chocolate hazelnut spread

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

In an ideal world, there would be a separate court system for left-brainers and right-brainers, so that the left-brainers could show up on the appointed date, at the appointed time (or ten minutes early) with all their paperwork in hand, and us right-brainers could show up when we feel like it, having forgotten most of what’s important. In an ideal world, however, everything would be relative, like ‘ah, young lady I see you holding your mobile telephone while driving, but I also acknowledge that you aren’t texting, merely looking at a map, and that the streets are empty so you are a danger to nobody’ or ‘ah, young lady, I see you are going fifteen MPH above the speed limit, but it’s also an empty stretch of freeway and your car is built to withstand such speeds beautifully’. In this ideal world, very old trees would be respected as would very old people. In this ideal world, a woman’s body would be her own, not the State’s, and in this world, nobody would have come up with the silly idea of calories. Yes, calories.

You see, I have recently discovered that you cannot, in Los Angeles, get anybody to take a jar of Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread*. People back away, terror sticken, holding their hands out in front of them to prevent you coming any closer. I usually pawn off my baked goods with the preface ‘it’s healthy’ or ‘it’s gluten-free’ after which people eat it gladly (note that I fail to mention the butter or sugar content for aforementioned reasons) but with something so similar to Nutella, everybody knows that it’s not healthy, and that you can’t just have one bite and put the jar away. No, there is no putting this jar away. It might be physiologically impossible.

And for the record, I think this backing away is utterly stupid behaviour. Because I firmly and fully believe that if something is eaten without a single shred of guilt, then it doesn’t end up stuck to hips and jowls and places we don’t want them. And that a stick of celery, when eaten stressfullythinkingaboutcaloriecontent will likely make you go up a clothing size, whereas an entire pizza and soda will not, if eaten properly**. Things eaten with pleasure in mind are usually hard to over eat. Relishing the aroma, flavour and texture of something, you actually experience it fully, not in the background while your brain does battle with your will. No. Battlegrounds are not for eating. In many herbal traditions, people are told to not eat while stressed or angry. It makes sense– all that mental stuff churning, not only do you not experience your food at all, but oftentimes your digestion isn’t even working properly when your body is in high stress mode. And a mental battle is stress mode.

So, my friends, if you are likely to feel nothing but immense guilt over indulging in something this deliciously fatty and sweet, it’s better not to make it at all. And if you do make it, promise me that you’ll eat it somewhere quiet, with closed eyes and ‘mmmm’s and ‘ooooooh’s and smiles and twinkling eyes and holding hands and warm blankets and glittering stars and all the good things in the world.

And it’s perfect. Perfect for spreading on toast and eating with a spoon and playfully putting on someone’s nose when they lean in to smell it. Perfect for mid-afternoon snacks and ‘oh, I’ll just check what’s going on in the fridge because it’s been a good hour since I last checked’. See, perfect.

ps. How nice is the word ‘filbert’. I have been saying it over and over again, all day, because it rolls around in the mouth so nicely.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

1 cup hazelnuts (filberts)

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup whole milk

4 tb sugar (I use sucanat)

1/2 tsp salt

2 oz milk chocolate

3oz dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350. Lay out your filberts on a baking tray, and roast for 10 minutes, until the papery shells come off easily when you rub them. You might not be able to get all of them off, and it’ll be fine, just try and get as much as you can.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler, melt the chocolates.

Put all the ingredients into a blender at the same time, and blend until very smooth.

Store in airtight jars. Use within 10 days.

*Eventually the lovely Amelia took one, because she’s not scared of food. Yay.

**by ‘properly’ I mean with attention and enjoyment

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Wanderings

As promised, some pictures from my long weekend in the desert…

I hiked for miles, gathered pounds of plant matter, napped on rocks, hung out with trees, hung out with friends, scratched up knees, drank cider sat around a fire pit watching the dark desert night sky, and sat outside watching the moon before dawn with hot coffee and warm blankets. Some snaps from along the way: Manzanita trees, spring blossoms, my favourite tree (pinus quadrifolia), meyer lemon blossoms, ocotillo, kitten. More posts coming later this week, but in the meantime, here are some links I’ve been inspired by lately:

Pretty hanging plant pots

AMAZING house on the Selby (the outdoor fireplace!)

At home with Rough Linen

Pin Up girls, before and after

TeePee boots with leather soles

Chocolate bundt cake I desperately want to make

How to make using your computer safer (from EMF and other MFs)

John Steinbeck on falling in love

Blood building syrup recipe  (for exhaustion, anemia and such)

A long but highly informative article on thyroid dysfunction and seaweed

Make individual salve packets for trips

Gorgeous looking handmade kyphi

Home project I can’t wait to try

Real clouds suspended in a room. Could I do this in my living room?

Mesquite granola

Like a lizard

(A day trip with mesquite granola, with polenta and coconut and all kinds of good things.)

If you were to visit California at any time of year, my friends, this should be it. The air is warmer, the nights are still cool, greenery is shooting up at a rapid pace. Road trips are riddled with ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaahhh’ pointing at one tree or another awash in spring green. That slightly dusty hazy light falls on it all with a benevolent hand that makes it all somewhat nostalgic even though it’s happening right now. Maybe it’s David Hockney’s fault- I’m not sure if California felt dated until he dated it. Still, this is the time to come here. A drive up the usually hideous 5 freeway will greet you with lush green fields, happily grazing cows, almond blossoms as far as the eye can see, and a row of cottonwoods and oaks along the Grapevine that make you want to stop and explore. A drive out to the desert (such as the one I did yesterday) will, once you pass Beaumont and the outlets, hit you in the face with a wave of warm air and blooming creosote and citrus blossoms but with snow still atop the San Jacinto mountains. All topped off with that big curved blue sky that makes you feel like you’re in a snow globe.

