Sunday, July 31, 2022

Goodbye, July

The end of July. How did that happen?

On a warm night with very low humidity, we sank deep into indulgence with a cheese and saucisson supper. With hunks of crusty sourdough baguette, and an Aronia chutney I made last summer. 

The Frenchman had bought roses for me. And a sausage. A dried one, salami-style. To mark a day 15 years ago when I tripped over him on the Internet, in search of a photographic tutorial. Which he gave, using the example of a "backlit saucisson" to illustrate what he was explaining. 

So we sat and ate a very delicious, juniper-flavored saucisson in celebration. It's made in Vermont by Walnut Hill Farm, and we buy one as a treat occasionally from the Grand Army Plaza farmers' market. The round cheese is St. Nuage and is wonderful. Also Vermont. The triangle is a creamy St. Angel. Both triple-cream, each with its own personality. 

The only thing I made from scratch was the tomato salad, with slivers of red onion marinated in mulberry syrup and white wine vinegar, along with some mulberries from that syrup (foraged and preserved in June) and basil from the terrace. Straight from Olia Hercules' book, Mamushka

Now August is at the door, and she's impatient.


Monday, July 25, 2022

And inhale...

Sultry weather. Southern magnolia. Scent for the soul. Summer's compensation.


2 oz gin 
1 oz fermented strawberry syrup* 
Lots of ice, tonic (I use Fever Tree Lite)
1 Magnolia grandiflora petal

* This strawberry syrup is DIVINE. I made it with expensive-but-blah strawberries from a farmers market. And it is more delicious than the sum of its parts (you can do this with any fruit).

You need: Fresh strawberries, their weight in sugar, combined in a jar. Shake or stir every day (and cover loosely, inbetween shakings/stirrings). Syrup forms quite quickly. I leave mine for about 10 days, then strain, bottle, and keep the syrup in the refrigerator. Just a dash transforms just about anything.

Next walk? Queens! The beautiful and surprising Queens County Farm Museum. We'll be walking at 6pm on August 10th. Lots of delicious weeds to gather from their fields, plus green elderberry, and unripe, fragrant  black walnuts. 

And then something cold to sip.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

July in bloom

The lily is 'Madame Butterfly' (bought from The Lily Garden, in Washington). Petite-flowered and chic but slender and wild enough for the rambunctious, sunny western end of our small terrace.

These lily bulbs live in three different pots, sharing with two roses and, in the foreground, with swamp milkweed, alliums, fennel and Gomphocarpus (aka hairy balls, or balloon plant - a South African native that I grow as an annual for late-season pollinators).  The white liatris has been in bloom for three week, and on the trellis the lablab beans (hyacinth beans, another African native) are beginning to stretch their tendrils. They are late to climb, always waiting until July to take off.

It's hot. Late this afternoon I will carry water to the pots. Kitchen-to-terrace, kitchen-to-terrace, about eight times, at around 20lbs a time when full. This is why gardeners don't need gyms.


Saturday, July 16, 2022

Summer kitchen

July roars into New York City farmers markets as though June never happened. Suddenly, it is all there. (Although - speaking locally - not tomatoes. Yet. At least we can say that. Tomatoes - real ones - are still to come.)

But apricots. The best-tasting ones over the last ten days have been New York-grown. I've been eating them fresh, and made a batch of jam. The jam is wonderful. The white peaches are also from upstate New York. Ditto the cucumbers, all pickled. And the black currants (in bowls and in the large jars to the right) are a generous gift from a Vermont friend. 

As the season unfolds I am very curious about rain. The last three weeks have been dry. Crisp. Streams are disappearing, plants are wilting. That's a lot, for the tropical Northeast. We need real rain, and soon. 

What's ripe, where you are? How's your weather?


My Gardenista recipes and stories

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Saturday in the city

Summer Saturdays have a rhythm. Well, one of two: One - much faster - would be a plant walk with last-minute picnic prep. But on Saturdays when I am free, they begin with a coffee on the terrace, where I sit and look at plants. Then it's a bicycle ride to the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza. I fill my basket with more plants (the edible sort), and come home. Stash everything. Escape to a park (to see plants) with the Frenchman, and come home to think about supper, which will be informed by whatever the market yielded. (Yesterday we came home a little faster than usual because our chosen park on Staten Island was swarmed by lanternfly nymphs. It was also parched.)

Warm-evening drinks are tall and cool. This one is perfumed by candied yuzu, made late last year with the few fruit from my tree, and fresh Meyer lemon. An ounce of mezcal, a lot of tonic water, and a splash of gingerbeer (both Fever Tree). Smoky, citrussy, bittersweet.

The terrace lights come on. All the Silk Road lilies are now open. I light a fire to grill the first ears of corn we have eaten this year.

