Monday, May 30, 2016

Foraging and Gardening, and Combining the Two

On Friday, I taught a private foraging class to a teenager with Autism; it was his second foraging class |(in the space of two weeks) since he enjoyed the first one so much. My kids came along, and together, we found some awesome stuff!

The first thing we found was some purslane, which is one of my favorite wild edibles, as it is delicious, versatile, and fleshy, which offers a nice change from the standard foraged goodies that are just thin leaves. I used that to make a salad that was popular with all the family- purslane, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, lemon, and salt.

After that, the next thing we collected together was pine nuts. The season is starting now, and you can easily collect a bunch in one go if you know what to look for. I shared here about how to know which is the right type of pine cone which would indicate that it's worth looking for pine nuts, the kind pictures below...

...But I'll be honest, lately foraging pine nuts doesn't usually work that way for us. What happens is that I, or my kids, spot pine nuts on the ground, look up, and see a pine tree above us, and then via hunting around, spot that type of pine cone. 

This is the season that it is easiest to find them, as they just fell down from the tree. When they fall, they are covered in a black soot, that makes them noticeable especially against a light background, like this sidewalk.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review of "The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir" by Pascal Bauder

I've written before about my love of foraging wild edibles and how I got into it after moving to a new country. I also touched on the fact that the local foraging books leave much to be desired, so much so that I decided to write my own foraging id book and foraging cookbook.
In short, I haven't found a single foraging book I loved... Until I got my hands on this book by Pascal Bauder, The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir.

When I opened the book and started reading the introduction, Pascal put my thoughts about the standard foraged fare into words that were so eloquent and a pleasure to read- I literally read the entire few page introduction to my husband, intending to share just a few choice snippets but it was so good that I didn't want to stop and have him miss out on any of it.

Let me just share a bit of it with you.

"...[S]ome instructors would teach about edible wild plants, and [we'd]... make very basic dishes with local plants... [V]ery often the resulting flavors and textures were in the realms of "I would eat that in a survival situation if that's all I had." ...I became intrigued by the possibility of ...  using our local... plants beyond creating... survival food... This was the first time I realized that wild food could be truly gourmet food and should be approached with that perspective."

In a nutshell, that sums up why Pascal and his partner, Mia, are my main inspirations in the kitchen, and what my issues were with most of the other foraging recipes and cookbooks that I've seen.

I'm a foodie. I like good food. But I like my variety. I can't handle eating the same foods over and over again, even if they were tasty the first time.
Much as I love foraging, most of what I am able to forage is leaves -- various kinds, of course -- but when I am relying on foraging to be my main source of produce in the kitchen I needed ideas how to make things beyond "greens salad" and "sauted greens".
The cookbooks I have seen have pretty much the same variations repeated ad nauseam. Foraged greens with eggs. Foraged greens cooked with lemon.

Watching Pascal share his foraged creations over the years, I've discovered so many different possibilities of things to make with foraged foods -- many more different ways of making wild plants, sometimes in very unexpected ways (palettas -- Latin American ice pops anyone? plant "jerky"?), and always delicious and inspiring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Visiting Our Future Home's Construction Site, Planning Our Home Design, and PICTURES!!!

Our new building
I am insanely grateful and happy about the fact that we bought a home that is being built, and will be moving to a place that is much larger than our current home. That said, there is a certain amount of stress involved, because everything is up in the air, and we have no idea about so many things and how life there will be.

Originally when we signed on the apartment last June, the company promised us that it would be ready within 2 years from that date, but since we were one of the later ones to buy in that project, the estimated date that it would be built was much earlier. While that is absolutely amazing, and I'm glad that it likely won't be another 14 months until we'll be able to move in, it does pose a problem not knowing exactly when we will be able to move.
Our current rental contract is up in July, and I have no idea what we'll do about when it is finished. If I knew for a fact that the place would be ready in August or September, we could consider a short term rental or even move in with relatives and put things in storage for that short period of time. But since the timing is so up in the air- maybe we can move in in July, but maybe only October or November...
Last time we moved in the middle of our lease we tried to find people to take over our apartment but had lots of issues doing so (too long to get into now), so we ended up paying double rent for 4 months until our lease was up, which ended up killing our budget and putting us into debt, which was horrible. We don't want a repeat of that, so signing a new year long contract in July would be really scary, but we're trying to figure out what to do. We have to speak to the landlord, but we are going to see about working a clause into our contract that would allow us to leave in the middle, maybe if we give him two month notice, or maybe if we agree to pay more each month. We'll have to see. (Any suggestions how to word a contract in a way that a landlord would be interested in it as well?) 

