the wild mothers

I meant this post to be for Mother’s Day and I’m a little late. However, it is still spring and a time to celebrate all mothers – especially Mother Nature.

I remember when my children were very small I had a plastic window box for flowers outside my kitchen window. In early spring when it was still empty, a pigeon made a nest in it and laid her eggs. One day there was a spring snowstorm and the little bird continued sitting on her eggs. Every once in a while she would fluff up her feathers to shake off the snow. Then the snow turned into a cold rain and still she sat there like a little soldier without moving. I watched and worried. Her motherly instinct would not let her abandon her babies. I understood her. I could see that the window box was starting to fill with water. When the rain did not let up and the water had reached her chest, I could stand it no longer. I took a chance and opened the window. She did not move. She was accustomed to seeing us very close to her through the kitchen window. I took a kitchen knife and cut holes into the plastic window box to let the water drain out. She let me get that close and still did not move. Did not abandon her eggs. I looked into her orange pigeon eyes and thought her the bravest of mothers. One egg hatched and we saw up close how she raised her baby. I would hoist my girls up to sit on the kitchen counter so they could see the window nest as the mother pigeon fed her chick and then later the flying lessons from the kitchen window box  to the bedroom window box. Back and forth the fledging practiced and then one day was gone. It was a successful nest.

I became a live stream nest watcher when the City Room blog of the New York Times featured a camera pointed at the nest of the red-tailed hawks of Washington Square Park in New York City in the spring of 2011. There was high drama on that nest because the mother had a band on her leg that was put on too tight and her leg was swollen. An effort to capture her was planned. But then it was decided that it was too risky to attempt because the little fluffy white eyas (hawk chick) named Pip would freak out and maybe fall off the building ledge nest. Nature took its course and Violet was an excellent mother. We could see her on camera struggling with her lame leg while she fed scraps of rat meat to little Pip. Responsible and valiant, she hung on until her offspring left the nest and only then did she succumb to her injury.

Christo and Dora are our neighborhood hawks. Their hunting ground is Tompkins Square Park. Last spring they made a successful nest and raised three baby hawks on an air conditioner at the Christadora apartment building across from the park. This year they’ve moved their nest to another air conditioner,  this time on the Ageloff Towers on Avenue A. Their three eggs have hatched and we are now seeing the fluffy white baby hawks on a nest cam. Laura Goggin is a neighborhood photographer who has followed the hawks and shared her beautiful photographs on her blog Gog in NYC. I’m struck by the generosity of the neighbors who install a nest cam to share their view of the nest with us. Here is the link to the nest cam for Christo and Dora’s nest.

Dora at the Ageloff nest. Photo: Laura Goggin Photography

Dora at the Ageloff nest. Photo courtesy of: Laura Goggin Photography

Dora and babies last year at the Christadora nest. Photo courtesy of: Laura Goggin Photography

Dora and babies last year at the Christadora nest. Photo courtesy of: Laura Goggin Photography

Now I’m watching a different kind of animal, a critically endangered red wolf on the den cam at the Wolf Conservation Center in New York state. Salty gave birth to a litter of seven pups on May 2nd. It is a window into a wild world. On a warm night I can see that she is fast asleep. Her sides softly rise and fall with her breath. Her sleepy dark puppies are clustered close to her with their bellies full of milk. The cacophony of bug song has died down too from earlier in the evening when they were thunderous. Sometimes you can hear the other wolves howling. I feel very privileged to be able to witness these wild animals. Here is the link to the live den cam.

 

forest ramps

Its ramp time. A fleeting moment in the spring when ramps are in season. They are one of the first green things of the growing season along with nettles and asparagus. They are wild and you see them on the forest floor, bursting through the remnants of the brown lacy leaves left over from last autumn.

There is a concern that ramps are being over harvested due to foodie culture demand. They are delicate things in every way, from how they look, fragile brilliant green leaves and pearly pinkish white bulbs, to how they taste, to how they reproduce. The plants take 5 to 7 years to produce seeds and then the seeds take 6 to 18 months to germinate.

I’ve decided just to eat the ones that we harvest. For the fleeting wild thing that they are. Just once per year, you get a little taste and that is all.

