Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer living

The bean screen is in full swing. New tendrils tilt skywards and every morning I twine them around their wires. The more leaves the fewer windows we see, when sitting outside at night. The purple runner beans have even begun to make tiny-tiny beans.

Suppers are outdoors most nights.

This evening we ate a wild summer herb: American burnweed (Erechtites hieraciifolius, see image below). It is virtually unknown, in the eating world. It grows tall in wasteland and woodland at this time of year.I stumbled across it in 2012 and gave been playing with it every summer since.

It is pungent, the smell reminiscent of lime skin and of cilantro, and of neither. The older leaves are bitter. I like it with the strong flavours of soy, lime, garlic, lemongrass. It would also be good as a foil for sushi, the way shiso is used. This salad was made with terrace herbs: shiso, Thai and purple basil, nasturtium, cilantro - each assertive. The dressing was sesame oil and lime, with a little sugar and black soy sauce. And those are our own favas. One whole handful!

Pine Ridge Chenin blanc-Viognier. Dry but very fruity, perfect for bold food.


                        Book a Botanical Summer Walk

Saturday, June 27, 2015

You like it? Use it!

My editor asked me to sneak around Cape Town to steal some ideas for Gardenista....

Read the story in the link:  11 Garden Ideas to Steal from Cape Town. 

(Two of the gardens pictured - one is above, also where the kitty lives) were open to the public last November, for Open Gardens Constantia, held every two years to raise money for two Cape Town NGO's that teach people in underserved local communities to garden and to grow food for home use and for profit.)


Friday, June 26, 2015

The day of the rainbow

Better late than never. 

Sometimes, there is good news.

Marriage equality. 

In South Africa gay marriage was legalized in 2006. 

A big rainbow hug to all our gay American friends.

A big kiss for the activists and quiet fighters who made it happen.

And a steadfast wish that discrimination everywhere will find an end.

(Now, do I have what it takes to make a rainbow cocktail?)


                        Book a Botanical Summer Walk

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Northeastern botanicals, bottled

This month's project is one that could last a lifetime, and travel wherever we go.

I like vermouth. It is mild enough to drink on its own, and very good to mix into cocktails. I heard that Kobus van der Merwe was tinkering with local flavours in South Africa to create a Strandveld vermouth, and that made me think. And read. A lot. Creating commercial vermouth sounds fascinating. A blend of white wines, about 20 herbs and spices, fortifying with spirit infusions, which are then distilled again, infusing the white wine itself, then aging the mixture in barrels that are left in the sun for a year.


Over the last several years I have played with local flavours, infusing them simply, and cooking, sometimes not so simply; and some indigenes stand out: spicebush, bayberry, sumac, sweetfern. Then there is mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) - not local, but abundant. And in France it is not vermouth unless it includes Artemisia. By law.

I started steeping, and cooking and infusing. Even the terrace contributed herbs.

The result is pink, tinted by the raspberry-spirit infusion, the deep yellow of the spicebush and the green of mugwort and bayberry. And maybe the pink peppercorns played  a part. Since I don't have a still, I could not clear the liquid via a second distillation. Pink it will remain.

I find it appealing. The wildcard is the spicebush, which needs to be kept in check, but the mugwort is an excellent base note. Now that I have an acceptable version there will be many experiments.

A taste of place.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brooklyn Bridge Park Walk

Monarda (bee balm)

Due to incoming storms, June 23's wild foods walk has been re-scheduled for next Tuesday.

30 June 2015, 5pm - 7pm
Brooklyn Bridge Park evening stroll

On a stroll from Pier 1 to Pier 6, come and discover the wild edible plantings of Brooklyn's most botanically rich and Northeast-native inclined park. It has the best view in New York, too.

Beyond the bog

Sassafras and blueberries, cattails and spicebush, bayberry and sweetfern, sumac and sweet serviceberries (pie recipe in  66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life), here is an outdoor classroom that allows us to spot and identify a wealth of indigenous wild edibles.

Afterwards there will be a botanical tipple or two.

We meet in the park at 5pm at Pier 6, at the extremity of Atlantic Avenue, see map link: look for green markers.

The closest subway is at Borough Hall, a 15 minute walk away.

The walk will end on the lawns at Pier 1, where we will enjoy our snack and botanical cocktails. From there you can walk to York Street or Clark Street subways, or go on to dinner at Vinegar Hill  in Dumbo.

To Book:


Monday, June 22, 2015

City terrace life

It has been a busy week, so a little terrace catch-up is in order:

On our terrace, the (surviving) blueberries are fat I eat a handful every morning.

I have also worked out why two of the bushes have not been very happy. The good news is: It is not. My. Fault. But a Union Square market seller deserves a kick in the pants: the bushes were field-dug so that the main roots were cut off. I discovered this only when I transplanted two ailing bushes to 'hospital' pots on a cooler part of the terrace, recently. After winter's attrition the surrounding soil fell away, and the original root ball was exposed - tiny, and a perfect, shallow half circle, with those fat severed roots sticking out like amputated limbs. Someone dug them last year with no concern whatsoever for their future well-being, put them in a pot with clay and sold them. I did not remove all the clay when I planted them out last year, but now it had worked off and the truth was exposed. I am guessing that they might have been older shrubs past peak bearing age. No wonder they were so cheap.

Blueberries dislike having the roots disturbed at all. No new feeder roots formed and I'm surprised they last as long as they did.

But the happy ones? Are happy.

I have eaten most of the black raspberries. Slurp. It was so humid on Saturday morning that my lens fogged up, above. They were in peak ripeness over the weekend, which was excellent timing, as they had several visitors last week, bearing notebooks and cameras. We met and fed the lovely Lucy Anna Scott and photographer Jon Cardwell, who are collaborating on a book called My Tiny Garden. Lucy is the author of Lost in London, almost an English cousin to 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life, each exploring the green underbellies of their respective cities.

We had a terrace supper of fava bean and garlic scape bruschetta, bagna cauda, fire-grilled lamb in sour cream with terrace oregano (above, and recipe in my book), grilled scallions, and cherry clafoutis to end. It was a good night, crowned by a firefly's light.

In other news, the beans are beaning, and screening.

And the scarlet runners are already in bloom.

Every recent evening, when we sit down to dinner, a bumblebee visits the southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia, a spring acquisition - indigenous up and down the East Coast).

And last night I strained and filtered the orange wine - above - that I had made the day I learned that Roger Vergé had died. The recipe is in his Entertaining in the French Style, a book whose spirit is part of me.

 The infused wine was very good, but had a kick like an angry ostrich. Treat it as the aperitif he suggests or cut it with some sparkling water. VergĂ©'s is fortified with cognac, but I made do with a raspberry infused vodka, and a lot less sugar than he prescribes. The other ingredients are bitter oranges, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper (I have been tinkering at a Northeastern-inspired vermouth recipe over the weekend, so infusions are very much part of the late June house).

Last night's Caprese salad was with grilled red peppers (skins removed), Wisconsin burrata, terrace basil and a slick of melted anchovies.

So that was that.

Tomorrow's wild foods walk is in Brooklyn Bridge Park, if it does not thunderstorm on us. I'll be packing a recent wildflower infusion, something serviceberry-ish, and possibly a bottle of bubbles.


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Saturday, June 20, 2015


The bedroom in late afternoon light, before dinner is taken out to the terrace.

The blooming of the bare root rose, after rain.

Sweet melon and salty prosciutto.


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