Fall Bike Ride

The weekend before last weekend (I’m about a week or so behind because of being buried in work) we had the most spectacular Fall weather. We needed to be outdoors in nature immediately and decided to go bike riding up in Dobbs Ferry, NY. They have a public trail that follows the route of the old Croton aqueduct. Although Dobbs Ferry is quite near the city, we haven’t spent any time there. It is a very quaint town with very interesting architecture. The homes range from pretty to spectacular. We had to pull off the trail to see the most amazing house. It looked like Willie Wonka lived there. I had to accost strangers on the trail to get more information on it and was told it was called the octagon house.  Take a peek at this link to see some interior views. It’s really amazing – especially the dance room! I’m going to have to read more because I have no idea why there’s a phrenology model with the other photos.

It was nice to ride through the woods with the gorgeous fall foliage. I loved that this trail runs behind, and in some cases, through huge estates. Public access!

Here are some photos of the day.

Birthday Weekend

This past weekend was jam-packed with birthday fun. It was also a very mushroom-filled weekend. My in-laws gave me a pocket knife, and Neil gave me a collecting basket for mushroom hunting. On saturday morning, we christened both, by going to Stony Brook in  Harriman State Park for a walk with my mushroom group. The weather was spectacular and the leaves were just starting to turn golden.

We walked along a stream and found lots of mushrooms, including delicious black trumpets. With all the rain we’ve had, this summer has been one of the best for mushroom hunting many people can remember. This is my first year, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Here are some photos from the walk.

That night we went to see Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil. The production was spectacular. I would love to go back several more times to absorb all of the layers of  scenery, costumes, performances, etc. If you can possibly go to see it, you should run now and get tickets. It was amazing. We got heavily discounted tickets, so were able to bring Lindsay. I think it blew her 7-year old mind.

Then Sunday, which was my actual birthday, I slept in. For those of you with young kids, you know how rare and wonderful this is. Neil cooked up the black trumpets with eggs and we had a nice breakfast. The day was beautiful, so we went for a walk in Prospect Park. Later that night, we met friends for dinner and came back to our place for drinks afterwards. It was a great weekend with family and friends and I felt very celebrated.

Photos from Chincoteague

As promised, here are more photos from our trip. It is starting to seem like a long time ago already, as the weather cools and daily pace speeds up.

Chincoteague is a forager’s paradise. You can’t throw down a wire cage without catching loads of crabs. Oysters and clams are abundant and I did see some mussels. Neil learned how to shuck oysters, which led to many nights of oysters on the half shell. Clams tossed on the bbq were a big favorite as well.

For anyone who read Misty of Chincoteague, you can visit Misty and Stormy at the museum. Stormy was still alive when I went there as a child. Somewhere there’s a photo of me being kissed on the cheek by Stormy.

Beach Vacation

This year we decided to go to the beach at Chincoteague, VA, which is the place I used to go to as a child. Chincoteague is a small island just below more major beaches such as Rehoboth, Dewey and Ocean City, MD. Chincoteague itself is a sleepy little town that seems to be caught in time. What really makes the trip special is Assateague. Assateague is a barrier island that spans parts of MD and VA. Years ago a Spanish ship, carrying a cargo of ponies destined to work in the gold mines of Peru, crashed off the shore of Assateague. The ponies swam to shore and have lived on the island ever since. Assateague is a National Park and a wildlife sanctuary, so it hasn’t changed since I was a kid.

At first we weren’t sure we would be able to go on our vacation because of hurricane Irene, however everything seemed okay once it passed, so we left just one day later than originally planned. The weather was spectacular and the mosquitoes, which are somewhat infamous, seemed to have washed away with the storm. Assateague, being a barrier island, took the brunt of the storm. The parking lots nearest the beaches were covered with sand, so they were closed the first few days of our trip. We had brought our bikes, so were able to bike the nature loop to get to one of their more remote beaches. I’m so glad the other lots were closed, as we might not have realized this little hidden beach was there. When you were on this beach, you didn’t see anything man-made. You saw pine forests past the sand dunes. I remembered Assateague as being nature’s amusement park and it still was. We saw a herd of wild ponies (which have been fenced back since I was a child. Thanks stupid tourists for ruining that!), a bald eagle, dolphins, a snake, coquinas and loads more. Coquinas are tiny little clam-like creatures that wash up with the waves. They come in all kinds of pastel colors and patterns. My sister and I loved to dig them up and watch them burrow themselves back into the sand. This video is for her. I will post more photos from our trip soon.

