Calming, Cleansing And Rejuvenating Herbal Treats For Yoga (or just anytime!)

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Behold the Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea and Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites I’ll be serving for Restorative Herbal Yoga For Spring – the very first session of The Yoga Apothecary. Because I’m so grateful that this very first class is full (and that so many others of you have wanted to attend) I’ve decided to share the recipes for the treats that we’ll be sampling in class, so you can also enjoy their healing and revitalizing gifts at home.

In these classes we’ll be marrying the benefits of cleansing, calming and rejuvenative herbs, with restorative yoga postures and breath. Our focus is on releasing the stagnant tension and toxins that get “stuck” in our bodies over winter – allowing the fresh life giving energy of spring to flow IN. And to help us to do that, we’ll be calling in plant allies like Lemon Balm, Wild Rose and Dandelion Root!  So before our practice we’ll sip a fragrant and uplifting lemon balm and wild rose petal tea – spiked with a grounding dandelion root tincture.

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Left: Dandelion Root Tincture  Right:  Steeping Tea

Lemon balm is a delicious lemony herb in the mint family that helps soothe anxiety and calm the nervous system, this will help us relax and release tension in our bodies as we practice. The loving energy of rose and her heavenly volatile oils also help us to enter a deeply relaxed state. Her anti-depressant qualities and ability to uplift the heart and spirits are also well known. These benefits in yoga therapy, and especially in restorative yoga, are important physiologically to healing – because without first feeling safe and relaxed, we cannot fully restore.

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Stress and chronic tension can often get held in the body, from our jaw, neck, shoulders, bellies, hips and most especially our psoas muscle (which connects our legs to our torso). This can keep our flight/fight/freeze sympathetic nervous system activated, and turn down the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Sadly this can bring a host of negative effects from hampering digestion, dampening our immune system, compromising cellular repair and exhausting our adrenals etc. So we’ll be calling on the power of our lemon balm and wild rose petal tea to help us release tension, deeply relax  and switch our healing parasympathetic nervous system back on. (more detail on this here)

In yoga, the First or Root chakra is related to issues of survival, security and feelings of being safe and stable. Located at the base of the spine, it governs our feet, legs, hips and psoas muscle, and is the source of our life-giving connection to the earth. And if we take a lesson from mother nature, she teaches us there is no standing strong without first rooting down. Feelings of being ungrounded, anxious or depressed, of never feeling truly safe in the world, can signal a first chakra imbalance.

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And so the perfect 1st chakra remedy is dandelion!  Because if you’ve ever tried digging up dandelion’s roots you know the true meaning of being deeply, firmly and stubbornly rooted in the earth. And there’s no doubt about why dandelion is a premiere root chakra plant, she’s truly a sunny survivor and prolific thriver!

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Her roots have been used for thousands of years to cleanse and revitalize organ systems of the lower body, from bladder, to kidneys, to liver. Dandelion also improves digestive system function and encourages the release of toxins from our blood. (This is especially helpful when chronic constriction in our lower bodies, impedes the fresh of nutrients, lymph and waste.)

Filled with vitamins A, C, D and B complex, minerals such as zinc, silicon,  iron, calcium and potassium, dandelion root contains more betacarotene than carrots!  And because it’s so packed with healing nutrients (which helps restore the optimal function of our cells and organs) we’ll end our class with a Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites- to help nourish and fortify of course!

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Yes they’re pretty yummy! And don’t worry, you won’t even notice the dandelion. Gluten free and packed with almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped fresh dandelion root, cocoa powder, organic chocolate chips and all ever so slightly perfumed with rose water, they’re ready to root, cleanse and restore you anytime – not just after yoga!

Finding dandelion root is pretty easy, while digging her roots out may take some effort. Cut in deep around the centre of the plant with a sharp tool or trowel, then pull up the whole clump. Pull out roots. You’ll need to wash these thoroughly and then chop for use in the recipe. And if you can’t find any (how can that be?!) dried dandelion root can be bought at the store and whirred up in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder. You’ll just add this powder to your recipe.

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You can find fresh lemon balm peeking up in most gardens right now -and their tender first leaves are just filled with the revitalizing energy of spring! I’ve used dried wild rose petals from my own, but they can be purchased at most herbal stores, as can the dandelion root tincture. But if you can’t find all of ingredients, don’t worry, just use what you have, lemon balm or rose on their own will still do the trick.

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So if you’re looking to enjoy these herbal spring treats with yoga, remember before you practice to take some quiet mindful time with your tea. Close your eyes, and inhale the tea’s fragrance, then take a sip and taste. Note any feelings or emotions that rise. Now see if you can bring these sensations together to form a sense memory you can reimagine and call on in practice.

Restorative yoga should be slow, movements should be gentle. Any sudden or quick moves can cause the body to tighten – which is what we don’t want!  You might want to begin lying on the floor, taking time to settle down and feel all parts of the body supported by the earth. Using belly breath (place both hands over the navel area and slowly breathe in feeling the belly rise up and then on exhale feeling the belly fall under your fingers) begin to relax into the floor, allowing yourself to deeply sink into the earth’s supportive energy…

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Using postures like knee to chest (apanasana) and happy baby (ananda balasana) use the exhale of the breath to soften your hips, gently releasing the tops of the thighs and psoas muscle. (see illustrations below) Don’t wrench your knees up close to your chest all at once, take your time, calling in the fragrance memory of the rose and lemon balm, as you breathe.  Allow their calming energy to move through you. Remember also to soften your mouth, neck, shoulders, chest and belly.

And if you’d like to release deeper, try Garland Pose (malasana). You might want to sit on a block  or high firm pillow if your heels come up off the floor, you want your feet on the ground for this posture. Concentrate on feeling the rooting through the toes, heels feet, legs, and breathe, allowing the pelvic floor to open, bringing in fresh blood flow to the lower body. Call on Dandelion root’s cleansing and nourishing powers to help revitalize your root chakra area.

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Top image from ktrnaaa

But remember – you can enjoy Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea anytime you feel stressed or overwhelmed. And following your tea up with one (or two) Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites will help ground you after.  And remember, just taking some quiet time for self care, even if it is gifting your senses with aromatic tea and a tasty, nourishing treat, is pretty rejuvenating! So relax, release and restore, and invite in the revitalizing energy of spring!

Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea w/ Dandelion Tincture

(makes enough for two cups)

  • Couple of handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves.
  • One handful dried rose petals
  • Add two cups of boiling water and let steep (covered!) for about 10 -15 minutes.
  • Strain and serve.
  • Add 2 droppers full of Dandelion tincture to each cup (about 10 ml total)
  • Enjoy!

