In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Who Speaks for the Bugs? Week Ending 6/16/2019

I know I already mentioned this podcast by Chris Martenson titled Living with Integrity.

I was struck, not just by the analogy of eating spoonfuls of oil, but his observations about dramatic declines in insect and bird life in his area. It made me reflect on how unaware I am of what’s “normal” here in central MD. I’ve never paid attention to birds and bugs before, beyond railing against Japanese beetles killing my plants…

Japanese beetle laying waste to crops

Japanese beetle laying waste to crops

…and the cardinals destroying my blueberries.

Blueberry damaged by a sharp beak

Blueberry damaged by a sharp beak

Then just a few days later, I read Chapter 10: The Myth of Nature from 33 Myths of the System. All of Darren Allen’s writing is powerful, and this was no exception. But I was surprised by the claim of 75% of insect life gone.

Seventy five percent? Really?

Today I was rummaging through the milkweed in the farmer’s field across the street. Good news! I actually have permission to forage here now, and the farmer hasn’t yet mowed. I am hunting for milkweed buds to eat as vegetables, and some milkweed flowers for a batch of liqueur.

Milkweed flowers for liqueur

Milkweed flowers for liqueur

Harvesting the flower parts should be “okay” from a ecological perspective because the farmer will probably mow this field in the next few weeks, before these plants could set seed anyway. No milkweed cheese for me this year! Even if my own modest patch manages to produce flowers, I wouldn’t harvest them (as flowers or young seedpods) to make sure I could plants more milkweed so the monarchs have something to eat next year.

Milkweed flowerbuds

Milkweed flowerbuds

So I creep through the tall grass in the field, harvesting milkweed flower buds and flowers, getting sticky sap all over my gloves, trying avoid any poison ivy and praying there are no ticks. I approach each plant carefully, tenderly, so I don’t disturb any caterpillars happily munching on the leaves. In fact, I might even relocate a few to my own yard, to make sure some survive the inevitable mowing of the field.

Only… there’s no monarch caterpillars.

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

Everywhere I look, the leaves are smooth and untouched by little caterpillar mandibles.

At long last, I find one. One singular monarch baby.

Poor lonely monarch baby

Poor lonely monarch baby

I carefully evacuate it to my yard, and hope I can find more in a few days … and that rain postpones the inevitable mowing further to buy me more time!


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Edible Landscaping Tour

I truly believe that people need to take more responsibility for their own food production. I know this isn’t realistic for everyone, but if food production became more local – hyperlocal, in the case of the gardener or forager feeding themselves and their loved ones – it would do a lot to help heal the planet by reducing the demand for fossil fuels. The beginning of this podcast by Chris Martenson reinforced that for me. (Although I’ve also read a number of books that discuss the dependence of our industrial agricultural food complex on the continued supply of cheap oil – Omnivore’s Dilemma, Nation of Farmers, and Folks This Ain’t Normal, among others).

To that end, I may have gotten carried away with this year’s project: edible landscaping.

To show you what I mean, here is a tour of the edible landscaping in my meager 1.85 acres. I haven’t gone completely crazy – we still mow way more lawn than I would like. But I’m also still learning how to take care of all these various plants and trees so I’m adding to the layout gradually. I goal is to plant as many perennials and self-propagating annuals as possible, to make the landscaping easier to maintain over time. I will post a separate (but also photo-heavy) update about this year’s garden efforts as well.

Where to start, where to start.

We’ll begin our tour at the driveway, with the items you might see if you were coming to my house for a visit.

This photo shows the beginning of my food forest. A “food forest” is an engineered forest, modeling forests as they occur in nature, but planted with trees, shrubs, pollinators and other plants that primarily provide benefit to humans. (I have a lot more to say about food forests in a future post.)

The future food forest - elderberry, serviceberry, mulberry, hackberry, and hazelnuts

The future food forest – elderberry, serviceberry, mulberry, hackberry, and hazelnuts

As you can see, I have a ways to go until this reaches “forest” status! I planted primarily local fruit and nut trees. The mulberry and elderberry (on the left) were already growing on their own. There are also two hackberries and a black locust in the center (ish). I have added three hazelnut trees, two serviceberries, and another elderberry. You can’t really see them in this photo – they are in the green wire cages on the left. They are all plants mentioned in foraging books for this area, so I guess you could say this counts as reverse foraging too. The hazelnuts are particularly important to me to reduce my consumption of almond flour. Since I don’t eat grains like flour or corn, I use almond flour in a few recipes. But despite how trendy almond flour is, almond growing is actually very problematic from an ecological perspective. Unfortunately, it will probably take several more years until any of the plants I added actually produce fruits and nuts.

