Sunday, September 15, 2019

Pride of Madeira


In my mother's Constantia garden the pride of Madeira, a Mediterranean native, is now a focal point. I don't recall having seen it in bloom, before. September in Cape Town is comparable to April in New York, in terms of stage-of-spring, although this Western Cape climate is Mediterannean, with wet winters (when all is well, and this winter it rained, at last) and dry summers.


Its botanical name is Echium candicans, and while it is a gorgeous garden plant it is potentially invasive in South Africa. Still, I have never seen a plant that attracts as many bees and other insects.


It is hard to stop taking pictures of it.


The clump planted at the edge of a bed is leaning sinuously.


And every flower is many flowers.


The garden is a daily delight, with all the plants, the view, dozes of birds and beautiful birdsong. After a short trip with friends to the Karoo last week (Snyderskloof, highly recommended) it is now back to work. Deadlines are pecking at my shoulders.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Noordhoek


In Cape Town they are called sundowners. And we watched the sun dip, and disappear. They say it was the first warm day of a cold spring.

It was good to sit with bare feet in the cool, silky sand, with real friends. And Thai lime leaves from Don's trees. Rosie's picnic.

That's it, really.

September at home. See you in October, Brooklyn.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Get thee behind me, prejudice



I was not a mandevilla person. But kyk hoe lyk ek nou, as they say in South Africa. Look at me, now.

My feelings for (against) mandevilla were associated with an aversion for pink flamingoes (the un-ironic, garden kind), fishing gnomes, shiny, chromed garden railings, red begonias growing with gritted teeth in full sun, and perhaps even with Miracle Gro. Not my thing.

Then came the leafhoppers.

These tiny green sucking insects ruined the scarlet runner beans I had planted to grow on our terrace railings. They hoover the chlorophyll from leaves, which turn dry and burned-looking. I had intended the beans as a lightly leafy privacy screen along the terrace edges, and hoped the bright flowers might also feed passing hummingbirds (as they did in Harlem and at 1st Place). There is no effective treatment for leaf hoppers that is not systemic. But I garden organically, and so I pulled the beans out.


Already halfway through the growing season I needed something fast-growing. Enter the mandevilla, grown as an annual climber in this climate. And I chose white. The more common pink was a step too far.

Six weeks later it has sent out long  tendrils, and every evening I weave them into strategic gaps.

I'm almost ready for the pink flamingoes.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Evening on the terrace


Hibiscus in the late light on the terrace. Sharing quarters with shiso and echinacea, and a Thai lime as a neighbor. Very cosmopolitan, like the surrounding city. Different cultures and ethnicities, all getting along without killing one another. Mostly. 


The satellite flowers of the hibiscus swivel gently with the sun.


Also as the sun sinks, fire time. Remember to grill your peaches. These were easily some of the (maybe the) best peaches I have ever tasted (from Kernan Farms at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket). The heat warms the sugar and caramelizes them a little. A light flick of salt and a squeeze of lemon give you a perfect companion for some juicy ribs.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Growing galangal


The tropical and subtropical edible forest story continues:

And then came two species of galangal, bought from Companion Plants at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival last September (and screened for either explosives or drugs at airport security in Columbus - the screener had also never heard of pawpaws, the Ohio state fruit). 


Galanga alpinia looks a lot like cardamom (in the background), ginger and turmeric (all members of the Zingerberaceae family) and it kept its leaves indoors through winter. Now, in sticky August, it is shooting for the waxing moon.


The more exotic-looking Kaempferia galanga is native to the shaded and humid forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Southeast Asia. It is endangered in the wild. It is one of several plants referred to as galangal and is used as a herb and spice as well as medicinally and in perfumery.

It disappeared completely, indoors, so for most of the winter the worried Frenchman looked at what he thought was a dying plant and then an empty pot (I was in South Africa for three months when my father was ill and passed away). When I came back I wiggled my fingers under the soil to see if its rhizome was still sturdy and firm. It was. We relaxed. It was just sleeping. Every few weeks I gave the invisible plant a light drink. In May it went outdoors when the temperatures overnight stayed above 50'F. In very early June the first leaves appeared, tightly furled and upright, before they relaxed and lay flat on the soil's surface.  It hates direct sun, so is sheltered behind a leafy salvia.


And today (TODAY) I glanced down while sipping my morning coffee on the terrace and noticed what looked like a fallen white flower on the leaves. I looked more closely. It bloomed!


While I bought these two plants to use in the kitchen I am not sure when I will steel myself to eat up some rhizome. But their leaves are heavily aromatic, and maybe soon I will snip one, and begin the Malaysian experiments I have been longing to try.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

The subtropical food forest


This is the mourning doves' view of the terrace. They like to hang out on the roof.

