Free food over here

A post about the joys of foraging!  I’ve been theoretically all into foraging for wild food since I started reading some pieces about it last year but, in practice, foraging expeditions were limited until recently to a few auld blackberries in the autumn.  It’s just so hard to know how to start when you’ve never done it before.  But then my very own CaveMammy (who is the antithesis of cave-life really, living as she does in a den of electronics and computing, but she appreciates the dirt-under-the-fingernails lifestyle from an acceptable distance) bought me a copy of Wild Food for my birthday and I came over all committed to the project again.  The book’s a really nice read and describes the main types of wild food that can be gathered in Ireland over the year and gives loads of details on how they can be recognised, collected, eaten and preserved.  A good one to have on the shelf.

So first stop – wild garlic.  I was lucky enough to be out with a friend who had previously gathered and eaten it because I would have been very doubtful otherwise about picking a clump of stuff what had grown all by itself and putting it in my dinner.  The season for wild garlic is just about over now unfortunately but when it’s out it is plentiful!  This is what it looks like up close:

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And here is CaveBaby gathering some in the Phoenix Park:

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You can eat the leaves, stalks and flowers although some people apparently find the garlic flavour from the flowers too strong.  On our first trip we picked a big bagful (see artful arrangement in bowl below)

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and I used it as filling along with bacon pieces and some cheese in a crustless quiche (which, by the way, is not an omelette as it is cooked in the oven so nah).  The basic crustless quiche recipe is here but I just used cheddar in place of the recommended cheeses.  And it was seriously to die for tasty.  The texture of the wild garlic leaves means that they stand in as a kind of spinach substitute in the dish but also gave it a gorgeous garlicky flavour.  I mean look at this, how could you resist this?!!

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On the same day I’d decided to go hell for leather and harvest some dandelions for dandelion fitters as well, inspired by this great post from the daily spud.  CaveHusband was dubious.  He was tentatively agreeing to eat the wild garlic but was threatening to put the foot down at flower heads.  I pressed on and sent CaveBoy out the back garden with a scissors to cut off six of the best.  Unfortunately it was evening and they’d started to close up a bit and so they didn’t look anywhere near as pretty as the daily spudsis ones but I said we’d give it a lash anyway.  Here they are sizzling in a little batter:

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I served them and, by dint of what I call infectious enthusiasm and CaveHusband calls smiley-faced bullying, I managed to convince him AND CaveBoy to try.  CaveBoy was actually quite swept away with my talking-up of the whole thing (he trusts me, bless him) and bit in happily with an mmm, isn’t that nice dad?.  A few chews later and he politely said you know I don’t think I want to finish this one mammy.  This is how trust is eroded I guess.  CaveHusband actually said he didn’t mind them and I think he may have had a second.  The rest were all mine.  I thought they were quite tasty but then, most things deep fried in batter are.

We went on another foraging trip to the Phoenix Park shortly after and this time we collected a big old bag of the wild garlic leaves plus some nettle tips.

nettles

None of us were quite sure what we were doing with the nettles but the Wild Food book said to take the youngest little parts at the top so that we did.  With gloves and scissors of course!  I had popped CaveBaby up on to my back in the sling while we were gathering as he was being exceedingly uncooperative with regards to staying within a safe distance and not jumping off a cliff.  I must say, crouching down in a forested area, gathering wild food for your dinner, with a child slung to your back, makes you feel quite primal.  This was an intense Cave moment.

I had inspiration from the book to preserve some of the garlic in oil, make some wild garlic pesto and do up a nettle, garlic and potato soup.  So that evening CaveHusband came home to a crazy kitchen with its walls dripping in steam: kilner jars were bubbling away in boiling water to be sterilised, the soup was simmering on the back burner, there were bowls of chopped garlic leaves waiting to be submerged in olive oil for preserving and the food processor was going ninety chopping up hazelnuts, garlic leaves and cheese for the pesto.  He said nothing and walked back out.  Wise move.

And here are some of the fruits of the madness (be warned, there is much greenness).

The preserved garlic

preserved garlic

The wild garlic pesto (really strong and fresh tasting)

pesto

And the nettle and garlic soup which was DELICIOUS.

nettle soup

And that’s the foraging round-up for the minute.  The book talks about some seaweed varieties that can be gathered all year round on rocky shores so I may take a coastal scavenge soon.  Also elderflower has just come into season and I’ve heard tell of a recipe for elderflower champagne which sounds just gorgeous so am hoping to experiment with that.  The menu for garden parties at the Cave this summer will be … different.

