Nettles: The Saute, Smoothie Superfood Solution

In April took a foraging course in Clissold Park with John from Forage London. It was a sunny morning in London, the kind where you actually believe this city couldn’t be better if we tried.  We wandered the park identifying nature’s bountiful Spring presentation of edible salad leaves (and a couple of poisonous ones – always important!), berries, roots and fruits and most wonderfully, sampling pre-prepared products John had brought with him – stir-fried burdock root, dandelion coffee, chutneys, rosehip syrup, elderberry-clove cordial.

While we identified an overwhelming 20+ plants, what stuck with me most (as usual) were the stats John knew about the vintamin and mineral content of a few key plants I was already familiar with. Nettles have 40x the iron and protein of spinach or kale – they are free.  Elderberries have highly potent anti-viral properties, and a simple syrup taken as a daily tonic can help fight off colds better than any berrocca.  Wood Aven (or ‘clove root’) is a ‘weed’ that has a flavourful root that was used to spice food before the advent of the spice trade.  I’ve got a good eye now for garlic mustard, red/white dead nettle and sticky weed.

But it was nettles I was most interested in. So last week I bravely donned my marigold gloves, snipped a tub of nettles from a safe patch near my house that dogs have no access to and made a nettle smoothie using my usual ‘green smoothie’ recipe (being sure to steam the nettles first to get rid of any sting!), and also made a simple dinner of grilled steak, new potatoes with wild garlic and nettles sauteed like spinach with butter.

The smoothie was great actually, nettles have a lovely minty freshness that played well with the kiwi and pear. Sadly I made 2 days worth and the next morning the vibrant green of my drink had become a bit murky brown – lesson: nettles don’t keep that well (in smoothies). Tasted fine, however.

The sauteed nettles had a texture that reminded me slightly of the fiddleheads ferns I used to eat in Canada as a child – a lovely crunchiness emerged after a quick fry and they certainly tasted delicious (but what doesn’t, covered in butter and salt?). As Hugh Fearnley Wittingsall says: if you like your greens, you’ll like nettles.

I often buy big packs of kale to have in my daily morning smoothies, but at least on weekends this will be replaced with fresh nettles – not only are they free, but they are better for me.

Vibrant Green (Nettle) Smoothie

250 mL ‘posh’ orange juice
big handful of nettles
1 kiwi, (cut in half and squish insides into blender)
1 pear, peeled and cored
1 tsp spirulina powder (optional)
1 banana (optional)
125 mL water (optional if you add banana)

So I vary the ingredients of my smoothies, but OJ, Kiwi, Pear and Spirulina are pretty constant.  They don’t seem to get gloopy if you use a blender instead of a juicer and taste great together.

My basic method is this: boil the kettle and pour the water over the nettles just until they wilt (this melts the acid on the leaves that stings) and drain.  In your blender, blend just the OJ and nettles until they are smoothly combined.  Then add kiwi, pear and anything else you like.  If you want ice, add ice, or add gin as my brother does.  With nettles the spirulina might be redundant given how much of a superfood is, so it could be skipped.  Drink after a good fasted morning yoga session (cliche, me) or anytime and feel like friggin Popeye.

Mushroom Foraging: Avoiding Death Caps, Encountering TASTE

It took me two years to finally get my act together to get a place on Andy Overall’s ‘Fungi to Be With’ mushroom forays. You needed to fill in a paper booking form! Send a CHEQUE! by post! It was like 1892, and I just couldn’t seem to get my shit together – I had no idea where my chequebook was, let along a first class stamp.

In the end I mooched a stamp off a colleague and sent cash, and last November I went on my first foray in Epping Forest while yesterday I went on an introductory workshop on Hampstead Heath where we covered some identification techniques in a more in-depth manner.

Andy’s wife described the forays as ‘a walk with a purpose’ and I think thats probably why I loved them so much. We tromped off trail through the heath and in Epping forest for hours – sometimes absorbed in a clutch of edible mushrooms that we madly stuck in our bags, sometimes crowded around large, beautiful inedible specimens or as a highlight of Epping Forest’s foray: a clutch of young death caps.

