Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Pleasure of New, Devil's Club and Sock Animals

Let's change our course a bit today. It's Spring, sunny and clear. The birds are happy. The marina is buzzing with activity. Even the air seems new and fresh. Everyone now comments that it may indeed be Summer one day (most people were not so sure last week).

And, I seem to have weirded out my audience with the pig head photos. My apology to those of you with sensitive stomachs; I have stated before that I do not, which can render me a bit tone deaf when it comes to the discomfort of others. So let's take a day for light conversation, as my acknowledgment that some of you were sort of put off by graphic pork porn.

That's a vegetable? Yes! it's a Spring Devil's Club shoot.

Continuing the investigations into all things Local + Seasonal, the editorial staff has decided to do a little review of Devil's Club Shoots, having acquired some at our lovely farmer's market over the weekend. Thanks to Preston of Wild West for finally allowing us to take home enough for the family (more on that in a few moments).

What's that you say? Devil's Club is evil? Armed and dangerous? It's truly the Devil's Spawn? As a sometime hiker, I would have to agree with you there. The huge thickets of spiny plants that confront adventurers on the Olympic Peninsula are intimidating enough, but they pale in comparison to photos I have seen from Alaska. I wanted to show you one of these (amazing, scary, gorgeous) shots, but they seem to all be copyrighted, so you get to Google it yourself--or come visit!

As with many other things in life, though, the looks are just the start of the thing. We have to be more open-minded, or we will end up avoiding some of the most delicious foods, the most helpful medicines, and many interesting experiences. I remember hating beets growing up. Which is truly silly, because I had never tasted them. At the time, new was scary. Later, introduced to beets as a young adult in France, new was exciting, fresh, sophisticated.  This has repeated itself many times over in my life, and is a principle I try to teach my kids. Amazing things lurk in unassuming packages. Devil's club is a perfect example, as both a unique food and with powerful medicinal qualities, including the ability to balance blood sugar.

Always game for something new, we finally brought home a small paper bag-full of the fascinating-looking spring shoots (if you look at some of the online photos you'll see why I bought my first taste of this Spring treat.) Preston was hesitant to let us take so much. At first I thought that was due to having a limited quantity, hard-won at that (really, go look at the photos!) After a few minutes of back-and-forth discussions, I gathered that the real reason he was hesitant is an oft-repeated (but I am not sure ever substantiated) notion that the shoots are somehow "energizing", possibly even euphoria-inducing. I have seen a few comments online to the effect that the bark of the plant is stimulating--mildly so, not like, say coffee. But I have seen nothing that would lead me to believe that the shoots are anything but good eating.

Now that's what I mean by fresh and local!

Which, of course, they are. I sauteed some onion and leek, added the blanched devil's club shoots, and seasoned simply with salt, pepper and a bit of lemon rind. (Many wild greens profit from quick blanching to remove bitterness, though I am fond of bitter, and sometimes to remove strong chemicals that can be irritating. I don't know what about devil's club requires blanching, but I was following recommendations I had read--something I try to do, at least the first time I make a recipe!)

They were a marvelous accompaniment to grilled steak, resembling asparagus tips in appearance and the piney woods in taste. Actually, the first bites were pleasantly resinous, with a faint citrus aroma (before the lemon peel, that's why I added it), but the flavor mellowed as the meal continued. I am not sure if that is due to my acclimation or a change in flavor as the dish changed temperature or "ripened" somehow.

I had the leftovers with eggs the next morning--my favorite  breakfast is greens and eggs (a big thank you to Dr. Natasha, who started me on that path some years ago!) That might be an odd idea for some of you, but having veggies for breakfast, with eggs and/or meat, keeps my blood sugar stable, is delicious and keeps me satisfied for many hours. Try it!

Now, devil's club might not be on your Spring menu, I understand that. But how about real Spring asparagus? Not the year-round woody thing sold at supermarkets, but the Real Deal, found at farmer's markets and in gardens countrywide this time of year. And morels. And things I have already mentioned: nettles and dandelions, chickweed and miner's lettuce. What about Spring lamb? Did you know that lamb has a season? Most of our foods do, but we have become so separated from those rhythms that most of us would be hard pressed to identify the proper season for those foods. Mostly we now see this cycle as one of annoyance: the strawberries we can buy in January lack flavor, there are fewer pastured eggs available during the winter, and the local raw milk supply might dwindle. There are good reasons for all of that, ones we would do well to respect. Instead, we (as a culture)buy the inferior factory foods and gripe.

