Free and plentiful super food leafy greens

Last year at around this time, I did a post about how dreary the winter had been, and how happy I was that we were now approaching spring. Nothing, however, prepared me for this winter, which in fact shattered ALL previous records for rain and dreariness. I was practically chugging my Vitamin D supplement this winter to compensate. Folks, it was rough.

But alas! It is SPRING! Ok, to be fair, it is still raining almost daily. But at least the light is sticking around longer each day, and everything has decided to bloom and leaf right on target, despite continuing feelings of sadness from us human types.

One sure-fire sign of spring around here (and much of the country) is that dastardly weed: the dandelion. We talked last summer about how every part of the plant is edible, and it's one of the best beginner forager foods out there. It's super easy to identify, it's crazy nutritious, and no one will get pissed at you in a local park if they see you digging out the plants. Hell, they may even thank you. Recently, Mark and I did just that: we spent a day at a local park foraging, and boy, did we score: dandelions, plantains, nettles, fiddleheads, and MORE! But this post is all about the dandelions. Let's talk dandelion leaves.

Rather absurd how large these flowers are... more shortbread might be in order.

Rather absurd how large these flowers are... more shortbread might be in order.

The lowly dandelion is considered an obnoxious weed almost universally, but it was at one time a staple part of many cultural diets, and rightfully so: dandelion leaves are super nutritious. According to Jo Robinson, author of the book Eating on the Wild Side, dandelions have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, our current favorite leafy green "super food." Dandelion leaves are more bitter than the greens that Americans tend to prefer, but in general, bitterness can help to predict healthfulness. When selecting dandelion leaves, look for the youngest, most supple leaves. Often the leaves turn tougher and become more bitter as they get older, particularly after the plant flowers (though they are still technically edible).

I'd also like to predict the following, and you heard it here first: I think dandelion greens are about to become the hot new "super food." I was recently in trendy, expensive health food store and saw a bag of dandelion greens going for SIX DOLLARS. Let that sink in for a second. SIX. DOLLARS. PEOPLE. I thought it was pretty hilarious. I imagined all these wealthy city-dwellers spending time and money eradicating weeds from their yards, then walking on over to buy exorbitantly priced greens that would otherwise be free and plentiful to them. I've said it before, and I'll say again: modern humans are weird.

But you don't have to be one of those strange modern humans. You can gather your own, FOR FREE. I'm guessing most of you can identify the flowers, but if you are trying to catch them pre-flowering, would you be able to pick them out of a lineup? As we talked about in our last dandelion post, the name comes from "lion's teeth" - so look for the leaves with sharp edges like a tooth, with a smooth surface. There are also a few similar-looking non-edible plants that have somewhat hairy leaves and rounded "teeth." These are not the droids you're looking for.

This is a baby dandelion. Notice the adorable, pointed teeth and the nice, smooth surface. This is your future salad!

This is a baby dandelion. Notice the adorable, pointed teeth and the nice, smooth surface. This is your future salad!

Notice the rounded edges and fuzzy surface of this guy. Not a dandelion. This is not your future salad.

Notice the rounded edges and fuzzy surface of this guy. Not a dandelion. This is not your future salad.

Our gathering day started with some all-to-rare glimpses of the sun and pretty quickly we came across entire fields full of flowering dandelions. The blue sky against the green and yellow of the field was almost enough to bring a tear to this PNW'ers eye after months of gray. Despite this spectacular sight, the older, tougher leaves on these plants did not look terribly appetizing. So we ventured into the wooded trail system and found plenty of newly-sprouting dandelion plants with soft, baby leaves in more shaded areas and higher up some of the hills. We foraged away, and left with a huge helping of leaves.

Since the leaves are fairly bitter on their own, we rinsed and chopped them up and added them to a bigger salad of lettuces, spinach, and other greens. We picked enough for about a week's worth of salads, combined with some other greens, some chopped radishes, and a big slab of line-caught salmon that we grilled to go with it. 

Rinsing the bounty of the day! Dandelion greens, fiddleheads, and nettles.

Rinsing the bounty of the day! Dandelion greens, fiddleheads, and nettles.

And... I didn't take any pictures of that glorious meal. Sorry, guys. Gotta get back into that blog mindset where I take pretty pictures of everything all the time. Dope.

One last tidbit I learned from Jo Robinson's book that I'll leave you with: for all types of greens, wash when you get home, then dry off and store in a microperforated sealed bag (basically a storage bag that you prick with a pin about 20-30 times). Squeeze out all the air and seal, then store in the fridge. This method helps maintain the proper humidity to keep the leaves from wilting.  Here you see I threw the dandelions into the microperforated bag along with my lettuce for easy access as lunches for the next week.

Alright, there you have it! Go get yourself some free greens!

Bring it on, 2017! (She said in mid-April)

Oh, hello.  

It's me, back from another long hiatus. I decided last summer to take a bit of a break from the blogiverse and focus on some other Life ThingsTM. Have no fear: my adventures in farming, foraging, and food prep have absolutely continued, and I keep learning new and really fascinating things. And now, I'm excited to start sharing some of those things again, because did I mention they were fascinating?

I have a lot of really big plans for the year 2017, with some monster goals and some exciting shit going on.  That said, I do hope to have time to get back to blogging, albeit slightly less frequently.  Stay tuned... more posts to commence shortly.  For now, here is a brief glimpse of what my winter looked like:

couch. blankets. puppy cuddles. no complaints, really.

couch. blankets. puppy cuddles. no complaints, really.

Calendula Salve for wounds

Most of my forays into foraging have thus far been edibility-based (hence the name of this blog).  But as our ancestors knew until fairly recently, plants are also incredibly useful when it comes to health and healing.  Some plants even rival modern "western" medicines in terms of effectiveness (turkey tail mushrooms, for example, are being used to help treat cancer).  One of my new goals is to try creating some of my own natural remedies from plant sources, in addition to my typical adventures in foraging for edibles.

This idea of looking for natural remedies came up rather suddenly, after a friend of mine at work crashed his scooter going 50 mph on a highway.  Miraculously, the cars behind him stopped in time and he was able to jump up, grab his bike, and get out of the way of traffic.  At that point, the adrenaline wore off and he realized he was seriously messed up.  He had broken his foot in three places and had lost most of the skin from mid-thigh to mid-shin on one leg.  Thankfully, he sat his ass down before he passed out entirely, and was well taken care of by emergency personnel.

When he returned to work, he showed a few of us some photos of the damage.  After succeeding in not simultaneously passing out and vomiting all over myself (there's a reason I'm not a doctor), an article popped into my head that I had just read about how calendula salve has been proven to heal skin incredibly well and very quickly.  I decided to give it a try to have on hand for future calamities.

Calendula petals drying in my dehydrator. 

Calendula petals drying in my dehydrator. 

Flowers drying the old-fashioned way.

Flowers drying the old-fashioned way.

I've grown calendula before in Minnesota, but for some reason my plants in the Midwest were always spindly and sad looking.  Possibly I did a bad job growing them, or maybe I had a different type that didn't get very big.  Here in our Pacific Northwest garden, there exists a massive field of orange and yellow flowers, but I figured there was no way those majestic and full-petaled specimens were calendula.  I asked Meredith, the garden owner, who confirmed that, ...uh yeah, they are.  Silly Jessie.

I went over one day and plucked a hefty bunch of flower heads.  There were tons of bees and other pollinators going crazy for the flowers, so I tried to avoid grabbing any that they seemed particularly enamored with.  Fortunately, picking calendula flower heads actually stimulates more growth, so in a few days the bees should have even more flowers than before.

Traditionally, these flower petals would then be dried in the sun, a method I am testing out with a new batch now.  But I am also constantly needing to justify having all my fun kitchen tools, so I busted out the ol' dehydrator and scattered the petals on each level, then set the dehydrator to the lowest setting and let 'er rip.  About 30 hours later, the petals were dried out and safe to store.  Attempting to store petals before they are dried can, not surprisingly, lead to rot - but more dastardly, if you attempt to mix something like a wet petal with oils (as we will for the salve), it can create botulism or just get really funky.  So best to get those petals nice and dry.

