Tag Archives: Summer in the Catskills

Harvest: Garlic

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

After picking, the garlic has to be hung out to dry for three weeks, which has been tricky during these past few weeks of heavy rainfall. A neighbor put his garlic in the wood-drying kiln because his property was so wet. Home grown garlic is so different from store bought garlic, but the main difference is that a clove of home grown garlic bursts with oil when you cut it.

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A Catskills Weekend

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

I was honoured to have been invited to a friend’s wedding on Andes’ Willow Drey Farm over the weekend and spent a gorgeous late summer day catching up with neighbors in one of the most beautiful settings in the Catskills. (It’s technically still summer until the Autumnal Equinox on September 23rd.) I already have fearsome village envy over Andes and Willow Drey Farm is not helping. It’s a stunning 65 acres of big sky country farmland with rolling hills, a grain silo, barn, lake and old-style wooden fencing throughout. See my Daily Catskill pictures here.

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The Catskill 35: Balsam Lake Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

There are five fire towers in the Catskills, three of which I have visited, but I still have not mustered the courage to get to the top of one. Flights one, two and three of Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower were a piece of cake until a slight breeze blew, which rattled me to the core, then I looked down. Huge mistake; I sank to the floor (which looks like flimsy wood paneling when you’re kneeling on it), clinging on to the handrail. Is there a handrail? I can’t remember, but it hardly matters. I managed to execute a nice crawl/shuffle combination down the stairs on my bum, like a socialite spilling out of a nightclub at 3am, knees and elbows first. I spent the descent of Balsam Lake Mountain trying not to collapse in a heap, deeply in thought, musing on vertigo. Modern fire towers are steel structures bolted into solid rock, but older versions were made of wood. The earlier wooden structure on Balsam Lake Mountain was built in 1887, but was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground in 1901.

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Happy Birthday Upstate Dispatch!

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

It’s been another beautiful Catskills summer. In the last few weeks, red leaves have been scattered sparingly on the forest floor like clues to a treasure hunt, leading me to my autumnal prize. A spectacular show, like the forest’s own Mexican wave, a static riot of color will commence later this month. A benevolent Mother Nature now has a cool wind in the works while Old Man Winter waits behind her gleefully rubbing his hands. I hope she flicks an acorn in his eye.

It’s at the waning end of this glorious summer that Upstate Dispatch celebrates its birthday. It turns a year old tomorrow, September 9th. I would, firstly, like to thank you for reading and all your wonderful comments, feedback and admiration. Readership support means such a great deal.

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The Catskill 35: Balsam Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

The start of the hike to the summit of Balsam Mountain from Rider Hollow Road is a soft, mossy incline in a slender canyon between two mountains, crossing back and forth five times over (two) bridges and gushing streams, enveloped by the heady, familiar aroma of evergreen trees.

It’s an exquisitely picturesque hike with a narrow trail off which the dog strays, excitedly sprinting down to the gushing stream for a splash around and then back up the mountain to chase chipmunks. After the last bridge, the going begins to get rocky and steep, requiring hands and feet both in places, giving little respite until the next mile marker. Even after the mile marker, it’s a first-rate clamber in parts, second in line to the great rocky Giant Ledge/Panther Mountain hike. However, I’ve only done five of the Catskill 35, so I’ve little to compare it to, but it’s a thigh-busting challenge.

However, as the great lady said, by heck, it’s gorgeous. Not only gorgeous, it’s magical, evoking memories of childhood books in which squirrels and other spritely mammals live in enormous trees, like they’re Brooklyn brownstones, and go to forest school in uniforms. The magic was compounded by the fact that the base of the mountain was shrouded in fog when I hiked, so my ascent was a misty rise into a lushly ethereal world. You are never really alone until you’ve done a steep, perilous mid-week hike into the mountains after the summer season has finished and revelers have retreated to their city habitats. Always sign in for hikes. It could save your life. There is nothing like the doom of having unwittingly wandered off-trail and being lost in the wilderness with darkness looming. I recommend it at least once, because if you have stressful concerns about business, trivial family wrangles or superficial worries, they will dissolve like a desert mirage once you get lost on a hike with no cellphone service.

Hiking the Catskills 35 has taught me that I can start a hike fretting about a demanding client and by the time I’ve gone off-trail, become lost and suddenly relying on the dog to get me back to civilization, that formerly important client is miraculously dead to me.