Last night, as the sun went down, Alysa and I dusted off her barbecue and grilled some chicken, and sat outside eating and sipping cider until the night got cool. This time thing is especially present here in the desert because there are maybe two months left before the heat becomes oppressive. Even now, sitting outside in the crispy morning air, there’s that electricity in the air; that anticipation that it’s going to be a hot day. Luckily, I’m heading up into the mountains for the majority of the day, to gather some sage and yerba santa and pine needles from my favourite tree. These are my favourite days, spend crawling over tree branches and stepping over bubbling brooks. Tasting leaves and whispering to trees and, most likely after a snack atop a rock (lizard style), a little nap in the sun.

But it’s that snack I want to bring up right now. Because, if you guys are privvy to my numerous Facebook posts, I don’t really do breakfast. I mean, I like the idea of it, and I know it’s good for your metabolism and that starting the day without it just isn’t right and all that stuff but, since this whole paleo movement made my sweet sugary breakfast cereals into demons (actually it was Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, and before that my move to America in which nothing tasted the same as the Rice Krispies in the old country, but paleo appealed to my vanity, which was even worse) I went off breakfast altogether. Compound my lack of desire to eat something heavy in the morning with the 3 hours of having been awake before yoga practice is over, and it’s just easier to say ‘I’m not a breakfast person’.

Until this mesquite granola happened. Which, if you ask my rational nutritionally-minded opinion, is really quite bad for you. But if you ask my tastebuds and stomach, both of which are quite happy to have something to gnaw on in the morning, it could possibly be quite good for you if the alternative (starvation) is worse. Here is the conundrum of modern living: too many sides to the story. I leave it up to you to decide after you’ve tasted it. Meanwhile, I’m heading up a mountain with a little bag of homemade granola, scented with vanilla and mesquite from this desert that I love, with little poppy bites of polenta throughout, to eat my lizard style lunch and nap in the sun. The health benefits of such behaviour have not been proven in clinical tests as one cannot patent the lizard style snack-and-nap, but I’d venture a guess that they’re pretty damn good.

I’ll post some pictures for you guys tomorrow.

Mesquite granola, with polenta and coconut and all kinds of good things. 

5 cups oats

3 cups mixed nuts, ground in a food processor (I used half almonds, half brazil nuts)

3/4 cup rapadura

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup dry polenta

1/2 cup grated dried coconut

1/2 cup mesquite flour*

2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla powder

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 cup water

Dried fruit to your taste

 

Melt the butter and coconut oil together. While you’re doing that, assemble all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Pour the melted oils over the top, mix everything together, then add water until the whole mixture is moist. Spread out over 2 baking sheets, and cook at 300 degrees for 40 minutes, setting a timer every 10 minutes to give everything a quick stir.

Allow to cool, mix in the dried fruit, then store in an airtight container.

* Mesquite flour is available at health food stores. I gather mine in the desert in the summer, you can read about how to prepare it HERE

juniper white sage incense

Holy smoke

Lately, I’ve been too restless to get anything useful done. In my mind there are these lists of things to do. Newsletters and website updates and blog posts and dealing with traffic tickets (*cough*) and parking tickets (*cough*) and returning phonecalls. I think it’s the coming spring; I want to be outside so much that all this other stuff makes my brain short-circuit. The words all swim together and stop making sense. Cursors blink on white pages and minute hands tick by and become hour hands and I’ll type a sentence and delete it then go to the kitchen for another snack and a cup of tea. On Wednesday, instead of repeating the process, I went to the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica with Carly. Early. While it was still cold, and while the day was still yawning awake. I’m giving her cooking lessons, so each week she’s armed with a list, and each Thursday night we get together and I unleash my inner dictator while she does exactly as I say*.

As we were picking some very handsome carrots, she mentions that she wants to buy some white sage to ‘cleanse’ her apartment, and asks if I believe in that stuff. And it got me thinking. Because although there are plenty of people who see these things the way I do, my opinions aren’t necessarily the most popular in a city where people talk about ‘energy’ like everybody should understand what it is. But Carly was obviously asking me because of my superior intellect and rational thought process. So I did what any normal human being would do with an opinion that might counter that of others: I’m putting it on the internet. So, a bit more about smoke, smudging, incense, clearing bad energy, and all that stuff…

Smoke is sacred. Look at the way smoke from incense curls through the air, fluid, like water or fire, shapeshifting and changing and bringing that scent with it. It’s hypnotic, it reaches into stagnant corners, it can alter minds and intoxicate senses. But when it comes to ‘clearing bad energy’ as an isolated function, I think this is a belief that has rolled over into our time from the dark ages**.

To understand this, we have to know a bit more about what this ‘bad energy’ is, what needs to be cleared in the first place. Back when pathogens were unheard of, sickness was often thought to come from ‘evil spirits’. Great ceremonies were made to get rid of said ‘evil spirits’ and herbs were often burned to aid in the process. Fast forward 2 thousand years and people are burning herbs to ‘clear energy’ in houses and such or to perform appropriations of Native American ceremonies without fully understanding what’s going on. Evil spirits, back then, were airborne pathogens. Burning aromatic plants is fantastic for killing these airborne pathogens. If you’ve got a bunch of people in close quarters, smoke is great to have around- burning frankincense in a church, for example, or hinoki wood in a temple. Palo santo, that treasured Ecuadorian wood, myrrh, white sage, juniper, mugwort. The list is long, and effective. Having these herbs around to burn when someone’s coming down with something is really useful. Having them just to burn in general because they smell good and because smoke is pretty is fine as well. And yes, you can use them in ceremonies to ‘clean’ the energy of a space, but it doesn’t need to be a specific type of herb, or something that someone else has deemed ‘sacred’, and it doesn’t even need to be smoke in the first place, if that is your purpose.

