Thursday, September 25, 2014

Urban Foraging: Edible Ornamental Callery Pears with Video

5-petaled flower of Ornamental Pear
This hobby takes some continuing education to become proficient.  I am 95% self taught at this point, but have a loooong way to go to get really good. I'm not sure what quantifies  "really good" as far as foragers go, but I am thinking Sam Thayer or Steve Brill good.  I want to have interesting disucssions with other plant nerds about the merits of cooking a wild plant this way or that. I would love to be able to really live off the land with what the mother provides her children.

How to accomplish this?  On my "to do" list, I would like to take some taxonomy and botany courses, but this would mean sacrificing time from hiking, backpacking, and cleaning my often messy house. Also on my list is to attend more foraging hikes offered by fellow plant enthusiasts.  In the meantime, I will have to muddle through on my own. 

On my long, jog/walks (would that be "jalk" or "wog"?), I frequently come across something new but have difficulty in determining the identity of the plant.  Verrryy Frustrating...  In another post, I discussed what to do when you have a mystery plant.  One such plant for me is the ornamental pear tree. 

A first rule of foraging is that you positively, 100%, without a doubt, know what you are eating before you ever eat anything. That being said, while I didn't know about how edible these little fruits are, I was certain they wouldn't kill me. How did I know this? Because I have watched these pears for years. From observing the flowers and habitat, I knew they were a Prunus genus thanks to Tom Elpel's book Botany in a Day.

Furthermore, I know that the Prunus genus doesn't have any deadly poisonous species here in the Mid-Atlantic area (there is one Prunus species, the P. laurocerasus, found in Great Britain, that is toxic, and we know how plants like to jump the pond). Not to say that I couldn't get a little sick, but since I wasn't taking a risk here, I decided to try a little nibble.

The fruits taste like sweet, mushy, dates.  They also taste reminiscent of the Asian pears which are found in the grocery store.  I eat the fruit seeds and all. I haven't tried preserving these little tasty treats yet, but think I could make them into a paste and dry on a pareflexx sheet.

Here is a video I did on a walk in the local park..

Have you tried these little tasty treats yet?  Please let me know your thoughts!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Trail Foods: Wild Ginger or Asarum caudatum and Asarum canadense

Foragers often have a niche when it comes to their skills; some are fixated on fungi, others gaga for green and herbaceous plants, and even more are nuts for, well, nuts! I like to think I love all food-producing plants equally, although my strength is typically with identifying things green. I find it easier to recognize patterns of growth with green understory type plants. However, my skills are challenged by green shaded plants that have heart-shaped leaves and grow close to the ground. Weird, I know, but it's probably because I live in tidal wetlands so the local woods are devoid of greenery with the exception of greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia) and cattails (Typha latifolia).

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) leaves

Fortunately, a forager can use more than just the sense of sight to identify a plant.  The mint family is usually very easy to determine, based not only on the square stem and opposite leaves, but also because the leaves, when crushed, contain volatile oils which depart a very distinctive and pleasant odor. Wild Ginger, or Asarum caudatum (west coast) or canadense (east coast), is another plant which is readily identified with smell.

The distinct flower of Asarum is pollinated by flies looking for  decaying flesh
Wild ginger is not the same ginger you may be used to buying in the store.  The latin name for store-bought ginger is Zingiber officinale.  Zingiber is native to Asia, and in a completely different family than American wild ginger.  While wild ginger smells very similar to store bought, and the plant is used in the same way by herbal practitioners, the efficacy has not been proved to be the same. 

The warming property of Asarum is valued by herbal practitioners for breaking fevers, reducing pain, stimulating digestion, an overall panacea, and even as a contraceptive.  The active compound in the roots is called aristolochic acid.  Like any plant with medicinal qualities, there is the question of the safety of wild ginger.  While some studies suggest that large amounts of this acid can cause cancer, more recently, one study that found that an extract of one Asarum species proved effective on treating Human Papilloma Virus.

Asarum gained notoriety during the 1990's, when a bunch of people in Europe developed kidney failure after ingesting diet pills that contained a high amount of a substance found in Asarum of a different species.

Hank Shaw has a fabulous blog and does an equally fabulous job of writing about why we should limit our oral intake of Asarum, at least in raw form.  Apparently the infusion or decoction of the herb is safer than eating the plant. 

While caution should be exercised when using wild ginger at home, wild ginger still has some redeeming qualities as a remedy and the occasional cup of herbal tea.


Johnson, Timothy. CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 1999. Print.

Stritch, Larry. "Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense L.)."Http:// USDA              Forest Service, n.d. Web. <>.

Shaw, Hank. "Wild Ginger: Delicious or Deadly?" Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2014. <>.

