Stinging Nettles! Yum?

Yes, you really should try eating nettles!  And if you’re adventurous enough to try, now is the best time of year.  Foraged wild greens are often most tender, and therefore best to cook with, early in the spring when plants are still young.  Compared to many other wild greens, nettles are quite mild, with a flavor similar to cooked spinach.  They are nutritional superstars, rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium!  Nettles and nettle tea are believed to have many medicinal qualities and have been used as a traditional medicine by many cultures for centuries.  Most importantly, when cooked, nettles loose their sting.

nettles-growing

Look for nettles by the edges of fields and yards, along river banks, and along forest edges.  They are often quick to grow where fertile land has been recently disturbed.  I use gloves when harvesting and pinch the tender tops off of young plants.  In the kitchen, I rinse the leaves in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung.  Boil in a shallow water bath for about 5 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute.  Be sure to save your cooking water to drink as tea or for adding a nutrient boost to soup.  Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth without cooking ahead of time.

Nettles-fresh-and-cooked

Stinging Nettles fresh (don’t touch!) and cooked

Make sure to sample some nettles plain, so you can get to know their mild flavor.  Then try using them as an early spring spinach substitute.  Here are some recipe ideas I’m planning on trying out this season:

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup: This recipe is THE annual favorite in our household!

Nettle Quiche: Use your favorite spinach quiche recipe, but trade spinach for nettles.

Nettle Yogurt Soup: The original recipe is one of our favorite ways to cook with spinach. The surprising combination of nutmeg and cayenne give it a wonderfully unique flavor. This year I’m going to try it with nettles instead.

Nettle Pesto: A delicious garlicky spread!  Use your favorite recipe for kale pesto, but use nettles instead of kale.  This paste would also made a great layer in home made lasagna or pizza.

Saag paneer: This delicious Indian dish traditionally features spinach, fresh Indian cheese (that’s easy to make at home!), and curry spices.  These flavors would also go well with nettles.

Spanakopita: This savory Greek spinach and feta pie would be great with nettles instead of spinach!

Nettle dip: Google “spinach dip” and you’ll get all kinds of mouth-watering options.  I bet they’d be great with nettles too.

nettle-harvest

ramp-nettle-soup

 

Posted in Children and Nature, Personal Sustainability: How-To, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Season Greens

If you don’t count grass and thistles, our garden isn’t growing any greens yet.  But there are plenty of fresh greens to be harvested outside the garden!  And roots!  We’ve enjoyed meals of foraged leeks, dandelions, and parsnips this week.

ramps

Wild Leeks: Also known as Ramps, are our favorite wild spring edible.  They are delicious and if you know the right places, can be quite abundant.  They often grow by river banks and are some of the first green leaves to emerge in the spring.  Bring a trowel with you to harvest the nice white bulbs along with the green leaves and purple stems.  When foraging, remember to only harvest a small percentage of what is growing in the wild.  We fry them in butter to bring out the sweet mild oniony flavor.  I also love making cream of nettle and ramp soup each spring.

dandelion-family

Dandelion Greens: Everyone knows a place where dandelions grow!  Young leaves are tender and less bitter than older ones.  I fried ours in bacon fat with caramelized onions, garlic, smoked paprika, and salt.  They were delicious, slightly bitter, and tender.  Yum!  My next kitchen experiment will be to try roasting the roots for a coffee substitute.

sauteeing-dandelion-greens

Parsnips:  Wild parsnip leaves produce a sap, or plant juice, that can cause burns to the skin in the presence of sunlight.  Therefore, it’s good to make sure they’re not growing in your yard.  Our field is full of them, and they have begun to send up a new crop of leaves for the season.  Wild parsnips are actually the same thing as edible parsnips, they’re just not bred for big straight sweet roots.  They are, however, delicious wild edibles!  You’ll want to harvest them now, before they send any more energy out of their tap roots and into their growing stalk and leaves.  As an added bonus, when you make sure to pull up the entire plant, you’ve removed possibility of future irritation from brushing up against the leaves later in the year.

Use gloves and a big shovel to harvest, making sure to get as much of the taproot as you can.  Chop off the leaves and discard them when you’re still outside (I throw mine into the field beyond our lawn).  Scrub the dirt off the roots and chop against the grain. Cleaning and preparing can take some time, as wild parsnips tend to be smaller and more branched than garden-grown varieties. Cutting across the grain eliminates possible stringiness.  Sauté in butter and sprinkle with salt and maple syrup.

wild-parsnip-harvest

slicing-parsnips

 

sauteeing-parsnips

Happy Foraging!

Posted in Children and Nature, Personal Sustainability: How-To, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Harvests

garden-house

Gardens and gardening have always been present  in my life.  First they were the things my mom worked in while I played nearby on summer vacations.  Sometimes I had to help, like when the pea rows grew together and I was the only one that could fit through the tunnel to harvest the sugary snap peas trapped in the jungle of tendrils.  Then there were the community gardens that I stared at enviously from the wrong side of the fence in college.  That’s when I first realized how much I took back-yard-garden-grown veggies for granted.  Then, as Schoolyard Gardens Coordinator, gardens became my job.   Back in Vermont, I was the happy helper in my parents extensive gardens, growing enough produce for the four of us all year round.  This summer, finally, we can begin to establish our own big garden right outside our own house.  AND, I’m really excited!

