New England Foraging Adventure – Part III

chickweed on wood 350x278 New England Foraging Adventure – Part III

Might think about trimming the chickweed better next time.

If I don’t get the rest of this New England story out soon I’ll be permanently stopped up in the blog-hole, though perhaps it’s something a large dose of chickweed (Stellaria sp.) could solve.

I already wrote about chickweed in Part I of this series, I know, but I just read an amusing account in Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (1985), wherein he first spends an entire hot and humid day prostrate in a chickweed patch gorging himself on the stuff before suffering “the worse case of diarrhea [he has] had to this day,” followed later by his idea to make an extremely strong chickweed tea for a constipated friend—only to discover that it worked so well his friend was stricken with the shits for days.

When I made chickweed for my parents, I snipped it far down the stems, found it too tough and chewy for my liking, and then wrote about it in Part I of this series. Meanwhile I’ve got Sam Thayer (2006) in the back of my head saying, “The deplorable state of information on edible wild plants can be cleared up over time if those who write on the topic exhibit professionalism and follow a few simple guidelines,” one of which is to “not condemn a plant based on limited experience with it.” Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part II

poison ivy CT 350x272 New England Foraging Adventure – Part II

Seemingly innocent poison ivy lies in wait, plotting your extreme discomfort.

One of the things I noticed about foraging in New England that does not present a problem here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country is the seeming ever-presence of poison ivy (Toxicondendron radicans). One morning, overjoyed to find false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum sp.) growing in abundance in the forest around my parents’ Connecticut house, I borrowed a trowel and headed out to dig up some rhizomes, only to find each and every plant intricately intertwined with poison ivy.

Poison ivy is not edible. And, unless you are one of the lucky few not (yet) allergic to T. radicans, coming in contact with it can instigate a blistering, itchy rash. I know first-hand how potent the roots can be, having developed a nasty case after a day digging in the not-yet-leafing-out plants as an archaeology student in college. My hands and arms were so bad that the Health Services department insisted I had contracted scabies. Inhaling fumes is a thousand times worse—the unlucky sap who accidentally burns it in a campfire and then huffs the stuff should be rushed to the hospital immediately, as the rash can develop internally throughout the body as well. Read the rest of this entry

New England Foraging Adventure – Part I

garlic mustard CT 262x350 New England Foraging Adventure – Part I

Garlic mustard, busy invading

“There’s a reason why the pre-Columbian population of Colorado was low,” wild plants author Sam Thayer once wrote me, referring to the relative lack of edible wild plants in this semi-arid land compared to lusher parts of the country. How dare he? I recall thinking—though truth be told, here at 11,000 feet in the Colorado High Country, the new spring growth is still less than an inch tall; meanwhile the rest of the country is happily chatting it up about their bountiful spring forage, whether dock and dandies, redbud flowers and milkweed shoots, chickweed and sorrel, and so forth.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure I could handle the abundance.

Take my recent New England trip for example. I arrived in Connecticut mid-April, just as the trees were newly leafing out. One walk with mom down our old country road renders me speechless. There are so many plants I want to try—plants I recognize from my books, plants that nearly every other forager knows well and uses often, plants that I have not had opportunity to try since Wild Food Girl was born.

I conclude that I need a few years out east, not two weeks interspersed with family visits, to get down and dirty with all these wild plants. Especially when my 7-year-old niece purportedly complained to her mother: “With all the wonderful plants in New Hampshire, how will I be able to get enough time to play with Aunt Erica since she loves plants so much?”

Read the rest of this entry

I Fought the Prickly Pear Cactus and Won

cactusicle 350x281 I Fought the Prickly Pear Cactus and Won

A peeled, sticky cactusicle, almost enticing enough to lick!

Apparently I’m not the only one to have gone about prickly pear cactus the wrong way the first time around. Allow me to relive that fateful day two years ago on a Malibu, California hillside where I endeavored to pick a plump prickly fruit bare-handed only to suffer the instant ejection by said fruit of 30 or so its tiny, nearly invisible glochids into my fingers, after which I made matters worse by trying to pull them out with my teeth and ended up with lips and tongue laden with the pointy buggers.

