Foraging Friday: Burdock Root

Last Friday I went out foraging for Burdock root. This edible weed grows everywhere in the city. You can recognize it easily as it looks just like rhubarb, only its leaves are fuzzy and the stems are green rather than pink or red.

Armed only with a tiny spade, I went to work on digging it out. I dug and dug. I dug some more. I encountered rocks, roots and earthworms, and still I dug. I dug down nearly a foot! And that isn’t even a big one–I’ve seen online pictures of burdock roots nearly 3 feet tall!

I finally released my root from the earth and celebrated with a little dance and photo op. I took it home and stuck it in the fridge while I decided what to do with it.

In the end, I decided to slice it up and stick it in the dehydrator, as it is recommended as a herbal immune booster. I will read more about the medicinal qualities before trying it, but I am quite excited as its list of benefits is quite extensive.

On the downside, both the taste and the smell are . . . well, awful! Very bitter and astringent. I’m not sure if burdock is supposed to be so awful tasting, as it honestly doesn’t taste “edible” to me. Once again, more research is required!

But at least, for now, my curiosity about harvesting burdock is well satiated.


Detox Week

I can’t link it to just one thing, but a bunch of things: being busy last week and eating mostly beige food, coupled with two giant Easter dinners back home flanked by two terrible fast-food-on-the-road travel days on the way to Sudbury and back . . . all this has led to a terrible feeling of heaviness, slowness, general lack of good health.

In response, I’ve named this week Detox week. I’m aiming for lots of vegetables–including lots of plant leaves; lots of fish; little meat; and lots of raw food. While I’m totally not “into” raw food as a lifestyle or even a concept (food tastes REALLY GOOD cooked, and I’m not about to give that up!), right now I just feel the need for as much nutrition as I can cram into my body.

I’m also going to exercise and drink 2 Litres of water daily. My dream about doing Sun Salutes must mean something! In addition, I think we’ll try to forage some greens for salads this week. There should be some dandelion leaves budding in the parks, and maybe I can find some lamb’s quarters too. I’ll report back on what we find.

So here’s this week’s meal plan: 7 days of health!

Tuesday: green soup (watercress or spinach) with homemade crackers

Wednesday: salmon and roasted sweet potatoes

Thursday: roasted veggies and salad

Friday: tabouli and spaghetti squash

Saturday: veggie lasagne

Sunday: squash soup, and salad

Monday: eggs, salad and bean salad

Wish me luck! Let me know if you have a detox week at your house, or if you had one, what would you plan?

Ottawa Freecycle Weekend


I’ve written before about how much I love curb shopping–a lot! I love finding useful and beautiful things in the trash and giving them a new useful life at my house.

Well, this weekend is a curb shopper’s dream come true: an “official” Ottawa Freecycle Weekend. Or as the City of Ottawa is calling it, the “Give Away Weekend“, coming at the end of Waste Reduction Week. The idea is simple: the city is encouraging people to put their unwanted items out on the curb with a “Free” sign on them, so neighbours can “shop” the streets, bringing home anything that looks appealing.

I think this is a fabulous idea: the city encouraging people to re-purpose and reduce waste. Do you curb shop? Do you have any great curb shopping triumphs to share? Does your city have an official Freecycle weekend? Let me know in the comments!

Happy curb shopping everyone ūüôā

Urban Foraging: Experiment #3–Crabapples!


I can’t believe this is only my third urban foraging experiment. Well, so far this one was more successful than the last two (though I’m not quite done, but almost!).

The beginning of it was particularly lovely. It was a HOT day, but the tree I picked from was in the shade, and as it was right next door, I could zip out while my girl was napping (my husband was there to watch her–don’t worry!) and pick in peace.

The picking was very easy and pleasant. The smell of the crabapples filled the air, and several people, including a small group of visitors from Spain, stopped to ask me what I was doing. It is amazing how impressed people become when they find out there is stuff to eat around them. It’s also amazing how much people want to talk when they come across someone doing something a little out of the ordinary. I think 4 different people stopped to chat or comment while I was out there.

And that was only a span of 15 or 20 minutes. And in that time I easily got the 13 cups of crabapples my recipe called for, and more! It’s so satisfying to hear the heavy plunk-plunk of fruit that is around 1 inch in diameter dropping into the jug (rather than tiny berries that seem to take forever!). On further review of the recipe I saw that it is adaptable for any quantity of fruit (juice), so the 16 cups (or 4 Litres) I gleaned worked out fine.

