For last month's surprise box, I sent out this blood building syrup, and all was going well until it started arriving in warmer places, and, due to the low sugar content, started exploding. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson about sending out low-sugar syrups, and thankfully nobody was injured in the process. Meanwhile, I've been taking it every day and loving it (especially given the recent frenzy, driving back and forth to the desert on gathering sprees), and wanted to share the recipe here for everyone else, whether yours exploded or not.Read More
A week ago, after what was thus far my favourite class ever, I met my friend Shana out in Joshua Tree national park for a spontaneous camping trip. Should you have the opportunity to go camping with a friend who is an veritable botany geek, I highly recommend it because you find out things like EXACT SPECIES of plants you'd never even think to identify down to specie level. You also spend an inordinate amount of time staring at said friend's back while she's hunched over the Jepson guide trying to determine whether the tubercles on a cholla are over or under 0.75 inches tall and you might go and wander and take photos of various cacti catching the light while she makes said determinations. Which brings me to one of my favourite truths about life: having people in your life who are dramatically different to you makes your life infinitely richer because you see things you would never have seen before.
We ate acorn flatbreads and posole over a fire, shared a bottle of cider, then went to bed. When completely wiped out from a weekend of putting one's all into teaching, lying on the earth in a silent and powerful place is quite possibly the most rejuvenative thing one can do. I lay there for hours, not falling asleep, sinking into the earth. I imagine, at times like this, that I'm in a cocoon, plugged in to something much bigger than me, bigger than humanity as a whole, bigger than anything I can possibly fathom.
What is grounding? Lots of people have opinions on the matter, but to me grounding right now has more to do with electrical currents and the way I feel like the electricity* in my body is being calmed by being attached to the earth. Sometimes the white noise of stress, work and city life can grow to such a cacophony that I have to get out of the city to feel as though I'm truly in touch with the earth again. After that I can drag that connection back with me, so that even here, sitting in my living room with the sounds of construction and traffic outside, I have that feeling of being nourished, connected, grounded. Its always there, just, sometimes the thread gets faint, harder to hold onto. This is actually why, FYI, when giving people herbal formulas that are directed at their 'spirit' I ask them to sit somewhere quiet and really feel for the energy of the formula the first few times. Once you can feel it, you can feel it anywhere, but for a while you need to purposely and determinedly reach through the white noise to grasp what it is you're looking for.
The wind picked up in the night, until it was all I could hear and feel, like sleeping in wind itself. The next morning as it grew light I, being an annoying morning person, leaped out of bed and grabbed my camera and went for a little hike to catch some photos of the sunrise. A storm had blown in; dark heavy clouds hung low over the horizon, brooding and black against the orange of the sunrise. Desert storm: fire meets water. Its one of those places on the edges of things, and the meetings of different worlds. Magic happens here and you can feel it in the air and on your skin. I stood on top of a hill watching the sun come up as the first big plops of rain started, smelled the creosote releasing its scent into the air, felt the wind whip the air into a frenzy, and gave thanks for the ineffable experiences that sometimes come rarely but often come one after the other like waves.
Later, Shana and I went to go and explore the wildflowers. And this is what inspired me, standing there, watching Shana's back as she hunched over her Jepson guide trying to key out another member of the Asteraceae** and looked across the desert floor at the abronias, evening primroses, the Joshua trees in flower, the mojave yuccas spilling their blooms out, and thought that this explosion really exemplifies what it so exciting to all of us about spring. That explosion of energy after a winter of conserving. The fervent reaching, the hope, the promise, the excitement. For May's surprise box, I am going to capture that explosion of energy in one place. Spring Fever body butter will be back, as will some other goodies made with spring blossoms, and the underlying frenzy and fervour of finally emerging from hibernation. Should you want to join in the fun, you can do so right HERE.
What about you? Wildflowers in your area? Fervent explosions of exciting things happening? Tell me more...
*nerves? Excess energy? I have no idea...
**WHAT SAINT-LIKE PERSON HAS THE PATIENCE FOR THIS?
(changes, moisture, drought, and olfactory fireworks) Here in LA, springtime hits like this: As the pink jasmine starts to blossom, there is a slight pause, I imagine as the entire city takes a collective deep breath and thinks of only good things for a moment or two. Then they explode: a cacophony of white fireworks that blow up your olfactory sensors and make you giddy with the joy of it all. Tender green leaves start sprouting on the sycamores that, two weeks ago, were still twisted gnarled branches suspended against the grey sky. Peach, cherry and apple trees all bloom together; the bees are buzzing in a frenzied orgy. Its a sudden thing, this explosion. They’ll be gone in a week, replaced by the citrus blossoms that, in turn will hang heavy in the air.