But one thing for sure that we decided- the biggest issue with our house now is that the floor is terribly broken, both ugly and dangerous and for years the landlord said he'd fix it but he didn't. There is no way that we can find someone to take over our apartment with our floor as terrible as it is. I don't want to sign a new contract until he fixes the floor. And if he doesn't fix it? Well, no one else will move in anyhow. And once he does, I am a little bit less stressed about signing a new contract because it won't be as hard to find new people for this place.

On another note...

As the building has been coming along, I've been paying periodic visits to the construction site, also to make sure that things are exactly as we specified in the architectural plans, and also to make final decisions in person. 
Yesterday I visited the construction site and it really almost feels like a home now- of course, minus all the furniture and finishings... But it is so exciting! The builder said that he thinks everything in the house will be finished being built within the month! After that, there are infrastructure things and roads and sidewalks, then all the official paperwork. 

While I was there, I took pictures, lots of them (scroll down if you're impatient for them), and measured some things, because not everything is as clear to see on the architectural plans, and the size of the place affects what we'll be doing now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Latest Extremely Frugal Shopping Trip, and How I Am Now Shopping Without A Car

It's been a while since I posted pictures and write ups of my last grocery shops, but I really love doing that. The reason I haven't been sharing them? To be honest, since most of my grocery shops weren't really that frugal recently, been buying too much expensive and unhealthy processed foods since I was working a lot and didn't have the energy to be cooking frugal cheap things...
But yesterday when I went grocery shopping at the farmer's market, I was so proud of my "score" that I decided that I have to share it with you- I hope you'll agree with me that it was as amazing as I thought it was!

This entire shop- sorry, no idea how many pounds it was, but you can get an idea from the picture- cost me $62.77, of which $33.71 was produce. Yes, all those many pounds of produce for only $33.71!

So, what did I get and why?

What You Can Do to Stop a Wage Garnishment

While I've been fortunate enough to never been in a bad enough financial situation to have wages garnished, I can imagine just how scary that could be, especially when you're short on cash to begin with. If you ever get into such a situation, hopefully this post by reader Melissa can help you not panic, and instead figure out what to do next.

Opening your paycheck to discover the bulk of it missing is a heart-sinking feeling, and that’s exactly what happens when your wages have been garnished by the IRS. If this is your current reality, you understand the stress and panic that can come with discovering your income has been slashed seemingly overnight. Millions of Americans have their wages garnished each year due to failure to pay off their tax debt, so you’re not alone.

Whether your failure to pay resulted from tax mistakes, or simple inability to pay all that you owed, it’s essential that you get yourself out of trouble with the IRS as soon as possible.

How You Got Here

Monday, May 23, 2016

Foraged Wild Mulberry Syrup Recipe, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free Option

I had specific plans about kitchen foraging experimentation that I had wanted to do yesterday, working on a few different versions of gluten free and paleo gnocchi, with foraged ingredients, but you know how it happens- plans change...

I was walking to the grocery store to pick up one ingredient that I still needed for the gnocchi, and I passed by a mulberry tree. This tree is one I've known was there for years, but I never actually got any mulberries from it, other than the occasional one or two, no actual harvest or gorge-fest like we used to have picking mulberries as a kid near the pool where we took swimming lessons.

However, yesterday, I noticed a bunch of ripe mulberries on the tree, but even more overripe mulberries that had fallen off the tree and onto the ground as they were so overripe. The tree was growing on a terrace a few feet above the sidewalk, so this was ground that no one was walking on...

And I thought to myself- why not do something with those mulberries, providing that they weren't buggy, of course.

And so, in a few minutes, I collected an entire bowl full of mulberries, all as fresh and undamaged as if they had just fallen off the tree minutes ago. None were buggy.

You see this bowl? These are white mulberries. Only white mulberries, when they are so overripe start turning purple. A pale purple, but purple nonetheless. These mulberries were so overripe that they were super sweet, which made me think to capitalize on that sweetness and make a syrup out of them.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Moroccan Inspired Chicken Cactus Paddle Kebabs Recipe- Gluten Free, Paleo, Allergy Friendly, Sugar Free

I decided to make a Moroccan style meal for dinner tonight, and as I looked in my fridge and saw these cactus paddles staring back at me, I knew I wanted to do something with them, and that they'd be perfect for a Moroccan meal.

