For last month's surprise box, I sent out this blood building syrup, and all was going well until it started arriving in warmer places, and, due to the low sugar content, started exploding. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson about sending out low-sugar syrups, and thankfully nobody was injured in the process. Meanwhile, I've been taking it every day and loving it (especially given the recent frenzy, driving back and forth to the desert on gathering sprees), and wanted to share the recipe here for everyone else, whether yours exploded or not.Read More
(on grounding, stress relief, and being a still point in a turning world) Two hours drive from here, out in the desert, about 1/4 mile off one of my favourite hiking trails there's a small hole cut out of a hillside. I used to tuck myself away there on a daily basis, for what I'd consider to be therapy sessions. For someone so often stuck up in my head, I hurtle forwards at a pace that tries to outrun my thoughts, very much like that hare in that story where the tortoise emerges victorious. Buried in the earth, in my little therapy hole, everything slows down and something clicks open and my body starts to, well, for lack of better words, drink it in. It drinks in the earth and it drinks in the slowness and it drinks in the darkness and for the first time in a long time I feel calm. And if I stay there for long enough then I would feel like I'd been plugged into a recharger. Now that I live nowhere near that little hole, I try to forge that connection wherever I can. Its not impossible, even surrounded by concrete.
Grounding, in a place like Los Angeles, where the very ground the city is built upon is shifting, is an interesting concept. Some places are more ‘grounded’ than others *waves at the North East*. Some situations are naturally more grounded than others-- a guy I know lives in the same house his family has lived in for 300 years: now that is some serious root-age. Me? Not so much. I've moved house and place more times than I can count. The earth and slowness and stillness is something I have to force myself to pay attention to, to connect to, to remember. And here, Southern California, where the air is light and the light is light and the earth is even light because its mostly sand, I find that ground and earth and attention are even more important. Grounding can mean so many different things. From being solid and ‘earthy’ to seeing the world the same way everyone else does (ie. ‘rational’), to being calm. To me, it means something like this: facing reality. Accepting what is. Having a body (you’d be surprised how many people think having a body is irrelevant in the grand spiritual picture of things). There’s an earth under our feet and to me, personally, connection to it is a visceral thing. And as somebody who’s naturally not very grounded at all, who also lives in a place that is not very grounded at all, finding that connection, paying attention to it and nurturing it is even more important.
One of the ways I do that is to pay attention. To seek out that feeling of rootedness and connection that I find out in places that are wild, and to drag it through the cacophony of information in the city, to plop it down in the middle of my living room and say ‘you belong here too’ because, quite frankly, I don’t see any reason for it not to, other than the terrible drivers.
Another way I do it is to eat grounding foods. Cooked foods, heavy foods, meats, and potatoes. Roots. This time of year is root time anyway. When everything is turning inwards, and the leaves are rotting on the ground, feeding their nutrients back into the earth. Today the clouds are hanging low over Los Angeles and it looks like they, too, are reaching for the earth, attempting to fall down, to curl over on themselves, to find a cocoon and curl up in it and drink in the rootedness of it all. To set roots that drink deep and feed everything that’s above ground.
Roots are tangled and roots are messy. In setting down roots, life, too becomes tangled and messy. Roots come up covered in dirt and sometimes holding rocks in them and these roots don’t let go of these rocks no matter how hard you dry and pry them off. You get to the root of a problem, not the seed. The seed would be the origin but the root is what holds it in place-- find the root of a problem and you can topple said problem until you're standing over it like a giant on top of an anthill. No problem is too big once you find the root and oust it. Roots dive deep and drink deep and pull from places we cannot consciously go. And roots sustain things: they give nourishment and they keep things upright, they drink in what's needed from those unseen places and pull them upwards. They support a structure with their invisible hold. A tree with shriveled roots will topple over and die. A human with shriveled roots starts to topple over, then gets her feet under her and runs to stay upright. In order to be still, one needs roots. Fact. The easiest way to do this is to dig down; drink deep.
The humble potato has been much maligned in recent years. I blame the paleo movement and the idea that a starch will somehow rot your joints and make your bottom big. My bottom might be a somewhat generous size for my frame, but I remain unconcerned about the potato’s insidious effects on my fat storage, simply because I love them and they make me feel good. Anything that I love and that makes me feel good gets filed under ‘health’ food in my own little mental tally of what is good and right and what is wrong and bad. Potatoes have the added benefit of coming from deep in the earth. Potatoes are comfort food and I am not entirely sure what came first— the grounding associated with comfort or the comfort that comes from grounding. Either way, when life gets hectic, when I start to feel frazzled, when my eye twitches for no reason and when a single cup of tea starts keeping me awake until 2am, I reach for the roots. Add to that a combination of my favorite plants— black sage, white sage, wild rose, California bay— gathered from the trails I frequent, and there’s a double dose of grounding: one in the earth and one in my place. There is rootedness and there is permanence and there is a still point amid all the chaos. And for that I, and my twitching eye, can take a deep breath and be grateful.
On that note, lovely people, tell me more about your grounding and stress relief techniques please?
This recipe is a simple variation on the roast potato. That is, its a roast potato cut into big chunky french fry format. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that we have them once a week and have done for the last year, although at one point they were happening daily. We serve them with roast chicken and ketchup and mayo for dipping. I have, on occasion, made myself a single potato’s worth when home alone watching Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. I have also made ten potatoes worth for my entire family, and they went over a treat, although turning them all was a pain in the ever-growing bottom.
