Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Adventures in Foraging: Red Elderberries

I've been really interested in learning more about our local plants and their uses, especially to better prepare myself for my upcoming permaculture design course (which is only about 3 weeks away at this point!)  About a month ago, Joe and I found a fun new trail, the Lime Kiln Trail, only about 45 minutes away from us in Granite Falls.  We had a great time honing our plant identification skills that day, and much to our delight, we realized that a huge number of the plants along this easy, variable, and scenic path are edible!  Or at least not poisonous.  We had a great old time snacking on salmonberries and picking out other plants that would be offering up other edibles later in the season.

One thing we noticed a lot of were elderberry trees.  Now, elderberries come in three varieties in our area: blue, black, and red.  Blue elderberries are edible raw and apparently tasty in wines, preserves, etc.  From what I can tell, black elderberries are the most commonly used variety as a medicinal in syrups, teas, and tinctures, but they need to be processed before use, and I'll want to do more research before using them for anything.  Note: leaves, bark, roots, and wood of all elderberries are poisonous.

This past weekend, the third type, the red elderberries, were in full production.  Check out the gorgeous bunches of berries here!  Can you not see why we were tempted to gather them all to ourselves?  The bright contrast of red against green convinced me there was no way that these things couldn't be delicious.

Our berry book says about red elderberries that "once cooked, they can be made into a variety of preserves," which led me to believe that it was a pretty normal thing to do.  However, after we got home, a quick google search resulted in almost no results!  I guess we're kind of on the fringes here.

One resource that I've found really fun to explore is Wild Harvest, a really informative blog written by a local ethnobotanist.  Luckily for me, they've already done a bit of experimenting with red elderberries.  Apparently local native tribes did eat them, but not as a first choice.  They'd stew them for an extended period, remove the numerous tiny seeds because they contain hydrocyanic acid (!!!), and mix them with other, better-tasting berries before making them into cakes to store for the winter.

The people at Wild Harvest decided to go the traditional route and make fruit leather from their puree after adding sugar.  However, since the berries smell a bit like tomatoes with a strong, slightly "off" aftertaste (Wild Harvest diplomatically calls it "pungent"), we decided to improvise with an idea suggested by a commenter on that page: using red elderberries as a tomato substitute in marinara sauce!

As a result of the tomato debacle of  '13, I've learned that tomatoes are just not a crop that grows without a lot of effort and care west of the Cascades.  I would really welcome a local, easily cultivated or foraged crop to fill the Italian food vacuum we've been suffering through.  Sadly, I don't know if elderberries are the solution I was hoping they'd be.  They were kind of a pain with all the picking apart, boiling, mashing, and straining, and in the end the aftertaste, although greatly diminished, still takes away a bit from the final meal.  Ah, well, we still had a great time learning and improvising.

Red Elderberry Marinara Sauce

3-4 cups of red elderberries, or however many you have
Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 little jar or can of tomato paste
Concentrated vegetable stock or bouillon cubes
Italian spices: parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, savory, red pepper flakes, paprika
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup quality parmesan cheese, grated
Cooked pasta

1. Prepare elderberries.  Remove all berries from their stems and get rid of unripe or damaged berries.  Place in a pot with several cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let them simmer for several hours.

Pretty berries
2.  Using an immersion blender, manual eggbeater, or possibly an electric mixer, reduce the elderberries to as fine of a pulp as you can without mashing up any of the seeds.  Strain the mixture through a fine metal strainer and get as much liquid out of it as you can.  You'll probably have to mix it around in the strainer and squish it a bit to get the last bits out.  Set aside the strained mixture and dispose of the seeds.

No longer as pretty
The immersion blender worked best
3.  Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent, add garlic and cook a minute or two, then add in spices, stirring for another minute.  Then add in the jar of tomato paste and the elderberry puree.

4.  Add in 1-2 tsp concentrated vegetable stock, to taste.  At this point, you should adjust the spices to your preferences as well.  Go heavy on the parsley, basil, and marjoram- I think their softer flavors helped most to temper the "off" taste of the berries, along with the vegetable stock and parmesan.

