Thursday, December 31, 2015

My New Year's Resolution this year: To give back

As I get ready to begin another wonderful year of art and making, I'm reflecting on what is truly important to me: community and generous sharing. This has led me to make a big resolution: I want to give back to the world that supports me. For every event I do this year, I'm going to donate some of the proceeds to a charity I believe in. Every single one.

I was raised in a small town, and the old saying "it takes a village to raise a child" definitely applies to me. So many kind people have helped me in so many ways, from taking me on as an apprentice to learn a new art trade (Thank you Terry and Deb!) to supporting my fundraising campaigns so that I could compete in extracurricular programs, to buying my art and attending my events. I will always be grateful for everything my community has given me. And I am amazed at how, no matter where I go, I find a community to support me and help me flourish. It's so true that nothing great is ever accomplished alone, and I am full of gratitude for the many, many people who have helped me get to where I am today.

Which is why it's extremely important to me to give back. I want to be actively involved in making my world a better place to live in. I want to give to others what so many have given to me. I'm going to start by pledging to pair up with a charity for every event I do this year. I'm also going to continue my Minion Program to share my love of wild foods with others. I can't wait to see what this coming year brings and I want to thank you all for being part of the last one!

Black and White: Happy New Year to me!

"Not only darkness is known through light but that, conversely, light is known through darkness." -Carl Jung

This seems as good a time as any to talk about light and darkness, endings and beginnings.

For those of you that don't know, I have been having excruciating, debilitating, and occasionally life-threatening health issues ever since a severe neck injury as a teenager (8 years ago, to be precise. A third of my life so far.) Most of it has been a partially paralyzed digestive system, though I have had other issues as well. A couple of years ago, the complications from this almost killed me. I dropped 30 lbs. in a month and was on a liquid diet for 3 months. I was in constant excruciating pain. I felt hopeless and scared, on the brink of death. Many nights I hoped I would die- if only as an escape from pain. 

This was taken at the beginning of my recovery, when I was still very skinny, sick, and scared. I am holding a wishbone from the first white meat meal I was able to eat after several months. 

This experience has been very difficult for me. I've had PTSD flashbacks from those nights spend laying on my bathroom floor, convinced I was going to die. I've broken down to tears after the smell of the soap used in the hospital or the intro to a radio show I listened to when I was at my worst. 

As a way to cope with the pain of the past, I looked to my art practice. This summer I held an event called "Chiaroscuro," which is an Italian word used in describing paintings or photography that show a large contrast between light and dark. I knew that the only way I would make peace with my "dark" would be to see how it illuminates the light in my life, and I wanted to share that experience with others. This event was not just about the dualities of good/bad and light/dark but rather a CELEBRATION of the contrasts in our daily lives- without sour, would we notice sweet? Without rough, would we appreciate smooth? This event took the form of a cocktail party featuring a menu of contrasting all-white and all-black foods. Everything came in pairs, but the black version of each pair tasted drastically different from the white version (briny black caviar to sweet white elderflower cake and milk pearls, for example.) You can see more photos from this event on my website,

This event was very healing for me. I shared my experience with the guests that attended, and they shared their own battles with me. In the safe setting of a formal party, we collectively opened up to one-another and learned so much about moving forward. At least I did. 

But this was not the end for me. Though I've been much better this year than I was the year before, I have still been struggling a lot with my health. I spend days in bed every month, too sick to work. I get frustrated with my limitations. So, back to the drawing board: 

Over these last 8 years, I have seen many doctors, and some helped more than others. So many of my symptoms seemed unrelated and bizarre, making it difficult to pin down the real problem. Finally, I started putting together the pieces to form a guess of nerve damage, which would explain my weird variety of symptoms. I then went to an orthospinologist, which is a highly specified and accurate Chiropractic doctor that focuses on the uppermost vertebrae where the spinal cord comes out of the skull. Turns out, mine was all kinds of messed up: heavily skewed to the side and rotated, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the left hemisphere of my brain as well as putting pressure on some vital nerves, the vagus nerve included. A couple of days ago we went over test results and he did a small but very precise adjustment using specialized tools. 

He got very excited when we took the "after" x-rays (on the right side, above) and said that what we'd accomplished in one day is "nothing short of a g*ddamn miracle." Now I need to take it easy for a while and hope the adjustment sticks, it may take several tries. Then, time will tell what effect this will have on my body but I am feeling very hopeful. This is the first time since the injury that I have found a theory that can explain ALL of my symptoms, from the slowed digestive system to the muscle spasms in my abdomen to my hormonal imbalances (my body thinks it is going through menopause at 24) to a myriad of other things. My doctor thinks that these nerve issues are caused from compression rather than permanent damage. With time, I could have a hope of reversing a lot or even all of the problems. I could be free from the pain and suffering I have experienced the last 8 years. I could get my body back. 

I can't even begin to describe what an emotional whirlwind the last few days have been. I'm afraid of getting my hopes up- I had almost convinced myself that I'd have these issues forever and would just have to learn to cope with them. I am overwhelmed with the possibility of the freedom that only health can bring. I am scared of the recovery- because I know things will probably get worse before they get better. But most of all I am elated, ecstatic, overflowing with gratitude and the hope of new beginnings. What a perfect way to start the new year. 

