Author Archives: JNUrbanski

Fall Harvest Soup

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What do you do when you have a basement full of potatoes, onions, garlic and apples? Add lentils to make a Fall Harvest Soup. You can easily make it vegan by not adding butter. You can also add bacon if you can’t live without meat, frying thin slices of your bacon in with the garlic.

This soup is a delicious mixture of the fruity apple with the nutty lentils. The potatoes thicken the soup, but you prefer the soup to be thinner, add more warm stock towards the end to reach the consistency you prefer. If you prefer the apples and lentils to be the main two flavors, only use three cups of potatoes, and add a half-cup of lentils. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/21/18

A sturdy autumn breeze steals the day, shaking acorns out of the trees. Overcast with sombre clouds passing slowly in a low, solemn procession and chilly for a high of 66F. The landscape continues its barely discernible yellowing.

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Five Catskills 35 Trail Hikes

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There are 35 Catskills mountains over 3500 ft and there’s a club of volunteers devoted to maintaining these trails, and leading group hikes, called the Catskills 3500 Club. Two of the best extra resources are the Catskill Mountaineer website in which you can see a great deal of detail on each hike in the Catskills and a set of maps produced by the NYNJ Trail Conference. All the hikes are pretty strenuous, steep and miles long – not just your proverbial walk in the park. Furthermore, nine of the hikes are bushwhacks, which means there is no trail and you must rely on a map and compass. Some of the hikes are arrestingly beautiful, with waterfalls, lush vegetation and mountaintop lookouts that reward the hiker with stunning views that extend for hundreds of miles over the Catskills’ peaks. But don’t go unprepared. These hikes demand a high fitness level and expert advance planning, especially in winter. Novice hikers should not be attempting peaks in summer or winter without advice.

As an introduction to hiking, I hiked in the summer first and you never forget your first peak.  Balsam Mountain in the summer is spectacular. Here are links to five reviews of the Catskills 35s: Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/17/18

Mist sinking into the valleys early morning with wispy clouds getting thicker as the day progresses. A mostly sunny afternoon with a high of 80F and light rain beginning at dusk. Balmy.

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Retrolinks Sunday: The Best of Upstate Dispatch

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Upstate Dispatch recently celebrated its fourth birthday and I took a bit of a break to ponder on why and how it started in the first place. As a writer, I’ve always lived in deserted areas of cities with cheap rents: Shoreditch when it was a post-industrial wasteland on the other side of Liverpool Street train station – a two-pub pocket of London that was deserted at weekends where I learnt to play pool; Williamsburg when there were still cars burning on the streets of Kent Avenue: Bed-Stuy, when there was an actual car burning outside our studio one time and where a musician came every Sunday with a set of speakers and an electric guitar to play where nobody heard him; leafy Fort Greene when the rents were laughably low and one local dive bar in a basement that teemed with characters fit for novels, bursting with life. As I moved on from one city to another, and one area to the next, in the above order, the expanding population followed hard on my heels. Shoreditch is now a tourist mecca akin to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square.

The Catskills, where I now live, is also a sparsely populated area where there are so many characters fit for novels and brimming with life in a completely different way: rural, and wild-forested natural history. Farmers, artists, historians, writers, homesteaders, cooks, teachers and more, nestle in the valleys of the Catskills and perch on mountaintops. Our forested ridge is fast filling up with young people seeking a more calming environment, good food and company. In the time since we bought our house, an astonishing eleven years ago, our dog has had the run of a 40-acre ridge-top and we only had two friendly full-time neighbors, a retired couple. All that is changing – our dead-end road is filling up with young, curious people and for the first time last night, as I read by an open window, I heard music coming from another distant house that mingled with owls, evening chirping and the waning laughter of crows.

New York City is charging out of its concrete jungle, sending out its long, withered, under-nourished tendrils towards us – the only vegetation that it can muster – gasping for life and some nurturing soil. This slow march from the city to the country is viewed with consternation by some, but if you’ve had children, you can’t really complain about the fast-swelling population.

Upstate Dispatch was started as a Catskills diary, a daily documentation of life in the Catskills and latterly my experiences as a writer in the past four years in local print and on my radio show on the eclectic WIOX Radio.

There is a so much to read on this site. Here are some more links to the best of Upstate Dispatch:

Our hiking page has been the most popular. Find our efforts to climb the Catskills 35 and document some of the best views in the Catskills over the years.

Every day, for the first 18 months of the website, I published one picture a day from around the area in the Daily Catskills section. Click here to scroll back through the years in this category.

More on my personal history in First Person Dispatch.

Conversations with other Catskills residents in Catskills Conversations.

Our adventures with our small farm and a steep learning curve in the world of foraging.

Now, back to documenting this year’s slow fall. The mountains look like those heads of broccoli that you leave in the fridge too long: slightly yellowing, “on the turn” as they say in England.

