Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Not exactly local foods, but at least local herbs flowers that I planted. Three floors up on the 18th floor roof garden, the "pinch an inch" herb garden that I tend each year for my building offered me a gorgeous array, even on Oct. 29. I had promised I wouldn't 'fuss' if I cooked instead of us four going to one of the 54 restaurants within a 3 block radius of my home. The rinsed thyme leaves flavor the vegetable soup I made with canned chicken stock and the wilted remains of onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and parsnip languishing in my veg bin. Snipped chives will grace the mashed butternut squash. I'll mince perfect parsley atop the chicken thighs baked with honey, mustard and fresh ginger. Plain baked potatoes or buttered noodles will accompany the main course. Ben will use the mint in his favorite mocktail, the Platonic, made with pineapple juice and tonic. The dessert comes straight from my freezer: bread pudding that I had made in quantity the last time my collage group was here, paired with blueberry/plum sauce made with lavender buds, also from the pinch-an-inch herb display. I couldn't resist two hydrangea branches at peak and threw in some greenery to welcome our friends tonight in the first snow of the season.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

mint-y fresh

I'm obsessing about wild foods these days. Mostly because I'm working with singular focus on the text for my next book (due 12/31!) but also because as the growing season ends I especially appreciate those few plants that are still growing and feeding me!

Last weekend's meals included chestnut cake, sauteed day lily tubers, and the most troublesome (and ultimately most rewarding) dish: wintergreen ice cream.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a modest evergreen ground cover that comes into its own this time of year. As other plants drop their leaves, wintergreen's glossy green leaves and occasional red berries stand out. It grows best in shade to part shade; in cold temperatures the leaves may take on a reddish tint.

Wintergreen flavor was the inspiration for Teaberry gum (do they still make Teaberry gum?) and its leaves are often used for tea. Which I find a little boring. So I was happy to locate an on-line recipe for wintergreen ice cream. (I do NOT find ice cream boring.)

My happiness ended when I MADE the ice cream and it tasted like MAYBE someone had THOUGHT about wintergreen while making the dessert...seriously, barely a whiff of flavor. And that was AFTER I'd tripled the number of called-for leaves and chopped and bruised the foliage to release the essential oils.

This was an egg-based (custard) ice cream recipe. I thought maybe the strong egg flavor dominated the wintergreen, so next I tried an egg-less (some call it NY or Philadelphia style) ice cream. After simmering more than a cup of chopped wintergreen leaves in the cream/sugar mixture, the flavor was still underwhelming. Slightly stronger, but not what I was looking for.

Feeling dejected, I returned to the library, and eureka! Thank you, Euell Gibbons.

Euell wrote about the weak taste of wintergreen tea in Stalking the Healthful Herbs. He inadvertently discovered that soaking the leaves in room temperature water releases the essential oils and creates a strong wintergreen infusion. Some internet sources say the release of flavor takes place in as little as 12 hours. Euell said 3 days and darned if he wasn't right on the money.

In the end I made a superb wintergreen ice cream with 2 cups of cream, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 cup of strong wintergreen tea. Sweet, unique, and not on any restaurant's menu. It wasn't easy getting there, but every bite proved it was worth the effort.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Taken with my iPhone.Downloaded to my iMac.
Edited in iPhoto. Even I can do that.
Double click on any image, click again to read some messages.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Grazing the 'Hood

I know, I know, we've written a lot about The High Line here at Garden Bytes. So sue us. We like it.

Monday morning I took a new friend to visit: Francesca Yorke, who taught the Garden to Plate photography class I took last month in Santa Fe. It was lovely strolling the park with a companion in photography, each of us finding images that floated our respective boats.

No surprise that my boat was floated by the surprising number of ornamental plants with edible parts. I'm a little obsessed at the moment, working on my back yard foraging book. But even for me, who sees edible plants everywhere, The High Line was impressive.

Let's be clear: I am NOT suggesting you graze The High Line! (I promise I didn't pick a single thing.) But take a walk and see what's on the menu. Then use it as a model for your own yard or terrace. You might be surprised by how tasty some of those traditional ornamentals can be.

Use dried, ground juniper berries in spice rubs.

The flesh of yew arils (berries) is sweet and juicy. But spit out the seed...it's highly poisonous!

Sumac berries are tart and lemon-y. You can make sumac-ade, or use it to flavor rum. I vote for rum.

Both the flower and berries of elderberry are tasty in multiple ways.

That's right, sedum leaves. Put 'em in your salad.

Young sassafras (the autumn leaves above are too old), when dried and ground, make file gumbo.

Rose hips are very high in vitamin C and make a great jelly.

Thanks for the acorns, noble oak!
(Thanks for the sign, Manhattan Mini Storage.)

And thanks to The High Line for showcasing so many useful/delicious plants, of which the above are a mere smattering.

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