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Root.

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

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

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On teaching…

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

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Just add water

(things to do with nettle seeds)

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

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

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Plum and acorn custard tart

As I write this, I have my back turned on my office and kitchen, both of which have been completely devastated by my tornado-like working methods, which go something like this: ‘start one thing then another then another then another then forget what you were doing, make a snack, then decide to write a blog post and if you don’t look behind you then the mess doesn’t exist, right?’. I might not be the most efficient person in the world, but I don’t think that was ever a question.

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We went to Morocco

Drivers in Morocco aren’t quite like drivers here in California. Our driver on the 3 hour drive from Tangier to Chefchaouen drove in the middle of the road the majority of the way, swerving into the right lane at the last minute for oncoming traffic. He stopped at a Mosque to pray for 20 minutes, and pulled over again, half an hour later, to hack up a lung and spit it onto the shoulder. When the road turned steeply up into the mountains, the old diesel engine slowed to little over 15mph, and we chugged higher and higher, while cars whizzed by too close for comfort. And then the driver coughed for a minute, pointed up ahead and said, through a toothless smile, ‘Chaouen’.

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Adventures in sailing

(thoughts on fear, on adventure, on doing it regardless and tips on how to float like a jellyfish)

Jam and I raised our anchor in Ibiza and cast off at 2am, in the pitch black of a night when the moon had already set. The outline of Ibiza rock hung heavy on the horizon, outlined as black nothingness set against the backdrop of the milky way. A backdrop without disturbance, blotched with nebulae. Shooting stars shot by overhead every minute and the sea around us was dead, silky calm, save the drone of our engine. A couple of miles out, a mist arose from the warm sea, entirely covering horizon line, hanging low all around us.

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We went north.



After an especially stressful six weeks, during which Jam and I hardly saw each other, we packed up the car and drove north east, into the Sierras, to our favourite little camping spot. As we drove higher, the air got cooler and lighter. Sometimes you don’t notice that you live somewhere smoggy until you take a deep breath elsewhere and it makes your heart race and your eyes tear up for the purity and clean-ness of it all.

Sleeping under the stars (nothing beats falling asleep looking up at trees and stars!), cooking over fire (why does fire make everything taste so much better?), lots of lounging around in hammocks reading, and lots of wandering off into the wilderness, and napping on blankets as the cool mountain breeze blows through the aspens and spray from a nearby waterfall moistens the air. Jam slept for about 15 hours a day (restorative rest!), and I woke up at first light too excited to sleep any longer because there was so much to look at. We made wild teas over the fire; all the currants were in bloom. We washed in the river and found secret, sacred spots that looked more like something from a Miyazaki film than real life. A much-needed disconnect from everything life-related, during which I plagued my husband questions and statements like:

“How do you fall asleep at night if there’s still stuff to do?” and “How can you be up here when you know there’s work to be done?” and “Sometimes I work until 1am because I have to finish my to-do list and then I can barely move from exhaustion the next day.” and then he said, very wisely “You can never get everything done; nobody can. You just have to switch that part of your brain off and start it back up when you get back to work.”

I have brain-segmenting homework to do. In the meantime, here are some pictures…

 

saffron rice title

A few more things

(in which I dish out a recipe for the best rice in the world, talk about teaching, and hawk my herb blend)

As I write this, a big pot of elderflower champagne is fermenting away in the corner. Its bubbling noises permeate the quiet of my living room. Its a familiar kind of thing, comfortable, like having an old friend snoring in a chair. Tomorrow I’ll put it in a carboy and let it ferment for a bit longer, and then I’ll bottle it in champagne bottles and painstakingly wait. More about this process soon, most likely nest week. In the meantime, lots of things are happening. That class that I was so nervous about? It went well. Spiffingly well. Heart-soaringly well. Jump-up-and-down squealing kind of well. I think that public speaking terror can be overcome entirely by making sure one is speaking on a topic that one is well and truly infatuated with. In this case, I was talking about elderflowers, in an outdoor fort created by a big willow tree. And there’s another class this coming weekend, at the Roots of Healing Herb Fest. If you’re in Los Angeles, please come– it’ll be a wonderful day chock a block full of interesting classes. Mine? Mine is on five local plants that I use in my practice, with a little intro about why I think its so important to use local flavours. You know, stuff I could talk about for hours…

And speaking of local flavours, I’ve been playing around with a few things lately:

