bexbigsur

An especially rooted kind of thing

(in which I get woo-woo, and eat a lot of potatoes)

As I type this, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming in through the front windows. Cat is, of course, asleep in a patch of it. I sit with one hand clasped around a mug of chai-spiced and chaga-infused lapsang souchang tea, its spicy warmth diffusing through both hands and stomach to the rest of my cold body. We’ve been back a week, I’ve sorted through photos, processed the seaweeds, the redwood branches and the wood sorrel, finished laundry, put it all away, and only now am I here to tell you this: if you’re ever in California, rent a car and drive to Big Sur and sleep in your car if you have to but go. That’s it: my edict for February.

We jumped in an icy cold river. You would have too, if you’d just been on a 5 hour drive and got to your cabin and realised that the river down below was Icelandic blue and had a sandy bottom. You would have too had you been giddy on the quiet, and the woods and the smells and the sounds. I managed five seconds; Jam slightly longer. It was cold.

Walking on beaches at sunset, scrambling over sharp rocks to get out to the edges, where the sirens dwell, where the magic lies. And sea spray, and cold winds, and orange light and mist amongst the redwoods at dawn. And wandering around, coffee in hand, Victorian nightie and elf cape on, watching the light change, watching the violets and wood sorrel and the falcon swoop from tree to tree (obviously confused by this addition to its habitat so early in the morning).

A blur of a couple of weeks. And at the end of it, some redwood, hand-gathered seaweed, cold toes.

Since getting back, we’ve eaten oven roasted duck fat fries exactly six times. Apart from the fact that they’re the best ‘fries’ we’ve ever had, I have another reason: smothered in my locally wildcrafted herb blend, I feel like its helping me to return my gaze to where I am. Its really easy (especially for me: eternal road-traveller) to fall in love with places– places that have everything you could possibly want: stormy seas? Big old trees? Carpets of violets and wood sorrel? Dramatic landscapes that remind you you’re miniscule? Craggy rocks and mountains and mists?. Harder to return to a smoggy city. Harder to return to every day life of doing laundry and paying bills and navigating the meanest drivers in the world.

When its your job to remind people of the earth under their feet, it doesn’t do to be simultaneously wishing one were elsewhere. For that matter, it doesn’t do any of us any good at all to wish we were anywhere (or anyone) other than where (or who) we are for the perfectly good reason that its just pouring energy into something that doesn’t exist. (Disclaimer: this is my metaphysical woo-woo for the week) I feel like, in a way, the things we ingest become a part of us and we them. If we ingest  apples from Chile then we have bits of Chile in us, and if we ingest bits of where we live then we have where we live in us. I think it helps, in our ungrounded, on the go, too busy to stop, gotta have it now world. That being rooted where we are does something intangible to the spirit. I can’t tell you what it is, I can only tell you when I see it in people and how nice it feels to be around them. It was partly for this reason that I started using local herbs to flavour foods in the first place; we’re not devoid of interesting flavours here anyway. My favourite blend is California bay, white sage, black sage, wild rose, sumac, and then a pinch of bee balm which is in the garden (also known as Herbes De Californie, which will likely be ready to go on sale again in about a month). Sometimes I add California sagebrush if what I’m making can handle the bitter. Sometimes I add more of one, less of another, but that’s my general blend. Add that to the most grounding of things- the starchy root, yanked out of the dirty earth not far from where we live, and peeled and chopped within a couple of days, its a recipe for not just grounding, but grounding where you are. Which I think is an important distinction to make, especially when ones gaze is about a five hour drive north.

So it took a while. And a lot of potatoes and plant matter. But I’m back. And while it might not be the wildest, stormiest, sea-spray-est, most beautiful place in the entire world, its home. And that’s what matters the most.

 

An especially rooting local-herb-flavoured oven-roast-French fry recipe for anybody who needs to re-feel the ground under their feet. 

1 large russet potato per person

1 tb herb blend (I encourage you to get outside and find a local blend that tastes good to you but in a pinch you can always use Herbes De Provence which is available at most grocery stores)

2 tb butter per potato

3 tb duck fat per potato (or olive oil)

salt and pepper.

 

Preheat oven to 375.

Get a big pot of water going on the stove, and add a good amount of salt- about 1/4 cup per gallon.

Peel the potatoes, then chop them into thirds lengthwise (I’m assuming this is one of those gigantic russets- so you’re basically making three big flat bits). Then chop each of those big flat bits into 1/2-inch long pieces. If super long, cut them in half again. Once the water is at a rolling boil, pop in all the chopped potatoes and set a timer for 8 minutes. This part is important because there’s a delicate process here: the potatoes must cook to the point of being almost soft, but they must not break apart. So, when the 8 minute mark nears, start watching the water. If there are tiny bits of potato flying about in the boil, strain them immediately, if not then wait for that to happen; it should be around 8. Once strained, put them out on a baking sheet. Lay them out so that they have at least an inch in between all of them- this is for air circulation, so that they roast and don’t steam. Dollop the fats on top, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and your herb blend. Remember they’ll be quite salty from the water already so it doesn’t need a lot. You might need more than one baking tray.