In the lower third of the frame is the unplanned edible subtropical forest. With stragglers along the edges.

It all began at 1st Place with those two big sunny bedroom windows, perfect for overwintering tender citrus, and I chose Thai limes (Citrus hystrix - often called kaffir, the South African K-word; less offensively and more appropriately known as makrut or Thai lime) for their famously perfumed leaves, figuring that the trees were unlikely to produce fruit (I was wrong!).


The two Thai limes now each have about 30 bumpy fruits, whose zest is the most aromatic I know.

The limes were joined by cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), which is almost too successful. I am about to divide it, yet again. And curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) - both bought while I worked on an assignment for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, writing about subtropical herbs. I fell in love.

Who was next? The Meyer lemon, the finger lime, the myogo ginger. And then the two galangals. It's infectious.

They all come indoors in autumn (the link shows their 1st Place winter quarters) and rush for the exit again in early May, or when overnight temperatures stay above 50'F. They relish our muggy summers. The satisfaction of having exotic fragrant leaves and fruit within hands' reach is immense. Especially when these ingredients are hard to find, even in New York.

This week's posts will be all about these plants, their challenges and rewards, and how our apartment-hunt late last summer had to take their needs into account!
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Neighborhood Watch


Meet one of our neighbors. According to a handwritten notice taped to the lamposts on the sidewalk that this watchdog overlooks, the cameras were installed to catch a serial dog poo-er in the act. A feckless dog owner was very obviously not scooping the poop.

One day a picture was printed and taped to the lamp post. The offending person and her large dog.

The sidewalk looks much better, now.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

City escape


Once upon a time in the east...


...it was high tide at Dead Horse Bay.


The bottle trees were in bloom.


And the sea green glass guarded the sand.


But the bayberry always hedges the bay...


...and green juniper waits in the wings.


Lamb's quarters...


...and wild lettuce flourish in obscurity.


And the most flavorful herbs of summer commune in plain sight.


These are the edges of the largest city in the USA.


Where you will meet no one else.


Because they do not understand that it is there.

Join me for a walk and picnic this Sunday (at low tide!):


Monday, July 22, 2019

Stuffed Tomatoes with Chanterelles and Black Currants


The Frenchman and I have enjoyed some very good chanterelle hunting, this hot summer. The glee of filling all your boxes and bags with the golden mushrooms is thrilling. It really is like a treasure hunt. And you can't help gloating about the fact that they are selling for $44.99 a pound at Union Market in Brooklyn.


After a happy hunt you are faced with the task of sorting and cleaning, and deciding how to eat them. There are worse dilemmas. I had a lot of fun devising new recipes for them. I cook instinctively, taking notes as I work. If we like what I make, the recipe is made again and again as I test it. The stuffed tomato recipe below is a keeper (I am addicted to stuffed summer tomatoes and could make a different version every night of the week).


Apart from the mushrooms we ate fresh, I pickled many, and quick-cooked and froze a stash, for later.

Chanterelles are more scented than they are flavorful. Fresh and raw their aroma is a lot like cooked apricots. But I like their texture, very much: it is substantial and meaty.


Stuffed Tomatoes with Chanterelles and Black Currants:

Makes 8 medium tomatoes

Here, aromatic chanterelles are complimented by tart and complex black currants.

This method also works very well with very young and tender chicken of the woods. If you do not have wild mushrooms, substitute chopped shiitakes or button mushrooms. Completely different flavor and texture, but not bad at all. And for a lower carb or keto version, omit the rice and bump up the walnuts.

Eat hot, at room temperature, or cold in the middle of the night.

8 oz chanterelles
8 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup basmati rice
4 oz bacon, chopped
6 large scallions finely sliced (1.5 packed cups)
1/4 cup black currants (optional - substitute fresh sour cherries, or 2 tablespoons black currant jam)
1/4 cup (.8 oz) walnuts, chopped very finely
¼ cup finely chopped dill
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup red wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

To clean the mushrooms: trim off any dry or bruised pieces. If they are dirty, soak for 20 minutes in a large, salted bowl of water. Drain and dry the mushrooms (or repeat the wash if there was a lot of debris in the water). Cut larger mushrooms into halves or quarters.

Cut the tops or bottoms off the tomatoes and scoop out their insides, using a spoon. Discard any hard core at the stem end. Reserve the cut-off lids and ½
cup of the flesh and juice (save the rest for gazpacho, tomato sauce, or Bloody Mary’s). Chop any large pieces finely. Arrange the hollow tomatoes in a skillet or baking dish and salt their naked insides.

