Thursday, February 21, 2013

Living in a Wild Garden

I arrived early at the main branch library for a seminar last night, and with those spare minutes, made a beeline for the botany section and browsed the the titles on the shelf, head slightly tilted to the left, quickly scanning the book spines for something of interest. I found this delightful little gem and snatched it up.

Living in a Wild Garden was written by UK author Roger Banks and published in 1980.

Opening his story he writes, "This then is the ground I wish to cover in this book, the triangle between the obvious rural charm of wild flowers, ordered cultivation in the garden, and the kitchen. Usually it is a rubbish dump but I make no apology. In an over-tidy world it is on just these waste lots, often at the city centre, that one may find something of interest, useful or good to eat."

Later he recounts how Cousin Mary turned them on to nettles. "When she said, 'We must all eat stinging nettles; we did in the war. Find me an old glove', we did and thereby crossed unknowingly in another, older, more delightful world of people who are always on the look-out for something free to eat rather than being tied by the nose to the dreary compulsion of shopping."

Ok, clearly this is a man after my own heart!

He gives a Lebanese recipe for dandelions in oil called Hindbeh.
     Boil 2lbs of leaves until tender, strain and squeeze out excess moisture
     Mix with 1/2 cup of oil, 1 1/2 cups of chopped onions and salt to taste and fry, stirring occasionally
     Hindbeh should be served cold with lemon.

To make a tea from the lime or linden tree, "simply gather flowers dangling from low branches on their little 'aeroplane propellers' which later will whirl the seeds away on the wing...Dry them on a tray and store in a jar, using a good pinch at a time in boiling water like ordinary tea." 
I love his description of horseradish leaves: "...the leaves of the horseradish are some of the most beautiful I know; up to two feet long, each arches from the central growth almost describing a semi-circle like a palm frond.  It is V-shaped with a tooted fringe which grows so strongly from its central rib that it develops a rhythmic undulation, all dark green with well defined veins yet, because of this serpentine growth habit, the light can be seen alternately to shine through it and be reflected from it in the most subtle way."

Roger gives a fascinating account of Bishop's Weed, or Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria).  Often despised by gardeners for its aggressive spreading nature, he reminds us that this is an ancient food plant, having been discovered in the stomach of the Tollund Man, who lived in the 4th century BC.  I gather it every year, dry it and include it my herb salts.
He includes a number of medicinal plants and their uses in the book.

I love this drawing of chicory.  All of the artwork in the book is a joy to look at. The writing style is warm, inviting and humorous. I'm glad I stumbled upon the book and look forward to making my way through it in the next few weeks, while I dream about living in my own wild garden!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Island Hopping

A friend lent me his pair of snowshoes and I went for a lovely winter walk on the river early in the week. I crossed over to a couple of islands that I normally only see from my sit spot or have passed in my canoe.
It was neat to look back at my sit spot from the place I usually have my gaze fixed on.
You can just barely make out the depression in the snow from where I sat the day before.
This small island has a lot of cattails growing on it, a few small willows and I think those plants in the foreground are purple loosestrife.  See the line of trees in the background, just to the left of the tower, (the ones that are in my sit spot spot pics)?  That's another island.  I made my way there next.  
This island is mostly covered in ash trees, all of which show signs of succumbing to the emerald ash borer, which means the island will be quite bare of mature trees before too long.  :(
I was excited to see lots of evidence of what I'm almost certain are last year's fertile fronds of the ostrich fern, which means fiddleheads in the spring!

Winter is one of my favourite times to look for new foraging grounds, which might sound strange at first.  But as you can see, it's very easy to spot certain plants poking above the snow with no greenery obscuring the view.  If you know what your favourite wild edible and medicinal plants look like in their winter wear, it's a great way to spot them.
I will definitely return to this island by canoe in the spring and see if I am correct and if these are indeed ostrich ferns.  If the population can support it, I'll indulge in a small harvest and steam me up some yummy fiddleheads.

