Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The garden as antidote

The Gowanus Garden. Unofficial name. I have admired it for very many of my Brooklyn years. Nearly ten years ago Anne Raver wrote a wonderful piece about this tenacious garden on Union Street and she quoted me - I used big words: insurrection! Juxtaposition! I had been smitten by the riot of recent flowers. It was my first conversation with The New York Times. Later she wrote about our Harlem garden, and inbetween there was - notoriously - the Litter Mob article (remember the Litter Mob?) and also the flattering and lovely Cobble Hill terrace (and really the Frenchman-and-Marie) story, by Penelope Green.

The wheels turn. Some of them squeak. A lot.

Kirstin, the garden's creatrix, and I, became friends. I wrote another story about the Gowanus Garden, for Gardenista (visit the link for very nice pictures through the seasons). She and her husband David live just a few blocks from us. David is the source of unexpected and inspiring edible gifts. He'll arrive at the door with some acorn flour. Or a brace of grouse. Plucked woodcock.

Today, I began my day with a garden design - also for a neighborhood garden, and later a break in my afternoon laundry chore (the washing machines were churning and I had 25 minutes to spare), I charged to Whole Foods on my bicycle. I chose Union Street. The Gowanus Canal was misty, the tide high, and the bubbling white water spewing out anonymously at one poisoned end very sudsy, like our clothes. And just after the drawbridge, Kirstin's garden made me late. I stopped, and had a good look. Its edges were newly and neatly roped off, perennials cut back, daffodils in bloom, dianthus in bud.

The two lilacs are just thinking about opening.

The night's rain had cleaned the clever wine bottle retaining walls.

The daffodils are perhaps Mt. Hood. I must ask.

There is so much bad stuff going on; in the big world, in the world of family and friends' lives, in our own personal lives, that these small pauses in the ugliness are like a counter measure. A not-insignificant wall being held up to the evils of illness, or malice, or toxic indifference. These acts of beauty are the eloquent and botanical fuck you to the behavior or circumstances that can make life feel unbearable.

Inhale them while you can. Then pedal on.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Bowl of sunshine

I spent some hours in the woods of Brooklyn. Trees, buds, birds. Forest bathing is a new term for an old thing: immersing yourself in nature to heal.

In New York, with all its steel and concrete, it is always possible to find a quiet and wild spot where you see few humans, more birds, and lots of plants. The trees are thinking about leafing out, but are still bare. Buds are breaking. Early cherries are in bloom. So are lovely Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica). And lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is rioting across woodland floors. It is very pretty but destructively invasive, making life impossible for less aggressive native plants. So I picked a huge bunch with a conveniently clear conscience.

The presence of hermit thrushes and flycatchers, warblers and robins, and ever-present chattering blue jays and cardinals was constant and companionable.

I cycled home much happier than I had left.

Some of the lesser celandine flowers will become bright ice cubes for our Backyard Cocktails gathering this Tuesday, and others will help fill rice wrappered summer rolls for this Sunday's fully booked walk in Inwood, which I am looking forward to very much. There will be new people to meet, as well as returning friends, and we will all share a green New York adventure.

Thank you spring, for arriving. You took your time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The sound of spring - a song of life and death

March 2018

Eeeeeeeeeeeee, wheeeeeee, whrrrrrrrrrr, vvvvvvvvvv, ghghghgh, merde!

Ah, the sound of a metal drill bit meeting heart of oak. Performance by Frenchman. Along with the song of the American robin, newly returned and caroling from the rooftops well past dusk, it is a true sign of spring.

This is the late winter, early spring garden. It is drab. It looks sad. Without distracting foliage the poured concrete slab dominates. And the legs of the townhouse's fire escape always get in the way of pictures from the kitchen door. But that is a year-round problem.

July 2017

Our garden table is used often in nice weather - mid spring to late fall. We eat outside every night. It's hard to remember that, after months of winter, when we live indoors with the warm light of lamps.

I bought the table on Etsy soon after we moved into our new apartment, two-and-a-half years ago. It was made to order from reclaimed oak and shipped from the hinterland. I had fallen in love with the advertised pictures, but when a progress-picture of the new table was sent it revealed six legs. Six legs! Not four. Apparently the advertised table also had six but they were successfully hidden by surrounding chairs. I hated it. The proportions were all wrong. It looked like a long low animal, or an amputated centipede. I squeaked. The very responsive Etsy vendor replied at once that it could be fixed and the offending middle legs were removed and the middle reinforced. He said it would be fine as long as I did not stand on it. I have not stood on it. And actually that aspect has held up fairly well. What has not done well is the planks on top, which have been warping and lifting up, the wood levitating from the slender nails.

March 2018

The table is out in all weathers, of course - sun, rain, snow. But that was made clear before I placed my order. The same vendor sent us replacement planks at no cost. I am sure this table cost them more than they made, in the end. But I also think this might have been a work in progress for them and a costly lesson in...something. Don't deal with New Yorkers? I absolutely cannot fault their customer service. Their tables would be best protected from weather.

