In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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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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Seven Day What?

You guys, writing is hard. I don’t know if you’ve tried writing, or worse yet – writing regularly. Especially writing regularly in front of other people. *shudder*

Also, if you happen to read a book (or several) claiming you can easily earn passive income by publishing an ebook, think twice before committing to that. Especially if the book claims to teach you the secrets for a “Seven Day Ebook”. ESPECIALLY IF YOU WANT TO WRITE A COOKBOOK. Maybe you can write a book in seven days, but you cannot curate recipes, try them out, document nutritional info, and stunningly photograph the results in that amount of time. And if you are trying to write a cookbook without all those things, then shame on you. Go back to watching Food Network.

It gets even more, um, interesting if you are writing a foraging cookbook, and partway through recipe trials your main ingredient is no longer in season. (At this point,  visualize me banging my head on the kitchen counter.)

So that ebook I alluded to back in March? Yeah, that’s gonna be a while. In the meantime, here is the recipe for the smoothie I posted a photo of that day.

Lion’s Tooth Smoothie

This refreshing smoothie is paleo- and vegan-friendly. The fat in the cashews can help your body better absorb the nutrients in the dandelion greens. They also contribute a creamy texture.
1 cup packed tender young dandelion leaves
1 banana, frozen
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours (or more – I let them soak overnight)  and drained
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp honey, or to taste
1/2 – 3/4 cup milk or milk substitute
Place ingredients in high powered blender, and blend until smooth. Add additional milk/milk substitute to adjust thickness. Check sweetness and add more honey if desired.

(The ebook will have nutritional info as well, promise!)


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Shut Up and Eat Your Weeds

Well, I’m not dead so I am thrilled to announce: I ate weeds and they didn’t kill me.

Specifically, I harvested milkweed flower buds to serve with dinner last night. Rather than just posting photos of weeds I “could” eat, I decided it was time to put my wildflowers where my mouth is. Um. Literally.

Milkweed Flower Buds

Milkweed Flower Buds

I found a milkweed patch that seemed safe-ish for foraging. Close to a road, but a small one which only gets local traffic; near a farmer’s field, but it hadn’t been sprayed in months. It only took two adults 15 minutes to harvest enough for a side dish. (Imagine one gallon-sized freezer bag full).

Note: if you try this, you have to choose whether to pluck the flower buds off with your fingers, or use snips. The fingers are faster, but you get sticky white sap all over your hands. Also, don’t pick all the flower buds. Take only one or two per plant, and not every plant. Leave enough for flowers and seed pods later, plus some for the plant to propagate next year’s crop. This is especially important given the dependency monarch butterflies have on common milkweed for their life cycle.

Remember, as you read the following – I am no foraging expert. Perform your own research and use all due prudence if and when you decide to try wild food. Some guides recommend boiling milkweed-anything in several changes of water. In my world, boiling most vegetables even once produces inedible mush … which defeats the purpose of harvesting wild edibles in the first place!

I washed the flower buds thoroughly. As you can see in the photo below, the white milky sap did not come off.

Milkweed flower buds, washed and ready to cook

Milkweed flower buds, washed and ready to cook

I steamed the flower buds in a steamer basket over simmering water with a dash of lemon juice. I started checking tenderness around 10 minutes; they probably cooked for 15 minutes overall. I think they cooked longer than really necessary. Once I removed them from the heat, I dressed them with melted butter mixed with lemon juice to taste.

Milkweed steaming in a pot

Milkweed steaming in a pot

Will I die because I didn’t actually boil the buds? It was time for the true test.

I am here to tell you, I ate steamed milkweed flower buds, and lived to tell the tale.

The flavor is mild and sweet, though not as sweet as peas. The buds were very tender (like I said, I probably overcooked them). They seemed remarkably, well, vegetable-like, with not a single hint of bitter flavor.

Milkweed. It's what's for dinner.

Milkweed. It’s what’s for dinner.

The kids’ reactions were predictable. “Ew, what’s that?”

I replied, “They’re milkweed flower buds. You know, unopened flowers? Like broccoli.”

“Why can’t we just eat broccoli?”

I might’ve been frustrated at this point. “Because I can never get broccoli to grow nice in my garden no matter how much work I put into it, and milkweed grows whether I do anything or not. Shut up and eat your weeds!”

I would love to say we all lived happily ever after. At least no one died from eating weeds (although you would’ve wondered, watching the faces my kids made…but that’s just what they do when they eat veggies.)


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Future Foraged Fruits, Week Ending 6/3/2018

It’s early June. The air is drenched with humidity and honeysuckle fragrance.  Between the sticky heat and afternoon thunderstorms, the last thing anyone wants is to spend time outside. But now is the time to start locating the fruits that will feed us this summer and into the fall.

