Tag Archives: Birding

Rhubarb-barb-barb-barbara-ann

15 May

I am currently obsessed with azaleas.

Azaleas, Bee

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.

Azaleas, Robin

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.

Green-Wood Door

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.

Stained Glass, Reflection

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.

Minerva, and if you look just under her right shoulder, you can just barely make out the cruise ship the Queen Mary 2

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.

Minerva In Green-Wood

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.

Crazy Old Pine Tree

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.

Can you believe this is New York City?

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.

Green-Wood

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.

Green-Wood Allium

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.

Prospect Park

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.

Rhubarb Bread

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.

Rhubarb Bread

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.

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Two Hawk Walk

19 Feb

Ever been to Times Square?

Seagull

It’s the crossroads of the world, where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue, the intersection of commerce, art and technology, home to the famous New Year’s Eve ball and the TKTS booth and one of the most iconic locations in New York City. The next time you’re there, staring into the pulsing rivers of neon, standing on that tiny piece of asphalt as taxis and people whip by in a tidal flow, crane your neck back, gawk at the enormous buildings all around and try picturing Times Square as it once was; a farm.

Seagulls

This isn’t a trick that’s difficult only in Times Square. It’s easy to forget that New York was once a wild place. But if you pay close attention and do a little research, it’s easy to spot vestiges of our wild past. Spring Street was, yes, named for a spring. The ridge in Bay Ridge is actually a glacial moraine. And if you’ve ever wondered why city roofs are so often punctuated by water tanks, that’s nature, too.

Roosevelt Island Trams

Sometimes nature comes barging in, demanding to be recognized. The short, tragic lives of Hal the coyote and Sludgie the whale remind us that New York can still be a dangerous place. But other feral friends, much like their human counterparts, slip in and make themselves at home. They often serve as harbingers of a healthier environment, like the Harbor’s population of seals, some of whom enjoy swimming up the Hudson (itself a natural phenom, technically being a fjord that has tides and brackish water). And sometimes they’re just pure comic relief.

East River Boats

But then there’s the celebrities.

Who hasn’t heard of Pale Male & Lola? The pair of red-tailed hawks have chosen a prime piece of real estate, on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park, to call their own (and they live rent-free) where they’ve happily raised successive broods of pigeon-eradicating birds of prey to the delight of the City’s birders and tabloids. But, just in case you need more, there’s a PBS special, and a wonderful book, and one for your kids or nieces and nephews, this website, and this website.

Or, if you’re in the city, you could just go for a walk.

Sutton Place Medusa

That’s what Isaac and I did on Sunday, and boy were we lucky. We managed to start and end our walk with, what were probably, sightings of two members of Pale Male & Lola’s happy family.

Sutton Square Rabbit

I wanted to walk from the Upper East Side down to the Lower East Side, so we took the train to 86th Street, grabbed a bite and headed for the East River. But just behind Asphalt Green on East End Avenue, we were stopped in our tracks by a flurry of feathers. I looked around trying to discern where they were coming from and spotted a red-tailed hawk up in a tree about 10 feet away hunkered down over a pigeon.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Feasting

The hawk stared at us for one moment then went back to plucking his feathery treat. We stood and watched for at least five minutes, possibly more. As I snapped away, the hawk would look up every now and then, as if he were posing. It was exhilarating. Even in the country I’ve never been that close to a hawk. They’re huge.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Feasting

Despite the glorious 60° weather, breathtaking architecture, flurry of river traffic and endless parade of dogs, everything after that hawk was a bit of a let down. We were forced off the river by the UN and decided to walk down to Trader Joe’s in Union Square as I’d had the brilliant idea of making paninis for dinner.

Nature Rolls In, The UN

But alas. The line to check out started at the entrance and snaked all the way around the store. No way. I don’t care how cheap TJ’s food is. There’s no way I’m standing in line for over an hour for it. We’re well enough suited for money to pay a premium to not waste time. So we hoofed it up 14th Street to the Greenmarket.

Roosevelt Island Sanitarium

And there, wouldn’t you know it, as we were passing through the park, was another hawk. He was shuffling around in the grass looking aimless and shifty. I pulled out my camera, he took off and landed in a tree, silhouetted perfectly against the setting sun. These hawks, they sure know how to vamp it up for the camera!

Union Square Hawk

And so, with two hawk sightings under our belt we set off to Garden of Eden for some tangy goat cheese and paper thin slices of Jamon Serrano. I layered the meat and cheese on a loaf of Yianni’s amazing bread with baby arugula, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes for me (none for Isaac). I set the sandwiches in a pan under a foil-wrapped brick and then I committed a cardinal sin. I walked away.

Precarious Perch, Tudor City

A few minutes later I smelled burning. I ran into the kitchen, which was full of acrid smoke to see my beautiful, lovingly crafted sandwiches burnt to blackened slabs of coal. Isaac was, as ever, kind about the situation. He gamely told me to flip them over anyway, they’d still be delicious, so I did. And they were. To a point.

East 29th Street Horse

I know a burnt sandwich isn’t the end of the world, but after such a perfect day, a perfect sandwich, the world’s most perfect food, would have been, well, perfection. But I learned a valuable lesson that is easy to forget.

Panini B.C. (Before Charring)

Nature will do as nature wants to do, whether that is sending a tornado through one’s backyard of singeing an unguarded sandwich.

Which leads me to ask: What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever been taught by nature?