Seasonings can vary too. I use my Herbes De Californie most frequently, but sprinkled with Ras Al Hanout they’re quite spectacular (mix together equal parts harissa and mayo for a dipping sauce), and with Herbes De Provence they’re also delicious (aioli on the side), and sprinkled with ground up fir tips they’re also quite spectacular (homemade mayo made with fir infused olive oil).
Oven fries that are so much more than their name makes them sound like.
1 big russet potato per parsimonious person, 2 potatoes per person if they are very hungry or in great need of comfort
2tb butter per potato
2 tb olive oil per potato
1tb finely chopped herbs per potato (I use white sage, black sage, california bay and wild rose here, but as mentioned above the possibilities are endless)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375.
Get a big pot of water boiling on the stove, and put about 1/4 cup of salt in there. It should taste like the ocean (not the dead sea-- if you make the dead sea, that's a little overboard). While that's heating up, set to peeling your potatoes. Once peeled, set them on the narrow side (the side they won't stand up on, on their own) and cut it into three pieces lengthwise. Each piece should work out between 3/4 and 1 inch thick. From there, chop each piece lengthwise again, into 1/2-3/4 inch thick slices. See what we're doing here? Now we have long potatoes cut into thick french fry shapes.
Once the water is really boiling, dump in the potatoes and cook for exactly 10 minutes. While its cooking, set a strainer in the sink. After ten minutes, quickly strain out the potatoes. You see you want them as cooked as possible without disintegrating-- the more cooked they are, the fluffier their insides will be. Carefully dump the strained potatoes out on a roasting tray, and space them all so that there's an inch of space in between them all. Put the butter somewhere on top, then drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and herbs over the top then put in the oven for 35 minutes.
After 35 minutes, pull out the tray, and carefully flip each potato piece. They should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip onto their uncooked sides and cook for another 15-25 minutes, until they're golden brown all over. Remove from the oven when they're ready and serve immediately.
As I write this, I have my back turned on my office and kitchen, both of which have been completely devastated by my tornado-like working methods, which go something like this: 'start one thing then another then another then another then forget what you were doing, make a snack, then decide to write a blog post and if you don't look behind you then the mess doesn't exist, right?'. I might not be the most efficient person in the world, but I don't think that was ever a question. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, between catching up on work from my month away, making products for Surprise Boxes, and driving up into the mountains at every given opportunity. Things of note that have happened since I was last here:
1. The light changed. Silly bright white summer light is no more, and has been replaced with the soft golden tones of fall. The sun no longer rises onto the buildings across the street, now it rises and the tree in the front garden is lit up orange. Those seconds are my favourite seconds of the day, and every morning when I get to see it is a good morning as far as I'm concerned.
2. As a result of said light change, I have replaced the sandals by the front door with my four favourite pairs of boots. This, for the record, was slightly preemptive and stupid as the last week has been hotter than hell and I keep having to run upstairs to get sandals from my closet. But seeing boots by the door makes me happy. I was built for boot weather.
3. I've been reading The Plant Healer's Path, while I sip my coffee in the mornings. Thoughts and musings from some of my favourite people (and yes, a couple of my articles are in there); truly life and path-affirming stuff. Highly recommended...
4. I finally strained the nocino I made last year. Yes, its about a year after I said I was going to strain it, no, it has not affected the flavour negatively, and yes, it is being sent out to my Surprise Box subscribers on Monday. Which is ruining the surprise, somewhat, but there are three other true surprises in there...
5. I have been gathering like a madwoman. The end of summer brings pine nuts, mesquite pods, and acorns, all three of which are my favourite flavours-- things I could (and probably will) combine ad infinitum for years to come. I didn't get enough of any to eat them for years to come, but there might be a few months of acorn, mesquite and pine nut recipes. You have been warned.
5. The acorns are dropping. This was, at the time, early. Ridiculously early actually. I just happened to be driving up a windy mountain road, after gathering mesquite pods, and *happened* to see big clusters of perfectly ripe acorns hanging heavily from the oak trees as I drove under them. I pulled over, glad for a constant supply of canvas bags in my trunk for these very occasions, and I gathered what I could. Acorns are a magnificent wild food, despite the hard work that goes into making them edible. As far as I'm concerned, all that work is rendered '100% worth it' upon tasting anything made with them. As evidenced below.
6. Make this tart. Please make this tart. If you don't have oak trees growing near you, you can find acorn flour at a Korean market (it'll be called 'acorn starch') or online. If you don't still have plums at the market because you don't live in the magical fruit-loving realm of Southern California, you can use frozen, or plums shipped from halfway around the world (THE HORROR!). If you don't have a gluten intolerance then you can substitute all the funny flours in the crust (except the acorn) with regular flour. If you do have a gluten intolerance, this recipe is gluten free. Regardless, it is mind-blowing. Plum and acorn is one of my favourite flavour combinations, and this does not disappoint. Make it. That's an order.
You will have a lot of custard left-- may I advise to fill crepes with it and top with some leftover plums.
And as far as acorn flour goes, check out Hank's article on the matter here.
