healthy eating

There’s More than Meets the Fung – eye

Its December, the last remnants of Chanterelles are leaving your taste buds. The first freeze is here. Just a few weeks ago mushrooms were everywhere! They were in your cedar chips, in your lawn and between. You’re curious about them, that’s why you’re reading this. You know some of them are super poisonous, some are super delicious, some are super medicinal and some are super fun. You are afraid to pick and eat them because of that lethal thing I mentioned – don’t worry so am I.

Foraging for mushrooms often takes a little more experience than foraging for edible plants as there can be a lot of false identification. For that reason I am not here today to talk to you about identification.

You’re asking, well then why the hell are you here? I’m here to talk to you about why Fungi are more important then just their delectable edible bodies.

Fungi are in the streets, on the internet, and in the market. Those fungal networks: think of em like the dark web of our soil. A Matrix of interconnected webs spanning miles beyond miles. Alright Neo are you ready to take the red pill?

Connected to that little mushroom you saw yesterday is a network of mycelium that can span so far that one of the biggest organisms on the earth is a fungi. These networks have symbiotic relationships with the plants growing above ground, this relationship is called mycorrhizae. They exchange nutrients and knowledge. Wait knowledge? What do you mean knowledge?

Scientists have proven that mother trees use these networks to send nutrients to saplings and communicate- sometimes to different species even. I know, you’re like whoa! Hold on to your horses cause it gets better.

Fungi are not only the highways for the the transportation of nutrients, they are also like the markets making those nutrients more readily available for plants. So instead of having to travel deep into the soil with its roots or break down some complex compounds, fungal networks do that for them. Look at that fungi making nutrients more available for plants. So now you’re asking, what do they get in trade? They get carbohydrates! We all want sugar right?

Now that you know mushrooms are so important for your garden, what can you do to encourage fungi in your soil? Lets start with what not to do. DON’T use pesticides. Don’t use too much nitrogen or phosphorous rich fertilizers/composts. Don’t till your soil. Don’t mono crop. Rotate them crops yo.

If the land you use is new to you I suggest assuming its been compromised. Most garden shops will have something to help perpetuate that amazing mycelium. A startling 80% of land plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi and I’m willing to bet most of the plants in your garden do too.

So now you’re like, well I don’t grow a garden I don’t care. Well there’s even more to meet the eye with fungi then just soil health. Mushrooms are being studied in the treatment of breast cancer (turkey tail mushrooms), the filtering of pollutants and the creation of new biodegradable packing materials. Soon we’ll be able to say good by to styrofoam.

Fungi are responsible for my three favorite things: beer, bread, and cheese…mmm fermentation. So next time you see that little fruiting body called a mushroom popping up remember that’s the tip of the of the iceberg.

Want to learn more about mushrooms? I’d suggest checking out Paul Stamets and Susie Simmond TED talks to start.

 

Nichole Criss
Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe
Social Media Manager
Chaco CanyonThere’s More than Meets the Fung – eye
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Dietary Pleasure vs. Dietary Effect

I will always remember when the dietary script flipped in my life. About 5 years ago, I was walking away from Chaco University with what’s known as the “Boss Juice”: a pickle jar filled with ice, a shot of wheatgrass, and a large Green Cleanse juice (celery, cucumber, spinach, lemon and parsley).

I caught myself thinking “delicious!” after a swig of my green, bitter, sweetness-free slurry.

When I was in my teens, you could buy candy bars for 25 cents each. Not wanting to carry change around in my pocket, my daily after-school snack regimen was simple:

one crisp $1 bill = 4 candy bars.

Every day for years, I ate four candy bars as a pre-teen and teen. Now, I was blessed with a high metabolism and was an active kid. I was more ‘beanpole’ than overweight, in any fashion. Since there were no obvious repercussions to this dietary choice, the equation was easy for me at the time: sweet candy = pleasure.

Fast forward to my 30’s. No longer an active daily athlete and metabolism hitting the typical wall for people my age. There was a definitive cause and effect relationship with food that been obvious for years. I was no longer eating multiple candy bars per day, but I was in the midst of the dance between diet and health. If I make a certain choice for what I consume at lunch, it will affect how much energy I have for the next few hours of work. If I skip breakfast, I will lose all motivation by 11am. Have sugar for a snack, and I knew I would pay dearly within 15 minutes.

This has become an acute daily exercise for me in my 40’s, where there are clear costs and benefits to everything I consume. I’m thankfully allergy-free and I don’t think I have any particular sensitivities. However, for 10 years I have been checking in with myself after I eat something, and that has produced real insight into how my body processes food.

