Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Early Spring at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden


I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the first time in many, many months, cycling across Prospect Park to get there. You book online and show up at your appointed time and gate. 

If you are in New York, and can go, choose the Flatbush Avenue entrance. It is stunning, right now, designed for early spring, and it is at its peak.

The scene-stealers there are the luminous winter-hazels (Corylopsis).

And they have a warmer yellow backdrop of an unusual abundance of Edgeworthia. Its downy yellow flowers appear on bare branches that look almost succulent. They have a very strong fragrance, too.

The winter-hazels range from small shrubs to one of the largest I have ever seen (that giant is just west of the rose garden).

While I love - and advocate for - native plants, it's hard not to smile at a hill of daffodils.

And then there are the hellebores. They are glorious.

And good from every angle.

The relatively new layout at that Flatbush gate is luxuriant with them, planted under camellias that are in bloom, and about to bloom

The high berms allow you to see right into the flowers' hearts.

And what about the magnolias?

They are another story.


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Spring, in increments

Walking on a well traveled woodland path in Prospect Park I stopped abruptly. Diminutive bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), the most exquisite little spring ephemeral, has emerged. The afternoon was overcast and the flowers were closed and well-wrapped in their leaf cloaks. I wished them well, so close to dog paws and people feet.

They have many companions - the gazillion germinating seedlings of last year's biennial garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) flowers. 

The damp leaf litter of winter is also green with garlic mustard that will bloom this May. Looking at the plants, I planned a forage walk around the cunning invaders from Europe. They are edible, after all, and rather delicious. If you like garlic. And mustard. 

The spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is beginning to bloom.

And so are these. But what are they? Elm?

On sunny slopes henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is beginning to get overexcited.

And in damper, shadier areas, purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) is flowering. I'm wondering how, or if, it hybridises, because these leaves look a little different.

The magnolias have just woken up. Their petals taste like minted ginger.

 And under-appreciated Pieris is weeping in white.

It has begun.



Friday, March 26, 2021

The door opens...

Things change. The sliding door to the terrace sometimes stays open for hours, during the day. Some evenings are warm enough for drinks outside. The new pillow covers from Skinny La Minx have been slipped over the down pillows (the most forgiving pillows, ever - occasionally they have been forgotten outside in the rain, and then they dry right out again). 

The pots under the table are from Gowanus Nursery - owner Michele overwintered alliums in them and came to my rescue when I realized I had left it way too late to order those bulbs - sold out, everywhere. I will plant them next week so their first, premature leaves are not burned by a possible freeze. I really wanted the big purple balls for bees - they adore them. And, as usual, I have ordered too many lily bulbs for the space (when in doubt, squeeze). Those are from The Lily Garden, also as usual.

It's a garish drink, the Aperol Spritz: prosecco, Aperol, sparkling water and (blood) orange slices. But March deserves it.

The windowboxes have been sown with arugula and cilantro, and the violas are to keep our spirits up, in the meantime.

Some time in late April all the citrus trees will migrate back out to the terrace, along with the bay tree and the myoga ginger (I divided the myoga in fall, left one out and brought one in - to see if the outdoor one might make it). In May the sleeping sand ginger will follow. And two tea plants (Camellia sinensis) will arrive, too. 

I know, not much space will be left for humans. But we are good at sidling...


The Books

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Drink the season

Cocktail with sugar rim

I was tinkering recently with drink ideas for a walk. The advantage of smaller groups (10 people rather than 15) during viral times is that I can tote drinks more easily. Liquids are heavy!

This was a test that never made it to a forage walk, as everyone was happy to be served a seasonal vermouth - but sometimes someone doesn't drink and then I either include a no-alcohol variation, or make them all non-alcoholic. This rather delicious forage-inspired mocktail called on one of my fruitier vinegars, from last spring: wisteria blossoms! Spiked with spicebush, and cut with plain, cold water. Perfumed, tart, sweet, and very refreshing.

The catkins surrounding it belong to Turkish hazel (Corylus colurna). This year has been my first of noticing the fascinating flowers of hazel, and I was playing with their pollen. The catkins are male, and the tiny female flowers are separate, and a deep burgundy.


