Tag Archives: hope

Update: After the Rains…

 

This week will see our third class at The Wild Foods Garden here in Bryan, Texas! The rains we’ve been having this Spring have really helped it flourish and grow. The Garden has NO artificial irrigation, so the plants are totally dependent on ambient rainfall for life. Wild plants are extremely drought tolerant, in addition to being extremely nutritious, so there is little to worry about though.

However, now that the rains are passing, and the new moon is coming, everything is starting to dry out and ripen for Summer. All of the early Spring greens are transforming the returning sunshine into energy to ripen their swelling seeds – you can watch the warm, Northern winds blow them away on the sunny days. The wildflowers too, blooming in the humid heat after the storm, have begun going to seed.

The whirring song of the cicadas has announced that the dog days of Summer are coming. The last of the Spring harvest, immature cattail flower heads, has given us something new to look forward to every Spring though: Cattail Fritters! Warm and rich and delicious, they were an impromptu creation due to the abundance of cattail flowerings this year – we simply didn’t know what to do with them all!

Now we’ve moved on to gathering their golden pollen and looking through the forests for wild amaranth, grapes and the juicy, nectar filled blooms of the Turk’s cap mallow. Our young Turk’s cap cuttings we planted at the Garden, during our first class back in March, are just now starting to show their first leaves. You can also see the lemon bee-balm and black nightshade flowering around the Garden, and around town, now too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve been dreaming for a while about trying to illustrate all these different changes, either as different moons or seasons, or just different points in a yearly cycle. And all the beautiful colors of the Earth have been the perfect medium to bring them to life!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

From raw hematite to sparkleberry juice – using wild pigments to paint and color with has had the dual benefit of showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while also being a pleasant art form in and of itself.

I was actually able to showcase some of my traditional works as well recently at Revolutions cafe and bar, here in downtown Bryan. In addition to several of my paintings, I brought an array of different wild dishes and had a great time talking to people about Nature and the environment and what we’re doing at The Wild Foods Garden. It was actually the perfect backdrop for my paintings, because that’s the message, the inspiration that they’re really meant to convey: to inspire people to reconnect with their environment, in a meaningful and beneficial way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And so it’s to that end, that I’ve decided to make a commitment with my artwork: I’ve decided to start donating a flat percentage of every piece or reproduction I sell to the Brazos Valley chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists and the work that we’re doing together at The Wild Foods Garden to try and bring people and Nature closer together. Because the true message in my artwork is the opportunity for community, and at its core, community is what The Wild Foods Garden is all about; showing people how they can have a positive impact in their environment, and how it can have a positive impact in their lives as well.

Advertisements

Recipe: Curly Dock Soup

In honor of the passing of the early Spring season, I’ve decided to post this recipe for curly dock soup. A delicious and simple recipe, it makes use of the most prolific, perhaps, of all the Spring greens and the result is a soup which is both light and filling.

The ingredients you will need for this are:

2 tbsp. butter

1 cup wild onions (bulbs or buds)

1/2 cup young wild lettuce stalk (or celery)

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

2 1/2 cups chopped curly dock leaves

thyme, black pepper, salt to taste

 

Mix the butter, onions, lettuce (or celery), salt and pepper in a large pot or dutch oven on a stove at medium heat until the vegetables start to sweat. Once they are glistening, add the stock and bring to a boil. Next, reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Finally, add the cream, chopped dock leaves, and thyme. Allow the soup to continue to heat until the dock leaves are wilted, then remove from heat, allow to cool, and serve.

Aside from its simplicity and tastefulness, this recipe is a wonderful way to make use of curly dock leaves even after they have grown large and over-matured. As such, this soup is able to embody the full flavor of Spring long after most of the tender greens have given way to the early seeds and fruit of Summer.

A good pairing for this dish are cattail fritters, or more poignantly, flatbread made from the ripe curly dock seed, and sweetened pine needle tea early in the Spring or lemon beebalm infused tea later towards Summer.

I personally love dishes like this, because they can embody the fleeting nature of a given time or season; and after they’re gone, the memory of which gives us something to look forward to and allows and feeling of continuity and certainty….

Because Spring will always come again

Happy harvesting!

The Wild Foods Garden

This past weekend, I finally began one of the most important projects that I’ve been working on over the past several years. As a joint effort between the City of Bryan department  of Parks and Recreation and the Brazos Valley chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, we have started the first ever Wild Foods Garden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Wild Foods Garden is a living classroom where members of the community can come to learn about wild species of edible plants. In addition to teaching people how to identify and locate these abundant resources, we also focus on showing people just how easy it is to plant and spread these species as well! The importance of which is: because wild foods are so efficient, because they’re so nutritious, because they’re free and most importantly because they’re important actors in the local ecosystem, the more we plant and restore these species, the more we can provide people with a free and nutritious food source while at the same time supporting valuable natural habitat.

