Monday, April 18, 2011
I posted a query on SP a little while ago, asking about everyone's favourite edible ornamental plants, as I was writing an article on the subject for a newspaper gardening segment. In the spirit of spring, and in the spirit of eating locally and healthily, I thought I'd share what I came up with!
Betcha Didn't Know You Could Eat THAT!
"Mommy, what are those things on that plant?"
"Those are raspberries, sweetie."
"But Mommy, raspberries come in boxes at the grocery store!"
I witnessed this conversation several years ago, and it has stayed in my mind as an example of how disconnected our society has become from the food we eat. When we recognize where our food comes from, we not only become more aware as consumers, but we open ourselves up to an experience of flavour we might otherwise miss.
There are, of course, bountiful back garden buffets throughout the city; there are plenty of edible berries, other fruits, herbs, vegetables, and – of course – weeds, to keep Toronto's human (and, more often, not-so-human) residents satisfied for the entire growing season.
But did you know that there are also a number of savoury sprouts in your garden masquerading as ornamental plants? Ah, but it's true; the reluctant rose, the bashful tuberous begonia and the demure dianthus are all sitting quietly in your garden, hoping you won’t discover they’re even tastier than those berries you have in your fridge that were trucked in from California a couple of weeks ago.
Although there are many ornamental plants that double as food, there are four edible ornamentals in particular I’d like to discuss here, simply because they are abundant, relatively easy to grow, and surprisingly tasty. They are: Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), Calendula (Calendula officinalis), and Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
While I am partial to cultivating only plants native to the area in which I’m growing them, Nasturtiums – decidedly not native to Canada – deserve a special mention because they are so easy to grow (they actually tend to thrive when neglected), and are so very yummy in salads. Nasturtiums are grown as annuals in our temperate climate, and are a favourite of container gardeners because of their showy red, orange and yellow flowers and their unusual water lily-shaped leaves. Both the flowers and the leaves of the Nasturtium are edible, and yield a taste that has always reminded me of a cross between black pepper and green beans, and which is often compared to watercress. The flowers add colour and zest to salads, and, thanks to their funnel shape, can be stuffed – try stuffing them with a mix of cream cheese and chives to create a tasty appetizer. They can also be added to a bottle of vinegar to create a decorative look and a peppery taste. Additionally, the pickled green seed pods are known as “poor man’s capers,” and can be used anywhere you would use capers.
Daylilies are another non-native species, and are in fact considered invasive in many areas, but they earn a spot here because they are, like nasturtiums, common and easy to grow. They are also highly edible, since all parts of the plant can be eaten (but watch out: in large quantities, the daylily can have a laxative effect!). Unfortunately, since this plant is so popular, and the cultivated varieties number in the tens of thousands, I can’t vouch for the taste of them all. Indeed, I know for certain that some are far less tasty than others. The orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), however, which runs rampant throughout Southern Ontario, has tubers which have a crisp texture and slightly nutty flavour. They are best harvested near the end of the season, and can be boiled, steamed, fried, or eaten raw, and used to augment salads, soups, stews. The flowers of the daylily have a sweet, mild taste, which is often compared to lettuce or asparagus, and can be used fresh or dried. They are frequently used in Chinese cooking, including hot-and-sour soup. They add flavour and colour to salads and soups, and, since they are quite large, can be stuffed as you would stuff a pepper. Although I’ve never tried this, they are apparently quite tasty when dipped in batter and fried. The buds and young leaves of the daylily are also edible, and used in much the same way as the rest of the plant. The mature leaves of the daylily are not particularly palatable, as they are coarse and stringy. Note that there are many members of the Lily Family which are not edible (they are in fact toxic), so make sure you’ve got the right plant before you start digging up your garden.
Calendula, which is also known as the Pot Marigold, is a happy little plant which you will find in most wildflower gardens, since it is bright, low maintenance, and seeds easily. The petals, which are generally yellow to orange in colour, have a peppery, tangy flavour. They are used to garnish, colour, and add some “zing” to your recipes. The petals can be used fresh or dried, in soups, salads, sauces, and in rice, poultry, and vegetable dishes. Just as the Nasturtium has been called the “poor man’s caper,” Calendula has been described as the “poor man’s saffron,” and may be used in place of saffron in recipes. The petals add flavour and colour when blended into cream cheese, other soft cheeses, and butter. The next time you’re out in your garden, pluck a few petals, and add them to scrambled eggs; they’ll bring an otherwise boring dish to life. If you’re getting the idea that you can use these petals in anything, you’re just about right! If you experiment with cooking with Calendula, you will find that different varieties and colours of the petals will have different flavours, ranging from mildly peppery to quite tangy. Even petals from the same plant may have a different taste depending on the time of day they are harvested.
