Adorable Baby Tiger, and also, give me feedback!

Step 1: Fill out this poll to let me gauge how this blog is going, and then leave a comment if you have more to add. I want to hear your legit feedback on what you like, don’t like, find interesting/ boring, and what you want more of in the future.

Step 2: Watch an adorable baby tiger play with a tiny Chihuahua.

Step 3: Be extremely positive for the rest of the day because that baby tiger is the most adorable thing ever and how could you be miserable when you remember that little tyke romping around?

Overdosing on Nature!

A 3.5 hour drive in beautiful weather up to the trailhead in New Hampshire. The doors open, it starts raining… pouring really. We hear some thunder in the distance. Its okay, we came prepared. In fact it would have been strange if it wasn’t raining, I don’t think I have ever completed a camping trip without at least one downpour. It felt like the start of a good adventure! And we could always get dry tomorrow. So I set out with my dad, uncle, and cousin.

Two miles uphill to the fork in the trail where we would make base camp for the 2 mountain peaks that we planned to hike the next day. Still raining, but luckily my dad found a good spot off the trail next to a river where we could fit 2 tents. We strung up a tarp, heated up some beef stew, and cracked some beers.

Yes, we carry beers with us even when space in our packs is limited. But good hoppy beers, not some of that light crap. It did indeed stop raining the next day, so I was able to make my usual backwoods refrigerator also known as the river. I just pile some rocks up to make sure the beers don’t float away, and voila, the cold mountain water cools them down.

At the top of one of the mountain peaks, I found the rock I would sit on were I to become a wizard inhabiting the region (I have pictures, but I did not take them, so they will have to come in a later post). It looked out over the valley of wilderness to the east of the South Carter, and Middle Carter Mountain. On top of Middle Carter I picked some Labrador Tea. Good flavor, but I didn’t have too much since “some sources describe the mountain version as poisonous” according to one of my books. I brought some home however, and will probably try it again with such easy access to hospitals, should something go wrong.

And the wisdom gained from elders sitting around the campfire is second to none. Drinking our river cooled beers after a solid 8 mile hike topping two 4,000+ foot peaks; “Relationships are like logs in a fire” my uncle mused. “Set the logs too far apart, and they extinguish. Set them too close together, they will smother each other and go out. You have got to put the logs at just the right distance for them to feed off one another, and keep the fire lit”.

And somehow, I hadn’t had enough hiking when I got back to Massachusetts, so I ventured out on Saturday to Douglas state forest. I supposed I might hike 4 miles, but that turned into about 7 when I got lost. Turns out there are many more paths than suggested by the map I found that someone had dropped on the trail. After stopping by the shores of Wallum lake…

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And finding a wild “Hen of the Woods” mushrooms that I later sauteed with some onions and garlic (it was actually wicked good)…

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And coming across some interesting structures and old foundations in the woods…

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For the first time I put the position of the sun to practical use in order to decide which trail to take, and good thing. I was heading south towards Connecticut, when I should have been heading west towards my car. So since I knew it was afternoon, I knew the sun would be more towards the west, I took an offshoot in that general direction.

This got me going in the right-ish direction, and sooner or later I happened upon the tri-state marker where Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island meet! I thought this was pretty cool, and was thrilled that I had gotten lost, because 1) I didn’t know that marker was in the forest and to stumble upon it was kind of like finding treasure or Narnia (well maybe not quite that cool) and 2) even if I did know I might have considered the hike too far.

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But in the end it was only another mile or two back to my car from the marker. So that’s where I have been for the better part of the last week; lots of hiking, nature, and good times.

Hiking the White Mountains, Back to Basics

Much like you get used to a certain level of stress, I think I might be getting used to a certain level of activity, which makes me feel like I’m not doing as much. But when I get to pat donkeys, goats, and alpacas, go to a bar with 46 beers on tap, and try disc golfing for the first time all in one weekend, I’ll consider that a win.

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And now I am in New Hampshire hiking the White Mountains near Carter’s Dome for three days! I try to get out to the Mountains of New Hampshire at least once a year, and it is amazing how relaxing a strenuous hike up a mountain can be. To see the views from the top, smell the air, rise above the tree line, and take in a different world is exhilarating.

