Ingredients: One to two cabbages (any kind will do, savoy, regular, purple, whatever rocks your cabbage boat), a large root of ginger, several carrots, a large root of turmeric, one or two teaspoons good salt (see Let’s Talk Salt), cayenne if you want it spicy, large Mason jar, a heavy rock that fits in the jar and one large cabbage leaf that is not sliced up.
This is easy to make, just time consuming and messy. I like to slice things very fine, because the more surface area is exposed the more flavor is released. It’s best to use a large glass or ceramic bowl, metal and this recipe do not make good alchemy together. Slice everything up thin and fine, for the turmeric and ginger, peel and chop very small.
Combine all the ingredients together and use your hands to mix and squeeze the ingredients. This releases the liquid, since the salt pulls it out of the ingredients. Once you’ve squeezed/mixed this stuff together you will fill the jar you have and pack down the ingredients as tightly as you can. Wrap the rock in the large cabbage leaf and place it on top of the packed Kim-Chi.
Then seal the jar and place it somewhere cool, not your fridge though, for two weeks or more. Once you’ve opened it, then you will need to refridgerate it. If your climate is warm, then refridgerate it, but let it sit for longer.
This is the same photo as the first picture, but with the cayenne added, ’cause I always want it spicy!
Peel off the papery tomatillo skin covering the green fruit and rinse well. Place the tomatillos in a saucepan with a little bit of water, enough so that they can steam/break down, a little less than to cover them. You can cut them in half if you want to speed your cooking time, but this salsa really is quick to make. The tomatillos break down in about twenty minutes. Cut off the stems of the serranos or jalapeños put half of them in with the tomatillos so they can cook a little bit as well. Put the remaining peppers in the blender, some cooked and some raw makes this salsa have a great flavor. If you are using fresh garlic you can just peel all the cloves and throw them in as well. If you are not using REALLY FRESH garlic then you have to follow the garlic procedure below:
Add salt, but not too much, you can always add more after you have blended it to see about the flavor. Once the garlic, pepper and tomatillos have softened and cooked it is ready to blend. Throw in a ton of fresh cilantro and the juice of your lemon and lime and blend away. It’s better to blend things, if you aren’t using a really good blender, when stuff has cooled down. I have a Vitamix, so I can blend things hot. Be careful, Jewish Mama warning here: NEVER fill up your blender with hot liquid! I usually fill the blender a third of the way. I do several blending batches, this is with my Vitamix. If you don’t have a good blender, let the sauce cool down before you blend. There you have it! Share it with friends, or preserve it, otherwise it is only good for a week in the fridge. It tends to separate once it is cold, so just shake it up. I keep this salsa in glass or ceramic containers only, which is always recommended (meaning STAY AWAY from plastic)!
Hineyni/Here I am in the land of Ireland and I’m walking a few miles down the small lane near my Hermitage, on one of the gloriously sunny days that we had recently. I am singing to the trees and the birds and also saying hello to the unseen Faerie Folk in the dark mossy, wet green forest. I am chanting praises in Hebrew and my heart and my eyes are open. I notice these small purple almost black berries on red stems growing on the side of the road. I reach up high to pick one bunch, and when I get home to my cabin I compare what I’ve picked and verify with my herb books to make sure that I am indeed in possession of elderberries.
My joy is great because, yes, I was. I am always careful when I wild-craft (collect things in the wild for consumption). The first time I encounter something in a new place, I will wait to do something with it until I have confirmed, either with my research or with the locals, that it is indeed what I think it is. I always want to check that it is growing somewhere that wasn’t a former dump-site for toxic chemicals. I normally wouldn’t use berries or herbs from a road-side, but this particular road is mostly traveled by sheep, humans and an occasional slow tractor or cars. It’s a small rural road and the elderberries actually are pretty high up, about six feet from the ground.
