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Cornmeal muffins

A vendor handed me a big bunch of lavender at the Farmers Market on Wednesday. Since I was already so close to Malibu, I decided to head up into a favourite canyon and look for some elderberries. Last year I missed them completely- came home dejected and empty-handed, with sunstroke and eventually had to drive up into the Sierras to find some. This year I went on a whim and it happened to be just the right time, as they were everywhere, dripping from their branches like little black raindrops*. The sun was getting low, and the light was getting orangey, and the ocean breeze was blowing through the little canyon carrying the scent of alder and bush mallow, and it was all a bit perfect.

When I got back to the car, the scent of the lavender in the trunk had filled the whole car. It gets into your head, that smell, sticks in the air and onto your clothes, and all I could think about was how I wanted to infuse it in honey and drizzle it on absolutely everything. And that’s what I did when I got home- I made a big batch of lavender honey. Another batch of lavender tincture (one of my favourite things for liver-tension and headaches!), and then used what was left to make cornmeal muffins, because the honey wouldn’t be ready for a while and I really did want to eat it.

These muffins are ridiculously easy. I separated the batter before adding the flavours, and made half with elderberries, and half with lavender and lemon. The recipe is the same for each kind, you just mix the ingredients in at the end.



Elderberry cornmeal muffins/ Lemon-lavender cornmeal muffins

2 tb butter, at room temp
3/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used an all purpose gluten free flour mix)
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, or soured raw milk

2 cups elderberries (fresh or frozen)

or

1/2 cup chopped lavender flowers and
rind of 3 lemons plus the juice of two

 

A few hours before cooking, put the cornmeal and milk in a bowl. It’ll be a thick mixture, but you just want to hydrate the cornmeal a bit so that it’s not so crunchy when you cook it.

In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand) beat the butter and honey until fluffy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the buttermilk-cornmeal mixture. Once incorporated fully, add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in 2 batches.

Add the dry ingredients- or do what I did and separate the batter, mixing in half the quantity to each.

Pour into a greased muffin pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Serve hot out the oven, sliced in half with a big dab of butter on top.


*Elderberries, by the way, make me want to talk in an Olde English accent. So I do, often to myself, while wandering around gathering them. When I run into people I get funny looks, especially if I’m mid-sentence. Sometimes I do it while I’m driving and forget that the window is open. More funny looks. But if you haven’t tried it, it’s really fun. I highly recommend hunching over and pretending you’re a little old witchy lady while you do it. Throw in a ‘boneset’ too, because it makes you sound legit.

 

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Yucca syrup

I was out wandering in the hills at sunset the other night. The clouds were rolling in from the Pacific below me, blotting out most of the signs of civilisation.

And I climbed- up to the area that I call the dragon’s back, though it has another name that is much more boring. I much prefer to pretend that I’m clambering along the spines of some great big slumbering beast that could take off at any moment. Up at the top, the sandy rocks create these perfect seat spots, where you can watch the light go red, and the clouds rushing and turning, and feel the wind whip your hair around your face, and pretend to be alone even though there’s a big big city down there somewhere…

As I was walking up there, this aroma kept hitting me. Like grapefruit and lemon blossoms and sugar had a flowery baby. And I’d stand there in the middle of the trail sniffing at the air wondering where it was coming from. I happened upon a yucca plant close to the trail as I came around the corner. They’re everywhere here at this time of year- when you look out over a landscape you can see their tall white blossom-covered stalks standing out like alien sentinels, standing on guard.

And honestly, I had no idea that they smelled like this. I’ve seen them all the time. I knew that they were edible in entirety- I remember having a conversation with a Cahuilla Indian who told me that they’d dig up the root and build an underground fire pit and roast them for about 24 hours until they were sweet and soft, and that it was the most delicious thing ever. But it had never appealed to me; I was always much more interested in plants for medicine than for food. Until I smelled them.

What I wanted was to capture that smell. That delicate blossomy smell that made me want to roll around in a spiky plant like my cat does with catnip. The only recipes I found were savoury. I assume because the flowers taste slightly bitter, and have a meaty texture to them that would be awfully nice in savoury things. But I wanted something sweet. Because if you can’t tell by now, I have a sweet tooth.

I figured that if I started a syrup then I could do any number of things with it. Like drizzle it on french toast, or stir it through vanilla ice cream, or over fruit salad. So that’s what I’ve done. Since I’ve been getting into this whole alcohol thing lately, I think I might try some sort of cocktail with it. Maybe even tonight. I apologise in advance for anything funny that I say on twitter between now and tomorrow morning…

This couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve got the yucca blossoms, that is. Try and pick fresh young ones, as the older ones tend to collect bugs and get very sticky. And try and pick them from a short plant because that’s much easier- though you can always just pull the stalk towards you and pluck them off that way.

