The Sacrifice of a Scoby and a Cross Country Roadtrip

Eight weeks ago, I did something quite Old Testament. I took a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts, and I sacrificed it on a rock in the front yard.

photo(31)

This SCOBY is the progeny of a kombucha culture that I have been carrying around for the last 5 years, and  as  a bit of a ceremonialist, I decided that a scoby sacrifice was a fitting ritual for this summer of big changes.

You see, I am about to begin naturopathic medical school.

I did not sacrifice all of the scoby. Although I considered it,  thinking,” I’ve been carrying this thing around with me for 5 years. That is a freaking long enough.”

But then, I couldn’t do it. In that moment of ceremony, the scoby took on all sorts of meaning. I remembered the girl from California who brought me the ancestor of that scoby to the island of St. Croix where I worked on a permaculture farm in the rainforest. I remembered smuggling it off the island in the middle of my suitcase surrounded by chicken feathers and horse teeth and tag-a-long live cockroaches.

I remembered brewing batches of kombucha with feisty teenagers in New York who were thrilled to get to drink something with a 0.5% alcohol content. And the time one of the cultures got infested with maggots and Sim, one of my co-counselors, held it up to show the teens, and I knocked it from his hand into a campfire.

I remembered teaching loads of excited adults about brewing kombucha at a wonderful farm in southeastern Michigan and a beautiful cooking school on the coast of Maine.

I remembered drinking the brew in celebration and in despair, with purpose and in times when I knew only confusion.

And so, I didn’t sacrifice all of the scoby. I put a layer in a jar.

photo(32)

And then I put it in my car, and had an amazing road trip across the country with my mom.

photo(27)

photo(26)

photo(28)

Now, eight weeks later, I’m settled at Bastyr University in Washington state. I just finished an Organic Chemistry Intensive, and I am ready to start med school.

I also brewed the best batch of kombucha I have ever brewed. Good thing I held onto a bit of that scoby.

Here’s how you do it:

Lavender Blackberry Ginger Buch

Primary Fermentation:

1 kombucha scoby

5 tea bags (green or black)

1 cup sugar

3 quarts water

1 large fermentation vessel

Make sweet tea with the 1 cup sugar, tea bags, and water. Let cool to room temperature. (You can add ice if you want to speed the process). Add sweet tea to fermentation vessel and add kombucha culture. Cover with a cloth a rubberband to secure the cloth. Wait 7-10 days until the kombucha is to your liking. It will get less sweet and more acidic, the longer you wait.

Secondary Fermentation:

2 cups blackberries

3 tablespoons grated ginger

1 tablespoon fresh lavender

3 tablespoons sugar

About 3 days before your primary fermentation of your kombucha is finished, begin preparing your secondary fermentation. Smash the berries with the grated ginger, sugar, and lavender in a jar. Cover loosely with a lid. Stir the mixture 3-5 times each day until it starts bubbling. It should bubble by day 2 or 3 depending on the temperature outside. Combine the berry ferment with the finished kombucha (remove the scoby before you do this.) Bottle in pop top bottles.  Let sit at room temperature for 3 days to get carbonated. That’s it….drink it as is or strain out the blackberries and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kombucha Battered Chive Blossom Fritters

As a rule, I don’t much like fried food. Yes, I’d rather not taste those hand cut, duck fat fries. And please, don’t bring that hunk of heritage pork Chicharrón near me.

But every good rule must have an exception, and for me that’s frittered flowers. Crisp, salty, delicate, frittered flowers. They’re light, they’re beautiful, and they don’t leave you feeling like you have consumed a leaking oil tanker.

photo 4(1)

You can fritter most edible flowers. I’ve had the most success with wide, lacy, elderflowers. Also, dandelion blossoms, and the majestic orange blossom of the day lily. And, of course chive blossoms. Chive blossoms are probably my favorite flower to fritter because they taste like exquisite onion rings. Yes, exquisite and onion rings aren’t two words that typically would go together, and I suppose that’s the magic of a flower fritter. A chive blossom fritter is  light but at the same time packs the powerful and deliciously satisfying taste of deep fried onion.

photo 2(1)

Furthermore, it only takes a few minutes to whip together a batch of these beauties. Here’s how you do it.

