Oh man… another Spring as a forager. I’ve been at it in earnest now for about 15 Springs and it’s become something i really can’t live without.
After a long winter of frozen store bought greens, there’s nothing in the world quite like harvesting your food right from the rich, wild, damp earth of the season. And yeah i love eating all these fascinating wild edibles but what’s just as nourishing is getting out into the woods to all my favorite foraging spots and shutting down my insane computer brain for a while. Foraging can truly be a meditation of sorts. But really, back to food.
You know that scene in Charlotte’s Web where Templeton is singing his drunken “Smorgasbord -Orgasbord?” Well, that is me. Except in this case I’m dreaming about all the mouth-watering dishes that i’m gonna make when, or more likely “if” I find Morels this year. My mind is racing with thoughts of finding a magical motherload of Wild Strawberries like the one i found 9 years ago. Every Spring i welcome back into my kitchen a host of wild edible plants that i collect in annually. It’s really become a kind of culinary ritual. And it’s not because it’s cool or trendy to harvest wild food but in truth — i’ve grown to absolutely relish the tastes and textures of these plants and i find that in many cases they rival much of what you would find in a grocery store produce section.
Over the years my family has come to rely less and less on store-bought greens in the Spring. There’s just so much amazing wild available around here. Why pay for it?.Just to name a few that i harvest usually in abundance this time of year: Common Milkweed shoots, Patience dock, Burdock root, Nettles, Lambsquarters and Garlic Mustard. Of course the deal is sweetened when you stumble upon Morels and Strawberries but so much green in between those bookends gets lost to the uninitiated.
If there’s anything better than harevesting and eating wild foods it’s harvesting, eating and then sharing them with someone else who appreciates them. Especially when people who are new to wild food take a bite of something like steamed Woodnettle or Common Milkweed shoots for the very first time and discover that this “wild” food doesn’t taste like a freshly cut lawn at all. Uh…this kinda tastes like…”real food!” Friends i tell ya, you have an exotic farm stand right in your backyard!
So yesterday we took our little wild food circus show to our friend Jackie’s house in Pownal, VT and instead of the usual house concert affair, this time it was a wild food party.
Christina being the chef in the family, we have a clear divison of labor when it comes to the kitchen. I’m pretty good for some of the grunt work and of course for tracking down and harvesting wild food, i’m your guy. But, really when it comes to the science, art and finesse that ends up on the plate, I leave that to Christina. She’s got it covered.
I really like to make these wild dinners dynamic for first time foragers and unintiated guests so, we’ll usually spend time out in the field learning how to ID the particular plants that we will be using in our meal. In this case it was Stinging Nettle tops for the Lemon Risotto. Dock Greens for a cheese dip that was over the top! Burdock root and lemony tart Patience Dock stems were featured in our home-made sushi dish. I had pre made some pesto with the leaves of Garlic Mustard. This one really surprises people i think. When you pull off the leaves from Garlic Mustard and pop them in your mouth, the result is very garliky but also a fairly intense bitterness that soon follows. However when you add the fat from olive oil and grated cheese as you would in your standard basil pesto, the result is i think far more palatable and actually quite enjoyable. I’ve found that leaving this set in the fridge for a couple days before use mellows the flavor out a little further. I have yet to turn anybody away from enjoying boiled Milkweed shoots with Olive oil and a little salt. That one will make a believer out of you.
Christina nailed all the savory dishes but, i did handle the sweets. In this case it was a very unique desert using a classic bananna bread recipe but substituting half of the flour for Red Oak Acorn flour that i had processed and stored from this past fall as well as a heavy feature of Black Walnuts, also harvested this past year. The result, mostly due to the starchy acorn flour is a tofu or cheese like consistancy sweetend with the bannanas and maple syrup and deepend by the vast aroma of the wild walnut. Doesn’t that sound pretty good???
Thank to Jackie and her clan for sharing her home, kitchen and the evening with us.
And to all of you, If your a fan of my music but this foraging thing has got you thinking you might wanna try this at your house, then visit us on the kickstarter page and check out our foraging incentive option:
I wrote this a few months ago, but I’m breaking it out today because I was inspired by the incredibly independent, intelligent, and kind woman who hosted a recent foraging dinner. So, for you, Jackie!
I don't generally like to start writing unless I can neatly wrap up my ideas in a succinct yet witty manner. It makes me feel smart. But this time, I plan to make an exception, since I can't think of any logical conclusion, or resolution, or at least some caustically funny summary. I've broached this topic before, at dinner parties to no avail, in college dorms with little to no background info, and even in conversation with my otherwise forward thinking husband. I have yet to find a meaningful or even somewhat insightful or hopeful result. But what better place to self indulgently ask all of life's questions but a blog?
The thing is, women and men just don't get treated the same.
There I said it. If you're not with me here, feel free to scroll on down to whatever anecdotal plant story Sean has conjured up. Go ahead, I won't judge. I mean I will, but you won't know.
Ok, well now that I'm sure I've successfully alienated a slew of readers with the glimpse of such a neon bright allusion to the dreaded word "feminism"...