Yucca syrup

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

4 cups yucca blossoms

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Place the blossoms in a mason jar, and pour the syrup over the top. Cover and let sit for a couple of days. Strain and bottle. This should keep in the fridge for over 6 months, as the sugar is a great preservative.

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Wild things in July: Rose

For the last few months, my friend Butter and I have been hosting a round up- every month we pick something that can be found in the wild (and often times on your block) and encourage people to come up with recipes, and submit them to wildthings.roundup@gmail.com. You can read the whole introduction and past months’ roundups on the tab up there that says “Wild Things”. And be sure to pop on over and check out Butter’s blog where she gives information on locating and identifying the plants we use and a recipe for rose syrup. Our Wild Thing for the month of July is rose.

LA is hard to deal with. Most days, a 7 mile drive can take over an hour, and it’s an hour of horns honking and aggro people, and middle fingers waving. It’s an angry city. And, please excuse my language, but it fucks me up. I think it does a lot of sensitive people– to be surrounded by all that aggro and all that anger, it’s really difficult not to put walls up. Or not to yell back. Or to pass it on by yelling at the next person who comes along and makes a silly mistake.

I remember once a couple of years ago, I was in traffic outside a Subway and a group of teenagers were at the window. One of the girls turns to me and flips me off. For no reason except just to be an asshole teenager. And I might look like a complete wuss in admitting this, but it really upset me- I started on a mental rant on how this is what it wrong with the world. Everyone is hurt and angry and instead of just facing it or dealing with it we just pass it on to others. It’s much easier to hurt someone else than it is to admit that our feelings are hurt. Eventually I decided that instead of being mean, she was actually from a very small Eastern European country where to flash somebody one’s middle finger actually means “you are beautiful and I like your hair”. But honestly, if I hadn’t done that, I may have been upset about it for hours.

And it’s on those days that rose is most useful. When you’re stuck in traffic and want to punch something or cry or do both at the same time. When you’re hot and pissed and it’s actually due to a deep lying fear. Rose basically relaxes the hot irritation, and relaxes tension in the heart area, [as cheesy as it sounds] allowing you to, er, blossom.

 

Rosa spp.

Taste: sweet, aromatic, astringent

Energetics: cool, dry

I think that the common factors behind all of the seemingly different symptom patterns are that it’s both cooling to inflammation and it relaxes tension in the chest. And when you get a picture for how it works in the body, you don’t necessarily need a list of symptoms. I’d also encourage you guys to experiment- it’s unbelievably gentle, as most herbs that are used in food are, and so to have it on hand in an elixir, and dried for tea is not so dangerous, and might come in very handy sometime…

 

DAMPNESS

I’ve spoken about dampness before, and undoubtedly will again, as it’s near impossible to find somebody living in a city who doesn’t have it in some form or another. The main symptoms of dampness are sluggishness, foggy thinking, heavy limbs, skin problems, sluggish digestion, paired with a swollen tongue with indentations in the sides, greasy coating on the tongue, and a pulse that feels like there’s a thick layer of sludge between the fingers and the artery. The pattern that rose fits best for the damp person (as there are lots of different herbs for dampness) is the person with lots of heat in the body (sore joints, acne, red tongue, quick pulse, insomnia, irritation, flushing, headaches) and with a kind of tension in the middle that causes restricted breathing. Matthew Wood has described rose as causing drainage of the thoracic lymphatic duct, and although I have never seen it do this specifically, I do see, time and again, people taking a big deep breath within about 30 seconds of a dose of rose elixir. Rose both MOVES the dampness (which is a form of stagnation) and also astringes it, often causing it to be removed through the bowels. Oftentimes a specific indication for rose is mucus-coated stools.

 

IMMUNE SYSTEM

Rose is also fantastic for the immune system. Kiva Rose writes extensively about this in her monograph, saying that it enhances immune function ‘through its cool, cleansing effect’. It is especially effective for an overactive immune system, where the body is reacting to ‘every perceived threat’, and in this way fits what I see as the emotional profile for the rose person too, which I’ll get to in a minute.

 

NERVINE

Rose is a fantastic relaxing nervine, working especially well on the tense, uptight muddle of emotions that one gets when confronted by too much information, or also when hurt and scared. I see the two states as very similar- both of them make one want to throw out thorns to protect oneself, and this is what rose is especially good for, allowing one to blossom amid the fear. It is for this reason that rose works well as an aphrodesiac also- it allows one to relax one’s guard to allow for intimacy. It’s not necessarily for a low sex drive, but for those folks who are too damn stressed out to relax and have sex, or those who often desire sex after a couple of drinks, or when on vacation. I find it works especially well for highly sensitive people who are afraid to let their true nature show, or who are afraid to be intimate, be it with other people or with life in general- I have seen people unwind, in most miraculous fashion, where their eyes change and their faces change and it just looks like a load has been lifted, all from a single dose of rose. There was a woman who tried it at a show where I was selling my wares, and her husband looked her and said “I don’t know what the hell that was but I can tell you that you need it.” because her countenance had changed completely- she looked truly joyful where she had looked tired and stressed minutes beforehand. And while not everybody has a reaction like that, it’s a good example to show the potential for such things if they’re specifically indicated.

