First trip foraging in the ‘wilderness’

A home amongst the nettles

Today the family and I loaded up the trusty wagon and headed down to visit some friends and do something that I had never done before – forage for nettles! For those of you that don’t know, nettles are a stinging plant (not everyone is sensitive to them, but be warned) that is commonly found across Europe, Asia, and North America. Many a child has been hit by the stinging needles of the Nettle. The upside to these hurty plants is that they’re also delicious and full of vitamins and minerals that will keep you coming back for more.

About Nettles

Nettles are leafy green shoots which are usually found in areas of heavier rainfall and grow particularly well in areas with a high phosphorus soil content. The leaves range from thin and tender

when young to much thicker when mature. The leaves can reach nine inches in length and five or six in width. The stalks are generally fibrous and tough. Both historically and currently they are being used in textiles and cordage.

The leaves are generally eaten blanched and in conjunction with something else (as blanching tends to compress the leaves into fairly dense blocks of green – think frozen grocery store spinach) and provide a fresh ‘green’ or herbal flavor. The leaves can also be dehydrated and crumbled and used as a tea or decoction, or sprinkled over meat or into sauces as an herb. It is quite versatile.

The nettle is rich in vitamins A and C, and contains the following minerals: iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein (for a leafy green vegetable), containing up to 25% by dry weight.

Harvest

A boy, a man, and a dog go walking in a park...

Harvesting without getting stung can be a challenge. It is recommended (if you don’t know if you are sensitive or not) that when you go you come in the following items: Long pants, long sleeved shirt, shoes, plastic grocery bags, and gloves. The gloves should be leather or latex coated cotton gloves. (Pro Tip: Special care should be made to ensure the back sides of the gloves are coated in latex also. Particularly the fingers.) Additional protection may be garnered by wrapping thin or compromised locations with electrical tape. (Pro Tip: long sleeves with thumb holes might come in handy to protect from the sleeve slipping up and exposing your wrists.) Once you have these items, all you need is a nettle patch to tromp through to look for tasty-looking ones. From there it’s a simple matter of snapping the plant off at the midpoint or so and stuffing it in the sack. Repeat until your sacks are full. Then we get to head home for more adventures! (for more on harvesting stinging nettles, check out learning herbs‘ article on how to harvest without gloves!).

Preparation

Preparation is easy if involved. This is performed in 4 steps.

  1. Soak nettles in cold water to remove bugs, debris, and theoretically stinging (While I did not get stung AFTER we soaked them, I still wore latex gloves to protect myself from any potential stings).
  2. Remove stems and unwanted leaves. Grade the leaves according to size and toughness (larger and tougher leaves are better used for tea).
  3. Transfer soaked nettles into a pot of boiling water. They should stay in the boiling waterfor 10-20 seconds.
  4. Remove from boiling water and proceed to wringing the blanched leaves out and forming a thick and dense puck or ball of nettles.
  5. Package using conventional ziplock bags or a vacuum sealer. If they are vacuum sealed, they can be frozen and kept good for a very long time.
  6. For tea, throw the leaves in a dehydrator (DIY or storebought doesn’t matter) and dry those things out. In a pinch, a low heat oven will work. When they have dried, simply crumble the leaves and enjoy (try pairing with peppermint, chamomile, or lavender to soften the ‘green’ flavor nettle tea has on its own).

And that’s how we did it! It was an excellent day out with friends and family, and we got to get out, explore the nature around us and get back to our primal roots a little bit.

Food is an important part of our lives, and we feel that our kid needs to know that food doesn’t just ‘come from the store’, but rather has its own place in nature, requires real and honest work to procure, and that the experience of gathering food can be just as rewarding as the consumption of the food itself. I feel that foraging and hunting is very important to the primal way of life and once again connecting our lives to the foods which enrich us and allow us to thrive and prosper in a way that oreos, doritos, or any other ‘food’ that ends in ‘os’ would never be able to do.

Medicinal

For more information on nettles, including medicinal effects, check out this link from the Idaho Observer.

References:

http://www.learningherbs.com/nettles.html

http://proliberty.com/observer/20060517.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica

Coconut milk ‘iced cream’ in five minutes!?!

Strawberries!

Even we of the primal-set aren’t so austere that we don’t enjoy a good dessert every now and again. This one is easy, delicious, and makes a delicious iced cream substitute. (In fact, this recipe might even be considered… vegan!) Basically, it’s an easy iced cream analog that takes almost no time to make up and is tasty, wonderful, and about as simple as you can get. Without further ado, here is the LONG list of ingredients:

  • 1 14 oz can of Coconut milk
  • 14oz of FROZEN fruit (we generally use berries, but you could theoretically use any fruits – besides, berries are more primal-friendly, right?;)
  • 3 tablespoons of honey (or to taste. I think that 3 tablespoons isn’t too sweet, but less wouldn’t have been horrible, either).