A plate from the Chiaroscuro event, featuring a mantra that is particularly fitting right now. 
I'm hoping that when I reflect on 2016, I can look back on a year of health. I'm hoping that I can eventually be grateful for the injury that caused all of this pain, because it has shaped who I am. I would not be who or where I am today without this terrible tragedy. I'm hoping that in a year, I know what it feels like to be able to travel and plan and work like a normal healthy person. I've got a lot of hopes and expectations pinned on this next year. Time to let time unfold and bring some answers. Hello 2016. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Healing Mushroom Hot Cocoa (wild love)

Here's a great start to the new year: help your loved ones prevent cancer!

I've been learning a lot about the health benefits of various tree fungi, including reishi (typically known as Ganoderma lucidum, though the native species is Ganoderma oregonese), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus), and red-belted conk (Formitopsis pinicola). Reishi, for example, is held in very high esteem in many Eastern medicines as being a rather miraculous-sounding treatment for many ailments, including helping your immune system recognize and fight cancerous growths. Turkey tails have been approved by the FDA as a treatment for cancer, and the red-belted conk is used for a whole host of things.

It's all good stuff. These fungi are fairly prolific in the Pacific Northwest (especially red-belted conks!) and are growing on dead trees. Like apples, fungi are the fruiting bodies of the organism-the mycelium is found inside the host trees. These fungi are the mycelium's mode of reproduction; picking them does not harm the organism itself as long as you do it with caution. It's a good idea to wait until the varieties are mature so they have had a chance to spore, and always make sure you have a proper identification of each and are absolutely positive in your ID. If you'd like to purchase mushrooms instead, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source!

So how do you gain the benefits from these mushrooms? Several ways. There are different constituents that are extracted in different ways- some suggest that the best way to make medicine from these mushrooms is a dual-extract. In this method you make a concentrated mushroom tea with water and then tincture the rest of the mushroom in alcohol to extract the non-water-soluble stuff too. But either way, you have to process them somehow- the cell walls in these woody mushrooms are too tough to be broken down by our digestive system and have to be softened by cooking or tincturing. When making mushroom tea, simply add the pieces of fresh or dried fungi to a pot of simmering water and let barely simmer for at least 40 minutes, longer if possible. Then strain and enjoy! You may want to add some sweetener as these mushroom teas can be bitter. Some friends suggest putting the fungi and water in a crock pot on a low setting overnight for a strong brew in the morning.

Also worth noting: many medicinal mushroom products on the market today are made out of ground up tree fungi. This works for some of the more tender varieties such as lions mane, but your body has a hard time breaking down more woody varieties like reishi or red-belted polypore. Therefore these preparations are inefficient and don't give you all of the medicinal values of these fungi! If you want to extract more out of them, you'll have to make a tea.

But here's my issue: if it takes 40 minutes to prepare a cup of tea, am I really going to do it very frequently? Probably not. Am I going to get my family members to commit to doing that for themselves? Unlikely. So I wanted to figure out an "instant" preparation method for these medicinal mushrooms that would allow my family and I to gain the benefits within minutes.

Here's the solution: Rice. Many of the websites about medicinal mushrooms recommend using your mushroom tea as a base for a broth for soup or for the water to cook your rice in. Rice is a particularly good way to go, since it absorbs liquids well. Turns out, it can absorb them so well that you can then dry the tea cooked in mushroom rice and powder to it to make an effective preparation of mushroom medicine, according to Ja from Fungi For the People, a local Eugene company teaching people about medicinal mushrooms and how to grow them yourself. I couldn't find any more resources on the internet describing this technique, but it makes sense to me.

So here's what I did: I sliced up my reishi and red-belted conks that I had harvested myself, and placed them in a pot of water. I let it simmer on low for hours (maybe 6 or 7?) until the liquid levels had reduced to a cup and a half or so. I strained it, reserving the fungi chunks. Then I measured out 1 c. rice per 1.5 cups of the concentrated mushroom tea and cooked a pot of rice according to the directions on the package. I then spread the tea-infused rice out in my dehydrator overnight. I then repeated the process, using the reserved pieces of fungi and the now-dehydrated rice. I figured I might as well do a double-strength preparation. When the rice was dry the second time, I ground it finely in my herb grinder, then sifted it well.

Then I added another medicinal mushroom, Goats' Beard (which is in the hericium family, as is Lion's Mane.) This mushroom is not as woody or tough as some of the other medicinal mushrooms, so it shouldn't have to steep as long. I just ground it up into a powder and added it to my mix.

Then I mixed my cocoa mix: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup cocoa, a pinch salt, 1/3 c. mushroom rice powder, and about 2 Tbs. powdered hericium. 

To use, take 2-3 Tbs. cocoa mix per cup of hot water or milk, and mix well. This mix is on the less-sweet side, so if you have a big sweet tooth you may want to add additional sweetener. I like my cocoa more bitter, so I like this blend. The rice leaves some thick gruel in the bottom of your cup, like traditional Mexican hot chocolates made with the addition of corn flour. I like it and find it hearty and filling. It's a great warm up after a winter ski!

The family members I gave it to liked it as well, noting that you can taste the mushrooms but only subtley. They liked that it wasn't too sweet and that it was thicker as well. It's all about preference- if your main reason to drink cocoa is for the sugar blast, you may want to adjust the mixture to your liking. On that note, feel free to use other sweeteners such as maple sugar or coconut sugar if you're avoiding sugarcane. Just make sure it is finely ground so it dissolves well. If you don't like the earthy mushroom flavor you can disguise it a little more with the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, hot pepper, or other spices. I packaged my mix up in little glass jars and gave them as Christmas presents:

And there you have it: medicinal mushroom cocoa. Hope you enjoy!