5.  After the flavor is mostly right, stir in grated parmesan.  Parmesan is wonderful and hides any number of sins.

6.   Spoon sauce over freshly boiled pasta, top with more parmesan and fresh parsley and basil if you have it, and voila!  Serve with garlic bread and a fresh side salad.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Slide on over!

Last week, Joe got a text from his old buddy and bandmate Joe saying that he and his brother Jon would be in Seattle in a couple of days.  How exciting!  We met up with the brothers and their friend Dustin in the city and found out that although Joe will be sticking around Kansas at least until he finishes med school, Jon just decided to up and move to Seattle to seek his fortune.  (My kind of guy! :)  Joe (my Joe) and I always joke about how eventually we'll import all of our friends from the Midwest.  This may just be the first step.

After dinner we took a little hike in Discovery Park in order to see the sunset over the sound.  We ended up taking a trail into the woods that ultimately made us miss most of the sunset, but the boys seemed impressed enough with the locale that they didn't mind too terribly much.

A lovely view, with or without the sunset
Head west, young Kansans
Two Joes and a Jon

We're very much looking forward to taking Jon with us to the mountains.  We were happy to learn that he and his friend found an apartment, so it's official.  Welcome to Seattle!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our little Christmas tree

Since we're not going to be here for Christmas, we decided not to go to the trouble of getting a big pine tree for our house this year.  Instead, I dressed up our little Meyer lemon tree with the smallest ornaments we had and some singing lights that we got at a garage sale this summer.  Joe has fond memories of his trees singing to him back in Kansas, but I don't think that this configuration managed to tap into his nostalgia like I thought it would.  Probably the singing lights have to be strung around a sapling pine, freshly hewn from the surrounding lands of the family homestead.

Anyway, a very merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Potty training / The least fun scavenger hunt ever

First of all, I have a bit of an apology to make to dog owners.  I've always maintained that cats were better pets since they had little kitty instincts that made housetraining unnecessary.  Just give them a box of sand and they're good to go. So I'd never want to have some pet that would pee all over my house.

Well, we've found out that once you mess with those little kitty instincts, all doesn't go according to nature's plans.  And it turns out I do want some pet that keeps peeing all over the dang place.

But how could you be mad at a Moff like that?

We've been trying since probably September to train Moffa to use a human toilet with a kit that Joe got.  It starts off with a tray of litter on the toilet, then a tray of litter with a hole, then a hole with a ring of litter, then no litter at all.

So the good news: she's now on step 3 out of 4, with 4 being just a normal human toilet.  She still needs help knowing what to do most of the time, but she's done it completely on her own once or twice in the last few days.

Bless her heart, she really does want to make us happy.  It's just really hard for her.  Between that and the fleas, it's been a bit of a tough ride for Moffa this summer and fall.

A couple of days ago, while I was still in bed, Moffa just brazenly walked over and peed in our bedroom!  I was pretty shocked.  I knew from watching My Cat From Hell on Netflix that cats like to pee wherever they smell their own pee, so it's pretty important to clean up anywhere she might have gone when I didn't happen to be in the room.

Luckily, Jackson Galaxy taught me another useful trick:  CAT PEE GLOWS UNDER BLACKLIGHTS.

So of course now that we have our very own American DJ Black-24BLB light, I now get to go around the house searching out Moffa's "hidden treasures"...

X marks the spot!  Well, more like blob marks the spot.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Baby oysters

I've been a pretty big stick in the mud since I've been back in Washington, mostly just relaxing and working on my Pokemon :)

Joe went ahead and bought himself an early Christmas present: a blue oyster mushroom growing kit from Fungi Perfecti.  They're a special variety that grow in cooler temperatures, so they're only sold during the fall and winter.  Joe just spritzes them with water 2-3 times a day, and nice big oyster mushrooms are supposed to pop out.

