Take a walk on the range

Guest post by Dawn Again author Doniga Markegard

Just outside my front door there is a field of stinging nettles the size of half a city block. It is the healthiest plot of nettles I have yet to see.

It was not always that way. There was an old barn on the hill above, that once was a milking barn and then held moonshine during prohibition. The activities in the barn helped pay the mortgage on the ranch and supported the growing family of settlers. When my husband arrived on the ranch the barn was falling down, due to lack of maintenance. The new owners made money elsewhere and simply used the ranch as an escape from the modern day stresses and routine.

The barn was bulldozed into the ground. Remnants of the roaring Twenties and a family of farmers making a go at life in California would soon turn to dirt. That dirt would then be fresh breeding ground for seeds that were carried along the coastal winds, dropped by birds as they migrated or a fox as he marked a territory. The seeds that lay in the freshly disturbed earth were not those that dominated the surrounding grasslands. They were seeds that some call the name forbidden to utter in some circles, the dirty word that many groups dedicate themselves to seek out and conquer: Invasive Species.

Poison hemlock, ripgut brome and medusahead all are icing on the cake of the conqueror. As these species drift around the world, looking for an opportunity to propagate, we have a choice to view them as a problem or an opportunity. So when the dirt became home to Italian thistle and poison hemlock, we put in the pigs. In nature, waste equals food, so if we are to mimic nature, everything eats and is eaten. When we want to sculpt our lives and our landscapes, that basic principle can help us avoid dissonance. The pigs did what they do: eat everything. They ate the roots of the plants because we let them stay long enough to feast on the starchy taproots of the thistle. Then we moved them off and let the ground rest and recover from the disturbance.

Winter set in, and soon a diversity of plants began to establish in the pig fertilized and disturbed earth. We did not spread any seeds, just waited and watched as the drifters found a settling place amongst the diversity and chaos. The result is a field of stinging nettle that is so healthy that the top leaves are the size of my hand—despite the drought—rivaling those of the Pacific Northwest, where everything is greener and bigger. So when life brings us stinging nettles, what more are we to do than to eat, a basic behavior we share with all life on earth. The act of gathering, preparing food and then the celebration of eating helps us to tap into that familiar comfort of not only surviving, but thriving.

Each species has a role and once we begin viewing this diversity as something to celebrate rather than select, isolate and destroy, the better off our lives and landscapes will become. The ranches on which our livestock graze support 66 species of birds and 157 species of plants. In all this diversity there is food being grown. How we tend to that food source is up to each and every individual. For our family, in spring, an abundance of stinging nettle means it’s time to make stinging nettle chips!

Recipe: Stinging Nettle Chips

Ingredients:

Top 3 or 4 sets of leaves of the stinging nettle plant before they flower in the early spring

Olive Oil

Apple Cider Vinegar

Nutritional Yeast

Sea Salt

Instructions:

Harvest the nettle, be creative, collect as many as you can. See page 211 of Dawn Again to learn how to harvest without gloves. I also recently worked with my daughter Quince and I held a bag under the plant while she carefully cut the leaves with scissors. Enjoy the adventure of interacting with the plant.

Find a bowl large enough to fit all the nettles. Pour in the olive oil and vinegar about 3 parts oil to one part vinegar. Stir in the nutritional yeast until you have a slurry. Add in a couple pinches of salt to taste. Set all the trimmed leaves of the stinging nettle as well as the top group of leaves that form a bud. With a wooden spoon gently massage the oil mixture into the nettles until they are thoroughly coated. Pour in more oil as needed to coat the nettle. Take your time with this, part of the process is to massage out the stingers. Don’t tear the leaves, just work the oil into the surface. You know when it is ready when you pick up a raw nettle leaf, eat it and it does not sting your tongue. When you taste it, go through a sense meditation before you place the leave on your tongue. Then use your intuition to add more salt, fat or acid to the mix. See page 60 of Dawn Again for sense meditation. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and place the nettles flat on a cookie sheet. Cook for about 20 mins, turning half way through until the leaves are crisp but not burnt.


Movement Matters, in its natural habitat

There are relatively few moments in life in which every single thing seems perfect. So when one comes along, you grab it and hold it tight. Or, at least, I do. Such was the case in early November, when eighty or so of us gathered in Half Moon Bay, California, for the launch of Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement, by Katy Bowman.

First of all, the setting. Exquisite. We were so fortunate to be hosted by Doniga Markegard and her family on their working cattle ranch. The green and gold hills rolled by, dotted with cattle, the mountains rose behind them, the Pacific Ocean waved in the distance. Doniga and her husband Erik are the finest kind of people, and gave us such a warm welcome to the beautiful land they farm. The weather, too, was perfect. Balmy and sunny, with just a gentle breeze, hardly a cloud in the sky, no veil of fog.

Katy wanted a forage-and-farm-to-table meal, in keeping with the themes she explores in Movement Matters, and we found a perfect chef in Kevin Koebel of Local FATT (Food Awareness Through Teaching). Chef Kevin was entirely unfazed when I told him we wanted our guests to participate in some way in making the meal they were going to share with each other. In fact, this is the basis of what Chef Kevin does. So on the appointed day, he marshaled our eighty-or-so guests and got them working on cooking, assembling, and serving delicious appetizers, as cows milled around and the sun slanted across the hills. This act of making and serving food together turned our eighty guests into a cohesive group; fast friends were made, along with tasty bites!