Once the petals were all dried up, I put them into a jar with some pure olive oil to infuse the oil with the goodness of the petals.  Again, this process can be sped up by using a low heat source, like a crock pot, but the more heat you use for the petals, the more you might decrease their benefits.  So for this batch, I let the petals soak in the olive oil for about a week.  

Calendula-infused oil

Calendula-infused oil

When the oil was properly infused, I strained it through a cloth mesh to get the petals and other bits out, then put the oil on very low heat in a little pot on the stove.  I added some beeswax and some tea tree oil (which also has some antimicrobial properties), then poured into a container to cool.

Now, we have our very own healing ointment that seems to work pretty great!  I've already used it a few times on some minor scrapes, like that time I tackled the thistles over at the garden.  I'm also applying it regularly to a few busted/missing toenails (thanks, trail running!) to see if it can work actual miracles.  Not super optimistic about that one, but worth a shot.

CALENDULA HEALING SALVE

Recipe Type: Medicinal | Author: Edible Terrain
Prep time: varies | Cook time: 5 minutes | Yield: one jar of salve

  • 1/4 cup tightly-packed dried calendula petals (see above for drying suggestions)

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/8 cup beeswax pastilles

  • 20-30 drops tea tree essential oil

  1. Infuse the olive oil with the dried petals for at least a week, if not longer.
  2. Strain the olive oil through cheese cloth or mesh to remove flower petals.
  3. Put infused oil in small pan over low heat.  Add the beeswax pastilles and stir until they are melted.
  4. Add tea tree essential oil last.  Stir and remove from heat.
  5. Pour into glass or metal jars and allow to cool completely before placing a lid or cover on the jar.

Use this on scrapes, cuts, minor burns, rashes, or even just dry skin or as chapstick.  And feel free to play around with the amount or type of essential oil you prefer.

Clamping: Clamming and Camping

Protein: usually a good thing to have in your diet.  As I am not an avid sportswoman and haven't fished since I was a child, nor hunted since... um, ever... foraging for protein has never really been a primary focus for me.  I mean, I do still live in a major metropolitan area, with many grocery stores within a short jaunt from my work or home.  So for now, I typically leave the butchering to the professionals.

This past weekend, though, we actually did it - we foraged for protein!  In this case, clams!

Foraged protein!  Beautiful, beautiful protein.

Foraged protein!  Beautiful, beautiful protein.

We went out to the Olympic Peninsula with some friends to camp and see if we could find ourselves some bivalves.  These particular friends typically enjoy the great outdoors with "glamping" (that is, glamorous camping).  They bring all sorts of creature comforts along, which I really shouldn't complain about.  It was just a bit of a shock camping with them the first time as they pulled out full-size chairs, a dual-burner camp stove, and expensive bottles of wine.  Not a bad life, really, but certainly different from our camping hammock, jet boil, and boxed wine (bottles = weight, people).

We arrived at our campsite in the early afternoon, just before low tide.  Once we had our camp all set up, we hiked over to the beach where we had bought permits to dig for clams.  By this time, the tide was way out, and as we walked we started finding all kinds of great creatures: oysters laying about, sand dollars trying to dig back into the sand, and shore crabs galore. 

Our goal: 40 clams or 10 pounds. 

Our goal: 40 clams or 10 pounds. 

The hike to the beach at low tide.  We lucked out with some awesome weather, as you can probably tell.

The hike to the beach at low tide.  We lucked out with some awesome weather, as you can probably tell.

Eventually, we made it to an area with hundreds of little holes in the sand: this was our mark.  We started digging, hoping to find our allowed quantity of clams before the tide starting rolling back in.

Now, here's the thing: as it turns out, these areas are typically seeded with clams and oysters so that folks like us can come harvest them without severely damaging the natural ecosystem.  It soon became pretty clear just how heavily managed this area was: finding these clams was a little too easy.  In fact, I'm not sure it really reflected actual traditional practices of clamming at all.  We basically stuck the shovel into the sand, turned over the shovelful, and there would be a bunch of clams.  We'd pick those that were large enough to take, and bury the rest.  Embarrassingly easy, really.  Maybe next time we'll up the challenge a bit, but for that day, we were happy that we'd have enough clams for our chowdah back at the campsite.

Trying to decide where to clam... turns out we didn't have to think about it that hard.

Trying to decide where to clam... turns out we didn't have to think about it that hard.

Oh look!  Clams!  And more clams!  And ... oh, yeah, there's just clams literally everywhere.

Oh look!  Clams!  And more clams!  And ... oh, yeah, there's just clams literally everywhere.

After a bit of time spent doing this and exploring the beach, we headed back to our campsite for the next phase: murder.  Oops, I mean: cooking.  (These are the moments when the former vegetarian in me comes alive and I have to suppress it a bit).  We rinsed the sand off our catch and had a bit of a surprise: these babies were BEAUTIFUL.  I mean, good gracious, look at these shells:

We put the clams into some water and turned on the camp stove until they had all popped open, then de-shelled them and cut them into chowder-sized pieces.  

Boiled, de-shelled, and chopped up.

Boiled, de-shelled, and chopped up.

Meanwhile, my glamping friends started in on cooking up the sauces, following a recipe for clam chowder from a famous Seattle seafood restaurant called Ivar's.  I would include the recipe here, but honestly, I didn't have much to do with it, so I can't promise that we followed it exactly.  Suffice it to say, there are many chowder recipes out there, and I'll try some others in the future on my own to share with you all.

We paired the clam chowder with a salad that we had brought from home, made largely from the garden: spinach, lettuce, basil, purslane, and broccoli.  We also added some dried cherries that we made last week (more on this in a future post!), plus some store-bought cauliflower and tamari pumpkin seeds.  Add to that our famous homemade dressing (made with homemade mustard), plus a loaf of sourdough bread that the husband made, plus wine (from a bottle!), and VOILA!  This, my friends, is the very definition of "glamping."

Fresh-from-the-garden salad and clam chowder!

Fresh-from-the-garden salad and clam chowder!

Awww yeah, look at this FEAST!

Awww yeah, look at this FEAST!

Our campsite was right next to a river, so after eating our fill and feeling quite full, we retired to the glacial riverside, which was a perfect built-in cooler for our post-dinner rose wine.

Don't mind us, just clamping glamping.

Don't mind us, just clamping glamping.

Camping at its very finest.  So next time you and your loved ones are out camping, consider spicing it up: forage for foods to add to your dish, and if you're car camping, glamp it up a bit!

Microweeding and Macroweeding

Fact: no one enjoys weeding.  

Actually, I don't know if that's true.  Some people probably enjoy it, and who am I to judge? So, let me me start over:  I do not enjoy weeding.  Sure, once I get into it, it can be somewhat therapeutic, and of course it's necessary for a healthy and successful garden.  But enjoy it?  Naw, man.

Over at our garden, we have a variety of knowledge levels working on a typical day: from Meredith, the garden owner, who knows a hell of a lot, to Katie, our resident gardening novice, and everyone else existing somewhere in between.  Anytime Katie and I are over at the garden, we end up playing some version of a game called "Weed or not weed?" (not to be confused with knotweed, which is a weed. Ha!).

Sometimes I can answer fairly easily, but sometimes she and I hold a mini summit to decide whether this mystery plant in our hugulcultur should be there or not.  And sometimes we decide to just leave it for the pros to look at later (aka Meredith).

Recently, however, I learned a great way to start honing in on your skills of observation and knowledge of plant types.  It's called "microweeding," and I experienced it for the first time while volunteering at a nearby park to rebuild some natural habitat.  A local organization had planted a bunch of native seeds, and the plants were starting to grow - along with a ton of weeds. The day started with a description of all the weeds that were likely in the beds, with our team leader pulling the weeds and laying them on a fence post for display and reference.

Reference weeds for our group.  Or, possibly, a warning to the other weeds that we are coming for them.

Reference weeds for our group.  Or, possibly, a warning to the other weeds that we are coming for them.

In order to focus us in on the plants, the group had created several square wooden frames.  The frame was laid down in the plant bed, and teams of two to three people would focus on just that area to pick the weeds and keep the natives.  Once that area was clear, the frame would be moved to the adjacent area, and the process would continue.  In this way, our volunteer group of about twenty people moved through the native flower beds and cleared it of almost all the unwanted plants.  It was magical, and turned a seemingly daunting task into small, bite-sized pieces of effort.  It also meant that we were less likely to miss an area of weeds.