The other morning, as I sat sipping my coffee I became overwhelmed with sadness for a moment: we didn’t even have a winter. Winter in LA is a tenuous thing at best, but this time, no sooner had I lined my boots up by the front door, than I put them away again because it was still 80 degrees. A few times I put boots and a hat on anyway, defiantly, walked outside as if I could will it to be cold with clothing choices alone. For the record, this doesn’t work but its a great way to get overheated and grumpy.
Me and you and the mountains:
Jam and I hiked in the mountains the other day, gathering horsetail and sage, nibbling on rosehips. We’d never actually seen our favourite trails at this time of year, because they’re usually covered in snow. The lack of snow is disturbing. The lack of rain is disturbing. We finally had a couple of rain storms last week and I ran around outside trying to absorb as much of it through my skin as possible: as if a little bit of rain alone could seal up the dried out cracks. I worry as to what this means for fire season, and what this means for the plants which are already stressed.
The other day I walked outside and saw my neighbour watering the concrete. I still have no idea what she was doing, but it made me think about how most people are so disconnected from their environments that ‘drought’ is a theoretical thing. There is still water in the taps so what does it really mean? How does it affect us when someone else will surely figure something out. When you walk outside and see, its different. When you realise that your body responds to the world around you, and that the extra aggravation is a desperate kind of thirst, its a different thing entirely. There’s a dried out anxiety hanging over these drought-ridden places. Things that perhaps folks in wetter places don’t have to consider much but are evident here: nettles are too drying and are not our friends; prickly pear, mulberries, mallows and seaweeds provide blessed relief and, in turn, grounding, relaxation, a deep sigh as the moisture fills the cracks again. I’ll say it a different way for reinforcement: if you live in the Southwest and are feeling all cracked up and irritated and dried out, go and make yourself a mallow or prickly pear or hibiscus infusion, and drink it, and see how much better you feel afterwards (this, for the record, is why herb energetics are so important, but more on that in a couple of weeks).
February surprise boxes are going out (SO LATE!) tomorrow. 50 boxes full of exotic spices and cacao treats (and the most AMAZING spiced, cordyceps-reishi-infused hot chocolate mix). The way I’m making surprise boxes is changing: monthly box as a more focused creative outlet, mixing myth, poetry, art, image, herbs, energetics and weaving all of these together into one little box. I’m immersing myself completely in each month as a design project from idea to completion. For each 4 items that makes it in, there are another 6 or so that don’t; I’m going to start posting the good ones here. That is, more herbal recipes, things to use, bath and body products, herbal formulas, herbal information. I’ll have a new website up in a month or so, and along with that more classes, more writing. I’m super excited, and can’t wait to share it all. Such is the result of a frenzied spring explosion: after a few months of turning inwards and pondering things (What am I doing? What is it all for? How can I best affect the world with my actions?), there is growth. Happy spring, lovely northern hemisphered people. If it hasn't hit yet, I hope it does soon, and to all you polar vortexees, hang in there. Its coming.
There's one hand and it contains relaxation, and everything I've ever mentioned about moving through space at one's own pace. And then there's the other hand which holds a to-do list a mile long, there's the frenetic pace of spring, there's gathering twenty million different things, and processing them, and buying more booze in a 2-month space than the entire other Bev Mo customers combined. In between the two hands there are stolen moments.
My stolen moments look like this: Up a tree, with a jar of something herbal, infused and delicious, gazing up at the canopy of leaves, listening to the sounds of city-nature, which is very different to country-nature. And it works. Its grounding and calming. And then I go back indoors to work some more.
