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



Updated: 2017-12-11T11:34:57.479-05:00

 



Christmas giveaway winners!

2017-12-10T23:19:54.428-05:00

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 a good resource for readers who only forage online is fantastic. If you don't like my choice of four (but you should!), you may instead choose four other spices from their selection using a code that will be provided.5.  Greenhook Ginsmiths make my favourite dry g[...]



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

2017-11-28T16:50:26.776-05:00

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 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 sainted roosterkoek of memory and possibly microwaved. But enough to fill the hole that memory had made.But 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 and brown, with white highlights. The last time we had driven through this part of the country, in the middle of summer, it had been green. There is never much rain, here, but when there is the veld responds, fast.Near every roadside cellphone tower I indulged in roaming data (free with our cellphone plan) and enjoyed my Instagram feed before it blinked out into the vast disconnect, again.We both like roads, because we both like driving. And roads to me are a sign, too, of a country's health. They 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 suffers from what I assume must be poor leadership. Nowhere was there a genuinely friendly person* to direct or welcome us, and after an entrance boom was dropped on our car's roof at a gate the indifference and lack of professionalism could not have been louder. We were [...]



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.

________






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 were headed in the right direction.[...]



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.

_____________________






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.

______________________







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...).

______________________




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.

______________________






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![...]



The red and black ones

2017-08-26T12:19:38.658-04:00


Almost every morning, when I sneak into the garden with my coffee before sitting down to work, a monarch greets me. The Joe Pye weed offers plenty of nectar. And at six feet tall is bordering on unruly. I need a meadow.


They visit the common milkweed in the vegetable plot, and seem very restless, rarely settling for long.


And yes, the distinctive milkweed bugs did arrive. I don't who told them there was milkweed, here. Oncopeltus fasciatus, apparently harmless, so I leave them be. This one is sitting on the pods of Asclepias incarnata, growing in a pot.

In September I will be cutting the common milkweed back, very carefully. Those stems also rose to five and six feet, and happen to be planted over the row of diminutive saffron crocus, whose flowers should be emerging in late autumn. I am not sure if being shaded by the milkweed all summer (when the saffron is dormant) will have hurt, or not. Last year they produced enough saffron for one pot of bouillabaisse, which I thought was quite exciting.

I might order more.




Hot roots

2017-08-22T11:10:56.571-04:00



I grew horseradish for the first time, this year. It arrived from Johnny's Seeds (in the company of several seed packets whose contents failed to germinate altogether - I don't think it was Johnny's fault, but it was frustrating) in March. I planted it in long holes, dug at an angle. It took months to show signs of life.


But all five roots sprouted, and there they are, looking uncannily like yellow dock (Rumex crispus). I think we will be able to harvest some, conservatively, late in the year. Or perhaps I should save them, for next early spring, which is when the fat, rude rude roots start showing up in local stores for Passover. I can't help blushing when I pick one up (each one has two balls, plus, er...you you know). You harvest them by cutting of the large root and saving the side roots for replanting. Left too long they become gnarly and fibrous. All this is theoretical knowledge, for me, clearly.

Freshly grated horseradish is one of our favourite condiments, eaten raw, its sting going straight up the nose, rather than down the throat.





August in bloom

2017-08-15T13:20:48.238-04:00

A quick peak at what the garden is doing. In the potted section, one of the best things right now, and for weeks past, has been the pineapple lilies. I have never grown Eucomis, before. My mom has them in her Constantia garden and they are native to the grasslands of South Africa's summer rainfall regions. This is Eucomis autumnalis, and it has been in bloom for eight weeks.Much slower to begin blooming, which is good, because its season will be longer, is Eucomis 'Leia.' I will have to lift the bulbs for winter and store them in the longsuffering fridge (the Frenchman never knows what is going to attack him when he opens its door).These are also a happy surprise. I have never grown dahlias before, either. I had no idea what to expect and thought they would bloom only late in the season, but this is 'Nuit d 'été' and it has been flowering since early June. The plants dislike very hot weather and the blooms shrivel in response, but we have been having a really mild August and they are thriving again. Thirsty plants. I water daily.The pineapple lilies and dahlias above came from Brent and Becky's, ordered in February when one is grasping at horticultural straws and prone to shopper's remorse. But both are so healthy and long-blooming that I will get more, next year.These little dahlias came from Lowe's. I ignore them in the side beds at the back of the garden and they keep on flowering. In general I cannot recommend bulbs from the giant emporium - they are mostly in terrible shape and stored for weeks in hot conditions so that they either wither or sprout and are not viable when you plant them. The dahlias made it.The heuchera that keeps making more. I have lost track of its offspring. Low maintenance and drought tolerant and flowering late in the growing year,  I find it prefers being dry and squeezed in its pots. This plant (Heuchera villosa) and its children have moved all over New York with us.The curry leaf trees that overwintered unhappily indoors are thriving, outside.Inside their bird netting the figs are ripening, at last.And there is a precious collection of makrut (Citrus hystrix) fruit. I hope they ripen, but it will be indoors, if they do. The skin is intensely aromatic. One tree is flowering and fruiting, while the larger one is not. It's odd. I use the leaves for drinks and cooking.In wild foods cookbook news: I have reached the final lap: four weeks until deadline. I am now on the photo phase (choosing, editing). The manuscript itself stands at 142,000 words and change. There are still some more recipes to add, test and shoot. Today's testing includes a raised pie with elderberries and a spiced pawpaw bread.[...]



The good things

2017-08-07T00:09:11.619-04:00


This is a new cocktail I shook up with a fermented elderberry syrup (sweet, sour, lightly alcoholic), rum and early summer's honeysuckle cordial. It's not as sweet as it sounds. And elderberries are very interesting.

