Posts tagged backyard medicine
Backyard Herbal Shakshuka
Backyard Herbal Shakshuka

I love mornings. I try to wake up early so I can make coffee, sit around, sipping and encouraging my brain to wake up. I'm usually not very productive till about 4 pm, when a jolt of energy strikes and I finally start getting my work done. 

Making breakfast is a big part of my morning ritual. I typically devote a pretty hefty portion of my morning to it because breakfast, for me, is a necessary way to begin my day. Plus, it really allows me to get creative with food. 

Like most Americans, I discovered shakshuka in a cookbook - or maybe it was social media, I honestly don't remember. I was immediately struck by the simplicity and sweet beauty of the dish and it's become a weekly ritual for me an my partner, Connor. Shakshuka, traditional North African dish that was introduced and made popular in the Middle East. Shakshuka - or shakshouka - translates to "stuck together" or "mixture" in Arabic. In Israel, it is traditionally served with challah bread (my favorite), but since I don't often have challah on hand, I'll make some flatbread or pick up a loaf of sourdough.

Once the shakshuka is ready, I'll heap a hefty portion of greens such as mint or parsley on top. And since they're in season, I also like to pick fresh violet leaves from the backyard. Violet leaves are high in both Vitamins C & A and have a mucilage quality that is full of fiber. They have a slightly creamy and very earthy flavor that offset the brightness of mint in a really beautiful way. You could also add fresh lemon balm, which is helps soothe the nerves and has a zingy citrus and mint flavor. Backyard medicine at its best. 

 

Ingredients

1 can diced tomatoes (preferably unsalted)
1 tomato or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 red pepper, sliced
1 tbs minced garlic
1 tbs honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Eggs (2-4)
Fresh mint or parsley
Fresh violet leaves or lemon balm
1 tsp ghee
Salt, pepper & paprika to taste
Soft chèvre or feta
 

Method

Heat up a medium sized cast iron pan (non stick works too), then melt ghee. Add onions and peppers and sauté until soft. Combine honey, balsamic and garlic then stir till honey has melted. Pour in canned and fresh tomatoes. Season to your liking and let simmer till tomato juice has evaporated. Crack eggs in into tomato mixture then either cover the pan with a lid or place in a preheated oven (350ºF/176ºC). Cook eggs until the yolks have set. (I prefer my yolks just a tiny bit runny, but cook to your liking.) Remove skillet from heat and garnish with greens and cheese. Serve warm with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping. 



 

Candied Violets
Candied Violets

The other week I harvested some violets from the backyard. The lawn was going to be mowed that day so I got up early, waited for the violets to open up to the sun, grabbed my baskets and started plucking. I spent a good hour or so on the dewy grass, listening to a podcast and gently harvesting all the backyard violets I could. By the end of it, I had 4 plates of sweet violet flowers and leaves and my mood, currently dampened by the stress of my impending move, had improved considerably. It was my first harvest of the season. Winter in Montana is long and I'm still not too familiar with the plants here, so harvesting is a rare treat for me. 

I brought the violets inside and set them on my work table, then began to separate them. Some for sugaring, most for drying. A couple hours later, I brought them outside to dry in the sun for an hour or two, fully intending on bringing them back in before leaving the house. Around noon, my mother and I decided to take a drive up to Glacier National Park, since most of the snow had melted and I was going to leave for Missoula the next day. As I was scrambling to leave the house, a friend called to let me know that she was outside and wanted to say goodbye. So I rushed out, forgetting about the flowers on the back porch. When we arrived back at the house a few hours later, a bad feeling took up residence in my gut as we parked the car. The wind was blowing through town and I rushed to the back yard to check on the violets. But they weren't where I left them. Instead, I found all 4 baskets overturned on the grass below, just a small pile of semi dried flowers left. Perhaps it was the stress of moving or good old fashioned PMS, but I broke. I had grown attached to the delicate backyard flowers and all the plans we had made together. I had been waiting for these violets to sprout up for weeks and to find them scattered around the yard after all that, I cried. It was if the loss of the violets brought up all the stress I had been keeping bottled up and I cried for a good hour. I was angry and felt like a fraud of an herbalist. 

Now, I can see that the violets still had a potent affect on me. Dedicating my morning to the slow harvest of such a gentle plant, was in itself healing for me. I've been so detached from nature since moving to Montana and writing the book, so this simple return to being outside and harvesting a plant I felt comfortable with, was vital for me. While I wasn't able to keep the violets with me and follow through with my plans, their wisdom was still imparted on me. It was a reminder to not take everything so personally and to stop doubting my abilities as an herbalist. It's incredible to witness the energetic impact a plant can have on a person and there are so many lessons to be learned by simply sitting with one; listening to what the plant has to say. They've been around a lot longer than we have and that in itself is a reason to listen. 

Luckily, I sugared a decent amount of flowers before all of this happened. Here's the recipe I used. 

Candied Violets
Candied Violets

Ingredients

1 egg white
1 tsp water
1 cup fine sugar
Freshly picked violets, 20 or more
A small paint brush

Method

In a small mixing bowl, beat egg white until frothy and slowly add water while still whisking the egg. Pour the sugar in a shallow bowl or plate and grab a clean brush. Line a plate or baking sheet with parchment paper and set to the side. Gently brush the egg white onto the petals (don't over do it) and dip the flower into the sugar. Sprinkling sugar where needed. Place the flower, face up on the parchment paper and repeat process with remaining flowers. 

Once finished, place flowers and baking sheet in the fridge and let it set overnight. Store flowers in an airtight jar. They will keep in the fridge for up to one month. Use flowers to garnish cakes, cookies, cocktails, etc. 

Candied Violets