Keep your eyes open, but more importantly…take whatever you can get.

Cattails.  Delicious….yes.  Exciting 3 consecutive meals in a row…not so much.  We thought this past week’s meal was, once again, going to rest in the verdant hands of Typha latifolia (the Common Cattail).  Thank the Lord we were wrong.

Last week, Alex and I foraged three times in different places around the area for something new to consume, but to no avail.  Neither did we find the species of fiddleheads we were searching for nor the early season Morels and wild Asparagus that are said to be sprouting around Michigan.  It’s sufficient to say our spirits were low.  As of Friday, we had NOTHING to prepare for our meal that night.  Postponing the meal until Monday we felt less pressure and decided to try foraging once more in Seedman Park (Ada, MI).

Right away we were happy to see the largest Dandelion’s we’d seen yet this spring and snatched those babies up. Praise the Lord and…pass the Dandelions I suppose?  The rest of that trip turned up little else other than a couple fiddleheads that unfortunately, we not of the Ostrich fern specie.   We’ve read that technically, there aren’t any poisonous fiddleheads, but we heard some are definitely more tasty than others.  We’ll have to try the ones we found this past trip in our meal this Friday.  Oddly enough, we also came across a Ribbon Snake that we were able to catch, clean and refrigerate to add to our meal Monday.  I’m still not so sure about that one.  Hm.

As all of you know, Sunday (yesterday) was Mother’s Day.  So as I’m sure all of you were, Alex and I were spending our days separately with our Mom’s.  Thank goodness we did.  After spending time with my own Mom at the Tulip Festival in Holland, MI, my parents and I went out to my Dad’s parents home in Nunica.  My Grandparents live on a large amount of land and have a field and adjacent woods comprising most of the acreage.  After coincidentally discussing Alex’s and my blog, Grandma Joan kicked me out of her house.  I didn’t need too much convincing to go forage the woods I had explored most of my childhood, but I did need some encouraging after all the snacks we had eaten.  I needed boots so Grandpa Otto provided, with dead mouse included.  How nice.


My Aunt Paula and Uncle Greg were nice enough to let me tag along and boy did we hit the mother load….of Wild Leeks!  Up until this point, Alex and I had only found wild onions with deeply rooted, not to mention tiny, bulbsThe wild Leeks we found were large and ripe for the picking.  Not only were they in huge, easily accessible clumps, but their bulbs were so close to the surface my family and I were able to use our hands to dig them out (a not so easily done task with wild onions).  In 10 minutes or so, we easily collected 50 plants. 

FINALLY!  Alex and I would have a foraged resource to make our meal with.  Right off the bat, I decided we were going to make Leek Soup the next day and boyyyyy did we!  Our meal we prepared for lunch and follows below.

Sauteed Ribbon Snake

  • 1 ribbon snake, gutted, cleaned and sliced
  • Butter
  1. Fry up the snake meat, tiny bones included, with butter in a pan until golden brown and crispy.
  2. Dish and serve.

OUR OPINIONAlex: loved.  Myself:  Tasty, but I hated the bones.  Worth trying once though.

Dandelion and Leek Leaf Salad

  • the leaves from 20 dandelion plants
  • 2 Tbsp of sliced leek leaves
  • preferred dressing
  1. Thoroughly clean the dandelion/leek leaves and prepare as one would a typical salad.
  2. Slice a few leek leaves long wise and add to the dandelion leaves.
  3. Add preferred dressing and serve.

OUR OPINION:  Alex and I both found incredibly tasty, but a little on the bitter side.  Dandelion leaves would really compliment a Romain leaf salad as well we decided.