Ramps in a Vermont forest

Ramps in a Vermont forest

A sustainable harvest for the home cook

A sustainable harvest for the home cook

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Oona, who picked these ramps, made up a delicious recipe using ramps and plantains. See it here (and cook it).

spring

Last weekend we had the first sunny and warm days of spring. I visited community gardens with my friend Katy and our phone cameras. We stopped by 6BC Botanical Garden first. This garden began in 1981 and is a lovingly cared for and peaceful place. In the book Community Gardens of the East Village, gardener Cary York says, “One thing they did design wise that was so important was that someone wanted to build the raised boxes, and Diana said “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Well, if you’re going to do it, do them on a diagonal.” So suddenly, the garden had this whole diagonal thing which is so nice because it’s against the grid. Little by little people started lifting up the boxes and letting the soil be in the soil.”

photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film

photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film

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Our next stop was the Sixth & B Garden. So many gardeners were out clearing the debris of winter and turning the warmed soil. I remember the group of mothers I used to hang out with when we brought our children to play in that garden. I ran into two of them that day. Even though we only socialized in the gardens, there is an intimacy to knowing someone that long and seeing their children now grown. I was interviewed by one of those children, a 20 year old named John, who I remember as a shirtless tow-headed toddler in baggy shorts, playing in the garden. He was doing a school project about community gardens. I was happy to see that the playhouse was still there.

Sixth & B Garden

Sixth & B Garden

flowerbed

 

the playhouse

the playhouse

 

the year in books – april

The Year in Books is a project started by Laura of the Circle of Pines Trees blog that anyone can join. The aim is to make more time for books by reading at least one per month. For March I read The Omnivore’s Dilema. What an eye-opener. I thought I was a conscious person about eating well but after reading this book, I realized that I could do a lot more. This is a must-read for everyone. I’m lucky that I have resources for food that is grown/raised responsibly. In the summer when we are at our rural homestead, we eat grass-fed meat from pastured animals from local farms and eat vegetables grown without pesticides from our neighbor’s gardens. In New York city, I have been ordering meat and produce from local farms thanks to an online farmer’s market called Farmigo that let’s you shop for food on their website and then you pick the bags of groceries from a neighborhood drop off point once a week. I also shopped this way in the country through Schoharie Fresh. They even sell homemade pie and yarn from a sheep farmer. This seems to be a new model for the distribution of food from local farms to consumers. I think its a brilliant use of technology and I hope it spreads.

For April, I’ve picked up H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I was sold by this review. I follow blogs about the urban hawks in New York city. I think birds of prey are fascinating .

H_isforHawkBook

In keeping with the goal of buying the monthly books only from independent stores or borrowing from the library,  I went to McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore on the eastern edge of Soho. It is a lively well organized bookstore with a cafe and many events. I’m excited about starting my new book.

McNallyJacksonBooks

McNallyJacksonBookstoreInterior

McNallyJacksonBookstoreInt

fixing stuff with sugru

Theres not a whole lot of people in New York city who have dishwashers in their kitchens. At least not in my circle of friends. I do have one and it unchained me from the mountain of dishwashing that two children generate. It is an 18 inch dishwasher sized for a small urban kitchen. It fits in the space of a lower cabinet. It is fifteen years old and still working perfectly and bringing order to my kitchen.

The racks were starting to go. Rust was blooming from underneath and eating the plastic coating. I didn’t want to start what I knew would be a painstaking search for a replacement rack for an old machine. So I decided to figure out how to fix it.

dishwasherRust

I found this Sugru stuff by chance in a computer store. It is a nice pliable putty that you can wrap and squish around things and it air dries into moldable rubber. It comes in different colors and is heat and waterproof.

SugruDishwasherfix1

I wrapped the rust blisters and smoothed out the Sugru and now my dishwasher racks are fixed. I also have a old dish rack that was rusty on the edges but is the perfect design and size for my kitchen. I fixed it too. Keeping stuff out of the landfill.

