Category Archives: drinkable things

Soothe.

(On summer heat, prickly pear, and cooling drinks)

nopal2Let’s set the scene: its 100 degrees outside, and the air in your house is still, stifling, stuck. Opening the windows doesn’t help, because the air that comes in is hot. So you keep the curtains closed, the windows closed, and stay still. Sweating. There’s stuff to do, but its too hot. Things to write, but its too hot. Beds to make, but that involves movement, and who wants to move because its hot. At some point the cat walks over and collapses on the tile floor nearby and stares at you, beseechingly, wondering why you can’t make it stop. It doesn’t stop. This is what summer looks like from my perspective.  Continue reading

photo

Fire Cider, and other stories.

The other morning I wandered out onto the stoop and the entire city was enshrouded in a blanket of fog. I ran inside to grab the essentials: slippers, hat, coffee and blanket, and then I sat on the edge of my stoop, on the edge of the world, watching the mysterious shapes appear and re-appear, until the sun had come up a bit more, and the fog had burned off, and everything was returned to normal.

Such mornings remind me of my childhood, in a place that had major seasons. Southern California has seasons too: if you were to take a walk up into the hills, sycamore leaves would be all over the paths, the skeletons of milk thistles and goldenrod would stand out against the brown grass tinged with a slight frost, and the earth is that deep, dark, sodden brown that only happens after a few good rains. There are seasons in the hills. Its just that, being from the UK, I want more. And at this time of year, when friends are sending me pictures of first, second and third snows. When leaves are frosting over and wood fires are being burned, I start to feel a little ungrateful towards the constant sunlight. There are, however, solutions to self-imposed misery over something so silly. Namely, booking a trip north for me and Jam. And while it won’t be to the snow this time, it will at least be to somewhere cold, incredibly beautiful, and very stormy (Big Sur). And I’m excited. I’m also excited about being out in the desert for Christmas. There will be trips up to the snow, and trips to gather some of my favourite plants, and trips to hang out in my favourite canyons, and it will be action-packed and very exciting.

In the mean time, a few things have been happening. The first being that I have been inundated with business for the holiday season (I am slightly overwhelmed with joy and gratefulness about said inundation). The second being that chanterelle season has hit Northern California so my foraging friends and I are getting out into the mountains at every possible moment because its not long before they come up here. A few heavy rains are a good sign, as are dropping temperatures and heavy marine layers. My searches take me further and further afield, setting off into the wilderness at a ninety-degree angle from my usual trails. Herbalist Paul Bergner talked once about how we expand when we leave the trails in our lives, and I can’t help but think of him as I set off, big stick in hand, into the tall grasses and undergrowth. The third is that people are getting sick. This herbal elf has been making house calls, with a basket of elderberry elixir, lung grunge elixir, diaphoretic tea and, my new favourite, Fire Cider. Fire Cider is basically just spicy-stuff-infused apple cider vinegar. But man, let me tell you, if you have a blocked nose, or congested sinuses, of if you feel like you’re starting to come down with something, it’ll clear you up right away, while making you go ‘WOOOOOOOHOOOO!’ after you’ve swallowed.

The recipe is simple, and you can also alter it as you see fit: Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine makes a roselle-hibiscus one that looks divine. If you hate horseradish leave it out, if you love horseradish, add more. If you want it super spicy, add more habaneros. If you’re a vampire, leave out the garlic. Really, this is a basic structure and you’re welcome to do with it what you will. And as for what to do with it… by the spoonful works well if you’re coming down with something. I leave it on the counter and take a swig when I pass by.

Fire Cider

1 big bottle apple cider vinegar

8 cloves garlic

1 onion

20 sprigs thyme

1/2 cup chopped horseradish root

5 chopped habanero (or jalapeno) peppers

2 tb turmeric (dried works fine)

1/4 cup chopped ginger
1 cup honey (I used echinacea-infused honey, but you can use any type of honey you like)

 

Other things I used which you might or might not have access to:

calamus root (1/4 cup)

white fir needles (1/2 cup) (you can sub pine, spruce or any kind of fir)

yarrow flowers (handful)

 

Using a 1/2 gallon mason jar or something equivalent, chop up and throw in all the ingredients except the honey (using any additions or leave-outs you want), then cover with vinegar. Shake well, then leave somewhere prominent for a month. Prominent so that you notice it, and shake it when you notice it. After a month, strain out all the solids, then taste it. Is it spicy enough? Garlicy enough? Flavourful enough? If so, stir in the honey and bottle it. If not, tinker with it as you see fit, then add the honey when its ready.

 

opuntia texan

Prickly Pear Margarita

(a guest post for the Wild Things Roundup)

Greetings, readers! Today we have a guest post, from the lovely Katelyn Bradwell in Dallas, Texas. We were chatting on Facebook and she mentioned that she was sipping a prickly pear margarita. Of course I was so excited that I demanded she write a guest post on the subject immediately. I figured it’d also be nice to get a perspective from somewhere other than Southern California for once. Which brings me to my next point: if you’d like to write a guest post about something wild and wonderful from your area, shoot me an email. I’d love to hear more about the flavours that mark your little corner of the world.  And now, here’s Katelyn:

Prickly Pear Margaritas

I was sipping a prickly pear margarita on the front porch, listening to the pouring rain beat out a quick rhythm on the roof. It was one of those evenings– suspended between the details of today, and the worries of tomorrow, and also suspended between Summer and Autumn, on the cusp of a few things at once. You could feel it. And you could tell the summer was ending. Here in Texas, with the onset of the monsoons, the tunas (the fruits of the prickly pear) begin growing. By the time the last ones ripen into that deep red and purple color, it is Fall.  Their ripening heralds the season change, and also my very favorite time of year– impromptu porch party time– when it is still warm, but cool enough to enjoy the evenings. When the plants return to life, springing from their summer dormancy with vigor and joy, and when new resident plants are welcomed into my garden. And also when the humans begin to step out of their air-conditioned hibernation to enjoy nature and neighbors once more. Friends show up unannounced and welcome, and I just happen to have enough margarita left over in my makeshift cocktail shaker to share. We stay up chatting, and laughing, and enjoying the perfect night, until way too late. Because where most of the Northern hemisphere is beginning to bunk down for a long winter, in Texas, Fall is our Spring; the rush of life is renewed. Plants grow, ripen, and set seed, in a chaotic rush before Winter arrives. The excitement is tangible, and these little exuberant fruits embody that completely.

You can’t help but notice prickly pear fruits. They beckon from locations as varied as the median of a massive highway in central Dallas, to front yards, parks and empty abandoned fields. Every time I slice one of the fruits open I’m struck by the depth of colour– it reminds me of stained glass windows in a cathedral. When cooking with tunas, I like to make things that highlight that color. And prickly pear infused margaritas do just that. They are also perfect for impromptu porch parties.  The flavor is light, and reminiscent of a floral, citrussy cucumber; combined with lime and tequila tunas are really at their best.

I always play a bit with proportions of this recipe at the end, adding a bit more of this or that, to taste. It is a fairly basic margarita; tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and simple syrup. I infuse the tunas into both the tequila and simple syrup to make sure the flavor really comes through.

A word of warning: try not to get so distracted by the splendor of the fruit that you are caught by the invisible glochid monster (the tiny, ever-present prickly and painful hairs on the skin of the fruit). Harvest with tongs and a knife, handle with tongs or gloves, and even after you think the glochids are gone, still handle with care. I personally have had too many run-ins with evil glochids already. They hurt and are annoyingly difficult to retrieve from your fingers. A plantain (plantago spp.) spit poultice can help if you do get stuck.

Prickly Pear Margarita

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

2 ounces Prickly Pear Infused Tequila

2 ounces Prickly Pear Syrup

1 ½ ounces Fresh Lime Juice

½ ounce Triple Sec

Turbinado Sugar (for making the syrup and garnishing glasses)

 

To make the infused tequila:

Burn the glochids (invisible, evil, painful, tiny spine-like hairs of the prickly pear) off by holding the fruit over a flame on the stove-top, rotating to expose all sides to the flame. This doesn’t take long, and you can hear them sizzle and occasionally see one explode in a little mini-flash, which will keep you entertained during the process. Cut your tunas in quarters and fill a glass jar loosely (any size jar will do, depending on how much tequila you want), leaving a bit of space at the top, and then fill again with a fine tequila of your choosing (use 100% agave tequila). Infuse for 2-5 days, shaking occasionally. I find longer than that isn’t necessary: the fruit begins to fall apart and has lost most of it’s color by day 5.

If you need it quicker than that, no problem. Cut very ripe tunas in half lengthwise, and scoop the fruit out of the skin with a spoon or knife. Chop roughly. Fill your jar about 70% full with the chopped, skinned tunas, and then fill with tequila. Shake it up a bunch. Smash the fruit up with the spoon a bit a few times. Your tequila will be ready in 12-24 hours. Shake whenever you think of it.

When finished strain through a sieve or cheesecloth.

 

To make the simple syrup:

Cut 4 large tunas in half lengthwise and scoop the fruit from the skins with a spoon or knife. Cut each tuna into a few pieces. Then combine the fruits with 2 cups water and 1 cup turbinado sugar in a medium pan. Stir well and simmer over low-medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Strain fruit through a sieve and press the fruit well through the screen, leaving seeds behind. I use more water than a traditional simple syrup calls for because the tunas are quite mucilaginous, and this thickens the syrup a bit, and also because too much sweetness can overpower the unique tart flavors that are the signature of this drink.