Potato Leek Soup  (3-4 Servings)

  • 1-2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 2 leeks, in our case we approximated with our small leeks what we thought would be the equivalent, washed and sliced
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, optional
  • 3 – 4 cups water
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 Asparagus (we got ours from the garden), we added for fun
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp freshly-ground white pepper
  1. In a large pot heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the slices leeks and season with salt. Cook the leeks over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until they’re completely soft and wilted.
  3. Add the thyme, if using, and stir for about 30 seconds, cooking them with the leeks to release their flavor flavors.
  4. Pour in the water, and add the potatoes and bay leaf.
  5. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a sharp knife. Depending on which potatoes you used, it could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

THE LAST STEP BELOW (we didn’t do this step due to time shortage, but we will try it next time for sure)

  1. Pluck out the bay leaves and puree the soup with the white pepper, seasoning with more salt if necessary. I use an immersion (stick) blender, but if you use a standard blender, be sure not to fill it more than half-full and secure the lid, and cover it with a tea towel when blending, to avoid hot soup or steam for causing problems. Don’t use a food processor as that will make the potato purée gummy.If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water, until it’s the desired consistency.

OUR OPINION:  Alex and I both loved it!  We can’t wait to make it again and maybe this time around, we’ll puree it like the recipe’s last step suggests.  The one thing that truly amazed me was how tasty the 3 cups of water became after combining all the other ingredients.  There really weren’t that many, yet the liquid in the soup tasted like some bouillon or chicken stock were added.  So healthy AND delicious.

– Sam


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A Walk in Cascade Peace Park

It seems spring has been struggling to come out this year. It has been unseasonably cold and thus all the greenery of late April and early May still seems to be hiding. In our quest for wild edibles Sam and I have become increasingly good at attaining Cattails and wild Onion but we don’t want to have a third meal in a row with the same ingredients. Our palates need variety. I guess you could say we have been picking the low hanging fruit. Cattails and wild Onions are easy to find and identify and therefore have been a great way to get started. Now I am ready to start looking for fiddleheads, morels, and leeks.

Yesterday was Star Wars Day and my birthday, May the 4th be with you, so it seemed a perfect day to go try and find these more elusive plants and fungi. Normally late April is the time for fiddleheads and early May the morels begin to make an appearance. Knowing how late spring is this year I thought I might try and find the very first few morels poking out among the hard woods of Cascade Peace Park. The weather was beautiful and I convinced my friend Del and his girlfriend Erica to join me on my venture as Sam was predisposed teaching and coaching Fencing at the West Michigan Fencing Academy.

Say cheese!

Even if we didn’t find any morels I knew we would have a good time on account of the weather and just getting into the woods. We started out of the parking lot off Bolt and not 5 minutes into our walk we came upon a good sized Blue Racer sunning himself just off the trail. It seemed a good omen as the last time I can remember seeing a blue racer over 3 feet long was when I was a small boy.

We made our way into the center of the park and began hunting around the bases of trees and fallen logs for morels. We carried on for quite a way without any success. It was surprising how little growth has sprouted in the forests. Morels like warmer temperatures and normally begin to pop when the temperature remains near 50 degrees at night. I knew we were early but I also knew that work friends had found a few. In the end you can’t find them if you don’t go looking. Fortunately, our search wasn’t entirely in vain. After startling a female Turkey I cam across, not Morels, but Fiddleheads!

We had come down into a ravine over looking a creek bed and suddenly there were fiddle heads everywhere. Sam and I had worried that we had missed the season. But here I was looking at my first fiddleheads. I was extremely excited. Sadly my discovery wasn’t of the Ostrich Fern fiddleheads which are the tastiest kind. But knowing they are just coming out is really good news.

It is funny how once you become acclimated to what fiddleheads look like they begin to appear all around you as if a veil has been lifted. They are such an interesting plant and the way they slowly unfurl themselves is a thing of otherworldly beauty. I found a few different species of fiddlehead but no big beefy Ostrich Fern fiddleheads.

I really like the way a few varieties look feathered.

This is my favorite picture of the day. How cool are Fiddleheads!

We left our little stream as the sun had long passed its zenith and dinner time was upon us. On the way back to the trail we walked through a bunch of old Apple trees and I held my breath for Morels, but none could be found. Leaving the Cascade Peace Park forage empty handed was a little rough on the ego; especially when all of our previous forages have been so successful. I know if need be we can find Cattails and wild Onion in a flash and fill our bellies that way.