Worth noting: it's difficult to find the good, reputable sources about medicinal mushrooms among the marketing and wishful thinking, but at least I found some starting points. This is a great run-down of many of the medicinal mushroom varieties. As always, make sure you are positive of your identification before using wild mushrooms (or any wild food) in your own kitchen. Do your own research and decide if this treat is for you! :)

This article from discusses some of the health benefits of reishi. Check it out for yourself, but here's an excerpt:

"Scientific research indicates that the major actions of medicinal mushrooms are stimulating the immune system and protecting against cardiovascular disease, free radicals, mutagens, and toxins. Most medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules) called beta-glucans that increase RNA and DNA in the bone marrow where immune cells, like lymphocytes, are made. The combination of compounds in mushrooms is believed to target the immune system and aid in neuron transmission, metabolism, and the transport of nutrients and oxygen. Three mushroom varieties -- reishi, shiitake, and maitake -- have been studied intensively and have proven to possess strong medicinal properties. All mushrooms must be cooked to get the nutritional value. The cell walls cannot be digested unless they are tenderized by heat.
Prescription For Dietary Wellness by Phyllis A Balch, page 167"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Foraged Fruitcake (Operation Elf)

**Please note: this post is not totally finished yet. I'll be posting decoration ideas closer to Christmas. I just wanted to post the recipe now since it has to age and I thought you might want to follow along with me. :)

Ahh...fruitcake. You love it or you hate it. Me? Oh I LOVE it, if it's done right! I guess I'm more of a traditionalist. And let me tell you, fruit cake is an old tradition. "Culinary lore claims that ancient Egyptians placed an early version of the fruitcake on the tombs of loved ones, perhaps as food for the afterlife. But fruitcakes were not common until Roman times, when pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and barley mash were mixed together to form a ring-shaped dessert."
This trend carried into the Medieval times, when fruit cake was used for celebration. Imagine that processed sugar was rare and expensive, and spices were traded from far away lands for high prices. How luxurious a sweet cake laden with rich fruits and nuts and spiced with exotic flavors must have tasted! No wonder they were a special celebratory treat. And speaking of celebratory, you know the modern tradition of saving the top of your wedding cake in the freezer and eating it together on your first anniversary? Well that tradition actually carries back centuries as well but the cake in question wasn't our modern sugary and buttery (and quickly-staled) wedding cakes. It was rich, booze-soaked fruitcake. 

Considering the rich history of this misunderstood cake, I think it is absolutely applicable for a winter celebration. But you have to start early- fruit cake should age for at least a month and possibly much longer before it is said to properly "cure." I'm a little late-just less than a month till Christmas. But I'm making extras to store until next spring and test out then. 

And, because it's me, I want to make a fruitcake that tastes of the area I grew up in and love: the Northwest. I've got lots of foraged goodies in my pantry to play with: pine-nut whiskey, elderflower vodka, acorn flour, shelled pine nuts. I want my cake to be floral and nutty and rich. I also want it to be vegan and gluten free, because I have many friends with dietary restrictions and I know how great it feels to receive a food gift that I can actually eat during the holidays. (I'm horribly intolerant of dairy.) Well, this time, fruitcake for everyone!

The fruit:

Here's my logic on fruit: I'm not a fan of the plastic-looking waxy fruit commonly found in fruitcakes. Traditional fruitcakes used real dried fruit, and I like that much better so that's what I'm going to use. You can add citron if you'd like, but I know that some of the recipients of this cake would be put-off by its slightly bitter flavor. I do think that homemade candied citrus peels (perhaps infused with pine or spruce needles?) would be divine. Keeping it in mind for next year!

Fruit should be soaked in some kind of combination of booze and juice for at least 24 hours (and up to several weeks, depending on how boozy your mix is) before baking it into a cake, which allows it to soften and plumpen and take on lovely flavors. Roughly chop 6 cups of dried fruit, any combination you'd like. I kept my apricots and dates separated because they're more delicately flavored. Then cover your fruit with some combo of juice and/or alcohol. I put my darkly-colored fruits (cherries, cranberries, blueberries, and a raisin mixture) in with a good slosh of homemade elderflower vodka (about a cup?), some honey, and a bottle of orange juice- just enough to cover them. I wanted to really amp-up the elderflower flavor in the apricots and dates, so I added some elderflower vodka to them, plus a juice box of "elderflower  drink" from a recent trip to Ikea. (It's damn tasty, by the way.) Then I let them sit in the fridge at least overnight.

Okay, Okay, The Recipe! (makes 12 small loaf pans, and is easily halved)

Oven 325F

In a medium bowl, mix:
6 cups of pre-soaked fruit (see above; strain before adding and save the juice for later!)
3 cups mixed nuts, coarsely chopped (I used pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and cashews)
1 cup gluten-free flour*
Mix well to coat the fruit.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix:
3 cups gluten-free flour*
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/2 cups acorn flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Then, in another very large bowl, beat 1 3/4 c. shortening until it is fluffy. Add in:
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
Add in one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Make sure the batter is fluffy! Then beat in 2 tsp each of vanilla, almond extract, and apple cider vinegar. Then add 2 cups applesauce and beat well.

Mix the flour mixture into the applesauce-shortening mixture slowly in 3 batches, alternating with one cup of almond milk. When it's all combined, stir in the fruit/nut mixture and pour into pans.

