Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The chanterelle stream in the woods

In the middle of the summer-humid woods in the Hudson Valley is a stream where we picnic after hunting for chanterelles. Above: August, 2018 - the first time we saw it, water tumbling. There are crayfish in the water, with blue pincers.

2021 - Baskets of chanterelles collected.

2022 - in a months-long drought. The crayfish were still there. Not a mushroom to be seen. 

2023 - a recent weekend, after some small chanterelles (and lots of other mushrooms) were sighted, and the day before historic flooding in the Hudson Valley. What does it look like, after?

As sticky and physically uncomfortable as these muggy hikes are, they are like a mesmerizing wonderland of interesting pale plants that coexist with the fungal world. The story, and a chanterelle rice recipe, are up on Gardenista.


25 July - NYBG class: Summer Edible Plants

Thursday, July 13, 2023

American burnweed - a herb to eat

We lurch from apocalypse to apocalypse. Choking wildfire smoke, and now, unprecedented rainfall. Brooklyn escaped Sunday night's flooding rain; in fact, it has been drier than usual, while just an hour north, where we hunted chanterelles over the weekend, mild creeks and tame streams turned into torrential monsters, and cliffs into cataracts.  

It is very hot, and meals have been cool. Above? Slivered baby cucumbers atop labneh, with Palestinina olive oil, New Jersey peas indigenous plant foraged in Brooklyn.

In season now is an unheralded aromatic herb of North America: Erechtites hieraciifolius - known commonly as fireweed, American burnweed, or (ahem) pilewort (it has a long history of traditional medicinal use) is a soft, annual herb of deep summer. It is ultra-floral, very strongly herbal, and slightly bitter. I love it.

You can read all about American burnweed in my story for Gardenista (and snag a cooling-zinging mango salad recipe) and I hope you pounce on it when you see it, soon.


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Friday, June 9, 2023

Apocalypse forage

Some likened our apocalyptic skies this week, and the pervasive smell of smoke, to 9/11. But the smell of the Canadian wildfires was misleadingly wholesome and pleasant, like woodsmoke. Even through my N95 mask, from our Covid stash.

9/11 was a terrible smell. Like burned wires and bone. 

I went foraging, masked. 

The air grew progressively worse; it hadn't been too bad when I set out. So the world was sepia. A few days before 9/11 I dreamed that my mother and I were hiding in a bombed-out building in lower Manhattan. This was the light in the dream. In the dream three old WWII-type bombers flew low over us.

9/11 was a beautiful day, crystal clear and blue.

I collected good things in the smoke and have many projects, now, most to fuel future forage picnics. The cones will be blanched, then pickled or/and turned into jam.  The bayberry will be turned into a vivid green oil, to be frozen and scooped when needed. Also poached with summer fruits. The green peaches will be salted and fermented. their leaves will infuse white wine. The sweet clover will be dried for future biscuits, breads, and cakes.


Saturday, May 13, 2023

How to revive lilacs

Lilacs, waiting for friends to come to Friday supper. 

I bought the bunches at the Union Square farmers market on Wednesday, and, true-to-lilac-form, they wilted fast. Yesterday, to try and save my investment, I re-cut them, removed all the greenery, and submerged them entirely in a deep basin of water for about three hours. They perked up! Then, post supper-prep, I cruised the neighborhood, where the first roses have begun to open, and picked up some wonderful fruit tarts (Ladybird Bakery), an outstanding baguette (Winner NYC),  cold wine (Big Nose, Full Body), and locally-made gin (Windsor Wine Merchants).

Thank you, Brooklyn.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2023


Chickweed, a luscious, cool-weather green, has a unique flavor. Read all about it and get my super-easy chickweed recipe on Gardenista.


May Day

On May Day, when the spoiled citizens of France took to their streets to protest their president's decree that they should retire at the age of 64, and not 62, I walked in the woods at the northwestern tip of Manhattan. 

It had rained all weekend, and in the old hills, untouched by the grid that flattened so much of the island, water was running, everywhere.

I visited a vast nettle patch and collected a bagful to blanch and freeze, for tarts and breads and biscuits and as-yet-uncreated mid-spring stews. Field garlic was at its fattest, too, and easy to pull from the sodden soil.

On logs obscured by fallen branches, in swathes of Japanese knotweed and emergent jewelweed, wood ears proliferated.

I saw a small handful of other people, mostly women, jogging, and walking, and the sounds that surrounded us for two hours were running water and singing birds. 

As I left a man placed his large backpack on a rock in the forest and unpacked it, possibly to spend the day in contemplation of the million shades of spring green. But as I walked down my last hill I heard from his rock the fatal sound of flat bleating. The peace was shattered by his sack of bagpipes, playing a penetrating flaccid scale, each ascending note more defeated than the last. 

My timing had been perfect.


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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Forage picnic fare

Spring is packed with foraging, with picnics, with forays into green spaces, either alone or trailing two to 15 people, like a slow-moving, plant-obsessed comet. At the end of the group adventures, I spread out a picnic, sometimes on a bench, or on a slightly too-uneven log, or on grass, on a step, and everyone dips in, at first a little shyly, to taste some wild things. 

One of the regular features of these forage picnics is a focaccia, baked the night before, or that morning, and versatile enough to be able to convey the flavors of a season. 

In April's case those flavors have been Japanese knotweed (first cooked gently in olive oil), dandelion flowers, ramp leaves, and lately, nettles - all pressed into the jiggly, bubbly dough just before I slide it into a blazing oven.

Blanched muscari flowers are fun, and their flavor distinctive (more flowers in the dough).

Although the ones atop the focaccia did lose their color...

I manage to snap pictures of them, briefly, for my notes - time is rather tight: Picnic prep takes about eight hours, not counting the actual foraging, marketing, or route-planning. (Or the planning, the posting, the emails, the weather-watching...) 

So these are the snaps.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The King (of Everything)

April has skidded past on green heels, leaving pollen devils whirling in its wake. So my blog-posting has suffered. But here is proof of life. 

Nkwe Pirelli continues to entertain and amaze. It's been 10 weeks since he moved in with us and the spectre that both the Frenchman and I feared, in adopting a new cat ("What if he's boring, and just sits there?") has been banished. I mean, he does sit. Sometimes. And, mercifully, sleeps. But he is not boring. He has found his voice, is teaching us his ways. And we have laughed more in the last couple of months than in many years.

And that's not nothing.

Now, it's back to spring.


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Friday, March 31, 2023

Wisteria Syrup and Sake Popsicles

You need sake popsicles... 

One of my more inspired ideas, I made them for the first time back at 1st Place, where we had a huge old wisteria vine. To make them you need, well, sake (I like a cloudy one - so look for Nigori). You also need wisteria syrup for the flowers' unique perfume and flavor. They're still a month off from blooming in Brooklyn, but in this long, crazy country, they are already in bloom further south.

Find my recipe for wisteria syrup and the popsicles on Gardenista, and also (a slightly different version) in Forage, Harvest, Feast. 


Wild Walks and Forage Picnics

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