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New York: one woman, many plants, twelve seasons.



Updated: 2018-02-25T07:09:56.097-05:00

 



What is brewing?

2018-02-20T17:51:40.888-05:00


Quiet on the blogging front. It's all about time.

Busy on the vinegar-making front. Although, with vinegar, a lot of waiting is involved. The busy part simply means cutting up fruit to combine with sugar, water and an aromatic (or not) in a wide mouthed jar. This sits for a while, 7 - 10 days, infusing and fizzing steadily. Then, after the solids are strained, the liquid goes back in the jar, protected by some cheesecloth (for dust or fruit flies), for some weeks. Three to six. Ish. Acetobacter are everywhere and they convert sugars into acetic acid. Voilá, vinegar.

This winter vinegar session began in December, inspired  by my friend Sarah Owens (whose latest, lovely book is Toast and Jam), who was making apple vinegar. To date I had only made vinegar from floral fermentations (elderflower, common milkweed), and waking up to the fermenting potential of winter fruit has been a wonderful adventure. My vinegars over the last couple of months have used apples and pears, dried jujubes (from Chinatown) with orange, pine buds, fir needles or spicebush as aromatics. Only one was a spectacular failure (durian!) - the rest taste very, very good. I think. There is really no need to ever buy vinegar, again.

I cook with it a lot. Plenty of Phillipine-inspired adobos. And lots of quick-pickled vegetables. These vinegars are also wonderful in drinks, with or without alcohol. Fruity, complex, sour.

Brooklyn Vinegar Recipe

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew, [Ugh. Then again, he did write Merchant of Venice]
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble

- Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1

Otherwise, I am reviewing copy edits (from a sterling copy editor) to the manuscript of Forage, Harvest, Feast; will then be working on a few other projects; gearing up for exciting spring forages and walks; and, all the while, and in between, figuring out - big picture - with the Frenchman what the long term future holds, and where.

So who needs vinegar?

(Seriously, I use no newts.)




Spring Forages

2018-02-06T19:13:32.762-05:00


My spring list of walks and talks has been updated.

We're ranging farther afield for our walks: Inwood Hill Park and Pelham Bay Park - two of the wildest spots within New York City.

And staying - very - close to home, I am also offering two mid-week cocktail evenings in our garden, with botanical cocktails and mocktails and snacks to fuel us while we talk about unusual wild edibles that can be grown at home.

Please visit the Forage and Plant Walks and Talk page to book.




Antidotes

2018-02-03T22:15:19.403-05:00


January knocked it out of the park, in terms of extremes. Bobbing in the calmer but untrustworthy waters of February I am not sure how to proceed, but am massively grateful for Friends and Frenchman - my chosen family.

There are sparks of brightness. Maybe Amazon's take over of Whole Foods was good in this dose: Irish daffodils at just $2 a bunch. brightening an evolving weekend ritual -  bites of celebratory seafood in smoked or pickled form. Today's at-home brunch featured pickled herring (Blue Hill Bay, from Brooklyn's Acme Smoked Fish) on dense brown bread, with fresh dill and lashings of cucumber (sprinkle the slices with salt and sugar 5 minutes before you want them) and radish, and modest dollops of wild salmon and whitefish caviar - yup, essentially smørrebrød. Complete with a tiny shot of vodka, each. Bring on the Vikings.

Then came a five-mile run for the Frenchman, and five-mile walk for me (a humblingly painful back injury of almost four weeks ago has healed to the point of walking easily, but there is still a way to go; X-rays show promise, MRI still to come).

More brightness was a sneak peak at the layout of my new book, in the form of a sample chapter sent to me by my publisher (Chelsea Green) yesterday. I liked it very much, an intense moment of relief. The manuscript is still being copy edited, then comes back to me for checking; goes back for layout, comes back; goes back out for proof reading and indexing, then...print, print, print. So much work, by many humans. It will be ready for readers in early autumn.

And spring is just six weeks away.



Squirrel Appreciation Day?

2018-01-22T20:15:40.478-05:00

You're kidding, right? Nope. It is a thing. And Squirrel Appreciation Day was yesterday, as I discovered by chance, hours after putting this wheatgrass on the table in the garden, hoping to attract my favorite bird, Gordita, who was MIA... I was worried a cat might have got her.So the squirrel showed up, instead, and nibbled the grass very neatly and quite adorably. I hate the squirrels. Most of the time. They eat my bulbs and mess with my seedlings. Tourists from squirrel-free countries love them, and stalk them in Central Park.Back to Gordita. She is an eastern towhee, above (on the Unattractive Gray Concrete), and might be a juvenile he, but I've decided she's a she. We have gender neutral bird bathrooms, so it's not really an issue. She is a genuine American sparrow, unlike the imported and rowdy brown bunch that frequents our feeding area and throws tantrums in the wisteria vine. Compared with those trim house sparrows, the eastern Towhee is fat. Hence, Gordita. I adore her. She never flies away in a panic, like the stupid sparrows - just hops confidentially about, looking for food. She has an ascending, inquisitive, cheeeeap? And she is all alone. She has been here since December.In the coldest days of January when we entered the realms of deep freeze, I gave the birds a daily warm bath. First, I melted the frozen bath in the kitchen sink, then topped it up. I know. Crazy bird lady. I like to watch. Even if they are boring sparrows and starlings. They loved it.The Frenchman would worry about them. That their feathers would get wet and that they would freeze in mid flight. I researched bird circulation. Their feet are complicated.The blue jays and cardinals visit, too. I am so used to them that I take them for granted. So Gordita, the first of her kind I have seen in the city, remains special.But happy Squirrel Appreciation Day.Come spring, I will want to kill them, again. I am always threatening to turn them into pâté...[...]