In additional to the food forest, we also built a little pollinator bed.

The pollinator bed

The pollinator bed

It has a ways to go. The plants here are primarily flowers to attract bees and butterflies, since they help pollinate food crops as well. I’m trying to pick plants with medicinal or edible value to humans as well. Johnny jump ups, for instance have edible flowers. I hope to add wild bergamot, echinacea, and milkweed (of course!) to this bed soon.

By the front door is my strawberry bed.

The strawberry bed

The strawberry bed

They are done for the year, so the photo isn’t nearly as dramatic as it could have been. Yes, my Junebearing strawberries are all tapped out of fruit by June. Go figure! We have discussed removing the existing shrubs from the house and replacing them with fruiting shrubs as well, but I want to do a little more research before making that change, given how expensive that project would be!

Around the side of the house we find my gooseberries and herb wall.

Herb wall with gooseberries beneath

Herb wall with gooseberries beneath

Honestly, I had never even tasted a gooseberry until my husband brought these two plants home from a local nursery! But all the edible landscaping books mention them, so I felt like I had to have them. They fit perfectly in this spot under the herbs on the shed wall, transforming this bare empty space with splashes of color and sweet-tart fruit.

If you turn around from admiring the gooseberries, you’ll see my leftover amaranth.

Amaranth among the weeds

Amaranth among the weeds

I germinated a lot of amaranth using a technique called “winter sowing” (which is a post I still need to write), and ended up with leftovers. I hate throwing away or composting extra plants, and couldn’t find anyone to adopt them. We carved out a space among the weeds next to the chicken coop, and planted the golden and purple plants there. You can barely see them for the weeds (look for the arrows); they have a little mulch around them but the pokeweed, grasses, lambsquarter, and even some wild amaranth are closing in!

Still with me? Great! There’s more to see! The edible landscaping continues onto my back deck.

Tomatoes and eggplant in containers, flanked by scarlet runner beans

Tomatoes and eggplant in containers, flanked by scarlet runner beans

I’ve mentioned my container tomatoes previously; I also have three pots of eggplants (two plants per pot). The flea beetles in my garden inevitably shred the eggplant leaves to the point where the plants die, but somehow they can’t find them safely tucked away on my deck! These eggplants produce a miniature variety of fruit, which is the perfect amount for me and my husband to enjoy periodically in a stir fry.

The deck railing supports several scarlet runner beans, which not only display stunning red flowers, but also feed hummingbirds and produce edible beans. Next year we’ll plant a few more, in order for better coverage of the railing. In some climates scarlet runner beans actually survive as perennials, but I suspect our winter temperatures plunge too low here.

On the back side of the railing are my blueberry plants.

The blueberry bed

The blueberry bed

They are all low bush blueberries, to fit into this small space. (If/when we replace the foundation bushes in front of the house, we may use high bush blueberries which have a bigger profile.) They get less sun in this spot than they would like, but they are hanging on despite the suboptimal conditions.

Our yard beautification project extended to the chicken run as well.

The chicken run beautification project: nasturtium and redvine passionflower

The chicken run beautification project: nasturtium and redvine passionflower

Here you see busy, thriving nasturtiums – edible flowers and leaves, folks! – with my poor little redvine passionflowers (see the arrows) planted in between them. I doubt the passionflowers will survive long enough to reach their full potential of climbing and vining along the chicken fence, producing edible fruit. (If you are wondering why I have such a dim outlook on their fate, you can read my tale of drama and woe here. Also, if you know of a source for maypops – the cold hardy variety of passionflower that WILL survive in my USDA zone of 7A – please let me know!)

There is also comfrey planted at the far corner of the chicken run, but you cannot see it in the photo because a cheerful nasturtium blocking the view.

We recently had a hand pump installed for our well.

Rhubarb around the well

Rhubarb around the well

Now if the electricity goes out for an extended period of time (which seems to happen more frequently each year), we can pump our own water instead of having to haul it from the creek – which is half a mile away, down (and then back up) a steep slope. This provided another great opportunity for edible landscaping in the form of rhubarb. I have been timid about harvesting the rhubarb though, so the crowns can get more established in the hard clay soil.

