Tuesday, November 24, 2009
With Christmas Eve just a month away, I thought I'd share a holiday cocktail I put together, I like to call it the Mint Chocolate Snowflake.
Rim the glass with finely shredded, unsweetened coconut
*I got it to stick using agave syrup but honey would also work
2 ice cubes
1/2 shot Kahlua
1 shot Baileys Mint Chocolate Irish Cream
Top with more shredded coconut and shaved chocolate
Garnish with a candy cane
Minty, milky, chocolatey and comforting -- the coconut adds a great flavour and the candy cane is a garnish you can savour even after the drink is gone.
Best served in a stemmed glass to keep your hands warm on a cold night!
Monday, November 23, 2009
When my cousin Brian told me that he not only forages for wild edibles in his hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, but he has started to put on wild food dinners, I was intrigued. Thus, Part 2 of my earlier post:
After the Harvest (ATH): How did your wild food dinners come about and what takes place at a wild food dinner?
Brian Heagney (BH): We had our second wild food dinner recently. Basically, I just invite a number of my friends who are interested in healthy, local foods. A few of us gather a little earlier to start preparing the food. Then, when the time comes, and people have arrived, we eat.
I don’t know if anyone else has any goals they want to achieve by attending these, but I personally wanted to start organizing these so I’d be forced to do more research and learn more about wild foods than if it was just me. I also know that I have friends, and they have friends, who know about wild foods, and I’d like to learn from them. Recently a friend of mine brought burdock root, something I had never had and have failed to learn about. So when I found out she was familiar with it, I asked her to prepare it and bring it.
Longer term goals of mine include generating enough interest, or normalizing wild food to the point where we can get our city to stop spraying pesticides and other poisons throughout our park systems. Then, perhaps lifting bans on taking plants out of the parks so that we could legally and healthily forage for free food within our city’s parks.
ATH: So far what has been the tastiest recipe you've made using a wild edible?
BH: The best recipe for wild food so far has been Violet Saag, from Wildman Steve Brill’s The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook. It uses ingredients that are not wild, but a large portion is wild violet leaves.
But, my favorite wild food right from the ground is a four-way tie: Wood Sorrel and Sheep Sorrel (tiny bursts of sour) and Black Locust flowers and Kudzu flowers (sweet delicacies).
Black and Honey Locust Seeds
ATH: For some sceptics who might think, "Umm I really don't want to eat twigs and weeds..." what would you suggest to them as far as introducing certain foods into their meals to make it tastier?
BH: For any skeptics, and I am friends with many of them, instead of creating culinary treats utilizing a few random wild foods here and there, I'd think that the nutritional value, abundance, cost (free), and lack of agricultural work would be the best way to get people to go ahead and try it out. So rather than tempt them with taste, I would suggest trying wild foods while out in the wilderness. Even I have noticed that when I'm inside my kitchen, the thought of going outside to get some chickweed to munch on comes second to the loaf of bread on the counter. And I think we are in a sort of culturally brainwashed trance when it comes to food, so if you want to really taste and understand the energy that comes from wild food, I'd suggest just to go out for a walk in the woods first. Get out of the confines of the modern house and shake off those domesticated food cravings.
Once you're out in the woods, look for a clover patch, since everyone knows what a clover is. When you find one, reach down and pick just one clover leaf and chew on it for as long as you can. Don't think it's going to taste good or anything, just try to understand and feel the energy it is imparting to you. Eat it. And while you're continuing to walk, notice how long that taste-energy lingers with you.
Next look for a pine tree. You'll know the pine by it's needles. Pick a cluster, they come in clusters of 3 - 5 needles clustered together in a pinch close to the branch. Chew on just one of the needles (don't eat it); it should be somewhat sweet with a hint of that famous pine-ness. If you didn't get a sweet enough needle, move on the the next tree and try that. I've found that each pine tree has it's own taste, and sometimes there's a really sweet one. But that's not the point anyway. While you're chewing the needle, try to feel the vitamins you're ingesting. If you were a bit hungry, you'll find that your hunger diminishes and your energy will increase as you chew and absorb more.