The sad thing is: if all the ashes die and no longer provide shade cover, the fiddleheads may lose their habitat and die off as well.  I'd like to keep an eye on this island over the next few years and see if there is anything I can do to help maintain a healthy balance.  Perhaps I will dig up and transplant some ferns into a new habitat that can support them.  Maybe I'll guerrilla plant some saplings on the island to try and increase biodiversity.  It might just be best to let nature take its course and observe succession over time.  Either way, I will visit again, by foot and boat!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Four Rooms in One

In the morning, this room is where I get my yoga on, complete with OMs, up and down dogs and skull shining breath.

But I am slowly transforming this space to also function as a home office.

It's best to get as many outputs as possible from any one element in a system.  In permculture we call this stacking functions.

The outputs of the 'spare room' include:
- place to do yoga
- home office
- herb drying/processing room
- closet for ADG's worldy possessions
- misc. storage area
- guest room

To keep the vibe serene and peaceful I'll need to make sure to reduce clutter as much as possible.  My plan is to organise the space so that everything has its place, is easily accessible and can just as easily be returned to where it belongs.

Last week I put the desk in front of the window overlooking the river and now I want to be working here all the time.

I'm signed up for this incredible course learning herbal first aid from one of my favourite herbalists 7Song

Add to that a cup of hot tea, a bit of candlelight and a river view and I am the happiest girl in the world!

Friday, February 8, 2013

This is Not a Recipe for the Best Spiced Pumpkin Chai Latte You'll Never Have

Some of my dietary restrictions include caffeine, sugar (including honey and maple syrup) and dairy.  All the good stuff!  What's the point of living right?  Well, though giving up coffee was tragic, I have survived and after a year and a half without it, I don't even miss it.  Very much.  I do however still really like rich, dark and creamy, full-bodied, bitter and sweet, hot drinks.  Root coffees are the perfect thing to fill the two shot Americano sized void in my soul.

All winter long I've been seeing various flavoured lattes in the coffee shops.  "Come in and warm up with a chai latte!"  "Winter special: pumpkin spiced latte."  "Cinnamon mocha."  I have to admit to coveting them just a little bit as I ordered my ginger mint tea.  Then the slow, no longer fuelled by caffeine light bulb went off and I was all like, "I'll make own damned latte thank you very much!"  And that's just what I did.

First I simmered some dandelion roots.                                                                                        
Then I took a couple of tablespoons of butternut squash that had been roasted the night before and added to that the water in which I had soaked a bunch of dates (the one sweetener that I seem to do ok with). Next I tossed in some chai spices. Ginger, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Into that I poured my homemade almond milk (store bought's no good because of all the extra ingredients and preservatives.) This mix got blended up with a hand blender and heated up in a pot with the brewed dandy coffee.  I poured myself a piping hot mug and sprinkled some more cinnamon on top. Et voilĂ ! My very own pumpkin spiced latte.  It was delicious.
Is it worth it?  All that work?  Some of you may be asking.  The short answer is: not at all.

To unpack that a bit; I don't see it as work.  I see it as escape from the cult of convenience and instant gratification.  I see it as the rhythmic unfolding of a life in tune with the seasons, that revolves around a stocked pantry, embraces slow food, makes do with what is at hand and honours the body by nourishing it with what it needs.

To try and write a recipe for this cup, that someone could follow step by step, would be ridiculous.  It would have had to have started a year or two ago, with the encouraging of dandelions to grow in the garden, and include the digging up, washing, drying and roasting of those roots in the fall.  There'd need to be instructions on gathering and storing winter squash before the snow flies and keeping a close eye on them over the passing months, making sure to cook up first those that start to develop soft spots.  Then there would be a whole other meal to discuss when the squash gets cooked up the night before for dinner, saving the leftovers, knowing they'll go into the cup the next day.  There needs to be acknowledgement of the knowing that this isn't an every day sort of thing, being content with that and choosing the day to craft this treat.  Like maybe your birthday.
There is the satisfaction and security of knowing that the only ingredients in the almond milk are almonds and filtered water.  There is the remembering of the farmer that grew the squash.

There can be no recipe, and no one will be able to make this cup.  And that's great!  It means that you can create something that is completely unique and reflects the rhythm of your own unfolding days.  Maybe dairy and sugar are your life's blood and you have a raw milk, cow share and gallon of maple syrup.  I think that would be amazing!

Maybe you roasted and pureed all your pumpkins months ago and you just need to   pull some out of the freezer to defrost.  Maybe you grew them in your own garden and your memories are of long days and the whine of cicadas.