That’s it. Now for the instructions…

  1. Scoop the coconut milk into a food processor, and blend until no longer lumpy.
  2. Throw in your frozen berries.
  3. Add your honey.
  4. Blend until everything is smooth and the consistency of iced cream.

And that’s it! It’ll be soft, but it’s ready to eat right now. If you want, you can drop it into a bowl and throw it in the fridge to set up further. I’m not sure on how long it will keep in the freezer, but it won’t last long!

Other thoughts I’ve had regarding this treat:

  • Blend then freeze (in an ice cube tray) a can worth of coconut milk. Prepare as above, substituting the frozen coconut milk for the fruit. Add in vanilla to taste.
  • Follow the above steps, but add dark chocolate instead.

Good luck, and remember: it’s about having fun and getting in the kitchen and trying things out!

Enjoy!

Still life - Flowers, iced cream, chocolate and rabbit

Three Months on the primal fringe – Part Two

30 days

handstands

Handstands in the National Park

I started immediately. No more hamburgers, pastas, or bread with dinner. No sandwiches or crackers. I made it my goal, and decided that it was going to be easy to do it for 30 days.

And it was.

I was amazed at how good I felt. Everything made sense. There are reasons humans like meat and fats (and some sweet things). Just like a goat or a cougar knows what it needs to survive and what kind of food that it needs to eat in order to live and thrive, so does the human animal. But we’ve gotten smart enough that we can turn it off, or altogether ignore it. And when you really start to think about it, that’s not such a smart thing, in the long run.

After a couple of days had rolled by, I talked my wife into doing it, too. It was just going to be easier, it was something that we had been talking about anyway (at least changing up our diet and eating better quality food was), and this seemed like something easy to try for 30 days. With her on board, things got even easier.

Breakfasts consisted eggs, meat, and veggies, all cooked in either bacon grease or coconut oil. Olive oil was regulated to salads, which were frequent lunchtime events. These weren’t just little salads, but rather epic excursions full of leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, onion, mushrooms, and of course some sort of meat. Usually I would top them with a half or a quarter of an avocado, and round that all out with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil (with just a splash of Dijon mustard to hold the whole dressing together). These salads generally fit into the largest tupperware we owned, and usually it was enough.

Squash Fever

Dinners were varied but simple, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables, sometimes a salad as well. Since we were working ourselves fairly strenuously with CrossFit, we decided a bit of starchy carbohydrates were called for. We added sweet potatoes (already a family favorite), and various squashes to our meals. In addition to being good for us, they kept us stocked with the carbohydrate energy our bodies and minds needed to survive the new taxing situations they were being put into. It was a perfect fit.

Additionally, we still had a small indulgence of a small piece of dark chocolate daily. It was the one simple thing that we were able to do in order to keep my wife from going crazy. Plus, it was a delicious way to end a day. Our favorite is a dark mint chocolate we were able to find with minimal ingredients. It’s delicious, full of antioxidant goodness, and simple. Sometimes (usually) that’s all you really need.

Our diet contained no dairy, little fruit, and no legumes or grains of any kind for thirty days. During that time we experienced different reactions to the purification of our food intake. We ate until satisfied, and did not once count a calorie.

Benefits

There were several benefits, for me in particular. I had previously suffered from what had become chronic nasal allergies. The daily and nearly constant allergic discomfort had started nearly two years ago (although looking back now, I can see even as far back as ten years ago the telltale signs of the allergy – and I attributed it to milk… more on that later) and had progressed to the point where I was taking a maintenance dose of over the counter Costco variety Claritin. I had played with my diet earlier, removing dairy only from my diet, but it had really not had a significant effect. Ridding myself of grains and/or legumes, however, did seem to do the trick.

At first, I noticed that my allergies seemed less, but was still fearful of removing the lortadine completely. The sneezing and itchy, watery eyes could get unbearable. As time went on, I noticed I was still feeling better. I started to wean myself off of it, hopeful that I had unlocked the secret to what had been ailing me for a number of years. Within a week I was only taking it intermittently (two or three times a week, as opposed to seven). Within two weeks, I wasn’t really taking it at all. It appeared as though I had solved the riddle.

Another benefit was what equates to rapid weight loss. Yes, we were working out hard with Crossfit. However, our workouts were in general less than a half-hour in length (the WOD in particular – the warm up, strength, and agility training brought the total time to an hour) three times a week. There is no way to burn enough calories in three hours max per week to lose the amount of weight that I lost without the significant change in diet. If the workout was doing anything, it was actually inflating my numbers.