Bake at 325F for about one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, then poke some holes on the top of each cake and sprinkle some pine nut-infused whiskey over the top (about 1 Tbs. per loaf cake.) Store wrapped in plastic in the fridge for at least 4 weeks, adding another 1 Tbs. whiskey every week. Eat as-is, or top with a thin powdered-sugar icing and candied fruits. (I'm going to make my icing by mixing powdered sugar with equal parts whiskey and almond milk until it reaches the right consistency.)

*My recipe for gluten free flour is equal parts rice flour and tapioca starch. 1/4 tsp. xantham gum powder for every cup should be thoroughly mixed in!

The Result?

Holy crap this stuff is good, if I do say so myself. I was worried that all the substitutions might make the cake's texture weird, but it worked out wonderfully! Moist, dense (without being a brick) with lovely nutty and floral flavors of acorn and elderflower. The pine nut whiskey was a great touch to round it out. I can't wait to test these in a few weeks!

** Remember, this post is not totally finished yet! I'll be posting decoration ideas closer to Christmas. :)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Porcini Salad (wild love)

Just a quick one here, but this recipe is too good not to share! (Plus I want to be able to remember it and come back to it because it was seriously THAT GOOD.)

My friend and I went out mushrooming last weekend. We were looking for lobsters but it was pretty late in the season to find any so we weren't sure we'd have any luck. We did find a few- enough to play with a little. But we also found *porcini.*

Clearly I was pretty excited about this find. ;) I've seen many boletes but have never found a King Bolete in real life before. It was exciting- like a grown-up treasure hunt.

I took my bounty home and after much debating decided to make a savory salad out of it, loosely based on a cookbook my cousin gave me for Christmas, "Shroom." It's a pretty good cookbook, though I find that most of the recipes are a little too involved for me. I figure that if you're going to go to the work of finding your own wild mushrooms, why cover up the unique flavors with too many spices and too much cooking? (Though you should always cook your mushrooms! Never eat ANY mushrooms raw!) But in this instance, it was bang-on. I kind of made up my own recipe for my salad very loosely based on one in this book. Here's what I did:

I sliced up my porcini into thin slices and tossed with some olive oil. I then roasted it for about 20 minutes at 400F, flipping halfway through. I wanted it to get soft and shed most of its liquid. Meanwhile, I sliced up some avocado and plated it. Then I sprinkled on thinly-sliced celery and fresh parsley leaves. I whipped up a dressing of lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil. I tossed some pine nuts in with the mushrooms for the last 5 minutes of roasting, then piled the mushrooms and nuts on top of my green salad. Topped with the dressing and some shavings of parmesan cheese and it was all done! Very easy and VERY GOOD. Seriously. This was the best thing I have eaten in a while. Creamy avocado, nutty mushrooms (they tasted like butter!), crunchy celery, and zesty lemon. Mmm. I'll definitely be trying this one again!

Acorn Processing (wild love)

What does a mountain girl do when she's stuck in the city? Get creative about foraging, of course!
A while ago I stayed with my boyfriend and his family in the 'burbs and I had some time to kill. Luckily, he lives on the perfect road:

I prefer foraging in the woods but there was something really methodic and relaxing about picking up piles of acorns from under the trees in the neighborhood. I probably got some funny looks from the neighbors but I didn't really notice if I did.

Acorns have been used for thousands of years as a food source and have gone from prized food to "poor man's bread" in that time. This is a great post about the history of acorn use, plus a recipe for acorn cake. The Native Americans in this country used acorns for flat cakes and breads and as a thickener for stews, among other uses. Today, the culture that seems to use the most acorn products is actually Korea. It makes sense, since oak trees can grow all over the world. 

Another interesting thing about oak trees is that they don't have the same yields every year. They actually go through cycles every few years, so it's good to know where a few trees are to check each fall. Some of the trees I came across were pretty bare while others (like the branch pictured above) were practically dripping with acorns.

I harvested a bunch of acorns in Idaho but when I moved to Eugene, Oregon I decided I wanted more. Luckily there are plenty to go around in this town too! 

But wait, you can eat acorns? 

Yes, yes you can. But it takes some work. A LOT of work. Though it varies immensely depending on species, most acorns contain a fair amount of tannins. These aren't anything to be particularly afraid of- they're what give many wines some flavor, for example. But in large doses they aren't great for you and can cause some serious stomach upset. I think it'd be hard to eat that many, though, as tannins are bitter and astringent and make your mouth feel like cotton. Not the most appetizing. Acorns have to be leached in order to remove the tannins to make them both safe and palatable. See below. 

Harvesting acorns: 

I learned a lot of what I know about processing and harvesting acorns from this post. Don't pick acorns directly from the tree. Instead, pick up the ones on the ground below that have fallen off. Check them for holes and scratches and discard any that the squirrels or bugs have already gotten to. It's okay to harvest slightly-green acorns, as long as they separate easily from their caps. Once you've gathered as much as you want to, lay them out somewhere safe and sunny to dry for a few more days. The green acorns should ripen in this time. Beware of bugs, though, sometimes acorns are a home to insects that can emerge and get into your home. Many acorns contain small grubs. I'm not particularly concerned about this- I just figure it's extra protein. But if you are, you can fill a bowl of water and put your acorns in it. The ones that float are likely to have grubs in them, munching away at the nutmeats. The ones that sink should be more intact. You'll have to dry the acorns out again after using this method of testing, if you do. 

As an extra precaution, I roasted my acorns at the lowest possible setting in my oven for a couple of hours, just to make sure they were totally dried out and wouldn't mold while I stored them for a few weeks. The smell they emitted while cooking in the oven was intoxicating- malty and roasty and delicious. 

