In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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The Gardener’s Dilemma, Week Ending 3/31/2019

I’m late kicking off my garden this year. It’s been cold, the wind still blustery across my yard, and I don’t want to be outside. Plus I tried using “green mulch” last year, and frost bitten Austrian peas languish across beds and into the walkways. But company is coming, so I must get the garden and the yard to the point where they look presentable, even if they aren’t entirely productive.

But see… there’s these weeds.

Edible weeds.

And the weeds are growing now, when it’s still too cold for, well, almost anything accept weeds.

Best yet: they are growing without any work on my part.

But … they are weeds. They are thrive where they do not belong. And I need to remove them so I can grow the “real” food.

Chickweed (Stellaria media), my go-to replacement for salad lettuce in late winter:

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor), aka wild pansies, with their fragrant, edible flowers:

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) with its tart flavors providing a counterpart to the more stolid flavors  of other greens:

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

Miniature greens with the unflattering name of hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta):

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), an unassuming green for general cooking purposes:

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Dead nettle’s frilly cousin, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), also a green of generic utility:

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Common burdock (Arctium minus), whose roots will make a lovely addition to a stir fry when the ground has thawed enough to dig it up:

Common burdock (Arctium minus)

Common burdock (Arctium minus)

Field garlic (Allium vineale), the skinny, pungent relative of our domestic garlic and onions:

Field garlic (Allium vineale)

Field garlic (Allium vineale)

What I don’t have: peas, turnips, kale, lettuce, spinach, or any of the other spring crops we’re “supposed” to grow this time of year.

Maybe next week I’ll start gardening. Maybe.

P.S. – I did not include photos of wintercress (aka yellow rocket, Barbarea vulgaris) in this post, because the majority of my household considers it inedible. Boo.


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Winter Foraging, Week Ending 2/24/2019

Today I offer not just a foraging post, but a cautionary tale. My husband picked up a tick in the woods yesterday.

You heard (read) right.

In late February. In Maryland. An active (though very hungry looking) dog tick. Thankfully he caught it before it bit him, but we were absolutely stunned to have encountered one so early in the year. I don’t know whether it reflects the unusual weather (five inches of snow Wednesday, all melted by Friday, temps in the 30s Saturday, temps in the 60s and rain on Sunday…) or some other change in the wild animals the ticks live on. All I know is I STILL feel phantom creepy crawlies on my skin. Shudder.

Luckily, today’s winter forage does not require me, or anyone else, to make trips into the woods. In fact, if you have a lawn, or have seen a lawn, or encounter grass at all in this area, you’ve probably encountered today’s subject: field garlic (Allium vineale).

Field garlic stands out against the grass

Field garlic stands out against the grass

Especially in the winter, field garlic pops out against a background of lawn grass. The grass is dormant and thus remains short, while the field garlic thrives despite the cold. Once you spot the clumps of tall “grass”, that on closer inspection are actually round stems, you will see field garlic absolutely everywhere. In fact, it’s categorized as a non-native invasive species on the Maryland Biodiversity website.

It’s also one of the few wild edibles that are best foraged in the winter and early spring, rather than in the summer or fall. Field garlic is so tenacious, in fact, that it happily keeps growing right through the snow.

Field garlic doesn't mind the snow

Field garlic doesn’t mind the snow … or rocks, or weed block

And in pea gravel. And through my weed block surrounding my garden paths, apparently.

A few other wild plants look similar to field garlic, but none of them have the distinctive garlicky-oniony that field garlic sports. Maryland does also have a native wild garlic species, Allium canadense, which is also known as wild onion or meadow garlic, but I haven’t encountered it personally. (Probably because it has been crowded out by the much more invasive field garlic.)

Field garlic spreads through clumping bulbs and through bulbils that form in the late summer from the flowers. Honestly I have never seen the bulbils because all my field garlic is well mowed that late in the year and blends in with the surrounding grass.

Every part of field garlic is edible, including the bulbils. The underground bulbs are smaller than cultivated, store bought garlic, but are just as flavorful. I prefer to harvest them on wet, muddy days – which we have had a ton of lately – because it’s easier to get them out of the ground. This also means lots of washing to clean them up before using them.