We were all so pleased with the amount of people who signed up for the first class and turned out to begin this amazing project. It was so beautiful to see people of all ages working together to build a connection with each other and their environment. I’ve said it all along, what we’re doing is trying to re-establish a thriving community of life, an ecosystem, with humans as an integral part of it. Seeing so many different people come together and taking an interest in their world, that was the essence of that community.

Classes are free and we’ll be holding them the last Saturday of every month, at 10am, in Camelot park in Bryan, TX. If you’re interested in attending the classes, you can register for them here.

So much has started to come together here, from finishing my current portfolio (finally!) to at long last getting this project off the ground, it can be really difficult keeping everything in focus. Times like that it’s important to keep yourself grounded on the things that matter most; on the people and ideals which will help you persevere and stay on the track when everything else starts to become a blur.

For me, that’s a sense of Home. And the notion I have of myself as an extension of that home. I am a human being, but I am also an artist and a teacher. Living that role isn’t so much an obligation, as it’s a fulfillment of who I am as an individual. Keeping in touch with that feeling keeps me connected to what I love, and who I love. I suppose that’s what Home means to me: Love.

It’s the message I try to convey to people with my art, and showing people the reality is my hope and my goal for this amazing opportunity we have just begun at The Wild Foods Garden.

Art Update

I’ve been working on finishing this portfolio for what feels like an eternity. At last I am nearing the end; the final five paintings I’m working on are almost complete.

Once they’re finished, we’ll take them to a local professional to have them scanned. After that,  print copies of them available here on the website.

Once these paintings are all finished, I’m looking forward to taking some time off. Time to relax and enjoy the coming Spring.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

But also to begin some extraordinary projects I’ve been dreaming about for some time….

In addition to my paintings, I’ve been working with a lot of locally sourced materials to develop some unique 3-dimensional pieces. I’ve also been experimenting with developing paints out of natural pigments found here in the Brazos valley.

paint1

Spending more time in these pursuits, I think, will be more tactile and kinesthetic, and perhaps therapeutic, after the focused precision of painting.

Lacie and I are also looking to work more in our Wild Garden this Spring and Summer, as well as develop (and eat!) more Wild Food recipes, and maybe one or two other outdoor projects….

 

 

Like a portable Cob oven. But I’ll keep y’all updated on that.

Recipe: Beautyberry Yule Log

There is a forest of pines I love to visit.  It reminds me of home.  It practically picks me up and takes me there.  It’s an old growth forest; one you can walk through – through deer trails and human trails.  And throughout that forest is a bush with flavors as lovely as her berries.  – American Beautyberry

20160911_134434

Beautyberries are almost never ending.  We picked gallon bag after gallon bag, and I never felt like we were depleting the stash for the deer.  They are prolific and I am so glad we found a place with hundreds of bushes so we know where to return.  Luna had a blast picking them, they are so fun to look at and be surrounded by.  They are a happy berry.  And they have made us happy people.

20160911_142315

We made beauty berry jam.  Lots of it.  But, we knew there had to be more to these berries besides practically the best jam ever and a mosquito repellent made out of her leaves.  So, after much thinking we had the “aha” moment of dehydrating them and grinding into flour.

beautyberry-flour

So, hmmm, that’s why they taste so good in jam: the sugars mature, they lose their astringent flavor, and evolve into the most delicate, spiced, apple, chocolate tasting…. that’s about the best description I can come up with.

We made a really great spice cake/muffin recipe that was perfect for Fall.  Literally tasted like Autumn, and now for the holidays we decided we should try it as a Yule log.  It turned out great, and the flavor was perfect with the mocha/espresso filling we used.

Beauty berry yule log

Very similar to blackberry cake.

Cake:

2/3 c beauty berry flour – ground as fine as you can get it.  Will add texture to cake  no matter how fine.

1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa

6 large eggs  – separated, at room temp.

¾ c. sugar – or sweetener of your choice.

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

1 C. heavy whipping cream

1 tsp. all spice (or some cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg – just go easy on the last two ingredients)

Vanilla

Pinch of salt

 

Filling –

1 ½ c heavy cream

¼ c sugar (sweeten to taste with sweetener of your choice)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. coffee/espresso extract

 

Icing – we didn’t ice ours, just filled with flavored whipped cream, but you can dust with powdered sugar, or make a simple ganache and cover, or ganache and cover with sugar, or leave it plain the way we did, or ice with mocha chocolate buttercream, or just about whatever you want!

 

Parchment paper – a must.  Your cake with tear/fall apart without it, it’s an egg-based cake folks.

20161231_164100

In large bowl whisk your egg whites at high speed with ¼ tsp. cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Begin adding in ¼ c (4 tbsp ) sugar while whisking until stiff peaks form.  They shouldn’t move if you take the bowl and turn it sideways.

