Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ten years and two books

The picture above was taken one Memorial Day weekend when the two moves that followed (to Harlem and then back to Brooklyn) were not even a whisper.

This first terrace, in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, a dozen blocks north of where we live now, was a sweet, quiet and private place. There are many things we miss about it, like the top floor sense of isolation, being able to see the sun and moon rise in the east, and the quick access to the roof and its wide, big sky horizons. Measuring those exact 66 square feet, this (lack of) space transformed my life. And the cat you see there, Don Estorbo, had a lot to do with it, too. He started his irascible blog a few months before I did. That gave me the idea to write this one: it will be ten years old, this June. The blog led to many good things. New and lasting friendships, writing for a living, the discovery of the Frenchman, all the way on Canada's British Columbian coast, and my first book.

So over on Instagram (@66squarefeet), for this little anniversary, I am giving away two copies of the book that this terrace inspired: 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life. Please follow that link if you'd like to enter the random draw. The deadline is Wednesday the 31st, 11PM, EST.

We now live in Carroll Gardens with about 1,000 square feet of garden - a fantastic luxury in a city like New York. We can move without bumping into things. I can grow more than token crops, at last. Eight rows of potatoes, rather than one pot. I can experiment with the wild plants that I like to forage. And our crazily weathered salvaged oak table, built just for this space, never runs out of surface area, like that little stone table above, which I now use as a potting bench.

We have learned things with each move. We have lost. We have gained. I miss aspects of each place we have lived. Just as I was happy to leave elements of each. I will write more about it, one day.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Inwood Hill Park Forage Walk

Inwood Hill Park Walk
28 May 2017
12.30pm - 3.30pm

There are four spots left on this Sunday's plant identification and forage walk in Inwood Hill park. Here you will find the forest in Manhattan that many New Yorkers have never seen. It is a beautifully green and peaceful place to explore, and a cooling antidote to the bad news that besieges us.

Taking any subway to the last stop on its line has a certain drama to it, and the A to 207th Street does not disappoint. The park lies a few minutes' walk west.

We meet at its entrance (big bonus - there is a bathroom!). The well populated flock of baseball fields is usually in full swing (Inwood's population is mostly Dominican, and baseball is big). At little tables under the trees neighborhood men argue over dominoes, and further along a small dog park's owners compare dog sizes and brilliance.

Another two minutes takes us into the forest, and suddenly it is silent. The tulip trees here are huge, straight, looming. Woodpeckers drill dead trunks and overhead an owl blinks. Spicebush trees congregate in this first valley, while on its sloped edges tendrils of catbriar tangle in the undergrowth.

Late Japanese knotweed tips are still tender enough to pick. Invasive mugwort and burdock hug paths and fields, while pokeweed shoots do Phoenix acts at the base of their dead bleached winter canes.

Indigenous wildflowers persist among mats of suffocating periwinkle and herds of day lilies. Nettles prick their way down a steep slope.

Annual jewelweed crowds damp ditches and reputedly offers sting relief.

This forest - the oldest on Manhattan island - offers a living tutorial in invasive plant interactions, woodland gardening possibilities and creative kitchen garden development. It is also like walking through a living pantry.

Depending on the progress and digressions we make, we begin with beautiful silence, hike up a hill, along a quiet ridge and then down the western side, beneath the roaring Henry Hudson Parkway. Here we see the Hudson River before we loop around, past wild blueberry bushes and under the big steel bridge and above the Spuyten Duyvil waterway.

At last, between a green lawn and a salt mash we settle down for our wild foods tasting picnic where you can sample some of the plants we have just seen.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Inbetween steady rains the weather has been beautiful after two freak days days of bewildering heat at the end of last week. We have been eating supper outside. The garden is growing, fast. The first mosquitoes have appeared. By late summer last year they were a scourge. Plague like. Someone, somewhere nearby, must have some nice standing water for them. Or maybe they breed in the sewers. But they are a primordial reminder that we are not really in charge.

The supper above was Sunday's - lamb burgers, by special Frenchman request (still in the oven, so not pictured). That's what the mustard is for. Please note the ketchup in disguise in a little white dish. Also Aleppo pepper (RIP, Aleppo). Inside the lamb burgers, as a middle bite surprise, was a morsel of salted, dried ramp leaves, delicious beyond speech. Yes, the method will be in the new book. Dessert of organic strawberries drizzled with a very good balsamic that I bought at the butcher, just before they closed. We had just driven in from a beautiful day out on Staten Island and the line at the butcher was out the door. Everyone wanted lamb burgers, apparently.

