Saturday, July 13, 2024

Bee balm


It's bee balm time again. I have grown Monarda fistulosa in pots but find that it is happier, in-ground. With a breeze and some grasses for company. In a tony patch of soil in front of our building a hot pink-flowered cultivar is very happy alongside agastache and fennel. (And yes, that entire four-ish square feet is vibrating with pollinators.

The stems, leaves, flowers, and seed heads can be used as a powerfully fragrant herb. Think oregano. But different. And cold-hardy.

Time for that summer caprese salad again. Recipe over on Gardenista.


Thursday, July 11, 2024

Endurance and Recovery

On the western side of our little terrace, African basil lights up as the sun dips.  It seems to be the most heat-tolerant of all the basils I have grown. Most really prefer some shade. But its windowbox still needs twice-daily watering.

Leaning across the laundry-roof void are Lilium 'Madame Butterfly' (I must buy more, they are reliable, graceful, and long-lasting as cut-flowers) and Graham Thomas.

Liatris just opening, and the source of the most scented rose petals, ever: Bolero. I layer the petals with palm sugar in a jar, crush, and forget. When you open the jar the sticky, amber syrup inside is essence-of-rose. Very good stirred into a long, cool drinks, and drizzled over chilled cubes of watermelon.

This is the first flush of roses since the shrubs were parched during a 10-day absence. We left the day after every single one was in full bloom, and came back to crisped leaves. A month later, they have recovered well, and are handling our week's heat indexes of 100 degrees Fahrenheit better than I am. 


My Books

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Picnic like you mean it

It has been a picnic-y summer, so far. This one was at Rockefeller State Park Preserve, after a walk I led, hosted by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Our focus was on invasive edible plants, in the ongoing and evolving conversation about how to control them. There is no simple answer. 

Two focaccias (focaccie), featuring apricots and mugwort, a pea and fava bean spread with field garlic, cream cheese drizzled with lilac-infused honey that I made in Maine, tartlets filled with serviceberries, and a very delicious strawberry cordial - my favorite thing this season. It can be made with any soft fruit and a herb; so far, I have used ground ivy (recipe here on Gardenista), mugwort, and bergamot/bee balm.

Muggy, wrap-around humidity has arrived. The only good thing about our tropical summers is...chanterelles. We're going a-hunting.


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Clouds of fleeceflower

On a hill at Green-Wood Cemetery is a monument dedicated to the 148,000 New York soldiers enlisted in the Revolutionary War. Often, when I walk here, I imagine what the ground under my feet looked like, and what the sounds may have been, then, because this is where battles were fought. 

But what drew me to the monument this day was the cloud of giant fleeceflowers in bloom at its base. They are closely related to highly invasive Japanese knotweed, but apparently behave much better. Persicaria polymorpha: statuesque, yet floofy. In peak bloom, now.


New Summer Walks

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Graham Thomas

I think this was the best moment in May. A surfeit of roses. That doesn't happen often. I picked as many as I could and stuffed them into vases and bowls and kept a bowlful in the bedroom.

Their scent is described by David Austin as "a cool violet character." A good inscription for a headstone.


New Summer Walks

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Cherry blossoms

On the Vernal Equinox I walked in Green-Wood Cemetery under a high, racing sky and patchy cloud. In an early-blooming cherry, some house finches were very busy.

If you taste a cherry blossom, it is very bitter. But after a few seconds the flavor turns to marzipan. Perhaps finches like marzipan. Or the effects of prussic acid? How much is in a finch-sized blossom-dose?


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 app├ętit!  


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