Category Archives: Things to eat with a cup of tea in the afternoon

acorncookies2

Hurtling through space

(in which I dole out an anatomy lesson, provide pictures of my recent adventures, and reward you with a recipe for the best cookie in the entire world)

I’ve been thinking about time lately. Of course there’s city time, or world-clock time, or employer time. I think they’re one and the same. The kind of time that means you have to be at X by X time. The kind of time that has you clutching your coffee in one hand, briefcase in the other, and hurtling towards a target somewhere in the distance along a straight and narrow line.

But there are other times. There’s sea time, for example. Sea time operates according to its own clock. In fact there’s a saying to ‘never sail on a schedule’, because if you sail on a schedule then you end up in less than ideal conditions, and less than ideal conditions out on the ocean are a matter of life and death.

There’s self-employment time. Self-employment time can mean a number of things to a number of people. To some it means up at dawn and work till midnight. For others it means wake when you like and work till midnight (there’s a theme here). It used to, for me, be something much closer to city time. But lately, that’s been changing.

There’s earth time, that slow, moist, circular time, that moves in cycles and doesn’t give a whit about what you, me or Greenwich think. Earth time and body time in my mind are one and the same. That is, our bodies aren’t built for city time but for the slow, for the cyclic, for the reverent. Our bodies are built to eat when hungry, sleep when tired, to move around a lot, and contrary to popular belief, to heal themselves.

For the most part, we’re all raised on city time. Children are taught to read their watches at an early age and we learn to step to a rhythm that someone else has decided. That’s fine. As far as employment, meetings, existing in the ‘real world’ (I hate that term), its necessary. But when home alone, when walking along a scarcely trodden path in the mountains, when cooking, when reading, when hanging out with friends and with family, its nice to be able to switch back to earth time, or body time, which, as I’ve mentioned, are one and the same.

I discovered my body time purely by accident. It was the result of doing a psoas workshop from my new biomechanics guru*. The psoas muscle. You know, that giant band of muscle that runs from the back of your body, at the bottom of your ribs, through to the front of your body, at the top of your thighs… I know, I know, you came here for plant matter and food and are getting sucker punched with an anatomy lesson. But there is a point; hear me out.

Our bodies register stress before our minds do. Because as much as we think our minds are the cleverest things in the world, they aren’t cleverer than gut feelings. They aren’t cleverer than hair standing on end for no reason, for refusal to walk a certain way home even though you always go that way, or for just not liking somebody even though they smile and seem nice on the surface. Bodies know things that minds can’t comprehend. And bodies know stress before minds do. For me, and I think for most of us, that stress manifests in one place first: in the psoas. And for most of us, it manifests there so early in life that we don’t notice its there. I think it has something to do with being pointed on that linear time path with our chins jutting fiercely into the future, to where we’re supposed to be instead of where we are. The second our focus gets out ahead of us like that, our ribs jut out ahead of us too, and then we’re done for**.

I’ve been noticing it for the past couple of weeks. Wind up the body like you wind up an alarm clock and it hurtles forward in space and time towards its goal. Relax the body, and time flows in a different way. Easily. Flowily. The flow doesn’t just happen all around me but inside too. The second that relaxation happens, blood, lymph, nervous system and energy all band together and start moving around in the middle of my trunk. Its circular and its movement and it feels as good as lying down on a comfy bed after twelve hours on my feet. Tense up and it goes away. Relax and it returns. Its a feedback mechanism that lets me know the second I’m starting to get stressed out.

In order to keep my psoas relaxed and that flowy sensation moving, I have to do things slower. Dramatically slower. Annoyingly slower. But to be annoyed is to tense up, and so, taking walking as an example, to walk at a pace that keeps me relaxed is to settle my mind down somewhere into the pit of my belly and go at the speed my body enjoys. I have come to refer to this speed as ‘Rebecca pace’. I’m sure you will have your own pace too if you don’t already (do you? If so, how could you not tell me about this? If not, please relax your own psoas and get back to me.). Rebecca pace and earth time work together well, as evidenced by the relaxed smile and lack of wrinkles on my forehead. Yes, its true. Earth time is a beauty treatment.

In honor of doing things slowly, I’ve been making these cookies lately. Yes, they’re labour-intensive. Yes, they’re probably the most unhealthy thing I’ve ever made (if you count the sheer amount of sugar in them). Yes, they use acorn flour which is hard to find unless you have oak trees around you or a Korean market nearby. But I promise you, if you can find acorn flour and plum jam and forget about how much sugar you’re about to ear, you’ll be the happiest squid in the world when you sink your teeth into one.

Plum and acorn custard sandwich cookies

Note: these cookies are a variation on my favourite two British cookies: Jammy Dodgers and Custard Creams. If you’re familiar with either then you’ll see the resemblance. Also, the acorn custard cream filling is even better than the original and you might want to eat it all on a spoon. 

1 portion buckwheat shortbread dough

1 portion acorn custard (see below)

About 1/2 cup plum jam (storebought works fine too. You might be tempted to use another flavour but we did do a taste test of every jam in the cupboard and it was decided that my original brilliant vision was best in the end.)

Preheat the oven to 350, and roll out the shortbread dough. Cut it into an even number of cookie shapes, and then, using a small round thing (I used an apple corer; have never been so happy to find an apple corer in my drawer, and also, for the record, I have no idea where it came from) cut holes in the centre of half the cookies. Sprinkle those holey (holy?) cookies with granulated sugar and bake the whole lot at 350 for  18-20 minutes. They should be golden brown and not remotely burned.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before putting this magical little parcel together.