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Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites

Makes about 1 dozen

  • 2 heaping tablespoons of chopped fresh dandelion root
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons coconut butter or oil
  • 1 tablespoons rose water

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Mix all ingredients well into a wet dough (it will be very sticky)
  • Form into little balls best you can and place in mini-cupcake tins
  • Bake for 20 – 25 minutes
  • Cool and serve!

Winter Medicine: Delicious & Warming Tonic Syrups

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When dark, winter days challenge our bodies as well as our spirits, nothing makes a better remedy than old-fashioned tonic syrups. Time tested & true, these potent preventatives and remedial healers call on the nourishing, medicinal powers of tonic plants and adaptogenic herbs, berries, honey and warming spices. And not only will they help fortify your body, bolster your immunity and strengthen your heart, they will even uplift your spirit!

Plus they’re just darn delicious splashed into sparking water and cocktails or drizzled on pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt and ice cream. And if you’re already under the weather, take heart, served straight up by the teaspoon or mixed into hot tea, tonic syrups not only help soothe symptoms of colds and flus, coughs, congestion and sore throats, they make the medicine go down in the most delightful way!

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Created by extracting and preserving plant’s nutrients and medicinal properties, in sugar, honey, and alcohol, there as many recipes and variations for herbal syrups as their are herbalists. I’ve kept with the folk tradition – meaning oh so easy to make! Well in my book at least. At any rate, this means we’re not going to get hung up on precise measurements or ingredients, but allow intuition and creativity to guide us.

In general, when making a herbal syrup you start with a big pot filled with plants (herbs, blossoms, bark or roots) and spices, fill with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and wait. Several hours later when the liquid has reduced to 1/4 of its original volume, you’ve got yourself a decoction. To this you add an equal amount of honey, and several generous splashes of booze. Voila, you’re done. (More details coming below!)

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These syrups were inspired by the healing magic of the deep, silent forest. I started with a base of fragrant evergreens, douglas-fir, grand fir, spruce and pine needles, twigs, and a couple of resinous cones. To this I added an assortment of woodland berries and rosehips, all packed with nutrients and medicinal properties that boost vitality and nourish at the deepest level.

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Top to bottom: Douglas-fir twigs and cones, oranges, usnea, barberries, dried oregon grape, staghorn sumac seeds, rosehips and dried hawthorn berries.

Conifer needles have a bright citrus flavour and are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavonoids. And according to various studies they contain anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protecting properties, and are one of the richest sources of polyprenols which stimulate the immune system, cellular repair and contain antiviral properties – in particular against influenza viruses!  Plus their volatile oils help release stimulating neurotransmitters that calm the nervous system, reduce cortisol, revive stamina and provide feelings of peace and wellbeing. (For more on info on conifers click here)

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I used dried rosehips and hawthorn berries, because they were handy. Fresh is even better!

Hawthorn and rosehips are also both exceptionally nutritious. Rich in vitamins, anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants and bioflavonoids, they contain compounds that protect and strengthen the cardiac system and provide adaptogenic benefits, which enhance adrenal function when the body is undergoing physical or emotional stress. Both are renowned for their ability to warm heavy hearts and chase away seasonal blues.

To this basic formula, you add in different herbs according to your mood, purpose or ailment. For example, I made three variations: a savoury syrup with rosemary, sage, and bay (to enhance mental clarity and brain function) another with lemon balm and california poppy (to help banish stress and promote restful sleep) and the last with staghorn sumac seeds, barberries, ginger and fennel (to support digestion after or before seasonal feasting). Wild mint, pineapple weed, chamomile, yarrow and dandelion root will also help calm digestive upsets. Elderberry and echinacea will help fight off flu, comfrey root and mullein are good for soothing coughs, and valerian and skullcap will help you relax and get a good’s night rest.  

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Left to right: Staghorn Sumac Seeds | Fennel Seeds, Barberries, Dried Oregon Grape | California Poppy & Lemon Balm | Bay, Sage & Rosemary

To this you can add different combinations of cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice, all of which bring their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities to the brew. Finally, for every cup of your completed decoction, you will add an equal amount of honey or a thick sugar syrup (boiled down sugar & water). A dark syrup made with brown sugar adds a lovely buttery, caramel like flavour. I like to infuse both my syrup and honey with roughly chopped conifer needles for additional flavour. Give them a pulse in the food processor to release their volatile oils, then add to syrup or honey and let sit for a day or two.

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And when it comes to alcohol, you’ve got brandy, vodka, even rum to choose from. I used a douglas fir-infused vodka and hawthorn brandy I had on hand, but any strong spirit will do just fine.

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So if you’re looking to ward off colds and flus, or just a little warming tipple on dreary grey days, tonic syrups will help see you through the aches and pains of winter. Great for enhancing energy and vitality, boosting immunity and overall wellness, they’re easy to make and bring a festive touch to seasonal dishes and beverages. And they make just the perfect gift for those looking for something wild in their Yuletide stockings! 

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Conifer & Wild Berry Tonic Syrup

(makes approx. 1 & 1/2 cups)

Ingredients

  • Approx. 2 1/2 cups of mixed conifer needles. Throw in a few twigs and cones as well. 
  • Approx. 2 cups of mixed rosehips, hawthorn berries (and whatever other berries you’d like). Fresh or dried.
  • Approx. 3/4 cup of mixed herbs (use 1/2 cup if dried)
  • Dried orange peel to taste
  • 1 teaspoon each of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice or fennel seeds. Fresh ginger is nice too!
  • Approx. 5 cups of water (enough to cover your plant material)
  • 1 cup of raw local honey (or a thick brown sugar syrup made by boiling sugar & water together)
  • 1/4 cup of brandy or vodka or rum

Directions

  • Put the plant material in a pot and cover with water. Bring this to a boil and then lower to simmer for several hours until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 of it’s original volume (about a cup).
  • Strain the plant matter from your decoction. Use a fine, tight weave cloth like muslin (not cheesecloth).This is important in case any of the rosehips irritating fine interior hairs have escaped during cooking into the liquid. 
  • Then take your remaining liquid and put back into pot, adding your honey (or syrup). 
  • Gently heat while stirring for 10 minutes or so. Do not boil.Then remove and let cool.
  • Add your alcohol, stir well.
  • Your syrup is done! Pour off into clean, sterilized bottle. Will keep in the fridge for several months – long enough to get you through winter. Cheers!

