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.
Sunday: Natalie made american pancakes with them - and they're excellent.
My last meal in NYC: fruit salad with shadberries. Call me a purist, but I think they're best just like this - fresh and delicious!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Happy Birthday Thomas!

Thomas and Jasmien - only a few months left in NYC - enjoy every minute!
Outdoor terrace at Robin de Bois in Smith street
Shop front of Robin de Bois - it started off as a kind of specialised junk shop, and then people used to linger, and the owner would start cooking and pour glasses of wine, and so it transformed into a cafe. I think you can still make an offer on the furniture, like this skiboat, or.....

Saturday I met Thomas and Jasmien for brunch at Robin de Bois in Smith street - to celebrate his birthday (forgot to ask how many years, T?). A french cafe with funky decor and a leafy green courtyard terrace. The weather was warm - perfect for outdoor eating. I enjoyed listening to the stories about your trip to California - not to mention anecdotes of your folks' / in-laws' TEN day visit to NYC. I know family dynamics are stressful at the time, but hell - they're entertaining and make excellent material for retelling...
Having brunch at the back courtyard

Self portrait inside
Interior of Robin de Bois - the big mirror (self-portrait) is on the left, and the big forest (reflected) is on the right
Jasmien & Thomas - just after they'd kissed. ...such romantics!

Highlights of the Met

Entrance foyer at the Metropolitan museum - busy, even on a weekday
The roof terrace
Mycenae - decorated pot
Bamako, Mali
Even though the museum is too big, my stamina too short, I'm glad I went. I love the great halls, the grand setting for the pieces.

Time is flying, no swooshing by - too quickly to keep up with the blog!

On Friday I took the day off to go to the Metropolitan Museum. I was going to focus on the Greeks and Romans, but soon got saturated with the marble statues, and painted vases.... can confirm I still prefer the older Mycenean and minoan stuff to the red and black figure Greek vases. Then I started wandering and pausing at things which caught my fancy.
I stumbled across a temporary exhibition on Paul Poiret, a fashion designer around the turn of the century, during the belle epoch. His creations are truly breath-taking - the fabric, the way it was draped, the combinations of colours & textures, the design - I've never seen anything like it. Many looked inspired by the orient, others were typical of the art deco period. I'm glad I had this chance encounter in the museum.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Al di La - a taste sensation

Oops - I forget to post this pic, because it required a special posting! Marie treated Chris and I for a farewell dinner at Al di La - her favourite italian restaurant. It's on Carroll street, cnr of 5th avenue, Brooklyn. And what an amazing dining experience it is - from the waiters who treat her like a regular local, the gracious decor and ambience, to the fine food. We shared and tasted 3 starters: the spring salad, gnocchi (with a paper thin wrapping and melt-in-the-mouth fine spinach inside) and oxtail &squid served with polenta. For main I had a 'hanger steak' which was soft and tender, with arugula and a delicate and delicious balsamic reduction. And a pear and dark chocolate tort for desert. It was Yum. Thank you for an unforgettable evening.

Have you been yet to Marie's and Chris' blog? Check it out at and They write well and are aces at this bleedin' bloggin' thing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday cycle

Sunday I took the subway to 155th street and cycled home. I stopped at this veggie garden in Haarlem and chatted to the gardeners (below). They were growing not only veggies, but grape vines on the fence, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and a peach tree.
Then I cycled in Riverside Park along the Hudson river - here looking north

where I spotted some hippos
Later I crossed through west village and spotted this teeny shop called 'Kaas'
And stopped at this pub called the Spotted Pig for a beer (which I pointed at and which turned out to be cider). Despite the friendly local exterior, the people inside seemed loud and pretentious.

Look - I have to say this blogging is fun but bloody time-consuming - resizing the pics and uploading them. I'm looking forward to next week sunday when it officially ends! In the mean time keep tracking it - there is something to be said about arm chair travel when it's raining non-stop in CT, not so?

Shopping at the Food Co-op

Sunday I went with Natalie to the Food Co-op - around the corner in Union street. It's a members only co-op which has been going since the 1960s (?) where one can buy fresh local produce and most other goods. To be a member you have to work 2 and 3/4 hours a month - helping with packing, stock-taking, cleaning, etc. And Adriana gets to organise this temporary always changing once-in-a-while work force. And, she tells me, all the permanent staff get paid the same, irrespective of how many years they've been working there (10 years in her case) or what you do - whether it's managing people or sweeping the floor. Can you imagine?

It was fun to get an inside view and see the variety of produce. Lukas has discovered back bends and spent most of his time with his head back, looking at the ceiling. So much for all the colourful merchandising and branding...