Happy Vernal Equinox! As soon as I see wild violets blooming in the forest, I know spring has arrived. These shy and sensual flowers have been praised since ancient times for their sweet smell, delicate flavor, and healing properties. I like them because they are the herald of the season, the gatekeepers of spring. And with spring comes a burst of energy: the beginning of the most fertile of seasons, when new life springs up everywhere. How magical this time must have been for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, hungry from living off of preserved foods and bark. Can you imagine the excitement of finding the first egg of spring, a rich source of food full of protein and vitamins? How sweet fresh eggs must have tasted after months of barely scraping by! How reassuring it must have been to see the wild violets in the woods and know that soon, very soon, the hunger would be gone and the bellies filled with nourishing delights.
This dish is a "dessert salad" which is my new favorite thing. Silky-smooth blueberry violet panna cotta is presented in a real sterilized eggshell, surrounded by sweet and crisp pea shoots, fresh violet flowers, and a sprinkling of crunchy violet sugar crystals.
Amongst The Lichen:
The robins in my childhood home's yard never ceased to astound me with the care with which they built their nests. They foraged all over the neighborhood to find the coziest linings possible: a bit of dog fur here, some hay twine there, some cattail fluff to finish it off. Here in Oregon, the home decorating trend is a little different: moss, lichen, and more of it! How cozy it must feel to be nestled into a bed of soft moss lovingly prepared by your parents. And how blessed I feel when I stumble upon one of these living sculptures, a carefully-crafted nest filled with delicate speckled eggs. Of course, I always keep my distance so as not to disturb the next generation of industrious nest-builders, but it's lovely to admire from afar.
This savory treat is a wildcrafted version of Chinese Tea Eggs, made with a medley of wild plants (nettles, fermented thimbleberry tea, wild mushrooms, juniper berries, and so on....), served in a nest of nettle crisps, deep-fried usnea lichen, and fresh spicy spring cress with stinging nettle salt to dip them in.
Spring brings so many beautiful scents to life: my neighborhood is full of sweet cherry blossoms perfuming my morning walks. When I venture into the forests, I am greeted by ethereal elderflowers. I love to dream of what these delicate blossoms will turn into: luscious sour cherries perfect for a juicy pie filling, glorious clusters of elderberries that will be powerful medicine come next winter, sweet plums dripping onto the sidewalk (a midnight snack for the raccoons.) Spring is potential. Blossoms are potential. Eggs are definitely potential. This time of year feels like a slow-motion explosion of life. Blink, and you will definitely miss something. Seeds burst through the soil and grow almost before my very eyes while overhead eggs crack and birds chirp and trees explode in blossoms like sweetly-scented popcorn. And even though I desperately wish I could pause it and just take a look around at all the miracles that surround me, the real magic is in standing out of Spring's way and watching it happen. And it happens FAST.
Elderberry, poppyseed, and sour cherry cake served with plum blossoms*, elderberries preserved in brandy and honey, and homemade amaretto cherries.
*a note on the edibility of plum blossoms: they contain a chemical that produces cyanide when it passes through your digestive tract. We can tolerate a little, but too much will make you ill. A few plum blossoms is fine. A salad of them is not such a great idea.