Ever walked into a place and it just felt weird? Ever had something horrible happen in your house and you just want to clear the walls of those memories or the space of lingering horrible-ness? When it comes to getting rid of that kind of thing, few things beat salt. Plain old fashioned salt, a little sprinkled in the corners, will get ‘bad energy’ out of a place quicker than you can say BOO. Open all the windows and chase out the stuff you don’t want with a broom or by clapping your hands but most of all with your intention to get rid of it. Then, close the windows and sprinkle salt in each corner, intentionally (whatever your intention is). Let me be clear- I did say that you can use smoke, but the smoke in itself isn’t what’s going to chase out the stuff you don’t want. YOU are. The smoke isn’t powerful, the person guiding the smoke is powerful. Clearing a space is an active endeavour, not something that happens by default because stuff is burning.

White sage is overused. Even in this area where it actually grows it’s overused. Walk down Hollywood boulevard or the Venice boardwalk and you’ll see stoners selling piles of smudge sticks for people to buy, bring home, clear the energy of their houses, and do their own ceremonies with. White sage itself IS sacred to one tribe in our area (it has a very small growing range) and its so sacred that they burn one leaf at a time, not massive smudge sticks. Sacredness, with plants, is something that happens, not because someone else deems it so, but because of the connection you have to that plant. The fact of the matter is that any plant can be sacred, any ceremony can be meaningful. You can burn rose petals and have an effect on your space just as much as you would with sage leaves.

When it comes to a sick room, however, smoke excels. On its own. As a force in itself. Those compounds that smell so good are often antiviral and antibacterial and in inhaling them, you breathe them directly into your respiratory tract, which then goes directly into your blood stream, and before you know if you have all these little fighter compounds in your blood and in your lungs. When one of us is sick at home, we’ll burn a combination of things- my favourite is white sage and juniper (which grow around here and thus are easier to come by, cheaper, and more sustainable), but frankincense smells pretty darn amazing too. There are tons of other burnable resins available commercially, and other things you can try with what you have around. My recipe for sage and juniper incense is ridiculously simple- it’s not a complex scent or kyphi, but a simple mix of herbs with medicinal properties for the purpose of killing airborne pathogens and keeping folks healthy. But, as I’ve mentioned before, medicinal doesn’t need to mean gross, or single-purposed. You can burn it anytime, for any purpose, it’s all about the intention.

Also, for more information about sacred smoke and making your own incense, please see Kiva’s recent article. I’ve been lucky enough to try her hand-made incense and it’s mind-alteringly intoxicating. That right there, is sacred stuff…


 White Sage-juniper incense

charcoal discs

1 part juniper berries

2 parts white sage leaves

1 part pine resin (I get mine from the tree in my front yard which is an araucaria not actually a pinus)

 

In a pestle and mortar, grins up the juniper berries. Add the sage leaves and pine resin, and grind it all until it’s a pretty even consistency.

Light a charcoal disc and wait for it to be hot, then sprinkle your incense over the top. Inhale. Walk around the house letting the smoke get into the corners. If someone is sick, let them inhale the smoke, brush it through sick person’s hair, then leave it for the smoke to fill the space.

 

 

*I think I missed my calling. I’m a very good dictator. You can refer to me as The Chairman from now on.

** Speaking of which, did you know there’s a flat earth society?

smoked hot chocolate

Crying over smoked milk

This post is being submitted to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst. If you [still] haven’t checked it out, please do!

Few things are as evocative as smoke. It’s primal. We humans have been using smoke since we started using fire. Which, if you think about it, was a long long time ago. It’s magic stuff– stuff that gets into your lungs and into your hair, and imparts its flavour to anything it touches. Smoke can be therapeutic (kills germies and such) or it can be magical (alters minds and such) or it can be comforting (hot fire on a cold day, and such). It can also fling you into memories, unawares, as if time exists so fluidly as to not really exist at all. One minute you can be standing in your kitchen attempting to light some branches on fire, and the next you are standing on a sea wall on the west coast of Scotland, with frozen fingers and a frozen red nose.

We’d spend our summers in a cottage in a little village called Craobh Haven. My days were spent scouring the rocky beaches (looking for treasure), and roaming the fields (looking for adventure). Such is the life of someone who grows up reading Enid Blyton books. On days when I didn’t get to roam, we’d go off on adventures, on boats to explore the Hebrides, out to see real live whirlpools, to explore old caves with stone formations that stretch all the way to Ireland. They were the best summers of my life. I’m sure at the time, in the way that kids do, I was jealous of those friends who got to go to Disney World, eat big hamburgers and get flourescent clothes to bring back to school. Florida was glamorous, where staying in rainy Scotland, well, wasn’t. However, until those comparisons arose (much like one can love ones outfit until one sees someone with a nicer outfit and then all of a sudden one begins to notice a frayed hem and a rubbed away elbow– as if for some reason we are built to compare), I was ecstatically happy. The first time I saw the Atlantic ocean was during one of those summers. We’d just emerged from a glass blowing workshop, and I had a little glass statue in the pocket of my wax jacket, flecked with pink and yellow, as if the artist had captured a nebula in a little glass ball. On the other side of the road was the Atlantic. I stood up on a wall with my fingers clenched tight around the cold metal railing, in the rain, trying to wrap my head around the vastness of it all. This might not feel abnormal to you if you are used to seeing ocean. But to a nine year old mind that had only ever sailed in a sea, this was an ineffable experience. One that shaped my life to such a degree that I still go to the ocean to get that feeling, even though its only 6 miles away now, and to this day my insides still dance with excitement at all that lies out there just beyond my reach.

