Sunday, March 31, 2019

From the woods

Why do I forage? It's an unanswerable question. But I am as curious now about wild things as I was when I was a very small girl. Walking in the woods, or anywhere else, really, is an adventure. A never-ending Easter egg hunt. On a hill in a city park I might suddenly find wood ear mushrooms where two weeks before there was just a big, dry log. Species of Auricularia, wood ears (also called cloud ear fungus) are prized in Asian cuisines and sold dried by the bagful. Their texture is tender, like soft velvet covered with a thin film of cool, human skin. Yes, very strange.

While they are usually used dried and reconstituted, I find their fresh, cooked texture to be very appealing.

The early spring things that accompany them: field garlic, baby ground elder (invasive bishop's weed), lesser celandine (I dislike the leaves' slightly acrid flavor but use them for garnishes), and some horseradish-hot garlic mustard roots.

And then comes the recipe creation. This one-pot chicken, field garlic and cream stew with rustic potatoes was mouthwateringly good. The mushrooms became sponges, their soft black collars plumping up like oysters to absorb the sauce. They combine that oyster slipperiness with a crunch.

Field garlic (the invasive Allium vineale) is like an assertive chive, and I have been using the leaves a lot over the last week-plus. The soup above, veiled by a melting dollop of whipped cream is lamb, red wine and field garlic; the pesto on the cracker is garlic mustard. Both were leftovers from a forage-picnic in Inwood. I have not cooked with cream for a long time but I bought some for that picnic's chocolate spicebush roulade and had to use up the rest. I had forgotten how good it is.

And the faithful field garlic and cheese bread. It's one of the first snacks I ever made for my forage walks, and I think it is delicious. It is a baking powder bread so needs to be eaten within a day of baking to be best, but it does make outstanding toast. The recipe is in Forage Harvest Feast, and works just as well with normal chives or even thinly snipped scallion greens.

The next walk is on April 6th in Central Park's North Woods. What will the picnic be? Come and see...


Friday, March 29, 2019

Spring things

Spring things have been sneaking into the house.

Tulips from a deli on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn ($5 a bunch!). Muscat grapes from Sunset Park's Chinatown - very much from the Southern Hemisphere, but I always associate them with spring, locally, and they are delicious in all kinds of recipes, especially with field garlic.

Spicebush twigs waiting to be added to more vinegar jars. The vinegars I have started are fir and apple, pear, lemon and spicebush, magnolia (yes, the buds and flowers are edible), and jujube and magnolia.

Now it's a waiting game. When these brews are very effervescent I will wait for them to calm a little, then strain and and return the liquid to the jars to wait for acetobacter to take over, turning sweet into sour. (In Forage, Harvest, Feast you will find these fermentation methods in the elderflower and common milkweed chapters.)

There are forage walks, picnics and romps in the offing: 6th April in the North Woods, the 14th and 20th of April in Prospect Park, a wild dinner with flights of cocktails and a forage walk with lunch near Stonington Connecticut on the 26th and 27th of April (with the wonderful James Wayman - email me if you are interested), a May Day playing hooky at Dead Horse Bay, and the green forests of Inwood on May 18th. See the link below to book for the walks.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Inwood Field Garlic Walk

Join me this Sunday [originally Saturday but postponed because of wind] in Inwood Hill Park for a three-hour walk and picnic. It is barely spring, but we will be hunting (and eating) field garlic.

Allium vineale is that delicious invasive onion that reappears in late autumn after a later summer dormancy, perseveres through winter as skinny leaves, and fattens up in spring. Call it crow garlic, lawn chives, wild chives, wild onion - but don't call it boring. It has all the properties we love in domesticated garlic and onions.

I make a vivid wet salt with field garlic leaves every year. It behaves the way a bouillon cube does, giving broths and soups and stews (and eggs, always eggs) a foundation of flavor.

Field garlic compound butter is delicious.  On this walk I will replicate the picnic I made in March 2014, which featured a field garlic cheese bread with this butter and a garlic mustard pesto. It's my five-year wild walk anniversary, and the picnics have grown in scope.

The early leaves of potent garlic mustard are beginning to appear (their peak season is late April into May).

And we may see the pink tips of super-invader, Japanese knotweed.

Another intensely herbal (think lovage) invasive edible is ground elder, or bishop's weed. Its early leaves are thinking about appearing.

Will there be daylily shoots, yet? I am not sure! Come and find out with me.

Every late March is different (in 2014 we had a big snowfall). But on their warm slope it is possible we will find the earliest of nettle tips.

And wonderful spicebush. My kitchen's favorite, hands down. There will be fragrant twigs and early buds.

Taste it in our picnic's dessert (chocolate roulade stuffed with sour cherries and spicebush)...

Tickets are $50 and the walk is from 12pm to 3pm, on Sunday the 24th. (If you can't make this one see my Forage Walks and Classes page for many other options).


Saturday, March 16, 2019

A New Terrace Year

On a freakily warm evening we sat outside for the first time since last year, and drank Aperol Spritzers. The day was warm enough for short sleeves. The night bearable with light sweaters. We braaied later (lamb sausages from our local butcher), and watched a line of thunderstorms shatter the western horizon over Jersey. Above us, stars.

Today, the cold is back. But the last week has been so sunny and hopeful that I impulse-bought pansies. This happens every year.  Only when they are home do I check how many nights in the forecast are well beneath freezing. Answer: a few. Pansies survive serious cold, of course, but it seems unfair to transfer them straight from their greenhouse life to a bitter terrace. So mine are waiting a little, and will be brought in on those bitter nights. But seeing them makes me feel better.

Every time we move I have learned something new about gardening. This time it's windowboxes.

