Guess What I Did This Morning?

A favorite writer/chef/mentor/friend of mine is known for saying that “nothing is wasted on the writer.” I think the same can be said of the gardener.

Last year when I saw that my front yard was infested with onions gone wild, I began inquiring whether I was the only one whose yard they’d decided to conquer. Turns out they had taken over much of Brooklyn and reportedly had begun to storm other boroughs as well. I decided to get rid of them. I spent the better part of a week or more trying to rid my front plot of these pesky veggies.

This year, I decided to forego paying neighbor kids for the bunches they could uproot. I would not throw them out (this, to avoid them taking root in the compost). I would take them on, instead, by eating them.

Luckily for me, a friend happened to mention that her acupuncturist just recommended strong onion soup as this season’s cure to her hay fever. Luckily for her, the cure is on its way.







After the Rain

You never know what you’ll find..



Or someone who happened to be passing by, saw me taking the picture of the record, and admitted she had just taken a photo of some random thing at the other end of the block.

Earlier today, I said good-bye to neighbors who are leaving the city after more than ten years living very near me. We just met, in their preparations to leave. They invited me to dig up a ginger plant I’d admired to transplant before they leave. I did this earlier today, and noted I was expanding the neighborhood. I met a poet and artist on the street tonight, several hours later. She watched me photographing the record. We laughed that we have probably taken pictures of the same things on various days. We exchanged our digital data, then walked a half-block together in the rain-wet street.

My neighborhood is growing.

How Gardening Is Like Giving Birth

It’s been said that women who give birth without the use of medications or medical intervention, months later do not recall the physical pain as being significant. Compared to women who are medically treated during the course of labor, these women seem to forget the physical pain because the experience it foreshadows overcomes it.

I was looking at my yard a couple weeks ago (before I started to till), and felt completely overwhelmed. The task ahead seemed so daunting. And I felt like a real failure for having such a mess of a yard. It really surprised me because I’m not that kind of a gardener. I don’t build a garden to impress the people that walk by. I don’t build a garden to be able to call myself a gardener. I have gone years with my front yard utterly neglected, and last year with a gray container smack dab in the middle so that container would get the best sun. It’s really not about winning any prize roses for me. But I have started to think differently about an aesthetic community. I’m starting to appreciate more the little things people do with their yards or gardens or planter containers to give the eye, a stranger’s eye, a little diversion. So I was feeling pretty glum looking out at this quite unsightly front plot of mine.

Then I started to dig. Digging in the dirt is like kneading dough. You put your whole body into it, in a way, and some part of you goes into the dirt, goes into the dough. Then there’s release. The earth is a great place to put your anxieties and insecurities. It can take it. Likewise, a lot of doughs just get better the more you put into it. Bread, when it’s done and done right, can be divine. A garden, with just a little bit of effort and release, is unparalleled beauty. I have a lot of labor ahead of me, but I think I’m already past the pain.

NOTE: Try to take before and after pictures. Often, it can seem daunting. When you really feel like whatever you’re working with is never going to be good enough for an “after” picture, is precisely when you will most appreciate that you took the time to take the “before” picture. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

QUESTION: What are the most dramatic before/after experiences you recall? Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Icing On The Cake


Like the butter cake recipe below, this is my version (barely modified) of a frosting recipe I found online at Yesterday, I added a natural food coloring to bring the icing to a light lemon yellow color. Today, I am adding 1/2 c. cocoa powder in place of 1/2 c. of the confectioners’ sugar (which is the same as powdered sugar and is defined by the addition of corn starch to sugar).


Med. to large sized mixing bowl
Sifter or wire mesh strainer
Measuring cups (1 c. and 1/2 c.)
Stand mixer
Measuring cup or large spoon (for spooning in sifted powdered sugar)
Zester (if doing citrus fruit zest)


1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temp.
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temp.
2 1/2 c. (or less) powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Lemon or orange for zesting (optional)

Cream the butter and cream cheese together in a stand mixer until smooth with no lumps. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time, scraping down the sides. If you want to include zest, add the zest. Beat on high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy.

On this cake, the middle layer is heavy cream (unmeasured – I did it by sight) whipped with about 1/3 c. sugar into a whipped cream, with a sprinkling of mini chocolate morsels. When I put the cakes in the freezer to prep for frosting, I took out some fresh strawberries, washed them well, sliced them then put them in a lidded container with about a tablespoon of sugar to let them macerate. When it came time to frost the cake, I put the strawberries down in circles covering the entire first layer. I then topped that with a generous layer of whipped cream. After putting on the second layer cake, I frosted the entire thing with the cream cheese and cocoa frosting. And, voila..



