Category Archives: very clever things

summer 4

On the care and upkeep of ferns in the desert, part one. 

(herbs for hot days)

summer3Dried out grass, leaves and acorn shells crunch under my feet as I head off the trail up a hill to what, in previous years, has been one of my best wildcrafting spots. The changes, from last year to this are staggering: what was a carpet of chickweed and cleavers is still hard and dry; what was a canopy of bay and oak is patchy and stressed. 

Dried seed pods crack and splutter their contents onto parched ground, to lie dormant in wait for water or fire, or both. Heat radiates up from the ground in a constant stream. The air is hot, the sun is hot, the wind is hot, the ground is hot under your feet and through the soles of your shoes. It is relentless, pervasive, never-ending. Out here there is no water, only rock and sun, that relentless sun. It is the rhythm of death looming on the horizon— an element taken to its extreme, deprived completely of another. And it makes me think of how much, even taking into account different constitutions, balance is so necessary for our survival.  Continue reading

oven fries 2

Root.

(on grounding, stress relief, and being a still point in a turning world)

Two hours drive from here, out in the desert, about 1/4 mile off one of my favourite hiking trails there’s a small hole cut out of a hillside. I used to tuck myself away there on a daily basis, for what I’d consider to be therapy sessions. For someone so often stuck up in my head, I hurtle forwards at a pace that tries to outrun my thoughts, very much like that hare in that story where the tortoise emerges victorious. Buried in the earth, in my little therapy hole, everything slows down and something clicks open and my body starts to, well, for lack of better words, drink it in. It drinks in the earth and it drinks in the slowness and it drinks in the darkness and for the first time in a long time I feel calm. And if I stay there for long enough then I would feel like I’d been plugged into a recharger. Now that I live nowhere near that little hole, I try to forge that connection wherever I can. Its not impossible, even surrounded by concrete.

Continue reading

On teaching…

Its a Tuesday morning and I have returned to my stoop. The goldenrod beside me is still in full bloom, and, in true Los Angeles fashion, the white sage leaves are starting to get thick and sticky again– they’ll be ready to harvest by the time the rains come. If the rains come. Mornings have cooled down to sweater weather, and the pavement and grass around me is littered with leaves. The air in this neighbourhood smells like the poplar trees up the street, which have started to drop their leaves, leaving that fermented salicylic smell hanging in the air. I, for one, spend all year waiting for this time.

Continue reading

IMG_1619-640x426

Just add water

(things to do with nettle seeds)

In the beginning, there was a seed. A small, unassuming thing, that contained all of the potential in the world. A seed of knowledge, a seed of intention, a seed of change.

I often picture the web of life as a series of movements and pauses– potentials, probabilities, things reaching their pinnacle and then starting all over again. With seasons, Fall and Spring are seasons of intense movement, whereas Summer and Winter are seasons of pause. There is movement towards the dark, and movement away from the dark, and then there is darkness and the absence of it. Or light and the absence of that; I’m not particular about how you choose to look at it. Then there are plant parts. Roots and seeds contain the movement, the potential, the change. They contain the sex, the creativity, the expression before its been expressed. By the time something is in flower, its potential is being expressed and there is a pause. And then the flower turns to seed, and seed bursts out and settles in the dark earth, and seed meets water, and seed meets sun and then, given the perfect conditions, something extraordinary can happen. The seed as the still point, the seed burning at the centre of the world, the seed that provides everything that is to come. Continue reading

plantmatterwater

The elegance of water.

Water both scares and excites me. Unlike my husband who can’t stay away from the stuff, I have a healthy respect for it due to a. being a not-so-strong swimmer and b. two almost drowning incidents on the sea shore. I grew up on the water, some of my earliest memories are of the smell of boat, of the sound of water lapping against the hull as I drift off to sleep, of the sounds of halyards tinking against masts and seagulls squawking as the wind picks up. Of sea spray, and of the terror that overwhelms me when land disappears from sight. Even now, when the depth radar goes to ‘too bloody deep’ and there’s no land, I start thinking about being swallowed. Of things like the Marianas Trench with its crushing darkness. Of what exactly is and could be down there, and of the crushing fluidity of it all. Out on the sea, one is truly and absolutely subject to the elements. Water and air, colliding on a surface, and us, tiny people, on the frontier.

