Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Would Eat My Yard

I would eat my yard. Yes, I have really said that, in answer to the question, “What would you do if the world fell in and there were no more grocery stores?” Of course, I have a vegetable garden to rely on as well, but I choose not to have a fine English lawn for a reason. Weeds are good food!

Around my house, we enjoy something called ‘yard salad.’ In cooler weather it contains some traditional lettuce from the vegetable garden, but it also includes many of the plants people work hard to remove from their lawns. They are very high in vitamins and minerals, taste good and look pretty in a salad bowl. I like to joke that if the zombie apocalypse ever comes, the people with the well-kept lawns will be the first to starve!

Here are some of my favorites. They’re in their prime right now, at the height of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Violets

Violets in bloom

These beautiful little plants are a prime source of Vitamin C. The flowers are beautiful, with a delicate flavor. They also have an anti-depressant effect for many people. They go as well in fruit salads as they do in salads of mixed greens The leaves have a surprisingly mild, gently tart flavor and mix well with lettuce and other mild greens. I like them on sandwiches as well. The leaves have the helpful property of getting your lymph system flowing, which is great in the spring after a long winter of staying indoors. Violets prefer cold weather and will begin to wither as the heat of summer comes on, but they do well in containers, so it’s quite feasible to dig up a couple and keep them in pots in the house over the summer. Do be aware that the African violet plants you find in garden centers are NOT the same as the lovely Viola odorata. They are not edible. So stick with the lovely ‘weeds’ and enjoy a delightful taste of spring!

Chickweed

Chickweed - Stellaria media

I’ll admit, I’ve been known to pick this stuff by the handful and eat it while I’m working in the garden. It has a thirst-quenching property that feels very refreshing. Like the violet, chickweed (Stellaria media) is a cool weather plant, providing me with delicious greens before much of anything else is sprouting in the garden. I like to base a tossed salad in chickweed (it’s really plentiful here) and pile it high on sandwiches. It also makes a delicious pesto if you substitute it for all or part of the basil in your favorite recipe. The leaves have a texture similar to spinach, so I like to substitute it in any recipe that calls for raw spinach. It’s especially tasty chopped coarsely and tossed with hot pasta.

Plantain

Common plantain - Plantago major

You’ve probably seen this ‘lowly weed’ growing along footpaths and other places where people walk. It’s surprisingly sturdy and also…tasty. The older leaves can be a bit tough, so choose the younger ones. The flavor is mild, not at all bitter, and the flat leaves stack nicely on a sandwich or toss easily in a salad. Plantain is also my favorite bug bite treatment. A plantain poultice quickly relieves the discomfort of mosquito bites and bee or wasp stings. The fast way to make a poultice if you’re out hiking: pick a leaf, chew it up well and spit the wad out on the bug bite. Yes, I can hear you saying “Ew!!” But it works, I promise. If you’re at home, you can toss a few leaves in the small jar of a food processor for the same result with less ‘ew factor.’ A plantain poultice also works a treat to draw out splinters from the skin.

Dandelion

Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale

This may be my favorite summertime weed. I love to lie in a patch of dandelions and watch the sun shine through the golden petals as the wind whisks the fuzzy seeds away. Summer isn’t the best time to eat dandelion greens raw in a salad, however. They develop some serious bitterness as they mature. The young leaves that are just beginning to grow in the spring are another story – tender and delicious. The flowers make a tasty addition to a salad as well. If you’re still craving dandelions later in the year and they’re not putting on fresh, new leaves, you can cook the mature leaves as a wild vegetable. I like to put them in water to cover, bring it to a boil, boil it for just a minute then pour off the water. If the greens are very dark and old, I do the same thing again, then simmer them in fresh water until they’re tender. They have the consistency of other hard greens like collards and kale, and are great tossed hot with some Italian salad dressing (weird, I know, but delicious), hot pepper sauce or vinegar.

What weeds will you add to your dinner table this year?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Starcat's Corner

Today I'm reviewing a unique book titled Starcat's Corner: Essays on Pagan Living. Find all my book reviews here.


This book is different – in a good way. It’s a collection of essays the author wrote over the course of a decade, each one focused on a practical method for observing the turning of the seasons as a Pagan in a society in which that spirituality is the minority. There is a certain ritualy-ness to some of them (don’t we all like a little ritual in our lives?) but most of them focus more on deepening earth-oriented spirituality through daily life, a sort of Pagan mindfulness, if you will.

I was delighted to read the essay about Pagan homeschooling – yes, there are more of us out there than you might think. And Starcat’s thoughts on incorporating Pagan spirituality into everyday activities from gardening to journaling to working a job help ground our collection of traditions in real life in a very hands-on way. Of course, it’s delightful to gather at the Sabbats and celebrate through ritual, but it’s also important to remain mindful of our values and traditions throughout every ordinary day. We are Pagans every day, not just at the Turning Points. Starcat’s Corner shows us how to bring earth-oriented spirituality to life in a very hands-on, real-world way.

Find more information about this book on the publisher's website. It is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and other online and brick-and-mortar booksellers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Who's Sorry Now?

Male friend: “I lost my job yesterday.”
Me: “I’m sorry.”
Male Friend: “It’s not your fault.”
Me: “That’s not what I meant.”

I’ve had a number of exchanges almost exactly like this one over the past year or two and I’m beginning to think the perceived meaning of the phrase “I’m sorry” has an unwitting gender bias. Yes, from my experience it appears that, in general, men ascribe a different meaning to the phrase than women do. To be more precise, the men I know allow the phrase only one meaning while women ascribe it two distinct definitions. Please bear with me while I explain my ideas to you, then you can let me know whether or not I’m just going crazy.

Wikimedia Commons - myguitarzz

When we’re small, our parents teach us to say “I’m sorry” when we have harmed someone, accidentally or on purpose. The meaning is clear: I regret what I have done. I apologize. Not that the average three-year-old necessarily regrets whacking their sibling with a toy, but eventually they understand the other person’s point of view and generate sincere apologies.

This meaning of “I’m sorry” follows us throughout our lives. When I bump into someone as I’m rounding the corner in the grocery story, I automatically use that phrase. Every English-speaking adult I know says “I’m sorry” when they mean “I apologize.” There is no confusion here.

The problem is that some people attach a second meaning to those words. It’s the second meaning that I employed in the sample conversation above, and it’s this second meaning that many men apparently don’t recognize. In this case, “I’m sorry” means “I sympathize, I feel your pain.”

Within my hearing, the most common use of this second meaning occurs around the unfortunate circumstance of the death of loved ones. In this sort of situation, I hear women say “I’m sorry” and in that situation whoever they’re talking to will usually understand their meaning as “I sympathize.” I have occasionally (OK, rarely) heard men use the same words in the same situation and the recipient of their comments also understands this second meaning. But outside this narrow circumstance, the sympathy meaning of “I’m sorry” seems to disappear from men’s mental dictionaries and they automatically ascribe the apology meaning to the phrase, resulting in my having to explain myself, as in the sample conversation at the top of this post.

Is it just me? Women, has this ever happened to you? Men, do you assume “I’m sorry” means “I apologize” or have I just managed to experience an unusual slice of the population that uses the phrase this way?

In thinking back over the past few years, I can’t remember a single conversation in which a man has used the phrase “I’m sorry” to mean “I sympathize.” Of course, men do sympathize with others, but in my experience they express their meaning with words such as “That’s awful” or “That totally sucks.”

“I’m sorry” is such a reflex response for me in so many situations, I expect it would be hard to retrain myself to use different phrases. But I’m seriously considering switching to “I apologize” and “I sympathize” simply so I don’t have to explain myself so often. What do you think?