Join a Flower Tour to South Africa

2018-02-06T15:42:07.553-05:00

Have you always wanted to visit South Africa, but been nervous about finding your way, or overwhelmed by the choices available, once on the ground?Do you love flowers and plants, and floral design? How about food?If you have been squirreling away funds for a special holiday - this could be it.Fellow South African and New Yorker Sylvia Clow-Wilson has created an extremely well curated flora-forward tour to South Africa from March 12 - 21.Sylvia is the proprietrix of Cape Lily, a floral design studio in Manhattan. Her tour partner is renowned floral designer Susan McLeary.The flower focused itinerary kicks off after touchdown in Johannesburg with game viewing and accommodation at Black Rhino Game Lodge (above) in the Pilanesberg National Park, before moving south to gorgeous Cape Town for three nights.Here you will meet local gin brewers and mixologists, and join Roushanna Gray for a Veld and Sea forage (see my Gardenista post about her immersive classes) and meal.You will visit one of my favorite places in the world - Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden (above), and hike on Table Mountain, which is one of the natural wonders of the world - a wilderness within a city of millions, where you will encounter fynbos at foot level. Fynbos is a storied biome within the Cape Floristic Region, one of the six plant kingdoms on the planet. It is the smallest,  but the most diverse.You travel to the stunning farm Babylonstoren (above) with its famed kitchen garden and restaurant.You will enjoy lunch at Babel (above) before submerging yourselves in two full days indigenous floral design workshops with Susan.The tour culminates in a Veld to Vase dinner hosted on Langkloof Rose Farm outside Wellington, under the beautiful southern African night skyThe tour cost is $5,875.00 and Sylvia is offering to include airfare (details when you get in touch with her). For a 20% discount enter the code FORAGE when booking.South African Airlines currently has flights hovering in the $1,100.00 range, and Sylvia can also connect you to partner airlines. Everyone meets at OR Tambo International on March 21st before 2pm.For more information, to talk to Sylvia directly (you will have questions), and to book, visit Cape Lily. Remember your FORAGE code!(If you are concerned about the water crisis in Cape Town, you will be there for three nights and will follow the guidelines at your accommodation. Following them you will not be thirsty or dirty. The farms you will be staying at rely on borehole water, drawn from an aquifer, rather than the dams and reservoirs supplying city water.)[...]



Mokala - thornveld, sunlight and space

2018-01-08T18:48:52.832-05:00

I took remarkably few pictures while we stayed at Mokala, the newest in the collection South African National Parks (known as SAN Parks). Located fewer than 100 km southwest of Kimberly in the Northern Cape, visiting it felt like a gamble. The drive from the Eastern Cape and its green coastal thickets, through the wide and dry Karoo, was lengthy, there would be no exciting large predators (although I hoped to see the elusive black footed African cat, a little sweetie that looks just like a tabby house cat), we only had my cousin Andrea's well informed say-so for visiting, and I was nervous that it might not be worth the effort. The Frenchman has two weeks of vacation a year. They have to be good.But my first impression of the suddenly changed landscape, which was about the time I snapped Picture No. 1, above, through the Landcruiser's window, was intense. "This is good," I thought. In the driver's seat, Vince was smiling. Praise the Cousin.Every since we camped beneath the grand old camel thorns (Vachellia erioloba) of Namibia we have loved them. And Mokala was littered with these slow growing trees, acacia lookalikes whose dignified silhouettes sing Africa. Mokala is the Tswana word for camel thorn. Many southern Africans know the tree mostly as the best firewood - its hard wood burns long, hot, and beautifully, and our Namibian trips also yielded bags of camel thorn braaiwood, usually labeled kameeldoring - its Afrikaans name -  at every stop. I learned subsequently that the tree is protected. While you are allowed to collect and sell the wood with a permit, it is sometimes collected unscrupulously or illegally.The last hour of our drive had been rough. After being snarled in consecutive Stop-Go's on the arterial N12, we left the tar road per my directions, deviating from Google's route suggestion, and choosing secondary dirt roads that were technically shorter, but whose corrugations were the worst we have ever encountered. If I had any fillings in my teeth they would have rattled right out. But at the very end we were rewarded with sand tracks like red velvet carpets. We had arrived.We checked in at the main rest camp, a discretely designed collection of thatched buildings with impressive lightning conducting poles rising high above its rooves. This is thunderstorm country, but at the very tail end of winter the summer rains had not arrived, yet, and the veld was still brittle and blond. The warm and unaffectedly friendly greeting at reception was in stark contrast to the utter apathy we received all round at Addo Elephant National Park. It was such a relief.From the main camp we drove slowly to our isolated cottage (also Cousin Recommended) several kilometers away, passing through a fascinating landscape pattern en route. Some of the national park is comprised of former farmland that had been over grazed. I assume this mysterious series of excavations is about soil rehabilitation. Make a hole, pile in brush, wait for rain, rain falls and gathers, collected seeds germinate, covering the exposed and vulnerable soil?And then, late at the end of a long day, we were at our new home for three nights. Haak en Steek is a refurbished former hunting cabin overlooking a waterhole. No fencing, a warning about roaming rhino (they charge when upset), and a steenbokkie quietly grazing under the surrounding camel thorns. (Haak-en-steek is the Afrikaans common name for another tree, Acacia tortilis, with long white thorns.)We unpacked the Landcruiser, made ourselves at home, poured the ritual gin and tonic, and took deep breathes of clean air. We kept our eyes peeled for buffalo (not an animal you want to surprise in the bush).At Mokala you do the traditional park drive every day, choosing your route and stopping to look at the animals on the way. It is always like a treasure hunt. I left all the critter photography to Vince, content to drive or just look. There were many giraffes, and we[...]



