Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The world is my buffet table: Dandelion

   "Mama had a baby and it's head popped off."  We used to sing that all the time as kids and pop off all the heads to the dandelions.  Now here I am 30 years later doing it again.  No, I don't have kids.  I love dandelions and I noticed they are blooming everywhere.
   I was too late to get the leaves or roots.  The leaves are great in salads, sandwiches or even juiced or thrown in a smoothie.  Diuretic, good for digestion, and cooling.  They contain vitamins A and C, and antioxidants.  I was even told "You should pick those dandelion leaves now, before it's too late, they're ready."  I thought that was crazy!  They weren't ready yet.  They needed more time to fill out.  It wasn't so crazy.  Within 2 days, there were the flowers, all yellow and smiley.  So I did some research, and sure enough, you want to pick them before the flower comes up.  After the flower comes up, they get more bitter and stringy.  Damn.  I'll still pick them anytime I need a fresh green, regardless of a flower being there.  But they are better before they flower.
   Well, maybe I can harvest the root.  The root is so good for the liver, it increases iron levels and enhances iron absorption, it helps with nerve transmission, and is also cooling.  I had a feeling that was going to be something for the fall.  I was right.  You want to harvest the root from late fall to early spring.  The temperatures may feel like early spring, but the day length tells a different story.  Nuts!
   But... It turns out you can eat the flowers!  I wasn't sure what to think about this at first, but I just had to give it a try.  Here's what you do to enjoy these smiley bits of lawn sunshine.
   My first suggestion is to pick the flowers early in the day.  That is usually the time to harvest an herb. Usually.  I went out late in the day, because that's just when I finally got my act together on this project.  It was part of dinner, of course.  The wind had picked up and a cold fog was rolling in.  The flowers just didn't look as cheerful as they did earlier in the day.  Whatever, I had to try it today!  I picked just the head off.  No stem.  I didn't worry about removing the small green leaves.  Then I rinsed them really well to get any bugs or dirty stuff off.  Not that I'm too concerned, I'm sure there have been many little bugs in my salad or dinner.  It's fresh and organic!  Most of the flowers came from a fenced in area, but some were from other spots.
        Important note: You want to be careful where you wildcraft.  You don't want to eat things from a lawn that is sprayed or maybe has runoff from a road or other gross source.  Plants are kind of like filters and will suck up dirty things, so a good, known, clean area is best.
   Then I laid them out on a paper towel to dry.  I made a batter
with 1/2c. heavy cream (it should be milk, but I forgot to buy some), 1/2 c. flour, and 1 egg.  You could definitely get creative here.  Maybe cornmeal or some herbs?  I forgot the salt and pepper.  That would have been nice.  Beer could be used for a beer batter, or you could get creative with the flour and liquid.
   I got a pot and put about 1/4" to 1/2" of oil in it and got that hot.  I used sunflower oil.  Any oil could be good.  Coconut oil could be very tasty!  To make it a healthier fry, use a healthy oil, and keep it at a high temperature throughout.  You can do this by making sure you have enough oil in the pot so that when you put a cold item in there, it doesn't cool down the oil too much.  Also don't throw them all in at once.  Just fry a couple at a time and then do another batch.
   I drenched these little flower heads in the batter and threw them in the hot oil for a few minutes.  When they looked nice and golden, I took them out and laid them on another paper towel to drain and cool.
   I made a honey mustard sauce for dipping them in.  Any dipping sauce would be good.
   They were great!  We ate them too fast to get a picture.  It was so fun to eat something that seems so strange.  Something that people spend so much money and time getting rid of.  Something that is everywhere.  Perhaps we should embrace what the world offers us, rather than try to kill it.  Maybe their resilience is a sign that we need to make the most of it, and use them.  If my entire lawn was dandelion rather than grass, I'd be so happy.  Maybe my neighbors wouldn't.  But I wouldn't be mowing and I could eat my "lawn".  And they are just such happy mini sunshines!  Now I walk around wondering what else is out there for me to eat that I don't know about yet?  I imagine I could feed the entire city a little snack with all the flowers that are out there.
   It's tough to find information about the nutrients in the flower, but from a few sources I've seen, I think dandelions contain vitamins A, B and C, phosphorus, and calcium, betacarotene, iron, zinc, potassium, and lecithin.
   There are recipes all over the internet for different ways to fry them up.  There are recipes for cookies, a syrup, and teas.  You could even just sprinkle them over a salad.
   I also tried making some dandelion syrup.  Not knowing what I might be in for, I just made a small batch.  Also, I've been so excited about these flowers, but I wanted to leave some to go to seed (some people might hate me for that!).  I picked 15-20 flower heads, once again not worrying about the small leaves.  I put them in a pot and covered them with some water.  I only wanted to bring them to a boil and then let them steep.  A watched pot never boils, so I did a little vacuuming.  Thanks to my boyfriend for seeing it and shutting it off.  Next time I will at least stay in the kitchen.  I let them cool and then put the infusion in the fridge overnight.  The next day I strained the infusion making sure to squeeze out all the liquid I could.  It turned out to be about 1/2 cup of liquid.  I put this back into the pot and added a little less than 1/2c. sugar.  I heated this up until the sugar was all dissolved.  You can add lemon, but I wanted to see what it tasted like plain.  It was like honey!  You can add this syrup to some water for a tasty drink.  I'm thinking of adding it to some vodka with a little lime, for a nice cocktail tonight!
   I hesitated on posting this, thinking it needed more pictures, thinking I would make that cocktail and talk about it, thinking there should be more.  What I got is another link for eating dandelion flowers.  These are fritters, not fried, more like pancakes with stems poking out.  Fritter recipe

