Friday, July 08, 2011

My Leafy Friends

My leafy friends are back!! Lamb's Quarters at the leash-free dog park are big as small trees (yes, I wash them really, really well). The leaves are four inches long and they stand as tall as me.

Thanks to Victoria Boutenko and her inspiring book, Green for Life, I'm gobbling them up raw in green smoothies. Amazingly, those quarter inch stems turn into froth along with the chickweed, spinach, dandelion leaves, blueberries, plums and apples I put in with them. If the dandelion tang threatens to overwhelm my palette, I just throw in a little stevia and lemon juice. Voila! Perfection.

Now I finally understand why the raw food people get so excited. Eating raw is not a viable lifestyle for me because me teeth are starting to leave me. But when the blender does the work, I'm all over it. Instead of having to count calories, or change my routine, I just add a morning blender drink and
1. I don't have to cook anything
2. I stop craving sugar, coffee and chocolate. (I still eat it. I just don't crave it.)
3. I feel jet propelled as though it was caffeinated
4. Strangely enough, the extra weight I've carried for years is sliding off me since I replaced store bought spinach with the wild greens in the smoothie.
Yep, those wild greens are my buddies and look, four years later, I still can't stop talking about them. Look at earlier posts for photos to ID these amazing plants for yourself. I bet you have them all over your yard. They like foundation walls, telephone poles, fences and, of course, snuggled up to your beets, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes in the garden.

I planted a bed of Jerusalem artichokes this year in rotted horse doo-doo and guess what I got? Wraparound pigweed! Another excellent blender buddy! I don't know why I waste my money on seed.

If you think about it and really notice the difference, cultivated veggies are a distant second in taste and nutritional power to lamb's quarters, chickweed, pigweed, plantain, purslane, burdock leaf stems, and a host of others too good to believe. I get more produce out of my alley, backyard and the city parks than my garden right now!

This blog started five years ago when the collards behind my former house kept reseeding and growing. Six generations of collards with no-gardener-in-sight were producing bigger and better plants than when gardener assisted. Note to self: they don't need us.

Even when I was sneaking back there
(note winter alley grazing outfit) and pulling them out of the snow , all beat up, moth eaten, and winter fried, they were soft and sweet as brand new when steamed.

What I see now is that the most powerful plants announce their nutritional vigor by the way they grow.
1. By being inventive & adaptable, i.e. growing in sidewalk cracks, out of the sides of compost piles, under decks, on roofs, up trees!!

2. By
growing to outlandish sizes, those showoffs.

3. By growing really fast, getting way ahead of conventional, garden-bred leafy greens.

In the plant world, they're clearly athletes.
Don't they just scream out, "Have I Got a Surprise for You!!"

Do you think maybe they're trying a little too hard to get our attention?
As if they know what's better for us than we do?!
excellent burdock photo by Andrew Williams/

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring is Here Gardening Fiends

This is indeed the first day of Spring. And it follows the largest full moon in decades. That should mean something, though the damp and cold are here today, too.

I celebrated the first spring day by ordering heirloom seed varieties from Azure Standard:
All of these varieties, packaged by Heirlooms Evermore, have been around since the 1800's. How reassuring.

The Marvel of 4 Seasons Lettuce was the most prolific (photo above, front row), romaine type lettuce. It was the most delicious, juicy, and long standing lettuce I've ever planted. The Burbank tomatoes did really well too. Under the pink ribbons in the bed with marigolds, carrots and a zucchini. The green next to the bed is chickweed and mallow. In the foreground an irrepressible Manitoba Maple.

So I am sold on heirloom varieties for Montana. Last year was a rough summer on gardens-so people told me. My raised bed kitchen garden raised a bumper crop. My plants get a great start and good care for about six weeks. After that, it is fend for yourself time. In the next week or so I hope to start a hot frame bed to start plants I would normally start indoors. More on that next time.

I recently discovered I have some common food intolerance–dairy, gluten, sugar and yeast. Cutting out most of what I like has escalated my commitment to raw, fresh, local and seasonable edibles. Also, my commitment to exploring websites with cool recipes like living without. Can't wait for my chickweed which should be showing up soon in the backyard. YES, this early we can already start harvesting nutritious greens. You can find them on the south facing walls, along brick or cinderblock embankments, or in protected patios. The race is on.

I like remembering that agriculture started with alley grazing, before there were even alleys!! Women, children and elders with baskets, scouring the countryside. Isn't is reassuring to know that we're still doing it all these centuries later. Only now, men are allowed to do it too, unlike several centuries ago when it might have been frowned on as gender inappropriate. I remember reading that men and women weren't even allowed to use the same tools for the same job back then. Scythes and shovels...

