124 Merton Street, a Boutique Office Building, Yields Bountiful Crops and Inspiration for Artist/Chef Vivian Reiss

Red and Yellow Boar, Indigo Rose, Striped Tonnelet, and Striped Marvel Zapotec Tomatoes and Marigolds, a useful culinary flower from 124 Merton rooftop farm

Red and Yellow Boar, Indigo Rose, Striped Tonnelet, and Striped Marvel Zapotec Tomatoes and Marigolds, a useful culinary flower, all from 124 Merton rooftop farm

Most office buildings are cloistered away from nature, let alone agriculture. One exception is the Toronto’s www.124merton.com  a boutique office building, whose bounteous crops reap benefits for the tenants both local and international.

Owner, artist, designer and chef, Vivian Reiss has been in avant garde of urban farming, having practiced it for over 38 years. She conceived the gardens of the boutique office building in midtown Toronto to function an inspirational oasis for work as well as for culinary creations. She has developed over 400 recipes using the crops grown in the building’s three separate garden spaces. All of the gardens are open to the building’s tenants, whose offices range from 900 square feet to 3,000 square feet.

Reiss, in the lobby of 124 Merton, a space she designed, her arms laden with boughs of "Maypole" apples from the rooftop farm

Reiss, in the lobby of 124 Merton, a space she designed, her arms laden with boughs of “Maypole” apples from the rooftop farm


As soon as you approach the woodland themed front entrance, landscaped with rocks from the Canadian Shield, you know you are in a special place. Amid giant pines peeks a surprise. The midtown Toronto location affords a microclimate, that allow Mediterranean artichokes to not only to grow but have a flourishing crop of edible artichokes. Imagine slow roasted fresh picked artichokes, nestled among super sweet ” Paul Robeson” tomatoes and fragrant rosemary just harvested from it’s rooftop urban farm, and you have an idea of range of the pleasures that this office building can yield.

Artichokes, Tomatoes and Rosemary from the gardens of 124 Merton Street

Artichokes, Tomatoes and Rosemary from the gardens of 124 Merton Street

The second floor courtyard goes more Canadian Prairie, with Saskatoon berry trees named after one of that province’s largest city and named for the trees that provide crops of the almond tasting berries both in the eponymous city and midtown Toronto. The Saskatoon trees are planted in huge custom containers that divide the courtyard into various areas both for lunch and meetings. Eclectic garden furniture, from designers like Woodward to the “Memphis” group, as well as a barbeque, lend whimsy as well as practicality to the space.

Bee and Giant Sunflowers on the Rooftop Farm

Bees and Giant Sunflowers on the Rooftop Farm

It is on the 6th floor rooftop farm that 124 Merton Street goes truly international. Among the Canadian” Maypole” apple trees, Prairie “Romeo” and “Juliette” cherries, Haskap berries and giant sunflowers, are 124 Merton’s premiere crop, the over 40 varieties of heritage tomatoes from around the world. The choice of  varieties of tomatoes are vast, so keeping some favorites that win in the buildings annual tomato tasting, judged by professional food critics and tenants alike, it is possible to grow and experiment with new types of tomatoes each year. The rooftop’s constant sunshine yields colorful crops and its 6th floor location protects the crops from wildlife, paradoxically a problem in urban edible gardens. Happily though, bees find their way their to pollinate and animate the garden.

"Sweet Israeli" Tomato and Couscous Salad

“Sweet Israeli” Tomato and Couscous Salad

One of Reiss’ favorite tomatoes from the 2013 crop is the “Sweet Israeli”, a tomato whose honey like flavor and coloration that evokes dawn inspired a salad. In the salad above, Israeli couscous is cooked in water in which copious amounts of marigold petals have been boiled and strained, providing color as well as flavor. The couscous, served at room temperature, is mixed with chopped preserved lemon, basil, fennel fronds and flowers, and more (this time uncooked) marigold petals, and tossed with olive oil and some preserved lemon juice. It is then topped with a sliced “Sweet Israeli” tomato and strewn with more flowers.

Peaches and rooftop "Big Red Peach" tomato. Dahlia from ground level garden at 124 Merton Street

Peaches and rooftop “Big Red Peach” tomatoes. Dahlia from ground level garden at 124 Merton Street

Fuzzy skinned tomatoes are both a botanical oddity and fun to grow. In past years Reiss has grown “Wapiscon Peach” tomatoes, a apricot colored, midsize tomato whose flavor drew rave reviews. This year Reiss experimented with “Big Red Peach” tomato whose size and skin mimicked real peaches. This inspired two tarts, one savory and one sweet. As an artist, Reiss was drawn to the visual pun of a tomato and a peach having similar appearance, but not eaten or cooked conventionally together. Reiss  thought,” why not combine them in a tart?”

Tart with Goat Cheese, "Big Red Peach" tomatoes and Peaches

Savory Tart with Goat Cheese, “Big Red Peach” tomatoes and Peaches

Sweet Pate Brise Tart with Basil and "Big Red Peach" Tomatoes and Peaches

Sweet Pate Brise Tart with Basil and “Big Red Peach” Tomatoes and Peaches

Sometimes, one wants to eat something truly simple like Reiss’ “ Sunny Side Up”. To make this recipe one needs a slate roof tile. While the barbeque is heating slice as many varieties of tomatoes as you have available. Place them in a decorative array on the slate. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt as desired. Bake in a closed barbeque until the tomatoes are hot and begin to cook .Take slate off the barbeque and crack two eggs onto the tomatoes. Return to barbeque, close the top and cook until the whites of the eggs are set. Serve the dish on the slate with a grinding of black pepper  and coarse sea salt. Casually strew some sunflower petals on the eggs and tomatoes. You will need as many slates as people, but probably you will probably want to eat this just by yourself, enjoying the tastes of summer without conversational distraction. Summer’s simple pleasures and happiness on a slate.