Our foraged meal has been set for this Saturday’s lunch and we definitely have more time before we have to worry about going hungry. At least finding fiddleheads was a heartening discovery. We should be able to find bigger, tastier fiddleheads for our Saturday meal. Another good piece of news is arriving out of my garden, Asparagus is growing well and I know Sam and I should be able to find some growing wild in west Michigan eventually. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, right?

A few Asparagus poking out.

Regardless, we’ll keep foraging. It is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature and I am truly relishing this experience with Sam and now friends. We are talking about having a group outing this coming Saturday morning at Seidman Park which should be a great time as well. After all we are just two kids in the woods, but who said we had to be alone?

– Alex

Warm weather brings mushrooms!

Spring seems to have truly sprung this weekend here in Western Michigan.  Yesterday and today have given us beautiful warm and sunny weather.  They must have been just the missing ingredients our LBM’s (little brown mushrooms) needed to reveal themselves. Yes,  we have mushrooms! Some sprung up near my home just last night.  I have little, if any, experience in identifying fungi so I immediately started researching how to correctly identify the genus I discovered (see below).

After some quick, but thorough research, I discovered….well….that there are a million genus’ of mushrooms that resemble the ones I found.  They are placed in the catchall category of LBM‘s (little brown mushrooms) and it is strongly advised not to risk harvesting and ingesting these types of mushrooms.  So, that’s a no-go on a possibility of mushrooms for this upcoming weeks meal.  We’ll continue to look for new produce this week, but man! I really want something other than cattails!

-Sam


Cattail Soup

Sam came over today for our second foraged meal of Cattail soup. Preparing it was relatively easy. The rice sat simmering away as Sam cleaned and separated the massive clump of wild onions and I started simmering the sesame seeds and carrots (Queen Anne’s Lace) in a handsome amount of olive oil. With the wild onions cleaned it was few simple chops and into the pan they went. Then Sam took over the cutting board and began slicing the cattails into bite size pieces with great finesse, as only a fencer could.

With the rice close and our Cattails, Wild Onion and Carrots simmering beautifully Sam and I could step back and enjoy the sounds and smells of the kitchen. When everything was ready we added the veggies to the rice along with 4 cups of chicken broth and let it cook for another 15 minutes.

We decided to deviate from the recipe, but only slightly, and add some Herbs de Provence. The 15 minute wait was excruciating for Sam as she had skipped lunch and was “dieing” of hunger.  With the clock striking 6:30 we turned off the heat and ladled out the soup into two bowls and were happy to see we would definitely have leftovers. At the table we spooned the soup into our mouths so quickly we got burnt, oops.

Caution Hot!

Sam grabbed some bread so we could at least taste the broth without suffering the heat. Soon enough we were like Goldilocks, enjoying soup that was just right.  The soup was very good and now having had Cattails twice I can confidently describe the taste. It is has a sweet yet fishy taste much like imitation crab and the ends are so soft you hardly know they are there, however the green sections have a crunch to them. The Queen Anne’s Lace is extremely comparable to store bought carrots except that they are white and not orange.

Now after two meals I am feeling even better about our experience thus far. It is so much fun walking through swamps and fields with Sam and discovering wild edibles, as well as sharing the kitchen cooking a shared meal. We can’t wait to share our next meal with you and we hope you enjoy our journey as much as do.

– Alex

Surprised by Carrots!

I came home from work this afternoon and was graciously surprised by Carrots. My mother had been weeding her gardens and had thrown them onto the compost heap as they are a nuisance to her tulips. I was elated and grabbed them up and took them to our kitchen sink.

A carrot in the hand is worth two in the ground.

After a good scrubbing they really looked delicious and I am certain they will make a great addition to our soup! It is awesome how easy this really is. In all honesty I didn’t even try. One mans trash is another mans treasure I guess.