May, Maggie. "Asarum Canadense." N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

"Aristolochic Acid and 'Chinese Herbs Nephropathy': A Review of the Evidence to Date." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2014. <>.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eat Homemade Dehydrated Food on Vacation to Save Money and Time

This is a post for anyone who likes to enjoy hot beverages or eat hot food on the road but does not enjoy waiting in restaurant lines or paying exorbitant prices for fattening, unhealthy food.  Being a hot tea junkie, I can't stomach paying $2 for a cup of hot water with a 20 cent tea bag when I am away from home.  For short trips, such as a day trip, I carry a thermos of hot water and keep tea bags, sugar, and creamer in my car, along with snacks.

But for longer, overnight trips, I carry a backpacking stove.  That's right!  Those cute little backpacking stoves aren't just for the back woods.  I carry mine just about everywhere.  Instead of stopping at a convenience store for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, we stop at rest areas and I fire up the stove.   Likewise, I prepare pre-portioned dinners from dehydrated foods at home in ziploc freezer bags and simply add hot water to rehydrate in the bag.  This method, called "Freezer Bag Cooking," or FBC, has been used by backpackers for years to savor homemade goodness when on the go.

Jetboil Stove
Granted, this method requires a stove and a dehydrator.  My favorite on-the-go stove which has served me well for almost three years is the Jetboil, but there are a lot of less expensive options available at your local outdoor retailer such as REI or Eastern Mountain Sports.  Dehydrators are more readily available at department stores.  I highly recommend buying both stove and dehydrator used.  I have seen dehydrators in excellent condition at thrift stores and yard sales.

Sarah Kirkconnell has one of the best sites for FBC how-to and recipes here.  I have her book, and while a lot of the recipes use pasta, instant potatoes, and rice, which I don't eat, my kids really like many of the meals.   For healthier dinners, replace pasta with dried julienned zucchini noodles ("zoodles"), dried riced cauliflower for the rice, and dried mashed cauliflower for potatoes.

Roadside Stop to Heat Water for Tea and a Snack with an Alcohol Stove
My kids may disagree that freezer bag meals in a hotel room is better than pizza or hamburgers in a restaurant, but then again, they don't pay the bills!  We ski a fair amount during the winter.  Since the nearest ski resort is several hours away, we stay for one to three nights in a hotel room.  Skiing is not a cheap hobby; paying for lift tickets, equipment, gas, and accommodations means a weekend out can break the bank.  One way I save money is to bring a cooler of snacks and fruit, and to eat in the room at night by heating water in the stove then rehydrate pre-made freezer bag dinners.

The upside to eating in the room after a day of activity like skiing or hiking, is that we can shower and eat at our leisure. We are usually dirty and exhausted, ready to clean up and lounge around the room instead of waiting for food service and paying ridiculous resort prices for dinner.  A word of caution here:  I feel much safer heating water on my Jetboil, since the likelihood of a fuel spill and subsequent fire is unlikely.  I also cook outside on the balcony or on the front stoop.  Depending on the stove, in 2 to 6 minutes I have 16 ounces of boiling water, which is enough to rehydrate  one dinner and one hot beverage.

A couple years ago we travelled to Yellowstone National Park, planning to spend 9 days driving around the park, staying in park operated hotels. My husband thought I was nuts to pack a good portion of our checked suitcase with dehydrated meals prepared at home, along with my trusty Jetboil. "Why can't we just eat in restaurants like normal people?" he inquired.

Rich Fly Fishing while I make dinner nearby
Although we had to hit the outdoor retail store in Jackson Hole upon landing to buy fuel, he ended up being appreciative when we arrived at the hotels to find that very few rooms (only two our entire trip), came equipped with in-room coffee service, especially when I was able to dig out his favorite instant coffee from my bottomless food bag and make up coffee and tea first thing in the morning.  And later, when he found that perfect trout stream about an hour from the nearest restaurant, he was thrilled that we wouldn't have to leave at dinner time, since I was able to whip up some spaghetti with meat sauce in minutes, complete with grated Parmesan cheese.

I was happy to have some food in my tummy when we had to drive around to the nearest outfitter to find some pliers to get the fishing hook out of Rich's arm after he accidentally caught himself instead of a fish!  We would have been very late to dinner, indeed :)

The Biggest Catch of the Day!

Keep in mind that when air traveling, your backpacking stove is allowed in checked baggage, but fuel is prohibited.  Research ahead of time to find a place to purchase your fuel of choice once you reach your destination.  Canisters for stoves like the Jetboil can be purchased at any outdoor retailer, while alcohol stoves have a little more flexibility; methylated spirits can be purchased at hardware stores or WalMart in the paint aisle, and Heet brand fuel additive in the yellow bottles can be found in auto parts aisle.

