Keep Calm and Chew On

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violets

This week we had a meal largely based around wild asparagus and violets.

“If you’re really good, I’ll let you sprinkle violets on your asparagus,” I say to the girls, trying to bait them.

But Susanna doesn’t fall for it. “Um, can we have crackers instead?” she barters, because any boxed or packaged product is innately superior to something fresh mom might have picked just before dinner.

Belén doesn’t balk at the violets, and even comments on their sweet fragrance, but is starting to get sick of the asparagus that shows up daily. Staring bleakly at her plate of buttered spears she mutters, “Keep calm and chew on.”

Foraging may not be the way to my family’s heart, or very practical, but it does make me notice a lot more than I used to. Keeping an eye out for wild edibles is like writing; it helps me pay attention. I’ve always been interested in wild-crafting, even as a kid, but I’ve learned much more about the plants around me in the last several years. Who knew spruce had tips? I didn’t. And violets? I thought they were a pretty little flower with a nice name but I don’t think I’d ever seen one before. I mean, really seen one. Now it’s hard not to see them–on people’s yards, boulevards, school playgrounds, and parks—because they’re everywhere. Going for a walk along an over-grown ditch in summer can be as overstimulating as a shopping mall on a busy day. My eyes rove over the foliage looking for feathery fronds (indicating a meal of asparagus next spring), rose bushes, plantain, or any other species I’m looking for. Elderberry is currently at the top of my list.

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asparagus and apple blossom bouquet

Foraging is most exciting in spring though, when gardens are a muddy promise and the air is redolent with wild growth. When frothy green poplar leaves are still unfurling, it’s time to head out with a sharp knife. (I always feel less self-conscious on the return trip when I have something to explain the weapon in my hands.) Come July, beans, tomatoes and berries will outshine spruce tips and cattails, but for now that’s what’s on tap and after a long winter, I’m parched.

Speaking of gardens, mine is still not entirely planted. Fortunately, we’ve significantly decreased the amount of space I’ll seed next year by adding more perennial edibles (a hazelnut, grapes, saskatoons, and more raspberries and strawberries). We don’t have a huge garden to start with, but I’m alright giving up some of my vegetable space for fruit. At least I know I won’t be the only one eating the end result, pretending my hours of digging, seeding, planting, weeding, watering and picking are NO BIG DEAL while certain people choke their way through a harvest meal. But it’ll be a while before we can fill baskets with fruit from our yard. At this point we’re counting every single blossom on our plum and cherry trees. Last year our blueberries didn’t grow at all; in fact, I think they shrank. The season before we harvested two blueberries. Two. And split them in half so all four of us could have a nibble.

So for now, we’re mostly dependent on annual crops. Thank goodness for fall seeding and transplants or we wouldn’t have anything fresh at all. The flea beetles have devoured my spring-planted arugula and radishes and I’m beginning to see damage from cutworm and slugs. Everything I seeded in fall is soldering on ahead of the pests…

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The lettuce patches remind me of chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream, except in red and green.

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Chamomile is the feathery seedling on the lower left. Calendula is the long, oval-leafed one in the rest of the photo.

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garlic (with cilantro and chamomile that need to be thinned/weeded)

And lastly, something totally unrelated to the rest of this post: a picture for the those of you who asked. My apologies to those who didn’t.

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Not a very artistic photo but at least my shirt matches the mess on the cabinet. Seven weeks to go.

Have a beautiful weekend.

Tricia

Wild Berry Stories

Check back, in a few months, to see them made into syrup or tea.

Wild rose hips–the berriest photo I could find in my archives.

I was coming back from the train tracks, with some fresh-cut wild asparagus, when I caught up to a group of Filipino boys. They were walking the same direction I was and I recognized a couple of them from subbing in their classrooms.

“Hi, guys,” I greeted them, “Are you headed to the skate park?”

“No, we’re going to a friend’s,” one of them said while staring at the knife in my right hand. He raised his eyebrows and looked at me for an explanation.

“Oh,” I said quickly, “I was collecting some wild asparagus.” Then, holding out the stalk I’d been chewing on, I asked if he knew what it was.