Bite-sized effort.  Nice.

Bite-sized effort.  Nice.

Save the native flowers, like this camas!

Save the native flowers, like this camas!

If you have a small yard or flower bed and have children or novices you'd like to teach, this is a great tool to help them learn how to focus in on an area, teach them what plants are in your yard, and also allow them to start distinguishing between the good and bad plants.

If, however, you have an urban farm like we happen to have, things get a little out of hand sometimes.  One of the latest challenges for our garden was that the thistles were juuuuust about to bloom and seed-bomb our entire farm with more goddamn thistles. 

AUUUGGHHHH NOOOOOO!!!

AUUUGGHHHH NOOOOOO!!!

We could not allow this to happen.  As it was, the thistles were the largest thing in the wild flower area - some were easily five feet tall and threatened to ensnare me every time I got even close.  They had to go.

This thistle plant stole my shovel and chased me out of the garden at one point.

This thistle plant stole my shovel and chased me out of the garden at one point.

So I donned actual shoes (instead of my typical sandals) and began my systematic stalking and murder of all the thistles I could get my hands on.  In the end, the spoils of my personal war were laid out in a pile in the yard, awaiting compost pick-up day.  There are probably a few more lurking in the depths of the wildflowers, but my quest shall continue and they shall be vanquished!

Me, trying to imitate those photos of hunters and their fresh kills.  Didn't quite capture it.

Me, trying to imitate those photos of hunters and their fresh kills.  Didn't quite capture it.

Next time, though, I'm going to wear a full Tyvec suit...

Damn you, thistles!!!

Damn you, thistles!!!

Father's Day Garden Feast

Happy Father's Day, everyone!

For Father's Day in our household, I gave my hub the best gift of all: the opportunity to grill a delicious meal for me.  ;)

It was lovely out, so we spent some time in the garden today doing some bigger projects, and at the end of the day we took home a hefty harvest for our dinner.  As we were leaving, Meredith told us "I don't think you harvested enough food!"  And we were all like:
 

For dinner, we started with a lovely appetizer of fresh radishes (from the garden!) chopped up with some French gray salt, part of a salt kit that was a gift from my sis for Christmas.  Thanks, Jen!

Moving on, we had a lovely salad of spinach, lettuce, purslane, and basil (all from the garden!) with a homemade salad dressing.  Simple but refreshingly delicious.

Green. Slightly boring-looking.  Refreshing and delicious.

Green. Slightly boring-looking.  Refreshing and delicious.

For the main course, we had grilled kale.  This is basically like kale-on-the-cob, and is the easiest and most delicious way to eat kale.  Simply rub with olive oil, grill, then sprinkle with salt.  Enjoy outdoors because it is extremely messy.  Also, best to have some floss on hand.

Note how large these kale leaves are: the ones to the right stuck out when we closed the lid!

Note how large these kale leaves are: the ones to the right stuck out when we closed the lid!

Me, about to chow down on some kale-on-the-cob.

Me, about to chow down on some kale-on-the-cob.

The rest of the main course was potatoes and brats on the grill, both purchased.  But we had a fun conversation about how we are currently growing potatoes (post coming soon!), and the mustard for our brats was homemade, so really, if we could just make our own brats... the meal would have been completely from us!  How cool is that?

Just to set the record straight, the hub did actually get a real Father's Day gift: a set of AWESOME rooftop-friendly bowls that are colored like the planets.  Here is Saturn:

When given the choice for which bowl he wanted, he said something like "I'm feeling like using a bowl that has 1/9th the gravitational pull of Earth" or something similarly nerdy.  The dad game is strong with this one.

When given the choice for which bowl he wanted, he said something like "I'm feeling like using a bowl that has 1/9th the gravitational pull of Earth" or something similarly nerdy.  The dad game is strong with this one.

And a fun fact: apparently the beast loves kale.  We have a hippie dog!  What a happy coincidence!

Early Garden Prep: Part II

Wow, remember several months ago when I did a "Part I" post about seedlings?  And then there was never a Part II?  My bad.  I'm sure you're all just itching for an update on those little buggers.

To recap: we had our baby plant beds all set up and ready to start growing.  Next step: BABY LEAVES!  Or, to be scientific: cotyledons.  And let's be scientific, because these are not actually leaves, but are part of the seed that acts as a food source as the plant begins to grow.  During this phase, the plant is not using photosynthesis, so if you are keeping your bins in a dark place, there's no emergency to get them into the sunlight just yet.  Do continue to keep the soil moist, by either gentle watering or spray bottle.

As you can see, many of these cotyledons look very similar from plant to plant, so this is where those plant labels come in handy.  Soon, however, you will begin to see the first leaves of each plant, which will start to look quite similar to their final leaves.  NOW your plants are photosynthesizing all by themselves and can be moved into the sunlight.  *tear*  They grow up so fast...

Tomatoes! So cute and fuzzy on their little baby stems!

Tomatoes! So cute and fuzzy on their little baby stems!

Fennel starting to look like fennel.

Fennel starting to look like fennel.

Cabbage starting to look ..... kind of cabbage-y?

Cabbage starting to look ..... kind of cabbage-y?

Unfortunately, during our move into the new house, these plant babies were disastrously neglected and stopped thriving.  Luckily, one of our neighbors has a little greenhouse (of course she does,  because our block is fully self-sufficient) and offered to let me put the plants in there.  This was a great lesson, too, because it taught me how much everyone looks out for each other in this neighborhood.  I stopped by the greenhouse after a run one day, and a few minutes later my neighbor came outside laughing, saying he had just gotten a text from another neighbor that "there was some runner chick in the greenhouse."  We got each others' backs down here, man!

Nice and toasty in the greenhouse!

Nice and toasty in the greenhouse!

Once the plants grew a bit more in the greenhouse, I transplanted them into slightly larger containers.  It became clear that they probably stalled for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they should have been moved to larger containers earlier in their lives.  You can see in the photo below that their root systems had gone haywire searching for more space.  Poor little things.  I'll do better next year, I promise!

Roots trying to find their way to more growing space.  The pink flamingo disapproves.

Roots trying to find their way to more growing space.  The pink flamingo disapproves.

Soon after, each of these little stems grew second and third sets of true leaves, and this, my friends, is where things get a bit cut-throat.  Your plants are now getting to the age where they need to be transplanted to bigger and better beds, and from now on... only the strong will survive.

In most of these cells, I planted two to three seeds in the hopes that at least one would germinate.  And in most cases, it worked - I now had one or two (or sometimes three) tiny plants per growing cell.  Unfortunately, this is not the best way to transplant them into the big, bad world in order for them to be the most successful adult plants they can be.  *Sigh*  We now must kill some of our babies.  

Pour yourself a glass of local pain-numbing beverage, work up your courage, and then pinch or carefully pull out the weaker-looking seedling in each cell.  Send it back to the earth from whence it came.

Mama's so sorry!! *sobbing noises* *gulping wine*

Mama's so sorry!! *sobbing noises* *gulping wine*

Once you are past the frost date, you can prep the plants to go outside.  So now, after murdering their brothers and sisters in front of them, you must harden these little guys to live outside.  It's like the Hunger Games, except it's you who is hungry, not the Tributes (too nerdy?  ...Nah.).  Place the seedlings outside in direct sun and wind for a few hours each day, slowly increasing that amount of time for about 7 to 10 days.

After this tough love sesh, your now toddler-aged plants are ready for their new spots in the garden or planter.  Plant away, water regularly, and enjoy your veggies!

Bolted Broccoli Leaf Chips

For some reason, I hate the word "bolted" in reference to plants.  Maybe because it seems so harsh and so quick, when really it was me who was lazy and didn't tend to my food.  Or maybe because it sounds like "Bolton," as in "Lord Bolton," as in "definitely the worst Game of Thrones character ever, times one thousand million."

Another reason to hate that word: it usually means that your otherwise edible plant has passed to the realm of in-edibility. *sad face*

Broccoli is one such plant; if not tended to during the few days that it is ready to eat, it will suddenly bolt and leave you with a mass of humongous leaves and woody stalks and none of the fun stuff (if you consider broccoli fun, which I obviously do).  Recently at our garden, we all had a very busy week or two, and alas, the broccoli bolted.  But this thrifty forager wasn't about to rip out those plants and throw them straight into the worm bin!  Nay, my friends - for broccoli leaves are perfectly edible, and can be prepared similarly to kale!  And apparently, they have very similar health benefits to the broccoli heads themselves - that is to say, they are quite nutritious.

