Category Archives: conifers

pinon liqueur

How to catch the light.

(or, what to do with your Christmas tree)

I liken chasing time to hanging out with cats. You cat people out there will understand this scenario:

You want a cuddle, and you want it bad. Little fur ball is doing her thing, looking fluffy and cute. If you’re a normal, non-cat person, you pick her up and clutch her to your chest tightly. She might make a low mewing noise or she might go very still. Now you are happy because you have the kitteh, and this is good. Give it about 15 seconds before she starts wriggling. And then maybe if you’re lucky she can escape without scratching your face off. Every cat person knows that the best way to get a cat to cuddle you is to ignore it, or to develop a cat allergy, or to put on clean black clothes that are freshly ironed. In other words, to let go.

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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.

acorn pancakes

And then the rains came

“And as he drove on, the rain clouds dragged down the sky after him for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him and to water him.”

-So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

There’s a funny thing about rain and perspective. Expose yourself to the stuff every day by, oh, say, growing up in Glasgow, and you start to resent it. Bitterly. Its constant drone permeates your skin and your dreams and pretty soon any glimpse of the sun is an excuse to put on a bikini and celebrate. In California, it’s a bit different. The sun gets taken for granted in a way that never happens on the British Isles. We take the sun for granted so much that we have a very small gradient of acceptable temperature ranges. You know, sixty degrees farenheit is too cold; ninety degrees farenheit is too hot. We talk about the weather like people who actually experience weather patterns, although our variations are minor.

Until the rain comes.

It did, the other day, when Emily and I were up in the mountains gathering fir. The heavens opened no sooner than we’d left the car, and, like southern Californian rain-deprived people (in our summer hiking gear with no waterproofs and nothing remotely warm) we grinned at each other and headed off up a trail. Thunder clamoured overhead. Lightning struck across the sky. The rain came down in big gobs of juicy wetness and we kept grinning, and kept walking.

And that’s how the day went. Surrounded by water, up high in the mountains, with a cool breeze and the dehydrated world around us sighing in relief. We gathered fir. We gathered Jeffrey pine. We even gathered some goldenrod. We trapsed through bushes and overturned mushrooms and (well Em did) took pictures of every single patch of moss along the way. It was a good day. A relief of a day. Punctuation in the dusty heat wave that drives on despite the change in seasons.

A note on this recipe:

Even if you don’t have acorn flour to try the pancakes, please try and make the syrup with whatever conifers you can find. Christmas trees planted in front yards work. Spruces, firs, pines and redwoods all work. If you’re unsure about whether you can use it, email me; I’m happy to help. You can also post a picture on the Cauldrons and Crockpots Facebook page and then other people can have a say too- we’ve got a good discussion going on what conifers grow where, and if you don’t know what grows around you, just ask. There is such a wonderful pleasure to be found in eating flavours that come from your area. I also used apricot jam that I had lying around (I made a bunch of it this spring), but use what you have. Plum would be really nice too, as would blackberry.

Rustic acorn pancakes with white fir and apricot syrup. 

Note: here’s the best article ever on gathering and processing acorns

For the pancakes: 

2/3 cup flour (I used gluten free)

2/3 cup acorn flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

4tb melted butter

Combine the wet ingredients, and combine the dry ingredients. Give them a good whisk each, then slowly add the wet to the dry, whisking to get out any lumps.

Conversely you can just put the whole lot in a blender and blend away. I do this method- less clean up.

Cook as you would any pancake- on a skillet or pan or griddle, oil it up nicely (I used coconut oil; you can use whatever you like but keep in mind that coconut oil is a. very safe to cook with and b. gives things a lovely crisp edge), then pour a good 7 inch round pancake onto the pan. Let it bubble, as pancakes do, until the whole thing is covered in bubbles. Then flip it. Cook until golden, transfer to a plate kept warm in the oven with the pilot on or on its lowest setting. Repeat for all pancakes. Serve with butter and syrup.

For the white fir and apricot syrup: 

1 cup white fir, loosely packed ends of branches, chopped. If you don’t have white fir, please see aforementioned paragraph about getting in touch- I can almost guarantee you’ll have something tasty nearby.