 

To make the margarita:

If you have a cocktail shaker, use it. I just toss it all in a clean mason jar, and shake away. Lightly dust a plate with turbinado sugar (with a pinch of cayenne, if you’re adventurous), and put some lime juice in a saucer. Dip the rim of your glass in the lime juice, and then the sugar. Add ice, and pour your margarita from the shaker to the glass. Garnish with a lime. And cheers to the fall-spring!

hawthorn rose syrup

Spiced Hawthorn-rose syrup

Photos by Marcia Coppess

Two wonderful things happened in the last month, and they both occurred over the same weekend. The first was the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. I’m sure if you’re up to date with my ramblings on Facebook you got sick of reading about it. A 3-day weekend gathering of Herbalists from all over the country (and beyond) in the mountains of Arizona. You might be picturing a bunch of long flowy-tie dye dresses and long hugs, but let me tell you folks, herbalists really know how to party. After days of classes, plant walks, interesting conversation, night descends and the bands roll in and the dancing starts. Herbalists, so used to being looked at strangely anyway (really, who else would stop and pet a tree in the middle of a city?), often lack the inhibitory function that prevents people from trying to embarrass themselves in public. In other words, when it comes to dancing, we just do it however we want to. Which turns out to be really fun, especially when people are handing around their home made infused concoctions. We danced late into the night, then woke up early for more classes. Classes on things like the Greek system, on Seizure disorders, on drug-herb interactions, on the chakra-endocrine link, on specific medicines, on aphrodesiacs.

Photo by Rosalee De La Foret

There was a marketplace where those of us vending set up our wares, where I met a bunch of really amazing people doing truly original things: Mountain Rose Herbs (which, if you don’t know about, you really should as their prices and quality are amazing); Learning Herbs (which, if you want to learn about herbalism this is surely the place to go. And also, I *may* have been interviewed for Herb Mentor Radio next month in the first ever interview done over a drink.); Blue Turtle Botanicals (which, if you don’t know Darcey and her fine creations then you are surely missing out); Super Salve Co (I may have spent a small fortune on face creams and masks); Winter Sun Trading Co (Turquoise earrings, juniper beads, magical Arizona herbalist who’s been in practice forEVER). I was hawking my wares- some hand made incense blends, some local flower elixirs and pine pitch salves and various things that are Southwest-ish. I may have sold out of almost everything within 24 hours (A few things back up in my Poppyswap shop HERE). It was wonderful to get to hang out with friends (like Rosalee, and Holly and Stephany and Kiva and Renee), learn as much as one can stuff in a rusty brain as possible, and dance, and dance, and dance…

Photos by Stephany Hoffett

The second good thing that happened to me was Lisa Rose Starner and her answering of a ‘hawthorn’ cry that went out on the interwebs. She lives in Grand Rapids, MI, and gathered a coupla bags of hawthorn berries for me before she flew out. Friends, when you’re as obsessed with these little faerie plants as I am, and someone you don’t get to hang out with nearly often enough brings you a bag of them, you might get a little teary. I’m not saying its, like, a requirement, but am warning you that it could happen.

And when it does happen (because, come on, we all get overwhelmed with joy about some things), the best thing to do is to sit and stare at them for hours, trying to decide what to do with them. And then upon realising that if you don’t use them they’ll just dry up and become like all the other hawthorn berries you have, you’ll leap into action, becoming a whir of flailing arms and cinnamon dust and droplets of spiced rum.

And when you’re done, and the smoke clears and the limbs settle, you’ll be left with this. Which, when it comes down to it, is as pretty darn perfect as a summer-fall syrup can get. Spicy, from the rum, sweet from the sugar and the hawthorn, tangy from the rosehips and lemon. As for what to do with it: drizzle it over pound cake, or add it to sparkling water with a dollop of cream (what I was drinking all day yesterday), over late-season peaches, or in a heart-healthy cocktail. In a cup of hot tea for a crying friend, or in your mouth directly for a broken heart. And what it does? Oh you guys… there are a million things one could say about hawthorn. Check out those links, and let it suffice for me to say right now that, when I describe it to clients, I describe it as a strong hand at the back of your ribcage, right behind where your heart sits in your chest cavity. Physically, it strengthens the heart and circulation, but emotionally, it provides that strength that one needs to face the world open-eyed, open-hearted and a little more awe-struck than usual.

Hawthorn-rose spiced syrup. 