Thanks for reading.

J.N. Urbanski 9/11/18

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Daily Catskills: 09/06/18

80F by noon and breezeless, but cooler in the forest.  A humid 84F high broken by heavy clouds, mid-afternoon showers, lightning and a long thunderstorm that dumps a mass of evening mist that rolls in and out of the valleys at dusk like a tide. Then a power cut at 8.30pm for absolutely no reason at all.

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Eat Your Weeds: Purslane

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Most of the weeds that are considered a blight on the lawn are edible, including purslane. One of the tastiest and power packed with nutrients, purslane is quite distinctive from other weeds because it’s a succulent so when you bite into it there will be a crunch and some juice that tastes like a mix of lemon, cucumber, and a dash of pepper that’s much milder than arugula. The juice contains pectin, so it also makes a good thickener instead of flour for gluten-free cooking like soups and stews, but really it’s good for every meal.

Purslane is said to have more Vitamin E than spinach and more beta carotene than carrots.  Allegedly, It’s also a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It goes nicely raw in salads, or cooked well in soups. If you put it in a soup, cut off the red stems as they are a tad bitter. Leave the red stems on if you’re putting it in a stew.

Like spinach, a widely cultivated and popular vegetable, purslane is on the FDA poisonous plant list. Like spinach, purslane is high in oxalates but so are beet greens, lamb’s quarter, rhubarb and Swiss chard – also very popular vegetables. This is something to be considered before you eat it. The FDA states that these vegetables interfere with calcium absorption in the diet in certain amounts. Oxalates are present in most foods, even fruit and nuts, and are virtually unavoidable, but high levels in the body could lead to kidney stones or other ailments.

However, despite this it is becoming so popular that farmers are now selling it at markets and because it takes little to no cultivation or effort, naturally appearing on the understory or in empty beds for two months between summer and fall, it’s a vegetable with a high profit margin. If you buy purslane, you’re helping a farmer. And of course, if you have a garden and find it carpeting your raised beds, it’s free for a couple of months out of the year. If you don’t want to eat it, use it like a nutritious cover crop to restore your soil and turn it over in the raised bed like farmers do with clover. Just don’t spray weedkiller on it.

Wild Plant Teas: Goldenrod

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Goldenrod is a perennial that grows mostly in direct sunlight, although you can find them in partial sunlight by roadsides. You’ll usually find them in fields and on hillsides and, as the name suggests, they are tall rods (or stems) getting about two to six feet high with loose, floppy clusters of tiny, yellow flowers at the top of the stem that droop over slightly.  Thin leaves, two to six inches long, grow all the way down the stem alternately, and are hairy.

We have Goldenrod in abundance – whole fields of it – so taking a few blossoms for tea is sustainable. It’s best harvested in late summer when the flowers are opening. Clip off the yellow blossoms including two or three inches of the stem. Steep three of these fresh blossoms in a cup of hot water to make a delicious fresh tea that tastes similar to a strong green tea. Sweeten with a dash of maple syrup. Don’t pour boiling water over them. Let the water cool down a little first because you don’t want to burn the flowers.

Goldenrod is said to have a number of health benefits. It soothes a sore throat, reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.

The flowers don’t freeze well, so if you want to save some tea for winter, make a condensed batch and freeze to dilute later with water. To make a condensed batch of tea, simply soak as much fresh goldenrod as you can fit in a mason jar of hot water. Strain through a sieve and freeze.

Bee Update: The Warre Hive

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Six weeks ago, we caught a swarm that was attached to a tree close to our first hive and transferred them to a new, temporary hive. A few days later, we moved them to this new Warre hive (pictured above) – a top bar hive – that comes with viewing windows at the back, so you can see what’s going on the hive without pulling out the frames (pictured bottom).

It’s not clear whether the swarm on the tree was a group of our own agitated bees in the first hive that had been robbed several times. It’s possible that they made a new queen and split. However, six weeks later, this new colony in the Warre hive is very calm, unlike the bees in our first hive, the occupants of which are occasionally defensive. (This can only be an advantage when a hungry bear comes to collect the honey later on in the year. A bear has already come within sniffing distance of the hive – he left evidence of his visit – but departed without trying to take anything despite the heady aroma of honey around the hive. The bees are docile when they’re foraging – now the Goldenrod is out – but are always prepared for another invasion. This trait may cycle out with each new wave of brood.) Continue reading

On The Finger Lakes Trail: Little Pond & Touch-Me-Not

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The Finger Lakes Trail wends through the Catskills, beginning at the western edge of the Slide Mountain Wilderness and continuing on to Downsville and way beyond, stretching for about 500 miles.

