In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Foraging Hack(berries), Week Ending 12/9/2018

This was the year of hackberry fail.

Unlike my typical “foraging fail” experiences, this time it’s not my fault.

I know where the hackberry trees are, and successfully harvested fruit last December. But this year, almost every tree sports bare branches. I blame the late spring frost that also killed most of the wild cherry blossoms in our area.

The common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is a fairly, um, common tree in central Maryland. This tree is also known as the Northern hackberry. Southern hackberry (Celtis laevigata), or sugarberry, is closely related and produces sweeter fruit; unfortunately its range is further south so I cannot compare the two.

Hackberry trees are so common, in fact, I discovered a cluster of them growing in the wild portion of my yard earlier this summer.  While I was thrilled to find them, I was surprised to find they had no fruit. By summer, the fruit has normally set although not yet ripe. Then I realized – none of the hackberry trees on my typical routes had fruit. None.

Hackberry trees are (or should be) easy to spot in the winter, because the tiny berries cling to the branches long after the leaves have fallen. They can remain on the tree throughout the winter season, making the berries a valuable source of food when nothing else is available.

Hackberry Fruit Clinging to Bare Branches

Hackberry Fruit Clinging to Bare Branches

Hackberry fruit is small, crunchy, and sweet. Most of the berry is the seed, which is eaten whole along with fruit. They have almost no moisture at all. The berries are very high in calories for their size, and contain carbohydrates, protein and fat. They are reported to get sweeter the further into winter they go. Most years, the challenge in gathering hackberry fruit is that the trees grow to 30 to 50 feet tall, leaving most of the berries out of human reach.

A Bowl of Hackberries

A Bowl of Hackberries

I finally located ONE singular young tree with berries a week ago, but the fruit tasted rancid rather than sweet.

Hackberry trees also stand out during other seasons due to the distinctive texture of their light gray bark. The best description for it is “warty”.

Warty Hackberry Bark

Warty Hackberry Bark

Even though I can’t talk celebrate a hackberry harvest this year, last year I harvested enough berries to experiment with hackberry milk. Here is the method I used:

Clean the berries, removing stems and any berries that look bad. (Wrinkly and oxidized are okay; rotten is not okay.) Measure twice as much water as berries by volume, and place together in a blender. A high powered blender would be best; my regular old kitchen model didn’t pulverize the fruit nearly as thoroughly as I would have liked. Strain out the solids. Depending on how fine the strainer is,  the milk can end up with the consistency of a thin liquid or a puree. Add 1 Tbs of maple syrup at a time, checking for taste. (This step is probably not needed for sugarberries.) The fluid and solids will tend to separate, so stir regularly as you enjoy your drink!

Mmmmm ... Hackberry Milk

Mmmmm … hackberry milk

You can also use hackberry milk in cooking, but I haven’t tried this yet. Hopefully next year I will get the chance!


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Pawpaw Preserves, Week Ending 10/28/2018

I lied.

Well, maybe that’s a bit strong.

I didn’t “lie” exactly. But I certainly didn’t believe for a second that my improvised freezer jam-style pawpaw preserves might, just might, actually turn out to be tasty.

Maybe I should say I was wrong… but that’s much harder to admit!

Much to my surprise, after a few weeks of the preserves languishing in my fridge, a quick sample revealed it was actually delicious. I guess the flavors had time to mellow and relax and blend, and by that time the instant pectin had set up to an acceptably spreadable texture.

So here is the pawpaw preserves recipe after all. (Sorry I don’t have the fancy WordPress business plan that allows plugins for nicely formatted recipes. Hopefully you can copy & paste it to your word processor of choice to print or save.) Also the blog post continues below the recipe. I am always frustrated when I have to scroll through mountains of text to reach the recipe in a post, so I try not to foist the same experience on my readers (all two and a half of you – hi!).

This recipe was a mishmash of the original recipe, Ball’s generic instructions for freezer jam, and my own compulsive need to tweak any recipe that crosses my kitchen counter.


