A Fennel Drinking Straw

I don’t get the straw thing. Why do all drinks served in restaurants have to come with a plastic straw? Don’t we have enough plastic trash swirling around our oceans?

While the drinking straw dates back to ancient times, the modern straw renaissance arises alongside the 19th century popularity of juleps and cobblers. Nineteenth century gentleman needed a straw to keep the mint out of their beards and they took to using humble stalks of rye grass. As rye breaks down quickly, some enterprising genius figured out how to make straws out of paper. In the 20th century straws evolved into the bendy plastic horror we’re all so familiar with. Ecological guilt led to a glass and stainless steel drinking straw trend during a brief period in the late aughts.

Our front and back yard have what I like to think of as fennel gyres that, just like those ocean plastic votices, just can’t be stopped. Having hollow stems, it occurred to me that fennel stalks might just be the ideal replacement to the ubiquitous plastic straw and could just spark the latest hipster trend. I vowed to give it a try.

As one might expect, a fennel stalk imparts a licorice taste to your beverage. Some might find this objectionable, like drinking toothpaste, but others might sense a cocktail opportunity. Dr. Google informs me that I’m not the first with this fennel stalk cocktail idea. Emily Han, a guest on episode 67 of the Root Simple Podcast, outscooped me back in 2013.

But perhaps, via crowd-sourced knowledge, we might make a vegetative drinking straw breakthrough. What other plant stalks could we replace all those plastic straws with?

103 Ugly Little Greens with Mia Wasilevich

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Listen to “103 Ugly Little Greens with Mia Wasilevich” on Spreaker.

Our guest this week is chef and forager Mia Wasilevich. Mia is the founder of Transitional Gastronomy and teaches culinary workshops, wild-food identification and food styling. She was a featured consultant on “Master Chef” and “Top Chef.” She is also the author of a brand new book, “Ugly Little Greens: Gourmet Dishes Crafted from Foraged Ingredients.” During the show we discuss:

  • How she got started cooking.
  • Mia’s new book Ugly Little Greens.
  • Eating invasives.
  • Working with mustard.
  • Elderflower ghee.
  • Nettle aid.
  • Mallow.
  • Currants.
  • Working with acorns.
  • Lambsquarters.
  • Meal planning.
  • Fish sauce.
  • James Townsend and Two Fat Ladies.
  • Mia’s website Transitional Gastronomy.
  • Cottonwood Urban Farm.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Cold brewed tisanes, teas and coffee: Your summertime best friends

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Cold brewed coffee is all the thing these days. And you’ve probably heard that we’re not supposed to make sun tea anymore, but fridge tea instead–which is cold brewed tea. In fact, cold brewing allows you to  throw just about anything you’d brew hot into cold water instead, refrigerate it overnight and end up with something refreshing, cold and delicious to drink the next day.

Proponents of cold brewing point out that though it takes longer than hot brewing, it preserves the more delicate scents and flavors of whatever you’re brewing, and minimizes the bitter and vegetal overtones which come from heating and from overbrewing.

Most importantly from my standpoint, you don’t have to heat water. You don’t have to get anywhere near the stove, and the finished product is nice and cold and ready to guzzle.

Cold Mint Tea

My everyday summertime fridge staple is cold mint tea (tisane, technically). I make this by simply throwing a handful of dried mint leaves (harvested from my rangy mint plant) into a jar, adding filtered water, and leaving it in the fridge for the length of a day, or overnight. Then I strain the tea to remove the leaves and keep the tea in the fridge. I never measure anything. You can make the tea stronger and dilute it to taste if necessary, or make it very weak, so it’s just cold water with a delicate breath of mint to it. It’s good no matter what you do. If you don’t have a mint plant, use a couple of mint tea bags.

Jamaica

If you don’t mind a little added sugar in your bev, jamaica (hibiscus flower tea) is a really nice summer drink, tart and sweet and refreshing. And as a bonus, my herbalism teacher tells me all that rich red flower power is good for you, too.

You can buy bags of dried hibiscus/jamaica flowers inexpensively in the spice aisle of any Latin market, in the same area where you’d find dried peppers and the like. If you can’t find the flowers, you may be able to find bagged hibiscus tea.

Cold brew jamaica by placing about a 1/2 cup of the dried flowers into a quart jar and top with water. I am ever grateful to The Kitchn for turning me on to the idea of adding a cinnamon stick to this brew. Cinnamon adds a really nice, sophisticated touch to the flavor. (The whole article is worth a read for some in-depth jamaica talk.) Let this sit overnight, or most of the day, strain and add sweetener to taste. It’s easiest to use simple syrup.

A taste of the wild

Our friend Pascal, who is on our podcast this week, usually shows up at parties with a big jug of cold infusions of foraged plants. He talks about this in his book, The New Wildcrafted Cuisine. He uses whatever is in season at the time, an eclectic mix that may include wild mints, elderflowers, conifers like white fir and pine, herbs like black sage and berries of all sorts. Sometimes he adds less-wild ingredients, like lemons or honey. He leaves all these things swirling around in the jug at table, so that the sight of the infusion is almost as arresting as the taste.