"Sunny Side Up" Tomatoes and Eggs Baked on a Slate with Sunflowers

“Sunny Side Up” Tomatoes and Eggs Baked on a Slate

for further information on units available at www.124merton.com email Ms. Reiss at vreiss@vreiss.com

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“Live Like Viv!” Valentine’s Day Chocolate Pudding Episode

Live Like Viv! is a webseries documenting artist Vivian Reiss’ extravagant and beautiful lifestyle. In this episode, Reiss makes a delicious chocolate pudding for Valentines day. Catch all the excitement at www.LiveLikeViv.com

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VIDEO: Vivian Reiss on Growing Cotton in Your Front Yard, With 100% of Canada’s Cotton Crop

Artist, designer and urban farming pioneer Vivian Reiss in her garden in Toronto, Canada, showing off her cotton plants she grew. This cotton crop was 100% of Canada’s cotton output this year. Learn how to plant and grow cotton, and what you get after it has blossomed.
Vivian Reiss Landscapes Facebook page: facebook.com/VReissLandscapes
Vivian Reiss landscape design practice: vreissdesign.com/landscapes/

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New HD Video of Vivian Reiss, interviewed in her garden

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“It’s a Long Long Time From May to December”


“Maypole” Columnar Apple Tree in Bloom on the Rooftop Garden 124 Merton Street in May 2011


 The song , “It’s a long, long time from May to December”, chronicles the stages of love, womanhood and relationships. In retrospect the “Malus Maypole’s” journey to my rooftop garden started before May, but in considering the purchase of this particular tree, who could have imagined just how giving this apple tree would be from May to December?         

 The journey of this apple to my garden started on a winter’s trip to Barcelona when love had grown worn and threadbare. I had hoped that a trip to this city of architecture and food would reweave love with ever more colorful threads. As we walked  the streets of the city, gazing at the unique vocabulary of the buildings, ever the optimist and try as I might, no invisible mending was taking place. As is my want, I consoled and filled my soul with  beauty and inspiration from the cityscape.        

Barcelona residences generally have no front or backyards.  The secret to their outdoor space is hidden by fanciful decorative parapets seen from the street. Those fantastic shapes and urns, seen from the front, provide privacy and form the balustrades of roof top yards and gardens.        

Several years ago, I had created a courtyard garden at 124 Merton Street. The courtyard was in existence already but was placed in a sort of pit in the second floor of a five story building. You could see the sky but the sun rarely shone there. It had all the charm of a prison exercise yard. I built four huge central planters and filled them with tall Service berry trees, a species that would thrive in the shade, bloom and provide fruit. Other boxes were filled with fragrant herbs as well as parsley, celery, ivy geraniums, and climbing hydrangea. I affixed trellis work next to the windows facing the courtyard from the second to the fifth floor, repainted the windows to harmonise with the planters and bought eclectic garden furniture from the 1950′s until the present. When I had finished Angie, who had built all the boxes, gardened and painted asked me,”When are we renting out this space for weddings?” A previously cold ugly and unappealing space had become a charming and lovely space to congregate, so much so it could be a space not only for relaxing and eating lunch, but a place for celebrations. It was beautiful but I was not entirely satisfied.       

Gazing upwards, to I longed to build a parapet that would add architectural detail to the dull roof line. The idea became reality when the building was chosen to be on “Doors Open Toronto”. Knowing that hundreds of people would come to enjoy the “boutique” office building, the framed textiles lining the hallways and our gardens, I had to build more railings for the rooftop garden. I cut six giant urns out of plywood, a post modern touch for the skyline of the courtyard, and built heavy planters on the roof garden side to to secure them. After research, I decided to plant them with “Maypole Apples”. In order to keep the look from the downstairs, I needed a tree that would grow in a columnar shape and from the roof garden side a tree that would grow well in planters and be able to withstand the sometimes brutal conditions of gardening on a roof.       

Planters From the roof garden side with young "Maypole" apple trees

 The cerise blossoms in May filled my heart with a girlish, joyful innocence that I thought I had lost forever. As the summer progressed, the apples ripened with an unexpected abundance.    

Abundant apples

As Summer waned and Fall was on the horizon, I gathered basketful’s. These apples appeared at every celebration. For the Jewish New Year,  just as the apples were at their crunchy, sweet tart apex I served them whole, one per person, instead of in the traditional slices.  

Rosh Hashonah, "Maypole" apples individually served

 For Simchas Torah, I cooked them whole with sugar and licorice flag from the garden to give the apples a complimentary anise flavor. Sukkot, they were sliced in a mandolin, revealing their rosy flesh, and lined on lettuce leaves for a salad. Canadian Thanksgiving they were pickled whole with rosemary that had grown beneath the apples in the planters.    

December apples preparing to be sauce

For American Thanksgiving, I cooked them into a “faux” cranberry sauce with chocolate mint from the rooftop garden. No one missed the traditional turkey accompaniment.   

As the days grew shorter in December, I realized that my heart was healing. The apples had grown soft, not being of a “keeper” variety. I realized I no longer dreaded the long dark nights and prepared to celebrate the light of the candles with family and friends on Chanukah. The apples that had already celebrated many festivals were made into sauce and served with latkes. The apples for now are a tender romantic memory until they burst into bloom next May.

Latkes with sour cream and apple sauce with the last apple of the season

Recipe: How to make latkes for a crowd,   

25 Yukon Gold potatoes, shredded either manually or in a food processor   

3 cups all purpose flour  

!/2 cup finely chopped chives and crumbled dried rosemary to taste  

10 eggs, lightly beaten  

Drain the potatoes. Normally one does not associate potatoes with being watery but grating them reveals more cut surface and the inner juices flow.  

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl adding lots of freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. If you are averse to tasting raw potatoes and eggs, sea salt can be sprinkled on the fried latkes to a taste advantage.  

Heat plenty of canola oil in a pan until hot. The secret of not filling your house with the scent of heavy oil is paradoxically to use plenty of oil when frying. Scoop the potato mixture in proportion to the size of pancake you wish to serve into the hot oil. Fry until golden, turning once so each side gets cooked. Serve immediatelywith sour cream and applesauce.

