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

Calendula Rice, Fall Planting, and Indian Food Surprise

I’ve always prided myself on relishing food of any kind, and expected my daughters would pop out the same way. To my constant surprise, they hate almost everything I bring to our table. Now, I know I’m not the only one with picky children. Most kids who come over end up leaving half their food on their plate–which I cheerily scrape into our compost bucket while my own children look on in disbelief, wondering How did they get a way with that?

Once, a young girl refused everything I offered with a sweet “I’m not really fond of _______”, until I produced a piece of plain white bread. My girls, choking down their own food, stuttered in protest, “How?…Why?…” I smiled sympathetically before turning back to Momma Hyde. They knew by my countenance the game hadn’t changed for them, even though I broke the rules for our guest.

Everyone has their own ideas about food and family dining. Experts warn parents about turning the table into a battleground and I agree with this, in theory, but after I’ve chopped, sauteed, stirred, tested, tweaked, and presented the meal, therapists’ ideals are the last thing from my mind. Fond of it or not, they better stinkin’ eat it. And most nights they do, but not without a litany of complaints and interrogation. Did you put peppers in here? I taste onions! Can I pick out the sweet potatoes? Do I have to eat everything…even the cabbage?

Because I’ve gone through this routine, oh, 2500 times or so, I was the tiniest bit concerned about an upcoming dinner with friends. I knew our hosts, born and raised in Southern India, were excited to share their cuisine with us and I wondered how my girls would react. Before we arrived at their house we coached them about trying everything and being polite, but I wasn’t too hopeful. Even a sprinkle of pepper sends them into distress, never mind the heat of an authentic Indian curry.

After we admired the flowers, trinkets and lights decorating their living-room shrine for Navratri, we sat down to a table full of food. Our hostess ladled the rice, curries, and sauces and we began to eat, while the grandma hovered behind our chairs, anxious for our opinions. “How do you like it?” she questioned. “Which dish is your favourite? Can I serve you some more?”

I watched for my girls’ responses. Until now, both had been silent, and more amazing, both were eating. Everything.

A little later, Susanna’s cheeks began to flush brightly and the vigilant grandma noticed it.

“Is it too hot?” she asked about the curry, which was registering at my picante limit, and certainly, well above Susanna’s.

Susanna grinned weakly and shrugged her shoulders.

The grandma asked her again, and Susanna repeated the benign gesture. Before I had time to wonder if the spice had affected Susanna’s neuro-system and how I could replicate the same effect in my own home, the grandma scurried back to the kitchen to make some dosas* (the South Indian equivalent of white bread).

The rest of our evening was lovely, and both Stan and I commented that it was the best Indian food we’d ever eaten. It was also, by far, the best food-eating performance we’d ever seen of our girls. We praised them lavishly the whole way home and sank into our pillows dreaming of exotic adventures, all of us happily eating food from street vendors. Now, if we can just get through tonight’s supper…

***

Speaking of supper, here’s an idea for all those hardy Calendula blossoms that look as if they’re going to try and brave the winter.

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The pot marigold, or Calendula officinalis, is now the best looking plant in the garden, (competing only with parsnips, thyme, mint and asparagus). Even after some hard frost it’s still blooming!

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Calendula Rice Recipe

  • harvest fresh calendula (frisbee is optional)
  • pluck petals and add at least 1/2 cup petals  to 1 cup raw rice
  • cook calendula rice as normal, with salt and butter
  • fluff and serve with crushed coriander and pepper

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I used more than 3/4 cup petals to 1 cup rice

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Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. If you are a lazy gardener who likes cilantro (like me) you’ll have all the coriander you’ll ever need.

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Why, you might ask, would one want to eat flower petals with rice?

  • Calendula is rich in vitamins and minerals and is anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
  • It’s considered “poor-man’s saffron.”
  • It’s pretty–don’t underestimate appearance when it comes to your food!
  • Calendula pairs well with the citrusy taste of coriander.
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Calendula seed head. Appropriately described as gnarly.

This weekend I planted about a third of my garden (if you can call rubbing seed heads over a patch of dirt, planting). I’ve “put in” poppies, calendula, several different kinds of lettuce, cilantro, chamomile, and 120 garlic. Fall planting suits me better; there’s less pressure, expectations and hype. As far as I can tell, it’s like raising your fourth child compared to the first. You kind of let go, hope for the best, and then it all turns out just fine. (Right, Timmy?)

Happy planting and eating,

Tricia

*Dosa is a delicious crepe made from fermented rice and lentils. See upcoming post for recipes/reviews/adaptations.

Hope

I gathered more than enough parsnip seeds from my garden this year, so I liberally sprinkled them on the frozen ground.

Belén: I want to throw the seeds everywhere and have a really wild garden–flowers and peas and carrots and lettuce and parsnips all mixed up…
And she did just that.

Lettuce and parnsip tops gone to seed, stuffed in a pail, and stored for a day such as this one. (‘Not sure why the squash racquet came along for the ride.)

Garlic: the only thing I planted this fall that I had to muscle into our cement hard garden soil. The rest of the seeds are lying on top of the soil, waiting for it to heave with the freezing cold, and then soften with the snow melt and spring rains. At some point after this process I’m hoping they’ll find themselves in the right spot to germinate.

The snow falls down around us as we jam our our numb fingers into the seed packets.  After twenty minutes of scattering seeds we’ve planted a good chunk of our garden.  And our hands haven’t touched the soil.

Is this hope, or what?  Perhaps, it’s just laziness.  Maybe someone will leave a comment saying that fall planting is an effective gardening practice and that they’ve done it successfully for years.  I have read snippets on the internet about gardeners in our climactic zone who plant lettuce after the ground freezes so I decided to try our luck with a few more vegetables (snow peas, carrots, parsnips, echinacea, ground cherries).

We mostly planted seeds harvested from our own garden; ones we have plenty of, so I didn’t feel wasteful powdering the soil with them.

Check back after the spring thaw to see if it worked!

Update:

Veggies that worked perfectly–lettuce, garlic, parsnips, herbs

Veggies that kind of worked–carrots, snow peas

Veggies that got lost or didn’t germinate–ground cherries, echinacea