Place in the oven and leave them alone for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, check them; they should be starting to sizzle on the bottom. Flip them all over and put in for another 20. Check them again at this point- they should be golden brown all over. If so, they’re done. If not, keep checking back every 5 minutes until they’re perfect.

biscotti1

Pinyon Pine Nut Biscotti

On being run down: sometimes us folks who spend all our time making potions for others are the ABSOLUTE WORST at actually taking our own advice. Over the last week, I started feeling more tired than usual, and my throat started hurting a little. Did I think ‘oh, Self, you’ve seen a helluvalot of people with a terrible flu in the last few weeks, maybe you’re fighting it and should, you know, rest more, take your own medicine, and cancel all obligations for a couple of days’? Noooooh, I thought ‘that’s funny, I’m never tired like that, why is my body being so annoying right now? I’m going to ignore it.’ And it takes a handsome husband to come home and take one look at me sitting on the couch, surrounded by clean but not folded laundry, tea towel in hands and staring into space, to point upstairs and say ‘bed. now.’ and to add insult to the own-advice injury, demand that I put warm socks on and take elderberry elixir and vitamin D. For the record, my own advice had me in bed for a day and then fine, which, if I hadn’t done I’d likely be still in bed with a horrible fever and a whine as long as a traffic jam on the 405 on a Friday afternoon with a popularity level to match. Own advice is good stuff.

Rest day.

On reading in a random aside: I saw a silly meme on the interweb talking about how one can pretend to have insomnia but one is really just staying up all night reading. That happens to me frequently.

On Winter: I have heard a similar thing from quite a few people in the last few weeks: ‘Why am I so tired? I want more energy? Can you give me something for energy?’ My answer is always the same: It is winter. Look at the trees outside, and the ground up in the hills. Look at the cold weather and all those images of wintery things. We forget because our lives are so out of tune with the cycles of nature. We forget because we idolize youth and perpetual energy and the sun and all things outgoing and yang. But Winter is yin time. Winter is rest time. Winter is time to go deep and take stock and drink hot cocoa and snuggle in bed for hours and to take it slow time. No, I won’t give out an energy potion. That would be going against nature, which is the exact opposite of what a folk herbalist does.

On taking your own advice: see above.

On quiet things: Pine nuts could, if one were in an ‘I GOTTA GET IT DONE ASAP’ mood, be considered a pain in the ass. However this is winter, and so when faced with a big bowl of wild pinyon pine nuts and a few hours to spare, I put on some River Cottage (available on Amazon instant streaming), grabbed a bowl and a big mason jar (for the shells which can then be covered in vodka and used for exciting things), and got to work. The afternoon could only have been more enjoyable had I had some other people around to chat with while we shelled things. These instincts run primal, which is what I think any time I have a couple of girlfriends and a bowl of things to shell, and I can picture us doing this a thousand or even ten thousand years ago, gossiping about the same old things: boys, body adornments, plenty of giggles. Because amid all the technological advancements, people don’t really change very much at all.

On pine nuts: Yes, you can buy them in the store. They’re expensive and often come from China where there’s a big risk of getting pine nut mouth and not being able to taste things properly for a couple of weeks. You can also, if you live in the Southwest, gather your own. Most pines have nuts, some nicer than others. Pinyon pines have the best nuts (in the world, in my opinion) but there are plenty of other edibles. Do a search for what’s in your area, and then curse me for posting this five months too late.

On biscotti: Because sometimes the best medicine is an obligation-free afternoon in which you can anoint yourself with a friend’s botanical perfume, light some home made incense, put on some thick socks, curl up with a hot latte and tune in with the quiet thrum of the slow pace of the earth. A good tree to hang out with, a good book to read, a good earth to sit on, a good blanket to snuggle in, and, like the still point in a turning world, a good biscuit to plunk into it all.

Pinyon pine nut biscotti. (gluten free)

On flour mixes: there are a couple of ways you can do this, and if you don’t care about eating gluten, just sub the flours with 1/2 cup cornmeal flour and 1 cup regular flour, then half the baking powder and leave out the xanthan gum entirely. 

1/2 cup cornmeal flour

1 cup gluten free flour mix (or 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1/4 cup brown rice flour, 1/4 cup potato starch, 1/4 cup sweet white rice flour, 1/4 tsp xanthan gum)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup wild pine nuts, roasted for 10 minutes and then shelled

1 tsp ground pine needles

1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate

 

Preheat the oven to 350.

Beat the butter until its light and fluffy, then add the sugar, and beat some more till its a pale creamy colour. Add the eggs, one at a time, then all the dry ingredients in two batches. Stir in the pine needles, pine nuts and chocolate chips.

Shape into two log shapes on a baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, until very light golden brown and still mostly soft.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. After they’re cool to the touch, slice them into biscotti- about half an inch thick. Separate them all and lay them out still standing, and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until they are a beautiful dark golden colour and you can’t stand the good smells anymore. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit (this is the perfect time to make a good cup of tea or coffee). They’re best on the first day but will last for a few weeks in an airtight container. They won’t last that long though.

Elder elixir

Elderberry Elixir

From the perch of my bed, I like to watch a family of ravens that hang out atop a cypress tree that’s about a block away. Last week, when a storm came through the city, Jam and I sat and watched as one brave raven continued to sit on his perch, facing into the wind, despite the constant battering. He was a brave bird. When it comes to flu season, I feel a lot like that bird. There’s a constant battering going on: of commercials for flu products (honestly, taking a bunch of pills to suppress your symptoms and get back to work really isn’t the answer!), of commercials for flu shots, of germs flying around, of everyone around me getting sick, and I’m just doing what I can to cling on to my health and sanity.

