Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Celebrating the Dandelion

Peter Gail of Cleveland has written the book that contains everything you’d ever want to know about the common dandelion. He calls it “The Dandelion Celebration,” 151 pages that might surprise you if you’re one of the many gardeners who despise dandelions because they grow in lawns. My father was one of those people, and when I was a child, he’d pay me a nickel for every dandelion that I dug out of our front lawn. But it turns out that dandelions are not trash, they are treasures. Peter Gail shares all of this – and more – in his celebration of the dandelion.

Gail begins by telling us some of dandelions’ complex and long history of food and medicine. He shows us comparisons of dandelion’s nutritional content with other common wild and cultivated foods. We learn that dandelion is the richest source of Vitamin A and magnesium, in his study, as well as a rich source of most of the tested minerals. It is richer in beta-carotene than carrots.

Despite the media attention given to broccoli, collard, and spinach, it turns out that lambs quarters, amaranth, and dandelion -- three common weeds – are far more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts.

There is page after page of the health benefits of eating dandelion, so why don’t more people eat them? Because dandelion is bitter.

So Gail has collected over 600 dandelion recipes, and he includes many of his recipes in this book for turning this bitter weed into a tasty dish. He tells us how to use the roots, leaves, flowers, and hearts. There are recipes for some very unlikely dandelion dishes, like dandelion ice cream, dandelion waffles, and dandelion pie. There are also the standards, such as dandelion wine and coffee.

It’s a great book and should be in your library. Check our Store to get your own copy. Spiral bound for easy-use.

As Gail says, “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Mini-Tale of Semi Urban Survival

On January 11, I performed my annual birthday ritual of running one lap for each year, and recalling the details of each year as I ran. After I was done, and after I took a remarkably hot “memory bath” outdoors, and after rubbing my body with Peuvian mint leaves, I met with Urban Nature Girl Helen at Whole Foods in Pasadena to share a light birthday lunch.

Helen’s schedule only permitted her a brief time in the early afternoon, so we met and ordered our soba noodle soup. We also purchased some juice, and a small raspberry cake that we’d split.

My legs and hip were still buzzing from the 57 years of memories, and I was in relaxation mode as we sat for our noodles. We talked about my run, and my memories.

Then it was time for our cake. I was about to cut it when Helen informed me that it was “essential” to blow out a candle, even a small one. She found a little twig to use as the “candle,” and she told me to go ahead and light it so I could blow it out. I had my magnesium fire starter with me on my keychain, but it didn’t seem appropriate to use that inside Whole Foods. I asked her if she had a Bic or matches in her purse. She didn’t. I had very little with me since I had been running. I went out to my car to find matches or a lighter, but didn’t have either. My excuse was that this was not the car where I kept much gear. I then searched my pack to find matches or a Bic. Nothing. I know this seems hard to believe, but I couldn’t even find a knife!

I went back in and told Helen not to bother, that we’ll just have the cake without a candle. She just gave me that look, which meant that we would have a candle. She got up and said she’d find a candle and matches. When she came back, she had neither a candle, nor matches, nor a lighter, since this “green” store sold none of these essentials for life. But she did come back with a pack of incense sticks. She told me to go ahead and light an incense stick, and keep the flame going long enough to blow it out.

Ok, yes, but I still only had my magnesium fire starter and no knife.

“You don’t have a knife?” she chided. “You’re supposed to be some sort of survival guy,” she said, as we both laughed. “Don’t tell me that you can’t make a fire.”

So, I pulled out my little P39 can-opener from my key chain and used it to laboriously scrape my magnesium to get a tiny pile of shavings. It took maybe five minutes to get even a small pile of shavings, which we then bunched up into a small piece of a napkin. Then I practiced sparking the sparker on the magnesium tool with my little can opener, which wasn’t easy, but if I held everything just right, I was able to produce some sparks.

“OK, ready?” I asked Helen. She held the napkin and the incense stick as I carefully scraped the striker with my P39, and the napkin lit, and she quickly lit the incense stick and stuck it into the top of the cake. She even managed to click a photo before I blew out the “candle,” which meant I will get my wish that the world will not end in 2012 and all my goals will be achieved.