Name suggestions?

The glass is resting on my friend Stephen Orr's really good and very beautiful book, The New American Herbal (no the drink did not sweat on the book). I love dipping into it when I take a break from my own plants.

The parts of the weekend you do not see are the meltdown, the hair pulling and the gnashing of teeth. I was a little overwhelmed by the work still to do on my book, and then a serious camera glitch pushed me right over the edge.

The Frenchman weathered it, somehow. He also quietly ensured that within 24 hours a brand new camera was not only bought but delivered to the front door (the 21st century is magical in this way). Then he did the laundry, put it away, made the bed, bought two nights of dinners and cleaned the kitchen.

Now that. Is a husband. I feel quite small.

After the meltdown I made black cherry ketchup, elderberry soup and wrote 6,000 words.

Then we ate Trader Joe's pizza, and watched possums.







Sit down. It's supper time.

2017-08-01T00:06:14.757-04:00


July has ended.

Days are full. Very. Very full.

Evening is a pause. Stop. Breathe. Sip. Talk. Watch for possums (we have a baby again - tonight, after inspecting the garden, it walked on the wires, high above the back of the garden, with great confidence).

And now it is August. Five weeks until I meet a book deadline. With life insisting on happening, inbetween.

But we will always have supper.





Backlit Saucisson

2017-07-27T18:40:34.669-04:00



Sorry, folks, this is a (not very) secret message. Regular programming will resume shortly.

(And sometimes a saucisson is just a saucisson. No bad puns, here)



The monarchs are here!

2017-07-23T11:29:29.284-04:00

I walked into the garden a few days ago and saw...monarchs on the milkweed! Plant it and they will come. This is very gratifying.The species above is Asclepias incarnata - swamp milkweed. I planted it first in Harlem and it moved with us. It is growing in-ground and is much less vigorous than Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed, the one I also eat), and I recently planted another in a large pot. This is an easier milkweed to control, if you are a neat gardener.This smaller butterfly is on the common milkweed, which was planted late in spring 2016 and which came back very strongly this year. And not exactly where I was expecting it, either. If you have spreading anxiety in a very orderly garden, I recommend using a planting barrier under ground as a medium term control. I am not sure how it would work, long term. The runners are vigorous and shoots will appear many feet from the parent plant. Ideally, plant it in a wilder section or in a meadow. The pollinators - many kinds - will love you. Or, my top soapbox suggestion: Grow it as a farm crop. Because you can eat the shoots, young stems, tender leaves, buds, flowers and pods.Or plant a different milkweed.And this one is on the common milkweed pods. I may squeal with excitement if I ever see a caterpillar or even better, a jewel-like and green cocoon.They also stopped on the Ligularia. (The milkweed is where they lay their eggs.)[...]



It's been ten years...

2017-07-19T21:56:46.161-04:00


Early evening. One of my favorite times of day.

Two anniversaries: I started writing this blog in 2007. It is ten years old. In Internet terms that is about 1,000! It grew from my first not very good photos, taken with a series of small, much loved Canon point and shoots. Hi tech, in those days. But these pocket sized creatures led to an almost obsessive interest in digital documentation and to a level of confidence I had never felt until then. The cameras were somehow a screen and filter, letting me move through the world without worrying as much about what it thought of me. I created the blog in a year that had begun very badly for me, where I was so despondent that I was prescribed anti depressants by a shrink who should have known better (he said he would not treat me if I was not on them. I never went back and ditched the pills after four weeks - I'm not saying they are not important for some people, but they were not what I needed, then. I needed someone to listen). A few weeks later I began to write.

My interest in photography led, a couple of months after I began blogging, to the Frenchman, who was waiting and waving at me from the west coast of this huge continent, in Vancouver, BC. Our July emails set off an electrical storm that culminated in his touchdown at Newark Liberty International that September. Four months later we were married.

I know. It's an old story. But I like telling it.

This blog, and its offshoots, on Facebook and now evolving on Instagram, led to new friendships, locally and across the globe, and these have enriched my life in innumerable ways, personally and professionally. My work changed, my skills improved, I was and remain challenged and inspired by what comes to me via 66 Square Feet.

Happy birthday, blog. You saved me.





Summer Tangle

2017-07-14T15:07:16.850-04:00



From the depths of the thicket...



The time of the lilies

2017-07-09T13:22:47.447-04:00

The day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva, the orange ones on the left) have just come to and end. We ate quite a lot of them! Very helpful for recipe testing. Now the Nicotiana mutabilis and agastache are flanking the big flush of July trumpet lilies.  On the right are 'Summer Palace' not liking the New York heat and humidity, I suspect. Their promised pink is quite washed out. June belonged to the elegant Lilium 'Regale' and also to the pure white Formosas (some are still blooming in pots)  - the latter were hit hardest by our early spring freeze and only a few survived. 'Silk Road', so disdained the first time I received it as a bonus bulb from the peerless Lily Garden in Washington state, is now the flower I will always associate with my New York gardens. Our lease has just been renewed for another year (I was holding my breath), but there will be other gardens. Who knows where.'Silk Road' is tough and striking and reliable and tall.And she smells good.These, above, are about six feet three inches tall.The agastache escort. The delicate turks caps of 'Madam Butterfly' are lovely. I should have planted them in pots, I think, as they are a bit lost in the jungle of the side beds.And echinacea - this one a gift, now well established, from either Kirstin or Julia, both neighborhood friends with green fingers.These are...what? They have 'Ice Caves' written all over them but emailed orders yield no confirmation; I am going to have to scratch through my saved printed invoices to check. And 'Silver Scheherazade.' Tall and late blooming and needing some staking.Like me.[...]