Friday, March 17, 2023


 I mean, Pirelli. You can tell he was made for the movies. 

I am sure he knew Marcello Mastroianni...

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Nkwe Pirelli, Five Weeks In...

 Nkwe Pirelli, King of String (and PrrrP) in one of his favorite spots. Plenty of live bird-action out there...

Sometimes we address him as Pirelli, especially when he pulls a "crazy Pirelli"- suddenly thundering down the passage with his tail cocked like a monkey's (the reference is from the movie Hunt for Red October, when a Russian submarine captain - Sean Connery - pulls a crazy Ivan). I have never known such a thundering cat. Even when he walks you can hear his tough little pads (Pirellis, of course) on the wooden floor. And yes, I have asked our downstairs neighbor, also a cat owner,  to let us know if it's ever a problem...

And sometimes we call him Nkwe, more as an endearment. (Nkwe means leopard in Tswana and Sotho, and he has the compact, lethal muscles of a leopard, as well as the tooth-and-claw, piercing talents...still plenty of street-swipe in him).

And no, he doesn't eat flowers. But he cannot be left alone with string, even for a few seconds. 


Monday, March 13, 2023

How to grow ramps - and why

What is that green shoot? It has four friends, too. They are all - well, cough, all five - ramps, just up in a pot on our terrace after a curious winter (deep freezes in December, thaws, record-high February temperatures, more freezes, and a lot of rain).

When you have seen a mountainside green with ramps, five plants in a pot might not seem like much. But when you have seen a forest where ramps used to grow, and that is now bereft of their green leaves in early spring... those five cultivated ramps are a big deal.

Ramps are a wild onion - Allium tricoccum and A. tricoccum var burdickii, and they are a beloved wild, native, edible plant; so loved that they are being harvested into oblivion in some US states, and in Canada. 

But they are not hard to cultivate. Love ramps? Have some land or a pot or a garden?

Find how to grow them in my Ramp 101 story for Gardenista. At least, that was the original title - it has been modified. I do harvest wild ramps in a place where they are abundant - leaves only. 

And that is my mantra: #rampleavesonly


New Forage Classes - March, April and May


Friday, March 3, 2023

Let it bloom

Friday office. I could not resist (decided not to resist?) the anemones that were being sold at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesday. They were wrapped in tissue paper, in petite bouquets, still in tight bud. They remind me of childhood, where they bloomed in the cold spring of the Free State in my mother's garden.  

I was at market for the quinces, grown by Locust Grove Fruit Farm (NY), and kept in cold storage since fall, but they as fragrant as quinces should be. Today I am delivering them to two friends, will be poaching some to make a picnic snack for my class at the New York Botanical Garden tomorrow, and will bottle the rest.

The artichokes? Sold very fresh, with stems, at a Brooklyn institution - 5 Guys from Brooklyn. 

It's March!


Thursday, March 2, 2023

Tulips: week in, week out

Tulips and books. Read all about both, how to choose (the tulips), how to make them lean (or stand to attention), to eat them. In my story for Gardenista.


Book: My NYBG class, 4 March 2023

Monday, February 27, 2023


...the big blue of the beginning of Jamaica Bay, just off the tip of Breezy Point, Queens, New York City.

There are dunes, there is a wraparound beach. And on Sunday, there was clear water.

The giant pumpkin is an iron buoy, about four feet across.

The tide had been high, and was receding.

The dune grasses crest hills of sand that are part of the Gateway National Recreation Area - a federal preserve. The  preserve surrounds the gated human community of Breezy Point, where even the residential side roads each have their own barrier of a boom to keep them separate within their separation.

To access the point - whose barrier island mate, framing New York Harbor, is south, in New Jersey, at Sandy Hook - you can either walk along the beach for a couple of miles from a public access area, or drive and park, as long as you have a permit. We have a permit.  This is a birding hotspot. And we did spot hundreds of northern gannets, flocking like a snow shower against the backdrop of Coney Island as they dive-bombed the blue water for fish.

In the quiet dunes there were prints.

A tug left Jamaica Bay, drawing a barge. A cruise ship/floating petri dish sailed from New York Harbor. Thousands of souls, stacked, and ready for paradise.

And the outgoing tide, leaving fields of clam shells exposed.

In a hollow in the dunes were the signs of a gated community's party. A quick, casual, walking inventory counted 80 Bud Light cans. A bottle of Malibu rum, and a lot of hard tea.

Also an epipen and an abandoned toiletry bag containing an asthma inhaler.