And to that end I have visited big box stores. For weeks I scoured the Internet and smaller local stores for affordable and attractive window boxes to increase the planting area, but not the clutter, on our new 110 square foot terrace (bear in mind I must leave space for the currently overwintering citrus trees, curry leaf tree, cardamon and galangals). But affordable-and-attractive is a rare combination, apparently, and my search yielded nothing inoffensive for under $100. For the eight-ish boxes I needed that was just crazy; over the years I have sunk untold thousands into gardens we have rented and left. And then one day, hunting African violets, I spotted $30 windowboxes at Lowe's. So I bought them.

The windowboxes are just 24 inches long (I'd have preferred longer), but wide and deep enough to grow good herbs, salads and annuals. The black wrought iron decided me - it suits our iron railings. The thick coir matting lining will be reinforced with a layer of landscape fabric to prevent soil from working its way through the coir as it ages. The metal brackets that are supposed to attach the boxes are designed for angular wooden deck railings, not round iron. So I have substituted lowly but practical, heavy-duty black zip ties - very strong, and mercifully invisible against the black railings. Safety is important with any planter hanging over a void (although the fire escape would catch them), so I am using three zips per planter.

And I am using Soilmoist for the first time in my own pots (it's an old professional gardeners' trick); also harder to find than it should be. It will be mixed with potting to soil to increase moisture-retention in the planters. Smaller planters dry out faster.

In an effort to attract hungry migrating birds I slathered several park pinecones with peanut butter and nice bird seed. No birds, yet. But squirrel. He's already left some warm Yelp reviews for me.

Not the clientele I was hoping for.

But all things considered, life could be worse. And is, for so many.

Keep planting.

(If you'd like to track the progress of this space, check all posts here tagged Windsor Terrace. On Instagram, look for #thewindsorterrace)


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Spring Walks

The sun is shining in Brooklyn. And in anticipation of warming days I have added a slew of walks to my spring roster. You can find them on my Forage Walks and Classes Page. Meet both of these plants, then.

These are a brightness from last April: Native Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana) and very invasive lesser celandine (Ficaria verna). Both flowers are edible, both are summer dormant. If you live in North America, do plant the Virginia bluebells - they are delightful and delicious (the leaves taste like mushroomy lettuce). Do not plant this little celandine, as it takes over. Its iridescent flowers make beautiful ice cubes and are gorgeous in salads - I eat the young leaves but am not wild about the tongue-prickling older specimens.

The forage walks include a ramble in the late winter woods of Inwood on March 23rd (and a return in a very leafy spring, on May 18th), a visit to Central Park's North Woods, a Japanese Knotweed Walk,  a Delicious Thugs Walk (where we will appreciate the yummy side of very invasive plants), a Bitter Herbs Walk for Passover and Easter, a midweek rebellion on May Day to Dead Horse Bay, and an adventure on beautiful Staten Island.

As usual all walks are followed by a wild tasting picnic where you can expect to eat treats like quails eggs with seasonal dipping salts or sauces, crackers, breads, or biscuits highlighting a wild herb like mugwort, field garlic or nettles, yogurt cheeses singing with wild flavor, soups spiced with native juniper or spicebush, and desserts ranging from wild cherry mahlab madeleines to puffball brownies to spicebush chocolate roulades. Yup.

See you there?


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Jamaica Bay in winter

On a cold day after snow I visited Jamaica Bay. I am leading a walk there next weekend and thought I should reconnoiter.

A celebratory honking in the sky drew my attention to a great flock of snow geese settling on the water. Just then three tourists begged me to take their picture with their phone. Stupidly, I complied, missing the birds with my telephoto as they took off again and honked low over the water towards Manhattan. Maybe they were late for a sale at Macy's.

A few geese stayed put.

Snow was melting, leaving clear pools on the paths.

The junipers (lone evergreen, above) are loaded with pollen, not quite ready to release it.

Remnants of roses - probably the very invasive Rosa multiflora.

And enticing bittersweet.

Edible signs. The sticks on the right...anyone? They will be delicious shoots in mid to late April.

A phalanx of phragmites. Phunny (sorry)! These thugs dominate waterways in the city and beyond. 

And if you sit on the bench at the end, you can watch a parade of jets take off over the water at JFK. And sometimes a train, too. And a pair of swans.

It's New York's wild west.

In summer, there are orchids.

Sign up in the link below if you'd like to join Saturday's walk and picnic - the snacks will feature tastes of the native shoreline plants we see - juniper, sumac, black cherry, and also weedy field garlic and mugwort. I think it may include a steaming borscht and a hot chocolate dipping sauce for mahlab madeleines (last weekend's Prospect Park picnic, above)...


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Forage Picnic Prep

I am looking forward to Sunday's walk in Prospect Park. It has been an on-again off-again forage walk and picnic, playing dodgeball with the weather forecasts of the last week. But we will romp through the remaining snow just before another big front moves in.

I spent today making black trumpet mushroom and red wine soup, above. It is rich and meaty and 100% vegan-friendly. But you would not know it if you were a steak person. The pot of soup is chilling in the snow on the terrace as I type this. Ran out of fridge space. Peeled, cooked quails eggs are nestled in miso, and a pickled ramp cheese is draining in the fridge. It will go with lambs quarter and seaweed crackers*. I am contemplating the feasibility of transporting a hot chocolate sauce for dipping the spicebush madeleines, now fresh from the oven. (I inhaled one. They are a bit too big, but feather-light.)

Bring on more blizzard! We are ready.

* Ahem: these suffered a kitchen mishap. They are very fragile and let's just say they were dropped and are toast. So to speak. So I made mugwort crackers, instead.