Monday, December 23, 2019

Hoshigaki How-To

Every winter for the last five years we have had some interesting holiday decorations hanging in windows or from ceilings in two apartments: hoshigaki - strings of peeled persimmons, drying slowly in the Japanese tradition.

The finished fruit is dense, chewy, and as unctuous* as toffee, if fresh toffees grew on trees (as they do in C.S. Lewis's The Magicians' Nephew).

*You get to say unctuous once a year; I have waited a long time, and there it is.

Learn how to make hoshigaki in this story I wrote for Edible Brooklyn. Tips, tricks and deliciousness. This is a wonderful annual ritual, and persimmons are in season. You need to try this at least once.

That white bloom is a cloak of tiny sugar crystals. 

If you have ever had a very plump Medjool date, you have some idea of the flavor and texture of good hoshigaki, but the Medjool is less complex. And before you ask, these results bear no relation to what you might achieve in a dehydrator. You need more time.

I love the process of making these wonderful treats. They last a year (I have never managed more), and are reserved for special occasions. Like supper for two, with cheese! Or a forage picnic.

Come and taste some on our wild walk in Prospect Park on January 1st.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Fir - the love of December

Go on, buy me for the holidays. Either on my publisher's site (35% off), or from your local bookstore. Or you, know, at the other place.

Because it's time to play with fir - the most delicious scent and wonderful flavor. Fir is not pine, and pine is not spruce, and spruce is not hemlock, and hemlock is not larch. None of them are yew. Don't eat yew. Evergreens with needles can be confusing. Fir belongs to the Abies genus, and has unmistakably fragrant needles (the others are all interesting - and edible, too, except the yew - but without the distinct aroma of the freezing north in December).

I made a fresh batch of fir sugar last week. The flavor and scent last years. Literally. Although the fresh green will fade with time.

You need fir sugar on your party glasses.

Or on your drink for one. This is Firgid, from the book.

And this is house-cured gravlax. Recipe in the book. So easy. Memorably delicious.

And here are the fir smoked potatoes you should not live without. Roasted in duck fat. And you don't need a smoker.

And here is dessert. Made with this season's Meyer lemons.

I told you. You need to buy me

Have fun!


(Yes, there will be fir)

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Jones Beach - Owl Watch

We went to the beach on Long Island that in summer is crammed with thousands of roasting bodies.

It was cold and empty, and the dune grasses were beautiful in their rufous, early winter color.

I saw tracks and found scat (rabbit?), and scanned every hump and hollow for the snowy owls we were hoping to sight.

Solidago, gone to seed.

And then we found her, between hell and high water. Not perched on a dune, but surveying her landscape sleepily from a rusty fence above empty handball courts. A New York owl.

Below her the courts were crammed with rusting barbecues and stacked picnic tables, detritus from summer, corralled by the dozen and locked up behind chainlink until next season.

They belong to the barracks of empty cabanas.

Much later we realized we could have found her via the road, rather than on a long beach hike, and so we parked the car there in the vast and empty parking lot named for the resort - Malibu - and ate hot tomato and chile soup with field garlic sprinkles and watched the owl. She's about at two-minutes-to-twelve above the cup on the left. Faraway, on the fence:


Friday, December 6, 2019

New Year's Walk

New Year's Tramp
Prospect Park
1 January 2020
12pm - 2pm

Bundle up and join me to greet the new year with the resilience that 2020 will require. What better way than with a bracing tramp outdoors? Up hill, down dale, and through the Brooklyn woods? 

On our wild winter walk we will identify edible plants that will be ready to gather in the spring, learn about spruce and pine, and will meet some sturdy botanicals whose flavors defy freezing temperatures. 

Our warming picnic will be flavored by the year's preserved forages (and some fresh ones, too) and will feature hot toddies, steaming soup, and a Spicebuche de Noel. And maybe something bubbly, too.

