Making Home-Made Products!

Part of the allure to mini-farming is making your own products. Since we have only been at it for a couple months, we can’t make everything with homegrown ingredients yet, but we can still save money by making things like soap, tooth-paste, and seltzer, as we have done. The other benefit is that you know a bit more about what is really in the products you are using; unfortunately lots of tooth-paste and soap have some harmful stuff in there to make them foam.

Tooth Paste

Most recently I made my own tooth-paste, because I am running out of my Ava Anderson chemical free toothpaste, and wanted to save money. The recipe was pretty simple that I found on DIYNatural, but I added my own flare with a couple extra essential oils. Here’s what I did:

In an 8 ounce jar, I combined 2/3 cup of baking soda with 1 tsp. of sea salt which I ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle, so that it would not scratch the enamel. The baking soda is to clean and whiten the teeth, and the salt is meant to re-mineralize the enamel.

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Now, the original recipe called for enough water to turn that powder into a paste, but I took a different route. According to the book The Green Pharmacy by James Duke, chamomile tea is a disinfectant of the gums, which can help prevent gingivitis by getting deep down to tackle the germs stuck in the gums. In fact gingivitis simply means swelling of the gums, and there are varying degrees of the disease, but it is something most of us will deal with at some point in our lives. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.

So instead of water I made a tea of chamomile and green tea. The green tea, because of the tannins and astringent quality, acts to protect the teeth from bacteria that cause tooth decay and gingivitis. I mixed the tea with the baking soda and powdered salt, and then added some essential oils.

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Keep in mind you do not want to swallow essential oils, and even an ounce can be fatal. That being said, I did not use nearly an ounce of essential oils in the entire batch of tooth paste, let alone for each brushing session.

I used 5 drops of peppermint essential oil, which smells nice, and makes for a fresh taste. But peppermint oil is also antiseptic, which means it helps cure the root cause of bad breath, and not just cover the smell.

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I could have stopped there, and next time I might. The reason is, a nice fresh peppermint toothpaste feels natural and leaves my mouth feeling clean. The next to essential oils definitely help with oral hygiene, but they don’t really make the paste taste especially good. Your breath certainly won’t smell bad after brushing, but it won’t have the classic fresh mint smell.

That being said, I added 5 drops of teatree oil because it is also antiseptic. It doesn’t really taste good though, so I think I will save it for a mouthwash in the future, if I feel any swelling in the gums. James Duke recommends swishing a couple drops diluted in a glass of water, and spitting it out to combat gingivitis.

I also added 5 drops of eucalyptus oil, another antiseptic. Again, next time I will probably just stick to the peppermint.

Carbonated Drinks

My sister’s fiance has been making hard cider for some time, and since he already had the equipment, decided to throw together some seltzer as well. He simply filled up a five gallon keg with filtered water, added about a half cup of lemon juice, and attached the keg to the carbon dioxide tank to carbonate. In just about a day, we had five gallons of seltzer on tap, which went surprisingly quickly. Next time I am encouraging him to try making green tea seltzer with lemon.

Soap

My sister Steph and I have made a couple batches of soap already as well. We learned how at PorcFest from Hershel who makes Shire Soaps. Soap making is basically a chemical reaction between lye and fat. So we mixed shea butter, olive oil, and coconut oil as our fats, using an online soap making calculator to determine how much of each. Shea butter is solid, so we microwaved it a little at a time to melt it, and get the temperature up in order to mix with the lye.

Then we mixed the lye with water, always adding the water to the lye very carefully in a well ventilated area, or preferably outdoors, because it creates toxic fumes (and heats up) when it combines with water. Finally when the two mixtures were within ten degrees of each other, both around 110, we mixed them using a handheld blender, and added our essential oils, like lemongrass, rosemary, and lavender. Then, into a PVC pipe lined with parchment paper it goes for 24 hours to set, before we cut it, and let it dry for a month.

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And that is all just the beginning when it comes to home-made. We are getting some various styles of garden beds together to plant, which I will share soon!

 

Wait, Why Did I Leave 80 Degree Sunny Florida?

I am now back in the desolate tundra that is wintertime New England. It was a great trip. I realized how much easier it is to drive around in most of the country. Straighter roads, fewer people, and you can keep an eye out for the cops from a longer distance. No exaggeration, I saw more revenue collectors cops during the hour or less I spent driving through New York than the entire rest of the trip. Seriously.

From the radio, you would think there were only five songs ever written, two by Taylor Swift. Quite the percentage. But it was a good drive; my Mustang made it, and now has over 230,000 miles on it… time for an oil change. Here are a few highlights from the last couple days of my vacation.