I read once, in a book by Stephen Harrod Buhner, about herbal ‘antibiotics’ and why they’re so much more effective than chemical ones. Viruses mutate. Its a fact of life. You know what else mutates? Plants. Fact. So just as a virus can psychically pass on all its viral information to other viruses (and by the way, can we please learn to communicate like that more?), plants do the same. So some guy in a lab coat extracts one chemical from one plant that reportedly kills X virus but its only a matter of time before the virus figures out the chemical and mutates so that it is no longer affected by it. Kinda like people, who, under duress for long enough will mutate to accept those circumstances as normal. So there’s this chase-and-catch up thing where people try to manufacture things that kill viruses and then the viruses mutate and then another chemical needs to be made, and its a frantic, circular dance. But then you have plants, some of which have over a hundred chemicals in them. A HUNDRED*! In one little plant! One hundred chemicals are a good adversary for a nasty virus. And even if the virus mutates, plants are clever. There’s a whole conversation going on out there in nature that we’re not privy to, and I trust it to carry on in the same way its been carrying on for millennia.

My point being that there are things out there that are perfectly suited to helping our bodies not get sick, or dramatically reduce the length of a sickness. Elderberry is one of them, and its probably in my top-ten-most-used list. This is my recipe for elderberry elixir– the same one I sell in my shop, and have had hundreds of people report back on the efficacy of. It can be customised for you and your area, for example, if you live in the North East where its often cold and damp, maybe add more ginger and orange peel (both warming). If you live in the southwest like me and are often prone to dried out irritated respiratory passages, add some marshmallow (warning, this will go gooey). If you get more lung stuff add mullein and if you don’t have mullein add thyme. Really, the possibilities are almost endless, but here’s a list of possible modifiers or ingredients for you to play around with:

Elderberry- The life of the party, seriously.
Elderflower- Elderberry’s partner. Some say the flowers are even more effective than the berries. If you’re ordering berries then place an order for the flowers too and use both.
Cinnamon- Warming, nourishing, boosts digestion, great flavour.
Ginger- warming, dries mucus, tastes good.
Cardamom- as with the other spices, its warming, good for the phlegmmy stuff and tastes good.
Echinacea- stimulates immune function
Aralia racemosa (or Californica)- supports lung function in worn out chronic overtired conditions. Beautiful little plant.
Mullein- personal favourite for dried out chronic coughs. I always put this in my elder elixir because there’s always dried out lung stuff here.
Boneset- another one that stimulates immune function. Better fresh, so use it if it grows in your area. Or if you’re like me, go visit friends in Kentucky in the early summer so you can gather it and bring it home on the plane (much to the astonishment of TSA).
Orange peel- Warming and energy moving.
Lemon peel- Cooling and energy-moving.
Rosehips- Great source of vitamin C
Thyme- A favourite lung grunge herb.
Bee balm or oregano- Antimicrobial, bloody delicious, slightly zingy and spicy. 
Juniper-
Antimicrobial

On ingredients: Elderberries are really abundant in nature, and I really recommend you get out there and find some local bushes. But its the middle of winter and you’re unlikely to find any right now unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, so you can order them, and everything else on the list, from Mountain Rose Herbs.

On flu season: There’s some nasty flu bugs going around right now. I know this because I’ve caught at least two of them, and because we herbalists are like a mycelial network, passing information back and forth. Its not just here, in fact I’d say those of us in Southern California have been getting off easy. Make or buy some elderberry elixir. Make some fire cider. Take your Vitamin D daily (for reals).

Some of my favourite flu-season resources:

Herbs for the Immune System from Juliet
Creating a herbal medicine chest for colds and flu from Rosalee De La Foret
Green Man’s Guide to Flu Season  by Sean
The Elder Mother’s Pantry
 from Kiva

*I don’t know if this is an accurate number and I haven’t looked it up. The part of my brain that remembered this number is also the part that says ‘I’ll be five minutes’ when it is in fact an hour…

Elderberry Immune Elixir

Quantities are for a quart jar, and using dried ingredients. If you use fresh, reduce the volume by half please.

1 cup dried elderberries.
1/2 cup dried elderflowers.
1/4 cup dried mullein leaf
1/4 cup dried boneset
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
peel of 1/2 lemon

Alcohol of your choice- I love brandy, but you can use vodka, whisky, tequila, everclear or gin too.
Honey. Raw and local if possible, but whatever you have works.

Ok, this is the easy part. Once you have all your ingredients, put them all in the jar, then fill a third of the way with honey. This will take a while as the honey is thick.  Don’t worry, just pour it, and come back every 20 minutes to re-pour until its a third of the way up. You can also heat the honey before pouring to make it easier, I just don’t like to do this as it destroys some of the lovely things that are in the honey. After the honey’s in the jar, top it up with your alcohol. Voila. Done. Now, screw the lid on the top, and this is the most important part: LABEL IT: “Elderberry elixir, <date>, and what its for if you’re forgetful.” Give it a good shake, and leave it somewhere prominent that you can shake it once a day or so. After six weeks, its ready. Strain it out and pour it into a pretty bottle. Its shelf-stable for a couple of years.

Dosage: upon first sign of getting sick, start taking about a quarter teaspoon every couple of hours.  Take it until all signs of sickness are gone. If you do actually get sick (which is rare but with these bugs going around right now, its happening), keep taking it. As often as you can muster.

apple conifer tart

Happy happy.

(Spiced conifer infused apple tart with a bonus tea recipe to boot!)

As I write this, Los Angeles is [relatively] quiet, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming through the windows, through the incense smoke that clouds the air, onto my legs which are half covered by a very fat cat (actual fat cat, not metaphoric rich person fat cat). As I write this there is a tart in the oven, which will be left to cool and sliced up and wrapped in foil and hiked deep into the mountains early tomorrow morning, while Jam and I hunt for mushrooms and picnic.