A few miles’ worth of the Catskills’ portion of the FL trail goes past Big Pond, and Little Pond (pictured above). The trail to Little Pond begins across the road from Big Pond’s small beach – and it’s even smaller parking lot – and forms a loop around Little Pond that’s made up of two trails: The Little Pond Trail and Touch-me-not Trail. Continue reading

Foraging: Chanterelles

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Chanterelles are in the same family as the northeastern Black Trumpets (Craterellus), but they have a few toxic look-a-likes, so they’re much trickier to identify than Black Trumpets. When you’re foraging for mushrooms, a positive identification is essential before you even think about eating. For example, there are plenty of bright orange mushrooms in the forest that you should not eat and so if there is any confusion, forget it. The intricacies of mushroom hunting are so varied and convoluted that, for the layman, most mushrooms are not worth the risk of misidentification. Rest assured that mycology – the study of fungi –  is a lifetime of learning and that most of what you find in the forest should be left alone.

So – to identify these chanterelles pictured here, as I did with the boletes I found two years ago, I sought the opinions of at least two experienced foragers to help identify them. Continue reading

Foraging: Black Trumpet Mushrooms

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Like Lion’s Mane that I wrote about last year, Black Trumpet mushrooms are easy for the novice forager to identify because they don’t have any toxic look-a-likes. Plus, like Lion’s Mane they are absolutely delicious: earthy, aromatic and deeply flavorful, possibly one of the best smelling and tasting mushrooms out of all the top edibles.

To the layman, they could possibly look like, perhaps Devil’s Urn, little, round cups that grow on rotting wood but even then, the Devil’s Urn only appears in spring. Wood Ear could also be considered similar, but wood ear looks like, well, a brownish/black, flattened ear. There are black boletes, but they have pores not gills. It should be noted here that if you’re going to learn about mushrooms, a pocket guide is essential and you should have a good few year’s worth of mushroom-hunting experience before you start thinking about eating anything without at least two positive ID’s from experts. A novice should always have a mentor. Plus, most important, mushrooms affect people in different ways. Some people can’t even tolerate edible mushrooms and you may have an allergy of which you are unaware. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 08/17/18

A rainy, soggy morning with a brief interlude of warming sun around midday with brief periods of sunshine, returning to torrential rain and thunderstorms late afternoon. A high of 80F.

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Daily Catskills: 08/16/18

A dull, foggy, humid start rising to an 87F high by late afternoon with blazing sun. Hordes of post-rain mushrooms stage a revolution on the forest floor.

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Interview with Joyce St. George, candidate for NY State Senate District 51

“I remember when you went for a job and there were signs saying WOMEN NOT WANTED or MEN ONLY or BOYS ONLY”.

Reportedly, this year the US has had a record number of female political candidates running for office. Joyce St. George is one of these women. Joyce was a guest on my radio show on April 30th and we talked about some aspects of her career, being a woman in politics, her career in law enforcement, her run for state senate and what she does to unwind (she also practices and teaches karate here in the Catskills).

Joyce is a powerhouse with an intimidating resume. She began her career in the 1970s, when she became the first female investigator to serve in the New York State Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office on Anti-Corruption. Following the dramatic testimony of Frank Serpico, Joyce and her colleagues rooted out corruption within the criminal justice system in NYC, investigating police officers, judges and district attorneys. That was only the beginning of her career and I’m wondering why nobody’s made a movie about Joyce herself.

Joyce is approachable, affable and engaging with a big heart. With her husband Frank Canavan, she works with the Margaretville Food Pantry that serves 500 local families. Joyce was hired by FEMA to provide crisis services in Delaware County following the floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and served on the Flood Mitigation Council for the area.

Daily Catskills: 08/08/18

Early morning sun barely breaking through thick fog. Overcast and humid with periods of break out sun, a torrential afternoon shower, and a high of 83F. The Catskills is a rain forest, consisting of a innumerable number of creeks, streams and rivers in a world that is running out of fresh water.

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Interview with Linda Leaming, Writer & Author

I discovered the American writer Linda Leaming when I read her book, Married to Bhutan in which she describes her life in Bhutan after she first went there to teach English twenty years ago. Her story was extraordinarily familiar to mine. Like Linda, I also moved to another country to work, married a foreigner and ended up making a home in an unfamiliar mountainous region – The Catskills – but Bhutan is more or less the exact opposite of America. Although what the two countries have in common is a populace that works very hard, there are so many striking differences – like their happiness despite the comparative lack of convenience. Americans are devoted to the pursuit of happiness, but the Bhutanese actually have actually achieved it. Bhutan’s secret to happiness is time plus the nurture of its environment, which comes at the expense of the aforementioned convenience. Americans can learn a lot from both the Bhutanese and the people of the Catskills (more on that later).

This podcast was taped back in 2012, one of my first interviews conducted on WIOX and the one that has received the most feedback. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do all these years later. Find her husband’s artwork here.