Here's the thing. The flavors I used were completely traditionally Moroccan, and the dish is too, pretty much, but surprisingly, this recipe is not something you'd ever find in the standard Moroccan home. Though originally from Central America, the Middle East is now scattered with large numbers of prickly pear cacti, and you'll find their fruit, the prickly pear, in almost all grocery stores and the souks, come the season, but I have yet to find a Middle Eastern recipe using cactus paddles, the part of the plant, that, in my opinion, is even tastier and more versatile than the prickly pear.

Nopales, aka cactus paddles, however, are very popular in Mexican cuisine, which, if you think about it, isn't that different in flavor from Moroccan cuisine. (Cumin and tomato and garlic and hot peppers play a large roll in both.)

I wanted to make Moroccan chicken kebabs, and many recipes call for bell peppers and lemon juice in addition to the chicken chunks, and I decided that the cactus paddles would be a perfect substitute since they taste somewhat like lemony green peppers (with green bean flavor thrown in as well). Cactus paddles release their mucilage, a fancy way of saying slime, when cooked, so cooking these as kebabs let the mucilage drip out, making their texture perfect.

These were a hit- absolutely delicious- and completely represent Moroccan cuisine in my mind, even if they are really Moroccan Mexican fusion. I highly recommend it.

If desired, serve this with tahini dressing, but it truly doesn't need it.

For the rest of the meal, we're having a celeriac "rice" based vegan paleo Moroccan pilaf (shown above), a chicken wing and root veggie tagine (made in my cast iron dutch oven), cucumber mint salad, radish orange and mint salad (a traditional Moroccan recipe that reminds me a lot of picado de rabano, a delicious Guatemalan salad), pickled lemons, and broccoli roasted with lemon.

Moroccan Inspired Chicken Cactus Paddle Kebabs Recipe- Gluten Free, Paleo, Allergy Friendly, Sugar Free

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Homemade Paleo Lemon Curd Recipe- Egg Free, Dairy Free, Refined Sugar Free, Soy Free, Vegan Option

When I was a kid, lemon meringue pie was a special treat that we ate only rarely, since it was something we bought from a bakery- I think I didn't even know that it could be made at home until I was an adult!
Then I discovered how to make lemon meringue and lemon orange meringue pie, and for a time would make that on a semi regular basis.

Once I stopped eating eggs though, lemon meringue pis seemed out of the question, as all lemon curd recipes- the base of the lemon meringue pie- seemed to be super egg heavy, not to mention the meringue which was basically egg whites with sugar. It is super hard to find egg free lemon curd recipes- most recipes seemed to be tofu based, and I also don't eat soy.
I tried making a few eggless lemon curd recipes, and didn't have much success there. Some tasted great, they were rather runny due to the lack of egg yolks in them. Other ones left much to be desired such as that cauliflower based one... which tasted to me like sweet and sour cauliflower puree. What a waste!
On top of that, there was the issue that most lemon curd recipes were made with white sugar, and I try to stay away from processed sweeteners.

I've been working on a healthy frugal dessert cookbook (Penniless Paleo Confections- watch for it- should hopefully be out within the next month or so) and decided that I needed to figure this one out already- I wanted to be able to include a lemon curd recipe in it, and after a lot of trial and error finally figured it out!

This lemon curd is refined sugar free, egg free, dairy free, and can be made vegan. I've made it with both jaggery syrup and honey and it works both ways. I'm sure it can be tweaked a bit to be made with a dry non refined sweetener like coconut sugar as well (you'll need to add a little extra liquid to it if so. It is quite delicious and everyone that tried it loved it!

You can eat the curd plain or as a topping for lemon bars (it works better in this recipe than the topping listed), and you can use it in lemon meringue pie, but I have to admit that I still haven't figured out how to make a meringue pie topping that is both egg free and refined sugar free. Aquafaba works to make a vegan meringue, but only works with white sugar, and egg white meringue works with non refined sweeteners...

Lemon meringue pie made with egg white meringue sweetened with honey
If you want a true lemon meringue pie that is egg free and refined sugar free you'll need to do some further experimenting, though this looks promising as a topping- though it is made with a product containing erythritol which some people avoid as well.
My closest approximation to lemon meringue pie with ingredients I eat would be topping my lemon curd with whipped coconut cream, and using a crust like this.

When making this recipe with jaggery syrup, it is less sweet than with honey, so keep that in mind. Both delicious, but if you don't like things as sweet, you might want to cut back on the honey a drop.

Homemade Lemon Curd Recipe- Egg Free, Dairy Free, Refined Sugar Free, Paleo, Vegan Option

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Update On My Little Container Garden

I recently wrote about how I made a compost in my apartment, even without a yard or a porch to call my own, just in a container on my window sill, and there I shared how I planned on turning my brown thumb into a green thumb, using that compost to attempt to grow vegetables in my window boxes.
Well, after two weeks I needed to show a "garden" update, which basically can be summed up with "you win some, you lose some".

