Wednesday, March 31, 2010

7 apples, 2 bagels, ...

OK folks, the report of the first few dumpster dives is in. Summary: full success.

But first, some back story.

When I first started out foraging, I worried a little bit that as I learned all the edible plants around, I would have to always stop to eat them because otherwise I would be "wasting" free food. Fortunately, I have calmed down and can pass over curly dock without halting every time I see it (although not this morning on the way to work - the first dry day in a while so lots of new growth to observe).

But what about the fine food thrown out by supermarkets, bakeries, etc every day that is slightly past due. How can I let that go? I get so fumed about the food waste all around, and it didn't help that the other day in the book store I saw [and bought] a book called Waste - uncovering the global food scandal. I've only read a few pages, but one pertinent conclusion is that in the U.S., ABOUT HALF of all food that gts produced gets thrown away. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

OK, so my small part for now is going to be the occasional dumpster dive. In the past week I've hit a few. The tally: 7 excellent golden delicious apples, 3 organic pears, 2 bagels, a cinnamon raisin breadstick, a bread bowl, a chicken caesar salad, and a high end ball of mozzarella cheese. This is crazy. This is three dumpster visits. It would be basically trivial to supply all your food needs this way. So anyhow, I'm a little worried an addiction will set in, but fortunately summer is coming - more plants and less 'still fresh' dumpster food to grab.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Nettle heaven

The bussey brook meadow section of the Arnold Arboretum has so many nettles that I have no problem blogging about this specific location in this instance. If everyone I knew went there to get nettled, I think the nettle population would be just fine. I gathered a bunch yesterday, and in walking around I discovered that I love that place even more than I had before. Milkweed, sumac, grapes, thistle, burdock, cattails, apple trees, goutweed. Good heavens. Even munched on some early violet greens popping up, very good when young.

But my next delivery to Didi Emmons will be curly dock, which I found a stretch of a little westward on the Charles. 3 days of rain coming up though, according to google.

I tried doing some apple tree grafting yesterday. I tried the bark graft, the inlay bark graft, and the whip graft. If any of those grafts actually work, I'll be amazed, and psyched.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cambridge public maple

Took a bike ride up the Charles in Watertown yesterday. I've been finding a lot of cleavers. They are not anything special but they are easy to ID - square stems, whorls of leaves, grow in bunches, and tiny prickly hairs all over them - and they are fine in soups. Harvested two big oysters from my espresso oyster bucket and combined them with some buttons, and some last year's chickens, hens, and honeys, for a fine mushroom soup with wild greens and black beans. Botts enjoyed it, so I must be getting better at getting people to eat my foraged food.

Unfortunately, I am still allergic to daylilies. I harvested a bunch and ate them in Hanover the other day, then spent the night feverishly - literally - trying to process them. I hate to let an abundant wild food go, but I might have to let these guys go. Who am I kidding, I'll keep trying to develop an immunity. Chinese people dry the flowers, I'll try that. Anyone know about developing immunities to allergic foods in general? Probably not possible, otherwise people would have stopped squawking about peanut and everything else allergies.

Apollo Sunshine played a nice show at the gallery yesterday. It was acoustic, different from this link.

And, finally, an update on the maple tapping that I promised. I tapped 4 trees, 3 of them did nothing, 1 of them produced big time. The first gallon was swiped by someone, including the metal tap, but I persisted and got a couple gallons of sap. I boiled it down just enough to make a sweet liquid and this gives me one large ball jar of maple-liquid. Since I put it in oatmeal anyhow, to which I add water, no need to waste the natural gas to bring it all the way down to a syrup. So, Cambridge public maple is possible.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Haiti and a new season of foraging

Last week I took a trip with to Haiti and was part of the construction team. Headed up by lama (turns out his real name is Lamarre, but lama is much funnier), we worked on a stone wall surrounding the clinic, and headed up by Osnell, we started a new pid (partners in development) house. Partners in Development, out of Ipswich MA, builds and runs health clinics, builds houses for people without them, and gives interest free loans to help people get their businesses going, in Guatemala and Haiti. After the earthquake, pid's role in Haiti increased a lot and they started sending down new loads of fresh blood, which is how I came to go down.

My camera broke on the second day there, sometime after I took some pictures of a church service in a makeshift church (a tarp and some benches) and then let a bunch of little ones see the pictures on my camera. I think they got their little fingertips right in the lens cover and poof, there goes that camera. Right away when I got home I bought a new one since it is foraging season again and I have to be good about photographs for the book. Anyhow, here are my favorites from the teams pictures:

The scene in Haiti was rough but sometimes felt a little hopeful, and this feeling of hope has everything to do with the fact that the kids are so fun and friendly and the adults aren't too bad either. After a couple of days hauling rocks and concrete in the worst wheelbarrows ever made, the Haitian construction crew (lama, osnell, alexson, ..) and the whites (me, joe, joe, steve, and dave) started to mix it up a little and we had a lot of laughs, especially given our lack of ability to communicate much more than MORCHE (translation: give me another shovel-full of cement) and WASH (give me another rock). The biggest laughs the entire construction crew had all week was when lama and alexson would start yelling for more morche and joe lee and I would go like crazy - ripping shirts off, attempting to lift the whole wheelbarrow full - trying to get them their morche. Those guys work HARD. Everyday back in Boston I'm sitting, like I am now, at my desk at MGH, nibbling on some veggies, and they are out in the sun adn the rain putting rocks together to make walls. Yikes.

