Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Edible Fuchsias

Just in case you didn't know, they are ALL edible! Some taste better than others though. For more, visit The Front Yard Forager.

I do hope you're all having a terrific summer so far! Mine is currently full up with book related events and food preservation. I plan to get caught up with blogging this winter. Until then...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Honey Candles

I haven't written here in such a long while. It's because I've been busy with 'the book' but, even now that it's finished and I have time, I tell myself to wait for a day when I feel inspired to write something that is actually good.

Today is not that day. But this morning I took some photos of my sweet husband's self-styled candle making project and I want to post them before they become lost in the files and files of photos I keep on my computer.

I woke this morning to this arrangement of Dixie cups on the kitchen counter. I was groggy enough that it took a moment before I figured out what Carlos was up to. We lost a honeybee hive last year and he'd harvested some honeycomb. A lot of honeycomb. Over the past 9 months he's been gestating a couple jars of what I'll call 'wax wads.' After chewing a mouthful of comb for dessert, he'd place his wad of wax in a Mason jar.

Last night marked the end of the honeycomb supply, thus today began his beeswax candle project. Turns out that engineers make pretty good candle makers.

The suspicious Dixie cups I awoke to.

Bees wax (and Carlos spittle) melting in a double boiler.

Wicks are made from kitchen string soaked in beeswax.

Pealing off the unsightly Dixie cup to reveal a glossy beeswax candle.

Quite by coincidence, candles fit perfectly in votive holders.

Finished candle.
The burning candles smell like warm honey on toast.

By the way, my book, The Front Yard Forager, is available for pre-order at Mountaineers Books, Barnes and Noble, Powell's Books and Amazon. The release is scheduled for August 3.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


At two days, already striking an adult pose.
I guess I need to explain why I've been absent for so long. I've signed with a publisher to write my urban foraging book. I can't tell you how excited I am about getting this book out! My first deliverable is due in May, so I've been doing a lot of writing, just not here in my blog pages.

Also, Spring and all its activities are full upon us right now. All 3 of our goats were bred in the fall, so we just had 7 (adorable!!!) kids added to our back yard in the last couple weeks.

Little Donatello (names are all courtesy of Noah.)
Our silver lace wyandotte chicks are almost to pullet size, so we'll be introducing them to our partridge rock and auracana hens soon.



Emma's three (Gene Simmons, Patch and Groucho)

Long Day!!

I am teaching my urban foraging classes through Seattle Tilth now and have been busy teaching classes on the side as well.

So, please forgive my absence here. I will probably not be back, at least not entirely, until August (at which time I hope to complete the first draft of the book.) But please do stay tuned. There's so much more I'd like to share with you about this unusual, delightful lifestyle we've somehow gradually adopted!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


This entry does not have a whole lot to do with food until we get to the link at the end of the article. But I have to write about it because it's a subject that never ceases to take me off guard and pleasantly surprise me.

After cleaning up the morning dishes, I jumped into our old pickup truck with the intention of mapping edible weeds for my book photographer. I stopped off at the library to drop off some books. Ordinarily, I would just leave the truck running, but for some reason I turned it off today.

I took a couple notes on edible plants growing right there at the library, then tried to start the truck up. "Bzzzz-z-z-z." No luck! I called Carlos who told me I had a set of jumper cables buried in the back somewhere. I found said jumpers just as the fellow parked next to me was walking to his truck. He saw them and immediately offered to help.

In the time we were attempting to charge my truck's battery, I learned he'd served two terms in Iraq and had been on the mission to remove Aristide from power in Haiti. It's not often I have an opportunity to ask a soldier about their mission, so in that vein, the dead battery did me some good.

After a pleasant 15 minutes of conversation, I once again tried to get the truck to turn over. "Bzzzz-z-z-z." Nope. I asked him for a ride to my house, about 10 blocks or so, explaining that my back and hip give me trouble when I walk. His response, "Oh, more than happy to help."

For this reason, I actually like getting stuck in a jam now and then - just to be reminded of how kind people can be. As a matter of fact, I don't ever recall being let down in such a situation.

A few years ago, Carlos and I had a flat tire while driving 100 miles down a dirt road through the mountains in Dominican Republic. The farm workers witnessing our trouble dropped everything at once and bent over backwards to help us.

Another time in Mexico, I had Carlos' kids on a very secluded beach south of Puerto Vallarta. On seeing us, a local farmer walked a good half mile to warn us of the rogue waves that had swept several people away from the beach in the past.