Transfer to separate bowl if you need the same one for your mixer, but don’t worry about cleaning the bowl or your whisk attachment.

Now, take your egg yolks and whisk at medium speed until combined and smooth.  Add in 1 -2 tsp vanilla depending on preference, remaining ½ c sugar and a pinch of salt, allspice or alternate , turn up speed to high and let whisk for 3-4 minutes until you products resembles a rich, thick cake batter.

Turn your mixer down to low speed and add your beautyberry flour.  Fold the beautyberry mixture into the egg whites.  Be careful not to break down the egg whites, and just gently fold until combined into a mixture.

Spread evenly onto parchment lined pan and place into the over for 20 – 25 minutes until cooked through.  It’s a darker, chocolate cake, so it may be difficult to tell.  The top should spring back when touched, and if you insert a fork it should be clean.

20161231_172029

Meanwhile:

 

Whisk 1 C. heavy whipping cream with 2 tsp. vanilla, and add the coffee extract – add sugar to taste if desired.  Whisk at high speed in mixer until you have a thick whipped cream topping.

20161231_1754170

Take pan out of oven and flip onto a long tea towel topped with parchment paper.  Very carefully peel off your layer of parchment that you baked on.  VERY carefully.

20161231_175847

Your cake is tough, but still be careful! Roll it up and let it cool in a rolled position.  After it cools layer whipped topping evenly and then roll back up and immediately set on display platter.  Cut two angled ends off, and reattach with icing to create the log.  Decorate how you wish.  You can ice and then run a fork down the sides to create a barked look. This is a spiced yule log,  it will taste like chocolate and spice, and is a great addition to the holidays!

Recipe: Blackberry Cake!

15800682_395104480826928_6986470670614239877_o

Blackberry Hunting – by Lacie Wall

About two blocks from our house is an elementary school, with a playground, large field, hidden oak tree, and a church with a food pantry sign. Just beyond that sign we have an endless field of blackberries.  It’s a little ironic.  When Sean first realized what was growing there we were thrilled, our last bramble of blackberries grew near the highway and was mowed down, so we immediately began watching and planning.

blackberry-flower

This past year has afforded us many adventures and opportunities to build a community for ourselves, with new friends and the wildlife that hunted the berries with us.  Berry picking was a great opportunity for us to get free treats, but it also gave us a chance to learn so much about our environment: hemlock loves to grow with blackberries,  birds are not patient and will eat them ALL before they are ripe, Luna loves blackberries and can be trusted to pick the right thing every time, our dog is only trusted within a 12 foot radius, scratches from thorns are worth it, and sunset berry picking is absolute magic.

blackberry-juice

20160516_193148-1

We ate our berries in cobbler.  We ate them frozen.  We ate them as jam.  We ate them warm and tart in the middle of the meadow.  We glazed barbecue with blackberry syrup.  We ate them in a house,  we ate them with a cat, in the dark, here or there…. we ate them just about everywhere.  Then, we saved them.  As our ration dwindled, we became more and more stingy, until finally we decided (after our success with beautyberry flour) that we would try the impossible and make blackberry flour.

20161209_181822

Blended and dehydrated, then ground as fine as possible, we used a blender, but would have used our coffee grinder if it wasn’t gummed up and we weren’t so impatient.

blackberry-flour

 

I tried two different versions of this cake, and I was more pleased with the second.  Alternately I think you could probably add blackberry flour to anything and it would be delicious!  Dehydrated and ground berries – think waffles or muffins; just throw some in a yellow cake mix or add to pancake batter – the options are pretty much endless.  What we ended with is a gluten free product, with minimal sugar. I used inspiration from http://christinascucina.com/2012/12/yule-log-made-easily-delicious-and.html to get me started, and altered as needed.

The final product is a very light sponge cake, filled with whipped cream that won’t leave you dragging.  For version 1, I soaked lavender buds in cream and then strained and whipped;  I wasn’t a fan, but Sean was. Maybe with less lavender and real sugar I would’ve like it. Next summer, I’m going to make a blackberry jam to swirl with whipped cream for the filling.

Start with this very basic, and short list of ingredients:

1 C. blackberry flour

6 large eggs  – separated, at room temp.

¾ c. sugar, stevia, or preferred sweetener (honey or molasses would be delicious and you could get away with less)

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

2 tbsp. cream cheese, softened   (take the remaining 6 oz block and make a delicious curly dock cream cheese spread!)

1 C. heavy whipping cream

Vanilla

Pinch of salt

Parchment paper – a must.  Your cake with tear/fall apart without it, it’s an egg-based cake folks.

 

And follow these steps –

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Line a jelly roll sheet with parchment paper – mine is large, —- I think a smaller pan would be better.

 

In large bowl whisk your egg whites at high speed with ¼ tsp. cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Begin adding in ¼ c (4 tbsp ) sugar while whisking until stiff peaks form.  They shouldn’t move if you take the bowl and turn it sideways.