Love, from a patch of forest and free food near you xx

CaveMammy

Supermarket sweep

Hunting chicken breast fillets in the chilled aisle.  Gathering mixed seeds from beside the Pringles.  Plucking punnets of plums from the fruit section.  CaveMammy’s weekly forage involves less running through woods with a knapsack and a spear and more sedate pushing of a shopping trolley through the neon aisles at Lidl.  But if you’re interested in eating primal, there’s a lot you can pick up at the local supermarket and it can often be much cheaper than in special “health food” shops.  There’s a good primal blueprint shopping list here that will give you an idea of the kind of foods you should be filling the trolley with and here’s where I get my main ingredients:

Lidl (I use the one near the M50 in Finglas but the stock is generally the same in them all)

I get nice avocados here, broccoli and cauliflower, carrots, onions and garlic, peppers, parsnips, tomatoes, celery, sweet potatoes and normal potatoes.  I’ve a real tendency to stick to the same veg but I try to branch out and sometimes pick up beets, aubergines, green beans, spinach and squash.  I love mushrooms but CaveHusband can’t stand them so I always neglect them.  I need to start cooking them for the boys so I can get them on Team Fungi.  In the meat section I pick up packets of beef pieces for casseroles, chicken breasts for curries and gorgeous lamb loin chops and pork chops.  I get their fab Angus steak every few weeks or so as well.  They sometimes have game meats as a promotion and I would experiment with those when they do.  I never get fish here because all our weekday meals are meat or egg based and so it wouldn’t still be fresh by the time I get to make it.  I’ve been trying to get some fish into our diet at the weekends but am failing miserably, mostly because of complete lack of confidence in buying and cooking it.  I’ve heard that there’s a good fishmongers in the Honest 2 Goodness market in Glasnevin industrial estate on Saturdays and I’m going to try to get down there more regularly and pick up fresh fish for Saturday’s dinner.  For fruit in Lidl, I get apples and bananas (these are the only fruits that CaveBoy will eat), whatever berries they have in or on special that week, cherries, peaches and plums if they’re there, pears, sometimes grapes as CaveBaby loves them cut in half, oranges, kiwis (another CaveBaby favourite, he sucks the green flesh off the skin), lemons for flavouring drinking water and for adding juice to curries. I’ll sometimes also get a pineapple or some other tropical fruit (they’ve had passion fruit, pomegranates and star fruits recently).  Lidl’s not fantastic for nuts and seeds but they do have a new seed mix that’s handy (see the good finds photo below) and big bags of californian walnuts that are gorgeous (also in photo).  Also pictured is their canned coconut milk, cheap enough and lovely and creamy for a dessert, and their Greek yoghurt which is lovely over berries, sprinkled with some nuts and seeds.  I get their olive oil and butter for cooking and they’ve a grand range of dried herbs too.  Cheese is an in-moderation item on primal but we go through one block of their medium mature cheddar almost every week.  Not sure how moderate that is really!

Good finds in Lidl (pictured against a leafy background for that authentic hunter gatherer atmosphere):

Aldi (again, I use the one near the M50 in Finglas but mostly the same stock)

Aldi is great for nuts and seeds.  I go there every few weeks and stock up on sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, whole and ground almonds and hazelnuts.  They also have a lovely dark chocolate that’s 85% cocoa (Lidl have a nice one too that’s 81% but the Aldi one is smoother).  Seeds are crazy expensive at the health food shops so it’s great to be able to get good quantities at a good price like this.  Sunflower seeds can be ground up, mixed with sesame seeds and a little water and baked to make a kind of primal cracker (recipe here) that can REALLY help if you’re missing breads and crunchy grainy things.  Ground almonds can be used in place of flour in baking (although do be careful as it adds a sweet flavour that flour doesn’t so it can change the taste).  One thing I use ground almonds for is to thicken up my mix for a tuna bake – it does make it taste sweeter but it seems to go down well.