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“Soul Cakes” for an Old-Fashioned All Hallows Eve

soulcakes101-001“A soule cake, a soule cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a soule-cake.”  John Aubrey, 17th century

I’ve been researching old world recipes in search of Halloween food inspiration, and these sweet little barmbrack “soul cakes  are the result. And while we may think of all things pumpkin when it comes to Halloween, originally it was magical cakes, berries and nuts (especially hazelnut) that played starring roles in the feasts of “Hallowtide” (Oct. 29th, Nov. 1st and Nov 2nd).

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Hallowed Celebrations (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Bridging pagan and Christian faith traditions, these foods were associated with both Samhain and All Souls Day, a Christian festival dating to 800 AD. Both had many similarities. According to this source, the dead were honoured, skeletons were decorated, lit candles were carried in processions, bonfires burned to ward off evil spirits, carnival like costumes were donned – and of course there was plenty of cake.

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Soul Cakes (recipe here)

Both featured small round “soul cakes” made with berries, fruits and nuts. And in a custom reminiscent of modern day trick or treating, according to The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, people went from house to house singing and asking for a soul cake.  For each cake received, a prayer was said for the dead. And today soul cakes are still part of Catholic cuisine, baked in celebration of All Hallows Eve.

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Barmbrack (recipe here )

Another Halloween treat served at both Samhain and at the All Hallows Feast was Barmbrack, a sweet fruit bread or cake. This was a dark tea cake spiced and speckled with berries, dried fruits and nuts. This Irish recipe tells how tokens, rings, beans, and peas were once baked inside the cake, and each member of the family given a slice. A penny in the cake meant you were going to be rich, a pea means a future filled with health, a ring for the bride-to-be, and “a thimble for the one who would never marry and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor.”

In Celtic traditions Samhain was known as “Summer’s End” and was the time of a ceremonial third harvest, one of nuts and berries. And I was enchanted to read in Witch’s Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells and Lore that one of the most sacred of these was the hazelnut. Celtic myth tells the hazel tree overhangs the Well of Enchantment and “the hazelnut, more than any other type of nut, has long been associated with the Halloween tradition of divination particularly the amatory type. Many witches traditionally eat a hazelnut on Halloween prior to scrying crystal balls or other divining methods to see into the future.”

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Hazelnut, botanical book plate (source here)

According to this source Women in Scotland would designate a hazelnut for each of their love interests, then toss the nuts into a fire on Halloween. The nut that burned to ashes, instead of popping, supposedly represented the woman’s future betrothed. Or if a woman ate a dessert of sugary hazelnuts and nutmeg before going to sleep on Halloween, she’d dream of her future husband.

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And while I’m already in possession of a husband, it would be handy to scry into the future on this night when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. So it seemed obvious to me that baking up some Halloween hazelnut barmbrack soul cakes would be a wonderful way to honour my ancestors and the beloved who have crossed to the other-side.

I’ve adapted the recipe from several sources for both soul cakes and Barmbrack to make these All Hallows Muffins. And instead of using raisins, currants, or dried fruit, I went with foraged berries of the season, the bright orange (Chinese lantern and Arbutus berries) and red berries (Barberries) for colour and texture. These grow practically everywhere from gardens to seashores so click on the links if you want to know more.

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If you don’t have any of these handy, cranberries would likely do nicely, but remember to add in a few candied citrus peels or currents for additional flavour. Click the above links if you’d like the more traditional recipes.

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Hazelnuts, Chinese Lantern, Barberries, Arbutus berries, dried Oregon grape berries and Almonds.

Magical lore tells that one should harvest the hazelnuts the day before or on Halloween, but I had a basket of hazel nuts foraged in late summer waiting for just such a special occasion. Hazelnuts can of course be found outdoors – or at your local market!

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And did I mention these barmbrack soul cakes are oh so easy to make? And fun enough for children to join in, especially if one decides to put a magical treasure inside each cake before baking!  Happy Halloween!

Hallowtide Soul Cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh berries
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts ( I added a few almonds as well)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup hot strong black tea (I used a combination of ginger and Earl Grey)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cardamom 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  •  A few tablespoons of chopped candied ginger (optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups of self-rising flour

Directions

  • Combine berries, nuts and brown sugar. Add the hot tea, stir well, cover and allow to soak for an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a muffin/cupcake pan.

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  • Beat the egg into your wet mixture, adding the flour in 1/2 up batches, beating well after each edition.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick comes out clean (around 45 min.)
  • Let cool in the pan before turning out.  

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Oh so pretty to look at plain – but fun to decorate too!

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Happy Hallowtide!

Chestnuts, Neruda & A Recipe For Crème de Marrons

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I adore chestnut season. And by season, I mean post-windstorm sometime in mid-October. There’s just something so cheering and magical about fallen chestnuts. I know of only a few trees here in the city—tall, stately ones lining a couple of boulevards in older neighbourhoods.

Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground ~ Pablo Neruda
From bristly foliage you fell
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as perfect as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
that falling
offers its sealed-in gifts
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose

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A few weeks ago, we were expecting heavy storms to sweep through the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, it mostly bypassed the island, but not before high winds swept through the chestnut trees to rattle a bounty of nuts to the ground. We donned our slickers and braved the gusting rain to collect several baskets full. My six-year-old loves kicking through the spiky casings, looking for the small glossy treasures hidden inside. We made sure to wear thick wooly hats to protect our heads against falling chestnuts though that did little to protect my other end from meeting the business end of a small bristling branch. It shocked me more than it hurt and it sent my son into seemingly never ending giggles. Seriously, he laughed for a long time. Butt injuries are hilarious to first graders. Schadenfreude is strong in that boy.

In the heights you abandoned
the sea-urchin burr
that parted its spines
in the light of the chestnut tree;
through that slit
you glimpsed the world,
birds bursting with syllables,
starry dew below,
the heads of boys and girls,
grasses stirring restlessly,
smoke rising, rising.

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Note: Make sure you’re not collecting Horse Chestnuts! These relatives of the sweet chestnut look somewhat similar to the untrained eye, but sadly aren’t good eating. Great topical medicine for oedema or even cellulite, but toxic when eaten. You probably won’t die, but you will experience severe GI distress. A little research and you’ll be able to tell the two apart easily.

You made your decision,
chestnut, and leaped to earth,
burnished and ready,
firm and smooth
as the small breasts
of the islands of America.