In a small pot melt the butter over medium heat and toast the basmati in it for a couple of minutes. Add ¼ cup of water. Bring to a boil, lower to a faint simmer and cook for 5 minutes (it will not be fully cooked). Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium heat until the fat runs. Add half the the scallions and stir. Increase the heat to medium high and add the chanterelles. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the reserved tomato pulp and juice, currants (or sour cherries), nuts, rice, half the dill, and the thyme, and stir well. Add half the wine. Taste, and season with salt.

Stuff this mixture into the tomatoes and drizzle the olive oil over and between them. Top the tomatoes with the reserved tomato lids. Distribute the rest of the scallions and any leftover filling between the tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Transfer to the hot oven and bake for 1¼ hours or until the tomatoes are beginning to caramelize and the bottom of the pan is syrupy. Halfway through cooking, add the rest of wine, and add splashes of water if the pan juices begin to stick.

Before serving, sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper.



Thursday, July 18, 2019

City sanctuary


It has been the year of the ghost pipe. I have never seen so many. In High Rock Park on a misty day they echoed one another across the damp and brown forest floor. This is a plant, not the fungus its ghostly color and texture resemble. It belongs to the genus Monotropa, and does not produce chlorophyll.


I was alone in the woods. It felt like a privilege. That is the kind of thing my dad would say. He recognised privilege, spotted it a mile away, and talked about it a lot. The fact that I was a woman, feeling safe walking in this city of many millions, alone, was the privilege. That this green space exists within the city of millions, is a privilege. That I have lived an unchallenged life, white-skinned and seamless, is a privilege. May it never be an entitlement.


This flower was everywhere. At first I was sure it was pipsessewa, but it wasn't. Isn't. Instead, it is shinleaf, Pyrola americana. I had never seen it in bloom, despite years of walking the city woods. You always see something new.


And then across the path a few feet from my feet sailed a long snake. S/he stopped to rest in the leaves. A bulge suggested lunch. This is a northern watersnake, and the water was a few yards away. I don't mind snakes. (Spiders? ...not so much.)

The city is full of wonders. We will not be meeting them on this Sunday's scheduled walk - the heatwave feel-like is in the 100's and I postponed it. But we will be going to Dead Horse Bay on the 28th, in time for sumac and low tide. See you there?

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Waterfront forage cocktails and snacks


Join me on a waterfront adventure at Bush Terminal - featuring wild cocktails and snacks - this Wednesday at 5.30pm.


When we moved to our (latest) new apartment we reconnoitred our new hood. And within its borders we discovered a park I had never visited, on the edge of New York Harbor. Since then we have returned, many times, for the salt air and the wide horizons.

In city terms, the park at Bush Terminal is new: it opened in 2014. It is a manageable size but seems much bigger because of its spectacular and big-sky views to the north (Manhattan) and to the west, across New York Harbor to the Statue of Liberty. The ship, ferry, and water taxi traffic is mesmerizing, and local waterbirds add a sense of discovery (I once saw an elusive green heron perched on a log in broad daylight).

Already, as is inevitable in this city, which underfunds its parks (if the park is in great shape that shape comes from private conservancy money), the designed landscaping has given way in many parts to weeds. Luckily, for our botanical purposes, lots of them are edible! There are also shoreline natives that speak to what our regional cuisine could be, if we let our culinary imaginations breathe. You will taste those possibilities in our picnic.

So on Wednesday we will explore this waterfront space, and finish with  cocktails and a picnic inspired by the microseason (that would be the first week of July) featuring the flavors I have recently foraged in the Catskills, and from the remote green wilds of the city itself.


The menu is never final until the day, but the canapés will feature the scents and tastes of a wild botanical summer, including the flavors we have just met. I am thinking white sweet clover pastry, fava bean and common milkweed tartlets, yellow sweet clover mini-biscuits (fresh from that afternoon's oven), pepperweed relish (wasbai-ish), American burnweed and lime butter, and... some other things. And the cocktails of course. I'm leaning toward elderflower and wineberry for botanical base notes.


So:

Where? BushTerminal, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
When? Wednesday, 10 July, 5.30pm - 7pm
How much? $45

I will email you with meet up details once you have purchased a ticket. I can offer a few rides from Windsor Terrace, but the R subway goes to 43rd Street (a 10-minute walk) and there are two buses. Plus Citibike and Lyft or Uber, of course.

BOOKING CLOSED

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

City summer


The first muggy days have arrived in Brooklyn. We have supper on the terrace, and are entertained - soon after 8pm - by the fireflies, who first appeared on the 24th. We wondered if we would see them from this terrace, and are very happy that we do. The gardens below - ranging from indifferent, to lovely,  to barren - are mostly empty of people but are flashing with those little swooping lights.