Just a small sampling of the broccoli leaves I harvested.  There is A LOT more where that came from. (8" knife included for scale)

Just a small sampling of the broccoli leaves I harvested.  There is A LOT more where that came from. (8" knife included for scale)

If you've never made fresh kale chips before, you haven't lived.  Ok, that might be a bit dramatic, but I do love me some kale chips.  Our kale isn't ready yet, so I thought I'd try to do the same thing with broccoli leaves, and guess what?!  NOT BAD!  They were certainly no kale chips (mmmmm kale chips), and they had a definite broccoli taste, but at least these nutrition bombs of leaves did not go straight to a lower life form (sorry, wormies.  Love ya.)

To cook these up super quickly, I just chopped the woody stems off these leaves, chopped them up into strips, rubbed with olive oil, and layered them thinly on a cookie sheet.  Throw them in the oven at 350 for around 10-15 minutes, then keep an eye on them.  When they start to get brown, take them out and sprinkle with salt.  Sometimes, I'll scoop out the browned leaves around the edges and put the inner ones back in for a few minutes to get crispier - up to you.

Probably just eat these right away.  I haven't found a great way to keep these without them getting soggy but also somehow tougher.  Leaves are weird.

Anyone ever tried these with other greens from other plants?  I'd be interested to know how many of my veggies I can multi-harvest (and, therefore, how much moolah I can save).

Dandelion Shortbread Cookie Recipe

Ah, shortbread cookies: the deceptively delicious globs of butter, sugar, and happiness.  As a child, I resisted even tasting shortbread cookies because they looked like boring cracker-cookies and were obviously lacking in the one thing that desserts must have: chocolate.  But I eventually gave the lowly shortbread a chance, and now it's one of my fav desserts (second, of course, to everything involving chocolate).  At heart, I am a Scottish lass, so maybe it's in my genes to like shortbread. That's how genetics work, right?  Right.  Cool.

Now, as we have already learned, many flowers are edible, and in fact, the entire dandelion plant is edible (whaaaaat?!).  You might already know that you can eat the leaves: in fact, they are the namesake of the plant.  The sharp barbs of the leaves look like a lion's teeth, or in French, "dent de lion" - dandelion!  And moving on downward, the roots are also edible: dig them up, roast 'em, and make some tea (I smell a future post...).  

Some people see weeds.  I see free dinner (or in this case, dessert).

Some people see weeds.  I see free dinner (or in this case, dessert).

But amazingly, the flowers are also edible - either fry them whole, or use the petals in baking.  I've heard of using them in sugar cookies, breads, and now, for your baking pleasure, shortbread!  They have a gentle, subtle taste that works nicely in a simple recipe without other strong flavors to really allow it to shine.

The whole flowers, ready to be cleaned.

The whole flowers, ready to be cleaned.

Dandelions / teeth of lions (err... house cat).

Dandelions / teeth of lions (err... house cat).

In order to cook with dandelion flowers, you need to start by prepping.  This is not a super quick process, but I found it fairly meditative in the end.  This is the major time chunk for the prep for this recipe.  First, collect flowers in the middle of the day. Dandelions, like many other flowers, close up at night and open again during the day.  If you don't have time to sit and prep them immediately, simply collect and put them into a bag in the freezer until you are ready to pick them apart - I did this, and they stayed beautifully fresh and open.

The next step is to pull all remnants of green off the petals.  I found a method that worked well for me involving multiple bowls and a sort of careful gathering of petals followed by a quick twist and pull that separated the petals from the remaining green stem pieces.  Once you have the petals separated, you can once again throw them into the freezer or cook with them right away.  Give the green portions to the worms.

Yellow fingers!

Yellow fingers!

Piles of petals.

Piles of petals.

I picked a huge amount of dandelions for this recipe, so I have a ton of leftovers that ended up back in the freezer - I'll have to keep playing around with some recipes to see what else I can come up with!

Dandelion Shortbread Cookies

Recipe Type: Baking | Author: Edible Terrain
Prep time: 30 minutes | Cook time: 35 minutes | Yield: 2 dozen small cookies

  • 1 stick salted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped dandelion petals
  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly grease one 9" square baking pan.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Beat in the flour, then gently turn the petals into the mixture. Note: this is a dry mixture, but it will come together. If it refuses, sprinkle some water into the mix until everything sticks.
  3. Move your dough into the pan, and use your fingers to press it into an even layer.
  4. Using a fork, stab the dough all over (to allow steam to escape and prevent bubbling). Feel free to get creative here and create a pattern, or just go all stabby.
  5. Bake until the top is a light golden brown, with deeper golden brown around the edges, about 35 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven, and immediately turn shortbread onto a cutting surface.
  7. While still hot, cut shortbread into smaller pieces - I used a pizza wheel. If you wait until it cools, this step will be nearly impossible.  Transfer cookies to cooling rack.
  8. Serve and enjoy. Leftovers will keep well in a container, or freeze nicely for future treats.
YUMMY!

YUMMY!

I used to have worms*

*This, I have learned, is not the best thing to yell out in the middle of a crowded public place.  Speaking from experience.

We had some friends in town a few weeks ago, and while enjoying a few brewskies at a local brewery, somehow the topic of vermiculture - or worm composting - came up.  And I, forgetting my surroundings or basic social skills, yelled out, "I USED TO HAVE WORMS!!"  I'm so good at life sometimes.

My history with worms is a bit ... storied.  So buckle up kids, 'cuz it's story time.


For a few years in college, I lived in an on-campus apartment with a few friends and had several secret (and illegal) pets in my room, including a large fish tank and some chinchillas.  At some point, I did some research on worm composting.  I don't remember why - it's not like I was doing much cooking of my own - but I decided I absolutely had to try it.  So I went home one weekend to my parents' house and built myself a little wooden worm box with a hinged top.  I filled it up with newspaper strips and a bit of sand, just like I had read, and happily set it up in the corner of my apartment bedroom.  A day or two later, my worms came in the mail, and I plopped them into the box and left for classes for the day.

When I came home later that night, I was so excited to see how the worms had settled into their new, home-made worm box.  Would they already be eating some of the bedding I had put in there?  Or would they need some time to settle in?

Neither, it turns out.  I unlocked my bedroom door and walked into the bedroom to find the aftermath of a horrific worm apocalypse.  The worms had crawled up the sides of the wooden box, squeezed out through the crack between the top and sides of the box, and took off in a mass exodus across the carpet to seek greener pastures.  Worms had made it to varying distances across the room and under furniture, only to realize (in the words of Gob Bluth), "I've made a huge mistake."  They perished by the dozens, drying into the depths of my carpet as they passed into another realm.  

Like I said: horrific.

Were you expecting a photo of the worms dried into carpet?  Because I don't have one of those, and I don't care to recreate it, thankyouverymuch.

Were you expecting a photo of the worms dried into carpet?  Because I don't have one of those, and I don't care to recreate it, thankyouverymuch.

I abandoned my worm dreams for many years, until a few years ago when I owned a house and was older and wiser.  I bought an actual kit designed for worm composting (see? wiser.) and it was wildly successful PLUS tons of fun.  When we decided to sell the house and move cross-country, I took a big jar o' worms to re-establish the colony, only to find when we moved to Seattle that there was city-wide composting, and we had no place to set up worms in our small apartment.  So, I took another worm hiatus.

Again, no photos of the worms on a road trip, because seriously, who takes photos of a jar of worms?  So here is Pibber on said road trip.  The worms were under her seat in a jar covered in fabric to simulate being underground.

Again, no photos of the worms on a road trip, because seriously, who takes photos of a jar of worms?  So here is Pibber on said road trip.  The worms were under her seat in a jar covered in fabric to simulate being underground.

Cut to: NOW!  We own a house again, and you better believe I busted out the worm box and got it all set up, then promptly ordered a fresh batch of worms. They are now happily chugging away, which will be great for our new gardening opportunities.  In a few months, we should have some primo worm poop to feed our plants, and then feed us.  I mean with the plants, not the poop.  Circle of life, friends.  Circle of life.