I should mention that although I’ve never seen this happen with anyone but myself, rose makes me go a bit woo-woo. I think it’s that intimacy thing, like how I mentioned the influx of information being too much for some folks- every now and then I’ll have a big dose of rose and all of a sudden I’m seeing colours moving around and wandering around in what feels like a dream state, giggling. So if you’re highly sensitive, just go easy on it if it’s your first time and you have to get in the car, or operate heavy machinery, or talk to your in-laws.

 

HEAT/ INFLAMMATION

Rose cools inflammation in the body, big time. This can manifest in lots of different ways, from arthritis to swollen, itchy eyes, to sluggish digestion, to bug bites, to acne. Think hot-swollen things, and histamine reactions and you’ve got a picture for pretty much most of the rose family (which includes peach and cherry too). Which is great to know- for example when my neighbour started screaming because she’d stepped on a bee. It was swelling and causing her great pain. In yet another one of those situations where plantain was nowhere to be found when needed, and I hadn’t yet discovered the peach tree that’s a block away, I grabbed some leaves from the wild rose (rosa californica) outside my front door and told her to chew them up and slap ‘em on. About 20 minutes later I asked her how it was feeling, expecting some kind of ‘eh, a tiny bit better’ but she’d completely forgotten about it by then…

 

That’s not all folks. There’s more. Use a strong rose infusion as an eye wash for eye infections (GREAT to have around if you’ve got kids), and infuse rose petals in vinegar for sunburn. This is my favourite thing for sunburn ever actually- it takes out the pain and turns you brown much faster. I warn you, your partner might not want to touch you because you smell like salad, but it’s oh-so worth it for the relief.

 

Preparation:

You can use any part of the plant: petals, hips, leaves (if fragrant), bark and roots. Dried or fresh. My favourite preparation is an elixir- a tincture prepared with 75% alcohol (I use brandy) and 25% honey. Tinctures work well, as do strong infusions.

I’d highly recommend using wild roses if you can, but any kind of rose will work, as long as it’s fragrant (watch out for pesticides). You can also use dried rose petals- which I’ll probably be using in a week or so as they’re almost done here.

 

Ok. That’s it. Go play.

 

Sources:

Kiva Rose’s writings

Matthew Wood “The Earthwise Herbal”

Paul Bergner- Vitalist Treatments for Acute Symptoms (CD)

 

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Tomato tart

Have you ever tried camping in California in the summer without a reservation? I don’t know if this applies to the rest of the country too, but people here book campsites a year in advance.

One whole year.

I have a hard time booking plane tickets one MONTH in advance, so when Lu and I headed up the coast last weekend, it was without a campsite reservation.

Which turned out to be a bit of a problem. We did eventually find a spot, after checking ten or so other campgrounds. It was somebody else’s campsite, but they weren’t there, and since it was 2am, we figured they wouldn’t be coming that night. And quite honestly, we couldn’t have found a more perfect spot- it was high up on a cliff, overlooking the Pacific. We built a fire under the light of the half-moon, and ate apples and cheese and listened to the waves and then fell asleep.

In the morning, we woke up and watched the sea rolling in. The sea does that up there- it rolls, in these big giant roll-y waves that are covered with kelp. Fog hangs in the air. And far below, you can hear those thunderous crashes as the waves strike the cliffs. Everything was damp and smelled of salt. Every now and then a car would drive by up on the road, but other than that, it was just us and the sea, and the sound of Lu playing the guitar. Coffee. Guitars. Waves crashing. Fog. Bacon. Yes.

After a run in with a none-too-happy ranger (I don’t blame him- we did arrive unannounced and steal somebody else’s spot), we packed up and headed further up the coast. Into Big Sur. Dramatic cliffs, turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and my little tent by the cool bubbly river under a lovely redwood tree.

And so we spent a couple of days exploring Big Sur. We climbed up hills, and drove back and forth along the coast going “Oooooooh wowwwww!”. We gathered driftwood on a deserted beach. We met a lovely family from India who I built a fire for and spent the morning drinking chai with (delicious chai made over campfire= slightly surreal experience since it’s not so long ago that I was actually in India drinking chai and the two didn’t fit together very well in my head). And we played on beaches- these unbelievably dramatic beaches. We got soaked. And we dried in the sun. And I got sunburned, and it was well worth it.

When I got home, it took 3 days to get the smell of smoke out of my hair.

But the most important thing about impromptu road trips, especially the ones that involve sharing wine from a bottle by a campfire, is what to snack on when you are halfway up the California coast and it’s lunch time. Luckily, I think about these things in advance. And I packed us a picnic. Tomato tart and fresh ripe plums.