I only offer that exercise because that's how I personally have come to understand food, especially wild food. Food is medicine and energy. And at the end of the day, what do you want to be medicating and energizing your body with? It's either shrink-wrapped processed-irradiated-domesticated-weak-inbred varieties, or the wild-abundant-unmediated-healthy-strong-robust wild foods. I mean, I honestly don't know how one can not decide to investigate wild foods.
Many thanks to Brian and his friends in Greensboro for providing a look inside their wild food dinners!
Friday, November 20, 2009
Using the little bit of chicken I had in the freezer, I got to work:
First, I rough chopped onions, carrots and celery and put them in a stock pot with a couple of bay leaves. I used half of the veggies and chopped them up to be added to the soup later on.
I added the garlic, and a few shallots as well. I love shallots! I then added the chicken, water, salt and pepper and some chicken stock. Since I was working with boneless, skinless thighs, I figured stock would add some extra flavour.
Once the chicken was cooked, I removed it from the pot and cut it up into bite-sized pieces. With the veggies, I got out my trusty blender and pulsed until they were mashed to perfection. (What a great way to disguise extra veggies in a soup if you're making it for kids!)I added everything back to the broth and added my own little touch of mushrooms and zucchini.
One cup of wild and brown rice later, and the soup was ready to simmer. An extra hit of salt and pepper and the lid went on, and I waited.
A few hours later and my soup was ready -- too bad it was bedtime! I skimmed the fat and put it in the fridge overnight, ready for the next day's lunch.
I don't know if it was the placebo effect, or the copious amounts of garlic, but the soup definitely made me feel better, and it was tasty too!
You can see the original recipe and a delightful cooking demo by my buddy Jackson from Superforest.
Special thanks to Jackson who made these photos possible with his generosity!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Brian, showing a young whippersnapper some wild foods
Since my post about Forbes Wild Foods, I have discovered that there are indeed other wild foodies out there, and one of them is within my own family! This summer I met my cousin, Brian Heagney, at a family reunion where many of us cousins were meeting for the first time. Since then we have kept in touch and I have discovered his many talents and interests, among them a passion and commitment to learning more about and promoting wild foods. Brian and I recently chatted about his wild adventures in Greensboro, North Carolina and the wild food dinners he and his friends have started sharing. Check out Part 2 of this post for an insider's look at a wild food dinner!
After the Harvest (ATH): What sparked your interest in wild foods?
Brian Heagney (BH): It really came from a desire I have always had to help solve world hunger and homelessness. Throughout high school and college I did things like volunteering at soup kitchens, tutoring homeless children, attending hunger and homelessness conferences, things like that. It wasn’t until I started reading the works of R. Buckminster Fuller that I decided that I really could help solve these large problems. Bucky was a futurist writer-engineer-architect-scientist-philosopher-artist-inventor and more. His main point was that technological advances would be utilized to help solve world problems.
Bucky, the man famous for the geodesic dome
Halfway through school I started reading more about anthropological studies of communities that existed before civilization, and how for many, every individual in their societies had the power to meet every one of their own desires on a daily basis. I started seeing that the problems that I wanted to eradicate were not something technology and civilization had to solve, but rather, I saw them as side-effects of technology and civilization.
I was also starting to try to figure out how to create a world where humanity never had to work again. I found myself working later hours and rarely had time to spend with my wife and friends, and felt this was not what being human is all about. I had studied anthropology in Undergraduate school and already knew that many gatherer-hunter societies spent an average of two hours a day “working” and so I started reading more about that to see if there were any answers to my search for how to never work again.
And it was about this same time that I started seeing guided wild edible tours through New York City parks, led by a man named Wildman Steve Brill. I went on one and was hooked. There was part of the solution to both problems. If you learned about wild food, you theoretically never had to go hungry, and there’s no work involved as there is in agricultural food production.
