This was the perfect symbiosis of nature and cooking. And you probably have gathered by now how much I love cooking. Perhaps I can share a little bit here about my love of nature.
Not to be overly dramatic, but the love of nature might have saved my life, many years ago.
When I was 16, I had what you might call a crisis of faith. Faith in life. In its value. I was a cerebral kid, who spent a big amount of time in my own head. My head was my space, for better or for worse. And so not so surprisingly, at 16, I reached the very cerebral conclusion that one should live only as a deliberate act, provided one could find something worth living for. Something that could justify going on living when everything around seemed hopeless and dark.
And I had come up with nothing. Everything that might make life worth living seemed either inaccessible or inauthentic. And so I was coming close to the inevitable conclusion: I had no business going on living.
Then, there was a trip to the
United States. A backpacking trip
with a group of other teens, traveling across the country.
And there was the
The day I flew over the
the overwhelming beauty and immensity of it, I thought for the first time: this is worth living for. Seeing this.
So this land, this beautiful land, now my land, gave me a reason to live when I needed one.
As I spent more and more time in the
United States (I ended up actually working at
the Grand Canyon for a few summers before
moving here), my love of nature became less cerebral and more real. It got me
out of my head and grounded me. Ever since, it has made me feel like I belong
on earth. I love to seek it out as much as I can, whether it’s hiking through Yellowstone, or going camping, or simply eating outside.
And now, there’s foraging. I mean, what’s not to love: you go hike in the woods, learn about wild edible plants, learn how to cook them or how to use them in your cooking. (And it will be so great to take Pablo foraging when he’s a bit more of a functional hiker :-))
I am so thankful to my good friend Linda for introducing me to Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich this weekend, the lovely and talented couple who guided our foraging experience. (If you are in the LA area, definitely check these guys out.)
Pascal Baudar, a French man who has lived in the
US for many years and a forager for
the past 13 years (he forages for chefs too!), had black fingers, from
harvesting thousands of black walnuts, he explained. How I love hands who tell a
He guided us down a trail and talked (among many things) about green, red and black currants, elderflowers and berries, wild peaches, wild fig leaves, mugwort, thistle and chickweed. I munched on wild mustard flowers that taste like broccoli, smelled white sage and sage brush.
What a better way to commune with nature than to actually eat it? Its flavors open up every one of your tastebuds at once. Nature as a tastebud opener. I like that. Next time, I can’t wait to forage wild spinach, wild radishes and watercress.
After our walk, Mia, a very talented wild food chef (more about her right here) had prepared some treats for us: roasted potatoes with her foothill spice blend made with local wild aromatic plants. Wild spinach empanadas. Nectarines roasted inside a wild fig leaf. And a wild watercress gazpacho with wild watercress flowers (picture below), that tasted like a cool running creek at dawn. And there was Pascal’s fermented white sage lemonade and wild mugwort beer too...
I plan on experimenting first with fermented sage lemonade and elderflower syrup, recipes I will be sharing with you here soon (should they be successful, that is ;-))
I have so much to learn it makes me feel young.
So if culinary hiking sounds like something you would enjoy, I highly recommend you give foraging a try! And if you have gone foraging, please tell me all about it! What have you made? What have you found?
It’s such an appropriate metaphor for life too. Let us spend less time in our heads and more time in the real world. Let’s forage the good stuff out of life, for it is so flavorful...
In the meantime, I leave you with this lovely & seasonal asparagus wild arugula soup, nicely complemented by some wild mustard flowers foraged by yours truly.
Asparagus, wild arugula & avocado soup with wild mustard flowers
Barely adapted from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga
Serves about 4 generous bowls
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Age for babies: Without the crabmeat (just the soup), 6-8 months.
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of green asparagus
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups (about 2 oz) wild arugula
4 oz crabmeat (optional)
2 tbsp sheep's milk yogurt
Foraged wild mustard flowers (optional)
Mince the shallot and garlic. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus, and dice them. Peel, pit and dice the avocado.
Heat the coconut oil in a large pot of medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and asparagus with 1/4 tsp salt, stir, and cook for about 3 minutes (do not brown).
Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the asparagus are tender.
Add the arugula and cook for another minute. Remove pot from heat.
Pour mixture in the blender, add the avocado and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Blend thoroughly, until very smooth.
You can serve hot or chilled, topped with some crab meat, a swirl of yogurt, and a few wild mustard flowers on top.