Goodbye, hello

2018-01-01T19:02:17.169-05:00


New Year's Eve. Tomorrow is another day. All the rest is pressure. 

For us, this evening? Some ritual crab cakes, with a citrus and spicebush sauce. Preceded by baby baked potatoes with sour cream, salmon roe, and South African bottarga. Not for us? The ritual (see the December chapter of my book) walk to the Brooklyn Promenade. It is bloody freezing: 12'F/-12'C.

Cold, by our standards. We're staying put.

Now I go back to editing. The dishwasher is running, the house is warm, the Frenchman is reading his blog, and tomorrow there will be fresh brewed coffee, and work to be done.

The future? Do the small things well. Be kind. Pull your own weight. Hang out with people who know more than you do.

Carry on.




Apple magic

2017-12-21T11:47:46.003-05:00



In case you missed it, I wrote an apple-loving cocktail post for Gardenista. Above you see 'Winter Banana'  at the top, with 'Honey Crisp' below, fizzing away. Why not use good apples to make new drinks?


In the story you will learn to make that fizzy apple cordial (ingredients: apples, water, sugar), an intensely flavoured apple and rosemary essence, above, and a handful of refreshing cocktails.


This is the Apple Rosemary Essence, made with the same apples you used for the fizzy cordial.


And this is a completely delicious cocktail I called Cold Snap, without an ounce of alcohol. Mocktail indeed, but it tastes kind of convincing (I am not sure that is the point, but it is very grown up). Go and read the story for that recipe, too (it will also send you to the cranberry cocktail post, for that tart Cranberry Sour recipe, above right - one of the cheapest and easiest mixers you will ever make).

That original apple fizz (which inspired it all) is now vinegar - on purpose! And I must taste and bottle it, soon. Lots of fun.

Who needs egg nog?




Pain d'epice

2017-12-15T17:29:56.143-05:00


My holiday recipe for pain d'epice - little spice loaves, based on an MFK Fisher recipe (if you can call it that), with my own native American twist, is over at Gardenista.


My first batch was made with a honey and flour paste that had aged, probably fermenting very slowly, for a couple of months.

My friend Bevan WhatsApp'd me yesterday from Istanbul to inform me that the traditional medieval decoration for pain d'epice was boxwood leaves held in place "with cloves with gilded heads." Hm.

Maybe one day. I have box leaves. I have cloves. I just need the gold leaf and the bevy of indentured serfs to gild each clove. I imagine the cloves helped preserve the loaves, too. I am going very untraditional, heretical, even, and covering them with a think layer of rosehip jam, marzipan and royal icing, as we speak. Purely for looks.

But they are really best simply sliced very, very thinly, and buttered. With good butter. My go-to decent butter is actually just Land O'Lakes. But I love the Belgian one with with salt from the Camargue. I stocked up on it recently and the freezer is filled with the little salty bricks.





Winners, Come Forward!

2017-12-16T11:54:56.515-05:00


Two out of the five winners of the giveaway have not checked back to see who won the fabulous-fabulous draw - the results were announced on Monday.

Please email me or I have no way to contact you.

Winners of copies of Toast and Jam are:

Patricia Forsyth, from the Hill Country of Texas
Sevans10, from outside Pittsburg, PA

If I have not heard from you by Monday the 18th, I will do a re-draw.





Christmas giveaway winners!