Take a solid cookie, and upon it place about a teaspoon of the acorn custard. Spread this out, then on top of that, a dollop (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) of plum jam. Put a holy cookie on top and press it down to make a sandwich. Repeat for all of them. Pour self a cup of tea or big glass of milk and try to only eat one. Really…

FOR THE ACORN CUSTARD: 

1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup acorn flour
8 tbsps corn starch
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the butter in a bowl until slightly fluffy, then add the vanilla and then the dry ingredients one at a time. Keep mixing until its all incorporated. It should be thick but not powdery, tacky but not liquid. Enough that you can take off a lump between your fingers and press it onto a cookie base and not fight to have it stay where you put it (ie. no buttery mess left on your hands). But soft enough that its not like biting into chalk. I know, my descriptions are exact beyond belief. Apologies there…

*there’s a reason her blog is called ‘Katy Says’ and its because I say ‘Katy says…’ about five times a day. Also, did I mention that I become obsessed with things and then get very annoying about them?

**this is called rib thrust. Look for it in yourself– feel under your ribcage and if they’re not flush with your rippled abdomen then there’s a rib thrust. And now look for it in everyone around you and you, too, can be as annoying as I am and say ‘RIB THRUST’ really loudly every time you see it.

 

buckwheat

Buckwheat

(in which I once again get a little philosophical, think about the nature of things, and eat some [more] biscuits)

My friend Carly said something the other night that kind of blew my mind: she no longer gives people exact arrival times, but instead gives a half hour window. She’s been getting crap about being late for years; it was the perfect solution. And it got me thinking…

I don’t do well with ‘time’. Once, I was in charge of determining what time we had to leave for the airport, and I missed my flight to Korea. I might have a piece of my brain missing, or I might just be a woman, but either way, time is not my strong point (as those of you who receive my CSA have probably come to realise).

One day when I was taking my daily walk up the street for coffee, I stopped to smell a rose, and had one of those un-caffeinated realisations (you know the ones that are glaringly obvious but seem brilliant because your brain isn’t totally switched on?): plants are just themselves. No dandelion grows up thinking ‘man, I wish I were pretty like a rose’ and no rose complains because its not weedy enough, and no wild grape wishes it were a tree peony. No. Rose is rose, grape is grape, peony is peony, and that’s the way it is. It seems characteristic of modern humanity to be constantly striving for more, to be more, to be different, to look different, to wish we were something else. From my earliest days I can remember looking at my curly-haired friends wishing I had those curls instead of poker straight hair that wouldn’t hold a curl for more than five minutes. And it turns out they were thinking the same about my hair. My boy-shaped friends envy my boobs and bottom and since puberty I’ve felt my body to be a complete betrayal of my tomboyish nature. I’ve wished I were more organized, more business-oriented, better with money, better at remembering things, better at being consistent, better at structure, but really, at some point one has to look at oneself and realize that one is either a rose or a dandelion, and just deal with the hand one has been dealt.

Trying to be something else is stressful. More stressful than life should be. And while I’m not suggesting that laziness is the way to go, or to use the idea of being oneself as a means to never ever change, I think at some point you do have to look at what your nature is and roll with it a bit. Because there’s a difference between trying to change, and trying to be the best one can be, and shoving oneself into a box to fit a mold of some ideal. Which is why I thought Carly’s idea was so brilliant in the first place. She’s not saying ‘I’m always late, just deal with it’ she’s just making allowances for the fact that things always take longer than she assumes they will.

I thought about the plants again, and how they exist in a community, not in a vacuum. Rose doesn’t need to be anything else because it grows under the oaks and alongside the mugwort and honeysuckle and potentilla. If we started thinking of ourselves as parts of ecosystems instead of islands who need to perform every function perfectly, it relieves a helluva lot of stress. I can just worry about being on time when its something REALLY important. Plus, I have friends who are organised, friends who are on top of everything, friends who are always on time, and friends who are outgoing. In my personal ecosystem, there’s a great balance (and I know who to call if I need help organising my apothecary).

Which brings me (AWKWARD TRANSITION ALERT) to buckwheat. Because these shortbreads are pretty much buckwheaty as it gets. I was going to turn them into something exotic with rosemary or thyme but you know what… the batter tasted so good as is that I couldn’t adulterate them at all. So these are plain buckwheat shortbreads, but please don’t let their plain-ness fool you. Because they are so perfectly themselves that after one bite you’ll realize that plain and boring are two very different things indeed, and these are not boring at all. No siree.

If you aren’t avoiding gluten, you can sub the starch and rice flour for regular flour, but honestly, if you have the ingredients around, give them a try as-is, because they are fantastic…

Buckwheat Shortbread

(adapted from 101 cookbooks) 

1  cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
2/3 cup vanilla-infused sugar (or 2/3 cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)- recipe below
1/4 teaspoon salt
8oz (2 sticks) butter at room temperature

Another note: I did this whole thing by hand in a big bowl. And while my shoulder hurt like hell afterwards, I felt very very proud of myself and so, you know, you could try it too.

Beat the butter. Keeping in mind that I did this by hand, it doesn’t need to be a whole lot. But if you’re doing it by hand too, beat it until your shoulder has a slight burn going. Add the sugar, beat until fully incorporated. Then, in a feat of flying flour, add all the flour, all at once, and the salt too. Try and stir it in without it going everywhere; maybe you can succeed where I failed. Incorporate it fully and it should form a neat ball quite easily. If it still sticks to the sides, add more flour, bit by bit. If it feels a little dry, don’t worry, start mixing with your hands and it’ll come together, promise.

Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least a few hours, then roll out and cut into cookie shapes. Prick the tops with a fork gently, sprinkle with vanilla sugar, and bake at 350 for about 18 minutes, until they are golden brown on the edges.

 

Vanilla infused sugar
(Easiest recipe ever?)