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Motivation? Motivation?

   Oh motivation, my good friend, where are you?  I really need you right now.  There are still many jobs to finish.  Are you hiding, wrapped up in blankets, avoiding the cold damp weather?  Are you taking a break after a week of hard work?  Are my authoritative powers not strong enough to keep you working?  Please come back!
The dogs answered the call of the nap!
Not helping my battle.
   Hopefully I just left you in the greenhouse and you're responsible for waking up those seeds and getting those seedlings to grow so fast.
   I thought since I couldn't motivate myself to do some of the things I needed to do, I could at least write about this little problem.  As I sit here trying to write, there's a tug on my left arm.  "Oh, well hello there Procrastination!  Thanks for stopping by!"  Now here I am searching online for tips on how to stay motivated.  They're not helping.  I feel like my brain has quit.  Focus? Why don't you stop on in?
   Let's get to the real roots of the problem here.  I am stuck in this spot of being somewhat recently unemployed and not quite yet self employed.  I no longer have that structure of having to be at work at a certain time, in a certain type of clothing, to do a certain job.
   Oooh, the mailman!  What paper treats does he have for me today?
   Not having a job is great!  Starting your own business is exciting!  But also scary and some of the tasks are, well, boring.  I've spent a year or so on this business so far.  Four years if you count the other ideas I had and decided not to follow through with.
   I'm at that boring point now.  I've created my recipes, sampled them out, and got mostly great reviews.  I've adjusted the recipes according to some reviews and I'm happy.  I've designed the packaging.  I've created a website, even if it is a rough work in progress.  I've gone to the lawyer to get the business filing started.  What's left?  Details.  Boring, ugly details.  Writing up return policies, terms of agreement, and other not so exciting stuff.  Ugh.
   It's easier to find motivation when you have a result that is exciting.  I wanted to work on the package design, website, and recipes because when it was done, I could proudly display it and show it off.  I'm staring at the box right now and smiling.  I can't wait to get the finished package back so I can take pictures and put it on the website!  But return policies?  Where's the reward there?  The only reward I can see is crossing it off the to do list.  It's an important piece of the pie, but ugh, who cares.  How about I just start also making these things to sell too!
   And now I'm overwhelmed.  I've gone from selling boxes of herbal tea at farmers markets to overtaking an entire craft fair with all of my potential products.  Focus.  Get back to the tea.  Ok, the tea and the blog that you have neglected for 3 weeks.  Neglected because I have procrastinated, avoided, and lazed out of everything to the point that I didn't even have anything to write about.  All I want to do is take a nap, which, interestingly is one of the tips people gave for regaining motivation.  I refuse!  Even though it is rainy, cold, dreary and still brown outside and that quilt and pillow look so good right now.
   I think I feel it coming back! Motivation?! Is that you? Did forcing myself to write about not wanting to write inspire me to write more?  I think so!  That check mark next to policies will look great!
   After I make some lunch.

