Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fresh from the Garden: Penne with Wild Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes, and Herbed Goat Cheese

Ok, so the cherry tomatoes aren't fresh from the garden-yet.  But the arugula is!  Our first harvest of the season was about a pound of wild arugula.  My husband was actually cleaning up the vegetable beds and checking out what herbs had re-sown themselves after going to seed in the fall, when he started pulling up arugula thinking it was a weed!  I had my back to him, but almost instantly I smelled the familiar spicy aroma and I said "Wait!  That's arugula that you're pulling!"  Sure enough.  He had a couple good clumps up by the roots.  All was not lost, we still have several thriving plants in the herb bed.  The goat cheese in this recipe is from a local goat farm and apiary.  It is a secret gourmet blend, so I can't tell you exactly what herbs and spices are in it, but any herbed goat cheese will do and if you want you can add a sprinkle of cayenne for an extra kick.  This is a delicious, fresh, no-cook sauce that you can have ready by the time the pasta is cooked.


12 oz. penne pasta
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Several handfuls of fresh, wild arugula, coarsely chopped
4 oz. herbed goat cheese
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Pinch cayenne (optional)
Sea salt to taste
Approx. 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Cook penne according to package directions.  In the meantime combine tomatoes, arugula, and garlic in a bowl.  Crumble over goat cheese and season as desired.  Drizzle oil over the fresh ingredients and toss to combine.  When penne is 'al dente' drain and add to the bowl tossing to coat in the sauce.  Taste and add seasoning or more oil as desired.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Equinox Photo Essay

Happy first day of spring!  Here are a few photos of our day.

Spring Equinox watercolor paper lanterns 
Wood Sorrel Mojitos 
My sweet girl 
Happy Hens
Lizard running from the camera! 
Plum trees in bloom 
Last year's green bean poles 
Wintered-over garlic looking good in the garden 
Apples trees in bloom 

Shelling peanuts 
Pug love 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eat Your Weeds-Edible and Medicinal Uses for Clover

Hop Clover
A little late on this post!  Intended to post yesterday for St. Patty's Day, but with two kids and a husband down with bronchitis it's been an interesting weekend....Every month the kids and I have a "Herb of the Month" as part of our homeschool explorations.  This month clover was the obvious choice!  Not only do we see images and construction paper cut outs of these three-leaved beauties all over town during the month of March but they also happen to be springing up and blooming all over the place where we live at this time of year.  So far we have found and identified three clover species in our local area and two clover impostors.  We have collected White Clover, Red Clover, Hop Clover, Wood Sorrel and Black Medic.  Be careful with Black Medic, it looks almost identical to Hop Clover but has different medicinal properties and potential side effects.  Wood Sorrel, another great edible weed, is often mistaken as clover but has heart-shaped leaves. These cuttings have been dried and pressed onto watercolor paper and the kids have labeled them and we will be laminating them (with my brand new laminator) in order to start compiling our very own field guides of edible and medicinal wild plants in our community.

Black Medic-looks similar to Hop Clover
or White Clover (when not flowering) 
Clover...beloved by leprechauns and honeybees alike.  Clover is a member of the pea family and all species of clover are edible.  The leaves can be eaten cooked or raw, the flowers can also be eaten in salads or dried and ground into a flour.  Clover leaves and flowers can also be brewed into a nourishing and healing tea.  Clover is considered a purifying herb and can be used to treat wounds.  It is also used to treat colds and coughs.  The most common types of clover used (and studied) for medicinal and edible purposes are white and red clover.  Red clover has been used to treat a number of ailments "traditionally, these have included cancer, whooping cough, respiratory problems, and skin inflammations, such as psoriasis and eczema. Red clover was thought to "purify" the blood by acting as a diuretic (helping the body get rid of excess fluid) and expectorant (helping clear lungs of mucous), improving circulation, and helping cleanse the liver" (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2012).  More recently, red clover has been discovered to have estrogen-like effects in the body that can ease some of the symptoms of menopause. "Red clover is a source of many nutrients including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C" (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011). 
Wood Sorrel-often mistaken as a clover
but has heart-shaped leaves
Despite the possible estrogen-like properties red clover is believed to be safe and nourishing during pregnancy and lactation (I drank tea that included red clover throughout all of my pregnancies).  Aviva Jill Romm has a wonderful recipe for Nourishment Tea in her book The Natural Pregnancy Book, which includes red clover.

How to make clover tea:

  • Gather 1/4 cup fresh or 2 tsp. dried red or white clover flowers
  • Steep in 1 cup boiling water for 5 minutes
  • Strain and enjoy!

Optionally add mint and honey to taste or combine with other nourishing herbs such as red raspberry, nettles, and alfalfa.