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Vivian Reiss’s bedroom: where she dreams her dreams

Vivian Reiss’s bedroom: where she dreams her dreams

Read this article on the Globe and Mail website
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

For the last 25 years, painter and art-gallery owner Vivian Reiss has lived in a sprawling 5,000-square-foot house in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, built circa 1870 for the widow of Augustus Warren Baldwin, a naval officer and Upper Canada politician. It’s a designated historic site, but the audacious interior design is hardly old-fashioned.

Known for the burst of colour she brings to her portraits and still lifes, Reiss oversaw the renovations herself, creating a space that is bold and eclectic. “My home is a giant laboratory for my creative endeavours, so each room is different from the next,” says the committed food and garden blogger (www.vivianreiss.com). Reiss’s favourite room is her bedroom, where, incidentally, part of the 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail was shot. It includes an ample sitting room (shown here) opposite her bed. “This room is literally where I dream my dreams.”

1. The white chair

“This was designed by Olivier Mourgue in 1968. In my teenage years, I yearned for a chair by Mourgue after seeing one in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where I grew up. I found this one at the St. Lawrence Sunday flea market in Toronto.”

2. The green ball

“This a Pilates ball that I sometimes use for its designated purpose. But mostly I love it for its colour and form.”

3. The painting

“This is one of mine, of my son, Joel Garten, when he was a teenager. We had just come back from a safari in Africa, so he is surrounded by eagle feathers, bones and a monkey skull he had found there. Also, from other trips, there are Roman potshards and a shell from Samoa. It is a portrait of a confident young man looking to the future and all the adventure that life holds.”

4. The lips chair

“I found this at Lee’s Art Shop in New York. It’s slightly Daliesque, with a bit of Niki de Saint Phalle around the edges. I love the red colour.”

5. The door leading to the master bathroom

“This is a piece of salvage, a leftover from the structure that is now the CTV building [in Toronto].”

6. The carpet

“It is white and extremely cushy. Whatever acrobatics I have to go through in life, I know that, in my bedroom, I’m in for a soft landing.”

7. The coffee table

“It sits on plaster strawberries, probably a store display, that I got when Creeds [the defunct Canadian department store] was going out of business. The glass top is another piece of salvage, from the old Ports of Call restaurant on Yonge Street.”

full image:

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Of Rye and Radishes

Rye in my garden

Rye in the paisley bed near my elephant

This morning looking out at my garden, I noticed that the rye was ripening in the paisley bed near the elephant. How did that happen? Just yesterday I had pulled out the maple syrup taps from the maple tree. Meanwhile, on the boulevard in the front yard, my Spring planting of lettuces and radishes was ready to be harvested
I remembered many years ago when my brother was in medical school in Brussels, Belgium, we drove out to the countryside to a specialized restaurant to partake of a Spring ritual of eating radish and cream cheese sandwiches. It being Belgium, I have a vague memory of beer drinking being involved.

Spring planting of lettuces and radishes on the boulevard

Signature radishes

Mizuna and French Breakfast radishes

Curly cress, mizuna and radish sandwich

Curly cress, mizuna and radish sandwich

No, I did not mill the rye to have flour to bake bread but I did buy a loaf which provided the base for the same sandwich I ate several times a day a few days running.
The recipe is simple: for each sandwich take a slice of rye bread and spread with softened sweet butter. I wanted to combine spicy greens along with the radishes knowing that the butter would temper the heat and provide a taste contrast. I picked some mizuna and placed it on the bread followed by radishes cut in half lengthwise and topped with a garnish of curly cress and a sprinkling of a little coarse sea salt.
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“To V. or not to V.” The 3rd Act

The invitation to my birthday party read,           

   ”To v. or not to v.?” That is the question. Come to a birthday party to celebrate my birth, rebirth and the birth of William Shakespeare. I’ll supply the Elizabethan feast, please supply your ideas of Shakespeare or of the Elizabethan era or just come as you.           

The kitchen counter laden with the feast

After research and dreaming, this is the menu I came up with; roast Cornish hen surrounded with boiled quail’s eggs and garnished with peacock feathers, ricotta drizzled with honey and garnished with candied oranges, lemons and pansies, grilled duck breast also drizzled with honey and served with poached pears flavored with cardamom, lemon peel and rosewater, roasted beef filet with thyme served on a bed of cress accompanied with grated and vinegared horseradish, leg of lamb braised in sweet wine and cinnamon, rosemary and orange rind, accompanied by white grape mint jelly made from mint and grapes from my garden, potato pie with chives, nutmeg, butter and cheddar cheese [In a complete reversal of value potatoes were very expensive in the Elizabeth era, newly discovered, an exotic ingredient. As I had bought a 10 pound bag for $2.oo, they have made a journey to one of the least expensive foodstuffs one can buy and luckily, waistline aside, can be consumed in large delicious quantities] huge steamed artichokes with melted butter, salat [Elizabethan salad] composed of arugula, watercress, parsley, mint, pansies, pea leaves and tendrils and basil, served with oil and vinegar dressing, carrots braised with preserved lemon peel, honey and butter, steamed asparagus, whole white, sweet and red onions and  large shallots baked with honey, rosemary and vinegar. For dessert; marzipan [which was known in the era as marchpan] gilded with 24 carat gold, rice and raisin pudding flavored with rose water and lavender, and gilded fresh strawberries and blackberries. English ale and Italian wine to quench the thirst    


Laurie shaping the marzipan in the afternoon before the party

The marzipan was concealed in the antique drawers only to be revealed at dessert to the delight of the guests

Marzipan pearls that were plucked and consumed one by one by the guests from the rosemary sprig base


guests enjoying the dessert surprise

Guests enjoying the dessert surprise



The sonnet Ariel wrote as my birthday present


Shallots, red, white and sweet onions braised with honey, vinegar and rosemary

Duck breast and cardamon and rosewater poached pears

Rick Saks as Prospero and Linda Smith as Shakespeare's sister

Fides and Linda


A little Elizabethan dancing



Serving wench wearing a ruff created by Clara and chain mail skirt from Flavourhall

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Expanding Rooftop Garden


Even though it is still quite cold, it is time to start the cold weather crops such as lettuce. In a month or so bunches of our beautiful organic lettuce will appear in the lobby of 124 Merton Street for the tenants to take home for dinner.