1 vanilla bean
Sugar
A pretty jar (essential)

Put the vanilla bean in the pretty jar, and then cover with sugar. Give it a shake every couple of days, and in about 4 days you’ll have vanilla sugar, which you will be hard-pressed to walk past without opening for a sniff…

biscotti1

Pinyon Pine Nut Biscotti

On being run down: sometimes us folks who spend all our time making potions for others are the ABSOLUTE WORST at actually taking our own advice. Over the last week, I started feeling more tired than usual, and my throat started hurting a little. Did I think ‘oh, Self, you’ve seen a helluvalot of people with a terrible flu in the last few weeks, maybe you’re fighting it and should, you know, rest more, take your own medicine, and cancel all obligations for a couple of days’? Noooooh, I thought ‘that’s funny, I’m never tired like that, why is my body being so annoying right now? I’m going to ignore it.’ And it takes a handsome husband to come home and take one look at me sitting on the couch, surrounded by clean but not folded laundry, tea towel in hands and staring into space, to point upstairs and say ‘bed. now.’ and to add insult to the own-advice injury, demand that I put warm socks on and take elderberry elixir and vitamin D. For the record, my own advice had me in bed for a day and then fine, which, if I hadn’t done I’d likely be still in bed with a horrible fever and a whine as long as a traffic jam on the 405 on a Friday afternoon with a popularity level to match. Own advice is good stuff.

Rest day.

On reading in a random aside: I saw a silly meme on the interweb talking about how one can pretend to have insomnia but one is really just staying up all night reading. That happens to me frequently.

On Winter: I have heard a similar thing from quite a few people in the last few weeks: ‘Why am I so tired? I want more energy? Can you give me something for energy?’ My answer is always the same: It is winter. Look at the trees outside, and the ground up in the hills. Look at the cold weather and all those images of wintery things. We forget because our lives are so out of tune with the cycles of nature. We forget because we idolize youth and perpetual energy and the sun and all things outgoing and yang. But Winter is yin time. Winter is rest time. Winter is time to go deep and take stock and drink hot cocoa and snuggle in bed for hours and to take it slow time. No, I won’t give out an energy potion. That would be going against nature, which is the exact opposite of what a folk herbalist does.

On taking your own advice: see above.

On quiet things: Pine nuts could, if one were in an ‘I GOTTA GET IT DONE ASAP’ mood, be considered a pain in the ass. However this is winter, and so when faced with a big bowl of wild pinyon pine nuts and a few hours to spare, I put on some River Cottage (available on Amazon instant streaming), grabbed a bowl and a big mason jar (for the shells which can then be covered in vodka and used for exciting things), and got to work. The afternoon could only have been more enjoyable had I had some other people around to chat with while we shelled things. These instincts run primal, which is what I think any time I have a couple of girlfriends and a bowl of things to shell, and I can picture us doing this a thousand or even ten thousand years ago, gossiping about the same old things: boys, body adornments, plenty of giggles. Because amid all the technological advancements, people don’t really change very much at all.

On pine nuts: Yes, you can buy them in the store. They’re expensive and often come from China where there’s a big risk of getting pine nut mouth and not being able to taste things properly for a couple of weeks. You can also, if you live in the Southwest, gather your own. Most pines have nuts, some nicer than others. Pinyon pines have the best nuts (in the world, in my opinion) but there are plenty of other edibles. Do a search for what’s in your area, and then curse me for posting this five months too late.

On biscotti: Because sometimes the best medicine is an obligation-free afternoon in which you can anoint yourself with a friend’s botanical perfume, light some home made incense, put on some thick socks, curl up with a hot latte and tune in with the quiet thrum of the slow pace of the earth. A good tree to hang out with, a good book to read, a good earth to sit on, a good blanket to snuggle in, and, like the still point in a turning world, a good biscuit to plunk into it all.

Pinyon pine nut biscotti. (gluten free)

On flour mixes: there are a couple of ways you can do this, and if you don’t care about eating gluten, just sub the flours with 1/2 cup cornmeal flour and 1 cup regular flour, then half the baking powder and leave out the xanthan gum entirely. 

1/2 cup cornmeal flour

1 cup gluten free flour mix (or 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1/4 cup brown rice flour, 1/4 cup potato starch, 1/4 cup sweet white rice flour, 1/4 tsp xanthan gum)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup wild pine nuts, roasted for 10 minutes and then shelled

1 tsp ground pine needles

1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate

 

Preheat the oven to 350.

Beat the butter until its light and fluffy, then add the sugar, and beat some more till its a pale creamy colour. Add the eggs, one at a time, then all the dry ingredients in two batches. Stir in the pine needles, pine nuts and chocolate chips.

Shape into two log shapes on a baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, until very light golden brown and still mostly soft.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. After they’re cool to the touch, slice them into biscotti- about half an inch thick. Separate them all and lay them out still standing, and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until they are a beautiful dark golden colour and you can’t stand the good smells anymore. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit (this is the perfect time to make a good cup of tea or coffee). They’re best on the first day but will last for a few weeks in an airtight container. They won’t last that long though.

thyme flappiejackieyum

Chocolate-thyme flapjacks

There are two thymes in the world. There’s the thyme that that carries on a warm summer breeze, flowers waving in the wind. It’s the thyme that hangs in bunches from rafters, and that scents chowders and stews. It’s the thyme that intoxicates you when you least expect it. The other thyme– thyme number two– sits in a bottle with a corked top on my shelf, surrounded by other bottles with corked tops, with masking tape labels that have lots of latin on them. This thymus. spp. bottle contains a pretty strong elixir, extracted in everclear and honey, and it sits around in all its potential, waiting for someone to start coughing.

For the record, they are *actually* the same thing. Thyme is good food, good smell and good medicine alike. Like all the aromatics, it has oils that kill bugs, stimulate digestion, and affect your nervous system in one way or another. Like all the culinary aromatics you buy at the grocery store, it has its roots in some other country’s food tradition (unless you’re reading this from France or England). And like all the culinary aromatics, it’s easy to get hold of and therefore great to know how to use as medicine. Because unless you’re like me, and actually enjoy traipsing mountain sides, pulling up roots, and building an apothecary, being able to pop to the grocery store and buy something useful is probably an important thing (amIrite?).