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sugar time

In New York City, its pot hole season, this time between winter and spring when the streets are pitted with holes from the ice and salt of winter. Not romantic. You have to watch out for the holes when you are on your bike. In the country, it is mud season. Also sounds not romantic except that it is sweet and magical because it is also the time for maple sugaring. I have visited my daughter at her college in Vermont when the snow is melting and the sap starts flowing in the maple trees.

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

MapleTreeBuckets

As I’ve always said to my daughters, there is nothing more energizing or more beautiful than to be amongst people who think they can change the world. Oona’s college is such a place. Sterling College is one of the seven colleges in the Work College Consortium, a tiny school with a big community spirit dedicated to environmental stewardship. The students work with both their hands and their minds. They have a farm. They eat the food they grow. They have their own sugar house where they process the sap collected from the maple trees and turn it into maple syrup. In the small village every maple tree you see has buckets attached to collect the sap.

MapleBucket

the sugar house at Sterling College

the sugar house at Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

It is vital to support small farms and the people who are working them where ever they are. And so…

Our dear friend Rob Handel, Chef at Heather Ridge Farm in Schoharie County, New York generously sent me these maple recipes to share with you. Thank you Rob.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

4 Tbs Dijon mustard
5 Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs pink peppercorns
6 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brewed tea
1 clove garlic
pinch of salt
optional – 1 tsp summer savory

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until well emulsified. Store in the fridge for up to one month.

Maple Parsnip Chutney (Chef Rob says this chutney is fabulous on pork, chicken and cheese)

3 Tbs butter
1 diced onion
2 cups diced parsnip (1 to 2 parsnips)
1 apple peeled and diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cracked coriander seed
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Melt the butter in a medium sized skillet and add onions, parsnips and salt. Cook over medium low heat until well caramelized about 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until everything is softened and most of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Maple Panna Cotta

Chef Rob says: This panna cotta recipe only involves 10 minutes of prep time, can be made in a single pot and it is fabulously rich. Here we go.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla or 1 Tbs rum
1 package (1 Tbs) unflavored gelatin
pinch of salt

Place milk in a medium sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow to bloom for 5 minutes, then add remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer. Stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved and pour into molds. Allow to set for at least 2 hours or prepare ahead and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

1/2 c popping corn
2T maple syrup
2T rendered bacon fat
2T brown sugar
2tsp salt

Combine all ingredients except salt in a stovetop popcorn popper and stir over medium low heat until the popcorn begins to pop. Keep stirring vigorously until the popping slows. Immediately tip into a large bowl and toss with salt, adding more if necessary

the year in books – march

I enjoyed my February read “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp” by Richard Hell, an engrossing memoir set in New York city in the 70’s and 80’s. Its a history of downtown New York culture of the time when young people were free to live without the tethers of responsibility and moved through the streets with the freedom and loping grace of wild animals in a natural habitat. One of my favorite passages was the last one in the book, “My life is not different for having written this book – my life only comes into being by having been written here. What I have been given and what I have been and what I have and what I and what – all are only to the extent they all are only to the extent all are only to the all are only to all are only all are all. We know that we are constructed of time, not of sequence, and it is impossible to write time “not of sequence,” except maybe in poetic flashes. I didn’t want to write about a person through time, but about time through a person.”

For my March book, I decided to visit the new bookstore in the neighborhood. Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks was priced out of its West Village home and the happy ending to the all too familiar New York story is that some book lovers offered to rent her space in the basement of their family townhouse in the East Village. And so, another bookstore has survived in New York City. On a very snowy Sunday afternoon, red-cheeked and with snow encrusted eyebrows, my friend Katy and I entered the warm and homey store.  Bonnie Slotnick welcomed us by pointing out where the radiators were so that we could warm up first. What a charming and inviting bookstore. I felt like I was in someone’s home, albeit a person with a lot of bookshelves. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks specializes in Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Cookbooks.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street

BonnieSlotnickCookbooksInt

I picked out a 20 year old cookbook from the Florida Keys with lots of recipes for fish and rum cocktails. Standing there in my wet snow boots reading tropical recipes ringed with illustrations of palm trees felt good. I searched for a proper book for my March read and found “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

BonnieSlotnickCookbooksEastVillage