These giant urns will line the parapet seen from the 2nd floor courtyard. From the roof they will form the background for the new boxes filled with columnar “Maypole” apple trees.

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Phad at Merton


Phad from Rajastan is now installed on the 5th Floor 

The Empress Building at 124 Merton Street is known for its art and artifacts throughout the building. As we were putting up this beautiful painting from Rajasthan one of our tenants remarked, “This is the most humane office building in Toronto.” We love to be surrounded by beautiful things and share them in the daily work atmosphere. Visitors and customers to the many types of businesses are always telling me how much they love to come to the building and are stimulated by new ideas when they visit.  

A detail from the phad

Phad painting is a popular style of folk painting, practiced in Rajasthan state of India. This style of painting is traditionally done on a long piece of cloth, known as phad. The narratives of the folk deities of Rajasthan, mostly of Pabuji and Devnarayan are depicted on the phads. The Bhopas, the priest-singers traditionally carry the painted phars along with them and use these as the mobile temples of the folk deities. The phads of Pabuji are normally about 15 feet in length, while the phads of Devnarayan are normally about 30 feet long. Traditionally the phads are painted with vegetable color. [ from wikipedia]  

The textile curator of the Royal Ontario Museum spent a week researching this piece as part of a tour of our collections for the Rom Patron Circle. The bhopas or priests would take this long painting from town to town, unravel and set it up on two poles by the rope sewn along the top of the phad. In putting the painting in a showcase I made use of and prominently displayed the worn ropes as I thought they were integral to the history of the piece. The painting tells a story of kings and the intinerant priest would move back and forth in front of the images to tell a story. These ceremonies always took place at night and would end by dawn.In fact the curator and I hatched a plan to set it up in my backyard at night and have a party  to enjoy the painting by fire light. She got married that Summer and in all the wedding planning the phad party never happened.  


As the phad fades from constant use the priests dunk it in the river to ceremonially end its use. Even though our phad is faded on the bottom and looks like it might have survived many monsoons, I am glad that the river burial was not part of the history of our piece. After 1950 they were no longer made. 

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Getting to The Root of the Matter, How Deep Are Your Roots?

freshly dug horseradish roots

If you think; ” a new broom sweeps clean,” is a refreshing adage, you have no idea of how the concept of getting to the root of my garden’s suffocation and plague is rejuvenating. After all, a new broom is only sweeping away some mildly irritating dust mites and dust bunnies revealing a clean floor but digging out pernicious roots has all the promise of new growth.        

This Spring, I decided it was time to eradicate the horseradish which was asphyxiating my garden once and for all. After trying to remove all the roots some ten years ago, my front yard, once again, was taken over by this delicious, beautiful but stubborn plant. By sheer size and root system, horseradish, overcomes everything thing else in the garden. Traditionally, just before Seder my guests and I go out into the front yard and dig up a root for the Seder plate and grate the rest in a fit of teary eyes.[see blog 2010/10/22, " Horseradish of Pleasure and Plague"] This year, that time came early along with 2 disposal bins and 14 cubic yards of dark and fluffy triple mix soil. The plan was to dig the whole garden to below the horseradish roots, dump it in the bins and replace it with new fertile soil.        


Angie beginning to excavate the garden [notice the criss-crossing horseradish roots

To accomplish this we had to dig deep. How deep? We were still searching for the origins of one root when we had already dug 45 inches deep. The horseradish roots in a complete takeover plan, grow down, sideways and criss-crossed. The only part of the garden that the roots didn’t penetrate was where there was a layer of sand. Like the Jews wandering in the Sinai during the Exodus, it is impossible to put down roots in the sand.        

After the old roots and soil are disposed of my garden will be filled with new loam and the fecundity it harbors. Sometimes to effect change you need to dig deep and find the things that are holding you back from growing. How deep? You will know when you are once again filled with the enthusiasm and joy of life. This Spring, my garden will be filled with new soil and be awake with new possibilities. As I plant my seeds, seedlings, and plants, I will be grateful for my own rejuvenation.     

horseradish and red and golden beets

 Horseradish and Beets; I used this beautiful vegetable condiment as an inspiration for a Spring buffet dinner of herring, smoked fish, hard boiled eggs, greenhouse tomatoes with parsley, and Hungarian cucumber salad 

Bake washed unpeeled red and yellow beets in a 375 f. oven until a knife pierces them easily. Let cool and then peel. Wash and peel a horseradish root. Grate the red and yellow beets separately. Grate the horseradish root adding cider vinegar to moisten and keep the root from turning brown, also adding a little sugar as well. Combine the beets keeping the colors separated and add the horseradish in a half and half proportion. If the horseradish is very hot you may want to decrease the amount of horseradish depending on your audience.

Spring buffet

Hungarian cucumber salad [Uborkasalata]

Nothing says Spring like this refreshing salad.

Peel 2 English cucumbers and slice very thinly on a mandolin. Mix the cucumber with 1 1/2 tsps. of salt and let drain in a colander in the sink for 1 hour. Make a dressing of 6tbs. white or cider vinegar, 3 tbs. water, 3 tps. sugar, a grinding of black pepper, and a 1/4 tsp. sweet paprika. When the cucumbers have drained for an hour, squeeze them gently to extract the excess juice. In a serving bowl mix the cucumbers with the dressing and top with a sprinkling of  additional sweet paprika 

Hungarian cucumber salad and the children's book that taught me the Hungarian language

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Tomato Panic or Red Alert [or yellow, purple, white, pink or maybe, striped alert]

flats of tomatoes, labeled and ready to grow

Last week I had a tomato panic. I found out that Doris Giardino, who grew my beautiful heritage tomato seedlings for my www.124merton.com rooftop garden, was not growing them again this year. What would become of the annual tomato tasting? Realizing that I would have to grow the seedlings myself, I went from window to window in my home placing tables, stools from Zambia, offering platforms from Bali, and whatever else I could find to support and provide enough sunlight for the trays of seedlings I now had to grow myself.          

