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.

Edible greens from Clissold Park

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.

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Danish Open-Faced Sandwiches: Sol over Gudhjem (Sun over God’s House) and Other Orthodoxies

My home-made Sol over Gudhjem sandwich

Since befriending a Dane and his family while studying abroad in India almost 10 years ago, I think I’ve been to Denmark about 10 times over the years. I always feel I’ve got a good sense of the place. I’ve seen the little mermaid, taken the canal boat tour, danced around the Danish Christmas tree singing carols, even watched FC Copenhagen play. So when visiting this past weekend to meet my friend’s new baby and by ‘Didi Brie’ for the weekend, my trip wasn’t really about anything more than quality time – certainly not about ‘being in Denmark’.

But I learn something new about Denmark every time I visit ( past lessons have included ‘how to put groceries on a Danish grocery store conveyor belt properly’ and New Potato Orthodoxy), and this trip was no different: I learned how to prepare a fantastic traditional open-faced sandwich, Sun over God’s House. And learned there is only one right way to do this. When at the fishmonger (and not aware of the larger plan) I had suggested we eat our smoked mackerel sandwiches with soft cheese and lemon.  looks. of. horror.

Danes have strict rules about open faced sandwiches.  Unlike a ‘closed’ sandwich, where anarchy and improvisation reign, each open-faced sandwich in Denmark is a complete and accepted standard to which deviation is not acceptable. No changes to bread, condiment or presentation is permitted. Why mess with perfection? (or at least, a general consensus of perfection). Its one of the things I love about Denmark, and one of the things that I hate about Denmark (I should be allowed to have mustard on my salami sandwich if I want!)

Onto the sandwich: Danish black bread, spread with butter has smoked herring (or mackerel if you’re getting crazy) placed onto it.  Add chives and radishes before adding the crowning glory: an onion ring into which a single, seperated egg yolk is placed.  Garnish with a squeeze of lemon, a grind of pepper and eat with a knife and fork.

The sandwich is named after a town on a small Danish island where fish are caught (and smoked). It was delicious – smoky, sour with biting radish and moist egg yolk spread on top like a deconstructed mayonnaise.  My friend said the sandwich has fallen out of fashion with some now, as people worry about the health risks of raw egg, but well – I’m still here to tell the tale.

A more profesional incarnation of Sun over God’s House

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Christmas is Here!

I am going to have a sunny tropical christmas, for the first time this year, so I had a Christmas Party as SOON AS WAS IN GOOD TASTE – namely december 2nd.

It was amazing! A jumper clad crew of 20 descended on the flat, sang their hearts out during our ukulele Christmas carol session and ate every bit of food I prepared. I made some North American Classics – seven layer dip and spinach dip in a bread bowl, along side some fancier things – homemade chicken liver pate and a filo-baked Brie with home made cranberry sauce.

 This centrepiece only caught on fire once: 

The ukulele sing-a-long was especially popular – but I learned that once you open the door to drunken singing, it cannot simply be closed again.  Drunk people just keep singing.

xmas4

We were kept in time with this handy internet discovery:

xmas2

The aforementioned filo-wrapped baked Brie (namesake dish!) with homemade cranberry sauce on the side.

xmas5

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First World Writer’s Problem

I’ve never had a rejection for a piece of writing, ever.  I keep waiting, and it just doesn’t happen.  It makes me feel, somehow like ‘less of writer’ – without my stacks of rejection letters to prove my street cred.

This is a somewhat narcissitic introduction to my latest short-story “The Ice Bridge” – winner of the emerging writer prize in Above and Beyond Magazine’s Great North Canadian Writing Contest.  Its also my first piece of paid fiction. Woo hoo!

Please read and share!

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My First Novel

I wrote my first novel at age 12.  And it was as terrible as you’d think.  Filling 4 1000 page notebooks with handwritten scrawls, it documented the story of sophisticated 17 year old ingenue Taylor, who on the verge of a successful life with a music scholarship to her favourite university discovers the child she’s babysat for the past 2 years, Emma, is being abused by her parents.