After these long cold days, often roaming in the rain and cold (because lets face it, summer in Scotland doesn’t mean summer like it does in other places where the sun shines), we’d go back to the cottage and make hot chocolate. Mum often had a lively bunch of friends visiting. We’d light a fire, and the smell of smoke interlaced itself with the smell of sea and of happiness. The smell of smoke indoors, from a fire, on a cold day, is forever entangled with these memories. Not even like it happened yesterday, but like it’s happening simultaneously.

Of course the whole purpose for the smoke filled kitchen was hot chocolate. Smoky, sweet, evocative hot chocolate. With a hint of whiskey. And old leather. And tobacco. You smoke the milk, then pop the whole lot on the stove with chocolate and sugar and vanilla, then add a good splosh of whisky at the end. It’s perfect for these remaining cold wintery nights. A grown up, old fashioned, sexy hot chocolate. The kind of thing that you’d see served in Silverlake in a bar with fake old wood floors and waiters with heavy mustaches and waistcoats on. The kind of thing you’d pay $15 for and wonder how they made it, and wonder if you’re pretentious by osmosis for liking it. It’s a variation of a recipe that I saw on Tim Ferris’ site. His looked awfully labour intensive, and used a cigar. I don’t want cigar smoke hanging in my house for weeks on end, plus, I’m kinda fond of the smell of conifer. This, my friends, is crazy delicious– please give it a try.

Ponderosa smoked hot chocolate

serves 2

For the smoking: 

1 charcoal brickette

about 1/2 tsp conifer wood (preferably ponderosa pine, but anything delicious smelling will do), broken into little pieces

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

tin foil

For the rest:  

3.5oz dark chocolate, chopped into small bits

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tb nice whisky

To smoke the milk:

Place the milk, cream and sugar in a bowl, in a shallow dish of some kind. Place this shallow dish in a larger, deeper dish. Light the charcoal brickette, place it on a piece of tin foil, and set that alongside the shallow dish in the larger dish. Then place the bits of conifer atop the charcoal. It should start smoking. When it does, cover the whole thing with tin foil, tightly, and leave it for 20 minutes, checking periodically to see that the wood is still smoking (if not, re-light the charcoal or rearrange the wood).

Taste it. It should be smoky.

Put this milk mixture, plus the rest of the ingredients except the whisky in a saucepan over low heat. Heat gently until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the whisky (more or less to your taste) and serve. Preferably with a good book and a fireplace and a cold winter’s evening.

 

pinus quadrifolia

Intention

[conifer sirup for expectorance and yum]

Last week Los Angeles was blessed with the presence of the herbalist Matthew Wood. Surprisingly humble for someone who’s spent longer than I’ve been alive dedicated to the study of herbal medicine, being around him is always fun. At one point, we were sitting in my mum’s kitchen while he read my pulse and tongue. He wrote the names of a couple of herbs on pieces of paper, while explaining that what he was about to do was an ancient rabbinical technique, and then he put them in between my fingers while he listened to my pulse. I couldn’t quite believe it, but my pulse changed. Quickly. And noticeably. I say this as an objective observer and pulse-owner who had no idea what was going to happen, but that where before my fingers and toes had very little circulation, they had circulation. Where before I had not been aware of certain areas, I was aware. Where before I felt cold, I felt warm. And my heart rate slowed down. From a couple of pieces of paper with plant names written on them.

I thought a bit about this technique, and it made sense– I mean, the word is at the very core of Jewish mysticism. And if I’m not mistaken, in Hindu cosmology the universe was created with the exhalation of one single word. Words, my friends, hold great power. Look to those water experiments that Matsuro Emoto did years ago, or even more personally, think of something that was said to you as a kid that you’ve never ever forgotten. And last week, written on a piece of paper and thrust haphazardly in between my fingers, these words got me thinking about intention.

Because what is a word or an action if not an expression of intention. For us, as humans, to claim that we’re separate from our words or our actions is (in my opinion) to stop taking responsibility for ourselves and our lives. It can be something as big as ‘I do’ or something as little as ‘here, have a cup of tea’, but the intention is expressed THROUGH the words. If I wanted to get a bit more woo-woo, I’d say that each of us is, in some way, an expression of an intention, of sorts. Just like each plant is, and each colour, and each number, and each music note. Our purpose in life, as these intentions, might be to exist and be the most pure expression of that ‘us-ness’ we can possibly be. And when I look at plants, with regards to making food or medicine, I think about the same thing- that is, how to draw out the very essence of that thing.

I think most herbalists are hyper aware of how this works. We spend our days crafting creations for one purpose or another. Herbs have so many different properties, that we often coax out those properties that we want to use, whether it be through combining with other plants, the way we prepare them, or sometimes, simply, through asking.

Intention, in herbalism, starts before you even touch a plant. It starts with the observation of how and where things grow, with the intention to create abundance in the plant world, not to destroy a population but to encourage it. It starts with observation of the planet and the cycles of weather and season. It starts with slight changes in soil. And it starts with relationship. You, the ground, the sky, and the plants you’re working with. With that, you can start picking flowers, whispering intention with every movement of your fingers. Stroking, whispering, urging flowers to open, scent to release, roots to spread, vines to grow, and from there, harvest intact, they’re brought inside, picked through, urged, nudged, gathered together into something cohesive. Then a medium is added, in this case hot syrup, to bring out the scent and flavour. And with that medium, you can coax out the ‘it-ness’ of whatever it is you’re playing with. The name of a plant ties it to its very essence, and in using that name, combined with focus and magic, there’s very little that you can’t affect with a few simple leaves and plant bits.