What are your tricks to get yourself up and at 'em and to pull yourself through the doldrums?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Dream Garden, but only the small dream

    I've had a lot of time on my hands lately.  I lost my job, which is so great because I really wanted more time to work on my herbal tea and recycled object business.  Now I've got too much time.  That leaves a lot of room for staring out the back window and dreaming.  Thank you Grow Write Guild for encouraging this and asking me to write it down!
     I have many dreams of my garden.  Some involve more space than others.  So I don't get too crazy, I'll just stick with my dream for the space I have now.  We only started here two years ago, so it was a clean slate and it's still a work in progress.  I like to stick to the attainable dream so I don't drive myself crazy.  I'm not ready to move again yet.
     The first part of our dream involves food.  Probably the second and third part, or just about all of the parts involve food.  We love flowers, but we find we're often moving them somewhere else so a food plant can go in that spot.  Food plants have flowers too!
  So, food.  We have our vegetable beds as well as a strawberry patch, blueberry bushes, a cherry tree, a fruit cocktail tree (peach, apricot, plum, and nectarine), an apples tree (fuji, golden delicious, and gala), a marion berry, and soon schisandra berries.  In our dream, they are bigger and bear many fruits!  We want too much so that we have to invite friends and neighbors over for feasts.  And then there will be extra for canning/drying/pickling for the winter.  Last season the squirrels got fat off our peaches, our single apple blew off during Sandy (I'll take that loss over what other people lost), and we had a small snack of blueberries.

We also want to add grapes, almonds, goji and citrus in pots.   One side of the house, you'll walk through a gate under grape vines, and on the other side, schisandra vines.


     Part two also involves food.  Chickens!  Maybe ducks too!  Although I'm sure they'll end up more like pets and we will only eat the eggs.  These chickens will be running all over the yard eating the bad bugs and pooping out good plant food!  I've been dreaming of chickens or ducks for years, hopefully by the end of this summer, or next.


     Now we need a place to cook and eat this food.  The deck is built, but we need nice furniture and perhaps a bar.  The deck has gentle fans to keep mosquitos away, and repurposed sails for sun blocks and privacy screens.  An old boat is docked next to the deck and is used as a planter.  We have a slight nautical theme for this deck.  Maybe we'll have a fire pit below the deck, or a brick oven.  There's also a nice front porch with curtains and plants hanging all over.  It will be a nice place to watch the sunset.

     Since I am an herbalist and make teas, there will be many medicinal and culinary herbs growing in gardens and wherever else they might be happy.  Chamomile, echinacea, calendula, yarrow, raspberry, valerian, hops, roses, mints, basil, and a million more!  They might be vertical, or spiral, or just scattered.

     We'll have bees and all kinds of birds and butterflies fluttering around!  We can collect honey and bee pollen from our hives.  This might take a while since I first have to get over my fear of bees.
     We have a bat box, but in our dreams, bats actually live there!  We put two up there because one just wasn't big enough!
     We have a small greenhouse.  But in our dreams it is heated!  Then we won't have to lug huge pots of aloe and citrus in and out every year.
     We have rain barrels set up to help with the watering.  We might need to add some more in other places.  There will be lots of plants needing water!
     We'll have an aquaponics setup.  Maybe tilapia are in there.  Maybe ducks are swimming around.  Probably a dog will jump in at times to cool down.
     We'll have to use vertical arrangements to fit more in.
The back yard is very private with all kinds of edibles or medicinals growing everywhere, forming fences and walls.  Winding pathways guide you throughout the yard into little pockets of heaven.  It's definitely not a huge yard.  But every space will be used but not overcrowded.  Much of the building materials will be re-used or re-purposed.  Paradise on a quarter acre!