In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Foraging Finds, Week Ending 7/15/2018

I had a very long post planned for today, but my writing time has been overcome by events. Rather than showcase all the various wild edibles ready now, or soon, I am going to showcase one singular weed: yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus).

Yellow Nutsedge, Nutgrass, Chufa ... the weed of many names!

Yellow Nutsedge, Nutgrass, Chufa … the weed of many names!

(By the way, I don’t know if that is pronounced “nut’s edge” or “nut sedge”.)

Nutsedge, like yellow salsify, is one of those weeds I couldn’t recognize until I saw its distinctive summer flowers.  It is also known as “nutgrass” and “chufa”, and elsewhere in the world it is actually grown as a crop. Locally, it is considered a weed of such a malicious nature that it has its own specially formulated pesticide.

The edible part of the nutsedge is the tuber.  The tuber is variously called “earth almond” or “tiger nut”, in reference to its nutty flavor. Nutsedge tubers can be eaten, roasted and ground into coffee substitute, or used to make a horchata drink.

If humans played the role of a ‘keystone’ species, and interacted with their ecosystem, we could control our local “weed” nutsedge without the use of pesticides that accidentally poison, well, everything else in the environment. I know that’s what I plan on doing with the nutsedge growing in my own yard later this year!


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Foraging Fail, Week Ending 07/08/18

This is where the milkweed grew.

Here the milkweed grew

Here the milkweed grew

The milkweed that fed the monarch butterfly caterpillars.

The milkweed that was blooming. The milkweed, a few of whose flowers I was going to transform into liqueur.

The milkweed that later would have produced seedpods to feed my family – okay, maybe just for one meal (that my kids would have hated) – and then spawned future generations of milkweed.

All gone. Sigh.


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Foraged Forays, Week Ending 07/01/2018

I’ve thought long and hard about how to articulate why I enjoy foraging, and why I think it’s important to share information about foraging with folks who stumble across my blog. I couldn’t think of just one singular reason! For this week’s foraging series post, here are the reasons why I forage. They fall under four main categories: financial, environmental, physical and mental.

Financial

  • It’s free. Given the economic instability of our era, knowing where to find and how to use free food is a valuable skill that should be developed before one’s sustenance depends on it.
  • No gardening expenses. Homegrown food can cost as much or more than store bought (although it’s still totally worth it), due to fertilizer, compost, soil amendments, seeds, or starter plants, mulch, pots, wood for raised beds, irrigation hoses, gardening tools, etc, etc. Wild plants don’t need all that extra fuss. (Although they might not mind a nice organic fertilizer occasionally.)
  • No weeding expenses. Instead of paying for costly lawn treatments,
  • Extra income. Some foragers actually earn money selling their finds to local restaurants or at farmers markets – ramps, morels, and stinging nettles come to mind. No, I haven’t reached that stage in my foraging career. Yet!

Environmental

  • Zero food miles – no fossil fuels burned to ship the food cross country and keep it chilled in the grocery store. (OK, obviously if you drive to where you forage, there are some food miles and fossil fuels consumed, but not on the scale of industrial food production. Read Omnivore’s Dilemma sometime – it is a real eye-opener.)
  • No added chemical fertilizers or pesticides. I say “added” because almost everything is contaminated by industrial agricultural production somehow.
  • Understanding the local ecosystem. Including (and maybe most importantly) where humans fit.
  • Sensitivity to the seasons. This includes spotting clues for garden timing, for example when wild greens, lettuce, and carrots (aka Queen Anne’s lace) have similar growing conditions and timing as their cultivated counterparts.

Physical

  • Food gathered at peak of ripeness and nutritional value (and flavor). Grocery store food – even farmer’s market food – has to be picked ahead of time to bring to market. The ripest produce would spoil too quickly. Foraged food can be picked the day you plan to eat it. (Although if you wait even a day too long, it may be gone!)
  • Diversity of plant matter consumed. The majority of Americans today have a staggeringly simplistic diet with a correspondingly narrow range of nutrients.
  • Exercise. Walking and hiking and digging for wild food is excellent free physical activity, and a great way to enjoy a natural setting in lieu of artificial lights, climate control and constantly glowing blue screens.
  • I also believe – though I cannot yet prove – that human nutritional needs are adapted to the cycle of available plant food. Sugars from fruits in the summer; more sugary fruits, fatty nuts and starchy tubers in the fall; more tubers and preserved nuts and fruits through the winter; and nutrient-dense greens in the spring to recover from the sparser diet available during the winter.