With an extra kick in my step on account of the carrots I felt my luck couldn’t get worse. I took a stroll in search of wild onion for our soup and low and behold I found some growing 200 yards from my back door.  Foraging has been a cinch today! Sam and I discovered a massive cattail marsh, my mother inadvertently supplied us with carrots and I found another place for wild onion!

I used a trowel and dug up a big clump and now they are sitting on the kitchen window sill. A beautiful bouquet of wild onion. The soup is coming together nicely.

– Alex

Our second meal is tomorrow. Will you cook with us?

As those of you who live in Michigan know, it has been raining all week.  Due to this fact, neither Alex or I have gotten outside to forage for our second meal.  So…we were so very thankful when we awoke to a cloudy, but RAIN FREE sky this morning!

Our recipe tomorrow will once again focus on the wonder plant, CATTAILS.

Cattail and Wild Rice Soup

  • 1 cup dry wild rice (produces 4 cups of rice when cooked)
  • 2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
  • 2 tbsp Sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 2 tsp salt
  1. Wild rice should be cooked until tender.
  2. Saute the onions and cattail shoots in sesame oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, until they become tender and translucent.
  3. Add to the pot, the cooked rice, 4 cups of chicken broth (or other soup stock of choice) and also add salt.
  4. Simmer the mixture in the pot for 15-20 minutes and serve!
Our foraging experience began where it did last time, at  a Cattail swamp.  We were soon forced to forage elsewhere for cattail shoots though due to a small harvest.  Walking closer to the lake, Alex and I found the El Durado of Cattails!  Furthermore, we met one of my super nice neighbors who showed us once of her paths right down to the shore of the lake.  Lo’ and behold, we found the largest cattails as of yet!  We concluded the most likely, the cattail swamp we found them in was more mature.  
IMPORTANT OBSERVATION!  We thought it necessary to mention that in their young stage, Lilies tend to look very similar to cattail shoots.  Lilies are NOT edible.  Example below.

Lilies: Slightly purple. Cattails: Not purple.

I can’t imagine how grateful, and not mention sick of, the Native Americans who utilized Cattails were at this time of the year.  There really isn’t much other vegetation available for consumption right now.  Fortunately, the sprouting flowers and plants are pregnant with edible possibilities for later this spring and summer!

– Sam

Goat! Lamont and Our Search for Fiddleheads

Sam and I spent Easter Sunday with her family out in Lamont, MI. Her aunt and uncle have a beautiful farm house on a few acres of land with horses, chickens, turkeys and a goat! (I love goats) Being out in the more unspoiled areas of west Michigan we decided we should at least take a walk beyond their pastures and check out the woods for Ostrich Fern fiddleheads.

Fiddleheads are young ferns and are collected when they are under 6 inches and are a great cooked vegetable. They are high in antioxidants, a good source for Omega 3 and Omega 6 and contain iron and fiber. They are also supposed to be quite tasty. We walked through the woods scanning the ground for fiddleheads but unfortunately none could be found.

We did come across a bunch of these pretty yellow flowers. So I guess the entire search wasn’t in vain. Either way I was happy because I got to hang out with a goat!

On another positive note I was rototilling our garden today and saw that our asparagus is just beginning to poke its head out of the ground. Sam and I will have to look for some asparagus as well as fiddleheads for this Friday’s meal. We’ll keep you posted when we do find some wild edibles.

– Alex

Who would have thought.

While visiting a relative of mine at the new Metro Hospital  in Wyoming, Alex and I couldn’t believe our eyes….a bio roof!

Looking down from the 3rd floor

If you are wondering what is so exciting about this colorful roof before you, you’ll be interested to know it is a biological, “bio”, roof.  The purpose behind implementing these bio roofs into new buildings is to reduce run-off, increase the buildings temperature retention ability, and filter pollutants (just to name a few).  I’m looking forward to seeing how Grand Rapids’ booming medical community will continue to implement environmentally friendly technologies such as this into their new buildings!

