Monday, March 22, 2010

Herb Walk with William Broen

William Broen, bioregional herbalist

Last Saturday Dave and I met a group at Tucker's Grove for an herb walk led by William Broen. William took us on a 2-1/2 hour walk, identifying edible and medicinal plants as well as a few poisonous ones to avoid.

First he showed us poison hemlock.

It looks like a carrot top and also like Queen Anne's lace, but it's very poisonous. Look for red blotches on the stem to help you identify it. Do not eat it.

The hemlock was in a patch of wild blackberries.

The bushes are beginning to bloom, but no berries yet. We'll have to check back maybe next month.

Oxalis is blooming all over town.

As kids, we used to call it sour grass. We'd chew on the end of the stems. It contains oxalic acid, so it's best not to eat a lot of it, but you can eat some and you can certainly use the flowers as garnish.

Next he showed us mugwort.

These silver-backed leaves have a smoother edge than some which are more jagged. People put it near their beds or under their pillows to stimulate dreaming. It's very bitter but the tea is good for digestion and to help break a fever. It's antibacterial and antiparasitic. It is often picked during the full moon.

Mugwort often grows near poison oak.

Some people use a poultice of mugwort to treat poison oak. Not everyone is allergic to poision oak but most of us don't want to find out. In the fall poison oak turns red. It has five lobes and grows on the stem in clusters of three.

This is a yellow dock plant.

As a poultice, it will soothe bee and nettle stings. It's also good for anemia.

This will be a beautiful display of California wild roses in a couple of months.

The rose is very fragrant and leaves a rose hip after the bloom fades. The tiny hips turn red and are full of vitamin C. September is a good time to collect them. They are tart but good for your heart. They would probably make a good rose hip jam if you can find enough of them.

This dandelion doesn't look particularly yummy.

However this much-maligned plant is quite edible and is treated with great respect in Europe. It is especially good for the lymphatic system.

We came across two varieties of plantain.

Chew a little of this fibrous leaf and apply it to insect bites. It's cooling and according to one of the women with us on the walk, it really helped soothe the bee sting on her toe.

Here's the narrow leaf plantain.

We stood under a California live oak and learned that the acorns must be leached in water before eating. They were part of the native American diet here.

The California bay laurel is highly fragrant and can be used in cooking, but only use about 1/3 of the amount in the recipe. It's much stronger than the commercial variety. Roasted bay nuts are also edible.

An elderberry tree! You can eat blue or purple berries but not the red variety. The leaves, roots, and bark are purgative, so you might not want to eat those. Rub the underside of the leaf and it will smell like peanuts.

We found a chaparral current bush. A few of the currents were purple enough to try.

The miner's lettuce was quite delicious. Better than most of lettuce greens growing in my garden.

Look for a little white flower growing out of the center of the rounded leaf. We also found chickweed growing alongside the miner's lettuce.

Look for a ground cover with a small white star-like flower. The stem has tiny white hairs on one side if you hold it up to the light. It was quite tasty too.

The black sage drew lots of bees.

It has a strong sage fragrance. Chewing the leaves is good for sore throats and for gingervitis. It will also help to dry up breast milk when weaning.

Pineapple weed grows easily here. Sometimes I even see it in sidewalk cracks.

(Click for a close-up)
It's a close relative of chamomile but doesn't have the white flowers. It sure smells like chamomile.

The yerba buena was quite minty and apparently doesn't often show up this far south. Maybe it's all the rain we've had this year.

Cheeseweed mallow grows readily in my garden without invitation. I had no idea that it was useful. We ate a little and were surprised by its gelatinous texture which can be soothing to the digestive system.

As you can see, we learned a lot on this walk. There will be another walk on July 11th at 5 pm for a requested donation of $10. What a deal! Contact William at if you want to be on his mailing list for more herb walks in Southern California.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lion Cake

I can't really take credit for this pancake, but here is the story behind the picture.