This is the set-up, with the bag of mycelium-inoculated sawdust inside a "humidity tent," aka a plastic bag.  I'm glad we finally found a use for that green lamp that you see in the photo; it's supposed to shine light onto a plant, but the primrose I placed under it quickly died.  Its perfect for holding up the humidity tent while keeping the bag out of the moat of past spritzing water underneath.

It's been about a week, but we already have little tiny mushrooms peeping out!

Three bunches in all!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Using up veggies: Vegetable Tagine

Heeeeey.  So although most of my tomatoes died, the garden isn't done producing yet!

I finally found a recipe with squash involved that doesn't taste overly squashy.  I think when I planted the squash, it was cold and wintery outside, so anything that came with the summer sounded great.  Unfortunately, I forgot that I don't really like the taste of summer squash more than once a summer.

I had never tried a tagine before, so I was a little nervous when the recipe called for cinnamon and raisins.  I was even more nervous about Joe trying it, since he's adamant about not mixing sweet and savory food.  (No barbecue sauce!  No sweet and sour sauce!  And absolutely NO ketchup!)  However, he's been eating this for the past few days, even though we have several other kinds of leftovers he could have instead.  Granted, he does pick out the raisins, now that I alerted him to their presence.  He ate them and was fine before he knew they were in there, of course ;)

Anyway, all of the above vegetables came from the garden, with the exception of the eggplants on the right, which came from Mary Kay's garden. You can't really tell, but the purple bell peppers there are SO puny.  Like, much smaller than my fist puny. If it helps you envision it, those tomatoes on the left are cherry tomatoes.  

Voila!  The finished product in my happy, sunny new Dutch oven that I got for my birthday.  I really think this is a pretty dish with the colors of all the vegetables.

And there it is, ready to be eaten, sitting on some books.

Vegetable Tagine with Rice  (adapted from College Vegetarian Cooking by Megan and Jill Carle)

A good splash of cooking oil (I use olive)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
6 or so cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed (the recipe called for 2, but of course the more garlic the better)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 zucchini, chopped
3 yellow squash, chopped
1 green bell pepper, de-veined and chopped (replaced, in this case, with two puny purple peppers)
2 eggplants, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup water
1/2 cup raisins
2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped, or a 15 oz can
7 oz dry garbanzo beans soaked overnight and cooked for about 2 hours, or 15 oz can 

Cooked rice

-Heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic for about 3 minutes.  
-Add carrots, zucchini, squash, bell pepper, cumin, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, salt, and water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.  
-Stir in the eggplant, raisins, tomatoes, and garbanzo beans.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat , stirring occasionally, for about 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
-Serve over rice.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Roasting Peppers

After assessing just how many green tomatoes I'm dealing with, I thought it might be a good idea to try to making some green salsa or chile verde sauce.  This is the recipe I wanted to use (replacing the tomatillos with green tomatoes) so I was in need of roasted peppers!  Luckily, Joe's aunt Mary Kay had offered up the use of her Green Egg for just such an occasion. 

We met up at the Olympia farmer's market and picked out these beauties.  

Just a little time in the big green egg, and they become...

...charred and blistered! Yeah!

Then we pulled off the skins...

...leaving this pile of pepper meat.  Or pepper flesh.  Any ideas on a better word to refer to this stuff?  I prefer "meat,"  because "flesh" is disgusting.  The actual peppers are really tasty, though!

We roasted a few extra that I plan to make into a King Ranch Casserole, like the one that I was lucky enough to sample at Mary Kay and Michael's.  It also incorporates some of the chicken of the woods mushrooms, so we'll be using up some more of our wild food find.

She was also kind enough to give me some of her gorgeous tomatoes, since mine are all splotchy and green.  Although I feel a bit bad on the subject of tomatoes; I did have to be the bearer of bad news when I noticed that their big, leafy plants were starting to show the first signs of blight.  So that means they'll have to pick them all and ripen them indoors, too. 

Michael's lovely dahlias

The dahlias paired with pears (peared with pairs?) from outside.  I think the biggest of the pears weighed 1 lb 11 oz!