Heck.  Maybe caffeine is the only thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and your cup will be full of the finest organic, shade grown, fair trade brew.  Go for it!

Where I recommend you do not falter, where the strength of this non-recipe lies, is in fostering a connection to the land, your bioregion and having a fairly in depth understanding of the source of all your ingredients and the impact of your choices.  Make sure you can pronounce those ingredients, and if some of them can directly call up images of an earlier season or put dirt under your fingernails, so much the better.  Try to have something at the end that you will compost. It's a lovely way to participate in the closing of the nutrient loop.

But most importantly, make sure to enjoy and savour every last drop in your cup.  Share it with a loved one, sip it slowly in a chair with a good book.  If your non-recipe includes a fireplace in a cabin in a snow-filled forest I am so jealous!

Whatever ends up in your cup, wherever you enjoy it, may it nourish you and bring you warmth.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Funny Looking but Functional

It's hard to believe that the ADG and I have been living in this apartment for nine months already! I love the space, the wood floors, the big windows, the river view. It's felt like home for quite some time now and I have my favourite places at certain times of the day.

 I start each day in the 'river room' while it is still dark outside, light a couple of candles and practice yoga until the sun comes up. The rest of the time the room functions as an office-y type workspace, but for those two hours in the morning it is a quiet, slow, meditative space.

Some Sunday mornings I like to lie in bed just a little bit longer, open the curtains and watch the trees and the sky.

The living room is the place to be on a sunny afternoon and from about 2-3pm in the winter there is one chair that I like to sit in and read when the light is buttery and mellow and dreamy.

I like the kitchen in the evening, listening to the CBC while I cook and wash dishes.

And one of my favourite places to be is on the pallet sofa.

When I left my old apartment, the loveseat I had in there for 6 years did not come with. It was handed down to me preloved by two owners before me.  It was small and low and saggy, so we parted ways and the search for a new sofa began. There was no way I was paying hundreds of dollars for a new sofa, probably cheaply made in a foreign country with toxic, off-gassing materials, so I went with a second hand option and found an absolutely gorgeous, extremely well made, antique sofa in pristine condition, that was ridiculously affordable. Unfortunately that sofa picked up some bed bugs while in the thrift store, and kindly passed them on to us. Two weeks, one chemical treatment and countless loads of laundry later, we were thankfully bed bug free but also sofa-less. This time, a second hand sofa was no longer an option, but I wasn't about to break down and buy something new either.

And that's how the pallet sofa came to be. I knew of pallet furniture already and did some searches online for pallet sofas to get an idea of design and materials. The ADG and I took some measurements of our space and started thinking about where to source materials. One day while I was leaving work I noticed a longer than average pallet leaning against the dumpster outside the building. It had a bit of dirt on it from being left out, but was otherwise in great shape. I gave the ADG a call, he met me by the dumpster and we carried it home. It sat outside for a while until the next sunny weekend day and we got to work cleaning it off and sanding it down.
A trip to the hardware store provided the legs (which ended up being the most expensive part of the whole thing.)
The spare parts department at Ikea yielded two not quite matching, but suitable sofa cushions for $5 each.
This thrifted table cloth (which was immediately washed and dried on high heat now that I am extremely bed bug phobic) fits nicely over the cushions and can be removed quickly for easy washing.
The back of the sofa is a crib mattress donated by some friends whose children are sleeping in big kid beds now.  A blanket covers the mattress and is held in place with loose stitches of nylon thread.

Pillows and cushions are added to both ends inviting all to rest their weary bones or lay down their tired heads. And there you have it! 

O.k. I know it's not some sleek, mid-century modern showpiece, or fancy European leather.  It doesn't have a built in recliner, or arm rests for that matter.  It's quite deep so even if you're a tall person, you're legs don't quite touch the floor when you sit all the way back. I admit, it's kinda funny looking, but I can change the design anytime I want; stain the wood, switch colours, swap cushions, add arms even.  And you know what?  It's comfortable.  Really comfortable.  It easily accommodates two snuggley bodies, watching a movie.  It's lovely for naps, reading, crafting and even getting work done.  It's one of my favourite places to be!