The real panic was, where was I going to find seeds in a hurry? Catalogues are available online but it takes almost 3 weeks for seeds to reach to reach Toronto from the U.S. and by then it would be a little too late to start seedlings. Doris generously agreed to start me off with seeds of some of the favorites of last summer from her dwindling supply. Anna Russian, Paul Robeson, Wapiscon and Speckled Peach and 15 others were found. Alas, one of my personal favorites Giant Belgium would have to wait for next year. New opportunities for different tomatoes were to be found. At” Seedy Sunday,” a community event, I found at least 20 more varieties I wanted to grow. At one booth I found N.J. Standard, a tomato I hope will bring back my tastes of youth spent at Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. It was there I was introduced to the famous New Jersey Beefsteak and gardening.

Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey: my wheelbarrow and me, age 4

I pulled out an envelope of seeds that I had bought in Hungary at Tesco [a Walmart-type chain] when we went on a memory tour there in 2005. Would they still be viable and what kind of memories would they invoke if they indeed did grow? [they were viable] I searched through the library of seeds that I keep in 1960′s sand buckets and found some I had grown in previous years. “Red Fig” is a variety that was dried for the winter and used as a fig substitute in the 18th century. When I had previously  grown it in my garden, in no way did it conjure up that sweet taste and slightly gritty texture of dried figs. I was willing to give them another chance. Maybe if I grew and dried them in the sun of the hot roof they would more figlike. Stupice, a heritage tomato I grew with great success, yielded a bountiful crop of round medium size red tomatoes of perfect complexion and taste. Regretfully their seeds were not available to me this year. As substitute,  I bit into a greenhouse “Campari” tomato from Leamington Ontario, and smeared some seeds in the soil in a peat pot. [ they germinated] I also planted a squeeze of seeds of a perfect red black tomato grown in Mexico, the” Kumari.” Before you disparage such a tomato, remember heritage tomatoes were once new varieties and if you have ever tried to grow heirloom black tomato varieties and waited for them to be perfectly vine ripe, only to have them go from almost ripe to bloated mush from one day to the next or crack and mold just as you were whetting your appetite for some, one would realize that perfectly reliable modern tomatoes have their purpose as well. I was wondering if the Kumari’s seeds would germinate as most food products from Mexico are irridated.[they did] 

In celebration of the new growing season to come, I decided to use up the last of last year’s bounty of tomatoes in my freezer and shell the beans from the roof that had been drying all winter to make baked beans that would be served in the lobby of 124 Merton for all to enjoy.  

Shelled beans from the roof

Baked beans from local products: 

14 cups dried beans: that was the total crop of these unidentified variety of beans from the roof. I had grown them the previous year as well and as fresh string beans they where not very delicious. Since there were seeds aplenty as they weren’t consumed raw, I planted them again with the result that there were many more unconsumed pods at the end of this season but the name of the variety was never recorded. 

3 cups maple syrup, 3 tsps salt, 4 bay leaves, 3/4 cup ketchup, [ recipe from blog "Let's play ketchup"] dried rosemary and thyme to taste, 10 cup tomatoes,[ I had pureed them in the blender and then froze them] 

My challenge was to use ingredients that came from my home garden and the rooftop garden but feel free to substitute ingredients and quantities. This recipe is only a guideline.   

Soak the beans in water to cover overnight. Drain and put all the ingredients in a covered baking pan with boiling water to cover the beans. Bake at 450 F for 20 minutes ,then lower the temperature to 300 F. Bake for approximately 8 hours , occasionally adding more water to cover. The baking time will depend on the variety and dryness of the beans. Keep an eye on them and taste for softness and flavor.When done serve the quantity of this recipe to a crowd. 

 I had also tried to cook the beans by cooking them on the stove instead of baking them. I found they cooked substantially faster with no loss of taste or texture but of course you can no longer call them baked beans! 

Beans, dried and cooked

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We all do what is takes to find sweetness: Maple; tap into it!

My maple with contemporary sap collecting "buckets"

 This year I decided to tap the maple tree in my back yard. Truthfully, I was never too fond of the tree. It blocked out the light from the rest of my backyard and however much I pruned it, it regrew in some mathematical equation until it was too huge to be easily trimmed. No plant ever survived under it or in the surrounding area of the tree. For many years I rued, “If only it was a Sugar maple, I could tap it for maple syrup.” And then this year, I found out that Norway maples could also be tapped, the only difference being that you needed 60 liters of sap to be boiled down to  one liter of syrup as opposed to the 40 to 1 of the Sugar maple. People have gone to extremes to obtain the sweet taste of sugar; sailing the seas, colonizing nations, enslaving people, burning fields, clearcutting forests, jungles, planting palms, sorghum, corn, cane, beet, building apiaries and researching chemicals in labs. All this time I had sweetness growing in my own backyard in the disguise of that unloved tree!  

Antique Canadian maple taps ,boiled sap from various days of the tapping season and maple vodka

Each day, first thing in the morning, I would go out into the backyard and empty the soda bottle “buckets” of sap to be boiled in the kitchen. Before emptying them, I would stand under the tree and take a large swig of the deliciously cold raw sap. Drinking, I felt myself a tree, the cold sap rising from the ground through my body and up into my veins, the energy of the awakening of Spring made physical.  

Nights of freezing temperature and days of Spring-like warmth cause the sap to rise and flow. On March 29th, I gathered 18 liters of sap. It entailed watching the tree all day long so that the sap wouldn’t overflow, collecting it and endlessly boiling it. By now, I was glad I didn’t have a cow to milk because the responsability to milk it would never end. With the tree, I knew that when the first truly warm day would arrive my duties would be over. On the first few warm days without nighttime temperatures below freezing the sap did stop flowing. I will now wait until next year to taste the sweetness of the awakening of Spring from my own tree.  

