Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wild Food: Miner's Lettuce, Fiddleheads and Cattail Shoots

First a couple of photos of our earthwalk (Tali's and my weekly trek out to pick up Rhiannon from preschool). We noted that the skunk cabbage, now at the tail-end of it's bloom, is shooting its leaves up -- look how tall!

And Tal became one with the moss, growing a green beard in his glory...

Wild Green Omelet
OK -- not totally wild; the eggs were farmed and the milk was store-bought... but we rejoiced, anyway! As you may have read on our other blog, our ducks recently started laying! What better reason for an omelet?!
We just gathered what we found on the way home from preschool, today, which happened to be the following:

  • Siberian Miner's Lettuce leaves and buds -- this is just before they bloom, so the leaves are still rich, dark and juicy. They have a very distinct taste, somewhat similar to spinach (and many of the same vitamins as spinach, I believe). One of our May Day traditions is to pick a heap (with lots of flowers) and eat a big salad of it for Beltane dinner.
  • Lady Fern Fiddleheads -- just in time! They're nearly all open! We just take a few at a time; something in my vague memory tells me that fiddleheads are not healthy if eaten in large quantities, so we don't. I'm really going to have to research that one!
  • Cattail Shoots -- yummy, soft and starchy, they're also really beautiful in cross-section! They're just beginning here in the pond. We also harvested some roots to make cattail flour but then, as wild-fooding with kids goes... we lost them somewhere between the pond and home. Oops.
Stir-fried the fiddleheads and chopped cattail shoots a little, then added miners lettuce, and duck-eggs with a bit of milk and a dash of salt. Duck eggs are much more viscous than chicken eggs; they make a much denser omelet. But yum!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

plastic world

Remember the consumerism movie I posted earlier (The Story of Stuff)?
Here's a little video-series to go along with it, thanks to Thomas Morton:
Garbage Island

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Tal is dancing again... with all his heart!

little ramble on learning

Today I went to Tal's learning group and sang some songs with them for their current Canada study. We sang two songs about our island, spent time looking at a map of the island and where we all lived, etc. Then we did some Katajjak (Inuit throat singing), and played some rhythm instruments. Then we moved on to look at mining in Canada, and sang the Hard Rock Miner. The whole thing was supposed to take less than 1/2 an hour, but because the kids were so enthusiastic and involved, took nearly an hour. Because it's an open classroom, that wasn't such a big deal; I was able to just let the learning and enthusiasm of the group carry the time, and I think it was really successful. I haven't taught kids in years (since Tal was a baby) and I left feeling totally fulfilled and thrilled, myself.

We sing a lot at home, but Tal is often reluctant to join in, and certainly won't do it in public, although he has plenty of opportunity. Once, recently, I was singing something on the way into his school and he blushed and told me to stop singing before somebody heard me! Today he actually seemed happy to have me there, and... he sang along!! So after we left I thanked him for welcoming me into his morning and letting me do my thing. His response was an enthusiastic "thank you for coming to sing with us, Mama!!" I just about cried. My teaching has come full circle and the joy I find teaching other people's children has made its way back to my own!

So now for some more thoughts on learning. The following are various viewpoints I've come across in the past few years. The last one is my own belief, but I'm throwing them all out for the sake of contemplation; I think this is very interesting.
  1. We learn at an ever slowing rate from birth onwards, so that the first few years are the richest, and it slowly curves off until we reach middle age, at which point the curve either levels off or heads down again (ack?!).
  2. We learn at a relatively steady rate throughout our lives, ending up wise and learned.
  3. We learn at an exponentially increasing rate throughout our lives, as new learning builds upon prior knowledge/experience... so that the richest "learning years" are in our old age.
  4. We learn here and there and everywhere, gathering as we go and forgetting things that are less important or less used.
  5. Learning needs a new name. Call it "growing". We're always growing, always changing, and our personal collection of feeling and memory grows, changes, evaporates or is stored for future retrieval in an amorphous, patternless flow that may roughly follow the flow of our lives. There is no more or less "learning" theres always constant change.
*And if we consider past life experience to be a part of learning (for those children who remember past lives, it most certainly is!), how does that affect all of the above?

So if I'm right at all in my belief, why do we "learn" in "school", and then in "university", and then, for the most part, begin life applying the skills we learned without considering further education? Of course it's black and white; I realize that. But I do believe that many of us subconsciously see our learning leveling off at the end of our "formal schooling". So do we then also subconsciously close our minds to further learning? And why is it that so many people have to venture out after finishing highschool or university for "self-discovery" adventures? Why weren't they given the opportunity to discover themselves earlier? Why don't we accept our children for the open, creative, natural forces of change that they are, and rejoice in the opportunity to share our growing with them?

