Friday, July 30, 2010

For the Love of Pesto

My husband, Bapa, and basil on the dock

The key to my man's heart, pesto.

In 2002, I was racing mountain bikes for Highroller Cyclery. Several of the team members and I had been planning to ride the Womble Trail from end to end: 37 miles through the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas.

On Mother's Day morning, we were all gathering our bikes, making sure there was air in the tires and extra tubes in our camelbacks, when this stranger showed up. He stepped out of his father's car, gave him a hug, and said, "Dad, I love you; I'll see you in a few days." I immediately noticed his piercing blue eyes, and sensitive demeanor. He was greeted with hugs by all his old teammates and introduced to me as, Ammen Jordan, a Spanish and photography teacher that has spent the last several years with a globe trotting high school. "He'll be joining us for the ride today."

"Hi, my name is Stephanie, I think I have room in my car if you would like to ride with me to the trail." As the trip went on, I was more and more enamored by this blue eyed man. It was a full day of hard riding on bench-cut trails beside limestone bluffs, up and down the technical rocky-hills, through the hard wood trees, and between wild blooming orchids and azaleas. We rode hard and fast. I think the only reason I was able to ride 37 miles of single-track was to impress. After the ride, we dropped Ammen off at his mother's house. He stepped out of the car with his left hand full of bike gear, and his hand right holding a bouquet of wild azaleas for his mother. As we were all parting ways, he called out to my dear friend Ira, "I’ll be back on May 31, I'll see you then."

"Well, that's an easy date to remember, that's my brother and sister's birthday!" I thought. I had a lot of work to do in the next 3 weeks, including become available and magnetic.

As I was cleaning my car from the muddy bike ride, I noticed a pair of shorts left in my car. "YEESSS! I have a reason to be in touch with him again. He left his shorts in my car!” Well, I did my duties, and in three weeks I was as available and magnetic as a girl can get. On June 2 (I wanted to give him a couple of days, not to look too desperate), I knew it was the day to re-introduce myself to Ammen Jordan. I was so nervous that I took off on a road bike ride just to calm my nerves. In my daydreaming state, I took several wrong turns and was completely lost. I rode for hours and came home completely exhausted.

"Perfect,” I thought to myself as I put away my bike, “I'll come across as totally calm when I knock on his door." So I cleaned myself off and drove over to his mother's house, knocked on the door, and found myself standing right in front of the blue eyes that had been calling me back.

"Hi." Said Ammen, his eyes shifting around as he tried to place me.

"Hi. I noticed you were in town and I wanted to return your bike shorts that you left in my car."

"Oh, thanks. Gosh, I've been in the house all day working on the computer. Want to go for a run?"

"Umm, yes, that sounds great! I need some exercise." (Oh crap, I'm exhausted, I just rode further than I've ever ridden in my life, and now he wants to run 10 miles.)

We stopped by my house to change clothes and so I could get some food. I was panicking on the inside, how will I ever keep up with him? My legs are totally shot!

We were eating leftover pizza my roommate and I had made the night before when Ammen said, "Do you know how to make pesto?"


"Well, you should learn."

And so I did. Now Ammen and I have a whole row of basil in our garden so, there is always pesto available.

This is a simple recipe that everyone should learn. It works, see!

Basil Pesto
Put it on pasta, crackers, toast, pizza or make a pesto, mozzarella & sliced tomato sandwich.

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled

¼ tsp sea salt

3 cups packed fresh basil leaves

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup pine nuts (or almonds, or walnuts)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Place the pine nuts, garlic, and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times until mixture is coarsely ground. Add fresh basil leaves and while the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil. Continue to process until the pesto is your desired consistency.