When someone is having lung grunge issues–racking cough, tons of gunk– I reach for the second thyme: the bottle on my shelf. I mix it with mullein and yerba santa and mallow or cherry bark. If they’re having clogged sinus issues, I mix it with horseradish or yerba manza, because its a medicine, and a potent one at that. For getting rid of grunge in general (let’s call it ‘spiritual grunge’) I’m likely to use the first thyme. The wild, fragrant, spirited thyme that hasn’t yet been bottled. Bunches of it are always hanging to dry in my kitchen, for good reason- just as the wind tickles its face and carries that scent upon the air outside, it does the same inside, and that scent contains the oils, and those oils get rid of stuck stuff, of stagnant stuff and of heavy, cold, wet stuff. A sprig in a cup of rose petal tea is as welcome for a grieving guest, and I am firmly convinced that absolution can be found in a mug of thyme tea or two.

Use it in tincture form for the lungs, or a steam for lungs and sinuses, or, if its the magic you’re after, drop the flowers in a bowl of water and leave that by a window on a moony night. Use that water, for drinking, for sprinkling, for dousing people as they come through your door*.

Or just keep a bunch of it hanging in your kitchen at all times, and do random things like adding it to crunchy crumbly oaty flapjacks.

The British flapjack is an oat bar that is at the same time crumbly, crunchy and gooey. Its perfection is in its simplicity, though I did get a bit crazy and throw thyme in and melt chocolate over the top. For the record, a flapjack is NOT a granola bar. Granola bars are crunchy; flapjacks are perfect. Granola bars are a substitute for breakfast or real meals; flapjacks are an actual breakfast or afternoon snack or post-dinner snack or a hiking snack. Flapjacks you can serve to people as they walk into your house on a rainy afternoon; if you serve granola bars to people as they walk into your house on a rainy afternoon they will think you’ve not been to the store all week. See, different!

That said, give them a try. They’re ridiculously easy, and most of us have the ingredients lying around already. From idea to eating in about an hour, 50 minutes of which is waiting time. You’ll go up a pant size from eating so many and then I’ll start receiving hate mail to which I’ll reply that I’m just the messenger and throw some thyme water in your direction. Worse things have happened…

Thyme-infused flapjacks

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is the following:

13tb butter

1tb thyme syrup

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups rolled oats (ground up a bit)

1tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp thyme

7 oz chocolate (optional, but recommended)

3 tb cream

Make the thyme syrup: take one cup sugar and one cup water, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and add a cup of fresh thyme (half cup of dried). Steep for an hour, until strongly flavoured. Strain out the thyme and bottle. You can use this for cooking or for adding to things or for coughs, or just bottle it prettily and give it away for the holidays.

Heat the oven to 350, meanwhile, in a pot on the stove, melt the butter. Add the syrup, sugar, vanilla, thyme and salt. Incorporate well, then remove from the heat and dump in the oats. Stir it all together, then pour into a 9×9 square dish. It’s buttery enough that you shouldn’t need to pre-grease it or anything.

Put this in the oven and cook for 23 minutes. It won’t be set when you pull it out, but it should be a golden brown colour.

Remove from heat and leave to sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be quite firm. Now, melt the chocolate in a double boiler with the cream, and as soon as its all runny and melted, spread it over the top of the hardened flapjacks with a spatula. Refrigerate until its firm, then cut it into squares and serve.

*With regards to dumping water on people as they walk through your door, I do not exactly recommend this practice as it is often met with shock and/or anger and such people will be unlikely to cross your threshold again. If that is your intended result, however, then douse away!

applerosemary

Apple-rosemary coffee cake

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” (Hamlet, iv. 5.)

Rosemary divides people. Not quite like cilantro does (word on the street is that some peoples’ taste buds are *different* and that cilantro tastes like soap to them), but still, if you say the word ‘rosemary’ there is a group of people (I call them, originally enough, ‘rosemary people’) who’s eyes will light up and they’ll say ‘oh I LOVE rosemary!’ Rosemary people. Often sweet of voice and soft of face. Often dreamy-eyed, and slightly sluggish. Look for a slightly grey tinge in the skin (this is often more of an intuitive thing), or a general feeling of ‘blah’ and lack of movement. Or look for signs of bad circulation and coldness combined with liver stagnation- moodiness, crampiness, bursting into tears for no apparent reason, blueish fingers and toes, trouble digesting meats and fats, hardness, coldness, being overwhelmed by inertia easily and often.

Rosemary people love rosemary because it gets things moving. I like to liken it to a little old Italian grandma with her hair pulled back tight and a broom in her hand. She’ll smack you on the butt then sweep out the cobwebs in all the corners before you knew what hit you. There’s also the common phrase ‘rosemary for remembrance’ and, while it’s actually referring to remembrance of the dead, there’s actually something to rosemary’s ability to help folks remember anything. Think of that little old broom-wielding Italian lady, and now think of your foggy, sluggish brain, and how much better it’d function if someone beat out all the dust and crud. Yep. Rosemary for remembrance, indeed.

I’ve made this cake three times now. Twice at home, then once when I arrived in Palm Desert this last weekend to stay at my friend Alysa’s house- I thought it’d be a nice thing for her to come home to after a long day at work. The flavour, my friends, will woo you from the get-go. The sprigs on top are important- as the cake cooks, the aromatic oils from the rosemary will seep into the crust.

A note about using gluten free flour: depending on what mix you use, this cake could end up very dense. I used a boxed cake flour for my third version and, while it was springy enough fresh out the oven, by the next night it was like a brick. My recommendation (as discovered by the genius Alysa) is to toast slices of this day old brick-cake, and slather it with butter. Not only will you get your butter rations for the week in one dose (hooray for healthy fats!) but the rosemary in the cake will help you digest it!

Rosemary Apple cake

Adapted loosely from Nigella’s Rosemary Remembrance Cake recipe

For the apple mush:

2 apples, peeled, cored, chopped into wee chunks

2 sprigs rosemary for flavour, plus another bunch for decoration

1 tsp sugar

 For the cake: 

2 sticks butter

3/4 cup sugar (I use sucanat)

2 cups flour (I use gluten free all purpose plus 1 tsp extra baking powder)

1 tsp vanilla

3 eggs

2 tsp baking powder

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 325F.

