Foraging is not only an excellent way to supplement your diet, but it reduces your carbon footprint. I hear a lot of people complaining about climate change and foraging is a way to be some part of the solution. Eating whatever’s in your garden is the best way to put your money where your mouth is. Why have that salad sent from California when you have wood sorrel, dandelion greens, ramps, thistle roots, winter cress, burdock, plantain and wild lettuce on your property? Don’t spray your weeds; eat them. Some hardcore carnivores would be surprised to find that these foraged greens have any nutrition at all, but if you spend dark winters watching the deer battle on through a driving blizzard at zero degrees, knowing that they only eat vegetation, you have all the proof you need. Foraging is fun and hiking is the best exercise, gentle enough for everyone. Sorrel is has the taste of spinach with a lemony zing. Spruce tips, which are out now, are a little unusual with a taste reminiscent of citrus.
48F by mid-afternoon, overcast and gloomy.
This is Part One of Fleischmanns, A Poem in Eight Parts
(Imaginative Historical Projection)
By Bill Birns
Part One: On the Porch at Fleischmanns
36F at 8.30am with a layer of overnight snow melting in the sun, chilly and overcast with the snow flakes swirling in the wind. 44F by mid-afternoon.
46F by mid-afternoon, humid and overcast with continual misty rain. A good day to forage, harvest, cook and preserve.
60F by mid-afternoon, overcast, dreary and continual rain with occasional sunny breaks in the cloud.
50F by mid-afternoon, gusty winds, overcast, heavy rain leaving mist over the mountains.
A few posts ago, I mentioned that the charcuterie board at Peekamoose was my go-to dish at the restaurant and somebody asked why that was. Well, it could be the tangy mustard, or the juicy, sweet onion topping, or the chicken liver pate on warm, soft chunks of toast that are gently soaked in house-made, herb butter. It’s the pastrami, though, that seals the deal. It’s like New York City pastrami is all grown up now and moved to the country. Thickly sliced into slabs, it’s mouthwatering grass-fed beef that’s tender, pulls easily, yet retains its juiciness and special because it’s not too fatty or greasy.
This weekend, try the charcuterie board, before you see Prelude to a Kiss playing at the STS Playhouse and take out some dessert on the way home.
Did someone yell Cocktail? I have all this forsythia syrup and didn’t preserve it, so I need to use it all up before it goes bad. What better way to put syrup to good use than a twist on a couple of classic whiskey cocktails: a John Collins and a New York Cocktail. The simple syrup is replaced in both cocktails by forsythia syrup, the earthy tones of which are compatible with a good Scotch and the lemon. Find my forsythia syrup recipe here.
This first is similar to a John Collins, but made with Scotch and missing the fruity garnishes. The second is a New York Cocktail without the grenadine.
51F by mid-afternoon, chilly, windy and overcast with a sunny afternoon.
Two years ago, I saw Proof at the STS Playhouse in Phoenicia and it was riveting and engaging. At the time, I called it “remarkable: deeply engrossing, funny with excellent performances from the cast. Proof explores the world of madness and mathematics”. It was a great production, starring Jennifer Paul, Farrell Reynolds, Stephen Powell and Kimberly Kay.
This year the Playhouse is putting on a production of Prelude to a Kiss, by Craig Lucas, directed by Michael Koegel, owner of Mama’s Boy Burgers. You may remember the movie with Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan. Opening night is this weekend, May 5th, running until May 21st. Make a perfect night of it and get early dinner and drinks at nearby Peekamoose Restaurant– the play starts at 8pm.
STS Playhouse, 10 Church Street, Phoenicia, NY. Tickets $20 or $18 for seniors and students. Call 845-688-2279, or click here for more information.
58F at 9am, raining, overcast and humid. Last night’s rain gushing down the mountains. Breezy afternoon.
68F by mid-afternoon, humid, breezy, mostly overcast with lunchtime sun. Update: torrential overnight rain and turbulent storms across the region.