So what I’ll be doing, probably as you read this, is packing up my frame backpack with freeze dried meals—which are delicious…at least after hiking up a mountain—a little gas stove, plenty of water and a filter, some snacks, a tent, sleeping bag, and as much beer as we can carry up the mountain: just the necessities. Again, 2 beers after draining yourself of energy and calories all day on rugged rocky terrain is plenty—especially a nice hoppy IPA—and helps you sleep well for the next day of hiking.

What I love about hiking and real camping is the “reset” quality. You kind of get out there in the wilderness, in the middle of the mountains, with just what you can carry, and you’re alone with your group. You are miles from any rescuers, and miles from a road. I leave my phone in the car and have no access to technology for a couple days. This feels like resetting myself to the natural state of being a human.

Sure I know I’ll have modern things with me, but there is still something rewarding about the difficulty of camping—not that it is particularly difficult, just that every little thing become more complex. Like when it inevitably starts pouring rain, and we have to scramble to get the tarp up if we didn’t see it coming, or layer the fire with leafs in shingle form to protect it from the weather.

Then you have got to enjoy the company of those around you, instead of relying on technology to fill the gap. It makes me feel like a hunter gatherer… with freeze dried meals. It brings me back to simpler times, closer to our roots… while enjoying a polyester tent.

Hey its not perfect, but its better than getting wrapped up in our modern, “advanced” world and forgetting where we came from.

The Legend of (Your Name Here)

This is a Ted talk called “How to Find and Do the Work You Love” by a guy Scott Dinsmore who started something called live your legend. Essentially he says that 80% of people are not happy with their jobs, and as Warren Buffett put it, working jobs as a resume builder is like saving up sex for old age. You’ve got to do what you love now.

I was excited watching the video because I felt like I was already following his advice before I even saw the video. As he suggests, I surround myself with encouraging people who care about my happiness, and success in my own terms. But that doesn’t mean they can’t offer constructive criticism. If I was trying to make it as a pro-football player, my family and friends would hopefully talk some sense into me. But I’m not, I’m trying to make it as a writer, and I am so grateful for the amount and type of support I get. And by the way, I am out on a limb as much as the next guy who would go this route—I haven’t made a dime writing… yet.

Not only on my day to day life though, but at the event that sparked this blog I was surrounded by people who were doing what I want to do. Not precisely, you’ve always got to have your own angle, but they were excellent models for how to throw off the jealous and vindictive weights which society places on you, in an attempt by the cynics to make themselves feel better by keeping you at the bottom with the masses. Politics was (and in many ways still is) my passion, but what I learned from the people I surrounded myself with is that it is not political theory or facts that is lacking, it is the philosophical basis on which people live their lives. Scott asks, what if instead of 80% of people hating their jobs, all 80% of those people did exactly what they wanted to do, and loved it? Can you imagine the type of world we could create? And that transcends politics.

I like the quote he uses from Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win”. And it is so true! As much as we need to surround ourselves with the right people for our success, other depressed robots seek to make sure those around them remain depressed robots. Misery loves company, and they will work to keep you miserable. So find what you love, and do that. If it has to start as a hobby, so be it, but don’t let it fade away, don’t be too tired to make a run for the money, and don’t wait until you’re dead to go for the gold.

He closes by asking the audience, “What is the work you can’t, not do?”

You Can Pickle That!

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One of the easiest and most rewarding homemade food in my opinion is refrigerater pickles. What makes them refrigerater pickles is that a fermentation process takes place during the pickling, and in order to stop that process, they need to be cooled. So if you want to be able to store your homemade pickles for years in your bomb shelter, this method is not for you. But if you are looking to have some fun and create FREAKEN DELICIOUS pickles that you made yourself, try this out.

Sorry, I’m a pickle guy, so I get excited. Half sours might be my favorite, and that is also probably why I like the fridge pickles since they taste similar. The version I make doesn’t include vinegar, which surprised me, it is a mixture of salt, water, and spices. And apparently you want to use sea salt, because the iodine in table salt will have a negative affect on the fermentation process.