Chive Blossom Fritters with Herbed Yogurt

12-20 chive blossoms, in full glory

1-2 egg whites, beaten

1/4-1/2 cup rice flour

1/4-1/2 cups kombucha or sparkling water

A pinch of salt

Fill a small pot on the stove with several inches of high heat cooking oil. Good options are grapeseed, canola, or safflower oil. Gently heat until 350 degrees. If the temperature exceeds this, your fritters will cook faster than you would probably like. A candy thermometer is about 3 dollars at most grocery stores. Pick one up. You’ll find it quite useful. Separate egg yolks from egg whites. Reserve egg yolks for making a lovely homemade mayonnaise or custard or something. Beat the egg whites with a whisk until they form soft peaks. This will take a minute or two. Gently fold in flour and pinch of salt. Add kombucha until you have thin batter. Gently dip a chive blossom into the batter until it is covered completely and gently drop into the heated oil. It will only need to cook for about 30 seconds or until golden brown. Scoop from the oil with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with salt. Enjoy immediately with herbed yogurt.

Herbed Yogurt

1/2 cup greek yogurt

A bit of lemon zest

A bit of lemon juice

A bit of salt

A finely chopped teaspoon of chive

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl or in a blender.

 

 

Sunchokes and Chickweed, A Prayer for Spring

Although there are still three feet of snow on the ground and the temperatures are in the single digits, I know that in fewer weeks than I have fingers on my hands, spring will be here. Crocuses will be pushing up out of the ground, the snow will melt, and the trees will begin to reveal their perfect, little curled leaves.

In honor of the coming transition, here is a soup for early spring using two of its most generous gifts: chickweed and sunchokes.

Chickweed is the little plant shown below. Its botanical name is Stellaria media which invokes the flowers of the chickweed:  little white stars that pop up in the midst of thick green leaves. Chickweed is one of my all time favorite herbs because to me, it tastes like spring.

photo(15)

This chickweed, I harvested from the Stone Coop Farm hoop houses. As you can see, it is happy and healthy living in the hoop house under several layers of protective plastic.

photo(16)

In the outdoors, chickweed will begin to pop up in early spring. Depending on where you live, this may be late February to early April. It thrives in moist, cool conditions with rich soil like your garden.

The second ingredient of today’s soup is the sunchoke. See it below on the right. Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are also called Jerusalem Artichokes and are native to the United States. The sunchoke is the root of this tall, indigenous sunflower species. For native cultures, this plant was a spring staple. When the ground began to thaw in spring, the roots of last fall’s crop of Helianthus tuberosus would be dug and eaten while the people waited for the rest of the world awaken from its winter slumber. These days, there are still wild sunchokes about. There’s a big stand on the edge of the woods where I take Gertrude to walk. Also, lots of small organic farmers are growing them. So look to your farmer’s market or specialty grocery stores to get your hands on these little roots.

photo(17)

Sunchokes can be eaten raw like radishes, or they can be cooked. Boiling, mashing, roasting, and sauteing are all good methods for preparing sunchokes. For this soup, I roasted my sunchokes for extra flavor. Sunchokes are very high in the plant fiber inulin. Onions, leeks, and garlic are also high in inulin. This inulin is awesome microbe food for all the little bugs in your belly. However, some people don’t have enough microbes of the inulin-digesting kind, and as a result, sunchokes give them really bad gas. So, be warned.

photo(20)

To begin this soup, I made a light vegetable broth from things I had around: 2 stalks celery, 4 small smashed onions with their skins (for extra flavor), 1 carrot, 1 bay leaf, 5 leaves of dried sage, and salt. This simmered for 45 minutes while the sunchokes were roasting resulted in a lovely, light vegetable broth much nicer than anything that you could buy.

photo(19)

While the stock was simmering and the roots were roasting, I boiled a handful of little potatoes in salted water and gently sauteed an onion with celery. Then, when everything was ready, I blended in batches, the stock,the sauteed onions, sunchokes, potatoes, big handfuls of chickweed, and a few cashews for creaminess in a blender. It resulted in this soup of the lightest green below which really does taste like spring. I hope you enjoy it.

photo(22)

 A Soup for Spring: Sunchokes and Chickweed

4-6 cups vegetable stock

1 onion

2 ribs celery

5 small potatoes

1 cup roasted sunchokes

3 cups chickweed

1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews

Salt and pepper to taste

Clean and roast the sunchokes in olive oil and salt at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes until soft and golden. Clean and boil small potatoes in a pot of salted water for approximately 20 minutes until soft. Gently saute onions and celery and a pinch of salt  together in a pot until the onions are translucent. Combine in batches, the stock, sunchokes, potatoes, sauteed onions and celery, chickweed and cashews in a high powered blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and see if it needs more salt. Add as needed. Pour into a bowl and crack some fresh pepper over the soup. Enjoy.