Several years ago, we had our hilly backyard partially terraced and hardscaped. We tried planting fancy, pretty plants but eventually everything was choked out by weeds. I sheet mulched the entire area over the winter (that’s another post I haven’t written yet), and this spring started fresh.

Jerusalem artichokes, amaranth and milkweed

Jerusalem artichokes, amaranth and milkweed

Currently this hardscaping features some pretty standard landscaping plants like liriope (to the left) and ornamental grass (to the right). But we also planted Jerusalem artichoke (the plants with pointy leaves), golden and purple amaranth (which are still too small to really see in this photo). Some random milkweed (the plants with rounded leaves) managed to grow through the sheet mulch and of course I let it go because that gives me milkweed I KNOW won’t get mowed by the farmer across the street.

You might have noticed that despite the variety, everything is on a relatively small scale. We don’t harvest a ton of rhubarb every year, or so many blueberries there’s leftover to preserve. I don’t think I’ll harvest enough gooseberries at one time to make a gooseberry pie! And It was a surprise earlier this year when we got enough strawberries to be able to freeze dry some. I’m still learning how to steward all these different kinds of plants, and what to do with the food they produce.

Stay tuned for the follow on post about how my little garden is doing this year!


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Missing the Mulberries, Week Ending 6/9/2019

As we cleaned out the side yard over the past year or so, we uncovered a mulberry tree (Morus rubra). Well, we actually discovered many mulberry trees because they are practically weeds in our area, much like black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia).

Now the mulberry is a proud member of my growing food forest. Carefully mulched and with the weeds cleared away, I am finally getting a bumper crop of mulberries … sort of.

The black mulberries are ripe and ready to eat

The black mulberries are ripe and ready to eat

The easiest way to find mulberries this time of year is to look down, rather than up into the trees. Especially where branches hang over roads. The pavement will be smeared darker than usual, as the blackest, ripest berries fall to the ground and passing cars crush them. Many people find mulberry fruit to be a nuisance. I find them to be delicious, especially in this lull between the end of the strawberry crop and blueberries finally ripening.

The problem / challenge / opportunity is leveraging the mulberries in my yard. Yes, I love it when the ripe fruit falls to the ground… but then it’s a hassle to scoop up the berries from the grass and the dirt. So, following advice I found online, I spread a blanket under the tree to catch the berries. Well, a floating row cover as the case may be. I worried a blanket would smother the grass.

A failed attempt to catch mulberries as they fell

A failed attempt to catch mulberries as they fell

But that just made it easier for the birds to find and eat the fruit too! And because the blanket was on a slope, the slightest breeze blew the fruit right off. After a few hours, there weren’t many berries so I left the blanket. Then forgot about the blanket. A few days later, when I tried to collect the blanket, the handful of fruit I “harvested” had molded and stuck to the fabric. Ew. I threw the whole thing away, grateful it was “just” a row cover and not an actual blanket.

My mulberry tree is young enough I can reach a few of the lower branches on my tip-toes. But even with diligent effort, I could barely harvest enough berries for any use besides eating right then and there!

A sad, small mulberry harvest

A sad, small mulberry harvest

What would I do with the mulberries if I ever gathered enough to “do” anything? I don’t know! I will cross that bridge if and when I actually reach that point!

(There are also white mulberries (Mora alba) growing wild in central MD as well. They are considered to be invasive in this area.  I don’t know how the flavor compares to our “regular” mulberries, but it must be nice not getting your fingers and face stained purple from eating them!)


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Mother Earth News Fair 2019

This past weekend, the Mother Earth News Fair visited Frederick, MD. I enjoyed the event as much this time as I did last year, and managed to attend both days.

Each day was full of presentations on sustainability topics, permaculture, renewable energy, gardening and cooking. I actually had submitted a proposal for a session on foraging as an approach to defend Maryland ecologies from invasive plants, but unfortunately they did not decide to include it. Maybe the topic was a bit too “fringy” even for them!

(You, dear reader, have gotten to enjoy bits of my presentation-to-be in several posts this year, including those on garlic mustard, knotweed, and field garlic.)

In addition to the interesting classes, I may have splurged on some purchases for my own little suburban homestead.