Anyway. So it was time to replace the middle two planks, and this the Frenchman did, killing a drill bit in the process. The wood is truly hard. He has been using screws that hold the wood better than nails.

So, spring. On its way. Even though it snowed on April 2nd and will snow again on April 7th!

Also on their way to our door are a finger lime from California and myoga (Zingiber mioga - Japanese ginger) I ordered from Oregon. I have loved growing ginger as an annual crop and am hopeful that myoga will be winter hardy in a large pot. I am after its flower buds, a delicacy. A person can dream... But a girl who came on one of my foraging walks told me she grows myoga on a Manhattan terrace. So.

Last year's edible Asian experiment (also from Oregon, maybe that should tell me something) crashed and burned, or sank and sogged: my wasabi plants are toast (mush). I decided to leave them in their pot outdoors, covered by mulch and protected near the house. But they succumbed. I knew the risk was very high but had to take it for the sake of accurate reporting. Oh, dear.

RIP - August 2017

Also toast-mush? My pineapple lilies (Eucomis) that I left in pots, mulched and covered with clear plastic to stop snow from slowly rotting them. They rotted anyway. Allegedly hardy to USDA Zone 7. That's us. But they are not hardy for me in pots. Would they have fared better in-ground? We had killer low temperatures (below 0'F) in January. Fortunately I lifted some and they are fine in the fridge's crisper drawer. Another lesson learned. Call me your Horticultural Guinea Pig.

Along with the robin, yesterday I spotted a wood thrush in the garden - very exciting. First time. Rooting around near a pile of brush I have created to attract insects. It's a backpackers' version of an insect hotel (has anyone ever seen an insect in an insect hotel?). And after a brief return, Gordita the eastern towhee has disappeared again. Damn. She was funny - fat and unafraid, unlike the stupid sparrows who still fly away as though I was an axe murderer. I feed you, you idiots. Untrainable.

What is the sound of your spring?


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Forage, Harvest, Feast

Forage, Harvest, Feast, has a cover! And you may now pre-order it on Amazon. It is wonderful to have a visual reference at last for the reams and reams of pages, and the very long and intense process that is the making of a real book on real paper. And the publish date is August 26th, with pre-ordering beginning some weeks, earlier.

The cover features one of the simplest recipes in the pages of Forage, Harvest, Feast - a spicy couscous salad with mid-spring fixings: sweet, crunchy black locust blossoms (Robinia pseudoacacia - native to North America and abundant in Europe, where it is called acacia; I have even seen it in bloom in Cape Town) and tart greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia) shoots. Both plants occur all over New York (we will spot greenbriar on April 22nd's Inwood Hill Park walk - there are a few spots left).

You can read more about the book and what to expect from its 485-ish recipes on the Forage, Harvest, Feast website (a work in progress that will soon be a fully fledged wild foods site).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Follow the red bird

Someone is ready for spring. I think he is telling me that I better take the lily bulbs out of the fridge's crisper drawer and plant them, already.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Life, indoors

The current bedroom situation: trees. Small, but subtropical, and all looking forward to being outdoors, again. They will have to wait for May, and nights above 50'F.

The Thai limes (windowsills) are doing well - the smaller one on the right is packed with flowers and tiny fruit. The one on the left sheds most of its fruit. Don't know why. They each receive eight cups of water a week, at the moment. In midwinter it was every two weeks - things change. The curry leaf trees (table) have settled after feeling unhappy for a while and are no longer dropping leaves. The new Meyer lemon (bottom left) is hanging in there. The cardamon (floor below table) is fine and I cut its leaves often to perfume supper. Seeds under grow lights are thinking about it, hard. The lamps are cheap Ikea, the grow light bulbs are Amazon-ordered.

Above the disco-pink lights? My friend Willemien de Villier's amazing work (prints of her embroidery) at last framed and hung. You can find her on Instagram.

I am waiting for a finger lime to arrive in the mail (isn't Internet tree shopping incredible?), and must check on its progress. The shippers were waiting for temperatures to climb above freezing before sending it.

Soon, it will be April, and spring will shift into a serious working gear.  If I am not here (mostly, I am not, just because of time - I'd like more!), I am @66squarefeet on Instagram. A tiny daily post shows what is happening in this neck of the botanical-edible-foraging woods...


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March is holding its breath

March is doing its usual thing. On again, off again. Snow, warm spell, slush, freeze, sun, rain. I like it.

And when there is a sale on daffodils, you jump on it. Buy them in tight bud. They do not last long.

Behind the daffodils, now very scented,  is my multi-stage, work-in-progress lemon syrup. Meyer lemons and sugar in equal weight. No water. The sugar draws the juice out. And then I added fir twigs, still green and fresh and fragrant, and after that, foraged juniper berries and juniper flowers. When it seems right I will strain it and bottle it.

The juniper in question is Juniperus virginiana, commonly known as eastern red cedar, and I found these trees along the Hudson, on a drive upstate. Some carried last year's fruit, some were in bud, with pollen about to burst - it is very aromatic.

Update: You can see the bubbly fermentation a few days later on Instagram.

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