Non-Fiction Friday: Stalking the Wild Asparagus

I can’t get my kids to eat their vegetables at the dinner table. This isn’t news to most parents of course. I was the same way as a kid I suppose. If you tagged along with us on a hike deep into the forest, though, you would see a different side of them both. They won’t turn down Indian cucumber roots or scoff at the chance to chew on wild carrot or sourwood leaves. There is no more delightful experience to them than getting a ripe huckleberry or service berry before the birds beat us to it. They get this from me. I passed it to them. I have been studying and eating wild foods since I was a teen. It started one day in my high school library when I happened to pull a book off the shelf written by a man named Eull Gibbons. It was about wild food and how to enjoy it. I was hooked immediately.

I don’t know why the thought hadn’t occurred to me earlier that there was a world of culinary fascination outside of what I had been exposed to. I spent as much time alone in the woods as a child as I ever did in the company of other people. I had seen most of these plants before, recognized them long before I knew what to call them or that they could be eaten or used in some way. I suppose that up to that point the two worlds were separated in my mind. There were the things that interested me, the things I studied about, the world of theory. And then there was the world I inhabited. Sometimes they overlapped but not that often. Here was a book that promised to bring those two worlds together in a big way.

Prompted by this one book I began a journey of exploration. I studied, experimented, scoured the woodlands at some faint recollection of a plant I had seen years before. I learned about the toxic plants and how to distinguish them. I dug roots and peeled bark and ground up seeds and grains. I immersed myself in the ingenuity of tribes that originally acquired this knowledge. I learned to build primitive shelters and fires. For as long as my memory can trace back I have been drawn in some magnetic way to the tree line and what lies beyond. It is like a membrane that absorbs me. I become part of the scenery, I blend. As a kid It was just familiarity. I was comfortable in the woods. I wandered far and wide but I always felt the tether of the civilizing world tugging at me. I needed that world. It was essential to my survival. In high school something changed. Now, when I stepped into the forest, I was coming home. I was no longer tethered to civilization by some thread of necessity. Every time I came back to the modern world it was because I chose to be here. Every time I visit some grand nature preserve or park and look out over the vast expanse of unspoiled woodland, I know I could fade into the canvas of greens and browns in a moment if I chose to.

The book isn’t a field guide. There are no detailed pictures or scientifically precise descriptions to help identify the wild foods it speaks of. It is a personal testimony. It is at times a cookbook. It isn’t written for a survivalist audience. It has done for many exactly what it was intended to do, inspire a lifetime of learning, joy and respect for a world and ways of life too easily forgotten by those of us caught up in the cycles of modern life. If you have no experience with these things it will likely spark a curiosity hard to resist. If seeing cultivated strawberries at the grocery store brings back memories and longing for the sweet, wild counterpart. If you drive by a wooded lot after an early summer rain and the smell prompts you to stop and hunt for morels. If your heart warms at the thought of fresh sassafras root tea or you get a twinkle in your eye remembering how your first ripe, golden may apple tasted, then this is a book worth reading.

Stalking the Wild Asparagus is a piece of history and not just for me personally. Many who are considered pioneers or innovators in the field of wild foods or various incarnations of gastronomy au naturale have taken their early inspiration from Eull Gibbons. Read the book. I don’t think you will be disappointed.


I am feeling kind of burned out lately and I kind of want to post about good stuff this week*.

Today’s post is all about brownies .

I am kind of the brownie grand master in my family. I get repeated requests to make them for virtually every family gathering. The funny thing is that I don’t make them from scratch. I use box brownies.

The funny thing is everyone knows this. It isn’t a secret but they keep coming back to me for their favorite brownies. Hell, I keep coming back to myself. I know what a good brownie tastes like, and I am typically disappointed in most attempts I come across. Today I am going to tell you the not so big secret to my excellent brownies.

Don’t overcook!

Triple chunk is my favorite of the box brownie mixes

It seems so simple but this is where most people go wrong. The brownies don’t taste over cooked. They aren’t burnt, just dry and fairly tasteless. Must be the mix right? After trying a new mix the same dry tastelessness

happens repeatedly. It isn’t the mix. It is the cooking.

Here is what you need to know about brownies. First, always choose the fudgy recipe, not the cake like brownie recipe. While you may like chocolate cake without icing most people don’t and you will never get rave reviews on your brownies if you go with the cake like recipe. A mouth watering brownie is dense, fudgy goodness. Second, pay attention to the directions. Some people like to imagine their ovens are trickier than they are. but in reality most ovens cook at the temp that you set them to. To find out if your oven is a prankster try following the directions on the box. That means time, temp, and location. Brownies always should be set on the middle rack of the oven. Third, use a glass pan. Brownies cook more evenly in glass. Fourth, don’t over cook. I repeat this because the directions on box brownies give a cooking range. Almost never do you need to cook past the bottom number on that range. The box brownies also instruct to put a knife or toothpick in to test whether the brownies are fully cooked. This is a somewhat flawed instruction because fully cooked brownies will not always leave a toothpick of knife clean. Why is this? Brownies continue to cook after pulling them out of the oven. Their denseness means they retain heat far better than cakes and other baked breads. The retained heat keeps cooking the brownies at least ten minutes after you pull them from the oven. So it is probably not best to check with a toothpick till after you have let the brownies set for ten minutes. I personally never check. The worst thing that has happened is that my brownies were a little too fudgy to cut easily into squares. They still tasted great but if you want to start out testing because you don’t trust your over go ahead. Just remember that clean with brownie is not the same as clean with cake. Brownies will always leave more residue if they are cooked properly.