I don’t think it matters what you’re making either, be it a cup of tea or a syrup or a complex formula or a cake. It’s what you put into it, and how you put it there. It’s taking a moment to set the space beforehand, and having a singleminded focus while you’re doing it. That’s something you can do with a glass of water or a twenty five course meal. When I start to make something, things get really quiet. My feet sprout roots that sink into the earth, the top of my head gets a bit fluffy feeling and my body expands beyond its bounds and my mind stops spinning in the way it usually does. This afternoon, I lit some  juniper white sage incense, allowing the smoke to fill my workspace. Then I gently broke up the branches of white fir, douglas fir, and pinyon pine, dropping the needles one by one into a saucepan. At this point, my mind was quiet; I became hyper aware of my actions and words; my fingers eking out the properties of the various trees to soothe, expectorate, heal, and open lungs, picturing these actions while I’m stirring. Some of the finished syrup (sirup!) went directly into a tea for a feverish, coughing Hedgehog sleeping upstairs, and the rest went into a bottle where it sits, practically aglow with magic.

Conifer syrup is versatile. It’s great as a cough syrup, promoting expectoration, opening the lungs up a bit, and helping to soothe irritated bronchial passages. But it’s also delicious on pancakes, or in cocktails, adding flavour and sweetness to tea, over ice cream, or even [gluttonously] by the spoonful. It’s green. Which makes it pretty, especially during these winter months when the majority of the country is still covered in white and brown. And it’s interesting but tasty, which makes it really easy to give to those who are usually suspicious. Being able to administer cough syrup disguised as a cocktail is also really helpful when it comes to stubborn grown ups.

Conifer syrup

1 cup mixed conifer needles

1 1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar

If you have a blender, blend up the mixed conifer needles as much as you can. Bring the water and sugar to a boil, reduce to simmer, and sprinkle in the blended up needles. Steep for an hour, simmering REALLY gently (don’t let it boil), then taste, strain, and bottle.

 

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Moroccan mallow salad

If I were to have a robot self, I would describe it something like this:

A satellite dish, with roots, and a nuclear reactor in the middle, plus two hands and a body with which to express the product of said reaction. And when it comes to writing, I feel like one has to have a satellite dish. If I’m not out there, wide open, taking in new stuff every day, then everything I create takes on a stagnancy that feels like a shrunken sweater. Like a record on repeat. During times when I don’t feel like going out into the world, I find that my creativity grinds to a halt too. It’s this strange balance of having to experience and give as much energy as possible in order to receive. To empty the vessel before it can be filled.

The past week I’ve been over tired, slightly grouchy, achy, fighting off this respiratory infection that’s been circulating around (and had hit everyone BUT me) and not really in the mood to go out and do anything. Even more than that, I’ll admit, I’m envious of all you folks who have a winter. Butter emailed me photos of her truck blanketed in snow and I felt a twinge of despair that we don’t really have that here. Last week it was eighty degrees, and while, come March I’ll be out hiking and  y’all snow-dwellers will be cursing me, right now, it’s Winter, and I want it to feel like it. Winter is the time to rest, relax, recharge, and curl up on the couch with hot chocolate and a good book, and when it’s 80 degrees and sunny, it really doesn’t feel like you’re supposed to be resting much.

LA is dry at the best of times. We’re on the edge between a big desert and a big salty ocean, and on my side of town it gets hot and dusty quite quickly. Respiratory infections that come around will lodge deep in the lungs but never really graduate past a dry splutter. We don’t get thick wet cold mucus here, we get green and yellow and bright eyes and red tongues and hard to hack up. Everything gets dried up. Like the cogs in my robot mechanics aren’t working properly. Last night I was staring forlornly at a blinking cursor on a blank screen, and then I made this sad little dry cough. I thought it was just a bit of dust or something but a minute later it happened again. And then another one. And then the sneezing started. And before I knew it, within the space of a couple of hours, I had graduated from grouchy and tired to sick.

To be honest, I was relieved. There’s nothing worse than being a creative robot and feeling like your cogs and mechanics aren’t working properly. To have hands that are supposed to be weaving and creating that just barely splutter to life and then die down. To be sick, after all the horrible terrible thoughts of it being gone forever (melodrama is my middle name) was a welcome relief. I’ll take achy coughy dried out stuck sinuses over gone forever any day.

When I first moved into this house, I did a few things that my neighbours found strange. The first was that I pulled out all the ornamental plants beside my kitchen door. The second was that I scattered the plot with seeds and forgot about it. The third was that, when the seeds started sprouting into weeds, I refused to do anything about it except eat them from time to time. One of the weeds that proliferates out back is hollyhock. Pretty big purple flowers in the summer, and pretty big leaves the rest of the year, you can’t pick plants in the mallow family without knowing immediately how they work in the body, because they’re slimy. Seriously slimy. They moisten things like nobody’s business, from dried out lungs to dried out intestines to burning urinary tracts. I went out last night, under the rising moon, and started picking mallow leaves, and as I did, I realised that they, too, have big satellite dishes that wave around in the night sky like they’re searching for transmission of some kind.

I thought about these big satellite leaves with their faces turned to the stars and I looked up to see this big moon rising into the sky. Funny, you know, that in such a yang-y city, here are these little plants with their faces turned up, soaking in the night and it occurred to me that this moment was as yin as it might get in LA. Yin of the darkness and contraction and moistness and death. Yin of the feminine figure and the earthy texture and the hand that gives life and the other hand that takes it. Yin of the stillness that gives birth to movement and the deep dark forests that have been there for thousands of years. In the middle of a city that is focused on youth and movement, and where (to mirror this) we don’t even have a proper winter (our plants don’t even get old- they just keep flowering and producing) I’ll take my yin moments as I can get them, especially when it’s sitting in the mud surrounded by big hollyhock leaves with the full moon shining down onto our big satellite dish faces. Smiles reflecting the sunlight, absorbing all that we can.

