Learning to live off the land through growing, cultivating and foraging for food is a process that I’ve just recently really embarked on. The knowledge that I seek in this arena will bring about healthy, sustainable and truly organic food for myself and my family. It is through learning to do this that I will have fun while finding a sense of freedom from a food chain that produces unhealthy garbage. I’m looking to be mindfully inserting myself into the cycle of food that I choose to nurture my body and spirit.
Just recently, I set about on my first ever mushroom foraging trip. Some friends of ours have been picking mushrooms for years and so we trusted them and their local knowledge about these edibles. As we arrived to the super secret spot we parked along the road, grab our wicker baskets, strapped our young toddler children to our backs and then headed off into the woods. It took us novices a bit of time to develop our ‘eyes’ to hone in on the chanterelle species. Once we did though they were like golden neon signs glowing amongst of the woodland area. Surprisingly in the two hours that we gathered we ended up with just about 12oz of quality mushrooms.
The meal I prepared with our chanterellles is from author Hank Shaw (@Hank_Shaw or honest-food.net) and his tag line of “Sexiest Soup Ever” was just all that I needed to proceed with preparation. This was my very first time taking a stab at a Veloute and as it smelled fantastic, I think this is where I might have gone wrong. As I was so worried about over cooking and temps to high, I think I fell off at the other end of the spectrum with temps to low. The consistency of my soup was just way to thin than I expected this soup to be. The flavors were great, even though my soup was not thick enough. As a side note I had to substitute the brandy with Jack Daniel’s Honey whiskey (which was a gift and buried in my liquor cabinet.) Otherwise I followed Shaw’s recipe to a T and took my time, cherished a couple of Belgian Trippel’s from New Belgium Brewing and just enjoyed the preparation process of new ingredients and new cooking methodologies.
This excursion into the woods just further solidified my desire to find/grow my food. I do believe that the time I spend with my food the more I pay attention to how I will prepare the meal and through all that goodness I take pride in what I’ve accomplished. Staying close to my food’s roots, taking refuge in knowing where my ingredients come from.
About a month ago, I took my first foraged walk with the intentions of finding plant food in the wild. As I strolled quietly with my eyes alert in a large, heavily wooded city park I started noticing vast patches of stinging nettles, they had yet to go to flower. I donned my leather gloves, unfurled my paper bag, grab the shears out of my back pocket and went to work gathering the top 6-8″ of the plant.
As a child playing in the 5 acre woods that enveloped our A-frame home I had numerous run in’s with the common stinging nettle. Often times my exposed legs or arms would come under siege by the stinging hairs of this plant. The itching usually waned into some bumps and welts that eventually passed a few days later. The sting was really nothing more than an annoyance. I only mention this story as it is a reminder of why I’d chosen to eat them. One, I can easily 100%, without a doubt, identify these plants. There are no opportunities for me to miss identify them. Two, in some odd way I think of it as me overcoming their defense mechanism and ultimately winning a battle. Lastly, they are a true superfood loaded with vast nutrients that are good for our bodies and best of all they are free—both in cost and from pesticides.
According to Wikipedia, stinging nettles have a flavor similar to spinach and cucumber when cooked and are rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. In its peak season, stinging nettles contain up to 25% protein, dry weight, which is high for a leafy green vegetable. In a Livestrong article:
A 1-cup serving of blanched stinging nettles contains 37 calories and 0.1 g of fat. One cup contains 6.6 g of carbohydrates and 2.4 g of protein. Including stinging nettles in your diet gives you a huge boost in vitamin A. A 1-cup serving contains 1,790 IU of this vitamin, nearly three times the amount you need in a single day. Vitamin D works with calcium to strengthen your teeth and bones, although its main role in the body is to normalize the amount of calcium and phosphorus in your bloodstream. Your body is able to store extra vitamin A, so the additional vitamins you consume are not wasted. Stinging nettles also serve as an excellent source of vitamin K, a vitamin your body requires for blood clotting. Each 1-cup portion contains 369 to 493 percent of the daily recommended intake. Like vitamin D, your body can store vitamin K for later use.
Over this past weekend, I took Hank Shaw’s recipe from his book Hunt, Gather, Cook and his blog to morph into my own. I created the nettle dough, but since I lack a pasta machine, I hand rolled out sheets and then tried to evenly space apart ricotta and spicy Italian sausage filling for ravioli’s. I put the second sheet on top, pressed the edges together, and adhered the dough between the rows to create the pillows. Then utilizing one of my pizza cutters I cut along the edges and in-between the rows to form individual raviolis. I boiled them up and tossed in some of my homemade, backyard pesto from last season’s garden. All in all this meal’s ingredients were pretty damn local. The salt for the flour was seawater that last summer I had boiled down, the nettles I had foraged from Seattle only 25 miles away, the eggs came from a local farmer, so as for the pasta dough only the actual flour wasn’t sourced locally. I’m challenging myself to find it local though and I think I know of a place up north. The basil in the pesto was from my garden while the pine nuts and olive oil where not. Lastly the garnished tomatoes, we’re organic, but not local.
I’m very proud of this meal and am aware of every ingredient that I put into it and ultimately what I consumed for my body. This mindful meal was, albeit time consuming, was so richly rewarding.