* A note on creaminess. Although cashews are used in this recipe for a light creaminess, real cream is a great option as well especially if you have access to good, fresh cream. Instead of the cashews, add 1/4 cup of cream. Another way to add decadence to this soup would be to add a parmesan rind to the vegetable stock. This will add depth and richness.

 

Sage Steam

It is seriously cold in Michigan today. So cold, in fact, that schools across Michigan have shut down again for fear of frosty little noses. Gertrude and I braved the subzero temps, however, for a morning walk at the recreation center down the road. We had the place entirely to ourselves. The sun was shining, and Gertrude bounded through the snow completely unphased.

Gertrude in snow

When we returned home, I decided to whip up a sage steam to warm up my lungs. This remedy is one of my favorites for  people with colds. The steam warms the mucous membranes and the volatile oils in the sage get the mucous moving out. Best of all, it works immediately. If you are really suffering from a stuffy head, 15 minutes under a towel breathing in the vapors of sage, will give you soooo much relief!

Here’s how you do it. You need a good handful of dried sage. If you don’t have sage, thyme will also do the trick. Or you can go wild and add sage and thyme! In the fall, I usually just trim my sage plants and dry it in paper bags in the garage. You can also buy fresh sage at the grocery store. Fresh sage will work just as well, you just need a bit more.

Then you heat up a pot of water. I usually fill a large pot about 1/3-1/2 full with water. Bring it to a boil. Grab a bath towel, and bring the pot of water to a table with a chair. Place the sage in the pot. Let it steep for a minute. Then begin steaming.

sage steam-side view

Take the lid off of the pot, and breath in the vapors of the sage infusion. Place the towel over your head to create a little mini-steam room. Feel free to lift up a corner if it’s gets too hot in there. Steam  for 10-15 minutes.

sage tea

When you’ve finished, start drinking your sage infusion. Sip on it all day. For extra immune benefits, mucous membrane soothing, and general tastiness, add a spoonful of raw, local honey.

honey

Just don’t do what I did in October. I was getting ready to go to Africa, and I had to get the yellow fever vaccine. After my vaccination, I got a pretty nasty cold. It might have been the vaccine or it might have been nerves, but I was sick. So, I brewed up a big pot of sage and thyme and tea and drank it all day. At the end of the day, when I went to discard the herbs at the bottom of the pot, there floating in the last of the liquid was a boiled caterpillar. To be honest, it put me off sage and thyme tea for awhile. Although, I did recover from my cold.  So the moral of the story is check your herbs for little creatures.

Happy steaming!

 

 

 

A Simple Winter Salad

Happy 2014!

If you’re like me, the Holidays brought days of revelry and an abundance of delicious food like these Palestinian lamb and ricotta pies below.

meat pies

It was a wonderful time, but you can only eat so many pastries, cookies, and pies.

Which is where this simple winter salad enters. Greens to the rescue. This is a beautiful salad and terribly easy. (Delicious too.)

This is how you do it:

A Simple Winter Salad

1 Large Bunch of Kale

1/2 Butternut Squash

Olive Oil and Salt to Taste

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

The juice of half an orange

Begin by preheating the oven to 400 degrees F. Then, cut the butternut squash in half, remove the seeds and peel one half. Cut it length-wise and then into thin pieces cross-wise. Lay the pieces on a cookie sheet and lightly drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Keep the pieces spaced on the tray so that they will brown. Roast for 15-20 minutes until soft and brown. While the squash is roasting, prepare the kale. Wash it and remove the stems. Rip the kale into pieces and toss with olive oil and salt and lay on a cookie tray. Roast for 5-7 minutes until beginning to crisp up. Remove from the oven and let cool. Toast the sesame seeds in a small pan on the stove. Heat up the pan and then add sesame seeds to hot pan and toast for 2-5 minutes until lightly brown. Assemble the salad. First the kale, then the squash, then the sesame seeds, and finally a squeeze of orange.