Water is in us and water is outside of us. Water that seeps through our skin and water that we drink to quench thirst. Water, life provider, water as the primordial ooze that we emerged from billions of years ago. Water as our great ancestral mother and water as the soothing coolness that fills our bodies from the inside. Water heals. Water is sacred. Water is one primitive drive that we all have both towards and away from, in longing and in fear. Water is gentle, water can kill in no time at all, and water can heal. From the salt that dissolves in it to the blood in our veins, to the healing springs that bubble forth from deep below the earths crust, to a handful of herbs sprinkled over a hot pot and left to infuse as the water ekes out the goodness, and then there it is, the beauty of the elements: they are as powerful as the hand that wields them.

And water can be medicine. Alone, its hydrotherapy: the use of hot and cold water to draw circulation to and from places. Got an injury? Jump in the shower and blast the area with water as hot as you can bear for a couple of minutes, and follow that with 30 seconds of cold. Repeat, a couple of times, and you’ll stimulate circulation to the area. I’d almost guarantee swifter recovery (especially if you use Busted Joint Ointment at the same time ;)).

There’s the cold sock treatment, and the cold wet rag on throat treatment*. There’s hot springs and cold springs and plunging oneself into an ice cold lake after a hot sauna. And then there’s my favourite: the bath.

My old apartment lacked a bath tub. I would curl up on my side onto the floor of the shower, blasting the hot water, pretending. It didn’t work. One of the reasons I moved in with Jam was that he had a bathtub. True story. In our bathroom, we have a few big buckets: Epsom salt (available in bulk here); Mustard salt bath. And then we have a shelf with bath scrubs– I like to take a big scoop, scrub myself down and then let the oils float to the top of the bath. My all-time favourite, however, is the herbal bath. With a big pot of water on the stove and a handful of herbs simmered until the water is dark and fragrant. There is magic in these baths, deep and powerful.

Skin is absorbent, and its our biggest organ. Like a giant waterproof lung creating a permeable barrier between our bodies and the world. Everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your blood stream. Absolutely everything. Sitting back into a hot kava bath, for example, and within minutes the effects of the kava have penetrated your skin. You feel relaxed, you feel slightly woo-woo, and you feel, well, good. I add meadowsweet, and do the two in combination. The kava relaxes and unwinds your mimd, while the meadowsweet eases aches and pains, and the result is a pretty darn relaxed, social and all around good-feeling night.

Conifer baths are a glorious thing- simmer fir, spruce or pine needles until they’ve made a strong brew, and add to your bath for a fragrant, anti-inflammatory and somewhat expectorant bath (really, if there’s grunge in your lungs, after bathing in the stuff you’ll hack it up). Lavender baths relax the liver, until you’re so comfortable with the present moment that you don’t remember what you were worrying about in the first place. Ginger and mustard baths warm and stimulate the circulation making your fingers tingle and your toes feel on fire which, in the middle of the winter, can be a beautiful thing. Chapparal baths smell like the desert, especially with a sprinkling of desert lavender in there. Its anti-fungal and kills anything it comes into contact with (jock itch, athlete’s foot, you name it), and I’m not sure how it’d smell to a non-desert lover but to me its glorious. Rosemary stimulates circulation and smells good to boot (though careful if you tend towards high blood pressure because it can give you a nasty headache), Bladderwrack is pain-relieving, slimy, good for the skin and chock full of iodine (and bathing in it is a lot more pleasurable than drinking it, in my opinion). Eucalyptus for your respiratory tract, Arnica for joint pain, linden because its sweet, relaxing, heart-opening and beautiful, and mugwort, for the aromatics, for the blood-moving, for the crazy dreams you’ll have afterwards and for the ache-easing of both body and heart.