Celestial Seasonings started with grazing, too. Those two hippie guys tromping over hill and dale filling up their backpacks with wild herbs and berries back in the '70's. Their product line was so superior to anything else on the shelves, they eventually grew their little storefront into a multimillion dollar operation. Even after Nestle bought them out, it's still great tea! Plus I think they invented the ethics of businesses giving back to the communities in which they do business. Or maybe that was Ben & Jerry.

Okay, that was a signature digression. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Happy Grazing!!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Alley Grazing on Steroids

Due to the incomprehensible amount of rain this year, edible (and inedible) weeds are bigger and lusher than they have ever, ever been. Kerr Dam is pretty photogenic as usual and rafters are having a ball on the Flathead River.

Two days ago, my day job and alley grazing came together at my friend Jen's house, as I pick-axed giant burdock roots out of the ground. We are talking roots that are over 3 feet long. Of course I only got portions of those behemoths. I plan to fix them for dinner tomorrow. Will let you know the recipes. They taste a bit like artichokes. I spent an hour, harvested a dozen roots and I was spent. You win burdocks!!

Lamb's Quarters, Knapweed and Mullein are becoming trees along the canal where we walk our dogs. It is staggering to see our arid Montana valley becoming a rain forest of edibility, an explosion of Eurasian immigrant plantvlife. Oh yeah, you are supposed to use the word 'invasive' when describing these species from across the sea, which, in case you hadn't noticed includes all plants called weeds -dandelions, pigweed, stellaria, mallow, grasses, lilies, irises, skunk cabbage, ad infinitum. Perhaps indigenous peoples of all continents would include our own Eurasian ancestors in the invasive species list. After all, these plants are just following our lead. Can anyone spell karma? I digress...

In my own garden, the peas are trying to set a new record. Pods just now appearing. Weeds and peas this year is taller than I am. What fun.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Has She Gone Too Far?

Last week, Alley Grazer was seen on Monastery Beach near Carmel stuffing seaweed into black garbage bags. When questioned, she admitted it was for her sister-in-law, Catherine's compost pile. Catherine was ecstatic with the beach grazing which will fill up her composter, the giant rolling barrel named Konan. Probably a first for that Dollar Rent a Car to have a trunk full of sea vegetables. A good time was had by all.

So this proves that the sky is the limit with respect to grazing. The fantastic abundance of mother nature, whether for palate, for composting, basket making, (or in the case of my oldest friend whose wedding I was attending there), pine boughs for the wedding display.

On the property where the couple lived and wedding was to take place, there was a huge stump where Christie placed these pine boughs we loaded into the rental car. Then the morning of the wedding, she plucked scarlet geranium blossoms which were growing in wild profusion nearby and placed them on the boughs. Can you just see it? A spectacular 3 foot horizontal wreath formed a vivid backdrop
for the minister and the betrothed couple.

I was only there a week, but the 'grazing' opportunities were endless. In addition to the seaweed gathering, I transplanted some wild daisies from the bottom of Bill and Catherine's driveway up to the flower bed; also, grazing on miners lettuce and chickweed, and the wedding preparations. Today while I was getting my tires changed at Les Schwab, I walked up to the water tank with my dog and discovered three wild flowers I had never seen before. This took me to library grazing where I found a couple wildflower books to help me identify them.

Finding surprises right in the neighborhood like that is so exciting. We walk by things everyday without noticing: flowers, wild edibles, tiny creatures, and even people who would be good to know!
In my immediate neighborhood and all over town, I find walnut shells. There is one walnut tree across the road from me, but no others. Yet I find shells all over a 6-10 block area. It's starting to feel like a cosmic joke, especially since there are no squirrels in this part of town. At my feet, over by the side of the road, even downtown, I see them, just one or two at a time. Sometimes just a half shell or a rotted fragment. Who are the clandestine distributors of these hulls and shells?? Or is it a totem, some sign from the gods?

Being a compulsive alley grazer, I also notice cast off appliances, lumber, barrels, buckets, cinder blocks, mechanical parts, bed frames, vehicles, lawnmowers, fencing, firewood, landscaping timbers...well, I could go on. A virtual infinity of discarded items in the alleys of my town.

In another week, it will be time to harvest the lambs quarters, one
of my favorites. Sometimes, they are coming up in and around people's rusting car parts or lawn furniture. Fortunately, I have a wonderful soap that is good for making sure there is no extra stuff on the wild edibles. But it is important not to harvest anywhere spray is suspected. I have noticed that I can sometimes tell by the way plants grow-uncharacteristic shape or size makes me suspicious. Also, homeowners tend to spray certain margins. So I watch out for that.