2017-12-15T19:49:12.654-05:00

As of 11pm EST 10 December 2017 (phew) this giveaway is closed. Thank you for your comments! They make wonderful reading and give me a real sense of good lives being lived, across the US, as well as very close to home.The winners have been chosen by random number generator.And the winner of the ten gifts is...Jo, from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Congratulations!The four runners up who will receive a copy of Toast and Jam are:EmmyG from Flushing, NYPatricia Forsyth, from the Hill Country of TexasSevans10, from outside Pittsburg, PAAnita K, Jackson Heights, QueensPlease email me so that we can arrange for your gifts to reach you._________________________Christmas could come early. I am so excited to share this giveaway with you.For Gardenista I compiled my Gift Guide for Botanically Minded Cooks and Mixologists. It's a personal selection of my favorite things -  things that have made me happy, and that I think would be lovely gifts for you or for the cooks and cocktail lovers in your life. They range from lime trees to purple potatoes, and from books to beach plum gin.Every item on that list can be won here by one lucky commenter. (I contacted everyone on the list and they each generously offered to be part of this giveaway.)The monetary value is just under $500, before shipping, and shipping will be covered, so no need to worry about that, either. You can keep them all, or have them sent to friends. There is even a consolation prize for three runners up: a copy of Toast and Jam, provided by Roost Books.The giveaway is open to US residents only (for shipping reasons). To enter, please leave a comment below telling us: 1. Where you live, garden, cook and shake up drinks. The deadline for the giveaway is Sunday, 10 December, 11PM EST.Here are the details:1. Any size tree from Lemon Citrus Tree.I bought my beloved Thai limes (now overwintering in our bedroom windows, first picture) from LemonCitrusTree.com. Carol Kim, the new owner, is generously offering a choice of any tree you like on the site, as well as any size tree. It could be a Meyer lemon, a Thai lime like mine, a Key lime, Persian lime, a minneola,  an orange - there are lots of citrus choices. There also avocados, pomegranates, loquats and figs. And olives! All my favorite things. Go over and have a look.Important: Not all states may receive citrus trees, and Lemon Citrus Tree spells that out on every tree's listing. If the winner (or receiver you designate) resides in one of those states, you may choose a non citrus.2. I first met Cecil and Merl's delicious, small batch Apricot and Cherry bitters at a party for Remodelista, where I shook up - memorably - 500 cocktails. Their latest bitters batch is turmeric, with burdock. Right up my foraging alley. For this giveaway Cecil and Merl are offering the pictured combo of their handsome tote bag, Apricot and Cherry Bitters (both fantastic), and Made in Brooklyn, an inspirational catalog of the artisans and makers at the epicenter of Brooklyn's food and drink renaissance.Bitters are not just for cocktails. Check out Cecil and Merl's recipes, too.3. Two 1 oz packets of spicebush. My favourite spice, usually foraged, and native to the US east of those Rockies. If you can't forage it you can find it at Integration Acres. I will mail two packages to the winner.If you like it, you can head over there and buy more. Include it in your holiday cookies and cakes.4. Sansho, sumac, saffron and mahlab (above - cherry kernels) are my selection of spices from Raw Spice Bar, who contacted me some months ago about their spice offerings. I usually forage and grow these spices, but not everyone can. And I am including many recipes using sansho, sumac and mahlab in Forage, Harvest Feast, my new book. Having [...]



First snow

2017-12-10T14:09:51.190-05:00

We had snow. I went out into it to buy the ritual Reuben sandwich that the Frenchman and I share at weekends. The wait was so long at The Court Street Grocers that I placed my order and then took home my shopping and flowers and went straight back out again to pick up the sandwich. It still wasn't ready.It's a good sandwich.It has not been very cold - temperatures were hovering just above freezing, so very little stuck. But wet snow clings beautifully to branches.Carroll Gardens - our Brooklyn neighborhood - was well frosted.Later we went out to buy our tree. The Vermont sellers also have good maple syrup, so we stocked up.I did not grow up with these winters. So it is still like theatre, to me. Watching people walk home with their trees is very touching. Everybody smiles.At home the sparrows and their one eccentric all-American sparrow cousin - a fat Eastern towhee, not pictured - bickered over the seed I tossed for them.In the back garden less snow melted. It is never in the sun at this time of year and the ground must be colder. Inside, we put up the tree, and I baked a savarin and cooked a pot of fragrant borscht.Everything is falling apart, but some things keep it sticking together.(Remember - you have one more day to enter the Christmas giveaway - ten very nice gifts.)[...]



Cranberry syrups and cocktails

2017-12-04T12:30:37.622-05:00


Cranberries: so pretty. So sour.

I had a lot of fun last week creating cocktails featuring this late fall and winter fruit for Gardenista. The syrup above is not really syrup at all. It is sour - like lemons meet pomegranates.

Over in my Festive Recipes story you will find five new cocktails, two syrups and this Cranberry Sour.