2 cups hawthorn berries

1/2 cup rosehips

4 cups water

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

2 cups sugar

1 cup spiced rum

juice of one lemon

Put everything but the rum, lemon and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for an hour, then leave to stand for another 2 hours. Remove from the heat, strain out all the plant bits, stir in the sugar and lemon. You might need to heat it again to dissolve it- that’s ok. Taste. It should be sweet, slightly tangy, a bit thick. Stir in the rum. Bottle and label (seriously- label it, otherwise in a month you’ll be like ‘what the hell is this again?’ and it’ll never get used).

 

PS. For another great write up of the conference, check out Stephany’s blog here.

 

nocino1

Things to do with baby black walnuts

I have a thing. A colour thing. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a visceral reaction to all things pigmented. Much like when around someone you love you want to shower them with hugs and pet their hair (if I’ve ever petted your hair absent-mindedly now you know why), with colours I want to roll around in them. You know, like a dog does with mud, or a cat does with catnip or like the poet Rumi did with God. It’s usually red and majorelle blue. Occasionally it’s terracotta and magenta. The other day it was something green.

My friend Emily and I had made nocino. It was a fun afternoon inspired by chancing upon some early baby black walnuts (which, for the record, are no longer early, and if you act swiftly you might still catch them). She’d tasted it and loved it; I had not. But given their abundance, my undying love of cooking with wild things, and despite my skepticism over something so vile smelling could eventually taste good, we jumped in. Which is where the green comes in.

Lovely readers, this stuff is stunning. Within a few hours of mixing the ingredients together, the jars, if set along a window sill, will cast a shade of green so unearthly upon your space that you too will want to roll around in it until all that’s left is an alien-coloured splotch on the tablecloth. I restrained myself and stared instead, for hours on end.

We’re supposed to wait at least 6 months to taste it, so I’ll be sure to come back and tell you guys how it is (possibly tugging along a hangover while I’m at it). But in the meantime, if you’d like to make it too, here’s what to do:

Go and find some black walnut trees, and gather as many of the little baby fruits as you can. (for information on how to find and ID black walnuts see Butter’s lovely post on it HERE)

Pick up a big bottle of vodka, some sugar, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.

Clean out some big mason jars.

And then in 6 months, when the nights are drawing long, and a chill has set in, we can all gather in a big interweb living room by an ifire and have a nocino party. Sound good? Thought so…

NOCINO

From David Lebovitz

Per every 30 green walnuts, quartered

1 litre vodka

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

10 cloves

1/2 vanilla bean

1 lemon zest (use a potato peeler)

Put all the dry ingredients in a big jar, and pour the vodka over the top. Shake (once the lid is on), then set aside. You’re supposed to shake it every day, but according to Emily, it’s nicer if you only shake it every few days. And you don’t have to twist my arm to remember to do less. Leave it in a cool dark place for 2 months, then strain and bottle. It’ll be ready to drink after 6 months, though I’ve heard that the older it gets, the nicer it gets… 

Elderflower 1

Elderflower cordial

(dancing on the edges of things)

I remember the day I first fell in love with the elderflower: it was a hot Glaswegian summer day. I was sitting on my favourite grassy knoll, in the shade of a big craggy old hawthorn bush, with a bounty. All of my adventures involved a bounty of some kind, be it wood sorrel (no plant was safe), wild blackberries, or, in this case, chocolate chip cookies and soda. My soda of choice was usually sparkling apple cider, but, on that day, they were out of stock, and right next to that empty spot was sparkling elderflower.

It sounded old; like something my grandparents would have drunk years ago, before the war, on a sweltering hot August afternoon. Reasoning that Marks and Spencer never stock anything that doesn’t taste good, I bought it, placed it carefully in my backpack, then jumped on my bike.

Few things in life are as carefree as summer holidays when you’re young: two infinite-seeming months that stretch into the orange sunset, where the days last until 11pm (in Scotland at least) and the sound of sprinklers unleashed on front lawns ran into the late evening, with the squeals of delight carried on the smell of cut grass permeated the warm air that drifted in through the open windows. Between that yellow-orange glow and smell of hot grass, in the filing cabinet of my memories, on the other side of wild berries swollen, heavy, pregnant with purple juice, is the KCHHHHH sound of opening a bottle of elder fizz on a grassy knoll, with my bike, and an Agatha Christie book.

Elder flowers are fairy flowers. They dance on the edges of fields and woods and on the edges of worlds. Even their smell is somewhat lovely and somewhat pongy, at the edge of what’s normally considered ‘nice’. Glance through the shadows cast by those dancing umbels and, if you’re not really paying attention you can hear laughter and singing. True story. A day spent gathering elderflowers will cast you out of time somewhat. I like to think of this as a good thing. Not only that, but the tree in itself is a veritable pharmacy- the leaves and twigs make great blood moving salves, the flowers and berries are edible, and the berries are pretty much the best thing ever for flu season. So gather a ton of flowers (making sure you leave enough to turn into berries too!), and bring them home in a paper bag. Set aside some especially pretty umbels to dry for a flu-season tea, and then turn the rest into cordial. Because anything you need to do with elderflowers (except fritters) can be done with a cordial. Custards, drizzles, cocktails, meat glazes, and fizzes all stem from this little workhorse. Then make yourself some fizz, kick your feet up, watch the light change, and let yourself be transported back to the edge of a dream, where you found the flowers in the first place.