I purchased clay watering stakes for some of our container garden plants.

Clay watering stakes for container plants

Clay watering stakes for container plants

Each year I plant twice as many tomatoes as I want for my garden, so if some don’t germinate or die during the transition from indoors to the garden, I still have plenty. I always grow eight – two romas, two slicers and four cherries all in different colors. Friends adopted several of my leftover plants, but I couldn’t bring myself to just compost the last three. They now live on my deck, but the pots are too shallow for thirsty tomatoes. Now I have a solution! The soil pulls moisture from the clay stake as needed, and the glass bottle lets me monitor the water level. Plus I clearly need to drink more wine for the other stakes I bought!

Plant nanny in action

Plant nanny in action

(Because the we suffer frequent high winds, the bottles need to be lashed in place.)

(Also, I clearly need to drink more wine because we didn’t have enough bottles!)

I also bought a wicked new weeding tool which will get used in some weed-infested beds.

My new weeding tool

My new weeding tool

The hot dry weather in late May made the weeds go absolutely crazy. I found that my claw tool missed too many weeds, and the dandelion fork takes too long removing a single weed at a time. With this new “batwing” shaped tool, the wide blade and sharp corners provide a variety of ways to wage war on weeds. The bad weeds, I mean. The good weeds are of course allowed to stay put!

But wait, I like this weed...

But wait, I like this weed…

The lions mane plugs I bought last year never produced any fruiting bodies. (Yes, that’s what the edible part of a fungus is called!) Too many beginner’s mistakes I suspect – wrong type of wood, not enough plugs per log, possible infestation of other fungus by the time we inoculated the wood…there’s really no telling. I contemplated buying new plugs, but I don’t feel like I have learned enough to assure success just yet.

Last but not least, I bought a book. Yes, a real actual hardback book. I didn’t mean to buy this book from Marie Viljoen at 66 square feet.  I have been on a book diet for several years, after realizing that most books I buy sit unread on the shelf, awaiting the magical day when I have enough time to read them. Now I only get books through the library. That way when I never get around to reading them, at least I didn’t spend any money! I have checked out a few books often enough, I decided to buy my own copy for future reference. I didn’t find any of them at the MEN book fair, but I did find Forage, Harvest, Feast.

Forage, Harvest, Feast

Forage, Harvest, Feast

Marie’s book is everything I hope for the foraging book I will write some day. Informative, beautifully photographed, and full of delicious looking recipes. Only my book will be focused on Maryland foraging and local eating. I bought this book as much for inspiration as the actual content. (I coulda gotten it a lot cheaper on Amazon, apparently. Oh well.)

There were different vendors from last year, and fewer of them; and a lot fewer attendees as well. I overheard a few vendors discussing how much lower their sales were this year, compared to last year. I don’t know whether the low attendance was due to conflicts with other local events, or because the Frederick Fiber Fest wasn’t colocated with the Fair this time like it was last year. I’ll be curious to see whether they have a MEN Fair in Frederick again next year. Since I have only attended this one, I can’t compare attendance with other venues. (No, I never did make to the session in Seven Springs, PA last September.) On the other hand, last year I also speculated about whether it would be hosted in Frederick again, and it was. So I guess time will tell!


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Burdock Adventures, Week Ending 6/2/2019

Common burdock (Arctium minus) regularly infiltrates lawns and fields in central MD. I first noticed burdock in our yard last year, and once I knew what to look for I saw it everywhere.

This year, we cleared out an area in our yard choked with weeds and overrun by poison ivy and honeysuckle. In the midst of this mess, I uncovered several second year burdock plants. I carefully marked them with flags so they wouldn’t “accidentally” get mowed with the other weeds.

Since burdock is a biennial, these burdock plants were already large and have since grown even bigger. They would make nice show pieces in an edible landscape, if they weren’t randomly located in our front lawn! In late spring, the second year roots are too big and tough to harvest for food. Plus, with the size of these plants I can’t fathom how big the roots must be. When we harvested first year plants for roots last year, we invested a lot of effort for the amount of food we got out of it.

First Year Burdock Roots

First Year Burdock Roots

(I apparently never posted about eating burdock roots, oops? Rest assured, the julienned roots nicely complemented the other flavors in a stir fry.)

