Trails

Whenever I would go hiking with my mom and my sisters growing up, we would each have our own sandwich bag of trail mix in our backpacks, next to our ever-available water bottles. This mix always consisted of nuts, peanuts, M&Ms, and raisins–except for my younger sister who hated raisins (why do raisins get such a bad rep?). This little bag was the powerhouse that kept our little legs trudging on– that and our mom coaxing us along with, “Just a little further”.

Now, whenever I decide to hit the trails, I always bring with me a bag of trail mix as a snack. I rarely bring any other food with me. Some things are not likely to change.

via Daily Prompt: Snack

Suds

Hi, Everyone! It’s been over a month since I started writing my blog, and I just wanted to say thank you to all my followers, and those who liked my posts! You’re all awesome!

I made handsoap! Once again, I sought out Pinterest for the recipe, and while there were a plethora to choose from, I used this: http://bbatemanmissions.blogspot.com/2011/11/homemade-liquid-handsoap.html. It is an excellent reference!

I followed the recipe almost to the letter, except I added a few leaves of aloe to my soapy mixture. There are recipes out there that use liquid castile soap as the base (which is probably more authentic), but I could only find the solid bars. I’ll have to try that at some other point.

I had to keep my soap waiting longer than ten hours since I had to work early (meh), but it was none the worse for the longer period of time. Once it was cooled and I had to stir it up again (I used a whisk to break it up), the soap took on a mucilaginous look and feel. It smells great, though! I used Tom’s brand soap, and it is scented with lavender and tea tree oil. Lavender is one of my favorite herbs!

I emptied out the remaining drips of my soap bottle from the bathroom and filled it about a quarter of the way up with my homemade soap, and then added more water to it, and gave it a mix. It works just as good thinned out. I’m also using it as my body wash! A little goes a long way. I’m pretty sure I will have soap for at least the next six months without breaking a sweat! What next? Shampoo?? Lotion?? Eek, I’m excited for this!

I would love to get more into the world of soaping. Right now, I don’t have the space for making a soap lab, and I have my roommates and my roommates’ pets to worry about. So strictly melt-and-pour recipes, or something along those lines. But if anyone has any recommendations as to what I should try next, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

Until next time!

Dessert Improvisation

I decided to make ice cream today. Everything is going according to plan, except that my ice cream maker keeps thawing too fast, so the freezing process is taking a tad longer than I expected it to. No matter.

I made mint ice cream (surprise, surprise) since mint is a surplus at the moment. I found a chocolate syrup recipe on Pinterest http://goodiegodmother.com/easy-chocolate-syrup/. Upon looking in the cabinets, I didn’t have enough cocoa powder for the recipe, but I had a couple squares of baking chocolate. So I combined the cocoa powder and the chocolate instead of giving up–why not, right? Improvise!

Also, it was too sweet (since the amount of chocolate I had was still not enough for the recipe) so I added a little more salt (flavor enhancer) and what was left at the bottom of a bottle of Jameson–barely a shot’s worth. It turned out not-so-bad for an improvised chocolate syrup! Now, if only the ice cream would freeze! I really need to update some of my equipment.

Also, I’m keeping the Jameson bottle for another DIY. Stay tuned!

Local

I love the phrase, “Think global, go local”. I’m not sure if that’s been coined or trademarked, but those four words speak volumes about how much our world has changed in only a matter of decades.

I am only thirty-years-old. My dad got his first cell phone–more like a paperweight–when I was maybe twelve. The internet? What was that? If you wanted to order something, there was a thing called a catalog mailed to your house. You had to use–wait for it–a phone to call in your order or mail in a pamphlet with your information on it. It took weeks to receive said order. Doing school projects involved going to the public library to use their computer to look up–wait for it–books that had the information you required.

Everything we could ever possibly want is at our fingertips with a mere press of a button–it’s not even a real button! Technology has become so advanced that it recognizes heat and pressure from your hand to activate that particular picture on your phone or your computer. One press of your finger brings you across town, across the country, across continents! It’s incredible! Amazing! to be able to interact with other people in other countries from your own living room is a modern marvel. And while it’s so wonderful, we tend to forget what is in our own backyards, particularly when it comes to food.