  1. Herbes De Californie is being re-stocked as we speak (as I type?). A frantic spring of gathering white sage, black sage, rose petals, bay leaves, and sagebrush. This is my stronghold, my go-to-best-friend of a spice mix. The thing that makes it onto every roast and every pizza and every side. Because of this, I’m usually out by November, and needless to say, the finishing of it usually results in minor tears. I am so happy to have it back.
  2. California sweet everlasting, one of my all time favourite smells, is working its way into an experimental mead. Am excited and nervous to see how this one goes. Wish me luck?
  3. Currants. Its such a simple little thing, but when I was leafing through Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem a few weeks ago, I realised that one of the staples of Middle Eastern cooking is dried fruit. All of these cuisines that have such rich, exotic and frankly delicious histories utilise a combination of flavours, and I like that dried fruit provide the sweetness or the tang in the Middle East. A couple of days later I was out wandering in the wilderness as I’m often prone to do and stumbled upon this season’s first wild currants. Usually I bake with them because, well, I’m me, and I like anything sweet, but with the dried fruit thing in mind, I brought them home and set them out in the sun to dry. Once they were dry I put them in a jar and labelled them, and they sat there next to my gathered pine nuts and gathered acorns and store bought dates and apricots. I know that drying fruit is not remotely a novel concept, but  to me, in that moment, it was a revelation. After said revelation I promptly cooked them all into my favourite rice dish. Rice, saffron, mixed herbs, sun dried berries, its perfect, and pretty simple to make.

I’ve been eating this rice in a multitude of different ways. My favourite is with chicken, hot off the barbecue, its flesh infused with that hot charcoal smoke flavour, drizzled with a yogurt and garlic sauce. My second favourite is on its own, with more of that yogurt sauce, and a handful of whatever fresh vegetables I can find in the fridge– usually right now its a mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes. Its also perfect with lamb, and flank steaks with a grape leaf chimichurri sauce.

Ottolenghi’s book has some steps that I’ve eliminated because I just didn’t notice such a dramatic difference as to warrant, say, mixing in the saffron at the end into half the rice, so that its a pretty blend of white and yellow. I happen to like the colour yellow and so I mix it in at the beginning, where I can forget about it. Other than that, its pretty similar. No foraged currants that you painstakingly sundried on your own? The original recipe calls for barberries, which I have stocked in the pantry at all timof es anyway. You can get them at a Persian market or online at Mountain Rose Herbs. You can also use dried oregon grape berries which I have done and found delicious. And if you have none of these and desperately need to make this now, use dried currants, though I do warn you that they won’t be as tangy, wild tasting or exotic.

 

Herbed saffron rice with sun dried local currants.
Adapted loosely from Jerusalem

2 tb butter
2 cups basmati rice
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron soaked in 3 tbsp boiling water for about 30 mins
1/4 cup dried currants or barberries
small handfuls of herbs: bee balm, tarragon, cilantro, parsley– about a cup total, all chopped finely.
salt and pepper
1/2 cup crushed pistachios (optional– I’ve both used and not-used them and both ways are good)

Melt the butter, in a saucepan and throw in the rice. Stir to make sure they’re all coated with butter, then add the saffron water, and about 15 seconds later, the rest of the water. Add salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each), cover tightly and reduce the heat to a very slow simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes then remove from the heat, stir in the currants or barberries, and cover with a towel and then the lid again. Leave off the heat, like this, steaming for another ten minutes, then take off the lid and stir in the chopped herbs. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as need be. Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with pistachios. Serve either hot or at room temperature.

acorn shortbread

A biscuit and a cup of tea

And sometimes life is both normal and exciting:

1. From the couch in my living room where I write, looking out the window, the flower stalks of my big white sage plant can be seen shooting up towards the sky, waving in the wind. Every morning I run outside to see how many new flowers have appeared. It is often the highlight of my morning until something else appears in the garden. I am easily amused, it seems.

2. My plant collection is growing. With each new arrival, I place them on the dining room table, and arrange a meeting, during which I shout ‘Welcome, Friends!’ and introduce them to each other. Then I show them around and show them where they will be living and ask if these accommodations work for them. I think this is an unnecessary step but it is now a part of the routine and so it stays.

3. Things are happening. I’m teaching two classes coming up: one with my friend Emily on May 5th (that’s next weekend, folks!) and one on May 25th at the Roots of Healing Herb Fest in Topanga Canyon. The first is on elderflowers and it will be spectacular; the second is on five local herbs that I use a lot, and I am trying not to panic at the thought of speaking in front of people. I figure 31 is as good as any age to rid myself of the residue of trauma caused by having to do an impromptu speech in Mrs. Leisk’s primary six classroom, and the humiliation of standing there for the full three minutes almost completely silent while people sniggered.*

4. Its been hot. Surprisingly hot. Ridiculously hot. Sit on the floor in your underwear eating ice cubes hot. Finally around 5:45 this evening the air cooled down enough for me to open the windows and throw the curtains back. A couple of hours of light and air streaming into the house, while the fires burn around LA, while the earth shakes (earthquakes and fires… is this the end of the world?), while the scent of smoke fills the air, and while Jam’s first day of directing (A real movie! His own movie!) is blessed with the flipside of the air-quality coin: perfect hazy light. While us Angelenos (yes I have finally called myself an Angeleno) sniff and scratch our irritated eyes and wonder about the fragility of this delicate balance that is life (at least I am). In our dry, parched state, gasping for water, gasping for air, with emotions on edge and the metallic clang of air conditioner units and screechy voices shouting at each other in the Friday afternoon traffic. That’s what today felt like to me: metallic, clangy, irritated. *coughs*

