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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

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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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Feasting on Herbs and Flowers

spring-herbs2

This is my favorite time of year to include a big handful of herbs and flowers in every meal.  Herbs have fully leafed out and are starting to grow tender new leaves.  The flowers in bloom are ever evolving, and you’d be surprised to learn how many of them are edible.  While we’re waiting for our first peas, beans, cucumbers, and carrots, I love highlighting the wonderful flavors of backyard and garden herbs and flowers.

tea-flowers

Make tea: Both herbs and flowers make wonderful tea.  Standard flavors like chamomile and mint are easy to grow in your garden and are best harvested at this time of year.  Other familiar blooms and leaves also make great tea!  Try red clover, stinging nettle, sage, rosemary, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, catnip, or rose petals.  Spices from your kitchen like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon make great additions to tea blends.  Want to dig deeper?  Get a book or look online to learn the healing properties of your favorite herbs and flowers.

fresh-herb-tea

spring-herbs1

Make Herb Pesto, Dip, Sauce, or Dressing: I’m always surprised by how big a bundle of pungent herbs can be used to made a small dish of delicious “pesto.”  Try blending the herbs in your garden with sprouted sunflower seeds, olive oil,  parmesan, and lemon juice for a delicious pesto.  Add a small amount of chicken broth or coconut milk for a wonderful sauce to top your meals.  Add more oil and vinegar, and perhaps some plain yogurt, mustard, and garlic to make a delicious green dressing.  As a bonus, herbs are packed with nutrients and a variety of healing properties.

herb-pesto

Garnish Generously: Flower petals and finely chopped herbs made delicious and beautiful garnishes for meals and toppings for salads.  If you don’t have many choices in your garden, wander into your yard (make sure there are no pesticides or pet waste!) or nearby fields.  Dandelion greens and petals, clover petals, violets, wood sorrel leaves, purslane, chick weed and lambs quarters are all nutrient-packed wild leaves, “weeds,” and flowers that are plentiful and tasty.

may-salad-ingredients

may-salad

 

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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

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

 

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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

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!

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Children and Nature Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Spring?

march-philo

In past years, I start posting about signs of spring and springtime activities in April.  After having just enjoyed two muddy days with temperatures rising to sixty degrees and with new birdsongs in the air, it appears as though spring is springing early his year.  And if I jinx it, and we receive the snowy cold weather we’ve been waited for all winter long, great!

Here are some of my favorite spring time traditions:

signs-of-springLook and listen for signs of spring: Jot down notes on a calendar or a piece of paper that you can save.  Keeping a “Signs of Spring” list heightens my sense of awareness when spending time outdoors.  I pay more attention to the little things that are happening around me as the world wakes up from hibernation.  Sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and feelings can all point to signs of spring.  Saved lists from past years allow you to notice changes from year to year.

Learn new birdsongs: Every spring I am reinspired to learn more birdsongs.  First, I review birdsongs of species are common around the house.  There’s a list of mnemonics here and a huge directory of songs to listen to at “All About Birds.”  Then, when I go for walks down our back dirt roads or hikes in the forest, I listen carefully.  As I walk I try to translate what I hear: “Cherrio, cheery me, cheery me,” for example. When I arrive home, I try to identify one or two of the songs I remember (that was an American Robin).  Slowly but surely I identify more and more songs in the outdoor chorus on my own.

starting-seedsStart Seeds: Even if you don’t have a garden, starting seeds can be a fun spring activity.  All you need is a container with a hole poked in the bottom, potting soil, seeds of your choice, and some sort of dish for your container to sit in.  Grow lights or windows with strong southern sun will make for stronger seedlings that will do better if transplanted into your garden.  Plants like peas, lettuce, spinach, and herbs can be eaten as sprouts or “micro greens,” making this project rewarding in as little as 30 days!