Getting into foraging has made me much more aware of what the local flora and fauna have to offer. I haven’t delved in too deep yet, for the sake of being extremely thorough in my knowledge of what is edible and what isn’t. I am excited about late summer and fall. I had no idea that you can use acorn flour as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour! I got this idea from the book Southeast Foraging by Chris Bennett. It’s a great reference! I am definitely going to have to try that! Those with a tree nut allergy probably shouldn’t try it, but there are other alternatives out there.

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There is a walnut tree nearby that is already dropping green walnuts, and I am totally gathering some of those to use for baking! It’s best to wait until the shells are brown, so hopefully, patience will win out.

Supporting local farmers is important too. I have found that food I buy directly from the grower is much more flavorful and truer to its variety than were I to buy the same item at the grocery store. I only wish there were more local farmer’s markets open during the week since, like most food industry professionals, I work most weekends.

Supporting other local artisans and businesses is important as well. Local businesses give an area its own unique vibe, its own personality. The places I have come to visit most in Virginia are downtown Charlottesville and downtown Manassas.

Downtown Manassas has some incredible local restaurants–Okra and Zandras are my favorites–and an amazing bookstore called Prospero’s Books whose rows of tomes I could peruse all day long.

Charlottesville has a bit of a funkytown vibe to it, and plenty of bookstores and restaurants too. Citizen Burger boasts of all local ingredients, in-house baked burger buns, and locally crafted brews. Their burgers are amazing! Jeez, now I need to plan another trip there.

That’s all I have for you today! Enjoy the lovely weather wherever you are, and eat some good food! Until next time!

 

Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone…Except I’m a Woman

Bread has been undergoing a revolution, one I am so happy about! Going are the days that everyone is eating that pale white, flat, tasteless packaged stuff that can barely be called bread, and coming are the days of true knowledge and enjoyment of the crusty, warm, savory and sweet creations that artisans craft with their own hands.

I was at a farmer’s market today at the Government Center in Fairfax, Virginia, and Great Harvest was there, selling breads of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Great Harvest is a chain known in a few places in Virginia that make their own breads in-house. They even grind their own wheat, which is an amazing feat for any bakery. If you love bread and other baked goods and you have one of these places near you, go visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

This was my very late lunch today, along with an herbal tea made with dried peppermint and lemon balm leaves!

The lemon balm was a bit overshadowed by the peppermint, but the tea was nonetheless refreshing. It’s wonderful to reap the benefits of one’s labor!

I asked the farmer from whom I bought the cheese and a dozen eggs at the farmer’s market about how they’re faring with the weather being so hot. He plainly stated that rain is needed. There’s a tropical storm brewing, so I believe that he’ll get his wish.

So many people complain about it being too hot, and then complain again when it rains. I only ask for balance between wet and dry weather, for the sake of those that grow our food. If it’s too hot and no rain, everything withers, and dies. If it’s too wet, plants can become moldy or even drown. It is a very delicate relationship between farmer and crop and livestock.

So the other reason why I went to the farmer’s market was for fresh eggs. I’ve been dying to make pasta lately (I love my carbs!). I bought a pasta maker, and I went to work this afternoon.

Pasta is pretty easy to make. The basic recipe is flour, salt, eggs (there are eggless recipes out there too), water, and olive oil (I added a little fresh parsley and basil to my recipe). Mix all those together, then knead the dough on a floured surface for four to five minutes. Let it rest in the refrigerator for about one hour.

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Take it out and cut the dough into quarters. Flour the pasta machine, then roll your first dough quarter through it. Start on the largest setting, and work your way down from that until the dough is the consistency you are looking for. Then run the flattened dough through the pasta cutting side.

You can put the fresh pasta right into a pot of boiling water and cook it immediately, or dry it on a rack and save for later.

My drying rack is a pants hanger and each bar I covered in plastic wrap (less cleaning). I added roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese to the pasta I cooked. It was simple but delicious! The rest of the pasta will be stored for later use. Self-sufficiency, here I come!

So, that’s all I have for you tonight! Enjoy the rest of your evening! Until next time!

 

 

Woodland Friends and Finished Projects

Today was a great day for a meandering hike on the Occoquan Trail. Yesterday’s thunderstorms cut some of the humidity, so the air isn’t so oppressively dense with moisture today. I saw so many animals too, all out doing what animals do. I saw two turtles, a raccoon (a bit disturbing, given that it was after ten in the morning), a deer, a blue heron, and a toad–not to mention the many birds singing to one another in the trees above me. Such happy music!

The deer refused to stand still for a photo op, and the blue heron kept flying off (I saw him three times!) It was a great day for stumbling upon wildlife.