The Road

2017-12-26T17:35:14.203-05:00

As we drove north on the N10 from Addo to Mokala, Eastern Cape to Northern Cape, rain came down. In terms of biomes we were leaving coastal thicket for grassland and thornveld, with the Great Karoo inbetween, and all three needed rain. In early October, in this part of the country, we were on the cusp of the summer rainfall season. The N10 is a beautiful road that cuts almost precisely north.For Vince and me, this is the time and space we would like to preserve. Driving, alone, an endless view, a Thermos of espresso at our feet, promise ahead.I had back issues (too much heavy lifting + genes) so every couple of hours we stopped so that I could walk, jump around and stretch. This allowed us to smell the rain bursting in pockets on the horizon.We drove through an area of what I call aloes, but I don't actually know what these succulents are. Flowers like cotyledons. As far as the eye could see. The fields were red. So was the mud. My driving shoes were my bright pink Rothy's, bad for slick mud walking, but I can now attest to their washability. Brand as new. [Identified as Aloe striata by my cousin, Kate Webster, who lives in the Eastern Cape]We made a much anticipated stop (always a dangerous thing). Years ago, traveling in the opposite direction from the Mountain Zebra National Park we had chanced upon the Daggaboer Farmstall and had ventured in, finding warmth, welcome, and some delicious, very fresh roosterkoek (yeasted rolls that are cooked over the hot coals of a fire) being baked in the warm place. I had been thinking about the roosterkoek for days. After our early start it was time for breakfast.The mysterious succulent grew at the door and I planned to ask what it was.Inside, black nightshade jam - a South African thing at farmstalls. But the place was very cold, both in temperature and in atmosphere. The door to the warm kitchen shut and everything stank of cigarette smoke. We wandered around the shelves. Three women were working there, an owner in an office, where the smoke was thickest, and a mother and daughter, moving about. No one even glanced up at us. No other customers. In the middle of nowhere. In friendly South Africa.I greeted the daughter, who was unable to crack a smile in return. I asked if they still had roosterkoek, and she shoved a menu at me. I asked whether it had rained, yet, a dry country question. She replied nonsensically that fillings cost extra. My heart hardened in disappointment. This is not how you run a business. Things had changed.We bought things. Fancy wool slippers, from allegedly local sheep, for Tipsi, back home. Droëwors for the road. Preserved green figs. We waited for our roosterkoek to come from the kitchen.The only warm thing in the frigid place was this little cat, who wanted to come with us.Back in Mogashagasha we poured the last of the coffee and ate our roosterkoek as we drove. Mine was stuffed with grated biltong, the Frenchman's with cheese. We swapped halfway. They were not the fresh roosterkoek of memory and possibly microwaved. But enough to fill partially the hole that memory had made.We opened the koeksisters (traditional braided deep fried and syrup soaked pastries) that we bought a few miles further into our drive. Dry as little bones. I looked at their sell by date. Two weeks past.If we ever pass that way again, we will drive on.It was a long day's drive, about eight hours, with our stops.The weather played with us all the way.We drove into that black storm, through sheets of water and lighting bolts being thrown down at the Karoo plains around us. I closed my eyes, glad the Frenchie was driving. Lightning makes me jump.At the tail end of the dry season up here every view was still brittle a[...]



Addo - place of elephants

2017-11-13T14:56:33.697-05:00

The Frenchman and I headed towards Addo Elephant Park after leaving Storms River. I had never visited - the park is very close to Port Elizabeth and I was worried that it might be overrun with people. Friends had warned me that because of the dense nature of the coastal thicket vegetation, we might not see many animals. But within an hour of entering near the south end we were surprised by the wide vista above. There is a little knot of elephants to the right, near the curve of the road. We drove right through that section of the park, south to north, meandering at the required 40km/hour, to reach the main camp and reception where we were required to check in.After a disinterested welcome - if you can call it that - at reception (unusual for a SAN Park), we got back into the Landcruiser and headed for our camp, Nyathi. I had chosen it based purely on its relative remoteness on the maps I had studied and the fact that it seemed to have a good view from the cottages, and our fingers were crossed. What would it be like?First, we had to leave the main park area, through an electrified fence and gate that was unlocked for us, across a railway crossing, across a national road, through a new gate, another electrified fence, and into the next section, Nyathi. We saw a male lion almost at once, lazing behind a tree, upside down, indolent cat fashion, and then this herd of peaceful elephants browsing. We felt happy with our choice of stomping ground for the next few days.This was the view from the curving wooden balcony of our luxurious rondawel - hills and thicket and every day a slow, large herd, 60 - 80 strong, of elephants moving back and forth, eating, rumbling, communicating with each other in a way we could not understand. Every night and morning a chorus of unfamiliar birds, with the exception of the haunting fiery necked night jar, not just one, but four, calling from every corner of twilight. It was shiveringly beautiful. Never the sound of a human.I took remarkably few pictures, here. I think we were still in some translocation shock, the remoteness, all of a sudden, the desire to absorb this kind of silence.These sweet, unfraid little swallows lived in a neat mud nest above the front door.From the balconies, which curved along the tips of the trees below us, I could do some fascinated botanizing. The vine above was strongly scented and we saw sunbirds feasting on the flowers. It reminds me of the greenbrier family Smilacaceae.And its host, the supporting tree, excited and surprised me even more. Like seeing a friend in a very unexpected place. A dead ringer for prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) but in South Africa! The East Asian prickly ash species is Z. piperatum - otherwise known as Sichuan, as in peppercorn. Why not an African species? My impatience had nothing to do but to cool its heels. No Googling for us: thanks to our desire to be Alone we were well beyond cell range, had no data, and no Internet. But I nibbled and tasted and had no doubt. How exciting. My submission to iSpot once we were back in Cape Town has met with no response. Could it be the species capense? Prickly ash fruit and leaves zing with citrus and pepper, and that curious tingling sensation that makes Sichuan so well known. The trees belong to the large and fragrant Rutaceae family, like the aromatic fynbos herbs I love, as well as well known citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.We took daily drives, with a Thermos of coffee and a trove of rusks, and made friends along the way. And every afternoon we came  home to our rondawel, lit a fire and ate dinner to the sound of those night birds.As lovely as Nyathi was - and I recommend it highly - Addo in general[...]