When I look at the city, it reminds me of a big scab, over something living. One continuous slab of concrete with spaces in between it on occasion. Concrete does its best to cover up what's underneath it (BB cream for the planet), and finding that earthiness is much harder when walking on a layer of foundation, but its not impossible. The thing is that the earth is everywhere and just because it seems that its more THERE when out in the wild, its actually that there's less interference. Out in the wild its like tuning a radio directly to the station (do people still tune their own radios or are they all digital?). In the city there's a bunch of white noise making it really hard to hear the music. But you can, especially if you know the song already-- you know what to listen for and where to pick it up, then you can shut out the white noise and just hear that song. I think there are movements about this, called 'Earthing' and such, where the earth is touted as some new scientific new-age discovery. I can't help but think that we've come so far from where we were, quite literally, our roots, that it takes a giant scientific discovery and technology to make us look down. Of course, thats not all of us.
I walk a block away for my coffee every morning. Lately, in spring-filled excitement, there are plants growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk. I'm sure that the City of Los Angeles people will come and spray something nasty on them soon-- for some reason wild plants are an atrocity whereas the feat of construction being two buildings that are being hammered into place as I type is a triumph of man, even if they are hideous and noisy and had to cut down a big old tree to put them in. But in the meantime, there are feathery plants pushing up through the sidewalk, mushrooms growing on peoples' lawns, resilient little plants thrusting their way up towards the sunlight that streams between buildings. I notice them because I notice the earth, and I notice that they find whatever cracks they can. Its resilient, and it reminds me of all nature, human nature, animal nature, earth nature. That nature is survival and self-expression, and I think all of us try to find our cracks to slip through regardless of what is painted over the top.
Most of the herbs I gather are resilient like that: many of us herbalists think the wild weeds make the strongest medicine. I've been collecting them like a madwoman lately, in full spring fervor. In the last few weeks or so, I have gathered California poppy, peach leaves, apricot leaves, alder leaves and bark, yerba santa, sweet clover, elderflowers, white sage, black sage, ocotillo bark and flowers, chaparral, desert lavender, mugwort, pine pollen. I've accrued a series of bug bites so big and so itchy and red and swollen that my super effective Bug Bite Balm had to be applied 3 times to make it go away (which is a big deal because it usually works in 1 or 2). The frenetic pace of spring starts slow and reaches its climax between now and the end of May. Most of these I bring home and immediately process for medicine- stripping bark, pulling leaves, scrubbing dirt off things, immersing in oils or vinegars or alcohol or honey. My storage cabinet is nearing full again. Of all these, there's one thing I actually bring home for food first, even if its damn good medicine: elderflowers.
I've seen them everywhere I've been in the northern hemisphere. Even in the middle of a city in India. I assume they grow in the south too, though I've never been south of the equator so I don't know for sure. Their flavour is floral and fragrant and distinctly one of its own, and since ours in Southern California have been out for a few weeks, they'll start blooming spreading north from here, and I'd start looking sooner or later depending on where you are. Once you spot them, you'll spot them everywhere. And I make food with them before I make medicine partly because they're so abundant and partly because by the time spring has arrived I MISS them like you wouldn't believe.
First thing I made was cordial. And the second thing I made was this cake. Its gluten free, though you couldn't tell apart from the slightly crumbly texture. Its light and fluffy and it tastes of spring. And I highly recommend that you make some as soon as your elderflowers start to blossom.
Elderflower and blackberry cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Ripe
For the syrup:
1 cup elderflowers 1 cup water 1 cup sugar juice of 1/2 lemon
For the cake:
12 tb salted butter (or unsalted but add about 1/2 tsp salt to the batter with the flour) 3/4 cup sugar 2 large eggs 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour 1/3 cup potato starch 1/3 cup cornstarch 1/3 cup brown rice flour 3/4 cup almond flour 2 tb ground flax or chia seeds 2 tsp baking powder 2 tb milk 8oz (about 2 cups) blackberries- either fresh or frozen First things first, get the elderflower syrup on- put the elderflowers, water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately, and leave to sit for up to an hour. Taste it. Does it taste strongly of elderflowers and spring? Then you can strain out the liquid and set it aside.
Next, preheat the oven to 350.
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until they're light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure they are incorporated fully. Then, add the milk, and two tablespoons of the elderflower syrup. Mix together all the flours, and the baking powder, and, with the mixer on very slow, add the flour in 3 batches. Once its fully incorporated, stir in the blackberries by hand. They might start to stain the batter, and that's ok, but do it lightly and not too much so that you don't end up with purple cake (not that there's anything wrong with purple cake, we are not purplist here at C&C).