If you want, you could also add dried cherries or toasted walnuts or even fresh pomegranate seeds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Greens

On a snowy day in December, Joannee Debruhl and I walked around the winter wonderland that is Stone Coop Farm. Despite the six inches of snow on the ground, inside the four hoop houses, we encountered rows and rows of green.

Winter greens are a revelation. The same old kale, chard, mizuna, spinach, and arugala that you’ve been eating all summer meet with a few nights of double digits and all of a sudden….POOF!….you’re eating a whole new plant. You see, when it’s cold, these brassica and chenopodia family plants, convert their starches to sugars. The sugars act as a natural anti-freeze so that the plant can thaw and stay alive instead of thaw and wilt like a tomato plant does when it encounters its first frost.

It’s an amazing and freaking delicious chemical reaction.

You can grow winter greens at home in a cold frame or a mini hoop. For inspiration check out, Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Handbook.

Luckily for me, Stone Coop Farm is just down the road. Their chickens share my passion for winter greens.

chickens in snow

Here’s a recipe for dressing to augment your winter green salad (not that it really needs it!)

Wintry Balsamic Viniagrette

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (the nicer the vinegar, the nicer the dressing)

1-2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary (or fresh if you’ve brought your rosemary plant indoors for the winter)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or fresh if you dig under the snow and find that the thyme is still green)

1/2 teaspoon dried sage (your sage is probably not still green so dried is fine)

1 cup olive oil (the same goes for oil….the nicer the oil, the nicer the dressing)

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1 teaspoon zest of some nice citrus (lemon, orange, or grapefruit)

Mince garlic and add maple syrup, herbs, zest, and salt and pepper. Whisk in balsamic. Then slowly drizzle in olive oil whisking constantly to integrate the oil into the dressing. If you don’t get perfect union, no worries. Just shake or whisk it up before you lightly dress the salad.

 

Sweet Squash Cornbread

There are hefty snowflakes falling outside my window, covering the blue tarped sailboat with distinguished layer of white. On the stove, a pot of chili is simmering and in the oven, a dish of sweet squash cornbread.

This is one of my all time favorite recipes…moist, sweet but not too sweet, and super satisfying. Plus, it’s easily adaptable to dietary restrictions and a real crowd pleaser.

Sweet Squash Cornbread
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups flour (or gluten free blend)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cooked squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, sweet potato)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water or milk
1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. In a blender, mix all of the wet ingredients and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together. Pour into a greased 8 by 11 baking pan (or whatever you’ve got). Bake for 25-40 minutes or until an inserted knife in the middle comes out clean. Enjoy with chili or stew!

 

 

Potato Harvest

Well, it’s been a month since I’ve returned from Africa. In that month, I got a new job, put on a five course farm-to-table dinner, went deer hunting, and cooked three Thanksgiving turkeys. However, I’ve also neglected this blog. So, today we remedy that by going back to basics with potatoes.

Potatoes are the fourth largest food crop in the world. I find this interesting because the potato is native to South America. So, it has only been since the European colonization of America that potatoes were introduced to the rest of the world. The quick spread of potatoes speaks to their ability to serve as a nutritious, filling, staple food.

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap in the low carb/glycemic index/paleo movement. I’ve heard people say that eating a potato is worse than drinking a soda.

I would say this. Potatoes are a whole food. And they have been eaten as a starchy staple by Native Americans for at least 10,000 years ( and probably much longer in their wild forms).  Most cultures around the world eat starchy roots. The Hadzabe in Northwestern Tanzania eat starchy roots on a daily basis. They also eat huge amounts of honey which is pure carbohydrate. So, I wonder as our understanding of nutrition evolves if we will realize that it’s less about carbs, fats, and proteins and more about whole foods that have evolved for our consumption in nature instead of a lab.

At Stone Coop Farm, a diversified organic farm in southeastern Michigan, the farmers grow 10-15 varieties of potatoes. This may sound like a lot (and it is) but there are over 4,000  varieties of potatoes in the world to choose from. Each variety tastes a little different, looks a little different, and has a slightly different nutritional profile.