Ariel tasting and savoring the differences of the syrup from 5 successive days

The taste of sweet is a metaphor for the wonderful and celebratory things in life. Birthday cakes are not mere bread but baked and iced confections of sugar, but maple syrup is also wonderful in savory delights.  

My first creation from the syrup was ” Maple Vodka.” Put equal quantities of vodka and syrup in a clean mason jar. Cap. In a few weeks the vodka will have shed it’s roughness and blend seamlessly into the maple. Now it will be ready to drink straight or used to marinate salmon for “Gravlax”  

Maple Vodka marinated Gravlax and Maple Dill Mustard Sauce

Gravlax preparation in the snow

Every year I make gravlax for Passover. I use two huge sides of Canadian Salmon filleted, sprinkling it with sugar, vodka and salt. This year I substituted the maple vodka I had made. Instead of sugar in the dill mustard sauce I sweetened it with maple syrup. I used Icelandic salmon, which was ethereal in texture, and just a small 1 lb. piece for the recipe for the blog. That was a mistake because the gravlax disappeared in a minute, leaving us yearning for more. 

Gravlax; The principle is the same no matter how much salmon you use. If  it is 2 sides you can cure them by putting the flesh sides together.

Prepare the glass or porcelain dish by lining it with clean sprigs of fresh dill. Lay the salmon filet in the dish, making sure that the pin bones have been removed, skin side down. This is the proportion for a 1 lb filet. Sprinkle with1 tbs. of salt and 6 tbs. maple vodka. Add more sprigs of dill on top the fish and cover the dish with plastic wrap. Weight the salmon down using a clean brick or any other heavy object and refrigerate. Open occasionally to baste the fish with the liquid that will accumulate in the bottom of the dish and you can also turn the fish flesh side down into the liquid. Do this several times and in about 36 hours the gravlax is ready to eat. It can be kept for several days. How long? I don’t know because however much I make it always is eaten quickly. To serve, remove from the marinade also removing and discarding the dill and slice thinly. Don’t forget the rye bread or matzoh and the mustard dill sauce. 

Maple Dill Mustard Sauce: In a blender combine 4 cups roughly chopped dill, with only the thickest parts of the stems  removed, 2 cups flavorless oil, such as canola, 3/4 cup maple syrup and 1 cup Dijon mustard. Blend until all the ingredients are amalgamated and the dill is in 1/8 inch pieces. Refrigerate before and after serving. The sauce will keep for a month

The gravlax is served

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Sow to Sew

Last year's cotton and it's seeds ready to sow

 Last year my boulevard garden yielded, as far as I know, 100% of Canada’s cotton crop. Continuing my quest to  live off the land in the city and grow “wearables” not just edibles, it was time to plant this year’s crop. Giving new meaning to,” you reap what you sew,”  I gently pried the seeds from the various varieties of last year’s cotton. Some bolls yielded twenty to thirty seeds, leaving behind the cuddliest and softest puffs of cotton. Within a week, I had newborn cotton seedlings, some with the fluff still attached.  

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Palm Beach Hedge Fund

Typical tower fortress hedge, Palm Beach


  In midieval San Gimignano tall towers were the symbol of wealth and power. Eventually there were 72 such structures rising ever higher in this Tuscan hilltop village. Today few still remain. In Palm Beach, Florida such symbols are thriving and are indeed literally living testaments to it’s denizens modern day power and wealth. Let me introduce you to the Palm Beach hedge. Palm Beach has wisely ensured that it’s essential character be preserved by imposing a height limit on it’s mansions. The only way to be taller than your neighbors is in its distinctive hedge culture. Do Palm Beachers think that hedge fund is a gardening term?  

 In a tropical climate, such as Florida’s, foliage growth is rapid and it is indeed a testament to your financial prowess that you can afford gardeners with  20 foot ladders to keep the growth in check. [the ficus benjaminis growth not the other green stuff]     

Palm Beach hedge


Typical streetscape


  Palm Beach might also be known as ” The Giant Topiary Capital of the World.”

Recipe; Topiary Palm Beach Steak  

Go to the most expensive butcher you can find and purchase the costliest dry aged steak that is available. Emulate the hedge shapers and trim, trim, trim the steak until you are left with the tenderest part of the steak; about a one inch cube. Discard the trimmings. Melt a nugget of ”plus gras” butter in a copper sauteing pan. Quickly sear the steak and when rare place on a serving plate. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the oldest and most coveted single malt whiskey that is available. Pour in a neat puddle on the steak and garnish with freshly shorn micro salad greens. Serve.   A variation can be made by trimming a fresh lobster until a most succulent one inch piece is left of the tail, discarding the rest. Proceed as in the recipe for the beef. Caviar is not suitable for this recipe as trimming the eggs ruins the integrity of the roe.

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Vivian Ssier Painter


Arnold Scassi clutching a Reiss souvenir


If only I had a last name that sounded fabulous spelled backwards. Arnold Issacs had such luck. In 1954 he was commissioned to create 10 dresses for a General Motors magazine ad. He charged $1,000 per dress, a vast sum in the fifties, and insisted that his name be emboldened in each ad. As the magazines were going to press he received a phone call,” We need to change your name”.  Issacs called his mother to ask if it was okay and she basically told him, “Go for it!”  Thus Issacs joined such luminaries as Tony Schwartz, aka Tony Curtis, who changed their names to create a public image, the difference being Arnold’s family name was fantastically palindromic. Thus the designer Scassi was born!   

A name itself is not enough to make an over half century career of a couturier whose clients have included American first ladies, socialites, Hollywood stars, and entertainers such as Barbara Streisand and Aretha Franklin. The ensemble he designed for Aretha Franklin stands out in my mind; a bright yellow dress and coat; the coat being lined in yellow feathers. Being a couturier, he could design clothing to fit each client’s personality and figure. Similarly, when I paint a portrait, it becomes a synthesis of the subject and the painter. The model’s personality, figure and body language are inspiringly portrayed but you always know that it is a painting by V. Reiss.   