I’ve included Lavender here because it is one of my favourite edible flowers, simply by virtue of the fact that it is such a surprise. It is well-known for its strong, flowery smell, and has been used for centuries as a perfume and an air freshener, but the fact that the flowers taste good is less well known. Lavender is more difficult to grow than the other ornamental plants I’ve mentioned here, but if you have a sunny, well-drained spot, it will probably do quite well. Lavender flowers, dried or fresh, are usually combined with sweet treats, and go well with shortbread cookies, crème brulee, white cakes, and ice cream. Lavender can also be used, however, to add flavour and colour to salads, breads, and savoury meat dishes. Try adding Lavender to lemonade for a refreshing summer drink. Like the smell of Lavender, the taste is quite strong, so it should be used sparingly. Different plants will have different potencies, so if you’re keen on cooking or baking with Lavender, you will probably have to experiment.
When eating plants out of your garden (or anyone else’s, for that matter), there are several cautions:
1. Make sure your plants are pesticide-free. This includes taking into consideration previous owners of your house, and whether or not your neighbours are spraying. Toronto has an anti-pesticide law now, but not everyone abides by it. Do not eat plants directly from nurseries or from flower shops, as they are often sprayed with noxious chemicals.
2. Don’t pick your plants from the side of the road. Pollutants and garbage are sprayed, spewed, tossed and dumped at the sides of roads, and while the plants there may look beautiful, they are not suitable for consumption.
3. Ensure you have identified your plants correctly! While there are many wonderful surprises in your garden, there are also plants that can cause heart dysrhythmias, gastrointestinal upset, skin problems, electrolyte imbalances, and otherwise endanger your life. If you are unsure about a plant, don’t eat it.
4. Make sure you’re eating the right part of the plant. Remember the cautionary tale of Rhubarb; the stems are glorious, and the leaves are poisonous. Not every part of so-called edible plants is good for you.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Nothing gets done in one fell swoop.
Rather, things get done in many inter-related "semi-swoops" (a term I found particularly amusing and discovered while I was researching the history of the peculiar expression "fell swoop"... I assume this diversion is a semi-swoop which is integral to the completion of this blog...).
It's true. Everything can be broken down into baby steps. (I prefer the term semi-swoops, actually, but for the sake of anyone reading this, I'll stick to "baby steps" -- even though it conjures up images of chubby legs and diapers in my distinctly un-maternal mind!)
Take, for example, my drive to work this morning. I didn't simply drive to work. I opened the garage door, unlocked my car, threw my work clothes in the back, sat down, started the car, set the radio (the all-important step!), checked my blindspots, pulled out of the driveway, closed the garage door, drove down the street, activated the turn signal, checked the rearview mirror, braked, looked both ways, accelerated into a turn... well, you get the picture.
The point I'm trying to get across is that if there happened to be a problem with any of these smaller steps, there would be a problem with my drive to work. If my car didn't start, major problem. If I didn't check my blindspots, definite potential for major problem. You get my drift.
And so, the girl who had previously filed the term "baby steps" in the "trite and meaningless" bin, has come to her senses and come to appreciate the necessity of these small gains. I am guilty of wanting to be fifty pounds lighter in one fell swoop. I need to learn to appreciate the semi-swoops... er... baby steps. I need to learn to appreciate the work that goes into becoming healthier: working out -- one workout at a time. Eating healthily -- one meal at a time. Sleeping well -- one night at a time. Changing my weight-related attitudes and thought processes -- one thought at a time. I've always been an "all-or-nothing" sort of person, and I need to become a process person instead. If I appreciate and focus on the process instead of the end, I will succeed.
Of course, it's possible to get TOO hung up in the process -- in the baby steps. If, for example I thought about driving to work in terms of, "move thumb over 'unlock' button while holding keys with remaining fingers, slowly depress 'unlock' button, release 'unlock' button, move other hand towards door, grasp door handle with four fingers over the top of the handle, activate bicep to pull door towards you, step to side to avoid being hit by door..." Well, you get the picture. If you micro-manage too much, tasks are (a) overwhelming, and (b) never get done. So, I need to find a happy medium... somewhere between obsession and carelessness.
My baby steps for today are ones I have already told my work partner, so I have some real, live support for these goals (a first for me!). 1) No more pop of any kind at work. 2) Nothing with lactose in it at work. 3) Nothing with gluten in it at work. 12-hour shifts can cover a lot of meals, so I tend to eat a lot at work, so changing my work eating habits should have a big impact on my general eating habits. (I was tempted to implement these goals as general rules for my whole life, but I'll start with work first. Baby steps.)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I'm in a state of body and mind right now that is not conducive to health, or to weight loss. It's an "oh whatever" state of mind. An "oh, what's an extra handful of peanuts? It's only another handful of calories!" state of mind. An "oh, who cares if I don't go to the gym today -- I'm only going to eat those calories back later" state of mind.