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 tb apricot jam

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, add the conifer bits, and then remove from heat. Allow to sit for an hour, then strain and bring back to boil. Reduce by 1/4, then stir in the apricot jam. Taste- if its too bitter (conifers can do that) add more jam.

cheesecake2

Acorn, mesquite, pine cheesecake.

Apologies for my absence, friends, but I have been looking at things after getting LASIK, and not much else, simultaneously awe-struck and wonder-filled.

The LASIK procedure was uncomfortable, spent in a blind panic trying to control my breathing and therefore my reaction because there was a laser pointing at my eye. The aftermath was painful, as the numbing drops wore off and I wore dark goggles and tried to sleep. The rest of the day was spent watching a blurry television and drinking tea and complaining about the taste of antibiotic eye drops because, as it turns out, they drip into your sinuses through your tear ducts. And then I went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up and looked out the window and could see every single leaf on the nearest tree with such clarity and intensity that it felt as though I had never actually SEEN it before.

And I started crying. Big sobs of relief and reverence. The rest of the day, I spent looking at things. Colours! Leaves! Birds in the sky! The pores on peoples’ faces! Individual hairs! Green grass! Purple flowers! The night sky! It felt as though not only my eyes had been opened but all of my senses in turn. Food had never tasted so good, smells had never been that smelly before, and at this middle of all this sensory overload was me, just walking, staring, smelling, feeling.

During this week, with my new (better than 20/20!) eyes, I discovered, at the back of a dark cupboard, a little jar of roasted acorn flour. I remember putting it there- much like one stashes a spare $20 under a pair of underwear just in case, and then forgets about it, so that, upon finding it six months later it’s become free money. Well this was free acorn flour. At a time of year that I’m usually bereft of acorn flour. Joy, my friends, doesn’t even describe the emotional response to finding such things.

I’ve been so in love with the mountains lately- that smell of pine tree and sweetness. High desert, where mesquite turns to oak, and then to pine belt. I’ve been spending as much time as possible up there lately, to gather mountain roses, and to enjoy the crisp air, the smells, the staggering beauty. I pulled out the last of my mesquite pods from last year, and the jeffrey pine honey I made a few weeks ago, thinking to combine them all to make something that spoke of Southwestern mountains. The combination of acorn and mesquite flour is both sweet and wild-tasting. Different enough that you think ‘what IS that?’ but not so different that you want to stop eating it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So I made cheesecake, using the flours as a crust, and the honey to sweeten the cheese mixture. Using a combination of Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Baking, From My Home To Yours, and Kiva’s recipe from the Wild Things acorn roundup last year, and a few modifications of my own.

A note on ingredients: Come autumn, it should be pretty easy to get hold of acorns. I’ll remind you; there will be talk of them for weeks. If not, then try a Korean market- you can usually get acorn flour there, and if not, try it with chestnut flour, which you can definitely get there. Mesquite flour can be found at health food stores, though, if you’re in the Southwest, I really recommend harvesting your own. If you don’t have access to Jeffrey pines (or ponderosa) then try a local pine species, or fir, or even Douglas fir…

Acorn, pine and mesquite cheesecake. 

3/4 c acorn flour

1/2 cup mesquite flour

1 cup oat flour

11tb butter, melted

1/2 tsp salt

grate of nutmeg

2 packs cream cheese

3/4 cup sour cream

2 eggs

1/2 cup pine infused honey

1 tsp vanilla

2 tb spiced rum

 

First, make the crust- combine the flours, salt and nutmeg in a bowl, and stir in the melted butter. Press into the bottom of a pan (I used a cast iron pan, but you can use a springform pan- the crust holds together really well), and bake for 15 minutes at 325.

While that’s in the oven, beat the cream cheese and sour cream until really light and smooth- about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, and beat until combined, then the honey, and the rum.

 

When smooth, pour into the crust, and bake, still at 325 for 45 minutes to an hour. Start checking it after 45- it should still be slightly jiggly in the centre, and nicely bronzed on top.