Memorabilia

2017-11-03T10:44:17.332-04:00

The things one brings back from the mother country. Not shown are the 24 bottles of wine the Frenchman and I carried to Brooklyn across two hemispheres. And US customs officers have never minded. Asked if I had brought anything in with me this time, I replied, "A case of wine." The customs officer looked at me sternly and said, "Don't drink and drive. Welcome home, Red!" Stamp.Other than that welcome, arriving at JFK is complete pandemonium and I feel very sorry for bright eyed and bushy tailed tourists who are familiar with other, civilized airports. You are barked at, herded, ignored and then have to pay for your luggage cart. It's brutal.But here we are. With, from left: in the tube, two beautiful prints from my friend, artist Willemien de Villers, whose embroidery I call subversive. She will be teaching another course in New Mexico next year. Above that, Cape Town-made bottarga, salt-cured roe from sustainable hake, under the Leipoldt and Langa label, from my Instagram friend Kurt Ackerman. I traded a bottle of vermouth for it. To its right two South African made rugs for our kitchen door, which leads outside. And 72, yes, 72 mini ice cream cones from Woolworths. Because they really are that good and I think they might be fun for wild ice cream tastings. Peri-peri cashews, because, why not? Top right, cream of tartar for home made rusks, and a bottle of amber Inverroche gin, made in Stilbaai.Middle row: a cotton blanket, also South African, and beautifully soft. Mampoer to its right, a clear peach liquor with a mule-ish kick, for the neighbor who watered our plants. Then a bottle each of my October Vermouth and its bitters, bottled on my birthday. There are more, off stage. Soap! I know, but it's wonderful and has no Bad Stuff in it, by South African brand Earth Sap (whose marketing presence is nil). And a cherished bottle of wine made by aforementioned Willemien's husband, Etienne de Villiers. They live below their small vineyard on an idyllic spot above False Bay and Etienne was kind enough to give me one of very few bottles. Fortunately, when my wine box came hurtling down the JFK luggage shoot, smashing into someone's suitcase, this was not the bottle that died on impact. First time I have ever suffered a casualty.Bottom left: a fresh batch of kikois (Tanzania), a first aid box I could not resist, an old China plate and a Woodstock glass tumbler, found on an after-lunch walk through Kalk Bay's antique shops.Such is memory and nostalgia, to be eaten, drunk, slept under, walked on and looked at.And now it's a deep dive straight back into my new book - Forage, Harvest, Feast, as the editing phase begins.See you on the other side.[...]



Indigenous Plant Palettes - a South African book giveaway

2017-10-24T04:29:56.296-04:00


If you would like a chance to win a copy of the very handsome and hefty Indigenous Plant Palettes (R495.00), by Marijke Honig, please head over to my Instagram account @66squarefeet and tell us where in South Africa you garden.

The giveaway is very generously sponsored by Quiver Tree Publications, publishers of exceptional South African books. A copy will be posted to the lucky winner.

Deadline is 12am (midnight), October 26th.

The beautifully illustrated plant palettes detailed in the book cover all kinds of local garden scenarios, from plants for hedging and security, to edibles and fragrance.


Marijke (above, with her book) is a friend of mine, and a well known landscape designer. In Cape Town you can see her work at the Biodiversity Showcase Garden in Green Point, whose plantings she designed. We went for a hike the other day on Table Mountain, a real privilege, both for the beauty of the fynbos and for Marijke's botanical knowledge. It's like walking with Google, with the best search result available at once.

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Storm's River - place of waves

2017-10-21T09:09:01.233-04:00

After seven long hours on the road from Cape Town to Storm's River, it was a relief to reach our roomy wooden chalet perched at the highest spot above the crashing waves of the spectacular Tsitsikamma National Park. We had been checked into the park by a very efficient and friendly SAN Parks staff employee, who dealt with a long line of tired and impatient Dutch and German guests (we were the only South Africans at that time) as we all poured in from various corners of South Africa, stiff from driving, hungry for showers, clean beds and the views we knew were around the corner.Below the chalets were the campers and their tents, right on the shoreline (where we had stayed, before), with a very high tide sending waves roaring over the rocks. In the blue valleys between the waves we spotted pods of dolphins, who stayed and played in the huge breakers for hours, with more elusive whales blowing in the background.The Frenchman was in heaven. Seeing him unfettered and trigger happy made me smile.All around the campsite fires were lit, with embers sparking as people began their supper preparations. We lit our braai on the incongruous set up - an iron grid and ash box attached directly to the wooden railing of our high wooden balcony, and rather wobbly. It would take only one very heavy person to lean against it and go whoops right over the side - I cannot imagine this in America, but in South Africa perhaps the need to braai wins. It is like an inalienable right. (There was a second braai on the private patio below, reached by steps.) What did we cook? Chops, I recall, and boerewors, with a salad of cucumber and tomatoes. Red wine. Basic, happy food.It was cold, and we sat outside well wrapped, later sliding between crisp white sheets beneath layers of comforters and blankets, falling into a sound sleep to the boom of the surf.Early the next morning our blue view brought a lump to my throat. I know these creamy seas. I swam in this water and these waves every childhood summer until I was an elderly teenager. Not right here, but a few dozen miles further west, at Plettenberg Bay. A strong swimmer, I lived in this sea. Hearing and smelling and seeing the powerful surf - quite different from Cape Town's colder water - brought back physical memories and longings I can barely articulate.In the morning on a short walk (we had to check out by 10am and drive on to Addo) I spotted pokeweed, a species I had never seen. My friend Don offers Phytolacca octandra for identification. Even though it was still spring, and the night had been very cold, the plant was at the maturity stage I would expect in late summer, Stateside (from Phytolacca americana). I'd love to see its earliest shoots and test how succulent (or not) they might be.We had time for a walk across the little beach and onto a long and sinuous boardwalk that snaked towards the river mouth in the forest before heading back to pack the car again.But Storm's River has been discovered and can be a busy spot - very beautiful, but now too trafficked for my taste. I noticed with some amusement (because I loathe racism), a rising xenophobia and antagonism in myself as European and Asian visitors brushed past us without greeting, talking loudly, behaving like tourists anywhere, oblivious of the birds in the canopy, the possible Cape clawless otters on the rocks below.  Most South Africans will look you in the eye and greet you, just a smile or a nod, or an actual hello - I find it charming, and I felt cross and resentful that Foreigners had not adopted this etiquette.I needed to get further away from people.Fortunately, we wer[...]