Plum and acorn custard tart
For the crust:
2 sticks butter, at room temperature 1 cup acorn flour 1 cup cornstarch 1/2 cup white rice flour 1/2 cup arrowroot flour 2/3 cup sugar 1/2 tsp salt
In a big bowl, dump the butter, and beat for a little bit until its light and fluffy. Add the salt and sugar, mix, then one by one add the flours. By the time you add the last one you can probably just mix it with your hands.
Once its all mixed, you can press it into the base of a tart pan. Rolling this dough is quite difficult, simply because it lacks gluten to hold it together. I've found it much easier to just press little pieces of it into the tart pan until the whole thing is covered. Make sure its even, and that the whole thing is covered. Save the rest for another tart, because you'll want to make one soon.
Prick holes in the base with a fork, then put the pan + uncooked crust in the freezer for about an hour. After an hour cook at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 40 minutes, until the crust is slightly more brown than it was before. Leave on a counter to cool.
For the acorn custard:
2 cups milk 1/2 cup + 1 tb sugar 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 1/2 cup cornstarch 1/8 cup acorn starch 1 egg 4 egg yolks 4 tb acorn infused butter 1/4 tsp salt
To make acorn infused butter, the easy way, melt two sticks of butter over half a cup of acorn flour, and keep warm for a few hours. Mix, and strain the whole thing into a jar.
Combine the milk, sugar and vanilla in a heavy-bottomed pan and heat gently. Meanwhile, beat the egg and egg yolks in a bowl. Add a cup or so of the milk mixture, then add the cornstarch and acorn starch. It will make a thick paste. Whisk is until its smooth. Once the milk on the stove is warm, add a cup at a time to the cornstarch-egg mixture, whisking it, until it is liquid, then pour the whole thing back in the pan and turn up the heat a little so that its at a medium . Stirring constantly, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom, until the whole thing starts to thicken, then boil. Its ready when a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom leaves a noticeable trail, and its noticeably thicker.
Pour into a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface (to prevent it forming a skin), then refrigerate until cool.
For the plums:
4-6 plums, sliced 2/3 cup sugar juice of 1 lemon 1/4 cup brandy, eau de vie, or kirsch
In a pan, place the sliced plums, and sprinkle the sugar over the top evenly. Add the sugar and brandy, then turn the heat on low. Keep heating until the plums start to soften, and change colour, flipping them over on occasion, and rearranging so that they all get an even coating of the brandy-lemon-sugar mixture. The skins will start to shrink. Press a fork or wooden spoon into the surface of a plum-- they're ready when they give but don't crumble. You want them soft but not destroyed. Remove from the heat and let them sit so that the rest of the liquid can absorb.
Put it all together:
Using a spatula, spread the acorn custard into the base crust, filling it until the top of the crust and the custard are level. Smooth it out as much as possible. Lay the plums out on top in a pretty pattern. Then, if there's any liquid left, it should be quite thick and delicious, pour that over the top in a drizzle. Serve cold or at room temperature.
1. From the couch in my living room where I write, looking out the window, the flower stalks of my big white sage plant can be seen shooting up towards the sky, waving in the wind. Every morning I run outside to see how many new flowers have appeared. It is often the highlight of my morning until something else appears in the garden. I am easily amused, it seems.
2. My plant collection is growing. With each new arrival, I place them on the dining room table, and arrange a meeting, during which I shout ‘Welcome, Friends!’ and introduce them to each other. Then I show them around and show them where they will be living and ask if these accommodations work for them. I think this is an unnecessary step but it is now a part of the routine and so it stays.
3. Things are happening. I’m teaching two classes coming up: one with my friend Emily on May 5th (that’s next weekend, folks!) and one on May 25th at the Roots of Healing Herb Fest in Topanga Canyon. The first is on elderflowers and it will be spectacular; the second is on five local herbs that I use a lot, and I am trying not to panic at the thought of speaking in front of people. I figure 31 is as good as any age to rid myself of the residue of trauma caused by having to do an impromptu speech in Mrs. Leisk’s primary six classroom, and the humiliation of standing there for the full three minutes almost completely silent while people sniggered.*
4. Its been hot. Surprisingly hot. Ridiculously hot. Sit on the floor in your underwear eating ice cubes hot. Finally around 5:45 this evening the air cooled down enough for me to open the windows and throw the curtains back. A couple of hours of light and air streaming into the house, while the fires burn around LA, while the earth shakes (earthquakes and fires... is this the end of the world?), while the scent of smoke fills the air, and while Jam’s first day of directing (A real movie! His own movie!) is blessed with the flipside of the air-quality coin: perfect hazy light. While us Angelenos (yes I have finally called myself an Angeleno) sniff and scratch our irritated eyes and wonder about the fragility of this delicate balance that is life (at least I am). In our dry, parched state, gasping for water, gasping for air, with emotions on edge and the metallic clang of air conditioner units and screechy voices shouting at each other in the Friday afternoon traffic. That’s what today felt like to me: metallic, clangy, irritated. *coughs*
5. It was with great relief this evening that I slammed the front door and shut out the rest of the world. With greater relief that I threw open the windows to let some cool air in. Even smoky evening air, as it is. And even more so to make a strong cup of tea and open up the container of my new favourite cookies. The white sage seeds were sent to me by my friend Ginia who lives in Northern California and is a plant whisperer if ever I've met one. I've been holding onto them trying to decide what to do. In something sweet their flavour is delightfully delicate. I made one batch with those alone and another with one white sage leaf to enhance the taste a little. I recommend the latter and that is the version I am sharing below. If you don't have white sage plants, then you can use any type of aromatic plant. I think these would be delicious with any form of sage, or bee balm, or even lavender. But for this evening the sage was perfect: grounding and calming, and soothing to my dried out and cranky self.