My Aunt and Uncle were kind enough to take me on a trip in their plane up to Apalachicola on the pan handle. I felt like a little kid I was so excited. The only other time I have been in a plane that small was when I went parachuting.

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My Aunt (a lawyer) said they call these doctor/lawyer killers because they are affordable enough, but when you’re busy with work, you don’t get a lot of practice. Her husband was flying this time.

 

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See how legit I am: I even had the headset. (It was really loud without those noise canceling headphones)

 

Flying low, approaching the Apalachicola airport

Flying low, approaching the Apalachicola airport

Hard "likker", or as we would say in New England, Hahhd Likka.

Hard “likker”, or as we would say in New England, Hahhd Likka.

I tried raw oysters (not bad, but next time I'll probably have them cooked)

I tried raw oysters (not bad, but next time I’ll probably have them cooked)

I also tried alligator puff pastry. Tasted like chicken.

I also tried alligator puff pastry. Tasted like chicken.

...might have come from this guy.

…might have come from this guy.

And finally on my drive home near Savannah, I couldn't resist one last stop to soak up the sun. Here is the little piece of paradise where I ate lunch.

And finally on my drive home near Savannah, I couldn’t resist one last stop to soak up the sun. Here is the little piece of paradise where I ate lunch.

Tomorrow I will go through my list of goals to let you know how I did. 🙂

Pirates, Pubs, and Personality in Savannah

I’ve made it to Florida and luckily will not have to do much driving for another 9 days. A little rainy now, but at least it is warm.

In Savannah Thursday night I started at the Pirate’s House, which is in a building that has been a bar since the 1700’s. In fact, the Pirate’s House was mentioned in Treasure Island as the pub that the pirate Captain Billy “Bones” Flint, who originally buried the treasure, died.

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Apparently there is a tunnel downstairs that leads to the river, and the drunkest bar-goers would sometimes find themselves on a ship the next morning bound for far off destinations. It took one man two years to find his way back.

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Coincidentally my bartender had a few waking up in strange places stories of his own. Though he has never seen a ghost in Pirate’s House, he did black out after a night of drinking, and wake up 4 hours away at a summer camp in the mountains. Turns out it was his idea to head up there with a lass the night before, but he passed out on the ride up. He awoke by himself (the ladies having gone to buy groceries) and wandered around the empty camp for an hour before finding out what had happened.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. He just remembers being aware enough to grab his passport before joining his boss and his boss’s pilot friend on a private flight to Mexico, where the pilot worked for a couple. But the pilot made it pretty clear, “I’m coming back in a week. You can’t call me for a flight, so enjoy!”

However the bartender’s poor mother couldn’t get in touch with him, and his roommates were no help to her: “I haven’t seen him since Monday. He stumbled in drunk and grabbed his passport”. After that, his mom routinely bought him prepaid phones that worked from anywhere he might wake up.

And how did he end up in Savannah, I asked? Well he woke up there after a drunken night of course! “I figured I would just stay the weekend, but I accidentally got a job and have been here ever since”. Ah yes, the accidental job acquisition. First world problems.

I continued on my way to check out what was happening along River Street. I was compelled to get a beer at The Warehouse advertising the cheapest and coldest beer in town. But alas, I will never know if their beer is cold or cheap. I always have my ID ready, but I was surprised to be asked for a second form. I gave the women behind the bar my gun licence, also a photo ID, obviously with the same name, address, birthday etc. But 30 puzzling seconds later I was still staring at her, staring at my ID.

I laughed, “I have a credit card too”, and handed that to her. Another 30 seconds of pouring over my three forms of identification, and she said, “sorry honey, I’ve seen plenty of Massachusetts ID’s. Just something not right, I can’t serve you”.

I know I look young, but I was shocked since this had never happened before. Did she really think I had a fake gun permit made to match my fake ID which had the same name as on my credit card? That would be some dedication.

I asked if there was someone else I could talk to but she was the manager. So I got up and did that thing where you look around for support from strangers. A nice older gentleman with his wife chimed in with an understanding chuckle, “My son in law is 50 and he still gets carded”. The ladies to my right looked at me and then quickly away, probably assuming I was actually underage.

I try not to complain, but seriously I am 25 years old and don’t think I should have to deal with that. So in solidarity with me, perhaps skip The Warehouse if you are ever in Savannah.

But there is always a silver lining. I ended up at a little bar down the street called Rusty Rudders, where I met some cool people, two from Savannah, two visiting. Both bartenders were very friendly and fun, and go figure, accepted my ID without hassling me.

Next post I’ll tell you about the auction in Florida I attended. (Spoiler alert: it included items such as a case of 60 bags of twizzlers that went for my $8 and two unwrapped pillows, one white, one off white that went for $15). And hopefully by then I will have even more checked off!