I'm often criticized for underestimating the school system and the enormous effort that is put out by parents and teachers to provide a rich and varied environment for our children's education. I certainly have been critical of some common teaching methods, and our family has made a pointed choice to opt out of mainstream education. But as more of our friends become more involved in the mainstream education, I hear of a lot of parents and teachers who do seem to hold the same values we do, and to try to apply those in that "mainstream" education. Yay! And for my part, I'm ever so glad to be welcomed into my children's lives -- I'm growing well, these days!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Recent Wild Foods

After 3 weeks of pneumonia (I'm almost better, now, thank you!), various graphic design projects and other adventures occurring (yes, we have a stove again, now, but now we have no hot water, the water-heaters can only be sold to tradespeople, but local tradespeople are too busy and do not answer telephone calls...etc...etc...), I've been having a bit of trouble finding time to post. Life, however, and therefore unschooling, continues despite my silence. So tonight I'll at least try to update on some of the most successful wild foods.

First a wee note on un-successful wild foods, though. Please remember that just because I post about our roaring successes, doesn't mean this Wild Food adventure is always easy. We've had plenty of failures. For the past couple of months we've been waiting to harvest some seaweeds, thinking they'd be perfect winter-fare... except that all the low tides have been at night (this has changed, now; and today we had our first 2008 tidepool adventure). We also tried tapping broadleaf maple, to discover that although they're reportedly bountiful, not a drop is flowing. (Did we miss it or is it yet to come? We've been watching the dry jugs for nearly a month, now.) Then there are always those days where we set out for some particular thing and either find it tastes putrid, is nearly impossible to harvest, or is simply non-existent. And then, if the universe smiles upon us and we find something tasty, we have to hope that everyone is still interested in the adventure: "Mama! I just want to climb trees, instead, today!" Heh. Still, when it works it works, and then the hurdles are forgotten in the joy of feeding ourselves from the wild.

Today we went to the beach at low tide, explored the tidepools, and harvested a few goodies for dinner: Not on the menu, but fun to investigate were urchins, sun stars, sunflower stars, sea stars of various types, snails, shellfish, barnacles and crabs of various types, buffleheads, geese, and mallards... and rocks to climb on!

Saccharina sessilis or Laminaria saccharina (Sugar Kelp)

The kids felt accomplished after because it was easy to harvest, and plentiful. We cooked some with our rice for dinner, and it was (to me) like eating an ocean cloud. It made the rice so fluffy and tasty; I am drying the rest and plan to harvest it quite often, now that we know where to find it in large quantities. There is really no comparison, though, between fresh (albeit probably rather polluted) seaweed and dried. Yes we washed and soaked it well, thereby probably ridding it of it's toxins and nutrients...

Red Gracilaria (sea moss)

Apparently this is an aphrodisiac in the Caribbean; we think maybe it's a human-repellent -- it smells horrid. I ended up composting it; hopefully the garden will enjoy it more than we would.

Green Gracilaria
It doesn't smell bad, but since I wanted to look it up before eating it, I dried it instead of trying it fresh. I still haven't found any information on the green varieties, though I assume it's edible, based on the fact that the red variety is widely consumed.

Ulva (Sea Lettuce)
Our old standby! Taliesin thinks it tastes boring, but as long as it's mixed in with something tasty he doesn't mind it. We mixed it in with our rice and laminaria. We've not found it very plentiful anywhere on Bowen (yet), so there was none left over for drying.

How long can we keep our dried seaweed?Dr. Ryan Drum of OceanVegetables.com says that "In proper storage, most totally-dried sea vegetables stay nutritionally and medicinally secure indefinitely. The minerals do not degrade; the phycocolloids slowly fragment over years; the pigments slowly fade, especially the chlorophylls; fats slowly become rancid; proteins fragment slowly to polypeptides and amino acids."

We've been harvesting the young leaves for salads and as a cooked green in Nasi-Goreng (one of our favourite family meals), recently. My personal favourite is a salad made with 80% dandelion greens, 19% diced tomatoes, 1% chives from the garden, and a blended dressing of grapeseed oil, (lots of) grated fresh ginger, a couple of minced green onions, balsamic vinaigre, and honey. Yum.

I think we're going to have to harvest and store some of the young greens. They get rather bitter after the plant blooms, and ours are all showing fat buds in the centre of the leaves. Of course, then there are also the petals to eat, the blossoms to fry and eat with syrup... but still... I'd love to have some dried or frozen leaves to add to future meals.

My family's tradition has been to eat nettles for Easter. (Sometimes my parents wonder aloud at how I became so "earthy" and "nature-loving"... is it beginning to become apparent, yet? Thank you, Mum and Pappa!)

So this Easter my Mum asked if we could all do a little "Wild Food Day" together to get the easter nettles from the edge of the property.

We did! Honestly, I've never loved nettles very much other than for tea (so hairy!), but my Mum cooked them with some onions and really they were very delicious, that way!