Another gigantic pile of deliciousness from The Zephyr in Pine Hill: their zucchini fritters. Two medium-plate-sized fritter rounds cut into halves is the entrée version (and half as much food for the starter dish). The image above, taken on the fly, does not do the fritters justice. They were not too doughy; just the right combination of firm and moist; sprinkled with cheese; drizzled with three sauces: a creamy garlic sauce, thick balsamic vinegar and some sort of herb oil. The whole thing was to die for, washed down with Traveler’s white tea with hibiscus. A memorable dish on the luscious list.
50F by mid-afternoon, chilly, and overcast with morning rain continuing from the previous day. New green shoots brighten the dull brush. A flash of sun just before dusk.
One of our first spring crops: a stand of asparagus. There’s nothing like cutting off a fresh stalk and eating it raw, still warm from the sun. Surprisingly juicy, the first bite of raw asparagus is also a satisfying crunch.
Back when we bought our house in 2007, there no ticks and for years we walked around barefoot on our property in our forest; rolled around on the lawn; foraged; did the gardening unimpeded by these infamous insects. In retrospect, I think it might have been the elevation that saved us because we are on a ridge at about 2400 ft in Delaware County. We are quite exposed to the elements and have superb soil drainage. Even in the most torrential rain there are only a couple of small patches of our six-acre property that get waterlogged. Ticks desiccate very quickly in hot, dry conditions. I found an article in Forbes that said scientists say ticks are killed after six minutes in the dryer on hot. When we got our dog, Alfie in 2014 I found my first (and only) tick when I was throwing the ball for him, a year and six months after we rescued him. I felt it bite my wrist and flicked it off as it tried to embed. Then I went immediately to the emergency room where they told me to go home. A few days later, I drove to Kingston where a doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and gave me a free refill for the future.
77F by mid-afternoon with hazy sunshine. Asparagus sundial.
75F by mid-afternoon with hazy sunshine after a gloomy start to the day, following a few sombre, rainy days. Spring springs once more.
UD: What brought you to the Catskills?
RA: My husband Mark and I would travel north from our Pennsylvania home just on a whim. This was before we had our daughter Isabella. We always ended up coming home from Lake Placid, the Adirondacks or wherever we ended up, through the Catskills. After we had our little girl and we weren’t traveling around the world anymore, we decided to get a vacation home here. Then once my daughter was of age to go to kindergarten, we made a decision to move here, so that she could start kindergarten here and not have to move mid-term.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had an egg as delicious as this: bright orange yolks, rich, sweet and creamy, almost like a dessert when soft-boiled on toast and in yesterday’s salad! Leigh Melander, a colleague at WIOX and founder of Spillian bought a bucket of eggs into the radio station to share. Leigh says her hens, who are completely free range, are very happy and I believe her. They were presented with some art a few days ago and all flocked around to inspect it.
Part of the lure to the country or Upstate New York, apart from the fresh air, is the local food. It’s worth battling five months of winter for glorious food like this. When wholesome food of this calibre becomes an expensive luxury in the city, it’s time to move upstate where your neighbors bring you eggs, cheese, bread, jam or any number of spring items that they have produced on their homestead. Just the fragrant aroma of a homegrown tomato feels like a miracle.Local, country board meetings are never without something homemade to pass around like goat’s cheese or bread. This second rainy and gloomy day of the week has been lit up like a summer’s day by simple eggs on toast using local bread.
Winter is tough up here, but the spring rewards are like Sunday Best, not taken for granted and savored all the more.
Forsythia, which is in bloom at the moment, is a shrub that produces gorgeous bright yellow flowers in the spring before its leaves start to shoot. After attending Rob Handel’s Wild Edibles class last week, I discovered that I had a huge forsythia bush on my property and that now is the time to make forsythia syrup with the flowers on this shrub.
71F by noon, warm with hazy sunshine.
68F by mid-afternoon: clear skies, hot and sunny.
This week, I interviewed Steve Burnett, the Bovina Farmer, on my radio show and tonight at 6pm, I’ll be a guest on his show The Tickler with his co-host Julian Richards, a fellow Brit.