Single Serve Apple Pie

Thought of this one last night and decided to try it out. I think it is an interesting fall dessert.

I just cored an apple but left in the bottom so that nothing would drip through.

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Then I chopped up the removed apple minus the core, shredded some ginger, and packed that all back into the hollow apple.

Next I drizzled molasses over the top.

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Finally, I threw some granola on top, and baked for about a half hour, at 350.

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It was easy, and actually really good!

You could of course make some changes. Perhaps you would like to use brown sugar and cinnamon instead of molasses. Next time I think I will replace the granola topping with a swedish apple pie crust. The crust is easy, just mix:

  • 3/4 cup of melted butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)

Spread this dough on top of the apple, and bake. Of course this will be enough crust for a whole pie, not just one apple, so adjust in proportion accordingly, or freeze the rest for later!

My Theory on the Secret to Great Health (and suggestions on foods to integrate into your diet)

The Benefit of Variation

I named this blog Joe Jarvis explains it all, and damnit I intend to explain it all! Eventually…

As for today I’ll share with you the secret to perfect health! Okay I might be exaggerating slightly. But I am being serious when I say that variety is key to health.

Every so often there is a big hype about something that will supposedly double your lifespan. Add turmeric to everything because the curcumin is the elixir of life! And you know what, turmeric is really good for you. But sometimes we focus too much on one thing and lose the forest through the trees.

There might be a million things your body needs, and turmeric might have 900,000 of them. But if all you use to boost your health is turmeric, you will be missing 100,000 needed health agents.

So add some ginger, garlic, and onions; foods I swear by. Maybe they each have 900,000 of their own benefits, and when they are all figured in, after the healthy overlap, you get 970,000 of the things you need out of a million.  That’s pretty good, but why stop there?

You like apples so you have an apple everyday. Great! But still, apples have very different constituents than oranges. And oranges don’t have everything that kiwis have, which don’t have everything that pineapple has. But if you decide to try a new fruit each week, while also getting your fill of the classic favorites, you’re undoubtedly going to be scooping up nutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids that your body may otherwise have lacked.

And since each fruit, vegetable, and spice is so complex, even science cannot yet properly pinpoint everything the food will do for you. Why wait for the research to come out, when you could inadvertently be preventing hundreds of diseases, just by eating lots of different healthful and delicious foods?

Variation! The same principle applies to exercise. Any one exercise is good for you, but could put a lot of stress on particular joints, and only strengthen particular muscles. But if you cross train, do a little running, some biking, a bit of lifting, and yoga, you will be strengthening more muscles, and spreading the workload across various joints and ligaments.

Running may prevent heart disease, but cause joint inflammation. Lifting may increase bone density, but stress ligaments. Yoga may protect muscles and joints, but do little in the way of preventing heart disease. All together, each in moderation, you will have a pretty good formula for protecting the muscles and bones, preventing heart disease, and avoiding long term damage in any one area.

Same goes for healthy food. If you always eat the same 10 fruits and vegetables, you will probably be pretty healthy. But suppose you are chronically low on one particular nutrient or antioxidant. Well whatever illness that nutrient prevents might be what gets you!

I’m not trying to scare anyone, and I feel like not getting too worked up about these things is important, since stress itself can be more harmful to you than what you are stressing about. But if you are constantly switching up what you eat, you  are that much more likely to get important nutrients that may otherwise fall between the cracks.

Ginger has almost a dozen antiviral compounds, and each one varies in effectiveness against various virus’s. If you start feeling flu symptoms, chances are ginger will help. But garlic and licorice also have antiviral constituents, and while some may overlap, parts of each plant will be more effective in different areas and against different viral strains. Varying the intake of antiviral foods when you start to feel sick increases the number of different antiviral compounds, which makes it more likely to kill whatever virus is ailing you. Also, it increases the overall volume of the helpful components. You may find it tough to each 5 cloves of garlic per day, but you could easily put two in your dinner, throw some ginger in your salad, and put some licorice in your tea.

Target Ailments with Specific Foods

If you are the health conscious type, you may even want to tailor your intake of veggies and fruits towards whatever has recently been ailing you. I’m a runner, so I try to eat a lot of pineapple and ginger, both powerful anti-inflammatories. In addition to reducing joint pain, and warding off tendonitis, pineapple contains a protein dissolving compound which can help prevent gout, by dissolving the crystals which form and collect in the joints. So even when you eat a food to target one ailment, it will almost certainly overlap to prevent another ill.

