Happy Friday! Now that the workweek is through, why not fix yourself a cocktail? Our friends at the Four Seasons, New York suggest their take on the New York Gin Cream, using only ingredients found within 100-mile radius of the city––part of a worldwide program to showcase local ingredients. What better way to welcome the weekend? Cheers!
New York Gin Cream
By Simon De Swaan, Food and Beverage Director, Four Seasons Hotel, New York
1½ oz Fox’s U-bet Vanilla Syrup (made in Brooklyn)
1½ oz Whole Organic Milk (local farm stand or Whole Foods)
Club Soda or Seltzer water to taste
Combine ice, syrup, gin and milk in a large martini shaker. Shake and pour drink mixture (without ice) into a tall soda fountain glass. Top with seltzer or club soda to get a frothy/bubbly finish on top of the mixture. Garnish with a black and white cookie and a straw.
The Lore of the Egg Cream:
Egg Creams have been a part of the soul of Brooklyn for years––whether chocolate or vanilla they are dear to many New Yorker’s (mostly Brooklynite’s) hearts. This sparkly-sweet drink has been around for more than a century and we’ve added our own twist using Greenhook Ginsmith’s Brooklyn Gin to make our own version called the New York Gin Cream––Four Seasons Hotel New York’s 100-mile cocktail.
There are many stories of how the Egg Cream got its name, but one story goes that it was first created by a Jewish candy-store owner, Louis Auster, who opened a legendary shop on Second Avenue and Seventh Street in the 19th century. From then on, many soda fountain jerks have recreated the coveted Egg Cream as well as laid claim to being the inventors. Regardless of origin, the Egg Cream is one traditional all New Yorkers can get behind.
When it comes to understanding container gardening, my old boss came up with a saying I like to use: ‘first you thrill, then you spill.‘ I think it gets at two of the most crucial elements to crafting a real whizzbanger of a pot quite nicely. Here’s three great tips for making a great garden container:
1. Height: Height is part of the ‘thrill’ element of a pot. You need something eye catching. A colorful, vivid, imposing ‘je ne sais quoi’ to firmly establish the pot’s presence in the world. Choose foliage over flowers for this part of the display- something that will give you volume and bulk. A great summer choice are canna lilies, as is woodland tobacco, or a big plume of elephant ears.
2. Stuffing: This is what goes along the edges of the pot and gets crammed in in every available blank space. No bare patches allowed. Feel free to choose 1-3 different annuals to make it interesting, but don’t select anything that will compete with the size of your background anchor plant. Something with lacy, differently colored foliage that stands out, like any of the wormwoods, is a good choice here. You can’t go wrong with coleus, either. Even something like coral bells is great for stuffing- the airy flowers it produces midsummer add another element to the mix, too. I like to use some of the salvias here. Don’t be afraid to step it up a notch on the color and texture. This is the layer to do it with.
3. Spill: My favorite part, this is where you can get buck-wild messy. Lantana is a failsafe for full sun and it comes in a myriad of tropical popsicle colors. Million bells is good in the same way. For shade, sweet potato vine is tenacious and brilliantly lime-green or purple, however you want it. And if you’re looking for an upward climber, try moonflower- it blooms at night!
While you’re at it, don’t forget the golden rule of container gardening: water, water, water.
Image by Helen O’Donnell
Place a sturdy leaf in a jar of water and at the end of several weeks or months, depending on the leaf, you will have the makings of a phantom bouquet. All that remains is to sift out the nets intact, rinse and gently rub away the pulp. The same process occurs every winter on damp and spongy forest floors so that come spring, after the snow has melted, whole acres are covered with the remains of skeletalized leaves. But they do more than attract the eye.