*why do British teachers feel the need to torture children so, and does this still happen nowadays?
Acorn shortbread with a white sage icing.
Shortbread: 1 cup acorn flour 3/4 cup sweet white rice flour 3/4 cup potato starch 2/3 cup sugar minus 1 tablespoon 1/4 teaspoon salt 8oz (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
Icing: 3/4 cup icing sugar 1/2 cup water 1 tb white sage seeds 1 white sage leaf
Preheat the oven to 325.
In a pan on the stove, place the water, sage seeds and sage leaf. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until the water is reduced by half.
Mix all the flours together. In a bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar, then reduce the speed. Add the flours in two batches until well incorporated.
Grease the bottom of a 9 x 9 square pan, and dust with rice flour, then press the shortbread mixture into the bottom of the pan. It should be about 3/4" thick all the way around. Bake at 325 for 40 minutes.
Remove from the oven and keep the oven on. Carefully cut the baked shortbread into slices, about 4" long. Like shortbread fingers. Then wait for it to cool. Once cool, you can very carefully lift them out (apologies in advance-- the first two might crumble into nothingness until you have that space for leverage... I haven't been able to pry them out without causing shortbread damage) and place them on a baking sheet. Bake again, for another 15 minutes, until they're golden brown.
In the meantime, in a separate bowl, sieve in the icing sugar and pour in 2 tablespoons of the sage water, seeds included. Mix it all together- it should be a paste and if you take a spoonful of it and drop it, it'll pour off the spoon like thick paint. If its too thick, add a teaspoon of the sage water at a time. If too thin, add a little more sugar. When you remove the shortbread from the oven, drizzle the icing over the top. Allow to cool before eating.
There's one hand and it contains relaxation, and everything I've ever mentioned about moving through space at one's own pace. And then there's the other hand which holds a to-do list a mile long, there's the frenetic pace of spring, there's gathering twenty million different things, and processing them, and buying more booze in a 2-month space than the entire other Bev Mo customers combined. In between the two hands there are stolen moments.
My stolen moments look like this: Up a tree, with a jar of something herbal, infused and delicious, gazing up at the canopy of leaves, listening to the sounds of city-nature, which is very different to country-nature. And it works. Its grounding and calming. And then I go back indoors to work some more.
When I look at the city, it reminds me of a big scab, over something living. One continuous slab of concrete with spaces in between it on occasion. Concrete does its best to cover up what's underneath it (BB cream for the planet), and finding that earthiness is much harder when walking on a layer of foundation, but its not impossible. The thing is that the earth is everywhere and just because it seems that its more THERE when out in the wild, its actually that there's less interference. Out in the wild its like tuning a radio directly to the station (do people still tune their own radios or are they all digital?). In the city there's a bunch of white noise making it really hard to hear the music. But you can, especially if you know the song already-- you know what to listen for and where to pick it up, then you can shut out the white noise and just hear that song. I think there are movements about this, called 'Earthing' and such, where the earth is touted as some new scientific new-age discovery. I can't help but think that we've come so far from where we were, quite literally, our roots, that it takes a giant scientific discovery and technology to make us look down. Of course, thats not all of us.
I walk a block away for my coffee every morning. Lately, in spring-filled excitement, there are plants growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk. I'm sure that the City of Los Angeles people will come and spray something nasty on them soon-- for some reason wild plants are an atrocity whereas the feat of construction being two buildings that are being hammered into place as I type is a triumph of man, even if they are hideous and noisy and had to cut down a big old tree to put them in. But in the meantime, there are feathery plants pushing up through the sidewalk, mushrooms growing on peoples' lawns, resilient little plants thrusting their way up towards the sunlight that streams between buildings. I notice them because I notice the earth, and I notice that they find whatever cracks they can. Its resilient, and it reminds me of all nature, human nature, animal nature, earth nature. That nature is survival and self-expression, and I think all of us try to find our cracks to slip through regardless of what is painted over the top.
Most of the herbs I gather are resilient like that: many of us herbalists think the wild weeds make the strongest medicine. I've been collecting them like a madwoman lately, in full spring fervor. In the last few weeks or so, I have gathered California poppy, peach leaves, apricot leaves, alder leaves and bark, yerba santa, sweet clover, elderflowers, white sage, black sage, ocotillo bark and flowers, chaparral, desert lavender, mugwort, pine pollen. I've accrued a series of bug bites so big and so itchy and red and swollen that my super effective Bug Bite Balm had to be applied 3 times to make it go away (which is a big deal because it usually works in 1 or 2). The frenetic pace of spring starts slow and reaches its climax between now and the end of May. Most of these I bring home and immediately process for medicine- stripping bark, pulling leaves, scrubbing dirt off things, immersing in oils or vinegars or alcohol or honey. My storage cabinet is nearing full again. Of all these, there's one thing I actually bring home for food first, even if its damn good medicine: elderflowers.