Favourite combinations include kava+meadowsweet for either joint pain or stress relief or both (and if the pain is really bad a dropper of arnica tincture); Eucalptus+Rosemary for feeling like you’re full of grunge; Douglas fir + pine for inflamed and sluggish and desperately in need of some fresh air; Chapparal + Desert lavender for missing the desert so much my heart hurts; Bladderwrack for sore joints and wanting to play Siren for the night (it is, however, required to lie in the bath and sing); Ginger + mustard for the kind of cold that seeps to your bones and makes you think that you’re never going to be able to move properly again; Linden + lavender, for the kind of sweet relaxation that makes you smile dreamily all evening; and mugwort + motherwort for achy moon time when you just want to sink into the earth and close your eyes and bite the head off anybody who tries to disturb you.

Simmer the herbs in a big pot on the stove for at least 20 minutes. I do about 2 cups of herbs per 2 gallons of water; you can find your own amount as you might like more or less. Then strain through a sieve and add to the bath.

Candles and a dark room are, of course, a must.

Almost all the above are available from Mountain Rose Herbs; I recommend buying equal quantities of whatever you’re using, putting them all together with big labels in big jars in whatever blends you so desire.

And in April, for my Monthly Herbal Surprise Box I’ll be sending out a herbal bath infusion, so if you’d like to receive a special bath, you can sign up.

And if you’ve made it this far, tell me please, what are your favourite herbal baths?

*For flu: wet socks, covered with dry wool socks, to stimulate fever. For sore throat: cold wet rag over the throat until it warms: stimulates circulation to the area; works wonders.

SURPRISE!

Exciting news (a giveaway post!)

Well it finally happened. Cauldrons and Crockpots reached over 2000 fans on Facebook, and as I’ve promised, in thanks to all you lovely people who like, comment, read and send me the loveliest emails, its time for a giveaway. As you all know, I have a shop where I sell my hand-crafted herbal goodies. Different potions for different ailments and some for pleasure too. One of the things I love doing the most is my Monthly Herbal Surprise box, in which I make whatever I want from the things I’ve been gathering and send it to subscribers. And that’s what I’m giving away this month, to one lucky reader: A herbal surprise box ($50 value!). Previous months have included things like hand made incense, decadent fir-scented body cream, lymphatic boosting breast massage oil, sparkly lip balm, heat-relief tea, wildcrafted herbal blends. The giveaway box will be a surprise, but it’ll be a good one, full of delicious, decadent and useful things. (If, by the way, one of you lucky winners is already a subscriber I’ll just add you to another month).

So, in order to enter, all you have to do is one of the following: 

1. Like Cauldrons and Crockpots on Facebook

2. Like Kings Road Apothecary on Facebook

3. Sign up for the Kings Road Apothecary newsletter

4. Share this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter

5. Go to the Kings Road Apothecary shop, have a look around, and tell me which your favourite product is Any one of the above will do, and you can do as many as you want for multiple entries.

6. Subscribe to Cauldrons and Crockpots via email or reader.

Afterwards, just leave a comment (one comment per entry, so if you do more than one, just leave an extra comment). If you’ve already liked either just leave a comment- easy peasy. Keep in mind you must leave a comment to have your entry be noted! Winner will be randomly selected on the morning of Wednesday Feb 13th, and the box will go out in a few weeks’ time :). Ready… Go!

 

Ginger Ivey, you are the lucky winner! Congratulations :) :).

bexbigsur

An especially rooted kind of thing

(in which I get woo-woo, and eat a lot of potatoes)

As I type this, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming in through the front windows. Cat is, of course, asleep in a patch of it. I sit with one hand clasped around a mug of chai-spiced and chaga-infused lapsang souchang tea, its spicy warmth diffusing through both hands and stomach to the rest of my cold body. We’ve been back a week, I’ve sorted through photos, processed the seaweeds, the redwood branches and the wood sorrel, finished laundry, put it all away, and only now am I here to tell you this: if you’re ever in California, rent a car and drive to Big Sur and sleep in your car if you have to but go. That’s it: my edict for February.

We jumped in an icy cold river. You would have too, if you’d just been on a 5 hour drive and got to your cabin and realised that the river down below was Icelandic blue and had a sandy bottom. You would have too had you been giddy on the quiet, and the woods and the smells and the sounds. I managed five seconds; Jam slightly longer. It was cold.