I promise this isn’t just delicious on a cliff by the ocean. I’ve had it on my stoop in Los Angeles with the sound of sirens (ambulance sirens not ocean sirens) in the distance and it’s just as tasty. The whole thing is inspired by, and only adapted slightly from, David Lebovitz, who wrote about tomato tarts last summer. The toms are just starting to get yummy, so it’s the perfect time to try it.

Tart Crust

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I use my gluten free blend)

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 tb butter cut into bits

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp very cold cream

 

In a food processor, place the flour, salt and butter. Pulse until the butter is in wee pea-sized pieces. Add the egg in 2 parts, pulsing in between, and then the cream. Pulsing for five-seconds at a time until it’s all incorporated- about five or six times.

Turn out onto a work surface and bring together into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

 

Lavender and tomato tart

1 portion tart crust

2 tb tomato paste

2 tb dijon mustard

2 tomatoes

about 1 tb fresh chopped lavender

1 tb honey

feta- about 1/2 cup

olive oil

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Roll out the tart crust, and drape over the tart pan- you can just roll a rolling pin over the top, and that will chop off the excess pastry, then press it down on the inside so that it’s covering the whole pan. Patch up any holes with extra pastry. Spread the tomato paste over the bottom of the crust with a spatula, and then do the same with the mustard.

Slice the tomatoes, and place them over the bottom of the crust, so that as much of the pastry is covered as possible. Depending on the size of the tart, you may need more tomatoes.

Chop the herbs and sprinkle them all over the top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle the feta over the top, then drizzle with honey and olive oil.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned and the tomatoes are cooked and the cheese is starting to brown slightly. It’s delicious warm out of the oven, and also really good cold the next day.

 

*If you have any plans to visit California, please please rent a convertible and drive up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It might be the prettiest drive you’ll ever do.

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Blackberry and elderflower mojitos

I’ve been getting into this whole ‘drinking’ thing lately. I’m not a big drinker in general, usually- I mean, 4oz beer is enough to make me start acting very silly. Last time I had 2 beers I think I danced on a table. And the last time I had 3 beers I actually threw up for about 2 hours. Plus then there’s the foggy head and all the new friends that you make and I think that in general, I am better just having my quarter-glass of wine and let be at that.

But that was before I went to my friend’s wedding, where I had what can only be described as a ‘fuck it’ moment, and tried something that was called a mojito (which for the record is not pronounced ‘moh-jeye-toh’).

My lord.

Mohjeyetos are good.

I mean, regardless of the fact that I put on mouse ears and stole somebody’s bow-tie and danced for about 6 hours straight. Regardless of the fact that I ended up at a wedding afterparty. Me (and Jam) who kept looking at each other saying things like “WE’RE AT AN AFTERPARTY- WE’RE SO COOL!”, which, I know, negates any coolness. It was still delicious. It was minty and sweet (but not too sweet) and fizzy and made me think that I was sitting on a beach in Cuba, where they pronounce it right, and that I could actually speak Spanish (which I’d really like).

And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

So when Friday was swelteringly hot, I decided that I could think of nothing that I wanted more than to try making my own mojitos. Fancy flavoured mojitos at that. With elderflower and blackberry syrup.

By the way, this is easy.
And it turns out that I am quite lame, because when Lu came over to try my invention she said it tasted more like a delicious soda with a splash of rum. I had thought that was what a cocktail was but it turns out you’re supposed to be able to taste the alcohol. So she made her own. Which tasted like rum and made me feel sick. You can make whichever version you like.

Elder-blackberry syrup.

1 cup elder flowers

1 cup blackberries

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

 

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, add the blackberries and elderflowers. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the elderflowers. Steep until cool, then strain and bottle. It’ll keep in the fridge for months.

 

Elder-blackberry mojito

Makes 4, 16-oz glasses

4 tb elder-blackberry syrup

light rum- add to taste. For my lightweight version I used about a tablespoon. Lu used about 1/3 cup.

4 tsp light brown sugar

fresh mint leaves (about 8 fresh leaves for each drink)

4 limes, quartered

soda water

crushed ice

 

In the bottom of the glass, add a teaspoon of sugar, 4 quarters of lime, and the mint leaves. Using something sticky and poundy- I used my wooden thing for my juicer. The end of a spatula would do, as would the end of a thin rolling pin- start mashing it all together. You want most of the juice out of the lime, and the mint to be pretty beaten up so you get the flavour out. Then add the syrup. Fill the glass with ice, then add the rum, and top up with soda. Garnish with a straw and a warm evening.

 

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Infusions.