Pawpaw Preserves – Freezer Jam Style

1 1/2 c pawpaw puree (mine was relatively lumpy for texture purposes)
1/3 c sugar, plus more as needed to taste
3 Tbs bourbon
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs instant pectin
1/4 tsp ground spice bush
1/4 tsp salt

Heat pawpaw puree and water gently in a pan over low heat, so it just simmers for 10 minutes. (I am not sure if this is “really” necessary, but that is what they did in the original recipe so I did it too!) You can add water if it seems too thick, or strain if it seems too lumpy.

Stir in vinegar, bourbon, spice bush and salt. Taste and add a tablespoon at a time more sugar (for sweet) and / or vinegar (for tart) according to your personal preferences.

Allow the preserves to cool slightly, then whisk in pectin. Store in containers in the fridge or freezer.

Makes about 3 cups.


Pawpaw Preserves

Pawpaw Preserves

Here’s my challenge: how do I use the preserves? I haven’t eaten toast since I stopped eating grains years ago. And after many failed attempts, I finally realized there is no “perfect paleo bread”. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to find or create the ideal recipe for grain-free bread before I finally realized that for me, personally, mimicking mainstream food was actually counterproductive to how I had chosen to eat.

As a result, I don’t eat many things one would normally top with preserves.

If I ate ice cream, I could imagine dribbling preserves over it.

Stirring it into yogurt might work.

Basting pork or chicken while grilling or roasting might also be an option, though after reading Eating Appalachia I’d be concerned about how high heat would impact the flavor. Plus at least one member of my family wouldn’t even try dinner if there were pawpaw anywhere in it.

What’s a forager to do?

Feed it to friends and family, of course!

I decided to share the preserves at a Halloween party, and they were a hit! I topped crackers with goat cheese and a dollop of preserves and They. Were. Amazing. The goat cheese contributed a slight tang to offset the flavor of the preserves, and the cracker provided a satisfying crunch.

Pawpaw Preserves, Served

Pawpaw Preserves, Served

(I even made a few with store bought almond flour crackers, because no one at a party should eat a dish the cook won’t eat herself.)

Tips: Remember to assemble the crackers just before eating, and only make as many as will get consumed quickly. (The crackers eventually absorb the moisture from the goat cheese and turn soggy.) Also be prepared for a LOT of questions about what pawpaws are because most people haven’t heard of them, even in areas where they grow wild!


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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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New Ebook Sneak Peek!

I’m writing an ebook to introduce people to the fun of foraging with a plant everyone recognizes: dandelions!

That’s right, dandelions are edible – assuming you didn’t just apply pesticides to your lawn, of course. Dandelions are very nutritious, and provide a versatile and abundant source of food.

Many foragers believe dandelions are too bitter to bother with, but my book covers the right timing and techniques for the best harvest.

My ebook is a collection of recipes and an informational guide to identifying (just in case!), harvesting and enjoying the weed everyone loves to hate!

Lion's Tooth Smoothie

Lion’s Tooth Smoothie – taste testing recipes from my new ebook!


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Green Tomato Salsa

A.k.a., what to do with all the unripe tomatoes when cold weather hits.

Chop green tomatoes. Add diced garlic, diced red onion, hot peppers (another “harvest before it freezes outside crop”), and cilantro (also salvaged pre-freezing weather). Let stand for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional seasonings to taste – more of any of the ingredients, and / or salt, pepper, lime juice. Whatever you like, it’s your salsa after all!


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Nothing to See Here, Move Along

Yes, I’m eating dairy again. No, the world didn’t end. It’s just once more congested. Of course correlation does not prove causation… But I’m still cutting back on dairy even if I’m not removing it all together.

Future post to follow on diet choices and sustainability, i.e., when drinking milk makes more sense than the alternatives, sinus congestion be damned.

In other news, I think I’m going to open a restaurant, called Free. With a purely allergen free menu.  We will serve, water, air, and lettuce.

Last but definitely not least, I made a thing! Tentatively calling it “Chili Pie with Corn Free Corn Bread.” My first experiment using plantains as a corn / cornmeal substitute.

Chili Pie with Corn-Free Bread

Chili Pie with Corn-Free Bread

I haven’t found the perfect recipe to use as a starting point for a plantain “Corn Free Corn Bread” so I’m just making this up… probably needs a few more revisions before sharing the results. Which is to say, I enjoyed it but the less adventurous folks in my house did not think it a viable substitute for Jiffy Mix.