I've seen them everywhere I've been in the northern hemisphere. Even in the middle of a city in India. I assume they grow in the south too, though I've never been south of the equator so I don't know for sure. Their flavour is floral and fragrant and distinctly one of its own, and since ours in Southern California have been out for a few weeks, they'll start blooming spreading north from here, and I'd start looking sooner or later depending on where you are. Once you spot them, you'll spot them everywhere. And I make food with them before I make medicine partly because they're so abundant and partly because by the time spring has arrived I MISS them like you wouldn't believe.
First thing I made was cordial. And the second thing I made was this cake. Its gluten free, though you couldn't tell apart from the slightly crumbly texture. Its light and fluffy and it tastes of spring. And I highly recommend that you make some as soon as your elderflowers start to blossom.
Elderflower and blackberry cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Ripe
For the syrup:
1 cup elderflowers 1 cup water 1 cup sugar juice of 1/2 lemon
For the cake:
12 tb salted butter (or unsalted but add about 1/2 tsp salt to the batter with the flour) 3/4 cup sugar 2 large eggs 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour 1/3 cup potato starch 1/3 cup cornstarch 1/3 cup brown rice flour 3/4 cup almond flour 2 tb ground flax or chia seeds 2 tsp baking powder 2 tb milk 8oz (about 2 cups) blackberries- either fresh or frozen First things first, get the elderflower syrup on- put the elderflowers, water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately, and leave to sit for up to an hour. Taste it. Does it taste strongly of elderflowers and spring? Then you can strain out the liquid and set it aside.
Next, preheat the oven to 350.
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until they're light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure they are incorporated fully. Then, add the milk, and two tablespoons of the elderflower syrup. Mix together all the flours, and the baking powder, and, with the mixer on very slow, add the flour in 3 batches. Once its fully incorporated, stir in the blackberries by hand. They might start to stain the batter, and that's ok, but do it lightly and not too much so that you don't end up with purple cake (not that there's anything wrong with purple cake, we are not purplist here at C&C).
Oil up a 9" round springform pan. Quite honestly, I am lazy and I use olive oil for this, but you can be non-lazy and use butter. Just, olive oil works too. Use something oily. Then, scrape in the cake batter. Bake at 350 for an hour. At 50 minutes, pull it out and press the top slightly, if it feels firm then check it with a skewer or sharp knife- when it comes out clean the cake is done. It should be around an hour though.
Remove from the oven, and prick the top of it with a sharp knife, about 10 times, in 10 different places. Then pour over the elderflower syrup you made earlier. Pour it so that it gets every inch of the top of the cake. It should sink in quite quickly. Leave until cool in the pan, then run a knife around the edges. You can try and slide it off the base, but I found it safer to just leave it there and pretend it's meant to be presented like that. Decorate with powdered sugar, blackberries and elderflowers. Serve with fresh cream.
It'll be quite crumbly until its cool. This shouldn't matter too much though.
(in which I once again get a little philosophical, think about the nature of things, and eat some [more] biscuits) My friend Carly said something the other night that kind of blew my mind: she no longer gives people exact arrival times, but instead gives a half hour window. She's been getting crap about being late for years; it was the perfect solution. And it got me thinking…
I don't do well with 'time'. Once, I was in charge of determining what time we had to leave for the airport, and I missed my flight to Korea. I might have a piece of my brain missing, or I might just be a woman, but either way, time is not my strong point (as those of you who receive my CSA have probably come to realise).
One day when I was taking my daily walk up the street for coffee, I stopped to smell a rose, and had one of those un-caffeinated realisations (you know the ones that are glaringly obvious but seem brilliant because your brain isn’t totally switched on?): plants are just themselves. No dandelion grows up thinking 'man, I wish I were pretty like a rose' and no rose complains because its not weedy enough, and no wild grape wishes it were a tree peony. No. Rose is rose, grape is grape, peony is peony, and that's the way it is. It seems characteristic of modern humanity to be constantly striving for more, to be more, to be different, to look different, to wish we were something else. From my earliest days I can remember looking at my curly-haired friends wishing I had those curls instead of poker straight hair that wouldn't hold a curl for more than five minutes. And it turns out they were thinking the same about my hair. My boy-shaped friends envy my boobs and bottom and since puberty I've felt my body to be a complete betrayal of my tomboyish nature. I’ve wished I were more organized, more business-oriented, better with money, better at remembering things, better at being consistent, better at structure, but really, at some point one has to look at oneself and realize that one is either a rose or a dandelion, and just deal with the hand one has been dealt.
Trying to be something else is stressful. More stressful than life should be. And while I’m not suggesting that laziness is the way to go, or to use the idea of being oneself as a means to never ever change, I think at some point you do have to look at what your nature is and roll with it a bit. Because there’s a difference between trying to change, and trying to be the best one can be, and shoving oneself into a box to fit a mold of some ideal. Which is why I thought Carly’s idea was so brilliant in the first place. She’s not saying ‘I’m always late, just deal with it’ she’s just making allowances for the fact that things always take longer than she assumes they will.
I thought about the plants again, and how they exist in a community, not in a vacuum. Rose doesn't need to be anything else because it grows under the oaks and alongside the mugwort and honeysuckle and potentilla. If we started thinking of ourselves as parts of ecosystems instead of islands who need to perform every function perfectly, it relieves a helluva lot of stress. I can just worry about being on time when its something REALLY important. Plus, I have friends who are organised, friends who are on top of everything, friends who are always on time, and friends who are outgoing. In my personal ecosystem, there's a great balance (and I know who to call if I need help organising my apothecary).