In my morning stoop sessions, lately I’ve been thinking about arbitrary dates, and what an arbitrary date our ‘new year’ is. As we were falling asleep last night Jam and I decided that in future our new year will fall on the solstice, as that makes the most sense. A [sweet, lovely, beautiful and insightful] friend pointed out to me this morning that the fiscal new year starts in January and so between the solstice and the fiscal new year is a kind of free-fall; a timeless zone, where presents are given and puddings are eaten and wine is drunk and merry is made. And I like it that way. The last couple of weeks have been timeless in a good way. I’ve taken long walks in the desert. I’ve watched storms round the top my favourite mountain, and snow coat the peak over a couple of hours. I’ve gone searching for chanterelles on an almost daily basis, climbing and resting in my favourite tree, wandering out in the now green rolling hills, following deer tracks, picking up hawk feathers and animal bones and other earthly treasures. I’ve woken up before dawn and done yoga practice in a cold living room as the light slowly creeps back into the world, and I leave  you with that picture: of the world waking up from a dream. Freefall is about to end. Happy arbitrary fiscal new year even though the real new year (as I’ve decided) actually happened on the solstice. More importantly, thank you. For existing. Thank you for reading and commenting on this little corner of the interweb. For providing constant conversation and inspiration and support. I hope the next year is bigger, better, more nourishing, more exciting, more adventurous, more prosperous and more restful than ever before. I’ll be back with recipes and adventures in a few days. Until then, here’s a tart.


Spiced conifer infused apple tart

**edit** Have recently remade this putting half a bag of frozen blackberries over the middle of the tart before drizzling the caramel. Inspired decision; you must. try. it.

Spiced conifer brew: 

1 cup conifer needles (I use a combination of white fir, pinyon pine and jeffrey pine. You can use what you have around, which might even be a Christmas tree)

1/4 cup juniper berries

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

pinch clove

pinch mace

pinch ground ginger

Mix all the ingredients together. To serve as tea, for a tablespoon of tea, pour over 1 1/2 cups boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and cream. Serve hot.

 

 

Spiced conifer caramel: 

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

2 tb conifer tea

5 tb butter

5 tb heavy cream

big pinch salt

Bring all the ingredients to a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the plant matter and return to the stove. Bring to a boil and reduce to a thick syrup- about 20 minutes. Add the salt. It’ll be a rolling boil and quite thick at this point. Throw in the butter, let it melt, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

 

 

Conifer-spiced apple tart. 

1 portion sweet tart crust 

apples. Forgive me I don’t know how many you’ll need. Let’s say 3 big granny smiths to start; that’s about what it took for my 9-inch tart pan.

Conifer-spiced caramel

Peel the apples, and cut the flesh into thin half-moon slices. Roll out the tart crust and lay it over a 9-inch tart pan, and prick the bottom with a fork. Lay out the apple pieces in a pretty pattern, I do concentric circles. Pour about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the top, then put the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350, and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the apples are golden and soft and the tart crust has taken on a golden brown colour. Serve hot or cold, drizzled with heavy cream.

 

photo

Fire Cider, and other stories.

The other morning I wandered out onto the stoop and the entire city was enshrouded in a blanket of fog. I ran inside to grab the essentials: slippers, hat, coffee and blanket, and then I sat on the edge of my stoop, on the edge of the world, watching the mysterious shapes appear and re-appear, until the sun had come up a bit more, and the fog had burned off, and everything was returned to normal.

Such mornings remind me of my childhood, in a place that had major seasons. Southern California has seasons too: if you were to take a walk up into the hills, sycamore leaves would be all over the paths, the skeletons of milk thistles and goldenrod would stand out against the brown grass tinged with a slight frost, and the earth is that deep, dark, sodden brown that only happens after a few good rains. There are seasons in the hills. Its just that, being from the UK, I want more. And at this time of year, when friends are sending me pictures of first, second and third snows. When leaves are frosting over and wood fires are being burned, I start to feel a little ungrateful towards the constant sunlight. There are, however, solutions to self-imposed misery over something so silly. Namely, booking a trip north for me and Jam. And while it won’t be to the snow this time, it will at least be to somewhere cold, incredibly beautiful, and very stormy (Big Sur). And I’m excited. I’m also excited about being out in the desert for Christmas. There will be trips up to the snow, and trips to gather some of my favourite plants, and trips to hang out in my favourite canyons, and it will be action-packed and very exciting.

In the mean time, a few things have been happening. The first being that I have been inundated with business for the holiday season (I am slightly overwhelmed with joy and gratefulness about said inundation). The second being that chanterelle season has hit Northern California so my foraging friends and I are getting out into the mountains at every possible moment because its not long before they come up here. A few heavy rains are a good sign, as are dropping temperatures and heavy marine layers. My searches take me further and further afield, setting off into the wilderness at a ninety-degree angle from my usual trails. Herbalist Paul Bergner talked once about how we expand when we leave the trails in our lives, and I can’t help but think of him as I set off, big stick in hand, into the tall grasses and undergrowth. The third is that people are getting sick. This herbal elf has been making house calls, with a basket of elderberry elixir, lung grunge elixir, diaphoretic tea and, my new favourite, Fire Cider. Fire Cider is basically just spicy-stuff-infused apple cider vinegar. But man, let me tell you, if you have a blocked nose, or congested sinuses, of if you feel like you’re starting to come down with something, it’ll clear you up right away, while making you go ‘WOOOOOOOHOOOO!’ after you’ve swallowed.

