Saturday, December 31, 2022

Plants of the Bo Kaap

On a hot day, walking the Bo Kaap's cobbled and steep streets, I noticed the plants. They are minimal, scrappy, and tough. The colors of the old houses behind them accentuate their form and texture.

Lots of succulents, lots of thorns.

Crown of thorns (a Euphorbia species).

Even a dying bougainvillea looked dramatic.

                                                     Spikes and shutters.

Spekboom, Portulacaria afra.

Even the weeds look good.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Sour grapes

Foraged in a Cape Town summer. Sour grapes. Not such a bad thing, after all.  How did I learn this? Shopping. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at Balady's, a supermarket catering to Middle Eastern palates. In the produce sectiion was a crate of bright green, hard, sour grapes. And I recognized in myself the universal reaction: If they are selling them, they must have value. Of course I bought them (this was about five years ago...).

I think about this often in terms of wild or undervalued plants. Like Japanese knotweed, or garlic mustard, or field garlic. Or common mallow. Put a price tag on them and suddenly they have value, become visible, acquiring form and substance, coalescing from the great anonymous, undifferentiated green that most people (don't) notice even when they they are surrounded by plants. 

I'm still working on these grapes and stories will follow. Sour is interesting. It can do all sorts of things to dinner.


Give a Gift Walk

Thursday, December 22, 2022


An oil lamp in the bathroom at Wolfgat, in Paternoster. It is an evocative thing. Memories of camping trips. Of suppers by its light at home. And a quiet and beautiful symbol of resilience in a country experiencing multiple blackouts a day in a skillfully choreographed load-shedding dance.


Give a Gift Walk

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Botanizing at the southern tip

Summer. Cape Point. And a small shrub that I have never seen in fruit, before. 

En masse, the crimson berries were strikingly beautiful on the usually anonymous-looking plant - Passerina ericoides. One of its common names is Christmas berry. The fruit is very juicy, and inoffensively tannic. One of the plant's other common names is dronkbossie, which means drunk berry, in Afrikaans. The website Plantzafrica says that the "juicy pulp has a somewhat unpleasant taste, but appears to be harmless..." Well, I'm still here. Perhaps it was used in ferments?

Mighty Diaz Beach. It was one of the first places in Cape Town that I visited regularly as a young teenager, with my parents and some friends, each of us carrying part of a formidable picnic whose menu never varied. Waldorf salad (packed in its own small styrofoam cooler to stay cold), grilled chipolata sausages, smoked salmon sandwiches, and...were there or weren't there scones? I think there were, just-baked. There was sparkling wine, and there was orange juice, for Buck's Fizz (the Mimosa of the US). We sipped it - and yes, I was allowed to drink it - from glass flutes.  

The Frenchman loves this place. The legendary Cape of Good Hope that entranced him as a child. A thunderstorm brooded above us as we walked down recently, and the first crack of lightning sent us right back up those steps at top speed, with rain pelting us so hard that our bare skin stung. It's not supposed to thunder in the Cape. Or rain in summer. But rain seems welcome after the legendary drought of a few years ago (2015 - 2018).

In the old days, we scrambled to the beach down a gully. There was never anyone there. Just cormorants, and pounding surf. Not swimmable. Now, an elegant wooden boardwalk snakes around the top of the cliffs, and endless stairs - not a rail in sight - lower you to the sand. There is still no one there. It is awesome in the real sense of the word.

At another beach at Cape Point, dune celery. And it does taste a little like celery, or lovage. Dasispermum suffruticosum.

 I had not seen this plant in bloom before, either. Beach stinkweed. Poor thing. Oncosiphon sabulosus. In the big Asteraceae family. 

It poured, all the way home.


Booking for NYC Gift Walks is Open

Friday, December 2, 2022

The last leaves

The last of the autumn leaves, at Green-Wood Cemetery. Fall has stretched out very gently, in this little corner of Brooklyn.


Find me on Instagram @66squarefeet

Monday, November 28, 2022

Wood ears and winter

A wood ear's point-of-view, during a recent forage class in Prospect Park. The wood ears studied the humans, the humans studied the wood ears.

The texture of fresh wood ears (species of Auricularia mushrooms) is extraordinary. Silky, soft, alive. And to eat? A little like oysters, in terms of slitheriness, but with a snap. They are one of the oldest mushrooms in cultivation. Maybe you've had them in spring rolls, or in a glass noodle salad, or in hot-and-sour soup. 

Medicinally, they work like aspirin, as a blood thinner. 

And they like logs and injured trees, surrounding us even in cities.

Their characteristic, textural snap works beautifully in meatballs (although...possibly anything works well in meatballs?), and I also add whole mushrooms to the pan-sauce because they act as pliant sponges for flavor. The Frenchman adores them. So do I. Neither of us had eaten them fresh until a few years ago. 

And now, in late November, the simmering and the bubbling, the kitchen-sounds of early evening in winter (is it winter, if it's late November? I never know), the scents of slow food returning, include these cool-weather 'shrooms. 

Read more about the mushrooms in my story for Gardenista (and snag my very easy and delicious one-skillet chicken and wood ear dinner).


Saturday, November 26, 2022

Outside, now

This is Harris, our resident red-bellied woodpecker.

Harris is apparently the brand name for an ant poison. Their slogan is: Got ants? Get Harris. 

Woodpeckers love ants.

