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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