Elderflower cordial

2 cups elderflowers, removed from stems (roughly, don’t drive yourself crazy, just try and get most of them off) and de-bugged

6 cups sugar

5 cups water

Juice of 3 lemons

 

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and then remove from heat. Add the elderflowers and leave to cool. Heat up once more, adding the lemon juice, and allow to cool overnight, then strain out the flowers, squeezing to make sure you get all the syrup out. Pour into bottles and refrigerate. It’ll last months in the fridge.

 

Elderflower fizz

serves 2 gluttons, and 4 normal people

1/4 cup elderflower cordial

juice of 1 lemon

1 large bottle of sparkling water

 

Put all the ingredients in a decanter or big jar of some sort, add some ice, stir gently, and serve.

 

I’m submitting this post to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst for wild flower month!

 

smoked hot chocolate

Crying over smoked milk

This post is being submitted to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst. If you [still] haven’t checked it out, please do!

Few things are as evocative as smoke. It’s primal. We humans have been using smoke since we started using fire. Which, if you think about it, was a long long time ago. It’s magic stuff– stuff that gets into your lungs and into your hair, and imparts its flavour to anything it touches. Smoke can be therapeutic (kills germies and such) or it can be magical (alters minds and such) or it can be comforting (hot fire on a cold day, and such). It can also fling you into memories, unawares, as if time exists so fluidly as to not really exist at all. One minute you can be standing in your kitchen attempting to light some branches on fire, and the next you are standing on a sea wall on the west coast of Scotland, with frozen fingers and a frozen red nose.

We’d spend our summers in a cottage in a little village called Craobh Haven. My days were spent scouring the rocky beaches (looking for treasure), and roaming the fields (looking for adventure). Such is the life of someone who grows up reading Enid Blyton books. On days when I didn’t get to roam, we’d go off on adventures, on boats to explore the Hebrides, out to see real live whirlpools, to explore old caves with stone formations that stretch all the way to Ireland. They were the best summers of my life. I’m sure at the time, in the way that kids do, I was jealous of those friends who got to go to Disney World, eat big hamburgers and get flourescent clothes to bring back to school. Florida was glamorous, where staying in rainy Scotland, well, wasn’t. However, until those comparisons arose (much like one can love ones outfit until one sees someone with a nicer outfit and then all of a sudden one begins to notice a frayed hem and a rubbed away elbow– as if for some reason we are built to compare), I was ecstatically happy. The first time I saw the Atlantic ocean was during one of those summers. We’d just emerged from a glass blowing workshop, and I had a little glass statue in the pocket of my wax jacket, flecked with pink and yellow, as if the artist had captured a nebula in a little glass ball. On the other side of the road was the Atlantic. I stood up on a wall with my fingers clenched tight around the cold metal railing, in the rain, trying to wrap my head around the vastness of it all. This might not feel abnormal to you if you are used to seeing ocean. But to a nine year old mind that had only ever sailed in a sea, this was an ineffable experience. One that shaped my life to such a degree that I still go to the ocean to get that feeling, even though its only 6 miles away now, and to this day my insides still dance with excitement at all that lies out there just beyond my reach.

After these long cold days, often roaming in the rain and cold (because lets face it, summer in Scotland doesn’t mean summer like it does in other places where the sun shines), we’d go back to the cottage and make hot chocolate. Mum often had a lively bunch of friends visiting. We’d light a fire, and the smell of smoke interlaced itself with the smell of sea and of happiness. The smell of smoke indoors, from a fire, on a cold day, is forever entangled with these memories. Not even like it happened yesterday, but like it’s happening simultaneously.

Of course the whole purpose for the smoke filled kitchen was hot chocolate. Smoky, sweet, evocative hot chocolate. With a hint of whiskey. And old leather. And tobacco. You smoke the milk, then pop the whole lot on the stove with chocolate and sugar and vanilla, then add a good splosh of whisky at the end. It’s perfect for these remaining cold wintery nights. A grown up, old fashioned, sexy hot chocolate. The kind of thing that you’d see served in Silverlake in a bar with fake old wood floors and waiters with heavy mustaches and waistcoats on. The kind of thing you’d pay $15 for and wonder how they made it, and wonder if you’re pretentious by osmosis for liking it. It’s a variation of a recipe that I saw on Tim Ferris’ site. His looked awfully labour intensive, and used a cigar. I don’t want cigar smoke hanging in my house for weeks on end, plus, I’m kinda fond of the smell of conifer. This, my friends, is crazy delicious– please give it a try.