Forage-Harvest

Taste the first wild greens of the season: As spring progresses, keep an eye out for wild ramps, fiddleheads, young nettles, or other edible wild plants.  Foraging is most rewarding and delicious in the spring when plants are young, tender, and mild.  They also tend to grow before anything is ready from gardens, satiating our cravings for fresh green treats after a winter of soups, stews, and casseroles.  Read more about the plants I look for here.

forced-dogwood

 

Force spring branches: All you need to do is clip branches and put them in a vase filled with fresh water.  Change water regularly, as you would for cut flowers.  Blooming branches, like forsythia, are great for forcing.  At indoor temperatures, your branches’ buds will open into new leaves and flowers.  We clip the bright red branches of dogwood now for a beautiful table arrangement at Easter.

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Home Gardens Musings Recipes

Spring In Our New Home: First Harvests & Weeding Invasives

The landscape is greening up, more edible plants and shoots are emerging, and some less desirable plants are perfect for pulling!  Now is a great time to enjoy green fresh first harvests and remove any invasive plants from your yard and garden.

Our driveway is now a garlic mustard graveyard.
Our driveway is now a garlic mustard graveyard.

Garlic mustard was in full bloom in a previously disturbed area to the south of our house.  The moist soil made for easy pulling.  It’s important to pull this invasive plant before seeds mature, and dispose of it properly!  Learn more about Garlic Mustard and other invasives here.

Nettle and ramp harvest
Nettle and ramp harvest

It’s time to enjoy wild edibles!  Fiddleheads are just starting to emerge.  Nettles and ramps are thriving on the river banks and forest edges at this time of year.  I love using them to make Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup (recipe here).  It’s great warm or cold, and I love to garnish it with sauerkraut.

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup with Sauerkraut.
Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup with Sauerkraut.

It’s magical to watch the progression of spring from the big windows of our new home.  Everything seems wonderfully green this week.  Trees are blossoming and leaves are emerging, providing dappled shade and protection from the strengthening sun.

The grass is growing and leaves are emerging!
The grass is growing and leaves are emerging!
First gardening efforts.
First gardening efforts.
View from the north east.
View from the north east.
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Home Gardens Musings

Spring Greens

winter-funI really enjoyed winter this year.  Temperatures stayed below freezing and snow accumulated nicely, allowing for all sorts of sledding, skiing, skating, and winter hiking adventures. I have to admit, though, I can’t wait for the green glow of spring.  Visually it seems almost magical to watch the grey-brown landscape blush with the blossoming of the red maples and then grow progressively greener as leaves begin to emerge.  New growth also offers fresh greens, especially exciting to those of us who try to eat in-season local produce.

ramps

Before anything sprouts in the garden, wild plants begin to grow.  Nettles, ramps, and dandelions all offer tender young greens far before lettuce or spinach will be ready locally.  Learn more about finding, harvesting, and preparing common wild plants in this blog post.

peas-and-spinach

Lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and chives are all happy on cool spring nights, and offer fresh leaves before many other garden residents.  These veggies can be planted as soon as the garden soil is dry enough to till.

IMG_1742

The wonderful thing about baby greens is that they can grow almost anywhere – from a pot on a windowsill to a plot in your garden or at the farm.  Read about how my seedlings inspired me while living in the city in this past post.  If you are interested in starting a container garden, now’s the time!  Learn more from this post.

early-spring-harvest

Need some ideas about how to turn your fresh spring greens into tasty meals?  Here’s a list of some of my favorite ways to use the first wild and tended harvests of the year.

For me, spring is an exciting season filled with firsts:  my mouth waters as I dream about the first peas and first asparagus.  I know a watched pot doesn’t boil, but will a watched asparagus bed sprout shoots?

Happy foraging, happy gardening, and happy spring!

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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Spring Foraging

Things are finally greening up around here!  

Forage-Harvest

Early spring is the perfect time to forage for wild greens.  Many of the first plants to emerge from river banks, forests, and fields are edible, and they’re available before anything is ready from the garden.  In addition, early shoots are often the most delectible part of plant to eat!  If you need any more convincing, research the nutrition content of these greens – they’re all packed with vitamins and minerals.

When foraging, remember: Never take everything!  Leave enough healthy plants so that your favorite sites continue to produce year after year.  This, of course, is not true if you’re harvesting edible invasive plants.