This is the original recipe I used, but have since adapted it. She mentions the fermentation process:

These pickles are lacto-fermented, which means they contain the really good, beneficial bacteria (probiotics!). So eating these will help heal our gut lining, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, give us better digestion, strengthen our immune system, and turn us into super heroes.

Last year I grew my own cucumbers and used my Mom’s home grown dill to make the pickles. I have some dill growing this year, but no cucumbers, so this time I am using cucumbers from the farm share. And actually I didn’t use any of my dill for this batch either… so they aren’t dill pickles. Basil pickles?

Ok here’s what I did: cut up a couple small cucumbers and put them in a smaller than average mason jar. They didn’t fill it, so I grabbed some onions (which I was calling leeks in my stuffed zucchini post) threw those in there along with some anise (it was fennel all along), 3 segments of garlic, and an entire sprig of basil. Then I sprinkled some black pepper and red pepper in there (the original recipe also tells you to put mustard seeds and coriander. Well I didn’t have any around, so I skipped this, but most of the fun is seeing the flavor you come up with one your own).

Then I put 2 tablespoons of salt in… and I am expecting some salty pickles. Later I looked up the recipe I used originally, and it called for 1 tablespoon of salt for a normal sized mason jar. Oops! But I also seem to remember using only 1 tablespoon last year at one point, and ending up with sorta soggy funny tasting cucumbers. For a regular sized jar, I’d honestly probably stick with 2 tablespoons of salt. Or better yet, decide whether you want relatively salty pickles or not, and go somewhere in between 1 and 2 tablespoons.

Fill up the jar with water, close tightly, shake until the salt looks mostly dissolved, and place it somewhere that all your guests will see it and compliment you on your culinary skills. Taste them at 3 days, and if you like the taste, refrigerate it! Not strong enough? Keep ’em out. Like I said this is a fermentation process that pickles them (it doesn’t make them alcoholic FYI) so the longer they are out, the longer they will ferment.

And according to the recipe I linked to, you can also throw grape, oak, or raspberry leaves into the jar to keep the pickles crispy. I’ve had some crispy pickles even when I didn’t use those leaves though.

Pick your favorite spices, and use them in your pickles. The dill ones pickled using this method are wicked good though, so if you have access to fresh dill that is a good starting point. And don’t be afraid to put the dill flowers in with it, that’s where some of the best flavor comes from!

But why stop at pickling cucumbers?! Got some leftover celery? You can pickle that! OMG so many leftover green beans. You can pickle that! Got all these vegetables you don’t want to go bad, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke, peppers, or asparagus? YOU CAN PICKLE THAT!

By the way I don’t really know if pickling all that stuff would end well… I’m just assuming. 🙂

Some Adventures Don’t Feel Adventurous

So it has been almost three weeks of this new blog, and I have got to say I am glad I started it.

But I was almost disappointed that I didn’t get into any crazy adventures so far. With my carpe diem attitude I figured I’d have made my way around the world by now having wrestled bears, sailed through a hurricane, and become honorary chief of an obscure tribe. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I have been all gung-ho to go out and do things.

I made sure to get to the beach (twice), I played 18 holes of golf (haven’t golfed in 10 years, and even then only a few times), went to cookouts, went to a party, sang along to country music, and tomorrow I’m going jetski-ing for the first time. I’ve had fun cooking and foraging, especially since I have a place to share it now. I really enjoy doing all of that, but maybe I had this naive belief that—well I don’t even know what. That my life would turn into a movie?

But now I am realizing that there have been some great improvements over the last 3 weeks. I’ve barely watched any TV, I haven’t been able to stand sitting still! If a friend comes over, I will search for other things to do instead of just sit, and the interaction increases energy, sparks conversation, and just makes for a better time. So instead of killing my brain with the tube and being a boring friend, we’d go places, play kan jam, foosball, cards, Settlers of Katan, and just had more overall conversation and interaction. Not a crazy adventure, but a positive change none the less. Well to be fair throwback N64 Mario-Kart is always a pretty crazy adventure.

And I suppose two weekends only gives you so much opportunity. It’s good to be adventurous, but not stupid… And if I were hellbent on “having fun” without much exciting new opportunity, that could lead more to stupidity than adventure. So I am going to keep doing what I’m doing, since I’m enjoying myself anyway, and whatever comes will come!

