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MY KITCHEN IN FEBRUARY

For dinner parties when the three square feet

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of kitchen counter space become less challenging than insanity-provoking, I move dishes waiting to cook to the terrace, where they remain chilled. Wine is either iced fetchingly in a snowdrift or left on the stone table in the cold night. For anyone with a sensibility geared toward seasonal eating, the fourth month of root vegetables is becoming provocative. Fortunately these taproots, tubers, and rhizomes are also hugely versatile, and here I salute them.

snowy weather menu

Apple Cognac Punch

Apple Cognac Punch

I love punch. It always feels like a party. Prepare the apples in Cognac 24 hours in advance. You can substitute bourbon or brandy. If serving to larger numbers for a big party, double the quantity, combine in a punch bowl, and float freshly sliced rounds of apple in the punch. SERVES SIX

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1 sweet apple, thinly sliced into rounds

1 cup (240 ml) Cognac

2 tablespoons sugar 3 strips of lemon peel, 3 inches (7.5 cm) long

2 bottles dry sparkling wine or Champagne

Combine the apple slices, Cognac, sugar, and lemon peel in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and leave in the fridge overnight, covered. Chill the bottle of wine.

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Carrot and Cumin Soup Beetroot and Parsnip Salad with Kale and Shallots Oxtail Stew Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes Baked Apples

Ten minutes before serving, Strain the Cognac into a beautiful chilled jug or carafe and gently pour in the sparkling wine. Cover and refrigerate until needed, and then pour into coupes.

FEBRUARY

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THE JUNE TERRACE

Beautiful June.

Abraham Darby continues its first flush, the large flowers bowed by the weight of their petals high above the street. Pigweed, an amaranth, is visible between its thorny branches, but I leave it there. It is a delicious weed. Beside the rose the pink and apricot spires of Mexican hyssop attract a profusion of small flying pollinators. The basil begins to resemble the mature herb at last: purple and an interesting mottled green. I nip the growing tips repeatedly to encourage full, fat plants. We eat more strawberries, and I feed the clever plants, hoping for sweet returns on a fishy investment. I use a bottle of diluted fish and seaweed fertilizer on the terrace every month, giving every pot one long, smelly drink. Then I have to shut the sliding door for a day, or hold my breath. When the next strawberry crop matures late in the month in a blast of sun and heat the berries are fatter and shining with ripeness. An early heatwave of clinging humidity encourages the inevitable black spot on the Iceberg rose. Out comes the neem oil. I hate the white drips it leaves behind on the leaves but the alternative is complete defoliation. As the clematis flowers lose their petals and turn into green seedheads, the new gloriosa lilies begin to open. Planted in April, the strange white tubers—like fat pencils—give rise to stems that are already five feet long, each leaf tip equipped with a cunning prehensile tendril that lassoes any support it senses. The buds are green, like sinister little masks, and they turn pale yellow before flaring open. As each day passes their color intensifies until the lovely, recurved petals are an intense pink, before they relax, flattening and receding to a dull flat red. I am very pleased with this plant that is native to the southern coasts of South Africa. The buds of the statuesque Silk Road lilies fatten and lengthen. One morning I find the first flower open. Its carmine throat is painted with lime, the long, highly suggestive pistil surrounded by five amber anthers which turn dusty and yellow as their pollen loosens. I tether the tall stems to pre-

JUNE

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NEW YORK IN APRIL Average temperatures: 61°F / 44°F (16°C / 7°C) April is what the cold world has been waiting for.

We range far and wide, riding all the way to the ends of every subway line. And then we take the bus—for the love of open spaces, flowers, and things green (and often edible). Everywhere, we are flanked by the white callery pear blossom that is synonymous with April on New York’s streets. In Pelham Bay in the Bronx we walk in the forest near the water and the rocky islands of the Long Island Sound and find drifts of tiny white flowers under the trees in the fallen leaves. They are cutleaf toothwort, an increasingly rare native wildflower. Nearby is a pocket of anemones on stems like threads. The ranunculus cups of invasive lesser celandine are a brilliant yellow beside the path. In this forest, still rustling with winter’s leaves, there are few people to be seen, other than a clump of birdwatchers with mammoth lenses waiting for a greater horned owlet to raise its fluffy head from a shattered stump that rises twenty feet above the floor of the greening woods. We picnic on bread and paté on a rocky outcrop, sipping our air-chilled sauvignon blanc. On the walk back I stop to kneel beneath the tall hollow canes of last year’s Japanese knotweed and cut big bunches of the new, succulent shoots that sprout from each cluster near the beach. The fragile white candy-striped flowers of spring beauty crowd the grass near our bus stop. At the opposite end of the city, in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I make an annual pilgrimage to see the gentle unfolding of the cloaks that wrap each bloodroot stem in the Native Garden. It is a drama in miniature. Every small white flower blooms alone, wrapped in modesty. Later, the leaves of trout lilies here and in Central Park’s Ramble form spotted mats beneath fragile stalks supporting the fulvous flowers. These ephemerals belong to a delicate, indigenous spring, still surprisingly alive—though under great pressure—in wilder parks and careful gardens. They disappear as the forest leafs out and its shade sends them back into the warming earth. I cross the road and wander in the woods of Prospect Park, finding, off the path and among the weedy garlic mustard flowers, carpets of blue violets,

