Monday, June 30, 2008

New house - new plants

We recently had the incredible opportunity to house sit for the summer. Friends of ours had just built a brand new home and were leaving for the summer so the dad could be a ranger in the back country of Yosemite. We've only been there three nights but have so thoroughly enjoyed this special place.

The home was built entirely with a "green" mindset as many of the materials were resourced locally and many were recycled. The house is run entirely on solar power which is being stored in recycled batteries from cell phone towers. They have both a cook stove as well as a gas stove for the hotter months.

One of the best features of the house is its ability to regulate the temperature. It should remain 60-70 degrees year round. Yesterday it was over a hundred degrees outside - but it still remained in the mid 60's inside. I am currently blogging from out old house where it's 87 degrees inside - I think we moved just in time!

They have a very simple heating system that collects the heat from the roofs and stores it under the house. The collected heat will then diffuse over the winter (where it often goes below 0 degrees) to maintain that 60 - 70 degrees temperature.

Being in a solar powered home has really raised our consciousness to the amount of energy we use. Lights are never left on, and the few electrical appliances we use are kept to a minimum and only during daylight hours.

In the fall we hope to have enough money saved to move into a geodesic dome. At that point we'll waive goodbye to electricity all together, so this is a nice way to transition ourselves.

(We do all of this in the effort to take responsibility for our actions. We've become tired of complaining about the dams destroying the salmon runs... for us it's important to live in a way that doesn't support the need to have the dams in the first place.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Methow Valley we have moved from the Valley floor to the mountains. Instead of sagebrush we have pine trees and douglas firs. As you'll see below the flowers are still blooming as well.

The previous pictures are of Mariposa lilies and Indian paintbrush.

The following pictures are of our new home as well as some shots from a hike we took yesterday.

The living room

View from the front window

Tiger lilies are blooming in the mountains. I haven't found reference to medicinal uses of this beauty, but you can eat the bulbs.

Photo of Black Pine Lake - a short distance from our house.

Didn't see many columbines, but they were a welcome sight.

Native Dandelion...

One more view shot. I live in a beautiful place!

Pickled Bullwhip Kelp

Pickled kelp is one of my favorite treats. I learned about harvesting and processing kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, from my mentor Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest. Her 5 day Coastal Foraging class is absolutely spectacular and this is just one of the many culinary delights students learn and prepare in class.

For our first wedding anniversary we planned a trip to Canada to see a friend as well as the famous anthropology museum in Vancouver, BC. From there we headed to Lopez Island off the coast of WA state for several days. Originally I had planned on harvesting some kelp fronds for drying and some bullwhip kelp stipes for pickling. One night before falling asleep I had a great idea. Let's can 50 jars of kelp! And thus our anniversary vacation turned into a working vacation. :)

Kelp is very mineral and vitamin rich. I think of eating even a small portion of kelp each day as a better alternative to taking a multi-vitamin. Kelp is especially important for those of us with a low thyroid function as the high iodine amounts help to nourish the thyroid. Often called the world's most perfect food herbalists from Susun Weed to Ryan Drum tout it's far reaching health benefits. We eat dried kelp daily in our gomasio, or in seaweed cookies another favorite treat. I also throw kelp into almost all the stews we make, and I put a small clipping in with dried beans while they are soaking.

The picture to the right is various seaweeds drying in the sun.

To harvest kelp in good amounts you want to go at a low tide. We celebrate our wedding anniversary on the full moon in June and since full moons also present the lowest tides it worked out great. Following the tide schedule we kayaked around a couple of bays looking for healthy stands of kelp. I have only harvested kelp about five times, but in my experience it likes to grow next to rocky outcroppings and sure enough we found a very healthy stand on the side of a bay. All in all we harvested about 60 stipes and fronds, but the stand was so large it didn't make a dent in the overall numbers.

For those of you unfamiliar with kelp, it grows in large stands with a long hollow tube attaching it to the bottom of the ocean floor. This tube floats on the surface with the kelp leaves or fronds trailing alongside it. If you have visited the ocean as a child you probably remember picking up those long hollow tubes and whipping them around as if you were a old time western bandit.

If you are only interested in harvesting fronds it's very easy to do so in a manner that illicits very minimal impact. Where the hollow tube (stipe) ends, you can see little attachments and then the fronds come out from there. By using scissors to cut the fronds a couple inches from the attachments you can be assured that the kelp will continue to grow.

To harvest the stipes is akin to harvesting the roots of a plant so great care needs to be taken to ensure you are harvesting from a strong stand. To harvest them my husband paddled around while I gathered healthy looking kelp into the kayak. I would heft the long heavy fronds into a bag, and then pull up the stipes. I quickly found a good balance in pulling hard enough to disengage the attachments, but not so hard that we capsized. I prefer harvesting the medium sized plants the best. I leave the young to continue growing and the older plants are very hard to pull up.