We drove back out from this lovely beach, past the boom-sealed roads, the private security force's (sorry: Public Safety)'s headquarters, and wondered, as we have, so many times, about what makes this large country tick.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Choose field garlic

It's field garlic season, where we live, and perhaps where you are, too. This chive-like wild onion (Allium vineale) is a winter-through-spring weed in North America, but a very tasty one. And infinitely more sustainable than ramps (Allium tricoccum).

Eggs deviled, and destined for a picnic. Their yolky stuffing is laced with fresh field garlic, mustard, and mayonnaise.

And a deeply soothing soup. You'll find its recipe in my story about field garlic for Gardenista (and yes, you can substitute chives, or scallion greens).



4 March, Winter Foraging at the NYBG

11 March, Sugar Moon in Inwood Hill Park

20 March, Vernal Equinox Social, Prospect Park

25 March, Bud-Break at Historic Green-Wood

Monday, February 20, 2023

Nkwe Pirelli - a tale told in parts

Meet Nkwe Pirelli, King of String. King of Prrp. King of Peep. And the cat-formerly-known-as-Percy. Also Inky.

It's complicated.

I met him about four weeks ago at my friend Serena's house, where I was delivering duck soup to nourish her new knee after surgery. Last summer I spent some time visiting her two cats - black-and-white Susie, and tabby Tiger - to entertain them while she traveled, and to water her garden during New York's months-long drought. During the soup visit, I thought that the kitty at my feet was Susie, at first glance. Black and white. Then I looked again. About twice Susie's size. "This is Percy," Serena said, "Susie's kitten! He's two!" I sat down, and Percy jumped onto my lap, where he began purring. I made appreciative noises. He made air buns. "You should have him!" said Serena. I ignored her, assuming her pain medication was talking. 

A few days later, still thinking about this confident cat, I suddenly wondered whether she really wanted a home for him. I messaged her. "Don't give him to anyone else!" The Frenchman and I had a Big Talk. I visited then-Percy again. Serena showed me videos of the little black-and-white and also grey kittens that Susie, a feral cat, had reared outside her window, in the street - Serena had fed them, and adopted Susie. She gave me what contact details she could for Patti, a cat rescuer who, she said, had spirited the kittens away for care, and who had also taken Percy for a vet visit (I wanted vet records, and was worried about feline HIV). I wasn't sure where Percy had been in the interim. 

I messaged Patti, who said emphatically that no, she had not spirited away a bundle of kittens, but that she knew Percy, who was in fact not Percy, but Inky. And that she had given Inky into Sassee's care. 

To be continued...


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Radishes - it's time


I love radishes.

They have a remarkable affinity for eggs - high on my list of Loved Things. Also, toast. (Perhaps everything has an affinity for toast?)

They were the first vegetable I ever grew, as a very small person living in Bloemfontein, in the heart of South Africa. So there is that, too. 

In our Cobble Hill days (the terrace of the original 66 square feet size) I raised them on our so-called roof farm - a collection of pots where fava beans, peas, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and raspberries grew. And this year I will sow them again, this time in the windowboxes on our Windsor Terrace...terrace (the neighborhood name makes its Instagram hashtag a cinch - #thewindsorterrace). 

It's been years since I grew and harvested my own radishes, so recently I spoke to two vegetable gardeners - Hemalatha Gokhale and Randi Rhoades - whose work I admire a lot, and listened to their radish-growing wisdom, for a story for Gardenista. You will find it in this link: Radishes: Early, Easy, Delicious.


4 March - my NYBG Foraging Class

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Gold dust - good for breakfast, if you have it

Cattail pollen. Collected in a Cape Town summer... In December I hunted down and cut cattail flowers (still green but beginning to shed pollen), sifted out their copious pollen, did some baking, and sealed most of the delicious, golden powder in a jar. Into the freezer it went to keep and to take home to Brooklyn. 

Problem is, it's still there. And I am in grey Brooklyn.

That's the part I did not share in my story about edible cattail pollen for Gardenista. The rest you can read in the link, plus two fine recipes for using this truly delicious wild ingredient.

The story ends well (at least, fingers crossed). A - good, kind, generous - friend is going to collect it in Constantia, and hand it over to her brother who is making a flying visit, and who will soon land back in NYC.  

So there will be cattail biscuits, blinis, crackers, and madeleines on forage picnic menus after all. And then early summer will arrive in this hemisphere, and perhaps I will have find another source of the roast-corn-flavored dust to play with.


My Books - Wild-Inspired

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Cold, windy, but some sun. We walked four miles along another narrow barrier island, part of the Fire Island National Seashore.

A wide sky, a waning crescent moon, an empty beach.

We saw no fox, no snowy owl. Five sanderlings scurried ahead of us, skirting the creamy foam.