Which brings me (AWKWARD TRANSITION ALERT) to buckwheat. Because these shortbreads are pretty much buckwheaty as it gets. I was going to turn them into something exotic with rosemary or thyme but you know what... the batter tasted so good as is that I couldn't adulterate them at all. So these are plain buckwheat shortbreads, but please don’t let their plain-ness fool you. Because they are so perfectly themselves that after one bite you’ll realize that plain and boring are two very different things indeed, and these are not boring at all. No siree.
If you aren’t avoiding gluten, you can sub the starch and rice flour for regular flour, but honestly, if you have the ingredients around, give them a try as-is, because they are fantastic…
(adapted from 101 cookbooks)
1 cup buckwheat flour 3/4 cup sweet white rice flour 1/2 cup potato starch 2/3 cup vanilla-infused sugar (or 2/3 cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)- recipe below 1/4 teaspoon salt 8oz (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
Another note: I did this whole thing by hand in a big bowl. And while my shoulder hurt like hell afterwards, I felt very very proud of myself and so, you know, you could try it too.
Beat the butter. Keeping in mind that I did this by hand, it doesn't need to be a whole lot. But if you're doing it by hand too, beat it until your shoulder has a slight burn going. Add the sugar, beat until fully incorporated. Then, in a feat of flying flour, add all the flour, all at once, and the salt too. Try and stir it in without it going everywhere; maybe you can succeed where I failed. Incorporate it fully and it should form a neat ball quite easily. If it still sticks to the sides, add more flour, bit by bit. If it feels a little dry, don't worry, start mixing with your hands and it'll come together, promise.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least a few hours, then roll out and cut into cookie shapes. Prick the tops with a fork gently, sprinkle with vanilla sugar, and bake at 350 for about 18 minutes, until they are golden brown on the edges.
Vanilla infused sugar (Easiest recipe ever?)
1 vanilla bean Sugar A pretty jar (essential)
Put the vanilla bean in the pretty jar, and then cover with sugar. Give it a shake every couple of days, and in about 4 days you'll have vanilla sugar, which you will be hard-pressed to walk past without opening for a sniff...
On being run down: sometimes us folks who spend all our time making potions for others are the ABSOLUTE WORST at actually taking our own advice. Over the last week, I started feeling more tired than usual, and my throat started hurting a little. Did I think 'oh, Self, you've seen a helluvalot of people with a terrible flu in the last few weeks, maybe you're fighting it and should, you know, rest more, take your own medicine, and cancel all obligations for a couple of days'? Noooooh, I thought 'that's funny, I'm never tired like that, why is my body being so annoying right now? I'm going to ignore it.' And it takes a handsome husband to come home and take one look at me sitting on the couch, surrounded by clean but not folded laundry, tea towel in hands and staring into space, to point upstairs and say 'bed. now.' and to add insult to the own-advice injury, demand that I put warm socks on and take elderberry elixir and vitamin D. For the record, my own advice had me in bed for a day and then fine, which, if I hadn't done I'd likely be still in bed with a horrible fever and a whine as long as a traffic jam on the 405 on a Friday afternoon with a popularity level to match. Own advice is good stuff.
On reading in a random aside: I saw a silly meme on the interweb talking about how one can pretend to have insomnia but one is really just staying up all night reading. That happens to me frequently.
On Winter: I have heard a similar thing from quite a few people in the last few weeks: 'Why am I so tired? I want more energy? Can you give me something for energy?' My answer is always the same: It is winter. Look at the trees outside, and the ground up in the hills. Look at the cold weather and all those images of wintery things. We forget because our lives are so out of tune with the cycles of nature. We forget because we idolize youth and perpetual energy and the sun and all things outgoing and yang. But Winter is yin time. Winter is rest time. Winter is time to go deep and take stock and drink hot cocoa and snuggle in bed for hours and to take it slow time. No, I won't give out an energy potion. That would be going against nature, which is the exact opposite of what a folk herbalist does.
On taking your own advice: see above.
On quiet things: Pine nuts could, if one were in an 'I GOTTA GET IT DONE ASAP' mood, be considered a pain in the ass. However this is winter, and so when faced with a big bowl of wild pinyon pine nuts and a few hours to spare, I put on some River Cottage (available on Amazon instant streaming), grabbed a bowl and a big mason jar (for the shells which can then be covered in vodka and used for exciting things), and got to work. The afternoon could only have been more enjoyable had I had some other people around to chat with while we shelled things. These instincts run primal, which is what I think any time I have a couple of girlfriends and a bowl of things to shell, and I can picture us doing this a thousand or even ten thousand years ago, gossiping about the same old things: boys, body adornments, plenty of giggles. Because amid all the technological advancements, people don't really change very much at all.
On pine nuts: Yes, you can buy them in the store. They're expensive and often come from China where there's a big risk of getting pine nut mouth and not being able to taste things properly for a couple of weeks. You can also, if you live in the Southwest, gather your own. Most pines have nuts, some nicer than others. Pinyon pines have the best nuts (in the world, in my opinion) but there are plenty of other edibles. Do a search for what's in your area, and then curse me for posting this five months too late.