Like other biennials, second year burdock sends out flowering stalks. Before they flower, the immature stalks can be harvested and many sources said they were the best part of foraging burdock – no digging required! Timing is everything; as you wait, the stalks get bigger, but as they grow they become more tough and bitter.

Second Year Burdock Patch

Second Year Burdock Patch

Apparently, when you topple the flowering stalk, the burdock plant sends up a new one to try producing flowers and seed. I’ve read that one plant can produce as many as three harvests of immature stalks. Sounds like a great food source to me!

Each flowering stalk had several side-shoots as well. I wasn’t sure if they were worth collecting too, so I harvested everything to be sure. Since this little experiment – just a few days ago! – I read that if a burdock stalk has laterals, it is already past its prime. Oops again?

Burdock leaves allegedly have medicinal properties, but I know even less about foraged medicine than I do about foraged food! I just composted the leaves I cut from the stalks.

Harvested Burdock Stalks

Harvested Burdock Stalks

Honestly, I struggled to efficiently and quickly peel the stalks. I used a paring knife and kept working until I only had the smooth insides. The fibrous outer portion seemed to take forever to clean away.

A cross section of a large burdock stalk

A cross section of a large burdock stalk

The smaller stalks from the side shoots were easier to peel, but had a much smaller core for the amount of effort required to get to it.

A cross section of a small burdock stalk

A cross section of a small burdock stalk

I eventually gave up on peeling these smaller pieces.

Also, the burdock ended up staining my hands slightly brown. None of the resources I’d researched on burdock mentioned this side effect. Not as bad as black walnut, mind you, but still noticeable. You can just see the stain on my fingers in the pictures above.

At long last, we had a side-dish-worth of burdock stalks. It didn’t add up to much!

Finally... Peeled Burdock Stalks

Finally… Peeled Burdock Stalks

I microwave-steamed the stalks with two tablespoons of water for six minutes, stirring partway through. I dressed the stalks with butter and salt. The flavor was OK, but nothing remarkable. Certainly not worth all the attention they garner as a wild food. One book I read compared the flavor to cardoons, but I have never eaten a cardoon – I actually had to research what a cardoon even is – so I cannot offer an opinion there.

One of my kids bravely nibbled a bite, and claimed it tasted like artichoke hearts. And so it did! In this family, steamed artichokes are enjoyed with mayonnaise – hey, don’t judge! – and indeed we all enjoyed the burdock stalks a lot more after dipping them in mayo.

The real question is: would I do it again? I only harvested what I thought we would eat, so several stalks linger in my yard. Plus, the three plants who sacrificed their stalks ought to produce new ones as well. Maybe I will try slightly younger stalks next time… stay tuned!


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My Best Brain Hack

This is my fourth entry in a series of posts about things I do to improve – or at least preserve – brain function. Until I started writing these posts, I didn’t realize how much I actually had to say on the topic! And still do, apparently. This post was supposed to contain random “leftover” tips and tricks, but one element in particular grew into a post of its own. So there are still two posts left after this one: a summary of other odds ends that I do (post 1) or won’t do (post 2) for my brain.

Here is my big secret, and probably the single most important thing I do now for brain function. Yes, more than exercising and supplements and sleep. (Although sleep and exercise have benefits beyond just brain function.) I say “now” because I only started it recently, and the results have been amazing. Not only is my brain working better, but I know exactly how well it is performing.

It’s simple. I write down every creative idea I have.

It doesn’t have to be a good idea, but if it has any creativity, problem solving, or new idea-ness (to me anyway) at all, I grab a piece of paper and jot it down.

Why so old-fashioned? I write faster on paper than on my phone, and if I pick up my phone AT ALL I will get derailed by social media notifications; or seeing my grocery list app will remind me of something I need to add to the list; and heaven help me if I accidentally open Pinterest – the rest of the day will be lost! That creative idea will vanish in a puff of smoke and disappear into the recesses of my mind. I periodically transfer the ideas from paper to Evernote where they can be searched or organized into related notes and notebooks as needed. Some may need more research and definition before I can act on them and some may be complete dead ends, but at least they are all there.

This leads to two amazing outcomes. One: I can see just how many ideas I actually come up with over time. Some days are full of creativity, and others not so much … or not at all! But recording them means I can watch them pile up and realize just how much creativity still bubbles around in my noggin.

The second outcome is even more important. By getting the ideas onto the paper, they get out of my head, and new ideas pop into my head.