The recipe is simple, and you can also alter it as you see fit: Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine makes a roselle-hibiscus one that looks divine. If you hate horseradish leave it out, if you love horseradish, add more. If you want it super spicy, add more habaneros. If you’re a vampire, leave out the garlic. Really, this is a basic structure and you’re welcome to do with it what you will. And as for what to do with it… by the spoonful works well if you’re coming down with something. I leave it on the counter and take a swig when I pass by.

Fire Cider

1 big bottle apple cider vinegar

8 cloves garlic

1 onion

20 sprigs thyme

1/2 cup chopped horseradish root

5 chopped habanero (or jalapeno) peppers

2 tb turmeric (dried works fine)

1/4 cup chopped ginger
1 cup honey (I used echinacea-infused honey, but you can use any type of honey you like)

 

Other things I used which you might or might not have access to:

calamus root (1/4 cup)

white fir needles (1/2 cup) (you can sub pine, spruce or any kind of fir)

yarrow flowers (handful)

 

Using a 1/2 gallon mason jar or something equivalent, chop up and throw in all the ingredients except the honey (using any additions or leave-outs you want), then cover with vinegar. Shake well, then leave somewhere prominent for a month. Prominent so that you notice it, and shake it when you notice it. After a month, strain out all the solids, then taste it. Is it spicy enough? Garlicy enough? Flavourful enough? If so, stir in the honey and bottle it. If not, tinker with it as you see fit, then add the honey when its ready.

 

chamomile lavender scrub

Cauldrons and Crockpots’ anti-consumerist consumerist gift guide

My apologies in advance: I have expensive taste. But I’d also love to open up the comments for anything you guys might have found. My requests are that it be a small business (I think the majority of us are all on the same page here about supporting small businesses?), and that if its your own products you say as much.

So here is what I’ve found, from my scourings of the interwebs. This list could also be titled ‘things Rebecca likes’ or ‘things Rebecca wishes she had on her feet’.

Why ‘anti-consumerist’ you ask? Because I feel very strongly about buying for the sake of buying. Our landfills are full and our closets overflowing (mine, anyway). But I also like gifts, and like seeing the looks on peoples’ faces as they open theirs. I’ve kept the list to things I’ve found from either individuals or small businesses; Etsy, Poppyswap and small operations who are local to someone, somewhere. Some things are silly expensive (who knows, maybe you’ve been looking all your life for felted bunny slippers: I know I felt like I had when I first saw them), some things are plant related, some things are made by my friends, some things are DIY projects, some things are made by me, and some things are just plain cool. So, without further ado, here we go…

 

This incense. Because I’ve tried every single one of them, and they’re all divine, and when you don’t have a fireplace, your house smells as though it does, and that, my friends, is priceless. Be sure to check out their super cute incense burners while you’re at it… :

This hanging planter, made by Tracy Wilkinson who lives in LA who I secretly stalk via her blog:

This badass and really pretty handmade knife:

The ultimate spatula (here’s a great review… I may have ordered a few of these as gifts):

This pretty, made by moi sparkly rose-scented and tinted lip balm:

This ridiculously beautiful print:

This perfect looking apron (it has pockets, its baggy, and its not cut to intersect big-bosomed people at precisely the wrong place to ever look attractive):

These bunny slippers which, for the record, are now my desktop background because I like them so much:

These booties, which are designed in LA and made by a single dude in Mexico City (as in, him alone, not as in, on Match dot com):

This totally badass, amazing and gorgeous smelling body scrub with absolutely no personal interest whatsoever *cough*. But really, it smells divine, leaves skin soft as can be, and it looks awesome sitting on the edge of your bathtub:

Cashmere knickers, from recycled wool, because they’re just awesome and someone’s BFF would appreciate it:

This face oil, because Ananda’s creations are, simply put, divine.:

Cuppow. Turn your mason jar into a cup. I have one and its brilliant.

I’ve been lucky enough to sample Darcey’s tea blends and that woman works magic. That she absolutely adores blending teas probably makes a difference: you can taste adoration…

Kirsten is a perfumier. We met at the farmer’s market in Los Angeles, where she sashayed (she sashays) over to say hello, and we got talking and I ignored all customers for the rest of the day to talk to her. I have one of her perfumes (Kyphi) which is a spicy, sweet, incensy blend, and can vouch for both the quality of her products and her talent and passion for perfume, too:

Some cute and fun DIYs:

Hats!:

Super cool idea– perfume in a locket:

DIY watchstrap (watch not included): 

What about you guys? Any fun DIYs or cool gifts you’ve found out there in cyberworld?

 

rainyfeet

Stress, sleeplessness, and stolen moments

(what’s been happening lately, plus a very brief motivational speech)

Stress tolerance is not my forte. Between work, home and running a business in the lead-up to holiday season, I’m turning into a frayed knot. Prioritizing, to-do lists, more to-do lists, priority to-do lists, and putting the rest off till January are all my friends. As are relaxing nervines. My current favourites are kava kava and passionflower (to calm the eff down), with some ashwagandha to help maintain my energy levels, and oatstraw for my fried little nerves. Occasionally I throw in some rose, and sometimes I’ll use peach leaf when the stress affects my tummy too. Nourishment is key. Breakfast, no matter how little I want to eat it, sleep, no matter how much my brain wants to keep me awake, and little moments of devotion and peace-making, even if its just standing on the doorstep in the pouring rain for a few minutes.

Little moments of devotion are what I have to offer this week. Here are some snapshots from recent happenings.