As the sun began to drift down toward the horizon, we raised our glasses and made a toast to water—“not just a condiment for your meal,” Katy said, “but the earth’s blood.” Water is life, we agreed, thinking of the WaterKeepers and all those at Standing Rock, and we savoured our water before the meal was served.

The sun set, the air grew chilly, and Chef Kevin served platter after platter of incredible locally-sourced food. Cowbells punctuated conversation. Friendships were renewed and solidified. As guests began to think about drifting off into the night, coffee and hot cocoa was served, alongside bowls of fair-trade chocolate from Santa Barbara Chocolates. We stood together in small groups, hot drink in one hand, handful of chocolate in the other, finishing conversations that had woven through the party, saying goodbye for now. A sweet end to a sweet evening. We are so grateful to everyone who worked to make our party a success, to everyone who made the journey to celebrate Movement Matters with us, and to everyone who took an interest from afar! Thank you!

Another take on the evening can be found here, courtesy of Martin at Soft Star shoes.


By the Book: Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well

It’s October, and here on the eastern edge of the continent, that means changing leaves, frosty mornings, and earlier nights. The urge to cocoon is strong—but the season also offers amazing opportunities to be outside, a literal farmers’ market’s-worth of fresh, amazing produce, a deep desire to batch-cook soups and sauces, and, if we’re being honest, a to-do list as long as my arm.

We’re readying new books for publication this fall, getting our spring list in order, and dreaming of future projects to share with you, too. It can make for long days in the Propriometrics Press office—and it’s work that we love, so it’s easy to lose track of everything else while our noses are to the grindstone.

Which is why I’ve been making a few minutes every day to really think about the wisdom contained in one of the books we’re bringing out this fall. We published Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well on October 1, and authors Galina and Roland Denzel will hold a launch party for the book on October 15 in Orange County. We’re pretty excited about that. We worked hard on this book all year, and we’re pumped that it’s available now in stores and online. That part is all great. But one of the true perqs of this job is getting to dive deep into inspiring material every day. With Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well, it’s the four key chapters identified by the Denzels as the ones readers should start with: The Sunday Food Ritual, Tame Your Sugar Monster, Walk More Today, The Dynamic Office.

It’s fitting this book is published in October, a perfect time to fully explore what these lessons have to offer. That Sunday Food Ritual chapter is about finding the time—making the time—to commit to setting yourself up for healthy food success all week by spending an afternoon or evening doing some batch cooking. img_2701In the example the Denzels give, you make a simple slow cooker pork pot roast with vegetables, which gives you enough for Sunday night’s supper, and two more suppers later in the week. Just the words slow cooker pork pot roast make me want to hit the kitchen—and thinking about having three suppers done and dusted in one go fills me with glee. Chilly October nights seem like a perfect time to get into this habit.

And I’m ever mindful that the holidays are approaching, with all their sugary delights, so October also seems like a good time to find a way to tame my sugar monster. There’s an abundance of fresh fruit to be had—plums, peaches, apples, pears, there are even still strawberries in my farmers’ market most Saturdays, though I’m sure there can’t be many strawberry Saturdays left. img_2705I’ve been savoring that fresh fruit as it comes in, and doing my best to can and preserve as much as I am able for the long winter nights to come. And with the cooler temperatures here, both day and night, Galina’s advice to sip a sweet-tasting herbal tea like licorice or rooibos feels like exactly the right thing to do while I contemplate my relationship with sugar, and why I want to be in charge, rather than letting sugar run the show.

And then there is the glorious exhortation to Walk More Today. It is the constant entry on my to-do list. No matter how much I walk, I can always walk more. This morning I kept my regular weekly appointment with a couple other writers at the central branch of the public library, downtown. Then I walked part-way home with one of the writers, stopping in at our local bookstore on the way, and chatting about our work as we went. We split off in different directions and I loped along, drinking in the impossibly clear, impossibly blue October sky, the heartbreaking reds and yellows and oranges of autumn leaves, the feeling of the sunshine on my skin, the expressions on the faces of the people I passed as I walked, and the company of my own thoughts. img_3457I concentrated on my gait as best I could, and then I just let my attention wander. I thought about the project I’m writing, and about the work awaiting me in the Propriometrics Press office. I returned to my desk feeling refreshed and nourished by my time outside, spent walking.

Speaking of my desk! I loved Roland’s chapter on The Dynamic Office. When I had a full-time media job, I sat for years and years, until finally one day I rebelled against the sit-down culture and made my own stand-up desk. Then I stood for years and years. Then I quit that job, and came to work for Propriometrics and started doing my work sitting on the floor, or lying on the floor, or while walking to the store, or standing in the kitchen, or—well, you get the idea. I’d do my work wherever I could, in as many different positions as I could. But not everyone has that kind of flexibility (if you will). Maybe you have to sit at a desk, and if that’s the case, Roland offers ideas and advice to make your desk time more dynamic, and, importantly, to make your non-desk time more dynamic to counteract all that undynamic desk time! fullsizerenderHis advice to keep a log of your daily time spent sitting was also world-rocking. I thought I was pretty dynamic—but there are always more ways to move.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get up, stretch a little, maybe get a cup of licorice tea, and walk to the store to get some supplies for supper for tonight and beyond. Sometimes the Sunday Ritual is really the Wednesday ritual. But as the book says, it doesn’t matter when you do it, so long as you get it done!