Oil up a 9" round springform pan. Quite honestly, I am lazy and I use olive oil for this, but you can be non-lazy and use butter. Just, olive oil works too. Use something oily. Then, scrape in the cake batter. Bake at 350 for an hour. At 50 minutes, pull it out and press the top slightly, if it feels firm then check it with a skewer or sharp knife- when it comes out clean the cake is done. It should be around an hour though.
Remove from the oven, and prick the top of it with a sharp knife, about 10 times, in 10 different places. Then pour over the elderflower syrup you made earlier. Pour it so that it gets every inch of the top of the cake. It should sink in quite quickly. Leave until cool in the pan, then run a knife around the edges. You can try and slide it off the base, but I found it safer to just leave it there and pretend it's meant to be presented like that. Decorate with powdered sugar, blackberries and elderflowers. Serve with fresh cream.
It'll be quite crumbly until its cool. This shouldn't matter too much though.
I have a thing. A colour thing. I'm sure I've mentioned it before. It's a visceral reaction to all things pigmented. Much like when around someone you love you want to shower them with hugs and pet their hair (if I've ever petted your hair absent-mindedly now you know why), with colours I want to roll around in them. You know, like a dog does with mud, or a cat does with catnip or like the poet Rumi did with God. It's usually red and majorelle blue. Occasionally it's terracotta and magenta. The other day it was something green.
My friend Emily and I had made nocino. It was a fun afternoon inspired by chancing upon some early baby black walnuts (which, for the record, are no longer early, and if you act swiftly you might still catch them). She'd tasted it and loved it; I had not. But given their abundance, my undying love of cooking with wild things, and despite my skepticism over something so vile smelling could eventually taste good, we jumped in. Which is where the green comes in.
Lovely readers, this stuff is stunning. Within a few hours of mixing the ingredients together, the jars, if set along a window sill, will cast a shade of green so unearthly upon your space that you too will want to roll around in it until all that's left is an alien-coloured splotch on the tablecloth. I restrained myself and stared instead, for hours on end.
We're supposed to wait at least 6 months to taste it, so I'll be sure to come back and tell you guys how it is (possibly tugging along a hangover while I'm at it). But in the meantime, if you'd like to make it too, here's what to do:
Go and find some black walnut trees, and gather as many of the little baby fruits as you can. (for information on how to find and ID black walnuts see Butter's lovely post on it HERE)
Pick up a big bottle of vodka, some sugar, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.
Clean out some big mason jars.
And then in 6 months, when the nights are drawing long, and a chill has set in, we can all gather in a big interweb living room by an ifire and have a nocino party. Sound good? Thought so...
From David Lebovitz
Per every 30 green walnuts, quartered
1 litre vodka
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean
1 lemon zest (use a potato peeler)
Put all the dry ingredients in a big jar, and pour the vodka over the top. Shake (once the lid is on), then set aside. You're supposed to shake it every day, but according to Emily, it's nicer if you only shake it every few days. And you don't have to twist my arm to remember to do less. Leave it in a cool dark place for 2 months, then strain and bottle. It'll be ready to drink after 6 months, though I've heard that the older it gets, the nicer it gets...
For the last few months, my friend Butter and I have been hosting a round up- every month we pick something that can be found in the wild (and often times on your block) and encourage people to come up with recipes, and submit them to email@example.com. You can read the whole introduction and past months' roundups on the tab up there that says "Wild Things". And be sure to pop on over and check out Butter's blog where she gives information on locating and identifying the plants we use and a recipe for rose syrup. Our Wild Thing for the month of July is rose.
LA is hard to deal with. Most days, a 7 mile drive can take over an hour, and it's an hour of horns honking and aggro people, and middle fingers waving. It's an angry city. And, please excuse my language, but it fucks me up. I think it does a lot of sensitive people-- to be surrounded by all that aggro and all that anger, it's really difficult not to put walls up. Or not to yell back. Or to pass it on by yelling at the next person who comes along and makes a silly mistake.
I remember once a couple of years ago, I was in traffic outside a Subway and a group of teenagers were at the window. One of the girls turns to me and flips me off. For no reason except just to be an asshole teenager. And I might look like a complete wuss in admitting this, but it really upset me- I started on a mental rant on how this is what it wrong with the world. Everyone is hurt and angry and instead of just facing it or dealing with it we just pass it on to others. It's much easier to hurt someone else than it is to admit that our feelings are hurt. Eventually I decided that instead of being mean, she was actually from a very small Eastern European country where to flash somebody one's middle finger actually means "you are beautiful and I like your hair". But honestly, if I hadn't done that, I may have been upset about it for hours.