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The Year of the Apple: Catskills 2015

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

2015 must be The Year of the Apple in the Catskills such is their abundance this year. a neighbour guesses that we have heritage apples on our property. Yesterday, I borrowed a dehydrator in exchange for ten pounds of apples. It’s clear that I’ll be making apple products like apple sauce, fruit leather, dried apples and apple crisp, for days and days to come. The image above is my breakfast for the foreseeable future: plain yoghurt layered with homemade apple sauce.

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

 

The Catskill 35: Hunter Mountain

© J.N. Urbanski The view from John Robb lean-to about 2 miles in

© J.N. Urbanski The view from John Robb lean-to about 2 miles into the Spruceton Trail to Hunter Mt.

If the Spruceton Trail to the summit of Hunter Mountain were a movie it would be a Kate Winslett vehicle: remarkably efficient, obvious, solidly reliable with a spectacular finish. An old logging trail, it has a very wide berth, leading the way like any seasonal road flattened with pebbles and flinty rubble. There’s really no chance for an idiot writer to get lost on this trail; even the Black Lab fell in line quickly and took a steady, dependable pace all the way to the top where there is a large fire tower, upon which should read the words: don’t look down. Looking down from the midway of the fire tower invites a severe case of the wobblies.

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Emergency Foraging

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Country life means throwing on the wellies, sprinting out of the house at 8am ahead of the town mower to save a patch of wild mint and chicory before it’s razed by the town’s enormous lateral road leveler. Their incredible new machine has an industrial rake on it and the monster takes out eight-feet-tall thistles like it’s plucking daisies.

Experienced foragers often say that roadside foraging should be avoided because of brake dust and ice-melting salt, but big buckets of mint make a natural air freshener for musty rooms and workshops. Last year, the slugs got the mint, but they didn’t this year. This summer was a banner year for chicory, which is all over the roadsides everywhere. Get it into water immediately otherwise it will quickly wilt and makes good freshly cut flowers in clear vases for guest bedrooms.

Wild Apples

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Wild apples are extraordinarily abundant and delicious in the Catskills this summer. They’re also slightly larger and sweeter than last year’s. Foraging for wild apples at the moment could not be any easier as they are just about everywhere you look. If you don’t have a tree or two on your property, it’s likely that you have a neighbour who does. If they aren’t going to pick their apples, ask them if you can pick some. Apple sauce freezes well for a couple of months and goes perfectly with and in a varied array of sweet and savoury dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Fill a large tureen with peeled and halved apples. (Wild apples go brown almost immediately after peeling, so you can pop them in a bowl of water with lemon juice to stop that if it bothers you.) Boil the apples in water slowly until they are soft, strain and mash them with as much sugar as desired. Let the mash sit for a half hour while the sugar dissolves, stir in some spices like cinnamon, clove or vanilla and then keep stirring until cool. Freeze in mason jars, but don’t add the spices if you’re going to freeze. Spices don’t freeze well, so add those when you use the sauce.

If you’re lucky enough to find a blackberry bush under the apple tree, you can add those to the sauce. Either mix them raw into the sugared apple mash for an easy pie filling or boil them separately with sugar to make a small amount of jam.

The best part about foraging for wild apples is that the fruit is pesticide-free, although it’s recommended that roadside foraging be avoided because of contamination from brake dust, motor oil and snow-melting sand or salt.

Do It Yourself: Siding for Beginners

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Last year, our new neighbours told us they were quoted a price of $40,000 to replace their leaky siding and there was a lengthy pause in the conversation, more than one sigh and some sympathetic nodding. We also need new siding. So we all had a glass of wine or two and tried to forget about it but, last winter, squirrels took up residence in our chimney along with two swarms of bees, leaving too many gaping holes to ignore and soggy wood caused by the resultant leakage. A full chimney is also a fire hazard. So I asked the question: how hard would it be just to rip it off the siding and put on some more? We found out today. Well, my husband found out and I helped. Turns out if you do all of Jillian Michaels’ exercise DVDs, you will be sufficiently forceful with a hammer, but they won’t help you with your fear of heights. My next question, as I helped rip the chimney apart, was: how do the caterpillars get in there, behind the siding? And why do we build houses with particle board covered in paper? I mean, it wasn’t even real wood under there and some of it was rotten and had to be replaced.

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Catskills Conversations: Jeanette Bronée

© Torkil Stavdal

© Torkil Stavdal

JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?

JB: About four years.

From where did you move?

New York City, but I’d been coming up here many years prior to that. I used to be a motorcyclist. [Laughs]

Really?

I used to come up here motorcycling and skiing. That was my other life, right?

So what brought you to New York City in the first instance?

That was back 26 years ago; I met someone who was American and wanted to go back home and I wanted to leave Denmark. I was in the mood to explore at the time, so we moved here. Continue reading