APRIL

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Late Summer Picnic L

Southeast Asian Meatballs Wrapped in Bibb Lettuce and Herbs with Dipping Sauce The key to the flavoring is to chop everything exceptionally finely. And leave the mixture to rest for a couple of hours, or better, a day, in the fridge. Bibb lettuce, Boston lettuce, butter lettuce—its shallow, flexible leaves are perfect for wrapping the meatballs. M A K E S A B O U T 3 0 S M A L L M E AT B A L L S FOR THE M E AT B A L L S

½ cup (55 g) bread crumbs

1½ pounds (680 g) ground pork

3 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons very finely chopped lemongrass 2 teaspoons very finely chopped garlic

3 tablespoons coconut or unscented oil, for frying FOR THE D I P P I N G S AU C E

1 ¼ teaspoons very finely chopped hot red chile

3 tablespoons fish sauce

¾ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon tamarind syrup

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

Slices of hot red chile

1 tablespoon very finely chopped ginger

2 heads Bibb lettuce

3 tablespoons fish sauce

Herbs (shiso [sesame leaf], basil, cilantro, mint) Scallions

Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the oil and mix thoroughly. Let the mixture rest, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours or more.

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Shape the meat mixture into small balls, about an inch (2.5 cm) across. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a good, heavy pan over medium-high heat, and add one-third of the meatballs. Flip once or twice until they are caramelly brown. Repeat with the remaining meatballs until they have all been cooked. Alternately, preheat the oven to 450°F (220°C) and bake the meatballs on an oiled rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes, turning once. Make the dipping sauce: Mix all the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste. Adjust the balance with more lemon or lime or sugar. Transport in a small glass jar with tightly fitting lid (unless you want your basket to smell extremely suspect). Remove the outer leaves of the Bibb lettuce if they are bruised and tear off any damaged edges. Separate all the leaves, keeping the smallest pale leaves and hearts for another time. Submerge the larger leaves in water and rinse well. If you do not have a salad spinner, pack the wet leaves in large clean napkin, gather its edges, step outside and become the windmill. When the leaves are perfectly dry, stack them on a plate in several piles, with the largest leaves at the bottom. Cover and keep them cool till you need them. The herbs are up to you. I pick shiso leaves, as large as espresso cup saucers, and about 2 cups (40 g) of basil, cilantro, and mint. Scallions are good, too. When the picnic has been spread and you are ready to eat, do this: Place a shiso or Bibb lettuce leaf in your upturned palm. Nestle a meatball in it. Add basil, cilantro, mint. Spoon a little dipping sauce over them. Wrap up your leaf, and take a bite. The flavors are bright and sharp and sweet and earthy. Follow with a nibble of scallion. Repeat.

AUGUST

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Ouma’s Spicy Lamb Shanks

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All the way at the southern tip of Africa my grandmother prepared a dish that sang of the vast continent’s north. I wonder if she knew that. The raisins and prunes add a rich sweetness to the meat and the all-important vinegar cuts it enough to balance the dried fruit. I like to serve this stew—or tagine—with nothing more than a heaping bowl of farro, cooked until tender. Incidentally, this is one dish not to prepare a day ahead, as so many stews are. While I love nibbling at any cold leftovers, the lamb shanks remain resolutely tough when reheated. SERVES SIX

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6 lamb shanks, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces

1 cup (175 g) prunes, soaked in hot water

1¼ teaspoons black pepper

Salt and pepper

1 cup (150 g) raisins, soaked in hot water

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup (100 g) sugar

¾ teaspoon cloves

¼ cup (30 g) flour 1½ cups (360 ml) water

¾ teaspoon allspice

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar ¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a casserole dish with a lid. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Dust them with the flour, shaking off any excess. Place the shanks in the prepared casserole and cook, covered, until tender, about 2 hours. Combine the other ingredients in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and drain the fat that has accumulated (but save any brown juices). Add the fruit mixture, return to the oven, and cook another 30 minutes. Serve from the dish at table, with heaps of steaming farro into which you have stirred a tablespoon of butter.

OCTOBER

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66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life By Marie Viljoen  

A quirky and charming guide to gardening on a tiny Brooklyn terrace and cooking the results by the author of the popular blog, 66 Square Fee...

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