Happy New Year from Leda’s Urban Homestead

I’m greeting 2014 with my bf in Jerusalem. This was the view yesterday morning as J-town re-emerged from the morning mists:

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Although I’ve cooked in this kitchen many, many times, I’d never baked bread here until this past week. I couldn’t find a rack to cool the bread on, so I improvised with chopsticks on a cutting board.

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Back in Brooklyn, the wood sorrel won’t reappear until mid-spring. Here, it is in peak season (although I’m picking Oxalis pes-carpae here rather than the O. stricta I find back in the Northeast). I used some of it last night in a fish soup.

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On the kitchen counter, I’ve got foraged olives in a salt cure, and chile peppers lacto-fermenting into hot sauce.

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In the fridge, the salt fish (haddock rather than cod because the kind of cod they sell here is endangered) will be ready in a few days. I’ve also got bacon and pancetta (yes, you can get pork belly in Israel) curing. And I’ve got several kinds of refrigerator pickles going.

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Next up, I’m making kumquat marmalade. And then maybe some passionfruit butter. Some of these passionfruits are from Ricky’s terrace garden, some foraged. It feels almost decadent to be foraging fruit in winter!

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May the year ahead bless you with delicious feasts, foraged and otherwise, and may there be loved ones near to share the joy. Happy New Year!

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Solstice Morning Foraging

snow-cyclamenHappy Winter Solstice!

This morning Ricky and I took a walk in the Ramot forest of Jerusalem. There are huge numbers of trees and tree limbs downed by last week’s snowstorm. But there are also signs of the bloom season starting, like these Cyclamen persicum…

…and these white crocuses.

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It’s weird for me, used to northeastern North America, to consider the Winter Solstice the start of spring as far as plants go, but that’s the reality on the ground here in the Middle East. I also saw some wild daffodils that I didn’t get a good photo of (next time).

trackWe weren’t the only ones out enjoying the warm morning. Any trackers out there know who this print belongs to?

And of course, we did some foraging. It turned out to be too early in the season for the Suillus mushrooms I’ve found here in January. But the recent storm knocked the last of the season’s olives and plenty of Arbutus (strawberry tree) fruit to the ground. The olives will get a simple salt cure. Not sure what I’m doing with the Arbutus yet, besides snacking on it.olives-and-arbutus

Other stuff I did this solstice day: made sauerkraut, made fish chowder, took a nap, was grateful for a day off. Okay, almost a day off: I also finished up an article on sunchokes. It’s ironic that I was working on an article about a plant also known as Jerusalem artichokes even though it is a native North American plant that has nothing to do with Jerusalem…while I’m actually in Jerusalem.

Next up, a salsa dancing lesson with my bf. Life is good.

Wishing you a wonderful solstice and holiday season!

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My Transcontinental Pressure Canner

Notice anything odd about this photo of my suitcase while I was packing it for a recent trip from Brooklyn to California, and then back to NY followed by Jerusalem via Moscow?

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Yes, that large shiny thing in the middle. That’s a pressure canner. A brand, spanking new one. But I already had one in Brooklyn, where my tiny one bedroom can’t really hold too many objects as large as this one.

That’s not why I packed it, though. I packed it because I was about to be on the road for 2 months, with a deadline on a food preservation book at the end of that time. I need my food gear with me while I finish the food pres book.

So I stuffed the canner full of clothes. My suitcase didn’t quite close, but I rigged it with some wire twisted and tied between the zipper pulley tabs. And I took it to CA, and back to NY. It followed me through a brief layover in Moscow, and now it’s here with me in Israel.

Where I just finished canning some fish stock in it (it is no longer a virgin canner). Our favorite fish monger at the souk (market) was happy to give us fish heads and bones for free, and I hate to waste free food.

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If you’re still not sure why I had to haul this piece of equipment with me across a continent or three, here’s the deal:

You can safely can fruits, pickles, and tomatoes (with added acid) in a boiling water bath using nothing fancier than a big, deep pot and some canning jars and lids. But to safely can un-pickled vegetables and any animal product, you need a pressure canner.

Of course, there are also other food preservation methods including fermentation that don’t require special equipment. But I’m covering ALL of the food preservation methods for my book – you get why I need my gear with me?

Yeah, you can buy pressure canners here. But I already had an extra one, so it seemed silly to spend the money on a third pressure canner. Anyway, all’s well that ends well: me and my pressure canner are safely here in J-town.

(Warning: Shameless Plug) Want to pre-order my next books?:

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Milk, Meat, and More

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Food Preservation Report: Watermelon Radish Ferment

pickled-radishes-smDecember is the last hurrah for certain ingredients that I treasure. The Clementine oranges will be gone soon. Even the locally grown pears will gradually disappear from the markets. The apples will start to lose their crunch. But those aren’t the seasonal ingredients I want to preserve.

If you haven’t had a watermelon radish yet, you want to. On the outside, they look like beige turnips. The hint of pink on the tapering root end barely suggests the riot of festive color within.

What do they taste like? Well, radishes. But pickle them with either this lacto-fermented recipe or this overnight vinegar brine, and you’ve got a very special offering for your holiday feasts (and well after, when January’s blah colors could use a little pick-me-up).

Cheers,

Leda

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Cold Weather Foraging

chickweed-medAs temps drop, I’m gearing my Mother Earth News foraging blog towards plants that can be harvested even when nights are below freezing. Here’s the first in the series, on chickweed (Stellaria media).

Today I did a quick foraging foray for magnolia buds and sassafras twigs. I had an accomplice, I mean apprentice, along with me ;) The super-efficient, bee-line foraging I would’ve done by myself was contrasted with wanting to share as much information  as possible with today’s foraging buddy.