And I know it, intellectually. I don't feel good. I feel bloated, fat, lazy, sore, and unhealthy.
Wellness and weight loss are achieved only by the effects of many, many small steps. If I'm stopping myself from taking these small steps, I'm stopping myself from achieving my goals.
I was doing pretty well. Why is it so easy to fall off the rails?!
It bothers me. I'm not a stupid person. So why is it that intellectual knowledge has so little bearing on my actions? Habit? Then why does intellectual knowledge have so little bearing on habit? I don't know.
I had a patient the other day who was an alcoholic. She had recently relapsed, and was berating herself for negating five years of good work with a few nights of solid drinking. She was a mess, emotionally and physically. And, although I have never struggled with alcohol (I don't drink because I know if I did I probably WOULD struggle with alcohol), I understood everything she was saying. "Why do I keep doing this?" "It doesn't make sense for me to keep drinking." "I'm scared of what I'm doing to myself." I know, too, from years of watching people die from cigarette-induced disease that KNOWING something is bad for you isn't enough to make a change. FEELING that something is bad for you isn't enough to make a change. Being scared that you're killing yourself isn't enough to make a change.
So, what IS enough to make a change?
I suspect it's different for everyone. Social support, a catastrophic event, behavioural and/or other types of therapy. But to anyone who says that losing weight is simple -- that it's simply a matter of eating less and exercising more -- I say, riiiiiiiight. Maybe sometimes that's true, but I have an addiction. I have an addiction to unhealthy food, and unhealthy quantities of food.
I'm not quite sure how to treat that addiction, but I'm working on it.
The first thing I'm going to do is start paying attention to the small steps that make up the big journey.
Friday, April 01, 2011
I posted this message on the "Gardening" SparkTeam site just now, but I thought I'd increase my exposure a bit, and post it here, too.
Help! Edible Ornamentals!
I'm posting this in the hope that some of you will have some brilliant ideas for me. I'm writing an article on edible ornamentals, tentatively titled something cheesy like "Betcha Didn't Know You Could Eat THAT!" I have several ideas -- nasturtiums, daylilies, sunflowers, lavender, tuberous begonias, calendula, beebalm, hollyhock, johnny-jump-ups, etc. -- but am looking for some more, interesting ideas and/or any experiences (good or bad) you may have had eating ornamentals.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Last week, I bought myself a bag of apples. This bag of apples represents something huge: my desire to replace unhealthy snack food (cookies, popcorn, chocolate bars, ice cream, etc., etc.) with healthy snack food. I am not so naive as to believe I will eliminate my Snack Habit (and believe me, it deserves to be capitalized!) -- and I'm not even sure it would be good policy to do so -- but I would like to control it, and replacing the junk with something that might actually help me in the long run (apples, grapes, etc., etc.) is a goal I would like to see realized.
Also, I have an intense dislike for wasting food. So I figured if I bought the apples, I would eat them.
Well, it's a good thing apples last a long time.
Because so far, my tally of apples eaten is... zero.
Last week, I took an apple to work every day. The same apple. Every day. I put it in my coat pocket to remind me to eat it.
I should explain something. I'm a paramedic. It's still cold here, and I've been wearing my coat on every call. So, for four days, I walked into calls with an apple in my pocket. It was a busy, four-day week. We averaged about ten calls in fourteen hours, every day. That's fifty-six hours of work, and forty calls -- heart attacks, cardiac arrests, asthma attacks, diabetic emergencies, allergic reactions, gunshot wounds, industrial accidents -- all with an apple in my coat pocket. SURELY, it would have been easier to eat the apple than to carry it around on all these adventures.
Obviously, I am experiencing some subconscious resistance to the idea of increasing my apple intake.
I mean, apples aren't my favourite fruit, but I like them well enough. What did the poor little apple do to be rejected so? In fact, the apple is STILL in my coat pocket, in my car, underneath a pile of textbooks and dog toys.
All I can think of is that I am STUCK in a junk-eating, fruit-rejecting RUT. I have no good excuse. It's a habit. I'm bad at breaking habits (which is why I made the conscious decision never to smoke or drink... too bad I didn't make the same decision about over-eating!) Anyway... ok. Problem identified.
Break the habit. Now. GO EAT AN APPLE!
(Don't worry; I'm going to give the Work Apple a decent burial in my composter. Sorry apple, but you've seen a little too much death, destruction and infection to be consumed. You'll help my garden grow later in the year.)
Get An Email Alert Each Time TURTLEWEILER Posts