Book via the button below and please visit my walk page for info about my walks and refund policies.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thai Lime Marmalade

The recipe for my Thai lime marmalade is next door, at 66 Square Feet (the Food).

Thanks to the abundance of fruit on our overwintering bedroom citrus trees, I had enough limes to make two batches of Thai lime marmalade. It is really delicious: tart, bitter, sweet, aromatic. And it set absolutely beautifully, both times. A perfect jelly. It's really much easier than making jam.

The knobbly green skin of Thai limes (makrut, Citrus hystrix) is remarkably aromatic and their pale green juice is very acidic, slightly floral, and faintly bitter. Not everyone has bumper crops of Thai limes, and this recipe will work with any lime or lemon, too.

I based my recipe initially on one from Return to Camdeboo by Eve Palmer (a compelling book about Karoo farm life, seasons, and food), but its directions were ambiguous, I disagreed about the sugar. In the end I went my own route. But the original did teach me to soak the fruit first, which is essential, unless you like chewy lime rind.

The Thai lime marmalade recipe is at 66 Square Feet (the Food)


Monday, December 2, 2019

Winter cocktails

I don't mind somber, when it comes to cold weather drinks. Brown is beautiful. The paler one above is 'Dear George' - based on applejack and Spicebush Cranberry Fizz. (But here is a holiday-red one, if you prefer bright).

As the seasons change, so do my cocktail and drink mixing habits. We eat differently, so why not drink differently? Tomatoes are gone, root vegetables and winter squash have taken their place. (And thank goodness for kale.) So, too, terrace-sipped gin and tonics are a strange memory. By 4PM the terrace is dark.

The citrusy character of spicebush - red when fresh, brown when dry - is limitlessly versatile, and seems made for winter. To make Spicebush Cranberry Fizz, a delicious and easy ferment and mixer I conjure in late autumn and winter for all kinds of drinks (and even cooking), you will need spicebush berries (technically, they are drupes, not berries). You will find its recipe in the link. You need fresh cranberries, too.

If you have not foraged and dried spicebush yourself you can buy it online from Integration Acres (Ohio) - above, with my spicebush gingerbread. They call it Appalachian allspice.

Also, if you have your own trees (large shrubs, small trees) you can substitute a bunch of the young twigs, scratched up to release the scent, for the infusion. The picture above shows the ground up, dried spicebush fruit with the twigs.

See Forage, Harvest, Feast (35% off right now, from my publisher) for much more about spicebush - Lindera benzoin. It is the utterly North American spice that almost no one knows, and has vast potential. I use it more than any other wild flavor. And go next door to 66 Square Feet (the Food) for the ferment recipe!


Sunday, November 24, 2019

My father


It is not a word we knew, growing up, although Yiddish did make its way into our domestic vocabulary - my parents had some close Jewish friends. But it is very helpful, now, and I would like to borrow it.

It is a year since my father died. November 23rd. For the last two weeks my heart has been skipping beats. Literally. I can only think that my body is reacting to this time, last year (yes, I will see a doctor, in case).

Henri Viljoen. There he is. I asked to take pictures of him one late summer day in Cape Town, still dressed for work. I took six pictures. He was 81.

When I showed him a black and white version of this one, that I had framed, he looked at it sadly, but he said nothing, and handed it back to me, and smiled at me. I know he thought that he and his dog, Ben, both looked old. What if we had known this would be the picture Vince and I used when composing the e-vite to my father's memorial in that awful week, one year ago? I would have had to explain to my dad what an e-vite was. He would have found it miraculous.

I made my father cry, once. I was in my early thirties. We had had an argument about relationships. He said that with my uncompromising attitudes about men I would never be happy, and he wanted me to be happy. Jou maatstaf is te hoog, he said. Your measure is too high. And he wept, his head in his hands at the table on the patio.