Wormies, back in my life. 

Wormies, back in my life. 

Pibber still doesn't care.

Pibber still doesn't care.

Hugulkultur: Gardening with the Germans

Ok, so now we know: there's some (possibly mildly) bad stuff in the soil.  What's an urban farmer to do?

In my last post, I explained how we built up some raised planting areas with additional soil, and alluded to another permaculture solution we've been trying.  This is a really clever way of building up a healthy bed for planting, and I had never heard of it before - but after doing some research, it is really quite fascinating.  The method is called Hugulkultur, and if I remember correctly from my one semester of German in college, it is pronounced like "Hoogle culture," rhymes with "Google."  But I've also heard it more like "Hyoo-gle culture."  And actually, I'm not sure how much I remember from my one semester of German.

However you want to pronounce it, it's a rather ingenious system in theory.  Here's how it works:

1. Start with old, rotting logs laid out along the length of your new growing bed.  

2. Infill as tightly as possible with smaller and smaller logs, sticks, and then organics.

3. The top layer is usually made with sod, laid upside down - but we just used a layer of compost, soil, and straw, because... well, that's what we had.

The gang making a new Hugulkultur bed: lay down logs, infill with smaller branches, and add other greens and yard waste.

The gang making a new Hugulkultur bed: lay down logs, infill with smaller branches, and add other greens and yard waste.

Most of what I've read online suggests that these beds be upwards of five to six feet tall (!!!), but that seemed a bit excessive for us.  Ours are about a foot and a half tall for now.

You're probably wondering: why?  Why go through all this trouble of hauling giant pieces of wood and spending time layering and building up, when we had perfectly good soil that we could have just laid on the ground and planted into?  Excellent question, you smarty-pants.  

As the wood rots over the next few years, it will begin to break down and gradually release nutrients into the soil.  The nutrients mean that we hopefully won't need to supplement these beds with fertilizers or compost on a regular basis like we will for the other, non-German beds.  The slow breakdown also means that the beds are self-aerating, so we won't need to till the soil at the beginning of each season.

A fellow farmer layering some new soil and compost as a top layer on the Hugulkultur.

A fellow farmer layering some new soil and compost as a top layer on the Hugulkultur.

Another huge benefit is its water-retaining properties.  These systems are slowly catching on in very arid climates, because the combination of materials in the pile (especially in a five foot high pile) can retain water for weeks, slowly releasing it to the plant roots and sustaining the life above.  In terms of sustainability, this is great news - less water use, which in some areas of the country (see: California), is a Big Deal.  You're probably thinking, "but Jessie, you live in Seattle, where it rains all of the time always."  You have a point.  But the funny thing about the Pacific Northwest is that we have the ridiculously rainy season in the winter, and then a pretty dramatically dry season in the summer.  So the water retention potential of this system is a huge benefit even for us up here in sunny Seattle.

Final benefit: it's a fantastic way to use lawn clippings or trimmed parts of trees from your own lawn, keeping the nutrients ultra-local.  In fact, the wood we used came from a cherry tree from the house next door to the farm - that neighbor had cut down the tree about two years ago and it had already started to rot (cherry + already rotting = PERFECT for Hugulkultur!).  Then, I was walking to the local watering hole one afternoon and saw some gentlemen loading their truck with tree trimmings from some street trees a block away.  You'd better believe I called the troops and we swooped in and asked if we could have them. They were happy to oblige because it meant they didn't have to haul them miles away for chipping - bonus sustainability points: less gasoline used!  And to top it off, the apartment building across the alley from us mowed their big lawn last week and we were able to take their clippings for the pile.  Talk about ultra-local.

The many layers of a Hugul.

The many layers of a Hugul.

The great news is, even if you don't have your very own urban farm, there are ways to use this system on a smaller scale to have a raised bed or to avoid nasty soils.  I've even seen pictures online of people making tiny versions inside wood planter boxes.  If you are interested in learning more (I know you are), there are some great resources online that I would recommend checking out.  So pull on your liederhosen and get gardenin'!

What's Up in the Soil?

My good friends, I just want to say: I have heard your call.  I know what you have been wanting to hear.  And here it is: SOIL TEST RESULTS!

The good news is, our soil is not a toxic sludge of heavy metals and, I dunno, ectoplasm.

The bad news is, it's also not exactly healthy.  Especially for us hippie-dippie, organic-food eating types.

Our wonderful neighbor who works in a soil lab did some tests, specifically looking at arsenic and lead based on the history of the site (and the neighborhood).  The arsenic levels looked rather respectable, right around normal background levels for Washington state (~10 ppm).  That's right, there are normal background levels of poisons all around us, people.

The lead levels, however, were not so normal and not so background.  Typical background levels for lead apparently are ~20 ppm, and we were at about 160 to 190 ppm.  Yowza.  Now, before we all freak out about those quantities (for those of us who don't know anything about this stuff), my neighbor explained that the levels for unrestricted land use (i.e. building and developing land without worrying about cleaning up toxins) are about 250 ppm.  So our amounts of lead are nowhere near needing remediation, but you probably don't want to go eat a spoonful of it.

Based on these numbers, our plan was this: build up some beds using different strategies and plant all of our leafy greens and root vegetables in these raised beds or other structures.  In the future, we will continue to expand our raised beds to the rest of the site, but for now, it's apparently perfect fine and healthy to plant flowering vegetables directly in the soil, I guess because the toxins aren't directly contacting the fruits of the plants.  Or something.  Scientist-types, help me out here.

So here is our (actual) plan, sketched out by some of our farming buddy neighbors, who also happen to be architects and thus also get nerdy about this kind of thing.

Details:

  • Rows 2 through 4 were made with about 8" of new soil, delivered last week, layered on top of the existing soil. 
  • Row 6 is some cool potato-growing structures and a box for root veggies.
  • Rows 5 and 7 are a cool permaculture solution that I'll detail in an upcoming post.
  • Flowering veggies will be added in future Rows (I'm going to make an educated guess that they will be called "Row 8" and "Row 9.")

No idea what happened to Row 1.

Rows 2 through 5.  Row 5 is partially planted!  Bring on the veggies!

Rows 2 through 5.  Row 5 is partially planted!  Bring on the veggies!

Sorry it took so long to get this post up - we've been busy moving truckloads of soil around the site and getting things planted.  But now we know what our soil situation is, and as we all know, knowing is half the battle.

I have a hobby problem

Hi, everyone.  My name is Jessie, and.... I have too many hobbies.

[Hi, Jessie.]

There are a lot bigger problems in most peoples lives, and to be clear: I am not complaining.  I know how fortunate I am to have the time to have hobbies, especially because a few short years ago, I was working two jobs and taking professional exams and barely had time to maintain my relationship with my husband, much less time to, you know, do things.

The bad news is that I end up spending all my time doing the things, and run out of time to write about doing the things.  Hence, fewer blog posts.  But I've been doing such fun stuff lately, and want to share with all of you, so I'm going to make a real effort in the next few weeks to make it happen. Work deadlines? PSH.  Ultramarathon training?  No problem.  Entire house to unpack?  Fffffffuuu...

ONWARD AND UPWARD!

Here is a brief idea of the myriad things I have gotten myself into.  Some of these will be blog posts, and others are related activities that you probably will see mentioned briefly here and there, but which probably don't constitute full blog posts.

Fermentation

This is something I have dabbled with in the past, but now I have been doing some experiments, and it is so much fun.  I feel like a mad scientist, which is actually one of my dream jobs (that's a real job, right?).  I've pickled things in the past, and the hub now makes real, fermented sourdough bread (drool), but I'm diving into some more experiments head-first.  I may or may not get into some of these on the blog, but just know that if you come to visit my house, it will likely smell of vinegar and sourdough.

My SCOBY has a first name, it's "Sym-bi-o-tic." My SCOBY has a second name, it's "ColonyOfBacteriaAndYeast."  Catchy, right?

My SCOBY has a first name, it's "Sym-bi-o-tic." My SCOBY has a second name, it's "ColonyOfBacteriaAndYeast."  Catchy, right?

Gardening

So apparently having an entire farm takes up quite a bit of time.  We have been working when we can to build up some beds (spoiler alert: the results from the soil test were less than desirable).  But we have A PLAN!  And we're tackling this mamma jamma so that we can get some stuff planted.  Expect multiple updates on that.