I learned about kind strangers when I was about 10 years old. The story on which I learned it was related to food and featured in Sun Magazine some years back. It can be read here ~ Mercy.

If you're reading this, thank you kind stranger!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Feral plums
My mother, bless her heart, was and still is a big fan of the color red. Like most teenagers, I really just wanted to blend in, be part of the background. But this was next to impossible when Mom was in tow, which was most of the time ~ she watched over me like a hawk.

She didn't just wear a red blouse or red shoes or a red hat. Oh no. The whole outfit had to be red. And I'm not talking maroon, brick red or rose. No, it was bright cherry red, right down to the accessories. A red choker, red plastic flowers in her hair, red high heels, red jewelry, a red purse, bright red lipstick, red fingernails and red dress-up gloves.

The season's last tomato, 1/1/2012
Needless to say, I developed a bit of an aversion to red. Vowing to never turn into my mother, I decided blue would be my stated favorite color. When asked, I would cast around for a bit thinking to myself, "What is my favorite color?" And then, "Oh right, it's blue." I just got into the habit of throwing out "blue" as a matter of ease.

I still don't have a favorite color. Aren't they all pretty amazing? But I have made peace with the color red. Not through clothing, mind you, but through food! And so it is that Valentine's Day will be celebrated in red today.

And now that we've established a color for today's entry, let's chat about the origins of our holiday-in-red.

Nothing beats cooked, fresh garden beets.

Most Catholics will tell you it's the anniversary of Saint Valentine's death. This might be true, but I also find very believable the claim that the Christian church scheduled St. Valentine's Day to coincide with the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.

Depending on what source you read, Lupercalia was celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, as a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

Festival rites were intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, an earlier spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.

The story goes that the priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would then cut the goat's hide into strips, dip the strips into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide.

It's said that Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. According to legend, all the young women in the city would then place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman, a match that often ended in marriage.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa.

Lupercalia was outlawed by the church at the end of the 5th century and Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Valentine’s Day, but the day’s connection to romantic love never completely disappeared.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400.

By the 1800's it was common for friends and lovers to exchange tokens of affection and handwritten notes. By 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters as printing technology improved. Also, ready-made cards were a more comfortable way for people to express their feelings in a time when direct expression was discouraged.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass produced valentines in America. howland, known as the "mother of the Valentine," made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures.

Now, in the year 2012, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. I was very surprised to learn that, of those, approximately 85% are purchased by women!

I've known many a male who lives in dire fear of this holiday. If they don't get it just right, they worry, they'll catch holy hell from their loved one. I really have no idea how that notion got started ...

Anyway, we will not be celebrating by dancing around with strips of blood-drenched goat hide, nor will we celebrate with gifts, cards, roses or chocolates. Instead, we will celebrate with an afternoon together at a Korean bath spa, we might eat something red, and we might send up a thank you to the god of agriculture, Faunus, for giving us a garden that is still producing an abundance of red foods, including Swiss chard and beets.

May your Valentine's Day be filled with love and shared with those close to your heart.


Next time you're about to hop into your car to pick up salad greens, just take a moment to consider this ~

Energy/Resources to Eat Store Bought  Lettuce
Energy/Resources to Pick Dandelions

Fossil fuel and labor to manufacture and operate the tractor, pave the road for transport, manufacture tractor and car, and all other infrastructure needs.
Step out the front door to pick some dandelion & other greens from your front yard.
Labor to plant the lettuce.

Chemical fertilizer/pesticide application.

Irrigate what was recently desert.

Labor to harvest.

Packing house / warehouse labor.

Energy for refrigeration.

Fossil fuel to transport lettuce to stores.

Grocery store energy and labor: Refrigeration, handling, misting, trimming.

Fossil fuel for your drive to the store.

Your time to drive to the store & shop.

All the energy you used to get to your job so that you could make money to buy the car, your gasoline and the lettuce.

Energy to refrigerate lettuce at home.

Labor to wash, prep and serve.
Energy to wash, prep and serve.

The lettuce lost much of its nutritional value and flavor
through hybridization and extended storage.

The just-picked, non-manipulated, vitamin-packed
yard dandelions retained their superior nutritional value and flavor. 

Now take a look at this! This will definitely serve to motivate me to get out and pick weeds!

% Daily Recommendation
Vit. A
Vit. C
Vit. K

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Well, Lily is completely back to her old self again, which means she's bossing everyone around and hogging the "goat's share" of the food. Atta girl Lily!

We are feeling extremely fortunate to know Rebecca Hazard, Z-Bar Farrier Works. She charged us next to nothing, spent at least an hour with her, and came out on a Sunday afternoon! Farriers don't get much more responsive than that!!