Rain, Rain, Go Away

But until it does, let’s think about how to make it greener. These tips from Daily Dose of Fiber are a good start:

Eco-Friendly Rain Tips:

1. Collect rain water in a barrel and use this water to water your garden and grass!

2. Buy an eco-friendly rain coat (check out Patagonia).

3. Buy an eco-friendly umbrella for two.

4. Turn off your sprinklers when its raining.

From my own experience, I’ve found that indoor plants especially appreciate water imported from the great outdoors. Granted those of us in NYC may have rainwater that picks up pollution, but my informal research has found no indication that it’s enough to do any harm.

QUESTION: What ways have you found to incorporate green uses to springtime’s abundant rainfall? Go ahead … gimme the dirt!


Finding My Marbles

Something so therapeutic about gardening — for me, that means digging in the dirt, specifically, today — that I can’t even put it into words. Every year, there’s a small improvement to the process. This year, I discovered that if I wear my headphones, I am completely and fully immersed in my own world. It just rounds out the experience for me. Last year, my mother guessed that people garden because they are looking to get away from everything else just for a little while. I suspected she may be right because I found myself frequently annoyed when I was interrupted by someone passing by, looking to talk about what I was doing. It’s like talking about sex while you’re having sex. There’s simply something better to be doing at the moment than talking about it. Although there are exceptions … but, I digress. This newest addition of headphones has me very happy. It allows for the full immersion/meditation in the experience. With headphones, I do not feel the obligation to listen for someone talking to me. It’s an excuse, yes, but a very good one. I think that sometimes we disconnect too much from the experience of being wherever we’re being, but gardening is different than walking down the street, or riding on the subway, or an elevator. It does not impose any obligation to get out of the way if someone is walking quickly behind you. It does not require that you jump out of the way if someone needs to pass by or sit down. It is your own world, uninterrupted. The confirmation and meditation for me today came in two things: one visual, and one auditory. As I was digging away in the front yard, exposing and expelling the onions, and contemplating the soul/body/mind-cleansing process of doing this (and thinking too it just might be feeding some OCD element in me since it really is such an impossible but rewarding task at the same time), I found two shining globes in the earth. I found my marbles. Or someone’s marbles. But they’re mine now, so I found my marbles today. And enjoyed this song…

Sorry not sure how to make it appear. I’ll work on that. And found these…




This has been a stand-by, go-to recipe for me for about the past year. I don’t eat cake all that often, so I haven’t made it a ton of times, but it has served me well. It’s easy enough, too, that there’s simply no excuse for a store-bought cake anymore (as is becoming the case with many other things — more on that later).

I’ve laid out the tools as well as the ingredients because I find it saves time to get out what you have ahead of time and to find a substitute if needed (for tools or ingredients) before you start. Of course pretty much all the tools can be replaced with a different tool or whatever you have handy. This is just the list that I find makes doing the recipe the easiest. As always, T = Tablespoon, and t = teaspoon.

I use this recipe to make a double layer cake, using two 8 inch round cake pans. You could also double it for a nice four-layer cake. The recipe is adopted/adapted from It’s a simple, basic, everyday-cake kind of recipe. It’s not a super tall cake but it’s versatile in terms of using frosting or ganache, or sprucing it up with cocoa nibs and a layer of homemade whipped cream in the middle. Today, we’ll be having a basic pink cream cheese frosting, and sliced strawberries topped with whipped cream for the layer. We might go crazy and even dab some nibs here and there. Let me know if you try this and have any recommendations of your own.


Small to med. bowl for compost scraps
3 ramekins
Plastic wrap
2 round 8 in. cake pans
Parchment paper
Kitchen shears
Measuring cups and spoons (1 c., 1/4 c., 1/4 t., 1 t., 1/2 c., 1/3 c. (for scooping))
Sifter or wire mesh strainer
Large mixing bowl
Wire whisk
Stand mixer with bowl, paddle attachment & whisk attachment
Spoon and/or offset spatula
Clean, dry hand towel
Two small wire racks or one large wire rack (for cooling)


2 large eggs, separated
Butter – cold, enough to butter the cake pans
Flour (enough t4o dust the pans)
1 3/4 c. cake flour, sifted
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, room temp.
Butter – enough to butter the cake pans (this does not have to be room temp.)
1 c. granulated white sugar, divided into separate ramekins in 3/4 c. and 1/4 c. parts
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. whole milk (cold)
1/8 t. cream of tartar


