Friday, April 30, 2010

Watercress, Dock and Potato Soup

Curly Dock (AKA Yellow Dock)

This dock, not to be confused with broad leaf dock or burdock, had a yellow tinted root.  I made sure to dig up a few yesterday to make sure.  The entire plant is a medicinal powerhouse.  You can read about it here.

After assessing the state of my kitchen and refrigerator last night, I decided that  a vegetarian meal was in order.  It turned out great, and was surprisingly hearty.  Unfortunately, we at it so quickly that I didn't take a picture, but it was a lovely shade of green, and rather thick in consistency.  The grated cheese on top was a tasty touch.
Here's the recipe:

Watercress, Dock and Potato Soup

Watercress, a little curly dock, and 2 potatoes.
Ramps (or scallions, onions, and garlic)
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
Grated  Parmesan Cheese

Peel and cut the potatoes into small slices, then boil in salted water until soft.  Add watercress, chopped ramps and dock to the water, and cook until wilted. Strain off most of the water (leave enough to make it soupy), then puree in a food processor.
Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shopping the Woods

I'm happy to tell you all that I've been discovering new (to me!) plants every day. I was unable to get outside for awhile due to a family issue, but I have returned to a fecund and glorious spring deluge of life. In the past 5 days, I've identified and sampled the following plants: Dryad's Saddle (mushroom), wild mustard, curly dock, watercress, garlic mustard, ramps, morels (these were given to me; I haven't been blessed with finding them this year, though I did dream of them two nights ago), and dandelion (of course!). I've seen many other plants that are both culinary and medicinal, though I haven't gathered them, as I'm not ready to use them. There are millions of May apples in our local woods, and I've found a great source for stinging nettle (I plan to gather some this weekend; I learned how to make cordage for baskets from the long stems, and intend to eat the leaves. Did you know that stinging nettle can make a vegan form of rennet for cheese-making?). There are many beautiful Jack-in the Pulpits growing in the woods right now; I also identified dogbane shoots and mullein, winter aconite (poisonous) and thistle, coltsfoot and winter cress. The list goes on.

Curly Dock with Garlic Mustard in the Foreground

There's no reason anyone should ever be hungry or mal-nourished! I'm furious with the media and our culture in general for commercializing our understanding of food and medicinal sources. We've been robbed of our natural birthright to live in harmony with the plant world by agribusiness; it's time to reeducate ourselves and our children, and reclaim the potential for vibrant, natural health that nature has provided us. There's something so basically wrong with the way people have developed in terms of where they get their foods; I know it came with industrialization, and the mindset of human control over nature. I know this will raise hackles, but perhaps it's a good thing that the economy is tanking. Perhaps we'll return to those things that really matter: a harmonious life in and with the world we live in, rather than manipulation and domination.

Mustard (Yellow)

I've recently become acquainted with another organization, PASA (PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture); from an agricultural point of view, they embrace the same ideals: natural and organic over agribusiness, simple and sustainable over complicated and short-lived. I've been learning about many different plant and animal resources as a result of my affiliation with them. I've also learned about Monsanto and many of the insidious practices designed to profit from human ignorance regarding their foodstuffs.

Chopped Veggies

I know this is a ramble, but I wanted to share my wonder at the abundance I'm experiencing right now; abundance of plant allies, of information, of understanding. I feel as if we're on the verge of a new paradigm; a very positive one, in terms of earth-consciousness and whole living. I hope I'm right.


This salad plus a delicious grass-fed egg omelet with vegetables and raw-milk mozzarella crumbles from the farm made a perfect dinner.  Natural food: it does a body good.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On the Wild Side

I want to preface this with a warning:  BE SURE BEFORE YOU TASTE.  That being said, after extensive web searches, conversations, book references, etc., with many assurances that this was an easy beginner's mushroom", I marinated and ate my first slices of Dryad's Saddle today.
I took a walk on the wild side.
Steve Brill led me.  At least in spirit.

Now, any day I can experience something new and exciting, particularly something wholesome and earth-friendly or at least without regrets, is a good day.  I'm in the second half of my life.  That stuff is rare.
Today was a good day.

Dryad's Saddles sure can't compare to morels.  Whoever decided they were edible was desperate.  The edges are ok...they take on the flavor of the marinade, with the usual mushroom texture.  But look at the picture: those are teeth marks.  If I ever go missing, you can use this image to identify my remains  (too much "Bones" on TV.  I love it.)
That won't be anytime soon, though, as I survived the great Dryad's Saddle experiment.
You still can't beat morels.  Never.  No-How.
(Thanks, Stephanie and Mike.  I hope I can reciprocate!)