This year at Stone Coop Farm there were at least 20, 150 foot rows of potatoes planted. From these rows, over 3,000 pounds were harvested. The harvest method looks like this: 1. Load the truck with plastic crates 2. Drive out to the potato field. 3. One person drives the tractor down the row while another stands on the back to get the implement deep enough into the ground to dig up the potatoes. 4. Stop every 5-10 feet to pull weeds out of the implement. 5. Pick up all the potatoes in the plastic crates. 6. Return them to the truck. 7. Drive over to the hose. 8. Hose all the potatoes off. Pick out the bad ones. 9. Weigh the potatoes. 10. Store in the root cellar for 6-8 months.

It’s a lot of work. But man, fresh dug potatoes, they’re delicious. You’ve got to try them.

Here’s one of my favorite potato recipes. We served it at the Stone Coop Farm-To-Table on November 9th. Thanks to Troy Debruhl for the photo.

caldo verde

Caldo Verde (Creamy Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup)
Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion

1 Parmesan rind

6-8 medium organic potatoes

4 cups homemade vegetable stock

2-3 cups of kale (cut into thin strips- chiffonade)

Optional: Fresh thyme, parsley, and sage (1-2 tablespoons of each)

1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Dice large onion and slowly cook it in a soup pot with two tablespoons butter and a sprinkling of salt over low. When the onion is soft and translucent, add chopped and peeled potatoes, Parmesan rind, and vegetable stock. Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the  potatoes are cooked through (about 20-30 minutes.) Then, add kale and herbs. Cook for another 5 minutes just until the kale is bright green. Remove the Parmesan rind and blend the soup in batches in a vitamix or use an immersion blender. Add cream and grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring back to heat in a pan on the stove and enjoy with warm bread.

 

The Hadzabe….A Journey to the Beginning of Time

We are sitting in the back of a stripped down Land Cruiser speeding down a sandy two tracked dirt road when all of a sudden, we veer. It is 9PM and we have been on the road for 13 hours. Jeff Leach, researcher from the Human Food Project, calls back from the driver’s seat, “we’re almost there.” I hope to God it is true as we barrel around acacia trees illuminated in the headlights in a seemingly random fashion. It isn’t true. We swerve and bump and barrel for another hour before the jeep comes to a stop on a dark plateau in northwestern Tanzania.

In the headlights, I see a fire glowing from beneath the branches of a large baobab tree. Around the fire are 5 shadowy figures.  I slide out of the jeep on wobbly legs, and go to meet them. Small men with dark skin and the wiry strength of distance runners rise to greet us. These are the Hadzabe, one of the last practicing hunter gather societies in the world. We have arrived.

Jeff Leach, our host, is an archaeologist turned microbiologist who is three months into a 2 year stint living and working with the Hadzabe. He is collecting stool samples as well as environmental samples to try to map the microbiota of the Hadza. The microbiota is the trillions of bacteria that make up the human ecosystem. The reason that Jeff is working with the Hadzabe is that they are living in the way that humans lived for 99% of human history…as hunter gatherers. This means that they don’t raise livestock or farm any crops. They simply forage and hunt.

The first night, we pull out our sleeping mats and sleep under the stars. It’s t0o dark to put up the tent. My travel companion is Jop de Vrieze, a Dutch journalist who is writing a book on the microbiota and recently published an article on fecal transplants in Science magazine.  He asks Jeff about mosquitoes (which carry malaria), and Jeff is dismissive, “Nah, don’t worry, the wind is blowing.”

The next morning, I wake up with the sun. The Hadza men are sitting around the fire again, talking and smoking. We eat eggs and onions (Jeff’s favorite prebiotic) with some Styrofoam bread, and get back into the Land Cruiser.

We spend the day sampling a camp of approximately fifty Hadzabe men and women. Jeff has dropped off plastic vials which they have filled with poo. In family groups, they deliver their samples to the table we’ve set up in the shade of a leafless sapling. Jeff’s two Tanzanian translators, Aziz and Maryam ask the families what they’ve eaten for the last three days. They also ask if they’ve been to town recently (where there is alcohol and corn) or if they’ve had any western medication in the last year. We also record their height and weight to figure BMI. Jeff says its hardly necessary because all Hadzabe have a BMI of 20, but we do it anyway. I keep myself occupied playing peekaboo with the little ones. It’s fun to realize that this game is universal.

