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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Everyone goes crazy for pumpkin spice everything in the autumn.  Don’t misunderstand – I enjoy pumpkins too.  I love using their innards to make an orzo dish, cookies, or pie.  Of course, I love to roast the seeds.  But if pressed to choose, my favorite autumn flavor comes from apples.

Photo Oct 18, 12 54 24 PM

These apple fritters might not look fancy, but they tasted good! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

I took some time this weekend to turn several apples my family picked into jelly.  I decided it was a perfect opportunity to try the apple fritter recipes from the book Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen.  The batter is a simple mixture of flour, salt, egg, and milk.  Allen suggests using a deep fryer, but a frying pan with a layer of oil works as well – and it’s what our ancestors would have used*.  My family tries to eat healthy as much as possible, so we don’t do enough frying to validate us purchasing a deep fryer.  I used a wide frying pan.  It was definitely difficult, as the batter stuck to the bottom.  The results weren’t as pretty as they would have been in a deep fryer, but they were tasty!  I added a dusting of confectionary sugar.  The apple fritters tasted like a cross between baked apple and fried dough.  Definitely a nice treat!  As a bonus, all the cooking I did warmed the house up.  Perfect on a snowy, October day…

* The cookbook didn’t specify, but I suspect apple fritters weren’t an ancient treat…  Any thoughts?

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I hope everyone is enjoying their late spring/early summer.  I certainly am!  This time last year, I was the size of a blimp, waddling everywhere, and reluctant to wander far for fear of falling or making my back ache worse than it already was.  Ah, the joys of third trimester pregnancy… My self-guided foraging and herbalism studies went on hold until, well, this year!   This year, I have some more freedom to move around and explore the forest and fields around my home.  Bee is starting to find ways to entertain herself, so I have a little more time to develop my knowledge and hobbies (when I’m not preventing her from climbing onto shelves and tables…).  If only I had known last summer – there are so many edibles literally inches from my door!

A few weeks ago, I shared my positive experience cooking with dandelions in cookies and fritters.  Dandelions are very common and arguably the most easily recognizable edible you can forage, but don’t stop there!  With the help of identification/ foraging books and websites that contain excellent written descriptions and photographs, you can add more delicious and healthful plants to your diet – for free.  

A basketful of greens harvested from my garden and lawn. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

I came up with a fun and easy option to put everything together for a light lunch: Early Summer Greens on Toast.  Along with the greens and flowers I foraged, I also include herbs from my garden, and some produce from the grocery store.  Hey, I’m not entirely self-sifficient, but this is a start!

My ingredients:

  • young, tender dandelion leaves
  • young, tender plantain leaves
  • chickweed leaves, flowers, and tender stems (I can only find the mouse ear variety near my home)
  • ground ivy leaves
  • wood sorrel
  • basil
  • pineapple sage
  • chives (including blossoms if available)
  • organic tomato
  • locally harvested fiddleheads
  • wholewheat bread, toasted

Ahhh… fiddleheads… One of the many signs of summer.  Something about their spiral adds a touch of Druidic whimsy to my cooking.  I have yet to find them on my own. For now, I buy locally harvested fiddleheads from my grocery store.

After washing everything and chopping the tomato, I sauté the lot in a shallow pan with olive oil.  Cook on medium until the fiddleheads are tender.  Greens reduce quite a bit, so if you want more, you’ll need to harvest much more than you see in my basket.  The fiddleheads add texture while the tomatoes add more flavor and color.  The basil, chives, sage, and ground ivy add quite a bit of flavor themselves!  My salt-loving husband never adds extra seasonings to this dish!  Serve on toast to give everything a nice, crunchy base.  Enjoy the taste and savor your growing knowledge of the land.

 

Thank you, Nature Spirits!  Yum! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

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Dandelions are my friends.  They always have been.  I’ve never understood the hatred some direct towards these most wonderful, helpful plants.  Sure, we gardeners don’t want them crowding out our other plant allies, but we should accept and embrace their tenacity in our lawns.  They are full of nutrients, possess healing qualities, and are entirely edible!  Furthermore, for someone starting out foraging, they are one of the easiest plants to identify.

Since Bealtaine, I’ve taken several opportunities to further experiment with the humble yet lovely dandelion.  Their young leaves are excellent in salads and stir-fries (though be prepared for bitterness), and their dried roots are an excellent coffee substitute.  But I wanted to try more.  A previous year, I attempted to make dandelion jam and  failed miserably.  I want to try again when I have less baby to chase, but I came across some other excellent recipes to try that used the flowers.  I even enlisted my baby to help me pick some!