When I brought the Frenchman home for the first time, just months after meeting him, the love of my life promptly fell in love with my father. It appeared to be mutual. This was unexpected. I had warned him that my father was judgemental, authoritarian. But Vince saw qualities in my dad that I had been raised to overlook. It is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Almost overnight, I saw my father through very different eyes.

In the last couple of years before his death, my father would come and sit near me in the study where I would be typing on my laptop after supper, when I visited. I would be there for weeks. He would be working - and later just trying to work, as dementia melted his mind - next door in the dining room. He'd walk in, on his way to bed, and be visibly startled to see me. He had forgotten I was home. You're here! Jy's hier! he would say, beaming, and sit down. And then he would say, Ek wens jy kon bly. I wish you could stay. And the next night it would be the same. And the next. You're here! I wish you could stay.

I miss him so much.

He didn't call or write inbetween visits, and we only exchanged a few words when I called my mother. But he would always answer the phone the same way when he knew it was me: My liewe kind. Hoe gáán dit met jou? My dear child. How are you? And I would say, My liewe Vader. And then we would both laugh and laugh.

I never spoke at my father's memorial. I couldn't. I had way too much to say, and with the grief of that week, and those preceding years, I was stripped of filters. The world would have exploded.

I see him in myself. When I use the toothpaste to the very last squeeze. When I straighten out the tube after the Frenchman has squashed it in the middle. When I clean my bicycle carefully or fold my sweaters neatly. When I use just my breath  to sing while I wash dishes or perform a chore. When I arrange things at right angles. When I hear contempt in my voice. When I take pleasure in a view, or a flower. When I lash out at a racist remark. When I forget why I walked into a room.

We lead privileged lives. My father said it again and again. He had money. But it was never a competition. He earned it, understood it, enjoyed it, and he gave a lot of it away. It exasperated him that I would not accept it. But that was the only way I could look him in the eye.

I am wearing my father's thickest, warm woollen socks. Their toes are darned. On my wrist is a tiny amount of his Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet. Last night the Frenchman and I drank to him after making sure the cork actually popped out of the bottle - no discreet pffft. My father liked bubbly to go out with a bang.

We had no unfinished business. I know he was proud of me. I know he loved me. I know I am lucky, that way.

But I want him back.

Monday, November 18, 2019

November Forage Walk

21 November 
12pm - 2pm
Fort Tilden (Beach Club end)

You know me. Always dragging you on adventures to strange, empty places in the city of millions. Here is a pop-up walk this Thursday at Fort Tilden, inspired by a briefly mild forecast. But bundle up, regardless.

We will walk along the deserted roads of this decommissioned missile launch site, perusing the aromatic and invasive mugwort, and admiring the hardy bayberry, whose leaves will infuse our warm toddies.

Sour sumac is petrified in place and we may still find some autumn olives, if the birds have left them (and yes, we will return to this wonderful walk in spring - the contrast is amazing). We will discuss the culinary pleasures of pine cones.

This walk is best reached by car, because we will be starting from the parking lot near the Silver Gull beach Club (one of this city's many weirdnesses) that is permit-only in summer. I can offer a ride for three people from Brooklyn.

Post ramble, we will picnic. Hot toddies, hot soup, and tidbits (like autumn olive jam on fresh biscuits) from the shoreline world of pre-Thanksgiving.

Booking Closed

Friday, November 15, 2019

Winter Cabin - A Cranberry Cocktail

For me winter cocktails are on a spectrum remote from summer’s floral cordials and mint-singing mojitos. I could no more sip a gin and tonic indoors in a northern winter's climate than I could go bobsledding in my negligée. Wait. I don’t have a negligée...

As light clothes are packed (far) away and the sweaters and coats are shaken out, fresh drinks are shaken up. Citrus is in season, and for us that mean right in our bedroom! While I have them, I use the fragrant Thai limes.