In a pot on the stove, simmer one chopped apple with a teaspoon of sugar, the rosemary, and about 1/4 cup water, with the lid on, for about 8 minutes. The apple will become mush. This is good.

Meanwhile, in a mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Throw in the sugar, and keep beating, then the eggs, one by one. Next add the vanilla, and then the apple mush mixture. Then, in three parts, on a slow setting, add the flour and baking powder. When its incorporated, spoon into either individual muffin tins or a loaf pan, or, in my case, a cast iron pan. Make sure this pan is well-greased with butter.

Before cooking, decorate the top with sprigs of rosemary. In the case of the muffins, I found it easier to de-stem the rosemary and just sprinkle it on top.

Cook for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean, and the tops are golden brown. Tastes best on the first day.

 

 

 

 

Neruda Ode to enchanted light

Ode to enchanted light

(A recipe for acorn scones to welcome, nay, hurry the turn of the seasons)

A few days ago, I was sitting watching the light change when it struck me that the seasons are turning. The weather doesn’t agree: it’s still in the 80′s, I’m still sleeping with the covers cast off to the side, and my shoulders haven’t seen a sweater in weeks. But the air, you guys, the air is saying something different. I imagine sometimes that the air is filled with tiny little light particles, and that they all dance in a certain direction. In spring, they start to wiggle, moving up, slowly at first, as if they are taking a while to wake up, and then quicker and quicker, as summer approaches. By summer, everything is in full fervent swing. The bugs mirror the pace: frantic, ecstatic. The leaves reach skyward with such power and speed (as they were born to reach these great heights and they know what’s coming). For a second they hover in the air, suspended, weightless, and then, one by one, the particles start to fall. Slowly. Like feathers, in space. Slowly, like slipping into a dream.

I live for this time of year. Without a doubt. The light looks different during the summer. I await those 30 seconds of perfect hued morning light as the sun comes up and hits the tree in the front garden. But its coming, you guys, it’s coming. Soon the air will grow thin. Soon the acorns will be ripe. Soon the leaves will fall. Soon everything will be suspended halfway between waking and dreaming.

Of course, its still hot. Weather hasn’t caught the memo. Nature is bureaucratic, it seems, and these changes take a while to implement.

But looking at the light changing. Looking at the dust falling. Feeling that downward pull beginning, I can tell you that it’s not long off. Savour the summer while you can; though I couldn’t be more delighted.

Acorn scones.

These are really easy and quick to make. No fancy equipment needed. If you don’t have access to acorn flour (I bought mine at the Korean market because my supplies are done until Autumn), then try chestnut, almond, hazelnut, or just use regular flour.

makes 12

2 1/2 cups gluten free flour (or regular if you don’t need gluten free, just halve the amount of baking powder and remove the xanthan gum)

4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1 cup acorn flour

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar (scant)

1/2-1 cup buttermilk (start with 1/2 and keep adding till its the right consistency)

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the butter into chunks, and mix in with your hands, pinching it together, as you would with pastry, until the whole lot has a kinda course sandy consistency. Slowly add the buttermilk, a quarter cup at a time, mixing it all together with your hands until it forms a smooth dough.

Press the dough into an inch-high disk, and cut out scone shapes (I used a small mason jar, you can use whatever you like). Brush the top with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

They’re best eaten warm out the oven but will last a few days until they just don’t have a good consistency anymore.

Cut in half, spread with butter, then a dollop of clotted cream (which is really hard to find in the US- I use creme fraiche or whipped cream) and jam.

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Jeffrey Pine infused baklava

(adventures in Granada, in the mountains, gathering conifers, and an arduous process)

It all started in Granada, at the end of last summer. Jam, so sick of being stuck on a small boat for weeks on end, booked us into a fancy hotel somewhere away from the sea. I, quite desperate for a nights sleep in something under 100 degree temperatures on ground that didn’t rock back and forth, was happy to oblige. We stayed in the old Moorish part of town, with windy cobbled streets that wound their way up a hill that faced the Alhambra. We explored the Alhambra, and wandered around the markets, and went to the Hammam, and slept soundly for the first time in weeks. One day, while walking around the old markets, we passed a tiny little shop front with rows of baklava in the window. Hungry, and curious, we stopped in. The woman, hair covered in a Hijab, spoke broken Spanish. The walls were lined with teas and oils with labels all in Arabic. We pointed at things and she handed them to us. We bit into them and made noises. She smiled and handed us more. On the day we left, to drive to Madrid, I ran down to the shop, waited 45 minutes for it to open, and bought every single pistachio baklava she had. Our drive to Madrid was sugar-fueled but happy. Of the many things that make me with teleportation were possible, those baklava are near the top of the list.

Last week Jam and I went for a hike in the San Bernadino mountains. We gathered and munched on a bag full of fir tips, and wild roses for Wild Rose Elixir. We hiked a few miles, to a bubbling stream, where we wet our overheated heads and splashed our feet around. We picnicked, on fresh apricots and sharp cheddar and roast chicken and fir tips, and then we played around for a bit, while I took photos of plants and Jam threw his new tomahawk at dead trees. Later, on our walk back to the car in that perfect late afternoon light, I gathered a few Jeffrey pine branches. For those of you who don’t live in Jeffrey pine territory, they are like Ponderosas on crack. For those of you who don’t live in Ponderosa pine territory, just picture a pine tree that, in the heat of summer, radiates the smell of butterscotch, vanilla, pineapple, and resin, so that the air around you is full and fragrant and resinous and warm. Picture a smell so delicious that you are incapable of passing a tree without burying your nose in it and inhaling.