It rained:

I chopped up pounds upon pounds of fresh solomon’s seal, for Busted Joint Ointment and an upcoming injury tincture:

Emily and I went on a long autumnal walk, in which we kicked leaves around, picked through pine cones, and had a birthday picnic in our favourite picnic spot. Also, she looked at every spot of lichen along the way and I chattered incessantly. This is how our walks go.

Jam and I hopped on a ferry:

And we saw these guys, lounging:

I made some sparkly rose-tinted lip salves:

I hawked my wares at a wonderful holiday show at Platform:

Um, and I met the cookie monster. At a nightclub, even. You can see by my face that I was ridiculously happy and excited about this and didn’t notice till afterwards that he had human hands and therefore was most likely not real. Which then makes me wonder who the hell had his hand on my arm and I’m slightly creeped out. Also, I went to a nightclub (that was interesting).

And amid all the madness, there’s been cooking, dreaming, dancing and very little sleep. If you’re in LA, I will be at Unique LA on the weekend of December 1 and 2. It’ll be busy and most excellent, and you should definitely come by to get all of your Christmas/Chanukah/whateveryoucelebrate presents in one place. While I’m officially sold out of Christmas puddings and Surprise Boxes for December, I will have some cool specials and stocking stuffers coming up in the next few weeks, and if you’d like first dibs on them (I won’t make many) I recommend following Cauldrons and Crockpots on Facebook, or signing up for the Kings Road Apothecary newsletter.

Coming up in the next few weeks: a small gift guide, fire cider, and fruitcake. You know, because its that time of year.

To all of you feeling the stress: stick it out, man. We can all sleep in a big old fox-pile come January.

thyme flappiejackieyum

Chocolate-thyme flapjacks

There are two thymes in the world. There’s the thyme that that carries on a warm summer breeze, flowers waving in the wind. It’s the thyme that hangs in bunches from rafters, and that scents chowders and stews. It’s the thyme that intoxicates you when you least expect it. The other thyme– thyme number two– sits in a bottle with a corked top on my shelf, surrounded by other bottles with corked tops, with masking tape labels that have lots of latin on them. This thymus. spp. bottle contains a pretty strong elixir, extracted in everclear and honey, and it sits around in all its potential, waiting for someone to start coughing.

For the record, they are *actually* the same thing. Thyme is good food, good smell and good medicine alike. Like all the aromatics, it has oils that kill bugs, stimulate digestion, and affect your nervous system in one way or another. Like all the culinary aromatics you buy at the grocery store, it has its roots in some other country’s food tradition (unless you’re reading this from France or England). And like all the culinary aromatics, it’s easy to get hold of and therefore great to know how to use as medicine. Because unless you’re like me, and actually enjoy traipsing mountain sides, pulling up roots, and building an apothecary, being able to pop to the grocery store and buy something useful is probably an important thing (amIrite?).

When someone is having lung grunge issues–racking cough, tons of gunk– I reach for the second thyme: the bottle on my shelf. I mix it with mullein and yerba santa and mallow or cherry bark. If they’re having clogged sinus issues, I mix it with horseradish or yerba manza, because its a medicine, and a potent one at that. For getting rid of grunge in general (let’s call it ‘spiritual grunge’) I’m likely to use the first thyme. The wild, fragrant, spirited thyme that hasn’t yet been bottled. Bunches of it are always hanging to dry in my kitchen, for good reason- just as the wind tickles its face and carries that scent upon the air outside, it does the same inside, and that scent contains the oils, and those oils get rid of stuck stuff, of stagnant stuff and of heavy, cold, wet stuff. A sprig in a cup of rose petal tea is as welcome for a grieving guest, and I am firmly convinced that absolution can be found in a mug of thyme tea or two.

Use it in tincture form for the lungs, or a steam for lungs and sinuses, or, if its the magic you’re after, drop the flowers in a bowl of water and leave that by a window on a moony night. Use that water, for drinking, for sprinkling, for dousing people as they come through your door*.

Or just keep a bunch of it hanging in your kitchen at all times, and do random things like adding it to crunchy crumbly oaty flapjacks.

The British flapjack is an oat bar that is at the same time crumbly, crunchy and gooey. Its perfection is in its simplicity, though I did get a bit crazy and throw thyme in and melt chocolate over the top. For the record, a flapjack is NOT a granola bar. Granola bars are crunchy; flapjacks are perfect. Granola bars are a substitute for breakfast or real meals; flapjacks are an actual breakfast or afternoon snack or post-dinner snack or a hiking snack. Flapjacks you can serve to people as they walk into your house on a rainy afternoon; if you serve granola bars to people as they walk into your house on a rainy afternoon they will think you’ve not been to the store all week. See, different!

That said, give them a try. They’re ridiculously easy, and most of us have the ingredients lying around already. From idea to eating in about an hour, 50 minutes of which is waiting time. You’ll go up a pant size from eating so many and then I’ll start receiving hate mail to which I’ll reply that I’m just the messenger and throw some thyme water in your direction. Worse things have happened…

Thyme-infused flapjacks

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is the following:

13tb butter

1tb thyme syrup

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups rolled oats (ground up a bit)

1tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp thyme

7 oz chocolate (optional, but recommended)

3 tb cream

Make the thyme syrup: take one cup sugar and one cup water, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and add a cup of fresh thyme (half cup of dried). Steep for an hour, until strongly flavoured. Strain out the thyme and bottle. You can use this for cooking or for adding to things or for coughs, or just bottle it prettily and give it away for the holidays.

Heat the oven to 350, meanwhile, in a pot on the stove, melt the butter. Add the syrup, sugar, vanilla, thyme and salt. Incorporate well, then remove from the heat and dump in the oats. Stir it all together, then pour into a 9×9 square dish. It’s buttery enough that you shouldn’t need to pre-grease it or anything.