Head next door, to 66 Square Feet (the Food), where you will find the recipe for  'Winter Cabin' (above) - a shaking up of white rum, Chartreuse (we visited Chartreuse country in early summer), and an easy cranberry syrup. With lime zest and juice.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cranberry Cocktails

It may be dark before five o'clock but cranberries have arrived. At farmers markets the local fruits are piled loose in bins, and in supermarkets red bags are stacked like miniature crimson sandbags, imports from New England, the West Coast and British Columbia (for beautiful pictures of that BC cranberry harvest, see the Frenchman's post from when he still lived in Vancouver).

To celebrate cranberry season, I have a slew of original cranberry mixology creations residing next door, at 66 Square Feet (the Food). It is the first in a series that will continue over the next week. Learn to make delicious Red Rita, above, with cranberry sour syrup and cranberry brine.

And yes, it is perfect for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Daylight no more

With the new, early-dark afternoons, our ritual of drinks on the terrace around 6pm has come to a close.  It is dark at 4.30pm. Which is just silly. It is also - suddenly - very cold. But we have been known to tough it out for the pleasure of sitting outside.

But this was our last hurrah. In the foreground is a delicious combination of gin, my own cassis (made with summer's black currants, which I later dried), with ume syrup and Thai lime juice from our trees (now wintering in the sunny bedroom).

The seedpods belong to Magnolia grandiflora, my foraging and flavor experiment.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Over at 66 Square Feet (the Food) I posted a recipe for this deliciously autumnal persimmon loaf. It's good just with butter, or with this tart viburnum jelly (I used invasive linden viburnum - Viburnum dilatatum). Red currant jam would be nice, or even a sharp cheese, grated roughly and packed on top with a schmear of chutney.

I love persimmons.

Locally the little American persimmons are ripe (above) - the trees are so tall that windstorms are helpful for shaking off the ripe fruits.  And the large Asian persimmons are arriving at delis, bodegas and markets.

Some quick persimmon tips:

Native persimmons and big Asian Hachiyas must be jelly-soft to be ripe. 
Fat-bottomed Fuyu persimmons are sweet when still firm.
Freeze very ripe Hachiyas for instant sorbet. Take out of the freezer 15 minutes before slicing them in half and scooping.

For baking or drink mixing, pulp ripe persimmons.

The small naive persimmons smell like roses and ripe apricots when very ripe. I put them through my foodmill's medium mesh to remove the occasional seeds and the thin skin.

The pulp is like taffy and very aromatic. I freeze it by the half-cupful.

The freezer is getting full.

Lots more persimmon tips and recipes in Forage, Harvest, Feast.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Autumn olives - a mast year

Early last Saturday I finished working (a freelance writing assignment) unexpectedly early, and so the Frenchman and I decided to hop into Ntini and drive to the beach. The weather was beautiful and crisp. He would run on the low tide beach and I would walk and forage in the dunes. I expected to find some fragrant bayberry.

Instead, I found trees groaning with the weight of autumn olives. You may know them as oleaster. Or autumn berry. Or Japanese silverberry. Regardless, as far as I am aware, these autumn olives are Elaeagnus umbellata, a very invasive small tree, with roots in Asia. There are many species of Elaeagnus.

There is a native American species: commutata. Also commonly called autumn olive. Or silverthorn. But its fruits are green and mealy. The perfumed flowers look almost identical, though. Another spring lookalike is Russian olive, Elaeagnus angustifolia, and it also has green fruit.

Like gummi bears on trees.

I had found some early fruit ripe on Staten Island just before I left for South Africa to visit my mom, in late September. I had been happy about those handfuls. So this ridiculously heavy crop in mid October in Brooklyn was a big  and very nice surprise.

I picked and picked and picked. I also ate a lot and got very sticky. The flesh is juicy, slightly tannic, lightly sweet, and little sour. The flavour is almost like red currant meets sweet tomato but not quite. Some pomegranate. I collected a couple of large branches, too - not something I usually do - because I found what looked very much like two different species, and I wanted to compare leaves and fruit closely.