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Detail of Anton Seder’s “Chestnut”

Right, now where was I? Oh, yes—waxing poetic about foraging for chestnuts. Now, the only real drawback to gathering chestnuts is that you actually have to do something with all those gorgeous impenetrable little fortresses of deliciousness. They do not give up their innards without a fight. We’ll get to that.

You fell,
you struck the ground,
but nothing happened,
the grass still stirred,
the old chestnut sighed with the mouths

of a forest of trees,
a red leaf of autumn fell,
resolutely, the hours marched on
across the earth.

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First thing’s first. You’ll have to go through the chestnuts and discard any wrinkly or weevily ones. I’m just going to go ahead and jinx myself here and announce that I’ve yet to come across a wormy chestnut. Wipe the chestnuts with a damp towel and lay them out on a table in a single layer. If you have such a thing as a drying rack, that would be wonderful. I laid my out on a table in a dry airy room and let them sit like that for four days. This will sweeten them up a bit.

Because you are only a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights,
silence 
prepared the germ,

the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.

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Chipped nails. Classic chestnut sacrifice.

Every year I approach the task of shelling chestnuts with a heartbreaking mix of unrealistic optimism and grim determination. I research the same sites over and over looking for tips to make the next few days of my life less miserable. And here’s what works best for me. And by best, I do mean the least shitty. Some nuts will burn your hands. Some will crumble when you try to peel them. Sometimes the tough hairy inner skin has a deathgrip on the lovely yellow nut underneath. Me? I simply lower my standards. I guarantee you I’ve eaten a lot of that inner skin. Who am I to get between that kind of devotion? If you’re eating them straight up, nothing beats roasted chestnuts. Just score them and roast them in a cast-iron pan for 30 minutes in a 400 C. But for the sake of this recipe, steaming works well. Chop them in half and steam them for 20 minutes

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And what exactly is crème de marrons? Well, obviously it translates to “cream of chestnuts”, but it’s not really a cream. It’s a terrifically sweet nut conserve and it’s very French. It was invented by French confectioner Clément Faugier in 1885 and since then Crème de Marrons de l’Ardèche has been a staple of French children and chefs alike. My half-French husband speaks wistfully of visiting Lyon as a child and eating it directly out of an aluminum tube.

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You can usually find it, usually tinned, in specialty food stores or at better grocers. But, that would be easy. That’s not for folks like you and me. We MAKE things. Sometimes until 3 AM. And then we curse the things we make. However, you’ve come this far, so let us make us some fancy French chestnut conserve. En français, s’il vous plaît! . This recipe is pretty much Frankensteined it together from different recipes and trial and error. Once you get past the shelling and shucking, it’s dead easy.



Recipe: Crème de Marrons (Chestnut Conserve)

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Ingredients:
fresh chestnuts
organic cane sugar
vanilla bean
water
sea salt

Step 1: Peel. Cut the chestnuts in half using a serrated edge knife. Bring a pot with 2 inches of water to a boil and fill a steamer basket with the chestnuts. Working in small batches (a cup at a time) lower the chestnuts into the pot so that they stay above the boiling water, cover  and steam 20 minutes. Remove the chestnuts from the steamer and start peeling as soon as you can bear it. Keep them wrapped in a kitchen towel to keep them warm. Once they cool they’re monstrous to peel. Pull off the thick brown shell and if the chestnut goddesses are smiling on you, the inner skin will come off, too. If not, try rubbing it off with the towel. If that fails use a small paring knife and get scraping! It’s exactly as fun as it sounds. Also, keep some aside for snacking. Chestnuts  are high in fibre, antioxidants and Vitamins B and A. They also help build stronger bones and contain complex carbohydrates to help maintain energy levels. You will need this after all that peeling.

Step 2: Cook. Put the peeled nuts and the inevitable frustrating little piles of chestnut crumble into a deep pot. Add a good pinch fo sea salt and enough water (you can use your chestnut water) just to cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes or until the nuts are tender. You may end up with extra liquid or you may not. This is one of those mysteries I have decided to move on from. Last year I had to drain them. This year I did not. Go figure.

Step 3: Purée. I used my trusty OXO food mill to purée the softened chestnuts. You can also use a food processor. Whatever mushes your chestnuts.

Step 4: Weigh. I used a kitchen scale to weigh the chestnut purée. You’ll want to add an equal amount of cane sugar. I wound up with 1300 grams. Put the sugar &purée back in the pot and stir. Add 100 ml of water for every 1 kg of sweetened purée. Add a split vanilla bean to the pot.

Step 5: Cook. Again. Bring the now already wonderfully fragrant mixture to a simmer. Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly to keep your hard won spoils from burning. It’s ready when it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot or when you like the look of it.

Step 6: Preserve your conserve. Remove the vanilla bean and pour the piping hot mixture into hot sterilized canning jars (washed and rinsed in boiling water). Now here is where it gets confusing. Because chestnuts aren’t acidic, the thought is that you cannot safely preserve this conserve in a hot water bath—it would have to be pressure canned. Though I think that might be overkill and could potentially compromise the jam. However, most European recipes recommend a hot water bath and storage in a cool space. There does seem to be consensus that the conserve will keep for a couple of months, unprocessed in the fridge. Not one to pick sides, I did a 15-minute hot water bath and then stored the preserved jars in the fridge. I don’t expect them to hang around too long as we’re going through it pretty quickly and I’ll be gifting the rest for Christmas. It’s kind of the perfect host gift.

Crème de marrons is best (in my opinion) served on a thick buttered slice of rustic bread. It’s also lovely between cake layers or dolloped in yogurt. Bon appetit!

Medicinal properties: Sweet Chestnut (Castanea vesca) leaves are astringent & high in Vitamin K. Tea made from the leaves is used to treat respiratory diseases such as whooping cough, and mixed with thyme makes a powerful medicinal syrup that is used to treat cough, diarrhea, backache and intoxication. (source)

Magical properties: fertility,  desire, abundance.

Fudgey Burdock & Rose Brownie Cake

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Last spring, I tested out a batch of Burdock & Rose Brownies at Gather’s “Botanical Sweet Treat” bar. And they were the first to go. Their dark fudgey icing drew peoples eyes like a magnet – and no one cared a whit about warnings that these brownies were a little more “earthy” in flavour than usual. But judging by their expressions as they took their first bite (and the brisk sales) the Wild Rose & Burdock Fudge Brownie was a winner. So this fall, in honour of a young Venus turning 19, I decided to make a brownie birthday cake. burdockcale1-002

Grounded in the dark, heavy goodness of chocolate and the loamy roots of the burdock, this cake takes flight in the heady floral top notes of rose. And when it comes to indulgence it’s pretty guilt-free. Yes of course the sugar is “bad”, but everything else in these Burdock & Rose Brownie Cake is really gooood for you!