J.N. Urbanski

Back on the Burroughs Range: Slide Trail

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John Burroughs couldn’t have picked a range of mountains to frequent that’s more demanding for the hiker, but according to the DEC it’s the most popular range in the Catskills Forest Preserve. It’s probably popular because it has the most interesting network of trail hikes, but it’s extremely challenging in parts, the Slide Trail (between the summits of Slide and Cornell) feeling like a craggy, sheer rock-face covered in trees. Continue reading

Farm Stores: Bovina/Andes

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Three pitstops to farm stores on the Table to Farm Tours today: Catskills Regional Harvest, a food business incubator, farm store and event space run by Nicole Day Gray, Burnett Farm stand in Bovina and Burn Ayr Farm, which is actually past Bovina and closer to Delhi, with a small inn on site that’s set on the babbling Little Delaware River. Continue reading

Mushroom Hunting

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This week’s torrential rain created ideal mushroom growing conditions and the chicken mushroom, turkey tail, ghost pipe, chaga and polypores are all ripe for the foraging. Get out there and pick them, paint them or just generally admire them before they dry, rot, or get eaten by other creatures, like the hungry bears that the July drought had forced towards more urban areas. There’s even a bolete or two in advance of their normal August season. The reservoir is high, creeks are gushing and mushrooms are glowing in the understory like little alien beings. Like a movie cliche, yesterday the dog bound off into the forest to chase a much faster creature than him, and I ran off after them both and stumbled into a grove of hemlocks dotted like acne with polypore and a carpeted with ghost pipe. The polypore pictured above is a tinder polypore, good as a fire-starter for campers, was an ancient antibiotic and a sort of chewing tobacco used by certain indigenous Alaskan tribes. Continue reading

Foraging: Burdock

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Burdock is a biennial, wild invasive species that looks rather like a thistle, but is a cross between rhubarb and celery and repellent to animals because of its bitter outer layer. It’s noteworthy because of it’s initial growth of the instantly recognizable, huge, spade-shaped leaves with frilly edges that have a whitish underside. At first glance, the first year plant looks like rhubarb.

It grows better in rocky, disturbed soil like roadsides, in full sun or partial shade. We have one that’s thriving in the garden, though, in mulched earth and letting it go to seed to see if it can be cultivated because if you only have one plant you can’t really make full use of it. You really need a patch to harvest at different times. Continue reading

Bee Update: Catching a Swarm

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On a chance walkabout in the orchard between torrential rain showers this afternoon, we discovered a swarm of bees in the plum tree: an extraordinary sight to behold. Our original bees had come under attack from robber bees three weeks ago and have been having a hard time in the last few weeks, so this swarm could have been our own hive splitting in half and evacuating with a new queen. The original hive is now calm and not being robbed. (We’ll take a look in there tomorrow.) 

The swarm on the plum branch seemed like a casual gift, almost accidental – like Mother Nature threw us a bone – to make up for the fact that our original hive was robbed. It was nice to be with bees that were happy. The swarm was docile, as all bees without a home are, as they have nothing to protect. We had to act quickly because more rain was forecast.   Continue reading

Rochester Hollow, Shandaken Wild Forest

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Compared to any of the Catskills 3500 hikes, Rochester Hollow is a gentle, family-friendly hike with not much of an elevation gain from the parking lot (about 850ft), and good for dogs in hot weather because it follows a creek for the first couple of miles.

Compared to Giggle Hollow, across the valley to the south west on Belleayre, its name is rather boring, but the trail is far from dull and is the home of a memorial (pictured above) to the late naturalist John Burroughs with a small stone seating area. Though the Rochester Hollow trail is relatively gentle, it’s still a worthy trek, the whole trail being a lasso-shaped loop that’s made up of three intersecting trails blazed red, blue and yellow for a total, round-trip length of 6.5 miles that can be completed by an experienced hiker in about 3 hours. Continue reading

A Nature Walk & Cocktails with The Outside Institute at Foxfire Mountain House

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Finally, a chance to meet Laura Silverman when she conducted a nature walk at the Foxfire Mountain House on Sunday. Laura has recently opened The Outside Institute and has been a guest on the radio show on WIOX and featured on this website, but we had never met in person – a common dilemma in today’s working practices. The Foxfire property – an inn and wedding venue – abuts the Catskills Forest Preserve and we had a tour of local flora and fauna that included a brace of skittish turkeys, bullrushes, ancient grape vines, mugwort, wild thyme, sumac, a lonesome tinder polypore, milkweed and some poison ivy. Poison ivy is difficult to identify, but essential if you don’t want to be itching or burning your way through summer. Did you know you can eat bullrushes? The walk was followed by cocktails using local ingredients in Foxfire’s gorgeously appointed bar. The Outside Institute has published a field guide to the Hudson and upper Delaware valleys and we’re currently working our way through it.

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