Garlic Mustard

During my morel hunting last Saturday, I noticed other wild edibles in the woods. There was winter cress, garlic chives (as a kid, we called this onion grass), watercress, and two highly invasive plants – garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed.

Being the somewhat nature-deprived city gal that I am, I took the opportunity of gathering some wild edibles while I was in the woods. I gathered all of the above except the Japanese knotweed. Lindsay took ownership of the garlic chives, and delighted in pulling them up to get the bulbs. We made scrambled eggs with chives that were delicious. The eggs, of course, were from our backyard chickens.

The garlic mustard looked hopelessly wilted by the time I got home, so I put it in a big bowl of cold water hoping to revive it. It seems as though nothing can kill garlic mustard, and it perked up in no time. I made a delicious pesto sauce, using 50% basil leaves and 50% garlic mustard leaves and buds. Now is the time to pick garlic mustard to eat, because after the flowers bloom, the plant becomes too bitter.

In searching online for garlic mustard recipes, I learned more about the plant itself. It is a highly invasive plant that European settlers brought to plant in their kitchen gardens. It is a prolific producer of seeds and will blanket an area in a very short time, choking out all other native plants, including jack-in-the-pulpit, solomon-seal MOREL MUSHROOMS, and others. Wild animals don’t like to eat it, so it grows completely unchecked. And if that weren’t bad enough, the roots send out a chemical compound that makes the soil inhospitable to other plants. A very primitive form of chemical warfare.

There are many groups that host garlic mustard pulls. The amount of bags filled with the weed is astonishing. Unlike other weeds, you can’t pull this one up and just leave it on the ground. The flowers will have enough energy to produce seeds even after the plant has been uprooted. You have to pull it up by it’s roots and bag it.

Here’s a video that talks about the problems with garlic mustard. It helps you identify it and learn how to get rid of it. There’s even an annual Garlic Mustard Challenge, in which you help them log how many bags of garlic mustard have been pulled. Take a peek here.

Garlic Mustard Identification and Control from Barbara Lucas on Vimeo.

Winter Fun part 2

Today might win the gross winter day award here in Brooklyn with storm drains clogged with slush and the street corners filling up with several inches of slushy rain. I keep trying to remember to think like a kid, so I put on rain boots and enjoyed stomping in the puddles as I took Lindsay to school.

Here are some photos from a visit with my in-laws up in the Berkshires. We enjoyed the wintery day by snow shoeing on and around a lake. After that, Lindsay and her grandparents made a delicious pasta fagioli in their big colonial fireplace.

Blue Bird

Over the years, the bluebird population has greatly decreased. Bluebirds, as many other animals, have suffered loss of habitat. They are cavity-nesters, that seek out hollows in decaying trees. Besides the fact that there are fewer trees left to decay, there are also 2 non-native birds (european starling and the house swallow) that are much more aggressive than the timid bluebird. They snatch the available nest sites, and even take over a nest that the bluebird has claimed (by cracking their eggs and killing the nestlings and/or the parents).

A number of years ago I noticed little wooden bird houses popping up in farmer’s fields in upstate New York. This was a part of a bluebird recovery effort. I was curious about this because I had never seen a bluebird and like to hear positive stories of human/animal interactions.

Last year when I visited the Berkshires, the neighbors next to my in-laws had several bluebird houses up in their backyard. They had several bluebird families living in them and I finally saw my first bluebird. If you have never seen one, you will be blown away at the beautiful shade of dark blue on their back feathers.

This year, my  in-law’s neighbor gave them a nest box and now they too have bluebirds in their yard. In fact, I saw more bluebirds than any other bird while I was there this past weekend. I tried to photograph them, but didn’t get very close. My best attempt is below, but here’s a site with a lot of information and photos.