Last spring I used a fresh burdock root in the recipe. I peeled it, gave it a boil pulsed it the food processor, then mixed the mash right in the brownie batter, much like you might use zucchini. But this time I used dried burdock root powder instead (made by whirring up the dried bits in my coffee grinder), and it added a delicious, roasted coffee-like flavour. (You can find dried burdock at your local herbalist shop)

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Burdock is a blood purifier and important detoxifying herb in both Western and Chinese herbal medicine. Nutrient and mineral rich, burdock contains phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin, lignans, inulin, mucilage, sulphur, and organic acids, all of which assist digestion support the liver, balance hormones, and reduce inflammation. Studies show that burdock is useful to help ease arthritis and gout, and as an anti-tumor herb. And it rumoured to be one of the four ingredients in the legendary anti-cancer Essiac Tea, allegedly acquired from a First Nations healer.

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Image Source: Little City Farm

And it’ magical too. Old folk-lore and traditions tell us that burdock root protects from evil and negative influences.  Burdock should be gathered in autumn under the waning moon (right now!) dried, cut into pieces and strung on a red string. When worn as talisman or as a necklace this burdock necklace will protect the bearer from bad spirits and ill forces.

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And because the planet Venus rules over burdock (as it does the rose) it also associated with love. One medieval folk tradition tells girls to pick a burdock burr, give it her lover’s name and throw it against her dress. If it stuck he was faithful, if not, he was untrue.

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Image Source here

Of course nothing captures Venuses allure and beauty better than her signature flower, the rose. Long used in love magic, potions and spells it’s no wonder she has been called Venus Verticordia (“Venus the turner of hearts”). Because of her aphrodisiac qualities, it was an old custom to strew rose petals on the bed of a just married couple to enhance fertility.

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Last May I used the petals of wild roses but this time I went with the intensely fragrant blossoms of the Rugosa whose bright pink flowers are blooming again all over Victoria. To this I added a a fat coral rose from the garden with a wonderful peachy aroma.  These rose petals bring not only Venu’s intoxicating aroma to this brownie, they bring Vitamin C, antioxidants, polyphenols and bioflavonoids to it too.

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Yes, they really are this pink.

And considering that chemical compounds found in roses have been found to help to trigger “feel good” endorphins while reducing cortisol and blood pressure, helping the brain enter calm and relaxed states – this is one dreamy brownie cake indeed. And I’m not going to even begin in all the wonderful mood-lifting and healing properties of chocolate itself!  Lets just say, this brownie cake will not only nourish you as you indulge, it will make you feel really good too! 

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Burdock Root & Rose Brownie Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons dried powdered burdock roots 
  • 2 cups fresh lightly chopped rose petals ( 1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 &1/2 cups organic cane (or brown) sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour
  • 2 & 1/2 ounces unsweetened or dark chocolate (in pieces)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped, roasted hazelnuts (optional – I found some fall foraging so I threw them in)

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Directions

The first most important thing is infusing your petals in melted butter as this extracts their flavour.

  • Melt butter on low heat. Place the rose petals in the pot/pan and stir gently.
  • Let them in infuse in warm heat for at least an hour (don’t cook them- just let them release their oils into the better.  I put mine in a small casserole dish in the oven at lowest setting to sit.
  • Once roses are done (they should be limp) preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a small round baking pan and dust with flour.
  • Melt chocolate and set aside to cool.
  • Beat eggs and vegetable oil until fluffy. Add sugar and beat well. Next mix in melted chocolate. Add in your butter and butter infused petals. 
  • In separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Stir in nuts.
  • Fold together your wet and dry ingredients, mix well.
  • Spread batter into prepared round pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until toothpick stuck into center comes out slightly moist. Cool completely.

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Couple of Closing Notes:

If you want to use fresh burdock root, spring and fall are the best times for harvesting. Or should I say digging? Because fresh burdock definitely requires getting your hands dirty. These links by noted herbalists  Yarrow Willard and Jim McDonald tell you everything you need to know. Use about 1/2 cup, peeled, boiled and chunkily pureed.

And when it comes to rose petals any fragrant variety will do. Just take a whiff and your nose will let you know. And right now if you like in Victoria you can even find wild roses like Nootka making a last reappearance in the autumn sunshine. If you can’t find fresh roses, dried rose petals will work. Just be sure to place to infuse them in butter longer than the recipe requires – they will need to fully plump up before you use them. 

And when it comes to frosting – well, I’ll leave that up to you!

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Beautiful Venus Vinegar: Autumn Medicine & Magic

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Behold the fruit of my autumn equinox harvest! A magical Venus Vinegar composed of the most vitalizing wild foods, herbs and medicines offered by mother nature this season. And it is no ordinary herbal vinegar, but a nutrient rich, beautifying, fortifying tonic that is fruity, tangy, spicy and earthy all in one. And a splash of it’s beautiful zesty flavours will not only bring life to heavier fall foods and dishes like roast meats, stews, baked beans, braised cabbage and root vegetables, it will nourish, energize and pleasure you through the dark days of winter.

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Venus Vinegar adds zip to this Nasturtium Dip w/ Polenta Fries

It is mostly the nasturtium flowers, rosehips and staghorn sumac seeds that give this venusian vinegar it’s glorious colour. But what makes it “magical” is that from the sweet tartness of crab apple and oregon grape berries, the fruity tang of sumac, the spicy nasturtium blossoms and pungent wild mustard seeds, to invigorating new shoots of green, nourishing nettle, dandelion and plantain, it embodies the seasonal flavours and energetic principles at work in the heavens and our landscape this season.

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The word Equinox descends from Latin, aequus for “equal,” and nox,  “night”- and describes the two days of the year when the day and night are equal in length. The Vernal Equinox marks the birth of spring, and the Autumn Equinox marks the onset of fall. While solstices are all about extremes – high summer, deep winter, equinoxes are the moments of balance. Which is appropriate as autumn equinox marks the day the sun enters the sign of Libra, which is depicted cross culturally as a goddess bearing scales.

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But what I love best about this time of the year is that it’s ruled by Venus, goddess of beauty and all things green and growing. Reflecting the principle of balance, Venus appears twice a year in the astrological calendar, at the Vernal Equinox (Taurus) and again at the Autumn Equinox (Libra). Fulfilling the promise of new life she planted at spring, she oversees the red apples, ruby ripe berries and fattening seed pods, the fruits of the summer which are ready for release.