America's best-known forager
So my hypothesis was that wild food is abundant and ready for the taking, that we can subsist on wild food alone, and with ease, provided we make room for it in our own lives. And that’s where I am now. I’m not an expert by any means, but I am well on my way in my study of living off of wild foods.
ATH: Tell me about some of the wild foods you've been able to find in Greensboro.
BH: Well, let’s put it this way: I started to map the wild foods here in Greensboro using an online community-based mapping website. After researching, and walking, and examining the roads, parks and sidewalks, I realized the sheer impossibility of mapping all the wild foods because of their abundance and ubiquity. I don’t know the numbers, but there’s probably thousands of edible species anywhere in the world, including here in Greensboro, NC.
I can tell you the most commonly known and some of the first plants I’ve learned about. Common Plantain is one my favorite since it’s the cure for mosquito bites and poison ivy rashes. Wood Sorrel is another favorite since it’s easily identifiable, abundant, and has a great sour taste to it. Then there’s wild lettuce, mustards, clover, dandelion, chickweed, ground ivy, day lily, and milkweed.
And also in our neighbhorhood there’s lots of persimmon, acorns, and pecan trees, thistle, wild grapes, black locust and kudzu. It can go on and on, really.
L to R: persimmon, dandelion greens, violet leaves and puffball mushrooms
ATH: On your website, you talk about redefining "developed" land vs. "undeveloped" or "wild" land. In a society where material goods are valued so much and developing the land means building more and more houses and buildings, what do you think is necessary to create a shift in consciousness regarding what is valued as "developed" land?
BH: One day I was spending the evening at my friend’s cabin in the woods. I looked up into the tree tops and realized that the trees surrounding his house rose about three times as high as his roof. I started thinking of how Bucky Fuller once referred to trees as the perfect column, because a living tree utilized a natural form of hydraulics, which is how they can support their long heavy branches. So why do we cut down a perfect column to create smaller crappy columns and build our houses with those?
I figured that if we started with the tree as central column, we could build geodesic-houses within the matrix of the tree-column forests, utilizing all three dimensions, instead of plopping balloon-construction houses on a flat two-dimensional plane.
In the 3-D geodesic tree-house scenario, a lot that has just been cleared, or that has a store or 2D-plane based building on it, would be extremely undeveloped, since it takes nature years to create the perfect column called “tree”. Any lot or piece of land with many trees on it is already developed, with perfect columns.
Photo via haley morgan on Flickr
As I started learning more about wild foods, this concept continued. There’s a 6-acre lot in my neighborhood that many people claim is both “undeveloped” and “overgrown”. It’s 6 acres of wild grapes, black locust trees, kudzu, plantain, black berries, smilax, pokeweed, goldenrod, dock, and much more. It is extremely developed with food ready for the taking, and it is not “over-“ grown, but rather, “grown” quite nicely. In fact, once it is “developed” it will be completely devoid of all the food and resources that currently exist there.
So, I have a hard time with those words now, and it’s even more difficult since I work in the fields of Architecture and Planning, and we’re constantly discussing developments.
ATH: Do you have any tips for beginners going out to forage for wild foods for the first time?
BH: First step is to know never to eat anything unless you’re completely 100% sure of what it is. Then, get two or three guidebooks. Personally, I recommend the Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants for a very broad and extensive overview. But be warned that there are a few errors in it, never just accept any guide as error-proof. I would also highly recommend Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest. I would even say it’s essential reading. He writes beautifully, and in such detail that you almost feel like you’ve gone out foraging with him. He also includes wonderful color images that don’t appear in any other wild food book. I would then recommend Linda Runyon’s Essential Field Guide, since she presents the case for living in the Adirondack Mountains living completely off of wild foods. She discusses making flour from practically anything, and casually discusses how to live off of grass and sticks. I would then suggest getting any other color wild food guide.
With those books in hand, go out into your yard and examine one square foot. Count how many plants you find, and see if you can find them all in your guidebooks. Work up to studying your entire yard. Slowly introduce this backyard food into your diet. Most likely it will be dandelion greens and flowers, sorrel, mustards, small greens like that.
