If You Can’t Beat It, Eat It

WQ-KnotweedYears ago, when my husband and I first bought our home in Vermont, we had sporadic visits from a locally well-known pair of wild foragers, Nova Kim and Les Hook.

I think it’s fair to say that if you look up the word eccentric in the dictionary, you’ll find their pictures there.

I find eccentrics such fascinating people and this couple was no exception. At that point in time, Jay and I were newbies in the world of wild vegetation, and Nova and Les were delighted to have pupils. The first time they came here, they took us on a whirlwind tour of the flora of which we had become stewards.

There was wild ginger, yellow dogtooth violets, maidenhair fern, wild leeks, a couple of edible mushrooms, and Japanese knotweed.

In an almost throw-away remark, Nova told us that you could eat Japanese knotweed in the spring when the new shoots appeared. She called it “red asparagus.”

Over the years, I’ve nurtured an intense love/hate relationship with this plant. It is tall and graceful with plumes of delicate flowers in late summer and leaves that turn a rich yellow in the fall.

But it TAKES OVER EVERYTHING!!!!!! And it is nigh impossible to get rid of once it gets a foothold. Sometimes when feeling stressed, I take out my cutting knife and just go to town where it grows the thickest. But even after hours of sweaty cutting, I doubt it even knows I was there.

We were reminded of Nova’s remark the other day when walking in our woods, and finally decided to give knotweed a try. Uncertain how to cook it, I did a web search and came up with recipes that basically use cooked knotweed as a substitute for rhubarb in such things as strawberry-rhubarb (knotweed) pie. After looking in lots of webby corners, I found only sweet recipes, nothing savory, so I tossed the “red asparagus” idea out the window.

My research did turn up a couple of interesting facts. Knotweed is a key ingredient in medicines used to combat Lyme disease, something we are far more at risk of with the horrific rise of ticks in our woods.

Also, knotweed (in tea or the cooked plant) contains resveratrol, an ingredient known to be helpful to folks with heart disease. It’s also beloved by pollinators and considering the plight of our beloved honeybees, I consider that a point on the board for the good guys.

I also found a recipe for Knotweed Bread which I tweaked to suit our tastes, and it turned out pretty yummy.

Thought I would share.

KNOTWEED BREAD

Cut knotweed shoots when they are no more than 8 inches tall ONLY from areas that you know are NOT sprayed with herbicides. (Remember: Herbicides are nerve toxins. Do not ingest or inhale.)

Place 2 cups of knotweed cut into 1-inch pieces in a pan with 1/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for 20 minutes until the knotweed is soft. (It falls apart like rhubarb.) This should yield 1 cup of knotweed sauce that has the consistency of thick pudding. It’s the color of guacamole.

Mix:
1 cup flour (we use 1/4 cup buckwheat and 3/4 unbleached flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 cup poppy seeds (optional)

Combine all ingredients just until the flour is mixed in. Bake for 32 minutes at 350 degrees in a greased deep dish pie pan or 9-inch square pan. Let it cool for 20 minutes then slice and eat.

Note: Knotweed puree can be made ahead and frozen for later use.

 

It’s “Just” a Dandy-lion

WQ-DandelionWelcome to the Carding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

Even though it may be hard to find, you can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from me to you every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.


Wil Bennett, the author and publisher of a daily news blog about Carding, recently persuaded his grandmother, Edie Wolfe, to try her hand at writing some meditations on gardening and the earthly life called the Weeding Diaries. This is her first attempt. Hope you enjoy.

. . . . . . .

A friend of mine recently remarked that “winter isn’t really winter any more in Vermont.” I have to admit he’s right.

Not too many years ago, we’d get a first dusting of snow before Thanksgiving. Then over the next two weeks, the ground would wrinkle up and freeze, and by Christmas, we’d have our first snow blanket. Like magic, the whole town would sprout ice skates, hockey teams and bob houses on the lake, and snowshoes, sleds, and skis for the hills.

We’d play in our frozen paradise until the days lengthened in March, and the frost heaves and potholes of mud season made driving a car a lot like hopping around in a bouncy castle.