– Sam

I Want One!

Easter is tomorrow which has meant my day was spent busily preparing for the holiday, but I thought I would share a cool little tidbit I found whilst browsing the web. A new concept from Volkswagen has been released at the Geneva Auto Show! They are bringing back the old Bulli what we know and love as the hippie bus. It is conceptualized as a fully electric vehicle with a range of 186 miles per charge. Looks pretty cool to me. Check it out here for more details and pictures.

Earth Day – Our First Meal

Today is EARTH DAY 2011!!!  Alex and I enjoyed a beautifully cloudy and chilly celebration of our mother earth cooking up our first officially foraged meal.  It was so exciting watching the fruits of our labors meld into a delicious concoction.  The scent of sesame and onion filled the kitchen and set our mouths a-watering.

For those who are interested in what we cooked, here is our menu below.

Menu

Wilted Dandelion Salad

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves Minced Garlic
  • 2 Tsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • Dandelion leaves from 6 plants approx.
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. Brown the minced garlic in olive oil, add dandelion leaves, mixing thoroughly to make sure all the leaves are coated in oil, add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat once the leaves are just slightly wilted.

Cattail Stir-Fry

  • 4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp crushed Sesame Seeds
  • Wild onions
  • Cattails
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  1. Roast Sesame seeds in olive oil on low until you can smell their aroma, add the diced up stalk of the green onion and sautee on low for another 2 minutes.  Add the onion bulbs, chopped to bitesize, and  cattails (cut to about 1-inch long), sautee for approx. 3 minutes.  Add a little water and cover pan, let simmer until the cattails become translucent.  Add cooked rice, stir, salt & pepper to taste.  Serve and enjoy!

Candied Violets

Before baking

After baking

  • 1 egg white
  • sugar
  • wild violets (icluding stems) washed!
  1. In bowl, beat egg whites with a wire whisk just until frothy. Place sugar in another bowl.   Taking one violet at a time, pick it up by the stem and dip into egg whites, covering all surfaces.  Gently dip into the sugar, covering the entirety of the flower.  Place on wax paper-lined baking sheets and snip off the stems.  Using a toothpick, open petals to original shape.  sprinkle sugar on any uncoated areas.  Dry in a 200 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until sugar crystallizes.  Remove violets to wire rack, sprinkle again with sugar if violets appear syrupy.  Cool.  Store in airtight containers with wax paper between layers.
    Nutrition Facts   (1 Flower = 1 serving = 3 calories, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 9 mg sodium, 1g protein, trace carbohydrates, 0 fiber)

Our Meal Review

The meal as a whole was delicious!  We especially enjoyed the cattails and  onion, but they were a lot sweeter than we thought they would be.  The flavors were subtle and pleasant, and they complimented each other extremely well.  The candied violets were messy, but uber sweet and surprisingly, they tasted like a combination of berries and leafy greens (it might sound odd, but it tasted amazing!).

For all our praise and enjoyment, this is a learning experience and there are some changes we’ll make next time.  For example, when adding vinegar to the dandelion salad, the rule of thumb should be LESS IS MORE!  Also very important, make sure to not over-wilt the dandelion leaves.  As with the aforementioned vinegar, less is also more when it comes to the amount of egg white and sugar coated on the violets.  Our violets didn’t crystallize all the way through, even though we baked them for the allotted time, and proved to be a gooey mess.  If you decide to use our recipe, we advise an application of non-stick spray to the wax paper prior to preparing the violets.

This meal was many things.  It was fun to research, clean, prepare, cook, present, photograph, ingest, delight in and ruminate on.    One thing it wasn’t?  Hard, expensive, inedible (thank goodness) or gross!    I honestly cannot believe all the produce that was right in our metaphorical backyard.  Nor did we have to search for days to find it!  The hardest thing about preparing for this meal was waiting for a day…in April…in Michigan, with good weather.

– Sam and Alex

P.S. For more photos check out our Facebook page