While pesto is delicious and a food for lovers, it's also packed with nutrients. The green leafy herb, basil is an excellent source of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a natural anti-oxidant that helps our body to fight infection and cell free-radical damage. Pesto is also a great way to experiment with eating raw foods. Nuts and garlic are two examples of foods are more nutritious for us when we eat them raw.
Love at first sight; young basil love

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Taste of Place

"Naturally then, the mountains, the creatures, the entire non-human world is struggling to make contact with us. The plants we eat or smoke are trying to ask us what we are up to; the animals are signaling to us in our dreams or in forests; the whole Earth is rumbling and straining to let us know that we are of it, this planet, this macrocosm is of our flesh, that the grasses are our hair, the trees our hands, the rivers our blood, that the Earth is our real body and it is alive.” David Abram"

Indian Tea aka Labrador Tea (Ledum palustre)

The world is not as big as it used to be, in 2 weeks time we can buy a flight to anywhere. At the touch of our fingertips, we can be in contact companions across the globe, skype with friends in Australia without delay. We are citizens of the world, a global nation. Yet, with all this ability to travel and connect with one another, there is something lost, our sense of place. A sense of where we are, what the season is, what birds or insects are migrating here, the time of sunrise, and how much fruit the cherry blossoms promise?

Eating local food is one way to regain a sense of place, to be in touch with the season. It allows our cells to be built on the world we surround ourselves with. It supports the local economy, and helps preserve and protect the land we choose to call home. When we harvest our food, be it wild harvesting or eating from the seeds we sow, we are strengthening that connection by becoming part of the process. We broaden our taste and honor the season with heightened gratitude. Mostly, we connect with the earth on a molecular level. We literally become of the earth.

On a recent trip through the Inside Passage, I got to experience the forest and the sea – alive. A place where there is no Scotch Broom, English Ivy or Himalayan blackberries. Where the food and the medicine are One, and each have been remembered and passed on. The Douglas firs tower above, the sundews pull you to your knees, the Indian tea leaves brush against your fingers, and the huckleberries are plump at mouth level. The native plants remain in harmony. Even if you don’t recognize skunk cabbage or bunchberry, you can’t help but notice the complimentary shapes and textures that naturally landscape the forests.

As the days went by, our bodies began to move with the rhythms of the tides. High tides for traveling, slack tides for fishing and low tides for feasting. Sea algae, seaweed, and sea vegetables are synonyms for the abundant microalgae along the shores of the Northwest. Because all but one are edible, I chose to call them, sea vegetables. These green bits that annoyingly get stuck in your bathing suit are likely edible, delectable, and highly nutritious. They clean the sea of toxins and heavy metals and they do the same to our bodies, while providing rich amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca) and Bull kelp drying (Nereocystis luetkeana)

Sea vegetables have been harvested on coasts across the globe since the first days. Most can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried, and are a wise addition to any diet. Sea vegetables are well known for the disease prevention properties and are therefore becoming increasingly popular, and expensive. They are easy to gather and prepare, but please learn the proper etiquette to help prevent over-harvesting. In Washington State you must possess a license for gathering seaweeds.

Bladderwrack (focus gardneri) in front of the Kurt's cabin.

In Alaska, I used a book to build my gathering confidence, to inspire a recipe, and to show to the other table attendants, “yes, it’s edible, see.” Self-sufficiently, we spent two weeks in escaping reality. Yet maybe we had it backwards, maybe THAT was reality.

Here is one of the harvested favorites.

1 T oil

½ onion, diced

1 T raw ginger, grated

2 carrots, cut in strips lengthwise

¼ cup raw almonds, chopped & toasted

1 ½ cup sea beans (salicornia virginica)

1 ½ cup bladderwrack (focus gardneri)

1 cup sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca)

1 T tamari

4 cups cooked brown rice

Heat oil in skillet. Sauté onion on medium heat until soft. Add carrots and ginger, sauté 3 minutes more. Add bladderwrack and stir until bright green. Add sea beans sauté a few minutes more. Mix together with rice, chives & almonds. Serve warm or at room temperature. Wash it down with a warm cup of Indian tea (Ledum palustre).
Sea Vegetable Rice Salad with Baked Flounder & Roasted Potatoes