The show is described thusly: “It’s like a culinary bungee. No sooner have we reached the apex of the bounce than we’re back at the chopping board with bloody fingers. Sunday 23rd, The Tickler welcomes writer, thinker and chronicler of all things Catskills – Jenny Urbanski – for a spot of dinner and a litre of wine (Delco Speedball). We’ll point at each other and laugh; and traffic in truth, the only currency.”
Prepare for utter absurdity, devout irreverence, and some senseless hilarity while we explore the meaning of life. Tune in.
TONIGHT 6pm, streaming live on www.wioxradio.org.
What an honor to be on the Board of Trustees at Woodchuck Lodge and what a privilege to be able to peruse his 100-year-old collection of Atlantic Monthly magazines, a magazine that is still in existence today. For the writer, this is a rare treat; though the copies are tattered and fading, they still adequately convey the times. Burroughs was published by The Atlantic his nature essays appeared regularly in his life and career. It’s a co-incidence that on Earth Day, April 22nd, I had access to his entire collection of magazines when on The Atlantic website there are details of today’s climate march for science in New York City.
Back in the day, Peekamoose Restaurant made this incredibly delicious cucumber gazpacho, which is no longer on the menu, that reminded me of England, where we love our cucumber in all its forms because it’s so refreshing. English cucumbers are different to the cucumbers that you find here in the US. They are lighter, softer, less dense and go well in smoothies. Years ago, Marybeth, the owner, once reeled off a list of ingredients for their gazpacho and the next day I tried to remember what they were. (I’d had a couple of drinks). After some experimentation, I believe I have mastered it. To continue the theme of giving the gut a spring clean, here’s another raw, vegan recipe that’s cooling, simple, easy and nutritious.
Three medium sized English cucumbers
Half cup of raw almonds
Half cup of water
10 grapes or half an apple
Three teaspoons of olive oil
Half teaspoon of salt
Half teaspoon of pepper
48F, overcast and gloomy. Chilly in historical reading rooms.
57F by mid-afternoon, humid and gloomy. Still life with scents.
Last night, Rob Handel, chef at Heather Ridge Farm, impressed a large crowd packed into the Catskill Center with his knowledge on wild edibles and foraging. After conducting a talk on how to incorporate wild vegetables into our diet by producing tinctures, ferments and syrups, he brought out some delicious, earthy, wholesome food to taste that made the taste buds come alive.
Endive stuffed with porcini mushroom pate topped with ramp pesto accompanied by carrot, burdock root and garlic grass salad (pictured above).
A pickled milk weed pod
Forsythia Syrup with Soda
Some of the ingredients in last night’s tasting were foraged recently: forsythia is available now and ramps are coming up. The nettle soup was fresh and exquisite. Some ingredients were preserved; the pickled milk weed pod tasted like a larger, yet much more subtle, caperberry. The crowd was so large for this event, not only because Rob is so knowledgable, answering everyone’s follow-up – and non-follow up/general experience – questions with ease, but because wild edibles are becoming very popular. Gradually, people are turning away from traditional foods and taking a keen interest in the wildly diverse tastes of foraged herbs, funghi and vegetables that they can find on their property like garlic mustard, burdock, nettle leaf, sumac, dandelion, sheep sorrel, milk weed, porcini and more. This kind of rare, unusual – and FREE! – food excites the taste buds. Plus, it’s fun to forage. Rob recommended a few books, one of which was The Joy of Foraging by Gary Lincoff.
50F at 9am, fog receding into the mountains leaving a dewy landscape. 61F by mid-afternoon with torrential early evening rain. Wet.
55F by mid-afternoon, overcast, humid, and raining. Spring takes a break.
On my jaunts around the neighborhood, I regularly bump into people who love Upstate Dispatch. Last week, a reader told me: “I love the site! I just wish there was more of it”. Me too!