Walking on beaches at sunset, scrambling over sharp rocks to get out to the edges, where the sirens dwell, where the magic lies. And sea spray, and cold winds, and orange light and mist amongst the redwoods at dawn. And wandering around, coffee in hand, Victorian nightie and elf cape on, watching the light change, watching the violets and wood sorrel and the falcon swoop from tree to tree (obviously confused by this addition to its habitat so early in the morning).

A blur of a couple of weeks. And at the end of it, some redwood, hand-gathered seaweed, cold toes.

Since getting back, we’ve eaten oven roasted duck fat fries exactly six times. Apart from the fact that they’re the best ‘fries’ we’ve ever had, I have another reason: smothered in my locally wildcrafted herb blend, I feel like its helping me to return my gaze to where I am. Its really easy (especially for me: eternal road-traveller) to fall in love with places– places that have everything you could possibly want: stormy seas? Big old trees? Carpets of violets and wood sorrel? Dramatic landscapes that remind you you’re miniscule? Craggy rocks and mountains and mists?. Harder to return to a smoggy city. Harder to return to every day life of doing laundry and paying bills and navigating the meanest drivers in the world.

When its your job to remind people of the earth under their feet, it doesn’t do to be simultaneously wishing one were elsewhere. For that matter, it doesn’t do any of us any good at all to wish we were anywhere (or anyone) other than where (or who) we are for the perfectly good reason that its just pouring energy into something that doesn’t exist. (Disclaimer: this is my metaphysical woo-woo for the week) I feel like, in a way, the things we ingest become a part of us and we them. If we ingest  apples from Chile then we have bits of Chile in us, and if we ingest bits of where we live then we have where we live in us. I think it helps, in our ungrounded, on the go, too busy to stop, gotta have it now world. That being rooted where we are does something intangible to the spirit. I can’t tell you what it is, I can only tell you when I see it in people and how nice it feels to be around them. It was partly for this reason that I started using local herbs to flavour foods in the first place; we’re not devoid of interesting flavours here anyway. My favourite blend is California bay, white sage, black sage, wild rose, sumac, and then a pinch of bee balm which is in the garden (also known as Herbes De Californie, which will likely be ready to go on sale again in about a month). Sometimes I add California sagebrush if what I’m making can handle the bitter. Sometimes I add more of one, less of another, but that’s my general blend. Add that to the most grounding of things- the starchy root, yanked out of the dirty earth not far from where we live, and peeled and chopped within a couple of days, its a recipe for not just grounding, but grounding where you are. Which I think is an important distinction to make, especially when ones gaze is about a five hour drive north.

So it took a while. And a lot of potatoes and plant matter. But I’m back. And while it might not be the wildest, stormiest, sea-spray-est, most beautiful place in the entire world, its home. And that’s what matters the most.

 

An especially rooting local-herb-flavoured oven-roast-French fry recipe for anybody who needs to re-feel the ground under their feet. 

1 large russet potato per person

1 tb herb blend (I encourage you to get outside and find a local blend that tastes good to you but in a pinch you can always use Herbes De Provence which is available at most grocery stores)

2 tb butter per potato

3 tb duck fat per potato (or olive oil)

salt and pepper.

 

Preheat oven to 375.

Get a big pot of water going on the stove, and add a good amount of salt- about 1/4 cup per gallon.

Peel the potatoes, then chop them into thirds lengthwise (I’m assuming this is one of those gigantic russets- so you’re basically making three big flat bits). Then chop each of those big flat bits into 1/2-inch long pieces. If super long, cut them in half again. Once the water is at a rolling boil, pop in all the chopped potatoes and set a timer for 8 minutes. This part is important because there’s a delicate process here: the potatoes must cook to the point of being almost soft, but they must not break apart. So, when the 8 minute mark nears, start watching the water. If there are tiny bits of potato flying about in the boil, strain them immediately, if not then wait for that to happen; it should be around 8. Once strained, put them out on a baking sheet. Lay them out so that they have at least an inch in between all of them- this is for air circulation, so that they roast and don’t steam. Dollop the fats on top, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and your herb blend. Remember they’ll be quite salty from the water already so it doesn’t need a lot. You might need more than one baking tray.

Place in the oven and leave them alone for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, check them; they should be starting to sizzle on the bottom. Flip them all over and put in for another 20. Check them again at this point- they should be golden brown all over. If so, they’re done. If not, keep checking back every 5 minutes until they’re perfect.

