Food for the Spirit

Foraging is part of the Oregon lifestyle.  It’s exhilarating to head out on a hike—rain or shine—and return home with enough fresh berries or mushrooms bagged for a special treat.  I like to think I’m walking in the steps of other gatherers—who knows how long ago.

There’s a new cookbook out that’s getting a lot of awards and buzz. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen is by Chef Sean Sherman who is resolved to revitalize indigenous foods and cuisine. Sean is a member of the Lakota Tribe, part of the Sioux Nation that was relocated in the last century from homelands in the Dakota and Minnesota territories to the fringe of the South Dakota Badlands. His people left behind powerful traditions and customs only to face misery and misfortune in a barren and foreign landscape.

Sean believes many other tribes have lost their cultural ties to native foods and customs, due to relocation. He and his team are busy creating and adapting new versions of indigenous cuisine based on natural and unprocessed foods, as well as promoting wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship and farming, food preservation and cooking techniques.  His cookbook offers resources and options for a new standard of traditional foods using modern techniques.

Here in the Pacific Northwest the Confederate Tribes of the Grande Ronde is on a similar path promoting their own indigenous food projects.  This past weekend, in tandem with our local community college, we planted 2000 camas bulbs on the campus’s Youth Farm site.

The bulb of camas is greatly prized by tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Locally, the Kalapuya people consider camas their most important  staple which they re-hydrate and grind into flour for breads and cakes.  Common Camas, part of the lily family and related to asparagus, also has a spired stalk plus gorgeous star-like blue flowers.

Some compare the flavor of camas to that of a fig, but it is certainly not as ready to eat. The bulbs are known to contain inulin, a fiber which is indigestible until fully broken down through a long, slow cooking process. It traditionally takes 2 to 3 days of baking in a slow oven before the bulbs are fully blackened and edible; the inulin then turns to fructose and releases its inherent sweetness.

Fellow foragers should beware of Death Camas, which looks much like Common Camas, but displays white rather than blue flowers when in bloom.  Also, when digging camas bulbs remember that an entire plant will be eliminated, and no further bulbs can be produced.  Be selective about the variety and quantity gathered.

I’m with Sean.  I salute his endeavors to improve the health and well-being of his fellow Native Americans. I intend to plant a few of my own bulbs very shortly.  I hope to experiment with my own crop—whenever that happens.  At this point I’ll stay in the research mode gathering cooking ideas and searching for samples. Admittedly, beyond the traditional process of roasting bulbs in a slow fire for three days, I’m open to treating them to a long rest in the slow cooker. Now, that’s a traditional/contemporary twist!

Sweet Camas Spread

From Sweet Camas Cookbook by Madrona Murphy

A mild sweet spread, reminiscent of chestnut jam.  The chocolate addition is lighter and less sweet than chocolate nut spreads like Nutella

Ingredients
¼ cup camas paste (can be made from dried, powdered camas)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon dutched cocoa powder (use for chocolate spread)

Directions

  1. Re-hydrate the dried, powered camas, as needed.
  2. Stir the water, oil and cocoa, if using, into the camas paste until smooth. Add more water if too stiff.
  3. The spread is highly perishable. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
  4. To serve, thin with more water if unspreadable.  Serve with crackers, toast, or with cheese.

 

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No Cooking Required

For many, sustainability and sound environmental practices are a way of life.  They automatically sort their trash and seek out the best in green alternatives.  Try as I might, I still need to do more.  I realize that no matter how much I might like to blame the conditions of the earth’s melting ice caps or rising seas  on an industrialized world, we all need to take responsibility; we need to do our part in reducing our personal impact on the planet.

I just discovered Kate Heyhoe’s Cooking Green, a highly informative eco-friendly book published in 2009. She offers plenty of ways to make sustainability more relevant in our lives and suggests how we can practice conservation in our kitchens on a daily basis. It has an excellent selection of thought provoking recipes that further exemplify conscious lifestyle choices.  For further information on eco-friendly kitchen practices check out Kate’s websites www.globalgourmet,com and www.newgreenbasics.com.

Kate points out there are plenty of foods that do not actually require cooking:  a simple soaking is all they need.   That caught my attention, since this summer’s heat has been so oppressive I am always looking for cooking alternatives.

Passive cooking takes advantage of an existing heat source― quickly boiled water from a tea kettle, for example―it’s enough to “cook” such foods as bulgur wheat or bean threads.  Both are perfect candidates for an eco-friendly kitchen because a quick soak is all that is necessary to soften them enough for further preparation.

Here are a few test questions from Kate’s eco-quiz to challenge your energy smarts.   Consider these:

  1. If you’re an eco-friendly cook, should your next cutting board be made of Corian, glass, bamboo, acrylic, or maple?

Glass is more eco-friendly than made-made materials of Corian and acrylic, but chopping on glass is hard on knives.  Bamboo is the most sustainable material, even more so than maple.  It’s strong, hard, and resists bacteria better than wood.  Bamboo’s downside lies in its traveling cookprint:  bamboo comes from China.  Maple hails from North America, but some forests are facing environmental stress.  The best answer is to dig deeper:  check into new cutting boards made of recycled cardboard, plastic, and cork; they perform well and re-purpose materials that would otherwise go to waste. 

  1. Do you save more energy if you run your dishwasher at midnight, noon, or 5:00PM?

Because electricity at power plants is generated more efficiently during off-peak hours, midnight saves fuel at the source.

  1. If your garbage disposal breaks, should you (a) call the repair service, (b) replace it with an Energy Star model, or (c) remove it and without?

Lose it, don’t use it.  Garbage disposals bring unnecessary energy and water consumption to the waste process.  Composting, and even regular trash disposal, are better options.  Garbage disposals don’t come with Energy Star ratings.

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Now that fresh peaches are literally falling off my neighbor’s tree, I am joyfully besieged with bowls of plump, ripe peaches. There is absolutely nothing better than a sweet, juicy peach dripping down your chin to make you thoroughly grateful for any amount of summer heat.Peach tree

These mornings I have taken to beginning the day with a peach smoothie of some sort.  I’ve learned that a heaping spoonful of my favorite raw 6-grain oats will literally disappear into the mix and create a thick luscious power breakfast.  In one cool, creamy glass, I get a healthy supply of fruit, fiber, dairy, vitamins, minerals, and plenty of energy for my morning exercise.  Absolutely no cooking required.

Peach Breakfast Smoothie

Any combination will work, use what is available and tasty and whirl it up―even an immersion blender gets the job done.
 
Ingredients
1-2 Tbsp rolled oats, 6-grain, or other blend
1 tsp chia seeds (optional)
3 Tbsp yogurt
¾ cup milk
1 large peach, peeled and cut up; or 1 cup fresh fruit or a combination
½ tsp vanilla
Handful of ice cubes
1 squirt agave or honey to taste

Method
In blender or processor of choice place all ingredients through ice and blend until smooth.  Taste for sweetness; add agave or other sweetener as needed.   Serves 1