Friday, April 30, 2010

Superfood for Wanderers

This morning our conversation went something like this…
Him: Did you read the article about the "The Ten Best  Superfoods for Women" in your blah blah magazine?
Me: No. 
Him: You should read it.  They said that strawberries have just as many antioxidants as blueberries and white mushrooms are….
Me:  Of coarse. They are whole foods.  It doesn't matter what real food you are talking about-every real and whole food has valuable nutrients. How can there be 10 such  super foods?
Him:  hmmmm

I hate to get on my high horse.  And those of you that know me personally know I can't even get on my high horse because my horse is rather short- but, - I really don't think food value is a mystery.  What is a mystery is that we continue to discuss the "best foods to eat" and "superfoods" and "what's in now".  My philosophy has always been, as Michael Pollan has said, "If it comes from a plant, eat it.  If it is made IN a plant, avoid it."  
That's pretty simple.
I don't like to take vitamin supplements either.  I'm into food, what can i say. 

And  i've added foraging to my grocery experience.  It brings a new dimension to my walk in the woods. Now, when i walk, I peer at the ground and notice the succession and arrival of certain plants.  Everything has a name and a purpose in the fragile forest ecosystem.  In fact, it's hard for me to find a "weed".  First there were ramps, now the trillium and columbine and where are those morels?  It must be difficult to find a morel. I've been looking for a couple of days now, spending inordinate amounts of time peering under forest leaves and in general wandering. My wandering hasn't produced much, a few photos of this and that; mossy stream beds, red trilliums and blooming cherry trees.  My dog is happy though.  She sniffs and scatters about looking for something to chase while my nose leads me unpredictably through the woods.

Everything is slowly waking up. Emerging from it's earthly sleep. The big draw right now in northern Michigan, apart from the elusive morel, is the  snowy limbed cherry trees that blanket the hills in quiltlike patterns.  I love this season. It's a glorious time of the year. I'm waiting for the cherries and looking for morels, two of my favorite "superfoods". I don't need a blah blah magazine to tell me of the health benefits either. But, I can't eat those blooms, so where in heck are those morels?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day for Locavores

The chicken or earth day? Earth day or every day?  Every day or earth days?

For me and most locavores every day is earth day. Being someone who appreciates local food is also someone who loves the earth and her glorious bounty. I can think of no greater way to celebrate earth day than to adopt a more locally grown and fresher diet.

Here are 10 ideas for the Traverse City locavore to embrace for Earth Day. 

1. Eat an entire meal that you prepare from food grown no more than 100 miles from Traverse City.
2. Fast and bring awareness to yourself and your table that 33% of the world is well fed, 33% is under-fed and 33% of people in the world are starving.
3. Carpool.
4. Eat vegetarian for one day.  According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken and substituted vegetarian food every week, that would be the same carbon savings as taking 500,000 cars off the road for an entire year.
5.Purchase food from a farmers market.  Support your local farmer by making a purchase from her and add money into the local economy. Better yet, join a csa!
6. Plant an edible plant.
7. Walk or bike over to watch the earth day parade on Saturday.  The parade starts at Central Grade School on 7th street at 1pm.
8. Help clean up the beach in Traverse City on Saturday 9-5pm. Call 922-4910 for more information.
9. Share a meal with friends.
10.Walk or take a hike.
11. Eat a cage free egg.
11. Drink a local beer- (okay, this is going on and on ad nauseum, but you get the idea and you really can celebrate in so many locavorian earth-wise ways!).

You see, we know it's all about loving the earth, savoring the bounty, treading lightly, slowing down and having something left over for the next generation. In order for us to move forward on this planet  to a more sustainable life-style, we have to embrace some of the practices of yesterday. Fortunately for me, i see local food as a fresher and healthier choice for me, my community and the planet. I love fresh food, direct from the earth, grown in the soil that i walk on.   I really can't think of a better way to celebrate the earth than to be a locavore!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ramp On!

The foraging season has begun.  First up is the wild leek. I've never foraged before and I eagerly looked forward to venturing into this new activity for acquiring my food.  As I  headed into the woods, I realized that I hadn't thought this gathering thing thoroughly through. I realized that though I brought the right size of spade, I hadn't considered some other things.  Like, what did it look like? (I know, goofy.) What is the environment that i would find it in?  As luck would have it, I found a ramp, but I couldn't find a wild leek! So, the trip was a bust!  I was hesitant to pick my first ramp. I decided that I wasn't prepared enough and I had better do a little homework before I started pulling things out of the ground.