Change of subject: There are a few spots left on Sunday's walk in the peaceful forest of Inwood Hill Park. Come and forest bathe and learn about plants and share a picnic with other enquiring minds. I am not sure what the snacks will be, yet, but I can guarantee happy quail eggs with ground elder dipping salt. I'm picking up the eggs tomorrow at Union Square Market.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Post Trump Tulip Disorder (PTTD)

This has been my tulip spring. I ordered and planted them around Trump time. We all did strange things, then. In the central vegetable plot (tulips are edible, was my reasoning) they provided an April burst of glory after that November shock, when nothing good ever seemed possible, again.

 Tall, graceful and long lasting: these are 'Impression' cultivars - a mix of three, ordered from Dutch Bulbs.

But this tulip - purchased in the same order - puzzled me.

While its petals were pleasingly parrot shaped, especially early on (above), and the plants bore more than one flower as the weeks passed - which is very unusual for a tulip -  the flat red did not thrill me. Why did I choose them? Impulse buying too late at night, online? Too much Trump? Was the Cheeto orange rubbing off?

Only when I sat down to write this post did I realize that these tulips were a mistake. And not mine. Checking my emailed receipts, I saw that they should have been a cultivar called 'Dragon King:' elegantly tall, pink, a pale yellow stripe up every other sheathed petal. But those never arrived. The red ones did, and I planted them. Bulbs look like bulbs. I will let Dutch Bulbs know and I am sure they will fix it, retroactively

From Brent and Becky's came the smaller flowered but stupendously long lasting (four weeks) 'Queen of the Night.' They are still in bloom, shedding petals, now. As the flowers matured, they became blacker. I will buy them again.

Also from Brent and Becky's a long limbed white bloom, 'Clearwater,' which flowered for a long time mixed with the ostrich ferns - all-morning shade, about four hours of sun from 1pm-ish onwards (pssst - notice the gravel in the last two pictures? That's another story...).

Another Brent and Becky's selection was 'Golden Apeldoorn,' planted in shadier spots and blooming among the Heuchera and cinnamon ferns. It gave a pop of colour where it was needed.

Now the garden's season has turned to columbines - the plants gifted to me by my garden designer friend Julia Miller; and alliums and camassia are blooming. The Solomon's seal still looks spectacular. The wisteria is just about over (I picked the flowers and made syrups, vinegars, gin and pancakes) and the Boston ivy wall on the opposite side has been attacked by a terrible blight (all the rain we had, I think) causing its leaves to crisp and fall. Potted hydrangeas and elder are going gangbusters and the new wasabi plants from Oregon are steadily shoving out tiny leaves

I can't wait to eat them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Central Park Forage Walk

Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia

Central Park (this walk has been completed)
20 May 2017
12.30pm - 2.30pm

After a seasonally scrambled start to the year spring is barreling into early summer in the northern wilds of Central Park. The woods and fields are filled with edible wild plants, from black locust flowers to lambs quarters and sumac.

                                        Flowering raspberry, Rubus odoratus

There is a rich combination here of invasive and indigenous trees, shrubs and perennials, and this is an ideal inner urban escape where we can talk about how they interact in nature and in the kitchen. Learn to identify what is edible and what is not, and afterwards enjoy a taste of some of the wild things we have just seen.

              Details will be emailed to confirmed walkers upon sign up.


Visit my Walk Page more events, or email me me to join my Forage List

Monday, May 15, 2017

Last call for arugula flowers

These flowers belong to the arugula I planted last fall. The plants were extremely tenacious, lasting right through winter and feeding us until just a few days ago, when I pulled them out. Yes, I did feel bad.

I let them bloom because I love their unassuming, four petaled flowers on tall, tall stems, and because I thought the honey bees might love them, too. The honey bees did not. Slow to arrive, they have now been visiting the allium flowers and ignoring the brassicas. Maybe they know something I do not?

So the arugula came out, making way for baby spinach and lettuces. A fresh arugula sowing will take place later in the week (I save up gardening as a reward for book work done). This crop has performed so well in the vegetable plot that I began to take it for granted and am now caught with my arugula pants down: we have none. For a salad addict that is just frightening.

The lettuces should be afraid. Very, very afraid.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

June Forage Walk

Prospect Park [sold out - email me to join the mailing list for new walks!]
11 June 2017 
12.30 pm - 2.30pm

Early summer brings the Big Green to city parks. Trees are in luxuriant leaf, ground elder is in bloom, cup plants are climbing skywards and mugwort is taking over the world. 

Early June is elderflower time - we'll talk about how to make elderflower cordial and bubbly. It is easy to grow at home, too. 

June is also the harbinger of tilia (linden) blossom - where for ten to fourteen days in the year New York actually smells fantastic.

We walk, talk, scratch and sniff (plants, not each other) and gather at the end for a picnic of wild tastes.

A confirmation email with more details will be sent to signed up walkers in the week before the walk.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fleeting spring, and flowers are flying

Tuesday evening.

