Monthly Archives: March 2011

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Banana-almond muffins

Some things are just meant to be eaten on top of a mountain. You know, picnic style. With the cold wind whipping around your face, and the ocean far away in front of you, and the sweat on your back starting to chill but not enough that you need to get moving again. Mountain top snacks. Like banana-almond muffins that aren’t too sweet and taste more like a breakfast muffin than an afternoon tea muffin. The kind of muffin that gives you energy to hike the 6 miles back to the car when the rain is starting to drop big ploppy raindrops onto your already wet back. Yes. These muffins are perfect as a fuel snack.

Though they ARE actually delicious with tea in the afternoon too, I mean, I’ve polished off quite a few. Today I had 2. Yesterday I had 4. The other day when I was hiking I had 3 on top of Sandstone peak. And then Carly had one, and Aaron had 4 (4!) and I’ve made 4 batches in one week, which means they’re received very well regardless.

Ok, and the best part: I didn’t tell anyone that they were kinda ‘healthy’ and they liked them anyway. I always find that if someone knows it’s healthy then they have a lower standard for tastiness. As in: “it’s great… for gluten free.” I try not to judge things in that way because I’d honestly rather go without than fool my tastebuds into accepting a substitute. And don’t worry, by ‘healthy’ I mean not laden with white flour and white sugar. They will still go straight to your ass, unless you’re eating them on top of a mountain. Just in case you thought I was bringing you diet food. No, dear reader, I will never stoop that low.

A note on almond flour: I use blanched almond flour. I use the one by Bob’s Red Mill. I had one packet that tasted stale and disgusting, and the whole batch of muffins had big crunchy almond chunks and that strange bitter almond flavour. They were not good. The rest of the batches were perfect– moist and full of flavour, with no weird bitter almond taste at all. The tester for me is tasting the batter. If the batter tastes good, then the muffins will too. In fact the batter tastes so good that I insist on tasting it about eight times just to be sure.

Banana almond muffins

adapted very slightly from Elana’s Pantry

makes 12


3 bananas with brown spots

1/2 cup melted butter

2 large eggs

 

1 1/2 cups almond flour

1 tb arrowroot powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup honey

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Mash the bananas in a bowl, and add the butter and eggs. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl, and then combine the two. Spoon into individual cupcake tins. Cook at 350 for approximately 30 minutes– but check after 25 minutes. The top should be golden brown and they should not cave in under a gentle pressing.

 

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Duck, duck, spruce.

It hit 80 degrees last week. I know this because I was standing on top of a mountain, sweating like crazy, cursing myself for not wearing a hat. In many parts of the country it’s still snowing, but here it’s hat season. A couple more months and I’ll be doing my Jonah thing, and sitting under a bush in a bad mood (yes, I just used a biblical reference, and yes, I have been known to collapse under a bush until my body cools down enough to keep going). I can’t quite understand why it is that people LIKE the heat. It just puts me in a bad mood. I’m in a bad mood just thinking about it. This, by the way, is why Bikram yoga never worked for somebody like me, because after 20 minutes of standing in that room I thought I was going to die. And thinking about hot weather AND Bikram yoga turns my bad mood into a completely foul mood. Let’s just hope that nobody comes knocking on my door to sell me something.

And in the mean time I’ll turn my mind to duck to try and calm down. I made a duck the other night. A spruce duck, to be exact. Since most of the country is still under snow (*sob*), I figured it might be good to play around with the rest of the tree too, not just the tips, to give you guys an adequate analysis of whether or not it’s usable. The good news is that using the regular old needles infuses meat with a delicious flavour, and then you’re left with a pint of the most delicious spruce-infused duck fat to fry your eggs in for weeks to come. The bad news is that I don’t have any pictures because I ate it all too fast. So this will have to do instead:

Spruce duck

1 duck

salt

pepper

about 1/2 cup chopped up spruce needles, plus a few spruce branches for a bed

Preheat oven to 425.

Put the spruce branches on a roasting rack. Place the duck on top, and score the surface of the duck lightly in a criss-cross pattern, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped spruce needles.

Roast at 425 for 15 minutes, then flip the bird, scoring the underside and cooking for another 15. Reduce the temperature to 350, and cook for another hour, flipping half way. Check it because all ducks are different sizes :). A knife inserted in the leg should produce clear-ish liquid, not blood gushing out. You can always stick your finger in there and see– if you scream “OW” and pull it out fast then it’s probably ready.

