Category Archives: things that could be gross but surprisingly aren't

salt2

Connection

(on connection, immersion, being an artist regardless of medium, and salt)

“Who is the person that you call an artist? A man who is momentarily creative? To me he is not an artist. The man who merely at rare moments has this creative impulse and expresses that creativeness through perfection of technique, surely you would not call him an artist. To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behaviour; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness, and therefore his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

salt2Herbalism, to me is just another form of art. A design starts with a few general ideas and solidifies into something solid and perfect and a formula starts as the same thing. Each design, each piece of art, each product, each formula is a message, and each message starts out as a series of separate things that in combination become something different entirely. When it all fits into place, I feel a *click* and for a brief second all is right in the world, until the cycle starts again.

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blood building syrup

Blood building syrup

(a recipe for you, so that you, too, can feel nourished and ready to take on the world)

For last month’s surprise box, I sent out this blood building syrup, and all was going well until it started arriving in warmer places, and, due to the low sugar content, started exploding. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson about sending out low-sugar syrups, and thankfully nobody was injured in the process. Meanwhile, I’ve been taking it every day and loving it (especially given the recent frenzy, driving back and forth to the desert on gathering sprees), and wanted to share the recipe here for everyone else, whether yours exploded or not.

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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… 

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.

 

Rosemary lavender black pepper polenta cookies

Rosemary- lavender- black pepper polenta cookies

(the magic of rosemary)

During the winter, I cook with rosemary a lot. Partly because there’s a big bush outside the front door, and partly because I think it’s the perfect remedy for the winter blues. Its presence alone can light up a space and get things moving again, when it feels like the cold has ground it to a stagnant halt. Sometimes I picture it as if it weren’t a plant at all, but a little person, created out of mist. And when I do, I see a little old lady who has more energy than most teenagers. She wears her hair pulled back tightly, has knobbly fingers and sharp black eyes and usually dresses really simply. She keeps a meticulously tidy house, and is ready to smack you with her broom (which she always ALWAYS has) at any time. I think she speaks with an Italian accent and might be someone’s nonna… Except the house that she keeps isn’t her house, it’s your body, and when you take a sip of rosemary tea, she gets to work sweeping out all the crud, getting the circulation going, clearing out all the stagnant stuff. I mean, picture how your eyes open wide when you take a deep whiff of a rosemary bush, and imagine that action going on in your whole body. In getting all that crud out, it does things like strengthen the heart and stimulate digestion. Rudolph Steiner went so far as to say it strengthens the sense of self in a person, which I think translates well to ‘clearing out all the crap’ and also making you stand up straight the way a strict old knobbly-fingered lady would, lest you get spanked with a broom on your way out the door.

In my steamy little kitchen, I’ll brew up some rosemary tea if I’m having trouble concentrating or getting stuff done, especially if its because I feel sluggish. I’ll put it in a pot and let it bubble away when I want to clear the air a bit- when things are a little too dusty and the heating’s been on for days and the windows have been closed and it’s suffocatingly still. Rosemary goes on the stove in a pot of water, while I dust and vacum and throw all the windows and doors open. And then I throw the water away, because I’m convinced that’s where all the stuck-ness goes. When people stop by and have that downtrodden look, a kind of pastiness and dullness to their complexion, and that ‘everything is sliding down towards the floor’ thing going on, accompanied by slow movement and general sluggishness, they get a sprig of rosemary and a squirt of sunlight in their tea. Because the two to me are never far away from each other. Rosemary grows in sunny places, and the warmth of sunlight makes it resinous and sticky. Rosemary, as far as I’m concerned, carries the sun in its pocket.

For slow circulation, try a rosemary footbath. Or if you’re feeling really brave and don’t mind smelling like a lamb roast, make a strong rosemary infusion and add it to your bath, and you’ll feel all tingly and like dancing afterwards.

Or if you don’t feel like drinking it in tea or bathing in it, then maybe try just cooking with it.

Rosemary cookies. More specifically, rosemary, lavender and black pepper polenta cookies. These, for the record, are now PRIZE winning cookies as it was voted by the people at a party the other night. And I make them gluten free, though if you’re not gluten intolerant then by all means use regular old white flour. I combined the rosemary with lavender because they’re a perfect pair- complementary in so many ways. And they grow right next door to each other. Both of them clear stagnation really quickly, but while rosemary is heating, lavender is cooling.

Which brings me to one more quick point: If you have labile blood pressure or high blood pressure, rosemary tea is not your friend (as Kiva Rose kindly pointed out to me). You’ll end up with roaring pulse in your ears and a headache and cursing the day you ever set foot in my cyber space. Which I would hate to be responsible for. If you’re not sure, give the leaves a rub and a smell first, and listen to yourself: does it smell and feel good? If not, then maybe try lavender instead: it’s very similar, but won’t make your head feel like it’s being hit with a sledgehammer…

Rosemary, lavender and black pepper polenta cookies

3 sticks room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
1 tb minced rosemary
1 tb minced lavender
1 tb black pepper

2 cups gluten free flour plus 1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup ground cornmeal (polenta)
½ teaspoon salt

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the herbs, then add the dry ingredients in three batches. As soon as they’re incorporated, turn off the mixer, pull it all together into a ball, wrap it up and refrigerate it for 24 hours if you have time- it’ll pull all the flavours together really nicely. If you don’t have time, you can just roll them out and cut them out into cookie shapes.

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. They’ll be softer when you pull them out, and firm up within ten minutes or so. And they’re good in an airtight container for up to a month.

 

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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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Lavender-honey ice cream

I kinda have a thing for lavender.

It started when I was at university in Santa Barbara. I was a junk-food vegan. That is, a person who is vegan who eats nothing but vegan junk foods– vegan cookies, vegan muffins, vegan pasta dishes– and assumes that they’re healthy because of the vegan label. On one of my health-food store trips, I discovered these vegan lavender shortbread cookies, and I was hook line and sinkered. I mean really, I’d eat about a box of them every two days. Something about that lavender flavour infused with a bit of sweetness just makes me crazily happy. It still does– I’m a sucker for anything with lavender.

Yesterday morning, as I was wandering around the garden in pre-dawn bliss (being up at that time of night/morning when the rest of the world is asleep makes me really happy… probably because it’s the only time it’s remotely quiet in Los Angeles) I walked through this cloud of lavender and was so inspired that I picked all of the flowers and ran inside to make ice cream. I don’t know how my poor neighbours tolerate all of my crashing and clanging first thing in the morning :).

Lavender-honey ice cream

2 cups cream

2 cups milk

1 cup lavender flowers

1/3 cup honey

5 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

a pretty sea salt, for garnish

Place the lavender flowers in a saucepan, and cover with cream. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and then remove from heat and allow the lavender to infuse for an hour. Don’t leave it for any longer than that or it will go bitter. Bring cream back up to a simmer, then strain out the lavender flowers.

Whisk egg yolks together in a bowl. Ladle in a few scoops of the lavender-infused cream, while whisking the egg yolks, then pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan. Add the honey, salt, and vanilla. Cook on low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to a custard– about 10 minutes usually.

Remove from the heat. Pour in the milk and incorporate it fully.

Taste the mixture– since lavender flowers vary in strength and flavour, yours might need more milk or honey (if it does, add them a tablespoon at a time until it tastes right).

Put in a bowl and refrigerate until fully cold (I actually put mine in the freezer because I’m always in a hurry to make it. Well, to eat it.).

Once fully cold, and I mean REALLY cold, pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to instructions.

Serve with a sprig of lavender on top, and a sprinkling of black sea salt. The salt really brings out the flavour.