Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Foraging in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

We went up to the mountains this last weekend, and I visited some of my favorite foraging spots. I make it a point to get up there every fall so I can harvest Elderberries, gooseberries and whatever other berries I can find. We also look for mushrooms and gather crawdads. I have a favorite area I revisit throughout every year. I pretty much suck at remembering to photograph my every adventure, but over the last few years I have managed to get pictures of a number of my favorites from early spring all the way through harvest. I think this is important because you may be out in the woods yourself at a time of the year when the berries are not ripe but the flowers are blooming. If you recognize plant you can make a note and come back to visit it throughout the summer until you harvest. You will have to re-visit your favorite plants through out the season as they become ripe at different times. We had some serious drought conditions for the last few years, in those years the fruits were few and far between. I love my wild foraged foods but in respect of the scarcity of ripe berries in those dry years I did not take any fruit. I left it for the forest animals who rely on it for survival.


The large red spined fruits are the gooseberries, the blueish ones are currants.

The gooseberries I find here have some nasty spines protecting the decadent fruits.
Do not let the spines scare you away. Yes they are a little prickly thing, but let that not dissuade you. They make an extremely tasty as a jam or a pie. I use a fork and good garden gloves to harvest. Just hold the plant over your bucket with one hand and use the fork to comb the berries off.

Here the plant is in early spring, when snow is still piled in the shadowy corners of the forest. Note the scalloped leaves, the spines on the stems.

Gooseberries and Currants are practically interchangeable and grow throughout the US. These particular pictures are from the Sierra Nevada's around highway 20 in the Bowman Lake area. I wish I had taken a picture from a few feet back, so you could see that these plants at that location are low lying shrubs. The currants at my dad's house in Oregon are a much taller shrub, with may spines on the stems and leaves but smooth berries. You can find both currants and gooseberries in every part of the US.


Red Flowering Currant

This one was new to me last year, while I was intent upon harvesting those gooseberries and elderberries last fall, I came across these, little blue speckled berries. They have the leaves of the currant, no spines and the berries have a waxy covering. The plants are very tall, especially around wet areas, the leaves are quite large compared to a traditional gooseberry or currant. I knew they were a currant, but until I saw the flower I could not confirm it was the red flowering currant. This last weekend I found them all over,it was a very very wet year. They are now confirmed and I plan to go back through out the year to be there when the harvest comes in.


I know these plants very well, but I have still not been up there when the berries are at their peak. I
In fact I have only found them after they are dried out to a powdery husk. I pulled a few open and tasted them anyhow and I thought they tasted like cookie powder.
These two pictures are of the flowing bush, which has red peeling bark in the summer, bell shaped blowers and round leaves.  

More info to follow, when I have it lol.



Elderberries are a favorite of mine. I make a syrup or jelly from them. This year I think I will make wine, that is something I have never tried. Elderberries are a powerhouse of nutrition, and are worth the effort it takes to go harvest them. the trees up in the Sierra are bare branches right now, we had a crazy spring so it must be to cold for them yet. The one tree I found down here in the valley was in full bloom in mid May. So that one will have ripe berries 2 months before the ones up in the mountains.

While the berries and flowers are edible, don't consume the stems and branches, they can make you ill. I use a pair of clippers to snip off the berry clusters from the plant. When I am home I use a fork to remove as many berries from the stems as possible. I honestly don't worry to much about the little tiny stems where the berry clusters are, it is all so tiny and nearly impossible to remove every bit of it. I clean them then put them all in a large pot with a small amount of water. Using a potato masher I bring it up to a boil while smashing the berries to remove the juice. use cheese cloth to wring out every bit of juice.

Check out this blog post about the elderberries I have pictured here. She has lots of information including a warning about look alike flowers from the water hemlock which is deadly. Always completely identify your plant before you deem it safe for consumption.

* Western Plum, I am still in the identification process.

Since my blog is mainly for my own use, I am including this plant here. I am pretty certain this is the Western plum, Sierra Plum, Klamath Plum basically a widespread wild plum with lots of uses. I found groves of them, all flowers no berries right now. I will be going back up and looking for berries to aid my identification.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Suede Beaded Purse.

Suede purse in the works. Brainstorming here. The bottom will be long fringe. 

The central motif is complete. I really like the bone skull. It is very hard to take a picture of, it looks bleached out. It is not, the carved details are incredible. 

My progress as of this morning. I just love creating beaded things. They are heavy with opulence, texture and sparkle. 

I can't wait to get this onto the purse and see the finished product. I am thinking of lining the purse with some silk velvet as unpracticle as that lining would be I think it will be beautiful. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mexican cocktail, a love affair with soup.