Once you become an expert of your own yard, take a walk through your neighborhood and see how much more there is in your wild food world. You’ll eventually come to the point where you can pick out your favorite wild foods from your car seat while driving through town. Eventually you’ll be able to spot wild edibles while speeding down the highway at 70 mph. Your brain will begin to amaze you with how well it will start helping you find this free food.
You never know who you're going to meet at a family reunion! Thanks to Brian for answering these questions and stay tuned for Part 2 of this feature: wild food dinners!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
This brought up a lively discussion of whether it's "flohn" or "flahn", and whether or not it was actually a flan, or a strawberry shortcake disguised as one. Needless to say, it was scrumptious. As for the chocolate cake, I didn't partake, but it was enjoyed by all and was decorated with cute little pink presents.
Finally, I enjoyed a chocolate mousse cake at a wedding that was equally as sweet. It was light and creamy, and decorated delightfully a propos of the occasion. Who doesn't love those little hearts?
So, it was a decadent weekend, and I'm cleansing with lots of fruit and water to make up for it, but who knows when the sweets will call my name next. If I've tempted your sweet tooth, go ahead and grab that Ben & Jerry's from the freezer, nobody's looking....
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Have you ever wanted to go where the wild men are? Well, you won't have to go far -- they are right here in Canada. When I say wild, I'm not talking about the guy your mother didn't want you to date in high school, or the outdoorsy poet who went to the woods to find himself. I'm referring to wild food.
It seems these days everyone (myself included) is talking about local food, food that is grown "in our own backyards", but really we don't need to stop there. Why not look further and explore wild food. According to Jonathan Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods, wild edibles are all around us, if we know where to look. Recently Jonathan took time out between foraging and cooking to answer 5 Questions:
After the Harvest (ATH): How did you get started foraging for wild edibles? What inspired you to make wild foods your career?
Jonathan Forbes (JF): I started as a child. Growing up Toronto, Mulmer and Nottawasaga, wild foods were always a part of my life. My Mom taught me how to make candy out of wild ginger, wine out of chokecherries and how to forage for wild mushrooms. About 12 years ago, after having shared my knowledge of wild food with various people, I realized my experiences were unique, so I decided to start the company.
The wildman himself, with mushrooms
ATH: What is your view on people getting out in their community and foraging themselves using guidebooks versus leaving it to those who know how to forage sustainably? Is it something that could become commonplace for people to be doing? Or is it best left to the experts?
JF: It is important for people to know the indigenous species in their area and they have an obligation to research the fragility of certain species. Get advice from those of us who have done it for a while. People shouldn't be afraid to get involved. I think it's wrong for people to lose touch with the natural environment. With respect to sustainable harvesting, people have to understand the vulnerability of certain plants, for example wild leeks and ginger are more rare than other wild foods and should be respected as such.
ATH: Have you ever done any wine and food pairings with the wild food products you create, or with meals made using these products? On a similar note, have you ever thought about making wines from some of the wild fruits?
JF: I am not interested in competing with the grape wine producers, they are doing a fine job creating some great wines. As far as other fruit wines, Rodriques Winery in Newfoundland makes a really great blueberry wine. It's fun to make wines at home but I don't intend on getting into making and selling my own.
Regarding pairings, I was at a food show and was matched with Inniskillin Winery who did some fantastic pairings. When pairing you have to consider not just foods but flavours. For example spruce tips. You can use this flavour with whitefish which adds a resiny taste, or I've also known someone to use spruce tips with cheesecake. With our birch syrup, you can flavour wild rice pudding, scallops, pork and roasted vegetables to name a few. Depending on how you use the flavour, you get a different effect each time, which would influence what is paired with the dish.
ATH: Do you care to share any favourite recipes that you have created using the wild food products?
JF: Last February I spent the whole month doing 2-3 recipes a day using wild mushrooms! For example, I made a seafood casserole with lobster mushrooms, but they can also be ground and used as a dry rub -- there are so many options. Have you ever heard of a book called Le Repertoire de la Cuisine? It's a book from France that shows you different ways to cook different ingredients. It's amazing, the possibilities, for example, using sole, they have over 300 recipes! Unfortunately we don't have a comparable index of recipes in Canada with foods such as pickerel or lake trout, but we should!