When I was 9 or so, my mum had a friend, who we’ll call P, who became quite ill and started seeing a Chinese doctor. Well after that, every time she’d come and stay, she’d brew these big pots of the most DISGUSTING smelling herbs on the stove. And she’d stay for quite a while, and the smell would always be there, and, being the brat that I was, it got to the point where I was so angry about the olfactory assault that I just refused to even acknowledge the poor woman’s existence. Because it felt personal, as all bad smells do. I still actually take bad smells as a personal insult- I only JUST started talking to Jamie’s friend who forgot to brush his teeth one morning before we all went on a drive up into the mountains, and that was 4 years ago.

The smell of P’s herbs on the stove plagued me. And for years, even after I became fascinated with herbalism (which, now that I think about it, is no short miracle), I wouldn’t go the infusion route. Nor decoctions. The connotations were all wrong- too woo-woo. Too stinky. Too weird.

Tinctures felt clinical. Salves felt sensual. Teas, well I am Scottish- it may have even been my first word. But stovetop stuff- I might as well start wearing patchouli and throwing peace signs. And I’m not quite sure what it was that changed for me. Maybe it was one of those books that I read on the beach. They all seem to blend together now, so I’ll make it up:

The heroine grew up in a family that used herbs as medicine. It wasn’t weird or stinky. She was pretty and wore dresses. Maybe she was from Costa Rica and had long wavy black hair and would be played by Penelope Cruz with a flower behind her ear. She lives in America now and she brews potions for people and acts as the local medicine woman with her little quirky community of people who all have an interesting story. Then something happens- let’s say the local government wants to knock down the shop that has been in her family for, well, not that long because I forgot she’s from Costa Rica. And then a handsome stranger steps in as her lawyer or something. And he saves the day. And they fall in love. This story is kinda boring actually. Maybe instead of it being a legal thing, she gets KIDNAPPED by some crazy outlaw (because she’s not in America at all- she’s in Colombia, where she grew up, and she was kidnapped because of her herbal skills, to cure this prisoner because he is needed to be alive to hold him ransom because… um… because he’s rich. Super rich. Oh no, because he’s in intelligence and they need his information. Yeah, I like that better. So he’s an intelligence agent (one of the best, of course) and she’s needed to heal him so that he can talk. Did I mention that he’s gorgeous? But you can’t tell at first because he’s too thin and weak. And they slowly fall in love and when he’s got his strength back he KICKS EVERYONES ASS AND they move to America and live happily ever after. Uhm. Well the whole point is that she makes these infusions that aren’t gross smelling, they’re sensual and pretty. Because she’s got a flower behind her ear and is played by Penelope Cruz.

That’s what changed. Infusions stopped being weird stinky P, and started being Penelope Cruz. And now I make them all the time.

The cool thing about infusions is that they can be medicinal, or they can be delicious, and sometimes they can be both. So, for example, if you have people coming over for dinner- you could make a rose and hibiscus infusion and throw some ice in there and put it on the table and it’ll look really pretty. Or if you’re feeling exhausted you can do medicinal infusions and add things that taste good. You can make them really strong like real medicinal infusions, or you can make them weak, more like a tea, and sip them chilled on a summer afternoon. You can pour them into a water bottle and carry them around with you all day (which is what I do. People look at my water bottle funny.). Or you can leave it in a big jar in the fridge and have it by the glassful like you would any other iced tea. But if you know what certain things do, then you can play around a bit.

 

HERBAL INFUSIONS

The principle is really easy:

Take a container than can hold boiling water. I use either a biiig half gallon mason jar, or a french press. The french press is great because it’s got a filter already built in…

(You can also make great teas in a drip coffee maker)

Fill it about an eighth of the way to a quarter of the way with dried herbs.

Fill the container with boiling water and sit for desired length of time (the longer you leave it, the stronger it gets. Which is great for medicinal properties but often bad for taste. Unless it’s nettles, oatstraw or a root, I leave it for about 15 minutes usually).

Commonly found medicinal things you can make an infusion with:

Rose petals: Cooling and drying. For summer heat issues. For tension in chest and nervous irritability. Add honey and cream and it’s quite lovely.

Chamomile: Quite bitter in large quantities. Calming, relaxing, good for digestion.

Red clover blossoms: According to Susun Weed, these are great for fertility. When taken over long periods of time they’ve been said to have an effect on tumours. Gentle and nourishing lymph mover. Quite delicious too.

Rosemary: good for concentration, and that gross stagnant moody PMS feeling. Aids digestion. Don’t steep for too long, trust me on that one :).

Sage: For oncoming colds, sore throats. For ungroundedness, feeling spacey. Helps concentration. For concentration, combine with rosemary and basil.

Lemon balm: For anxiety. Aids digestion. Calms the heart.

Lavender tops: Tension, PMS, tight overheated anger. Nice combines with rosemary and a bit of honey.

Basil: According to Matthew Wood, it’s used in the morning for alertness, and in the evening to aid sleep. I like to use it for concentration. Interestingly, it’s been used for years in India to aid marijuana detoxification.

Thyme: For colds and flu and mucus congestion in the chest. Really nice with sage, mint and honey.