Onward to the wonders of making this magic elixir. It’s quite easy. It just takes a while from start to finish and your presence with the process. It doesn’t make sense to make a small amount of this stuff. First of all, it’s so delicious that you will want to drink it like juice, secondly, it takes hours to collect enough berries to make a goodly amount, thirdly it costs a lot of money in the stores for what you can make at home. Now, if you factor in the time harvesting, the wild-crafted honey I purchased, the fresh lemons, cinnamon sticks, cloves and organic ginger, and I was actually charging for my efforts, the cost of what I brewed up would be similar to what you would pay in the stores. Luckily, for the folks, here at this hermitage, they get it for free.
Here’s the thing about elderberries, they are magic, true earth magic. They are full of vitamin C, they most likely will keep you from getting a cold or the flu, if you regularly consume them. If you are already ill, they often will lessen the time you are down. They are super immune boosting. Did I mention that this stuff tastes so good you do not have to fight with your children or your friends to get them to take it?
These berries were a pure gift from the earth. I sang to the trees and thanked them as I picked them from the branches. In general, when I am wild-harvesting or even if I am just sitting in prayer or meditation or I see a glorious flower or bird or have a moment of joy in nature, I make an offering. If I have food with me, I take off a small portion of it and leave it on the ground near where I am or where I experienced my delight. If I don’t have food but I have my glass water bottle with me, that I take everywhere with me and refill constantly, so I never have to buy bottled water, I pour a little of my water on the earth. If I don’t have anything physical to offer, I just touch the tree or ground or water or plant and sing or say “thank you,” usually my tears are flowing with gratitude, so I can offer those as well. I NEVER take all of the berries or the flowers when I am picking for any reason. I always leave a lot for the birds, the bees, and for the plant to re-seed itself. And, yes, right before Halloween/Samhain, let me just come out as the very Jewish-Witchy-Wild-Woman-of-the-Tribe Ha-Kohanim that I am. (I will be posting all about this in a few days, so stay tuned).
If you are a praying person and you actually engage with Holiness, however you define that, you can be in relationship with the Earth and the Divine. By being in relationship you can help transform and do Tikkun Olam for yourself and the planet around all that is out of balance and in need of care.
Luckily and by the Grace of the Earth and The Creator of the Universe, The MAGIC and Glorious Holiness of this amazing planet we live on is constantly offering itself to us and healing itself. Its berries, its acorns, its boundless gifts overflow to and through us over and over again. Our earth also manages to transform toxins in ways modern science is only beginning to understand. And, as we dance with the earth, and we love and give thanks and engage with and BE in relationship with, not over the earth, we heal ourselves and our glorious planet as well.
Okay, back to the recipe, I will actually tell you how to make this stuff, I promise, if you haven’t already looked up somebody else’s recipe by now! Here’s the difference between my recipe and someone else’s. If you actually sing to the berries and you pray and practice for the folks you love and you give thanks while you are picking the berries and you are chopping the ginger and you are stirring the syrup, your elderberry syrup will be more potent and everyone and the planet will benefit more from your enlivened engagement with the process!
Making Elderberry Syrup with fresh elderberries, or with dried ones too, if you cannot find fresh, (The Actual Recipe)!
Remove the berries from the stems into a ceramic or stainless steel bowl. This is best done with a helper, if you have a large amount. It took me and another hermitage member at least an hour to remove all the berries from what I had harvested. I did collect a huge amount, so you might not need that long depending on what you have, but again, MORE IS BETTER. Don’t worry too much if small bits of stem get in your bowl, you will be straining the finished product.
Put the berries in a large stainless steel pot and add enough water to cover them and then add about a cup more than that. Add the juice of the fresh lemons. I recommend lots of lemon juice, I used four. You can see in the picture above, how much cloves and cinnamon sticks are needed. I crushed up the cinnamon sticks before putting them in. I did not use all the ginger in the picture, but I used two whole big roots, which I peeled and chopped up very small. Add all of this into the pot with the elderberries and water and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover and let it simmer for at least an hour. You do not want this to be boiling away, the liquid is the syrup.
Some folks let it sit after simmering for another hour or two off the burner, that’s a really good idea. If you have time, do that. By the time I got around to cooking this syrup it was getting late and so I didn’t let it sit. I strained the hot liquid into another pot using a fine-mesh stainless steel strainer (NEVER USE PLASTIC ANYTHING NEAR MEDICINE)!
Using a bowl and a wooden spoon press down on the pulp in the strainer to get every drop of liquid you possibly can out of the pulp. If you let it sit longer and it isn’t hot, you can also put it in cheese cloth and squeeze and press all the liquid out that way, but you cannot do this when it is hot. Save the pulp for use in your garden or give it back to the earth, please do not throw it in the garbage, it is like discarding something precious. Give what you don’t use back to your compost heap, or if you don’t have a compost, just put the pulp in a jar or container and the next time you are near a river or stream or in nature, return the berries to the earth directly.
Add the honey after you have strained the syrup, slowly stirring it in. Stir in a clockwise direction with a wooden spoon. Again, this is a good time to think about healing folks or how grateful you are. Swirl in the bee’s magic and the wonder of the flowers that turned into these berries and made this heavenly purple almost black syrup, give thanks for the rain and the wind and the water. I used a full quart of honey for this batch. Use the amount that works for you based on how many berries you had. Taste the syrup and see if you need more.
A note on honey. Most honey nowadays is problematic. It can say wild or organic or local and not really be any of those things. Large bee manufacturers feed their bees sucrose syrup instead of the bees actually interacting with flowers. When you are making medicine, you do not want that kind of honey. Actually, you never want this kind of honey. Get honey that you know is raw, local or that you trust. It will be expensive, unless you can trade with your beekeeper for some of your finished elderberry syrup! A good plan!
Once you have achieved the proper balance of honey and it tastes right to you, you can bottle the stuff. It’s important not to put hot liquid into your refrigerator. So, let it cool down completely before putting it in a cold environment. Only bottle in glass and use a stainless steel or wooden ladle to move the syrup from your pot to the funnel or bottle. If the liquid is cooled down, basically cold, it is okay to use a plastic funnel, but better to buy and have a stainless steel one in your kitchen. The syrup will keep for a long time, and you’ll go through it before it ever is too old.
One tablespoon a day of this syrup is a preventative, immune supportive kind of medicine. If you start to feel sick, or your beloveds do, increase the amount to two tablespoons and take it every three-hours or so. Do this for two days and you might be able to ward off the cold or flu. If you can’t catch the cold before it takes hold, take the syrup three or more times a day while you are sick and it should reduce the time you are unwell. If you are taking prescription medicines, it’s always a good idea to check with your provider about negative interactions. Most folks do not give children under the age of one anything with honey in it, so check with your doctor about that as well. You can buy elderberry syrup for pancakes, so I really am just warning you to be super safe and careful whenever you take anything medicinally. For, me the warning is not about being fearful of the natural world, it’s about being aware that I do not know everything and that some medicines and some fruits are not good companions.
Was this the longest recipe you ever read?
Well, good medicine and good magic take time.
To the Wild Woods with You, in Wonder and Wandering!
My fingers sting from the nettles I collected. The nettles grow everywhere here, like the grass and the blackberries and the miscellaneous brambles. My definition of a bramble is:
a combination of berry vines of some kind, nettles, other twisty plants or wild roses with thorns and, of course, mischievous faery folk
There are a lot of brambles hereabouts. I was very careful with the nettles. I know they are good food, really good food. They can be eaten if you cook them or dry them. To get them to that place, first you have to cut and prepare them, which means you will be stung, some, even if you are wearing gloves and long sleeves, at some point the nettle will collect her payment, either when you harvest her or when you prepare her for eating.
This is as it should be.