Fast forward a decade. Now our winter weather is best described as uncertain. We’ll get a clutch of cold days—perhaps a week here and there—but it’s not enough to freeze the lake thick enough to support an ice skater never mind a whole hockey team. This past winter, our snow cover completely disappeared and reappeared four or five times at least.

For those of us who remember real winters, this is just plain weird.

In spite of grumbling about our weather (a ritual held in high esteem throughout Vermont), in April we all start watching the ground as the snow disappears, looking for the first signs of plant life in our lawns, our gardens, and our woods.

Nothing moves too much until mid-April, and then the green world shifts into fast forward. After a bit of sun and a bit more rain, the fiddleheads (ostrich ferns, really) race to see who can unfurl the fastest. Dots of buttery yellow coltsfoot (no leaves, just small bits of bright color among the leaf litter) have appeared, and the lacy fronds of Dutchmen’s breeches brush our ankles as we walk past them on the footpaths that lead from the center of town down the hill to the mists ruminating on Half Moon Lake.

Every morning, I take a slow stroll through my gardens to assess their progress. It’s still a bit early to work in them because the frigid soil draws all the warmth from my hands, even when I wear gloves. Besides, I know that once I pull that first weed, my time will be at the gardens’ command so I’m putting it off a while longer.

It won’t be long now, though. Yesterday, the first dandelions fingered their way out of the ground to bask in the light and warmth in a sheltered crevice by my front door. In my panoply of garden goddesses, they are the true harbinger of spring, the opening game of the gardening season.

But it’s only one bunch for now so I think I’ll make a second cup of tea, sit on the front porch, and watch the grass grow a little longer.

We’re Baaaackkkk!!!

After a short hiatus, I’ve revved up my keyboard once again to bring you more news and views from Carding, Vermont.

Here’s a sample of the Carding Chronicle that will appear in your inbox (if you are a subscriber) tomorrow.

Please, please, please share! And buy my books: The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.
WQ-Dandelion

Reading the Morning Paper

Lydia Cassatt bookI grew up reading newspapers, a habit that I still delight in to this day. We’re fortunate, here in the Upper Valley, to have a strong and vibrant morning newspaper. Even when the Valley News runs a column or a story that agitates, their local news coverage underpins the cohesiveness of our bi-state region in a way that nothing else does.

And for that, I am grateful.

So the cover of this book was destined to make me smile. And then I opened Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper.

This book is a delight to read as well as to hold. I recently read a story in the Guardian of London about the falling level of ebook sales and the accompanying increase in sales of books-on-paper. Among the many points made in the article, it talked about the resurgence of appreciation among readers of well-designed books. This is a good example of the printing arts.

This is a small volume, 5 1/2 x 7 inches and only 164 pages. The paper is a higher grade than the wretched stuff used in schlocky paperback mysteries, giving the reader a little tactile frisson with every turned page.

The cover has French flaps, also called gatefolds, extensions of both the front and back covers that are folded in. I love this style of cover. In summer, when the weather is humid, they keep the cover from curling up and in the hand…well…they just feel so nice.

The type design is airy (lots of space between the lines) and its elegance complements the  author’s poetic prose perfectly. In addition, there are color plates of portraits of Lydia Cassatt inside.

Lydia was the sister of Mary Cassatt, an American painter and printmaker who lived and worked most of her life in France in the late 19th to the early 20th century. Mary exhibited with the Impressionists, painting (mostly) the domestic side of women’s lives. Nowadays, her work is exhibited in galleries around the world and is highly prized.

Lydia, who suffered from Bright’s disease and died in 1882, was one of Mary’s favorite models. This book is a meditation on the sisters’ relationship as well as painting, family, and illness, all told from Lydia’s point of view.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper is moving and beautiful, both to read and to hold in your hands and heart. I hope you take the opportunity to read it.

A Wee Update

WQ-Peach centered narcissusHi folks,

As you may have noticed, I did not post a new Carding Chronicle last week, and I wanted to tell you why.

I had hip replacement surgery on February 27 (and yes, I’m coming along nicely, thank you). Before surgery, I wrote a number of Chronicles ahead so that we would not miss our weekly date together.

I thought I would be ready to resume writing last week but, as I’m sure you all can relate, life got in my way. (Plus I find that it just takes me longer to do just about everything.)