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But she also blesses the landscape with a new carpet of green. Plants driven back by the dry heat of high summer, send out new shoots and emerald leaves to harvest the last warm rays of the sun. And during the coming month, they will be busy pulling light energy deep into their roots for storage during winter hibernation.

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And so, balancing the fruits, shoots, seeds that embody the energetic principles of the season, these Venusian Vinegars are powerful medicine indeed. Because as herbalists well know, soaking plants and foods in the acidic bath of vinegar (a menstruum) extracts their nutrients and medicinal qualities into the liquid itself.

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Now, vinegars are good for us all on their own, helping to lower cholesterol, improve skin tone, moderate high blood pressure, prevents/counter osteoporosis, improve metabolic functioning. Which is probably why vinegar has been used historically for far more than preserving pickles. Added to flavour food and drink, it has been used as a strengthening and energizing tonic throughout history. But marrying it nutritional properties with the health-promoting effects of green herbs, berries, shoots and seeds, makes Venus Vinegar good for practically anything that ails you.

And right now the landscape from backyard to forest is vibrant with vitamin C packed rosehips, anti-inflammatory Staghorn Sumac seeds, lutein packed nasturtium blossoms, brain enhancing ginkgo leaves, new shoots of nutrient and mineral rich nettle, digestive supportive dandelion, gentle cleansers like chickweed, and warming anti-arthritic mustard seeds. And of course, I’ve named only a few.

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But aside from their health supporting properties, I love the idea of crafting herbal vinegars as alchemical creations. Legend tells that Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, after a lavish meal with Mark Anthony, dissolved a pearl in vinegar and then drank the resulting concoction. Later vinegar played a role in the practices of the European alchemists whose used its dissolving properties to distill or extract magical properties from stones and minerals.

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So too, I like to think of this Venus Vinegar as extracting more than just nutrients and medicinal ingredients, but the energetic principles of the season, not to mention the essential life-giving force alive in our landscape. And it is created in tribute to my witchy ancestors for whom the autumn equinox was a time of “betwixt and between” – a high time for magic. Because as the old saying goes “as above, so below”.

According to herbalist and wise woman Susun Weed, the equinox, a moment of celestial and earthly stasis, is a turning point, an ideal time for turning something around in your life. But because the light and energies of growth are waning, this is not a time for making active outward change in the world, but a time for releasing the old and harvesting the fruit of the year, to dive deep to into ourselves, to get rooted for winter. 

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So I invite you celebrate the autumn equinox and create a Venus Vinegar of your own! Take a basket outdoors and gather what mother nature provides in this season of plenty. You’ll likely find different fruits, seeds, herbs that I’ve used in mine, but that’s just right. Differing landscapes have their own unique foods and medicines – just be sure to use a combination of plants that reflect the energies at work in the season. And remember to include Venus’s signature plants if you can, red fruits like apples and rosehips, and green plants like plantain and thyme.

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Autumn harvest basket: Horn of Plenty 

You can use this vinegar in many winter recipes, to pickle dandelion capers and nasturtium buds, brighten up a pan sauce, a vinaigrette, or to marinate meat, as a glaze for winter vegetables, cooked whole grains, baked beans, roasted winter squash, soups and stews.

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Nasturtium pod capers soaked in Venus Vinegar

VENUS  VINEGAR

Ingredients (just a rough guide for your own blend!)

  • 3 or 4 crabapples, sliced (if you can’t find any use any small crisp tart apple)
  • handful of oregon grape berries
  • handful of barberries (optional)
  • handful of rosehips
  • 3/4 cup of nasturtium flowers minced
  • handful of nasturtium seed pods
  • handful of mixed greens (young nettle shoots, chickweed, dandelion, plantain, bittercress)
  • four or five yellow Ginkgo leaves
  • sprig of rosemary, thyme or sage (or all three)
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons Sumac Seeds
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of lightly ground Wild Mustard seeds  (Honesty Plant/Lunaria Annua)
  • 2 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar

Directions

  • Fill a quart jar with your plant material.
  • Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full. Cover jar with a plastic screw-on lid, or use a square of wax paper underneath your metal lid (vinegar disintegrates metal) held on with a rubber band.
  • Store your mixture away from direct sunlight at room temperature.
  • Your Venus Vinegar will be ready in six weeks!
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From front to back: fuzzy sumac seeds, red barberries, blue oregon grape berries, pale green nasturtium seed pods, baby conifer cones, hawthorn berries, yellow ginkgo leaves.

 

Dandelion & Calendula Breakfast Egg Cups: The Perfect Marriage of Health & Flavour

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These egg cups were inspired by Jennifer’s upcoming nuptials. Because ever since she and my brother announced their upcoming wedding, the women in the family and invited close friends have been “watching their weight”. Including me. Normally I don’t pay much thought to the extra padding one accumulates around the middle (from consuming too many possets) but there is something about a summer wedding that motivates one to look their best, which sigh, sadly in this day and age, means slimmer.

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And it was to the egg cup I turned. High protein, low carb, its reputation as the perfect diet and convenience food is well known. I found oodles of recipes online. Described as a “natural choice for a healthy, active lifestyle”, “guilt-free, fast, and easy” and ready “to eat on the go”, they are clearly a fuelling favourite for busy women everywhere. And packing them with spinach and chopped vegetables, makes them doubly good for you.

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But in the end it wasn’t cutting carbs that convinced me to explore the glories of the breakfast (in my case more brunchy) egg cup, it was the many mouth-watering recipe images I discovered on Pinterest.  And now I’m sorry to say that it took me so long to give them a try!  The rich eggy flavour, the savoury feta cheese, the flavours of fresh herbs – all combined in a perfect storm. And eaten warm from the oven, these cups are no mere convenience but a comfort food extraordinaire.

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And yes, they are super healthy. Especially this version which is filled with the wild super-greens of the season like dandelion and wild mustard, not to mention tasty healing herbs like lovage or the antioxidant and flavonoid packed calendula petals.  But it is lovage’s distinctly celery like taste which gives this egg cup its wonderful flavour.

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Upper Left Corner: Lovage, Bottom Left: Dandelion. Strewn throughout Calendula & Dandelion petals

I chose lovage for no particular reason other than it was just so abundant and vibrant. In our community herb garden one plant is well over 6 feet already!  Lovage is a member of the parsley family, and its aromatic flavour has been described as celery, anise and curry like, which has long made it a favourite herb for soups, stews and stock.