5. It was with great relief this evening that I slammed the front door and shut out the rest of the world. With greater relief that I threw open the windows to let some cool air in. Even smoky evening air, as it is. And even more so to make a strong cup of tea and open up the container of my new favourite cookies. The white sage seeds were sent to me by my friend Ginia who lives in Northern California and is a plant whisperer if ever I’ve met one. I’ve been holding onto them trying to decide what to do. In something sweet their flavour is delightfully delicate. I made one batch with those alone and another with one white sage leaf to enhance the taste a little. I recommend the latter and that is the version I am sharing below. If you don’t have white sage plants, then you can use any type of aromatic plant. I think these would be delicious with any form of sage, or bee balm, or even lavender. But for this evening the sage was perfect: grounding and calming, and soothing to my dried out and cranky self.

*why do British teachers feel the need to torture children so, and does this still happen nowadays?

Acorn shortbread with a white sage icing.

Shortbread:
1  cup acorn flour
3/4 cup sweet white rice flour
3/4 cup potato starch
2/3 cup  sugar minus 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon salt
8oz (2 sticks) butter at room temperature

Icing:
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tb white sage seeds
1 white sage leaf

Preheat the oven to 325.

In a pan on the stove, place the water, sage seeds and sage leaf. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until the water is reduced by half.

Mix all the flours together. In a bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar, then reduce the speed. Add the flours in two batches until well incorporated.

Grease the bottom of a 9 x 9 square pan, and dust with rice flour, then press the shortbread mixture into the bottom of the pan. It should be about 3/4″ thick all the way around. Bake at 325 for 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and keep the oven on. Carefully cut the baked shortbread into slices, about 4″ long. Like shortbread fingers. Then wait for it to cool. Once cool, you can very carefully lift them out (apologies in advance– the first two might crumble into nothingness until you have that space for leverage… I haven’t been able to pry them out without causing shortbread damage) and place them on a baking sheet. Bake again, for another 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

In the meantime, in a separate bowl, sieve in the icing sugar and pour in 2 tablespoons of the sage water, seeds included. Mix it all together- it should be a paste and if you take a spoonful of it and drop it, it’ll pour off the spoon like thick paint. If its too thick, add a teaspoon of the sage water at a time. If too thin, add a little more sugar. When you remove the shortbread from the oven, drizzle the icing over the top. Allow to cool before eating.

elderberry elixir

Wildcrafted medicine class in Los Angeles!

Announcing: Wildcrafted Medicine Class in Los Angeles

I’m pleased to announce that my friend Emily and I are going to be teaching a series of wildcrafted medicine classes in Los Angeles. First up: elderflowers!

elderflowers

Are you interested in learning how to wildcraft your own herbal medicine? Interested in building your own home apothecary and knowing when and how to use things? Emily Ho and I are teaching a series of classes on how to build your own home apothecary, using wild ingredients, and our first is on elderflowers! You’ll learn how to use them, how to ID and gather them, we’ll make some medicines, and you’ll go home with a handout, a whole heap of new knowledge, and your own little hand made medicine jar :).

Introducing…The Wildcrafted Apothecary: A Herbal Medicine Class

 

 

Elderflower Essentials
Sunday, May 5, 1 ~ 4 pm

Los Angeles-area park (location provided to registered participants)

 

 

Elderflowers are blooming across Southern California! Learn how to gather them and make your own immune-boosting herbal elixir.

 

elder

 

This class is a hands-on experience and includes:

 

• Wildcrafting: Learn how to confidently identify and ethically gather local elderflowers
• Tasting: Sip elderflower cordial, tea, and tincture
• Medicine making: Make your own elder elixir
• Herbal wisdom: We will discuss immune system basics, how herbalists treat viruses, and the difference between stimulating and relaxing diaphoretics
• Take-home goodies: You will receive an information packet with recipes and herbal guidance, a bag of elder tea, and the elixir you made!

 

No medicine cabinet should be without this.

 

 

$85 – includes organic/wildcrafted ingredients, supplies, and tastings

 

 

→ Register via PayPal: http://tinyurl.com/elderflowerclass

 

Register by April 25th. Class is limited to 15 people.

Questions? Email classes@kingsroadapothecary.com

Rebecca & Emily

About the instructors:

Rebecca Altman is an herbalist, writer, and proprietor of King’s Road Apothecary, a modern twist on an old-fashioned apothecary shop. Rebecca also writes about food, herbs, travel, and magic at Cauldrons & Crockpots.

Emily Ho is a writer and educator. She writes about nature, culture, and food at Roots & Marvel and contributes to Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn. Emily is also a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and Food Swap Network.

Cancellation policy: Rebecca Altman and Emily Ho reserve the right to cancel a class if necessary due to circumstances beyond our control or when enrollment is deemed insufficient. In this case, all payments will be refunded. Participant cancellations made up to one week prior to an event are eligible for a full refund less PayPal transaction fees incurred from both purchase and refund. Cancellations outside of this time frame are non-refundable. Class registration is transferable to another person if you are unable to attend. You must contact us to transfer your registration.