Well, thanks to the magic of physical therapy and the unbelievable support of my husband (yes, he should be sainted but please don’t tell him or he’ll get a swelled head), I finally feel closer to ready.

So I’m going to take this week to do my final catch-up chores and then the Chronicles will be back.

And by the way, part of my catching up has been work on the next Carding novel. So you see, I’ve been thinking about you all the time.

It’s raining today, water that we need to combat the drought conditions lingering from 2016. The daffodils and narcissus are up, their buds fat and ready to pop. There’s lovage, chives and peonies coming up too. The snowdrops are already going to seed and I know that the bloodroot in the woods are getting ready to unfurl.

I just love this time of year, don’t you?

A happy spring to you all.

Sonja

Early Morning Sunrise

wq-sunriseVermont still shivers in early April and anyone with any sense keeps a warm jacket nearby.

But chilly temperatures cannot keep a good fisherman at home in bed on the first day of trout season.

And Bruce Elliott is a good fisherman.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont.

//////////////////////////////

Bruce Elliott had been awake since 3 a.m. Fishing season started in just a few hours, his favorite day of the year. He craned his neck to peer at the lighted numerals on the alarm clock resting on top of the bookcase head board.

“Why don’t you just get up now?” his wife murmured. “You know you want to.”

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Bruce whispered.

Cate yawned. “Of course I’m sure. I’ll get more sleep if you do and the kids will be up early enough. Go—and take the sandwiches I made for you. They’re in the fridge.”

Bruce leaned over and peeled back the quilt over his wife’s head until he found her cheek and kissed it. “You’re the best,” he whispered.

“I know,” Cate moaned. “Now go.”

Ordinarily, Bruce Elliott was the consummate family man. He took his sons out to play baseball, coached a soccer team, and taught them how to use simple tools (“Never pay anyone to do anything you can figure out yourself,” was one of his favorite sayings.)

He took them fishing, too. Except for the opening day of trout season.

“There are holidays for every occasion,” he opined. “The first day of fishing season is my personal holiday, and I want to spend those first hours alone.”

Cate didn’t mind. Everyone needs a spot of solitude now and then.

Bruce scanned the sky while downing coffee and a bagel. The clouds were pewter-colored but he detected a couple of thin spots. “It sure would be nice if it all got a bit thinner,” he thought. “Last year, it snowed!”

All his gear was ready in the car—rod, lures, waders. Bruce stuffed Cate’s sandwiches into a compact cooler, filched a few Oreos from the stash he knew his oldest son kept behind a gallon jug of vinegar in a bottom cupboard, and filled his largest thermos with more coffee.

After closing the back door, Bruce stood in the mud room to ask the deities governing the sport of fishing for a good start to the season. Then he pulled a checklist out of a vest pocket to double-triple make sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything key.

The streets of Carding were deserted except for the newspaper delivery folks and Ruth Goodwin on her early morning run for the mail in White River Junction. When they waved to one another, Ruth grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.

Bruce had favorite fishing spots all over the state but he always stayed in Carding for the first day so he could get there at first light without driving all night. He’d been pouring over a detailed map of Half Moon Lake, especially the marshy areas in the backwater behind the Crow’s Head Falls and the wide turn at the east end of the lake where the Corvus River gathered itself together once again to head toward the big waters of the Connecticut.

He and Stephen Bennett, Ted Owens, and Peter Foster had stalked the lake’s perimeter, evaluating the state of the riffles where rainbows like to hide on chill April mornings. Bruce figured he’d see each of them during the course of the day to discuss lures and catches in detail.

But right now was his time—just the water, a fishing rod, and silence.

He parked in the town lot at the community beach, grabbed his gear, and headed out on an almost invisible track that would take him down to a pair of very large, flat boulders renowned among the local teenagers as a great place for night moves on a summer evening. Bruce grinned as his own memories of those nights played inside his head.

But the memories didn’t stay long because the track was slippery with half-frozen mud and round stones. Bruce slowed to a crawl in the sepia light.

Then it happened, the omen he’d been waiting for. The clouds in the east thinned just a bit more, and the piercing light of a new fishing season dawned in the land.

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 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Thank you!

 

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.