Once we have harvested what we need, we also fill up a bucket of salt water for rinsing the kelp later.

Back at camp we hung the incredible amount of fronds we had on a fence. Seaweed is one of the few herbs you actually want to dry in the sun. It's incredibly mucilaginous. If you don't mind being slimy placing the fresh fronds directly on the skin does wonders for sunburns. Cooling and moistening and draws out the heat - much in the same way fresh aloe does.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend pickling a large amount of jars of kelp while camping to anyone else. It was a lot of work, although I have to say, my husband and I had a lot of fun while doing it as well. Spending all that time outside, working side by side may not be the luxurious way to spend an anniversary, but it was meaningful and rewarding.

Here's a modified recipe I learned from Karen. Basically any basic pickling brine will do.

Pickled Kelp Recipe:
Kelp stipes
Cayenne Peppers
Fresh Dill
Pickling spices
2 quarts of apple cider vinegar
3 quarts of water
1/4 cup of pickling salt
1/4 alum or grape leaves

To begin, if necessary rinse the kelp stipes off with seawater (not fresh!). Cut them into tubes that will fit into sanitized wide mouth quart or pint mason jars. OR you can slice the rounds into 1/4 thickness. They look very pretty using the latter method, but you get more in the jar with the former. We cut them into tubes filling the larger tubes with smaller ones - really trying to pack as much as we could in there.

Along with the kelp place one clove of garlic, one cayenne pepper, and one sprig of dill in the mason jar.

In a large pot warm the vinegar, water, pickling salt, pickling spices and alum or grape leaves. Bring to a boil and pour the boiling brine over the kelp. Wipe off the rim and the sanitized lid, and screw on the cap.

I like to eat a slice of kelp every day. We also like to serve it as an appetizer - filled with cream cheese and a sprinkle of paprika for flare.

You can use pickled kelp in the same ways you would use a pickle. On sandwiches, in tuna fish, or for making your own tartar sauce. If you are able to get to the coast I would heartily recommend making friends with this incredibly nutritious ally.

Thank you to Bob for the photos!

Kelp can be made into all sorts of delicious treats.

Here's a recipe for seaweed cookies. 

And don't miss this special seasoning blend, Sea Zest! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Methow Valley Plant of the Week: Lamb's Quarters

Botanical Information
Scientific Name:
Chenopodium album
Chenopodium or Goosefoot
Lamb’s quarters are a common weedy vegetable that countless people try to rid from their
garden in vain. When I see this hearty green popping up in my garden soil I am overjoyed for here is a highly nutritious plant that is easily cultivated, harvested and consumed.
This inconspicuous plant is recognized by its wavy triangular green leaves and whitish
coloring underneath. It grows anywhere from one foot to ten feet tall and has plentiful black seeds. It often has a reddish tinge at the base of the stem. As always be sure to correctly
identify this plant before consuming.
The leaves are incredibly high in calcium, beta carotene, thiamine, niacin, and potassium.
A 1/2 cup of the seeds provides the recommended daily allowance for calcium and healthy servings of niacin and potassium.
Historical Uses:
Lamb’s quarters has been used by many cultures all around the world. Archaeological findings show that it was an early food in northern Europe as well as in northern and southern America.
It was historically grown during times of warfare when other food sources were scarce. The black plentiful seeds of this plant were grounded to make a black bread for Napoleon and his troops.
Contemporary Uses:
Lamb’s quarters taste very
similar to spinach and can be used in the same way. We love them in scrambled eggs, crepes, or quiche. They can be eaten raw or cooked. However, also like spinach, they contain oxalic acid which can be rough on the kidneys—so moderation of raw greens is advised.
The greens are best when harvested young, or less than a foot tall. They can be blanched for future use by boiling for one minute and then freezing.
Lamb’s Quarters Quiche
1 prepared pie crust
1/2 onion chopped
1 lb of nitrate-free bacon
Several handfuls of Lamb’s
6 Eggs
Pinch of Salt
Tsp mustard
Tsp of dried basil
1 Cup of Local Raw Milk
1 cup Goat Cheese
Chop the bacon into small slices about a 1/2 inch wide. Sauté until almost entirely cooked, add the
onion and cook until onion is
In a medium bowl combine the eggs, salt, basil, milk, and mustard and mix well.
Place the cooked bacon and
onions in the prepared pie crust, sprinkle the goat cheese over the bacon, and then add the egg
Cook at 3500 or until the edges are brown and it is solid in the center. Let cool and eat warm or chilled.

Works consulted:
Linda Runyon,
Crabgrass Muffins to Pine Needle Tea
Janice Schofield,
Discovering Wild Plants