Ponderosa smoked hot chocolate

serves 2

For the smoking: 

1 charcoal brickette

about 1/2 tsp conifer wood (preferably ponderosa pine, but anything delicious smelling will do), broken into little pieces

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

tin foil

For the rest:  

3.5oz dark chocolate, chopped into small bits

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tb nice whisky

To smoke the milk:

Place the milk, cream and sugar in a bowl, in a shallow dish of some kind. Place this shallow dish in a larger, deeper dish. Light the charcoal brickette, place it on a piece of tin foil, and set that alongside the shallow dish in the larger dish. Then place the bits of conifer atop the charcoal. It should start smoking. When it does, cover the whole thing with tin foil, tightly, and leave it for 20 minutes, checking periodically to see that the wood is still smoking (if not, re-light the charcoal or rearrange the wood).

Taste it. It should be smoky.

Put this milk mixture, plus the rest of the ingredients except the whisky in a saucepan over low heat. Heat gently until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the whisky (more or less to your taste) and serve. Preferably with a good book and a fireplace and a cold winter’s evening.

 

pinus quadrifolia

Intention

[conifer sirup for expectorance and yum]

Last week Los Angeles was blessed with the presence of the herbalist Matthew Wood. Surprisingly humble for someone who’s spent longer than I’ve been alive dedicated to the study of herbal medicine, being around him is always fun. At one point, we were sitting in my mum’s kitchen while he read my pulse and tongue. He wrote the names of a couple of herbs on pieces of paper, while explaining that what he was about to do was an ancient rabbinical technique, and then he put them in between my fingers while he listened to my pulse. I couldn’t quite believe it, but my pulse changed. Quickly. And noticeably. I say this as an objective observer and pulse-owner who had no idea what was going to happen, but that where before my fingers and toes had very little circulation, they had circulation. Where before I had not been aware of certain areas, I was aware. Where before I felt cold, I felt warm. And my heart rate slowed down. From a couple of pieces of paper with plant names written on them.

I thought a bit about this technique, and it made sense– I mean, the word is at the very core of Jewish mysticism. And if I’m not mistaken, in Hindu cosmology the universe was created with the exhalation of one single word. Words, my friends, hold great power. Look to those water experiments that Matsuro Emoto did years ago, or even more personally, think of something that was said to you as a kid that you’ve never ever forgotten. And last week, written on a piece of paper and thrust haphazardly in between my fingers, these words got me thinking about intention.

Because what is a word or an action if not an expression of intention. For us, as humans, to claim that we’re separate from our words or our actions is (in my opinion) to stop taking responsibility for ourselves and our lives. It can be something as big as ‘I do’ or something as little as ‘here, have a cup of tea’, but the intention is expressed THROUGH the words. If I wanted to get a bit more woo-woo, I’d say that each of us is, in some way, an expression of an intention, of sorts. Just like each plant is, and each colour, and each number, and each music note. Our purpose in life, as these intentions, might be to exist and be the most pure expression of that ‘us-ness’ we can possibly be. And when I look at plants, with regards to making food or medicine, I think about the same thing- that is, how to draw out the very essence of that thing.

I think most herbalists are hyper aware of how this works. We spend our days crafting creations for one purpose or another. Herbs have so many different properties, that we often coax out those properties that we want to use, whether it be through combining with other plants, the way we prepare them, or sometimes, simply, through asking.

Intention, in herbalism, starts before you even touch a plant. It starts with the observation of how and where things grow, with the intention to create abundance in the plant world, not to destroy a population but to encourage it. It starts with observation of the planet and the cycles of weather and season. It starts with slight changes in soil. And it starts with relationship. You, the ground, the sky, and the plants you’re working with. With that, you can start picking flowers, whispering intention with every movement of your fingers. Stroking, whispering, urging flowers to open, scent to release, roots to spread, vines to grow, and from there, harvest intact, they’re brought inside, picked through, urged, nudged, gathered together into something cohesive. Then a medium is added, in this case hot syrup, to bring out the scent and flavour. And with that medium, you can coax out the ‘it-ness’ of whatever it is you’re playing with. The name of a plant ties it to its very essence, and in using that name, combined with focus and magic, there’s very little that you can’t affect with a few simple leaves and plant bits.