But again, don’t stop with pineapple and ginger. If swelling and inflammation is a problem—and lots of research suggests inflammation is an underlying long term cause of many killer diseases—then try different anti-inflammatories that will all tackle the problem with slightly different compounds that may be variably effective on different people, parts of the body, and sources of inflammation. Turmeric would be a great addition to an after workout smoothie to reduce swelling, and in addition it would inadvertently help keep your liver healthy. You could also forage some dandelions, and beyond draining excess fluid, some research suggests the flowers could actually help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line is that no matter how good for you one fruit, vegetable, or spice, it will never cover all of your bases. But eating a plethora of different fruits, veggies, and spices will vastly expand how many beneficial compounds are introduced to your body, possibly eradicating a problem before symptoms ever even show up. And anyway, it’s fun to try new stuff! So here are a few suggestions for health foods that might be a good starting point to expand your horizons.

Avocado: This is a great source of beneficial fats which can also reduce inflammation. Avocado can help with skin issues too. I try to eat avocado daily if possible during the winter, since dry skin can be a problem in New England. It also helps people absorb beneficial fat soluble compounds in other vegetables, so throwing one in a salad is a good idea.

Brazil Nut: This is another promising possibility for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease, since a compound in them prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, thought to be a cause of the disease and accompanying memory loss. The brazil nut is like a multi-vitamin in a shell; just a couple per day provide all the selenium (prevents cancer), and vitamin E you need, as well as large doses of copper, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, and the good fatty acids that lower bad cholesterol, and boost good cholesterol.

Beets: Try having some beets before a workout, because they expand the blood vessels, and will therefore get more oxygen to the mussels, increasing performance and aiding in recovery. Also a great blood purifier and liver repair man, beets are another who’s who of essential vitamins and minerals. And the sugars from beets are released into the body slowly, increasing energy without the classic “sugar crash”.

Collard Greens: These and similar leafy greens can prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. The antioxidants neutralize free-radicals which damage nerves in the back of the eye. In addition to their antioxidant content, collard greens are another anti-inflammatory, and help detoxify the body by activating our own enzymes. These three factors combined are why collard greens are said to prevent many cancers.

Purslane: I now see purslane everywhere! It is a common fleshy “weed” that can be foraged, found creeping along the ground in lawns and parking lots. You could also find it at a farmer’s market, or Whole Foods. Purslane apparently contains the highest levels of omega-3 fats of any edible plant, and “10 to 20 times more melatonin—an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer growth—than any other fruit or vegetable tested”.

Red Pepper: If you like spice, throw some hot red pepper in everything you can, especially if you have any chronic pain. Capsaicin is what helps reduce pain, by triggering the body to release endorphins. These pain reducing benefits can also be absorbed through the skin, by applying a capsaicin cream to sore area, and arthritic joints. The spicy heat also increases blood flow to the area, and promotes healthy circulation in general. Red pepper can also help aide in weight loss, by increasing the metabolic rate and body temperature after meals.

Food can be your medicine, and generally with fewer and less harmful side effects. The real key to health is preventing rather than treating illnesses. If your diet includes all different spices, foreign fruits, obscure vegetables, and foraged fare, you are that much more likely to give your body what it needs, and then some!

Thanks to James A. Duke who wrote The Green Pharmacy for informing me on much of what I’ve shared here.

Deceivingly Easy Meal to Make: Eggplant Parmesan

I almost forwent writing this post, because I was like, this is so easy everyone must know this. Then it occurred to me that a) everyone probably doesn’t know (or just hasn’t given it any thought) how to make eggplant parmesan, and b) this would be a good opportunity to give everyone an idea for something that is actually pretty easy and quick to make, but feels like you are eating in a 5 star restaurant.

So you just start by slicing an eggplant across so you have circles, dripping a bit of olive oil on one side, and placing that side face down on the baking pan. I pre-heated the oven to 350 and this seemed about right. to spread the olive oil I dripped some on one piece, and then rubbed that eggplant section together with another.

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Next, I globbed a bit of sauce on each piece, and spread it around with a spoon. Some people leave more eggplant showing on top, but I prefer to have the whole thing covered when it is done baking, that way it is more moist instead of dry. Just ignore the stained pan, you can substitute a cleaner one if you wish. Either way.

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Next you simply cut up the cheese, and put it on top. Though next time I would probably keep the cheese more centered, because some of it dripped off the side. Then again this made the cheese that dripped onto the pan crispy, which added a delicious crunch. Anyway I know it is called eggplant parmesan, but I didn’t have any parmesan, but I had plenty of smoked gouda. And honestly, it might have been better; it was at least just as gouda. Okay I apologize for that, please don’t stop reading, but I couldn’t resist.

