Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
Morning Poem/Mary Oliver
These days - each morning I wake, earlier and earlier, and I walk from the gravel driveway of our home, past the marshland, the cow pasture, and into the mossy woods - following a trail circling a lake near our home. This practice is new. As I'm here in this space alone this week, facing the more difficult emotions of a life passing - these walks have become the best medicine. Instead of chasing new trails, each morning it is the same, each morning I develop a closer friendship with these cedars and firs. I listen, I feel the accountability of the woods watching me and I gaze back, humbled. The thoughts, worries, anxieties that feel so large in the home are cast off and my imagination is alighted, eyes brightened. I take deep inhales, not to calm, but because the earth smells so incredibly, intoxicatingly good. With one breath comes the memories of every springtime from my childhood - the wet, damp earth of new life, warm and fragrant and full of promise. The trails light up with riverside picnics, Classics homework in the stream, bright citrus, the exhilarating first warm bike ride after the snowiest city winter, and then comes rushing forth the memories of my Papou - crab hunting alongside Atlantic cliffs, staying up late to dance to Greek folk music, dancing in circles around the dining room table, how he would always fix me a warm glass of milk when I couldn't sleep, how exciting it was when he and my yiayia would show up, two suitcases in hand to stay with us for a week, and the irreplaceable smells and feelings of being a child in his dusty warm Greek-adorned Connecticut home. As these feelings well up I feel comfort whispered back on the breeze swaying through the branches. I feel the cedars holding and lifting me - I can't imagine a more nourishing relationship.
And as I nurture this relationship, I have also begun a more studious wildcrafting practice. As you may have noticed, it's difficult for me to work on a food creation without adding an herbal element or wildflower - and now that I am finally in a landscape to find those ingredients myself I have been "putting myself through school". Essentially meaning I go out with a field guide or my partner -the-field-ecologist-major-wilderness-enthusiast and work on plant identification. As I learn more on the collecting of these ingredients I better understand the communication that is involved in harvesting wild ingredients - that is is a conversation - that it is important to respect the forest, to take what is given and to leave what is not. And in my practice I find myself having to curb that instant gratification excitement that comes when I find the plant I'm searching for, that I can't just hungrily take every one I see, but that each is harvested mindfully.
Stinging nettle will grow in dense clusters, and stalks can reach 5-8 feet at maturity. Leaves are about 2-5 inches long with jagged edges, found in opposing pairs along the upper half of the stalk. Leaves are pointed at the tips, with a heart-shaped base and indented veins. The plant will have small “hairs” up the stalk and stems. (This is where the sting comes from!) Young plants will have smaller, heart-shaped leaves with a purple-ish hue, while the mature plants have longer, pointed leaves that appear very green. The best time to harvest nettles is the first few weeks after they come up in the spring, before they grow to be a foot tall.
While nettle stings may be helpful with arthritis and energy flow to the stings - not everyone likes to get stung - especially in their extra potent springtime form - it is generally advised to go out with gloves and harvest - although I just used my clippers as tongs and that seemed to work fairly well. Harvest only the young nettle leaves, taking only the top 4-6 leaves.
Mini-cakes! I've been looking for an excuse to make them since my rosemary lemon mousse cakes from way back when. And Phoebe's birthday seemed like the perfect excuse, and only fitting since the way I met Phoebe, 4 years ago now, was by making her a birthday cake, and with strawberry lemon icing! Funny enough.
They were assembled pretty haphazardly as I wrapped up a market to come home and hurriedly ice them before catching a ferry to the party - so despite being a bit messy I'd say they turned out well!
Wild Nettle Mini-Cakes with Strawberry Lemon Icing
adapted from Veggie Desserts
2 cups nettle leaves
1.5 sticks of softened butter (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest and juice of one lime
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Strawberry Lemon Icing
2/3 cup softened butter
2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
I. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and line one half sheet pan.
II. Using rubber gloves, carefully wash the stinging nettle leaves and remove any stems. Place in a pan of boiling water and boil for 3-4 minutes. The sting will be removed with the boiling. Refresh under cold water, drain and puree. Set aside.
III. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the nettles, vanilla, zest and lemon juice.
IV. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir to gently combine.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared half sheet pan, push to the edges and level, then bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan.
For the icing:
In a large bowl, cream the butter until fluffy. Add in the icing sugar and beat. Beat in the zest and a little of the lemon juice. Add more lemon juice and the strawberries to make it a frosting consistency and beat again.
Depending on the size you'd like your mini cakes - using a cookie cutter or cup or jar, punch a circular holes into the cake until there is no more space and place the little cake circles onto a separate sheet pan. Scoop icing into a pastry bag and squeeze a thin layer in on top of completely cooled cakes and sandwich three layers together. Spread icing to cover the outside and garnish with berries!