Food: Foraging in Spring

So right now (as alluded to in my previous post), I’m focused on things of a domestic nature in order to cope with the chaos raging outside my door. Call it escapism, or something else vaguely insulting — I don’t care. Whatever it takes (short of psychotropic drugs) to get by these days.

This week in food: my son and I collected Japanese Knotweed shoots and made a delicious jam — or compote, really. There is nothing like a tasty invasive species compote.

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) was originally brought to the U.S. as an ornamental, but has taken over as the bane of many gardeners. Knotweed is quite pretty, with shoots that look like bamboo that quickly transform into a gargantuan plant which flowers in late summer/early fall. It spreads via its rhizomes, which means it is a nightmare to control.

Interestingly, knotweed is used in alternative medicine to treat Lyme disease. An herbalist I know says that plants will often spring up unbidden in response to a need. If so, it makes sense that knotweed is so pervasive here (beyond its biological imperative), as Lyme disease is equally pervasive in the Northeast. For more official information on knotweed, check out what the eggheads at Penn State have to say through this link.

I was skeptical of the pro-edible knotweed entries I read in my foraging books, but thought I would give it a try. My skepticism was ill-founded because wow, is it ever tasty! If you like rhubarb, then eating knotweed is for you. The only downside is that the jam/compote is a terrible color: like asparagus baby food puree. This is off-putting, unless you are a baby who doesn’t know any better. As an adult, the polite thing to do is ignore the hue of the food and focus on the taste. You will be rewarded with deliciousness. Try it over yogurt or ice cream or anywhere you would slather jam.

I used a recipe from this smart veggie-obsessed blog, though I added two cups of sugar, not three, and contributed a touch of cinnamon to the final product. Which gave it a bit more depth, if I do say so myself.

Japanese Knotwood: ugly-cute

Next week’s post will feature life in the garden. And by life, I mean finding life in the garden. What a place! In the meantime, hang in there and, if you can, make this Life Changing Udon from this month’s Food & Wine. While it might not change your life, it will most definitely fill your belly with wholesome goodness, remind you that eggs, when cooked properly, are a beautiful thing, and be one more culinary hedge against outer darkness.

The Spring Equinox

On Nature

Last Saturday our (last) local farm celebrated the Spring Equinox by holding a Greenhouse Openhouse here in our seaside village. My family and I helped with the event, and had a good time observing the changing of the seasons. A couple of Celtic fiddlers played by the wood stove in the greenhouse, while my husband cooked beef stew – made by one of the farmers from their own locally-raised, grass-fed beef – over an open fire.

We dyed wooden eggs using all vegetable dyes, colors made from beets and carrots and all sorts of edible stuff. Once you start digging into the rituals surrounding it, there are so many inspiring, wacky and awesome ways to celebrate the turning of the seasons. People also took part in planting seeds, literally helping the farm grow.

My kids played in the mud all day, while occasionally complaining about not being at home playing video games. Eventually the complaints died down. Either they finally gave up or – I hope – forgot about the allure of technology for a couple of hours at least.

The air was crisp, the stew was hot, and the greenhouse smelled like warm dirt. It was a great day.

(For more, check out my post on Steemit)

Beef stew over an open fire

Dyeing wooden eggs in honor of Spring.

Taking a Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt

At Home in Ohio: Spring 2015

I head to my home state of Ohio a few times a year. I go back to see my beloved family, I go back to stay at the farm where I grew up, but mostly I go back because I have to: it is home.

Home can exist as a state of mind, it’s true, but home as an actual physical place has a stronger claim on a person than any abstract notion ever could. This doesn’t even have to mean that your home is a place you even necessarily want to be, but it is still a place, not just an idea. A place that exists in a specific spot on the planet — one that is unlike any other for you, utterly familiar no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been there. That’s how the farm is in Ohio for me. And not just for me; it’s the same for a lot of people in my extended family, scattered across the continent and the globe. We all converge in this particular spot any chance we get. It’s not that our farm is particularly amazing, though it has plenty of amazing elements, it is that it is ours. When I’m there, I think about my grandpa, who died in 2006, the year my oldest son was born. Just as my grandpa no doubt thought about his grandparents every time he was back on the same farm, their farm, long after they had passed away.

Spring came while I was in Ohio for this last visit. We celebrated Easter and mourned the dead and dying Ash trees that cover the property, the work of an invasive species which showed up  in 2002 and has managed to kill millions of trees in little more than a decade. Death and life, as always, go hand-in-hand and even as dead ash trees are cut out of the landscape, the tiny seedlings my sister planted in anticipation of summer sprang from the dirt and cheered us all up each time we walked past this little field of green.

The days are getting longer, long enough for the kids to run around outside to the point of exhaustion, but not so long that there isn’t time for adults to sit around in front of a fire in the wood burning stove on my mom’s porch, hot tea taking the chill off a late evening in spring, at home in Ohio.

The Table in Early Spring

Spring Table nest with rock eggs

In New England, as it has everywhere else, cold, gray weather has long overstayed its appointed time. So in putting together a look for a table for a lunch event last week, it didn’t seem quite right to smother the table in pastel flowers. And since the geography of granite and rocky beaches, woods and quarries here on Cape Ann is so dominant anyway, I just let the geography win.

The color scheme of the table centerpiece was gray and white, with the green element provided by moss. And dirt. I can’t forget the dirt that made its way onto the table from underneath the moss. One guest more or less had her plate sitting in a trail of the stuff, but she was a very good sport about it. It was a bit like a more refined version of an early spring picnic in the woods.  The place cards were made from rounded, smooth beach stones that looked like speckled eggs, and snowdrops, made from crepe paper, poked from the moss, mimicking what was taking place outside.

Early Spring Table

It felt decadent, as one guest at the lunch put it, to sit down on a random Tuesday and have lunch together with a collection of creative, interesting people, most of whom didn’t really know the hosts — or each other. Food writer Heather Atwood hosted the meal at her painterly house, Howlets. She not only made the delicious meal, she provided the color with her early spring soup, made up primarily of root vegetables that she found at a nearby farmers’ market and cooked until they were just tender with a bit of bite. To see those beautiful colors collected in a bowl and set against so much gray and white was enough to make a winter-starved soul break out in song, like something from a medieval rite of spring.

The whole experience was so invigorating, from the company to the setting to the food, that, far from taking a post-meal nap, I felt like writing a book or trying my hand at oil painting after everyone gathered their coats and left. Not that I did either of those things. But I certainly felt like it, and that is as much as I could hope for from lunch on a random Tuesday afternoon in March.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; — Song of Solomon 2:11

Table From Above

Early Spring Table Details...

photo: Heather Atwood

photo: Heather Atwood