Tuesday, May 29, 2018

This too shall pass

The lilacs stayed fresh for about 30 hours after I bought them. That was good enough for me.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

The garden grows

Rewind to early May (because as I type, it is 87'F/31'C and humid). Spring was very late, but then it burst, like a dam breaking, with plants in the garden and the city blooming all at once, instead of in orderly succession. Above, my serviceberry is Amelanchier alnifolia, a species at home on the western side of the US and but also far north and all the way across through Nova Scotia. In other words, tough. It is a shrub form of serviceberry and consequently a good choice for containers.

I planted more Fritillaria persica in the fall, which was probably a mistake. Only the new bulbs came up - the previous season's made only leaves. Either they don't like the soil (5.4 pH), or it is too moist (four to five feet of annual rainfall too much for these Iranian natives?). I love them, but won't try again.

And while they did not do well in their first two springs, the camassias are at last happy. Camassia leichtlinii is native to North America. Known commonly as cama, or great cama, it was an edible (bulb) prized by Native Americans west of the Cascades, and down the coast. Pretty sure Lewis and Clark were sustained by various species in their trek.

The squirrels wreaked havoc among the tulips this year. Varmints. But they left this clump alone. I ordered the purple-black 'Queen of the Night', but this is what came up. I like them very much, so have not complained - but I should find out what they are.

Violets, spilling over retaining logs of birch. The back bed of the garden is sloped and I've done what I can to make some retentions to prevent a gradual downsliding.

And moving along into the mid month, alliums in bloom, with ever-lovely (and expanding - who would like some??) Solomon's seal.

This black iris is gorgeous, and came with the garden. I see it in other hyper-local gardens and community plots. The scent is delicious.

So, the milkweed (common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca). In the upcoming Forage, Harvest, Feast I include cultivation tips for many plants, including milkweed, which is a delicious vegetable. And I do make it clear that it's not going to stay where you put it. It began in a row in the rear of the vegetable plot. The spindly plants from Annie's Annuals resented being transplanted and looked peaky in their first year. But they came back. Strongly. I decided I wanted then to move to the wilder rear bed with fellow Americans like sunchokes, Joe-Pye weed and Veronicastrum. I dug deeply and transplanted the runners.

Did they come up there, this spring? No. They have been popping up all over the vegetable bed and have hopped under the paths, too. I have eaten tender shoots like these, and have left the ones that are growing where they will not be in the way. The buds, flowers and pods are all delightful.

The garlic rows are very happy. So is the wild arugula that always take months to establish itself.

The upland cress (Barbarea verna) made lots of flowers, which we have been eating.

Last spring's horseradish sent up flowers and I am about to dig the plants out. Nice experiment, but they grow too tall and fat for where I planted them, creating shade where I want more sun for the rows behind. The leaves are a hot and spicy bonus - like fresh wasabi (speaking of which - the wasabi is so dead) in salads and summer rolls. And of course the flowers are edible, too.

I love my red pea trellis from Gardener's Supply. It is extendable and also has another layer to add when the peas grow taller. The pop of colour is very welcome in the green sea. And it also folds nice and flat for storage.

The peas know just what to do!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Stay, May...

Don't you wish May could stay longer? The markets are bursting with flowers, and the mosquitoes have not yet arrived at garden level. I bought a lush bunch of lilac this morning, and a nosegay of lily of the valley for the nostalgic Frenchman, who misses the annual muguet festivals of his childhood in Provence.

In the garden my garlic rows are growing luxuriant and I sneak the tender leaves into into good butter. For tomorrow's botanical drinks in our garden I will make a compound butter of the green garlic leaves and ramps, for radish-dipping. There will also be a milkweed, fava bean and mint pâté, mugwort crackers, thin cylinders of beet marinated in fir-apple vinegar and wrapped around goats' cheese, and a morsel of ramp-leaf oil marinated and grilled sirloin, cut thinly and served with peppery wintercress flowers..

And cocktails, of course, with a non alcoholic option. I have a very interesting rhubarb molasses that seems made for bourbon (or sparkly water), as well as a refreshing spruce tip and rhubarb ferment that is wonderful with gin. Juniper, fir and Meyer lemons will also make an appearance.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Mandoline - the zen of slicing?

I am very happy with a brand new kitchen tool. Toy. Tool. Can't decide. Feels like a toy. Slices like it means business. So sharp. So thin. Seriously sexy.

All these cooking years and it's my first mandoline, by Oxo.