Sunday, April 25, 2010


In honor of Earth Day, and to personally celebrate the most beautiful time of year, my good friends Stephanie and Mike (cavers, boaters, professionals and eco-sensitive locavores) shared some secret resources with me, as I did with them.  Don't ask me where we went, because I won't tell you.  Suffice it to say:  the site above yielded some absolutely fabulous spring-fed watercress.  We visited this spot just after harvesting a few bags of ramps, at another undisclosed location.  I forgot to photograph the site; ramps get my heart racing.  Love those ramps.
This site, new to me, was their contribution to the day's adventure.  It yielded a handful of morels to them a week ago, though none were forthcoming yesterday. I DID score a beautiful Dryad's Saddle mushroom and a nice bag of chickweed. When I read the nutritional pedigree of chickweed to Stephanie (from Steve Brill's book on the subject:  "Identifying and Harvesting Medicinal and Edible Plants" ), she said "Mmmmm...Spinach!"  Perfect. 
The Dryad's Saddle
I picked this before I knew what it was.  I challenge myself when I'm out; I enjoy finding a plant that interests me, and learning what I can about it.  It's interesting to me; more times than not, they're either medicinal or edible.  The Dryad's Saddle is edible; the name is derived from the whimsical thought that the fungus might be a good seat to the wood-nymphs.  I aggree.  It looks comfortable to me!  Steve Brill offers a marinade that tenderizes an otherwise reportedly chewy and sub-prime mushroom.  It's touted as a good "beginner fungus" (right down my alley), as it's very easy to identify. It's the "Also-Ran" in the race for morels.  According to my "Field Guide to the Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania And the Mid-Atlantic", one needn't go home empty handed from an unsuccessful morel hunt, as the Dryad's Saddles share the season with them.  They were right.  I'll report back on Brill's marinade tomorrow (they're soaking now). 
It felt so good to get out in nature after a few weeks of yearning for it. The environment, the company, and the identification of a new fungus all totalled a perfect day. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed the 5 ticks I found on my body on the trip home, but they were a fair price to pay for the pleasure of exploring.  Nature strikes a balance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I have been consciously making time to walk each day, as a gift to myself.  It's actually rather hard to schedule.  I leave school at about 3 PM, then go straight to the farm, where I feed goats, tend a garden, and who knows what else.  It's been near dark when I've come home the past few days, but I have found a solution.  I walk there, before I tend my girls.  It realigns my mind, and helps me transition from my profession to my passion.  An absolutely necessary half-hour of communion with nature.

The garlic mustard has grown miles since I last photographed it, and I made a wonderful pesto with it yesterday which I served with pork chops for dinner.  Today, we had a nice mixed greens salad (much of it wild), with a navy bean and ramp puree and bratwurst with home ground horseradish.  Peter's home-brewed Chardonnay chased it nicely.
The salad was a two-day project.  Yesterday's effort included green leaf lettuce, dandelion greens, cucumber, raisins, almonds, ramps, and kumquat rinds.  Today, I added more dandelion greens, a little fennel, chopped prunes, and a few fried bacon bits.
Health food.  HA. 
Well, the only unhealthy part was the bacon, and that was (at least) local.

My big news for the day (outside of school, which I don't discuss here), is the wild garden I'm bringing home to my little corner under the deck.  I'm importing shade loving plants that I find useful.  I have three cleavers plants, a chickweed plant, and some creeping thyme.  I'm creating a micro-haven, a hidey-hole for those hot summer days.  You'll find me there, book in hand, when I have the time to dally. 
I'm counting on it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lessons in the Woods

I want to tell you what I've learned in the past few days.

First, I've learned that every moment is precious.  Just ask these sisters, who happen to be my mother and aunt. I don't have a large family, but I can tell you that hugs received from someone you're related to feel like they fit.

I've learned how precious our independence is to each of us.  My mother and I are learning that together, though in different ways. I'll respect her privacy, and tell my own story.

How sad I would be to lose my ability to see things like this:

Or this:
up close and personal. 

I had a little knee problem, which was fixed with a cortisone shot and a little TLC.  Minor stuff, but enough to teach me exactly how it feels to be held back when you want to walk in the woods, or plant a garden, or hold a goat kid, or load a kiln.  My problem is fixable; and it taught me to be more compassionate; some problems are not so easily dealt with.  We have to make changes, as our bodies age, but we need to make them in our own time and way.  There's a process of letting go, or holding on.  It's personal, and deeply rooted. Only we, ourselves, can know what's right, as the time teaches us.
I learned to continue to take care of this body, so I can continue to do those things that bring me peace as long as possible.