Upstate Dispatch takes hundreds of hours per month to research and write. All of the food and drink you see reviewed here has been paid for, with one exception, and where tickets are sold to local cooking, foraging, writing and art classes, they have been purchased. In the past, when we’ve had contributors, we have paid them. As I a writer, I believe artists and writers should not have to work for free. We are also an advertisement-free site, so we rely on donations.
If you love reading Upstate Dispatch, please consider donating. Future donations will fund a small summer arts and literary studio in the local village for Upstate Dispatch. We want to expand our coverage over the summer, move into the community, and revive the Catskills Conversations series, shedding more light on our local luminaries and their stories.
Lastly, I want to thank our past donors who have expressed their appreciation of Upstate Dispatch in a meaningful way. I’m sincerely and immensely grateful for the love!
Please find our donation page here.
55F by mid-afternoon, mostly clear and sunny with distant clouds on the horizon.
68F by mid-afternoon, with hazy sunshine and breezy. Tiny rhubarb emerges.
79F by mid-afternoon with a cool breeze and cotton wool clouds that turned grey and burst early evening.
62F and sunny with wispy clouds. The forest springs to life under the hemlocks.
The new bowl on the block: the sensational ramen with braised pork at Peekamoose. Ramen can be too salty but not this one. House made noodles with a soft boiled egg, kale and some very tender braised pork, all in a mouthwateringly delicate chicken broth. Move over, charcuterie board, you are no longer the go-to. Wait, I didn’t mean that.
60F by mid-afternoon, clear skies and sunny with a slight chill in the air.
It’s Catskills Restaurant Week this week and today, April 14th, is the final day. Last night’s dinner by Ate-O-Ate Food Truck catered at Union Grove Distillery was a choice of two delicious full course meals for $35 plus tax and tip. Drinks were separate.
I’m proud to have had the opportunity to contribute text and images to this year’s Catskills Food Guide published by the Watershed Post that hit the stands today. I’ve tried many of the region’s burgers and sandwiches for the WP. I’ve interviewed and photographed local producers and store-owners too, but the best assignment I’ve ever had was interviewing Ray Turner, an eclectic old-timer who traps eel on the Delaware River in a gigantic weir that he built with his own hands. The weir is truly to be seen to be believed – constructed with available stone and wood – and the man himself is a true Catskills character. He has a pet emu. We had some seriously eccentric exchanges. He only likes Black Labradors:
Him: “The only good dog is a lab, all the others are goats as far as I’m concerned.”
Me: “I LOVE goats!”
I hadn’t been at his establishment an hour before he had me in a pair of thick rubber waders in a canoe out on the river.
Me: “None of this equipment likes water”.
Him: “No standing in the canoe”.
Pick up a copy of the Catskills Food Guide at any establishment in the Catskills. The guide includes a large pull-out, color map of the region detailing the places where you can eat, drink and shop locally.
55F by mid-afternoon, chilly and overcast. Hazelnut catkins swaying in the breeze.
55F, humid with overnight rain, mist lingering in the valleys. 61F and sunny with an afternoon armada of clouds sailing quickly like they’re on their way to somewhere much colder.
After informal discussions amongst neighbors, I’ve gleaned that the cabin fever or winter blues hit a high this past winter. During a chance encounter with an acquaintance, I was asked: “how did you survive winter?”, to which I replied, “barely”. Although, most agreed that the weather wasn’t as bad as the year before. To be honest though, cabin fever aside, happiness seems to be quite rare these days. Last year, I was surprised when at a social group in NYC, as 20-plus ladies sat around in a circle, I asked how many of them were on anti-depressants and they all raised their hands. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a journalist or if people are being more honest lately, but in my experience, we’re opening up about anxiety. There’s a lot of be anxious about; the proposed revival of the coal industry is one of them. (Coal, really? Are we in Victorian England?) In my experience, the winter blues and bouts of cabin fever have been held at arm’s length by writing, reading, diet and
lots of booze exercise (and the latest research, below, seems to indicate that what you eat affects your mental health). Even if you’re not a writer, a ToDO list or a journal can help enormously. As a writer, one has to get used to solitude, but spring is on the way, the buds are on the trees and after last night’s rain there might be mushrooms. There are definitely ramps in the valleys.