Mental

  • Humility in the face of nature’s bounty. It blows my mind how much food is all around us, but no one ever taught us to see it. For generations we grew up believing food came from these hyper-air conditioned, fluorescent-lighted caverns with aisles of boxes and cans and bags, with one token section for fresh fruits and vegetables. In recent years, farmers markets and co-ops have improved this situation, but we still largely depend on other people, on “experts” to feed ourselves and our families.
  • Brain calisthenics. I am constantly learning to new identify local species, and learning more about botany as a whole.
  • The thrill of the hunt. Granted, what I discover is almost never what I am looking for, but it’s thrilling none the less.
  • Constantly new experiences. Both in the wild and at the dinner table. Foraging is always an adventure! Especially when, as mentioned above, what I find isn’t what I set out to locate, and suddenly dinner plans radically change.
  • Adaptability. Like when dinner plans radically change.
  • Great conversation topic at cocktail parties & and a surefire way to embarrass my kids. Guaranteed. Especially in public. It’s awesome.


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Berry Grateful

Welcome to my new series: how to suck at gardening and still feed your family!

One of the greatest disappointments we face when producing our own food is a scrawny, mangled harvest.

Mangled berries are still edible!

Mangled berries are still edible!

It’s important to keep trying, and not let your spoils, well, spoil.

Those mangled berries are edible, so use them! They are great in shakes, fruit leather, jams and syrups.


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Wild Recipe, Week Ending 06/24/2018 – Stuffed Day Lilies

I don’t know if I mentioned, but I love discovering recipes online. I am always, ALWAYS, looking for new food ideas. However, it frustrates me to no end when I have to scroll through an interminably chatty, photo-filled blog post before I can find the actual recipe itself.

To that end: here is a recipe for stuffed day lilies, and all the photos will come after. (No interminable chattiness though … sorry … not what I do.) Also, I am sorry it doesn’t “look” like a recipe with fancy “Print This” or “Pin This” buttons. While I recently upgraded my WordPress account for a custom domain name, that upgrade didn’t include the option for plugins. Someday!

Stuffed Day Lilies

Serves: 2 as a side dish, or 5 as an appetizer

10 day lily flowers, washed and insides removed
1 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c parmesan cheese
1 tsp Italian seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
cotton cord
frying oil

Batter:

1 c tapioca flour, or more as needed
1 egg white
1/2 c ice cold sparkling water (or any fizzy beverage – try sparkling apple cider or beer), or more as needed
pinch of salt

Directions:

Mix cheeses and Italian seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a portion of the cheese mixture into each day lily flower, and carefully tie the ends closed.

Once all the day lilies are stuffed, heat the oil in a high-sided pan. Once the oil is hot, mix the batter. The batter consistency should be thin, but still thick enough to coat the flowers. If it seems to thin add more tapioca flour; if too thick, add more sparkling water.

Dip the flowers completely in the batter, then carefully add to hot oil. Only batter as many flowers as will fit, uncrowded, in the pan at one time.  Turn the heat down if it looks like the flowers are browning too fast. After a few minutes, use tongs to flip the flowers to cook the other side. (The exact time will depend on the heat of the oil.) Let the second side cook until the color is even. Move the fried flowers a paper towel-lined plate while you fry the remaining flowers.

Serve with dipping sauce of choice. We like marinara, but tempura sauce or a mustard sauce would have been excellent as well. (But not ketchup. Please not ketchup.) Also, be careful not to eat the cord holding the flowers closed. Like I might’ve. Accidentally. Twice. Although it’s apparently not fatal if you do, because I am still here!

STANDARD FORAGING DISCLAIMER: Only harvest wild foods from safe locations, free of pesticides or any pollution from vehicles or heavy equipment. Additionally, always introduce new foods slowly. Some people experience gastric upset when eating day lilies, though that is more common with the tubers than the flowers.

Now, for the photos.

This is the patch of day lilies I harvested from. Each flower blooms for only one day (hence the name) so you will not hurt the plants by picking ones which are currently open.

A local patch of day lilies

A local patch of day lilies

Rinse the flowers thoroughly, and gently remove the stamen and pistil from the center of each flower.

Washed and cleaned day lily flowers

Washed and cleaned day lily flowers

Make sure you stuff all the flowers before starting the batter. In fact, the frying oil should be heated first as well.  That way, as few bubbles as possible dissipate before you use the batter. The bubbles create the very light, airy texture of the fried batter.

Stuffed day lilies, ready to fry

Stuffed day lilies, ready to fry

Do not overcrowd the day lilies in the pan. You need enough room to turn them.

Frying the battered stuffed day lilies

Frying the battered, stuffed day lilies

This is what stuffed day lilies look like when you are not a food stylist, nor very practiced at frying. (Speaking of being ashamed to share your imperfections…) Some day I’ll get better at staging food (and cooking food!) and replace this picture with a very pretty one.

unstaged_day_lily_photo

They tasted much better than they look, I promise!