Put this in the oven and cook for 23 minutes. It won’t be set when you pull it out, but it should be a golden brown colour.

Remove from heat and leave to sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be quite firm. Now, melt the chocolate in a double boiler with the cream, and as soon as its all runny and melted, spread it over the top of the hardened flapjacks with a spatula. Refrigerate until its firm, then cut it into squares and serve.

*With regards to dumping water on people as they walk through your door, I do not exactly recommend this practice as it is often met with shock and/or anger and such people will be unlikely to cross your threshold again. If that is your intended result, however, then douse away!

pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate Molasses

I’ve been thinking a lot about synergy lately. You know, how an apple is fantastic on its own but then you combine it with blackberries and a crumble topping and all of a sudden its elevated to new heights. Or turmeric, on its own is a fantastic anti-inflammatory and liver repairing herb but then if you add black pepper then all kinds of magical things happen and your body uses more of the turmeric. Or in people– I’m pretty cool on my own, but when I’m with Jam I’m slightly more adventurous and less stubborn. This is a good thing. Synergy. In some cases, things or people are fine as they are, but every now and then something comes along that helps it reach its potential.

Take pomegranates, for example. On Wednesday I was handed a big bag of pomegranates. I ate one right there, peeling off the thick skin with my fingers, and burying my face in it, pulling out the fruity seeds with my teeth. I walked around with a red mouth and nose and chin for hours before seeing myself in a mirror. And that was about it for pomegranates, for me– they’re not really the kinds of things I go out of my way to eat a million of when they’re in season (unlike peaches or apples or lemons).

I’ve been reading Ken Albala‘s new book The Lost Arts of Hearth & Home: The Happy Luddite’s Guide to Domestic Self-Sufficiency. It’s a good, solid book. One that you can open to any chapter and read for a bit and have something to think about or to want to experiment with, which is what happened when I turned to the Pomegranate Molasses section. He doesn’t write recipes so much as guides, which is good because that’s generally how I interpret recipes anyway. And this guide was pretty simple: peel the pomegranate, put all the seeds in a pot, add some vanilla, some sugar, then boil down for a few hours, straining the seeds out somewhere in the middle.

The most tedious part of this process is the peeling of the pomegranates, something which, if facing a big bag full, can be somewhat daunting. I have advice: put on a movie, take pot, bag of pomegranates and a bowl for the peels to the floor in front of TV (or computer in my case), take your time. I have another piece of advice: save the peels. Chop them up into small pieces, lay them out on paper or basket until they’re totally dry, then put them in a jar with a label: POMEGRANATE PEELS: MAKE TEA FOR DIARRHEA. Because these things happen, and it’s good to be prepared…

After 3 hours you’ll have a thick, gooey, dark dark red syrup. It’s tangy and sweet and fruity and everything a pomegranate should be. You can use it in Moroccan foods, in stews as a tangy flavouring, on meats (chicken= good), drizzled over yogurt or ice cream. Endless possibilities. As far as I’m concerned, this is synergy at its best: fire, vanilla and a bit of sugar have brought out the best possible qualities of the pomegranate. It may have reached its potential. And isn’t that all any of us could ever wish for?

A note on the sheer inconvenience of peeling so many pomegranates to get so little molasses at the end and why can’t you just use bottled pomegranate juice from the store: If you are gifted a big bag of pomegranates, it’d be cruel to let them go to waste. If you’re going to go and buy pomegranates to make this, I’d just skip the peeling part entirely and use bottled juice. Try 1 tb sugar to each cup of juice.

Pomegranate Molasses

Keep in mind that these measurements are approximate- thus, if you only end up with 3/4 quart of pomegranate seeds, just go with it, reduce the amount of sugar slightly.

1 quart pomegranate seeds

2 tb sugar

1/2 vanilla bean

Put everything in a pot and bring to low heat. In a while there’ll be some liquid there. Keep cooking it till there’s lots of liquid, and then, using a food mill or a sieve and a wooden spoon, strain out all the juice, extracting as much of the flesh as you can from the seeds. Extract the vanilla bean and throw it in with the liquid. Return to the heat. There’ll be a dramatic reduction in volume and you’ll want to cry after spending so long peeling the damn things. Its ok- you don’t use very much of it at a time. Keep on very low heat for 2-3 hours, until its reduced to a thick thick syrup. Taste it. Tangy and delicious? You has molasses. Put in a jar and keep in the fridge.

Hawthornrose

Hawthorn & Rose Turkish Delights

I find this time of year to be a bit like a wave: if you fight it, you go down, most uncomfortably.

Everything is shifting. The air has started to fall. The euphoria of summer has been replaced by what, to some can feel like a vague discomfort, and to others outright melancholia.

Some people don’t have time to feel funny. These are usually the people who get their taxes paid long in advance, who know exactly how they feel about any given issue, and feel comfort in that position. They are the types who, on walking from point A to point B, will actually make it to point B at a predictable time. I’m not one of these people (though I often wish I were), and if you’re feeling funny at this time of year, I’d venture a guess that you’re not one of these people either. We oddballs, on walking from point A to point B will feel a change in the air and stop to observe it. We are the types who notice the way light hits things and the sound of the wind running through things. Honestly, all people have aspects of both, and I think we should be capable of both (and my very odd, point A->B brother would likely argue that paying taxes on time and being odd are not remotely connected), but we often tend towards one or another and, well, for the record I have never done my taxes long in advance. Which brings me back to the fall, and the air, and this time of year in general.