I love saying hi to any wildlife I see. Literally! I say, “Hi! How are you?” They usually look at me like, “What, are you talking to me, human? You are weird,” and then they walk off. Deer are especially known for this. They can’t be bothered.

I love when I see animals on my walks. It’s a reminder that not all the world is in a manic panic and rushing to the rhythm of the hurry-up-and-wait mentality. It’s nice to see that not all the world is tamed and that the wild heart still beats strong. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”. If you haven’t read Walden, I very much recommend it to anyone who has an inclination toward nature.

And now, to totally flip to the other side of that, the limoncello is finished and bottled! It is delightful, too! I sampled a little bit before putting the bottle in the fridge. It tastes exactly how limoncello should–lemony, smooth, and sweet.

Time for another batch! Or maybe, another infused alcohol flavor…I still have plenty of mint!

 

More Plants, and Food!

Hi, everyone! A quick shout out to all my new followers! Thanks for reading, and thanks for deciding to follow me! I am honored!

I have added a few new plants to my collection. I was killing time yesterday at a nursery before joining my friends somewhere, and I bought peppermint, yellow yarrow, and rosemary. I am super excited! Yarrow is supposed to be very good for you and has the capability of healing cuts and sores. I took a couple small samples from the plant that I bought, and I’m drying them so I can add the cuttings to oil for another essential oil. I’m drying some more spearmint as well, and I will store that in an airtight container once it’s completely dry.

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Health is a major reason why I am doing what I’m doing. I am actually in amazing health (aside from the cold I just finished getting over), and I intend to remain healthy throughout my life. My family has a history of heart issues, diabetes, and colon cancer. No thanks, I say to that! When I die, it won’t be because of any of these problems.

My mom has always been a major advocate for healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle. The other day, we were talking about how we both discovered that a more alkaline blood pH is less likely to become cancerous.

What is pH you ask? It’s a scale which determines how alkaline or acidic something is. The scale goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything with a pH higher than 7 is acidic. Anything with a pH lower than 7 is alkaline. Examples of food with high acid would be carbonated water, wine, chocolate, and vinegar. Examples of food with more alkalinity would be broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach.

According to what both my mom and I were reading, carboniferous vegetables like spinach and cauliflower will help your system maintain a healthy blood pH. Blood that is too acidic can cause many problems. Her explanation of Diabetic Ketoacidosis was more than a little disturbing. This is where the blood has become so acidic due to having too many ketones in the blood (which are released to counteract too much glucose in the blood) that the blood literally boils. Yuck! No thanks! I will eat the leafy greens to keep that from happening. Cancer can take a hike too.

So my mom shared a fantastic recipe with me for broccoli rabe. I have never cooked broccoli rabe before, but I’m always game for experimenting with food. So here is what it is:

1-2 Pounds chicken thighs

1 bunch broccoli rabe

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 package rice and red beans (I used Zataran’s)

1 bell pepper, chopped

Olive Oil (use the one specifically for sauteeing, it will say so on the bottle)

Salt (I used Kosher salt, but it’s up to you)

Pepper

For Marinade:

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 Teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a resealable bag, add chicken and all marinade ingredients. Seal the bag and mix everything around until the chicken is well coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare rice according to the package directions. Add bell pepper to the rice 5-8 minutes before it is finished cooking. Pour rice mixture into a rectangular pan to cool. Set aside.
  3. Prepare an ice bath for the broccoli rabe (this stops the cooking process). Add salt to the ice bath (salt lowers the temperature of the ice).
  4. Cut one inch off the bottom of the broccoli rabe. Divide the rabe into 2 portions. Set a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil (the broccoli rabe absorbs a lot of it, so don’t be shy). Once it’s hot, add garlic to the oil.
  5. Add the broccoli rabe to the pot. Add salt. Use tongs to stir it around. Add more oil if needed. Cover and cook for about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, put the broccoli rabe into the ice bath. Once cooled, transfer it out to either a colander or a plate with a paper towel to dry.
  7. Replenish ice and salt in the ice bath and repeat steps 4-6 with the second batch.
  8. Using the same pot, add the marinated chicken thighs two at a time. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side, or until the meat is white all the way through and the outside is browned. Let the meat rest on a plate for 10 minutes.
  9. Place broccoli rabe over top of the rice. Add chicken over the top of the broccoli rabe. Pour remaining pan juices from the pot over the top of everything. Serve warm.

