Painted Bunting


WatermarkPhotoSquare™2015-12-29 03:12:37 +0000This little fellow got sidetracked from his migration and ended up in Prospect Park in the native flora area. I finally got a chance to go see him today and he was as spectacular as anticipated. Right now he should be hanging out in southern Florida or Central America, not in Brooklyn. There have been as many as 100 people a day stopping by to gawk at his stunning coloration. This little guy seemed completely unfazed with all the attention he’s been garnering. He’s been sticking to a very small area and munching on the grass and pokeweed seeds.

He’s puffed up like a little ball in the picture because it was a little chilly today. Hopefully we’ll get some more seasonal temperatures here and that will kick his migration instinct back into gear. Cross your fingers for a good outcome for this beautiful creature!

Blue Hill Farm


This is the final segment of my anniversary/local food combo platter, which now takes us to Monterey in the Berkshires. In my previous post I mentioned that the chef at Blue Hill Restaurant (Dan Barber) gets his amazing ingredients in part from Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires. Blue Hill Farm was bought by Barber’s grandmother and has been in his family for 3 generations. They now have farmer Sean Stanton managing the farm, which has turned into a wonderful collaboration with Barber. Stanton works with Barber to obtain the tastiest milk, eggs and meat.

Neil and I figured that Blue Hill Farm was probably on Blue Hill Road. Duh. I emailed Stanton and asked if we could come out and visit the farm and he gave us the go-ahead. Interns (and fiancés) Daniel and Allison were getting the cows ready for milking when we got there, so we took a little stroll to see the chickens. They have 200+ laying hens that are the most free-ranged hens I’ve ever seen.

laying hens free-ranging

laying hens free-ranging

Chicken tractor

Chicken tractor

We then went to see the meat birds. They are in a chicken tractor, which is an enclosed run that is light enough to be pulled over different parts of the field. They rotate their cows to a new pasture every 12 hours. Then the chickens come in and do what chickens love best…pecking and scratching around for bugs. They pick through the cow patties and find nice juicy fly larvae. Yum. The chickens are fat and happy and there are fewer pests flying around the farm. Chickens also love to eat grass, so they are happiest outdoors.


The farm was absolutely picturesque. There were green rolling hills, a beautiful barn, happy animals grazing and bunnies romping around. We headed up to the milking barn, where Allison was handling the milking. Daniel filled a suck-bucket (this is a new term for me and I love how awful it sounds!) with fresh milk for the calves. The calves are raised for veal, and again I couldn’t help but notice how much better their lives are on this farm than on factory farms. They are outside eating grass and drinking milk, which is a far cry from the dark, veal pens one usually hears about.

Calves drinking from suck bucket

Calves drinking from suck bucket

Lindsay really enjoyed watching the milking and learned a lot about the cows. They sell some of their fresh, raw milk right at the farm. It’s in a fridge with a metal box to drop money into. I am excited about a source of raw milk, because I want to work on making cheese this fall and winter.


So we went from Blue Hill restaurant for our anniversary to Stone Barns and now to Blue Hill Farm. So where is Blue Hill Farm? It’s right across from Beartown State forest, which is where Neil and I got engaged. How appropriate.

11 Years of Marriage

anniversary-small11 years ago (this past Saturday) Neil and I were married in his parent’s backyard in the Berkshires. We had a beautiful weekend, and 11 years later, we also had a beautiful weekend.

We started the day by going to 2 kid’s birthday parties. Lindsay stayed at her friend’s house for a sleepover after the birthday party, so we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. What do parents do when they have some time off? Rest! We watched most of Arsenic and Old Lace before it was time to go for dinner.

We ate at Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan. When we made the reservations, we didn’t know that the Obamas just ate there. It was difficult getting a table, but Neil persevered. It was worth it. We got the 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings. It was the best meal we’ve eaten in years. They get their ingredients from Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires and from Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY.

We laughed so hard when they put the first “plate” down on our table. To be fair, it wasn’t part of the 5 courses, but if you were to ever see a spoof of an expensive Manhattan restaurant, they would show what we were served. They gave us a block of wood with many spikes coming out of the top. The spikes made a wavy row on the top of the block. The food was speared onto the spikes as the presentation. So the funny part was there were 2 tiny carrots, 2 tiny pea pods, 2 cherry tomatoes and 2 florets of something related to broccoli. But they were delicious and we didn’t go home hungry at the end of the meal.