And it's on those days that rose is most useful. When you're stuck in traffic and want to punch something or cry or do both at the same time. When you're hot and pissed and it's actually due to a deep lying fear. Rose basically relaxes the hot irritation, and relaxes tension in the heart area, [as cheesy as it sounds] allowing you to, er, blossom.
Taste: sweet, aromatic, astringent
Energetics: cool, dry
I think that the common factors behind all of the seemingly different symptom patterns are that it's both cooling to inflammation and it relaxes tension in the chest. And when you get a picture for how it works in the body, you don't necessarily need a list of symptoms. I'd also encourage you guys to experiment- it's unbelievably gentle, as most herbs that are used in food are, and so to have it on hand in an elixir, and dried for tea is not so dangerous, and might come in very handy sometime...
I've spoken about dampness before, and undoubtedly will again, as it's near impossible to find somebody living in a city who doesn't have it in some form or another. The main symptoms of dampness are sluggishness, foggy thinking, heavy limbs, skin problems, sluggish digestion, paired with a swollen tongue with indentations in the sides, greasy coating on the tongue, and a pulse that feels like there's a thick layer of sludge between the fingers and the artery. The pattern that rose fits best for the damp person (as there are lots of different herbs for dampness) is the person with lots of heat in the body (sore joints, acne, red tongue, quick pulse, insomnia, irritation, flushing, headaches) and with a kind of tension in the middle that causes restricted breathing. Matthew Wood has described rose as causing drainage of the thoracic lymphatic duct, and although I have never seen it do this specifically, I do see, time and again, people taking a big deep breath within about 30 seconds of a dose of rose elixir. Rose both MOVES the dampness (which is a form of stagnation) and also astringes it, often causing it to be removed through the bowels. Oftentimes a specific indication for rose is mucus-coated stools.
Rose is also fantastic for the immune system. Kiva Rose writes extensively about this in her monograph, saying that it enhances immune function 'through its cool, cleansing effect'. It is especially effective for an overactive immune system, where the body is reacting to 'every perceived threat', and in this way fits what I see as the emotional profile for the rose person too, which I'll get to in a minute.
Rose is a fantastic relaxing nervine, working especially well on the tense, uptight muddle of emotions that one gets when confronted by too much information, or also when hurt and scared. I see the two states as very similar- both of them make one want to throw out thorns to protect oneself, and this is what rose is especially good for, allowing one to blossom amid the fear. It is for this reason that rose works well as an aphrodesiac also- it allows one to relax one's guard to allow for intimacy. It's not necessarily for a low sex drive, but for those folks who are too damn stressed out to relax and have sex, or those who often desire sex after a couple of drinks, or when on vacation. I find it works especially well for highly sensitive people who are afraid to let their true nature show, or who are afraid to be intimate, be it with other people or with life in general- I have seen people unwind, in most miraculous fashion, where their eyes change and their faces change and it just looks like a load has been lifted, all from a single dose of rose. There was a woman who tried it at a show where I was selling my wares, and her husband looked her and said "I don't know what the hell that was but I can tell you that you need it." because her countenance had changed completely- she looked truly joyful where she had looked tired and stressed minutes beforehand. And while not everybody has a reaction like that, it's a good example to show the potential for such things if they're specifically indicated.
I should mention that although I've never seen this happen with anyone but myself, rose makes me go a bit woo-woo. I think it's that intimacy thing, like how I mentioned the influx of information being too much for some folks- every now and then I'll have a big dose of rose and all of a sudden I'm seeing colours moving around and wandering around in what feels like a dream state, giggling. So if you're highly sensitive, just go easy on it if it's your first time and you have to get in the car, or operate heavy machinery, or talk to your in-laws.
Rose cools inflammation in the body, big time. This can manifest in lots of different ways, from arthritis to swollen, itchy eyes, to sluggish digestion, to bug bites, to acne. Think hot-swollen things, and histamine reactions and you've got a picture for pretty much most of the rose family (which includes peach and cherry too). Which is great to know- for example when my neighbour started screaming because she'd stepped on a bee. It was swelling and causing her great pain. In yet another one of those situations where plantain was nowhere to be found when needed, and I hadn't yet discovered the peach tree that's a block away, I grabbed some leaves from the wild rose (rosa californica) outside my front door and told her to chew them up and slap 'em on. About 20 minutes later I asked her how it was feeling, expecting some kind of 'eh, a tiny bit better' but she'd completely forgotten about it by then...
