Saturday, August 29, 2020

Museum challenge - art recreation

Peaches Covered by a Handkerchief, by Raphaelle Peale

Peaches Covered by a Beaded Net, by me

Game organized by the Princeton University Art Museum. The deadline for art recreation submissions is Sunday, 30 August, 11.59pm EST. You may choose any painting, anywhere, as long as it is in a museum's collection. Categories include: Best from the Princeton University Art Museum’s Collection, Best Use of Food, Best Portrait, Best Landscape, Best Still Life, Best Abstract Composition, Best Use of a Pet (I assume dead rabbits in Dutch still lives are a bad idea - be nice to the pets!), Best Use of Household Item, Best Group Composition.


 Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine

Friday, August 28, 2020

Sand ginger flowers

Every morning for the last three days the orchid-like flowers of the sand ginger (Kaempferia galanga) have greeted me on the terrace. By early afternoon they have faded, their petals turning transparent and limp before they disintegrate. They must open in the night. I don't even see the buds forming.

This might be the year I divide their rhizomes. The wide, flat, aromatic leaves are crowding the pot. 

The season marches on. It's hard to grasp that in just six weeks the plant must come indoors, along with the Thai limes, yuzu, Meyer lemon, fingerlime (above), galangal, and myoga - but I do like the indoor jungle through winter.

But for now I know to head straight out with my cup of coffee to catch these fleeting blooms and to watch the bees visiting all the other flowers: the annual basils, summer savory, and portulaca, and the tough and floriferous calamintha (above) and hyssop (Agastache) collections, both hardy to survive whatever the winter brings. 

And we are still hoping for a hummingbird. 

Fingers crossed.



Monday, August 24, 2020

Sorry, August

It's never a good idea to say out loud that sweaty August is behaving like deliciously clear September. It'll turn on you. And it did. 

The humidity is back and so is the central air (one of the many thing we love about this apartment - I remember how we used to boil in Cobble Hill unless the giant wall unit roared at us all day). 

But suppers are still outdoors on the terrace. As they were then. What is it about eating outside that makes everything taste and look and feel better?

And peaches are still in season. So into the cold wine they go. 

Stay tuned for some forage walk news - I'll be teaching a fall class at the recently re-opened New York Botanical Garden. It will be 100% outdoors, to fit their pandemic protocol. 


Forage, Harvest Feast - on sale

Friday, August 21, 2020

August suppers

Terrace nights. Late August is pretending to be September, which is wonderful. The air is dry, the light is clear. September in New York is one of the best months. Apart from that September, of course. The spookily blue sky can be chilling, when that date comes around.

But back to the present. The cicadas have begun their static chorus. Sometime after eight the big trees in the background start to vibrate. A cricket in the garden below krieks, as we say in Afrikaans. The Frenchman and I refer to all black crickets as Chester (from a long-ago and very charming childhood story called The Cricket of Times Square - he befriends a mouse called Bernard, who likes liverwurst).

The giant 'German Striped' tomato on the platter above was simply cut in half, salted liberally, and strewn with finely chopped chives and basil. It's the time of year when the farmers' market tells you what to eat. (And see this Instagram post for how to transform simple white cheese into the yummiest version of itself.) 

We still use a beaded net to protect against tiny little fruit fly thingies (technical name) that besiege our salads or anything acidic. (For those of you who donated to and ordered nets for Angie-the-netmaker's fund - thank you again; she is beading as we speak. Of course I still don't know when I can travel  to Cape Town to fetch nets - so your patience is appreciated!).

The pillow covers are also South African, a treat this year for myself from A Love Supreme (I see that they have a sale now, and the USD to ZAR exchange rate is very much in the dollar's favor), ordered online and FedExed to our door. I love the stylized, hot pink sugarbirds, proteas and aloe flowers on these prints.

So, South Africa, France, a bit of Canada (the Frenchman has three passports) - watching the Brooklyn sky and wondering what is next. 