Indoors, the rest of supper is cooking. A market curry, with a base of ginger and green garlic, coconut milk, and a dash of fish sauce. To which I add a flock of tender summer squash, and dried daylily flowers (read all about those in Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine). The dried flowers plump up and become silky, thickening the gravy. I squeeze in some lemon juice and stir it in with a pinch of sugar. Just before we eat, I will add a bouquet of squash blossoms. It's a riff on my zucchini and daylily curry recipe.

It has been very dry for the last few weeks, and I worry about this summer's rain-reliant crops. Will the corn stay plump enough? Our corn fixings include (to be added in this order): butter, curry powder, Aleppo pepper, lemon for squeezing, and microplaned parmesan. As exceptionally odd as that all sounds, it works.

No, I don't eat corn with a fork. I used it for scooping cheese!

As we eat a gang of herons flies above us, high, and north. I have never seen herons in a gang. Are they dry, too? I think drought is coming.

The Chicago glasses. Bought many years ago at a thrift store in that city.

By now it is almost dark, and the curry has arrived, the squash silky and soft, the sauce reduced, the blossoms wilted across the top. We use forks and spoons, to scoop up the last drops.

After supper, I pickle the baby cucumbers that have been sitting in salt in the fridge (this makes them crisp). And eat many of the apricots I was supposed to jam. They are so sweet. I am lucky: The same seller (Williams Fruit Farms) will be at our corner greenmarket on Sunday. I can re-stock.


Friday, July 8, 2022

Serena Bass's Garden

Serena Bass's garden in Brooklyn begins on the sidewalk. I didn't know that, the first time I visited, almost exactly a year ago, on a sticky summer evening. I had parked several doors down but began smiling when I saw the pots overflowing with flowers and shrubs. I knew I was close.

On a recent visit the sidewalk pots included lilies, a serviceberry tree, echinacea, grasses, sedums, clematis, honeysuckle, boxwood and ivy.

These vivid flowers on three-foot stems intrigued me. Dahlias? I queried, hesitantly. "I loathe Dahlias. They're Helio-somethings," countered Serena, who speaks only botanical Latin. They turned out to be Heliopsis, and quite new to me. But no longer.

The front garden - sidewalk and stoop - is drenched in warm colors and there is a strong petunia presence.

Few people know how to deploy coleus this effectively.

Don't you just want to lick those black petunias?

And that's just the front. 

You'll find my story about Serena Bass's gardens on Gardenista, with lots more pictures, including the cool blue inner sanctum. Plus cats.

Also, her cookbook is wonderful. I knew I had to buy it after having supper that steamy summer night last year. It is very funny, too. Laugh-out-loud funny. It's called Serena, Food and Stories (Stewart, Tabori and Chang).


My Gardenista Stories

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Cool flowers for hot nights

A potful of Silk Road lilies has opened. The darker it gets, the stronger their scent grows.

And salads are luscious with farmers market produce (the peaches - quick-pickled, the crunchy sugar snap peas and cucumbers), and small treats from the garden: Nasturtium leaves, and the Monarda flowers, which are finding their way into many meals. They taste like a cross between savory and oregano. The voluptuous burrata is wonderful with the medley of sweet, peppery, soft, and crisp. 

Much, much more about Monarda-slash-bergamot-slash-bee-balm in my story about this native North American herb for Gardenista. Plus recipes: for this salad, a drink, and for grilled feta (it might become your favorite thing to eat this summer).


Or find me on Instagram @66squarefeet

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Tiny terrace summer

Evening time. After leading a friendly pack of 15 people on a plant walk on the 4th of July - none of us feeling celebratory - and feeding them a tasting picnic (what's a tasting picnic? A picnic where you have a taste of everything, of course), I came home, washed up, and thought about supper. I like thinking about supper. The Frenchman rolled some paper balls for me (we use paper shopping bags as fire lighters; never, ever the smelly liquid) and carried out the charcoal (hardwood, not briquettes), and I lit the fire. 

Then I picked some flowers for the table.

The summer-leafed prickly ash, with ginger and sesame sausages grilling alongside chicken soused in shoyu* with chopped cilantro stems. 

*I can't think when I started using Ohsawa nama shoyu (a Japanese organic, unpasteurized soy sauce, still slightly active in the bottle), but it's a game-changer. Noticeably more expensive than the Kikkoman I used to use and infinitely more delicious and rich.

And the Oscar goes to: the liatris. Plus, nobody got slapped. These plants (they grow from corms) slept quietly all through winter in galvanized bucket (with drainage holes punched into the base), and are now around three feet tall. I lost several lily bulbs to the old freeze-thaw cycle, but the liatris seem immune. Bees love them.

While fireworks crackled on the street and local rockets burst nearby, and giant dragonflies patrolled the sky, occasionally zooming past at ear level, the first 'Silk Road' lily opened, unafraid of the bright competition. As the evening darkened the lily's perfume grew stronger. By the time the thunderworks of the Macy's display had started, way north on the East River, out of sight but not sound, the terrace was drenched in scent.