It’s so good! Adding more olive oil takes out some of the bitterness from the broccoli rabe, and it is absolutely delicious! Come one, don’t tell me you don’t want to try this!

20170615_122635 That’s all that I have for you today! Enjoy the rest of your day, stay cool! Until next time!

 

 

The Blue, the Grey, and a Newbie’s Search for Wild, Edible Greens

How’s it going out there? It’s hot here! 95 degrees and humid. What did I decide to do on such a day? I went hiking at the Bull Run Park in Manassas. This is where the first and second battle of Manassas took place.

The first battle took place in July of 1861. HOW those men fought a battle in the dead heat of July in Virginia, in those heavy woolen uniforms, with about 80 to 100 pounds worth of gear on their backs, running full tilt at one another on a HILL, with a loaded firearm and cannons blowing craters and taking limbs left and right, I will never know! I was dying in running shorts and a tank top, and I had a Camel Back filled with water. It barely weighs 15 pounds. There is no cover on Matthews Hill either; hardly a tree over the entire battleground. You feel the heat from above and below.

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It’s very beautiful and peaceful now (except for the sounds of traffic). But being on that hill gives you some perspective on what it was like the day of the battle. There must have been an “Oh, S*#t!” moment as the Confederate and the Federal troops eyed each other from across the field. There were brothers on the left, and brothers on the right, and not everyone was going to be walking off that hill when it was all done.

I’m a New Englander, born and raised. One of my ancestors fought in an infantry division from New Jersey during the Civil War. But I suspect that we had relatives on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. In Clifton, there is a sign posted outside one of the houses on the main strip, claiming that a Payne (my mother’s maiden name) was a housebuilder in the area, and was a lumber broker to the railroad that now runs through the town. My great-grandfather was a railroad worker. Family business? Possibly. I don’t have any formal proof at the moment.

The man on the left is my great-grandfather, George W. Payne. The sign is from Clifton.

In any case, while my roots may be from the north, I feel that transplanting myself in Virginia has worked out just fine! I feel much more at home here in Virginia than I ever did in Connecticut.

So! History aside, the reason why I wanted to go to Bull Run today was due to my burning desire to try my hand at foraging. I only just started, and I my wild edible plant knowledge is not that vast yet. I know what blackberries look like, of course, and I know what daisies, oak trees, maple trees, and poison ivy look like. But I want to be able to eat what I find without possibly poisoning myself.

I have recently started reading: 20170613_150902

It’s very informative about what plant it is, where to find it, what parts of the plant are edible and when to harvest it, any warnings that may caution a novice forager from assuming that something is safe to consume.

Because I am so new at this–green as grass (pun intended)–I did not attempt to pick anything. I simply took pictures of plants that I wanted to research more. Does anyone know what these are?

Also, as a budding naturalist, I am making a home study of essential oils. I started the process with my spearmint last week, and this week I’ve added cinnamon and star anise to the list. I’m using the cold infusion method, where you simply add your plant parts to a sealable jar with the oil of your choice, tighten the lid, and wait two months while it does its thing.

I dried the mint leaves first before I mixed them with oil. I used olive oil as the base. There are other oils you can use (coconut, almond, jojoba), but olive oil is readily available, inexpensive, and less likely to give someone a bad reaction; I have friends and family that are allergic to nuts, wheat, and other potential allergens and it has made me sensitive to their plight.

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I’ve already bought the dark bottles to store the oils in once the oil is thoroughly infused. Now, all there is to do is wait. For two months. Patience. OOOOOOOOMMMMMM……

So that’s all that’s exciting in my life for the present!

Oh, on a side note pertaining to star anise, I’ve added it to my coffee temporarily to help alleviate menstrual cramps. And it works! And it’s a hell of a lot healthier than taking Ibuprofen every 4 hours! Just thought I would share, in case there are any ladies out there who could use a remedy.

If coffee is not your thing, try chai or chamomile tea. Chai has anise in it, along with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves–all amazing for your health! Chamomile helps to reduce pain as well but it is not always suited for people with certain conditions. If you’re pregnant, it’s not advisable to drink chamomile. If you have allergies to certain plants like ragweed, don’t drink it. Also, certain medications may react chemically with the compounds in the tea. I am not a doctor, so please ask for medical advice from a professional before taking my advice.

Stay cool, my friends! Until next time!