On biscotti: Because sometimes the best medicine is an obligation-free afternoon in which you can anoint yourself with a friend's botanical perfume, light some home made incense, put on some thick socks, curl up with a hot latte and tune in with the quiet thrum of the slow pace of the earth. A good tree to hang out with, a good book to read, a good earth to sit on, a good blanket to snuggle in, and, like the still point in a turning world, a good biscuit to plunk into it all.
Pinyon pine nut biscotti. (gluten free)
On flour mixes: there are a couple of ways you can do this, and if you don't care about eating gluten, just sub the flours with 1/2 cup cornmeal flour and 1 cup regular flour, then half the baking powder and leave out the xanthan gum entirely.
1/2 cup cornmeal flour
1 cup gluten free flour mix (or 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1/4 cup brown rice flour, 1/4 cup potato starch, 1/4 cup sweet white rice flour, 1/4 tsp xanthan gum)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup wild pine nuts, roasted for 10 minutes and then shelled
1 tsp ground pine needles
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
Preheat the oven to 350.
Beat the butter until its light and fluffy, then add the sugar, and beat some more till its a pale creamy colour. Add the eggs, one at a time, then all the dry ingredients in two batches. Stir in the pine needles, pine nuts and chocolate chips.
Shape into two log shapes on a baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, until very light golden brown and still mostly soft.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. After they're cool to the touch, slice them into biscotti- about half an inch thick. Separate them all and lay them out still standing, and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until they are a beautiful dark golden colour and you can't stand the good smells anymore. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit (this is the perfect time to make a good cup of tea or coffee). They're best on the first day but will last for a few weeks in an airtight container. They won't last that long though.
(Spiced conifer infused apple tart with a bonus tea recipe to boot!) As I write this, Los Angeles is [relatively] quiet, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming through the windows, through the incense smoke that clouds the air, onto my legs which are half covered by a very fat cat (actual fat cat, not metaphoric rich person fat cat). As I write this there is a tart in the oven, which will be left to cool and sliced up and wrapped in foil and hiked deep into the mountains early tomorrow morning, while Jam and I hunt for mushrooms and picnic.
In my morning stoop sessions, lately I've been thinking about arbitrary dates, and what an arbitrary date our 'new year' is. As we were falling asleep last night Jam and I decided that in future our new year will fall on the solstice, as that makes the most sense. A [sweet, lovely, beautiful and insightful] friend pointed out to me this morning that the fiscal new year starts in January and so between the solstice and the fiscal new year is a kind of free-fall; a timeless zone, where presents are given and puddings are eaten and wine is drunk and merry is made. And I like it that way. The last couple of weeks have been timeless in a good way. I've taken long walks in the desert. I've watched storms round the top my favourite mountain, and snow coat the peak over a couple of hours. I've gone searching for chanterelles on an almost daily basis, climbing and resting in my favourite tree, wandering out in the now green rolling hills, following deer tracks, picking up hawk feathers and animal bones and other earthly treasures. I've woken up before dawn and done yoga practice in a cold living room as the light slowly creeps back into the world, and I leave you with that picture: of the world waking up from a dream. Freefall is about to end. Happy arbitrary fiscal new year even though the real new year (as I've decided) actually happened on the solstice. More importantly, thank you. For existing. Thank you for reading and commenting on this little corner of the interweb. For providing constant conversation and inspiration and support. I hope the next year is bigger, better, more nourishing, more exciting, more adventurous, more prosperous and more restful than ever before. I'll be back with recipes and adventures in a few days. Until then, here's a tart.
Spiced conifer infused apple tart
**edit** Have recently remade this putting half a bag of frozen blackberries over the middle of the tart before drizzling the caramel. Inspired decision; you must. try. it.
Spiced conifer brew:
1 cup conifer needles (I use a combination of white fir, pinyon pine and jeffrey pine. You can use what you have around, which might even be a Christmas tree)
1/4 cup juniper berries
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch ground ginger
Mix all the ingredients together. To serve as tea, for a tablespoon of tea, pour over 1 1/2 cups boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and cream. Serve hot.
Spiced conifer caramel:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tb conifer tea
5 tb butter
5 tb heavy cream
big pinch salt
Bring all the ingredients to a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the plant matter and return to the stove. Bring to a boil and reduce to a thick syrup- about 20 minutes. Add the salt. It'll be a rolling boil and quite thick at this point. Throw in the butter, let it melt, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
Conifer-spiced apple tart.
1 portion sweet tart crust
apples. Forgive me I don't know how many you'll need. Let's say 3 big granny smiths to start; that's about what it took for my 9-inch tart pan.
Peel the apples, and cut the flesh into thin half-moon slices. Roll out the tart crust and lay it over a 9-inch tart pan, and prick the bottom with a fork. Lay out the apple pieces in a pretty pattern, I do concentric circles. Pour about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the top, then put the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350, and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the apples are golden and soft and the tart crust has taken on a golden brown colour. Serve hot or cold, drizzled with heavy cream.
"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.)
Rosemary divides people. Not quite like cilantro does (word on the street is that some peoples' taste buds are *different* and that cilantro tastes like soap to them), but still, if you say the word 'rosemary' there is a group of people (I call them, originally enough, 'rosemary people') who's eyes will light up and they'll say 'oh I LOVE rosemary!' Rosemary people. Often sweet of voice and soft of face. Often dreamy-eyed, and slightly sluggish. Look for a slightly grey tinge in the skin (this is often more of an intuitive thing), or a general feeling of 'blah' and lack of movement. Or look for signs of bad circulation and coldness combined with liver stagnation- moodiness, crampiness, bursting into tears for no apparent reason, blueish fingers and toes, trouble digesting meats and fats, hardness, coldness, being overwhelmed by inertia easily and often.