And not only did it work to season this egg cup beautifully, I’ve discovered since that it can help aid weight loss. Well, according to the internet anyway.  Billed as a cleansing herb that helps expel toxins from your body, research suggests it works as a diuretic that encourages water loss without losing electrolytes in the process.

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Bottom left corner: Lovage leaves

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From bottom left to top right: field meadow mustard greens, calendula petals, dandelion leaves

Dandelion too is a renowned diuretic, used by herbalists to detoxify the liver and support kidney function. Its bitter qualities, like the pungent qualities of mustard, also stimulate and support digestion. And the better your food is digested, the more nutrients you’ll absorb from your food. Plus studies have shown that better digestion leads to better metabolism  – which helps us burn fat more efficiently!

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But in the end, I love these egg cups not because they are so healthy, but because they are just so warming, yummy and pretty.  Recently I served them up to my visiting mother and sister and law for breakfast – and they absolutely loved them. So much so we ended up eating the whole dozen. Some diet. Who cares? Sometimes there are more important things in life that watching your waistline!

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Dandelion & Calendula Breakfast Egg Cups (With Feta & Lovage)

(serves 6)

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • Splash of cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced dandelion leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced wild mustard greens
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh lovage leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of calendula petals
  • 1/4 of large onion or half of small onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • tablespoon of olive oil

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Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Grease cups of a muffin tin.
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper until smooth.

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  • Lightly saute your greens with olive oil, garlic and onion, add in the feta, give a stir.
  • Remove from stove and fill your muffin cup with the mixture (about 3/4 full).
  • Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the cups are solid and slightly brown on top.
  • Let cool 10 minutes, and then remove from muffin tin. Eat warm if you can!

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A Super Easy Old-Fashioned Creamy Dessert: Honey Lilac Posset (Or Rose, Elderflower, Peony, Lavender…)

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“Be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house”  William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Dating back to the middle ages, the posset is making a comeback. Perfect for when you want to whip up a special dessert with minimal effort, it’s made with three ingredients, honey, cream and lemon juice. These are boiled together and chilled overnight. That’s it. And if that isn’t wonderful enough, try infusing your posset with spring flowers like lilac, wild rose or elderflower. Simply divine.

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If you follow Gather’s fb page you’ll likely have noticed we’ve become smitten with possets. This began when I discovered this amazing recipe for Lemon Lavender Posset. Because lavender wasn’t yet ready, I decided to use what was in full bloom at the time -the glorious fragrant blossoms of lilac. The results were delicious.

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This inspired Jennifer to create Elderflower Posset (she tossed in a few of our native red elderflowers as well) and now we’re both enamoured with rose. Lately I’ve been eyeing the peony which is reputed to make a delightful jelly.

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Elderflower Honey Posset

Today’s posset is very different from the one often referred to by Shakespeare, a drink made from curdled milk, sugar, alcohol and sack, (a fortified wine or sweet ale similar to sherry).  I like this 1596 recipe from The Good Housewife’s Jewel Take a pint of thick cream, and season it with sugar and ginger, and rose water. So stir it as you would then have it make it luke warm in a dish on a chafing dish and coals. And after put it into a silver piece or a bowl, and so serve it to the board.”

Bthe 18th century, possets are made from milk, but thickened with egg yolks (like custard) or bread (like a trifle). But the modern posset recipes now making the rounds, are more like basic puddings (no, not the Jello). And they’re often served slathered on scones or with shortbread biscuits.

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Wild Rose Posset

Puddings today are not thought to be good for the health, but possets certainly were. Used as a general “restorative” to fortify the body, or as a curative to banish colds and illness, possets were a delicious way to make the medicine go down. A 19th century recipe mentions a black pepper flavoured posset that will ‘promote perspiration’ in order to sweat out a fever.  Flowers of course, bring their own healing properties, elderflower and rose for example are both known for their anti-inflammatory constituents.

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Elderflower

Possets were often served at weddings and used in toasts at all levels of society.  Which means you just might find them served at upcoming Gather nuptials.  Like, lets say a Rose Posset made with rose brandy and a yarrow infused honey (good for ensuring love, fidelity and marital bliss).

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Posset Pot

Sometimes a wedding ring was thrown in the posset pot and the person who found it was next to head to the altar.  You would use a spoon to eat the top layers and then drink the wine through the spout in the cup. With an alcoholic base at bottom and creamy layer on top, it actually sounds quite delicious. Needless to say I’ll be experimenting with a boozy wedding-inspired posset shortly.

So if you’re in a part of the country where lilac still blooms, you’ll be enchanted by this Lilac Honey Posset. But is you’ve got roses, well that’s heavenly too. I’m moving on to lavender, whose buds are plumping and readying for harvest. But whatever floral you choose, I’m willing to bet you’ll soon find yourself (like us!) enthralled with the old-fashioned charm of the posset.

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Lilac Honey Posset (with a lilac infused honey spooned over the top)

Lilac Honey Posset (or Rose, Elderflower etc.)

Makes about 6 portions.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups cream (heavy or regular whipping cream both work)
  • ½ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice
  • 1-2 cups fresh blossoms (be sure to remove all stems, especially from Elderflower…and if you’re using lavender, you’ll need just half a cup!)
  • wee pinch of salt & cardamom (if you’re so inclined)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Bring cream and honey to boil over medium-high heat. Stir continually until honey is fully combined.
  • Keep at a low boil for 3 full minutes, and keep stirring!  Then add lemon juice and stir some more.
  • Remove from heat and mix in your blossom thoroughly. Allow to infuse for an hour.

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  • Strain off flowers and pour into small jars or ramekins.
  • Cover tightly and chill overnight.

Some say you can stick in the freezer for 30-40 minutes (if you’re in rush to sample your just desserts) but we’ve both found they won’t decently set unless left for 24 hrs.

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Savory Sage Blossom Pesto: A Culinary Spell for Youth, Beauty and Wisdom

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“Why should a man die who has sage in his garden? ” Medieval Proverb

There is an old English saying that eating sage every day in May will grant immortality. So it’s not too late to partake in this sage pesto and enjoy the many medicinal, age-defying properties of this magical herb. And while it might seem strange to eat sage in spring, it was once relished in practically everything, from stews, meats, wine, cakes, puddings and yes, even pesto – all year long.

