Monday, August 30, 2010

Foraging New England's Wild Greens

I found a wonderful book last year, "Foraging New England," by Tom Seymour. Bit by bit, I have been trying to learn to identify our edible wild plants. Please be sure you have identified a plant correctly before serving it to your family! The one pictured above is purslane. It came to America with early European settlers. If you have a vegetable garden you have probably met this valuable and nutritious invader, and you have probably thrown it away! To prepare it, snip the ends of the stems, the most tender part. Rinse very thoroughly, since this plant sprawls right on the dirt. Chop into inch long pieces, boil or steam, and serve with butter, salt and pepper. It also has medicinal uses. The sticky juice of the crushed stems and leaves can be rubbed on stings, burns, and bites, like aloe juice!

The next plant is lamb's quarters, another European colonial import. According to Seymour, it is a wonderful early green in the garden, and later in the summer, when lamb's quarters is about a foot high, you can harvest a great quantity. All but the thickest part of the stem is nice for eating, and it is good eating all summer long. You can steam or boil it. My little boy gobbled it the very first time I served him some.

Last weekend my niece and my son were playing on the beach. My son told me that my niece was "foraging" for him on the beach. My son was plating the "food" he had made. He has watched his big brother the chef and his big sister the pastry baker do this many times. He put a rock on an upside-down frisbee. He arranged seaweed, pebbles, sand, and shells on the food in a beautiful way. Our children are watching and listening.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Old Shoes

This is a picture of one of my son's beloved old shoes. He received them in high school to wear to church. He hated them at first. They were stiff; they were his dress-up shoes. But he is twenty three now and won't part them them. They got very soft, they gained patina. They have been many places with him. Do you have a beloved pair of old shoes?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flower Basket

My mother-in-law is amazing at creating beautiful bouquets. She picked all these flowers from the wild hedge near our houses and from her garden. I love the bold way she combines pinks and oranges.

Looking at this bouquet reminded me of Gabriele's wonderful posting about floral design. Gabriele is a floral designer in Japan. If you want to check out her special posting, "Flower Color Journey" this is a wonderful time to try out her ideas. Just click on the title of this post.

Beach Plum Jelly

My niece and I had so much fun foraging along the shore last week. We found beach plums. I have always wanted to pick beach plums but never found them when they were ripe.

We picked the darkest ones.

Between these shrubs and a few we found on another shore, our family picked enough for jelly.

I love making jam in every season, but this is the first time I ever made jelly. These tiny plums have pits. We cooked them on the stove in a pot with a bit of water until the skins burst and the fruit softened. Then we strained the hot pulp and juice through about 6 layers of cheesecloth. We used the juice for our jelly, following the directions for making plum jelly using Sure Gel. It's delicious. Mmmmm.....beach plum jelly. Pure seaside summer on your toast.

Fresh Caught Fish for Dinner

Another posting about seafood! We are having such delicious fresh food this summer. My son and I caught some scup using seaworms for bait. (Ouch! Seaworms bite with their ugly little heads!) It was the best success we have ever had fishing and I was ecstatic to finally be able to make dinner with our fresh catch. First I had to clean them. I did it down on the beach, far from my son's view, since I knew he would never eat the fish if he saw me clean them. Anyone nearby would have heard me say, "Ewww, ewww, ewww." That was just at first, though. Soon I felt like a fish monger as I slung the unappetizing bits into a bucket. But I need a sharper knife next time. I felt like a cave-wife as I sawed at the fish with a dull paring knife which felt no better than a sharpened stone.

I put my nice sweet-smelling fresh fish into a pan in which I had poured olive oil. I sprinkled fresh native tomatoes, minced garlic, and sliced onions on top. I added more olive oil, paprika, salt, pepper, and basil. Then I baked it for about twenty minutes.

I want to catch something bigger next time! Scup tastes fine but is difficult to eat because it has many, many bones. My husband de-boned some fish for my little boy. It was fun to watch him do it. He was very precise and worked with the intense concentration of a surgeon.