Forage, Harvest, Feast 

on Sale for $10

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Escape to the urban jungle

Late light on the terrace. Can you believe it is the end of August? Can you believe...anything?

But I do believe in books and in reading them. A moment alone in the small garden with drink, book, and bees for company, is happy. The book on the table above is Japan, and just arrived at the door - one of Nancy Singleton Hachisu's. I love her work.

The drink is gin, tonic (pink, from Fever Tree), and a flavor-infusing leaf from the sand ginger (Kaempferia galanga), one of the most rewarding, interesting and beautiful edible plants I have grown. 

It overwinters indoors, going dormant for several months. It looks deader than dead, then. You just have to believe. I take it back out around mid May. This year its first, tightly furled leaf emerged in early June, later than last year. Its orchid-like flowers are exquisite, and last a day, no more. The leaves are very aromatic and I have used them to make lacto-fermented Chinese pickles, and also include them in green curries. And, of course, drinks.

Oh! Some time ago Better Homes and Gardens asked me to write a story about my garden meanderings and this terrace, and so I did. You will find it in their September issue, themed The Power of Home. It's on shelves now. 


Books on Sale

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Lockdown lunch

Once a week I cook something that the Frenchman and I can share, sitting at the kitchen counter (which is where I write) in the middle of our work days.

And for as long as he has to work from home, we call it lockdown. How the seasons have changed. Pre-spring is late summer. And here we are.

I seem fated to discover the best mushrooms only when I have left the house in sweats and running shoes, bound for exercise only - a nearby hill in Prospect Park, where I run up, and down, up and down. Basketless, bagless, knifeless, as a forager I am unarmed. It's happened twice in the last eight days. (Last week it was chanterelles, incredibly. In Brooklyn!). 

Yesterday's discovery was a beautiful chicken of the woods, growing on a street oak, and still at the first, elusive and moist nubbin stage, before its chubby curves have fanned out into impressively huge but dry shelves. On my way back from the hill, I scooped it up and carried it home.

Today it became part of the topping for our weekly lunch: steamed eggs. Just eggs and cream (although sometimes milk, and sometimes hot water, depending on the texture I want), poured into bowls and steamed for 7 minutes. Very smooth, and purposefully bland. The seasoning today was all in the topping. Some of the mushroom, slowly caramelized in the juices of an overripe heirloom tomato, a dash of strong, dark tamari, and a final slivering of a soy-pickled shiso leaf from the terrace. 

Eaten in two minutes. 


Monday, August 10, 2020

Not drowning, but waving


Our evening supper table on the terrace, with zinnias from the farmer's market. 

My Saturday visits to the market are a highlight of my week. The produce is glorious and delicious, and it all grows within a few hours' reach of the city. Organized by the not-for-profit Grow NYC, entry to the market is controlled strictly to avoid crowding, and every farm stand has fresh chalk marks and boxes drawn on the ground where customers must stand to wait their turn. Marketers choose your produce while you point - and everyone is masked and gloved. It is hot work. The one farm that now allows you to choose your own produce wipes down every basket handle and requires you to hand sanitize from a giant dispenser before you pick one up. 

If the whole country was being run this way we'd be in good shape.

When I focus on these good things (fennel and balloon plant - native to southern Africa - above) it's easy to forget what we have missed, this year. A trip to the south of France (our tickets were refunded, at last). Chanterelle hunts (the state park that is home to "our" patch is closed). And late this month I would have traveled to Vermont to be the late summer Culinary Artist in Residence (isn't that a wonderful title?) at the Marble House Project. A kitchen to play in, and complete freedom to forage the land and choose from their kitchen garden anything I liked, to channel the seasons through food, to chart and document and compile. We would have ended with a wild-inspired forage-to-table community dinner. The residency will carry over to next year, but, as we are all learning, the more we know the less we know. Next year may as well be in another galaxy.

Finding - and recognizing - the good things under our noses remains inspiring, and I may be fortunate, that way. Lockdown inflicts boredom on some people but it's not something I have ever suffered from. Sometimes adventure lives in a windowbox. Or in a collection of summer vegetables from a farmer who grows them upstate. 