Another good laugh was when I borrowed Dave's camera to photograph the well-diggers and the meanest looking one just at me like: who you taking a picture of. The Haitian onlookers thought it was bold of me I guess, anyhow, all in good fun.

My nickname on the trip - I didn't feel like telling the team that I already had a nickname -- big daddy -- became Mango because early on I grabbed one from a tree and ate it even though it wasn't at all ripe. The next day a cute little 8 year old girl brought be a mango, which I gladly took, rubbed it with hand sanitizer to keep my teammates happy, and ate. These kids have next to nothing but they brought me a mango, and the next day 3 more, and the final day Darlene, a girl who takes care of her sick mother, they live in a tent right near the clinic, brought me 3 too. I sucked down two on the plane but the other one didn't make it through customs in Miami. Then there was Martha, who tried to bring home four of the hugest yams I've ever seen and got completely stuffed at customs. There are a million little stories like this from the one week away.

One day I pointed up to a coconut tree and said COCO and about 15 minutes later Serge, of the all black turtle neck - likely his only shirt (I gave him my fort point open studios shirt, now he's got two) - comes back with about 6 of them, and all the workers take a break and suck them down. No hand sanitizer this time (because I don't know how to say in Creole - "ahh hold on guys let me just wipe down that machete blade with some cleaning alcohol..."). We were all fine and the coconut juice and slime inside hit the spot. Other foraging down there: when the sugar cane truck would pass by they would throw a couple of stalks to the kids who would run up to it, and those kids would then bring their haul back and share it with us. I was wondering if you eat sugar cane that counts as a whole food...

I saw some purslane too, but like everything else there, it was trampled on and covered in dust so I let it go. Man, I see purslane everywhere I travel, I love that stuff. Oh yeah, and almonds. Day one I tried to get something going right away with one of the kids, turned out to be one of our favorite, Pabush. Anyhow, without much by way of equipment, we started playing catch the almond, as there was an almond tree right in the clinic, a nice touch. I gestured..can you eat these, and sure enough you can so down they went. The almond nut we know is covered by a juicy red pulp which is pretty good, but a little stringy and difficult to deal with which is why we never see it. Speaking of which, whoever invents a non-stringy mango gets a pat on the back from me.

It was an emotional time, and given that I was often physically exhausted (roosters in Haiti get up and start squawking at 1 am, and dogs are always up, and then there are many other weird sounds too, it's a symphony all night long), I almost came to tears a few times, which is weird for me. The combination of the desperate situation (few jobs, tons of destruction, everyone living in tents, some of which are just sheets that can't keep out the rain, some living on the streets directly and thus unable to sleep whenever there is traffic) with the great attitidues for the most part of the Haitians, the generosity, the smiles, the effort, ugh, it just kills you. Samuel Joseph and I played opposites all week, where I would say a word and he'd have to come up with the opposite. He loved getting them right, and he almost always did, and then he would always spell it for me, and always like this: "short, like, s-h-o-r-t". Anyhow, a guy like that, he's trying so hard and is a good guy, and he might never get much past where he is now because there are so few opportunities there. And yet when I say coconut, they bring 6 of them over pronto. Emotional rollercoaster. We would unwind at night with a beer or some rum, and some bananagrams. I was usually too tired to try to get any yoga going.

Flew back through NYC, and it was great to unwind with Brian that night at Union Hall, a cool bar in Brooklyn (imagine that), and then hit the foraging tour with wildman steve brill the next day in prospect park on Sunday. Best finds were ginko nuts with the rancid smelling pulp all washed off from the winter snows, and goutweed, which was a new plant for me. Brill got excited when I pointed out a thistle. He dug it up. I gotta start carrying my trowel again now. I saw one the other day in the Arboretum but was not ready for it.

In cambridge, foraging is off to a slow start. I've just been picking some field garlic from the riverside, but I haven't really gone looking for much else yet. Oh wait, I DID tap the maple trees in my neighborhood and although I thought I was too late, one of the trees gave me a half gallon of sap (which will of course make about a quarter cup of syrup). Hopefully the gallon container hasn't fallen yet. Will boil it down tomorrow. Also finally got around to breaking open my black walnuts that have been in my fridge all winter. Got, what a job...almost as bad as acorns. Luckily, they taste a lot better than acorns and I've already eaten them all. Next thing to by, a Davebilt nutcracker.

The book is almost ready, watch for it in stores (even if I have to drop a bunch on the counter, I'll get those things in the local bookstores).