Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.

nettles-growing

Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

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April in Vermont

april snow

April arrived in true Vermont style: with a blizzard.  Luckily, we live in a state where friends and neighbors revel in the snow.  We all enjoyed one more dose of sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, and snowball fights followed by a cozy night by the fire.

scilla

One week later, temperatures climbed past 75 degrees, we enjoyed the first blooms in our garden, and planted peas and spinach.  Ahhhh, April in VT.  After enjoying these mild days, I need to remind myself that a few more dramatic swings are likely before the weather turns truly springy.

colorful-egg-outsides

With Easter right around the corner, I’m getting ready to do another batch of naturally died deviled eggs.  Everyone’s backyard chickens increase production as the days grow longer, so there are always plenty of delicious eggs to play with at this time of year.  After hard boiling them and removing the shells, I’ll soak a few eggs in each of the following solutions:

-Yellow: Boil water and add 1T turmeric.  After solution has cooled, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt.
-Blue: Boil water and add 1/4 cup elderberries and 1 teaspoon baking soda.  (If adding apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt, do so slowly to avoid volcanoes 🙂
-Red: Boil water and add three slices of beet.  After solution has cooled, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt.
-Green, orange, purple…?: This year I’ll be experimenting with combining the brines above to see what other colors are possible.

After they’ve soaked several hours (or longer), I’ll slice my eggs in half and devil them.  Mix egg yolks, mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice, finely diced red onions, salt, black pepper and relish to taste.  Mix until creamy and spoon filling into egg whites.

colorful-egg-platter

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!

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Indoor Kitchen Projects

IMG_8239

Don’t open the back door!

We are finally enjoying a true blizzard in our new home!  Fluffy white drifts tip into the house each time I open the front door.   I’m excited to play in the snow – my first priority is sledding or cross country skiing down Mt. Philo.  I think I’ll wait, though, until I can confidently get back up the driveway when I return.  In the mean time, here are some fun indoor projects that are perfect for a snowy day:

salve-ingredinets

Soothing salves

homemade-crackers1

Homemade crackers

marmelade

Marmalade

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Homemade Sushi

homemade-sushi-platter

Making your own sushi is a surprisingly easy process and creates a beautiful array of appetizers or centerpiece for a special meal.  The most difficult part of the process in Vermont is obtaining really high quality raw fish.  If you do have a good source, that’s great!  If not, there are plenty of other delicious ingredients that can be used to make flavorful and colorful sushi rolls.

The only piece of equipment that is unique to the sushi-making process is a bamboo sushi rolling mat.  They’re widely available online for less than five dollars, however, and don’t take up much room in a drawer.

making-sushi-at-home

Prepare your rice:

True sushi rice should be white and short grain, prepared with rice vinegar.  Cook one cup of rice with just over one cup water.  Cover pot and bring to boil.  Simmer, covered, for about 10 additional minutes until water has been absorbed.  Taste rice to make sure it is cooked through.  If so, stir in two tablespoons rice vinegar and a dash of salt. Allow to rest, covered for a few more minutes so any grains stuck to your pot release.

Decide on your flavors:

“Sticked” or thin log shapes (imagine a carrot stick or baby carrot) work best for rolling into sushi.  Thick spreads like cream cheese can also work well.  Very hard things or ingredients in small pieces or bits work less well.  I like avocado slices, pieces of cooked sweet potato (extra credit for marinating them ahead of time), marinated tofu slices, smoked salmon (if you don’t have a reliable source for raw), red onions, egg strips (beat eggs with salt and sesame oil, fry in a flat “pancake” in a frying pan, cut into strips), and various pickled vegetables.  I often scan the fridge for leftovers that could be included.

Prepare your prep counter:

Gather everything you need on a counter with plenty of space.  I gather: my rice pot, a bowl of water for dipping fingers, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a bamboo rolling mat, nori (seaweed) sheets, ingredients for inside the sushi, and a platter for completed rolls.

ready-to-roll-sushi

Roll the sushi:

It will become much more clear how to make a nice sushi roll after trying it once!  Here’s my best effort to explain using words:  Lay out your bamboo mat and place a sheet of nori on top, closer to the left side of the mat.  Dip your fingers in water to moisten them.  This keeps the rice from sticking.  Take a handful of rice and push it into a thin layer covering the left half of your piece of nori.  Arrange your ingredients in a modest strip from the top to bottom along the left edge of the rice.  Moisten the bare right hand side of the nori with water.