That's not all folks. There's more. Use a strong rose infusion as an eye wash for eye infections (GREAT to have around if you've got kids), and infuse rose petals in vinegar for sunburn. This is my favourite thing for sunburn ever actually- it takes out the pain and turns you brown much faster. I warn you, your partner might not want to touch you because you smell like salad, but it's oh-so worth it for the relief.
You can use any part of the plant: petals, hips, leaves (if fragrant), bark and roots. Dried or fresh. My favourite preparation is an elixir- a tincture prepared with 75% alcohol (I use brandy) and 25% honey. Tinctures work well, as do strong infusions.
I'd highly recommend using wild roses if you can, but any kind of rose will work, as long as it's fragrant (watch out for pesticides). You can also use dried rose petals- which I'll probably be using in a week or so as they're almost done here.
Ok. That's it. Go play.
Matthew Wood "The Earthwise Herbal"
Paul Bergner- Vitalist Treatments for Acute Symptoms (CD)
When he was nine or so, Jam got the reputation for being a bit of a wild boy. A group of older boys in school wanted to show him who was boss, and so they attacked him, throwing him into a patch of nettles. Which would be fine if you were fully clothed, but English schoolboys had to wear those little shorts (and a little cap too) which meant that his legs were exposed, and quickly covered in painful welts. He went home, crying to his dad that it hurt and he was embarrassed and that he didn't know how to get them back.
I think most parents nowadays would do their best to encourage their kids to take the route of moral superiority. But Jam's dad had raised him doing martial arts, reading him gory ninja stories before bed every night. So he explained to him that the next time this happens, all he needs to do is pick the smallest one and kick the absolute crap out of him. It'll scare the others so much that they won't come near him again. But in the mean time, what he needed to do was to stalk the group, one by one, and beat them into oblivion.
So he did. He stalked each one of them, and beat them up, until he'd exacted revenge for their brutality. They tried to bully him one more time, surrounding him in the school playground. So he did exactly what he'd been taught- he picked the smallest one, and kicked him in the face so hard that his nose broke and bled everywhere.
The playground of Dane's Hill school for boys was a safer place after that.
And all because of a little patch of nettles.
I didn't know this story until I planted a patch of nettles in the back garden, and Jam was incredulous that I'd actually want them around. I guess if I'd been traumatised by them in my youth, I might feel the same way.
This recipe is super easy, if you have a blender of some kind. I have one of those hand-held stick blenders, and the bottom detaches and re-attaches to a miniature food processor. This thing is one of my favourite things in the entire world, and it's really inexpensive. If not then you can use a food processor, blender, or even a knife to chop everything really fine. Just watch out for those nettles.
I made my own pasta- using a gluten free flour mix and my regular old pasta recipe. If you're doing GF pasta, watch out- the dough dries really fast and it is difficult to come together. Instead of doing fettucini as originally planned, I ended up doing 'random shapes at the thinnest this dough will go'. Which was still delicious, but not necessarily pretty.
2 cups nettle leaves
1 chunk gouda
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
juice and rind of 1/2 lemon
Put it all in a blender, and blend for about 15 seconds. Easy peasy :).
I have a thing for wild mushrooms. I'm pretty sure that everyone who is into foraging does. See, at least for me, they're elusive. Earlier this year, I was out looking for chanterelles every day. I'd found them in this spot last year, so as far as I was concerned it was a no-brainer. Well, let me tell you. I found a whole bunch of plants that were very interesting (lemon balm gone feral- yes please!) but not a single chanterelle. For weeks. And it can be treacherous business, shuffling through the trees like that. Jamie had brought me home this cat hat that I was completely in love with. I'd been wearing it everywhere. So I'm snuffling in the undergrowth with this cat hat on and the next thing I know there is a very big, very unleashed dog barking and running at me at full speed. I panicked. My feet wouldn't move. When it was about 3 feet from me I yelled "DON'T BITE ME!" and it's owner called it off, having not realised that there was a person in the woods. I don't think my heart settled back down for about an hour. But I did find a mushroom that day.
And we have weird weather down here, and a weird climate, and so I just don't know if we get the same mushrooms everyone else talks about. I've heard of a random patch of morels in a vacant lot in Culver City. I've heard of white boletes growing in the Sierras (a 4-5 hour drive), but wild mushrooms, save chanterelles when I can actually find them, evade me.
So I bought them at the market instead. A whole bag of mixed wild mushrooms. Jam gawked at the price. I gawked at the price. But we bought them anyway. And I'm so glad we did.
Mushroom soup, made with wild mushrooms, is unbelievable. It's nothing like canned mushroom soup, and everything like a group of mushrooms are having a party on your tastebuds.
Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
2 tb olive oil
2 tb butter
3 cloves garlic
2 cups various mushrooms (mine were a combo of hedgehogs, morels, black somethings and a few others I didn't recognise), chopped. I used about 1 1/2 plus 1/2 cup rehydrated dried mushrooms.
2 tb herbs de provence (or a local herb mix of your choice :D)
2 cups chicken stock
1 tb arrowroot powder
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
salt, pepper to taste
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the butter and olive oil, and add the garlic. Add the mushrooms, salt, peper and herbs, and cover for five minutes or so, reduce the heat, and allow to 'sweat'. Stir in the arrowroot and then the white wine. Simmer for a couple of minutes more, then add the stock and water. Cook for 15 minutes, until all the mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and stir in the cream.
Using an immersion blender, blend until the mushrooms are in small pieces. Stir in the parsley, and serve.
I won't. A month ago I wrote something on Facebook about how I hated the heat. How I was eating a watermelon in my underwear and sweating and was in a very very bad mood about the whole thing. Then a friend on the East coast said that she'd just had yet another snow storm. And I realised that I was being a brat. So I went out into the garden and lay out in my bikini and fell asleep at a weird angle and ended up with a red stripe down one half of the front of my body that looked more like a chemical burn than anything that could happen to someone who fell asleep in their garden. And then I went and got my hair cut and Casey brushed all the tiny bits of hair off my neck and I thought I was going to punch him in the face (raw neck + rough towel= pain). Hot weather puts me in a bad mood.
So I prayed for a cold front. And the cold front came. It's been raining on and off ever since, and we've put the heating on three times. And my bones feel cold. And I will not complain.
Did you ever play those games when you were a kid. The 'would you rather' games. Where you'd ask yourself if you'd rather be too hot or too cold for the rest of your life? Someone once asked me if I'd rather go to the toilet out of my mouth or have my mouth look like a dog's bottom. Really. I still think about it sometimes, and then, thankfully, remember that we don't ACTUALLY have to make these decisions in life. Anyway, I choose cold. You can always turn the heating on or put on an extra layer of clothes. You can't remove your skin to cool off. I'm sure that there are arguments for both sides, but I've always been a winter girl. I love the silence of it all, the solitude, the darkness and the depth. I love to ski. I love to look out over a white-washed landscape. I love snow days, even though grown-ups don't get them. And in Southern California, I love standing on an empty, rainy beach, looking out to the stormy sea, while my skin is pink with cold and the water feels warm in comparison. Salt water splashing into my face never tastes so good as those winter days.
And maybe it's because I moved to Southern California, where it's summer that feels like death. Where the heat makes everything wither and die, but I dread the summer. Everything grinds to a halt, and the air hovers in that almost mirage-like cloud and the pavement feels like it's going to crack to pieces like a dried up river bed. These last few days of spring, rain and freezing cold included, I want to savour for as long as possible. To sink into my sweaters and keep that extra blanket on the bed for as long as I can. Because I know what's coming, and that I'll hate it, and complain about it. Be warned, dear reader, the next few months of watermelon recipes will be accompanied by a subtle undertone of "whyyyy", and you might start thinking me a little annoying. I promise I'll come up with some good recipes to compensate.
In the meantime, here's a recipe to help hold on to the spring.
Elderflower and Blackberry Galettes
1 portion tart crust
1 cup fresh elder flowers
1 cup heavy cream
3 tb sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cornstarch
Make the pastry and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. Meanwhile, make the custard. Put the elderflowers in the cream, and heat to just below boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Reheat, strain out the flowers, and pour the cream back in the pan. Add the sugar and vanilla. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add a cup or so of the hot cream mixture and whisk it all together- then add the eggs back to the cream. Turn the heat on to medium, add the cornstarch, and heat the mixture gently, stirring constantly with a spatula so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. When it starts to bubble, heat and stir for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. If it's lumpy you can strain it, but I usually skip that step (More clean up? No thanks.). Allow to cool.