He shook his head.

“Try some,” I offered.

He took the woody end of the spear I’d almost finished eating before I could give him a different one, and grinned while chewing it. “I like asparagus,” he said.

“If you think that’s good, try this,” I said, handing him a tender spear with the top still on, before we split ways.

I turned onto my street while he walked on, but I glanced back to see him shouting in Tagalog to the rest of the group. The older ones (in their teens) waited for him to catch up and then listened to him explain something I couldn’t understand. The next moment he carefully broke the asparagus spear into four pieces, divvying it between them.

When I arrived home I set a pot of water on the stove to boil, and told the girls I had a wild berry story for them. Then I recounted the above scenario.

What are wild berry stories? you ask.

Any kind of unexpected sweetness we find during our day. We call them wild berry stories because we know what it’s like to find a ripe saskatoon or miniature strawberry in the woods. They taste so good because they’re a free (no cash or maintenance required), and juicy, surprise  It’s the same with the stories. They’re different than a daily gratitude list because wild berry stories don’t happen everyday–just like real wild berries. Also, they’re more about replaying a conversation or capturing a moment than reciting a list of things to be thankful for. Every once in a while, around the table or tucked between covers, one of the girls will ask, “Anyone got a wild berry?” Sometimes, someone does. Then they’ll share it so the rest of us can taste it too.

***

…Since we’re sort of on the subject of asparagus, here are some recipe ideas. I’ve roasted, fried, steamed, and rolled it, but am still open to suggestions. Got any?

Classy as ever. Wieners and asparagus pair nicely with red wine.

Classy as ever: wieners and asparagus

A little practise run for someone's sixty-fifth: asparagus wrapped with gouda cheese and ham, all tied up with a chive and a violet blossom. Before dressing with chives and violets, broil asparagus until ham and cheese is golden.

A  practice run for someone’s sixty-fifth: asparagus wrapped with gouda cheese and ham, all tied up with a chive and violet blossom. Before dressing with chives and violets, broil asparagus until ham and cheese are nicely toasted, then let sit for a few minutes to cool.

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Spring rolls stuffed with green onions, rice noodles, and, you got--asparagus. These are yummy with a coconut peanut butter sauce that I like to drink as a full meal replacement.

Spring rolls stuffed with green onions, rice noodles, and, you got it–asparagus. These are yummy with a coconut-peanut butter sauce I like to guzzle as a full meal replacement.

Besides harvesting asparagus from a nearby ditch, I also have a patch I inherited four years ago when we moved to our current home. I know it’s a crop that takes years to establish, and I’m afraid I’d be the kind of person too impatient to plant my own if I didn’t already have it. I’m just that way. And that’s not really fair, is it? I wanted the house because of the laundry line; I didn’t even know these green harbingers of spring lived here too. (Incidentally, Stan tells me he would’ve installed a laundry line anywhere, but I’m still glad we’re here.)

***

I just finished reading this book (written by two pastors, but still worthwhile, even if you aren’t the church type) and loved this quote:

If you are like me, you already feel the expectations on parents are pretty lofty. Most of us start off with the bar extremely high. When our first child was born, Debbie and I decided we would never fight in front of our kids, never let them watch television, and never feed them fast food. That was before we realized that the only way we could find time to fight was when they were watching TV and that every McDonald’s commercial had subliminal messages that hypnotized our kids to beg for McNuggets…

I appreciated the author’s take on how easy it is to run out of capacity as a parent–even if you read thousands of books and attend seminars on the topic–and how widening your circle can help.

My children (and Stan and I) re-read this favourite a couple nights ago. It’s a graphic novel on the immigrant experience, illustrated by Australian artist, Shaun Tan. The drawings are exquisite and tell a story that usually makes me cry. It’s in our public library, so it might be in yours too…

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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Stan, commenting on the pictures, with the girls

Have a wonderful weekend. Maybe you’ll stumble on a patch of wild berry stories of your own!

And, I promise I won’t blog (much) again about asparagus,

Tricia