The glochids are the prickly pear’s secret weapons, for the perennial succulent also hosts larger, more apparent spines meant entirely to deceive you. You’re a sucker if you grab a piece by a supposed non-spiny section because meanwhile the cactus is spearing your unwitting hands 30 times over—or mouth and throat, as in the case of Sam Thayer, who describes his first childhood bite-and-swallow of a glochid-covered prickly pad in Nature’s Garden (2010). Still, Sam did not let it spoil a fabulous weekend seeking snakes and turtles, and neither did I let it spoil my random hike through the Malibu nudist colony that day. Read the rest of this entry

wild flavored venison 350x262 Adding a Wild Zing to Venison with Flavors of the Forest

Venison grill fare: Wild dry-rubbed steaks and kabobs marinated in ginger rosehip vinaigrette.

If wild is a flavor, then venison is it. I can remember days not too distant when the taste of deer was too much for me—too gamey, too foreign, too reminiscent of Bambi’s mother. Enter my brother-in-law, hunter extraordinaire, and suddenly before I know it a hunk of gifted venison is in my freezer, taunting me. How the heck am I supposed to eat that stuff again?

What worked for me back then in Los Angeles works for me still: Bathe the extra gaminess away with one or two days soaking in buttermilk in the refrigerator prior to rinsing, patting dry, and undertaking additional preparations.

Never mind how hypocritical this sounds as I write it, but this time, after painstakingly removing the “wild” from the venison, I then added it back in with the following preparations. Here are the wild things I did with our recently-thawed cache of venison steaks: Read the rest of this entry

Wild Shopping Spree — Denver

musk mustard Colorado 350x262 Wild Shopping Spree    Denver

Don’t eat the grass; eat the musk mustard.

Try as I might to remember, I almost always forget my shopping bags when I go to the grocery store. I rarely forget them, however, when I go into the wild.

It’s a good thing too, because Friday’s foray among the wild former farmlands of Denver’s outskirts was a shopping trip to remember; I found so many awesome “deals” [read: free green food] under the capable guidance of my dear friend, metro-area forager, Butterpoweredbike.

The Mile High City was bursting with plant life, the ground dappled with sunlight streaming through new foliage and flowers on the trees. “Stop. Listen. Do you hear that?” Butter asked. “It’s the sound of the wind through leaves. It wasn’t like that a couple days ago,” she mused happily as we skipped back with our afternoon forage of nettles (Urtica spp.) and musk mustard (Chorispora tenella).

I had managed to sting my injured knee through the hole in my pants while collecting the nettles, but Butter gave me a handful of mallow (and grass) to chew up and spit onto it. After weeding the grass from the handful, I did as instructed, and it seemed to do the trick. Afterwards we were nibbling musk mustard on the side of the trail when two gents walked by and said, “Don’t eat the grass, girls! That’s for the dogs.” Tee hee. Read the rest of this entry

Wild Mustard Potato Chips

wild mustard potato chips 350x344 Wild Mustard Potato Chips

As close as I got to oven-baked wild mustard potato chips.

“They’re practically potato chips!” Gregg exclaimed, helping himself to more of the thin-sliced, seasoned, golden-brown oven-fried potatoes until they were gone. I’m not sure which enthralls him more—my recent food inventions, or the fact that I am cooking at all.

Now that I can stand up on my own two feet (after 5 weeks off I am now to start putting weight on my injured leg), it is a joy to be in the kitchen. I cook, I clean; I must be a housewife.

The chips didn’t come out as crunchy as I’d hoped. I did them on a cookie sheet in the oven because I didn’t want to deep fry, although online recipes say to use a rack so the hot oven air can circle them entirely. Then there’s a bit, too, about flipping them manually, with which I didn’t want to bother.

So, I used a food processor to slice the potatoes fine, stirred in a mixture of olive oil and wild mustard, and stuck them in the oven on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for an hour, unsticking and stirring with a spatula occasionally. The ones that turned golden were crunchy indeed, the others just a bit chewy. It was enough to ensure all were eaten in one sitting regardless. Read the rest of this entry

Dock Time is the Right Time

dock cream cheese spreads2 350x264 Dock Time is the Right Time

Two dock cream cheese spreads–one with garlic, the other with salmon.

I never would have thought it was already dock (Rumex sp.) time of year again were it not for my friend Butter and the pristine metro-Denver-area suburbia full of wild green vegetables where she resides, in contrast to the still snow-covered High Country in which I dwell. But on March 7 she wrote to me: “Knock knock! Who’s there?” and then answered her own question: “Dock!”

“It was close to 70 here yesterday, which melted the last of the snow from the ground,” Butter wrote. “I took a ride today (once again in the 30′s and snowing), and surveyed the ground. The dock plants in the sunnier areas of the fields have leaves which are 1-2″ long! I estimate that in about 2 weeks, they’ll be long enough to pick the first leaves.” Oh, Front Range Denver, I sighed. It’s like the Garden of Eden.

Sure enough and earlier than predicted, Butter picked her first batch on March 14. I know because she squealed happily to Facebookland about it, announcing plans for “a nice coconut-laced dock curry.” Honestly I am more excited than jealous.

For those who do not yet know, Butterpoweredbike mans a monthly wild food recipe-sharing event and this month she’s chosen her beloved Rumex to star in it. Send in your dock recipes or post about them and send her a link to participate, or just check back at the month’s end for a wealth of cooking/foraging ideas. Even wild food greats like veteran foraging-vegetarian, Wildman Steve Brill out of NY, sometimes participate. Read the rest of this entry

Confessions of a Pine Nut Nut

Nevada pine nuts 350x262 Confessions of a Pine Nut Nut

Heavenly Nevada pine nuts.

Okay so first off I have a confession about my new found pine nut obsession, which I decided to find a worthy subject for the blog despite the fact—and here comes the confession—that I did not forage them myself. No, rather, my parents purchased them for me from the grocery store.

It says “New Crop Nevada Pine Nuts” on the small label, along with a cute pine tree and a PO address. This is all I know for certain of the purveyor of this fine pine product, who send me manna from heaven in this my time of greatest need. They cost $10 a bag at City Market in Breckenridge and already mom’s bought five for me, despite what seems an exorbitant price. I love them love them love them love them.

Wild-foraged pine nuts I go back four years to California’s Eastern Sierra and evoke several memories. In my quit-smoking days I would purchase them at Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop (which makes the best teriyaki jerky in the world, IMHOP) to consume in lieu of cigarettes on the endless trip from Mammoth to LA and back again. Once in those days I went with my roommate to wild-forage some ourselves, only to be beaten to the crop by legions of tiny insects. Read the rest of this entry

salad rosehip ginger vinaigrette 350x269 Salvation in the Form of Salad with Ginger Rosehip Vinaigrette

Last week’s spinach, iceberg, and sauteed tofu salad with Ginger Rosehip Vinaigrette.

Why didn’t anybody tell me how much pain follows surgery? Here I’d pictured a scary hospital visit followed by a rosy home-bound ever-after in which I didn’t have to work and played with my toys, happy as a wounded clam.

No so much. Visits to the bathroom on crutches have felt like a knife slicing flesh and bone in my inner knee region, accompanied by a dull ache in the place where some deceased angel’s tendon now acts like an ACL for me. Mealtime means crackers because I can reach them from the bed and they settle the stomach from this bottomless cocktail of oxycontin and vicodin I’ve been imbibing.

The crackers are starting to get to me, the crumbs itching my bum in the bedsheets where I lay. Crackers from breakfast to dinner for 4 days straight—until last night, when I finally ate a big dinner topped off with a bowl of ice cream and then popped a pain pill only to wake up near-vomiting in the night.

Surely all this talk of pain and vomit is getting you in the mood for my yummy Ginger and Rosehip Vinaigrette? Read the rest of this entry

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