In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Foraging Fails, Week Ending 9/30/2018

This week I learned a few important things about foraging for acorns, the nuts of oak trees.

Acorns

Acorns

First of all, if you are going to bother picking up all those acorns, shell them and start processing them immediately. They may not appear to have nut weevils in them, but somehow they magically appear after the acorns sit on your kitchen counter for a week! No, I didn’t take photos… you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

Second: you can’t just be a slacker about leaching the tannins! Acorns, like the trees they fall from, are high in tannins which make them singularly unpleasant to eat straight from the tree. Some species are higher in tannins than others; the red and black family of oaks (which have leaves with pointed lobes) tend to be higher whereas the white oak family (with rounded leaf lobes) tend to be lower. Luckily, tannins are water soluble so they can be removed by either a “hot” leaching method, or a “cold” leaching method.

Hot leaching requires putting the shelled acorns through multiple changes of boiling water. Once the poured-off water is no longer colored, you can start sampling the acorns for edibility, and continue changing the water as needed until the flavor is ideal.

Cold leaching simulates the Native American approach of putting the acorns in a bag in a running stream, which allows the tannins to be washed out over a longer period.

“Lazy leaching”, which is what I tried to do, is apparently Not a Thing. I put the shelled acorns in a bowl, filled it with cold water from the sink, and changed out the water every couple of hours … or whenever it occurred to me. Which might not have been all that often.

After a day of this, the water didn’t seem to be brown at all, but the acorns still were mouth-puckering bitter. (Eating an unprocessed – or underprocessed – acorn is only slightly less awful than eating an unripe persimmon.)

Another day of changing the water out infrequently … another awful experience sampling an acorn.

Wash, rinse, repeat. After the third day, the acorns looked very waterlogged, and I abandoned the attempt.

Waterlogged Acorns

Waterlogged Acorns

Maybe for cold leaching, the acorns need to be ground first. At least once source I read mentioned this, but never explained why. And I have this terrible habit of skipping steps if I don’t know what they do. Oops?

Another possibility is that the water wasn’t cold enough, or that the water changes didn’t happen frequently enough.

Last but not least, perhaps there are some trees whose acorns are simply too bitter to even bother.

Hopefully, I can find more fresh acorns so I can try again!


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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


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Backyard Summer Salad

Summer time and the eating is easy! The more I learn, the more I am amazed just how many wild edibles are available even in one’s own backyard. The photo below shows the variety of greens I could collect one August day to make a salad for lunch, with goat cheese, walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The smallest/youngest leaves are the most tender and best for consuming raw. Remember, before you forage – have 100% identification (no even the picture below does not “count”), and know the environment (pesticides, pollution, laws, etc.).

summer_backyard_salad

Summer Backyard Salad Greens. (Photo used with permission of PrepperGeek.org)

 


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Upstanding Adventures

Or adventures in standing up, as the case may be!

I am experimenting with a standing desk at work, to see if it really warrants all the hype.

Seriously. I think standing while working, rather than sitting, may be the most overhyped office trend of the decade.

Phrases like “Sitting is the new smoking” (as far as detrimental health effects) and references to “sitting disease” is enough to strike fear into the heart of any moderately health conscious IT geek.  I mean c’mon, even the Smithsonian is talking about it, so it must be a “thing”.

Plus, there are infographics (oooh, lots of infographics!) about the virtues of standing.  How much convincing do I need?

According to this guy I can burn 30 extra calories per hour if I fidget while I stand (which I do). Assuming six hours of my work day standing that’s 180 calories a day – equivalent to 30 minutes of aerobic dance according to the LoseIt app. Without all the sweating!  (Interestingly LoseIt does not have a way to log calories from standing at one’s desk… I wonder if that says something right there!)

And if my office is going to offer fancy new standing desks, what fool would I be to not take advantage?

A fool whose elbows don’t hurt.  Whose wrists don’t hurt. Whose lower back doesn’t hurt. Whose knees don’t hurt.

Because standing with bad posture on a hard floor with unsupportive shoes and keyboard and mouse at the wrong angle actually doesn’t do a whole heck of lot to encourage me to keep this experiment going.  [So far I’ve only made it three or four hours a day, for three days.]

Also, what if standing while working (even if it isn’t “exercise” per se) still burns enough calories to make me feel hungrier, thereby eating more, thereby undoing all the good of the extra fidgeting?

My other concern is that the most significant health benefits are all “avoidances” – I’m sure there’s a fancier word, but I haven’t found it yet – i.e., they are all about reducing the probability of something that might not happen anyway.  So if I stand at my desk, and I don’t get metabolic disease or cancer or cardiovascular disease, well, I might not have anyway due to good genes or other lifestyle choices.

All that said: I haven’t given up on standing yet. I bought a squishy mat to stand on, and have resigned myself to daily adjustments of mouse and keyboard and monitor height until I get it just right. I still don’t think that better posture will be an automatic result of standing more, nor that the extra calorie burn will be noticeable, but I’ll try to post weekly (hey, stop laughing!) with any new insights or observations.


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Two Weeks of Silence

Ok, not literally. But two weeks ago today, I hopped in the car to drive to work and found out that my Sirius XM subscription had expired.

The shock, the denial, the grief!  How was I ever going to survive the commute??

And then the anger and hurt over the fact that they never sent me a renewal reminder. Helloooooo? In today’s economy, how do you miss reminding a customer to re-up an annual subscription?

Finally: the resolution that comes through recognizing an opportunity.  I’m the one always looking for ways to cut back, simplify, reduce, and save.  Here’s my chance to prove I can make these sacrifices.  I am listening to more news (the only FM radio station which lasts all the way from home to work) and audio books. I have even figured out how to play music through my car speakers from my smart phone.  I have, and shall continue to survive without commercial free satellite radio.

Although I am now way more likely to run weekend errands in my husband’s car!


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Daily Neologism

Because making up new words is part of what makes us human.

Web Herring. Noun. A website that you think will have useful information to solve a problem or answer a question, but takes you in an entirely wrong direction and wastes much time doing so.