Nettles: Deeply nourishing, especially for those with iron deficiency. Taste is somewhat vulgur (to me) so add mint and all is forgotten. I think nettle infusions made the biggest difference to me with helping restore my energy after adrenal burnout.

Oatstraw: For exhaustion, low sex drive, weak and frazzled nerves. Great in combination with nettles. Taste is slightly sweet and grassy and nice.

Mint: aids digestion, stimulates sweating when there’s a fever.

Bee balm flowers: aids digestion. Calming. Helps body fight infection- GREAT for UTI, candida and general malaise. Also good as a wash for burns.

 

Other great things to infuse are:

hibiscus flowers, lemon verbena, apple blossoms, orange blossoms, peach blossoms (HEAVEN).

 

What about you- anything you like to make teas or infusions with that I didn’t mention?

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the proof

My first school in London was called St. Helen’s School for Girls. It was a Catholic school, where we learned things like how to hold a knife and fork properly, and how to eat like civilised human beings. Our lunches were different every day of the week, and we’d all walk to the cafeteria together, holding hands, and sit at long tables, where we’d be served, and expected to finish everything on our plates.

Which was great on mashed potato day. And awful on chicken-pineapple casserole day. In fact, that I still despise cooked pineapple to this day is entirely the fault of the St. Helens’ cafeteria staff, and the torture of being forced to finish every single bite on the plate. It wasn’t till years later that I realised I could throw things under the table, and that was long after the St. Helen’s days, and when I was sitting at a restaurant in the hills of southern Spain with my dad who was in a bad mood and insisting that I finish the quail on the plate in front of me. But, as a 6-year old, I was relatively free of these kind of clever things, and so I ploughed though, week after week. The worst part about those pineapple casserole days was the dessert. Bread and butter pudding, or bread pudding as it’s called in the States, was the bane of my existence. That smell of curdled eggs, the little wrinkled raisins, the thick slices of crap white bread. It made my stomach turn. It STILL makes my stomach turn.

And so imagine my surprise last night when I got back from a long sunset hike, and the thought crossed my mind that “I want bread pudding”. Where this came from, I have no idea. I hate bread pudding. I’ve been given the ‘best bread pudding in the world’ and refused to try it because the trauma runs so deep. But last night I wanted it, and I’m not one to ever ignore these urges.

This is a bare-bones pudding. I hate raisins in anything except fudge and christmas pud and Cadbury’s chocolate, so there are none. I also hate cinnamon in anything other than coffee. I mean, really hate it. Cinnamon has no place in desserts as far as I’m concerned, and I haven’t eaten an apple pie that I liked since moving to the states, except for the ones at French restaurants that are tarts, with no cinnamon. So there’s no cinnamon. No cardamom. No raisins. It’s basically bread and custard, which are two of my favourite things in the world, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

Bread is important- I use this soft fluffy sourdough that’s the only glutinous thing I can safely eat. If you have challah lying around, or a brioche, then I can’t believe you haven’t eaten it all yet and I’m slightly disappointed in you. But you can use those, they’ll probably be even better.

Oh, and one more thing. Start to munchum, the entire process took 35 minutes. 5 minutes of which is prep, 30 of which is sitting around, playing on twitter, and running back and forth to the oven to check to see if it’s ready. Or, you can throw it all in a bowl and put it in the fridge overnight, then bake them up in the morning for breakfast…

The proof is in the  [Bread] Pudding

4 ramekins or wee mason jars

3 thick slices of bread

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

3 tb butter, melted

5 tb sugar

1 tsp vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cut the bread up into 1″ chunks and drop in the bowl of liquid stuffs. At this point you can refrigerate overnight, or just leave to soak for a few minutes. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture into the ramekins, and pour the remaining liquid equally over each one.

Cook for 25-30 minutes, until when pressed gently on top, no liquid comes out to burn your fingers. Serve with cream.

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Chocolate mousse

When I was growing up, we got chocolate mousse in yogurt pots. Creme caramel too, though we’re not talking about that today. I don’t think I had real chocolate mousse until long after I’d moved to the US. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time. I only realised this morning, upon waking up with a chocolate hangover, that my first real chocolate mousse had been had at the age of 28 (at Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard), and how sad that was. And that maybe I’d better make up for lost time by having it for breakfast as well.

Chocolate. Cream. Butter. Eggs. You cannot go wrong with a combination like that. And it might look fancy, but it’s not- the chocolate mousse is a humble dessert that can be whipped up in 20 minutes or so while your duck is finishing roasting (I speak from experience).

I decorated each little pot with a strawberry, but honestly, I might next time just chill it in a big bowl, then dollop it in each dish with a handful of little sweet berries. Because it’s delicious like that.

 

Chocolate Mousse

From the Bouchon cookbook. Kinda adapted.

3.5 oz dark chocolate.