I just hopped over to her web page (link above) and what to my wondering eyes! There's a photo of Rebecca holding Lily when she was just a wee kid! (You will recall we purchased Lily and Emma from Rebecca and Lori about 3 years ago.) As we were working with her the other day, Rebecca told me that Lily had been one of her favorites. Lily is indeed one smart girl and has managed to train all of us to attend to her every need.

Anyway, for excellent farrier services and more photos of Lily as a baby, check Z-Bar's web page.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I never made it past Brownies, the pre-cursor to Girl Scouts. When we moved to a more rural area, Girl Scouts was more or less replaced by Future Homemakers of America, Future Farmers of America and 4-H. However, I have fond memories of my short stint as a Brownie.

In the summer of second grade, I was signed up for my area Brownies' two-week daycamp. I was just getting over a bout with pneumonia, but my mother had already paid the fee, had other plans for her days, and wasn't going to let me miss out because of a little peumonia. No matter that it was raining cats and dogs the entire two weeks.

There were a couple days I was too ill to participate, so I sat with the lunch ladies near the river rock fireplace in the cafeteria lodge, watching them chain smoke the day away.

During those two weeks, there was however one very memorable day. It continued to rain, but we were somehow able to get our own campfires started. We had the option of building one of three types of fires by arranging the tinder and kindling as a 1) teepee, 2) log house, or 3) lean to. We then wrapped potatoes, corn and carrots in tin foil and baked our lunches in the coals.

We were required to bring our army knives that day. Mine was about quadruple the size of anyone else's. It was my father's and had a full-sized, fold-out spoon on one side and fork on the other. When folded up, it was so large I could barely get my hand around the thing. I was the envy of all the other Brownies as I ate my fire-cooked lunch with my massive army knife.  That afternoon, we walked down to a stream that fed Deep Lake. The stream bed was lined with tight, grey clay. We used sticks to dig some up, then placed it all in large coffee cans for transport back to camp. 

As it continued to drizzle, we gathered up the clay by the handfuls and rubbed it across a screen to filter out any sticks or rocks. We were left with several coffee cans full of soft, squishy clay. Actually, in hindsight, it probably wasn't clay, but a very fine silt. At any rate, now we had a medium for an art project.

We each made, what else, an ashtray (all kids in my day made ashtrays), then placed them in the coals to fire. My parents didn't smoke cigarettes, but I figured I could always give mine to the cafeteria ladies who had now become my friends.

I don't remember what the finished works of art looked like, but I suppose I can imagine them well enough - lopsided, rimmed plates covered in delicate little fingerprints, three finger-sized (cigarette-sized) indentations equidistant around the rim.

I wasn't all that thrilled with the quality of my finished ashtray. However, I was completely blown away to learn I could make utilitarian items from materials straight out of nature! (Later in my 40's, I would repeat this same rustic pottery exercise on a backpacking trip my husband and I did when we were dating. I am pretty sure this is the exact moment when he fell hopelessly in love with me.)

Anyway, flash forward 40 years. I am almost 50 and, a few weeks ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of being visited by a troop of high school Girlscouts. They had read about our family in the newspaper and wanted to learn more about sustainable food systems.
They got the complete tour:  food preservation and fermentation methods, raising snails and mealworms for protein, a chance to milk a goat, gathering chicken eggs, winter gardening, a lesson on edible weeds, a peek at the bee hive, and of course a few quality moments with Jack, my 20-year old feline extraordinaire.  And yes, we even had a discussion about squirrel cuisine.

Carlos and I have had many opportunities to show other people what we are doing on our small piece of city property, but never has the experience been more delightful for me. I saw myself at that age so clearly in these young women. It's a thrill to learn that younger people might be interested in this sort of thing. It gives me great hope.

After our visit, I did a bit of research on the Girl Scouts. I was and am very pleased to learn some of the values this good organization is teaching to our girls. Now I can buy my favorite Girl Scout Cookies with abandon, knowing my money is truly going to a good cause. 

Well, almost with abandon. I've been following the story of two Michigan girl scouts campaigning to remove palm oil from girl scout cookies. They've made great progress, but their work toward making the cookies a sustainable food isn't quite finished yet. (Read the full story here.) Nevertheless, I plan to eat more of them in the near future as I just placed a sizable order with one of my neighbor's kids.

Thank you Helen, Nancy, Jessie, Nikki and Rebecca (and Matthew too!) for taking some time out to learn more about sustainable food systems!