And that highlighted something I often mention when I’m leading foraging tours: an experienced forager doesn’t just wander out into the landscape hoping to find something to eat. She knows which plants are in season, and which ecosystems (pine barrens, garden weeds, deciduous forest, etc.) they are going to be found in. The odds are ever in her favor when she sets out on her treasure hunt armed with this knowledge.

Late fall and winter are not bad times for foraging if you know what you are looking for, especially if you identified the plants during the warm months when they still had flowers and leaves. The takeaway here is that foraging is a year-round pursuit: what you learn in summer will serve you when there is snow on the ground.

But don’t worry if you’re new to this and too eager to wait for next spring: I’ll be sharing lots of cold weather foraging tips over the next few months!

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Thanksgiving Recipes and Thoughts

jellied-cran-smThanksgiving is an odd holiday. I applaud the notion of families getting together to cook and feast on native American ingredients like cranberry, turkey, pumpkin. I especially love the idea of pausing in our busy lives to give thanks.

But the old tale of pilgrims and “indians” helping each other out doesn’t hold up to historical truth 100%.

Nonetheless, here comes Thanksgiving. I will be spending it with a transcontinental couple. She’s from El Salvador, he’s from Bolivia. They were married not long ago, and if I’m not mistaken, this is the first Thanksgiving they’ve ever hosted as a couple.

I’m bringing two kinds of cranberry sauce, including this one that’s in the picture, and that is so good I expect it’s already a tradition in my kitchen. Here’s the video version of the recipe.

I’m also bringing green bean casserole (no, I’m not using canned mushroom soup, but you knew that, right?). Mine is going to include some chicken of the woods mushroom I foraged.

So despite the fact that Thanksgiving is politically and historically awkward, I am participating. I am in favor of occasions to give thanks, and to share meals.

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Something for Nothing Recipes

I love something for nothing recipes so much that I’m considering writing a whole book full of them (okay, not until after I finish writing the current one). What I mean by something for nothing is taking scraps that would otherwise end up in my compost bin and turning them into good, useful pantry items.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

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While you’re making the Thanksgiving stuffing, stash the tail ends of celery, onions, parsley stems, etc. in the freezer rather than tossing them. Use them along with the bird carcass to make turkey bone soup stock once the festivities are over.

And if you’re making apple pie (or applesauce, or any other apple recipe), don’t throw out the cores and peels! Use them to make apple scrap vinegar, apple jelly, and homemade pectin.

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Holiday Recipes from Leda’s Urban Homestead

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m in a holiday prep state of mind. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been experimenting with in the kitchen. I’ve linked to the recipes where possible:

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Black Walnut Ice Cream. This one is thanks to my mom, Jackie Gordon, and Nicole Taylor, with whom I spent a fun few hours shelling black walnuts.

Naturally Red Spiced Apple Rings

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Homemade Ricotta Cheese

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Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Spicebush and Orange. If you didn’t forage any spicebush berries earlier this fall, or if Lindera benzoin doesn’t grow where you live, you can either use the spice substitution I suggest in the recipe, or order some spicebush from Integration Acres (they sell it as “Appalachian Allspice”).

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Homemade Bacon I used some of this in a dish for a holiday brunch yesterday (the recipe has been dubbed “L’eggs Meredith”). Kind of a cross between eggs florentine and eggs benedict: I did the whole poached egg on an english muffin covered with hollandaise thing, but under the each egg was a melange of lamb’s quarters greens and homemade bacon bits.

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Trading Acorn Flour for Local Salt

Last night I got to enjoy a truly wonderful locavorian dinner. Dubbed the “hyperlocal” dinner by Lars Fuchs who organized it together with Matthew Fleischmann, the feast was cooked for us by Chef Sarah Sproule.

We started off with some excellent wine from Queens County Farm Museum. Then the courses began, and it’s really a toss up which was my favorite. Maybe the sunchokes with black walnut pesto? The bluefish cooked with chicken fat? The hen stewed for eight hours and served with broccoli raab and hawthorn sauce?hawthorn-hen

Or maybe the beautifully simple field garlic broth with oyster, chicken, and enoki mushrooms.mushroom-soup

The company was made up of guests who’d helped Lars and Matthew tap into local food sources as well as foraging skills during their project. Sitting at table with people from the mycological society, the Queens farm, Slow Food International – all of us passionate about sustainable food systems – was a treat.

The evening was videoed for a documentary of the project. But there are two things that won’t make it into the documentary: the bag of my acorn flour that I traded for the beautiful salt that Chef Sarah makes herself from the waters off the coast of Long Island, and the pipe of mugwort that we shared at the end of the meal. Truly a wonderful evening!salt

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Seasonal Shift

Although I consider myself a summer child most comfortable in warm breezes, scant clothing, and bare toes, over three decades in the Northeast have made me an appreciator of sudden seasonal shifts. And I’m not talking about the obvious calendrical ones of Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter. As any forager or gardener knows, there are seasons within seasons.

virginia-creeperFor instance, just a week ago the wall of my apartment building and the wires between buildings were scarlet with Virginia creeper leaves. But those are almost all gone now. Now I see the quirky curves of sassafras branches against the sky, and curse the squirrel who dug into my potted parsley to bury a black walnut.

I probably don’t need to tell you that last weekend’s resetting of clocks also contributes to this sense of abrupt seasonal shift. It gets dark so early! It happens every year, and yet every year I am surprised by it.

The foraging season isn’t over, though. Far from it. There are rose hips to gather, and it actually hasn’t been cold enough yet for the Jerusalem artichokes to be as sweet as I like them.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be writing my next book. The productive procrastination that is apparently part of my writing process is going very well. This week it included making green tomato and pear chutney, paneer, and ricotta.palak-paneer

Speaking of books (ahem), Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries will be out next April, and is available for pre-order now.field-guide-cvr

Happy November,

Leda

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