The beauty of grazing (watch horses, goats, cows and sheep for the ambient frame of mind), is the directionless, goal-free meandering, like the breeze, like the clouds, like the sweeping arc of my eyes taking it all in. That moment of recognition when a flower appears like a familiar friend. Oh, there you are. Or the artistry of green vines scaling a washer tub, the spray of grass clippings along a weathered board, maple flowers blanketing the pavement like a coat of neon paint, lavender blossoms ganged up on stems, about to explode, multicolored tulip buds...what an amazing show. Don't miss it. Alleys are the best part of any town, like people when they kick their shoes off, take off the tie and power suit, lean back in the recliner and become themselves again. Laid back...weedy and wonderful.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oh those cottonwoods and more

It is that time of year again. The birds are crowding the feeder, daffodils almost done, tulips on the way. And those cottonwoods are starting the mega dump of debris onto the cars, roadways and animals. The catkins are piling up in my neighborhood. I think it is hilarious for something to be so abundant. I covered that in this post a few years ago.

Chickweed/dandelion salad fixings, my 'grazing of choice' are the first delights of the season to add to my
buckwheat sprouts (look left). My friend Barbara introduced me to quinoa sprouts yesterday. Get your glasses on to see those babies. But oh wow what a taste. Nutty, great texture. Eaten raw they are twice as good as cooked.

When I was in California I found miner's lettuce in Carmel Valley and bay leaves by the Big Sur River (above). The bay leaves came home in my suitcase.

Other California tripping...We traveled to Santa Barbara along the coast, stopping in Gordo at what was reputed to be an espresso bar. Not. Hippie, biker dude with a seriously flawed idea of a latte. Of course what would you expect from a hell's angel wannabe on a chopped moped. Al was the unfortunate victim. But we laughed about it for days.
Al with a pocket full of peanuts had no idea how popular he as just about to become with the locals. This bunch was lying in wait for him.
Near Pismo Beach the most classic diner I have ever seen housed was housed in a couple railway cars. Divine eye candy! For those of us who love diners as much as we love trains, this was a find! Good burgers too.

Days of walking beaches puts that tidal rythm right in to your bones. No wonder there are people who must live by the sea, no matter what. Other beach walkers had tips on where to find the best sand dollars and how to clean them up at home. A couple walking the pier in Pismo Beach swapped stories with us. We could hear the waves from our room and watch the volleyball and amazingly school soccor practice from our window.

another exotic alley...we look like we are part of the painting

Saturday, March 06, 2010

alley grazing on the coast

Two weeks of tripping around the California coast, sampling the different coastal communities has been wonderful. I had never been a tourist in my own home town before. We even kidnapped my brother today and took him to Fisherman's Wharf for stroll around with the tourists and lunch over the water. 
From Monterey to Santa Barbara on Highway 1, we saw Hearst Castle, elephant seals, Solvang, Big Sur; drove thru rock slides and torrential rains, and a huge casino on the Chumash (pronounced Ca-Hu-Ma)Reservation.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

How Come Everyone I Know is Sick When We Have Super Powers?

Have you noticed it takes less effort to fall sick than it used to? Virtually everyone I know is sick right now: some with the Big C, some with the aftermath of chemo, some with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus, Lou Gehrig's, herpes, candida, angina, liver disease, diverticulitis, colitis, kidney failure. How about diabetes? Have you ever known so many people with diabetes?

My interest in the human body began with a fear of illness, which began as a child with a three week
hospital stint, flat in bed with spinal meningitis. . It terrorized me into good health. So I started researching what made my body work better in my early 20's, using myself as a lab rat. When I could dial vitality up and down, depending on how willing I was to live right, I started wondering how far we could go with this.

What about the Super Powers? It seems, at times that we have them. Like when people:

1. Leap off tall buildings and survive
2. Lift automobiles off trapped children.
3. Use only air for sustenance-no food, no water.
Get buried alive and live through it
5. Get electrocuted and survive
6. Stroll on a 15-20 foot bed of red hot coals and don't burn up

Now I don't know about you, but if only one person ever did this, it becomes, by definition, humanly possible. A human did it, ergo, the human body has this capacity. By the way, I walked on glowing coals years ago, and my feet didn't burn. They looked brand new, like baby feet. All the callouses, nasty cracks , bunions and bulges...gone. Who knew?

So what are the outside parameters of the body's capabilities? Is this a power that can be summoned? Is it a technology to be learned? Is it a talent like music or art? Or is it faith in a Divine Being? Or is it something we all have?

This is the intro to my new blog, Sparkle

See you over there!