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Blue water

When I was young I’d draw like a madwoman. My favourite thing to draw was the sea with a full moon, and that nice triangle of light shimmering its way down the page. It was, to me, the most beautiful thing ever. On board my dad’s old boat, Easy Action, when I was 3 or so, he’d often come and retrieve me late at night, slip a life jacket over my head and lift me out of the hatch window above my bed. We’d lie on the deck looking at stars and at the moon. Once, at anchor off the south coast of England, he picked me up to drop me back into my bed, and I looked over and the moon was casting its light on the sea.

We left the marina early this morning. I made some cold infusion coffee for the boys the night before because they were doing the early shift. Jam’s alarm went off at 4 and I half woke up to listen to them pull out of the marina. As soon as we were under way I fell back asleep. I woke up again at 6, and padded up onto the deck. It was still cold, in that “it’s going to be a really hot day today” kind of cold thaty ou get in the summer. We could still see the Spanish mainland behind us, but it was already hazy. I brewed some more coffee (hot this time) and returned to deck to watch the sun rise. We’re heading to Espalmador- a small island near Ibiza. To a little cove called Cala Boch which, as it turns out, isn’t its real name. Alex and I had no idea until a couple of days ago when we consulted the Pilots book- before that it had always been Cala Boch. Dad had a habit of naming things, and we just assumed that was the way to say it. Like ensign. Turns out it’s pronounced “En-sin” not “En-sine” like dad always said it. Something I found out most embarrasingly in a sailing class.

 

Cala Boch is a small cove with a shallow entrance. Which makes it difficult to access for most boats. Our boat, being extremely shallow, is one of the only ones that can get in there, which makes for lovely isolated anchorage and swimming. On Espalmador is a mud bath. It smells disgusting and it’s kind of freaky getting into it, but then you get covered in mud and dip into the warm ocean to get it all off and it’s really fun, plus it makes me think there’s some kind of health benefit because it’s muddy and smelly and comes from the earth.

 

One of the things that I like about sailing is the immediacy of the action you need to take. For example when the alternator belt broke yesterday when we were preparing to motor in between the shore (a cliff) and a big rock. We had plenty of room, but the bolts weren’t loosening, after years of rust, and someone had obviously tried to undo them before because the edges were just worn away completely. It took four hours, in total, to figure out how to get the bolt off, to get the alternator belt on, all the while we drifted, with less than 1 knot of wind. Things like this happen constantly. Two days ago it was the battery, and a lose wire. One cannot be under the impression that one is remotely special when you’re subject to the elements like this. The wind and the sea rule, and if you’re lucky things don’t break too often or cost too much to replace. There’s always something. You learn very quickly that there’s no such thing as “why me?” or “why does this happen?”. It happens because it happens. And you act on it and move on. You prepare as best you can and then throw away any plans because to hold on to ideas of what should happen could very easily get you killed. I wonder sometimes why my dad, who was so tightly in control of his environment, enjoyed this so much. When it’s so scary, when you can’t be in control of anything except maybe how tidy everything is. And then I think that maybe he knew that it was good for him, and that’s why. Or maybe it just made him happy.

Navigation is necessary- after a while you lose sight of land. This is bluewater sailing, where the depth sounder doesn’t work anymore. Before the sun comes up, you navigate by the stars and the compass. And then it bursts through the clouds, all fiery and red, and it casts its rays across the ocean in front of us- they ripple out like a pathway. The wind is a steady South-Easterly, and we’re headed due East. Somehow this makes me happy- the due East thing- like somewhere out there, maybe at the end of this pathway, is some kind of redemption, or some kind of answer. Or maybe it’s not, and I’ll never find an answer, and I’ll spend my life heading due East, searching. But quite honestly, with the wind in my face and kicking up a trail of water at my heels, that doesn’t sound so bad either.

Cold infusion coffee

Serves 4

4 tb really nice coffee

4 cups water

Heavy cream (about 4 tb)

 

 

The night before you want to drink it, place the coffee and water in a french press or something similar. Put it in the fridge till morning. Remove from fridge, strain and add the cream. Serve in glasses on one of those mornings that feels like it’s going to be a really hot day. Watch out because cold infusion has way more caffeine and you might get a loooot of work done….

 

Ps. I’m posting albums of my trip on Facebook

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The good ship.

As I write this, big fluffy cumulus clouds are forming on the horizon, and my brother, Alex, is checking the weather reports to make sure we won’t run into a storm later this afternoon.

We’re in Spain. Torrevieja, to be exact: a small resort town on the East coast. We’re on a boat. Gatablanca, to be exact: a beautiful white catamaran with a blue stripe down the side. And we’re preparing for a voyage. A relatively short voyage, but a voyage none the less.

The boat was our dad’s. He sailed her down here about 20 years ago. When he couldn’t be on his boat he’d like to be near the sea. I know this because when I’d visit him in England, we’d often drive to the waters edge and walk for hours. He had a girlfriend once who convinced him to rent an apartment with her here in Spain. He’d wake up in the morning and march stubbornly right back to the marina, where he’d sit on the boat eating oranges and polishing things until it was time to go home. She, for the record, was fired.

And then he died. It wasn’t sudden like an accident. It was sudden like a cancer diagnosis that shouldn’t go from start to finish in a couple of months. You shouldn’t have a phonecall with somebody one day, during which you refuse to talk about all the stuff that was unsaid and unsorted between you because you’ve still got time, and then a week later get a phonecall about them having slipped into a coma. It’s not fair or right. I am still angry at the universe for this.

After he died, Alex and I decided to keep his boat.

We’re here for 3 weeks. To scrub, sand, clean, stitch and polish. But also to go to some of the places we used to visit together. To have croissants and cafe con leche for breakfast, and bocarones a la plancha for dinner. To drink sangria while watching the sun go down from little anchorages. And to sail.

Last night we went to a little restaurant where I had a drink called tinto de verano. Which is basically sangria for folks who don’t drink too much, ie. me. It’s super easy. And if you want to pretend you’re in Spain right now all you need to do is the following:

 

Tinto de verano

1 orange

1 lemon

1 tb sugar

ice

1/2 bottle red wine

1/2 bottle soda water

Chop the orange up into 8 pieces, same with the lemon. Put them in a jug with the sugar and mash it up a bit. Add the ice, pour in the wine and soda and stir. To be drunk somewhere warm, in the haze of the early evening when it’s still light out. Preferably with the smell of meat grilling somewhere and people speaking Spanish in the background. But seriously, a front stoop would work.

 

This afternoon we set sail for Tabarca Island, where we’ll drop anchor and snorkle for a few hours. It’s a marine reserve, with lots of little pretty fish, and an old Moorish castle sitting on a cliff. Jamie keeps jumping up and down going “PIRATE ISLAND!”. I have been to the market to stock up on the freshest juiciest figs and green plums that explode in your mouth in little bursts of flavour. And bread. And cheese. And jamon Iberico that seems to be what prosciutto always wanted to be but could never quite achieve.

After a friend lost her father recently I found myself writing her a letter telling her a few things: That it doesn’t get better. That you’ll miss him forever. And that the pain feels like a never-ending hole in your heart that you forget about sometimes and then remember. But also that every now and then you’ll find yourself doing something that they would do, or making a face that they would make, and you’ll smile because even though people do die, parts of them carry on. It’s the beauty of human genetics. And being here, surrounded by my dad and the things that made him happy, stumbling upon little things that he left lying around (like entries in the ship log that say “sailed to Moraira to find WiFi signal”, with my brother who shares the same genes, and my husband who shares our love of the sea, and an old high school friend of Alex’s, I feel more at peace than I have over the last 6 years since he died.

So here we are, aboard the good ship Gatablanca. I’ll write as often as I can, with tales of sea adventures and delicious things that I find along the way. And in the meantime, try a glass of tinto de verano.

Wild things July roundup: Wild Rose

By this time in Southern California there are only a couple of straggling roses remaining. I saw some lovely big red rose hips already last week. With a couple of big jars of rose elixir brewing, and some lovely dried petals and fragrant leaves, I think I have enough to last the rest of the year… hopefully.

Though most of these recipes call for fresh rose petals, I’d try them with dried too. Just to hold onto the season for a little longer.

And I won’t keep you any longer- here are some gorgeous rose recipes:

 

 

A fantastic write up and recipe for Rose Baklava from the wild woman Kiva Rose.

Wild Rose Petal Mead from Rosalee de la Foret of Methow Valley Herbs.

Beautiful rose petal jam from Emiko Davies

 

The lovely Ananda Wilson of Plant Journeys made a decadent rosey snack:

Rose Macarons from Pink Velvet Sparkles

Rose petal flan at Simply Recipes

Butter Powered Bike made a gorgeous Rosy Lemonade. 

And she also made a Strawberry and Wild Rose Shrub  that looks and sounds yummilicious (that’s a technical term).

Rose and Cardamom mava cakes from Cauldrons and Crockpots.

Rose Passion Tea from Cauldrons and Crockpots.

Moroccan Kefta tagine (dried rose petals in the spice mix) again from Cauldrons and Crockpots.

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Rose passion tea

I was at the farmers market when I saw a man who I recognised. But I couldn’t place his face. I followed him around a few stalls, stopping to ask the chicken lady if he was famous. He wasn’t famous. But I couldn’t remember. So I let it go and forgot about it.

A few months later I was walking down Beverly Boulevard on the way to FedEx, when I saw him walking on the other side of the street.

Struck by the coincidence, I shouted at him and ran across four lanes of traffic. Winded, I asked him where I knew him from. He looked confused, and a little scared. He doesn’t even live in LA, he said. I asked where he lived and he said Santa Barbara. And it all came back in an instant.

I signed up for an Indian Religions course while I was at UCSB. The teacher was amazing. He talked about India and mysticism and tantra with such passion that he inspired me to want to go to India. He inspired me to want to do yoga, and learn about mysticism and explore things in life that previously I’d only touched the surface of. He inspired me to want to apply to the UCSB religious studies masters program (it’s still on my ‘maybe one day if I ever get the discipline to do school again’ list). And now he was standing in front of me and all I could do was explain all of this in a torrent finishing with “You’re the reason I went to India!”, sounding like a madwoman.

He took it well. He didn’t offer to be my friend or ask me and Jam over for dinner to discuss things further. He backed away slowly, smiling. And I stood there grinning like a madwoman, clutching my paperwork, as he faded into the distance.

The first thing I did when I got home, since I was in a Santa Barbara frame of mind, was make some rose-flavoured black tea.

As it was in Santa Barbara that I discovered how roses and black tea make good partners.

I was living with my friend Carly at the time. We were a bit like an old married couple, me and Carl. We’d sip tea together in the mornings, and do crosswords on weekends. We’d arrange themed dinners with all our neighbours, and then we’d take afternoon naps, and do more crosswords. It was pretty idyllic, even if we had no furniture.

The tea was expensive; it took me about three weeks to put aside the extra $8 I needed to buy it. I’d brew a cup every morning, and sit in our furniture-less apartment savouring the aroma and the flavour, while doing homework and listening to the fountain in the courtyard. The taste of black tea and rose still reminds me of Santa Barbara, with its sea breezes and its pretty beaches and the days that I spent at college.

Of course, if I’d been remotely as resourceful as I am now, I’d have bought it all in bulk and made it myself and saved myself a hell of a lot of money. Which brings me to the easiest recipe I might ever post.

Rose flavoured black tea is exotic and delightful. It’s fragrant and sexy. And it’ll impress your friends when you tell them that you made it yourself. I use dried rose petals because I like to use the wild ones I find for medicine.

That said, the combination of rose and black tea makes a fantastic astringent eye wash if you have a weepy nasty eye infection- just brew a strong cup and drip the lukewarm tea into your eye with a washcloth or something.

For supplies, try Mountain Rose Herbs

 

ROSE PASSION TEA (see- it sounds exotic)

1 quantity black tea

1/3 quantity dried rose petals

1 jar for storage

 

Mix it all together and store in an airtight container, away from light.

 

To brew:

1 teaspoon per 2 cups water.

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup full fat milk

 

Boil the kettle. This is the most important thing in the world. I’m convinced that people who don’t like tea have never boiled the water. It must be boiling hot when poured over the leaves or they’ll just taste like poo (technical term).

Pour the boiling water over the loose tea and steep for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes strain out the tea leaves, and stir in the sugar and milk. Drink in the middle of the afternoon, while munching on something sweet…

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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?