In Phantom Flowers, a treatise on the art of producing skeleton leaves – an unfortunately anonymous how-to booklet published in 1864 – the author explains:
From the large proportion of mineral matter contained in the leaves, it is evident that the same substances existing in the earth must be annually circulating from one to the other. The roots extract them from the soil, they ascend the tree with the sap, and are deposited in the leaves. Having given them coherency and strength, and having probably performed other functions which are yet unknown to either botanist or chemist, the fall and decay of the leaves returns these mineral ingredients to the earth. With the succeeding year the mysterious circuit is repeated, the tree enlarging in bulk, and the forest soil increasing in richness…
Phantom Flowers describes how to preserve plants, including their leaves, buds, and seed-vessels, in an ornate, patient and purist Victorian style. J.E. Tilton & Co. might have published the book primarily to sell their leaf whitening agent, but the author puts such an… ahem… flowery Emersonian spin on the whole affair, it’s worth a re-visit even now:
The science which enables us to understand not only the history, the names, the virtues, and the associations connected with all plants, as well as the wonderful relations, the admirable laws which govern their structure, and the important part they bear in the economy of the universe, is worthy of the careful study of every intelligent person. He will find it worth while to become familiar with a science which, wherever his steps may lead him, from the bleak mountaintop, crusted over with mosses and lichens only, to warm and luxuriant tropical valleys, where the magnificence of vegetable wonders almost bewilders the senses, with still furnish him with new subjects for admiration. It will make his morning walk in the garden or over the meadow a new delight. A tramp along the commonest field path, or a ramble by the wayside, which, to the eye of the dull and unlearned, may be mean and barren, he will find rich in interest and exuberant in beauty…
The fields, the forests, the entire landscape have a positively different and altogether new meaning to one who sees, not only the general beauty of the whole display, but who also studies with delight every detail of fern, or shrub, or forest tree in the foreground.
On a more practical note, the book contains “minute particulars” on over twenty different species. The author specifies when to collect, how long to soak, and what kind of results you can expect from any given leaf. Whether or not you choose to bleach them in the olden style is entirely up to you.
‘Tiptoe through the snowdrops, to the window…’
Here on the east coast we get about two seconds flat to sing springtime songs. Turn around and BAM summer’s fist is stuffed right up your sniffer. Today- it’s already hot outside. The clay brown earth is warming up. Earthworms are at the soil’s surface mixing all that hummusy goodness down into the root zone. Crocuses have come and gone.
It’s time to harden off your seedlings.
Step one Start the hardening off process about a week before you plan to plant outdoors. For cold hardy brassicas, this is a few weeks before your last frost date. For warmth loving nightshades like tomatoes and eggplants, this is when you’re safely past the final frost date. Wait until daytime temps are safely in the 55 degrees F range and place seedlings outside in a sheltered location for about 3-4 hours. Bring back inside for the night
Step two Repeat! Move seedlings out for a little bit longer each day, gradually increasing light exposure over time. Make sure to water more as you increase heat and light levels.
Step three After a full week, seedlings can spend their first night outdoors, provided temperatures will remain above 50 degrees F.
Step four Plant seedlings out in the garden on a cloudy day and water in well. If the weather turns suddenly cold, swaddling your seedlings in a swath of fabric like burlap or remay to protect from freezing.
‘Summer time, and the living is easy….’
You may be thinking – I don’t need no plants. In reality you do. Plants improve air quality in your home by filtering out volatile compounds and capturing dust providing some relief to those with allergies and asthma. More so, according to The Journal of Environmental Psychology, they improve your mood. People with houseplants tend to be in better spirits, suffer less stress and have more energy. While that’s all well and good – if you live in city, ideal growing situations are hard to come by. Here’s a list of some easy to care for, low light plants perfect for dark corners and shallow lit windowsills.
1. THE MONEY TREE
Walk into any plant store and you’ll be sure to find a Money Tree with its signature braided trunks. The myth is – the healthier and bigger your Money Tree, the more financial success your home will yield. (My tree is huge and lovely, but I’m still awaiting). Known to be prolific in low light, the plant is certainly an apartment dwellers best friend. They’re easy to care for requiring attention once a week or less depending on your growing environment. As a note – upon relocating the plant to your home, you may see a few leaves scattering to the floor. There’s no need to worry. This a normal shock that the plant goes through upon entering a new environment.
