Monday, May 17, 2010

Young robin

Photo by Michael

I believe this young robin on our back deck is displaying the prejuvenal molt on its way to juvenal plumage. There were a lot of nesting robins near the house this spring.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fiddleheads: fugu for vegetarians

From my friend Erika:

Fiddleheads must definitely be well cooked in order to detoxify them. Boil them for at least 5 minutes and discard the water. If you want to serve them "raw", boil them, then chill them and call them raw, or else face risking the reaction Bob had if you actually eat them without boiling first (some individuals are more susceptible to their toxin than others). Stir frying or light steaming is not enough to detoxify them. If they taste bitter, don't eat them!

Note that ostrich fern fiddleheads are the least toxic. Bracken ferns have toxins that are carcinogenic and mutagenic and well known to cause bladder cancer in cows, so if you're going to collect them yourself, you need to be able to recognize the species. We have about 30 common fern species around here and the guidebooks generally only show the mature plants, not the fiddlehead stage, so getting starting with fiddlehead collecting on your own can be tricky.

Fiddleheads should be eaten in moderation and in season, since they contain thiaminase, which breaks down B vitamins in the body and can lead to vitamin B deficiency. While raw fiddleheads have been shown to contain vitamins A and C, nutritional analyses are on RAW fiddleheads, but this is meaningless since you can't eat them raw. I haven't seen any data on nutritional analyses of fiddleheads that show whether or not any vitamins remain after cooking and throwing out the water. So, they're a treat if cooked thoroughly, but not a nutritional staple by any means.

(Another food you must boil well before eating to detoxify is shell/dried beans, especially cranberry beans and kidney beans. Never, never eat these raw from the garden, or you'll get very, very sick. They need to be boiled at a high temperature to disable the phytohaemaglutanin. That's why they're safe from rodents in storerooms. Boil, don't simmer, until soft.)

People used to boil the heck out of vegetables for a reason--not to make them gray and slimy, but to denature any toxins. Cultivated foods have had the toxins bred out and more nutrition bred in, so they are much safer to eat raw or only slightly cooked. With wild, uncultivated foods, you really need to know what you're dealing with because many contain toxins to prevent predation. As long as people were used to gathering some of their foods wild, they knew they had to be careful about really cooking them well. But in the last 30-40 years, wild gathering has been replaced with virtually exclusive cultivated eating. This has allowed more culinary experimentation and crispier tastes to develop. But it has also meant that people have forgotten, or not even learned, the wisdom of their elders when dealing with wild foods. My grandmother used to boil all her vegetables for a long, long time, and warned me never to eat raw beans. Of course, I didn't listen to her, and that's how we ended up with bean poisoning. Not once, but twice, because we couldn't imagine that undercooked beans could make us sick.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Welcome to our home

Welcome to our home. We hope to give you a sense of place.
You are in a house once lit by gas and warmed by coal.
Others added electricity and indoor plumbing,
and we are adding our own small details.
This house is also on top of a continental plate
that is shifting even as we speak.
A few hundred million years ago that plate—and this spot—
were south of the Equator.

We love this quiet corner of Medford Hillside,
now comfortably ensconced in the northern hemisphere.
The playground next door has been a park, and a school,
and has heard the voices of children
raised and hushed for a hundred years.
In the other direction is the Mystic River,
where swans and herons and turtles have replaced the shipyards.
Before the houses, the river wrapped around farmland.
And around the farmland, there were woods.
Over the river and through the woods—
those words were written a few hundred yards east of this spot.
Our cherry and maple trees now strive each spring to reclaim the land,
though we keep to other plans for our garden.
Other words from another place:
We hope you have fun.
We hope you find at least one surprise.
We hope you leave thinking about something interesting
you hadn’t thought about before.
And one more hope from us:
Before you leave, we hope you’ll stay a while.
We find comfort and inspiration in the company of friends.
We are all spinning around the axis of the Earth at 750 mph,
and flying around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour.
Share your stories with us. Our stories are our seatbelts.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How was your day?

The good news is that a community group cleaned up the playground this morning. The bad news is that I couldn't be there for most of it because I had to get my car inspected. The good news is that my car got a desperately-needed oil change and passed inspection. The bad news is that someone drove into the side of my car on the way home. The good news is that it was at low speed and I feel ok. The bad news is that I was too mentally shaken up to go to as much of Somerville Open Studios as I'd hoped to. The good news is that we saw some wonderful art and bought a lovely piece. The bad news is that we came home and found out that our water is now hazardous. The good news is that Lisa was able to buy some bottled water. The bad news is that neighbors we love are selling their house and moving away. The good news is that today is almost over.