Or in a ripe peach.

Sometimes it's the new fruit on the fingerlime. Or a freshly-dug piece of galangal rhizome in a green curry.

So while I have space to grow plants, I still have the opportunity to experiment, to observe, to learn, to play, to create. Every meal is an evolving piece of the season, and a source of pleasure. Every changing month brings new things to fruit, to seed, to flower. It is all noted, edited, filed, and this tiny garden (and my local rambles) continue to fuel both work and imagination. 

In that sense, as my dad would say, we lead a privileged life. And I am thankful for it. 

(But I really would like to go and find some chanterelles!)


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Storm in, storm out

Yesterday's temporary citrus grove, brought inside to prevent toppling in Isaias's winds (you can see them in my Instagram Stories).

The terrace, strapped down before the storm. This morning I sipped my coffee there, all calm, and thought about Beirut. The coffee is Najjar and Beirut is its home. The destruction is unimaginable.

In the late afternoon I walked in Prospect Park a little earlier than I should have. Two-days of cabin fever, and a curiosity to see the familiar place after a changing storm, sent me picking my way over fallen branches while the departing gusts of Isaias occasionally convulsed the branches of tall trees. Sycamores left a litter of small branches and leaves. 

Familiar paths were impassable. Admiring and exploring the fallen foliage were some families, and parent-child exploratory teams, moms with babies strapped to them, a father glued to his live-streaming phone to share storm pictures while his toddler grabbed his dad's pants asking to be noticed. 

I was wondering about late-falling branches, weakened by the intense winds, and all those leaning trunks, propped by their neighbors, but called widowmakers for a reason (yes, it's sexist, but it's dated - widower makers, orphan makers?). If you hear that sickening splitting sound - unhelpfully directionless -  how do you get your flock of small children out of the way in a hurry?

Why do we feel compelled to walk out and see the fallen trees? See, this fallen tree, it was up, now it is down. It was big and it broke. 

The storm flattened indiscriminately. While I am sure that streets flanked by the infamously weak-crotched callery pears (the Frenchman calls them calamity pears) are choked by their broken boughs, the casualties I saw in the park included black cherry, linden, mulberry, maples, oak, and sycamore. Some were sick, weakened and eaten from the inside out by pathogens like the delicious hen of the woods (maitake) mushroom, or chicken of the woods, or honey mushrooms. Good for our dinner, bad for the trees.

Others may have been weakened by humans. People who barbecue in the park sometimes tip their hot coals out on the lawn at the base of trees when they leave. I think this linden may have been serially scorched. 

What do you think? So odd that it was absolutely flush with the ground.

This mulberry looked like a giant gardener's hand had pulled it from the earth. 

En route home. 

I haven't been to Green-Wood, yet, and wonder how their huge, beautiful trees fared. They are very well looked-after so it is possible that Prospect Park's suffered more. The historic cemetery is well funded privately, while the shame of the park is that while everyone uses it, the (equally historic) public space is allocated a pittance by the city and state. 

The sun is shining, and humidity is back. All quiet till the next one.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

WNYC gardening Q and A

Windowbox herbs - marie viljoen

On WNYC's All of It, with Alison Stewart, I'll be taking caller-questions about urban gardening on Monday, August 3rd. The segment begins at 12pm. Tune in and ask. 

Do you have a burning garden question? (No, I don't mean your garden is on fire - that's a tough one) - rather, a garden or plant-issue that has been irking you. Or maybe you just are curious about growing....something. Herbs? Vegetables or fruit for a small space? You'd like some V-for-Victory edibles but you've heard they need full sun: What is full sun? And what is that leaf cutter bee doing, anyway? And is that huge wasp-y thing the murder hornet!? (Not it's not, it's a well-behaved but focused cicada killer and they deserve it). Oops, answered that one. 

That kind of question. It'll be fun. 

I hope!