Pascal’s beautiful infusions should give you the courage to grab a few things from your garden and see what happens.

Spa water

If you’re not up for infusing the entire forest into your drinking water, what about cucumbers? It’s easy to forget how good simple infusions are to have around. A few cucumber slices, a cup of watermelon chunks, a handful raspberries–all these things make iced water a little more fun. Just use whatever you have leftover on any given day–that spare half of a lemon, a melon slice that no one seems to want, that extra handful of herbs. My favorite Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, Cacao, puts sprigs of rosemary in its table water.

Other herbal experiments

Experiment with other teas and herbs you have in your cupboard. For instance, I quite like cold brewed chamomile tea. Erik does not, however. Tastes do vary! Any of your favorite bagged hot teas might be good cold. It’s a good way to use them up if your tea collection is taking over your kitchen cabinet.

A healthy if decidedly green tasting option is dried nettle cold brew. Cold brewed nettles taste a little less like a cook vegetable than hot brewed nettles. Sometimes I mix nettles and mint half and half, to make the nettles a little more sprightly.

Extreme wonkery over iced tea and iced coffee

I am a lazy person. I enjoy sitting in my proverbial armchair and reading about other people’s obsessive quests to make things like the perfect cold brewed iced tea, but when it comes time to make it myself, I always end up just throwing a few things together and seeing what happens.

I always enjoy the experiments in the Food Lab over at the Serious Eats site, and I send you there if you want to up your fridge tea game:

The Tea Lover’s Way to Make the Best Cold Brewed Iced Tea

For The Best Sun Tea, Forget the Sun

(Amusingly, the different authors don’t exactly agree on the best route to iced tea, which only reinforces my laissezfaire attitude. But they’re great reads.)

And here’s their take(s) on cold brewing coffee:

It’s Time to Make Cold Brewed Coffee

Or maybe not?

What’s the Best Way to Brew Iced Coffee?

So brew yourself up something refreshing, find yourself a seat in the shade, and enjoy the summer!

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From the Archives: That Time Kelly Accidentally Ate Hemlock

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Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates (detail).

At the risk of bragging, in the tenth year of this blog we’ve accumulated 2,735 published posts and another 706 unpublished drafts. Using a random number generator I decided to pick out a random post to see what the heck is in the archive. A blog post by Kelly came up, from October of 2013, that tells the story of how she accidentally munched on a piece of dried hemlock (Conium maculatum) having confused it for fennel.

And so I was fooled while out on a food forage hike last week. It was grim pickings out there! Acorns seem to be the only thing left to eat in the wild until the rains come. I’d sampled something unpleasant which lingered on my tongue. I wanted to clear the taste and spotted what I thought was the remains of a fennel plant. I pinched off a couple of seeds and put them in my mouth. They didn’t taste like fennel. They didn’t taste like anything at all. So I think I spit them out. Maybe.

As I was in the midst of doing this, I said to our teacher, Pascal, “Here’s some fennel?” As I said it, I wasn’t entirely sure, because the seeds didn’t taste right.

He said, “That’s not fennel, that’s poison hemlock.”

At this point I’d already swallowed or spit out the seeds. You know, whichever.

I said, “Oh…um…I just ate a couple of seeds.”

The rest of the class made noises of dismay. Someone offered me water.

It was really embarrassing.

As you might guess, Kelly survived. And thank you random number generator for the Jungian synchronicity: our last podcast is an interview with Pascal.

As Kelly notes in her blog post, Hemlock is in the Apiaceae (carrot family). Novice foragers would be wise to avoid this family entirely. That said, Pascal tells a story of running into a group of older Armenian woman gathering hemlock. When he questioned them they explained that they boil the hemlock and change out the water multiple times to make the leaves edible. I suspect they were using the plant medicinally. Neither Pascal nor Root Simple endorse this.

Happy summer foraging and watch out for the hemlock! Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever made a foraging mistake.

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089 The New Wildcrafted Cuisine with Pascal Baudar

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Our topic this week on the podcast is the spectacular foraged cuisine of Southern California based Pascal Baudar. Pascal is the author of The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of local Terroir. We cover a lot of subjects in the podcast–everything from wild mustards to harvesting sugar from insects! Here’s just a few of the things we touch on:

  • wild mustard
  • weeds and invasives
  • professional foraging
  • wild beer
  • Sacred and Herbal Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner
  • working with black mustard
  • foraging in a drought in August in Southern California
  • Pascal’s $350 energy bar
  • Native American foraging practices
  • Kat Anderson Tending the Wild
  • foraging controversy
  • what to do with broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)
  • lerp sugar
  • eating insects
  • harvesting your own sea salt
  • fermenting with sea salt
  • primitive fermentation
  • rosin baked potatoes
  • fermented hot sauces
  • ethics of foraging

You can take a class with Pascal via urbanoutdoorskills.com and make sure to check out Pascal’s amazing Facebook page.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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