I bring in my haul of leaves and set about to making a dish I read about in Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco. If you’re ever going to get a Moroccan cookery book, let it be this one. The pictures alone will make you want to sell your children in exchange for plane tickets to Tangiers. The moistening effect of mallow plants is immediately noticeable. Within a few minutes of eating it everything feels looser, less painful and dried out. Within a few minutes of eating it, hot, achy restlessness is replaced by cool moon-struck rest. I had the same again for lunch today.

A note on this dish: it’s not attractive. You’ll have to pawn it off on people at first, insisting that they try it and then because of good manners they will feel forced to do so even though words like ‘weed’ and ‘wild’ might scare them a bit. But it’s ok because after that first bite they won’t be able to stop eating it and you will be happy.

A note on mallows: I don’t think you can find them in grocery stores, but come spring, you can find them in gardens and along roadsides. You can use hollyhock (alcea), or mallow (malva). They’re all used pretty much interchangeably in herbalism, so I don’t see why they’d be different in cooking.

Moroccan mallow salad

Adapted from The Food of Morocco

1lb wild greens

1 cup parsley

3 garlic cloves (peeled, but not chopped)

1/2 cup cilantro

1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

1 blender

Steam the greens, garlic, parsley and cilantro for ten minutes, until they’re definitely cooked but still bright green. Then, put them in the blender with the rest of the ingredients, and blend on high until they’re a thick green paste similar to the texture of ‘whipped potatoes’ as Paula says. Taste, add more salt if necessary. Refrigerate until cool and serve.

lemon lavender polenta cake

Lemon Lavender polenta cake

(on livers, and letting go a bit)

I was standing in my friend Alysa’s back yard smelling the desert air– with snow falling up in the mountains, and rain clouds billowing their way across the valley, the smell was electric, and cold, and wet. She’d gone to work already. I was packing up, getting ready to head back to LA, and I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia.

This nostalgia, I’m used to it. I fall in love with places and then move away, leaving communities and friends and patches of earth that I’ve grown very fond of. I miss the streets of London and the hills of Scotland and the desert mountains and the Mediterranean sea and not just the places but everything that comes along with them. No matter how clean a break I try to make, there’s always a part of me that will miss wherever I was. Sometimes it feels like I’m even missing where I AM, because I know that it won’t stay there forever.

Alysa has a Meyer lemon tree. The boughs were so heavy with fruit that they were bent over with the weight, almost touching the ground. I picked a few. And then a few more. And before I knew it I had a bag full, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t just gathering fruit from a tree, but gathering a moment in time, and a specific place in that moment. I thought about how being connected to our food source isn’t just about knowing who our farmers are or what chemicals are sprayed, but on being connected to a place on the earth. And that each time you eat food from a specific place you’re taking that part of the earth into your body too- the raw minerals of it, but also the more subtle things about it like the wind and the light and the smells and the general mood of a place. I wondered about what happens to us on a subtle level if we eat fruit from Chile and meat from Wisconsin and Avocados from Mexico…

But immediately after that, it occurred to me that if you can unintentionally eat lots of different places, you can also intentionally put a place into your food, just as you can put your emotions or intentions into food. Maybe somehow eating food of a place means a part of you will be there always*. And then maybe, if there’s a place you have a special connection to, then eating of that place can connect you to it, regardless of where you are. I’ve had this happen, you know– a few weeks ago, when, I was gathering branches from one of my favourite trees, up in the Santa Rosa mountains. When I got home, I set about to process them, remove the needles, steep some in olive oil, others in honey, and by the time I was done, I was in such a dream-like state that I could have sworn half of me was back under the tree I’d harvested from, sitting against its trunk, feeling the cool breeze in my hair, smelling that mountain air.

Sometimes the weight of missing things is quite heavy. I see it primarily taking hold in the liver; it’s an inability to let go completely. Sometimes it’s as though it’s all of time that is being clung onto, and then sometimes it just feels as though it’s moments and places. Sometimes a liver will let go and relax a bit and allow things to move on, and then like a frightened cat, it will seize up again. ‘Liver, my friend, you’re not fooling anyone’, I say to myself, absent-mindedly. Time carries on. Movement carries on. Change, it happens. As does sadness, and missing things, and death, and age. But liver reacts to emotions, not to rational thinking. A tense liver can’t perform its functions properly- to filter things and break things down and make sure everything is running smoothly. A tense liver gives you headaches. A tense liver isn’t really something to strive for.

I arrived home in the late afternoon. The light had started to go orange again, and as I flung open the doors and windows to let in all that light, the afternoon breeze picked up and I was struck in the head by a cloud of the scent of lavender.