Oh there will be an entire post on what's going on right here.

Oh there will be an entire post on what's going on right here.

Unpacking the house

This is not a hobby.  This is the opposite of a hobby.  I loathe unpacking, which is odd because I LOVE organizing.  It's the initial explosion before the organization that I think I dread.  We're getting there....... slowly......

Just kill me now.

Just kill me now.

Running

Oh yeah, and running.  Just completed my first 100k two weeks ago, and am signed up for quite a few more ultra-adventures this summer.  Fortunately this is my most favorite hobby, because it certainly eats up a huge chunk of time.  How does this relate to this blog?  Well, a lot of my solo trips out to the mountains turn into foraging adventures as I find things along trails.  Then I strap the foodstuffs into my pack and hope they don't fall out as I run back to the car (again).

Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

Being "Active" in the "Community"

Trail work parties and seeking out wacky beach creatures are super duper duper fun, so I volunteer to do these things.  It's really more for me than for the organization, so hey, win-win.  Volunteering with the aquarium has taught me a lot about historically edible creatures in Puget Sound, though the beaches are nature preserves and harvesting is not allowed.  But rules won't exist in the zombie apocalypse, and I'll know where to find the geoducks.

If you ever wonder where science fiction writers get their ideas from, go spend some time in the world's oceans.  Seriously, there is some weird shit down there.  This is a spaghetti worm.  Or possibly an alien from outer space.

If you ever wonder where science fiction writers get their ideas from, go spend some time in the world's oceans.  Seriously, there is some weird shit down there.  This is a spaghetti worm.  Or possibly an alien from outer space.

Foraging

As yes, urban foraging - so easy in a city like Seattle.  Don't worry, there's more to come on that, especially now that it's spring!

The blackberries... they're coooomiiiiinggg...

The blackberries... they're coooomiiiiinggg...

Alright, I think that just about covers it.  Other than, of course, having a marriage and friendships and keeping my dog and hermit crab alive and healthy.  And the whole "job" situation.  Not trivial things, those.

Crowd Sourcing Your Meat

This might come as a surprise to a few people, but despite how easy it is to forage and grow your own food, even in the big city, it is rather difficult to forage for a good steak.  It's only slightly easier to grow your own (I believe they call this "farming").  So what is a local-food-loving omnivore to do?

Granted, the hubby and I have drifted into and back out of vegetarianism for most of our collective lives, but I am, at this point, a full-fledged omnivore for a variety of reasons.  Maybe I'll get into that sometime, but this is not the post for it.  Really, this bit is to explain that the whole "buying meat" thing is rather new to us, especially buying meat that we feel ethically OK about.  The default for us was usually to shop at a higher-end grocery store that totes organic and chemical-free meats, but "antibiotic-free" does not necessarily equate to happy, healthy animals.

Cows raised in the shadow of Mount Rainier. (photo credit: Harlow Cattle Company).

Cows raised in the shadow of Mount Rainier. (photo credit: Harlow Cattle Company).

Enter a genius Seattle-based startup that crowd-funds a local cow for anyone interested in buying.  It's called Crowd Cow, and it is a shockingly simple and sustainable practice that I hope will continue, for so many reasons.  I'm guessing a quick Google search will find something similar in your area - and if not, GET ON THAT, because these people are blowing UP.

Crowd Cow joins forces with small, local farms that raise grass-fed beef cattle with no antibiotics or hormones.  When a cow reaches the proper point in its life, the farmer works directly through Crowd Cow to see if people are willing to buy the meat.  Almost every part of the cow is then auctioned off: all your standard cuts of meat, but also pieces like the heart (um... not this time, thanks), soup bones (got a few for the dog and for some soup!), and liver.  

May have gone a little overboard with this purchase.  MEAT!  ALL THE MEAT!

May have gone a little overboard with this purchase.  MEAT!  ALL THE MEAT!

Once the entire cow is claimed, only then does the cow go off to the slaughterhouse, where it is packaged, frozen, and promptly shipped straight to your door.  Along the way, you learn about the farmer and the cows providing the meat, and in the end the meat is a similar cost to that in the spendy grocery store because you're cutting out the middle man - but of course, this is some beef you can really feel good about.

Now, I'm a complete sucker for a good pun, so when I got the email saying that my cow had "tipped" (meaning enough people had purchased to make it happen) and I was now a "steak holder" (HAAAA!!), I was so super duper excited.  For the meat, yes, but also for the word play.  Steak holder.  God, that's clever.

As promised, a few days after our order we got an enormous box o' meat.  I suppose you might be seeing some recipes in the next few weeks that involve beef in some way...

hehe. Rump.

hehe. Rump.

So we are solidly back to eating meats (once you start buying beef, it's pretty clear where your intentions lie).  But at least we know that this was a happy cow, born and raised on the same farm, and never shipped across the country in the back of a sad truck.  They ate delicious grasses and were cared for by someone who actually gave a hoot about their well-being.  And in the end, they ended up in the homes of people who appreciate them and the work that their farmers are doing.

Am I trying to make myself feel better about eating meat regularly again?  Possibly.  But more importantly, I want everyone out there to know that there is a better option than our country's factory farms, and the more we support these local efforts, the better off everyone will be.  Especially the cows.

</end soapbox>

An Actual Urban Farm

I mentioned earlier that I was moving to a new house, meaning we wouldn't have our community garden plot anymore, but that we would have something (and I quote) "EVEN BETTER!"

Our new place has a super cool rooftop that will likely have a few plants, BUT it also has an even cooler opportunity: a neighbor in our (new, awesome) neighborhood purchased the plot of land next to her house a few years back and turned it into a small farm.  Since then, she has returned to working full time and doesn't have time to maintain it.  A few weeks ago, she asked a few of us if we'd like to help her farm and to reap the benefits collectively.  And the best part is: it's literally right up our alley!

Ummm... yes please?

IMAGINE!  An actual, completely urban farm, collectively sowed and tended by friendly neighbors, all learning along with each other.  What kind of hippie utopia have I stumbled into?!

Here's the full scoop: our neighbor Meredith is a landscape architect, and she and her husband purchased the piece of land in 2013.  At the time, there were several dilapidated buildings and quite a bit of garbage on the site, including over 40 tires and probably some other nastier things.  They demolished the buildings and filled the basement holes with fill, and the entire lot got a layer of topsoil and compost.

Unfortunately, the demo work was done pretty quickly and with a ramshackle crew, and Meredith was apprehensive about the quality of soil in the crop area.  There was a chance that the site infill was mixed with the topsoil, bringing some of the nasty chemicals into the food layers.  Prior to this summer, she had been doing all her gardening in straw bales, but in order to expand, we needed to get a better handle on what was going on here.

Beds to the far right show her previous use of straw bale gardening; to the left are two raised beds that are super interesting and deserve more time to talk about.

Beds to the far right show her previous use of straw bale gardening; to the left are two raised beds that are super interesting and deserve more time to talk about.

Cue: ANOTHER NEIGHBOR!  Seriously, people, this single block is basically self-sufficient in this world.  Another neighbor on our block WORKS IN A SOIL TESTING LAB.  Whaaaaaaaaaaaat!  She is going to run some tests for us to see if our soil is safe and healthy, and then we can make a plan for planting.  I'm getting giddy just thinking about it.

In the meantime, we've had a few work parties to get this baby up and running.  The last year was a very hectic year for Meredith, with a toddler and returning to work full-time, and she is very quick to point out that the plot of land has really gone rogue.  Here is what we have accomplished thus far:

Weeding

This should be a gravel patch and fire pit.  Not a weed garden.  Thanks to the valiant efforts of neighbors, it has returned to its proper state.

This should be a gravel patch and fire pit.  Not a weed garden.  Thanks to the valiant efforts of neighbors, it has returned to its proper state.

Spreading Wood Chips

The hub and I laid down cardboard and coffee bags to prevent weed growth, then covered it all with wood chips to re-define this path: wildflowers to the left, garden beds to the right.

The hub and I laid down cardboard and coffee bags to prevent weed growth, then covered it all with wood chips to re-define this path: wildflowers to the left, garden beds to the right.