I don't really have a favourite recipe, but I do have some favourite ingredients. They are:
- birch syrup
- wild mushroom mix, which I use in risottos, soups and stews
- mushrooms in general, especially black trumpet, morels, fresh chanterelles, spruce boletus (same family as porcini) There are 40 types in Canada and they are really good in a stew
- lingonberries, which I use to make tarts
- wild plums
- dwarf raspberries
- wild strawberries
ATH: Have you ever thought of writing a wild foods cookbook?
JF: Yes, I am actually writing one now, but there are no plans for a specific release date, it will be ready when it's ready.
Jonathan and an amazingly huge Puffball Mushroom he found!
I was so fascinated by this subject matter I just couldn't restrict it to 5 questions, so our chat continued. This fall, Jonathan has been taking the North American chestnut to markets, and he recently took pawpaw to Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers' Market in Toronto, but nobody knew what it was, even though it grows all over Southern Ontario! This is a perfect example of how disconnected we really have become from our natural environment. I asked Jonathan if he's the only "wild man" in town, and he said that there are others, most notably his partner in Quebec, Gourmet Sauvage; the two companies have been working together for 12 years.
Right here in the Ottawa valley this fall we can find highbush cranberries, rosehips, barberry and juniper berries. I even located some highbush cranberries of my own in a nearby trail!
Highbush cranberries in the MacNamara Trail in Arnprior
Why should we care about wild foods? Is there a future for them with all this urban sprawl? According to Jonathan, for wild foods, the #1 issue is habitat. Southern Ontario is overpopulated and overdeveloped. Going back to the pawpaw example, this tropical fruit grows in Southern Ontario, but people don't know it because the area has become so developed.
Jonathan's main focus is on educating people so they value their connection to the land more. He has top chefs salivating over his products and the culinary opportunities they provide, but I get the sense that Jonathan is just as happy selling his wares to the home cook. With humility and a deep connection to Canada and what its land can provide, Jonathan will happily continue foraging and cooking for years to come. I, for one, would like to see wild foods experience the surge in mainstream popularity that local food is having, but I guess we have to win one battle at a time. Promoting and supporting local agriculture is one thing, but if we can truly harness all that our Canadian landscape can offer, then we are truly eating locally.
I am thankful that we have experts like Jonathan to guide us through sustainable foraging until we get a handle on how to do so responsibly. We need to support wild food so that it can expand. More dollars need to get behind this movement not only because it allows us to take advantage of our local bounty, but also because this industry supports entire communities of foragers, particularly in Northern Ontario and B.C.
Here in Ottawa we can find Forbes products at Canada in a Basket, which also sells other wild food products from around the country. Coming up in December you can catch Forbes Wild Foods at the One of a Kind Show and Sale in Toronto, where they'll be selling their amazing wild food products as well as some handy Christmas baskets you can purchase for the foodie in your family. The Christmas baskets can also be ordered online here.
Many thanks to Jonathan and Meaghan of Forbes Wild Foods for allowing me to discover more about wild edibles! Next up in my wild adventures I visit Greensboro, North Carolina where there seems to be a curious community of wild foodies springing up! Stay tuned...
*Photos of Jonathan courtesy of Forbes Wild Foods, title photo via Cherry Shit on Flickr
Monday, November 9, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Hey Everyone! Time is kinda tight these days since I'm officially putting down roots in my own place in Ottawa, but amid the boxes and packing tape I wanted to give you a brief report on the Savour Ottawa event I attended yesterday. It was a networking event, and I met a lot of interesting people: retailers, chefs, farmers, culinary students and writers, all interested in promoting, supporting and regulating local food! It was really inspiring to be involved with this event.