It’s one of the first plants I put in when I move places. Because, as far as I’m concerned, having a lavender plant by the front door is excellent luck. Having a sage plant right next to the lavender makes for protection, good health and delicious tea. But that afternoon, the lavender was licking my senses. And I smiled; nobody can be a nostalgic grouch when there’s lavender on the table. This, my friends, is a little known fact of kitchen witchery. Because lavender tickles things. Not just things, but livers. Your liver. My liver. It’s like rosemary’s playful younger cousin- where rosemary is a little old Italian lady who smacks you on the bottom with her broom, lavender has purple hair and colourful skirts and a sparkle in her eye and just when you think you’re going to explode a blood vessel because you’re holding onto things too tightly, she reaches out and tickles you, and you start to forget why you were holding on to it all in the first place. It’s not the weight of the world in worry and sadness- there are different herbs for that. No, it’s the weight of the world in tension. It’s a clenching on the right side of the body. It’s fear of loss of control, and nerves that are tightly wound because of it. Sound familiar? Maybe you need a tickle too…

What happened next was a bit magical. I picked a few lavender sprigs, and they found their way into the drizzly sauce of the lemon cake entirely (ok maybe not entirely) of their own accord. Lemon juice and lavender bubbling away in a saucepan, while a lemony polenta cake cooks in the oven. It smells of the past, of the Southwest, and of distant hills somewhere in the future. It confounds your senses, and tickles your smile reflex, and although you’re supposed to wait for it to cool to eat it, if you can manage such a thing then you’re stronger than me, and stronger than Jam, because we devoured a quarter of it standing up, at the stove, before dinner. And what occurred to me, as I was standing up at the stove eating things from one of my favourite places and from the spot right outside my front door, was that clutching on to everything for dear life might be missing the point entirely. Maybe it isn’t possible or preferable to have a clean break.Maybe the whole point isn’t to not miss places, but to experience them with every fiber of your being, and then when (if) you move on it will be without regrets. Maybe the pain doesn’t come from being away, but from trying to hold on to what is no longer there. From the tension created by trying to be everywhere at once instead of exactly where you are, wherever that might be. And with that in mind, with the nuances of my garden hanging out with the lemons from the desert, I understood: you can be somewhere and let go at the same time. Love it without holding onto it. And each time you do, you get just a little bit bigger. Maybe even a little bit wiser. And that, to me, right now, is what it’s all about.

Lemon-lavender polenta cake

(not adapted at all from Nigella Lawson’s recipe except for the addition of an extra lemon and the lavender)

200g soft unsalted butter

200g sugar

200g almond flour

100g fine corn flour (masa)

1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2  tsp salt

3 eggs

zest of 3 meyer lemons

For the drizzle:

juice of 3 lemons

125g sugar

2 tsp chopped fresh lavender (or 3 tsp dried lavender)

 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly, then one egg. Repeat until all the flour and eggs are gone, then scrape the batter into a 9′ pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes. It might not look entirely set in the centre, but the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.

In a pan on the stovetop, bring the lemon juice, lavender and sugar gently to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Prick tiny little holes over the top of the cake with the point of a sharp knife, and drizzle the syrup over the cake (strain it first if you don’t want lavender bits everywhere). Try to allow it to cool before eating….

 

*Which reminds me of the stories you hear about the land of faerie: never, ever eat anything while you’re there, or you’ll never be able to leave.

IMG_3192

A New Day’s resolution, and abhyanga.

As I said, these last couple of posts went up the wrong way around. Nonetheless, Happy New Year, lovely readers. Here are some photos from our Christmas week out in the desert.

I’m not really one for New Years resolutions- for the past year or so I’ve been practicing something I’ve come to dub ‘New Day’s resolutions’. As in, why the hell wait until January 1st to start something you’ve always wanted to start, or change something you’ve always wanted to change. Also, there’s the overwhelming-ness of having a list of things to start doing. New Day’s resolutions (NDR from here on, because typing it repeatedly gets annoying) are only allowed to be implemented one at a time, and only when the previous one is such a part of daily life that you don’t need to berate yourself into doing it, can you start a new one. As you can see, I’ve gotten pretty specific with the rules of these things…

As it so happens, I started a NDR that happened to coincide with the end of the year, and it has to do with nourishment. In brief, I am going to sleep more, worry about things less, and eat more fatty nourishing things (those of you who know me are going ‘what the hell? Rebecca needs to sleep MORE and eat MORE fatty things?’). I think it’s just something that we nurturing healing folks forget quite often- to rest, recharge, and make sure you are nourished before putting all your energy into helping others. Selfish? I don’t think so. A burned out, stressed out healer isn’t really worth much…

One of the things I’ve been doing lately to nourish myself better is a hot oil bath. It’s an ayurvedic thing that I first heard about while I was in India. Oil baths are reported to heal or ease a number of ailments, including stress issues, inflammation, joint pain, dry skin, and sleep disturbances. I’ve done it on occasion in the past, and have been doing it regularly for a few weeks now, and so far I’ve noticed a significant difference in my sore joints (a number of injuries), dry skin (it’s Winter), and sleep issues (the more stressed I am, the less deeply I sleep- I think this is common for most of us, no?).

You can do it with castor oil. This is my favourite, but I don’t recommend this to be honest- the first (and last) time I did it, it took me about 3 weeks to get the oil off the bath, let alone out of my hair. If you’ve got a drainage system that can handle using soap nut powder, then that’s the best way to get it out. But I live in a house that was built in the 20′s, and soap nuts ain’t going down my drain. I’ve tried using Dr. Bronner’s to wash it out, but it didn’t work. I was greasy for days. And don’t get me started on the shower. But sesame oil works really nicely, as does coconut oil. Both of which come out with regular old castille soap. You can also use infused oils- I love the ones from Banyan Botanicals, though they do get a little pricey, and regular oil works really well on its own.

Here’s what you do:

Abhyanga: Oil bath

You’ll need

1 old towel that you don’t mind being greasy and gross forever

about 16oz oil of your choice- I recommend castor (see above warning) or sesame

(optional: candles to light in the bathroom, you know, to make it more relaxing and pretty and stuff)

 

1. Warm the bottle of oil by submerging it in a pan of very hot (not boiling) water, for about 15 minutes.

2. Lay out a towel, remove all bath mats that you actually like from immediate area.

3. Starting at your head (and making sure that the oil is quite warm but not too hot), pour some of the oil onto the top of your head and hair. Massage it in, over your face and scalp, concentrating on sore, tense areas. Do this for about five minutes.