My haul for the day in Nov 2012: Amethyst Deceivers and Jelly Ears

I quickly learned that when mushrooms abound, there are very few you can eat – and in most cases you only need to become very familiar with how to identify edible varietys (and any ‘ringers’ they might have) alongside confidently identifying the most poisonous mushrooms and you can probably get by ok. I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet, with about 4 edibly varieties in my portfolio and reasonable deathcap knowledge, but its a start – and a super fun hobby.

Hilariously (or ‘hilariously’) last year I got food poisoning quite badly after eating a mushroom omelette for breakfast followed by raw oysters in the half shell for an indulgent lunch. While I knew I had been very careful with my wild mushrooms (and they had gotten the green light from Andy), I had no idea whether my bad luck had been caused by norovirus laden shellfish, or mushroom poisoning. In the end I decided if it was mushroom poisoning I was likely to die regardless of medical help, so I might as well relax. Within 24 hours I was back to normal. But it was bad timing, to say the least.

Yesterday’s Haul

People freak out when they hear on the news that a woman made soup with a death cap and died. While this is tragic, I’d be interested to find out how experienced they were in identifying mushrooms – the risks aren’t worth the soup. I’m confident collecting the above St. George’s mushrooms at the moment, if only because the time of year means no death caps are growing – no major poisonous mushrooms (that are white) are growing yet.

In fact, I did despair mildly for the evolutionary potential of humanity when follow course participants described their mothers picking mushrooms from their garden and eating them after ‘the man at Sainsbury’s reckoned they were ok’ or professing that they always followed the edict ‘if it smells good, it won’t poison you’.

Seriously, are we living in medieval times? Are you looking to become seriously ill? Why did generations of humanity develop scientific approaches to this if idiots will just ‘use their nose’ and see what happens? I won’t be picking any mushrooms without Andy with me to double check my identifications for a long, long time. Luckily, he does this handily via his facebook page, when in doubt.

Pursuit of the British Dream

I arrived at Islington Town Hall, early and awkwardly alone. The ceremony was attended by glowing families, partners, former refugees and a handful of lone young professionals, who seriously harshed the graduation-type vibe of the occasion. When I took my oath to the Queen they played the Beatles, and I stood alone, shaking an Islington Councillor’s hand as I received my Certificate of Nationality and the freelance photographer took a photo that he would later ask me to purchase for £10.

After almost 7 years , I was British. Whatever that meant.

They were not an easy 7 years, I arrived a year before the housing crash, fresh-faced from Korea and ready to start my studies at the LSE. Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister; the economy was going to grow forever. But that quickly changed. In subsequent years I found myself holding down two jobs, an unpaid internship and my studies to ‘get my foot in the door’ and struggling to pay off my Canadian student debt as the value of the pound dropped. I prayed repeatedly the latest round of redundancies wouldn’t hit me, and I went home in sadness as I lost first my grandmother and then my father.

Labour’s open arms to immigrants shut quickly with the new Coalition government. I could no longer count on doing my time and earning my passport as increasingly fellow migrants like myself were refused on the smallest excuses. I found myself weeping at the Home Office’s immigration centre one December day in 2011 in Croydon when they suggested my application for indefinite leave to remain would be rejected due to the prolonged absences I took when my close relatives had died.

During those 7 years I felt I grew to understand the UK, and that the UK shaped and adjusted the adult I was becoming. Now that I could stay forever – what should I do?

And so I decided to buy a flat. I mostly did this as I suddenly had the opportunity – a new job with a good salary, a loan from my mother, a good prospect of finding somewhere. The hardened truth that home ownership does make SENSE.

I did not realise that I was both endorsing the national obsession with property ownership and embarking on the most frustratingly British of bureaucratic nightmares. It was to become a baptism by fire, courtesy of my adopted homeland.  I knew now, what I was getting into, I’d probably refrain from trying at all.

