Thursday, April 30, 2009

Martha's vineyard greens salad

From the violets up top around clockwise:

  • violets and their leaves
  • wild mint
  • dandelion leaves
  • wild carrot
  • cleavers
  • narrow leaf plantain
  • curly dock
  • j-weed
  • orpine aka sedum aka live-forever aka frogbellies

For the salad, I cooked the carrots, steamed half the dandelion leaves, the cleavers, the plantains, the dock, and the j-weed. Then cooled it, and added the rest of the greens raw, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was yummy. It's satisfying when the land can look pretty barren but still yield such a good variety of eats. Going foraging with Lindsey Lee, author of Edible Wild Plants of Martha's Vineyard, tomorrow. If you're on the vineyard at this time, you can also be tantalized by the serviceberry trees blooming in the meadows and the autumn olive leaves coming out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"I'm hungry but I don't want to eat plants."

I stopped at my brother's in Hanover to pick up his bicycle for my trip to the vineyard. Instead, I got my nephew Sam. We really tore it up for the couple days he was here with my mother and me too. Up at 6 am, in bed at 7 pm, and for those 13 hours, non-stop action.

Some highlights:

Feeding the horses using our flat palms (dandelions, violets, and dock).

Picking dandelions for dandy bread, and making it. And eating it. Sam didn't want to have jam on his because I wasn't and my mother wasn't, but then he tasted it: "I want jam on mine."

Sam and I took a bike ride along a nice easy bike path. Every time we went downhill he'd say, "Oh no I can't look I can't look," but I'd look back and he'd be looking. I guess he just likes to say that. I saw an old beat up car in the woods so we stopped to check it out and take a pee break, and then he piped up with "Hey...pea and pee is the same word." We have been talking a bit about peas lately since we planted some at his house and the beach pea plants are out too. No pictures of all this sam fun because my camera out of juice right when I opened it first day here. So I just fired up my webcam to snap me and Henry.

We did some good monkey swinging from the twisty tree in Cedar Neck Sanctuary. At some point when he got hungry, I think this was back by the horses, he came out with the soon to be classic: "I'm hungry but I don't want to eat plants." I'm not discouraged, he'll make a good forager. He helped my scrub in the ocean the evening primrose roots we found in Biddy's yard.

Whiffle ball and 'ping pen' and harmonica playing and lego building were our at home fun time activities. Like I said, we packed in the days really well. When 7 pm rolled around each day, I felt a certain sense of accomplishment, not to mention quite a sense of fatigue too.

Now we have Henry with us, but he's all Lorena's job basically, and he's doing just fine. We just got back from a walk around the woods here and found enough wintergreen berries to actually make it worthwhile to collect them. I've also sucked it up and just been making strawberry Japanese knotweed crisp. Although I'm still searching for the best savory preparation, I want to hook people in to wild plants, so I'm selling out and making the crisp. And, we were actually able to 'forage' the strawberries yesterday -- as we were leaving Stop and Shop, I noticed in the trash a big container of strawberries with one moldy one on top. I paused, looked around and snatched it. True foraged Japanese knotweed strawberry crisp.

Here's me, webcam: .

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Art night

Finally did a painting last night at art night, haven't done one in weeks. Grabbed some knotweed and a dandelion (entire plant, with root) and painted them. I like the idea of painting from the real objects in front of me, but I think they always come out worse than when I work from photos, and I think that's because with a photo I don't feel rushed, and I guess it's also easier from photos because everything is already flattened onto 2D for me. Anyhow, when I was doing this painting I was thinking about japanese ink paintings, which I know almost nothing about but I totally love. Read this blog for more, by a local writer. But, alas, I can't do it. My friend Valeria took a photo of my little watercolor last night, from her iPhone, mailed it to me, this morning I threw it through an oil filter using gimp, and voila, kind of nice. Japanese/watercolor/iPhone/oil/tech painting of knotweed and dandelion root and greens.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Knotweed, the movie

Thanks to Rob House for filming and editing this.

I'm going to try something like knotweed thyme soup soon, and also I want to try frying them. Think fried artichokes. I also ate some with peanut butter last night. Other than the fact that I gobbled up way too much peanut butter in a short amount of time, causing me to be swallowing for the next 20 minutes or so, it was pretty good. I've also been cutting up raw pieces and adding them to any hot savory dish and they work well there as little bursts of lemony crunch.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Island #2

Last week I went to the Cambridge department of public works for some free compost. They had a mountain of the stuff. The former City Arborist happened to be there, so I took the chance to let him know I was a forager and see if he had any cool trees that I should know about. He hooked me up big time. A couple female ginkos on Church St, some june berries in Inman Square, a Kousa dogwood over by the library. That info was worth more to me than the free compost, but I'm pretty excited about both.

Today, Brian and Sarah E and I hit the minuteman trail to harvest some knotweed. It was pretty fun to barrel through the old stalks, they crunch away pretty easily and create quite a ruckus. Brian and I are both pretty scraped up as a result but it was fun. We had to get a bunch of knotweed for the competition we are hosting here tomorrow. It looks like we'll have about 12 contestants or so, so it should be pretty fun, and funny.