First, pack your box

2017-10-19T15:52:34.175-04:00

Before you can go on a self catering roadtrip you have to pack. That's the fun part.The Frenchman and I did not have much time to prepare, so it's fair to say I winged it, with food. But we know our habits well, by now, and knew we had seven days' meals to organize. We knew that we really only eat dinner, that breakfast is good espresso with hot milk and rusks to dunk, that lunch is opportunistic - a lucky dip into a large snack bag that contains an assortment of dried fruit, biltong and droewors (dried South African sausage), that wine every night is imperative and that I will die if I do not have fresh fruit and Green Things.Into our big plastic container went two smaller ones: one stuffed with fruit that could travel well or ripen en route: kiwis that began rock hard but which were tender and sweet on Day 5, tamarillos, perfuming the whole box, a small papaya, passionfruit from the vine at home, a pineapple. Lemons. Because who can travel without lemons? In the other small container went potatoes - sweet, and regular; a huge head of garlic, onions, avocadoes and tomatoes.In the loose part of the large box went the dry goods: long life milk and Illy coffee for breakfast, flour and yeast for the bread rolls that I made en route (with foraged sweet white clover) and cooked over coals, a small bottle of olive oil, ditto white wine vinegar, a small jar of salt, a larger one of sugar (we used the very last spoonful on the very last day), a baby pepper mill, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, crackers, custard for the Frenchman and tonic for our sundowners.And nothing could rattle while we drove over rough roads. I hate rattling.In a small coolbag with some dry ice went the fresh lettuce - an iceberg hybrid that looks like romaine, an excellent traveller. Rosemary and marjoram from the garden in a ziplock bag with a damp paper towel, red cabbage (indestructible), tiny cucumbers, hearty brown bread, butter and cheese.One serious cooler held our main course supplies, frozen, with dry ice - and kept frozen overnight at every stop (we stayed in SANParks - South African National Parks - bungalows all the way, except for our last night). Lamb, lamb, and lamb. In various forms.Almost every meal was cooked over the red coals of a fire, to the tune of a thundering Indian Ocean surf, rumbling, browsing elephants, the evening song of fiery necked nightjars in Eastern Cape thickets, and the caterwauling of jackals, high in the dryness and red dust of the Northern Cape.South Africa is a country of magnificent landscapes and wild geographical and climactic contrasts, and we packed a kaleidoscope into a week and just under 3,000 kilometers.I no longer take the ability to remember anything for granted. But while we have them, these memories will be sustenance. Ballast for bad times where the noise from upstairs makes Brooklyn nights impossible to sleep through. Antidotes for days when barking dogs and blaring horns and entitled white folk (at least where we live) believe their world is the only one.Something to savor when we talk about what life can really be like.[...]



A late African spring

2017-10-04T16:58:54.164-04:00

Sparaxis elegans, an indigenous spring flower, is blooming in drifts near my parents' house in the greenbelt - a green and public right of way - that shoulders their property. For the most part, exotic and invasive plants are making life difficult for the native flora that should thrive, here, but the sparaxis plants are toughing it out, dogs and foot traffic notwithstanding. The tree is the background is a pear in blossom, a possible relic of old farmland.The Frenchman and I went for a walk here soon after landing. I spent my days in this pretty green place in my early teenage-hood, stalking tadpoles and watercress, walking with our own dogs, sometimes followed by a cat (Garfunkle, black and white, who often shouted for me to slow down).It is late spring in Cape Town. The equivalent of early May in New York City. Leaves are new, grasses are beginning to flower.We met a group of American tourists being guided along the path. We saw two Cape chameleons having a fight, and a third on the tree where we often see many. Small girls rode horses, and our own corgis overtook us even though we had not invited them along: they went out walking with my dad, who sits on a bench here for a long time and looks at things. He was surprised but happy to see us. He forgets most newly acquired facts. The surprises of vascular dementia.Roses ramble up the outside of the living wall that hedges my parents' garden. They were planted decades ago and fend for themselves.My friend Don identified this tree - Diospyros whyteana, a South African species of persimmon, commonly called bladder nut. I had never seen it in bloom, before. My mom has three in front of the house, looser limbed, and I still did not recognize it.And higher up, where very few humans and dogs walk, statuesque Wachendorfia thyrsiflora. Soon, we leave on a little roadtrip, following the south coast to the Eastern Cape, and then straight up north through the Karoo and into the Northern Cape, before doubling back to Cape Town._______________________Book a Fall Forage Walk[...]