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Resistance Is Utile

(No, that’s not a typo. Here, let me Google that for you.)

I recently finished listening to The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. His writing style is challenging for me to follow on audio, because each section is only loosely connected to its neighbors – like a sitcom where the episodes are only generally related the others, by the same characters and place setting. It was especially difficult for me to keep up since I was navigating my commute as well.

But I am glad I stuck with it, because he makes several excellent points throughout the book. The one which struck me most is that “resistance has meaning”. Which should have been a refresher for me rather than a revelation, because I did read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which was the foil for this particular idea.

To sum it up rather poorly: the most important work you have to do (“art” as Godin calls it) is what your lizard brain least wants you to do. Creating art makes you vulnerable. Opening up to connections with others through you art also opens you up to the possibility of rejection. Maybe as bad or worse: the possibility of realizing no one cares about your art.

So when you realize you are procrastinating on taking action, it’s helpful to inspect the underlying motives. Maybe it’s truly something you don’t want to do. (Me when I have to make phone calls. Always.) But maybe it’s the voice of the resistance, the lizard brain trying to protect you from the ultimate terror, a fate worse even than death: public humiliation. At least death (in this world) is final; shame hovers over you for the rest of your life, even if only in your own scarred, tattered memories.

If you listen intently, you’ll recognize the voice of the resistance trembles like a frightened child on the brink of tears.

Instead of resisting resistance, we should strive to recognize it and embrace it as a sign we are on the verge of creating art.

When I don’t have (make) the time to write… when my to-do list is SO LONG it even includes folding laundry… that is the voice of resistance. Rather than fight it, I should embrace it, maybe offer it a cup of tea, and go write, origami-folded laundry be damned. (I’m sorry, KonMari!)

When I stick to the safe topics – recipes, plant identification, garden updates – that is the voice of resistance.

When I have to read just a few more articles or blog posts or books, so I really know my stuff before I write – that is the voice of the resistance.

When I feel like there is no point because no one reads my blog anyway (except my three regulars – thank you!) – that is not only resistance, but evidence that I need to write more so I get better. Because as Godin explains, if your art isn’t connecting, you don’t give up – you make better art.

What art are you resisting?


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Fruitful Foraging, Week Ending 6/17/2018

Summer is the season for fruit! Except summer starts next week, so we’re still awaiting nature’s bounty.

The exception is black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), which are the first cane fruit to ripen. Blackberries and wineberries won’t be far behind.

Black raspberries

Black raspberries

These black raspberries became accessible when a road crew “finally” (alas) mowed the roadside, reducing the chance of an unfortunate encounter with ticks and poison ivy. (Random mowing. Yet another reason why you shouldn’t count on roadside foraging.)

Recently, I found a wild pear (Pyrus pyraster) tree. The fruit doesn’t ripen until  November, and remains small and gritty compared to cultivated pears. Rather than eating straight, their flavor is best enjoyed in infusions. Pear liqueur, anyone?

Wild pear

Wild pear

I also FINALLY found pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees in the area. As is so often the case, they were there all along, I just didn’t know what I was looking for. The fruit should grow larger and turn yellow by August. I hope the weight of the fruit will help bring the branches closer to being within reach.

Pawpaw

Pawpaw

I am currently dreaming up a “food forest” for my front side yard, and pawpaws will play a role in the design. More on food forests in another post.

Deeper in the woods, female spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs are starting to show berries. They will be ready to harvest when they turn red, much later in the summer and into the fall.

Spicebush berries

Spicebush berries

What I did not find in the woods: mayapple fruit! The lush carpet of mayapples had vanished. The few scraggly plants I could still find were too small for fruit, or the fruit was already gone. In two weeks, the entire harvest was just poof. Gone.

Not fruits, but still worth noting: yarrow & day lilies are finally flowering. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) made an appearance on this blog two months ago. This pretty herb is primarily used for tea, seasonings, or garnish. I am waiting for more flowers before I harvest any, so I can’t report on its flavor yet.

Yarrow in flower

Yarrow in flower

The shoots, flowers and tubers of day lilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are all edible, although some people find it upsets their digestive tracts. When introducing wild foods, you should always try a small sample first in case of adverse reactions.

Day lilies

Day lilies

Day lilies exemplify one of the main differences between foraged food and the industrial-agribusiness-grocery-stores. While they provide three different edible parts, the flowers (which are prime forage now) are each only available for a single day. You can’t really “plan” on having enough flowers on one day to feature as an appetizer for a dinner party. Nature doesn’t care about your hors d’oeuvre tray!