In fact, to look at my calculations I went from 19.19% bodyfat at the beginning of the year to a current body fat percentage of 12. Additionally, over the last month (March 8th to April 20th, it’s also calculated that I GAINED approximately 4.5 pounds of muscle while losing over three pounds total. So in terms of effectiveness, this has been a very effective weight loss tool, though my reasons for doing it were not at all weight driven. (Oddly enough, using BMI calculations, I am still overweight at 12% bodyfat, and what’s more, a ‘healthy’ range – again according to BMI for someone of my height would be 152# – 205#. At 152#, I would be a skeleton dancing around for all to see. No thank you. I’ll happily remain ‘overweight’, thankyouverymuch.)

We saw other benefits, including some you wouldn’t expect. Whiter teeth, clearer skin, and improved mood were all on the list of benefits. In short – it was good to be grain free.

Fast forward three months, and our diet has not really changed. Legumes do occasionally find their way into our meals (rarely and never at home), as does wheat (again never at home). We’ve thoroughly advertised and socialized through our families that this is the way we are choosing to eat, now, and that we have experienced many positive benefits from doing so and are not interested in regressing these benefits. We have reintroduced SOME dairy into our diets, but we’re mostly eating artisinal raw milk cheeses, which are high in flavor and fat and therefore don’t require a ton to introduce that wonderful cheesy flavor.

Additionally, when I eat some grains (wheat specifically, so far as I know. Corn doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue for me), I get stuffed up within an hour or so and have to take a claritin. Beer seems to have the same effect on me, as well, so in general I kind of make it a point to stay away from wheat – which is sad, because I love a good beer. But now I know the result and the cause, and can make a risk assessment before I drink a beer or eat a sandwich. Usually, it’s not worth the consequences and I choose to not have them (and I’ve never yet had it be worth it to have a sandwich, but there have been a few beers here and there:).

So as of today, I’m happy, healthy, and stronger than I’ve ever been before. I feel great and wouldn’t give it up for the standard American diet in any way, shape, or form. (Which is not to say I don’t every once in a while have a desire to have a thick smear of butter on top of a half a sourdough roll – but that’s really more for the sake of the butter than anything else.)

The other massive boon to our existence and well-being has been the gym. We made the choice to try it out, and we love it. We’re gaining strength, skill, and agility faster than we ever have before (in our adult lives). It’s truly been an amazing year.

So get out there, and try life on the fringe. It’s a lot of fun, you feel great, and you get to challenge yourself. If you can’t go 100%, then just push yourself as far as you can. Any time you have something you probably shouldn’t or do or don’t do something, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just part of life. Failure is an option, and it’s the only way we find our way to success.

What about your stories? Have you spent any time on the fringe? What are your experiences or thoughts? I would love to hear them.

Robb Wolf’s Liberty Garden concept

Lettuce have some salad!

One of the most important things you do every day is make decisions on what kinds of things you will use to fuel your body. Beef or chicken? Grassfed or storebought? What kinds of veggies? You gonna throw some corn down, or perhaps a big-ass sandwich? Maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Regardless of the choices you ultimately end up making, the choice itself is an important one. Your body is – without a doubt – the most important thing you own. How you choose to fuel it should respect that level of importance, in my opinion. And herein lies a problem inherent in the system – you can make good choices that still end up being less good choices based on how that fuel was raised/grown/created. And while you may not be able to fully know how all your fuel was created, it’s important to take those baby steps to getting to where you would like to be. (If you’re happy guzzling Mountain Dew and Ritz crackers, you can pretty much disregard this. Realistically, you’re probably not reading this anyway.)

Enter the Liberty Garden concept as promoted by Robb Wolf. Here’s the concept in an even smaller nutshell than Robb’s site talks about it: You are what you eat; in order to know what you’re eating, you should grow some of it because factory farming is involved in practices that can be called questionable (not to mention non sustainable), and that a great way to start it is using your own yard/kitchen window/balcony/veranda/fire escape/WHATEVER to start growing some of your own stuff. Sounds easy, right? It is! Just throw some seeds in some healthy soil (dirt is such a dead sounding word), keep it watered as per the directions on the back of the package, make sure the plants have adequate sunlight, and voila! instant food.

The Liberty Garden – Robb Wolf

To start, I would recommend some herbs. They’re usually very resilient and do well. If you think you have a black thumb, go with these to start. They’re almost a sure thing.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, and get growing!

Primal living – a simple life.

The alarm clock buzzes, trills, and honks, injecting tendrils of wakefulness into the depths of the dream Joaquin’s mind had only moments before been so thoroughly involved with. The  dream regretfully evaporates, and he can no longer remember exactly what was happening. He had been hunting – or had it been the other way around? The thrill of it all still coursed through his body, culminating in a wiry contracting in his shoulder blades, a slight anticipatory tension in his legs. He had been ready to spring – and by all rights still was. As wakefulness rudely crowds out the last vestiges of the dream and any hope of sleep, he pushes himself slowly onto his side, reaches over to the nightstand and, without so much as a twitch of his eyelids, fumbles three times before finding the button to silence the horror that is the alarm clock. For a moment he contemplates a long, luxurious return to the mattress, but grumbling slightly to himself, manages to push his fleshy body up to a seated position. His forehead is already wrinkled in a mix of pain, grief, annoyance, and frustration. It’s definitely going to be one of those mornings.

