canning pink

I tried my hand a a little bit more canning. I love radishes, especially because you get to put a lot of salt on them. I once heard someone say “the radishes are a vehicle for the salt”. I didn’t realize radishes were spicy until I tasted one from the farmer’s market. After that, I never bought another supermarket radish again. I discovered watermelon radishes at a Supper Club in Brooklyn hosted by Nan of Toast Home Cooking. The radish was beautiful and so I scoured the farmer’s market in Union Square till I found some for my first experiment in canning something that is not sweet.

Their beauty gave me pleasure when I sliced them

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I just had enough for a couple of half pints which I will use on salads and sandwiches in the dead of winter. This is how I did it.

I boiled half water and half vinegar with a little salt. The sliced radishes and a clove of garlic were put into the hot jars and the hot brine was added. Then I processed the jars in the hot water canner for 15 minutes. Everything turned pink.  Here are instructions for safe canning.

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dove love

I’ve been a little down and I haven’t written. Sometimes life gets in the way and becomes the excuse. But then writing makes me feel better so I decided to just write.

I’ve been busy nursing my pet dove. A beautiful ringneck dove named Ruki. She has a story and a bit of magic about her. She is a talisman.

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Ruki came to us in 2003. We don’t know how old she is because she was an escaped pet that we rescued. I believe she was meant to live with us. I think she was very young when she came to us, at least, I hope that she was. She is the color of a very light café con leche with a touch of peach. The feathers that form the delicate ring around her neck are a soft charcoal grey.

Late this summer I noticed that when Ruki flew free, she seemed out of breath when she landed. I thought it was because she wasn’t getting enough flight exercise or because she was getting older. But it became worse and so I took her to an avian vet in our neighborhood. I was told it could be many things – none of them good. I was told she was a flock animal and so she would hide any disability above all. The fact that she could not hide it anymore was a bad sign. I was given an antibiotic in the hope that it was only an infection.

I turned to the specialized Internet forums for help. I began using Internet forums in the 1990’s for things such as knitting questions and advice about parenting babies and young children. They are an early form of community interaction on the Internet. The forums are a beautiful expression of how people united only by a common interest, give selflessly and freely to support other people who they do not know and will never meet. I think the people on the forums tend to give more in depth advice than other Internet support groups. Following the advice of kind dove fanciers, I force fed Ruki thawed frozen peas to keep her strength up and so that the antibiotic would not upset her stomach. I draped her cage in blankets and added a hot water bottle for extra warmth. On the fifth day of treatment, she started to show signs of improvement. She started eating on her own and there was less open-mouthed breathing.

ringneckdoveruki Ruki continues to get better but she is not out of the woods yet. Yesterday I was heartened to see her up to her old mischief of sneaking up behind one of the dogs and pecking the back of his leg. The dove is dominant over the dogs. Right now she is perched on the couch next to me as I write,  softly breathing, relaxed and dosing. A late afternoon bird nap.

autumnal bike commute

The first days of autumn in New York City are still balmy even though you can spot a yellowish tinge on the leaves of the street trees and it is now dusk at 7 o’clock. When its not hot I like to ride my bike to work the long way, all the  way around the southern tip of the island instead of the quick way straight across from east to west. It’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island because it is so dense with people and buildings from edge to edge. On the morning of 9/11 as I was shepherding the children home, through the shock and fear in the streets, we passed a cluster of people gathered around a parked car listening to the radio for news, when a woman shouted “they’ve closed all the bridges and tunnels to and from the island” and I thought “we are trapped”. After that, I’ve never forgotten that we live on an island.

East River Brooklyn Bridge

East River Brooklyn Bridge

My bike commute starts on the eastern edge of the island where the East River looks over to Brooklyn. In the old days, they say that the river froze so solid that people could walk over the ice from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They say that entrepreneurs  sold hot potatoes on the icy river to commuters. The workers carried the potatoes in their pockets to warm their hands on their trek across the iced over river and then have the roasted potatoes for breakfast.