Devastated, Taylor confronts Emma’s father only to have her future music studies threatened when he manufactures evidence of her plagiarizing admissions essays.  Backed into a corner and desperate to save Emma, Taylor impulsively decides to take the baby and run – but not before her boyfriend Laurie insists on coming with them.  With nothing but a car, $300 and each other, Taylor and Laurie must figure out a plan to ensure their beloved girl is kept safe.

Yeah.

Its fair to say my beautiful, sophisticated and independent protaganist represented escapism for me at its finest.  An awkward pre-teen, I dreamed of my future adolescence and scribbled madly while I spent every Friday and Saturday night babysitting for families in my local town.

My novel is, of course lost.  We moved 3 more times between when I completed it and my family settling in Yellowknife.  But I did complete it – Taylor and Laurie manage to prove the abuse through a dangerous mission to steal family photos and medical records, and return to triumph as Emma’s parents are arrested.  However, the duo are still convicted of kidnapping and sent to juvenile detention for 5 years.  Calmed in the knowledge that Emma is safe, Taylor remains defiant and unapologetic – vowing to marry Laurie as soon as they are released.

I remembered this epic writing exercise when lamenting to myself the fact that I am no longer grabbed by plot lines in my mind and driven to write – whether by lack of practice or whether its because I’m actually living my life instead of imagining it, I just don’t feel driven to get a story out from inside my head in the same way.

However, its made me realise I need not be intimidated about writing future novels since after all, I’ve already written one by hand.

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Maybe I can bake.

Of course you can bake, said Leah dismissively.  And scones are easy, I’ll come and help you.

Leah is a new friend, so of course she doesn’t know about when I ruined lemon drizzle cake by adding double the milk, or when my brownies puffed up like a souffle and hit the top burner in the oven, oozing out over the sides into caked on burnt goo that I spent hours scrubbing out of my mother’s over.

If you say so, I said.

So the arrangements were made – and yesterday we gathered the ingredients and the equipments to make scones and she stood before me and said ‘OK, put two cups of flour in a bowl.’

Which I did.  I pour two cups of flour, more or less, into my bowl.

OK, she said, patiently.  Lets do that over again.  THIS is how you measure flour.  And then laughed and laughed and laughed because until that point she didn’t really believe me when I said I couldn’t bake and I didn’t know what on earth I could be doing wrong and it turns out that I can’t even measure properly.

Our second hurdle came when, butter and flour in one bowl, milk and eggs in another she instructed me to mix the dough until it all came together into a ball.

It won’t come together! I said, mild panic in my voice.  Let me add more flour.  Its too wet.  I can’t mix it into a ball.

Keep going, she said calmly. It will be fine.

I’m panicking.  I said.

But it was fine – just as she said. And maybe, potentially, in the next 4-6 months I could bake something unsupervised.  But not yet.

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I resent my soy sauce

It was a flickering thought at first.  With a fresh, steaming plate of pork and chive dumplings, I opened the cupboard above and reached up.

That fucking soy sauce, came the unbidden thought.  I sweep it away.  Don’t be silly, I lecture myself.  Its a cupboard, its a condiment and it is a very ridiculous thing for an almost 31 year old woman to hate her soy sauce and think it is out to get her.

I knew why it was there.  Two Saturday nights ago.  Dinner on the run, same steaming plate of dumplings, this time freshly consumed.  A quick clean up before I leave, already late, in full make-up and a really cute dress.  I reach up to put back the sauce, it slips from my fingers, splatters EVERYWHERE in the kitchen, but most especially on my dress.  I swear, I clean up the mess, I change pretty dresses even though that one was just perfect.  All because of my asshole soy sauce.

Return to tonight.  Don’t jinx yourself, I think, there is no soy sauce curse.

And as I think this, the soy sauce knocks against the bottle of Chinese black vinegar which falls into my bowl of dumpling dipping sauce which shatters and splashes, again, all over me.  All over my kitchen.

My brain screams THAT FUCKING SOY SAUCE and I do two very solid childish stamps and yell

‘fuck fuck fuckety fuck’ and I realise this has to be the lamest tantrum of all time.

But still, the damage is done – I hate my fucking soy sauce.

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