Here are some links on the latest news on health and exercise from some respected media outlets and some tips on writing:
More research into how gut bacteria can affect our minds as well as our bodies. A study suggests that eating probiotics like yoghurt relieves anxiety. The book Gulp by Mary Roach and foods to restore our gut bacteria from The Scientific American.
How perfectionism kills creativity from Anne Lamott.
Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.”
And for fun:
How one writer tried to stop complaining.
How one writer said yes to everything, including crossfit, and ended up in the hospital, from Vice.
80F scorcher, hazy, humid. Wading in cool streams, under waterfalls, shaded by pine trees.
Letters to a Young Farmer is both a compelling history and a vital road map – a reckoning of how we eat and farm; how the two can come together to build a more sustainable future; and why now, more than ever before, we need farmers”. And: “We are about to witness the largest retirement of farmers in U.S. history. There are now more farmers over the age of 75 than between the ages of 35 and 44″.
A story with a happy conclusion – an urban farmer saves his “gangsta garden”.
An article on how to combat ticks around your property.
The New Farmer’s Almanac Volume III from The Greenhorns, “360 pages of original agrarian content, essays, cartoons, imagery and historical snippets—harnesses the wisdom of over 120 contributors from our community of new farmers and ranchers”.
Will our senator, farm-friendly Kirsten Gillibrand run for President?
The US military “marches forward on clean energy”. New York State sees an 800% growth in solar power according to CNBC. On solar power and renewable energy for new jobs; a new solar experiment in Brooklyn; Panasonic makes a new solar panel for Tesla.
I have thought that a good test of civilization, perhaps one of the best, is country life.” John Burroughs
Seedling potatoes stored in a paper bag in the basement started shooting straw-like tubers over the winter. Apparently, this is a vegetational hazard; you’re supposed to check your spuds mid-winter. If they sprout you can add soil to the bag and plant them in spring. We’ll see if these spuds survive.
68F by mid-afternoon with wisps of cloud in an azure sky. Laundry swaying in the breeze like huge flags.
A 45F high with a bitter wind and scattered woolly clouds under brilliant blue sky. The remnants of last night’s snow lurking in the shadows. Weather gone completely bonkers.
After a day of intermittent snow flurries: an evening whiteout.
Writer John Burroughs is a local legend. After a long and accomplished life, Burroughs moved back to the small cabin called Woodchuck Lodge on his ancestral home and is buried there. On Saturday, we commemorate his birthday with a Community Day Lecture at the Catskills Center.
John Jay Wadlin, a retired local attorney, will speak on the relationship between Burroughs and Alton B. Parker, the 1904 US Presidential Candidate (who lost to Teddy Roosevelt). Parker and his contemporary, John Burroughs, lived not far from each other in the Town of Esopus, NY. John explores the times and lives of these two important Americans.
Saturday, April 8th 2017 1pm at the Erpf Center, 43355 Route 28, Arkville, NY 12406. (Directions in link.)
Sponsored by John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge, 1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, NY 12474.
36F at noon: thick mist, rushing rivers, overflowing tributaries, sloppy mud, snow until mid-afternoon. Spring on hold.
William Duke, owner of Willow Drey Farm is hosting a life drawing event on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm in their beautiful barn overlooking the rolling mountains of Andes. The barn is an event space, the site of many a summer wedding and, for an artist, a gorgeous setting in which to work on figure drawing for three hours with a nude model. We’re lucky to find people willing to take their clothes off! Life drawing is a deeply meditative exercise and focussing intently for three hours really brings one’s sketching skills up to speed. If you’re interested in sitting for the group, or joining the group, please contact William Duke here.
38F by 2pm and overcast with persistent heavy rain throughout the day.
60F by mid-afternoon with clear skies and flowing streams reflecting the blazing sun. Spring springs.