We haven’t eaten lunch, and its nearing 5pm by the time we return to camp. When we arrive, camp has been transformed. There is a film crew on the way and a Safari company called Dorobo has turned the plateau into a canvas tent village. Daudi Peterson, founder of Dorobo Safaris is waiting in camp for us. He grabs four beers and we walk up the cliff adjacent to the camp. Looking out, we can see for miles. Daudi and his brothers grew up in Tanzania. Sons of American Lutheran missionaries, Daudi and his brothers have been running their safari company for thirty years. Part of the mission of the company is to advocate for the people of the land including the Hadzabe. Daudi is one of only 4 or 5 white people (mizungus) in the world who speak the Hadzabe’s click language. Over the next week, I harangue him with questions which he answers with grace and humor.

The film crew arrives in 2 new, shiny Land Cruisers which look quite humorous next to Jeff’s 1980, dirt colored, diesel wafting, shock missing high-quality vehicle. There are 5 members of the crew, and they’ve traveled from San Francisco to make a film based on Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. The production assistant is Michael Pollan’s nephew.

Over the next four days, we follow the Hadzabe around as they hunt and gather. The first day, we watch as the men collect honey. Food tasks are divided by gender. Men collect honey and hunt. Women gather berries, tubers, and baobab fruit.

Honey is collected from 8 different species of bees. 7 are stingless and the 8th is the honeybee that we are familiar with in the West and which definitely stings. Like we do in US, the Hadzabe smoke honey bees into a stupor before reaching into their hives to remove the honeycomb. The hive that we encountered was high up in a baobab tree. At least 25 or 30 feet. In a matter in a minutes, the men had whittled wooden pegs which they hammered into the tree with their honey ax. They built a hand drill fire in literally thirty seconds and lit a bunch of grass on fire to smoke the bees. Nimbly, three men climbed up into the tree on the wooden pegs. One smoked the bees as the other reached in for honey. The other stood in the tree and watched. They tossed the comb down to many waiting hands. I tried two bites of the comb. One was filled with pollen and honey and was maybe the most delicious thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, and the other was a comb empty of anything but bee larvae. The bee larvae exploded in my mouth like tasteless gushers. Not so delicious.

The next morning, Jop and I are invited to go hunting with Boki, a 20 year old Hadzabe boy with enough energy to fuel a steam engine. We leave as the sun rises at about 5:30 AM. Jop and I try to move quietly behind Boki as he sets off a good pace through the savannah. It’s the dry season so most of the trees look dead but they’re not. In a month, everything will be green. The trees are mostly either baobab trees or acacia. The baobab trees have big wide trunks to store water, and the acacia protect themselves with thorns that range from several centimeters to the length of your pinky finger. No joke. Needless to say, you have to be careful moving through the brush so as not to gouge out an eye.

Almost immediately as we leave camp, we see two impala which are  graceful deer- like creatures. Boki takes a shot with his homemade bow and poison arrows but misses. We track the impala for awhile. Every so often, Boki points down at the ground at a track or a clump of feces and says “impala” or “zebra” or “diky dik.” He takes a couple shots at birds and squirrels and checks some nests for eggs but nothing. Then, we see a diky dik which is like a cross between a rabbit and a deer but again, he misses. I’m sure it doesn’t help that he has two noisy mizungus trailing behind him. Next, we spook a kudu which is a very large animal like an African moose. We track the kudu for awhile and when we reach a clearing Boki motions us to stop and he takes off over the ridge. Jop asks me for some sunscreen so I fish it out of my backpack and he is putting it on, when all of a sudden 5 bush pigs barrel into the clearing. We yell for Boki and he comes running but they are gone.

The next day, we follow the tribe out to the berry fields. The Hadzabe eat a very seasonal diet. In the dry season, they eat more meat and baobab fruits and then when the rains come, the berries and the honey flow increases so they eat more berries and honey. The berries had just begun to get ripe, and so when we arrive at the berry fields after an hour walk through the bush, there is a mad rush to the bushes. Young boys and girls climb up into the trees and sing and rock and fill their mouths with berries as quickly as possible.

It’s a joy to watch. Everyone is so excited. The berries are apricot colored and faintly sweet. Cordia sinensis is the botanical name. Jeff starts stuffing his mouth with berries. Maryam, his Hadzabe translator, warns him, “Careful, Jeff. Slow down. They will make you run.” Sure enough, six hours later, Jeff reports they’ve all passed through his system. “Six hour transit time,” he says to me wonderingly, “they must have some laxative qualities.” Maryam just laughs at him, covering her mouth and shaking silently.