2. SNAKE PLANT
The Snake plant with its sword shape leaves loves medium light and can fair well in low light. This plant doesn’t require a lot of effort either. Water and walk away. The danger here is over0-watering if anything. Native to tropical Africa, this plant is also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, and is known to improve air quality in the home. Asthma? Allergies? This one is for you.
3. CAST IRON PLANT
This was the first houseplant I ever had and bless its soul. The Cast Iron is indestructible. Or, close to anyway. If you have a habit of neglecting your plants, the Cast Iron is for you. Spotty watering? Incredibly low light? No problem. The only drawback is that it grows slowly, so buy a plant whose size you are relatively happy with it.
4. PEACE LILY
The Peace Lily renowned for its ability to neutralizes toxins such as carbon monoxide making it perfect for your city crib. The other benefit is a every plant owners dream. Essentially, the plant will tell you when to water it by letting it’s leaves sag and fall forward. In general, watering once a week is a good plan. For best results – keep the plant more than a few feet away from a window as it prefers indirect light.
Peperomia are all around winners. They’re easy to grow, compact and with a lovely coloring to their leaves. These plants don’t require very much attention, which makes a perfect houseplants for beginners. Most peperomia require moderate to low light. These guys love humidity so a good spritzing of the leaves on watering day will go miles to creating a happy plant.
The old adage (and tongue twister) goes ‘plant peas on st. pattys’. The wise old man that coined that saying must have lived somewhere between Maryland and Massachusetts, but I actually hear it echoed far and wide. By and large, peas are an excellent early season crop. In fact, they might be the consummate spring thing: they’re cold hardy, ravenous growers, they bring us splotches of pink and white blossoms almost as early as possible PLUS they’re delicious. Almost anyone can grow peas with a little space. The trick is getting the plant going early enough to beat the summer heat, and being timely with trellis construction is important too, so your neatly trained peas don’t become a tangled pea dreadlock trailing across the ground.
1. Good Pea Varieties: ‘Laxton’s Progress Number 9′ is a fantastic heirloom variety of shelling peas and one of my all around favs. Five inch pods produce large, wrinkled dark green peas in about 60 days. A bonus about this one- its vines are dwarf and require no staking, making it a great choice for the urban veggie grower. ‘Cascadia Peas’, a sweet and crunchy sugar snap variety, is another good pick with relatively short 3 foot long vines. The handy thing about ‘Cascadia’ is its resistance to powdery mildew- a common problem in the spring garden.
2. Bed Prep and Planting: Peas grow best when soil has warmed to somewhere around 60 degrees. If it’s a little colder, that’s ok. Seeds and seedlings can tolerate a cold snap or two. In fact, it’s best to plant seeds about 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Peas slow down production once summer weather starts, so to ensure for a good harvest, it’s vital to start early. Plant seeds in two rows. Each seed should be 1 inch deep and 2 inches away from its nearest neighbor. Don’t sweat the small stuff, if you cram your peas in too tight, thin the shoots and eat a pea shoot salad. All the cool kids are doing it.
3. Pea Support: Unless planting dwarf varieties, all peas need some kind of structure to keep them growing skyward. Sturdy branches dug into the ground, placed every 8 inches or so should do it, so long as they are knobbly enough to give the pea tendrils something to hang on to. Chicken wire works too. As does one of those fancy over priced trellises they sell at garden centers. Go on! Get creative. Just do it early enough, like as soon as you plant your wee pea seeds.
Fall has come and gone. Bare branches on the trees mean lots of leaves in the backyard and if you’re a good, diligent little green-thumb, you know there’s no way around it: it’s time compost.