A new American food culture

Here is an article I wrote for Plant Healer Magazine last year, about food and culture. I was going to post about something similar, but realised I’d already said it in a succinct a way as possible here.

Also, if you’re remotely interested in herbal medicine and feral foods, PHM is the way to go. Check it out.

A New American Food Culture 

I have a little jar on my kitchen counter. On the front is scrawled “Herbes de Californie” and inside is a mixture of dried and ground herbs: white sage, black sage, rose petals and sugarbush berries. I use it on lamb, chicken and duck. I put it in pate, sprinkle it on salads, and use it to brew teas. It tastes aromatic- similar to Herbes de Provence (hence the name) but completely different too. Where Herbes de Provence tastes of the French countryside, my herb mix tastes of the mountains I roam and the air I breathe. It tastes of Southern California.

I think there’s something magical about eating foods from our immediate area. Think of a world before globalisation. Before planes and cars and steam engines, where traders walked a silk road and spices from elsewhere were exotic. Where people healed themselves with herbs from their immediate areas, and where food and medicine were intimately connected.

I think that culture arises from the land it’s born on. That those plants that people use for medicine start to become infused into foods, and that our societies, and our art, and the way we live are built around these foods. People in most progressive societies today are big on ‘knowing their farmers’ or even ‘being their own farmers’ and living in a slightly more traditional fashion than the average Kraft foods devotee. People are becoming obsessed with ‘local’– indeed, ‘local’ is the new ‘organic’, springing up all over the place. We are fighting the homogenization of food tooth and nail. But I’d argue that it’s not enough. Herbalism is becoming homogenized too.

America is a melting pot. We learn this in American history 101– we have a country full of people from all different cultures. And each group comes here, and brings their memories of home, and goes to tremendous lengths to recreate that here. And while America does have a strong culture, our cultural roots are not connected to our land. American culture, for the most part, has become a reflection of this lack of roots: television, movies, fast food, big bouncy boobs on big busy beaches, plastic. A disposable culture. And while these things are fun, and can be found everywhere, they are not the things we associate with the cultures of other countries. The things I remember from my travels are fleeting moments– the mood of a place, the associations that come along with it: A cup of chai before sunrise, while the sound of monks chanting carry through the gloaming. The coral-coloured light as the sun sets over a beach cafe, with my toes pressing into the sand and a jug of sangria shared between friends. Cajeta-sweetened coffee on a rooftop patio looking out over terra cotta and blue buildings, while bougainvillea wave around in the breeze of a warm afternoon. And more than that, even. Name a country, and you can name its flavour:

Mexico: cilantro and jalapeno. France: lavender and thyme. Italy: basil and oregano. Thailand: chili and basil. Greece: oregano and lemon. America: hamburgers and milkshakes and some delicious French, Italian and Thai food.

Of course these borders are false: bioregions don’t end where a border stops and neither does a food culture. Each area of a country has its own unique flavours. And the same goes for America. My herbs in Southern California are very different to those in Maine. A new American food culture would incorporate these flavours and these medicines into practice, so that a trip around the country would provide a variety of flavours, all marked by the differences in our bioregions.

This melting pot of ours has essentially cut us off from our roots, and I don’t think that usng locally grown Italian herbs is enough.  There was a culture here before us, and food traditions here before us, and while I’m not suggesting we start appropriating Native American cultures (that would be somewhat absurd), we do need to understand that this is now OUR geographic history, and that to grow roots we need to look to the land we live on. This is easy for all of us to do. Libraries are fantastic resources for ethnobotanical information. Take a walk with a local plant guide in hand and taste things that are not poisonous. In my area, buying garden sage is pointless- we have so many different species, all with slightly different flavours. Some pair nicely with savoury things, and some with sweet. Local medicinal plants can be incorporated into all kinds of dishes. These new flavours can be a source of wonder, but even more than that they create a richness- a connection to the land we live on.

For too long we have been looking outside ourselves for the answers. The plants in our areas deal with the same pathogens and environmental stresses that we do- the knowledge they hold is much more valuable than something shipped from halfway around the world. During a brief stint at Chinese medical school I was dismayed to have a teacher insist that Chinese herbs were better and more powerful. I’d argue the complete opposite: we are intimately connected to where we live, whether we are aware of it or not. All the tools we need are right in front of us, under our feet.