4. Add more oil, and brush it down over your body. Spend a few minutes massaging it into each area, then add more warm oil, and repeat. Eventually your entire body will be covered with oil (including the soles of your feet and in between your toes).

5. Lie down on your towel, relax for 15 minutes.

6. Shower it all off. I recommend Dr. Bronner’s soap.

7. Make a hot cup of tea, and relax for the rest of the evening. You’ll FEEL super relaxed, so it won’t be hard.

 

DISCLAIMER: If you have a physical practice of some kind, please take it easy the next day. I blew out my LCL the morning after an oil bath because I was so much more flexible than before!

Also, this process can be addictive.

 

So. Here’s to a New Year, a new day, and taking better care of ourselves. How about you guys? Any resolutions for the New Year? Any for the new day? Please share!

 

 

ponderosa pot de creme

Ponderosa pot de creme

(Because sometimes the herbalist needs some nourishment)

Around 330am on Thursday morning, I was awoken by a commotion in my neighbours’ apartment. Ten seconds later, to the sound of footsteps thundering down their stairs and their front door flinging open, I sat up in bed and said “Jamie, there’s a fire.” Then came the banging on the front door, and Pam shouting “YOUR CAR’S ON FIRE”. Jam leaped out of bed and vaulted down the stairs and out the door. I grabbed clothes first and followed suit. Turns out the extra minute didn’t really make a difference- my car was engulfed in flames. I watched, in shock, as Jam helped the neighbours move their cars out of our shared driveway (very quickly, and very carefully, as there’s nothing like approaching a flaming car that is going through a number of small explosions), away from the burning mass.

The crowd on the sidewalk grew larger.

I whispered to Jam to go and put some clothes on. He looked down and realised he was only wearing boxers and was shivering.

I pulled my sweater more tightly around my neck.

It took twenty minutes for the fire department to arrive, as there had been fifteen similar fires that night, and resources were stretched thin. When the fire was finally out, the smell of burnt rubber and acrid smoke hung in the air, on our clothes and in our mouths. Some of us (Jam) went back to sleep after a few hours. I sat awake, staring out the window at the light changing, thinking of all the possible ways that events could have unfolded differently.


The few days that followed (until the arsonist was caught, really) were a blur. Not because of the car- it’s just a car, albeit a car that I really really liked- but because of the shock and how poorly I handle stress. An arsonist firebombing your car is a high stress situation. And high stress events send me into a tailspin of Piglet-like behaviour. Sympathetic overdrive could be my middle name (though luckily my parents were much more tasteful than that). Luckily, I’ve been here, on the Piglet feedback loop, before, and so I know how to handle it.

Extreme stress, for me, calls for my own version of Martial Law. Sleep, sleep, more sleep, take nourishing herbs, and do things that make me feel relaxed and happy, while eliminating all unnecessary commitments. Thus, I haven’t been on the computer much, and I haven’t gone out much, choosing to be asleep, up the tree in the back garden, doing yoga, or in the kitchen baking.

Two days ago, I made candied ginger, ginger snaps, and these little pots de creme, all in one afternoon. It was a great afternoon. By evening the dishes were piled high in the sink and I put on some music and did them without stressing about it, and then I went and sat on the stoop and ate a pot du creme, savouring every single indulgent bite. It was good. And it was nourishing- all those egg yolks and the cream are so good for rebuilding a worn out body, and the flavour of ponderosa forest is grounding in ways that delicious smelling forests always are.


I had meant to come back here on the first, wish you all a happy new year, and show you some pictures from the time I’d spent in the desert last week. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to do that tomorrow. And in the meantime, here’s the most delicious thing to grace my lips since I met mr. Ponderosa while visiting Butter in Colorado. Do you have access to Pinus Ponderosa? If not then Pinus Jeffryii bark (since I can’t tell the bloody difference anyway) would make an equally delicious elixir… and if you have neither then maybe just add one tb. of brandy and some vanilla extract instead.


Ponderosa elixir

You’ll need a few big chunks of Ponderosa pine, or Jeffrey pine bark.

Brandy

Honey

Break the bark up into smaller pieces, and then stuff them into a jar. Fill the jar, half with brandy, then top up with honey. Leave it to sit and stew for about 4 weeks, though it will start to taste delicious after a week or so. Strain, and bottle. It’s also delicious in hot chocolate…

 

 

Ponderosa-butterscotch pot de creme

6 egg yolks

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup whole milk

2 tb ponderosa pine bark elixir

 

Preheat the oven to 325, and put about 6 ramekins, or oven-proof cups of some kind, in a roasting dish. Pour boiling water into the roasting dish (but not the ramekins) up to about an inch high on the little dishes.

Melt the sugar, butter, vanilla and salt. Cook over a low heat until the mixture gets really bubbly, and turns a caramel colour. Carefully, stir in the milk and cream. The mixture will bubble and look like it’s very very angry, but keep at it, it’ll smooth out. Add the ponderosa elixir.

Whisk the egg yolks together, in a bowl, and add a ladle full of the sugary cream mixture, whisking constantly. Add another ladle full, then pour the whole lot back into the pan and whisk it all together. Strain through a sieve, and pour into the individual ramekins, in the roasting tray.

Now, put the whole lot in the oven for about 35 minutes. Until you can jiggle a ramekin and the whole custard is solid.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool. They’ll be ready to eat in about an hour and a half. You can decorate them with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, or just eat them as-is.