What's in the glass? Red chokeberry syrup, gin and fir and fir gin. Shaken up.

One of the garden's garlic crops in the foreground - I planted several late last year, in different microclimates in the vegetable plot (even a few feet this way or that make a mound of difference in terms of sunlight). Safe to say this one was an interesting but technical failure. Tiny bulbs, a little larger than thumb sized, and the greens so peaky I pulled them now. But perfectly formed and very sweet. The others are very robust, thankfully. These cloves were planted from store bought organic garlic bulbs. I have chopped them up finely into our chicken wing supper where they join some ramps - a gift from my Gowanus garden friend, who popped in late this afternoon with a beautiful bunch of milkweed shoots for me.

Friends have been very helpful with forages for my recipe testing. Having wild things arrive at my door has allowed me to save some time as I deal with the mad flood of spring deliciousness that demands to be collected, cleaned, cooked, photographed and written up.

We have wisteria blossoms this year. I pruned the huge, old vine that tops our English ivy fence hard, last year. It still threatens to take over the world. Sweet, scented and edible, I am catching as many as I can to enjoy later in the season (note that the green wisteria 'beans' are poisonous). Then there was the cataract of ramps from our friend Steven Schwartz, proprietor of Delaware Valley Ramps. Pickled, salted, turned into oils and butters, and eaten fresh, too. Lots of processing and preserving happening.

Inbetween this and that, a gravel path has been laid in the garden, lettuces have been planted, fiddlehead tarts have been baked (in Quebec, no less - we flew north briefly for a Canadian mother's birthday), and squirrel varmints have been chastised soundly: the little [... bleeped out...] have eaten every last green fig on my tree. That was the breba crop - no doubt they will do the same with the main crop that appears on new, green growth. I may net it.

Last night the Frenchman and I sat in the garden after landing at La Guardia and sipped drinks in air that said autumn, rather than spring. It is crisp, cool and dry, inbetween torrential rainfalls.

Two more forage walks with picnics happen over the next two weekends, a TV crew comes to visit, and another dozen recipes will be come to light. Spring is good.

And if I am not here, you can find me daily on Instagram, @66squarefeet.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Wild Salmon in your Belly

I should be writing about my garden and here I am writing fish. It happens.

Backstory: The Frenchman and I eat very little fish. I would like to eat more. It's wonderful to cook with and it is healthy. But it is not that easy, even in this Biggest of Apples, to find fish that is ethically sourced and caught. It is simpler to know where meat comes from than it is fish. Fish are the last free roaming wild thing that we are ripping out of the ocean by the ton. And the collateral damage (to use war-speak) or tamely named 'by catch' - the other critters that are swept up or killed in nets - is deleterious (if you care about conservation, and that is a whole other philosophical conversation). Then there are fish farms, of course, but you really, really need to do your homework to figure which ones are not causing more harm than good.

In local bluefish and mackerel season we are on them. Strong fish that are good on barbecues. And we love locally caught trout.

Gabrielle Langholtz, my friend, and former editor at Edible magazine (as well as author of The New Greenmarket Cookbook), introduced me last year to the family-owned Iliamna Fishing Company, based out of Alaska. Once a year out they go in their boats and catch wild sockeye salmon. The fish are cleaned, flash frozen and packaged on board. For eight years that catch has been sold to local customers, using a community supported fishery (CSF) model. They also sell in Oregon markets (Portland, Eugene and Wilamette Valley), and New York City.

Last October I cycled to pick up our first share from the Red Winery in Brooklyn. Yes, the winery is on New York Harbor, no there are not grape vines on site.

The 12lb share of salmon costs $204. I know that is a lot of money. But we received nine sides of gorgeous red sockeye salmon. It works out to $22 a side. Which is less than you would pay  for wild salmon in a store, for considerably higher quality. I still have four sides in the freezer.

I have grilled it, poached it, made gravlax (above)...

...and recently a roast salmon spring dashi with ramps, Japanese knotweed and morels (recipes will be in my the wild foods cookbook, yay!).

It is the best salmon I have ever eaten.

I am writing about it now because I just received the email from Iliamna saying that now is the time to sign up for a 2017 share. You pay half up front, which keeps the fishery's show on the road. On pick up in October you pay the balance.

I am rarely enthused enough to tell people to go out and buy something, but this is one of those times. If you live in those hoods. There are other CSF's out there, now, so do some Googling if you live elsewhere and are interested in learning more about where the fish you eat comes from.

In other news, there is one spot left on my Central Park ramble on May 20th and four left on the Inwood Hill Park foray on May 13th. We will not be fishing, but hunting for edible invasives and learning about delectable native plants. And having a picnic, of course. Because life is too short not to picnic.

Hey (idea strikes)! Maybe I'll make some potted salmon with ramp salt to spread on nettle sourdough!