So yeah, that’s it. All the secrets to fantastic brownies you will ever need. Try them out and let me know what you think.


*psst, if anyone has good new they want to help fill the week with drop me a note on twitter or in my email.

Yay brownies!

So I am currently bleeding from my girl parts which tends to make me super drained and highly emotional. I am not in the mood to write anything serious so I am going to focus on my favorite subject of all…chocolate.

Anyone who knows me knows I make the best brownies in the world. I always get shamed if I show up at a gathering with something other than brownies. It happened yesterday and I told them they probably didn’t want brownies full of salty tears (hormonal much?).  The thing is though I always use box brownies of a variety of flavors so it isn’t a particular recipe that people love so much.

It is the baking. Well that and making sure you always use the fudgy directions on the box (cake brownies are blasphemous). So if you want to be the person who makes the “best brownies in the world” follow one simple tip along with those fudge directions on the box:


Seriously, don’t. There is this thing that brownies (and all sorts of baked products) do when you pull them out of the oven. The heat inside the pan (I always use glass) and inside the brownies to continues to cook the brownies after they are removed from the oven. Once the house starts to permeate with intense brownie smell you can bet that they should be taken out oven very soon. I can’t always rely on my nose, so my rule of thumb is to never set my oven to a different temp than the box recommends and always pull the brownies out at the minimum time on the box. Some people will have to experiment with this because the oven thermostat may be calibrated improperly. If this is the case, make the brownies according to the above directions, and if they are over-cooked, drop the temp slightly. If they are undercooked, up the temp slightly.  The key is to wait till they have cooled for about ten minutes to see if they are fully cooked. They should be dense and fudgy but you should be able to cut them into bars without the brownies oozing. They will not look or feel like a cake. If they do they are overcooked. You may love them overcooked but most of the world will think they are “just ok.”

So play around. Find a box flavor you like most (ZOMG triple chunck!) and give it a few whirls. Soon enough a you will be making “the best brownies in the world” like I do.

The easy way.


Soooo yummmmmmy…

Nope, no bunnies.

Today we do pie.

Not just pie but



I concocted this recipe after watching a particular Throw Down with Bobby Flay on Food Network.  It is probably eerily similar to the competitor’s pie (which they sell) so I don’t recommend trying to market it. Use it for personal enjoyment. Also before you question the use of the brown paper bag, let me say that it keeps the crust from becoming too brown while giving the fresh apples a chance to cook in the pie shell. Most people cook their apples first. This is better.

Apple Walnut Pie with a Sugar Cookie Crust

Ingredients (measurements are by volume):

3 Granny Smith apples

2 Braeburn apples

3/4 cup or 200 mL of light brown sugar

3/4 cup or 200 mL of granulated sugar

3/4 cup or 200 mL of chopped walnuts

2 handfuls of flour ( I don’t measure those)

Cinnamon and vanilla extract to taste (I don’t measure those  either)

One deep dish pie crust (do not precook)

One roll of pre-made sugar cookie dough.

One large brown paper bag (the ones from the Walmart freezer section won’t work. Needs to be a full size grocery paper bag)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F or 190 degrees C

Peel and core apples ( I use a melon baller to core, saves much of the apples). Slice apples into fairly thin slices. Mix apples, sugars, flour, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and walnuts together in a bowl.

Let the mixture sit while you roll out cookie dough on a flat surface. I recommend rolling it into around an 1/8 inch 2.5 mm or  (ish thickness). Slice long strips of cookie dough. They may break apart and that is ok. This isn’t a pretty pie. It is a yummy one. After slicing the strips out of the dough, take the time to mix the filling one more time. Scoop the filling into the pie shell. It will be heaping, but use all of it. Then take the strips and lay them in a checkerboard pattern leaving some vents in between the strips. Probably 1/2 in or 2 cm  gaps will be enough. Make sure the strips reach to the edges of the pie. Press the dough into the edges and I recommend making a tiny little ledge of cookie dough around the whole edge of the pie. It helps keep some of the liquid filling from escaping. When the strips of cookie dough are all in place, put the pie inside the paper bag where none of the pie touches the bag from the inside with the bag stapled shut. Be sure to set it on a cookie sheet for ease of transfer in and out of the oven.

Place the pie on  a low enough oven rack that the bag does not come into contact with the heating element. Bake the pie in the bag for 1 hour. Then pull the pie out of the oven and cut the top off the bag.  Put the pie back in to lightly brown the crust for ten minutes.

Pull the pie out and enjoy hot or room temp.

Gratuitous food porn picture below the jump:

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