Good finds in Aldi:

Health food shops

And then there’s a few things that I like to have and can really only get in health food shops at the minute (and they’re dirty expensive at that so the sooner they start appearing in Lidl, the better!).  Chief amongst are coconut oil and almond butter.  Coconut oil is great for frying (although I don’t make enough use of it to be honest) and is also a ingredient in a primal energy bar that CaveHusband sometimes makes that never lasts very long in the fridge.  And I LOVE almond butter, especially a spoonful or two of it spread on slices of red apple or pears and you can also make a nice grain-free pancake with it (as per this recipe).

Holland and Barrett haul:

And that’s CaveMammy’s hunting and gathering done for another week.  Time to lug the bounty back to the Cave in our bearskin shopping bags.

The Primal Blueprint Basics

So we take some inspiration from a lifestyle blog run by a guy called Mark Sissons.  Mark has come up with what he calls the Primal Blueprint, a set of “Rules of Living” for our ancestors, which he reckons apply just as much today because our bodies are essentially the same as they were 10,000 years ago.  There is a huge amount of information on his blog but the basic “rules” are: eat animals, insects and plants; move around at a slow pace; lift heavy things; run really fast every now and then; get sleep; get sun; play; try to avoid trauma; avoid poisonous things (more of which later!) and use your mind.  And that’s the height of it.  Mark explains it really well in the post above and also provides a Primal Blueprint 101 page where he links to all the basic information.

Now the pictures at the top of Mark’s blog change regularly but often show him in the sunshine with a surfboard ready to catch a wave or running along a Californian beach or doing pullups barechested on some class of a beam of wood in a mountain somewhere.  As I may have mentioned, we don’t live in California and there are precious few tanned American lifestyle gurus pounding out the miles down at Dollymount.  So we are obviously coming at this from a different place.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible for us to do.  It just requires a bit of thought, a bit of translating and a bit of situating of the core concepts in our own environment.

In terms of diet, we started slowly, making small changes as we went along.  Primal eating means having lots of good quality meat, fish, eggs, fats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as some fruit.  On the no side, it means avoiding grains like, say, wheat, rice and oats, steering clear of sugar as much as possible and really cutting out highly processed foods which are full of ingredients that you can’t control.  Now we’re not clean clean Primal by any means.  I still use a spoon of flour to thicken up a curry or a gravy.  I use stock cubes for flavouring.  Our vegetables are rarely organic and our meat is mostly bought in the supermarket.  There is a recipe in the Primal cookbook for bison chilli which has, I can assure you, not been made in our house (CaveHusband actually made it with minced beef from Lidl and it was lovely).  There is another recipe involving some kind of offal which I did experiment with and then had to eat because CaveHusband was so disgusted by it and I didn’t want to let the side down but jesus, it was tough.  But even given those caveats, we’re doing quite well I think.  Our meals and sauces are all made from the basic ingredients so we know what goes in.  We’ve found alternatives to pasta and rice and potatoes (will write about that in another post) and have a range of quick snacks to draw on that are Primal or at least semi-primal (very dark chocolate is a daily treat).

I like the idea of sharing some of the tips we’ve picked up along the way through this blog: the grain alternatives, the snacks, where you can get the components of the primal diet at not too much cost, and other little bits for anyone who’s interested.  It took a bit of a leap of faith on our parts to trust that we could make this work in cold, rainy, spud-obsessed Ireland and it’d be nice to pass on the experience to anyone else contemplating it.

I should say that we don’t have the two boys grain-free.  They mostly eat the same dinners as us so are eating Primal in that way but CaveBoy is a pasta and pizza fiend so I let him have each of those once a week, with a sauce I make myself to control the amount of sugar.  And he’s a mad man for cakes and biscuits and is not convinced by my efforts using nut flours so I try not to deprive him completely there.  As for CaveBaby, he’s much more adventurous but he loves an auld spud and I want to make sure he gets the calories he needs so we don’t go too strict on it.  I’m also not entirely sure if I want him to have no exposure to gluten at all as there are some suggestions that being exposed to gluten while still breastfeeding might protect him against coeliac disease.  I don’t know enough about the science to take risks with his future health so am hedging my bets by allowing gluten but minimising where possible.  We have gluten-free pasta and pizza bases in the house that I use sometimes – they’re not primal as they’re made from rice or corn but they help to keep the overall gluten level that the boys have down.

And that’s it for now!  Will be back soon with CaveMammy’s Guide to Primal Substitutes (subtitled The Unsung Wonders of Cauliflower).