Harvested field garlic

Harvested field garlic

Ways to enjoy field garlic include:

  • Mincing the green stems to substitute for chives
  • Using the bulbs in place of store bought garlic (it just takes a lot more)
  • Flavoring for soups and stocks, where size doesn’t matter
  • Drying the entire plant, and then grinding to a powder to use for seasoning later
  • Steeping the plant in vinegar to infuse the flavor into the liquid, and then using the liquid for seasoning, salad dressing or cooking (a great use for the smaller bulbs)

My personal favorite: field garlic herb butter. The recipe couldn’t be easier. Add 1 Tbs minced field garlic and 2 Tbs of other herbs to 1 stick (1/2 cup) of room temperature salted butter. Mix thoroughly, and allow to rest a few hours for the flavors to meld. Use for any savory butter purpose, such as slathering on sourdough bread, sauteing vegetables, or rubbing on a chicken prior to roasting.

This time of year, the only other herb prominent in my yard is my rosemary bush. For whatever reason, his Mediterranean self doesn’t seem bothered by the weather, although I do need to figure out how to prune him to a healthier shape. There is also creeping thyme (cultivated) and sheep sorrel (wild), but neither are thriving at the moment. So for a seasonal- and place-appropriate herb butter, I went with rosemary and field garlic. (Disclaimer: the butter I used is not actually local butter… but it could have been, as there are local dairies around. I just didn’t have any on hand to use for this post/meal!)

Field garlic, rosemary and butter for garlic herb butter

Field garlic, rosemary and butter for garlic herb butter

I would love to share a photo of our Sunday dinner roast chicken with its crispy brown skin flecked with garlic and herbs. But we ate it all! Suffice to say, any “Butter Roasted Chicken” recipe (like this one) will work with this particular wild foraged compound butter.


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Weed Walk, Week Ending April 8

Not that kind of weed, people! Wrong blog!

I’m starting a new series to highlight what is growing wild and edible in the piedmont Maryland region. “Weed Walk” will feature backyard plants many people will recognize; “Forage Finds” by contrast, will go off the beaten path.

As always, please be 100% sure of your identification before eating something you’ve foraged! Even if you are confident in your harvest, introduce wild foods slowly to your domesticated digestive system.

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) in a shady spot in my yard. Note the line of teeth on the underside of the leaf’s rib.

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

 

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Wild Lettuce – Underside of Leaf Rib

 

Violet (Viola papilionacea). Pleasant mild leaves – a great salad addition. The flowers are edible too. Some people (not me) dip the flowers in egg whites and then sugar as an edible cake decoration. I was very sad when working on this post to find numerous websites advocating ways to eliminate this “difficult to control weed”. I love violets in my yard.

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Violet (Viola papilionacea)

First year leaves of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Not only invasive, but downright dangerous. Do your ecosystem a favor by pulling these up, even if you don’t intend to dine on them.

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Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Chickweed (Stellaria media). Literally my favorite wild edible, especially this time of year. So crunchy and juicy in salads.

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Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella). Adds a sour tang to dishes. Most foraging resources warn of its high concentrations of oxalic acid so I will as well. But then, so does rhubarb and it does not feature disclaimers in the produce section of supermarkets. Double standard much?

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Field garlic (Allium oleraceum). I minced the field garlic and sheep sorrel and mixed both with butter to baste a chicken I roasted for dinner.

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Field Garlic (Allium oleraceum)

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). I’ve never actually eaten this, because most accounts suggest it is bland and boring. My tastebuds have better things to do.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum). I haven’t eaten this either because I’m miffed it’s not the much more famous and charismatic stinging nettle.

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Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Pretty sure this is wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis). (So of course I haven’t eaten any. Right? Gotta follow my own rules.)

Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis)

Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis)

An extremely cheerful yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) . Most of the ones I found were too diminutive to bother with. Unfortunately only this one was worthy to eat, and one plant is not enough to bother with.

Upland Cress (Barbarea verna)

Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), the king of the jungle… er, yard. This is the best time of year to enjoy the leaves raw; soon they will need extra prep to cope with the bitter flavor.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)