Transfer to separate bowl if you need the same one for your mixer, but don’t worry about cleaning the bowl or your whisk attachment.

Now, take your egg yolks and whisk at medium speed until combined and smooth.  Add in 1 -2 tsp vanilla, depending on preference, the remaining ½ c sugar and a pinch of salt. Turn up speed to high and let whisk for 3-4 minutes until you products resembles a rich, thick cake batter.

20170103_200119

Turn your mixer down to low speed and add the magic berry flour! The finer the flour the better. Mix until combined well. Keep this step on low speed.

Fold blackberry mixture into egg whites.  Be careful not to breakdown the egg whites, and just gently fold until combined into a light yellow/spotted purple mixture.

Spread evenly onto parchment lined pan and place into the over for 20 – 25 minutes until light golden brown.

 

Meanwhile:

Whisk 1 C. heavy whipping cream with 2 tsp vanilla – add sugar to taste if desired.  Whisk at high speed in mixer until you have a thick whipped cream topping.  This is also good on its own, mixed with passion fruit juice and a little sugar.

Take the pan out of the oven and flip onto a long tea towel topped with parchment paper.  Very carefully peel off your layer of parchment that you baked on.  VERY carefully….

20170104_204911

At this point you have two options –

  • You can roll up your cake, and let cool and then fill like a Swiss roll. We did this, and it was good. While the taste was wonderful, I’ll be doing the following option next time.
  • Cut equal sized rectangles and then start stacking: cake, cream, cake, cream, cake – for however many layers.

We loved this cake.  It was delicious, made a pretty good breakfast too, and I’m now dreaming of Summer for more blackberry magic.

20170105_083530

Let us know how yours turns out or if you have any tips to improve the recipe!

Recipe: Prickly Pear Cheesecake

20160925_151757

This is one of the more involved recipes we’ve created. The upside, though, is that it yields several products which can be used for all kinds of other experiments. So bear with us, dear reader, the result is well worth it!

In Texas, there is no shortage of cacti. We use it in landscaping, but it also turns up wherever it pleases, as it rightly should. A wonderful plant, the maligned cactus has a myriad of uses, not the least of which involve its succulent pads. An important water source in the dry times, this seemingly hostile plant can actually be a lifesaver.

Still, in more docile times, the fruits of this plant especially are a wonderful Summer treat. Over the past year, we’ve experimented with prickly pears quite a bit, but the idea of a prickly pear cheesecake seemed perhaps our greatest idea yet.

To start, you’ll need to make a basic prickly pear syrup. This means foraging for a decent bag of prickly pears! Easy to find in sunny areas along roadsides or other dry, open areas, prickly pear cacti love to grow in bunches so gathering a large amount quickly is no problem. The purple fruit are in season between August all the way into October sometimes. Avoid ones that have a gray, waxy residue on them, but if they’re still a little green it’s perfectly fine.

Once you’ve brought them home, either scrub the fine prickles off using a knife under running water or burn them off over a flame. Peel them and then add about 2 cups to a large pot and cover about 1/2 an inch with water. Bring them to a boil then mash and let them simmer about an hour.  Strain the liquid through a mesh sieve, then through a cheesecloth. It should taste slightly sweet, like muted watermelon.

Measure the liquid, then replace into the pot with the following ratio: 4 pt. prickly pear juice, 2 pt. sugar, 1 pt. lime juice. Alternatively: 2 cups juice, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup lime juice. Bring it to a boil for 1 minute and continue stirring then reducing it into a syrup. Cool and taste it, adding lime or sugar and reheating as necessary.

For the topping, you’ll need:

1 1/2 cups diced, seeded and peeled prickly pears

3/4 cup diced lime

1/2 cup prickly pear syrup

Place all the ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer until it reduces down, about half an hour to 45 minutes.

To make the cheesecake itself, you’ll first have to make the crust. You’ll need 2 cups of mesquite flour and 1 1/2 sticks of softened butter.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Next combine the butter and flour to make a crumbly mix, similar to a graham cracker crust. Press the mix into a spring form pan and bake for 5 minutes.

For the cheesecake, you’ll need:

3 8oz cream cheese packages

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup prickly pear syrup

1/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

Beat the cream cheese, prickly pear syrup and sugar until well blended. Next add the sour cream and eggs, one at a time. Mix well between each addition, but be careful to not over-mix your eggs!

Gently pour the mixture over your crust and bake for 1 hour, until is almost set. Next let it cool and remove it from the pan. Chill for 3 – 4 hours, top with the compote and serve!

The recipe for teh topping can be used for any fruit compote, and is a delicious dessert in its own right. The syrup is an amazing condiment and can be used in a wide range of recipes, from barbecue sauces to homemade sodas.

-Enjoy!