Over the holidays I worked at Williams Sonoma at La Cumbre. I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out what people are cooking at home. However I soon realized it was a good opportunity to spend a lot of money buying cooking stuff with my discount. Yes, I spent more than I made, but I did buy some fine Christmas gifts.

This is one of them. Williams Sonoma sells these pancake forms in sets of three. The designs change during the year. I knew my granddaughter Saraphina would like this set because it includes a monkey.

Shaun perfected the method of making these pancakes, as you can see. You put the form onto a flat skillet or griddle then use a squeeze bottle to fill the mold with pancake batter (a buttermilk pancake recipe comes with the molds). When the pancake firms, you remove the mold and turn it over to cook briefly on the other side.

But a plain pancake wasn't enough for Shaun. Once on the plate, he filled the eyes and nose spaces with raspberry jam, sliced some bananas on top and gave it a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Delightful!

Now doesn't that make you want to run right out to Williams Sonoma to get a set of molds for tomorrow's breakfast? Last time I was there they had a set which included a sun, a moon, and the planet Saturn. Hmm, what time do they open?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Edible SB

If you haven't seen the latest issue of Edible Santa Barbara, hurry to the farmer's market and pick one up. They are also available at several local businesses. The article on local honeybees is mine. I also have a hand in the Thanksgiving toast in honor of the delicious Thanksgiving meal we prepared from the recipes in Pascale Beale-Groom's article.

Working with the Edible editors and writers is lots of fun. In fact after hearing us talk, the Starlight Mice decided to accompany me to the Saturday Farmer's Market this to get a close up view of some of the local foods I've been talking about. I wouldn't be surprised if some new adventures show up on their blog.

Speaking of blogs, between articles, I've been doing a few blog pieces on the Edible Santa Barbara blog. Most of these stories are focused on this month's Eat Local Challenge.

Isla Vista Food Co-op is also doing an October Eat Local Challenge and they have the supplies you need to make it easier. Next Saturday, October 24, is their 2nd annual Co-op Country Fair.

(Click on the flyer for a more readable version)

Our whole family enjoyed it last year, but this year our granddaughter will really love it! If you're worried about parking, check out the bus schedule. There's a bus that takes you right to the Co-op. I've also been writing for the Co-op newsletter, the Sunflower Seed. You can pick one up at the store or download a copy from their blog page (scroll down to Fall Issue in the column on the right side of the blog page).

Tonight I'm baking salt water to find out what local Ledbetter Beach salt tastes like. After 7 hours of accelerated evaporation I think I have a yield of about a teaspoon, but I'm sure there are more ions suspended in the remaining water just waiting for the right moment to crystallize. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Have Penguin Will Travel

It took me a couple of months to find the perfect excuse to buy my very own Penguin. If you watch the video, you'll see why it was so difficult to resist. Basically, it turns tap water into soda water. Is it cost effective... hmm. That excuse probably doesn't work.

However, you will soon be hearing about some eat local challenges for October. The idea is to try to eat only foods produced within a certain radius of your home. Some people will try to eat only foods grown or raised within 100 miles of their home for the whole month. Others will identify a broader range or choose certain meals or days to focus locally. The idea is to become more aware of where our food comes from so we recognize the importance of supporting our local farms and farmers.

Tap water from my faucet made into a soda is genius! And I can make syrups from my garden to flavor it. The first was a rose petal syrup from the roses blooming in my front yard, then the chocolate mint growing prolifically in the side yard, and a batch of orange rosemary syrup from the rosemary in the backyard and oranges in the front. I did use non-local sugar in the syrup, but I'll work on a recipe to make it with locally-produced honey from San Marcos Farms.