After dinner we went to the Highline in Chelsea. I wrote a little about it in this post, but hadn’t gone in person until Saturday. We went after sunset and it was really magical. They have beautiful wild plantings of grass and flowers that weave in and out of the train tracks and the stone walkway. You are raised up, so you have a nice view of the streets and buildings in the neighborhood. We had a nice New York moment there too. The Highline ends rather abruptly around 28th street, where it will eventually be extended to 34th street. When you are at the northern end of the Highline, you are right next to some residential buildings. There was a woman out on her fire escape, who had strung lights up and was entertaining the Highline visitors with her stand-up comedy. She had quite a crowd of people watching her as I’m sure she does every weekend. I love New York and am glad there are still some characters left!


Twilight Hour in Prospect Park

<div xmlns:cc="" about=""><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=Tonight at the Audubon Center in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, there will be a Twilight Tour. Enjoy wine and cheese on the balcony of the boat house and then tour Lullwater on their boat Independence, which is a replica of a turn-of-the-20th century boat. After the ride, you will go on a bat walk with an Audubon naturalist.

Call 718-287-3400 x 102 for reservations. $30 per person (cash only).

Selected summer Thursdays,  6:30 p.m.

If you miss the one tonight, there will be others on:

July 2, 9, 30,
August 6, 13, 20, 27

The High Line in NYC


The decade-long project of Friends of the High Line (FHL)  has just opened. The High Line was originally built in the 1930s as an elevated train track and went out of use in 1980. There were plans to tear down the elevated tracks, but a community-based non-profit  group Friends of the High Line formed in 1999 to preserve it as a public space. The first section just opened a few days ago, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. Eventually it will go to 34th Street and be a mile and a half long.

As you may know from previous posts, I love creative ideas for unwanted or underused spaces. This patch of green promises to be a soothing place in a very industrial area. I love that they are going to keep it a bit wild instead of having manicured plantings.

They are expecting big crowds, so they recommend that people enter at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets. There are other exit/access points at 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th Streets. There is also an elevator at the 16th Street access point.

Hours: Open daily from 7am to 10pm.

You can see lots of photos and get more info at The High Line site.

Milwaukee to use cemetery greenhouses for food production

Here’s an interesting story about an organization called Growing Power in Milwaukee teaming up with Forest Home Cemetery to produce food for city residents. Once you get beyond the zombie images, it’s a very nice partnership. The historic cemetery has 3 century-old greenhouses that used to provide flowers, plants and trees for the park-like cemetery. The cost of heating the greenhouses became prohibitive and they were closed about 10 years ago.  

As the article mentions, urban farming is all about finding places to grow food that people wouldn’t have thought of. It sounds as though the cemetery workers are excited about having something positive and life-affirming happening at the cemetery. Soon school groups will not only tour the historic cemetery, but they will also tour the greenhouses and learn about planting and growing food.

I love stories like this. People thinking creatively. People working together. Healthy food going to people who might not otherwise get it. What a great partnership.

Care for your urban tree

A lot of trees have been planted in my neighborhood lately. It is a part of MillionTreesNYC, which is an initiative with NYC Parks and New York Restoration Project. They aim to plant 220,00 street trees, 380,000 trees in parks and 400,000 will come from private organizations and homeowners.

We have a little tree outside our apartment building and I was inspired by seeing all of these new trees to take better care of it. I started by dumping several buckets of worm-filled compost in the pit around the tree. When I watered it, the water just ran off the compacted soil. So I figured I needed a better idea of how to care for my urban street tree. I found some great information on the NY Parks and Rec site as well as the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Greenbridge site. Below is a summary of what I learned.

1) Loosen up the soil- With a hand cultivator (the hand tool that looks like a 3-pronged claw, loosen up the top 2-3″ of soil. Most city tree soil gets compacted, which prevents water and air from reaching the roots. Dig up any weeds that will compete with the tree for nutrients.

2) Flush the soil- In the spring, water the tree well to remove road/sidewalk salt that might have accumulated. Also try and keep animals out as much as possible. Dog urine can throw off the soil nutrients and burn the tree trunk. 

3) Amend the soil- Add a 2-3″ layer of mulch around (but not touching) the tree. The mulch is great at preventing weeds, keeping the soil below it moist and slowly breaking down into nutrient-rich compost. The mulch looks nice and lets neighbors know that you are taking care of your tree. In other words, it might deter people from tossing their trash in your tree pit.

4) Water your tree- The area around a tree that allows water in is quite small for the amount of water a tree needs to flourish. Water newly planted trees about 10-15 gallons a week. Mature trees need about 8-10 gallons a week during periods when it hasn’t rained. 