I think cumulative small changes are harder to notice, but can easily add up to more positive benefit than one big change or event—even though it was sort of one big event I attended that set in motion tiny little changes. And like I have mentioned before, to me its been more about rediscovering mundane things than finding a trap door into Narnia. And actually this is a good reminder, because as much as I hate to admit it, my “vacation attitude” has mostly left me, but I didn’t completely return to the real world that sucks the life out of you.

And this blog in and of itself is a fun new adventure to see who likes it, who follows, who responds, who comments, and it has kept me thinking about the right things. I enjoy writing, so it gives me another outlet, sparks my imagination, and gives me a standard to go back to. Otherwise my vacation attitude would have gone away, faded without much notice, and everything would have gone back to normal. But since I created this blog in the height of my high-on-life, that has been preserved, and to go back on it would mean not only losing my positive attitude, but abandoning a project I started with such inspiration and vigor. And I’m not going to let that happen.

I feel more resilient to negative things, even though I may not be excited about everything. Its been easier to enjoy moments here and there, without letting other looming stressors take away from squeezing in bits of fun. And I’ve actually been able to avoid stress by not caring about things I shouldn’t care about.

Its not as simple as “not caring what others think”, because I still don’t want to act like a jerk, or burn bridges, or show no work ethic. Its not caring about being judged for stupid things that don’t negatively effect other people. Some people will always try to exert their will over you, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be bad if their will is, say, not drunk driving. But when it is the way your hair is, or how happy you are, or how energetic, or what you write on your blog; who cares, just do you and forget the detractors.

So overall I’m going to go ahead and give myself a B for holding up to my blog’s standards over the first 2-3 weeks. Thank you to everyone who joined in the discussion with me early on, I look forward to keeping this energy going!

Finding Things to be Stressed About

Are humans doomed to be stressed about something? Will we just find something to be stressed about, even when pretty much everything is going fine? First world problems: this kind of gets to the same point, we are just finding problems in our lives. As the bigger problems get solved, we move onto the smaller ones, until finally I get stressed that the BBC forgot to give me mashed potatoes with my cod (that was my lapse last week).

To be fair some people have legitimate reason to be stressed out. But I am talking about people who eat enough, have a stable source of income, shelter, clothing, free time, and recreation. I’m not talking about people who are on the verge of losing their house, or need to find money for food, or are legitimately concerned that a drone is going to bomb them. That is real stress.

But I am wondering if it feels the same to us. Would we feel just as stressed worrying about where our next meal is coming from as studying for a final?

I go back to evolution a lot, because I am really interested in human origins and species growth. It makes sense to me that at some time if you were not stressed, you were as good as dead. 10,000 years ago we should have been stressed about where the next meal was coming from, or we would starve and be unable to pass on our genes. We were stressed about the sounds that go bump in the night, because the people that paid those sounds no heed woke up dead—or rather didn’t wake up.

But then some of us get to this point where we don’t really have much to be stressed out about, and we still are, maybe because we are modern people living inside caveman bodies. I really had no stress in February when I was on a Caribbean cruise… go figure. Part of this was probably not watching the news all week, my world was so peaceful. But sometimes I would still find myself making up scenarios to be stressed about: what if I’m taken while visiting an island and Liam Neeson can’t save me!

It could happen, but the chances are minuscule, and thinking about something like that doesn’t solve the what-ifs anyway. So what’s the answer? I suppose my solution would be to set up a life where there is as little as possible to be realistically stressed about. If you create a community with like-minded people who solve problems in a similar way and share similar values, maybe that would actually reduce stress levels.

But there’s still that other piece of me that thinks no matter what we will be stressed. In my perfect little community, would it be the stress of group acceptance? That one is certainly linked to evolution, where rejection from the group meant certain death. So today, when people (especially teenagers) act like their lives are over because they have been snubbed by a friend, well maybe they just can’t help but let the caveman side of them take over: maybe they actually feel in their brains like survival is hopeless, being inextricably linked to group acceptance.

Don’t let me wonder alone! Tell me your thoughts on this!

