror image, a brown town, minus the trimmings of a comfortable life - and referred to simply as a "location." Where does she live? She lives in the location.

Apartheid ended formally in 1994, with the South Africa's first free election. But because the infrastructure existed, and because people lived where they lived, and because there was really no material change in most people's lives, these two side-by-side towns continued to coexist, even as the so called locations were recognized, given names, and appeared on maps. They remain historically brown or black, and their size often dwarfs the size of the old official town. While each mirror town has its upwardly mobile or comfortable section, the towns on the edge are usually disproportionately impoverished. From houses with many rooms they shrink to basic, boxy "Mandela Houses"- a promise by the government to provide housing, partly delivered - to scanty corrugated iron and plastic shacks with no running water or electricity or sewage.

Why the poverty? Simple. There is not enough employment. There are too few jobs and opportunities, and education for most South Africans still lags very, very far behind its ideal. And so as we entered every municipal area from the open countryside we were met first with the smell of woodsmoke, as many informal dwellings rely only on fire or spirit stoves for cooking, then by restless seas of plastic bags blowing in the wind, and then by the view of people living their lives. Many toilets are outdoors, and informal settlements share outdoor communal taps to supply water for all their needs. It was cold. And we would drive through and slowly past the outside town and into the inside town, with its dead streets on a weekday, its burglar bars and walls and few businesses (the exodus from the platteland to the big city is ongoing, even as there is a small, wealthy immigration to some dorps by monied city dwellers who relish a country life and possess an enterprising spirit). The contrast was like a wall, every time, and the questions it raised are close to insurmountable. How do you solve this?

This is the legacy of apartheid. One of many. But it is the thing that tips scales.

Within spitting distance of Mokala we became clogged in one of the infamous Stop-Go's, roadworks that close a lane of road, requiring one stream of traffic to stop while the opposite stream goes. A large section of the N12, onto which we had recently turned to head northeast, was being repaired - jobs, engineering efficiency, smooth road, optimism - but it took us a long time to clear. So somewhere just beyond our sixth hour my camera readiness deserted me.

Then we turned off onto a subsidiary road, following my plotted course (I disagreed with Google maps) and onto a relatively short section of dirt road, with some of the most violent corrugations we have experienced (sorry, Google). So we slowed to a decent crawl. But as we rattled and rolled the landscape changed dramatically, and I began to think that my cousin Andrea's suggestion to visit Mokala might have been a very good one: The tired Frenchman at the wheel had pricked up his ears and had begun to smile.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Addo - place of elephants

The Frenchman and I headed towards Addo Elephant Park after leaving Storms River. I had never visited - the park is very close to Port Elizabeth and I was worried that it might be overrun with people. Friends had warned me that because of the dense nature of the coastal thicket vegetation, we might not see many animals. But within an hour of entering near the south end we were surprised by the wide vista above. There is a little knot of elephants to the right, near the curve of the road. We drove right through that section of the park, south to north, meandering at the required 40km/hour, to reach the main camp and reception where we were required to check in.

After a disinterested welcome - if you can call it that - at reception (unusual for a SAN Park), we got back into the Landcruiser and headed for our camp, Nyathi. I had chosen it based purely on its relative remoteness on the maps I had studied and the fact that it seemed to have a good view from the cottages, and our fingers were crossed. What would it be like?

First, we had to leave the main park area, through an electrified fence and gate that was unlocked for us, across a railway crossing, across a national road, through a new gate, another electrified fence, and into the next section, Nyathi. We saw a male lion almost at once, lazing behind a tree, upside down, indolent cat fashion, and then this herd of peaceful elephants browsing. We felt happy with our choice of stomping ground for the next few days.

This was the view from the curving wooden balcony of our luxurious rondawel - hills and thicket and every day a slow, large herd, 60 - 80 strong, of elephants moving back and forth, eating, rumbling, communicating with each other in a way we could not understand. Every night and morning a chorus of unfamiliar birds, with the exception of the haunting fiery necked night jar, not just one, but four, calling from every corner of twilight. It was shiveringly beautiful. Never the sound of a human.

I took remarkably few pictures, here. I think we were still in some translocation shock, the remoteness, all of a sudden, the desire to absorb this kind of silence.

These sweet, unfraid little swallows lived in a neat mud nest above the front door.

From the balconies, which curved along the tips of the trees below us, I could do some fascinated botanizing. The vine above was strongly scented and we saw sunbirds feasting on the flowers. It reminds me of the greenbrier family Smilacaceae.

And its host, the supporting tree, excited and surprised me even more. Like seeing a friend in a very unexpected place. A dead ringer for prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) but in South Africa! The East Asian prickly ash species is Z. piperatum - otherwise known as Sichuan, as in peppercorn. Why not an African species? My impatience had nothing to do but to cool its heels. No Googling for us: thanks to our desire to be Alone we were well beyond cell range, had no data, and no Internet. But I nibbled and tasted and had no doubt. How exciting. My submission to iSpot once we were back in Cape Town has met with no response. Could it be the species capense? Prickly ash fruit and leaves zing with citrus and pepper, and that curious tingling sensation that makes Sichuan so well known. The trees belong to the large and fragrant Rutaceae family, like the aromatic fynbos herbs I love, as well as well known citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.

We took daily drives, with a Thermos of coffee and a trove of rusks, and made friends along the way. And every afternoon we came  home to our rondawel, lit a fire and ate dinner to the sound of those night birds.

As lovely as Nyathi was - and I recommend it highly - Addo in general suffers from what I assume must be poor leadership. Nowhere was there a genuinely friendly person* to direct or welcome us, and after an entrance boom was dropped on our car's roof at a gate the indifference and lack of professionalism could not have been louder. We were deeply unimpressed. I have still not heard back from the person who should have contacted us and frankly apologized for the damage. So that left an abiding impression which flavors the whole experience.

* An exception - a very helpful mechanic at the main camp lent Vince some tools to tighten the connections of the batteries in the Landcruiser, which had rattled loose on very bumpy roads. He should be front and center in the welcoming committee.

But if you do not require a smile when checking in, are wary of falling booms, rely on yourselves for catering, stay away from the tourist mecca of the main camp, and book a spot at that beautiful, quiet spot in the hills, you will be happy.

You might even forget to take pictures.