Here's a short video the kids and I watched about clover:

*The contents of this post are purely educational and not intended to diagnose or treat any illness. This information is not a substitute for seeing your physician. Please exercise caution when identifying, harvesting, preparing and using wild, edible herbs and plants.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sun Bread

One of the books we are reading this month (we homeschool) is Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven.  In the story it is a cold, dreary winter and everyone in the town is wishing the sun would come back out.  The baker decides to make a giant, warm, delicious sun-shaped bread that draws all the townspeople to her bakery, warms their hearts and tummies and even makes the spring sun shine again.  It is a perfect story for this time of year. I purchased the book with the intent of reading it and baking sun bread with the kids and I didn't even realize the book includes a tasty recipe for 'sun bread' inside the back cover!  Here are a few photos of the kids baking sun bread (with my help).  I think that the braided egg bread recipe I posted several years back would also work well for this, and you could even add a few extra eggs if you want the dough to be more yellow like the sun!  You can purchase the book here.

Sun Bread Recipe adapted from Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven:

3 eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 stick butter
6 tsp. active dry yeast 
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. warm milk
1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp. water (for brushing before baking)

1. In a large mixing bowl combine:
3 eggs (lightly beaten)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 stick butter, melted.

2. In a small bowl combine:
6 tsp. active dry yeast
3 Tbsp. lukewarm milk (105-115 degrees)

3 Tbsp. sugar

Let stand until yeast is activated and mixture is foamy (5-10 minutes).

3. Add the yeast mixture to flour mixture and incorporate with hands (let the kids get their hands dirty, this is the fun part!).  Let little hands take turns kneading the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes.

4. Place dough in greased bowl, cover with a slightly damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.  *Tip!  if your house is cold or drafty let your dough rise in the oven (no drafts in there!) OR turn your oven on to 400 F for ONE MINUTE then turn off and let your dough rise in the slightly warmed oven.  Kinda speeds up the process!

5. Punch down dough, knead again for a few minutes, then separate into two portions.

6. Shape one portion into a ball and flatten with your palm.  This is the sun's face.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Pull a small portion off the 2nd ball of dough and roll into a circle to make the nose.  Attach to the sun's face (use a little water if it isn't sticking enough).  Divide the rest into several small portions for the kids to shape into "snails" and triangles and help them attach these to the outside of the sun.  Create the eyes and mouth of the sun.  I used a turkey baster (of all things) to make deep holes for the eyes and a sharp paring knife to cut a deep "smile."  They have to be deep enough that they won't close up while baking!

7. Cover the sun and let it rise again for another hour.

8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix egg yolk with water and brush over the top of your "sun" for a nice, shiny, dark crust.

9. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Enjoy!  

This is especially fun to make when winter is transitioning into spring and everyone is excited about the sun, flowers, and trees returning!  It would also be neat as a summer solstice project!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Eat Your Weeds-Edible and Medicinal Uses for Wild Pansy

I'm going to start a new little thread on the blog here-Eat Your Weeds.  I'll try to post regularly about edible and medicinal plants and herbs that we forage for in our front yard, back yard, and community.  I've discovered something recently.  I've always loved growing culinary herbs, I've been interested in herbal medicine for years and have a cabinet full of tinctures and homeopathics, but I've never paid a great deal of attention to the gold mine of edibles spontaneously growing all around me.  On our nature walks in the past couple months my children and I have been paying close attention to the new life springing up all around us as the mild winter of coastal Carolina has been giving way to the beginnings of spring.  Our neighbors haven't started mowing their lawns yet so we have been able to collect samples of a number of different wild flowers and plants as they have sprung up and begun to bloom.  We have brought samples of these plants home and done our best to identify them, and then press them for the flower field guides/notebooks that we are compiling in the coming months.

This month-March-our focus is on species of clover that are growing locally.  We are searching for different species, learning about their medicinal and food uses, tasting them, brewing them, drying them, etc.  Last week, while out in the front yard searching for clover my children came running to me excitedly proclaiming the discovery of a new flower! "Come look mom!  Come look!"  They tugged on my arm and led me over to a patch of wild pansies.  How exciting!  I've never noticed these growing in our yard before, though I'm sure they have.  These petite little pansies, also known as 'Johnny Jump-Up' or 'Heartsease' are attractive and smell lovely.  They also, we discovered, have a number of health benefits.  We decided to collect flowers and brew pansy tea and I've included instructions and uses below.

Health benefits of wild pansy:

Topically for:
*Cradle Cap

Internally for:
*Respiratory congestion
*Urinary tract health
*Reducing arteriosclerosis
*Is an anti-inflammatory and a diuretic

How to make Wild Pansy Tea:

1. Collect about 1 Tbsp. fresh wild pansy flowers
2. Pour over 8 oz. boiling water
3. Cover and let steep 10 minutes
4. Strain and drink or apply externally with a clean cloth or cotton ball


*The contents of this post are purely educational and not intended to diagnose or treat any illness.  This information is not a substitute for seeing your physician.  Please exercise caution when identifying, harvesting, preparing and using wild, edible herbs and plants.