Holiday Weekend

I hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day weekend. We went up to the Berkshires to visit Neil’s parents. They live in a very pretty, rural area near Great Barrington, MA. Behind their house is a beaver pond/wetland area. They always have more than their share of mosquitoes, but have always had loads of bats living in their open wood shed. Last year the bats did not come back. That, of course, means that there are zillions of mosquitoes. It seems as though the barn swallows have increased in number a bit. Neil’s parents wanted to be able to enjoy their yard, so they found a small tent as a possible solution. Lindsay loved it because of the playhouse aspect. She also found a little green caterpillar, which is a rarity in our lives in Brooklyn.

Stone Barns

A few days ago I wrote about eating at Blue Hill Restaurant for my anniversary. I didn’t go into the food in depth, so I want to say again that it was absolutely delicious. They used fresh, local ingredients that really stood out with their superior flavor. One course was a medley of vegetables and fruit and we found ourselves picking each piece and tasting it individually and then talking about what we had just sampled. The combination of superior cooking and local ingredients made the meal memorable.

We had a very nice waiter who was able to answer a lot of our questions about what farms supply them, etc. They partner with two farms in particular. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires. Wait, did someone say the Berkshires?? It turns out that Blue Hill Farm, which was Dan Barber’s (the chef at Blue Hill restaurant) grandmother’s farm, is very close to Neil’s parent’s house. We decided that the next time we went up, we would try and track the farm down.


In the meantime, we decided to go to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture the day after our fabulous meal. We packed Lindsay up after her sleepover and drove up to Tarrytown, NY. Stone Barns is set on 80 acres of gardens, pastures and woods. The mission of Stone Barns, as they say, is to celebrate, teach and advance community-based food production and enjoyment, from farm to classroom to table. We had fun in their impressive greenhouse finding some of the items in our meal from the night before. The different beds made a patchwork quilt effect.


We wandered through the fields and woods to see their animals. The animals were kept in very spacious areas, and you could see that they move them around to different pastures often. They used portable electric fences that were powered car batteries. There were quite a few pigs that were in the woodsy area doing the things that pigs love best; sunning themselves, sleeping and rolling in the mud. The word transparency kept coming to mind. This operation was beautiful, productive and offered the animals a very nice life. I guess it’s weird to say they have a nice life when they are meat animals, but it is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from feedlots.


They even have a big composting area. They compost everything from the farm and the on-site restaurant. There were machines that looked as though they chop everything up into smallish pieces and then lay them out into windrows (long piles of compost). The windrows were covered to keep in the moisture. I read that they were interested inharnessing the heat that the compost produced as a way to heat the greenhouse in the winter, and worked to implement a compost heating system. I love this place!!


It felt as though we were walking through a botanic garden as we toured the grounds. After we passed the laying hens out in their enormous field, we came across their bee hives. I am fascinated with honey bees right now, and have a friend who keeps bees in Brooklyn and sells her honey. I’m still too chicken to make the leap into beekeeping!

I’ve always been curious to try hunting for wild honey. That entails watching the direction bees fly from the flowers they are pollinating and triangulating the path back to their hives, which are often in a hollow tree. I don’t have much opportunity to do that in NYC and I haven’t found a cohort. Plus I think you need to destroy the hive to harvest the honey and I wouldn’t want to do that. Can you imagine thousands of really pissed off bees with no home? Okay, so I like the idea of hunting honey, but not the reality. So when I saw bees (or possibly wasps) flying into a tree during our walk I was really excited. That could be my elusive honey tree!!


At the end of our visit, we had a snack in their little café and peeked into the Blue Hill restaurant up there. It was a fun escape from the city on a gorgeous summer day.

Off for the weekend

View from my in-law's yard

View from my in-law's yard

We’re heading out to visit Neil’s parents in the Berkshires this weekend. It will be nice to catch up, go on a hike or two, canoe, and do some foraging where there are actual, real, live plants in the wild. I’ve packed my copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus (see my reading list), which is a fabulous foraging book.

We are also going to go to the free evening dance performance at Jacob’s Pillow on Saturday. It’s such a lovely community program. You sit in the woods with a picnic dinner and watch dancers perform on an open-air stage with the rolling Berkshire hills in the background. The performance is early enough that we can bring Lindsay, who is mesmerized by the dancing.

The only sad note about the weekend is that a friend of ours offered us amazing seats to a Yankees game for Saturday. Sniff.

So have a great weekend and I’ll catch up on Monday. My chickens and I are going to be interviewed on Monday for WFUV radio. Wish us luck!