It was a gift: Zab Steenwyk, a young designer for Oxo, attended one of my early spring forage walks, and later interviewed me for the company's in-house project about the future of food. I really enjoyed talking to her and her colleague - their questions were very thought-provoking and led to a great conversation. A couple of weeks later she stopped by with the mandoline as a thank you from Oxo. My pleasure!

The beets above were dressed very simply: an aged balsamic and salt (let them sit for at least 10 minutes to absorb some of the vinegar), olive oil, and tender but very peppery upland cress seedpods and flowers from the garden. It was delicious (I love raw beetroot), but it was the even texture that was just so compelling.

I can't wait to play more.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gone, almost forgotten

In the middle of May, here is a quick look at April. Otherwise I will forget.

Above, 7 April - Bush Terminal, Brooklyn. Where urban nature and old industry meet beside the water in Brooklyn. It is a New York City-designated park, now, and is an interesting mixture of old buildings, feral cats, private security, weeds, new ballfields, a pristine public bathroom, waterside paths, and utter neglect. As always, with the Parks' Department in the city, there is money for capital improvement but never any for maintenance.

The secret in life is maintenance (which is really just paying attention). Gardens. Parks. Engines. Marriages. Friendships. Cuticles...

Quick digression: One of the many new things that 2018 brought into our lives - and by far the best - has been our first car. Really the Frenchman's car, because he bought it. We had resisted for good reasons: the obvious expense, and then the real New York hassle: parked cars must be moved twice a week for street cleaning, and there is the relentless traffic generated by a massive population. Plus the real worry about leaving such a shiny new thing on the street (undercover, off-street parking would cost as much as our rent), vulnerable to humans, weather, and bad drivers.

But. Flipside? Freedom. In our own clean machine. No more sticky and grubby ZipCars and Car2Go's, no more worry about how long we'd be, and spending $100 just for a day's outing. No more knowing we can't sleep over somewhere because of the heinous cost involved in hiring a car for so long. So we have a car. We are finally real Americans. (Don't worry. There will never be guns.) To make us feel better about car payments we figured out where to cut costs and the easy answer was our daily wine quota with dinner. So instead of sharing a bottle a night we share a bottle every two nights. Healthier, too. And oddly, we don't miss it.

So we have been exercising our car wings. And the Frenchman is beaming. She has a name, in our household tradition (see Mogashagasha): Ntiniwe (n-TEE-nee-weh). Diminutive of the word "otter", in Xhosa and Zulu. We love her. We have been Going Places.

8 April, Breezy Point, Queens

This gloriously empty beach is at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula. Still very much part of the city, it is empty.

The beach is adjacent to what has been described as the whitest neighborhood in New York City. That part is plain weird, and, from the outside, slightly sinister. Breezy Point (flattened by Hurricane Sandy and still being rebuilt) is a gated community with its own security force, and you are not allowed in at all unless you are an approved visitor. You are not allowed to buy unless you have three letters of reference from existing home owners. But you are allowed on the beach, if you park at the end and walk. One of Vince's first excursions in Ntiniwe was to drive out, park, and run here for miles on the deserted beach, inhaling the sea air and uninterrupted sky and water, a tonic for a man who works longer and harder than anyone I know (can you tell I like him?).

He loved it. And on one of his runs he saw and filmed dozens of sand pipers and American oyster catchers, more than either of us had ever seen; spring migration for the sand pipers, and a regular breeding ground for the oyster catchers. Because of this dogs are not allowed on the beach (although we saw one romping in the distance). So we came out together one bright cold day, and walked for miles.

Walking back again in the familiar dunes behind Fort Tilden (previously reached by a combination of subway and bus), an early shoreline spring was visible only in the pussy willows.

On our way home we stopped at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, hoping for a glimpse of a late-season snowy owl. No owls, but we did see snow geese and warblers, as well as a bumper crop of juniper pollen from the eastern red cedars (Juniperus virgiana). Atchoo. But an interesting ingredient if you have the patience to collect it. I included the fine dust in a batch of madeleines.

16 April, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Fifteen minutes from home, this time on my bicycle, and the Cornelian cherries, one of the first trees to flower, were in full bloom. Thanks to them I have been exploring the food of Georgia and Eastern Europe - specifically via the books of Darra Goldstein's The Georgian Feast and Olia Hercules's Kaukasis and Mamushka. Cornus mas is native to that region and is used in local recipes. While it may be the first to flower it is also among the last to fruit: you will spot the crimson, plum-like (but cherry-sized) fruits in late summer. They begin tart and crisp, and turn sourly plummy as they darken.