Whatever Floats Your Boat

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Right?! Live and let live. The only limit on someone’s freedom should be when their actions start limiting others’ freedom.

I like to picture myself as a wild stallion who cannot be tamed! Now keep in mind, wild stallions don’t get paid much… but its worth it sometimes, and I can always just forage for food if things get rough. Over the years I’ve been gearing more towards experiences to make me happy than material things—though I won’t pretend I’m void of earthly possessions, I still want to be a millionaire. But I really think my desire for money is coupled with my desire for freedom. I just want to do me, and not bow to the pressures of society. Some of that you can do without money, but I also want to see the world, and eat stuff I didn’t forage! Ah, I suppose we are all in a similar conundrum. Unless you keep reading my blog(s), then maybe I’ll be freed!

I think there’s a point somewhere in all that rambling.

Foraging for Wild Edible Plants: Milkweed

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This is common milkweed, and it is a wild edible! One thing I enjoy doing in my spare time, is finding wild edible foods to forage. I like nature anyway, so it is a good activity, its fun, and productive. And its free; why pay for fresh vegetables when there are plenty all around you! (I buy vegetables too, don’t feel bad).

Warning: I am not a foraging expert. I have a few foraging books and consult websites. Always be certain of identification. If I’m wrong and you get sick, you can try suing me, but there’s not that much to take! Some edible plants have poisonous parts, poisonous look a-likes, or must be treated before eating. This plant in particular is poisonous when raw, it must be cooked!

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Okay now that we got that out of the way, I can tell you about my first milkweed flower and bud cluster experience. First I found some milkweed in my parent’s backyard, and properly identified it. Milkweed stands on a stalk, and does not have any branches (a poisonous look alike has branches). Its leaves are opposite each other, and alternate a half turn as they go up the plant. Looking from the top, it appears as a plus sign. When broken, the plant excretes a white sticky “milky” sap, like this:

20140709_144748The young tips and newly unfurled leave are also edible, and later the seed pods, but today I just foraged the bud clusters, and flower clusters (every part of milkweed must be cooked before being eaten, usually boiled for 15 minutes, sometimes in a change of water). Young tips would be slightly earlier in the season, buds are great now (at least in my region of southern MA) in July, and later into August seed pods will become more prevalent. Just for reference, here is the young plant that has not yet developed buds.

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You can eat the bud clusters, and newly opened flower clusters, though the books more specifically tell you to go after the bud clusters as opposed to flower clusters. I picked some that were still firm and green, some that were a little farther along turning pinkish, and some where most of the flowers were already open.

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Then, milkweed is pretty simple to prepare. I just boiled the bud clusters for about 20 minutes, changing the water at 15 minutes by adding already boiling water to the pot once I drained it of the original water. Apparently these could be a little bitter if you don’t change the water.

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I just ate them with a little bit of salt in order to get to know the flavor, but there are plenty of ways to prepare these, just make sure you cook them, but otherwise, be imaginative! That’s one of the best parts of foraging. But anyway it had almost a rice like taste, but sort of the texture of cooked broccoli (which makes sense, those are bud clusters as well). I think with a little cider or balsamic vinegar it would be quite the fare. This is what it looked like cooked.

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And this is proof that I’m not just messing with you!

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And while we are on the subject of foraging, I found a little sheep sorrel while picking my milkweed. Sheep sorrel is a small green leaf that grows close to the ground in clusters, and sort of looks like a dagger, or a wizard hat. There are no similar looking poisonous plants.

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Notice the signature barbs at the bottom of the leaf. It is an awesome “trail nibble”, you can eat it raw and it has a sour taste, sort of like a green apple. I like to eat it raw, but you can also cook it and serve it like spinach (just might take a while to pick enough!), and then use the leftover water as a nice drink, almost like a cross between iced tea and lemonade. There is a warning in my book not to eat too much because it could cause stomach upset. Apparently I’ve never had enough for that to happen. This one is pretty easy to identify due to its distinctive look.

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All this information I have gained from the books Edible Wild Plants by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, and Foraging New England by Tom Seymour. The former is a great field guide, and the latter is a great introduction, and includes more reading material on each plant mentioned, though fewer plants are shown. Let me know if you find these and try them for yourself!