We have central air, now, which seems very luxurious after 1st Place, where we couldn't even squeeze a wall unit into the windows because of their - thankfully very pretty - wrought iron burglar bars. But turning on the oven still seems a crime, so suppers are increasingly salad-like, or we braai. I did cheat tonight and baked a clafoutis with some wonderful cherries.

Those skylights on the big roof across from us are mysterious. They are all covered by cloths. Sometimes a strong wind whips one away and then men come up to attach new ones. We can only assume that the building below becomes very hot and that the extra sunlight doesn't help. We see no roof units for air conditioning, even though there is a huge fan or machine that roars all day - possibly extraction for the laundry business below. It is a rare remnant of industria in a residential neighborhood. An episode of The Sopranos (I am only watching it now!) suddenly tuned me in to the fact it is mafia-founded and owned, or at least owned now by the sons of mafia. The long green wall of Boston ivy on the southern wall must help with cooling. This vilified climber deserves more respect for its ability to lower building temperatures (and it is beautiful - like a thick green pelt). It is embraced in Europe and herbicided, here.

Once, we saw a raccoon trundle across that roof in the moonlight.

I have a new botanical walk schedule up - you'll find it on my Forage Walks and Talks page. The next one is this Sunday in nearby historic Green-Wood Cemetery, where the gorgeous trees should help to cool us (You can read about it in the August chapter of my first book, 66 Square Feet- A Delicious Life).

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Serviceberries this Saturday



One of the best things about New York in June is serviceberries. Juneberries. Saskatoon. Shad. Mespilus (if you are European). Amelanchier, if you know the botanical name.

The local Brooklyn serviceberries are delicious. I know, because I have eaten them (nearly) all. But I left some for you.

Come and meet them this Saturday on a Scents and Serviceberries walk (book via PayPal below). Our picnic will feature, well, yes: Serviceberries.

We will identify many other edible plants too, and some of them smell very good. Really. Pineapple weed. Common milkweed. Not to mention the wild greens.


Serviceberries freeze very well, which is how I come to make serviceberry ice cream out of season, with an equally freezable compôte of beach plums (which ripen at the very end of summer). Two delicious North American fruits, happy together.

Lots (and lots) of recipes in Forage Harvest Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine.

Or just come and eat some of them this Saturday. I will do the work for you.


WALK COMPLETE

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Eating wisteria flowers - an ephemeral treat


It seems a shame to let May go without looking back at the wonderful ways of wisteria blossom. North of us wisteria panicles are still dripping from wherever they twine. And at 1st Place, our last address, I found that pruning the rampant, ancient old vine there resulted in fresh blooms in July, so by all means hack back hard as soon as they have finished blooming if you would like to enjoy these perfumed flowers again in the sullen, hot days of late summer.

Wisteria sinensis is very invasive locally (it smothers and strangles trees and shrubs), and can be very aggressive. Which is good for foragers, since it has invaded our city forests. Native W. frutescens is slightly more laid back and a better choice if you would like to plant one at home.

Look in Forage, Harvest, Feast for these recipes. And if you happen to be one of the people who has left an Amazon review for the book, thank you very, very much! They really do help sales.


The recipe for this Concentrated Wisteria Syrup, above, is on page 441 of Forage, Harvest, Feast. It is very aromatic. I make syrup because I like to bake with it, and to make drinks:


...to wit: Like a julep, but I shook it up, instead. And there are black locust flowers in the background! Yes, they have their own book chapter, too.


Still julep-ing, and with wisteria ice cubes.


This is Misteria (my name for the plant when I was very small), page 442 - read all about it. Delicious with tart-sweet sumac sugar. That's another chapter... (but check out page 405).


Vinegar. Does anyone like vinegar as much as I do? I am lost without it. For slow cooking adobo-type dishes, for mixing low ABV drinks (the new mixology catch phrase: low alcohol by volume; last year they were mocktails), and for quick pickles. Salad dressing, of course. I have a quick vinegar method in FHF, but to ferment from scratch - very satisfying - follow the Common Milkweed Flower Vinegar method on page 98.


The vinegar is also very good for baking biscuits and Fluffy Wisteria Pancakes (page 444.)


I LOVE tahini with vinegar, as a vibrant, tongue-smacking, but creamy dressing. This chickpea salad is a riff on one I used to inhale at Anatoli on Sunday nights in long-ago Cape Town (made with giant white beans). It's really good with slivers of raw, red onion. Page 443.


This is made with summer wisteria. Basil's ready, real tomatoes are ripe (I always wait). Mint. Balsamic, salt. Hm, hm, hm


And to finish (especially on this hot, hot late May day and Memorial Day weekend), wisteria and Nigori sake popsicles. Page 443.

For grown ups. Or for loud children who need swift sedation.

Your choice.

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