Today we’ve mostly relegated the flavour of sage to heartier fall dishes, like Thanksgiving stuffing, which is sad, because we’re overlooking one of the most widely used and beloved herbs in human history. Believed to grant longevity and wisdom, everyone from the Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks, to the Chinese, considered sage a cure-all herb, and turns out they were pretty bang on. Today we know sage works to soothe chronic disease, support digestion, cool inflammation, boost our immune system, and sharpen the mind. Sage does indeed, help turn back the ravages of time.

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Belonging to the aromatic Lamiaceae (mint) family along with other culinary healers like oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme and basil, it bears gray-green edible leaves and flowers that can range in color from blue and purple to white or pink. And right now, many varieties are aburst with aromatic blossoms. I found these in our community herb garden, heady with the sap of spring, their tall stalks buzzing with bees.

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Now every kitchen witch knows that spring flowers are a powerful form of plant magic, enhancing youth, romance and beauty – and the blossoms of herbs are known to be especially potent. And who doesn’t want a little of that? But vanity aside, it was the sage blossoms deep sweet scent that inspired me to explore their culinary pleasures. And what better recipe for spring magic than pesto?  

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Herb and herb blossoms pestos are a spring tradition in Italian cuisine. And with their liberal addition of cheese, garlic, roasted nuts and plenty of oil, a pesto seemed an ideal complement for sage’s potent flavour. But make no mistake, this is no light green pesto, this is a full palate sensation. It deserves a heavier bread (like the pumpernickel pictured above) otherwise its rich flavours threaten to overwhelm.

But together their full-bodied flavours are so satisfying, you’ll feel like you’ve eaten a meal. And afterwards, I encourage you to sit back, rest a moment, and savour the healing magic of sage.

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Sage Blossom Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sage flowers
  • 1/4 cups roasted nuts (cashew, walnut or pine nuts)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup of onion coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Remove a few leaves and the blossoms from stalks
  • Pulse the blossoms and leaves with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor until you get the consistency and texture you like (i.e. chunky or smooth)
  • Place in a serving dish and top with a dollop of olive oil and squirt of lemon
  • You’re ready to eat!

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Naked Pasta: Wild Garlic Gnudi

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Wild Garlic Gnudi “Dumplings”

Love gnocchi? Then try Wild Garlic Gnudi! This oh so simple to make, lesser known “naked pasta” is just bursting with flavour, not to mention protein, vitamins, minerals and healing properties. And if you love the green, oniony taste of chives, scallions, and leeks like I do, then Allium vineale, paired with a salty cheesy grating of Parmigiano Reggiano, makes the satisfying comfort of pasta and dumplings – pretty guilt free.

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Allium vineale, commonly know as Field or Crow Garlic, is one of the most plentiful and overlooked wild plants. Her fall bulbs are from the same genus (Allium) as garlic, shallots and onions, but it’s her fresh, vibrant oniony spring greens we’re focusing on here. And they can be extremely tasty in any recipe that calls for scallions, chives or green onions. I love them sprinkled fresh over salads, soups, vegetables, savoury side dishes and dips – I could go on!

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Herb Curd! Combining yogurt & sour cream with chopped Allium vineale greens and a sprinkling of fresh spring herbs makes a lovely dip. I used it to dollop on a few gnudi dumplings!

Herbalists consider Allium vineale a tonic plant, which means it’s packed with nutrients that help stimulate and cleanse (or tonify) our bodies, especially our digestive systems.  Studies have shown that Allium contains sulphur compounds (which give their oniony flavour) and can help reduce blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, even act as a prebiotic encouraging the growth of gut friendly bacteria!

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Image from Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender.www.botanicalartspress.com. Lots of recipes in this wonderful book for Field Garlic and other wild greens! 

And as Allium vineale thrives practically everywhere, she is considered an invasive plant. Originating from Europe and brought over by settlers, she is now growing wild from the west to the east coast, in lawns, fields, open woods and trailsides. But in spring she is often difficult to see because she blends so easily into nearby greenery. But look closely and soon you’ll notice plants that look just like chives – tall, spindly, with dark to bluish green leaves.

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And you’ll know you’ve found her for sure as soon as you take a whiff, because you can’t mistake her oniony aroma. And like chives, Allium vineale can be identified as having a hollow leafy structure with a single hollow tube.

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Once you’ve located a patch, it’s just a matter of snipping off the greens with scissors and piling them into a basket. Once home, you’ll go through your greens and discard any flat grasses, plants or leaves that may have been accidentally included in your harvest (some could be toxic). And you’re ready to begin.

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For this recipe you’ll need a tub of ricotta, one egg, cup of flour, parmesan cheese, pinch of salt and 1 cup of chopped greens. Traditional Gnudi recipes don’t even use flour, so if you want a gluten-free version there are plenty of recipes online. But if you go flourless or gluten-free you will have a wetter stickier dough that will be harder to work with. Be warned. 

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Left: Gnudi w/flour  Right: Gluten-free Gnudi with cottage cheese

But either way you go, both dumplings are equally delicious although different in texture – the flourless cottage cheese gnudi being less dense and much lighter. And to me it tastes just like a naked pierogi! You can lightly cook the greens before using them, but I’ve used them raw because I like the sharper flavour.

Whatever dumpling you decide to make, you will mix them into a simple dough, from which you will pinch off plump balls and roll into whatever shape you desire. These you boil for 7 minutes or so, then slather with a fresh tomato or cream sauce. Or you could gently fry in browned butter, then add a grating of cheese and sprinkling of pepper.

Heavenly flavour! Good Nutrition! Easy to make! Wild Garlic Gnudi is great.

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Wild Garlic Gnudi

Makes about 1 Dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped wild garlic greens
  • 1 cup Ricotta Cheese (or full-fat Cottage cheese if you go gluten free)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of flour
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • four tablespoons butter (for browning)

Directions

  • Chop & mince your greens, the finer the better.
  • Combine with the Ricotta cheese, eggs, 3/4 cup of flour, pinch of sea salt and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.
  • Mix well and form into a dough. Knead and add rest of flour till it becomes a workable consistency. Don’t overwork. Let sit 30 minutes or so.
  • Break off small clumps of dough, roll in flour ,and fashion into dumplings about 2 inches long and an inch wide.
  • Boil water, add some salt and a few drops of oil. Once boiling roundly, drop in your Gnudi and let boil for about 7 – 10 minutes. Don’t overcrowd your gnudi as you boil!
  • Drain.  Place in a fry pan with butter & allow to brown up slightly.
  • Sprinkle with rest of grated cheese, some chopped greens, or a dollop or two of Herb Curd – and serve!
2016-03-12

Left: Gluten-free Cottage Cheese Gnudi       Right: Ricotta Cheese Gnudi w/flour