Spotted in the woods, my friend the white throated sparrow, whose call is painfully sweet, is often scratching about in the leaf litter of woodlands and gardens from winter through May.

14 April, Caumsett State Park, Long Island

Formerly the estate of Marshall Field III, on the North Shore of Long Island, this park was new to us. Near the small town of Oyster Bay (where I could live very happily), it has wide vistas, serious trees, and a long empty shoreline. While hundreds of cars waited to be admitted to the vast parking areas around deserted former milking barns, we were able to escape the crowds. They made for the main manor house. As usual, we headed in the opposite direction.

And there we found clean water and a pebbly beach that reminded us a lot of the North Fork. It was very chilly, but the blue sky and water breathed relief into us at a time when we were both stressed to breaking point. For a few hours we shut everything out, and listened, and watched, and absorbed.

Along the shore I found healthy colonies of periwinkles, and collected some in our now-empty lunch box. I cooked them very simply, later - boiled, and then dipped into an aioli - it brought back memories of expensive shellfish platters at the Café du Centre in Geneva, in my singing days, and at Balthazar in SoHo, where I have not eaten in many years. The seaweed is bladder wrack (on account of its built in bladders) and I dried it - it made a wonderful, chip-like snack, and is also a very good seed cracker ingredient. As we turn to eating fewer carbohydrates (a new thing) I have been making a lot of seed crackers. Everyone wants the recipe.

20 April, Prospect Parks Woods

Dead logs are a good place to look for mushrooms like wood ears and pheasant backs, and on this trip my bag was filled with the former. A month later that nascent green carpet of goutweed/ground elder is 18 inches tall, a sea of invasive green.

26 April, Prospect Park

The magnolias were in full bloom on this trip, and a sign that spring, after a very bumpy start, had arrived.

No going back.

28 April, Pelham Bay's Hunter Island, Bronx

It is a real mission to reach by public transport, but at least half the group of intrepid walkers who joined me on a plant identification and invasive species forage managed, despite the MTA testing them to breaking point. I have known this large park on the Long Island Sound in every season, and love returning.

The skunk cabbages that we had seen in March were now lush and the frozen ground their buds had broken through in March (the plants are thermogenic) thoroughly thawed.

So there it was. Not shown, the oodles of forages collected, sorted and preserved (mostly). The meals cooked, the seeds planted. The plants changing daily in the garden. The gardens designed. And it is already beyond the middle of May, the busiest month for foragers and gardeners.

I have some mushrooms to pickle...

My next walk is in the early evening of May 30th - we have lots of light, and the largesse of late spring. See the link below for booking.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

The technician

When I moved the two Thai limes back outdoors in early May after their seven months (SEVEN!) indoors, I discovered that the scale I had been treating in the last couple of months with Neem oil was much worse than I had thought. Ugh. These leaves were on the side of the trees nearest the tall windows of our bedroom - hard to see or reach, and so my Neem efforts were ineffective. Anyway, the best method I've found so far for scale is removal by hand. Squish, squish, squish. 

But couldn't see em. So didn't squish em. And so this happened. Ick.

I hate scale.

I was just pondering a systemic treatment (a hard core and radical option for me - I never use poison in the garden), when Critter Control showed up:

He wears a mask to remain anonymous.

Ma'am, you rang?

Yes, ma'am, I can see the problem!

He was tiny, cute, and a vicious hunter.

He hunted up and down the trees, carrying out beakfuls of scale.

He is a common yellowthroat, but to me he is a hero.

He is on his way north. 

I wish he would stay.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spring Fling Cocktails

By mid May spring is racing through the city like a green flood, and in our Brooklyn backyard the in-ground vegetable plot and perennials are growing lush. Pots are slower. Aren't they always?

Come and enjoy botanical cocktails (with or without alcohol), like the Grounded Bishop, above (what did he do???). It is one of dozens of cocktails featured in my upcoming Forage, Harvest, Feast cookbook. Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria - also called bishopweed and goutweed) is still sold as a garden ornamental despite being very invasive - but delicious. The snacks we share will also feature May's foraged bounty.

In a very casual and relaxed meet up we will talk about what unusual edibles, city- and pollinator-friendly plants can be grown in ordinary gardens, and what comes next in the foraging year.

Space is limited to 10 guests. A confirmation email will be sent to you on sign up.