Several years ago, I did a portrait of singer performer Fides Krucker and her then newborn daughter, Oksana. Fides choose a dress from her own wardrobe by Scassi. It became of my most iconic paintings, “Nursing Diva.” At an event At Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach, a lecture about a show of the couturier’s work at  The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I brought a catalogue of my portraits to share with Scassi. Never modest, he revealed to me that he had also dressed opera divas Joan Sutherland and Lily Pons.  

Looking at the catalogue together


"Nursing Diva" oil on canvas 42" x 54"

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Flora and Fauna, US VI

The bay below our house where the dolphins danced for us

 I didn’t manage to capture the dolphins dancing and playing for us in the bay below our house but did capture the hummingbirds feeding on the cactus flowers.


Hummingbird at rest

Here is a photo gallery of some of the wild goats ,chickens , donkeys ,insects, lizards,birds, flowers and trees that make St. John their home.

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Toronto Star Article “Artist in Residence: Vivian Reiss”

New article on me in the Toronto Star.  http://www.thestar.com/article/932594–artist-in-residence-vivian-reiss


Also be sure to visit my website about my art www.vreiss.com and my design website www.vreissdesign.com


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Miro on the beach and plant arrangements

Polished coral

Coral and driftwood

One of the joys of walking on the beach is looking for seashells and other objects the tide has placed there. Training your eye on the ground, you see new forms and shapes both in and out of context. I found a big piece of polished coral with a hole carved out of it and thought it would make a planter/ table centerpiece with one of the epiphytes you find in almost every tree and cactus here. But first I put a piece of driftwood in the hole that Joel had just found. It brought to mind the visual vocabulary of the Spanish painter Miro. Then I remembered the sponge I had found last week; another Miro image. 


Natural sponge

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Vivian Reiss Landscape Design Site is Launched!

 This is my new website, check out all my projects!   http://www.vreissdesign.com/landscapes/`

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Ground Provisions, St. John US VI

Tania, local sweet potato, and yamTania,local sweet potato,and yam

Buying groceries at the local supermarket named Starfish, I was also perusing the aisles for local fare. The only thing I came up with were basketful’s of tubers; tania, local sweet potatoes and yams. They were positioned in baskets next to several varieties of  potatoes. I asked the women behind the deli counter how to prepare them. As I held each item up, the answer was the same. Peel them and boil them. At first I laughed inside, but if someone asked me how to prepare potatoes I would answer the same. Maybe I would add frying and mashing to the mix. And why do we need all those varieties of potatoes? The flavor differences are subtle but the qualities of the starches are not.          


  Preparing them at home, the yams were slimy when peeled and raw and the sweet potatoes oxidized quickly.The tania was well behaved. Cooked, the tania was a dense coarse starch and had a faintly floral taste.The yams bland, and not sweet and slimy like the Thanksgiving ones. The taste winner was the local sweet potato. It was very faintly sweet and when boiled and mashed could pass for a chestnut. An interesting idea for the future, to make faux chestnuts if I could find the then, unlocal, sweet potatoes at home in Toronto.            

Tania, sweet potato, and yam peeled and ready to cook

  Thinly sliced like chips and fried in butter the sweet potatoes were my favorite but the tania had its defenders too. The yams probably would do their best in a stew where its starchy texture would sop up other flavors. The left over boiled sweet potatoes? I decided to create what I would call foo foo croquettes, a fanciful name that brought to mind our Tai Chi master in Dali. When we asked how we were doing in our technique he would answer” foo foo”. Apparently that meant so so in Mandarin. Foo Foo is in reality an East African dish, a sort of mashed potato made of yams, plantains or other starchy “ground provisions”.       

Mash the boiled sweet potatoes. Add a healthy shake of Old Bay Seasoning www.oldbay.com and the same of ground cinnamon. Shape into croquettes and fry in butter until brown and crisp on the outside. Clara declared them delicious like a Korean sweet. Joel ate them hungrily.       

the delicious sweet potato"foo foo" patties served on a coral


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For those freezing in the north: a virtual dose of vitamin D

Rainbow at sunset St John

Rainbow St. John

Balmy tradewinds or Arctic blast? As I am in the the Caribbean, I thought those in the cold would enjoy a virtual dose of vitamin D, a video that Dan Goodbaum took at my rooftop garden tomato tasting in Toronto last August. http://www.foodbomb.org/2010/video/530

Another wonderful day in St. John

Sunset on St. John

The full moon rises

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Banana Bird


I am on the furthest eastward point of St. John US VI in a beautiful rented villa open to the sea and air on all sides. The only discordant part of the gorgeous setting and decor are the fake indoor plants that seem to be de rigueur in vacation homes. The silliest is the fake banana tree in the hexagonal living room. Joel and Clara hung a bunch of real bananas in its leaves in protest. 

Since the villa is open air like a South Pacific fale, hummingbirds fly through the kitchen, as well as the most frequent visitors to the living room bananas! 


There is even competition for the bananas


Banana eating people will appreciate this impromptu dessert I made the other night at the villa. 

Banana Sundae Cookies and Cream  

Slice ripe bananas into a saute pan with melted butter. I usually do not like salt in my cakes or desserts, but this being an island, salted butter was all I had and it did provide a flavor segue between the sweet bananas and the smoky bourbon . Cook on a medium to high flame add a little sugar and a generous splash of Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Continue until the sauce has caramelized and bananas are browned. Serve immediately over “Cookies and Cream” ice cream or any flavor ice cream that is handy. 

Another banana innovation was discovered by Ariel. Putting a dollop of the warm bananas on cold watermelon, the sauce turns crispy caramel. Elegantly the watermelon could be cubed but here it is au natural. 