Once they were roasted and had cooled enough to handle, it was time to process. This is laborious and time-consuming, so it's best to have some friends over and drink some wine and make it into a party! I made my minions help with the tedious parts. We started by shelling the acorns. You can use pliers or nutcrackers to break them open, but we found that gently hitting them with a hammer and then doing the rest by hand was pretty easy. The shells aren't super thick. 

As you shell the acorns, place the nutmeats into cool water. They oxidize quickly and will turn a darker brown if exposed to air for too long. It doesn't harm the acorns, but it makes them less pretty. (Think of browning apples, for example.) 

Cold Method: 

The next step is to leach the tannins out. Since I'll be using this batch of acorns to make flour for baking with, I decided to use the cold-water leaching process because it leaves more of the starches intact and also supposedly preserves the flavor better. The downside is that it takes a LOT longer than the hot water method (see below.) I used a meat grinder to grind my acorns into fine chunks, then placed them into glass containers and topped with water. Then I stuck those in the fridge and let the tannins leach into the water overnight. I kept them in my fridge and changed out the water a couple of times a day (I just carefully poured it off the top and re-filled, then stirred.) After a week the nuts were much more palatable, though still noticeably bitter. It ended up taking about two and a half weeks before they were bland enough that I was satisfied. Whew! It was a LOT of work changing out that much water a couple times a day for weeks. The only way to know they are done is to sample them. Just chew a little piece and if it tastes bitter and astringent, you should keep going. Don't just let them sit in water in your fridge, though- it is important to change the water out often or else they will start fermenting or molding! 

Once they are properly leached, I placed the soggy meal into a fabric bag to strain, and then dehydrated it overnight at a low heat to dry it out. Then we used my coffee/herb grinder to grind the meal into flour and sifted it to be sure we had a consistent flour. 

Hot Method: 

Since I had a lot of leftover acorns I decided to have another minion night to try the hot-leaching method which is a lot faster. It takes a little more of the flavor out and removes the starches that make acorns good to bake with, so it's more appropriate for uses that keep the nuts more-or-less whole, like making these delicious-looking pickled acorns. To do the hot-leach method, place your acorns into a pot and cover with a few inches of fresh water. Bring to a boil and boil for 5-10 minutes, then strain the water out. Repeat the process until the acorns are no longer bitter. It took me about 30 changes of water to leach the tannins out of this batch (I saved the water from the first few strains to use as a fabric mordant, see below.) *Note: I have read on other instructions that the acorns should not be temperature-shocked because it makes the tannins permanently bind with the proteins. They say you should have two pots of water going at once and switch the acorns back and forth between them. While they are boiling in one pot, bring another pot up to a boil and then transfer them. Then dump the water out of the first pot and add new water and bring to a boil and transfer them into it. And so on... I tried both the "hot to hot" method and the first one mentioned above and couldn't tell much of a difference, but it is worth mentioning. 


So what did I do with my acorn bounty? Well I tried that recipe for spiced pickled acorns above, and they tasted amazing! I was really happy with the flavors- you could still taste the flavor of the acorns through the tasty spices. 

Then I did a quick test-run of the flour by making myself some pancakes. I didn't have super high hopes because the flour no longer smelled warm and maple-ey, but oh my goodness those pancakes were good! I just substituted half of the flour in my normal recipe for acorn flour. They were nutty and rich and a lovely brown color. They tasted amazing with some maple syrup. 

I have some more recipes I want to try with this interesting ingredient. I wanted to make acorn flour profiteroles with maple cream filling (flavored with pine-nut infused whiskey) but alas, I had a terrible recipe for the cream puffs and they kept failing. I have since found a good recipe and plan to complete my testing as soon as I can.  I was inspired by this recipe for boozy acorn macarons. Something about acorns, cream, and booze sounded so comforting that I had to try it out! Even though my cream puffs didn't turn out, I still made the whipped cream and the minions informed me that it was divine. I can't wait to put the pieces together finally. ;) 

I also intend to make some adorable little acorn meringue cookies. I saw this adorable post from Sprinklebakes for acorn-shaped meringue treats and I thought "how cool would that be made with real acorns?" Her recipe is here, and I'm definitely going to return to it. 

Want more? Here's a delicious-looking recipe for acorn gnocchi from one of my favorite bloggers. And here is a round-up of many acorn recipes, from sweet to savory and everything in-between. If you make something with acorns, I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to share in the comments below!

Other uses: Acorns make a fabulous fabric mordant to prepare fabric for dyeing, because they contain both tannins and proteins. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of this too much right now, but if you like dyeing fabrics then by all means save the water your acorns were leached in! You can also make a mordant by boiling the leftover shells and then letting them sit in the water overnight before straining and using as a mordant. When combined with iron, tannin mordants can produce very dark colors. 


I'm going to be honest with you guys, processing acorns is A LOT OF WORK. Especially if you stubbornly choose acorns that are very high in tannins, which I did. I suppose if you found a nice white oak with low tannin acorns it would be totally worth it. But I had a hard time with this experiment because processing the acorns used a lot of my time and a lot of resources. So many pots of water to boil! So much good stuff down the sink! The acorns are delicious and I love using the flour, but honestly I don't think I will do this again unless I find acorns that are much lower in tannins naturally. If you still want to try some of the recipes, you can often find acorn flour at Asian markets. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Luxurious Bath Tea (wild love)

Word of the day: shinrin-yoku which means "forest bathing trip" and is a Japanese phrase to mean "taking in the atmosphere" as therapy for health and spirit.