As much as our outdoor winter lives in New York lead us to places where we see endless horizons under unencumbered skies, our indoor lives are inverse. Insulated, warm, domestic. You might say cosy. At home, we have withdrawn. Out, we walk to find what makes out hearts beat.

And yes. Sometimes it is very cold.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Once, it was summer

Wait, what, summer? 

Tidying up photographs, cleaning one of the two memory sticks I use in my Canon, I find myself drawn into meals eaten, seasons lived, flowers in bloom. This was June 2021. Yup - I have a lot of tidying to do. The terrace, and what is clearly a warm weather supper. The Frenchman's T-shirted arm pouring cold Sauvignon blanc. Salad - a deconstructed salade Ni├žoise. Grated carrot? I know. I take liberties (it was soused in lemon juice, with some chile flakes added - try it). 

I see radishes, too, halved cherry tomatoes and at the back - either eggs or potatoes? Maybe eggs on top of potatoes? And leaves. The tuna is always packed in olive oil, but was it Cento? Probably. The first purple basil from the garden. I usually only plant it in late May and have to restrain myself as it establishes itself.

Formosa lilies. They will bloom again, if they made it through the freak deep freeze of December. January is as freakily mild. Who knows what February holds?

But terrace days will come again.


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Low tide at Jones Beach

After five grey days the sun shone on us, and we pointed our noses towards the ocean. Jones Beach, on a skinny barrier island less than an hour northwest of home, has become a winter haven for us. And it's usually frigid. Sunday was relatively mild. Cold enough enough for layers, and gloves and hats, but balmy by most early January standards. 

It was empty. That's why we like it. And we thought we might spot a snowy owl...

Aside from the marring tire tracks on the empty sand, we saw about 12 other people in three hours. Two fishermen, four walkers, and a balance of birders, some alone, some in pairs, most with scopes, some with long lenses. We had binoculars and a long lens, too, so we fit right in. An elderly photographer walking out from the dunes conferred with us. Had we seen anything? Sea ducks on the water, I said, But I'm not sure what they are. Razorbills, he suggested in a Middle European accent: Vot I have been looking for. I wasn't sure. I've seen razorbills in our bird book and these were different. And I knew I'd seen one in Maine... He told us to watch for snow buntings. You can see zem ven zey take off, he advised. We didn't see them, but later we did spot his elusive razorbill, bobbing neatly for fish.

The water was smooth. No swells, no waves, barely a ripple. The tide was very low, and for an hour after we arrived its motion was suspended. Scanning the sea I could still see the birds sitting on it miles out, disappearing smoothly as they hunted. The perspective was extraordinary. I have never seen such still water.

After walking to the rocky arm at the end of the beach we sat and spooned up our hot soup. A flock of dunlin that had been resting on the rocks erupted suddenly, and began the wheeling, shifting choreography that is a murmuration. They broke apart into smaller shapes and blended again, split, and shifted, like nothing real. As we were filming them I noticed a larger bird diving into their flock - a raptor, and probably what set them off in the first place. It flew away, empty-taloned.

As we walked back two seals raised their wet heads to look at us from the smooth water, then sank again as silently. A flash of foam and one reappeared with a flapping silver fish beneath its whiskers.

And then two of the seabirds came close to shore, hunting in the steep drop-off right at the water's foaming edge. They were loons. Overwintering off our shoreline. One had something skinny sticking up out of its tail feathers - a fishing line? But it was too rigid, more like a quill, and it didn't seem to be bothering the bird, whose movements were sleek and swift. Only at home, his photos viewed on a big screen, did the Frenchman say with some disbelief: It's an antenna! It was. That loon was hooked up to a satellite. 

New weather had moved in, blending sea and horizon, smudging air and earth, mixing the light.

There had been no snowy owl, but this will be remembered as an extraordinary day,  experienced on the edge of a city teeming with millions and millions of people, in one of the most populated regions on the planet.

Doesn't look like it, does it?

Monday, January 9, 2023


When you transition across two hemispheres (south to north, east to west) by racing halfway across the globe in a matter of hours, you leave a part of yourself behind.  While you wait for the piece that is missing and trust, that despite the sense of emptiness,  it - and your luggage - will catch up, you go out on autopilot into the place that is part of you, to remember who and where you are.

Brooklyn Bridge Park on a cold Saturday was equal parts imposing and human. The usual freezing brides were posing against the buttresses and Manhattan skyline.

The day after the Wolf Moon the low tide water was slack, the East River calm.

The Manhattan Bridge was as raucous as ever, every time a subway thundered and beat over it.

And the view across New York Harbor as uplifting.


Wild Walks