Some people like to say that the ‘veil is thinning’. I think that’s a beautiful and poetic way to describe it. I see it as what is hidden becoming un-hidden; some people talk about the spirit world at this time of year and yes, that has a lot to do with it, but it’s much much more than that too. This is the time of year that we become aware of what’s under the surface. Of what lies just outside our reach and our understanding. And that can be deeply, deeply unsettling. Combine that with the sudden and dramatic reduction of daylight hours, cloudcover, rain and chill. Combine that still with the falling of leaves, the rotting of leaves, and the general direction of everything heading into the ground: everything in the world points towards the one thing we never ever want to think of (death). Yes, those of us who are marching from point A (summer) to point B (the holiday season) are stopping and noticing that orange-yellow light and that slight waviness in the air and thinking ‘wait, what IS that?’. Like a wisp, just beyond our reach, there is a world of mystery out there- things far beyond our comprehension. Not knowing is scary. Not understanding is scary. And like normal human beings we dig our feet in.

Which brings me back to waves. Ride it, my friends, just ride it. Understand that it’s strange, and that everything is falling and that leaves are rotting. Understand what this means for us, too, and everything and everyone we know. Understand that its a part of a cycle, and that we are a very very small part of it. And understand that all we can do as tiny tiny pieces of a big and beautiful picture is to marvel at its intricate and delicate beauty, and if we’re lucky, maybe get to point B.

And as for the journey, hawthorn can help, pretty dramatically. It’s that fear of the unknown combined with a vague sense of melancholy that makes it spectacular. Long heralded as an aid for journeys into faerie land (you know, back in the times when people *ahem* actually believed in these things), it’s that dreaminess that makes it so spectacular during this time of year. You see its already there anyway. It’s like getting to an otherworld party a few hours late and everybody already knows each other and you just feel like standing at the edge of the room smiling at strangers who are all dressed a bit strangely and hoping that somebody comes to talk to you (or maybe hoping that nobody at all comes to talk to you), until a beautiful woman in a red dress and striped stockings separates herself from a large laughing group, sashays over with a mysterious smile, grabs your hand and says ‘come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone.’ Friends, meet Hawthorn.

A note on Turkish delights: There must have been an advert some time before I was born that depicted Turkish delights as something exotic and glamourous. I discovered this one day while hiking with my sister in law, when we found that our mothers both made the exact same facial expression when discussing them. Eyes half closed, gaze somewhere else, posture all of a sudden remniscent of somebody in a genie-costume laying on a chaise-lounge. For some reason this made me ridiculously happy. If anybody knows what this advert is, I’d love to know :).

Hawthorn & Rose Turkish Delights

Makes, well, a lot… any leftovers will be great gifts.

4 cups sugar

4.5 cups strained hawthorn decoction (boil about a cup of hawthorn berries in 5.5 cups water for 20 minutes, until the water is dark- strain. If too much, drink the rest; if not enough just add a bit more water)

2 tsp lemon juice

1 cup cornstarch

1tsp cream of tartar

2 tb rosewater

(2 tsp hawthorn (leaf berry or flower) elixir, if you have it)

(2 tsp rose elixir, if you have it)

extra cornstarch combined with icing/confectioners sugar, for sprinkling and dusting

 

Combine half the decoction (you can eyeball it) with the sugar and lemon juice, and heat them up in a bit pot, until its at a rolling boil. Boil it continuously for about 3 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, look for 240, but if not then 3 minutes should suffice nicely.

Meanwhile, add the cornstarch and cream of tartar to the rest of the hawthorn decoction. Whisk it all together until the cornstarch mixture has no lumps left, then heat it up until its boiling. It’ll bubble away and get quite thick.

When the cornstarch mixture is thick like custard, remove from the heat and slowly, steadily, carefully pour the sugar mixture into the cornstarch mixture, whisking continuously (having a helper is good, as is a Kitchen Aid or something similar, so that you can whisk it steadily. If you can’t, no biggie- you might get lumps. And if you get lumps, no biggie- throw it all in the blender for a minute or so). Now you have everything but the rosewater combined in one pot. Put it back on a low heat for an hour, giving it a stir every ten minutes or so. It’ll bubble and get thick. This is good.

Meanwhile, get your molds going. Any kind of square container will do- I used square jar lids (I store rice and polenta in them), but you can use square tupperwares if they’ve a flat bottom or a square baking dish, or, get creative). You can line the dish with plastic wrap, which will make removal much easier (for the record, I did not, as I am lazy, and I had no problems whatsoever). Using a sieve, dust the bottoms and sides of your containers with the cornstarch-icing sugar combination, then leave them to wait.

After an hour, remove your Turkish delights from the heat and stir in the rosewater. Taste it (careful, it’s very hot). It should be very rosy, with a hint of hawthorn. If you have the medicinal elixirs, at this point, add them and stir in- they’ll contribute to the flavour but also ramp up the medicinal quotient to make these sweets very dreamy indeed. If you don’t, it’s not a big deal, they’ll still be delicious and the hawthorn and rose combination will still be there. Pour the hot mixture into the molds, about 3/4 inch high. Smooth the surfaces, then place them in the fridge, uncovered, to cool.

When cool, turn them out onto a cornstarch/icing sugared countertop, and slice into cubes. Or rectangles. Dust them all with the cornstarch/icing sugar. They’ll keep in airtight containers for weeks, but I bet they won’t last that long…

(I’ve shared this post at the Wild Things Roundup over at Hunger and Thirst. Check it out here.)