But, really. The thing is, women and men just don't get treated the same. Had this been presented to me in younger days, I would have scoffed maybe, or maybe I would have agreed, but with the sense of agreement that is only backed by a desire to sound angry and righteous. These days, I know it's real. It's a weird wheel of acceptance and confusion and rage. And it spans every aspect of my womanhood- as a mother, a wife, a sexual being, a friend. I see it everywhere. The problem is, I just can't seem to reconcile with it.
I was watching this new Aziz Ansari special on Netflix (Master of None; I watched it in a vigorous 2 night binge while Sean ended up you tubing videos of Adele cover songs. A weird time all around). In one episode, the guys girlfriend has this almost literal exact same experience that I had had last summer. The thing is, the experience stuck with me, and was so significant to me, but to Sean- he could hardly remember it happened. And I thought, am I crazy? Until I saw this episode and had a complete Aha! Moment in which all my feelings were validated in one Netflix induced revelation. Thanks, streaming technology.
Here's what happened: after a JD Mcpherson show, Sean, myself, a girlfriend of mine, and the band were backstage, sitting around, chatting, what have you. A man walked into the room who only knew JD; he proceeded to introduce himself (with handshake! How gentlemanly) to everyone in the room. That is, he introduced himself to Sean and Doug to my left, to Jimmy and Ray to my right...but completely skipped over me and my friend. A glance, yes. A handshake? The Privilege of a name exchange? No. I was totally floored. The manly, sweaty men continued on for a few moments to talk about beards and guitars, and he left. Once the door clicked behind him I looked around for the same flabbergasted emotion that was coursing through my brain, throwing my hands up like "Right, can you believe that guy?!". But no one noticed. And when I brought it up, the response was uniformly, "nooo, he didn't do that on purpose" and "wait, what? Did you really want to meet him, or something?".
I brought it up later that night on the drive home. Then again the next day. Sean seemed to think I was blowing the whole thing out of proportion, and maybe I was, but what got me way more than being skipped over in the handshake round was the way that NO ONE NOTICED. Not only that, but the automatic reaction was YOURE CRAZY.
Let's pause here and acknowledge the fact that if my gender had been replaced by any other factor- race, sexual orientation, or religion--that is, if I had been a man but had been any of these other minorities and had been skipped over for introductions, it would have created an immediately awkward, palpable situation. But it didn't. By virtue of having a vagina, my skip-over warranted a brush off.
Scene 2. A few months later. We were staying on Long Island at my mother's while Sean did the NYC Rockwood album release shows for Madman. He left early, I was to follow later. Thrifty as I am, I wasn't really interested in paying the $12/20 minute railroad ticket vs the $2/60 minute subway one, so I boarded the F train and rode into the city. Dressed, for full clarification, as though I was a 31 year old married mother-of-2 with a somewhat current sense of fashion going to a show in NYC. That is to say, neither risqué nor homely. To me, this is insignificant for the story but I know the question is popping up in someone's mind (altogether another sexist issue), so there it is. When my stop came, I got off the train and while walking towards the stairs was cat called by a man on the platform. Now while I generally take compliments like the well mannered young lady I was raised to be, the call of "hey mama why don't you walk dat ass ova here" sounded less than flattering to me, so I did what I have trained myself to do in these situations: looked down at my phone as though someone was calling me. Let's just take another pause here and recognize that this thought process involved me not wanting this asshole to feel like I was snubbing him, only like I hadn't heard or was politely disinterested. In retrospect, I hated myself for this mitigation.
So, head down, checking my fake text, the man proceeded to follow me towards the stairs and yell "stuck up bitch!"
And then SPIT ON ME.
If you laughed here, don't worry i get it. I almost laugh now. At the time, however, I was experiencing a simultaneous range of emotions that only arrive once a month usually (hey-o! Did you like that sexist reference?). I was terrified, and disgusted, and ashamed. And I wasn't even angry, really, but more confused.
Again, that confusion. I was confused after I got skipped over for the handshake. And I was confused standing on this subway platform, having been spit on by a stranger for not returning his less than stellar pick up line. Looking back, I was confused when a boy didn't call me back after a date, I was confused when I was called flirtatious when I thought I was friendly, and I was confused when I wanted to wear a gorgeous little black dress to that NYC show and decided to wear pants instead. Here's when I started questioning my own feminism and what I believed in theory versus what I believed to be true for myself.
Why wasn't I angry? Why did it weirdly feel like I had done something wrong? Why did I want to make myself small and unseen so as not to be hurt by a stranger?
Even writing this, I thought-- maybe even writing this is too much. Eye rolling will happen, men will be offended (if they read it, do they read it?). Even just on paper, I have doubted myself a thousand times.
Whatever they say, this is still a man’s world. It is still easier, in every way, to be a man than to be a woman. The narrative was not written for us. It’s changing, yes. It wants to change. And I see--my confusion, my shame on that subway platform and in that missed handshake—I, too, have to change if I want to expect more for myself. For my daughter.
I’m married to a man who is recognized and lauded, a person whose brightness and beauty and genius is literally the center of our family's life; it is the sun around which we warm our hands. I am that person’s wife, I am his children’s mother. But as I get older, as I reach into my ideas and examine my thoughts against my actions, I realize that I don’t want to be solely defined in relation to others. As a wife. A mother. A daughter, a sister. I realize that to believe in women, to believe in the beauty and greatness of women, is to believe that we are much more than how we relate to the people who lean on us. It is to believe that we, too, can be the sun.