Of course, he reflects, as he slides his feet between the layers of nine hundred count Egyptian cotton sheets, over the edge of the bed and to the soft StainMaster(tm) carpeted floor below, every morning seems to be one of those mornings.

He manages to swing just enough of his mass over the floor to propel himself upward. Not bad, he thinks to himself, no hands today! It’s the little things that count. He stumbles past clothing hastily doffed in a rush to get into bed and get to sleep and heads towards the five piece master bathroom. AS he crosses the threshold, his hand snakes out and flicks the light switch. His eyes, currently normalized for sleep, are not any kind of ready for the visual assault the bathroom lights offer him. His eyelids, still puffy with too few hours of sleep, snap then squeeze tightly closed. He forces an eye open the scantest of distances and manages to see the glass shower door, which is covered in a haze of soap scum and some pinkish bacteria that seem to be thriving on the low levels of they municipal water district has infused into the water. With a tug, the shower door swings open silently. Moments later, he has turned on the shower water and is anxiously awaiting the pseudo-scalding he enjoys in the morning.

***************************************

This is an all too familiar scene in the houses of many modern day ‘Westernized’ men and women. Instead of listening to the natural rhythms of their own bodies, of their sleep cycles, and of the diurnal and seasonal cycling, modern man has instead opted to become beholden to another decider of things: the clock. A paleolithic man would look at a modern man and his strict adherence to the clock and wonder What kind of magic powers does that clock have over this man who wears shiny and bright clothing, wraps his feet in something like tree bark, and looks as though a mile over rough terrain might well kill him? The paleolithic man would find this clock worship amusing (or perhaps hysterical) and would not at all understand why someone would take such a large part of their day and give it to pursuits which have no bearing on real life. He would then, probably, go off, kill a rabbit or two, grab some bulbs or tubers out of the ground, and proceed to eat. Being around in a modern country, he might well go and take a nap. What else is there to do, for today, really?

“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Flippancy aside, a primal modern man daily walks a tightrope between wanting to enjoy the conveniences and luxuries of modern society, while still respecting his own life and anthropological history. We modern primals have electricity, petroleum powered locomotion, 60″ television sets, 5000 Watt surround sound THX certified home theater systems, video game consoles, refrigerators, super markets, malls, space age fabrics, and shoes so thick that even a princess couldn’t feel a pea beneath them. And to compound the whole thing, every last thing is wired up to the internet so you can check in, let everyone know what you’re doing RIGHT NOW, all 9000 of the people that you know so incredibly well that you’ve agreed to be friends with them on face-ter.

This is not necessary.

This is the background noise modern primals must adapt to. No longer do saber-toothed tigers stalk us through the wilderness, nor in general do we have to contend with hyenas or bears or things that go bump in the night. Instead, we have to contend with something much more insidious – the things we own.

Now, I’m not advocating stripping your life clean from the vagaries of technology – far from it. I have a very fond place in my heart for technology – indeed for many of the things I listed above. But a modern primal must determine a way to use these tools to his advantage, and not vice-versa.

But, for example, what happens when you limit your email exposure? Is it really so terrible that you only check it twice a day (or only a couple of times per week)? Does the world come crashing to a stop? The reality is that it won’t, and after you get over the initial anxiety of not checking your email every hour or half hour or ten minutes (as you probably do – via your phone or instant notifications or whatever), you’ll discover something wonderful – you don’t have to deal with your attention being fragmented, you can focus on the task at hand, and end up getting a lot more done.

As I take a journey towards becoming a modern primal, You can rest assured I will be taking steps to ensure that my devices do not control me. I have already taken steps at work to limit my email exposure (exactly as detailed above – twice a day, at 12 and 3), and have further taken steps at home. My wife and I cook nightly and, while we don’t get to bed as early as we should (and have a little one that acts as an alarm clock), we manage to do all right. My wife enjoys needlework some evenings, and today we spent time in the garage building furniture, took a trip to the park, and even cooked dinner outside. It was a great day, and I even managed to wake up without an alarm clock (or the little one).

Remember – this is not about restriction, or withholding, or technological abstinence of any kind. This is about asserting your control over the things that you own, taking your life back from the beeps, boops, and blips of modern conveniences, and ultimately living and enjoying your life without dependency on the electronic doodads and jimmywhatsits that are so everywhere today. After all, what good is life if all we’re good for is operating machines? We aren’t just, thumbs, fingers and eyeballs. We’re a whole being – let’s get out there and use it.