Blackberries (Rubus spp.) carpet the edges of meadows with white flowers. Last fall I also found black raspberry canes closer to these woods. Unfortunately, in late spring the thorns, ticks and poison ivy are so thick I couldn’t get closer to check on them.

Blackberry flowers

Blackberry flowers blanket the horizon.

Japanese wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) are an invasive cane species that are also flowering now. Unlike blackberries, which flower and ripen over a period of several weeks, wineberries ripen all at once, and then they are gone.

Japanese wineberries

Japanese wineberries

Wild roses (Rosa spp.) rub elbows with the blackberries and wineberries; they are equally thorny. Most of the local varieties I have found produce small rose hips, barely worth harvesting in the fall and winter, but still a good source of vitamin C in times of need.

Wild roses

Wild roses

Now is also the time to scope out wild grapes (Vitis spp.). They can be harvested young for verjuice – not this young obviously – or allowed to mature for eating, juicing or jelly making.

Wild grapes

Wild grapes

Mulberries (Moraceae spp.) are starting to ripen, but due to the erratic weather this spring the flavor is… um… lacking? Definitely worth continuing to check as the weeks go by. Mulberries grow around this area like weeds, so there are plenty to be had if you just keep your eyes open.

Mulberries

Mulberries

Back in the forest, mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), which we saw a few weeks ago, are setting green fruit – just one per plant. The fruit will be ripe when they turn yellow, hopefully in a few more weeks.

Mayapple Fruit

Mayapple Fruit

This very afternoon, I found a new-to-me berry at eye level behind large, glossy leaves. Curious, I crept in closer for a few photos. Turns out … THIS IS POISON IVY (Toxicodendron radicans)! Luckily I didn’t brush any leaves aside to take the photo (I think).

Don’t eat the poison ivy.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy Berries – DON’T EAT THESE

(I didn’t really need to say that, did I? Please tell me I didn’t.)

The one photo I don’t have is a fruiting serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.). Its berries ripen in June which is why the shrub is also called juneberry. I have been unable to find any of these wild, so I bought one of my very own at the Mother Earth News Fair in Frederick this past weekend!  Hope to have pictures to share next year!


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Foraging Finds, Week Ending April 22

I spent Earth Day 2018 marveling at the beauty and abundance of the natural world around us.

Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are blooming amidst the more readily recognizable pink and white blossoms of cherry and pear trees. The oddly shaped flowers grow directly from the branches as seen in the photo below. The flowers taste like spring vegetables, like peas or new asparagus – not sweet per se, but fresh and eager. They would make a fabulous garnish on a salad of pea shoots and other young greens.

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Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis)

I found wild ginger (Asarum spp.) in the woods entirely by accident. The leaves remind me of violet, only more so – heart-shaped, but more so; shiny, but more so; green but more so.  The rhizomes smell like earth and faintly of Zingiber officinale, or “real” ginger like you would buy in the store. (The two plants are unrelated except by name.) The flavor is mild enough you can munch directly on the rhizomes… after washing them, of course!

Wild Ginger (Asarum spp.)

Wild Ginger (Asarum spp.)

Dead white stalks, talk despite being bent and broken, indicate where last year’s pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) stood.  Since asparagus was peeking up through the dirt in my garden, I wondered if pokeweed shoots might follow a similar timetable? Indeed, at the base of the dead stalks I found signs of life. I haven’t decided yet how – or even if – I will try pokeweed this year…this is one of those plants where timing makes all the difference between tasty and toxic. Stay tuned for future posts!

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Under the forest cover, mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) plants blanketed the ground. This one even had a budding flower. Mayapples are my tragic foraging story of 2017. I had located them in the spring (just like this year!) but when I returned to harvest the fruits the plants had completely disappeared – maybe due to spraying, or being choked out by wine berries, roses and other plants which dwarf the tiny mayapples. This is another plant which straddles the line between life and death for humans; all parts are poisonous except the completely ripe fruit. (And some sources advise they can still be poisonous if consumed in large quantities.)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Last but not least – I found several patches of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) large enough I knew that harvesting a few for their corms would not endanger the local population. The corms are tiny – this picture shows a closeup of about 1/3 cup – and so much work to find and dig that I probably won’t bother again. Once cleaned and trimmed of roots, I steamed them in the microwave for 3 minutes and coated with butter. They tasted like teensy tiny potatoes (they are also known as “fairy spuds”) except sweeter. I meant to photograph the handful of cooked corms, but they were devoured before I had the chance!

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) Corms