(in which I gather a lot of things, get a few bug bites, and try to stay connected to the earth)
There’s one hand and it contains relaxation, and everything I’ve ever mentioned about moving through space at one’s own pace. And then there’s the other hand which holds a to-do list a mile long, there’s the frenetic pace of spring, there’s gathering twenty million different things, and processing them, and buying more booze in a 2-month space than the entire other Bev Mo customers combined. In between the two hands there are stolen moments.
My stolen moments look like this: Up a tree, with a jar of something herbal, infused and delicious, gazing up at the canopy of leaves, listening to the sounds of city-nature, which is very different to country-nature. And it works. Its grounding and calming. And then I go back indoors to work some more.
When I look at the city, it reminds me of a big scab, over something living. One continuous slab of concrete with spaces in between it on occasion. Concrete does its best to cover up what’s underneath it (BB cream for the planet), and finding that earthiness is much harder when walking on a layer of foundation, but its not impossible. The thing is that the earth is everywhere and just because it seems that its more THERE when out in the wild, its actually that there’s less interference. Out in the wild its like tuning a radio directly to the station (do people still tune their own radios or are they all digital?). In the city there’s a bunch of white noise making it really hard to hear the music. But you can, especially if you know the song already– you know what to listen for and where to pick it up, then you can shut out the white noise and just hear that song. I think there are movements about this, called ‘Earthing’ and such, where the earth is touted as some new scientific new-age discovery. I can’t help but think that we’ve come so far from where we were, quite literally, our roots, that it takes a giant scientific discovery and technology to make us look down. Of course, thats not all of us.
I walk a block away for my coffee every morning. Lately, in spring-filled excitement, there are plants growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk. I’m sure that the City of Los Angeles people will come and spray something nasty on them soon– for some reason wild plants are an atrocity whereas the feat of construction being two buildings that are being hammered into place as I type is a triumph of man, even if they are hideous and noisy and had to cut down a big old tree to put them in. But in the meantime, there are feathery plants pushing up through the sidewalk, mushrooms growing on peoples’ lawns, resilient little plants thrusting their way up towards the sunlight that streams between buildings. I notice them because I notice the earth, and I notice that they find whatever cracks they can. Its resilient, and it reminds me of all nature, human nature, animal nature, earth nature. That nature is survival and self-expression, and I think all of us try to find our cracks to slip through regardless of what is painted over the top.
Most of the herbs I gather are resilient like that: many of us herbalists think the wild weeds make the strongest medicine. I’ve been collecting them like a madwoman lately, in full spring fervor. In the last few weeks or so, I have gathered California poppy, peach leaves, apricot leaves, alder leaves and bark, yerba santa, sweet clover, elderflowers, white sage, black sage, ocotillo bark and flowers, chaparral, desert lavender, mugwort, pine pollen. I’ve accrued a series of bug bites so big and so itchy and red and swollen that my super effective Bug Bite Balm had to be applied 3 times to make it go away (which is a big deal because it usually works in 1 or 2). The frenetic pace of spring starts slow and reaches its climax between now and the end of May. Most of these I bring home and immediately process for medicine- stripping bark, pulling leaves, scrubbing dirt off things, immersing in oils or vinegars or alcohol or honey. My storage cabinet is nearing full again. Of all these, there’s one thing I actually bring home for food first, even if its damn good medicine: elderflowers.
I’ve seen them everywhere I’ve been in the northern hemisphere. Even in the middle of a city in India. I assume they grow in the south too, though I’ve never been south of the equator so I don’t know for sure. Their flavour is floral and fragrant and distinctly one of its own, and since ours in Southern California have been out for a few weeks, they’ll start blooming spreading north from here, and I’d start looking sooner or later depending on where you are. Once you spot them, you’ll spot them everywhere. And I make food with them before I make medicine partly because they’re so abundant and partly because by the time spring has arrived I MISS them like you wouldn’t believe.
First thing I made was cordial. And the second thing I made was this cake. Its gluten free, though you couldn’t tell apart from the slightly crumbly texture. Its light and fluffy and it tastes of spring. And I highly recommend that you make some as soon as your elderflowers start to blossom.
Elderflower and blackberry cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe
For the syrup:
1 cup elderflowers
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
For the cake:
12 tb salted butter (or unsalted but add about 1/2 tsp salt to the batter with the flour)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sweet white rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup almond flour
2 tb ground flax or chia seeds
2 tsp baking powder
2 tb milk
8oz (about 2 cups) blackberries- either fresh or frozen
First things first, get the elderflower syrup on- put the elderflowers, water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately, and leave to sit for up to an hour. Taste it. Does it taste strongly of elderflowers and spring? Then you can strain out the liquid and set it aside.
Next, preheat the oven to 350.
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until they’re light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure they are incorporated fully. Then, add the milk, and two tablespoons of the elderflower syrup. Mix together all the flours, and the baking powder, and, with the mixer on very slow, add the flour in 3 batches. Once its fully incorporated, stir in the blackberries by hand. They might start to stain the batter, and that’s ok, but do it lightly and not too much so that you don’t end up with purple cake (not that there’s anything wrong with purple cake, we are not purplist here at C&C).
Oil up a 9″ round springform pan. Quite honestly, I am lazy and I use olive oil for this, but you can be non-lazy and use butter. Just, olive oil works too. Use something oily. Then, scrape in the cake batter. Bake at 350 for an hour. At 50 minutes, pull it out and press the top slightly, if it feels firm then check it with a skewer or sharp knife- when it comes out clean the cake is done. It should be around an hour though.
Remove from the oven, and prick the top of it with a sharp knife, about 10 times, in 10 different places. Then pour over the elderflower syrup you made earlier. Pour it so that it gets every inch of the top of the cake. It should sink in quite quickly. Leave until cool in the pan, then run a knife around the edges. You can try and slide it off the base, but I found it safer to just leave it there and pretend it’s meant to be presented like that. Decorate with powdered sugar, blackberries and elderflowers. Serve with fresh cream.
It’ll be quite crumbly until its cool. This shouldn’t matter too much though.