Anne and John Wiley join me in a local soda tasting

Edible Santa Barbara

The Fall issue of Edible Santa Barbara will be out soon. Watch for it at the Farmer's Markets, Lazy Acres, C'est Cheese, and many other distribution points around town. If you didn't get a chance to read my article on Full of Life Flatbread, just click on that link. But be prepared to schedule a weekend trip to Los Alamos after reading. You'll probably see us there. It's a great quick get-away and the food is creative, locally-sourced, and quite delicious.

My article in the upcoming issue is on bees. Plus I test all the recipes for the magazine. Lucky me!

Krista (the editor) and I made all of Pascale's recipes for a Thanksgiving Dinner and staged a Thanksgiving Feast on a very hot day in August. I can assure you that all the food in the photos is real and smelled wonderful, making it very difficult to wait patiently through all those photos. But it was worth the wait. Ahh, that carrot puree.

Montecito Country Kitchen

Speaking of Pascale, the owner of Montecito Country Kitchen, I have been working my way through her salts, teas, and herb/spice combinations. I bought the whole collection of salts. Some are coarse, some fine. Some are smoked. There are pinks, greys, black, and white. They are primarily finishing salts to sprinkle lightly on the top of your salad, steak, or caramel dessert.

The teas and spice mixes are good pantry items. The teas are beautiful, smell good, and lovely to add to a cup of hot water when a friend stops by. The seasoning mixtures (like herbes de Provence) make great gifts... if you can give them up.

Pascale's Mediterranean cookbooks,
Spring and Summer, are gorgeous--filled with photos, many she has taken herself. Again, these are photos of real food, not lacquered or sprayed to look like well-prepared food. And the tastes are quite wonderful. Autumn will be released in October, just in time for holiday gifts.

Penryn Fruit Loop
Laurence Hauben is now offering fresh fruit for purchase and pickup. The fruit is from Penyrn Orchard, a 4-1/2 acre ranch in Placer County. Each week we have the opportunity to reserve a share of the fruit headed for the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. They grow many unusual varieties that are more delicate and less likely to survive large scale commercial transport. This week it's Crispin Apples and Asian pears, followed by a potluck dinner at Laurence's home.

To get your name on her email list, contact Laurence at She is also the leader of our local Slow Food Convivium. A couple of months ago Laurence dug a pit in her backyard to cook a really large fish and sent out an invitation to join her in a spontaneous potluck gathering. We visited and ate together at long tables under the trees. Yes, you want to be on this list.

Taste of the Town
There are lots of food-focused happenings around town. I'll end with a link to Rosminah's photos of Sunday's Taste of the Town fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation. With my friends Maria and Joe, I ate my way around the event, twice. Rosminah was right, the rabbit pate from Square One was awesome!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Apricots - U Pick

Take Winchester Canyon Road across Cathedral Oaks until you see the Apricots and Vincent Farm signs on your left. You'll go up a little road and follow the arrows marked on the road to park.

Stop at the shed to pick up your bucket and easy picker tool. As you walk across the road to the orchard, look for the trees that are dropping ripe fruit on the ground. That's the place to start. I often search the ground for ripe apricots that aren't damaged. At this point in the season, the fruit is falling fast.

After you've filled your pail, you weigh your fruit and pay for it. It's good to have some $1 with you so you have the exact amount.

These are incredibly sweet apricots with that lovely apricot tang. The harvest only lasts two to three weeks and we are in week two. We picked our third bucket yesterday and are freezing pitted apricots to use in future crumbles and jams.

IV Co-op
Vincent Farm apricots are also available at the IV Co-op and at the Farmers Market this week.

BTW, those of you who have made it out to the IV Co-op, (see post below) have until the 27th to send me your impressions so you can be entered in the sticky bun drawing. That's only four days away.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Isla Vista Community Cooperative

If you haven't been to the Isla Vista Food Co-Op, you need to go there! They buy the freshest seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms. You can buy bulk organic herbs and spices and just about anything else you need to fill your pantry at really reasonable prices... because it's a cooperative. That means you pay a yearly membership fee. You can volunteer hours of work, but it is not required.