In Canada, housing purchases are completed within 60 to 90 days of the initial offer. There are no surveys or valuations, and the process is legally binding from the moment your offer is accepted. No gazumping. (almost) no cash-buyers.

I began looking in January of 2014, one of the worst times since the housing boom of 2005/2006 to begin looking. Soaring prices, fanatical and desperate Londoners finally able to access credit after those dark years. I would struggle to get agents to even register my details once they heard my budget, and I would consistently call them every Wednesday, hoping to be booked in for some random open house they had over the weekend.

I saw flats where 9 people lived in a 3 bedroom maisonette in Stratford. I had a soft drink thrown on me from the window of a passing car while walking from a viewing in Forest Hill. I was taken so far into Upton Park I couldn’t imagine living there as a woman alone. I made 4 offers on ex-council flats, only to be swept away by cash-buyers paying far above the valuation.

The worst came when Foxtons took me to a flat on the market for 30k more than a flat I had just offered upon. It was located in an almost identical building, a maisonette in a high rise right by Homerton Station. ‘Its just come on the market’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen inside’.

As the door opened we were met by total darkness.  As the agent flipped various electrical switches to no avail I observed 4 very large plastic drums (the kind bodies are disposed of in Breaking Bad) in the foyer, along with 2 large fridge freezers. The kitchen had dishes piled high and a rank odour.

As our eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed that all the windows in the lounge had been blacked out with rubbish bins and tape. It was permanently dark – but I began to make out piles of clothing, up to the ceiling filling the room. It was overflowing. It was the home of a hoarder, put on the market, as is.

“I can’t go in there”, I said. The young agent breathed a sigh of relief saying “I’m scared too.”

Worse was the conversational mundanity, the constant need to give progress updates and boring details over and over again. Genuine friends asked because they cared, and expressed concern or interest where appropriate. But I suddenly had strange acquaintances and non-friends taking special interest in me. They wanted to ‘perv’ on my progress, snoop at my viewings and budget, monitor my success. They were the ones desperate to buy with no reasonable prospects of ever being able to afford it, they were the ones who might pull down a fellow crab in a barrel who had managed to pull herself above the fray, given the opportunity. They were desperately jealous and deeply suspicious and smiled without their eyes.

I did eventually have an offer accepted on a flat, and I currently wait in limbo for us to exchange contracts sometime in the next month. I am, inadvertently, making the family in the flat homeless, and I believe it will be a year start to finish before this is finished. Will it be worth it? To have a home secure from the exploitation of private landlords and London’s rising rents?

The Shore

The Shore (Qikqitarjuaq, Nunavut)

The shore is a place I can see from my window, only in the summer when the days are long. On this island of bare mountains, it hugs my home from all sides, caressing and stroking or fighting  and hurting and it tries to break us and love us too.

The shore is a place where I jump from rock to rock in my rubber boots and wool sweaters on long summer days gathering neon orange jellyfish in a glass jar and tiny shrimp to be their friends. I sit them on my windowsill, with a view of their home, but after 2 days they always grow still and Mum says it is time to catch some more.

The shore is a place that is not always safe. Everyday is not for jellyfish because some days the shore has angry tantrums. One day it slammed its waves against Linda’s house all day and threw seaweed like long tangled wigs all over her windows. She collected it and ate it – she wasn’t even mad.

The shore is a place where treasures are found. One day there was a shark and all of us jumped on its dead body. We peered into its mouth at its long rows of teeth. We examined its strange eyes.  It was from the deep water, they said. The shore was its grave and it was sad about that. My teacher Tyna said the hunters caught it by accident and now we don’t know what to do.

The shore is the place where we cut up the seal after hunting, where its insides spill open all soft and we sit around it and cut and eat and move around different parts until it is empty and we are full. We wipe our mouths and smile and say ‘mmmm’.

The shore is a place that can take you to danger. When the days grow long and the shore shakes free of the ice, it brings in moving ice floes that my friends jump and race on.  The shore tries to keep them, but then so does the ice and sometimes they are too fast and sometimes a friend doesn’t return and the ice has them and we all cry for days and eat seal in the town gymnasium but it isn’t a feast. I stay away because I promised my mum but the kids play anyways.