Also, apparently, the suet feeder that we put up in autumn.

Now you know everything.


Books are Good Holiday Gifts:

66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life

Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine

Friday, November 25, 2022

I am...

Thankful for FDNY firefighters.

For blue New York skies.

For Sun Sai Gai, the best roast-duck spot, that has made it through the pandemic.

For the Tropics, on Mulberry Street in November.

For the fruit of cacti.

For Fuyu on Canal Street, and the vendor carefully handing me her recommendations.

For fresh rambutan.

For fragrant Thai bananas.

 And for tiny Mosco Street.

For a city of immigrants.


Monday, November 14, 2022

Inside and Out

At this end of our apartment, despite a welcome skylight, the afternoon light has become somber. The last roses have been picked, the first ripe yuzu have arrived (these are from Bhumi Growers in New Jersey, whose trees live in pots. They are protected from freezing by greenhouses in winter). And in the shadows is a bunch of mugwort, drying quietly for winter use ins soups, stews, sides...

Outside, the suet feeder has some regular guests. We've named the downy woodpecker Pique, because whenever they land they announce: PIQUE! There is also a much larger woodpecker, which I think is red-bellied. Even though its reddest part is its head... Possibly to be named Harris. (There is a very unfriendly hardware store nearby with a permanent sign outside: Got Ants? Get Harris! And yesterday we received some ant visitors, who had to be discouraged. But now...we got Harris.)


Autumn Walks and Picnics

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Candied crabapples

Crabapple season.

Birds prefer them after a real cold snap, when they are less tannic.

And I like them fat and tart, to be candied.

Get my easy candied crabapple recipe - plus an excellent cocktail -  on Gardenista. They're deliiiiiicious.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The creek in the Catskills

Every time I am here I feel this is it, this, here, this is the place, this is me, this is where I want to be. We sit on a rock for about an hour, with small forays up-river, and down. There are no trails. Just the water. The roaring. 

I imagine camping here, and realize at once that I would be frightened, all night. The sound of the water drowns everything. I would not, could not, hear a footstep, a crunch on leaves, on soil, on spring or on winter ground. The squeak upon snow or the soft depression of spring humus. I rely a lot on my sense of hearing. This true white noise would cancel everything, and that's fine if you trust there is nothing else to be heard, but I do not trust.  I am conditioned Jumpy. The Frenchman has spent nights on watch in extraordinary places because of my..."What's that!?"

For our hour we sit quietly and watch the water. We have known it -  together, always - in every season except summer. Knitted in ice, the valley guarded by icicles five feet long and hanging from ledges. In early spring, the tender, first spikes of ramps in the brown leaf litter, branches still bare. Later, when the cutleaf toothwort and the squirrel corn and the violets are in bloom. We stay away in populous summer. We don't know what it might be like, then. Swimmable. In early fall when the narrow road is hemmed by jewelweed we have stopped to watch hummingbirds feast.

Here in the leaf litter of late October sleep foam flower, wake robin, rue anemone, violets, squirrel corn - the spring ephemerals.

And here, from a car window in New Jersey, is the industrial sun setting on the brief escape that makes me wonder, every time, whether the Northeast might really, after decades, run in my veins.


November Walks

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Red on grey - Gowanus Canal

Autumn is in the saturated Virginia creeper beside the opaque Gowanus Canal. The gray/grey cement factory behind it is one of the industrial remnants of the polluted waterway, now undergoing daily dredging (of the toxic gunk nick-named black mayonnaise) to the tune of many millions of Superfund dollars. 

(I just fact-checked my glib millions. It's $1.5 billion.)

I have always liked the Gowanus Canal, even in its oil-slicked state. When I lived in Cobble Hill, to the west of the waterway (we now live east of it) I sometimes walked across the Union Street Bridge to Prospect Park, or to eat at Al di La, and would see schools of minnows jumping in the water at night, leaping above the reflections of lights, perhaps chased by a larger fish. It seemed incredible that life persisted in that sluggish and dark passage.

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) grows here, too, planted in a small, un-maintained park that came very close to dying this last summer, through rainless months. Its neighbors are serviceberry and bayberry, black cherry, and linden. In June I like to lead walks here, when the lindens are in perfumed bloom and the serviceberries are ripe.


Wild November Walks

Monday, October 24, 2022

Maitake month still in full swing!


Leaves are drifting down. The grass and sidewalks underfoot are a-crunch, crunch crunch. And the most generous of mushrooms is in season, loaded with flavor.

One of my favorite autumn recipes is up on Gardenista - a maitake and farro pilaff. It's really delicious.


November Walks and Forage-Picnics


Friday, October 21, 2022

What's easy to grow, unusual, and edible? Myoga!

One forgets how good pears can be. This farmers market Bosc sat on the counter for over a week, ripening. Then I sliced it, tossed with lemon juice and slivered myoga buds from the potted plant on the terrace, and added some chopped, roasted apricot kernels (they taste a little like almonds, and are from Ziba Foods, who source heirloom foods from Afghanistan). The fruit was creamily juicy and fragrant, the myoga buds spicy and floral.

Myoga is one of my favorite plants. It is completely undemanding. When its leafy stalks are long and lush in October, I begin to hunt daily for these rosy, crunchy buds.

I wrote about this hardy ginger for Gardenista, and you can read the article and get my two salad recipes, there. 


New November Walks