We ate the little raspberry cake, laughing about how long it took to get that fire. And no one at Whole Foods even seemed to notice our little drama since we were over in one corner of the store.

And yes, it did feel better to make that little fire in such an unexpected place and unexpected time, rather than to slink home hanging my head in shame.

Monday, February 06, 2012

My Pal Otis

When it was clear that my pot-bellied pig Otis was dead, I wrapped him and carried him to my car, and drove him to Highland Park where I buried him in the “family graveyard.” I had prepared a hole for him west of where I buried Cassius Clay. Helen and I had to dig the hole a little deeper because Otis was a bit bigger than I realized. I wanted to bury him deep enough so that stray dogs wouldn’t come by and disturb his body. After we buried Otis, we put some flowers on his grave, and I placed his “Otis, Kansas” license plate (which I always kept on his gate) nearby. On her music-device, Helen then played a song, Aad Guray Nameh by Shatam Kaur, as we sat thinking about Otis for a bit. I was sad, but I knew that Otis had a good life and a long life, for a pig!

After all, Otis lived over 19 years. My vet once told me that that was well over twice the average life for a pot-bellied pig. He’d gotten much slower in the last two years, and in the last six months, he was slow and unsteady on his feet, and he began to eat less and less.

He was up every day to eat when I was gone to Guatemala for two weeks in early December of 2011. But when I got home, Otis was lying on his bed and just grunted when I greeted him. I hugged him and I hand-fed him, and I felt that he experienced a certain ease that I was back. But I could also tell that he was on his way out.

I felt a great empathy for Otis. He was a big guy, for sure, but his personality was such that he always seemed like a little boy. I told him that everything was OK and that I was happy we had a good life together. I thanked him. I told Otis that it was OK to go on, if it was his time, if his body had become a burden. I whispered in his ear that it was OK, and that I loved him. He just grunted his friendly “oink” in return. Otis never got up, and he died a week later, on Hannukah.

It was the spring of 1993 when Otis came into our family. Dolores and I had talked about getting a pig, and the pot belly “craze” was fading out. Though we toyed with the idea of breeding pot-bellied pigs, Otis had been neutered, so that was not a viable idea. But that was OK, because we fell in love with Otis right away.

We learned a lot about the nature of “pig-ness” during Otis’ life. In fact, this was partly why we got Otis in the first place – we were going to learn about the nature of pig-ness, which is also an aspect of human-ness.

We learned that he certainly had a good memory, especially as it related to food. He once discovered a bag of carob pods that I had in the living room, and he nearly ate half the bag before I caught him. After that, any time he got into the house, he always went right to that spot where the carob had been.

Though we’ve heard that pigs are very smart, you can’t really compare them to dogs, for example. Dogs might not have pigs’ great memory, but they seem smarter due to their loyalty to their masters. I’m sure that Otis always recognized me from other people, but loyalty? I don’t think so. Pigs don’t seem to want or need close affinity to people in the way that dogs do. Nevertheless, later in his life when Otis was mostly alone, we did develop a “closeness.”

Yes, Otis was a pig, and yet he was such an individual! I learned to know what his sounds and grunts meant, so I knew when he was happy, when he felt threatened, when he was worried, and when he liked (or disliked) someone. His range of vocal sounds was broad and fascinating.

For his last few years, our cat Popoki would sleep with him, often lying on Otis’ big belly, which was always very warm. The two of them seemed to not just tolerate one another, but appeared to be good pals.

Since a pot-bellied pig’s expected life is about 7 to 9 yeas, we estimate that he was about 200 years old (by human standards) when he died.

Finally, when I went to Guatemala in 2011, Otis greeted me when I came back. He was lying down and didn’t get up. I tenderly rubbed his big nose and hand-fed him some hay. I kept him covered, and comfortable, and felt sad that my friend was departing.

And though I was sad, I felt a certain inner joy that he lived a long life with me, and that Helen was there to help me bury him and give him a special ceremony. I thought that I would go through a period of great sadness, but I didn’t. We had a good life together, and I was able to be there with him in the end of his very long life. I feel that some part of Otis will always be with me.

Postscript: A few days after I buried Otis, when I parked my car near his pen, I heard his distinctive oink. A trick of the mind? I like to believe Otis was saying goodbye to papa.