Wash them first! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

The first I tried were dandelion cookies.  Yum yum!  Use this recipe, which calls for organic ingredients and local honey for sweetener.  These cookies are sweet, and the flowers give it a subtle flavor.  My husband was skeptical to eat them since, as he says, they look a little hairy – but he enjoyed them! He would probably like them more with chocolate chips.

Delicious cookies made with flowers! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

Another new favorite recipe I tried comes right from the Mountain Rose Herbs blog – Dandelion Fritters!  This is a great side dish for lunch or dinner.  It could also be an excellent snack.  Although you need to fry these in a pan, it’s a good way to add some extra greens into your diet.  In addition to the sweet flowers, the green from the sepals and end of the stems provide a slight bitter aftertaste. Mixed with chives and garlic – yum yum!

Bealtaine means dandelions in the North Country.  Why not add some to your menu?

Savory dandelion fritters – photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

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Our lovely, naturally dyed eggs. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

For years, it has been my ambition to naturally dye eggs for the Spring Equinox.  Last year, I attempted to use some green tea (which I’ve successfully used to dye fabric), but the eggs were not a good color for dying.  I make a point to buy eggs that are either organic or local.  Since the Spring Equinox in the North Country is hardly the start of spring other regions experience, there aren’t a lot of local folks selling eggs.  It’s not farmer’s market season.  And of course, most people I know have chickens who lay brown eggs.  All of the organic eggs available at the stores are also brown.  Brown is a lovely color!  I also know folks whose chickens lay gorgeous blues and greens!  But the point is, I wanted to try my hand at dying eggs without red dye number 40.

This year I asked one of my favorite local farmers if they had any white eggs and they did!  They set the whites aside just for me.  We hard boiled and dyed a dozen of them using things we had in our cupboards: frozen strawberries, frozen blueberries, and yellow onion skins.  My hypothesis was that the onion skins would be the least vibrant, but that was actually the opposite! Left to soak the eggs overnight, they produced a vibrant orange.  The strawberries created a very soft pinkish tan and the blueberries made a cozy sort of indigo.

The eggs developed an odd but interesting texture in the form of little bubbles.  These could be brushed away to reveal a lighter coating underneath.  This was either the result of me forgetting to thoroughly wash the boiled eggs before submersing them in the dye, or because I added an extra bit of vinegar to the dye after boiling.

Next year, I would like to be better prepared and try some different colors.  I need to plan my meals just right so that we have beets and red cabbage around.  I would have tried turmeric but we need to get some more.  We’ll do more experimentation next year!  Hopefully Bee will be old enough to enjoy it some! I imagine trying different foods and guessing the  eventual colors would be very fun for a wee one.  Part science, part art, and all magic!

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I’m very proud to say that the North Country Druidic Study Group’s first ritual went well!  We celebrated the autumn season and honored the Nature Spirits, thanking them for the harvest.  There were 11 of us in total.  For 7 attendees, this was their first time joining the group.  It was also a first exposure to ADF Druidic ritual in many cases.  This made things a bit awkward at times, simply because everyone is learning – including myself with regards to properly explaining roles, chants, and expectations.  My usual ditziness reared its ugly head, of course, but I like to think it makes for a more relaxed environment.  😛  We have some growing to do, but our first ritual went well and several people told me afterwards that they loved it and are so excited to be involved.  Some have also expressed gratitude that I’ve started this group since finding things alternative to Wicca is very difficult in the North Country.  I’m happy to oblige.

Washing local potatoes for a vegan, gluten-free potato salad!  No Druidic gathering is complete without a potluck.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012
The finished product.  It was delicious!  Everyone who came was very generous.  I wish I had taken a photo of the spread.  There were scrumptious homemade rolls, cake, pies, apple flatbread, apple  strudel, veggies, teas, and salads.  Mmmmm!  Just about everyone remembered to bring their own plates, cutlery, and cups.  I’m really trying to cut down on waste out of respect for the Nature Spirits.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.
The group’s first ever altar!  Because everyone is learning, I took charge of bringing all the ritual tools – including a cornucopia to house our key offerings.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.
A closeup of the offerings in the cornucopia.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.
Later, I brought the offerings into the forest near my home.  I carried them to the shrine I visit and carefully laid the items out.  Look at the group’s generosity – tomatoes, squash, peppers, flowers, herbs, berries, and pumpkin seeds!  They go back to the Earth Mother and the Nature Spirits.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.

Future gatherings are already in the works! We’re planning a coffee hour this month and we will be celebrating Samhain early November. Wish us luck as our acorn of a group germinates into a sprout!

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Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.

