Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Botanical Supper - and a recipe for Perdeberg

Cooking supper...but what's that bag of stuff? They're plant samples - I thought I'd ID them while making myself some pasta.

So there's my meal - with fresh arugula and parsley from my garden (not bad for winter!). Haven't made too much progress on the karoo samples....

All Done! Managed to guess the genus (at least) and species (sometimes) of 24 species - most of which were dry eco-scraps with no flowers or seeds to speak of.....

Mike, an architect friend, asked if I would help him plant some trees and re-establish the 'veld' around his new house at Perdeberg, in the Tankwa karoo. It's about 3.5 hours drive from CT, in an arid zone with an annual rainfall of about 200mm/8". So I suggested he bring me a couple of samples of plants growing around the farm and the koppie, to give me a clue me decide what plants to take up.

So the day before I left for NYC Mike dropped off FOUR bags full of plant samples! I think he asked his kids to do the collecting, and they enjoyed the game. Anyway I just stuffed the most important looking bag in my fridge, and left the rest in my office.

Now, 2 months later, I decided to tackle the plant identification - no mean task since the samples were collected at the end of a hot dry summer and had no fruits / seeds. But I know these karoo guys...after years of plant-watching the woody stems & tiny curled-up leaves speak to me...and even thought I don't know the EXACT species, I get the general gist. This 'je ne sais quoi' is not the kind of thing a proper botanist should say - I know - but the species names are pretty academic anyway because they're not commercially available. So I'll have to buy ecological equivalents.

At least I have the Perdeberg plant recipe to guide me: it's a smorgasbord of arid fynbos, with typical karoo aromatics (wild rosemary, harrpuisbos), some renosterveld bits and the usual awkward woody shrubs. It might not sound delightful, but trust me - when combined with karoo koppies and a long horizon it's Yum.

Today's Walk

At 4pm today I decided to go for a walk - first up through the suburb, past Peter & Jills house (I see she hasn't felt inspired to finish the mosaic yet).

After 8mins walk up the hill, there's the gate at the end which gives access to the forest & mountain.
Sheez - everything is so electric green! Winter clearly separates alien plants from indigenous here - since native plants are virtually all evergreen, the exotic oaks etc stand out a mile.
Mickey revels in the smells and trails left by animals...dashing this way and that.

Not quite an amelanchier - but a forest grape or monkey rope (Rhoicissus digitata)

Today's walk

Chasmanthe aethiopica is the first of a rolling display of bulbs in winter / spring

Storm - the large boulder is about 12 feet high & dwarfed by a massive forest tree which fell last year.

I find this view of the city gives me perspective - the trees are so majestic and large, the houses so small.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Back to work.... and play

Here's a job I've been working on. The courtyard will be home to a magnificent Coral tree - yet to be found. I casually - no - more likely enthusiatically - said to the Architect 'how about a green roof?' and he said yes - let's do it on the low roof (seen above). 160m2 = 1450sq ft. I'm not sure yet that it's the right place / client/project - we'll see.

After the site meeting I collected the dogs - waiting patiently on my pickup - and crossed the road for a walk. What view.... I love that mountain!
And Mickey sniffing about in the low evening light
Above: It's protea season - there were a few cream flowers among the pinks (snap! for the calendar).
Below: And after gaining a bit of altitude the view of the city below.....hmmmm, it's good to be back home.

Had a 3.15pm site meeting today at House Gubbins. Conveniently situated on a high level road against the mountain so I loaded up the dogs to go for a walk afterwards. Not too bad, hey? While the rest of the city is trying to get home, or stuck in traffic...

Coming home

First sight in the morning - ah! the mountain. Seen from my garden. It's been a long time since I've been on the 'pulpit' - the little blip on the right
My garden - looking green, a bit water-logged and wintry but grasses still look lovely with backlighting. And can't believe that red salvia is still going Pity I missed the Kniphofias doing their red hot fire poker thing.
Mickey is glad to have me back - a play partner at last
Housewarming at my brother's new flat in Bo-Kaap on Friday - a big family gathering with presents flying this way & that because it was my mom's and Paul's birthday (on that day, 22nd June), and my boet's housewarming, and I had gifts from NY and they'd remembered my birthday too, and plenty of stories & exchanges to fill the air until 1am. Phew. The girls (Pia and Josie) were lying on Paul's bed with a magnificent view of the city below..........and couldn't get to sleep because of the trillions of lights and the harbour blinking in the distance.....what a feeling.A mellow supper at my house with friends on saturday night - thick flank cooked for 2 hours on my wood stove

It's funny - it has taken me a week to arrive. What with the jet lag and 2 days of hot berg wind here, waking up at 3am to let the dogs out, and a cold / flu, and work to re-engage with ......I've felt completely spaced out and odd. My brain just wouldn't make the shift and click......but since the weather broke and now it's storming & wintry I feel I'm all here, which is a relief. Work has piled up, my roof is leaking and new clients to see...plenty to do!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NYC - I was starting to get the hang of it

No really, I was.

* at work: the inches, gallons and feet; to use the tap marked 'H' in the bathroom (piping hot water gushes out of the 'C' tap)

* the accent and inflections: the questioning lilt as one speaks - almost checking if the other is following; the open a's, the rolled r's (still catch myself now, back in SA!)

* the commute to work: cycling through Park Slope and Boerum place, along leafy Clinton rd. Dodging commuters at crossings, the taxi cabs, the potholes and double-parked delivery vans...

* how to get a good coffee at half the price ('a double expresso with a little milk please')

* the subway - which trains run express; settling on the F local to go home; a sort of 6th sense which kicks in when one has arrived at the desired station....and the last minute dash to the door to get out.... excuse me! excuse me!; and that one needs to swipe your metro card at speed (otherwise it doesn't work)

* that Houghston is 'howsten' not 'hewsten'

* that Manhattan is pretty flat but there's a proper little hill between Nicolas avenue and Riverside around 145th street (and of course Fort Tyrone park). Try it on a bike without gears - it's fun to balance /stand on the pedals, only just moving forward

* which produce to buy at the farmer's market in Union square - ramps, apples (mutzos are good), fresh cider and a healthy carrot and date bread/cake thing which I liked

* and of course some favourite trees - crab apple, tilia, amelanchier and plants (pieris, skimmia, tiarella, heucheras)

So many little things - I never thought of myself as much of a chameleon, but I've noticed I can adapt and change colour. It's been fun.

Urban berries

Ever since Marie introduced me to shadberries (Amelanchier), I began to see them everywhere in the city - in urban parks... along streets....on a rooftop in Battery Park and growing wild in the dunes on Fire island. It seems to be a bumper year for fruit.

On Friday Marie & I had a rendezvous in a teeny park under the Manhatten bridge - our mission: to pick a few pounds for a special dessert: amelanchier berry pie. The pie was perfect, and much to our surprise there was a strong aftertaste of marzipan - probably the seeds. Turns out we'd picked enough berries for pancakes, jam and a fruit salad...

Amelanchier - don't they look delectable? Nature is so bountiful - each bush was laden with with ripe berries - enough to feed a small crowd.

I love the context - the trains going klakkety klak on the Manhattan bridge overhead...

My best bird shot to date! I thought pigeons were seed eaters - didn't know they were omnivores.