Our garden is on the southern slope of a field that used to house cows.  It’s fertile and loamy, and FULL of roots and weed seeds.  We tilled the patch last fall, built a fence, and covered the beds with blankets of hay for the winter.  Though it’s just mid April, we are already growing a really healthy crop of grass!

grass

No, my first harvest isn’t edible.  At least for humans.  But it did make me a very proud happy gardener to “harvest” ten gallons of grass and roots this sunny afternoon.  With sunny warm days forecasted, I’m sure I’ll get a few more buckets every day this April Vacation.  Happy Gardening!

ten-gallon-harvest

Posted in Home Gardens, Musings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scenes from our Window

dining-table-view

The biggest red-tailed hawk I’ve ever seen:  Gripping the bouncing branch tightly in her talons.  Preening.  Buffeted by the wind all the while.

Deer and more deer:  Healthy, sleek.  Here there and everywhere.  Big and up-close.  A dozen dots a mile away.  Lending a sense of scale to our landscape view.

Bluebird feast: Juniper and sumac berries gave a burst of color.  Past holiday spirit to the front stoop.  Magicians, our local bluebirds help them disappear.  Branches quickly denuded by resourceful winter residents.

A fox trot: Stately jog across the field.  Stopping to sniff.  Stopping to look.  Fully present in the moment.  Glowing with the back-lit aura of early morning sun.

Red Maples blush: Up close bursts of deeply red stars decorating every branch tip.  From the window, a blushing forest.  A premonition of leaves to come.

Posted in Musings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Seed Season

It’s time to start thinking about seed starting and garden planning!  If you live near Charlotte, VT, consider coming to this Saturday’s Seed Swap to give away your extra seeds, get a few fun new varieties, and get your gardening questions answered by local experts:

seed-swap-2016

 

If you’re reading this from afar, here are some past blog posts that I love reviewing at this time of year.  Happy Spring!

Garden PlanningPlanning a Back-Yard Garden: This post includes information on several crucial components to planning a back-yard garden including soil testing, sunlight analysis, seed catalogue browsing, making a veggie wish list, and rough-draft garden planning.  Back yard gardening is an affordable way to access fresh veggies throughout the summer, will get you physically active outside, is rewarding, and can be a great way to bond with family members or roommates!
Basil

Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.  Now is the perfect time to buy seeds or attend a seed swap!  If you live in Somerville, check out Seed Sale and Seed Swap information.

ContainersConsider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This Post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

Posted in Home Gardens, School Gardens, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Easter Eggs

With cool wet weather, topped with scattered flurries, it’s hard to imagine that Easter is in two days!  We felted Easter Eggs this week after school.  This project turned out to be a great way for our mixed-age group to make something they were proud of and warm up their hands after playing outside in the cold muck.  Most of us benefited from some salve on our hands after an afternoon playing in the mud followed by working with soapy suds.  I also plan on making another batch of naturally dyed deviled eggs for our Easter meal.  Read last year’s blog post to learn how to make these playfully colorful and delicious eggs!

felting-set-upThis year’s egg felting required less adult help compared to last year.  Most children took two sessions to complete their egg.  On the first day, they felted a plain white ball, which generally ended up oval naturally.  On the second day, we added a layer of color.  This allowed the process to happen fairly quickly each day, making the project manageable for four- to ten-year-olders.  Our soft fuzzy colorful final products would make great easter presents for dolls and stuffed animals at home!

To felt our egg-shaped balls, we followed the same process as when felting balls to make acorns.  Get the instructions and supplies list here.  We started with a ball of undyed wool about the size of the child’s fist.

plain-felted-eggs

The second day children could choose 2-4 colors to wrap around their white egg.  Repeating the same process, they felted the colorful layer around their existing egg, covering any cracks with beautiful stripes.

wool-roving

felting-easter-eggs

Have a happy Easter!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Celebrating Pi Day with Berries

mixing-pi-pie

Happy Pi Day!

We celebrated by making a delicious blueberry and raspberry pie with coconut.  This grey muddy time of year is when the berries in our freezer, harvested last summer, taste best to me.  It’s also the time of year when we try to use up any remaining bags or jars of last year’s harvest before fresh goodies start to grow.  The sweet and sour flavor-packed berries were the perfect choice for a mid-March pie.

frozen-blueberries-raspberries

The Crust:

1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons grass fed organic butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vodka

Coconut flour and oil alone make a crust that struggles to stay together.  Substituting in some coconut flour and oil make this crust unique while maintaining the perfect flakey texture that we look for in pie crusts.  Using a bit of vodka instead of more water keeps the texture flakey and prevents it from getting hard.  Don’t worry – the alcohol bakes away!

Mix flours and salt.  Pinch butter and oil into flour until the mixture is crumbly with no huge pieces of butter remaining.  Mix cold water and vodka and pour the liquid over your mixture.  Fold together, knead gently, and let rest at room temperature.  Roll out and line your pie dish (see first photo above).  This makes one bottom crust – if you want a top crust, double the recipe.

berry-pie-ingredients

The Filling:

2 cups thawed blueberries
2 cups thawed raspberries
1/4 cup tapioca pearls
1 cup sugar (use palm sugar to avoid blood sugar spikes)
optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate and/or 1 tablespoon cream

Thaw your frozen berries.  Remember to use extra, as the volume decreases when frozen berries thaw.  Pour away the liquid (but save it!  it’s delicious!).  Mix all ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes.  Fill pie crust.  Cover with a top crust if desired and slit.  Bake at 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  Allow to cool before slicing.

We topped ours with toasted coconut instead of a second crust.  Yum!

raspberry-blueberry-pie

pi-day-pie

Posted in Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment