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I’ve been fascinated by connection all my life. I love digging into the nature of relationships, whether they’re cultivated or if they’re something handed to us—just by virtue of being born on Planet Earth.

It may be that last part that explains my sort of odd obsession with picking fruit from one wild tree or another (or yet another), or from wild plants. It definitely explains why I wanted to undertake the foraging project I’m on now, and have lately been spending my days walking slowly along the streets of my community, back bent toward the ground, as if looking for a lost glove or perhaps my sanity among the newly sprouting vegetation.

This post represents the first look at the food that’s not hawked by the ad slickies at Madison Avenue but instead is quietly offered by the earth, all year, as the sun waxes and wanes. I’ll be continuing this ‘edible wild’ series from time to time during 2013 and hope you dig it.* Mostly I hope that you’ll get as excited as I am about wild food, that you’ll get jazzed to see what’s growing around you and want to learn about it. Besides the connection we have with our own selves—me to myself and you to yourself—I think the most essential connection on earth is the one we have with the earth; and it’s a connection that, to a great extent, has been broken. That can change.

About my choices above…

My home is the suburban NJ, USA shore, dotted with wide and narrow stretches of lake and consisting of sandy soil. The photo above represents a sampling of the edibles growing wild in my area,** although I’m sure there are many more.

Helpful note 1: Obviously don’t forage too close to roadsides, where dogs might have, ahem, frequented; and be wary of wild edibles growing too near residential properties, as they might have taken on pesticides used there.

Helpful note 2: I am no botanist or horticulturist (to which any of my bio teachers can attest). Among the above foods shown I’ve eaten wild garlic and dandelion only. To learn what else was edible, I sought out online sources for assistance. Above all, before eating it, be sure that what you think is a certain plant is in fact a certain plant.

Please chime in with your additions, clarifications—and recipes, if you’ve got ’em. And I’d love to hear what grows near you.

Clockwise from top:

Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)

Enjoy blossoms raw in salads, cooked, dried or made into a syrup that can be used as a drink mixer.

ediblewildfood.com/blog/2012/04/pruning-forsythia-but-save-the-blossoms/

localkitchenblog.com/2010/04/13/forsythia-syrup/

Clover (Trifolium)

Kind of shadowed; sorry about that. Entirely edible, but seems to benefit from the addition of salt to ease digestion.

northernbushcraft.com/plants/clover/notes.htm

Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.)

Not so much a food as a tonic, purported to soothe stomach and joint pain as well as women’s reproductive problems.

gardenguides.com/92486-snowdrop-flowers.html

Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)

What we kids used to call ‘onion grass’ and pull up just to sniff its assertive fragrance—it should smell strongly of onions or garlic. Chop and enjoy raw or cooked. Eat it now, when it’s tender; once summer hits and it’s about to go to seed, the interior of these cylindrical sprouts becomes woody and dry.

ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/allvi.htm

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)***

Roots, blossoms and young leaves edible; any longer than a finger’s length and the leaves become too bitter for me (but you might like them like that). This healthy plant can also be used as a tonic. And since Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is one of my favorite books, one summer I was inspired to steep a bunch of flowers in vodka and a simple syrup, and made a lovely pale yellow liqueur.

umm.edu/altmed/articles/dandelion-000236.htm

Spring Crocus (Crocus Vernus)

Bulb, blossom and stigma all edible. I tried to dig up a bulb for the photo, but the ground was really resistant, and I didn’t want to damage the other flowers to get it.

arthurleej.com/p-o-m-Feb13.html

*Pun totally intentional. Shocker.

**I know plants from the ocean are missing from this picture. I really wanted to include some, but it’s been a cold month so far. Once it gets warmer I’ll see what I can find there.

***Why aren’t there any dandelion blossoms in this picture, Maris? Because I searched across three towns for some and then gave up and took the shot. Guess how many I saw the next few days? I’m not even kidding: It was as if they hid under the ground, giggling, then exploded like popcorn in a Jiffy Pop pan once I uploaded the picture. I even passed a whole lawn of them and considered coming back with my camera, but I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.

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Last week I stopped into my favorite little grocery store and put my soon-to-be purchases on the conveyor belt.

‘Milk and cookies,’ grinned the cashier, young enough that he probably has them at snack time every day.

‘It’s been a long day. I’m an emotional eater,’ I replied.

He looked down and saw that I had opted for the package of three chocolate chip cookies instead of the single, then looked over at the two cartons of milk, then glanced up at me questioningly.

‘And I’m an over-achiever.’

I know and you know there are definitely less fattening* ways to assuage a bad day than to snack it away. But unless you have bad days every day or even every Thursday, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable way to feel a little better if it works for you. And it does for me.

Some good friends and I were talking about this notion the other night. They had just endured a grueling, heartbreaking couple of hours caring for a neighbor who has a debilitating illness, and our plans to go out for a pre-birthday** pizza dinner that same night were especially welcome. Our night out allowed them the opportunity to 1) celebrate my birthday with me 2) eat, because they usually eat dinner far earlier and were ravenous 3) blow the grime off the whole sad experience by going to a new place and trying some really wonderful housemade pizza***. We ate, and drank, and brooded a little, and laughed a lot. And while it wasn’t a silver bullet that fixed everything, it relaxed them.

I believe each of us needs to have a working plan, a list of proven ways, to reboot for when horror strikes. Because it’s going to. As long as the ways you reboot don’t hurt anybody, do them.**** Yours might be buying a new pair of chandelier earrings, dunking your feet in the pond at the end of your street, or a long car drive to nowhere in particular. Me, I reset by watching British movies of any stripe, texting my best friends and asking them to send me off-color jokes, and eating dark chocolate. Sometimes I go the whole hog and get the chocolate surrounded by a cookie. Then I pour a cold one.

This is peace to me—a very simple, inexpensive way to smooth the uncomfortable wrinkles that get jammed into my day from time to time.

For more years than I care to count I white-knuckled my way through my life, trying to work through stuff that was going wrong at the moment while also—I’m now bewildered by this—trying to prevent bad stuff that MIGHT come down the pike. Here’s what I learned: It’s not worth it. You could have spreadsheets dedicated to protecting yourself, each member of the household, your belongings, your favorite pop star and the place where she gets her highlights done…but stuff is going to go wrong anyway.

Having a coping plan that works for you is what matters. Recovery is what matters. This kind of preparation is okay—not just okay, but vital. It liberates you beyond belief so you can just live your life, and live it big.

Scribble down some ideas for yourself right now and stick it in your wallet. I humbly suggest you start with this post’s namesake. They won’t fail you.

c

*The milk was *1%*! Cut me that much slack.

** It was 10/18. Presents and special treatment are still being entertained.

***Porta, Asbury Park, the baddest new pizza place at the Jersey Shore.

****And don’t you feel guilty for a millisecond, or you’ll have me to answer to.

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Last weekend I had dessert with friends and family and neighbors. Among them were my brother-in-law Frank and a Puerto Rican gentleman, a neighbor. Both are rum lovers; both have strong opinions on which is the best. With neither variety on hand, both could have agreed to try the other’s favorite on their own, whenever they happened to do it.

But come on. Clearly it would be more interesting to raise the stakes…to invite a bunch of people…and offer not just the two favorites but three other rums in the race for the title.

Oh, and it would be MUCH more interesting to make sure the tasting was blind.

A rum-off, in other words.

The contenders:

  • Ron Zacapa (regular)
  • Ron Zacapa Plus
  • Tommy Bahama
  • Diplomatico
  • Flor de Cana

Frank is a great lover of Zacapa. The neighbor with whom he spoke, and who unfortunately couldn’t make the tasting, thinks Diplomatico rules the world of rum.

Provided by our gracious hosts, Kim & Doug:

  • Glasses, filled with the assortment of rums and labeled one through five
  • Cups of water
  • Lists, expertly written by resident six-year-old, Charlie

Tasters were obliged to rate the rums on a scale of one to five, one being the best. They were also invited to try to discern which was which.

Kim doctored each of her rums with a squeeze of lime and an ice cube. I’m not much of a drinker, so tasting them neat, they all struck me as thoroughly putrid. So I doctored them all up as well, and I’ll agree it made them much more palatable. Not that I’ll be swigging down rum anytime soon like a pirate born with an extra liver.*

Oh, the discussion that went on around the table! Oh, the cockiness, thinking we knew which was which! The scowls, the scribbling…and ultimately, the surprises…

Once through tasting, we all went down our lists one by one, describing which we liked, and didn’t, and why. My sister and Charlie were in charge of the big reveal, and they brought each rum out one by one. We matched numbers to rums.

Each of us had chosen the same favorite, even me: the Diplomatico.

And pretty much everyone thought Tommy Bahama was mouthwash.

Afterward, Doug dished up his incredible homemade vanilla custard to all of us. Frank poured Diplomatico over his. If for any reason the night’s success had been questionable before that, it wasn’t afterward.

*During the tasting I also learned some more common boozy terminology, like ‘smooth’. I’ve never known what people meant when they said that. It means it goes down without any burn on the back of your throat. Oh. I’m used to ginger ale, so what do I know.

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When I was growing up, weekends in the summer (much like weekdays in the summer) were spent at the beach. My dad would load up the tall aluminum jug with ice cubes and then fill it with orange juice, vodka and Grenadine, recreating a drink he enjoyed in Jamaica sometime in the 60s. Over the course of the day, visitors would sprint across the hot sand, cool their feet in the shade under our beach umbrella and have a couple of Dixie cups of this stuff. It was popular enough among my parents’ friends that one of their little daughters passionately disagreed with her teacher one day at school, insisting, ‘A Flamingo isn’t a bird; it’s a drink!’

This drink was so celebrated, and the coral color so pretty, that of course I tried it. Once. And I hated the alcoholic wallop. But recently I started thinking it might be fun to make a Flamingo for my own taste, wondered if it would be worth a shot to try make one that was better suited for drinking than for polishing the TV cabinet.* The chance came last night when I was invited to a party at the home of my good friends Kim and Doug. An extra lucky break for someone who is a novice (me) when it comes to drinks: Doug used to be a bartender. If I was going to learn to make a good Flamingo, I needed a good teacher, and he was very willing to be that. Done.

Pure orange juice was easy enough to find. But a word about Grenadine: I was astonished, and frankly disgusted, by the contents of the Grenadine that’s available. There were three brands at Foodtown, and two of them—the biggest names!—contained high fructose corn syrup, red food coloring and precious little else. Seriously—it’s just goo. Grenadine’s supposed to be a pomegranate-based syrup, for crying out loud. The last bottle had all of the other stuff in it, but DID contain pomegranate juice, so it won.**

I gave Doug the orange juice and Grenadine and asked him to use plain vodka (Grey Goose, if you must know). He got out one of those shaken-not-stirred mixers, just shy of two cups, and got to work making the inaugural Flamingo. I watched, figuring if I didn’t like how he made it that I’d try it on my own, but darned if he didn’t nail it on the first try.*** It was refreshing and tropical-y with just a breath of vodka to adult it up. And he even chilled the glass by keeping ice water in it while he mixed the drink. Lovely stuff.

Here’s how he made it:

Load a martini glass with ice water. To an ice-filled mixer add 1.5 shots of plain vodka. Top off with chilled orange juice. Add a couple of shakes of as pure a Grenadine as you can find. Shake well. Pour off ice water and add mixture. Serve immediately.

My hosts tasted it and liked it, and my sister—who remembers it from our childhood as well—liked it as much as I did.

Isn’t it cool to think an heirloom doesn’t have to be a quilt or a doll or jewelry? And isn’t it even cooler to think an heirloom can evolve…maybe even be improved for another generation?

*Someone has to wonder these things.

**Next course of action: I’m going to make my own. Pomegranate juice is available at well-stocked supermarkets. How hard could it be to add a bit of simple syrup and reduce it ?

***It’s totally who you know.

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