At Thanksgiving of 2014, we went to our sister-in-laws family's home. They welcomed us with open arms and shots of tequila... Wait the shots came came later. We feasted upon all manner or Mexican food, carne asada, tamales , rice, smoked duck ( my contribution ) and my new addiction... Mexican Cocktail. I was expecting a cold shrimp with avocado and red salsa sauce. Oh I was wrong. What we had as an appetizer was a soup, a shrimp soup with every condiment you would have on a taco, cilantro, minced sweet onion, tomato, avocado, hot salsa, and last but not least....catsup. Catsup, you say? Yes oddly they use it as a base for so many wonderful dishes.  This is a wonderful light dinner, and so good! 

Mexican Cocktail soup. 
5 servings
2lbs frozen shrimp with skins, peel and reserve shells for the stock
2 onions, one must be a white, or sweet onion to mince for the condiment bowl, the other any onion you have for the stock
1 bunch cilantro, trim it up mince the leaves for the condiment bowl, reserve stems for stock
1 tomato of good quality minced for condiment. 
1.5 TBS tomato paste, this is where I fear off the original recipe.. I like the concentred flavor paste provides. They original recipe used a tomato in the stock. 
 A small lemon squeezed for the stock
1TBS Lemon pepper,
Salt to taste
1TBS garlic powder
1 avacodo diced

In a large soup pot add 3-4 quarts water, all the shrimp shells, just shells wait on the shrimp meat. The onion, tomato paste, lemon juice lemon pepper, garlic powder and salt. Add the cilantro stems after you prep the cilantro. Simmer stock for about 45 min taste as you simmer and add additional salt, lemon pepper garlic ect. You want a good stock. 

While your stock is simmering mince up the onion, he tomato, cilantro and dice the avacodo. I put them in little bowls so people can decide what they want in their own soup. 

When you satisfied the stock is good. Remove all the solids and reserve the stock. Add your shrimp and boil just long enough to cook the shrimp. 

Remove from heat and prepare your bowls. 

Spoon into each bowl a generous portion of cooked shrimp, and broth. 
Squeeze catsup over the soup, I just do one decent squeeze once around the bowl. Add taps too hot sauce to your liking. I like it hot! 

Now add the condiments, cilantro, avacodo, onion, and tomato. 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sausages, curing and cheese

I have been in a cooking frenzy the last week or so. I am beginning on my cheese making journey. I have a little success and a little failure. Therefore I won't be posting recipes about it until I am satisfied they will work out for you. There is defiantly a learning curve. Then there is sausage making, I am having great success here. I enjoy making sausage it is very gratifying. Earlier this month my friend and I made damn good <a href="http://blog.americanspice.com/index.php/homemade-jalapeno-cheddar-bratwurst/"> JalapeƱo cheddar brats. </a> the only thing I would change is the caraway I'm just not sure I like it. That did not stop me and everyone from consuming them at supersonic speeds. 

With that success under my belt I set out to make 2 more batches of links. This time I made breakfast links and hot Italian. Again success, holy smokes I'm getting addicted to sausage making. I also cured 5 lbs of buck board bacon, it is meaty and really good, more like ham than bacon. At least this recipe was. I did a very simple cure with no spice except pepper just before smoking it. I have some odd sized scraps that are going into split pea soup just as soon as fall soup weather hits. 

This is the equipment I use for sausage making:
Kitchen aid  I have a very old, probably 25 or more years old commercial model so it is a little bigger and it claims on the front attatchment a are not available. Wrong, I took a chance and bought attachments they work just fine. 

Kitchen Aid meat grinder attachment or another meat grinder with small and medium plates. 

Lem 5 lb sausage stuffer I had been using the sausage stuffing attachment for Kitchen Aid but I was not thrilled with it. It does work but it is slow, the meat gets warm as it works it's way through the tube and your covered in sausage while you try to shove it down the tube. In sausage making everything need to be very cold all the time. Freezing either stuffer before begging is a good idea. I really like the Lem model because it hold a full five lbs and the sausage just comes out as fast as someone can crank it. Another thing I like about Lem over affordable kitchen aid is you can operate it alone, the Kitchen Aid stuffer requires a partner. 

Two big bowls, I have a nice stainless 13qt I just picked up at Costco for less than $9.00 and a million year old Tupperware bowl that is about 8qts. 

A few prep bowls to premeasure ingredients into.

Casings I use hog casings and sheep casings, I have not tried any other kinds. I soak up about 8' sheep casing for a 2.5 lb recipe and 4-5 ' hog casings for 2.5 lbs. they need to soak for at least a half hour before you clean them. Clean them by running water from faucet through them a few times removing all the salt they came in. When storing the excess casings, add more kosher salt and keep them in fridge. 

Curing salt aka pink salt not needed in basic sausage making but used in cures. Pink salt is not fancy salt it is salt and sodium nitrite (6.25%). You use it as per manufacture instructions it is measured out in increments depending on the weight of your meat.

Food scale I have one that weighs up to 20lbs although I don't know how on earth I would balance that much on top. I am really happy to have this in the kitchen I use it all the time. I plan to get a smaller one for measuring spices and whatnot. 

Food saver found one at the Goodwill for $8.00 it is old but works just fine for now. If you don't have one wrap your links in plastic wrap twice then freezer paper like in the good old days. 