While I was walking in the woods this evening, after my teaching day was over, the goats were fed and watered, and my garden planted (I tried a walk the day before yesterday, before the magical cortisone shot, and it made me cry; walking in the woods is impossible with damaged knees), I learned another lesson.  It came to me as I was hoping, searching, praying for a glimpse of a Morel.  I've been looking for a few years, though fruitlessly.  I came upon a bounty of them several years ago, then once more about 5 years ago; I'm afraid I may have received my quota of Morels for this lifetime. But I digress.

This was the lesson: "See."

So I opened my eyes, and I saw this: thousands of May Apples. Deer droppings.  Infant Poison Ivy sparkling in the decomposing leaves, too small to bother anyone. Jack-in-the-Pulpits bowing their heads reverently. Cleavers dancing between the taller plants; Cleavers is a happy plant.
Wood gone to mulch, and the birth of tiny new plants in the rich earth it provided; the visible cycle of life.
Branches fell.  Birds sang.

Infant Garlic Mustard Basal Rosette

There was a post script to the lesson.  It was "Too many of us, too few of them"; this coming from the Garlic Mustard, referring to the Morels.  So the Garlic Mustard became our dinner tonight.  We made a lovely pesto from this invasive "pest".  It was delicious. And the phantom Morels remained invisible...until the time is right.

Hopefully sometime soon.

I'm blessed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Open House

Yesterday, amid the wind and occasional rain, several hundred people made their way to Flint Hill Farm for our annual Spring Open House.
The team was harnessed to the hay wagon for rides around the property; they love to work.  It makes them feel useful. No, REALLY!  You should see how proud they are!

We had absolutely amazing music by various artists associated with "Godfrey Daniels", a non-profit music venue from nearby Bethlehem, PA. They were wonderful. The Bluegrass jam made me feel like I had stepped back in time.

We had arts and crafts...

Sheep shearing (Did you ever see a sheep being sheared?  They act like they're getting a beauty treatment!  Nirvana! Then they don't recognize each other afterward. It's hilarious!)

And bottle-feeding.  Ms. Amy is an awesome goat  maaa-ma. And an awesome person-momma. Just ask her kids (pun intended!)
My neighbors even visited!  Great fun!
Who could beat a day framed by music,

horses, and friends?  The only thing that could make it better would be a little sunshine.  We'll ask for some of that for next Sunday...when we do it all again!  Come join us!  4/25/2010, from 10 AM - 4 PM.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Do You Think They Think About?

That's what the young man (11-ish) asked me today when he helped me feed the goats.  Preceeded by "What do they do in their spare time?".  I told him they chewed their cuds.  He wondered about their thoughts then.  Politics? (no).  Stock market?  (why?)  I decided upon philosophy.  Spirituality.  Poetry. I told him that they contemplated the meaning of life.

     They have calm times, and active times.  Much like us.  They rely upon us to take care of them, and so can focus their energies on higher thoughts.

Like interspecies relationships...even if they're much bigger, stronger, and harder. Kids are kids, regardless.  Goats know that.  Boy kids are bold, even if they're little.

Even very small boy kids.  Who will eventually be ravenously hungry.  

They are beautiful.

And Funny. 

And bring me peace.

My Apologies

I've been away for a week or so; without going into detail, my mother has been ill and we've been working it out.  She's home now.  I'll be back soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fruits of the Earth

Dandelion greens, sweet woodruff, cleavers, spearmint, peppermint (from the earth, today).
Mesclun, mixed sprouts, broccoli raab, basil, par-cel (from my indoor garden).
Scallions, chopped apple, organic uncured beef bacon(organic from Pure Sprouts).
Pork bacon and sausage links (local, from Zerns farmers market).
Hard boiled egg (local, pastured, from Flint Hill Farm)
Orange Miso Dressing (organic, from Pure Sprouts)
Pine nuts (Zerns).
Oh, and a little red cabbage from the grocery store. I get around.

YUM.  I'm absolutely energized.


(Photos by Megan Levance)

I just had to show you these pictures that my daughter posted on Facebook today. 
First, a little kiss:

Pucker up! You know goats are the best kissers.

How about now?  How about a big, wet one?
Are you ready?

Shhhh, Candy Cow!  No more kisses, Mom is watching!
(The farm is a friendly place!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pocono Herbs

Though I had no access to goats while I was away (and missed them terribly!) I did take a few pictures of wild herbs I recognized while we were walking.  A few follow:
First, Ground Pine.  I first encountered this plant in the woods of Woodchoppertown, PA, in the 60's. It's alive and well at Hickory Run State Park. 
There were many healthy patches of Coltsfoot, which I only identified for the first time last week at the Hellertown Reservoir.  You can tell it's not dandelion by its early blossom, its textural stem, and its leaf shape.
Thistle.  I'm just beginning to realize just how many varieties of thistle exist.  I can't pretend to know which one this is.  Apparently Milk Thistle is a wonder-herb.  More research is certainly necessary.