Wild Leeks: Also known as Ramps, these are our favorite wild spring edibles.  It’s delicious and if you know the right places, can be quite abundant.  It often grows by river banks and is one 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.  We fry it to bring out its sweet mild oniony flavor and use it instead of leeks or onions in recipes.

Wild Leeks growing by the river, chopped, and fried
Wild Leeks growing by the river, chopped, and fried

Marsh Marigold: We harvest Marsh marigold leaves, stems and flower buds before the flowers open.  Stems are tender and break for an easy harvest.  This plant can be toxic if eaten raw!  Because of high tannin levels, we boil in three water baths.  Bring a pot with your chopped marigold harvest to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Drain and repeat three times.  The result has a mild flavor and a texture similar to over-cooked spinach – soft and slimy.  If they can accept the texture, marigolds are good for those who don’t like the common bitter hints in many wild plants.

Marsh-Marigold-prepared
Marsh Marigold blooming and cooked

Dandelion Greens: Everyone knows a place where dandelions grow!  Young leaves are tender and less bitter than older ones.  We harvest before the plants bloom and fry the leaves.  The slightly bitter and very dark green leaves can be used in place of collards in recipes.  Dandelions have thin tender leaves though, so they don’t need as long a fry time.

Dandelion harvest fresh and fried
Dandelion harvest fresh and fried

Nettles: I first harvested nettles to dry for tea.  Now I enjoy them as an edible green.  The leaves loose their stingy-ness once they are boiled, but use caution when harvesting!!  I use gloves and pinch the tender tops off of young plants.  I wash in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung.  Boil in a shallow water bath for about 10 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute!  Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth.  Some tasters found the mild green flavor to have hints of fishyness.  This disappeared when used as an ingredient in a larger dish but was present when eaten plain.

Stinging Nettles fresh (don't touch!) and cooked
Stinging Nettles fresh (don’t touch!) and cooked
Full Pockets Post-Forage
Full Pockets Post-Forage

Want to learn more about foraging?  There’s a lot of really good books out there! I like The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants as well as A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America to use as references and field guides. Stalking The Wild Asparagus is a great read that was very popular in the 70s, but is less well known today.  

Our next eagerly awaited harvest will be fiddleheads.  Once they’ve finished up, we should be on to asparagus and spinach from the garden!

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Home Gardens Recipes

Root Season: Parsnips, carrots, and horseradish, oh my!

With a few hard frosts behind us, our options are slimmer if we want to eat straight from the garden.  There are still some great things out there to eat, however, before we dive into our canned and frozen foods for the winter.  Beet salads, carrot miso soup, home made horseradish, and even foraged roots from the back field have graced our table this week.

 

This weekend’s warm temperatures motivated me to find a few of the edible plants I had read about in my foraging book.  At this time of year, roots make up most of the options.  I dug burdock, thistle, and parsnip – digging deep down into our dense clay to free the taproots so I could tug them from the ground.  Interestingly, two of these three species (thistle and parsnip) have leaves that cause skin irritation. The roots, however, are completely safe to eat!

After taste testing our peeled boiled root selection, wild parsnip was the clear champion.  It was very similar to the parsnip available in the store – just a little less sweet.  We are trying to eradicate the plant from our back field but is is still very common in our neighborhood, making it easy to find and harvest.  The roots of medium sized plants each yielded a decent amount of food.  I seared round disks of the parsnip in vegetable oil, adding water and covering my pan to steam and soften the roots.  Once they were fully cooked, I sprinkled them with salt and maple syrup.  Mmmm….

Making our own horseradish was pretty easy.  It’s one of those foods that is so much better fresh!  This year we moved some plants into our garden so that we could have our own source of roots.  Now that the leaves have started to die back, it’s time to harvest.  We peeled and diced the horseradish roots, used a food processor to finely grate the pieces, and mixed it with white vinegar for our final product.  The finer it can be grated, the spicier it will be.  For more details, check out this article.  We’ve been enjoying on sandwiches, salad dressings, and to spice up soups.

After so many summer salads, our root crops are offering a welcome seasonal change.  Our next challenge: what to do with a 22 pound hubbard squash!