Painting the birds

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The Birthday; A Delight At Any Age

Marianne candies

The invitation to the birthday party

Touring Hungary, several years ago, I had to laugh as we passed Lake Balaton. Even being used to flowery Hungarian exaggerations, the fact that Hungary is a landlocked nation, and that Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe, Balaton, didn’t seem to be “the great inland sea” that I had always heard it called. What passed as Hungary’s “ocean” just seemed like myriads of lakes in New York or Ontario 

What tragedy, and good fortune, had Marianne flee Hungary across the Atlantic and be welcomed into the mouth of the Hudson River? She first settled by the shores of the brackish Hudson in Manhattan  and now, next to the Atlantic in Palm Beach. A woman, who as a child, never even saw a body of  salt water, now wakes  up each morning to the sound of the waves of the ocean at her apartment in Palm Beach, Florida. 

It was there, in Florida, sitting on her balcony that the plans were hatched to celebrate her upcoming birthday of a “certain age.” Other than the guest list, of her closest relatives and friends, my Mother would have no inkling of what was to come. I picked the sea horse theme because of her fascination with these piscatorial equestrian creatures and is a symbol of her favorite vacation, a Crystal Cruise.  

Fort Tryon Park ,the entrance to New Leaf Cafe on a rainy November night

On a rainy November night, she was surprised to arrive at an enchanting carriage house perched over the Hudson, in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, www.newleafcafe.com. As she opened the pocket doors, she was delighted by a warm vista of sea horses and smiling faces. Main among them the co host, my brother Rony, and Carla, who helped so much with getting supplies and putting the cake back together after its long trip from Toronto, and all four grandchildren.  

Centerpiece of coral reef made of Romanesque, kale, cauliflower and sea horses on a vintage sea horse bird bath



Centerpieces with seahorses




The birthday, a delight at any age

We feasted on the restaurant’s extraordinary food. I had the 5 spice duck. when I requested the recipe, the chef , Scott Campbell one upped himself and gave me a recipe for 6 spice duck! 

Cocoa Spiced Duck Breast With Local Baby Turnips In a Piquant Valrhona Chocolate Jus 

4                   Duck Steak (Filet)
To Taste       Chili-Cocoa 6 Spice                                                                                     
To Taste         Sea Salt, Maldon
To Taste         Black Pepper, Freshly Ground
2 – Ounces    Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 – Ounces    Sliced Onions
16 – Ounces  Chicken Or Duck Stock
2 – Ounces    Veal Or Beef Essence
2                      Bay Leaves, Fresh
6 Branches   Thyme, of
1 Bunch         Cilantro Sprigs, of
1-Teaspoon   Chipotle In Adobo
4 – Ounces    Sweet Butter
2 – Ounces    Valrhona Chocolate 72% Guanaja
8 – Ounces    Miniature Turnips, Peeled
8 – Ounces      Miniature Thumbelina Carrots, Peeled
8 – Ounces    Celery Root Cubes – Peeled
8 – Ounces    Butternut Squash Cubes – Peeled 

4 – Ounces    Frizzled Tortillas
1 -Teaspoon Coriander Seeds
1 – Ounce      Micro Purple Shiso
1 – Ounce      Pumpkin Seeds 

Heat one ounce of olive oil and one ounce of butter in a medium saucepot, when butter starts to bubble and then dissipate add onions and cook at a medium heat. Sauté the onion for a long period until the onions become a dark brown, about 30 or so minutes until the look like what’s called tobacco onions, (if necessary lower heat). 

Add one ounce of chili-cocoa 6 spice and sauté with the onions and if necessary add more olive oil if to dry and sauté the spices with the onions for about 1 to 2 minutes more. 

Add duck stock, veal essence, bay leaf, thyme and cilantro sprigs. Simmer jus for 30 to 45 minutes strain mixture through a chinoise, add chipolte in adobo, and grate Valrhona chocolate with a rasper and wisk in and butter to jus and season with salt and pepper, set aside.  

Season duck steak with chili-cocoa 6 spice and seasonings, in the meantime heat a large sauté pan to medium high heat, when hot add seasoned duck steaks to pan skin side down and render fat about 7 – 12 minutes basting with duck fat intermittently until skin is crisp. Turn over the steaks to lightly cook the other side, for a minute. Let duck rest for 5 minutes and trim ends off and cut into to medallions.  

Blanch vegetables in salted water until cooked to desired texture, toss in sweet butter, season and disperse equally in four bowls. Add jus to bowls, duck medallions and garnish with frizzled tortillas, coriander seeds, shiso, and pumpkin seeds. Lightly grate Valrhona chocolate over the duck to complete the dish. 



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Happy Chanukah, the latke mobile menorah

the latke mobile menorah

 Years ago, I went to a garage sale and loaded a cardboard box with old kitchen gadgets, pots, pans and even an old oil tin from the basement of the sale.  When I arrived home, I noticed that the muffin tin uncharacteristically had 8 sections.  It would make the perfect holder for 8 potatoes for the latke mobile menorah that I decided to create.  I used an old croquet trolley to mount the muffin tin, pots, pans, whisks, strainers, and twisted an old candelabra to make an arm held high to hold the shamas.  Looking through the utensils, I found a Star of David cookie cutter which I incorporated as well, and interpreted as meaning “yes, all this unrelated junk was meant to be a menorah”.

Close up with Star of David cookie cutter

 Even though my menorah is dedicated to the latke, the symbolic fried food that I make for chanukah comes from my Hungarian roots: langos.

Langos  (pronounced LAN-go-sh)

As a shortcut, go to the supermarket and buy uncooked pizza dough.  Let it rise once at room temperature, then form into disks about 6 inches round and a third of an inch high. Heat about one inch of cooking oil, such as canola oil, in a frying pan until hot. Place the disks of dough in the frying pan and cook both sides until brown and puffy.  In Hungary, it is served as a savory delight so sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper, some people like to rub it with garlic.  As a Canadian treat, omit salt and pepper and serve it with maple syrup for the Chanukah celebrants to dunk.

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