Every time I meet a fisherman I quiz him about his lures, bait, and methods. There is something new I'm going to try this week. I want to get a bluefish or a sea bass! Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Fresh Air Fund

The Fresh Air Fund still needs families for this summer! If you can help an inner-city child have some fun in the fresh air, please become a host family. You won't believe the difference it can make. Click on the title of this post for more information! I love Fresh Air's videos.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Northern Bay

This is a sprig of Northern Bay, with its little cluster of bayberries. It smells wonderful when you crush the berries in your hands. The colonists used to collect bayberries and make candles out of them, because they have a fragrant and waxy coating. I was thinking of trying to make a candle this way until I read that we would have to fill a large cardboard box with bayberries to make one candle. What?!!!! Well, maybe I will try to make a tiny one.

Here is the beautiful bayberry shrub, which grows in the dunes. My niece and I picked some leaves and I dried them at a low setting in the oven. I will give some jars away, and use some myself for soups and stews, like the clam chowder in the posting below. Incidentally, the bay which comes in jars at the grocery store is most likely Turkish bay.

Clam Chowder

My niece and I went quahogging last weekend. A quahog is a hard clam which grows well in estuaries from New Jersey to Cape Cod, where the water is relatively warm and salt water mingles with fresh. The word "quahog," pronounced "ko-hog," comes from the Narragansett Indians' word for the clams, "poquauhock." The Indians used the clam shells to carve "wampum," purple and white beads used for trade.

The smallest legally harvested quahog is 1 inch thick at its thickest. It is called a "little neck." The largest quahogs are called "chowders." The medium sized are called "cherrystones." It takes 3 or 4 years for a quahog to get big enough to eat. If you want to find out how quahogs are harvested, scroll down to the next posting to learn about it.

After letting my bucket of quahogs clean themselves out for about a day with multiple changes of fresh sea water, I scrubbed off the mud and threads of little plants which cling to the shell using a special scrub brush I use only for that purpose. I bought two of these scrub brushes in hopes of roping someone into helping me. It takes some elbow grease to scrub quahogs, and it is messy work, so I sit outside.

Once my quahogs are clean, I put them in the pot with about an inch of water, cover, and steam them until the shells open. Discard any clams which don't open.

I save the water I used to steam the clams, and also the bit of water which is left inside the shells. This is called the "clam liquor." It is very flavorful and very salty and I use it to season my chowder.

Then I chop up the clams very finely. Clams can be chewy. They are best in tiny pieces. I also try not to look too closely at the clams and all their various parts.

Here are some of the other delicious ingredients which I put in the chowder: 2 onions, 3 or 4 unpeeled new potatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, butter, two chopped pieces of freshly fried bacon, and cream. I am making chowder with clear broth because my husband is lactose intolerant. My young son and I add some heavy cream to our bowls.

Chop the onions, mince the garlic, and gently cook them in a generous amount of butter.

Roughly chop the potatoes and cook them in water. Don't let them get too soft or they will fall apart in the chowder. Save the potato water.

Now put about 4 cups of water (or light cream or milk if you prefer) in the big soup pot, add the potatoes and potato water, the onions and garlic, some pepper, some Northern Bay leaves, (which I collected locally,) and clam liquor to taste. Go easy on the clam liquor. Last time I made my chowder too salty! Most people like their clam chowder thickened, so you can whisk some flour in a little bowl with some of the broth, and then add it to the chowder pot. Let it all warm up together. Now add the clam bits and get the soup hot.

Serve it with oyster crackers. Delicious.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


I love quahogging. It's fun to do with friends. You look for a place where the clam has blown away small shells and pebbles. That leaves a little sandy patch. Then you use your rake. The tines of the rake are just the right length for raking up the clam which is hiding under the sand.

This one looks big enough! It is gray with mud.

Yes, it is big enough! It won't fit through the measuring tool. After we get a bunch of clams, I let them clean themselves out in a bucket with changes of fresh sea water. Then I steam them open, chop them up, and make clam chowder with bacon, potatoes, onion, garlic, and milk. Yummy.

Look at this mysterious creature we found. I thought it was a pine cone at first, but it seemed to be alive. Do you know what it is?


After a beautiful sunset we made a campfire on the beach.

We roasted marshmallows. My son likes them burned to a crisp. I like them golden and melted inside.

After we had some marshmallows, we stared at the flames, listened to the crackling of the flames and got quiet. Look how peaceful the little boy is in his mother's arms.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I love peaches but it's hard to find a good one in New England, so last year I planted a saturn peach tree.

The peaches were all that a peach should be, juicy and sweet, the taste of summer.