In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Salsify Bisque

One of the themes I am exploring this year is “localizable” recipes. Or maybe I mean “localable”. I’m not sure what the word is/should be yet because I am still inventing it.

Basically, the goal is to find, try and publish recipes that can be made with local, in-season ingredients for central Maryland. So even if they aren’t ACTUALLY local because I bought the ingredients at massive grocery store which is diversely stocked thanks to a global supply chain enabled by cheap oil, the  ingredients could be sourced locally if that same global supply chain came to an end. (Not speculating on the “why”… there are other blogs for that conversation.)

Since I recently brought my winter garden to a close, I thought I would take this opportunity to try a “localable” / “localizable” meal. Turns out I harvested just enough salsify to try this soup recipe.

Salsify Bisque - a local-able/in season winter soup

Salsify Bisque – a local-able/in season winter soup

You guys. It was SO good. I am very sorry I don’t have more salsify, because the soup was amazing. I substituted sliced shiitake mushrooms for the oysters, and added them after blending the soup so they would retain their shape and texture. (Local mushrooms could be used instead easily enough; dried if needed to be available in January.) I garnished the soup with cajun-spiced pumpkin seeds, cheddar cheese cubes, and minced carrot greens. (I didn’t have any parsley.)

One important note about the original recipe: it serves four if you are having an appetizer-sized bowl of soup! For the main (or only) course of dinner, it serves two. Two who were very sad that the pot was empty and there wasn’t more.

(And I know wild/feral salsify grows locally, but I have been unable to identify it except when it’s already too late to eat it!)


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Winter Foraging, Week Ending 1/20/2019

This week, I’m blogging about a previously mentioned plant, common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis).  The original post showed summer time photos, as well as one picture of its “winter aspect.”

In the winter, evening primrose stalks stand out with their brown fluted seedpods. Like much winter foraging, identifying the evening primrose stalks in the cold months gives you a place to which to return when the weather warms up. This biennial plant offers edible roots in its first year, and edible flower stalks, flowers and seed heads in its second year of life.

I recently found evening primrose standing out clearly against the snow.

Evening Primrose in the Snow

Evening Primrose in the Snow

(There are some additional photos on the Maryland Biodiversity Project site as well.)

I haven’t been able to confirm this yet, but I assume not all evening primrose plants in a patch will be on the same life cycle. These dried stalks are from second year plants, and new first year plants will start from their seeds; but there must be other plants in the area that will be in their second year during 2019. I think. Maybe. We’ll see!

In addition to locating future crops, evening primrose has a bonus winter benefit. Some of these seed heads still have seeds in them!

I can hear some of you now… well, one of you in particular. “Are the seeds of sufficient caloric value to be worth the effort to harvest?” Obviously the crop would have been larger if you had gathered the seed heads before they dried and lost half their seeds; but perhaps you only just discovered the plants now, in the dead of winter. Or you’d used all the seeds you harvested in the fall. Or you just spontaneously realized you needed gamma linolenic acid (GLA) in your life.  Who knows? The point is: some seeds are still there.

The seed heads are made up of four chambers which can be pried apart down to the base. If there are seeds left in mid-winter, they will be tucked away in this part. Rather than separating the four chambers by hand, I find it faster to use garden sheers to cut through each seed head near the base. Doing this above a mesh strainer over a bowl allows the seeds to fall through into the bowl while the rest of the plant matter stays in the strainer.

Well. In theory anyway. Evening primrose seeds suffer the same harvesting challenges as any small seeds (mustard and amaranth, for example): winnowing is an essential step to remove the last traces of unwanted dust and plant bits from the seeds. The usual winnowing process involves pouring the seeds between two bowls while a light breeze blows. The seeds fall to the waiting bowl and the winds carries away the chaff.

The seeds in the following picture still need to be winnowed. Obviously!

Evening Primrose Seeds with Chaff

Evening Primrose Seeds with Chaff

Unfortunately, the breeze around my house is ALWAYS strong, which is why there is STILL no post about my amaranth harvest last year. (I tried, I really did.)

Once you have the evening primrose seeds cleaned – better than in my photo, please! – they can be used anywhere you would want a healthy crunchy topping. They can be sprinkled onto yogurt, desserts, or used in baked goods in place of poppy seeds. Some sources suggest toasting the seeds in a dry skillet over a low heat until they begin to smell fragrant. (I haven’t tried this personally so I can’t tell you what it smells like!)

Or you can do what I will probably do with my small, uncleaned harvest… scatter them around the yard and wait for next year’s crop to grow!