 

Serve with Butter’s Spruce Gremolata.

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Fir tip shortbread

Around age 9, a teacher introduced me to wood sorrel. The fact that there was a plant, out there, in the woods, that was edible, completely blew my mind. I started going into the woods as often as I could to eat wood sorrel. And by ‘eat’ I mean, to wipe out the entire population (knowing nothing about ethical harvesting and biodiversity and all that stuff). And when I’d munched my way through those, I’d take a packet of chips with me, build a little fire, and roast them, having pretended that I hunted them down and slaughtered them with my bare hands. I think that other girls might have been sitting around planning their weddings, but not me: I planned my next slaughter. Sizzle, crunch.

When it comes to decimating plant populations, I’m not really much of a fan of that anymore. Its one of the reasons I like teaching how to gather and eat conifer tips. Where with some plants you have to watch how much you gather, its really hard to get to that point in a coniferous forest. And then there’s the added benefit of the act of pinching tips off being good for the trees– it encourages them to grow bushier and healthier every year.

So here’s your homework, should you choose to accept it: go for a walk and see if there are bright green tips on your local conifers, and if there are, pinch one of and give it a nibble. Good? Then gather a few, bring them home, and then make this shortbread, because its spectacular.

Next batch, I’m going to whip up a fir icing and drizzle that over the top, to emphasize the firry-ness of it all. But this batch was plain. And delicious. Crispy and buttery, just like shortbread should be, but with that hint of citrus and conifer from the fir.

Fir tip shortbread

adapted from Delia Smith

6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

3 oz (1/3 cup) sugar

8 oz  (1 cup) flour (or 5 oz gluten free flour mix plus 3 oz white rice flour)

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup finely chopped fir tips

 

Preheat oven to 325.

Beat the butter until creamy, and add the sugar. Add the flour, cornstarch and fir tips, and mix until crumbly. Then turn it out onto a surface and bring together in a big ball. The mixture will come together, even if it doesn’t look like it at first.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Then roll out, and cut into shortbread shapes– I use a round mason jar because I don’t have cookie cutters :).

Bake at 325 for about 25 minutes, until barely golden brown. They’ll feel soft when you pull them out, but don’t worry, they’ll harden as they cool.

Sprinkle with extra sugar as soon as they come out the oven, then try to wait for them to cool before eating.

 

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Idli with Coconut chutney

I am standing in my own kitchen. After a month of not having access to a kitchen. Or at Pushpa’s, having a kitchen but absolutely no permission to do anything except watch and/ or chop onions), I am back.

A month of bookmarking things that I want to try and jotting down notes. A month of trying things that are delicious (home made butterscotch ice cream at Guy’s in the Merchant City in Glasgow) and things that are absolutely disgusting (pre-cooked poached eggs on mashed potatoes with ceps at Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Airport Food’ in terminal 5 at Heathrow). Of trips to Marks and Spencer’s Simply food and complete obsession with their crayfish and mango salad (yes please) and an even bigger obsession with their lemon curd yogurt (if somebody offers to ship me some I will gladly accept and maybe even offer payment in return), I get home and all I want is Indian food.

So much so that on a Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, still riddled with jetlag, I braved the traffic to drive across town to the Indian grocery store to pick up fenugreek seeds and white lentils. And upon walking into that tiny little corner of India in Los Angeles, I got so nostalgic, with all those smells and the colours that I was really convinced that I was back. And being so convinced that I was back I popped next door for a dosa and some coconut chutney. Of course it cost me $8 instead of $0.30, and the coconut chutney was not Pushpa’s, and it wasn’t drizzled with ghee like the ones I loved were. I ate it with my hands, and I wobbled my head at the waitress, who gave me a funny smile and then charged me $8 (700 Rupees) for a mediocre dosa. I held back my tears and then drove back across town.

My favourite breakfast in India was idli with coconut chutney, drizzled with ghee. I could have it every morning. Not only were the idli stodgy and delicious, the chutney was the perfect blend of flavours, and the ghee was fatty and sweet and it was all perfect together. Pushpa would watch in shock as I’d put away about 8 of them (and then retreat to my room to lie in bed groaning for an hour). They’re not difficult to make, though the whole soaking and blending process is done over the course of 24 hours or so, so you need to plan in advance. Another annoying thing is that you need an idli pan to make them, and I’m trying to think of a substitute (if you can think of something let me know or post it in the comments), but the GOOD news is that you can use idli batter to make dosa. You cannot use dosa batter to make idli (Pushpa was very specific about this), but idli batter is flexible and can be used for both.