I don’t think it matters what you’re making either, be it a cup of tea or a syrup or a complex formula or a cake. It’s what you put into it, and how you put it there. It’s taking a moment to set the space beforehand, and having a singleminded focus while you’re doing it. That’s something you can do with a glass of water or a twenty five course meal. When I start to make something, things get really quiet. My feet sprout roots that sink into the earth, the top of my head gets a bit fluffy feeling and my body expands beyond its bounds and my mind stops spinning in the way it usually does. This afternoon, I lit some  juniper white sage incense, allowing the smoke to fill my workspace. Then I gently broke up the branches of white fir, douglas fir, and pinyon pine, dropping the needles one by one into a saucepan. At this point, my mind was quiet; I became hyper aware of my actions and words; my fingers eking out the properties of the various trees to soothe, expectorate, heal, and open lungs, picturing these actions while I’m stirring. Some of the finished syrup (sirup!) went directly into a tea for a feverish, coughing Hedgehog sleeping upstairs, and the rest went into a bottle where it sits, practically aglow with magic.

Conifer syrup is versatile. It’s great as a cough syrup, promoting expectoration, opening the lungs up a bit, and helping to soothe irritated bronchial passages. But it’s also delicious on pancakes, or in cocktails, adding flavour and sweetness to tea, over ice cream, or even [gluttonously] by the spoonful. It’s green. Which makes it pretty, especially during these winter months when the majority of the country is still covered in white and brown. And it’s interesting but tasty, which makes it really easy to give to those who are usually suspicious. Being able to administer cough syrup disguised as a cocktail is also really helpful when it comes to stubborn grown ups.

Conifer syrup

1 cup mixed conifer needles

1 1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar

If you have a blender, blend up the mixed conifer needles as much as you can. Bring the water and sugar to a boil, reduce to simmer, and sprinkle in the blended up needles. Steep for an hour, simmering REALLY gently (don’t let it boil), then taste, strain, and bottle.

 

eggnog

Eggnog. In a mug.

(on the warming magic & merits of cinnamon)

For a week we experimented with keeping the heating on all the time. It was nearing 40 degrees in Los Angeles and living in Southern California for any length of time does something to your temperature tolerance. That is, it destroys it. But having the heating on all the time didn’t work. Not one bit. We’d both wake up every morning with dry skin and sore throats and stuffy noses. So after that week, we went back to putting it on for a few hours in the morning. While the rest of the world is still asleep, I’ll wake up, and shiver my way downstairs to throw the heating on then run back upstairs and jump under the covers until the house is a little warmer. When it’s an acceptable temperature I’ll resume my morning activities which include hot drinks, fluffy blankets and cold doorsteps.

At times like these, spices comes in really handy. Because having something bubbling away on the stove sending the scent of cinnamon and spice and sweetness into the air is a really nice way to warm up a space without getting dried out. Not only that, but it makes it feel like winter when it’s sunny outside and doesn’t look like winter at all.

I was chatting on Skype with my teenage sister in law the other day. She was asking about cinnamon and what it does medicinally, as it’s her favorite smell. I told her about how cinnamon warms the body. How it helps with circulation issues like cold fingers and toes. How it helps with the ups and downs of too much caffeine and too much sugar. And how it’s astringent– it stops bleeding, stops leaking, balances out imbalance. She laughed and said that it sounded like exactly what she needed, and I pointed out that people often gravitate towards what they need…

Sometimes with cinnamon, I feel like having it in the air, it works this way on spaces too. Mulled wine bubbling away on the stove warms up the cold corners, and halts the cool breeze from sneaking in under the door. A dash of cinnamon in your coffee in the morning both helps you respond to the caffeine better, and also helps with the mucus-y feeling people often get from too much dairy. A sprinkle of cinnamon on your blueberries and cream help to balance out your blood sugar. Considering the big creamy lattes I like to drink and my nervy-body, I’m really grateful for cinnamon most mornings…

And in the evenings lately, I’ve been making a quick-nog. Admittedly, until about a week ago, I’d never had eggnog before. I didn’t know until a few days later that most people drink it cold. I can’t fathom the idea of drinking something creamy and iced when it’s so cold outside, so I carried on making mine warm. Eggnog, my friends, is my new favourite thing. Between the creaminess and the spices and that dash of rum, it feels like sipping on a thick milky delicious cloud. I said ‘dash’ of rum, because my alcohol tolerance is like that of a child, and I don’t like being drunk, I just like the taste of it. The first night I added what was more like a glug, and I woke up with a headache the next morning. Now, I remind myself that it might LOOK like a warm milkshake but it is an alcoholic drink and that if I keep drinking them with a glug every night people might start getting worried, especially if I end up on Facebook telling everyone how much I love them (this happens, pretty much every time).