A few interesting points came up during the breakout discussions and I'd like to share one of them. One farmer commented that consumers need to be educated more when trying to identify which foods are local and seasonal at farmers' markets. I think he had a great point, as I am sure there are many of us who just read a sign that says "local food" and we say, "great" and pull our wallets out. We need to be aware and buy from the person who actually grew the food, talk to them and find out more information about where and how it is grown. Farmers are proud of their crops and I am sure they would love to share their story. This came up because some vendors have been known to buy from growers at a market and then resell it themselves at a higher price; also some vendors have purchased produce from out of country and tried to pass it off as "local". As consumers I think it's up to us to be more informed and vote properly with our dollars.
Also regarding education, how many of us really know which foods are in season during certain months? What about the younger generation -- do they know what foods are in season in a given month? It is scary to think that so many of us have become so disconnected to the land that provides us with food. I am also guilty of not knowing as much about this as I should, so I sourced out a great resource to start us all on the road to knowing more -- Foodland Ontario's "Availability Guide". If you're reading this and you don't live in Ontario, don't sweat it -- I am sure there is a comparable guide out there for your region. Let me know when you find it!
On another note, I was also pleasantly surprised to see so many female farmers and food producers! I don't know if this is specific to the Ottawa region, but it was great to see so many women involved. I would like to say hello to anyone who is reading this who I met at yesterday's event -- thanks for stopping by After the Harvest!
So, until the boxes are packed and unpacked, I bid you good eating, drinking and reading! I have some "wild" posts coming up...so stay tuned!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The same talented artist that did my custom image for After the Harvest has come out with a fantastic book - which happens to be all hand painted -- that teaches children the alphabet using food!
Yes, this artist is none other than my very own sister, Wendy Heagney-Bakewell of Tiny Brushstrokes, and however biased I may be, I think the idea of an alphabet book using food is genius! The fact that it is hand painted really sets it aside from other books, and it teaches children about real food! None of that K is for Kraft Dinner, or M is for McDonald's nonsense, this artist has a real connection to real food.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Wendy at the Hoopla show in Toronto where Canadian artisans sell items for parents and children, and she told me more about the book and about her own favourite foods!
After the Harvest (ATH): What inspired you to create A to Z Organically?
Tiny Brushstrokes (TB): I wanted to paint a picture book for kids and thought that an alphabet book would be a great theme for my entry into bookmaking. As I strive to make my art accessible, sharing my paintings through a painted alphabet made sense. I chose a foodie theme because I like to depict food through paint and I wanted to help introduce healthy foods to little ones while they learn the alphabet.
ATH: Did you discover any foods that you weren't aware of before the book?
TB: Yes, I discovered the fruit quince. I also discovered that there are a lot of foods that start with the letter p and not enough with the letter x!
ATH: What is unique to your book as opposed to other alphabet books?
TB: What's unique about A-Z Organically over other alphabet books is its promotion of healthy eating, also the fact that each page features original acrylic paintings. Lots of alphabet books have an animal theme shown through computer generated imagery. I remember books of my childhood with paintings and drawings and I want to bring back the painted image again for kids within today's world of computer generated imagery.
ATH: What's upcoming in the world of Tiny Brushstrokes?
TB: Recently I raised money for Unicef by selling my hand-painted Halloween bags. This winter, I will be returning to the One of a Kind Show and Sale in Toronto from December 1st to 6th. I am also planning a 2nd book for 2010!
ATH: What are some of your own favourites when it comes to food and drink?
TB: My favourites include: red wine and appetizers (especially my favourite recipe of goat cheese/mushroom/leek/pancetta tartlets); pastas and pizzas (favourite ingredients being mushrooms, roasted peppers and spinach); and a really good steak, (topped with mushrooms, of course); followed by coffee and chocolate!
A-Z Organically can be ordered online by emailing Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can pick one up at the One of a Kind Show if you're in Toronto! Very soon you will also be able to order the book through the new Tiny Brushstokes website, www.tinybrushstrokes.ca.
Like I said, I'm biased, but I also think a hand-painted book featuring real food is a win-win for parents and children alike!
Keep up with Wendy at her blog, Tiny Brushstrokes.