Hail to the Nature Spirits, source of the grain harvest! We thank you for your bounty.

Having made some bread, I’m off to bring the heal to the forest shrine as an offering of thanks.  I gave an offering of whiskey to Lugh this morning and am going to have a game night with my neighbors this evening.  Looking to be a wonderful Lughnasadh with friends!  Since it will be a full moon this evening, I’m hoping to do more work before bed.  It’s a good time for it – very auspicious!  The big celebration will come Saturday with my grove.  We’ll be having our traditional Lughnasadh games complete with caber tossing.  Always a fun time!

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For this Ditzy Druid Goes Shopping Entry, I’m going to put aside my usual format because this is more of a product review.

The Wild Center that I visited recently has one of the nicest gift shops.  In addition to some of the usual things you’d expect (mugs, shot glasses, and tshirts), it boasts a huge collection of naturalist literature, decor and gifts made by local artisans, and various things made of recycled materials.  In addition, there are also kits to help you enjoy nature in new and interesting ways, like a flower-press kit, a birdwatching kit for kids, and similar things.  None of these are inherently necessary.  A creative person can look at them and figure out how to do it at home or in the classroom without spending extra money.

But something caught my attention – a mushroom growing kit from Back to the Roots.  I have seen various kits advertised in seed catalogs and on environmentally themed blogs, but I had never seen one in person.  I decided to purchase the kit and give it a try.  It was cheaper than those advertised in catalogs and, instead of using wood chips, utilizes old coffee grounds that the company’s founders collected from restaurants and cafes.  Despite my usual attitude of “Oh, I could do that…,” mushrooms are not something I want to experiment with lightly.  I’ve never taken a mycology class, never went out with an experienced forager…  People die from choosing the wrong shroom.  And then of course, growing them seems even more surreal.  A kit (especially one that boasts how kid-friendly it is) seemed like the best way to learn!

The contents of the kit are a box (made of recycled cardboard and soy ink), a little plastic spray bottle (reusable), a sheet of instructions, and the plastic bag filled with old coffee grounds and white roots called mycelia.  The bag will have to be tossed in the trash, and the reusable spray bottle will no doubt break in the distant future, but the kit is still pretty impressive as far as packaging and sustainability go.  Their FAQ says that when the mushrooms have depleted the nutrients in the bag, the contents can be added to compost or pots.  Replacement bags can be purchased without additional boxes and watering bottles.

In addition to the instructions in the box, there are instructional videos on the website (there’s also this great video that gives further background).  You begin by cutting a cross into one side of the bag.  You then take the bag out of the box and soak it in water for about 24 hours.  From there, you put it in indirect light and mist it twice a day.  Supposedly, you should see growth in 10-15 days.  For us…  it took about 30.

After 30ish days…mushrooms at last!

But the mushrooms didn’t mature easily. We misted twice a day as prescribed but the mushrooms dried up.  We were about to abandon the project when we noticed more baby shrooms sprouting.  One bunch grew to an impressive size and we actually got to harvest a good handful.  I used them in a stir fry.  I hadn’t ever tried oyster mushrooms before, but they were some of the most amazing, delicious tasting fungi I’ve ever had!

They grew!

Unfortunately, that was the only bunch we got to harvest and taste.  We never got the promised 10 lbs.  Shortly after our stir fry, the remaining buds dried up.  We tried to water them more which resulted in mold.  Ick.  We had to toss the batch and call it quits.

Now, Back to the Roots guarantees success.  We did get mushrooms, but not the amount we hoped and not as quickly as they said.   They have a customer service contact and will replace kits when mushrooms don’t grow…  but we did eventually get growth so I opted not to call.  My feeling is that we were doing something wrong.  Perhaps they were in a poor environment.  We grew them in our kitchen – an alternately hot and moist place.  Perhaps the heat of the stove and heaters over the winter dried them.  Perhaps moisture from the sink reached them, or steam from cooking, resulting in mold?  I don’t really know.  They spent some time in a northern-facing window – so perhaps that was too much sunlight for them?  They grew better when I moved them to the counter…

I’m definitely openminded to try again – with this kit or any other.  Even though our harvest was tiny, the mushrooms we were able to eat tasted amazing and the process was a lot of fun!  I’m sure kids would enjoy watching their box of coffee grounds transform into a makeshift mushroom log.  It’s definitely a satisfying activity for a gardener during the winter months.  Finally, the work Back to the Roots is doing to make this process sustainable is applaudable and worthy of support.

Kits can be ordered online from Back to the Roots (currently for $19.95 + shipping)  and at Earth Easy (currently $16.95 + shipping – yay sale!).

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