Planting

And of course, we've purchased a few plant starters (and I'm donating mine that I started at home).  Soon it'll be time for some full-fledged planting and gardening.  Stay tuned for more updates from the farm on topics like: a potato tower! Chickens! Greyhounds? And what about that OTHER neighbor I haven't mentioned yet who is a freaking BEE KEEPER?! *swoon* I love this neighborhood. 

Early Garden Prep: Part I

I had a draft of this post all written up a few weeks ago, and then had to delete it and start all over.  See, I was planning on talking about my big plans for my community garden plot (climbing trellises! transplanted strawberries!), but as it turns out, we won't have that anymore now that we are moving.  Instead, we will have something EVEN BETTER!  But that's for another post. ;)

So for now, let's just talk about starting your own vegetable plants at home over the winter.  Regardless of your garden size, this is something everyone can do!

There are quite a few plants that you can get started in the winter.  Check your local growing calendars for exact dates, but usually the earliest plants you can start from seed in your home are:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Pepper
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

STEP 1: Purchase your seeds.

Part of this step includes being realistic about how much you are going to grow.  Do you have a few pots in your apartment?  A 100 square foot community garden plot?  A small farm?  It's easy to over-buy seeds and get excited about it.

A selection of my spring seeds.

A selection of my spring seeds.

STEP 2: Prep the baby plant world.

Seeds are a funny thing.  Sometimes when you read how to prep seeds for planting, you wonder how nature gets along without us.  In reality, it was really quite easy to get these things started, so don't be intimidated.  YOU CAN DO THIS!

For several months over the winter, I had been collecting egg cartons for this very purpose.  Egg cartons work great as plant starter pots with the added bonus that they are biodegradable, so if you wanted to, you could stick the whole dang thing in the ground.  I personally don't tend to do that, as I've found it takes way too long for the carton to break down in certain soils.  I just remove the plant when transplanting to the garden and compost the rest.  Do as ya like.

The best way to use the egg cartons is to poke drainage holes in the bottom of each egg nest for drainage.  Then, cut the top off the carton and put it under the bottom half to allow the water to seep out.  I then put this whole set up into a large plastic pan I got at a garden store - you could easily use something else.

Poke holes in the bottom to allow water to drain.

Poke holes in the bottom to allow water to drain.

Put the top under the bottom to allow proper drainage.

Put the top under the bottom to allow proper drainage.

STEP 3: Plant your seeds.

Fill the cartons about halfway with soil.  Place 2-3 seeds on top of this soil layer in each little nest (your seed packet will likely tell you how many to use for your specific vegetables).  Finally, cover with another thin layer of soil, then gently water.  While the seeds are germinating, they can be kept in a warm, dark place.  Only when they start to come up do they need sunlight.

Make sure you are keeping track of which seeds you put where - a lot of these plants will look very similar when they are small.  I made little flags with tape and toothpicks to keep track.

STEP 4: Wait.

Patiently.  But probably not for too long. 

I started these plant babies several weeks ago, and they are doing GREAT!  I'll post another update in a few days showing the progress.

Anyone else have suggestions for starting plants indoors over winter?  There are plenty of opinions on the internet, but this very simple and very straight-forward process has worked amazingly well for me so far.

Winter is... over? ish?

Oh hey there!  Remember me?  You might be wondering where I ran off to.  Truth be told, it has been a crazy winter.  

We've been house hunting in a completely out-of-control market, which eats up a shocking amount of time.  Also, holidays (need I say more?).  And finally (and most whiningly), it's been a very rainy winter - in fact, the wettest winter on record, even in notoriously rainy Seattle.  These things, combined with the severe lack of daylight, have made my window of pleasant and safe urban foraging somewhat narrow (hear the whining?). 

wtf Seattle. (source: seattleweatherblog.com)

wtf Seattle. (source: seattleweatherblog.com)

There are literally not enough hours in the day.

There are literally not enough hours in the day.

I like to think that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I could maybe find enough food to survive without having to resort to Twinkies as a mainstay of my diet.  But right now, in the non-zombie apocalypse, we have a lovely nearby grocery store that meets all my needs and allows me to stay warm and dry.  So for now, I prefer doing my foraging when there is daylight to keep the creeps away, and preferably when I'm not getting soaked to the bone.  Luckily, spring is rapidly approaching on the west coast - don't believe me?  Check this out:

Notice that everything is soaking wet, because - you got it - it was raining.

Notice that everything is soaking wet, because - you got it - it was raining.

Whaaaaat!  It's only the end of February.  How exciting. 

So what the heck have I been doing this winter?  Running quite a bit.  Eating a lot.  But I've also been doing boatloads of planning, prepping, and studying for the upcoming spring and summer - the best seasons for foraging and gardening!!  It's gonna be a great 2016!

To start, check out this super amazeballs homemade birthday gift I got from the hubby:

I also got a brand-spankin' new camera that I've been testing out, which should really up the ante on my photo quality.  And for my cooking, I got a sweet new apron from my sister for Christmas from a free trade organization.  Let the cooking begin!

Lastly, I had a blog post all prepped talking about my plans for our community garden plot for this summer, but instead: BIG NEWS!  We bought a house.  This means the following: we won't be using the community garden plot anymore (womp womp).  But I can make my own garden on our rooftop, which is going to ROCK (yayyyy!).  So you'll just have to wait on an update on that situation, because we are in the process of moving at this very moment.

Bring it on, 2016!

A soggy trail and the sun peeking out between the clouds and the mountaintops.  I suppose winter in Seattle isn't all bad.

A soggy trail and the sun peeking out between the clouds and the mountaintops.  I suppose winter in Seattle isn't all bad.

Blackberry Muffins on a wintery day

Sometimes when the weather outside looks like this:

a.k.a. Seattle, October through June

a.k.a. Seattle, October through June

You just wanna be like:

I feel ya, girl.

I feel ya, girl.

But sometimes, before you curl up to hibernate, you want some muffins.  Fortunately, if you keep a well-stocked pantry, you should be able to make these without having to go out to the store, which made it the perfect recipe for a rainy, junky evening!

I am a fan of almost all type of muffins, but these were made with some foraged Himalayan blackberries: big, fat, juicy, and massively invasive.  So invasive here, in fact, that there are local goat farmers that will bring their herd to your land to eat this weed, since goats are almost one of the only surefire ways to get rid of the beastly vines, which grow up to 30 FEET PER YEAR.

With most local berries, it's good foraging etiquette to leave some on the branch for animals, or for the plant to reproduce, or maybe even for other foragers.  But when it comes to Himalayan blackberries, everyone agrees: EAT THEM. EAT THEM ALL.

I SHALL VANQUISH THEE, YE SPINY DEVILS!

I SHALL VANQUISH THEE, YE SPINY DEVILS!

You might be confused: it is winter, after all - there aren't any berries right now.  You are correct, my astute readers!  This summer, at the height of blackberry season, we went out and collected buckets of the things.  I was not terribly prepared for this impromptu outing, and wore shorts and a t-shirt and sandals.  Now I know that a more appropriate outfit would include leather chaps, chain mail, welding gloves, and steel-toed boots.  I got absolutely TRASHED by the stupid spiky thorns.  Lesson learned.

Anyway, we collected so many berries that we knew we would never be able to eat them all fresh.  Berries are the perfect freezing food, though, so we laid them out on baking sheets and put them in the freezer.  After a few hours, they were frozen individually, and we transferred them to bags en masse.  Now they are super easy to grab for smoothies, baking, or plopping into a drink.  Tonight, it's all about the baking.

If frozen individually, the berries are easy to measure and scoop.  If you instead put them all into a bag and toss them in the freezer, they will all freeze together in an impossible giant chunk that will be useless to you.

If frozen individually, the berries are easy to measure and scoop.  If you instead put them all into a bag and toss them in the freezer, they will all freeze together in an impossible giant chunk that will be useless to you.

Blackberry Muffins

Recipe Type: Baking | Author: Edible Terrain
Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Yield: 12 muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup milk (of your choice)
  • 1/4 cup oil (I used olive)
  • 1 cup berries (in this case, frozen blackberries)
  1. Preheat oven to 400.  Grease just the sides of a muffin tin, or use cupcake papers.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl until well-mixed.
  3. In a small bowl, combine wet ingredients until well mixed.  Add this to the dry mixture all at once.
  4. Stir until all ingredients are well blended, but no more.
  5. Fold in berries until evenly distributed.
  6. Drop the batter into the prepared muffin tin.
  7. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
So puffy!!