How to grow a Thai lime

2017-09-28T11:05:01.492-04:00


I brought my Thai limes indoors for the winter a couple of days ago, when the heat was steaming in the garden, the striped Asian mosquitoes were biting and September felt like July. It felt mad.

Today, cool, dry air has arrived. Thank you, weather.

You can read all about how to grow Thai limes (and the complications of their names) in my story for Gardenista.

The Frenchman and I are Cape Town-bound soon, and the next posts might be from another hemisphere. If you would like to join me on a fall forage walk back in NYC, see the link below for one in Green-Wood and another in Prospect Park, in November.

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Back to the garden

2017-09-20T22:57:21.073-04:00


I have been trying to redress the wrongs of months of minimal gardening.

On Monday I turned in the manuscript of Forage, Harvest, Feast - the new book that I have been working on for, oh, some time, now. Until I see it again, after the first round of editing, I get to do the things for which there has been no time. I have missed gardening.

Today I pulled out some crazy damn morning glories and hacked back dead things and cut back nettles (allowed to grow but setting seed), calamintha and agastache. I pulled dahlias and transplanted hordes of volunteering thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana). If you need a plant that gives back, that's the one. And I planted cool weather edibles even though the tropical storm weather has brought humidity back after some freakishly autumnal and clear August weeks.

The mosquitoes were still biting. The striped, daytime invaders. But I hope that when I return from South Africa at the end of October I will find peas, and arugula and bok choy and lettuces in the vegetable patch And no more mosquitoes.

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Fresh ginger

2017-09-15T11:51:00.721-04:00


Every morning I spend about 10 minutes in the garden with a cup of coffee, looking at things and watering. Then I go back in and work. I have missed gardening as the new book has taken over my life. But today I had a good excuse: I needed fresh ginger for a recipe I was working on. The leaves in the two troughs nearest the house (where my Thai basil forest and curcumin also grow) are looking healthy and I could see the pale new rhizomes pushing out of the soil.


If you are used to tough, store bought ginger, as I am, fresh ginger is unbelievably beautiful.

I planted rhizomes that had begun to show small pale new sprouts (no leaves, just swellings), well after the last frost date, once nights were reliably above 50'F. These troughs have a couple of morning hours of sun for May, June and July, and right now they are in complete shade again.


The pink at the base of the culm (the botanical name for a grass stem) is gorgeous. The skin is transparently thin, and simply disappeared as I microplaned it into a filling for dumplings.

Next year I will plant more ( I think I said that last year...).

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Who dat?

2017-09-03T17:41:39.312-04:00


At the stroke of midnight, as September arrived, an early autumn settled on the city. Also, the cricket (yes, there is only one) began singing.

August was absurd, in the best way, with low temperatures and air that did not feel like a suffocatingly wet, hot blanket. This is the first year where I never actually packed our duvet away. There were a few stifling nights this summer, but only a handful.

Then yesterday,  I heard a new sound in the garden. A sort of chip! chip! - like a cardinal with a cough. Later, as I worked at my laptop at my desk, which is really the dining table, I saw this little bird.


I love the fall migrants. Often tiny, somehow very at home and confident in a new place, but also unbearably fragile. They travel so far (and yes, you can read a lot into that). And to find them resting in a green space you have made is like a small blessing (not a word I use, easily - it is so overused and has become trite).


The photos are bad because they are taken through double glazed windows, and a set of wrought iron burglar bars, but I watched him/her for a long time, busily chasing down tiny insects, always remaining under the cover of leaves and flitting about beneath the plants. And s/he is still here today, bustling about in the rear of the garden.

Yet to identify the bird. Tell me if you know.

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Autumn Wilds Foods Walk

2017-09-29T19:28:36.051-04:00

Green-Wood Ramble5 November 201712pm - 3pm$45THIS WALK IS SOLD OUTJoin me on an autumn ramble and picnic in the wooded hills and dales of beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, where some of New York's most impressive trees grow. While we will be identifying everything botanically edible as we walk, this is also a chance to explore one of the most serene places in the city. While every year is unique in its timing, and leaf color and leaf drop will vary, Green-Wood is one of the best places to appreciate the changing season without leaving the city.Green-Wood is home not only to Leonard Bernstein, but to mushrooms and acorns, beech nuts and sheep sorrel. I'm not promising mushrooms, just saying: You never know. If the conditions are right we may chance upon some late hen of the woods....and maybe a persimmon or two. The park-like space is also the refuge of New Yorkers like ground hogs, raccoons and opossums....and birds still making their way south. Green-Wood is a popular refueling and resting station.And of course, there are the famous parrots. We will share a fall picnic of seasonal, wild inspired snacks which may include hen of the woods pâté, mugwort shortbread and persimmon spice cakes. And a cordial from a very good cordial-making year.More info and meet up details will be sent to you in the week before the walk. Attendance is limited. See you in the fall![...]