Posts tagged forage

Getting the Mail

Reducing your life footprint on the earth sometimes means making a few more… by walking instead of driving to local destinations.

Having sold the car a few months back as part of this solarious experiment, I’ve been hoofing it all over the city this summer. It’s been great for getting a tan, and also a refreshing way to view the neighborhoods in my area. A good walking street does not necessarily mean the same for driving, and since you have plenty of time to examine things as you go by, you’ll probably find yourself seeing details you never noticed right in your own stretch of town. I use the time to look for edible and native plants along the street… in Los Angeles, there is an old law that states any tree or plant that overhangs the sidewalk is fair game for harvesting by the general public (see FallenFruit.org, a great website complete with “Fruit maps” and a commendable mission statement for more on this). Yesterday, as I trekked to get my mail from the post office, a stretch of about 1 3/4 miles that I used to cover by car in about 5 minutes without more thought or notice than to curse the traffic gods, I recorded the following:

Walking down Santa Monica Blvd, sharing the sidewalk with transvestite hookers and average Joe and Jane shoppers peacefully co-mingling around large retail storefronts, I turn back onto a neighborhood street once known as an artists’ mecca, but which is now a darkly comical mix of homeless people camping near the lawns of middle income family homes. There are ample opportunities for herb stalking here, which occupies me for the remainder of the block (a funny thing about LA is that regardless of its immense size, the cultural landscape changes drastically every couple of blocks, kind of like a permanent Olympic Village).

I make my way to Melrose Ave, past a sea of tourists waiting in a never-ending line for Pinks Hotdogs, and past the local halfway house for adults with developmental disabilities which shares its corner with one of the most popular Cuban restaurants in town. As I walk by, the halfway house residents are watching the arrival of a Hollywood celebutante and her entourage at the restaurant, who, needless to say, are not watching those watching them. Melrose is awash with foreigners who haven’t yet heard about the street’s decline and think that they’ll find the next hot designer outfit there. These days, you’re more likely to find a ten dollar clubbing outfit or a glass bong, though a few brave designers have shops there still. Mixing with the exotic foreigners’ accents are the rough voices of immortal punk rockers, the giggles of wannabe high school hipsters, and the rolling grumbles of Persian and Asian store owners who still work the sidewalks attracting customers. Turning off Melrose, I walk down the alley through an open air art museum, courtesy of the talented taggers and spray can artists who’ve made the alleys their gallery for years, and hopefully for many more to come. This is one of my favorite spots in the city, and I linger for a few moments to appreciate the ever-changing canvas.

Beyond there is another neighborhood, this one the domain of the local Orthodox Jewish population, where men in Yarmulkas drive nice cars (except on Shabats) and women in long black skirts push double wide strollers down the sidewalks. This is another foraging mecca, lots of date palms and fruit trees, undoubtedly because the second-generation families who live there still appreciate the historic reality of food shortages and self-sufficiency. The houses themselves are historic craft services houses from the golden days of Hollywood, each with their own character and story.

Turning onto Beverly Blvd, I start to notice Ferraris and Porsches parked street-side, indicating I’m now in the realm of the hipster designers. Trendy cafes and coffeehouses are interspersed with interior design firms and Fashion Week designer boutiques. Writers peer intensely at passers by from behind their laptops and eavesdrop on actors who gather to share “I’m too cool” party tales with other actors with whom they are, no doubt, too cool to be hanging out. Finally, I pass the local public park, a haven for youth sports leagues, middle aged joggers, and boheme-chic refugees from CBS Studios’ resident neighborhood actor population and the renowned Farmer’s Market (which is now more like a shopping mall) just beyond. Inside the park’s entrance stands a largely ignored Holocaust monument to those who died in the great war and the remnants of an old amphitheater that, despite being in the heart of thespian territory, today only serves as a frisbee park for local dogs and the meeting spot for several Hollywood fitness boot camps.

In twenty minutes, I feel like an ambassador at the United Nations, having traveled half the globe without ever leaving town! As a bonus, I’ve gathered enough seeds from passing plants to start a respectable guerrilla garden somewhere, got a good workout, and it took no fossil fuels to get to my destination, save whatever was used in making the rubber soles of my shoes. Most importantly, I got to interact with my neighborhood on a personal level, rather than simply staring out the window at a traffic light.

Is there somewhere local that you generally drive that would be a good candidate for a walk? If time is a luxury, then treat yourself to a little jaunt through your local world. Picking a regularly scheduled destination you already frequent will help encourage you to ditch the car and get out more often than simply saying “I will go for more walks”, at least if the shattered remains of many new years resolutions are any indication. When you do decide to hoof it, keep a mental trip journal and post your best tales here! See you on the street~

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Nurturing My Weed: A Fable

Okay, to go along with my previous post about foraging, let me tell you a brief story.  A few years back, when I had access to a place to plant flowers, I used to spend a lot of time in the garden watering, pruning, even just looking at my plants as they grew.  It was meditation of the best sort.  Well, one year, after the daffodils had bloomed, I planted a few overstock seeds in a planter and started watering, waiting to see what emerged.  When a plant did poke its head out of the soil, I was surprised (they were old seeds, and I didn’t know if any were still viable) and pleased.  I kept looking after it daily, watching it grow and wondering what sort of mystery seed I was raising. 

Still being relatively new to SoCal at the time, I didn’t recognize the leaves of the plant, and when buds formed, I was so excited.  Now I’d finally know what this lovely little planty was!  And so it bloomed.  A tiny little yellow flower, and then another.  Hmm, I thought kind of disappointing for a cultivated flower, but hey, maybe I didn’t give it enough love.  I kept on watering and hoped for the best. 