A Little History

Dave and I first participated in the co-op during the summer right after the IV riots. We'd rented an inexpensive apartment in IV and discovered that we could get really fresh produce and cheeses if we bought through a group that met a someone's house. Our job was to gather the cheese orders, pick up bulk cheese from Quality Market (a lovely market at Mission and De la Vina where the baby store is located today), and cut it into portions to fit the orders. Then we took it to the Saturday gathering place (someone's yard) for other members to pick up. This was the late 60s and early 70s at their best. It seems like there were about 20 participants, but there might have been more.

The Co-op Today
Now all this is available 7 days a week under one roof. It's even fresher and they offer a whole selection of dairy products, healthy snacks, and even eco-friendly housecleaning products.

Fostering community is still an important mission. They have frequent tastings and special events. In fact, there is an event coming up on July 3rd, but don't wait until then to check it out.

They also make delicious sandwiches, so if you work in Goleta, you can shop at lunch AND get a great healthy sandwich.

IV isn't crowded during the summer and the co-op would really love it if more Santa Barbara folks would come out to shop there. When you go out to Costco, drop by the Co-op as well.

To get there, take Storke Road toward the ocean. When Storke dead-ends into El Colegio Road, turn left onto El Colegio. After the next stop light, turn right onto Camino Pescadero. Then turn left on Seville (you'll see the Swiss Chalet apartments at that corner). The co-op will be on your right.

A Request
Since I've agreed to help the Co-op put together a summer newsletter, I want to know what interests you about the market. So here's my proposition. If you already shop there, email me a note about why you shop there. If you don't shop there now, go out there for a visit and email me your impressions. What would you come back to buy? What would you like to know about the Co-op?

The Reward
Everyone who emails me about the Co-op will be entered in a drawing for a pan of 8 sticky buns (not vegan). I'll choose two winners. The deadline for the drawing is June 27, but the sooner the better.

Here's my pitch for buying local seasonal food:
  • You support and help maintain local food sources
  • Your food is fresher and more flavorful because it can be picked when it is ripe
  • Seasonal food gives you something to look forward to
  • Food traveling long distances is more likely to have begun to deteriorate, losing nutrients and fostering more bacteria growth

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food for Adults

Okay, last post I mentioned that the money from our upcoming Taste of the Nation event would go to feed local kids. But here's the thing, to help those kids, local restaurants, caterers, beer brewers, and wine makers are offering you tastes of their own creations for a donation of only $55... if you buy your tickets online ( now, before all the tickets are gone.

If you wait until Sunday to purchase at the door:
  • Admission will be $75 (instead of $55)
  • The event may be sold out
Being on the organizing committee has a lot of benefits, like working with people who passionately share my love for good food. But the most exciting benefit is getting a preview of what foods will be offered at the event. So just to temp you a little here is a little inside scoop on the kinds of things that are planned:
  • Ca'Dario - Ravioli al burro e salvia spinach and ricotta ravioli with brown butter and sage sauce
  • Ariel Catering - Local ridgback shrimp a la plancha with golden sun-dried tomato and apricot gazpacho
  • Opal Restaurant and Bar - Vegetable curry puff pastry empanadas with a mild jalapeno cilantro aioli
  • Square One - Whole roasted spring lamb flatbread, harrisa, cured lemon-olive relish
  • Montecito Country Club - Mini lamb gyro, basil chili tzatziki, butter lettuce, shaved marinated shallots, confit cherry tomatoes in mini pita pockets
This is only a tiny selection of what the 20+ food booths will be offering. There will also be wine and beer tastings, awesome views of the ocean, music, live and silent auction items, and even a photo booth. All on the upper lawn at the Montecito Country Club this Sunday, May 31st from 3 to 6 pm.

All of the ticket sale money goes to Food Banks in California, with 70% of it staying in Santa Barbara to support our own Food Bank and nutrition education for grade school children.

Hope to see you there!