Upon arriving home, I started processing everything: the roses into jars for elixir making; the fir tips infused in vodka, and the rest laid out to dry for tea; mullein leaves in a jar for tincture then some out to dry. The Jeffrey pine twigs sat there on the table, and I kept picking them up to smell. In a stroke of inspiration, I chopped them up and covered them with honey, then set the jar on top of the oven to stay warm for a few days. 3 days later, what was delicious honey had been transformed into something spectacular. And as Jam and I were standing in the kitchen dipping our fingers into a dish of it, he said something inspired:

“what if you made baklava with this?”

Right.

Genius.

<insert long and arduous process>

So. 3 attempts later, plus some happy dinner guests, here’s a recipe.

Jeffrey Pine Infused Baklava

 Part 1. 

Infuse some honey. If you have access to Jeffrey Pine (pinus Jeffreyi) then use that. If Ponderosa, then use that. If not then find the most fragrant conifer you can. Douglas fir is gorgeous, as is white fir and Ananda sent me some delicious fir from the East coast earlier in the year… Redwood is delicious. Spruce is yummy. Get creative. Get out there. Bury your nose in trees and taste needles.

When you get it home, chop it up and cover it with honey. For this recipe you’ll need about 1 1/2 cups. The rest is yours to do what you want with. Drizzle it over toast, into tea, onto fingers. Whip it up with cream, use it in hot chocolate. Try and keep it around for more than a month (you won’t be able to, promise).

Part 2. 

Make the warqa. For ease, here’s the recipe I used. Because I have gluten issues, I *may* have sprouted, dehydrated and ground my own wheat. I also *may* have soaked the batter for an extra long time and added some raw milk to break down the gluten molecules even more. If you have slight gluten issues and desperately want to eat these, I recommend doing this too… if you want specific instructions just let me know and I’ll type them up.

Things I found that helped with making the warqa:

1. Add more water than the recipe says. When its thick it doesnt spread on the pan properly. A thin watery batter spreads on really nicely.

2. The pastry brush is really really necessary. Any kind of brush will work. A paintbrush would work. Just as long as its brush-y.

3. Don’t accidentally dislodge your pan. Steam burns hurt.

4. If I weren’t gluten intolerant I’d buy filo dough in a heartbeat.

Part 3. 

This is the fun part. Here’s what you need:

1 lb piscachios

1 tsp mixed spice (in this case, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg)

2 tb orange blossom water

3/4 cup pine infused honey

1/4 tsp salt

about 18 sheets warqa, or filo dough

1/2 cup butter, melted

 

Grind up the pistachios till the largest pieces are lentil-sized and there are lots of smaller ones. Take out a handful (for decoration, then throw the rest in a bowl, along with the spice, orange blossom water, honey, and salt. Mix it all together thoroughly. It should be a thick paste that holds together and doesn’t spread out too much. If it is too runny, add more pistachios (or in dire straits, strain out some of the excess honey).

Brush a baking sheet with melted butter, then set out 3 of the warqa sheets, so that they overlap, in a row. The edge of the first and the edge of the last will be pretty close to each other. Then, about 6 inches in, dollop a row of the pistachio mixture along the warqa. Start rolling the warqua over the pistachio mixture, buttering it at each turn. When the whole thing is rolled up, place on another oiled baking tray, slice it, then repeat with the remaining pistachio/pastry. Here’s a video of someone doing the same thing, with filo sheets (because this process is difficult to explain). Start at 3:30.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Until they’re golden brown on top. In the meantime, in your butter pan, throw another 1/2 cup of honey, and the remaining butter. Heat a little, till they’re mixed and runny, then, when removing the baklava from the oven, brush them all with the mixture. Finish it. The more honey and butter drizzled on these things the better. Sprinkle pistachio on top and wait for them to cool before eating…

 

rhubarb custard elderflower tart

Rhubarb and Elderflower-Infused Custard Tart

(on perfect pairings)

Lets talk about first world problems for a minute. There are some that I am ill-equipped to help with: things like ‘oh no, my new smart phone has a glitch’ or ‘I have too many computers’ or ‘my shiny car is sooohoooo last season’. But then there are areas where I can be quite useful. Things like ‘I don’t know what to wear’ or, in this case, ‘oh no, I have too much rhubarb’. Yes, friends, too much rhubarb is an area where I can be useful indeed. You see in the last two weeks alone, I have made rhubarb syrup, rhubarb compote and rhubarb fool (then all of these with rhubarb and strawberries combined, though I will admit to preferring rhubarb alone where you can taste all of its rhubarby glory, unadulterated with the sweetness of the strawberry). All of these I could gladly share.

But my crowning glory, the barb on my rhu, would have to be rhubarb, elderflower and custard tart. For what two things go better together than rhubarb and custard? Apples and blackberries? Lysander and Hermia (which would be the worst name ever, given its similarity to hernia)? Barbecues and beer? No, rhubarb and custard is one of those matches that, in my opinion, is star-crossed from the beginning. Were I the type of person who thought that the natural world existed solely for our disposal, I’d be inclined to also believe that rhubarb exists solely for the purpose of being paired with custard. But that’s like saying that a woman who is a good cook exists solely for the purpose of feeding her husband. As in, outrageous.

Over the past couple of years, my friend Butter and I must have sent each other close to a thousand emails. Some short, some long, the majority discussing food, herbs and foraging. It was a fated friendship- both of us were looking to broaden our horizons a bit- she to learn about how to her use foraged food for medicine, and me just starting to realise that wildcrafted herbs could also be edible. It spawned a Wild Things roundup, that Butter still does monthly, and countless ideas being tossed back and forth, of interesting and delicious ways to use wild foods and herbs, and a friendship of immeasurable value. Where Butter knows food, I know medicine. Where Butter is reliable and steady, I’m like a bouncy ball (ie. not very steady). Where Butter has almost unlimited stamina (like a turtle), I need a nap after a sprint (like a hare). We, in my opinion, make a really good pair. In one of those many emails last week, we discovered that we were both making a similar dessert (please re-read treatise on perfection of rhubarb and custardy things for explanation of how such things happened) and decided to post them together. A reunification of forces. Which makes me extremely happy. So here’s to friendship, and good ideas, and perfect pairings. Here’s Butter’s Rhubarb Elderflower Sour Cream Pie .<3

ps. If you do anything this week, make this tart. Your stomach and all your neighbours will thank you. Promise.