3.5 oz milk chocolate (I use Green and Blacks for both and they’ve never failed me).

1 1/2 cup heavy cream.

3 tb butter

3 eggs, separated

2 tb coffee

3 tb sugar

 

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, chocolate and coffee. If you’re at risk of burning it, use a double boiler. Remove from heat, and whip the cream to stiff peaks. Do the same for the egg whites. Refrigerate both until the chocolate mix is slightly cooler- like cool enough to dab on your bottom lip without uttering obscenities. Then mix in the egg yolks, one by one.

Gently fold in a third of the cream. Then half the egg whites. Then another third of cream. Then the other half of egg whites. Then the rest of the cream. Pour into individual ramekins or one big bowl. Chill for at least 2 hours- preferably 8. If you’re impatient like me you can eat it as fluffy pudding, but it’s not quite the same.

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Nettle pesto

This story isn’t about me. It is about Jam, and a patch of nettles.

When he was nine or so, Jam got the reputation for being a bit of a wild boy. A group of older boys in school wanted to show him who was boss, and so they attacked him, throwing him into a patch of nettles. Which would be fine if you were fully clothed, but English schoolboys had to wear those little shorts (and a little cap too) which meant that his legs were exposed, and quickly covered in painful welts. He went home, crying to his dad that it hurt and he was embarrassed and that he didn’t know how to get them back.

I think most parents nowadays would do their best to encourage their kids to take the route of moral superiority. But Jam’s dad had raised him doing martial arts, reading him gory ninja stories before bed every night. So he explained to him that the next time this happens, all he needs to do is pick the smallest one and kick the absolute crap out of him. It’ll scare the others so much that they won’t come near him again. But in the mean time, what he needed to do was to stalk the group, one by one, and beat them into oblivion.

So he did. He stalked each one of them, and beat them up, until he’d exacted revenge for their brutality. They tried to bully him one more time, surrounding him in the school playground. So he did exactly what he’d been taught- he picked the smallest one, and kicked him in the face so hard that his nose broke and bled everywhere.

The playground of Dane’s Hill school for boys was a safer place after that.

And all because of a little patch of nettles.

I didn’t know this story until I planted a patch of nettles in the back garden, and Jam was incredulous that I’d actually want them around. I guess if I’d been traumatised by them in my youth, I might feel the same way.

This recipe is super easy, if you have a blender of some kind. I have one of those hand-held stick blenders, and the bottom detaches and re-attaches to a miniature food processor. This thing is one of my favourite things in the entire world, and it’s really inexpensive. If not then you can use a food processor, blender, or even a knife to chop everything really fine. Just watch out for those nettles.

I made my own pasta- using a gluten free flour mix and my regular old pasta recipe. If you’re doing GF pasta, watch out- the dough dries really fast and it is difficult to come together. Instead of doing fettucini as originally planned, I ended up doing ‘random shapes at the thinnest this dough will go’. Which was still delicious, but not necessarily pretty.

Nettle pesto

2 cups nettle leaves

1 chunk gouda

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

salt

nettle seeds

pepper

juice and rind of 1/2 lemon

 

Put it all in a blender, and blend for about 15 seconds. Easy peasy :).

 

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Wild things in June: Stinging Nettle

Well it’s June, and Butter and I have a new Wild Thing for you. One that I’m very excited about: stinging nettle.

Stinging nettle might be the first plant I ever learned to identify. The second was the dock leaf that grows next door, which alleviates the pain of the sting. These two plants, hand in hand, in many ways initiated me into the world of plants. And because of that, nettle holds a very special place in my heart. In fact, when I moved into this little house, the first thing I did was plant some nettles out by the kitchen door. They’ve now grown into a huge patch that is constantly sending out leaves and seeds, much to the chagrin of unassuming neighbours and workmen.

The flavour of nettles is often compared to spinach, but I disagree- I think it’s much more meaty tasting than spinach, and much more like lambs quarters in flavour. However if you like green things and haven’t tasted them before, I say give it a try, as they’re delicious. The sting, which can be oh-so brutal, is neutralised in cooking, and I’ve had no problem with being stung after blending them raw, or when drying them.

Sting-ability varies. My back garden nettle will leave welts on my arms for about 2 days, whereas I’ve picked some local varieties that only sting for a couple of hours (but then also had numb fingers for a day or so from other local ones). The sting is harmless, albeit annoying, slightly painful, and often ugly. And it’s often useful, as I’ll explain shortly.

The medicinal properties of nettle are numerous and varied. To make things easier, I’ll split it into three parts- the leaf, seed and root.

Urtica spp: Nettle leaf

bitter, cold, dry, salty, astringent

Nettle leaf has been used as medicine for millenia. The most useful thing to remember about it is its high mineral content- according to Paul Bergner, “An ounce of nettles contains more than the minimum daily requirement of calcium, two-thirds of the requirement for magnesium,

and more than a third of the requirement for potassium.” Because of this it is unbelievably nutritious, and invaluable for deficient people, ex-vegetarians, current vegetarians, anemics, those experiencing adrenal fatigue, and a whole host of weakness-related issues. Think of how a deficient person would look- weak, pale and tired- and you have a pretty good picture for nettle infusions

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Other symptoms that fit this deficient picture are low blood pressure, chronic diarrhea (I’ve had no success using them for acute, and no opportunity to use them for chronic cases, so I cannot say whether I know this to be true or not), concentration issues, foggy head, hair loss, thin hair, lax tissues, swollen tongue and general tiredness and the feeling that one is dragging ones feet through life.

It it through this nutritive effect that nettle also acts as an alterative, and so is often used for ‘detoxification’. I like the appalachian description of ‘bad blood’, even though it technically has nothing to do with the blood- but bad blood is basically an accumulation of toxins in the extracellular fluids of the body. I picture the waterways of the body as being bogged down with crap: this is the kind of picture that alteratives are good for. Symptoms of bad blood can range from simple sluggishness to eczema, allergies, acne, constipation, swollen glands, tumours, foul discharges, arthritis, chronic fatigue, psychological imbalances.

Nettle acts on this extracellular fluid, helping the body remove waste products. Because of this it is also highly effective for gout- something I have had a few opportunities to try on people quite successfully (often combined with dandelion). And it’s also used frequently for asthma (I have not tried this yet though).

Another thing that nettle is great for is the hair. Rinsing the hair with nettle infusions strengthens the hair, and makes it thick and shiny. I’m too lazy to keep up with this on a regular basis but I do notice a nice difference when I do it for more than a week at a time, and have heard stories of amazing hair growth from nettle rinses.

Nettle seed

Nettle seeds are great for restoring worn out adrenals and kidneys. Many people find the fresh seeds too ‘speedy’. I don’t- I do find they give me an almost immediate energy boost though, and I can often plough through my afternoon required nap time if I’ve eaten a teaspoon or so of nettle seeds. Dried, they do not have this effect, and are a fantastic tonic. According to Kiva Rose, they promote “a sense of clarity, wellness, heightened energy levels, reduced stress and seemingly increased lung capacity” when eaten.

Nettle root

Nettle root has been used for edema, kidney and bladder infections, and recently has started to be used for BPH (swollen prostate). I haven’t had opportunity to try this, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Nettle sting

Flogging oneself with nettle leaves reportedly relieves arthritis pains. Nobody will try it- maybe if you get arthritis you can, and then let me know?

I’ve used the sting on burns, after cleverly searing my lower arm on hot oil, I’d just been reading about using urtica homeopathic for burns, so I ran out and flogged my arm with nettle leaves. I don’t necessarily recommend this at home- I think a vinegar compress would be less painful and heroic looking, but I tell ya. I was blistering, it looked bad, and after being covered in stings and welts, the blistering went away and the arm was just red for about an hour, and then that went away too. The welts stuck around for 2 days though…


Preparation and dosage:

Leaf: For the nutritive effects, nettle leaves are best eaten or taken in an infusion, though a tincture will work in a pinch. To make an infusion, put one cup of dried leaves in a quart jar. Top it up with boiling water and let it steep for at least 4 hours, then drink it over the course of a couple of days.  They need to be drank on a regular basis- so drinking it once won’t have the desired effect. Make drinking infusions a part of your daily routine (I often brew mine at night, and in the morning decant it into a giant water bottle that I tote around with me. People sometimes ask me what the hell is in my bottle. And sometimes I reply that it’s urine and walk off. Then they avoid me and I wonder why I have no friends *sigh*), and you’ll start to notice a difference in your energy levels. It could take a few days or a few weeks, everybody is different. By the way, if you hate the taste like I do, you can add some mint or ginger. I find that a tablespoon of mint makes them much more palatable.

Seed: You can make a seed tincture and it will work, but they’re really best just eaten plain. I really like the taste of them, especially fresh (picture a nut and a green thing had a baby), but many people don’t. I read a great way to get around that on The Herbwife’s Kitchen blog: grind up your nettle seeds with some salt, and throw the whole lot in a salt shaker. I keep my nettle salt on top of the stove and add them to almost everything I cook now. Dosage can be anything from a pinch to a tablespoon per day.

 

Cautions and contraindications:

Nettle leaf is a diuretic and can be highly drying, especially to those folks living in the Southwest deserty areas. Exercise caution if taking diuretic drugs. If you find them too drying you can add a pinch of licorice or mallow to your infusions.

Nettle seed can be too speedy for some. Start slow- with a tiny pinch- and work your way up to a dosage that suits you.

 

Sources:

Kiva Rose’s lovely monograph on urtica

Matthew Wood: The Earthwise Herbal (497)

The Herbwife’s Kitchen blog

Paul Bergner lecture notes