With the eggs still cold, separate the whites from the yolks, placing each of the yolks in its own ramekin, and the whites in a third ramekin. Cover each ramekin tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Set a cake pan (bottom down) on a large sheet of parchment paper. Using a pencil, trace around the cake pan. Using kitchen scissors (I keep a pair of kitchen shears separate from the others for use with anything food related), cut out the round tracing, following the inside of the pencil mark. Repeat. Butter and flour the cake pans. Place the parchment paper at the bottom of each. Grease the sides and bottoms of the pans using the little bit of butter, then sprinkle flour lightly over the bottom of the pan, and tap the side of the pan to distribute. Place a parchment paper round in the bottom of each of the pans. Grease and flour the parchment paper with the same technique. Set the pans aside.

REAL TIME CLEAN UP: You are now done with the greasing butter, the flour, the parchment paper, the pencil, and the kitchen shears.

Sift the cake flour (1 3/4 C.) into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the salt (1/4 t.) and baking powder (2 t.). Make sure the sides of the bowl are clean. Set aside.

REAL TIME CLEAN UP: You are now done with the flour, salt, baking powder, 1 c. measuring cup, and 1/4 t., and you can rinse the 1 t. measuring spoons.

Get the stand mixer ready with the paddle attachment and a clean (wiped-dry bowl). (Always remember to wipe out any equipment that you use – bowls, machines, etc., since dust and stray tiny gobbledeegook finds its way to machinery at rest). In the bowl, beat the room-temperature butter on medium to high speed until soft (1-2 mins.). Add 3/4 c. sugar and beat until light and fluffy (it will not look perfectly smooth — you will still see some graininess and that’s okay) (2-3 mins).

Add the egg yolks, one at a time. Make sure the scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout the process, to ensure everything is getting mixed together. Add the vanilla extract (1 t.), and beat until combined. This whole process will take about 3-4 minutes, but just watch the butter mixture and finish wen it’s light and fluffy and looks like yummy frosting (but is not).

REAL TIME CLEAN UP: You are done with the vanilla, and the egg yolk ramekins, and the 1 t. measuring spoon.

Turn the mixer down to low, and add the flour mixture alternately with the milk in about three turns, with the flour being the first and last addition. I use a 1/3 c. measuring cup to scoop in the flour (using generous portions of 1/3 c.). Again, make sure to scrape down the bowl as necessary and brush off the top of the paddle any flour or other ingredient that wants to hang out up there. Keep the counter and area surrounding your stand mixer wiped down and clean.

REAL TIME CLEAN UP: You are now done with the milk, flour, and measuring cups.

Using a new/clean bowl for your stand mixer (I only have one bowl so I have to transfer the batter into a clean bowl, and wash out the stand mixer bowl to reuse), and the wire whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy.

Add the cream of tartar (1/8 t.).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

REAL TIME CLEAN UP: You are now done with the cream of tartar, and all measuring spoons.

Keep beating the egg whites until the mixture reaches the consistency that you can form soft peaks with a spoon or spatula. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 c. of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. This may take awhile. Be patient. It matters. Remember to scrape down your bowl. When the egg white mixture reaches stiff peak consistency (enough that you could turn the bowl upside down and nothing would fall out), fold in a small amount (roughly about a half-cup) into the batter mixture, just to lighten it. In about 2-3 more scoopfuls, fold in the remaining egg white mixture. Do not mix it. Just fold it in. However, it should be folded in enough that you don’t see any egg white. (I made the mistake of not folding it in enough once, and the egg white inflated into a huge bubble in the oven, separating from the batter itself. Big mistake. But if you mix it in, the batter will deflate as well).

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a spatula or back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes (until a toothpick fully inserted comes out clean).

Cool the cake pans on a wire rack for about ten minutes. Place another wire rack over the tops and turn it upside down, lifting the cake pan off the cake, one at a time. Once the pans are fully cooled, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer for at least an hour before frosting.

When ready, frost your cake and enjoy!


Who’s Got Grass?

So I did my compost turning earlier this week. Messy job, but I’m glad I did it. It was too wet, though, so I’m looking for anyone in the area who wants to donate their grass clippings. My compost was way too wet, and I recognize it’s because I have neglected the dry ingredient part of the equation. Composting is like magic though. Despite my neglect, I still got two large bins of black gold out of the wet mess that took over my compost bin. Nature’s on it, even when I’m not.

Witness, below (last photo), the persistent wild onion that thrives despite its unwantedness. I swear I’m starting to truly admire these pesky buggers.





Onion Fun

Took a little time, about half an hour, today and cleared a path in the front forty. For what, I am still deciding. I knew it was time to free the space of the onion reign when passersby were beginning to stop and stare out at the onion field and look at each other knowingly and comment in low voiced (in Chinese so I don’t know what was being said). Alright, so it only happened once. But, then, when I had a friend of mine visit from upstate – an artist who gets back to the city periodically, and I realized I was nearly too embarrassed to let her see my yard, and when she did and then recommended I do what the other neighbors do and just put in some ground cover and let it take care of itself, I knew it was time to take up
the matter into my own hands. And it became human vs. nature. But really it was like a little dance because the rhythm of uprooting those pesky little buggers and digging and loosening the dirt was symbolic of finding some little psychological nit that’s been embedded just beneath a rib all winter, loosing it, and setting it free. I love digging after a long quiet winter. Everything begins to breathe again.

As for these guys, they are the dreaded specious wild onions so familiar to outer borough dwellers (at least Brooklynites – not sure if they’ve also invaded our neighbor burgs). My upstate artist friend suggested I make a soup out of them. Last year I just tossed them. I’m thinking the least I can do for their hard work is squeeze a little veggie stock out of them. What’s left after that will get thrown away (not composted) because they are so persistent, I saw several shoots poking out of my compost pile when I turned it earlier this week.



I Love Lucy (and Steve Buscemi)

But only the shadows of their presence were on location tonight as my neighborhood became the set of Boardwalk Empire. I passed by earlier on an afternoon out and about. Met Sam, who was sitting coolly at the end of one block, just at the edge of the big lights epicenter of a tv shoot, now a somewhat familiar scene in the hood. More and more we’re seeing the small screen light up our streets with the hustle and bustle of Made in NY crews milling about. By the time I reached Sammy, I knew which show it was, and that one lucky neighbor was living in the imaginary home of Al Capone. I also learned the crew would be there till 11 p.m. Sammy was cool, as was everyone else I happened upon there, so I hurried home and returned awhile later, arms full of my almost famous “Good Bars.” Only the best for the best (the folks there were very seriously nice people). As for the Good Bars, these babies are an updated, fully loaded, all natural, 100% artisanal la-di-da’d, all Brooklyn all the time, not-your-grandmama’s-granola bar. And I donated them out of the goodness of my heart and not at all to warm my way into the ever amazing Steve Buscemi’s good graces.

So Mr. B, as it turns out, was not there. I know because I asked another actor if he would be on set and the (young, good looking, and costumed) man told me no, “only Al Capone.” “Bummer,” I muttered, I think, to Al Capone, and kept walking. I don’t watch BE, but only because I don’t get HBO. If I did, though, I would. For now, I’ll satisfy myself with treating the crew to some down home Brooklyn hospitality, and a glimpse of Mr. B, if it’s ever meant to be.

True story, btw, one night in  the early aughts, I sat next to him at the Knitting Factory (the downtown one, not the original but before it moved back up to above Houston). I didn’t know it was him because we were sitting nearly shoulder to shoulder, which is really too close to look someone in the face — it’s like turning around to see who’s behind you in the elevator. You just don’t do it. So I sat next to this man for about 20 minutes or more, writing in my journal, which is a regular kind of thing for me to do, and glancing only at his shoes. It must have been a Tuesday or a Thursday night because it wasn’t horribly crowded, and there weren’t enough people to distract me from the guy next to me who was wearing the hush puppies. I wondered what he did for a living. I couldn’t quite make it out. Wall Street didn’t seem to fit. But who goes home after work to change into hush puppies, and slightly worn ones at that?  Ultimately I settled on computer programmer/software geek kind of guy, since I figured maybe he worked at home and had slipped out of his slippers and into his night shoes before going out.   Although normally I would introduce myself, I refrained because I was meeting friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and did not want to be obliged to invite this stranger (who struck me as maybe a bit of a loner, sitting against the wall just like me) to join us. And I knew I would have invited him, so instead I didn’t look directly at him or introduce myself at all.  The man with the hush puppies left around the time my friends found me.  After we said our hellos, one asked me, “How is it sitting next to Steve Buscemi?”  “I don’t know.  How?” I asked, and waited for the punchline.

Walking back home tonight, I passed this trailer.  It’s an eau de homage to giants of the small screen…doubling as WC signage.

There’s no business like show business like no business I know.