I am currently obsessed with azaleas.
Against an expanse of verdant, emerald green grass the shocking crimson, cerise and magenta bushes are my new favorite harbinger of warmer days. And to think I wasn’t even aware of their existence until Saturday.
After a dim sum brunch, Isaac and I decided we needed a bit of a walk. So we started walking, until we ran into a fence, and behind that fence were the azaleas. They’re magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, even to look where I was going. Needless to say, I very nearly walked into quite a few telephone poles.
And it’s not just me. My friend N told me she had been out biking and had the very same experience, except a bit more dangerous. She was on a bike and very nearly running into cars.
Where were these magnificent azaleas, you might be asking? In a cemetery. But not just any cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery. Pastoral, elegant, and only a little bit creepy, Green-Wood was founded in 1838 on the rural cemetery model first made popular in Europe.
Itwas always meant to be a place where families would go for recreation, to walk around and look at the beautiful graves and to stop and have a picnic. In fact, its popularity was an impetus for the planning of Central Park.
It’s not quite as popular a destination today as it once was, which I’m okay with, because it has to be just about the only spot in all of New York City where you can spend two hours strolling up and down hills, gawking at birds, smelling the flowers, marveling at the blueness of the sky and the sweetness of the wind while only running into about five (living) people.
But it’s not all just beauty and peace. Green-Wood contains the location of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, the first battle of the U.S. army, and the first battle lead by a young general, George Washington.
It was the Battle of Brooklyn. At the top of the hill where skirmishes were fought, in commemoration of the lives lost, stands Minerva, forever saluting her sister the Statue of Liberty down in the harbor.
Green-Wood is also a birder’s paradise. It is known as a pit stop for a wide variety of migratory birds, as well as for its immense and varied population of locals. But, like so many places in New York, it is most famous for its immigrants. In this case, immigrant parakeets.
Parakeets? Oh yes. A rogue population of feral, acid green Monk parakeets live in the turrets of the Gothic gatehouse. I once went on a tour at the cemetery. We met in front of the gatehouse, and the parakeets were in such a lather over the size of our group, that the tour leader was forced to halt his remarks until he handed a megaphone.
Upon bidding the parakeets adieu we didn’t feel quite walked enough, so we kept on walkin’ on and ended up in Propsect Park. It was such a happy, busy place. Hundreds of parties and picnics and Little League games and Frisbee tossers and creative anachronists and happy, snuffly dogs. We walked its length and ended up at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket just as all the stands were shutting up for the afternoon.
This is my biggest complaint with this greenmarket, the stands sell out so quickly and close up so early. At a quarter to four there was only one stand remaining with anything other than bread, apples or cheese. Lucky for me, they had both ramps and rhubarb, so I grabbed some.
When we got home I whipped up a simple ramp risotto for dinner. It was gentle and rampy, satisfying and delicious. I saved the rhubarb for Sunday.
I love rhubarb. I love its gentle, springy, somewhat azalea-like coloring and its alluring fragrance. My plan, since last year, in fact, was to make a glaze for some pork chops. And then I opened the refrigerator and saw how much rhubarb I had bought. A lot. There was no way I was going to need all that for a simple glaze. So i started pouring through my cookbooks.
I love pie, especially strawberry-rhubarb pie, as much as the next person, but I prefer my pie to be made by that next person. I’m just not a pie baker.
So I was looking for something different, something unusual, something that I could bring into work if I made too much of, and there, lurking in a book devoted to the seasonal cooking of the Hudson River valley, was the answer.
Rhubarb bread. Ms. Rose says it is the specialty of Mary Film of Buskirk, N.Y., who makes the bread for selling at bake sales in support of the restoration of the Knickberbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke.
This is just about the easiest bread in the world to whip up, and oh my god… the smell! I wish that I could have invited you all over just so you could smell the aromas wafting out of the oven and through my house. It was beyond intoxicating. It was drool inducing.
By the time the bread was out of the oven both Isaac and I just stood next to the stove staring at it, willing it to be less than molten hot so we could tear into it.
Finally, it was time. We cut big, moist chunks off one loaf and tried not to bite our fingers amidst the mania induced by this bread. It is delicious. Rhapsodic. Purr-inducing. I’m ashamed to admit this, but we easily ate half the loaf, and probably could have eaten the whole thing if some part of my brain hadn’t snapped back into sanity and stopped us.
If you’ve got a friend with a large rhubarb patch, ask her for some, then bake her this. She’ll love you forever.
So I take it all back. I now think azaleas are beautiful, and can’t wait for the day when I can plant one in a yard of my own, but what I am truly obsessed with is rhubarb bread.
And you should be too.
Head below the jump for the recipes for Ramp Risotto and Rhubarb Bread.