“The Universe is a Green Dragon,” by Brian Swimme is a book I read that was given to me by a nun, named Dolores, who was a sociology teacher at Humboldt State University. The book is a beginning physics primer. It is physics for those just beginning on the journey of wondering about how the universe dances and how energies move about in that dance. In that lovely tiny, thin, little book is a discourse about how everything has a cost or energy signature.
There is no VOID or something without nothing. All things have a cost so to speak. It is not about how many coins you deposit in the hand of the vendor, but just that even if you do not see the vendor, or the hand, or if you think plants don’t have feelings, or you cannot see the energetic signature of violence; they are all still there, the invisible hand waiting for your coin, the plant saying, okay, you want me, here is the cost.
Now, those nettles were free, kind of. I’m on retreat in Ireland. I paid money that I saved up for ten years to be here for three months in this cabin with electricity, a view of green trees, grass, brambles (replete with Fey Folk), clouds that move across the sky so fast that the words fickle and fey must originate here. This means the weather changes every ten minutes or so. It’s been sunny and glorious about ten times today, but it’s also poured rain, been fiendishly windy and amazingly quiet and calm. Anyway, back to the nettles, which I didn’t pay anyone for with cash.
Eating right, eating what is handy and nearby is a way of life for me. It’s not really optional at this point. I just gravitate towards what is local and at hand, like a magnet. This is, of course, with one very important exception; SPICES! I need them like a plant needs water and sun (see my previous post Hadi the Honeyed One and Lovely Lorena). In my defense, I think spices provide essential nutrients and vitamins, but that’s a stretch. They just make my life better and so besides spices, eating what is at hand or within my bio-region feels best.
Once I gathered the nettles, then I put them in a large bucket of cold water, stems and all, for their first soak. I wasn’t sure when they would stop stinging. I know they don’t sting once they are cooked, but it has been many years since I prepared them and I did so with either Aleta or Jolie Egert Elan of Go Wild Consulting, my herbalist and botanist beloveds, who made it look simple. Maybe they have some kind of agreement with the nettles and never get stung, but I think they actually also have mentioned getting stung. Now the sting of a nettle is a small thing, it’s like a tiny zing. It isn’t terrible, just piquant, sort of like something spicy! It does stay with you for a bit. It will remind you of its presence, the sting, every once in a while, like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep, just every now and then a little zing.
So, after the first soak, I prepared another container of water. I picked up the nettles with a teaspoon strainer, you know the kind that clips open and shut and you put tea leaves in bulk inside of it. I am in this cabin, named after Clare of Assisi (for the Beloved Companion and Nun who was close with St. Francis of Assisi). In my lovely cabin, there are cooking utensils, but not like my kitchen at home. I couldn’t find any tong-like implements in my drawers, so I used the teaspoon grabbing one stem at a time out of the first bucket and holding it over the second. I then used the scissors with my right hand and clipped the individual leaves into the water for their second rinse. I wasn’t sure if the stems were edible.
I am without the internet in my cabin named after St. Clare. I am so grateful for this fact. I have lots of books here but didn’t think to bring my herb books, a mistake. I sent my Tanakh and my Tikkun and my library of beloved teachers on subjects Jewish and my Hebrew dictionaries and my prayer books. I forgot that I would be living in a wood, where the bible you need is a book about herbs and flowers.
There is a large library at the main house and I can borrow a book about herbs from there, but the morning when I decided to gather the nettles, I hadn’t yet realized I needed that information and so didn’t have the book on hand. So, I experimented with my nettles and I knew the leaves were good to eat, so clip, clip, and clip into the water they went. I did not get stung at all during this improvised tong/teaspoon scissors adventure.
In case you are wondering, which you probably aren’t, why I didn’t just use the gloves I used initially to harvest them with to do this part of the work? Well they were the ugly, dirty, really old gardening gloves that I found in the peat-fuel box and they are definitely OUTSIDE only kind of gloves. So, back to nettle land. Since I could not use the nasty gloves and I needed to cut up the nettles, or thought I did, before cooking them, I strained them by pouring the whole container of water out over the strainer I put in the sink. In this way, I never had to touch those tricky nettles.