How beautiful is that? I know that feeling well- how a day in the woods recharges me and cleans out the "gunk" of everyday life! Foraging is a way for me to get into that soothing element of the woods but still feel like I am accomplishing something important (besides a much-needed relaxation and recharging, of course.) How the woods nourish me- mind, body, and soul. I was thinking about that as I developed another wild-crafted product line in time for the Holiday season: bath teas. I took the concept of "forest bathing trip" a little more literally to craft natural tea bags made with the plants of the forest that I harvested myself, sustainably and respectfully. (You can buy them here, by the way.)

I have really grown to love the therapeutic benefits of taking long baths in the last few years. When I got very sick a couple of years ago I was amazed at how soaking in an epsom-salt bath could diminish my intense pain and calm my spasming muscles so well. Into the water I dissolved and for moments I was in pain-free bliss-a welcome escape from nearly constant pain and suffering. Since that time in my past I have made it a priority to take a long, relaxing bath at least once a week. This is a restorative time for me and is an important part of my own personal self-care and self-love.

The combination of herbs, salts, and water is a magical thing. One of the blogs I follow has a particularly poetic post on the subject. Here's an excerpt:

"Water is in us and water is outside of us. Water that seeps through our skin and water that we drink to quench thirst. Water, life provider, water as the primordial ooze that we emerged from billions of years ago. Water as our great ancestral mother and water as the soothing coolness that fills our bodies from the inside. Water heals. Water is sacred. Water is one primitive drive that we all have both towards and away from, in longing and in fear. Water is gentle, water can kill in no time at all, and water can heal. From the salt that dissolves in it to the blood in our veins, to the healing springs that bubble forth from deep below the earths crust, to a handful of herbs sprinkled over a hot pot and left to infuse as the water ekes out the goodness, and then there it is, the beauty of the elements: they are as powerful as the hand that wields them."

I swear I get goosebumps every time I read those words. It's important to remember, too, that our skin is our biggest organ. Everything our skin comes in contact with is absorbed into our bloodstream. Therefore it's important to make sure it is absorbing the good stuff! 

And what is the good stuff, anyways?

This photo is a picture of the "piles" of ingredients in each blend I made. I made each one with a different theme and a different intention- Mountain Mist is for aching muscles after a long day hiking, Meadow Milk is for soothing and nourishing skin, and Moor Moon is for relaxing before bedtime and encouraging wild dreams. Each are made with a combination of wild-foraged herbs, various salts (sea salt, Dead Sea salt, epsom salt, baking soda), essential oils (some handmade!), and other ingredients like powdered milk. Nothing is a "filler" in these tea bags; it's all good. I was happy to share my process with my minions so they could learn to make their own as well. In return, they helped me package this lovely product. :)

It's a really good feeling to be making products that I have worked hard on and am proud of. I am so pleased with these and am excited to offer them to the public in time for the cold days of winter, when warm baths sound even better than usual.

You can even buy a set of all three to sample the differences in each.

Here's an overview of each kind: 

Mountain Mist


Cedar leaves*, fir needles*, rosemary, wild mint*, epsom salts, baking soda, sea salt, Dead Sea salt, juniper berry essential oil, fir needle essential oil, birch essential oil 

*Wildcrafted with love and respect by me

Good For: 

This blend is particularly good for relaxing sore muscles after exercise. After a long hike, settle into this relaxing bath to recover amidst the smells of the woods after a rain.

Meadow Milk 


Elderflowers*, rose petals*, rose hips*, calendula*, honeysuckle*, baking soda, almond flour, Dead Sea salt, powdered milk, almond essential oil 

*Wildcrafted with love and respect by me 

Good For: 

This blend is particularly good for nourishing skin. Let the Vitamin C in the rose hips soak into your cells as the milk and calendula soften your skin. Delicate scents of rose and almond soothe and relax.

Moor Moonlight


Mugwort*, sagebrush*, yarrow*, heather flowers, powdered milk, baking soda, epsom salt, sea salt, sagebrush essential oil*, vanilla

*Wildcrafted with love and respect by me 

Good For: 

This blend is particularly good for calming the brain before bedtime and encouraging vivid dreams. Mugwort is known to aid in lucid dreaming and sagebrush soothes and calms.


Place bath tea bag under the faucet as you are filling up your bath to release the salts and plant essences. Relax and soak for at least 20 minutes to feel the full benefits. If you’d like a stronger bath, you can steep the bag in boiling water for 10 minutes before adding the water to your bath. 

Beets and Juniper two ways (wild love)

Sometimes it's fun to experiment with an ingredient in a variety of applications: sweet, savory, salty, sour. And sometimes you find a pair of things that have such an intriguing flavor profile together that you start thinking of them as one item. I have recently been exploring the combination of beets and juniper. To me, this is a match made in heaven. The pungent spiciness of the juniper berries is mellowed by the beet's earthy sweetness. I tried a couple of variations on the theme.

I was inspired by this beautiful display at the local Farmers market and bought more beets than I knew what to do with! I dried many of them and pickled the rest.

I always think peeled beets are so beautiful. Like a basket of garnets!

Anyways, I first pickled a batch of beets. I've always loved pickled beets (probably my Polish ancestry) but wanted to make them taste a little more "northwest." I used my normal brine (see here for the recipe) but tossed a bunch of juniper berries into the jars, along with a bit of dill.

Then I canned them in a hot water bath for 12 minutes to seal. I let them age a few weeks before eating any.

Meanwhile, I made some chocolate truffles. I have always LOVED this tutorial, and followed the recipe more-or-less exactly.