The shore is a place where the boats come in, with fish or walrus or whales, or the Sea Lift Boat that has all our food for the year in a box it puts on our doorstep that is filled with so many little boxes I can’t count them all. The shore rises and falls and the boats move up and down and my mum says this is the ocean but I think it is a lake because I can see another shore not too far away, hugging another island. We saw a polar bear there once.

The shore is a place I can see from my window, it is magical and dangerous like this place we call home.


My high school friend Courtney has grown up to be an amazing artist. Like so many of us who grew up in the North, our homeland is her muse and our relationship with the land inspires her work. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to an amazing interactive project she exhibited in Scotland last year called (stolons).

Stolons are horizontal connections between organisms (whether a skeleton or a root), and from what I understand this exhibition traces the connections between the people of the North and the land they call home. I’ve not been lucky enough to see it, but its about to finally be exhibited in my hometown and I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part.

This news made me revisit my contribution, and I present it here. It is the shifting memory of my time as a child living in the remote Eastern Arctic, ages 4-7 and how I interacted with the defining feature of a small Island community: The Shore.

LIVE: The Nightmare of Privelige

NEW LIFE AMBITION: I will no longer discuss the ins and outs of my impending flat purchase in person. Its boring and stressful and I will not give over any more of my life to discussing it. However, I’ve aware some of you want to know because you’re interested or you want to know because you care about me and you know I’m homeless. So therefore, if you DO want the play by play, you can find all the update to date information below.

March 29: I view the flat. I email an offer

April 5: my offer is accepted I proceed with my mortgage application.

April 30: The flat is valued below my offer, I adjust my offer.

May 5: My revised offer is accepted and my mortgage offer issued. The agent says ‘the only thing now is to get the tenants out’.

May-June-July-Aug: Hackney council delays rehousing the tenants in the flat, despite the lease ending April 16. We begin court proceedings, and are given a court date of Sept 10. Meanwhile, my solicitor doesn’t like that the lease plan for the flat has a wall that isn’t present in the real flat, so the owner rebuilds a wall, and gets it approved by the council.

Aug 27: I move out of my flat and begin housesitting across london. All believe that based on the eviction timeline we should complete the sale mid-October.

Sept 10: The paper work for the eviction is bungled. We do not get a possession order for the flat. The owner writes to the council threatening legal action and begins calling them daily. We believe pressuring the council to rehouse will be faster than getting another court date.

Sept 23: My solicitor informs me he is going out of business and offers to represent my sale from a new firm. delaying the finalisation of the sale contract.

Sept 26: realising my mortgage offer expires Nov 7 and the completion of sale delayed, I begin proceedings to get a new mortgage offer.

Sept 29: My agent informs me he is leaving the current agency but will still manage the sale to completion. My solicitor believes he will receive the final paperworld to finalise the contract of sale.

Sept 30: I’m informed that the tenant in the flat is put first on the list for a flat in a peabody estate.

Oct 2: my lawyer says the draft contract will be ready for me to sign on Monday (sadly I’ll be in the USA)

Oct 6: It is revealed the tenant was not offered the peabody estate flat due to £20 in rent arrears.

Oct 7: My 2nd mortgage offer is rejected because the bank doesn’t like the ex-council property.

Oct 10: My mortgage offer is extended until Dec 8.

October 29: The tenant is offered, and accepts a flat in a property being developed. They tell us he will be moved ‘at some point soon’. We get agreement for him to move into temporary accomodation with his family…IF we pay for his moving costs.

October 30 (my birthday!): The tenant moves out. On my way to the airport to fly to mexico I inspect the flat to ascertain possession is indeed vacant. It is. I go to the bank and transfer my deposit to my solicitor and I fly to mexico.

October 31: We exchange contracts

November 7: We complete

November 14, I return from Mexico and I move in. And move on.

In summary: there is no date for the tenants to be rehoused, therefore no date for exchange or completion. I am still homeless. But I am fine.