I believe this one might be Cleavers. The tea is a good diuretic.

Pretty and prolific Wintergreen, a tonic and mild pain killer (it contains salicylic acid, just like aspirin. So does willow, which I've been using for headaches for a month or two now).

There were more, of course, but these were the most familiar.  It was a lush and verdant place, and a most excellent way to spend a spring afternoon. 

Fifteen Minutes of Spring

We arrived home early this afternoon to open blossoms on the pear trees, fully blooming tulips, and 88 degree weather.  It seems that when we left for the Poconos, we took the springtime weather with us.  Summer came when we were away!

I believe that yesterday was my favorite day away.  We saddled up the Miata and took a ride north with the top down.  Though we had no particular destination, we did make our way to Hickory Run, a beautiful State Park. We drove for what seemed like miles on a dirt road (*note to self: dirt roads and convertibles are NOT a good idea),to find the amazing boulder field you see below:

 The boulder field is a National Natural Landmark.  It should be; it's amazing.
We also stopped at the Francis E. Walter Dam, at the head of the Lehigh River.  Our dear friend John, who passed away 2 years ago, was instrumental in convincing the Army Corp of Engineers to raise the level of the dam in order to insure more stable levels for the fish and environment, and weekly releases for the recreational boaters and fishermen.  I took this picture (below) for him; I hope that somehow he knows he was successful.

Notice the road that disappears into the water and reemerges on the other side?  That road was the reason the dam was kept low for so many years.  It's obviously closed now.  ;)

I have to say that one of the best things about going away for a few days is coming home again.  It reminds us of how good familiarity can feel.  I was happy to return to my cats and plants, to my garden and my spot on the couch.  Though my wonderful neighbor had taken great care of everything for us, I missed our furry kids and my newly sprouted herbs.  I'll be back to work tomorrow, refreshed and ready to face the long spring session ahead of us. 

My next challenges: Spring Open House at Flint Hill on the 17th, and starting my garden plot at the farm!  Hooray!!!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why They Call It Split Rock

Easter at Split Rock: Early Morning Views

 Peter at the top of the lookout; we tasted a fresh birch twig at the top before I descended. Mmmmm...reminds me of my childhood. The air was fresh and clean; slight breeze, about 57 degrees. A perfect spring day.

I'm not sure what's going on with my formatting here; I'll sort that out later. Springtime in the Poconos: beautiful!

Friday, April 2, 2010


Allentown City Ordinance:
A. Wild or Exotic Animals Prohibited No person shall keep a wild or exotic animal in any place other than a zoological park, veterinary hospital or clinic, humane society, or circus, sideshow, amusement show or facility used for educational or scientific purposes, which provides proper cages, fences and other protective devices adequate to prevent such animal from escaping or injuring the public.
B. Sale, Exchange, Adoption, Exchange or Transfer of Wild or Exotic Animals Prohibited No person shall sell, offer for sale, adoption, exchange or transfer, with or without charge any wild or exotic animal. This section is not intended to apply to persons owning or possessing wild or exotic animals prior to the passage of this article provided that the person or persons taking possession of such wild or exotic animal following said sale, adoption, exchange or transfer is/are not a resident of the City of Allentown.
C. Keeping Farm Animals Prohibited It shall be unlawful for any person to keep or maintain any cattle, swine, sheep, goats or fowl in the City except at such places as are provided for slaughtering or laboratory purposes. This provision is not intended to apply to the Lehigh County Agricultural Society and its activities at the Allentown Fair.
D. Disposition and Impoundment Any person who keeps a wild or exotic animal or prohibited farm animal in contravention of this article may dispose of the animal by removal of the animal from the City or by giving the animal to the City Official. The City Official is authorized to release the animal to the wild, to a zoological park, or to dispose of the animal in some humane manner. (ARE YOU KIDDING ME???)
I protest! My neighbors used to have a Saint Bernard. Murphy was a huge, lovable guy, but boy, could he “compost”. Thankfully, my neighbors were meticulously clean, and his contributions were cleaned up daily. He weighed about the same as a larger adult goat. Murphy, being a canine, was legal. Now, goats can help keep your lawn trimmed, provide milk, and are intelligent, social animals…and their “compost” comes in tidy little pellets. My pretty girl Faith can’t come home with me, and neither can any of the babies. Caprine is ALMOST spelled like canine...goats can be house broken; it’s a documented fact. They’re intelligent and social. Saint Bernards have puppies if you breed them, too. They’re allowed to live in Allentown. Why can’t I do as I like inside my own home? Where’s the justice? This ordinance is SPECIEST! I protest! PREJUDICE!!!!!

Supermodels don't drool.