Here's what I did:
I put 1 tbs. butter and 1/4 cup cream in a small saucepan, along with a handful of juniper berries. I heated it up to just below simmering, then turned off the heat and let it sit for an hour or so. Meanwhile I chopped 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate and put it in a heat-proof bowl. After an hour, I re-heated the cream mixture and poured it over the chopped chocolate and through a strainer to catch the juniper berries. I let that mixture sit (without stirring!) for 5 minutes, then stirred it well. I had it sitting on the kitchen counter and just gave it a stir every 5-10 minutes as I did the dishes until the ganache started to get stiff. Then I rolled it into balls, let them chill in the fridge, and dipped them in melted chocolate (that I had let chill to room temperature.) I rolled them in powdered beets. I made that by just grinding up my dehydrated beets in a coffee grinder. You could sift the resulting powder to get a more silky, fine consistency. I might do that next time.

And ta-da! Juniper and Beets 2 Ways:

Chocolate-juniper truffles with silky beet powder
Juniper-pickled beets with goat cheese on rye crackers

They were both said to be pretty tasty, though I don't know that the juniper flavor came through quite strong enough for my taste. As you'll remember from my juniper post, the variety of berries I am using are not as pungent as the kind you buy in the grocery store. Next time I will use more of them!

Both of these recipes would be lovely treats to give as gifts or bring to a holiday party. The festive red color of beets is certainly suited to this time of year! Enjoy. :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bitters (wild love)

I'm excited to announce that I've got something new in the shop: bitters. They are just in time for the Holiday season and I imagine a bottle or two would make a great stocking stuffer or hostess gift. I also have sampler sets of all 5 flavors available too, which would make a lovely present! I am pre-selling them in my online store, and will have them available in various retail locations by Thanksgiving. I decided to make these after re-reading a post by one of my favorite bloggers about bitters and it inspired me to make some of my own. Rebecca goes into great detail about the function of bitterness in our life, on a physical and energetic level. She says it better than I can so I'll just include an excerpt from her here (though I recommend reading her whole post in detail!): 

"...As an instant gratification society, somewhere along the way we started rejecting the bitter, and everything that comes along with it, and picking out the sweet. Sweet is light, it’s fresh, it makes us feel good. When we eat sweet our eyes get wide and we smile and say ‘more please’ and people indulge us... 

And if sweet is nourishment, what then is bitter? Bitter stimulates digestive juices and enzymes. If sweet builds up, then bitter breaks down— it helps with the process of breaking down foods into their molecular pieces so that they can be more easily absorbed over the gut barrier. Without bitter, digestion slows, as food takes longer to break down. With slowed digestion, you have more old crap (literally) sitting in your body fermenting, creating gas, getting hard. Maybe if you want a sweet life you should avoid being constipated because few things make people as miserable; if someone walks around looking uptight and bitter one might say ‘he looks constipated’ might one not?"

As with everything in life, sweetness is a balance. Bitters allow us to process sweet foods better and absorb the nutrients from them more efficiently. And bitter is a flavor that I think we actually crave- otherwise, why would bitter foods like hoppy beers, very dark chocolate, and strong coffee be so popular? 

The more I researched bitters, the more I decided that I needed more of them in my own life. I have digestive issues and I think these could be one way to improve my quality of life doing something simple and honest. But I didn't want any old bitters- I wanted ones that tasted of the places I loved, that held onto the Terroir of the Northwest. And since I was going to go to the work of harvesting a whole bunch of wild plants in my area, I figured I might as well make a bigger batch of each and share my bounty with all of you. 

Some of the ingredients used to make my Northwest Terroir bitters: crabapples, rose petals, sagebrush (flowerheads and leaves), sweet cicily root, chokecherry bark, ponderosa bark, wormwood, pine nuts, green black walnuts, hawthorne berries, mugwort, yarrow (flowers and leaves), wild ginger leaves and root, juniper, willow bark, dried blackberries, fermented raspberry leaf tea, usnea lichen, cedar, oregon grape root, and probably a few I am forgetting as I type this. 

They are quite labor-intensive to make, which is why I'm not very worried about sharing my process and ingredients with you: if anyone is willing to go hunt down all of the exact same wild plants and make their own bitters then more power to you! If, however, you want to try the ones I made without the digging and climbing and picking and washing and sorting and scraping and peeling and slicing, you can buy them HERE

To make them, I carefully measured out the "right amount" of each ingredient, using my sense of smell to mix ingredients in a way that was pleasing to my palate. I didn't just dump things willy-nilly into a jar; I made sure that my concoctions had some balance. I added some other spices to bring out the flavors of Idaho but kept the amounts very low so the foraged ingredients could shine. 

I designed five flavors of bitters, dividing up all of my foraged goodies into the appropriate jars. Then I covered the plant material with high-grade (100 proof) alcohol. The higher the proof, the more flavors you can capture. And since these bitters aren't intended for drinking and you'll only use a few drops to flavor waters and cocktails I'm not too concerned about the high alcohol content since it will be very minimal. 
I'm quite excited to add these into my daily self-care routine, but also to play with them creatively in the kitchen:

I made 5 flavors, shown here with a variety of drinks you can make with any of them. Scroll down for recipes!
One of this year's foodie trends is the use of bitters in cocktails. I wasn't too sure of the importance of bitters in my mixed drinks when I was first introduced to the idea, but then I tasted an Old Fashioned made with bitters next to one without. The one sans-bitters was almost undrinkable for me: cloyingly sweet and overpowering. But the one next to it was balanced and delicious and convinced me that  bitters are something I should experiment with! If you want to try this at home, scroll down for recipes using bitters as well as detailed descriptions of each flavor of bitter to try. 