Just like bakers and chefs, composters have their own recipes. You can get as complicated as you like, but the basic recipe is this: two parts brown plus one part green. Brown materials are high in carbon and include woody brush, sawdust, straw, and, of course, fallen leaves. Green materials, like grass clippings, kitchen scraps, or old flower bouquets are the compost’s vital nitrogen source. Before you start piling and mixing find a good compost spot that’s not too shady, not too sunny, and definitely not too damp. Composting speeds up natural decay, so chopping and shredding compost ingredients will allow for faster decompostion and take you to black gold faster than leaving ingredients whole.
To go back to the baking analogy, a compost pile is like a big, smelly cake. Or maybe a lasagne. Either way, it’s arranged in layers, with alternating levels of organic materials (your green and brown mix), activators (that speed up decay) and soil, which introduces microorganisms to do the dirty work of breaking everything down.
Layer one should be a green and brown mix. On top of layer one goes a sprinkling of manure, or, if unavailable, a fertilizer. On top of that is the last layer: healthy top soil from an organic garden (this is really crucial so as to avoid chemical inputs and ensure microorganisms are alive and wriggling). Keep adding these layers as the pile grows, and add water as necessary so all ingredients are moist, but not sopping. To give an idea of ratios, if the green and brown layer is 6 inches thick, both the manure layer and the top soil layer should be about 1 inch thick.
In the middle of frigid winter, decompostion will cease and shut down. If you have heavy rains in your area, tarp your pile to prevent leaching of precious nutrients. If snow is your only problem, let the white stuff insulate everything, and it will start up naturally again in spring. By next summer’s end you’ll have a beautiful, black, finished product.
Here in the Northeast, migrations are upon us. Geese flock overhead, Monarchs are gone, and, recently, the wooly bears are out. Swaddled in stiff hairs from top to bottom, the orange and black wooly bear caterpillar is winter’s waddling herald. Legend has it the black bands covering its head and tail are predictors of the impending season’s severity. If the head is darker than the tail, the winter will start out brutal, tapering to an early spring. If the reverse is true, we’ll have that indian summer we all dream about followed by stubborn april snowfall. If both bands are big and black? We’re screwed.
The myth has made it one of the most recognizable caterpillars in America. Check it out next time you see it struggling across the road and make your own prediction.
The majority of really odiferous plants get their smell from naturally occurring chemical compounds called essential oils. Although intended to play the duel purpose of antifeedant (which prevents fungus), and herbivory deterrent (which prevents animals and insects from eating the plant), essential oils are supremely useful, and desirable to us humans. Especially to those of us who like a nice cup of tea.
Teas are made by adding hot water to fresh or dried leaves and flowers. For an easier and more potent brew make sun tea: simply put your tea harvest in a wide-necked jar full of water and place out in full sun for a few hours. Here are a list of easy to grow annuals and perennials for a window box tea blend planting:
Lemon balm: A hardy perennial that needs light sandy soil and full sun to partial shade. Lemon flavored leaves can be used to make teas and lemonades- which are said to remedy migraines.
Spearmint: The easiest of all scented perennials to grow, spearmint will thrive in whatever conditions you plant it in. If planting in the garden, make sure to contain its roots within fine, sturdy netting, or better yet, in a pot. Otherwise it will overcome the rest of your plants in a few years. A soothing tea can be made from fresh or dried leaves.
Hyssop: A hardy perennial that needs well drained soil and partial shade. Purported to remedy coughs and asthma. Similar to mint in flavor, but with a hint of liquorice.
Basil: An annual that can be grown in full sun to partial shade in rich soil. Basil tea helps relieve stomach aches.
Borage: An annual plant that flourishes in poor, sandy soils and can grow in full sun to partial shade. The cucumber flavored leaves can be used in salads and summer drinks, like pimms.
Bee balm: A hardy perennial that needs well drained soil and full sun to part shade. Both the flowers and leaves can be used to add a zesty, almost citrus flavor to drinks and herbal brews.
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