Idli

2 parts rice

1 part white lentils

pinch baking soda

pinch sugar

pinch salt

In the morning, soak rice and lentils separately in about 4 times as much water. Around 7pm, drain them and blend REALLY well, until it’s a paste. Mix both together, add some more water (we’re talking a very wet hummus consistency), add salt, a pinch of baking soda, and a pinch of sugar, and leave out overnight.

In the morning you can either cook it like a dosa (you might need to add a tiny bit more water) or a crepe, or, if you can find some kind of steamer mold, you can make dumplings. Oil and fill the mold, and steam for 10 minutes. Remove and drizzle with ghee before serving.

Coconut chutney

The meat of 1 fresh brown coconut (alternatively use 1 cup of rehydrated coconut)

1/2 cup coriander leaf

4-5 curry leaves (I used basil as I couldn’t find curry)

1 inch piece ginger

2 green chilis

salt

small handful white lentils

1/2 cup water

 

Put all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Serve with idli or dosa.

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Goat cheese spruce balls

Playing around with spruce tips is really fun. They taste so good that I have a ‘one for you, one for me’ thing going on with whatever I am doing. And then my breath smells like pine forest for hours afterwards. Not only that, but these might be some of my favourite things to gather ever. It puts me in an almost meditative state, wandering around plucking the bright green bits off the trees– I think your eyes have to adjust slightly to take in all the colours, and when you do that for a couple of hours, I swear I’m in a different head space by the time I get back to my car.

So far I haven’t found any fir tips for this month’s Wild Things round up. The only area I know of that has a bunch of fir trees is closed because of the Station Fire that hit LA 2 years ago. So I’m working my way back through all my hiking books to see if there’s any mention of douglas or white fir anywhere nearby. Or not nearby. I’ll drive.

But the pine and spruce tips are in profusion– you can see them driving down the street in Beverly Hills, waving from peoples’ front yards like bright little taunting things saying “TRESPASS HERE! EAT ME!”. Of course I, being of superior moral character, do nothing of the sort, and drive up into the mountains where I can pinch as many as I want without fear of somebody seeing me from their front window and shouting *ahem* not that I know anything about this *ahem*.

Anyway, these tips are surprisingly versatile, and I’ve been playing around a lot. Here’s my current favourite, and it’s so simple it doesn’t even really need a recipe:

Spruce tip goat cheese balls.

1 packet goat cheese

1/2 cup spruce tips, chopped finely

 

Mash the goat cheese and half of the spruce tips together until well mixed. Then, take a chunk of the goat cheese and, with clean hands, roll it between your hands until if forms a ball. Then, roll it around in the remaining spruce tips until it’s covered. Repeat until you’re out of cheese. Serve with, well whatever you want– my favourite is toast and butter, but then, that’s always my favourite :).

 

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Wild things: Spruce tips

image credit: capital city weekly

With spring comes quick and constant changes in the mountains. It seems that from day to day another thing is blooming, and even in Southern California, where the greens start coming up in December, it’s still a treat to see actual wildflowers– the ceanothus and peonies and gnaphaliums and poppies. It’s an absolute treat, especially as most of them are so fragrant, and in the spring sunshine these fragrances will take over entire hillsides, intoxicating you slightly with their scents. As sad as I was to leave India, I was more excited to get back to the spring here– to the end of chanterelle season (here, anyway), and the beginning of the busy harvesting season!

Some of my favourite things about this time of year are the spruce, pine and fir tips. So often with foraged foods you have something to compare flavours to– for example rose hips have a slightly tangy crab apple flavour– but with these tips, they really have a flavour all to themselves that could only be described as ‘citrus meets conifer’. But that doesn’t even do it justice. You really have to taste the different types of tips, not only to be able to describe it for yourself, but because they are exquisite. Each tree has its own flavour, ranging from more citrusy, to more acrid and coniferous tasting.

So if you hadn’t guessed it by now, with all the talk and all the information AND the big banner at the top, our Wild Thing for the month of March is the spruce/ fir/ pine tip.

Spruce is used as a diaphoretic, to induce sweating during bouts with flu. It’s also antiseptic, and great for kidney infections due to its diuretic properties.