One more thing. It’s very nutritious. If this information will ruin it for you, stop reading here and just go make it (or wait till 5pm and make it?). But between the milk and cream, the egg yolks and the spices, you’ve got yourself a nutritional powerhouse, made from superfoods that you don’t need to import from Brazil or a small Pacific Island. Considering how worn out, stressed and exhausted most of us are at this time of year, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s medicinal :). So go and take your medicine please, and then get on Facebook and tell me how much you love it.

Eggnog. 

Serves 1. Multiply quantities for more.

1 egg yolk

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cream

1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon and cardamom combined

1 tb sugar (I use sucanat- it adds more flavour I think, but you can use regular sugar in a pinch)

2 tb spiced rum (if you’re like me make it 1-2 tsp)- see below, or just buy it

Warm the milk and cream on the stove. Don’t bring it to a boil or anything, just very hot. Remove from the stove, add the spices, the sugar and the booze. With a whisk, whipping it steadily, add the egg yolk, then put it back on low heat until it thickens just a tiny bit.

Serve in a big mug with a fluffy blanket and maybe even an elf hat.

 

Make your own spiced rum: 

1 bottle of golden rum

1 cinnamon stick

2 vanilla beans

1 tsp black pepper corns

2 tsp cardamom

peel of 1/2 orange

Throw the lot together in a jar of some kind. Leave it for 2-5 days, shaking when you remember. Strain. Easy peasy!!!

 

IMG_0845

Rose passion tea

I was at the farmers market when I saw a man who I recognised. But I couldn’t place his face. I followed him around a few stalls, stopping to ask the chicken lady if he was famous. He wasn’t famous. But I couldn’t remember. So I let it go and forgot about it.

A few months later I was walking down Beverly Boulevard on the way to FedEx, when I saw him walking on the other side of the street.

Struck by the coincidence, I shouted at him and ran across four lanes of traffic. Winded, I asked him where I knew him from. He looked confused, and a little scared. He doesn’t even live in LA, he said. I asked where he lived and he said Santa Barbara. And it all came back in an instant.

I signed up for an Indian Religions course while I was at UCSB. The teacher was amazing. He talked about India and mysticism and tantra with such passion that he inspired me to want to go to India. He inspired me to want to do yoga, and learn about mysticism and explore things in life that previously I’d only touched the surface of. He inspired me to want to apply to the UCSB religious studies masters program (it’s still on my ‘maybe one day if I ever get the discipline to do school again’ list). And now he was standing in front of me and all I could do was explain all of this in a torrent finishing with “You’re the reason I went to India!”, sounding like a madwoman.

He took it well. He didn’t offer to be my friend or ask me and Jam over for dinner to discuss things further. He backed away slowly, smiling. And I stood there grinning like a madwoman, clutching my paperwork, as he faded into the distance.

The first thing I did when I got home, since I was in a Santa Barbara frame of mind, was make some rose-flavoured black tea.

As it was in Santa Barbara that I discovered how roses and black tea make good partners.

I was living with my friend Carly at the time. We were a bit like an old married couple, me and Carl. We’d sip tea together in the mornings, and do crosswords on weekends. We’d arrange themed dinners with all our neighbours, and then we’d take afternoon naps, and do more crosswords. It was pretty idyllic, even if we had no furniture.

The tea was expensive; it took me about three weeks to put aside the extra $8 I needed to buy it. I’d brew a cup every morning, and sit in our furniture-less apartment savouring the aroma and the flavour, while doing homework and listening to the fountain in the courtyard. The taste of black tea and rose still reminds me of Santa Barbara, with its sea breezes and its pretty beaches and the days that I spent at college.

Of course, if I’d been remotely as resourceful as I am now, I’d have bought it all in bulk and made it myself and saved myself a hell of a lot of money. Which brings me to the easiest recipe I might ever post.

Rose flavoured black tea is exotic and delightful. It’s fragrant and sexy. And it’ll impress your friends when you tell them that you made it yourself. I use dried rose petals because I like to use the wild ones I find for medicine.

That said, the combination of rose and black tea makes a fantastic astringent eye wash if you have a weepy nasty eye infection- just brew a strong cup and drip the lukewarm tea into your eye with a washcloth or something.

For supplies, try Mountain Rose Herbs

 

ROSE PASSION TEA (see- it sounds exotic)

1 quantity black tea

1/3 quantity dried rose petals

1 jar for storage

 

Mix it all together and store in an airtight container, away from light.

 

To brew:

1 teaspoon per 2 cups water.

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup full fat milk

 

Boil the kettle. This is the most important thing in the world. I’m convinced that people who don’t like tea have never boiled the water. It must be boiling hot when poured over the leaves or they’ll just taste like poo (technical term).

Pour the boiling water over the loose tea and steep for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes strain out the tea leaves, and stir in the sugar and milk. Drink in the middle of the afternoon, while munching on something sweet…