Rosemary people love rosemary because it gets things moving. I like to liken it to a little old Italian grandma with her hair pulled back tight and a broom in her hand. She'll smack you on the butt then sweep out the cobwebs in all the corners before you knew what hit you. There's also the common phrase 'rosemary for remembrance' and, while it's actually referring to remembrance of the dead, there's actually something to rosemary's ability to help folks remember anything. Think of that little old broom-wielding Italian lady, and now think of your foggy, sluggish brain, and how much better it'd function if someone beat out all the dust and crud. Yep. Rosemary for remembrance, indeed.
I've made this cake three times now. Twice at home, then once when I arrived in Palm Desert this last weekend to stay at my friend Alysa's house- I thought it'd be a nice thing for her to come home to after a long day at work. The flavour, my friends, will woo you from the get-go. The sprigs on top are important- as the cake cooks, the aromatic oils from the rosemary will seep into the crust.
A note about using gluten free flour: depending on what mix you use, this cake could end up very dense. I used a boxed cake flour for my third version and, while it was springy enough fresh out the oven, by the next night it was like a brick. My recommendation (as discovered by the genius Alysa) is to toast slices of this day old brick-cake, and slather it with butter. Not only will you get your butter rations for the week in one dose (hooray for healthy fats!) but the rosemary in the cake will help you digest it!
Rosemary Apple cake
Adapted loosely from Nigella's Rosemary Remembrance Cake recipe
For the apple mush:
2 apples, peeled, cored, chopped into wee chunks
2 sprigs rosemary for flavour, plus another bunch for decoration
1 tsp sugar
For the cake:
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup sugar (I use sucanat)
2 cups flour (I use gluten free all purpose plus 1 tsp extra baking powder)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 325F.
In a pot on the stove, simmer one chopped apple with a teaspoon of sugar, the rosemary, and about 1/4 cup water, with the lid on, for about 8 minutes. The apple will become mush. This is good.
Meanwhile, in a mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Throw in the sugar, and keep beating, then the eggs, one by one. Next add the vanilla, and then the apple mush mixture. Then, in three parts, on a slow setting, add the flour and baking powder. When its incorporated, spoon into either individual muffin tins or a loaf pan, or, in my case, a cast iron pan. Make sure this pan is well-greased with butter.
Before cooking, decorate the top with sprigs of rosemary. In the case of the muffins, I found it easier to de-stem the rosemary and just sprinkle it on top.
Cook for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean, and the tops are golden brown. Tastes best on the first day.
A few days ago, I was sitting watching the light change when it struck me that the seasons are turning. The weather doesn't agree: it's still in the 80's, I'm still sleeping with the covers cast off to the side, and my shoulders haven't seen a sweater in weeks. But the air, you guys, the air is saying something different. I imagine sometimes that the air is filled with tiny little light particles, and that they all dance in a certain direction. In spring, they start to wiggle, moving up, slowly at first, as if they are taking a while to wake up, and then quicker and quicker, as summer approaches. By summer, everything is in full fervent swing. The bugs mirror the pace: frantic, ecstatic. The leaves reach skyward with such power and speed (as they were born to reach these great heights and they know what's coming). For a second they hover in the air, suspended, weightless, and then, one by one, the particles start to fall. Slowly. Like feathers, in space. Slowly, like slipping into a dream.
I live for this time of year. Without a doubt. The light looks different during the summer. I await those 30 seconds of perfect hued morning light as the sun comes up and hits the tree in the front garden. But its coming, you guys, it's coming. Soon the air will grow thin. Soon the acorns will be ripe. Soon the leaves will fall. Soon everything will be suspended halfway between waking and dreaming.
Of course, its still hot. Weather hasn't caught the memo. Nature is bureaucratic, it seems, and these changes take a while to implement.
But looking at the light changing. Looking at the dust falling. Feeling that downward pull beginning, I can tell you that it's not long off. Savour the summer while you can; though I couldn't be more delighted.
These are really easy and quick to make. No fancy equipment needed. If you don't have access to acorn flour (I bought mine at the Korean market because my supplies are done until Autumn), then try chestnut, almond, hazelnut, or just use regular flour.
2 1/2 cups gluten free flour (or regular if you don't need gluten free, just halve the amount of baking powder and remove the xanthan gum)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup acorn flour
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar (scant)
1/2-1 cup buttermilk (start with 1/2 and keep adding till its the right consistency)
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the butter into chunks, and mix in with your hands, pinching it together, as you would with pastry, until the whole lot has a kinda course sandy consistency. Slowly add the buttermilk, a quarter cup at a time, mixing it all together with your hands until it forms a smooth dough.
Press the dough into an inch-high disk, and cut out scone shapes (I used a small mason jar, you can use whatever you like). Brush the top with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
They're best eaten warm out the oven but will last a few days until they just don't have a good consistency anymore.
Cut in half, spread with butter, then a dollop of clotted cream (which is really hard to find in the US- I use creme fraiche or whipped cream) and jam.