Until recently I only had 4 small aloe vera plants growing in my pots, and I wasn't even doing such a good job of keeping them alive. Whenever my mom would come to visit, she'd water the plants and chastise me for not watering them; I'd kill them if I didn't water them, she'd say. But I still didn't remember. And so my aloe vera didn't die, but turned this dark brown color instead of its standard green. And part of it dried up and looked sort of dead looking. 

Since I planted a bunch of new seeds and wanted them to grow, I set myself a daily reminder via email and pop up on my phone reminding me to water the plants. I didn't even need them, since I've remembered to water them even before I get the reminder!

My aloe vera now looks healthy! It's been growing better and faster, and the new growth is bright green just like it should be! That is definitely a win!

See the bright new green in the middle? This is even a few days old- there's even more green now!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What I've Been Up To When Not Blogging

Ready soaps and soaps in molds

As much as I love blogging, and have no plans on stopping any time in the foreseeable future, sometimes my life gets too busy to find time to write a blog post, and when I finally do get some down time, all I want to do is veg out instead of writing blog posts...

So what have I been up to this past week when not blogging?

Well, first of all, I realized that, though I'd love to write a foraging book, I still have a lot of work ahead of me before I can finish that book. At the same time, I do want to get a book published already, so I decided to compile a cookbook of foraged recipes, which I will hopefully be able to finish in the next little while. This past week I compiled all the recipes and am working on the text of it, and worked with a graphic artist to get some graphics done for the book. So that took up a large chunk of my week.

Then I found out that there'd be a fair in my community with free stands that anyone could sell things at, no charge. I've been getting into homemade soaps lately and started selling some here and there and figured that setting up a stand with my homemade soaps would be a great way to get my name out there as a soaper in my community, and hopefully make a decent amount of sales.

But... time was short and I had a looming deadline to get all my soaps made.

I had already made a bunch of mocha and lavender soaps, but I had much more still needing to be done.

Lavender soaps made with foraged lavender.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Eomuk, Kamaboko, Odeng- Homemade Korean Surimi Fish Cakes Recipe- Paleo, Egg Free, Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Grain Free

Growing up I ate surimi quite a decent amount but but never knew it was called that. We just called it mock crab or mock shrimp, and used it for various things like fried rice and sushi- mainly sushi in things like California rolls, which was great because it was another fish option other than lox for people who can't easily get their hands on sushi grade raw fish.
In my country surimi isn't easy to come by, and the stuff that is available is nearly all made with gluten, and/or fake sugars and/or egg (not to mention MSG), making it not an option for me to buy. I've missed surimi so much that when I went to the US 2 years ago, I brought back 2 packages with me that was at least gluten free, and I think fake sugar free.

But I've missed it, and just made a discovery when browsing a website full of Korean recipes and came across this recipe for Korean fish cakes, called eomuk or odeng, also known as kamaboko in Japan, and it intrigued me. I played around with the recipe to make it suit my needs (paleo, gluten free, egg free, refined sugar free, shellfish free), and once it was cooked, I had that realization that I made surimi! So psyched!

Eomuk is often sold prepackaged in Asian stores, but making it at home really wasn't such a big deal! You can eat it as is, plain or with a dipping sauce like this. It is quite delicious that way.

Alternatively you can slice it up and use it in a variety of recipes. Eomuk soup is another traditional way to eat it (and is something I want to try soon), as also in kimbap/gimbap, Korean sushi (and obviously it works well in Japanese sushi too). But when I heard about eomuk bokkeum, stir fried eomuk, and how it is popular among children in Korea, I decided to give it a try. The original recipe for eomuk bokkeum calls for gochujang, Korean hot pepper paste, something I don't have; instead I decided to add something for heat (hot pepper flakes), something for umami (coconut aminos) and something for acidity (apple cider vinegar) to give it a similar flavor profile, and along with that I used some date syrup as sweetener, but then kept the rest of the ingredients the same. I served it to my oldest son, Lee, and his friend, and they both loved it, his friend saying "Oh, it's so yummy, I wish I had more!" (And this friend is not an adventurous eater- he doesn't like "weird" food.)

In short, quite the hit.

We scarfed it down.

The texture reminds me of a hot dog, so I want to try this in a bun with hot dog type toppings, and it also makes me want to try this recipe, just replacing the fish with chicken or turkey, and see if I can make homemade hot dogs this way.