 

 

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.

 

Mesquite granola

Like a lizard

(A day trip with mesquite granola, with polenta and coconut and all kinds of good things.)

If you were to visit California at any time of year, my friends, this should be it. The air is warmer, the nights are still cool, greenery is shooting up at a rapid pace. Road trips are riddled with ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaahhh’ pointing at one tree or another awash in spring green. That slightly dusty hazy light falls on it all with a benevolent hand that makes it all somewhat nostalgic even though it’s happening right now. Maybe it’s David Hockney’s fault- I’m not sure if California felt dated until he dated it. Still, this is the time to come here. A drive up the usually hideous 5 freeway will greet you with lush green fields, happily grazing cows, almond blossoms as far as the eye can see, and a row of cottonwoods and oaks along the Grapevine that make you want to stop and explore. A drive out to the desert (such as the one I did yesterday) will, once you pass Beaumont and the outlets, hit you in the face with a wave of warm air and blooming creosote and citrus blossoms but with snow still atop the San Jacinto mountains. All topped off with that big curved blue sky that makes you feel like you’re in a snow globe.

Last night, as the sun went down, Alysa and I dusted off her barbecue and grilled some chicken, and sat outside eating and sipping cider until the night got cool. This time thing is especially present here in the desert because there are maybe two months left before the heat becomes oppressive. Even now, sitting outside in the crispy morning air, there’s that electricity in the air; that anticipation that it’s going to be a hot day. Luckily, I’m heading up into the mountains for the majority of the day, to gather some sage and yerba santa and pine needles from my favourite tree. These are my favourite days, spend crawling over tree branches and stepping over bubbling brooks. Tasting leaves and whispering to trees and, most likely after a snack atop a rock (lizard style), a little nap in the sun.

But it’s that snack I want to bring up right now. Because, if you guys are privvy to my numerous Facebook posts, I don’t really do breakfast. I mean, I like the idea of it, and I know it’s good for your metabolism and that starting the day without it just isn’t right and all that stuff but, since this whole paleo movement made my sweet sugary breakfast cereals into demons (actually it was Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, and before that my move to America in which nothing tasted the same as the Rice Krispies in the old country, but paleo appealed to my vanity, which was even worse) I went off breakfast altogether. Compound my lack of desire to eat something heavy in the morning with the 3 hours of having been awake before yoga practice is over, and it’s just easier to say ‘I’m not a breakfast person’.

Until this mesquite granola happened. Which, if you ask my rational nutritionally-minded opinion, is really quite bad for you. But if you ask my tastebuds and stomach, both of which are quite happy to have something to gnaw on in the morning, it could possibly be quite good for you if the alternative (starvation) is worse. Here is the conundrum of modern living: too many sides to the story. I leave it up to you to decide after you’ve tasted it. Meanwhile, I’m heading up a mountain with a little bag of homemade granola, scented with vanilla and mesquite from this desert that I love, with little poppy bites of polenta throughout, to eat my lizard style lunch and nap in the sun. The health benefits of such behaviour have not been proven in clinical tests as one cannot patent the lizard style snack-and-nap, but I’d venture a guess that they’re pretty damn good.

I’ll post some pictures for you guys tomorrow.

Mesquite granola, with polenta and coconut and all kinds of good things. 

5 cups oats

3 cups mixed nuts, ground in a food processor (I used half almonds, half brazil nuts)

3/4 cup rapadura

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup dry polenta

1/2 cup grated dried coconut

1/2 cup mesquite flour*

2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla powder

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 cup water

Dried fruit to your taste

 

Melt the butter and coconut oil together. While you’re doing that, assemble all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Pour the melted oils over the top, mix everything together, then add water until the whole mixture is moist. Spread out over 2 baking sheets, and cook at 300 degrees for 40 minutes, setting a timer every 10 minutes to give everything a quick stir.

Allow to cool, mix in the dried fruit, then store in an airtight container.

* Mesquite flour is available at health food stores. I gather mine in the desert in the summer, you can read about how to prepare it HERE