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Pop that in the oven for about 40 minutes, and while you wait, cook up the rest of this phenomenal cuisine! Throw on some boiling water for the pasta of your choice, and throw some olive oil in a pan to cook up some green and/or spicy peppers. I used two types of peppers, one spicy one not, garlic (the more the merrier in my opinion), rosemary, salt, pepper, and at the end I threw in a splash of lemon juice. This doesn’t have to sauté for that long since the peppers are sliced thin. Maybe 5 minutes on medium, or a little longer if you want to keep it lower and not let it get cold before the eggplant is done.

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Alright pasta should be ready, peppers are ready, eggplant “parmesan” is finishing up. Go ahead and make it look pretty. Throw some spaghetti down, drizzle the olive oil/peppers blend over the top, and grab the best looking slices of eggplant and place them on the side. I’m gonna go ahead and pair this wonderful meal with a Pumpkin Rye Ale Shandy. It was brewed with lemon peels, so it matches the lemon in the olive oil sauce. (Is that how that works? I honestly have no idea if that beer went well with the meal. I know it tasted good. Should I have just gone with it, and let you all think I’m some sort of food/beer pairing connoisseur?)

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Voila! Bon apetite! I just like this meal because it was filling, delicious, easy, and actually pretty good for you! Great vegetarian option as well. Now would this go with a red wine, because of the sauce on the eggplant, or white, because of the olive oil sauce on the pasta?

Going on the Offensive When I Start Feeling Sick

I never remember how awesome it feels to be healthy until I get sick. What is the deal with getting sick in the summer anyway? I spend sufficient time outside and doing physical things. I’m not as cooped up as in the winter, fewer people around me in general are sick. Oh well, I guess it happens. I am determined to remind myself how good I feel everyday when I am not sick, and make sure I appreciate and enjoy the feeling!

It is day 3 and I am already feeling a lot better, which is encouraging since yesterday I had that muscle soreness flu like symptom. I attribute my quick recovery when I am sick to the fact that I go on the offensive as soon as I start to feel under the weather. And If it isn’t the things I eat and drink that makes me recover quickly, it must be the placebo effect, which would actually mean we have a lot of power with our minds to affect our health.

I start with echinacea, which is just a plant; I get it ground up and stuck into some capsules. It is reported to be an immune system booster. While there is apparently not a huge amount of research on whether or not echinacea can help with colds and common sickness, some studies and anecdotal evidence suggest it has benefits. And it is pretty safe to use, even if it doesn’t have benefits; though according to Web MD it could concentrate caffeine in your system by slowing down its metabolization, and there is a slight possibility for other mild side effects. I have never experienced anything negative about echinacea though, and a couple times when I have felt some sickness coming on, it has retreated without making me sick after using echinacea. It is hard to isolate what worked though, because I also do other stuff to ward off the illness.

I will drink apple cider vinegar straight or you could mix it with some water if that is too much for you, or mix it with some olive oil and put it on a salad. Apple cider vinegar is essentially the magic elixir of life, and the actual contents of the fountain of youth. But seriously, it has some crazy benefits. It can boost energy, make your hair and skin more vibrant, sooth sunburn, and apparently, which I am going to have to try, remove stains from the teeth. It can even break up mucus in the lungs. But I think the reason it works for keeping people healthy is that apple cider vinegar balances the pH level of the body:

Apple cider vinegar helps the body maintain a healthy alkaline pH level. Research shows that higher acid levels (lower pH level) leads to a lack of energy and higher incidences of infection.

I’ve heard that things like too much sugar and alcohol can mess with our pH levels, and that apple cider vinegar brings us back to a healthy balance. Oh yea and they say to get the apple cider vinegar “with the mother” which supposedly gives you even stronger benefits, and just means it has not been filtered; its raw and unpasteurized.

Also, I kind of have this theory that if you eat a lot of garlic, ginger, and onions, you will live forever. So when I am feeling under the weather, I try to overdose on these delicious spices. According to the book The Green Pharmacy by James A. Duke, onion and garlic are closely related plants that contain antiviral compounds. Garlic also contains “allicin, one of the plant kingdom’s most potent, broad spectrum antibiotics”. As for ginger, it also contains almost a dozen antiviral compounds, specifically ones that kill the rhinovirus family, which includes common cold viruses. Cold symptom relief can also be found from ginger, because of its mild sedative effect, and the gingerols and shogaols that reduce fever, pain, and coughing.

Then of course there is the classic green tea which certainly can’t hurt, and eating as many vegetables and fruit as possible, while being sure to drink enough liquids. But most importantly, appreciate how awesome it feels to be healthy.

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. 🙂

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!