It doesn't really need to be that way. We can recover the joy of each food, each season, if we limit ourselves to what is fresh and local. Yes, we can have a more joyful eating experience by eating a more limited diet. The way this works is that we eat only what is at it's peak, what is freshest and most lovely in the moment. We can gorge ourselves on tiny June strawberries, knowing that this is the berry in it's perfection. And then we won't see them for another year, a small loss, but with the great anticipation it sets up for the coming return next year. If we treat each food this way, with the restraint and respect to only indulge when it is as close to perfect as can be found, then true pleasure--and health-- await us.

I don't want to belabor the point. If you want a thorough exploration, there is none more eloquent and entertaining than Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If you haven't read it, that's a great place to start delving deeper into the world of local food, and it even has recipes (and a section on turkey breeding so hilarious I almost wet my pants reading it aloud to The Captain...)

Penguin and (unfinished) Platypus went into a bar...
A totally unrelated tidbit about kid's birthday presents:
(Spoiler Alert for my friend the public defender: contains photo and description of your daughter's birthday present. Don't. Say. A. Word.)
Blondina and I went shopping for her friend's birthday present. I thought we'd find something quickly and move on to our other errands. Instead, I had a child near tears, claiming that I always choose the presents, and that I don't like anything she picks out (yup, Large Commercially Produced Plastic Things, or things way beyond the budget are out of the question). I am a pain about kids' presents. I think they should be books or art supplies, if they are not handmade gifts from the heart.

While Blondina worked out her feelings about her ogre mother,  I sat and looked at the books I was interested in (for me, not for gifts). Eventually, she came back to where I was sitting (in a Very Cosy Chair) and glanced at the book in my lap. That's all it took. We had to buy the book. And then we went on an expedition to gather some of the makings of the adorable stuffed sock lovies in the book--socks, buttons, stuffing. We made a bag using this tutorial for a no-sew t-shirt bag. And we made a critter, loosely inspired by the book, to put in it.

How's that for a solution? A book, craft supplies and something homemade. The perfect gift! And the kids are all in love. Now I have to get a copy for us, because last night was a frenzy of searching for old socks wanting to be transformed into new friends.

While talking about making sock animals might be a digression from my regular topics, I want to point out that it's totally in concert with my general goals and ideals: it fosters independence and responsibility, is creative, it's homegrown, it creates joy and community. I would even say that making things by hand even contributes to good health--by reducing consumerism, slowing the pace of life down, and concentrating on something real, with or without friends and family to join in.

Here's to more new things in all of our lives!

What new things are you thinking of trying, either a food or new endeavor? Have you made something wonderful lately you would like to share?


Linda K said...

I thought the pig head picture was pretty cool!! Not something you see everyday...and that is part of why I enjoy your blog so much. You are full of new information and the pictures bring it all to life. So personally, I thoroughly enjoy any/all pictures (graphic or not) depicting what preparing "real food" is like :)

Theresa R said...

Ditto to what Linda K said:)

Kay said...

Hi Justine,

I am new to your blog. I liked the headcheese entry. I also would like to know how to make Tongue soup...

I am just finishing GAPS Intro & am very new to GAPS. I appreciate your blog & find it most helpful & informative.

Thank you, Kay

Justine Raphael said...

Thank you guys! I love your curiosity and open-mindedness--and your support!

Kay--Tongue soup: simmer a beef tongue for several hours with salt/pepper/ garlic/ onion or leek/carrots/any herbs you like, until the meat is very tender (stick a knife in it) Take the tongue out of the pot to cool for a while, then peel (which is very easy, but hurts if it's hot!) Cut the meat up into bite size pieces and return to pot. Adjust the seasoning. I often add either tomato (at the end) or some vinegar (as I am seasoning) because the meat is very rich. Other veg are fine too--I only described the most basic approach.

And welcome! So happy you stopped by!

Clicky Web Analytics