Fir is good for infections, especially to do with the lungs. Both Cook and Culpepper describe it as a ‘pectoral’ herb, indicated in chronic achey coughs and colds. Culpepper goes on to say that it’s “of a mollifying, healing, and cleansing nature; and, besides its uses outwardly in wounds and ulcers, is a good diuretic”. And although I don’t have that much experience with it, Kiva sent me some of her white fir elixir, and it’s so tasty that I’ve already gone halfway through it without any reason other than the sheer deliciousness.

The most medicinally active part of the pine tree is the sap– the tree releases it to heal its own wounds, and similarly we can use it on our skin, to heal wounds and to pull out splinters and such. Stephen Buhner goes on to say that “pins helps soften bronchial mucous and move it out of the system through expectoration,” and that “in any condition where the lungs are congested without expectoration it is useful”.

Much like juniper, pine is also very useful in kidney and bladder infections, though too much can irritate the kidneys and bladder too.

I’ve got some pine tips drying for tea, a fir elixir brewing on my shelf, and a quart jar of spruce needles (not tips) macerating in vodka, as I’m thinking of trying out some cocktails on my dinner guests next week (Carly, be warned). All three are also very high in vitamin C, making them a great thing to have around for teas and such anyway, and if THAT isn’t enough to convince you then maybe the recipes we come up with this month will be.

Spruce, fir and pine tips are easy to identify, especially in the Spring. Check out what Butter has to say on the subject here, along with her first recipe.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to escape the city to find these things– I’ve seen them all over LA in the last couple of days. Just also keep in mind that you’ll need to wash them first. I jumped out of the car, grabbed a few to eat, and handed one to Jamie, who spat it out immediately because it was covered in dust and dirt and all kinds of other stuff. I guess I’m used to the mountains where I just nibble on things as I go. Oops.

If you’ve forgotten about the Wild Things round up, you can read all about it here.

 

Image credit: Capital City Weekly

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Wild things roundup for February: Rose hips


It’s up. Thanks to Butter for hosting the round-up this month so that all my lazy ass needs to do is copy and paste her text into a post ;). Seriously though, month one was fantastic. It was so wonderful to be able to spend a month coming up with ideas of things to do with a single ingredient. I can’t wait to see what comes up for the rest of the year.

The Wild Things Round Up was created as a celebration of the magic and power of wild edibles.  As your hosts, Bek of Cauldrons and Crockpots and Butterpoweredbike of Hunger and Thirst, we want to share our own delight at walking on the wild side, in creating inexpensive and effective herbal medicines, and nourishing and tasty meals, all with the wild herbs that we find within striking distance of home – regardless of whether we are country mice or city mice.

So, in February, we sent out the invitation to share ideas for rose hips, which are best after a freeze, and can be harvested from the bush even in the dead of winter.  Here is the Wild Things Round Up of everyone’s fantastic rose hip recipes.

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1.

Alex of  A Moderate Life from Long Island, New York harvested plump, juicy rose hips from near the ocean, and created a  Rose Hip Syrup to be used as a source of vitamin C and as an herbal remedy.

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2.

Penny of the blog Penniless Parenting, who lives outside the US, and is an avid forager got creative and tempered the taste of myrtle berries by adding rose hips in her Myrtle Berry and Rose Hip Candies.

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3.

Bek of Cauldrons and Crockpots, who lived in L.A., kicked off the month with Rose Hip Syrup, which can be used as the basis for many recipes.

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4.

Bek used her rose hip syrup to make a creamy Rose Hip Pannacotta.  Don’t tell your guests how easy this recipe was to make.

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5.

While traveling in India, Bek was inspired by the frugal nature of the Indian people to create a lovely Rose Hip and Orange Face Scrub.

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6.

Butterpoweredbike of Hunger and Thirst, who hails from the Rockies, is known for her love of savory foods and immediately thought to use rose hip syrup to create  Pork with Sweet and Sour Rose Hip Sauce.

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7.

Butterpoweredbike was inspired by a trip to a specialty cheese shop and a chance viewing of quince paste to create Rose Hip Gelee.

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8.

Butterpoweredbike paired mild rose hips with fiery chiles and cashews in her Shrimp with Spicy Rose Hip Cashew Sauce.

Thanks to everyone who was inspired by and participated in the Wild Things Round Up.  See you next month.