Forage, Harvest, Feast

Monday, March 15, 2021

Not-quite-spring snacks

For a recent forage walk on a colder-than-forecast afternoon I made some canapés to accompany small glasses of chilled PandemicVermouth, infused and blended in April 2020. 

On the right are buttery salmon and field garlic (Allium vineale) tarts, with a savory custard filling. To serve them I added more slivers of salmon and extra, snipped field garlic. In the rear? Fir sugar shortbread cookies. Bottom left are toasted rounds of field garlic cheese bread. 

I topped those toasted rounds with garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) pesto and pickled chanterelles, from an epic mushroom hunt in the woods upstate two summers ago. The chanterelles - incredibly - still have that magical apricot aroma that traveled back with us that day.

And there were eggs, not quite deviled. Cooked in boiling water for eight minutes before being peeled and covered in miso, overnight (chilled). The miso flavors them but also draws out some moisture, so the texture becomes firmer. Onto their yolks I dripped some powerful, bright green ramp leaf oil, Aleppo pepper, and the peppery leaves of bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a maligned but exquisitely pretty edible green in the Brassica family - like tiny watercress. 

Socially distanced walks and picnics are a challenge but everyone is well-trained, by now, and very considerate. (At least, the people who sign up, are!) There will be more, and it feels good to be creating wild food treats, again.


Monday, March 8, 2021

The journey to a sandwich

Snowbell flowers

In mid-May of 2019 I met a tree crowded with bees and panicles of fragrant flowers. Each bloom looked a lot like those of Styrax japonica (snowbell), but I had never seen them arranged like this, or smelled that intoxicating perfume. It was Styrax obassia, fragrant snowbell.  

Styrax flowers

I like to catch scents and flavors. And so after as much research as possible, I collected some of the flowers and decided to preserve them in the form of vinegar, fermented from scratch. Just flowers, water, sugar, and time. 

Styrax vinegar testing pH

After the first fizzing happened, and the flowers were strained out, I left the sweet, fragrant liquid in loosely covered jars to invite the lactobacter to do their work. They did, in a remarkably short time. The sweet ferment turned into a deeply fruity and complex vinegar in just four weeks. I bottled it.

Snowbell vinegar shrub

It is one of the best vinegars I have ever made, good enough to sip, which I did. Here it is in September 2020, with a dash of baby pine cone syrup, a lemon slice, and chilled sparkling water. Because of their depth of flavor (good) vinegars are ideal and healthy mixers if you don't want to drink alcohol.

Carrots in vinegar

Fast forward to last Saturday, as I prepared a forage picnic for 10 walkers. Carrots quick-pickled in the last of the fragrant snowbell vinegar. Destined for Wonder rolls - slices of crustless Wonder bread spread with chickweed and field garlic mayonnaise, and stuffed with the carrots, black radish and garlic chive flowers (I could write a treatise on my reason for making these with That Bread but we don't have time right now).

Forage picnic in containers

There they are, top left. Clockwise from there, watercress tartlets, black currant and juniper hand pies, and quails' eggs with a ramp leaf salt for dipping.

So if you'd like a sandwich in 2023, you'd better plan ahead. 

The next walk is What's that Bud? This Wednesday, with drinks and canapés, on a pretty-weather day in Prospect Park.

Book Here.


Monday, March 1, 2021

Plant Walk at Historic Green-Wood

Spring catkins by Marie Viljoen                                                                                                        

See the Trees Walk

Green-Wood Cemetery

7 March 2021, 12pm - 2.30pm


The snow has melted! Join me this Sunday in the beautiful arboretum that is historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. On our late winter walk our focus will be on trees and buds, and we will identify some of the many edible parts that trees offer in this and other seasons. It's fair to say we will see some interesting edible weeds underfoot, too, like chickweed and ground ivy, just getting ready for spring. We will also learn to identify plants in disguise, like the winter skeletons of pokeweed, mugwort, and tara-no-me (I'll explain!). 

The weather will be in the mid-40's but chilly. We will sip a non-alcoholic hot toddy where fresh fir, gingery magnolia and honeysuckle cordial will warm you. 

Masks are mandatory and $5 per ticket will be donated to Green-Wood. Our meeting point will be at the Prospect Park West entrance. More details will be emailed upon sign up.

Fully Booked