Because it is somewhat greasy being deep fried, people often blanch these in water for a few minutes before using to remove the grease. I didn't bother, but feel free to do so. They freeze well.

Feel free to use whatever fish you have on hand or can get cheapest in this recipe.

I used fish with skin in this recipe- the skin didn't blend up; I had to fish it out, but then I fried it as well, and it was delicious. So if you use skinless fish that's great, and if not, you can do what I did and get another treat.

Eomuk, Kamaboko, Odeng- Homemade Korean Surimi Fish Cakes Recipe- Paleo, Egg Free, Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, /Nightshade Free, Grain Free

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Penny, the Self Taught, Crowd Sourcing, Non Orthodoxly Educated Forager and Instructor

Some of the people attending a recent foraging class of mine-
but are foraging classes the only way to learn?
I'll admit I'm not the typical forager, nor was my education and background in foraging orthodox. In fact, many "real" foragers will probably say disparaging things about the way I learned to forage, but I'm proud of my unorthodox ways.

I foraged here and there growing up, but mainly easily recognizable things like mulberries, apples, blackberries and wood sorrel, then after going on a weed walk with my family as a middle school student, added jewelweed seeds to my repertoire. But that's it.
I moved abroad when I got married and got really inspired by some foraging that some bloggers I was reading were doing, yet didn't think it was relevant to me since those bloggers lived in Colorado, New Zealand, and England. My grasp of the local language at that time left much to be desired so I couldn't easily learn about foraging from the locals, and the few books that I found on the subject were so horrible, to the point that they were dangerous (teaching poisonous plants as edible for one) that I gave up on the idea of foraging and decided to just admire people's foraging from afar. One day though, I discovered that a plant my Colorado friend was writing about grew all over my city- mallow- and that was the start of my tumble down the rabbit hole of my unorthodox wild edibles education, when I discovered that I could learn much about foraging from my international foraging friends and bloggers.

Why do I say unorthodox? Well, one of the big 'rules' in almost all online foraging groups that I'm part of is that you can't just rely on what you learn online- you need to have a local person show it to you. Yea, that. That's how I broke the rules.
I was foraging and teaching about foraging locally for years before I attended my first foraging class locally. And that one was even by a non local person.

Cost-Effective Transportation: The Passenger Vehicle v. The Motorcycle

Photo credit- khunaspix
We have no car and have no plans on buying one, but I must admit, I have given some thought as to what type of vehicle would be best should we decide to get one down the line. Motorcycles scare me so much because of the increased likelihood of injury, but I can see what their appeal would be in other ways- if you live in an area with lots of traffic jams, motorcycles are able to cut through the traffic and can significantly shorten your commuting time, which plays a big factor in quality of life and even earning potential.
This post, by Spenser Josan, a literature geek and curator from Hoboken, New Jersey, raises some other factors that I hadn't even considered- how they can save money as well.

While the world is starting to wonder how young people will be able to afford the rising costs of buying a house while managing their crippling student loan debt and trying to find a job in an ever shrinking job market, Millennials are looking into alternative solutions to save money. One such alternative is trading in the passenger vehicle for a motorcycle.

General Payments and Costs

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Apartment Composting With No Yard, No Porch, and No Worms

Our fresh new compost! See how black it is?

It started a few months ago when our local government passed a measure that was supposed to be environmentally beneficial, but I felt would just hurt the finances of people already struggling financially, without actually benefiting the environment as it was supposed to. As a protest, I wrote an article about more effective ways the government could actually help the environment without hurting the poor.
On that list was the suggestion that there be community wide composting programs, so that people's organic waste didn't go into landfills, and instead put them in composters.

Growing up, we never would dream of throwing decomposable material into the trash. We kept a little trash can under the sink which we filled with this kitchen trash, and when that filled up, we dumped it into our compost heap in the back corner of our garden. The compost there would then be used in our garden where we grew all sorts of delicious things (of which the snow peas, fresh tomatoes, and asparagus were my favorite... though can't forget about the wineberries.)

When I moved abroad and got married, it took convincing to get my husband to be willing to have a compost in our yard, but when he got on board, he saw how cool it was, how we were able to get such rich soil that way, which we then used in our small garden (tomatoes, swiss chard, and potatoes are what we successfully grew).

Then about 5 years ago we moved into our current small apartment, where we have no yard and even no real porch, so that curtailed our gardening abilities. (The few things I tried to grow didn't turn  out to be so successful.) One of the things that bugged me most was throwing out my decomposable waste since we no longer had a compost heap. I'd thought about making a guerrilla compost pile in a public place but then never had the guts to do so. (Eventually a neighbor did exactly that not far from my home.)