That was the fun part. The not-so-fun part was when I got them on the table and read the next instruction: “Stem and Quarter” 16 cups of crabapples. Gah! While it was lovely, warm and breezy outside, inside my dining room it was fairly sticky. Moreover, my back and legs hurt, and it turns out crabapples are surprisingly tough little fruit. I spent the next hour and a half chopping the little buggers.¬†Every 5 minutes or so I would think about giving up, but the thought of reporting back to my loyal readers kept me going.

IMG_1422Well, I got through it (but BARELY!) and now had a big pot full of quartered crabapples, fragrant and read for the boil.¬†And boil they did, for about 30 minutes, in the 80% humidity with a humidex of 38! But that’s just how hardcore I am. On reflection, I think chopping them in half only would be sufficient as they break down a lot in the water, and I could always mash them a bit if they seemed to be keeping their shape too much.

After boiling, I strained out the juice using cheesecloth instead of a jelly bag which I don’t have. I suspended the ball of crabapple pulp over a bowl overnight and dripped every last drop out of that ball of goo. I folded the cheesecloth so it was quadrupled, but it was still probably less fine than a jelly bag would have been. i didn’t squeeze the bag, but I suspect I won’t end up with crystal-clear gorgeous jelly, but a semi-opaque pinky stuff that will still be quite lovely.

After all this, I ended up with about 8 cups of juice, which I put in my freezer. THIS is where the satisfaction starts to come in. 8 cups of juice will get me lots of jars of jelly, especially after adding the sugar, and esPECially if I use tiny jars. PLUS if I get my act together today to put the pulp through the food mill to strain out the skins & seeds and then freeze it, I can make crabapple butter with that part. More yummy gifts for xmas!

I will wait until a cooler day in September before boiling the juice with sugar until the gel stage (have never done this–any advice??), pouring it into sterilized jars, and setting it into the hot water bath to finish. The nice thing about the butter is that it doesn’t have to gel, so that one will be even easier.

So my third urban foraging experiment has been a great success so far. I would even recommend it to other northern urban dwellers as a way to take advantage of this abundant fruit. I will report back with photos once I actually get the canning done.

Urban Foraging, Experiment #2: Black Currants!

Today while walking . . . well, somewhere in . . . a city . . . I noticed something dark purple and shiny calling out to me from some shrubbery. ¬†It was . . . it couldn’t be . . . no, it really was a blackcurrant bush! ¬†And there were ripe purple berries dangling there just begging to be picked. (photos to come)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, that such a treasure had not already been gleaned by another observant forager like myself. ¬†I filed the location and vowed to return at a more convenient time to collect my treasure. ¬†X marks the spot ūüôā

So I returned under cover of dusk, wearing a green dress so as to blend in with the shrubbery, and spent a good half-hour picking.  Oh, the smell!  I was in cassis heaven as I plucked the juicy berries from the branches.

I brought my treasures home and marched through my little girl’s bedtime routine all the while thinking about the jam I could make with my find.

Well, after getting her into bed, and chatting with my mom on the phone I got down to the serious business of microwave jam making . . . at 11 o’clock.

First, I found a recipe seemingly from a Four-H club (?) for making small batches of microwave jam.  Aha!  Perfect.  For what I had was the makings of a small batch.

I knew that when I started out, even before I had measured my one-and-almost-three-quarters cups of picked berries. ¬†The recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cut up fruit, but I was willing to go a little on the lean side. ¬†I even included all of the “blemished” fruit, hoping that it wouldn’t spoil the flavour too much.

Then I topped and tailed them, and washed them. ¬†In the measuring cup full of water, several of the more blemished ones floated to the top. ¬†“That can’t be good,” I thought, and took a peek inside. Nope, not good. ¬†It was a dried-out stinky worm-bed inside my beautiful berries.

There was no denying the fact that they most certainly would spoil the flavour, so I went through them again, discarding any berries sporting what looked remotely like a worm hole.  Down to . . . a very respectable 1 cup of washed, sorted, topped and tailed berries.  Sigh.

So I decided to halve the recipe. ¬†“At least I’ll get one jar of jam,” I reassured myself as midnight struck and my dear partner (who had stood by me during the sad, sad culling process) went to bed.

The recipe calls for:

1 1/2 cups of chopped fruit

flavourings and lemon juice (this refers to a mysterious unlinked “chart”)

1 1/2 cups sugar

So I halved the sugar and added a bit over a tablespoon of lemon juice for good measure, and set about following the instructions.

Heat in microwave about 6 minutes, or until boiling–mine took much less time. Stir well, and then cook in microwave 10 to 13 more minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes. ¬†Mine went faster here too, and I was done after about 6 minutes. ¬†It says at this point you should chill a spoonful in the fridge for 15 minutes to test the consistency, but I was pretty sure mine was jelling, so I jarred it*.

And this is what I got:

Approximately 2/3 of a one-cup jar of black currant jam.  Sigh.

Well, what this experiment taught me was respect for two things: 1, the price of high-quality blackcurrant jam, and 2, the value of pesticides.

I’m going to bed now, but at least I can look forward to some tasty jam tomorrow morning.

* Microwave jam is not processed, so it must be refrigerated immediately and will last for about a month in the fridge.

Frugal + Urban: a contradiction in terms?

apartmentOn a lot of the blogs and websites I’ve visited, the really frugal families and moms are living on rural or semi-rural properties. ¬†There’s a big emphasis on raising your own cows, pigs, chickens, goats, veggies, fruit, etc., as well as on fairly drastic measures to reduce energy and resource use and go “off the grid”.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how to write about frugality from an apartment-dwelling middle-of-the-city perspective, especially when I don’t even have a balcony! ¬†But it doesn’t take long to see that there are frugal benefits to living in the city too. It’s just a slightly different kind of frugality.

Living in the city doesn’t rely on a car. ¬†This is the number one biggest saving for us living right in Centretown. ¬†We can walk almost everywhere. ¬†Cycling expands our radius significantly, and anywhere else we need to go, we can take one of the buses that conveniently pass through the city just a few blocks away. ¬†

Where rural families can rely on the abundance of Nature, urban families can rely on the abundance of consumers (otherwise known as Scavenging). ¬†I’ve picked up many useful items for free that were left at people’s curbs. ¬†While it doesn’t compare to growing your own food, this kind of post-consumer re-cycling is another way to glean from the area around you.

In the city, there are many things we can do for free or cheap entertainment. ¬†The library is just down the street. ¬†There are three “play” parks, and several other scenic parks, within a few blocks from us, which we use heavily for most of the year. ¬†There are also museums and in the summer, Centretown Movies that play classic films outdoors for a “pay-what-you-can” donation. ¬†All within a short walk from our house.

The biggest benefit of enjoying neighbourhood entertainment is getting to know our neighbours. ¬†I love seeing the same people at the park, the grocery store, the musuem, and just bumping into them on the street. ¬†Having a baby, now a toddler, has brought me in contact with a whole network of moms & dads whom I now call my friends. ¬†We socialize mainly in an ad-hoc manner when we see each other at the playground, and sometimes we trade hosting for dinners or brunch. ¬†This type of socializing doesn’t cost a thing, but to me, it’s priceless.

So, while I don’t have the benefit of living off the land (and I do wish for some land, some day, or even a small balcony!), or modifying my house to be more resource-efficient, there are definitely financial benefits to living in the city. ¬†The social benefits keep me sane, and stop me from longing for a farm of my own.

Urban Foraging Experiment #1

Lamb's QuartersI’ve been doing some research on edible weeds around Ottawa, and one lovely little plant that is spreading its delicate new leaves right now is Lamb’s Quarters. ¬†It’s so cute right now with its light green frosting on the youngest smallest leaves, and it’s abundant in unkept areas around lawns, driveways, and in untended gardens.

I decided last night would be my first urban foraging experiment of the year, and I picked a bunch of Lamb’s Quarters to toss into a salad. ¬†I easily found enough to add to a salad for two (and could have had much more!) within a block from my house, and picked it. ¬†

When I took it out of my bag it smelled so fresh and grassy but with a savoury asparagus-like edge to it.  I triple washed it, including one wash with vinegar, in case of canine sprinklings, dried it in my salad spinner, and added it to our salad.  

Before dressing the salad, I tried a leaf, and . . . while it tasted edible, I can’t say it tasted “good”, but I forged ahead nonetheless.

With dressing and everything mixed together, the salad tasted pretty good. ¬†But I think that was because it was a good salad with good dressing . . . ¬†I wouldn’t say the Lamb’s Quarters “added” anything except a sense of pride in my foraging abilities and the knowledge that it took absolutely no input from any person to grow it: no fossil fuels, no extra water, no labour even. However, on the basis on taste, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it, is what I’m saying.

So Experiment #1 is basically a Fail, though not a terrible one. ¬†No one got sick, and the food was definitely edible. ¬†So if you want to eat something foraged just because you can, go ahead and sample your local Lamb’s Quarters. ¬†But if you want a new tasty local delicacy . . . I wouldn’t recommend starting here.

Coming up in future experiments I’m planning to try Plantain Leaves, Rose Hips, Burdock, and a repeat of my exciting big Win from last year: Cherries from the tree down the street! ¬†Yummmmmm. ¬†I’ll keep you posted!