Then, since I wasn’t sure if just washing them well would have made them less stingery (a new Nicole word), I put my hand in the pile of clean wet leaves to test their sting factor—now you know why my fingers are pulsing a little from the nettle-bites (kind of like tiny nips or bites from a lover). Oooh, that makes me miss my beloved!
So, having ascertained that a good rinsing and de-stemming does not in fact render nettles mute, I realized I’d need some kind of protection between self and nettles for cutting. What’s the best protection? A condom, or in the kitchen at a Catholic hermitage cabin named after St. Clare; something made of plastic, like a plastic bag. So, I put my hands in double plastic sacks, having clearly resolved that one batch of nettle-bites was quite enough for the day, double protection seemed prudent.
I then chopped up the nettles and put them in the pan with a little water, covered them and cooked them for five minutes. They were a deep dark green, luscious, delicious and no longer venomous. I tested them with my fingers first, before eating them, no sting whatsoever. I put a little olive oil, salt and lemon on them and enjoyed them with the rest of the meal I had prepared, which took one tenth the effort to make. I feasted on the local fare and then took a much deserved-nap. The morning of bramble wrestling (I’m slowly clearing a path down to the stream outside my bedroom window), nettle preparing and even some morning stretches in the field above my cabin when the sun was shining for ten minutes straight made for one tired jubilant me.
I’m now going to go paint and write some letters from my window seat here in Clare where I can see the weather, the fickle and fey, weather whooshing by without getting wet. Later, if it gets too cold, I’ll make a fire with PEAT, just as has been done here for thousands of years. The pictures I’ve put up here were from a different day, when it was Friday afternoon/early evening almost Shabbat. I put them here to give you all an idea of my surroundings. Binding myself to the sun and the weather, not to a clock and a schedule, has been and is tremendous for me. I feel old patterns breaking away and am bonding with this place, the movements of cloud, mist, sun, bird and rain. The flowers and the brambles and everything around me offering lessons and companionship. It is magnificent here!
A large amount of clean washed fresh spinach (fine to use the pre-washed packages)
One can of coconut milk
1-2 Tablespoons of freshly ground unsweetened peanut butter, if you can’t get freshly ground organic peanut butter, use the freshest kind you can find.
1-2 teaspoons of Thai Kitchen Red curry paste (I like it spicy, so I use two)
one cup of raw peanuts (freshest you can find)
Thai hot sauce of your choosing (Sriraha works for me)
basmati or other rice or grain
This is one of the easiest and quickest recipes you will ever find me posting. I learned this recipe from my brother Paul Barchilon. It takes ten minutes to put together and about forty minutes to bake.
Pre-heat the oven to 350° then heat the coconut milk, curry paste and peanut butter in a saucepan. I whisk them all together to help make sure there aren’t clumps of peanut butter or curry paste. Slice the tofu block into three equal slabs, then slice the slabs in half lengthwise, and then in half horizontally. Cut the remaining parts into long triangles so that you end up with a bunch of wedges. You can also just chop the tofu up into medium chunks, but it’s a lot prettier if you make the tofu into the triangles.
Put the tofu and spinach into a large bowl along with half of the peanuts. Pour the heated coconut milk mixture into the bowl. Stir gently with large spoon to coat spinach and tofu, not a rigorous stirring. Empty into a large Pyrex or other casserole dish and cover with parchment paper or tinfoil, place in the oven and set your timer for 40 minutes. While the casserole is cooking prepare rice to go with it. Garnish with hot-sauce and the rest of the peanuts on top. Voila, dinner super quick and easy!
Variations on this are welcome. If you want to make this recipe with chicken, I suggest cutting up the chicken into smallish pieces because you don’t want to cook this dish for too long, or you can sauté the chicken up first before baking it. If you don’t want to use a ready-made curry paste, just make your own version and add it to the coconut milk.