So puffy!!

These muffins also freeze well, just like the berries themselves!  Just freeze them separately on a sheet, and once they are frozen individually, transfer a freezer bag for longer-term storage.  Take them out the night before to defrost, or just pop 'em in the microwave. 

Enjoy, and stay dry/warm out there!

First Frost and Rosehip Syrup

The first frost has FINALLY come and gone here in Seattle, so the gardener in me is a little tiny bit sad because it means a slowed-down growing season has begun. 

Snow on the mountains, frost in the city.  Another lovely day for urban foraging!

Snow on the mountains, frost in the city.  Another lovely day for urban foraging!

On the flip side, the forager in me is SUPER DUPER EXCITED because there are plenty of plants that are best to harvest in the late fall and into winter, precisely because of the frost.  When certain plants sense that winter is on the way, they produce a ton of sugar in their fruit; then, us animals swoop in and eat them up, gaining all the sugars for ourselves.  SCORE!

One great example of this is rosehips.  Seattle has roses planted all over the damn place.  Seriously, most public parks have roses - they obviously have no trouble thriving in this climate, and probably require very little maintenance here.  This is lucky for us, because rosehips are awesome.

Rosehips mere days after the first frost of the season.

Rosehips mere days after the first frost of the season.

These guys are fairly beefy specimens. 

These guys are fairly beefy specimens. 

As I mentioned previously, roses themselves are edible.  But once the petals fall off, the plants develop little fruits, which are quite delectable little sweeties once the frost has kicked their sugar-making into high gear.

So after the first frost, I happily tromped my way over to where I knew I could find a big batch of rosehips and harvested away!  Now, it should go without saying that you need to take certain precautions.  We're talking about rose bushes here, complete with nasty thorns and thick brambles that snag you and never let you go, dragging you down into their brambly underbellies to rot away and serve as their fertilizer.  BUT - with proper gathering gear and precautions, you should be able to easily take in an awesome haul.

The haul! (Ok, it's a small haul.  I didn't really need buckets of them.)

The haul! (Ok, it's a small haul.  I didn't really need buckets of them.)

There are quite a few things you can do with rose hips, like making teas and various types of jams and marmalade.  One great health benny is that they are crazy high in Vitamin C.  We're talking OVER FIVE TIMES MORE Vitamin C than an orange!  So make some stuff with rosehips and eat it all winter long to stay healthy. And if you make the syrup recipe below, you won't even have to force yourself to eat all of its sugary goodness in order to get those vitamins.  Besides, it's time to put on that winter hibernation weight, right?

A quick note: there are tiny little hairs on the seeds inside the fruit - whatever you decide to do with them, make sure you strain them well to remove those little bastards.  They can be an irritant to human intestines (though oddly, not the intestines of other animals).

Watch out for the hairy seeds.  Can't see them?  Look closer.... closerrrrr... AGHHH!

Watch out for the hairy seeds.  Can't see them?  Look closer.... closerrrrr... AGHHH!

Ok, to the recipe.  When collecting rosehips, look for the ones that pull off the stems somewhat easily.  Any hips that have started to shrivel and are a deep red are overripe - best to leave those for the birds and bees and for future harvests (they will fall and seed even more plants).  The ripest rosehips are usually a sort or red to red-orange.  The lighter orange ones are not ripe yet, and will result in a vigorous tug-o-war and less tasty hips.

Rosehip Syrup

Recipe Type: Sauce | Author: Edible Terrain
Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time:  55 minutes | Yield:  4 oz. syrup

  • 2 cups rosehips, whole
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  1. Roughly chop rosehips in a food processor.
  2. Bring rosehips and water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Strain mixture through a double layer of muslin into a bowl.  Let the pulp sit for at least 30 minutes to make sure all juices get through.
  4. Rinse the muslin well, then strain the mixture one more time through the double layer of muslin.  This ensures that all tiny seed hairs are caught.
  5. Pour liquid into a clean saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add sugar, stir well, and boil 5 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved and syrup has thickened.
  6. Pour into sterilized jar and seal jar.  Allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator.
Straining after the boil.

Straining after the boil.

mmmm.... sugar.....

mmmm.... sugar.....

Tasty, sweet, vitamin-filled syrupy goodness.

Tasty, sweet, vitamin-filled syrupy goodness.

Use this like any other flavored syrup!  Pour on pancakes, waffles, ice creams, make mixed drinks, pour into carbonated water for a homemade soda, use to flavor and sweeten tea, or anything else you can think of.  Let me know in the comments if you come up with other ideas for using it!

Old Bay Fried Green Tomatoes

Here's a fun fact for you all: my dad is a tomato expert.  No, literally.  That was his job.  For 40 years.

Growing up in the household of a tomato expert, you come to learn a bit about tomatoes.  Among other things, my sister and I became very familiar with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, a wonderful little movie we watched over and over on our Beta player (which my dad still has, and which still works in the year 2015.  He is a man of many talents.)

The last harvest of the year.

The last harvest of the year.

You may think it somewhat astonishing in the home of a tomato expert that we never, ever ate fried green tomatoes.  I think part of that had to do with the fact that my mom and dad are from the Midwest, and fried green tomatoes are more of a Southern thang.  Despite the fact that we were raised in what is technically considered to be "the south," I did not eat these little delicacies until I was in college and spent a summer working in Appalachia.  Let me tell you something: fried green tomatoes are delish - IF you cook them right.

As I was winterizing my garden, I found some last little tomatoes hanging on for dear life.  The plants were clearly on their last leg, so I picked the green tomatoes and took them home to experiment.  More specifically, I wanted to try to make fried green tomatoes.  And also wanted to play with them and pretend they were from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, attacking my unsuspecting dog.  We have fun.

THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU!!  RUN, PIBBER, RUNNNN!!!  no, stop that.  stop smelling them.  BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID!

THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU!!  RUN, PIBBER, RUNNNN!!!  no, stop that.  stop smelling them.  BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID!

I am not usually a huge fan of most fried items because they get really greasy and make me feel not so great.  I am, however, a big fan of baking things that are supposed to be fried, so I tested out baking the tomatoes instead.  Also, I wanted to add some spice to them to be more like some fried green tomatoes I had recently at a New Orleans-style restaurant.  Being from Maryland, I of course turned to my trusty secret weapon: OLD BAY!  If you don't have Old Bay, go buy some immediately.  Just kidding.  Use another spice combo to your liking. (But seriously, you should go buy some Old Bay).

Old Bay Fried Green Tomatoes

Recipe Type: Side Dish | Author: Edible Terrain
Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 medium green tomatoes, cut into 1/4" slices (see note below about ripeness)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of tomato slices liberally with salt, and then with pepper.
  3. In a small bowl, mix bread crumbs and Old Bay.
  4. Dip tomatoes into bread crumb mixture on both sides to coat with the crumbs.
  5. Sprinkle olive oil on each side of the tomatoes and place on a baking sheet.
  6. Bake 10 minutes.  Then flip tomato slices and bake another 10 minutes.
  7. Serve hot.
Coating with Panko and Old Bay.

Coating with Panko and Old Bay.

Final product - some of the best morsels.

Final product - some of the best morsels.

Now, time for my SUPER IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED:

You can see in some of the photos that I used quite a variety of green tomatoes - different varieties, and also different ages and ripeness/greenness.  I learned that if you pick very immature (i.e. small, not full-grown) tomatoes and try to eat those as green tomatoes, they will be extremely bitter and will not taste good.  Not only will they not taste good, but they will destroy your taste buds for the rest of the day and ruin anything else you try to eat.  Yeah, they are that bad.  The best ones that turned out for me were the ones that were clearly full-sized, but had not ripened to red yet.

So what to do with those little green guys that don't work well in green tomato recipes?  An old friend mentioned that they would ripen if I kept them on the counter, and in fact, the ones I didn't cook up have done just that.  So if you don't have a hunkerin' for green tomatoes, just give them some time, and they will be regular tomatoes.  Thank you Chris for this tip!

Tomatoes turning from green to red RIGHT BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES.

Tomatoes turning from green to red RIGHT BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES.