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Wild Things in September: Black Walnut

 

Wear gloves. If there’s any advice I could give another human being faced with a big bag of black walnuts it is, my god, wear gloves.

I don’t know if it’s because I was excited, or because I was too lazy to go and buy gloves, or because I had a momentary lack of judgement (as in: oh, I know it didn’t come out last year, but maybe it will THIS year). Or maybe it all happened for some big cosmic reason, like so that I could take photos and show you… but my hands are brown, my fingertips are black, and my fingernails look kinda gangrenous. Like the kind of thing you’d see in a zombie movie. Even sadder is that I painted my fingernails for the first time in about 2 years. They were red. Uniformly so. It looked quite nice. Now I have zombie hands. Oh the horror of it all…

And then, on top of that is the opening: you have to put them in a cloth sack and bash them with something (I used a cast-iron pan) until the hulls break because no nut cracker is going to suffice for such a tough nut.

I know, you’re probably sitting there thinking “why in the hell would somebody risk zombie hands and shoulder muscles for *refer to the top of the page again* walnuts?

Well, I thought you’d never ask.

I hate walnuts. Passionately despise the damn things. Most nuts in general actually- as they just make me feel sick. In times of starvation between lunch and dinner when I’m stuck in traffic I’ll occasionally nibble on some almonds that I keep in my car for such emergencies, but really, nuts just don’t do it for me. But black walnuts do. Black walnuts are to regular old nuts what Green and Black’s chocolate is to Hershey’s. They render all other nuts a sad imitation of what a nut can truly be.  And if you’re going to go through the hassle of getting your own (it’s worth it for the taste- really truly), you’ll be glad to know that they’re really useful for all kinds of gastro-intestinal issues, so you can pull all the hulls off, and save them to make medicine with, or gather the leaves while you gather the nuts and dry them for teas.

 

For information about identification and other interesting tidbits, please look at Butter’s intro HERE. And if you don’t know what the Wild Things Roundup is, then you can read about it HERE.

 

Juglans nigra: Black Walnut

Taste: bitter, astringent, aromatic

Most people have heard of black walnuts because they’re used in ‘parasite cleanses’. You know, you go to a health food store and mention that you’ve got some kind of GI distress and the solution is almost always a parasite cleanse… and I think it’s important to point out that while it’s really trendy in the natural health business to assume that everybody has some sort of parasite and should do a cleanse, this is stupid. Parasitic infections can cause horriffic symptoms, and if one is suspected then a stool test is in order. Randomly dosing the body with herbs because you suspect that something is wrong is a waste of good herbs.

And black walnut is good for so much more than parasite cleanses! It is bitter and astringent, both stimulating and toning lax, leaky tissues, as well as an antifungal.

 

GI tonic

Black walnut is used for atonicity of the colon. This lack of tone causes trouble with absorbing nutrients- either too much is crossing the gut wall (leaky gut) or too little (not assimilating nutrients), or really, it’s a combination of the two. This can manifest in a number of ways, including trouble digesting fat; constipation alternating with diarrhea; leaky gut syndrome; acne on  the buttocks or large cystic acne on the face and neck. Black walnut astringes the intestine, stops a leaky gut from reabsorbing toxins, and improves absorption in the mucus membranes in general.

It’s also useful in acute conditions like food poisoning or stomach flu.

 

Parasites

Like I mentioned before, black walnuts most famous use is for parasites. After picking up dysentery, pinworms and giardia in Mexico City last year, I made myself black walnut, wormwood and creosote decoctions. The thing was that they tasted so foul that by the fourth day I couldn’t bring myself to drink them, so I switched to a pill. However black walnut is reportedly highly effective for parasites. During a recent discussion on facebook, Thomas Easley mentioned that he’s used it for tapeworm to great effect, and that the key is to restrict diet and keep the dosage constant.

For it’s usefulness with parasites and for disorders of the GI tract, a tincture with black walnut and wormwood has so many uses, and is a really useful to keep on hand when travelling.

 

Thyroid 

I’ve never had a chance to verify this myself, but black walnut (blackened hull) is a traditional appalachian remedy for hypothyroidism. Herbalist Phyllis Light has used it extensively for goiter, and notes that ‘bad blood’ (which I’ve described a little bit HERE) is often caused by an underactive thyroid. By remedying the thyroid disorder, the bad blood is then remedied too. Similarly, it’s use for rheumatism and arthritis can be connected to this use, as the two are common symptoms of having ‘bad blood’, and also common for those with hypothyroidism.

 

Fungus

Either the fresh green hulls, or a salve made of the hulls and leaves is great for skin fungus. Tommie Bass would recommend rubbing a fresh green hull on ringworm. I’d warn that you do end up with a black mark on your skin which isn’t always the best thing, but a tincture or salve works too. A salve rubbed on foot fungus every night will kill the fungus and resore feet to their former glory.

It works for internal fungus too- for candida overgrowth in the large intestine, and also for oral thrush. For candida overgrowth, I combine with chilopsis.

 

Mouth

For oral thrush, canker sores and mouth ulcers, you can either chew on the fresh leaves (they can be pretty spicy!) or make a strong decoction and use is as a mouthwash.

 

Miscellaneous

According to herbalist Ananda Wilson, black walnut leaves can be used as a mosquito repellent- just rub them all over yourself. Luckily the leaves smell quite nice…

And according to Butter, it’s great topically for shingles outbreaks.

 

Preparation and Dosage

Leaf, bark, twig and hull can all be used medicinally. For the thyroid, use the black hulls. For all other maladies, all parts can be used. I much prefer the taste of the leaves or black hulls, but everyone’s different.

Tincture: Fresh leaves, recently dried twigs and bark, and fresh or dried hulls. Use 50% alcohol or higher.

Oil: Soak hulls or leaves in a carrier oil- lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, you name it- on a double boiler for at least an hour. Strain and bottle. You can add beeswax to solidify it into a salve.

Dried for teas or decoctions: Dry flat and store in a cool, dry place.

 

 

Cautions and Contraindications

I’ve read in places not to use the fresh bark unless you want an emetic. I’ve also heard from others that it’s fine, so it’s up to you…

If you think you have a parasite or something like dysentery- it would be worth going to the doctor and getting a stool test so you know what you’re dealing with.

 

 

Sources: 

Michael Moore- Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West

Matthew Wood- The Earthwise Herbal

Discussions with the lovely herbalist community on facebook, namely Kiva Rose, Ananda Wilson, Thomas Easley, Traci Picard, and Susan Marynowski. 

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Lonely tower cove

I do not sleep well at anchor. En route to Alicante, we sailed into a little cove- a magic cove really- that Jam has named “cala de torre solamente” (lonely tower cove). He spotted it from a mile out, and insisted we sail in to explore it. Some people would call it luck, but I say it takes great talent to pick out the perfect spot from a mile away. A turquoise-bottomed cove, with a lonely old tower standing look out on top of a hill, protected from the wind, with a lovely rocky beach. I called it a Moorish tower, but Jam said that is NOT what a Moorish tower looks like, and then I kept calling it a Moorish tower because it sounds much cooler that way. We dropped anchor and went for a swim, then Jam rowed us ashore and wandered around while I took photos of plants and picked grape leaves. Back on the boat, I made dinner as the sun was going down, and we sat in the cockpit eating as it got dark. A crescent moon rose above the tower, the waves lapped gently against the hull, and all was well in the world until it came time to go to sleep.

Did you ever see that Donald Duck cartoon with the dripping water? When he had insomnia and the water was making him crazy? With every gust of wind, and every tug of the boat, I’d go running up onto the deck to make sure we were staying in place. It doesn’t really make sense- anchors are built to hold a boat in place, and in light winds, it would be no problem. But fear counters all logic. I lay in bed terrified until around 230, when I decided that I’d just go up on deck to sleep so that I could start the engine when the anchor failed. Lying on the deck, the tower looked ominous. The winds sounded like they were taunting me. And all of a sudden the quaint little houses on the hill looked like something out of Deliverance and not a quaint little Mediterranean village at all. In fact I was sure that I could see locals on the shore getting ready to swim out and board the boat and attack us. With the big evil tower looming overhead. I crept back below deck and climbed back into bed. The boat gave a big jerk and I whimpered, which woke Jamie up. He then valiantly offered to go and stand watch on deck so that I could sleep. I gratefully accepted and passed out within seconds of him leaving. That he actually went back to sleep instead of standing guard as suggested was of no concern to me- my mind had been put to ease and that was all that mattered.

But let’s go back to those grape leaves for a second- because that’s the Wild Thing for the month of August. I’ve been terribly remiss in my Wild Things recipes , so I was really happy, when wandering around the mainland, to find grape leaves. They’re everywhere. Which was really handy for two reasons:

1. As a host, it’s kinda good if I have at least one recipe for the round up, and

2. They’re cooling and delicious- perfect for the 100 degree + days we were facing in Spain.

To read more about grape leaves, check out Butter’s post on it HERE. And to read more about the Wild Things roundup that we put on once a month (to which you are all invited!) click HERE.

I made a sauce for meat, which we drizzled over baked chicken. When I got home, I refined the recipe a bit, using a blender, marinading the chicken, and grilling it, before serving with the sauce. I much prefer method #2, though in a pinch, without a grill or a blender, #1 works quite well too.

Grilled chicken with grape leaf salsa verde

4 bone-in skin-on chicken parts

2 cups fresh grape leaves, chopped roughly

5 cloves garlic

juice of 2 lemons

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup cilantro

1/4 cup parsley

salt and pepper (about 1/4 tsp each)

 

Place everything except the chicken in a blender, and blend for about 15 seconds- until the greens and garlic are all chopped into little pieces. Take half the sauce and pour over the chicken in a big bowl, making sure each piece is coated. Cover the rest and set it aside in the fridge.

Marinade the chicken for up to 24 hours, then get the grill going, and grill 15 minutes on each side, or until it’s cooked.

Serve with the remainder of the sauce.

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Tortilla Espanola

I forgot about how nice some things are at home.

Like clean sheets and a comfy bed that is so big you can stretch out in your sleep and still not know there’s someone else there. And like having a bathroom that you don’t share with a hundred other people in the marina. And good coffee.

Jamie and I jumped ship in Alicante. Gatablanca and I had a tearful goodbye. That is, I shed tears, and she sat there in the water looking beautiful as always. And just like that, it was over.

We drove West, into Andalucia. The second you cross the border from Valencia, the landscape changes. Becomes more wild, more beautiful. With craggy mountains and fields of olive trees. This was the last Moorish outpost in Spain. We stayed in a little hotel under the Alahambra, in the Alcaiceria- the old Arabic quarter. The streets are cobbled and narrow and lined with little cafes and markets selling Moroccan goods and Indian imports*.

And after a couple of days in Granada, we drove to Madrid to catch our flight home. By the way, if you have a choice, don’t rent a car and drive to Madrid. A 4 hour drive became a 7 hour drive due to the confusion of Spanish google maps directions, and streets that have 3 different names, and iphones running out of batteries, and Spanish road maps that don’t have freeway names on the freeways, and then a convergence of Catholic youth from all over the world upon central Madrid where the Pope (el Papa) was due to arrive by plane around the time ours was due to take off. As we taxied to the runway, the pilot came on the intercom to point out his plane, which had just landed**.

And then, just like that, we were home. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. My consolation is that Gatablanca is right where we left her and will be there when I go back next year.

I’ll tell you more about the trip over the next couple of weeks or so- about the lonely tower cove that we found, and about the tres idiotas that we rescued. About the food we ate and the liqueurs we drank and the sunsets that we watched. But for now, I’m going to curl up on my couch with a blanket, a book and a mug of coffee, so a Tortilla Espanola recipe will have to do until then.

Tortilla is ubiquitous in Spain. Every time I’d visit dad I’d drag him to tapas bars and force him to eat them; I’m pretty sure that after I left he didn’t want to look at another egg for months. You can buy them pre-packaged in the grocery stores there, and they’re delicious, even though they’re pre-packaged. We had them for dinner almost every night on board, with salad and a plate of delicious jamon and bread and cheese. It’s perfect for having around in the fridge for snacking on. If people come over unannounced you can put it out and make it look like you’re the type of person who is used to having people over all the time because you’re prepared with fancy Spanish food. And if it’s too hot and you can’t be bothered cooking you can cut off a slice and eat it right there off the plate with the fridge door still open with no mess and no evidence except dirty fingers (which you can either lick off or wipe on a towel and voila- the perfect crime). And if it’s dinner time and you forgot to make anything then you can put it on a plate with a nice salad and make a glass of tinto de verano and in five minutes you have a Spanish meal. Quite impressive, si?

Tortilla Espanola

6 eggs

3 tb heavy cream

1 large onion, diced

1 large potato, peeled and diced

2 tb butter

3 tb olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Boil a big pot of water and throw the potatoes in. Boil for 8 minutes- until you can pierce them with a fork but they won’t quite drop off quickly. Strain.

Meanwhile, in a cast iron pan, heat the butter and oil, and sautee the onions for about ten minutes, until they start to brown slightly.

Add the potatoes, and then the seasonings. Cook for another couple of minutes, meanwhile beat together the eggs and cream. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cook (don’t stir it) for a minute. Remove from heat and stick it in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes, until the centre is set.

If you have a broiler, then stick it under the broiler for a minute or so to brown the top. If not, it’s no bother. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate. You can eat it warm, but it’s really best after a couple of hours cooling. And it’ll last in the fridge for 3 days.

 

*I stopped to look at a skirt, balked at the price, and told the man that I could have bought that for 200 rupees. He shrugged, in typical Spanish fashion, and I stormed off in a huff.

**I’d have assumed that the Pope had a private jet but no, he flies on AlItalia. How the Swiss guardsmen get their funny hats and spears on board is beyond me.

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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.