Crazy right? Who knew it could be so simple?

Oh, right. A lot of people, actually. I am building on a lot of other ideas from authors I have been exposed to over the years. When I thought back on how many years in fact, I was mildly horrified. If you would like to read on, I will go into detail about the different techniques I’ve learned which have lead up to this new compulsion to write everything down. If you don’t care so much about the backstory, grab a pen and paper and prepare to be amazed.

This creative approach has several key components that make it so effective (at least for me): writing down everything as it comes, without judging; exercising your brain’s creative and problem solving capacity; and deliberate daydreaming.

Writing Down Everything

The first time I was exposed to the idea of always having a way to write down ideas was in Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, by Gerald M. Weinberg.  I read this book (mumble) years ago. Mind you, I didn’t actually start carrying writing tools with me all the time at that stage – although I probably should have, who knows how many more ideas I would have collected by now! In Weinberg’s methodology, these flittering thoughts I capture are the “fieldstones” in his method. The approach, in brief, is to collect these fieldstones (ideas) as you find them, regardless of whether or not they pertain to whatever writing project you are working on. You then store them where you can easily retrieve them, and then when you have enough fieldstones that fit together, you can build a wall… er, write an article or a book. This is actually the approach I’ve used to write many of my recent blog posts – I just keep capturing ideas until I have enough related ideas to string together into an actual post. While this is taking longer – because I am waiting on ideas instead of forcing words onto a computer screen – I have NO shortage of future blog post topics because they gush into my brain faster than I can keep up with writing them.

Popular productivity management approaches such as Getting Things Done and Zen to Done also advocate being able to get ideas out of your head onto a piece of paper, but those are more focused on to do lists and projects rather than creativity.

The most recent time I found this advice was in Get It Done, by Sam Bennett, which I listened to a few months ago. (Yes, I have started reading/listening to self-help books again… don’t judge!)

She calls it “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 2: Find an Idea Catcher” (aka somewhere to capture ideas as they come to us). She uses index cards, similar to Weinberg’s approach, to write down the ideas as they come and then sort them into envelopes. I always have a paper to-do list with me, and jot my ideas on the corners or back of the paper. It’s not fancy, but it still works!

Without Judging

This technique works so well for me, in part, because it gets the old ideas out of my head. I can’t generate new ideas because the current ideas play on endless repeat – even when they don’t appear to be useful or relevant to any of my creative endeavors.

This aspect is similar to the techniques of freewriting and brainstorming. I don’t remember the original book I read on freewriting, but the idea is just to get everything out without regard for complete sentences, grammar or punctuation. Usually freewriting is done for a specific amount of time, and helps overcome writer’s block. I often use the technique as a way to get “unstuck” when struggling with various issues. Once I start getting the endless-playback-words out of my head, additional ideas start flowing out as well. (In my case, this may be more like “freejournaling” rather than true freewriting.) Since I cannot share the specific book title, here is a Wikipedia article about it.

This is also related to classic brainstorming, which has the goal of generating as much content as possible, usually as a problem solving technique. For example I don’t always judge the ideas that pop into my head, I just diligently capture them to store for future analysis. Brainstorming is generally done as a group, whereas I am just dreaming up ideas on my own… although maybe there are multiple people in here. It sure feels like it sometimes anyway! Here is the Wikipedia article, if you somehow have never heard of brainstorming.

Exercising the Brain

Another reason this technique works is by exercising your brain’s creativity and problem-solving capabilities. I first saw this idea articulated about a year ago, when I read (most of) Tools of the Titans, by Tim Ferriss. One of the “titans”, James Altucher, suggested the habit of writing down ten ideas every morning, to strengthen your “idea muscle”. Even coming up with bad ideas, says Altucher, exercises the brain’s capabilities.

I wrote “ten daily” lists for about a month after reading those pages, before my attention was hijacked by something else. While I don’t write down strictly ten ideas every day, I definitely experience how writing them down – whenever they come to me – reinforces the capacity to come up with more ideas.

(Altucher also describes a second part of this habit: writing down a “first step” for the idea, which is something I need to start doing myself. I am wayyyyy to inclined to just dream up ideas which is OK when they are ideas about things to write, but not sufficient for things to do.)

Deliberate Daydreaming

With all these super smart people advocating writing everything down, why did I only just doing it?