Sausage poker that is what I call it, this to pierce the links if you get an air bubble. I made one from a really heavy duty needle shoved  into a cork it works great. 

Let's get started I'm posting both recipes ingredients and then the common instructions for grinding mixing and stuffing. You can double, or  triple if you want. I have even did some fuzzy math and made 8 pound batch. You should always do a fry test before you stuff them up. Then you have the opportunity to make changes to the spices. 

Breakfast sausage
Yield 2.5 lbs or about 26, 4" links. 

8' sheep casings 

2.5 lbs pork butt, it is known as Boston Butt as well as pork shoulder. Boneless if possible not to lean you need the fat you will want this frozen for at least a half hour so it is stiff and easy to cut. It also grinds better if slightly frozen 

1 TB kosher or coarse salt do not use iodized salt. 
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried onion powder
1 tsp granulated garlic not garlic salt ( as a matter of fact stop sing garlic salt altogether use granulated garlic in recipes and salt to taste) 
3/4 tsp pepper 
3/4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes 
1/8 tsp cayenne if you want a little spicy touch  

Italian style sausage 

Yields 13-14 4" links

4 to 5 feet hog casing 
2.5 lbs pork butt boneless and not to lean you need fat. Partially frozen so it is easy to cut into cubes. 
1 TB kosher or coarse salt do not use iodized salt. 
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp granulated garlic
1tsp crushed red pepper or more for spicier blend
1/2 tsp toasted fennel seeds
1 tsp paprika
Dash of cayenne for more heat if you desire. 

Instructions for making sausage 

Gather up your supplies and ingredients. Sanitize your cook station and all your equipment. 

Place your grinder, sausage stuffer and bowls in freezer to keep them very cold. The importance of keeping your product cold cannot be stressed enough. Warm fat does not grind well, and does not mix up like we want in the sausage. 

This is how I proceed it uses time wisely since you have to let things rest in fridge or freezer between actions. 

Cut your meat into walnut sized pieces, weigh it up and adjust seasonings to the amount of meat you are using. Put the cut meat into your very cold bowl and place in freezer until firm but not a rock. About 20 min to 1/2 hour 

Now using a prep bowl measure out all your spices and set aside. 

Set up your meat grinder, and grind your meat using a fine disc. Place your other frozen bowl under the grinder and grind up your partially frozen meat. Don't take to long you want everything to stay cold. The action of the grinding worm creates heat so be as quick as you can.

Place meat in fridge

Clean your casings, I run water through them multiple times 

Add spices to meat mix with a big spoon, then use a paddle attatchment on your kitchen aid to mix it fast for 20-30 seconds. You want the meat to look sticky and be sticky, but not over whipped. You should be able to pat a small amount onto your palm and it won't fall off when you try to shake it off. 

Fry up a patty and taste it, the flavors will meld after the mixture sets a while but you get the general idea and will know if you need to adjust the seasonings. 

Back to the fridge with the meat. 

Clean up the equipment from all previous steps and set up your stuffer, gently thread the casing onto the appropriate sized tube, small for sheep , medium for hog casing. Tie up the end. Load the meat and stuff the sausages go as slow or fast as you can handle all the while making certain to pierce air bubbles and do not over stuff. You have to be able to twist your links and it really sucks when they burst open because they are to full. When I have a little to stuffed of an area I make a thin area with less stuffing so I can squeeze it and even it out. When you are done twist the end up real good. 

Now at 4-5" intervals pinch the casings then twist 5-7 times away from you, link one done. Pinch 4-5" further on and twist 5-7 times toward you. Now alternate away and toward twist it's until your links done. This alternating to and fro is so links do not come untwisted. This will be easy after a couple of batches. I really pinch the casing so there is an empty spot for the twist. I like my twists to be long enough that later when I cut them bothe links have a little twist on the ends. 

Now refer to the pictures above, place your links on a paper towl, tea towel something absorbent and clean, you are going to dry them in the fridge a few hours. 

After they are dry on the outside you can cut them apart. When they are dried enough your twist will be a little dried, will cut easy and won't come untwisted. If any come untwisted just twist it back up. 

I hope you have fun and great success in your sausage making, go forth and impress everyone you know with yummy sausages. 

Bracelets beads and bling!

Larimar stone, pearls, iolite and beads. 

Red and gold, 49ers inspired for a dear cousin.

Pirate bling. 

One in the works, and two fantastic carved horn skulls for a future project. 

Go create!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bead embroidery.

Addicted to seed beads. There was a time when I could not be inspired by a seed bead. Well I can safely say, they are now my addiction, my wallet suffers a huge hit if I walk into a bead shop. 

Below you can see a finished red and gold commission, the commission was for three red and gold, (go 49'ers!) bracelets. 

I want to share the process of how I create each one. It is free form working from side to side. I also am just a wee bit tired of red and gold so I'm making an earthy green one for either me or my beautiful child. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Little Fox is finished.

Here is the finished little guy, cute if I do say so.