5) Plant flowers- You need to be careful not to harm the tree when you plant around it. Digging in the pit can damage roots. Raising the soil level against the tree’s trunk can cause it to rot or prevent air from reaching the roots. However, you can plant flowers or plants with shallow roots that won’t disturb the tree. Brooklyn GreenBridge recommends: small annuals like impatiens, or perennial groundcovers like bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) or periwinkle (Vinca minor)—avoid ivy. Small bulbs are good too: try crocus, miniature daffodils, or glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa species). 

An urban tree has a lot stacked up against its survival – air pollution, car doors, dog pee, bicycles chained up to them as well as limited space for them to grow and get their water. Any help we can give them will help them to thrive.

Foraging with Wildman Steve Brill

On Saturday my friend Alison and I went on a wild edibles foraging tour of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Wildman Steve Brill was our very funny and knowledgeable guide. We had a big group of about 25-30 people and we raised eyebrows as we all bend down, picked some weedy looking plant and then put it in our mouths. I highly recommend any of Steve’s tours. I learned a lot about plants I’d never really taken notice of before. He shared tips for what part of the plant is edible, how to cook them, what time of the year you are most likely to find them, and their medicinal properties.

Here’s a list of what we found on Saturday. Alison took the notes while I took the photos. There was so much information, it would have been hard to do both!

1. Hedge Mustard
2. Poor Man’s Pepper
     a. good in stews and salads. Prevents cancer cells from developing.
3. Garlic Mustard
     a. very invasive! Eat a lot of it.
     b. Use it in pesto
     c. Root is also edible and tastes like horseradish
     d. Is in season well into May
     e. Flower bud looks like broccoli and the best flavor is when the plant is blossoming.
4. Lesser Celandine
     a. in the buttercup family
     b. eat it before it flowers. It’s toxic after it flowers.
     c. Best cooked w/ rice
5. Gout Weed
     a. Parsley and celery flavor
     b. Use it like parsley.
6. Kentucky Coffee Tree Seeds
     a. Seeds and green pulp are poisonous raw. Roast them about 1.5 hours at 300º. Grind them to       make decaf coffee.
     b. Can be added to hot chocolate and chocolate cake.
7. Star of Bethlehem
     a. Poisonous to eat
     b. Can be confused with field garlic. It has a distinguishing white stripe that field garlic doesn’t.
8. Japanese Knot Weed
     a. Related to rhubarb
     b. Peel the stem and eat it. Don’t eat the leaves.
     c. Makes a nice fruit compote. 1 part knot weed to 10 parts fruit.
     d. Short fat stems are optimal
     e. Has pretty, lacy flowers in the fall
9. Hercules Club (aka Angelica Tree or Devil’s Walking Stick)
     a. Shave the thorns off with a knife and steam the developing shoots like asparagus.
10. Red Bud Blossoms
     a. put them in salad or toss in batter and make fritters
11. Chickweed
     a. Eat leaves, stems and flowers raw or cooked
     b. Tastes like corn
     c. Loads of vitamins
     d. To cook: wash and chop into bite-sized pieces. Cook (steam the wet leaves) in a pot on low          heat until wilted. In a separate pot cook garlic in oil and toss together.
12. Mugwort
     a. It’s in the wormwood family
     b. You can make a tea to help with PMS
13. Field Garlic
14. Daylily
     a. Has tubers that look like potatoes.
     b. The leaves taste like green beans.
     c. You can eat the leaves, stems, tubers or flowers
     d. 1 in 50 people have digestive problems w/ daylilies. Gradually build up to eating them.
15. Sassafras
     a. Branches grow out at 45º angles from trunk
     b. Smells like root beer
     c. Wash the root, simmer for 20 minutes and chill the tea
     d. Can also use the cambium of the root as cinnamon
16. May Apple
     a. Poisonous except for the ripe fruit
17. Violet
     a. Use the leaves in salad
18. Burdock
     a. Delicious root. Cut the root razor thin on the diagonal, simmer it and put it in rice or a stew.
     b. Leaf has silver, hairy underside.

Fresh Kills Park

Fresh Kills Park

Fresh Kills Park

On April 4th Staten Island’s very own Fresh Kills Landfill will officially open again as Fresh Kills Park. There will be free tours and they are touting state-of-the-art ecological restoration. In a short video, they talk about how they “capped” the landfill. They pipe out the methane from the rotting crud to power local homes. They covered the entire landfill with 3 feet of fill dirt, an impermeable (ha) plastic cover and then 8 feet of clean soil. What about all the toxins leaching into the water??? I think I’ll have to see this park to believe it!