Friday, September 30, 2022

September flowers and a gingery treat

The rosemary on the terrace thinks it is spring, and is in full bloom. Tomorrow the remnants of Hurricane Ian will rain down on it, but I'm not sure that will change the herb's mind.

After growing mighty leggy in August the hyssop (the trusty Agastache 'Black Adder') was given a haircut. I trimmed each stalk back by about a third, to above a leaf, and it has bushed out and bloomed again, more compact, like another version of itself. Good for late bees. Even our occasional little hummingbirds have tried it.  As ubiquitous a plant as it has become, there are very few perennials that will bloom as long and be as attractive to pollinators. So it is very welcome.

And September and October mean...myoga buds at last. They appear like little presents at the base of the plant, and every morning becomes a treasure hunt as I wiggle my fingers in the soil to see if another one is ready to snap off. This one - washed and slivered - was lunch, tossed with the first Honey Crisp apples, in a mayonnaise, lemon and gochujang dressing.


Next walks and classes? 

15 and 16 October, North Woods and NYBG

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Picnic fare for fall

In Brooklyn we are breezing into fall. It seems sudden, but how can it be? Days pass, nights cool, mornings feel fragile. The September blue has settled over the city, and in park woodlands white snakeroot flowers are in full, white fluff. 

My plant walks and forage picnics are more frequent. Carrying a 20 - 25lb backpack when the weather is 70 degrees is remarkably more more pleasant than when it's 90 and humid. 

The buns above are made with a luxurious, cream-and-milk-based dough, and are stuffed with a beach plum paste, made by cooking down the pulp of the small, native fruit (it is intense - sweet with just the right amount of sour).

And the tiniest of Seckel pears have arrived at market, perfectly-sized to fit into the stainless steel picnic containers. I poached them in a juniper (eastern red cedar - Juniperus virginiana) and Meyer lemon syrup.


Find me on Instagram

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Signs of September

September in Brooklyn. 

Small, wind-dropped pawpaws (Asimina triloba). Ragweed flower heads drying (for crackers). Sunflowers from the local deli, and books. Olia Hercules' Summer Kitchens has been a constant companion for months - an incongruously peaceful Ukraine spread across the beautiful pages. Food Plants of the World (under the pawpaws) by South African Ben-Erik van Wyk is a helpful reference for my own work (if you call delving into the edible uses of plants work; it sure is time-consuming) and for articles I might be writing.  

And Ethiopia, Recipes amd Traditions from the Horn of Africa, by Yohanis Gebreyesus and Keff Koehler is a wonderful resource that increased my spice shelf by a full row (six jars). I mean, I had used berbere (a fragrant, hot spice blend) for years, but this cookbook introduced me to ajowan, koseret, besobella, long pepper, the proper use of black nigella, and at last convinced me to acquire grains of paradise. What was even sexier was that the herbs' botanical names - with one vexing exception (tosegn, a species of thyme) - were included in a couple of explanatory pages. That never happens.

In the back, my old Margaret Roberts' Indigenous Healing Plants, consulted for a piece I wrote about black nightshade (you can read it on Gardenista). And my own two books. Forage, Harvest, Feast for a recent Pawpaw Spicecake for last weekend's forage walk and picnic with a group of 16 out on Staten Island. And 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life, because it's been years since I really dipped into it. It's almost a seasonal archive, in the age of global warming - every month's weather and moods charted and described, and its produce grown or eaten. Perhaps, in 50 years' time, it will all seem implausible.



Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Flowers for feathered travelers

For two days in a row our small terrace has been visited by the tiniest of birds, making the mightiest of journeys. 

You hope, when you plant a seed, that something like this will happen at the other end of the growing season, but you never know.

It has been magical, watching from a few feet away as this miniature creature flashes from flower to flower, sometimes pausing in midair for seconds, suspended.

There are three vines, in two pots. One is grown from a seed given to me by our friend Don in Cape Town, two are from Botanical Interests. But I don't know which is which. I call them lablab beans, but most Americans know them as hyacinth bean. Lablab purpureus is African, so hardly a native food for the ruby-throated hummingbird. (Weeks ago we saw them feasting on trumpet vine flowers - native eastern Campsis radicans - out at Jamaica Bay. But our tiny terrace is no match for that perennial twiner's aggressive behavior.) 

Still, can a foreign flower be worse for hummingbirds than sugar water? It's definitely less problematic in terms of passing on pathogens. And much more photogenic.

If only we could pack them a tiny lunch, for sustenance along the way.


Book a Walk and Picnic

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The time of the pawpaws

This is a magnificent sight. Clusters of big pawpaws (the fruit of Asimina triloba), ripening in Brooklyn, just a few blocks from where we live. If I had an in-ground garden, I would plant two trees. Even if I wasn't quite sure how long I'd be there. But better if I could look forward to picking them every early fall. They take around seven years to bear fruit. And these trees are only around 12 years old. When their grower, Lola, texted me to ask if I would like some (for the third year in a row), my answer was an all-caps YES, PLEASE. 

September. Month of pawpaws. At least, in this zip code (October, for upstate, NY). The apartment smells like tropical fruit salad. I spoon up mouthfuls and cherish every bite. 

Tomorrow I will de-seed them and freeze some portions of pulp, for future picnics and foodsploration. There will have to be just one batch of ice cream (which is indescribably good), even though the whole freezer will have to be unpacked to accommodate the bowl of the ice ream maker. 

I think I'll make the pawpaw spicecake from Forage, Harvest, Feast for this Saturday's adventure in the wilds of Staten Island.



Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Ripe in late summer...





My story about the beautiful fruit we call cornelian cherry is up at Gardenista. And you know there's a recipe!


Saturday, September 3, 2022

That light has arrived

In early September the western side of the terrace is backlit by clear, late-afternoon sunlight. It catches each bristle on the seed capsules of the southern African milkweed, Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Behind it, the lablab beans glow in the western light. Lablab purpureus takes is sweet time to produce flowers. Plant the pretty seeds it in late spring and expect the vine to become (very) enthusiastic only when Labor Day, and the traditional end of summer, are within whisker-reach. Then the party breaks loose. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Edge of September

The late August terrace in the late August light (from the late August rooftop!), after a brief rain shower. The terrace is watered by hand, and is not suffering in the way that street trees and other plants are in New York. Our drought is serious and I am seeing smaller shrubs and trees die on my regular walks through Prospect Park. 

It's still hot and has been very muggy, and evenings are now filled with cricket-chirps. By 8pm it is dark. It seemed to happen very quickly, but the incremental loss of light is perhaps something we deny until it is undeniable.

September is a good month, in this city, and I look forward to it. Crisp edges appear, summer's blur is lifted, and my walk schedule fills up again. I hate carrying a picnic backpack when it's sticky. Dry air puts a spring in my forager's step. 

Places to go. Spaces to explore!


Late Summer and Fall Walks and Picnics

Monday, August 22, 2022

Summer savory: You can't buy it, so grow it!

Last week I cut down the mini hedges of summer savory in my windowboxes. I felt a bit bad about it because bees really love their tiny flowers.  But they have other tiny flowers to plunder.

I wanted to dry the herb while it was still very leafy. It dries quite fast, spread out on a counter or on baking parchment. 

After a few days I crush it, remove the stems, and squeeze it all into the designated container in my spice collection. Overflow goes into a mason jar. It keeps its strong flavor for many months.

And the flavor of summer savory is...? Similar to oregano, but not quite. Throw in a pinch of thyme. A whiff of bee balm. 

One of the ways I like to use it is to help turn ordinary cheese into fancy cheese: fresh goat cheese, say, with good olive oil and summer savory becomes very delicious, overnight (this is not something to leave out on the counter, by the way, unless you like botulism - keep it in the fridge)

My whole story, with growing tips, food ideas and a recipe, is on Gardenista.


Friday, August 19, 2022

Sand ginger

It's the part of August when realize that you are turning on lamps at 8pm. The long nights of light are retreating. But this must be exactly what triggers the sand ginger to flower: Every morning there are more blooms nestled against the lovely, edible leaves.

I bought my sand ginger plant on a whim, intrigued by a lesser galangal I did not know (it has many common names - I just like sand ginger). It is now part of our summer meals, and it is also the plant that keeps on giving. I have divided it several times to give away. 

Read all about how to grow sand ginger, and how to use it in your meals, in my story for Gardenista. It is a very easy plant to grow.


66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life

Monday, August 15, 2022

Hot bath? Not for these birds.

 A little privacy, please!?

In the hottest days I put a few ice cubes in the birdbath to keep the water a feather above tepid. I don't think this nicety gained me better on ratings on AirBnB (BirdnBreakfast, of course), but one can only hope.


Next Class?

New York Botanical Garden, 17 August, 11am

Monday, August 8, 2022

Beach plum gin

August in Brooklyn feels like January in Keetmanshoop, right now. Oven-hot. But New York also slings a bucket of soapy mugginess at you to make sure you will really, really look forward to September. And I do. Look forward to September.

There are compensations. For me, they are fruit. Beach plums are beginning to ripen. Elderberries (the ones that have not shriveled on the parched shrubs) are turning purple. And Aronia is ready, too.

I opened a 2020 bottle of beach plum gin the other evening. A maceration made in that first summer of pandemic. It is very good, but improved by a bitter strip of ruby grapefruit peel, with lots of dry tonic (Fever Tree Lite) and ice to make the glass bead. Perfect for this weather. This is the gin I refer to as Pits-and-Pulp, using the leftovers from a beach plum purée. I create another gin, too, that is redder and richer...

I explain that, with a recipe, in the recent story about beach plums I wrote for Gardenista, which you will find in that link. They are a wonderful East Coast fruit, and a very resilient shrub. I hope more people will grow them. 


Find me @66squarefeet on Instagram

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Time to drink the elderberry gin

Now that the new crop is ripening on shrubs around the city it seems safe to drink last year's elderberry gin! Why on earth did I wait so long? I usually make the gin with the elderberry pomace leftover from creating a fermented syrup. There is still plenty of flavor left to infuse the liquor. After that the elderberries can be used one last time: Pushed through a foodmill to extract the dark pulp, which I freeze to stir into soups, stews, and all the other outlandishly warm things that seem impossible on a 95'F day. 

Tonight's cold supper is a cold lentil salad vibrating with the flavors of onion, garlic, carrot, salted anchovies and vinegar. I'll top it with nine-minute eggs, halved. 


All About Elderberries

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Aronia - good for what ails ye

As late summer arrives in waves of humidity, with a side of cicadas, Aronia begins to ripen. The dried fruits above were added to a batch of roasted beets, for a savory spread (I call it a pâté) that I make for forage picnics.

I also preserve the antioxidant-laden fruit in a chutney that is flavored with juniper and spicebush, and which is very good with soft cheese.

The chutney recipe, and much more about superfood Aronia, is over at Gardenista.


Edible Plant Walk, Queens Country Farm Museum

10 August 6pm

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