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

As you ride on the paths of the East River Park you pass many sports fields. You can smell the salt in the air and the morning sunlight sparkles on the water. It is much cleaner now and you can catch glimpses of ducks and other water birds living there. As you hit the eastern edge of Chinatown by the river, you see clusters of Chinese seniors practicing Tai Chi and exercising in the park near the South Street Seaport. Fishermen in baseball caps line the railings with long poles in their hands.

The old Fulton Fish Market

The old Fulton Fish Market

You hit a wall of commuters getting off the Staten Island Ferry and subways as you round the southern most tip of the island and move from East River to the Hudson on the West Side.

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At this point, I ride on the sidewalk dodging the walkers and taking care not the scare them. They have enough stress. To ride in the street here is dicey because they are curvy and packed with speeding commuter buses bringing in Wall St. workers from the land of suburbia.

Westside bike lane heading north

Westside bike lane heading north

Once you cross the street at the tip of the island at Battery Park, you can get on the West Side bike lane north and now you ride along side a different river – the Hudson.

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

the little garden that could

I’m very proud and pleased to present my first guest post: The Little Garden That Could, Guerrilla Gardening in the East Village, written and photographed by my dear friend,  Raquel Shapira, artist and neighborhood royalty.

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End of the summer, 2010

The city just completed their new traffic design along lower First Avenue introducing a new bike lane and crosswalk islands featuring a young tree on every corner of the crossing street.

Early September, 2010

A few sunflowers plants appear around the tree on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street, which has 5 X 5 feet of soil surrounding it (the tree on this corner is Zelkova serrata or Japanese zelkova). A young woman, whose name I cannot remember, plants those, and disappears. It’s a dry month and the plants need water.

The obvious thing to do is to water the plants. However, there’s no hose or anything to connect a hose to. I buy a watering can from Saifee’s, a hardware and gardening store right across the street from the island. The Tile Bar, which is the closest establishment to the island, allows me to keep the can there and use their water. By the end of October the sunflowers bloom, changing the face of the block.

2_SunflowerWHeartSpring, 2011

Small sunflower sprouts begin to appear (all from seeds of last year’s sunflowers—the sunflower is an annual flower). A resident from the neighborhood plants an iris, a yucca, and a few other flowers. I notice he’s also been “weeding” the sprouts. I need a solution for protecting the sprouts. Here it is. Thank you Tile Bar for providing the cocktail straws.

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August, 2011

The sunflowers are growing 7 feet high and are ready to bloom.

One plant, on the south side of the garden, is nearing a full bloom, but on a weekend night some drunken idiot beheads it and breaks my heart. Fuck.

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A lesson learned. Having flowers in an open space, without high fence, a gate with a key is beyond challenging. As Amy Stewart eloquently said in her blog Garden Rant.

“Anyone who thinks that gardeners are naturally generous people, eager to share their bounty and always glad to see the neighbors enjoying the beauty and tranquility that their garden has brought to the neighborhood, has never been around my place in early spring. Sometimes having a garden can be so aggravating that I don’t know why I even bother. I am referring, of course, to the problem of flower theft.”

As the lower plants are flourishing, the sunflowers—one by one—are ripped off.

Summer, 2012

This summer is more of the same, although this year I do not include sunflowers. I plant a few coneflowers. The garden is pretty, but hardly lush.

Early summer, 2013

Wow. Finally after 3 years the yucca plant is flowering. What an amazing chandelier of white flowers. The Iris is looking pretty but the mini rose bush is sad-looking. A friend buys Celosia—some are doing great, others not as good. The garden is beginning to look lush. With the help of Tile Bar, we pay someone to build a fence. It’s a wooden white fence, which makes the garden somewhat more formal yet sweet.

Late summer, 2013

Arriving one Friday afternoon the garden is upside down. After 3 years, the city decides the cement that was used to build the islands was not strong enough. Millions of dollars are spent to re-do the islands. This is what I see.

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A week later

The workers are done. Island is re-built, and to my astonishment the workers erect the fence back, but most of the plants are gone. My friend Rose and I decide to get 40 mixed bulbs of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth and stick them in the ground. The show must go on.