It also gives me insight into how important ingredients are.

I can eat two identical-looking dishes and have two completely different bodily reactions to them. Ingredients are important – the devil’s in the details!
There are items at my own café that I have to really avoid (see: Lentil Burger), but something at Chaco that’s illustrative of foods that look alike but create different results is our yogurt bowl.

yogurt-breakfast-bowl

I’ve never been a yogurt and fruit person because my body doesn’t like dairy or sugar. However, it does like the live cultures present in yogurts. The Chaco version is a cultured, live coconut-based yogurt, and my body actually sings when I have one for breakfast.

I’ll bet my 12-year old self never could have predicted that.
 
 
Chris Maykut
Proud Owner
Chaco Canyon Organic Cafes

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Weeds You Could be Eating: Part Deux

Backyard Liver Tonic

It’s mid summer and here I am, back again for “weeds you could be eating part deux.” Don’t mind the Hot Shots reference.

So it’s early August, you’ve already harvested lambs quarters, nettle, berries, and all those other plants, you know, the vegetables you intentionally planted. The summer days are getting shorter but hotter. Your apples, pears and plums are getting ready to be picked. Your neighbors apples, pears and plums are getting ready to be picked, by you, because they never do anything with them anyway, but you really should ask permission instead of sneaking over in the middle of the night. No judgement here.

 

Oh my dandelion,

it has taken over your front yard, your side yard, and just about everything in between. You haven’t mowed it down because it’s bringing in so many local bees that are doing their pollinating thing and making your harvest possible. Well good news the whole dang plant is edible. Lemme tell you a little bout dandelion. Dandelion, taraxacum officinale, is packed full of vitamin A, C, calcium and is quite the liver tonic. You can make tea, you can make wine, you can make soup, you can make salads, you can make medicine and just about everything under the sun. Dandelion flowers make a great wine, you may need a lot of flowers, or can be added to any mead or wine to add complexity. The root of dandelion can be boiled in place of any vegetable or roasted and ground in place of coffee. The leaves of dandelion can be quite bitter when raw so I would suggest cooking them before ingesting, maybe try them in soup. Not only is dandelion good for you it’s good for the soil too. Dandelion roots break up the compact soil (ahem grass lawns)  and aerate the earth. Their deep roots pull up nutrients and make them available to other plants.  Only since the idea of grass lawns have dandelions been looked upon so poorly. I think it’s about time we change our perception on Dandelion.

 

A good alternative to fish oil supplements.

Purslane do your dang thing.

We may have just missed the cut off for Purslane as its starting to get bitter in my garden, but just in case you still have a little left. Purslane, portulaca oleracea, often used as a ground cover, is an edible plant that grows low to the ground. Purslanes succulent leaves are delectable and high in omega-3 fatty oils so no need to take that fish oil, yuck. You can chop the stems and leaves as an addition to any salad or cook them and add them to any soup or vegetable dish. Next spring throw down some purslane seeds on your broccoli bed and have a living edible mulch.

 

Sorrel Sorrel,

what ever will be will be.  Mountain Sorrel, oxyria dingyna, and Sheep Sorrel, rumex acetosella,  are both edible and both grow around these parts. Sorrel leaves are edible and can be added to salad or sandwiches. The leaves can be sour so I would not suggest ingesting too many leaves or making an entire salad out of them.

Just like any foraging adventure make sure you know %100 before you ingest. Common names can be misleading or misused and many plants have not so edible or even poisonous look a likes. If you are not sure, use a reference manual to help identify or don’t eat it.  That’s it from me this week. What wild edible plants are you eating, how are you preparing them and what do you suggest?

 

Nichole Criss
Chaco Canyon Cafe West Seattle
Assistant General Manager

 

Sources:
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Pojar and Mackinnon
The Foragers Harvest, Samuel Thayer
Gardenguides.com
Ediblewildfood.com
Chaco CanyonWeeds You Could be Eating: Part Deux
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Eat Your Scraps: The Case for Eating the Whole Vegetable

In the sociology class I took in college, my professor shared some research with us that had been conducted on people’s trash cans:

what’s in them, and what our trash can say about our income and our social identities. One of the statistics he shared from this study always stuck with me: the amount that people cut off the ends of their asparagus directly correlates to their income levels. For years, I have lightheartedly recalled this piece of information every time I prepare asparagus—I wonder what the trash spies will think of this one!—but it has also caused me to see my food differently: pieces and parts of fruits and vegetables that I consider scraps can be valuable sources of nutrition, or at least sustenance.

