Monday, September 1, 2014

Catskills retreat


We drove northwest for a couple of hours. And we stayed a couple of hours. A couple of days would have been ideal; we love this part of the Catskills. 

But we squeezed out what we could. Stopping in tiny Grahamsville I popped into the impressive local museum for a bathroom break. Inside is an interactive exhibit about the water that is led from the Catskills to thirsty New York City - "Tunnels, Toil and Trouble " - worth a visit. In the small shop I bought a biography of John Burroughs, a Catskills man, author, nature essayist and source of dozens of pocket quotes."To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday..."  


The path we had taken yesterday was the road I had last seen in early spring when the trees were bare and the ditches were all leaf litter, dry gravel and the leggy stalks of colstfoot. It had been transformed into a jungling green. Those round leaves belong to the same - Tussilago farfara.


The stream that Vince loves and has photographed in yellow fall and icy April was shaded in brilliant green and a foot or so lower than earlier in the spring.


It was the last weekend of the American summer and we expected this round pool to be packed, but only three men came by, sank one by one into the freezing water, chattered at me as I read my new book, threatened jokingly to skinny dip (they stopped pretty fast when Vince appeared a few minutes later from the trees with the picnic) and then left, shivering and slipping a little on the rocks. I was chilly in my T-shirt.


Fall was apparent not in the leaves, but in the flowers. Asters, everywhere.


I'm not sure what the plant was above - I was sure it was escaped oregano, but it smelled wrong, more minty, and I did not take pictures of the leaves. 


Solidago (golden rod) and asters crowded the narrow verges of the mountain road...


 ...with forests of beautiful jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).


Blackberries dripped from canes suspended from tree branches.


Up here there are still thimbleberries (Rubus odoratus, an indigenous shrub with rose-like flowers; also called purple flowering raspberry).


And rowan berries, or mountain ash, Sorbus americana, a native. Source them at a native nursery and plant them in your garden. Good for birds and people. 


Pass on this one. Creepy doll's eyes on their optic nerve stalks. Actaea pachypodia's spring flower is very pretty, white and fluffy and smells like sweet lemons. The berries will make you veeeeeeeery sick. But a lovely Northeast perennial for a garden with dappled sunlight.


At this point the local sheriff pulled up beside us. He didn't like his narrow road being obstructed by a Zipcar, but was friendly enough. So we moved on and lower into the flatter lands and fields, where I spotted the one fruit I did stop to pick: autumn berry, or autumn olive - Elaeagnus umbellata. (Here's my essay about autumn olives, and what to do with them,  for Edible Manhattan.)


They are super-invaders. So no guilty conscience, there. The ripest fruits taste a little like red currants. I love them. See the tiny silver speckles? Makes them easy to identify. The pale undersides of the leaves gives the trees a silvery-grey appearance from a distance. This could easily be a commercial crop - but I have never seen them sold at market. Have you?

So, that was the day's holiday. The Frenchman is laboring on Labor Day, and I will spend the day thinking about how impossible it is that it is already September.

My first wild edibles walk of the first fall month is next Sunday, the 7th, in Inwood Hill Park. We'll see how New York City's flora compares to the wilds north of us. I'm hoping some rain this week may raise mushrooms.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mushroom dinner


When I was very little my father and I found mushrooms like these growing under the barbed wire fence on the koppie over the road from our house. The land on the other side of the fence belonged to the state president. But we figured the mushrooms belonged to us. My mother said they were horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis) and cooked them for my father's supper. But we didn't eat any. Just in case, she told me, years later.

Occasionally I see perfect large brown mushrooms in local supermarkets. These were at Best Yet, on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Delivery seems to be once a week and if you hit them on the right day they are perfect - six inches wide and plump with moisture. Six days later the same poor shrooms lie wizened and gasping and ignored.

We ate these filled with an old fashioned combination of garlic, breadcrumbs, fennel and parsley, with a squeeze of lemon juice. Forty minutes in a very hot oven.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Deserters


We are leaving the city. For a whole day. In a real car. With wheels.

We are leaving behind the lablab beans.


The scarlet runners (see the green pods?). 


The Malabar spinach.


The night-scented Nicotiana. 