Spring, 2014

After the coldest winter of my life living in NY, spring finally arrives bringing with it new, colorful life.

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Summer, 2014

I get busy planting new plants. A friend gives me “mammoth” sunflower seeds. The package says they should grow up to 10 to 13 feet high. Who would bother with those? I sow the seeds. You already know how that story ends . . . sadly.

I get an idea to experiment with growing vines around the tree. Saifee’s Gardening store only has Cypress vine seeds so I buy them and sow them around tree. Within a few months they begin to attach themselves to other plants so I buy a yard of chicken wire, place it around the tree and direct the vines to the wire.

Success.

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And that’s how it’s done in a nutshell. It’s all been a wonderful experiment. All you need is a watering can and good intentions.

Next year it may be a mix of wildflower seeds. We shall see.

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summer’s end 2014

It was a good summer. The best summer in a long time because I was at the trailer in the country working from home for most of it and my daughters were close. There is nothing better than to be around your family and your dogs. Being in the country allows a slower pace that is that is good for observation. In the city you miss things because you have to move at a certain pace or you will be the one blocking foot traffic. You can’t look up at the sky for too long or you could step in dog shit. In the country your eye and your mind have the freedom to wander.

hayfieldrev

This summer I saw how the deep green of the mid-summer vegetation changed. Now everything has a yellowish cast to it. The fields are lime green from the goldenrod in bloom. There are tiny flowers blooming making splotches that look like pink smoke. Over anxious maples that are turning red and russet colored bushes signal the wan of summer and the start of autumn. Everywhere you smell the sweet smell of the last of the hay being cut. The nights are heavy with the song of black crickets.

Here are some things that I learned this summer:

I enjoy seeing livestock when I look out the window.

I like to doze off to sleep and wake in the morning to the sound of softly tinkling goat bells.

I write more when I’m alone

Water boils faster on the mountain

Jersey cow milk makes the best butter

We went through a lot of sugar due to the hummingbird feeder, the brewing of Kombucha and the canning of peaches

It sure is nice to have lights on in more than one room (first full summer with solar powered electricity)

There are more women farmers than I imagined

If you leave your hair loose when you walk in the woods, deer fly get caught in it and it’s easy to kill them that way

Blue jays have a beautiful way of swooping down when they fly and they really love wild blueberries

In the country you experience sudden unexpected fragrances depending on the direction of the wind and which plants it is blowing through at the time

Hummingbirds chitter

Cowbella Farm's Jersey cows and a woman farmer

Cowbella Farm’s Jersey cows and a woman farmer

redChairs

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

First sighting of Fall

First sighting of Fall

the honor system vegetable stand

In New York City you must be ever vigilant for thieves. You’d better chain up your bike just so and don’t even think about slinging your handbag over a chair in a restaurant.

I am enjoying letting my guard down in the country where you don’t even have to lock your car in the shopping center parking lot. There are many vegetable stands that still use the old fashioned “honor system”. The stands are unmanned and the produce is set out with pricing on hand-written signs. Sometimes they don’t even have the pricing, they expect you to leave what is fair. There is a metal cash box for you to leave the payment in.

I get my corn from a dairy farm where they set out piles of just picked sweet corn and the metal cash box on a wooden wagon in the driveway. I like to buy vegetables and eggs from my friends and neighbors Martha and Richard’s stand. When you chop their kale, it smells as strong as wheat grass juice and your fingers are stained green. Martha says that sometimes she thinks the cash is a bit low when she goes to pick it up, but then the next day there is more money than expected. It is because the day before someone didn’t have small bills. That’s the honor system.

the roadside sign

the roadside sign

the mountaintop garden

the mountaintop garden

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the honor system vegetable stand

the honor system vegetable stand

can – can

I suddenly got the urge to start canning while spending the summer in the country. The most food preserving I’d ever done was to freeze some herbs. We live in a metropolis where you can buy produce from all over the world anytime you want. Its not in the culture to think about “putting things by” to get you through the winter. But living in such close proximity to farms and eating their bounty all summer has put me in another frame of mind. It’s a different story when you slice a zucchini and it is so fresh that you can see it sweat little beads of plant juice and down the road you see beef cattle eating grass in sunny pastures. Oona said “Mom, think about how much better your tomato sauce would be if you made it with farm tomatoes and basil from your garden”. I thought about cooking comfort foods in the deep winter. I thought about opening a mason jar of August tomatoes and how its essence would return me to this summer and how the smell of hay and rainstorms and the sound of goat bells would come back to me on a cold dark night.