Meadow Bitters:

An infusion of: mugwort leaves*, sagebrush flowers*, yarrow flowers*, wormwood*, cardamom pods, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me.

If you're looking for BITTER bitters, this is your brew. These bitters are strong and really pack a punch. They taste like a sagebrush meadow after a rainstorm, with a pot of cowboy coffee on the fire. They are woodsy and sagey with a pleasant spicy-floral overtone that you can't *quite* put your finger on. (Probably the slight hint of cardamom.) They will make their presence known in any cocktail in a delicious, savory way. If you are looking for crazy dreams try some of these bitters in soda water or hot tea before bedtime. Mugwort and wormwood are known to promote intense, sometimes lucid dreams. I can't guarantee anything, but I can attest to these powers personally! 

Recipe: Bittered Soda Water
Fill a tall glass with ice and top with club soda. Add 3 dashes bitters, or to taste. Garnish with fresh herbs or a lemon slice. Sip after a heavy meal to aid in digestion or to help with a hangover. 

Forest Bitters:

An infusion of: Sweet cicily root*, yarrow leaves*, juniper leaves* and berries*, cedar leaves*, usnea lichen*, anise shelf mushroom*, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

I designed these bitters to taste like a dark, moist forest. They are super earthy and complex with base tones of chewy licorice and notes of conifer spiciness. They'll remind of you days spent mushroom hunting in old growth forests dripping with lichen and rain. The usnea lichen in their composition lends a crispness to these bitters that I find very refreshing. It's also used to help the immune system fend off colds and flus, so these bitters are wonderful added to hot water with lemon at the onset of a cold. 

Recipe: Whisky Ginger
Combine 1.5 oz whiskey (I use Canadian blended so as not to overpower the taste of the bitters) with 4 oz. ginger beer and 2 dashes bitters. Pour over ice and garnish with a lime wedge. 

Woods Bitters

An infusion of: ponderosa bark*, chokecherry bark*, oregon grape root*, pine nuts, sarsparilla root, vanilla, maple syrup, food grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

Have you ever hugged a big stately Ponderosa and inhaled the smell between the cracks in the bark? It smells like warm, earthy vanilla and is one of the most comforting scents I've ever smelled. These bitters were designed to evoke that peaceful warm nuttiness of sunshine on tree bark. These are sweeter, with hints of maple and cherry on a toasty "dry" base. Try them in soda water for a low-sugar faux root beer, or add them to any rum or whiskey cocktail for a woodsy flavor. 

Recipe: Old Fashioned
This is *the* classic recipe to showcase good bitters. In a rocks glass, soak a sugar cube in 3 dashes of bitters. Crush cube with a muddler and add ice. Pour in 2 oz. whiskey (bourbon is nice) and top with soda water. Garnish with an orange peel and cocktail cherries. 

Marsh Bitters:

An infusion of: horehound leaves*, fermented raspberry leaf tea (dried)*, wild ginger root*, blackberries*, wild rose petals*, cloves, golden syrup, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

If you dipped fragrant rose petals in spiced caramel sauce, that would be halfway to describing what these bitters taste like. You first encounter the floral scent of fresh rose, then taste a pleasant tea-like bitterness with a hint of rich caramel. A lingering aftertaste of subtle spices finishes the experience. Green, grassy notes are also present in the flavor of this bitter. Imagine a warm cup of spiced tea on an early morning hike through dew-covered rose bushes and soggy grass underfoot. The fermented thimbleberry-leaf tea in this blend is especially helpful for womens' pains. You know when everything is swollen and painful and your stomach is a little upset and you just want to relax and feel better? Try adding some of this to your tea to soothe your stomach and relax your muscles. 

Recipe: Negroni

Combine 1 oz. dry gin, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1 oz. campari in a mixing glass with 3 dashes bitters. Add ice and stir gently for about 10 seconds. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon slice or orange peel. I added some lavender to mine to hint at the spicy floral tones in this bitter's blend. 

Orchard Bitters

An infusion of: hawthorne berries*, crabapples*, green black walnuts*, organic orange peel, candied ginger, unsulfured molasses, food-grade alcohol. *Foraged with love and respect by me. 

These bitters bring to mind heavily-laden trees, dripping with fruit. They smell like apples and gingerbread and make me think of fall days spent climbing trees and baking pie. The complexity of the spice flavors in this blend is magnificent- you'll be convinced that I put in far more flavors of spices than I actually did. ;) The green black walnuts give a spicy "green-ness" while the molasses in the formula gives a chewy sweetness with notes of licorice. This blend is particularly good to warm up on a cold day as it helps with circulation and blood flow. Hawthorne is known to help blood-related ailments while ginger is warming and invigorating. The molasses in this blend also has the added benefit of being very high in iron; I've actually taken molasses as medicine during periods of anemia in my life when I was too sick to stomach iron supplement pills. Try some in a hot toddy or tea after a day in the snow or rain! 

Recipe: Long Faced Dove

Combine the following in a mixing glass: 1 1/2 oz. silver tequila, 1/2 oz. campari, 1 oz. grapefruit juice, 1/2 oz. lime juice, 2 Tbs.  simple syrup, and 2 dashes bitters. Add ice and stir, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lemon or lime wheel. (I used a pink lemon slice because I wanted to try it!)