Oh, and the cat (he had too many martinis last night).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pan bagna


Summer evenings are shortening. We might sit down to supper in the light of dusk but by the time 8 o' clock is behind us the Harlem terrace is dark.


I made pan bagna  - it means bathed bread (olive oil is key) - on a recent, warm evening. It's pretty much a salad Niçoise, deconstructed, and we assembled it ourselves. I am lucky to live with someone who likes strong flavours as much as I do. The onion disappeared first, soon followed by the capers and chopped anchovies..


The Frenchman remembers them as beach sandwiches in Antibes, grabbed when you are a hot and sandy and very hungry small person. He was very polite about mine, but how could they compete?

I remember them as made by another Frenchman, Pierre Reveillez, who used to run a small lunch shack in a corner park on East Houston and 1st Avenue. There were also sandwiched baguettes filled with chicken liver pâté and cornichons, or with slices of saucisson. The latter were my favourite, and I ate those baguettes every week, when I worked around the corner. There was excellent coffee. And croissants, of course.

Pierre split his profits with his two workers, and was out of business as soon as the rent was raised. I still miss that place. He was from Provence, too, but Nice - and I sometimes wonder if he and Vincent might not have crossed paths while on small boy and teenage maneuvers beneath pine trees and in clear, salty water.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer market


From 125th Street, the 4 train took to me to Union Square in about twelve minutes. I needed, really needed, a tomato fix. Those things in the supermarkets are not tomatoes.


When I saw the beans I wanted a bean fix, too, but I stayed strong (why?).


The market was in tomato flood.


I did collect a box of those small dark plums, below. 


And these...


The city honey bees had found them.


And we ate these funny-beautiful tomatoes for supper, with basil and olive oil and garlic, and slices of toasted bread.


Because of the sunflowers, I just looked at the zinnias.


But I did bring home some duck breasts and very beautiful scallops and a tiny piece of tuna. I 'cooked' the sliced tuna and the whole scallops for an hour in lime juice with shredded shiso leaves, and we ate them with thin pieces of crisped French bread on a terrace where August had pulled itself together at last and delivered a blast of true summer heat, even at 8pm.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pizza, with bird feeder


How is pizza defined? We are stretching the assumption here, with a base of thinnish, crispy-on-the-bottom sourdough, topped with slices of the house-cured (mugwort, spicebush) guanciale, and a generous handful of oil-slicked sage leaves from the terrace. That's it.

500'F for about 15 minutes. The guanciale crisps quite fast and small pork fat puddles develop around each piece. The sage frizzles, and then I whip the whole thing from the oven, onto a chopping block, and out to the terrace, where the last, late cardinal erupts from the bird feeder with a click of cardinal alarm.

So that, with a sipping side of cold watercress and buttermilk soup, was supper.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mt Morris



I make use of our local hill. Just south of us is Marcus Garvey Park, formerly called Mt Morris Park; the immediate neighborhood is still known as Mt Morris. The hill - a great chunk of rock - has lots of eroding stone steps which are good for a cardiovascular boost.  I run up, I walk down. I run up. And I stop for plants, like the goldenrod, above.


And the black nightshade berries. Do not tell me they are poisonous. They are perfectly edible and quite good, like slightly sweet tomatoes. Solanum nigrum. You'll notice how the fruit grows in a little cluster, like grapes or currants. The deadly nightshade you are right this minute freaking out about, has fruit borne singly, with a conspicuous five point calyx (the green leafy bits between stalk and fruit,  absent in black nightshade) - Atropa belladonna is the one you don't want to eat.


Nor do you want to eat pretty Solanum dulcamara - climbing nightshade, bittersweet - twining up late summer fences like pretty patio lights.

So, if you like plants, there is always something to see. Also some solitary men - it's one of those parks; and the cops, yet again, arresting someone very quietly, yet again. Low level drugs, maybe, or soliciting, who knows? And people splashing about down below in the great big turquoise swimming pool. And children with their nannies on the lawn, and the sleeping homeless, and the chess-playing old timers, and the two teenagers with whom I'm now on greeting terms, practising their gumboot dance moves on a deserted stone landing. It's a very well used park.

I turned west when I could run no more, and went to buy wine from the Eritreans on Lenox Avenue.


                                                       The August sky said September.


The roofs said we have cellphone signal.


Wee, wee, wee. All the way home.
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