Monday, August 18, 2014

DIY Camping / Survival Meals: Flour Free Paleo Banana Nut Pancakes with Maple Sugar Syrup (Gluten Free, too!)

Eating a flour-free, grain-free, yet easy, meal on the trail is a challenge for those of us who want to eat healthy when enjoying (or surviving) the great outdoors.

I'm not a gluten-free type of girl, but I do try to eat Paleo as much as possible to keep my body running to it's maximum potential.  You know; eat to live and not live to eat, yada yada yada.... Don't be a hater unless you have tried it.  I am at the same weight as when I was in college 25 years ago  a few years ago :)  I haven't always been at this weight, however.  When I weighed in at the hospital during the birth of my second daughter I weighed almost 100 pounds more.  Over the last 15 years I have tried lots of different diet and exercise regimens and finally found something that really works and makes me feel great.

Paleo, Primal, whatever you call it, revolves around meat, fruits, veggies, nuts, and small amounts of grains that would have been available to our cave-dwelling ancestors.  The theory is that we have the same digestive system now as our primal forefathers, but now are bombarded with foods that we weren't designed to eat.  After all, hunter-gatherer societies didn't have a wheat or potato field out the back door. As a forager, I can attest that grains and root veggies are so time consuming to collect in the wild that they should be a small supplement to a meal, not the main course.

Here is a breakfast favorite of mine that I have made with success when on the trail.  I make a big batch so we can scarf some down for breakfast and there will be plenty left over for dehydrating for camp breakfasts. Yummy!!

**printable recipe**

Fabulous Flour-less Paleo Banana Nut Pancakes with Maple Sugar "Syrup"


  • 3 Bananas, peeled (you can use firm or ripe)
  • 4 Extra large eggs (or 5 medium)
  • 4 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey (optional if using greener bananas)
  • 2 Tablespoon maple sugar for on the trail (optional: more or less to taste)
Instructions for the "Home" Batch:
  1. Place bananas and eggs in food processor and puree
  2. Add remainder of ingredients except maple sugar 
  3. Pour into small cakes on very lightly greased pan (fats can turn rancid in dehydrated foods)
  4. Cook on medium-high heat until firm on both sides and cooked through, turning about 5 minutes.
  5. Enjoy with your favorite pancake toppings.  I prefer natural maple syrup.

Instructions for the "Camp" Batch:
  1. Tear or cut the pancakes into 1" squares and dehydrate until crispy.  I use 125° for about 8-10 hours.
  2. Package in breakfast-sized portions in freezer ziplock bags.  Add maple sugar.  I like a little sweetness with breakfast, so I add a little more.
  3. Store in airtight container up to 6 months. 
To Rehydrate: 

  • Add just enough boiling water to barely cover cake squares.  Allow to rehydrate ~10 minutes and dig in!!

Please feel free to leave a comment under this post;  I appreciate the feedback, always enjoy thought-provoking discussions, and can tolerate a *little criticism*, tee hee.

Sign up to receive up-to-the-minute blog entries on the top right corner of my page, so you will never miss an entry!  I do not collect nor distribute anyone's email addresses.  I'm too simple and naive for that. Nor do I want to send you disturbing emails just for the fun of it.  I'm too busy to bother.
 Just want to send you a blog post, that's all...

Wide Sleeping Pad Comparison Chart

Outdoor air, adventure, beautiful scenery, sitting around the fire at night sipping some whiskey. What is not to love about backpacking? I mean, why would anyone want to spend their weekend at some cushy hotel when they could be schlepping a 25 pound pack up and down mountains in inclement weather?!  Choosing between relaxing in the hotel spa sauna or splashing in the 40° waterfall is easy; I would camp beside the waterfall and forego the cleansing :-)

My camp in March on the Black Forest Trail, 35°F
Even though any impending trip makes me giddy with excitement, there is one area of camping, however, that causes me some distress.  Most backpackers admit to being so exhausted by their daytime wanderings that they easily fall into blissful slumber.  Nooo, not me :(  This chickie has a long standing issue with sleep, even in my own bed.  Deep peaceful sleep seem to be a bit of an oxymoron for me.  My tossing and turning is totally compounded when I add in strange animal noises in the night and the snores, midnight leaf waterings, and wind breaking of anyone camping nearby.

 I mitigate my nighttime sleep issues with a earplugs, the occasional sleep aid, and making a nest in the trees with a hammock. I just purchased a double layer bridge hammock.  The bridge hammocks work best with wide pads of 25 inches.  The problem is that I don't have a pad that wide.  Sooo I have put together a little chart to help compare the wider pads.  Hopefully ground dwellers longing for a wider pad will be able to use this as well.