 

Rhubarb and Elderflower-Infused Custard Tart. 

1 portion basic sweet tart crust

1 lb rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh elderflowers, or 1/4 cup dry
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla or a pinch of vanilla powder

 

Make up the tart crust in advance, placing it in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours before you roll it out. Roll it out and drape it over a 9″ tart pan, poke little holes in the bottom with a fork, then bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and beautiful.

Meanwhile, start the custard. Put the milk and elderflowers in a saucepan, and heat up the milk gently until it’s hot to the touch. Switch off and leave to steep for 30 minutes to an hour. The flavour of the elderflowers will infuse in the milk. Strain out the flowers, and return the milk to the pan. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, then start to heat again, until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the eggs until smooth. Add a couple of big spoonfuls of the warm milk to the egg mixture, give it a stir, then add back to the saucepan and return to the heat. Bring to a boil, slowly, stirring or whisking constantly- don’t let anything stick to the bottom. It’ll start to thicken. Once boiling, stir vigorously for about a minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Put it in a bowl, cover with cling film, and allow to cool completely.

Cut the ends off the rhubarb, and cut each piece so that its about 5″ long. More or less. Put all the rhubarb in a big pan, dust with the sugar, and sprinkle with water- about 1/3 cup for the whole lot. Put in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, until the water is gone and the sugar has gone caramelly and the rhubarb is looking cooked but not mushy yet (if you have a distaster and it goes mushy completely, it doesn’t matter, just make a different design). Allow to cool.

With all your pre-cooked and cooled ingredients, assemble the tart. Spread the custard in a thick layer over the bottom of the tart, then decorate the top with rhubarb. You can serve it immediately, though I think it tastes better after a few hours.

 

chocolate hazelnut spread

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

In an ideal world, there would be a separate court system for left-brainers and right-brainers, so that the left-brainers could show up on the appointed date, at the appointed time (or ten minutes early) with all their paperwork in hand, and us right-brainers could show up when we feel like it, having forgotten most of what’s important. In an ideal world, however, everything would be relative, like ‘ah, young lady I see you holding your mobile telephone while driving, but I also acknowledge that you aren’t texting, merely looking at a map, and that the streets are empty so you are a danger to nobody’ or ‘ah, young lady, I see you are going fifteen MPH above the speed limit, but it’s also an empty stretch of freeway and your car is built to withstand such speeds beautifully’. In this ideal world, very old trees would be respected as would very old people. In this ideal world, a woman’s body would be her own, not the State’s, and in this world, nobody would have come up with the silly idea of calories. Yes, calories.

You see, I have recently discovered that you cannot, in Los Angeles, get anybody to take a jar of Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread*. People back away, terror sticken, holding their hands out in front of them to prevent you coming any closer. I usually pawn off my baked goods with the preface ‘it’s healthy’ or ‘it’s gluten-free’ after which people eat it gladly (note that I fail to mention the butter or sugar content for aforementioned reasons) but with something so similar to Nutella, everybody knows that it’s not healthy, and that you can’t just have one bite and put the jar away. No, there is no putting this jar away. It might be physiologically impossible.

And for the record, I think this backing away is utterly stupid behaviour. Because I firmly and fully believe that if something is eaten without a single shred of guilt, then it doesn’t end up stuck to hips and jowls and places we don’t want them. And that a stick of celery, when eaten stressfullythinkingaboutcaloriecontent will likely make you go up a clothing size, whereas an entire pizza and soda will not, if eaten properly**. Things eaten with pleasure in mind are usually hard to over eat. Relishing the aroma, flavour and texture of something, you actually experience it fully, not in the background while your brain does battle with your will. No. Battlegrounds are not for eating. In many herbal traditions, people are told to not eat while stressed or angry. It makes sense– all that mental stuff churning, not only do you not experience your food at all, but oftentimes your digestion isn’t even working properly when your body is in high stress mode. And a mental battle is stress mode.

So, my friends, if you are likely to feel nothing but immense guilt over indulging in something this deliciously fatty and sweet, it’s better not to make it at all. And if you do make it, promise me that you’ll eat it somewhere quiet, with closed eyes and ‘mmmm’s and ‘ooooooh’s and smiles and twinkling eyes and holding hands and warm blankets and glittering stars and all the good things in the world.

And it’s perfect. Perfect for spreading on toast and eating with a spoon and playfully putting on someone’s nose when they lean in to smell it. Perfect for mid-afternoon snacks and ‘oh, I’ll just check what’s going on in the fridge because it’s been a good hour since I last checked’. See, perfect.

ps. How nice is the word ‘filbert’. I have been saying it over and over again, all day, because it rolls around in the mouth so nicely.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

1 cup hazelnuts (filberts)

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup whole milk

4 tb sugar (I use sucanat)

1/2 tsp salt

2 oz milk chocolate

3oz dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350. Lay out your filberts on a baking tray, and roast for 10 minutes, until the papery shells come off easily when you rub them. You might not be able to get all of them off, and it’ll be fine, just try and get as much as you can.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler, melt the chocolates.

Put all the ingredients into a blender at the same time, and blend until very smooth.

Store in airtight jars. Use within 10 days.

*Eventually the lovely Amelia took one, because she’s not scared of food. Yay.

**by ‘properly’ I mean with attention and enjoyment

lemon lavender polenta cake

Lemon Lavender polenta cake

(on livers, and letting go a bit)

I was standing in my friend Alysa’s back yard smelling the desert air– with snow falling up in the mountains, and rain clouds billowing their way across the valley, the smell was electric, and cold, and wet. She’d gone to work already. I was packing up, getting ready to head back to LA, and I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia.