 Imagine my surprise when i learned that ramps and wild leeks are the same thing. They grow  abundantly in our Michigan forests. Their soil habitat is sandy and moist and you most often find them on hillsides or very near a stream- typical northern michigan landscape.  They have broad, smooth, medium green leaves with a long stem attached to a scallion like root bulb.  The lower stem has  a deep purple or burgandy tint. And the easiest way for me to identify it,would be to smell and even taste it.  It tastes like a cross between an onion and a garlic.  It's pungent, spicy with a hint of  "nature".  I could certainly find that.
And I learned that wild leeks are high in vitamin C and A, and are full of beneficial minerals and their peppery flavor can replace an onion in just about any recipe.  The Indians in our region revered the ramp for it's healing properties and welcomed their arrival in the earliest of spring after a long, bland winter diet.

So, before I headed into the woods, i figured that i should  bring the right tools and abide by what i call an unwritten code of conduct for the ramp forager... 

1. Make sure to not be on private property or be certain to obtain permission from the owner before foraging. There are places where plants are protected and it is not legal to remove any specimens.
2. Don't leave a big mess and don't be a hog.  When collecting a rooting plant, always leave plenty of healthy specimens or better yet, leave at least half in the rootbound group.
3. Make the disturbance  hard to notice.  Replace moved around dirt and fill up any holes.  Use leaf litter to cover the area that  I disturbed. 
4. Use the appropriate tools to extract my leeks.  A small hand held spade or a dandelion weed can easily separate bulbs. 

Easy enough.  And off we went.

And here is an adaption of Julia Child's famous Leek and Potato soup. This recipe is simple and yummy.  Substitute 1/2 the amount of wild leeks for the leeks in this recipe and you will have a delicious and healthy winter spell-breaking winner!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maple syrup season with Pat and Fel

I got the call late on monday night. If i was going to catch the maple syrup season with Pat and Fel, I would have to come out tomorrow- it was going to be their last day to collect sap.  The warm temperatures, though greatly loved and appreciated by me,  didn't make for an especially abundant season, so they had decided to wrap things up early this year.
I am a bonafide pancake queen. Ask anyone who eats with me. Maple syrup, the real stuff of coarse, is by all accounts, one of my favorite breakfast foods along with a pancake or two. Never mind the 53 grams of sugar per teaspoon! So, I am tickled beyond belief to have the opportunity to actually experience first hand, the collection of and preparation of this precious ambrosia.

Pat and Fel's place is tucked deep into the woods of Northern Michigan on a parcel of land that has been in Fel's family for at least the last 140 years.  They live in an old farmhouse on an original farmstead with a beautiful weathered barn built by hand from rocks and pine planks. They are "authentic Michigan" in every sense of the word.  Each year they collect sap from maples that dot their farm and boil it down on a large outdoor covered fire pit. This year they even had the help of two neighbor boys, Jacob and Christian.

All of us load up into a pick up truck and drive out to a stand of old maples and quickly and efficiently  collect the sap from bags and buckets hanging throughout the woods. Once the sap is collected into clean white buckets,we make our way back to the farmhouse where the outddor kitchen firepit is located. (it's next to their gothic outhouse and just a spit and a throw from the old cabin that was resurrected on their land.) The smoky fire flavors the air. And I quickly decide that this is the first ingredient, and a precursor to the luscious, woodsy musk of the syrup.  Pat and Fel alternate tending the coals with their buddy Heidi  and the sap boils away until the amber liquid carmelizes. (About 2 days.) There is no mistaking it, it is starting to resemble maple syrup and the boys are slurping up mugs of the sweet stuff.

My experience is complete when Pat offers me a taste of her heady syrup over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Oh my gosh, warm and flavorful, rich and wonderful, michigan maple syrup is nothing short of liquid fulfillment.

You can't buy Pat and Fel's labor of love maple syrup.  But you can find maple syrup made by locals all over our area.  I found some wonderful handmade syrup at the Farmer's Market at the Village Commons this past weekend.  It was made by the Hagers in Williamsburg, Michigan.