This isn't a complete chart; there are as many types of pads as shelters on the AT.  Instead, this is for the UL or Lightweight backpacker.  Price is also a factor, although I personally would never spend $269 for the Exped Downmat UL 7 MW, I felt is was a viable weight option for some people.  Looking at the chart, you may think the Thermarests should win, hands down.  However, they are a little "potato chip" crinkly, so I suggest you visit your local outdoor sports store and try them out first.

One thing to note is that the standard backpacking pad is 72" long.  For some reason most wide pads are also made long, measuring in at 77".  Someone like me who is 5'9", and just looking for some extra width,  will have to suffer a weight penalty for the extra,(and unnecessary) 5".  One manufacturer has addressed this with the Exped MW, which stands for Medium length, and still Wide.

Comparison Chart of Camping/ Backpacking Pads in  a Wider Size (25-26")

Please feel free to leave a comment under this post;  I appreciate the feedback, always enjoy thought-provoking discussions, and can tolerate a *little criticism*, tee hee.

Sign up to receive up-to-the-minute blog entries on the top right corner of my page, so you will never miss an entry!  I do not collect nor distribute anyone's email addresses.  I'm too simple and naive for that. Nor do I want to send you disturbing emails just for the fun of it.  I'm too busy to bother.
 Just want to send you a blog post, that's all...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Where the Wild Ponies Roam; Chincoteague, VA, the jewel of the Eastern Shore and the Mid-Atlantic

The Mid-Atlantic region of the United States is a blessing for those who like to experience a great amount of diversity without having to travel very far. For example, living between Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia, one can be in New York City, Baltimore, Washington D.C., or Virginia Beach in a matter of hours. One of the jewels of the Mid-Atlantic is a sleepy stretch of beach-bordered barrier island in Virginia, called Chincoteague.

The Old Chincoteague Drawbridge entering the Town from the Mainland

Granted, Chincoteague is not a well known major tourist draw like Williamsburg or Roanoke. But this outwardly appearing sleepy, backwater town is steeped in history and legend, and has enough activities to keep any family busy for a full week-long vacation.The name "Chincoteague" is popularly accepted to be an Indian name meaning "beautiful land across the water," and the name definitely befits this charming island.

Chincoteague is 37 square mile island about one mile from the mainland of Virginia. The long, low island is connected to the mainland by a causeway slightly elevated above a tidal marsh dotted with oyster beds and rocking fishing boats. The decaying vegetation and marine life forms a black muck rich in nutrients, which serves as a protected nursery for fish and shellfish that lay their eggs among the phragmites and other marsh plants. The same decay also provides a treat for the senses; the first time you smell the marsh, you may think you just passed some hidden roadkill. One word of warning: while crossing the causeway, beware of the swooping gulls, as they frequently crash into unsuspecting vehicles, as one did to our RV on one trip.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Clarifying Butter for Backpacking and Long Term Pantry Storage and Use a Sealer to Make Individual Packets with Video

I love butter.  I often say that butter makes everything better, and unless you are vegan or have some aversion to dairy then you probably agree. I am not talking about that nasty food product impersonating butter - margarine (yuk!), but real sweet cream, lightly salted and churned until it solidifies into a little concentrated piece of heaven.

Salted butter can Butter is graded by the USDA based on aroma, flavor, and texture.  Grade AA is the best, then Grade A, with Grade B reserved only for cooking or industrial purposes. The flavor of butter can vary depending upon the diet of the cows it came from, as well as the amount of fat and milk solids the butter contains.
backpacking butter
Clarifying Butter for Long Term Storage
While I am an unabashed butter fan, there are a few downsides to butter.  First is that good quality butter is quite expensive compared to artificial margarine. The price of butter can fluctuate with the national milk supply, which is impacted by weather and demand for other dairy related products like ice cream. Furthermore, those with cholesterol issues probably shouldn't overindulge in a source of pure animal fat like butter.  Fortunately for me, this isn't an issue.  :-)

Clarifying the butter is a process that removes the milk solids and water from the butter.  The milk solids include casein and lactose, so clarified butter can often be tolerated by those with milk allergies. Clarifying also renders the butter shelf stable and increasing the smoke point to 485* vs. 350*, so it's more suitable for frying. 

Filter Your Clarified Butter to Remove Small Particles

Sooo, technically, once butter is clarified, it's not really butter anymore!  The term for the oil that remains once the solids are removed is actually called butteroil.  The good news is that butteroil contains fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  And of course you can store it in the pantry instead of the fridge!  In the following video, I mention that the jar pictured above is over 6 months old.

Once your butter is clarified, you can package it in individual serving sizes for use in your lunchbox or on the trail.  The same technique is useful for peanut butter, oil, or any small package you may want to enjoy away from home.

Small Happy Packages of Buttery Goodness

If you want to see the process every little step of the way, here is a video from my Youtube channel!  Enjoy, and Happy Hiking ;-)