The ones on the left were clustered in tight bunches and tasted as described. The ones on the right were on a larger tree with larger leaves, the fruit more sparse, on longer stalks, individually larger, and very sour, like lemon juice. Possibly a hybrid, or perhaps even the goumi, Elaeagnus multiflora? Or native silver buffaloberry - Shepherdia argentea, in an unusual eastern occurrence? I need to check to see if its leaves are opposite.

In the kitchen, after washing and sorting, the measuring and milling began. When I work with wild ingredients I measure and weigh them because there are close to no resources telling you, for example, how much a cup of autumn olives weighs, or how much juice you can expect to extract from that cup. This is basic information that is required for a recipe to work.

In the jug you can see how autumn olive juice separates after a few minutes. It has very high lycopene content, and working with it is like working with tomatoes, whose lycopene is a little more famous (lycopene is an antioxidant best known for contributing to heart health).

The autumn olive kitchen.

I know. Now what?

Wait and see!


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Columbus Day Walk

Origins and Consequences Walk
Prospect Park
14 October, 11am - 1.30pm

Once upon a time Columbus discovered America.  Or did he? Oh, dear...

It was here all the time, of course.

Filled with indigenous peoples and plants. In the wake of European settlement unfamiliar plants appeared, and began to alter the botanical landscape.

Use this federal holiday celebrating Columbus (and was he Italian or Portuguese, anyway?) to come and meet and celebrate the delicious native plants of the Northeast, learn some of the traditional ways of using them, and discover the exotic and useful plants that have naturalized here. Our wild-inspired picnic will feature native American ingredients (think fermented, dried serviceberries), as well as Portuguese treats (pastéis de nata, anyone?), reinterpreted with native and invasive ingredients.

Please bring your opinions. There may even be a food fight.

Walk Complete

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The tropical terrace

I was away in Cape Town - working remotely and keeping my mom company - for the month of September. Despite my absence, the plants on the terrace just kept growing, watered almost daily by the Frenchman. Despite its tiny size, relative to the garden I just left, returning to this terrace - my fourth New York garden - is still a homecoming. And right now it feels distinctly tropical.

The Thai limes (you can also call them makrut, as they are known in Thailand - Citrus hystrix) are flourishing.

While they are better known for their aromatic leaves, the fruits' rind is intensely fragrant. I used some in a Thai green curry a couple of nights ago.

After looking peaky (I would describe it as a failure thrive - FFT - a medical diagnosis that I first encountered with reference to child deaths in 19th century English workhouses. Cause? "Failure to thrive.") in mid summer, with drooping top growth and yellowing mature leaves, the curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) revived after some serious June intervention: root pruning, repotting in the same pot, and a heavy prune of its branches. It revived. Of all the plants I have grown curry leaf has been the most challenging. But I think I understand it, now. For vigor it will require frequent pruning - top and bottom. And unlike every other plant I know it likes a little water, every day. This is the opposite of the deep watering I usually recommend. To complicate matters, indoors in winter I water it only once a week...

Galangal! I harvested some of the rhizome for that same green curry, making it about as authentic as it gets. The leaves are also very fragrant. This is Alpinia galanga.

And my other galangal - Kaempferia galanga. The coolest plant on the terrace. It was dormant all winter (indoors), meaning no leaves at all. So I was thrilled to see the first green shoots appear in May. It has spread extra fast since August, and is still making tiny, remarkably pretty white flowers that last a day, giving it another common name of resurrection lily. The leaves are delicious shredded into curries and braises and have an affinity for vinegar (I slow-cook often with the vinegars I make at home).

The curry leaf and both galangals came from Companion Plants in Ohio, all in four-inch pots. You can read more about the galangals' journey here.

These subtropicals and tropicals must come in, soon. Night time temperatures are dipping down to 50'F and when they stay below, I make the move. We brought the curry leaf in last night when 45' were predicted: Miss Fussy Pants.