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Garden End, Winter 2018-2019

In the face of arctic cold, with snow blanketing the ground, I brought my 2018 – 2019 winter garden to a close.

This year, I coddled three different beds with a variety of cold-hardy crops, all the way into mid-January. We’ve never made it this long.

In exchange for my diligence in covering the beds when the cold- threatened, and peeling back the protective layers when the sun returned, yesterday I harvested:

  • Several small daikon radishes
  • Broccoli rabe
  • A singular carrot
  • Two parsnips
  • A variety of kale and chard leaves
  • Three small cabbages
  • More salsify than I know how to use
  • A few random hakurei turnips
  • A teensy little spinach

Winter gardening lessons I learned this year:

  • These crops all survived when temps unexpectedly dropped into the nid-20s one night. The straw tucked around them kept them alive even though the beds were exposed. (The forecast only called for lows around freezing… that’s what I get for believing the weathermen.)
  • Temps in the upper 20s / low 30s barely phased these plants.
  • Daikon radishes and hakurei turnips actually germinated and grew despite the cold.
  • I need to plant only in the centers of the boxes because the soil freezes at the sides.
  • I need to invest in better cold frames and low tunnels.
  • Winter gardening is tricky because most cold weather plants won’t germinate in the summer heat; but by the time it’s cold enough to germinate, it’s too late for them to reach a decent size to survive into the winter months.
  • I hope I like salsify! I planted it because I couldn’t find any grocery stores that carried it – now I have a ton of it! And by a ton, I mean around a pound. Which is a lot when you don’t know how a vegetable tastes!


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2018 Foraging Year in Review

As 2018 draws to a close, I reflected on the past year of foraging in central Maryland. I mean, a “year in review” is a thing people do, right?

The most notable theme for 2018 was “learning” – both learning what plants grew in this area, where they were (or weren’t) to be found, when and how to harvest them, and how much I still have to learn about, well, everything!

2018 provided some unexpected surprises, finding plants I’d never even known existed (like the flying dragon citrus), and amazing successes (like the local proliferation of pawpaws). But even these successes were hampered by learning curves: how do best make use of this abundance, now that I’ve found it? For example, I still have the Mason jar of pawpaw liqueur from early October steeping on my counter top, because I’m not sure what else to do with it! Other wild edibles I found but didn’t know how to actually take advantage of included:

  • acorns (which got its own separate post)
  • amaranth (mentioned last week – and I STILL haven’t managed to get enough of the chaff out to count as edible in my opinion)
  • pokeweed shoots
  • black walnuts and hickory nuts, both of which are so difficult to shell that I have only made a token attempt to use what I harvested

Another recurring theme from this year was my inability to find and harvest enough of a given wild plant to actually use. Wild grapes, chinkapins, ground cherries, and spring beauties come to mind. This particular challenge closely relates to another theme of the year: accessibility issues. For instance, my two local American persimmon trees had plenty of fruit, but I couldn’t get to them easily enough for a bountiful harvest due to the overgrowth that prevented me from gathering fruit that had already fallen to the ground.

Accessibility was also a challenge for cattails, sumac berries, and evening primrose, all of which seemed to grow best along roadsides. Particularly busy highways!

Additionally, my timing still needs a lot of work! Since this was my first year foraging year round, this comes as no surprise. Everything in nature has a rhythm, and matures in its own season. For example, I think my recent failure to harvest nutsedge tubers was mostly an issue of timing. I also missed the mayapples due to my inexperience. To complicate matters, the excessively wet year and late frost probably impacted the timing of harvests in ways I can’t yet understand, given how new I am to this field.

Last but not least, 2018 saw me reaching out to the local foraging community (and the overlapping tribes of permaculture and sustainability). Through visiting the Mother Earth News Fair, taking a class at the Fox Haven Learning Center, and attending the Third Annual Pawpaw Festival at Long Creek Homestead (which I apparently forgot to blog about!).

I debated whether to continue my weekly foraging post into the new year. Particularly as it is winter, and cold, and what is there left to say? Then I realized as I was writing this post, that I still have SO much to learn about nature and its bounty, and how humans can live more healthily and sustainably through foraging, and the best way for me to learn is to share my learning process with you, my readers. (All three of you… yes, I am up to three! *waves*) I hope you will continue reading and learning with me in 2019!

Also, if you are interested in more “real time” updates from my world of permaculture, gardening, foraging, and lower-energy-living, you can follow me on Instagram as @lean6life.