The other night I ate a nice meal of nettles and knotweed that grabbed in the Fens. here it is. I've decided that when people say, Hmm, that's pretty good, all it really means is that I can cook pretty well. These vegetables, like all vegetables, are all about how they are prepared. There's very few magic vegetables that are just good no matter what you do with them. Sweet corn, garden tomatoes, they come to mind. For everything else, add some olive oil and garlic and salt and fry it up fast, and you probably have a hit.

I'm still hoping that Cambridge Tab covers me, they called me and chatted for a while yesterday about my knotweed cookoff, but I haven't seen anything yet. But I sent them some nice pics, and if they don't publish them there, well, at least they are going up here.

I finally convinced myself that all the marsh marigold I have been seeing is in fact marsh marigold. I cooked it up last night, 3 changes of water boiled for a total of 30 minutes to get rid of all the toxins. And sure enough, totally tasteless after that. And then Noah asked me a perfectly reasonable question: after all that boiling, is there any nutritional value left? Well, I guess what i should have answered is, imagine you were on an island with either 1) only water or 2) water an marsh marigolds. I'm sure you'd live a lot longer on island number 2. Still, I see his point. And to roughly quote Sam Thayer, "The problem with marsh marigold is, they inherently taste bad." Pretty funny coming from a great foraging book. So why include it in the book? Because it's an old standby for New England foragers and it's one of the first greens aplenty to come up in Spring. It really tastes like nothing though, and I doubt I'll grab much more of it.

I've probably blogged about this before, but I have to vent a little more. it drives me absolutely buts that no one asks me what the heck I'm doing out there when I am digging up and plucking wild plants. I mean, we were crashing through knotweed stands today and no one asked a single question. PEOPLE!!! Finally Sarah E got some people to ask me questions which made me infinitely happy. She later told me she prompted them discretely, but whatever, once they started talking they asked more questions and were excited to learn.

Since I knew I'd be around for a straight month or so with no trips, I decided to finally undertake sourdough; I started a couple weeks ago. 6 days to make the barm, aka the mother starter.
I've had a little success with the actually bread, but nothing to write home about (although, evidently enough to blog about...). Basically, it's a huge pain in the ass and I'm going to probably leave it for the San Franciscans. The picture here makes it look better than it actually came out. Well, truth be told, it has been some of the best bread I've ever made, but not 8 days of effort good. After spending 8 days, the stuff oughtta taste like bacon wrapped scallops. Plus, I ended up using some active yeast for the final rise since it wasn't moving with the wild yeast that should've been naturally in there. It tasted somewhat sour.

On Easter, my brother Jay and I took 3 of his 4 kids on a great walk through the woods of west Hanover. Here you seem them all happy and fun. What you don't see is 30 minutes from that shot, when they are all complaining: how far, when do we get home, I'm hungry, I'm tired. Meanwhile, Jay and I are having a blast because we stumble across the old West Hanover graveyard, home to all the dead bodies of the 1860s of West Hanover. And the kids were alright once we came out of the woods and got them candy at the liquor store. It was Easter afternoon, but apparently they hadn't had enough candy yet. I had potato chips. I can never have enough of them.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Things in the Fens

Turns out the Fens has more than just community gardens and homosexuals in the reeds. It also hosts a good deal of stinging nettle, some evening primrose, a turtle in one of the ponds, and I'm pretty sure some marsh marigold which I will have to return to soon and verify, because that one will be a new one for me. It is a little strange though to harvest these plants from the Fens when there's very likely a used condom three feet away. Such is urban foraging.

I'm adept at getting nettle without needing my nettle gloves now. I'm a little slower at it, but I think that's fine, there's no rush. made a nice pesto last night of galric mustard weed, dandelion greens, spring onions, primrose roots, garlic, evoo, salt, etc. Threw it on a past with Andrew and crew, it was great. And a side dish of nettles with some very early japanese knotweed shoots. So small it's ridiculous to be harvesting them already, since in two weeks they'll be everywhere and crazy. But, you have to ease people into them, after all. They need a better name. I'm going to post a contest online I think for best vegan j-weed preparation. Should get a little stir in the community going. If it goes well, will do it for other local forageables.

Linden leaves will be out for the munching soon. Annie at the gallery brought in a branch of linden, which has sprouted it's yummy leaves earlier by being inside in the warm gallery. Gallery nibbles.

Friday, April 3, 2009


When you live in Cambridgeport and you like to forage - the Charles River is the best place for a little fix after work or something. On Wednesday, art night, which has sort of turned into music night with me, brian, rob and dan rehearsing old folk and soul numbers, brian decided we'd go with ethiopian food.
We did, but it was Ethiopian food with a side of evening primrose roots and wild onions (with berbere, of course).

The roots are starchy parsnip looking vegetables with a spicy taste but they're one of those foraging items that makes you proud to be a forager because they are so hearty and cool and unseen. Last year when I started foraging, the books said the evening primrose was one of the first edibles available, but I had no idea how to find it. I mean, they say it's everywhere, but is it really. One thing I've learned over the past year is, when they say that something is found everywhere, it really is. Seeds fly and go everywhere, and in habitats that are conducive to their growth, you will find them. The other thing I've learned is, walk, no cycling, you'll miss the basal rosettes, you'll miss the early nettles (which I saw the other day too - but am holding off until they get a little more substantial).