Blame – or rather thank – Sam Bennett. Yes, the same Sam Bennett I mentioned earlier, in the same book.

It was the combination of “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 2: Find an Idea Catcher” and “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 3: Allot Fifteen Minutes a Day for Deliberate Daydreaming.”

The idea is to keep your hands busy on purpose and allow your mind to wander. If you are up on trendy self-help techniques, you might notice this is the exact opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you to focus your attention on whatever you are doing, and when your mind drifts off, to gently bring it back to fully experience the here, the now, the task at hand. Deliberate daydreaming encourages your mind to wander. How crazy is that?

Deliberate daydreaming turns chores into an amazing opportunity to come up with new ideas: gardening, washing dishes, driving, even exercising. Although it gets complicated jotting the ideas down when your hands are covered in hot soapy water, or if you are driving!

Of course everyone has experienced this before. It’s why great ideas always pop into your head in the shower. Deliberate daydreaming differs because you seek out these hands-busy, brain-idle times intentionally (I now tolerate hand washing dishes, only for this reason), with pen and paper at the ready.

By the way, this makes me a bore in the car. The radio is always turned off when I’m driving – any sound, podcasts, audiobooks, or even music, renders me incapable of having my own creative thoughts. It entirely kills the deliberate daydreaming thing. Although sometimes it doesn’t happen anyway, which makes for a really, really, really long car ride. And for the record, earworms are just as detrimental to the deliberate daydreaming as actual songs on the radio!

There you have it – the whys and wherefores of my current idea capturing habit. Now go try it for yourself and watch your creativity soar!


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Flavorful Foraging, Week Ending 5/26/2019

There’s so much going on wild-food-wise right now in Maryland! I could fill this blog with pages and pages of photos of the amazing bounty out there, in the woods and in the fields.

However, I am realizing more and more that knowing “what” is edible is useless if you don’t know what to actually do with it. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, not only can you eat garlic mustard, but you really should eat it to remove this exotic invasive species from delicate native ecosystems.”  But what does one do with this knowledge? Not much, without knowing how to eat garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

A lot of foraging books toss out suggestions, but few actually provide recipes. Garlic mustard pesto gets mentioned frequently, so I decided to give it a try.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Luckily the internet provides recipes that the books don’t. I used the recipe here as my starting point, substituting toasted hazelnuts for the walnuts since that is what I had. Plus, I am actually growing hazelnut trees (although I still have years to wait before they produce nuts) and I like to adapt recipes to use as much of my own harvest as possible.

Also, rather than using leaves from the second year stalks as in the original receipt, I used first year plants.

Garlic Mustard Pesto In Progress

Garlic Mustard Pesto in Progress

Wait, haven’t I written previously that first year garlic mustard isn’t worth eating?

One key to harvesting garlic mustard greens is timing. In Nature’s Garden, Samuel Thayer shares the secret: the “meristem”. The meristem is the part of any plant where growth occurs. Because it is growing, the meristem is often lighter colored, softer, and milder flavored compared to established parts of the plant. In other words, it’s the most edible part.

Delicate, tender garlic mustard in the spring

Delicate, tender garlic mustard in the spring

Which explains why first year garlic mustard leaves are unpalatable in fall – they have finished growing for the season, and the leaves are tough and bitter. In spring, however, new first year plants are coming up, with young tender leaves that are much more enjoyable. To some people anyway. Others will find garlic mustard to be too intense no matter how early you harvest it!

Personally, I found the garlic mustard pesto a delightful change from the typical basil-based version. Although if you are serving it to guests, you should warn them to sample a small amount before diving in!

Three more notes:

  1. If you really want to enjoy garlic mustard pesto but the flavor is still too pungent for your taste buds, next time substitute 1 cup of the leaves for a milder-flavored green. In the photo above, you can see young lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) in the lower left corner. That’s a great candidate, and adds a nutritional boost as well. Spinach would also work. I wouldn’t recommend another plant with a strong flavor – like basil, for instance – because it could clash with the flavor of the garlic mustard rather than simply taming it.
  2. If you really want to enjoy garlic mustard pesto but just … you know … never eat crackers or toast to put the pesto on, blend two parts pesto to one part white wine vinegar. Poof! Instant pesto vinaigrette to enjoy on a salad.
  3. If you really want to enjoy garlic mustard pesto but don’t seem to eat very much at a time, you can always freeze the leftovers for later.