Roll out the pastry into a few large circles. Into the centre of each pastry circle, place about two tablespoons of the custard, then a handful of berries on top. Fold up the pastry around the mixture and transfer to a baking sheet. Do this with the remainder of the ingredients, then cook at 350 for about 30 minutes- or until the crust is golden brown and you cannot restrain yourself any longer. Serve with cream.
I never knew how much I loved silence until I moved to Los Angeles. From Palm Desert where I'd lie on the floor of my favourite canyon and just listen to the desert hum, to LA where, for the first few months, I'd sleep with ear plugs and a pillow over my head because the noise was just so intense.
Silence. I love it. Crave it actually.
So I go gathering plants- where I get to walk for hours without encountering a single person, and to hear the birds and the bugs and the wind without hearing voices or cars or sirens. These things make me insanely happy. I'll bring a snack, and find somewhere nice to have a picnic (usually on top of a nice rock or up a friendly tree), and then take my bag of goodies home and spend a few hours processing- hanging things to dry, stripping bark, making tinctures, whatever is in order.
Have you ever been walking in the mountains of Southern California in the spring? We have all of these insanely fragrant plants- the salvias and the artemisias and wild cherry blossoms and grapes, and redroots, and it all mixes together into this heavenly, heady perfume. You can get high on the smell of spring- believe me, I've done it. And it occurred to me while I was out walking that this is where regional cuisine comes from. When I was walking around in India, some of these herbs that we pay a fortune for were just growing there by the side of the road. Same goes in France or in Italy-- in fact that's why the different regions of these different countries have such varied food traditions. They were the original foodies, these people who couldn't travel very far, and made do with what they had. Regional cuisine comes from the weeds that grow around you. I think that's kinda cool.
I've written about this before, a long time ago, but I can't for the life of me find the post. So I'll rephrase for those of you who haven't read your way through my archives. Before this country was a melting pot of people from different cultures who wanted to recreate the dishes from the places they grew up in, there was a culture of people who had their own regional cuisines. Land-based ones just like everywhere else. I'm not suggesting that we go and appropriate Native American cuisines now (since that would be kinda silly), but that we build our own food cultures based on what we have.
I've been making this herb mix lately. It's a lot more hassle than, say, going to the store and picking up a jar of Herbs De Provence, but I tell ya, there's something magical about the process of gathering and drying, and eating something that tastes like the mountains you love. I've called it 'Herbs De Californie', because I'm unoriginal. But it's amazing- black sage, white sage, lemonade sumac berries, rose petals, and, when I have it on hand, bee balm (it only grows in one spot in California, and my garden supply is low). And I've been using it on everything- chicken, steak, lamb chops, and just as a tea because it's that yummy on its own. And a few days ago, I roasted a lamb shoulder.
And, please excuse my language, but this is the shit. One 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder-- it's a pretty cheap cut as far as lamb goes. Full of delicious fat, and enough for 4 hungry people. I made it with lentils, but you can always just reserve the cooking liquid for something else.
California lamb and lentils
1 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup herbs (I use Herbs De Californie. You can get creative with your own combination of local herbs or, if you're booorring, just use Herbs De Provence, though I guarantee it won't blow your mind nearly as much ;) )
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup beef stock
2 cups french green lentils
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tb olive oil
Make little incisions over the lamb, and insert the garlic cloves whole. Then, sprinkle all of the cracks and crevices with your herb mix, finishing by patting down the outer surface with what's left. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top.
Preheat the oven to 250. In a casserole dish, warm the oil, and sear the roast on each side until golden brown. Discard the cooking oil, and place the lamb back in the pot, with the stock. Cover and cook for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, pour the onions and lentils into the cooking liquid (which should be plenty- if there's not much you might need to add some water, or less lentils). Re-cover, raise the temperature to 350, and cook for another hour.
Remove the lid, and check the lentils. Are they tender enough? Remove the lamb and set aside (covered in tin foil, to rest), and put the pot back on the stove top on high to evaporate off the rest of the liquid. Once finished cooking, stir through the chopped parsley, and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Put the lamb back on top and serve, or slice and serve separately.