Thursday, December 7, 2023

What and How to Eat Now

Here's a quick round-up of some seasonally appealing Gardenista pieces I have written. Follow the links to read: 

First up, Forest Toddies. On the cold-weather walks I lead, I sometimes make a hot toddy to warm frigid fingers. (It stays steaming in Thermos flasks.) It's alcohol-free but manages to taste grown up and complex. Everyone asks how it is made. My current hot toddy recipe is based on fresh apple cider, with the addition of citrus and herbs, a whisper of fir, and sometimes even a beneficial mushroom. 

When I've made the toddy and allowed all the flavors to infuse, it is strained and bottled, to live in the fridge. For the last month the Frenchman and I have been sipping a version of it (it welcomes improvisation) every evening, to see what life is like without a 6pm cocktail (no surprise, life goes on, without a hitch, but it's a useful experiment). But you can also drink it cold, shaken up with the hooch of your choice. I recommend bourbon. Good for parties.

Here is the Virgin Hot Toddy recipe.

It's yuzu season, and the aromatic, golden citrus are a highlight of my growing and eating year. Our own little tree had it's first proper crop this year (last year it produced three, I think), and it still has some plump fruit ripening on its branches. 

Yuzu are the essential ingredient for yubeshi, a cured, savory-sweet Japanese confection, intended to be sliced and nibbled with hot black tea. 

You can buy high-quality yuzu fruit online (they make a special gift) in the US from Flavors by Bhumi, New Jersey-based growers who also source unusual citrus fruit from other growers in the country. 

Are there still rosehips, where you live? They tend to become sweeter with cold. But sweet or astringent, here is my recipe for rosehip syrup. No boiling at all, just sugar, fruit, and time. The leftover hips make a very appealing candy-like snack, if they are large enough for the seeds to be scooped out easily.

What is the hardiest of citrus fruits? Clue: It is also the thorniest. Trifoliate orange, also called hardy orange, and more lemon than orange (very sour), and more yuzu than either (its skin is very fragrant). 

It makes a very good fermented syrup or cheong - transliterated Korean for marmalade, except the marmalade is is not cooked, and is traditionally stirred into boiling water for a therapeutic tea. The best-known cheong may be made with yuzu, but I use hardy orange in exactly the same way. 

Finally, dark afternoons, long nights, cold weather? We need bright colors and beneficial microbes to sustain us through winter. It's time to make fermented red cabbage (aka sauerkraut) with fresh juniper (Juniperus virginiana, but yes, you can use store-bought). 

The tangy kraut is good to eat as soon as five or six days (above) after the process has begun, and is then still very crunchy. I like it best around the three-week mark, by which time it has moved to the fridge...

Happy reading, and bon appétit!  


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Saturday, October 21, 2023

The sill

Austere, like the flavor of autumn olives. Clear, tart, enough sweetness to keep your attention. But definitely autumn.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Picnic like you mean it


The water comes up, and then it goes down, and then it does it again. This is high tide, and we perched on the edge to picnic. But at low tide we have walked across the shell-crunching wet sand to that island with the trees, to picnic, there. Once, we watched a mink swim across the water to explore the rocks. There are sometimes seals, poking their faces up to look like whiskery buoys tethered on the water. And almost always we see a loon, patrolling offshore.

I don't know when last we took wine on a picnic*. A day picnic. I carried it as a surprise for the Frenchman, who that morning had told me about a couple at the local co-op: They exited with a bottle of rosé. They took it back to their car, opened it, tossed some stale coffee out of a mug, and poured the wine into the mug before driving off, sipping. "It wasn't even chilled!" he said, unsure which act was more outrageous - drinking warm rosé or driving and drinking.

So we each had a few swigs (Tortoise Creek Zinfandel), straight from the bottle. It was completely delicious in the cold air, after the hike, between bites of sourdough sandwiches with tomato and prosciutto, a Chebris (sheep and goat cheese), and a fennel saucisson, all from the very appealing Blue Hill Wine Shop

Then we walked a couple of miles back to our own car and drove (in a straight line) home. 

*I grew up with wine at day picnics, brunch picnics, wine at lunch, wine at dinner...well, a lot of wine. (Also, not much water. But that is another story.)


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Sunday, October 8, 2023


Is one morally bound to discuss acts of war, if one is a(war)e of them, while walking in the autumn woods of a Maine shoreline, Downeast? Disaster stalks us. 

Last night the wind let loose as a storm moved in and poised above us, and water rained so hard on the roof that clear rivers formed round the cottage that we are renting for a few days. Pools grew outside and I sent the Frenchman into the deluge to check our EV. Batteries and flooding don't mix well. We're just a week out from the flash floods that drowned our block and nearby neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, thousands dead; the story so complex, and terrible. And what is to come? War. What is it good for? It's good for politicians. For people in power. For certain kinds of business. For the makers and innovators of weapons and the technology that supports or thwarts them. For the contractors of conflict. And, rarely, for freedom.

The woods here are wet and very green. In some places the moss is elbow-deep (I know, I measured). Weaponless but for eyes and intuition and and not a little reading, we have hunted mushrooms, with success. 

Our suppers have been matsutake-filled, and tonight the stuffing for our little organic chicken, raised by a local farmer, is rice with girolles (yellow-foot chanterelles). 


I'm mostly not here, but at Instagram:


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.