Begin to roll the left edge over and around your ingredient strip.  When the left edge touches down, keep the bamboo mat up (so you don’t roll it into the sushi, and continue to roll the sushi until you’ve reached the end of the nori.  Give the whole roll (with the bamboo still around the outside) a gentle squeeze to bond everything together.  Your ultimate goal is to have enough rice to wrap around your inside ingredients, with extra nori to bind to itself, making a strong outer layer.  No matter how it comes out, it will taste good!

Open up the bamboo mat and lay the sushi roll on a cutting board.  Moisten the blade of a sharp knife with water.  Gently slice your roll into pieces of sushi and arrange on your platter.

Enjoy!

We serve our sushi with a dipping sauce (soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and hot pepper paste), pickled ginger, and wasabi.  Yum!

homemade-sushi

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Homemade Bath Salts

diy-epsom-bath-salts

Homemade bath salts are SO SO easy to make yourself.  They offer a great way to take advantage of the healing, relaxing, and restorative powers of warm baths in the winter.  Epsom salts have been used for generations to relieve aches and pains.  More specifically, they provide you with a dose of magnesium, a mineral that is often lacking in our modern diets.  Magnesium’s many powers include: maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heart beat steady, and helping bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aids in the production of energy and protein (from Medline).

When you make bath salts at home, it is also fun to experiment with different combinations of essential oils.  In addition to smelling good (without exposing you to synthetic fragrances), each essential oil has an array of superpowers that help promote health and wellness.  A simple google search can help you understand the range of benefits from each different essential oil or provide you with essential oil suggestions for treating a specific heath condition or promoting a feeling or mood.

Simple Homemade Bath Salts (adapted from Wellness Mama):

  • 4 cups epsom salts (very cheap and available at all drug stores)
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 40 drops of essential oils (available at health food stores and online)

Mix together in a glass bowl.  Store in a quart canning jar.  Use 1 cup per bath.

making-your-own-bath-salts

Lavender, birch, and frankincense for my “Aches and Pains” bath salts mixture

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Winter Weekends Around the House

This winter we’ve had the luxury of being able to enjoy calm weekends at home.  Our time is structured with projects and forays outside supplemented by plenty of relaxation and reading by the fire.  Having time and lacking garden surplus foods that must be used up has given me the space to experiment with some new recipes.  We also enjoyed the results from our first attempt to process garden-grown dent corn into authentic tortillas.  Yum!  Here are some (food-focused) glimpses from our winter weekends at home:

defrosting-elderberries

Elderberries defrosting in the sun (Elderberry Syrup recipe here)

sweet-potato-brownie

Sweet potato brownies: we’ll definitely be making this again! (recipe here)

brownie-plate

Oops: meant to take a picture of the beautiful brownie plated on strawberry sauce with a drizzle of maple syrup sour cream on top… 

saved-cilantro-seeds

Sorting seeds and making our order for the 2017 garden!

windowsill-herbs

And then planting a few for some early spring windowsill cilantro

bone-broth

Bones defrosting for crock pot broth (recipe here)

skiing

Two amazing things happened last week: it snowed AND it was sunny

sauerkraut-angel

Appreciating this beautiful cabbage angel while making sauerkraut (recipe here)

making-tortillas

Homemade garden-grown blue corn tortillas (recipe here)

homemade-tortillas

Success!

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Tracks in the Snow

RaccoonPath

A favorite children’s book in the after school program read, “Tracks in the snow, tracks in the snow.  Where did they come from, where did they go?”  Whenever I’m out on a walk in the forest and see tracks in the freshly fallen snow, these lines play cheerfully through my mind.

In this past post, I discussed how amazing tracking with children is.  Animal tracking is truly a magical tool that encourages curiosity and problem solving.

However, the benefits can extend to adults too!  Too often we forget to stop and examine the beautiful and interesting details that surround us in our everyday life.  This is especially true when trying to fit exercise and outside time into a busy day.  Mindfulness, curiosity, life-long-learning, and wonder are especially important when there is a need to counteract stressful situations in other parts of life.  Following animal tracks is a wonderfully energizing way to be present in the moment with all senses alert.

My challenge to you: Walk outside in a natural setting, deeply breathing in the fresh air, as often as you can.  If there is a dusting of snow or patches of mud, keep an eye out for animal tracks.  Take time to observe and question: What kind of animal was it?  How did it move?  Where did it come from?  Where did it go?

turkey-wing-track

RaccoonPrint

Bobcat

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