Now shortly after that, I was walking down the road one day, and I saw my plant, or rather dozens of them, growing on the side of the road.  My little plant, the object of all that devotion, was a weed!  I was not happy to make this discovery at all, especially since it was only days after I’d let the seeds from my plant scatter wantonly across all of my flower beds, and I was therefore looking at the prospect of having hundreds of them growing in my garden.  I went home, pulled the “weed” and did my best to collect the seeds I could see on the rest of the soil. 

Fast forward to this year, as I’m reading all the foraging books, and lo and behold, there is my “Weed” on the pages of the wild foods guide, listed as a particularly nutritious foodstuff for hikers.  What?  I killed a plant that would have fed me if I’d known better, and spurned it daily as I passed its brethren on the the roadsides of CA?  Never again!

The moral of the story is this: the things we think we “know” about the world are often just perceptions we’ve been taught that have little to do with the reality of a situation.  My disappointment in finding that the plant I loved was a common weed didn’t even compare to the disappointment I felt when I realized that I’d allowed myself to be swayed by common opinion into killing a useful plant.  I guess in the end, it’s all about making sure you learn from reliable sources, and educate yourself on all sides of an issue before you feel comfortable saying you “know” what you’re talking about. 

Wild Lettuce

For more information about wild lettuce, see PlanetBotanic.ca

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Solar Panel Installation (and Eating Your Neighbor’s Lawn)

Great news!  It’s been a while since I posted, but there are a slew of recipes that you’ll be seeing added over the next few days.  As few things in life turn out perfectly the first time, I have been refining the previous recipes and trying a few new ones, side dishes mostly.  Most have been successful, but more on that later.  Great news, you ask?  Yes!  I’ve just signed up to get certified as a solar panel installer.  This means that for the next eight months, I’ll be working toward completing the necessary coursework and study hours for the National certification exam, and hopefully getting some practical experience working with panels along the way.  You might be asking why this should interest you in any way… well, since I love to share, and since writing about things helps me to learn, I mean really LEARN things, I’ll be keeping a sort of study diary on this site.  So if you’re wondering where to start on that whole “watts vs. volts” issue, or if you need a little brush up on your high school physics or electronics (and who doesn’t?), keep checking back often to see if I’ve covered the topic here.  I’ll be using the SEI’s textbook on photovoltaic installation and repair, which is pretty much the best on out there as far as I can tell.  Class starts Wednesday, so more about that then!

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot about urban foraging.  It’s a huge topic with relatively few available references.   But starting with Christopher Nyerges’ excellent Wild Foods and Useful Plants guides and also covering specific guides to my local SoCal area, I’ve been out every morning hunting for food.  And it’s everywhere!  Did you know that most of the plants in your garden, never mind those that professional landscapers use in public places, are edible in one way or another?  Geraniums, pansies, daylilies, lavender, nasturtium, chrysanthemums, marigolds, roses and more all make tasty snacks alone or blended into recipes.  You can even replace some of the gourmet items in your pantry with wild alternatives, adding an exotic flair to your cooking.  For example, nasturtium seeds make an excellent caper substitute when pickled, and you can make jellies straight from your yard instead of store-bought marmalades. 

If you’d like to find out more about the plants of your area, I’d highly recommend you check out a book that specializes in your area and start looking for wild foods every time you go out the front door.  I have to admit that though I’d never even noticed what was edible before, now I’m finding myself distracted trying to walk down any street, looking at the possibilities.  And the fruit you pick is SO much sweeter than the one you buy, even if just in principle.  The book I just finished Edible and Useful Plants of California (can’t remember off-hand who wrote it) also included many great anecdotes about the Native American food and medicinal uses of various plants.  When moving away from reliance on the grid, you’d do well to know a bit about the native flora of your community.  And I hardly need to spell out its importance after grid-crash, except to point out that it will be the few months following immediate aid and before people’s sowed crops mature that will be hardest for individuals to survive.  If you know about edible plants, then you can sit happily munching on your neighbors’ lawns while they sit inside their houses panicking.  You might even get an “I told you so” out between bites.  How’s that for sweet justice!  Until next time, happy foraging!

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The World is My Table: Edible Flowers

Flowers are so lovely, keeping the world in near-perpetual color, and providing us in time with our fruits and vegetables. But flowers can be nutritious, too. So if you’re garnishing a plate in the near future, consider using a locally available edible garnish that looks great, encourages awareness of wild foods, and probably comes for free! Of course, be sure to wash well, and avoid picking flowers from along busy roadways.

If you’re looking for a few suggestions, check out this edible flower list from HomeCooking.com, and also this separate list of poisonous plants to avoid on your forage. Then check out this article from About.com on the tastes and uses of different common wild flowers. Well educated, you’re ready to hit the trail and spice up your evening cuisine.

Chive Blossom Borage Flower Rose Blossom

Of course, in these days of manicured lawns and ornamental gardening, you probably won’t even have to hit the trail to find what you seek. Roses, pansies, and nasturtiums are all edible, so you can plant your beds with produce that’s extra easy on the eyes. Never mind the possibilities of fruit trees, marigolds, lavender, day-lilies, hibiscus, chamomile, and chives. It’s a bloomin’ cornucopia out there, so grab a basket and head for the backyard.

Here’s an excellent list of edible flowers with pictures.

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BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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