You love peas, but do you love pea vines?

You love peas, but do you love pea vines?

In a recent CSA box, I pulled out an item that was familiar to my eyes but new to my menu: leek scapes. I see these tall, green, hearty, sometimes flower-topped spears in sidewalk gardens and P-Patches all around Seattle and recognize each one as a sign that there are delicious homegrown alliums of some kind hiding beneath the surface of that soil. I had never considered its edibility before, only its indication of edible food below. I was pleasantly surprised to taste its mild and tender green skin and blossom, and I was even more excited by the knowledge that this was all hidden within what I had previously considered a food scrap.

These leek scapes inspired a scrap-saving crusade in my kitchen. I used to compost the green ends of the leek itself, now I cook the whole thing. Broccoli stems? They’re delicious sautéed or prepared just like the florets (especially when you peel them). That stringy brown stuff on the top of corn? Dry it and make a potassium-rich tea out of it! Beet, carrot, and broccoli greens are ideal for salads, pesto-making, or any other way you normally use hearty greens. The greenish flesh of the watermelon (before the rind) tastes just like a cucumber—and the rind itself is edible and nutrient-dense too! Just squirt some lime juice on it, or pickle it for best flavor. And one of the easiest ways to start using your food scraps is to start a broth bag:  save your onion skins, garlic remnants, celery butts, carrot shavings, and herb stems and simmer them with water to make a delicious fresh vegetable broth.

Trying to do away with vegetable “scraps” has left me feeling not only financially savvy (more bang for my buck!), but also like I’m properly honoring the time, space, and energy that went into growing my food, which makes my meals that much more satisfying. Give your scraps a second look next time you reach for the compost!

Annie
Cafe Manager
Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe & Bakery, Greenwood

Chaco CanyonEat Your Scraps: The Case for Eating the Whole Vegetable
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Weeds You Could Be Eating

Local plants that “invade” your garden beds but if harvested could nurture your bodies.

If you are from Seattle or if you have traversed Discovery Park during spring time you probably have been stung by Stinging Nettles. These annoying weeds that irritate your skin and cause a stinging sensation aren’t weeds at all but really a local edible plant. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) are packed full of nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron and can be high in protein.
Although they can be eaten raw I wouldn’t advise it as a certain technique is required and failure to do so correctly will leave your tongue stinging. The sting is best removed by cooking them. Nettles are great in pestos, soups, sauces or in smoothies like we do seasonally in our Really Green Smoothie. Their leaves can also be dried to make a allergy fighting tea.
Lambs Quarter was our seasonal green in the Really Green Smoothie last year. Should we bring it back?

Lambs Quarter was our seasonal green in the Really Green Smoothie last year. Should we bring it back?

Now that you know about nettles you maybe wondering what other “weeds” you’ve been missing out on. Here’s a few other local weeds you could be eating.
Lambs quarters (Chenopodium album) also known as Goosefoot, having nothing to do with hoofed or feathered creatures, is another wild plant that grows locally.  Well, I guess you could say each leaf is in the shape of a goose’s foot. Lambs quarters contain high amounts  vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and calcium.  They taste similarly to spinach and can be used the same in most recipes. You may seem them pop up late spring early summer.
berries

The delicious salmonberry

Berries, berries, berries. Thimbleberry, salmonberry and blackberries are a few of the many local edible berries. Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis,  named so for their salmon coloring, bear fruit mid spring to early summer.  Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus), not meant for transport, can be eaten as you pick or expect to use them for jam as they fall apart quickly. We have multiple types of blackberries in the region including; Himalaya, Evergreen, and Dewberry. Look for blackberries mid to late summer.  All these berries are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants play a large role in degenerative disease prevention such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few.  As with any foraging id advise to know the area. Often roadside berries are sprayed with harsh chemicals that you do not want to be ingesting.
Wrongful plant identification can lead to some nasty stomach issues and even death so don’t ingest unless you are 100% sure you have identified the right plant. A safer beginners route with some of the less easily identifiable plants maybe to purchase these from a local forager first.  We often purchase our wild edibles from Foraged and Found Edibles who you can find at the Queen Anne, University District, Ballard and West Seattle farmers markets.
There are so many PNW plants that are not only edible but delicious and nutrient dense. Next time your “weeding” your garden you might think twice about what you pull and what you keep.
Nichole Criss
Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, West Seattle
Sources:
Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest by Eugene N. Kohloff
The Foragers Harvest by Samuel Thayer
www.Nutritionalvalue.org
Chaco CanyonWeeds You Could Be Eating
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