This nostalgia, I’m used to it. I fall in love with places and then move away, leaving communities and friends and patches of earth that I’ve grown very fond of. I miss the streets of London and the hills of Scotland and the desert mountains and the Mediterranean sea and not just the places but everything that comes along with them. No matter how clean a break I try to make, there’s always a part of me that will miss wherever I was. Sometimes it feels like I’m even missing where I AM, because I know that it won’t stay there forever.

Alysa has a Meyer lemon tree. The boughs were so heavy with fruit that they were bent over with the weight, almost touching the ground. I picked a few. And then a few more. And before I knew it I had a bag full, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t just gathering fruit from a tree, but gathering a moment in time, and a specific place in that moment. I thought about how being connected to our food source isn’t just about knowing who our farmers are or what chemicals are sprayed, but on being connected to a place on the earth. And that each time you eat food from a specific place you’re taking that part of the earth into your body too- the raw minerals of it, but also the more subtle things about it like the wind and the light and the smells and the general mood of a place. I wondered about what happens to us on a subtle level if we eat fruit from Chile and meat from Wisconsin and Avocados from Mexico…

But immediately after that, it occurred to me that if you can unintentionally eat lots of different places, you can also intentionally put a place into your food, just as you can put your emotions or intentions into food. Maybe somehow eating food of a place means a part of you will be there always*. And then maybe, if there’s a place you have a special connection to, then eating of that place can connect you to it, regardless of where you are. I’ve had this happen, you know– a few weeks ago, when, I was gathering branches from one of my favourite trees, up in the Santa Rosa mountains. When I got home, I set about to process them, remove the needles, steep some in olive oil, others in honey, and by the time I was done, I was in such a dream-like state that I could have sworn half of me was back under the tree I’d harvested from, sitting against its trunk, feeling the cool breeze in my hair, smelling that mountain air.

Sometimes the weight of missing things is quite heavy. I see it primarily taking hold in the liver; it’s an inability to let go completely. Sometimes it’s as though it’s all of time that is being clung onto, and then sometimes it just feels as though it’s moments and places. Sometimes a liver will let go and relax a bit and allow things to move on, and then like a frightened cat, it will seize up again. ‘Liver, my friend, you’re not fooling anyone’, I say to myself, absent-mindedly. Time carries on. Movement carries on. Change, it happens. As does sadness, and missing things, and death, and age. But liver reacts to emotions, not to rational thinking. A tense liver can’t perform its functions properly- to filter things and break things down and make sure everything is running smoothly. A tense liver gives you headaches. A tense liver isn’t really something to strive for.

I arrived home in the late afternoon. The light had started to go orange again, and as I flung open the doors and windows to let in all that light, the afternoon breeze picked up and I was struck in the head by a cloud of the scent of lavender.

It’s one of the first plants I put in when I move places. Because, as far as I’m concerned, having a lavender plant by the front door is excellent luck. Having a sage plant right next to the lavender makes for protection, good health and delicious tea. But that afternoon, the lavender was licking my senses. And I smiled; nobody can be a nostalgic grouch when there’s lavender on the table. This, my friends, is a little known fact of kitchen witchery. Because lavender tickles things. Not just things, but livers. Your liver. My liver. It’s like rosemary’s playful younger cousin- where rosemary is a little old Italian lady who smacks you on the bottom with her broom, lavender has purple hair and colourful skirts and a sparkle in her eye and just when you think you’re going to explode a blood vessel because you’re holding onto things too tightly, she reaches out and tickles you, and you start to forget why you were holding on to it all in the first place. It’s not the weight of the world in worry and sadness- there are different herbs for that. No, it’s the weight of the world in tension. It’s a clenching on the right side of the body. It’s fear of loss of control, and nerves that are tightly wound because of it. Sound familiar? Maybe you need a tickle too…

What happened next was a bit magical. I picked a few lavender sprigs, and they found their way into the drizzly sauce of the lemon cake entirely (ok maybe not entirely) of their own accord. Lemon juice and lavender bubbling away in a saucepan, while a lemony polenta cake cooks in the oven. It smells of the past, of the Southwest, and of distant hills somewhere in the future. It confounds your senses, and tickles your smile reflex, and although you’re supposed to wait for it to cool to eat it, if you can manage such a thing then you’re stronger than me, and stronger than Jam, because we devoured a quarter of it standing up, at the stove, before dinner. And what occurred to me, as I was standing up at the stove eating things from one of my favourite places and from the spot right outside my front door, was that clutching on to everything for dear life might be missing the point entirely. Maybe it isn’t possible or preferable to have a clean break.Maybe the whole point isn’t to not miss places, but to experience them with every fiber of your being, and then when (if) you move on it will be without regrets. Maybe the pain doesn’t come from being away, but from trying to hold on to what is no longer there. From the tension created by trying to be everywhere at once instead of exactly where you are, wherever that might be. And with that in mind, with the nuances of my garden hanging out with the lemons from the desert, I understood: you can be somewhere and let go at the same time. Love it without holding onto it. And each time you do, you get just a little bit bigger. Maybe even a little bit wiser. And that, to me, right now, is what it’s all about.

Lemon-lavender polenta cake

(not adapted at all from Nigella Lawson’s recipe except for the addition of an extra lemon and the lavender)

200g soft unsalted butter

200g sugar

200g almond flour

100g fine corn flour (masa)

1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2  tsp salt

3 eggs

zest of 3 meyer lemons

For the drizzle:

juice of 3 lemons

125g sugar

2 tsp chopped fresh lavender (or 3 tsp dried lavender)

 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly, then one egg. Repeat until all the flour and eggs are gone, then scrape the batter into a 9′ pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes. It might not look entirely set in the centre, but the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.

In a pan on the stovetop, bring the lemon juice, lavender and sugar gently to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Prick tiny little holes over the top of the cake with the point of a sharp knife, and drizzle the syrup over the cake (strain it first if you don’t want lavender bits everywhere). Try to allow it to cool before eating….

 

*Which reminds me of the stories you hear about the land of faerie: never, ever eat anything while you’re there, or you’ll never be able to leave.