I thought about Frank’s penchant for eating slimy canned peaches as a midnight snack and that made me think about canning some more. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead he spooned out fragrant slices of summer peaches packed by my hand when he was sitting at his computer late at night? It would be love in a dish.

Our dear friends Beth and her daughter Nipu invited me and Oona to go peach picking at Fix Brothers Farm in Hudson, New York. The peach orchard was at the top of a mountain with spectacular views of the Hudson Valley and the day was hot and sunny. It smelled good and I didn’t want to leave. The danger in those “you pick ems” scenarios is that it is so much fun and you pick so fast that you pick too much and you get sticker shock when they weigh your bag (this happens when you are picking with kids and you don’t want to spoil their fun). Unlike the time we went apple picking when the girls were younger, this time we paced ourselves. We picked only what we could reasonably pay for and preserve and enjoyed the day on peach mountain. We set our peaches on the kitchen table to fully ripen and the trailer was redolent of peaches for days.

Fix Brothers Orchard in Hudson, NY

Fix Brothers Orchard in Hudson, NY

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I bought a canning kit by Ball that had the canner and all of the handy accessories I would need. I found a book on canning at the library but the author wrote so extensively about the dangers of bacteria and food poisioning that I returned the book and instead bought the Ball book on canning. It was in a magazine format and more optimistic and user friendly for the beginning canner. A chef I know told me that many people are put off by canning because they fear killing their families. I think of course the warnings must be made, but probably a lot of that is lawyers talking. I canned in a small kitchen in our off-grid trailer with no running water and my friend Martha who is a canning fiend, proclaimed my vacuum seals as good to go.

Here are full instructions on how to can food

I processed the peaches according to the instructions in the Ball Book. The peaches were packed raw and instead of a plain simple sugar syrup or water, I canned them in a basil syrup. Here is the recipe with the adaptation of the basil syrup.

2 to 3 pound peaches per quart
lemon juice (or powdered citric acid which is vitamin C)
Basil infused simple syrup

Make the basil simple syrup by boiling 5 1/2 cups of water and adding a fistful of fresh basil leaves. Turn off the water and steep the leaves for about 20 minutes. Remove the basil leaves, re-heat the water and dissolve 2 1/2 cups of sugar in the basil water and keep it hot. This was enough syrup for 10 quarts of peaches.

Peel the peaches and toss the slices in lemon juice (or something that has a lot of vitamin C) to prevent their discoloration.Pack peaches into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot basil syrup over the peaches leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two piece caps. Process quarts for 30 minutes in a boiling water canner.

I also made a plum jam from plums harvested by Paulina and Nico, local farmers who sell produce at their roadside stand.

The plum jam was easy and filled the kitchen with a marvelous scent. You do not have to peel the plums, only chop them up. I used the recipe for Dawson Plum Jam from the Ball Book. I don’t know what kind of plums we had, all I know is that they were dark red inside and beautiful. I added lavender from my herb garden to this. I do not normally like flowery food, but this combination was a good idea. Here is my adaptation of the plum jam recipe to include the lavender.

5 cups coarsely chopped plums (about 2 pounds)
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
a few springs of fresh lavender

Combine the plums, sugar, lavender sprigs and water in a large pot. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. I removed the lavender sprigs after about 15 minutes of boiling. Cook rapidly and stir constantly as the water will cook down and the plums will thicken. You don’t want the plums to stick and burn. Once it is thick and jammy, remove from heat. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

There will be scones with lavender plum jam for brunch this winter.

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