Then, the ladies process the baobab fruits. This is a major source of calories for the Hadzabe for 10 months of the year, and the main weaning food for infants. I have been munching on it all week. It’s sort of like eating faintly sour chalk. Check out the link below.

http://vimeo.com/78538954

Aside from the honey, my favorite food of the Hadzabe is //ekwa, a root that begins with a glottal click which is written as //.  It’s botanical name is vigna frutenscens which is in the family Fabaceae or the bean family. I had no idea that bean family plants could produce woody, edible roots so this was an exciting revelation. The //ekwa are dug by the women with sharpened digging sticks. It’s quite an exercise to uncover the whole root. They are often 12-18 inches long and just as deep. It takes 10-20 minutes to dig up one root. The roots are prepared by lightly roasting them over a fire for 5-10 minutes. This warms the flesh and blackens the skin which makes them easier to peel. When the // ekwa is cooked, it is cut into 1-2 inch long chunks and chewed. There is so much fiber in the root, that you can’t swallow all of it. So you chew and then spit out the fibers in a wad, chew and spit out the fibers in a wad.

The week came to a close much too quickly. The Hadzabe are what anthropologists like to call a present focused society. They don’t plan for the future, they don’t think too much about the past. They hunt, they gather,  they sit around the fire and tell animated stories. It’s a world view almost unfathomable to a Westerner. Michael Finkel, from National Geographic wrote a wonderful article which helps articulate this way of looking at the world.

Unfortunately for the Hadzabe, they are living in a time and place that doesn’t realize how unique they are. There are pressures from all around to civilize them, to send their children to school, and to teach them to farm. (Even though their land is quite unsuitable for farming.) Perhaps, researchers like Jeff and activists like Daudi will help protect them, but it’s not a guarantee.

I don’t know what the future holds for the Hadzabe, but I do know that I am so grateful for a chance to walk beside them for a few days. There’s an aliveness in present moment living that is undeniable. When you are focused on eating, sleeping, and making babies, life is pretty straight forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nasturtium Leaf Pesto

Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa, I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar, Into your flaming heart; – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23172#sthash.cwZlTR2G.dpuf
Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa, I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar, Into your flaming heart; – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23172#sthash.cwZlTR2G.dpuf

Flame-thrower, Day-Torch, Mauna Loa, I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar, Into your flaming heart.

Anne Spencer from her poem, Lines to a Nasturtium

Nasturtiums are wonderful little plants.

They belong to the genus Tropaeolum, but are commonly known by the name nasturtium. Interestingly, this is the Botanical name for another genus of plants which include watercress. This is because nasturtiums were named by the Europeans who used them like watercress in salad. The word nasturtium literally means “nose twister or nose tweaker.”

Nasturtiums are native to South American, but because of their beauty and tastiness, they have been introduced to gardens all over the world. I lived in Portugal for several months last year and adjacent to the path that I walked everyday, was a huge patch of nasturtiums. I often stooped to pop a flower in my mouth and the spicy flavor would open my sinuses with powerful nose tweaking action.

Both the flowers and the leaves are edible, and they add a delicious and beautiful bite to a salad. I like to float the leaves (which look like baby lily pads) on top of a bowl of soup. They  also can  be made into delicious pesto which this post is of course about.

Pesto is one of my favorite things to make because it is just so versatile. The basic ingredients are leaves, nuts or seeds, oil, garlic, citrus, and salt. A bit of good Parmesan is also a lovely addition. Some of my favorite leaves to use in pesto (aside from nasturtium) are chickweed, cilantro, moringa, arugala, and basil.

Here’s how you  make pesto:

2 cloves garlic (or more as you like it)

Juice and zest of 1 lemon (or more as you like it)

1/2- 1  teaspoon salt

1/2 cup nuts or seeds (toast them for more flavor)

3/4-1 1/2 cup good olive oil (You’ll really be able to taste it so use the good stuff!)

4 cups leaves

Optional: 1/4 fresh grated Parmesan (note Parmesan is salty so you may need a little less salt)

Add everything except the leaves  to a mortar and pestle. Grind  into a paste. Then slowly incorporate leaves. Keep grinding. It will take awhile. Or, for a more speedy method. Put everything in a food processor and whir away. Add more oil for a thinner pesto and more leaves for a thicker pesto.

I’d love to hear your favorite pesto combinations. If you’ve made an interesting pesto, please write about it in the comments section!