On Thursday morning, I held my breath and hit “send” on an email to my herbal retreat shortlist: those who requested being the first to know when registration opened for the Wild Ireland Herbal Retreat. Yesterday I sent the same information to my general interest herbal retreat mailing list.
And just 48 hours after first hitting send, the upcoming Wild Ireland Herbal Retreat is already half-full!
Oh, my heart. Half-full in just two days!
I’m still trying to process it all.
I guess it’s just a deeply humbling experience to dream something into life (I’ve literally dreamed about this for the past two years), then have so many joyous people show up with a resounding yes to that dream.
Seasoned travels and folks who never have never left the country before; introverts and extroverts; the normally cautious and the unwaveringly bold. People from their teen years to more seasoned folks, some traveling alone and others with a loved one: all of them saying yes to the adventure of a lifetime.
And goodness, ya’ll. My heart is so glad. Because despite how broken things so often seem, we can still take what we love and share it, turning out something truly magical. And there will be people aligned with that vision willing to leap at the opportunity to help breathe it into life.
So thank you. Truly, deeply thank you for joining me in this delicious dream.
For those of you who missed the invitation to travel with me next summer, there’s still time to join! The next step is easy. Just drop me an email, and request that I add you to my herbal retreat mailing list.
I’ll get back to you before the day is out with all the information you need to see if this trip is your dream, too.
The information I send includes an overview of locations, activities, guides, and lodging; a tentative trip itinerary; and current COVID safety protocols. (Being an extremely COVID cautious person, I was relieved by the well-thought out procedures in place on the fall tour I took to preview our trip. And, of course, I’m here to answer any questions that you may have about the trip–COVID or otherwise.)
If you’d like to join me (or are even curious about what the trip will include) don’t hesitate to email! I’d be delighted to loop you in on all the magic that we’re planning for you next summer. It’s the journey of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to share it with you.
New plan. When we can safely travel again, you come to Ireland with me on an herbal retreat. We tour off-the-beaten-path stone circles and burial tombs; connect with and learn from local herbalists, storytellers, and organic farmers; forage wild things; plant some trees; hike to some magical mossy groves; and ground out deeply on the Emerald Isle. Who’s game for this plan? ( She asks, fully lost in the dream/fantasy realm…)
And your reaction was off the charts. You were feeling it, too, and shared my vision of what might be.
And I couldn’t shake this dream.
Day and night it followed me, whispering in my ear. Of how life-changing it could be; how magical; how transformative.
Instead of ignoring that whispering, I set to work breathing it into reality.
The vision: an herbal retreat to Ireland in 2022.
A gathering where we can come together and learn about ourselves and one another, make medicine and magic, connect with the songs of the land, the trees, and our own hearts. A trip where we might journey through portals we’ve only imagined.
I envisioned a small, sacred gathering where we had space to heal what is wounded, find our voices, remember our truths, and hear the songs of the plants, the Earth, and–for some of us–even our ancestors.
I knew this was not a retreat I wanted to craft on my own, so I spent last winter researching local teachers and guides who might take us there. And that was how I stumbled upon Tara and Chris of Wild Routes Ireland.
I knew immediately that I had found my partners for this transformative journey.
The three of us connected through email and Zoom, and then (surprising even myself) I decided to join them this September for their fall Deepening the Roots tour: to meet in person and get a taste for their programming and a feel for their energy, so I could be sure it was a great match.
And that’s how it happened that just a few weeks ago (exactly one year to the day from when I first shared my Ireland Herbal Retreat dream with you) I found myself back in Ireland once more–here to join their tour; to meet, plan, play, connect, and get a taste for what we have in the store for you in 2022.
And oh my, friend. It’s going to be so, so good.
So just a few weeks ago, I embarked on an 11-day adventure with Chris and Tara and 20-some other intrepid souls through western Ireland. And while I attended wearing my ‘retreat-planning hat’, I lost myself again and again in this beautiful, soul-shaping experience in this lush and captivating land.
Day after day, I was utterly captivated by the places we visited, the guides who led us there, and the magic that enveloped us.
Time and again I forgot I was there for work, and slipped deep into the magic of this otherworldly land.
And that told me everything I needed to know about these people, this place, and these plants.
The two dozen of us journeyed together as we forged friendships and foraged mushrooms; wandered amongst ancient yews and lush mosses; tasted wild herbs, flowers, leaves, and fruits; made essences under the moon; and rooted deeply with our backs against trees countless centuries our elders.
We sang songs of gratitude as we encircled prehistoric stone circles and 500-year-old hawthorns, shared stories, and drank from sacred wells.
And though we arrived as a rag-tag group of strangers from four countries, eleven days later we departed as friends.
And now it’s my turn to get to business planning an Ireland Herbal Retreat of my own. An 11-day journey for you and for me.
Want to co-create this journey with me?
I‘d love your input! We are currently deciding between two potential retreat dates: July 12-22 or September 6-16. If you’re serious about joining me, let me know below which dates you prefer.
Dates are locked in! We’ll be journeying July 12-22, 2022.
Who is welcome? Anyone with a budding or blossoming interest in plants, herbalism, history, the sacred, and Ireland. Women, men, and non-binary folks are equally welcome, as are all races, spiritual beliefs, and backgrounds. Come alone or with a family member, partner, or friend.
The trip includes some moderate hikes on uneven ground (in whatever weather Ireland wishes to deliver) and is best suited for those comfortable with a moderate activity level. And while the programming is designed with adult participants in mind, mature, interested teens are welcome to attend along with a parent or guardian.
If your interest is piqued, drop me an email and ask me to put you on the Herbal Retreat mailing list! Then leave a comment below sharing the date you prefer most (July, September, or let us know if both dates work for you) along with one thing you’re excited to see or experience in Ireland.
Feel free to leave questions below as well, and I’ll get you answers just as soon as I have them.
Finally, pop over to follow me on Instagram and Facebook and find lots more photos and a few videos from these past weeks in Ireland. (I’m still there at the moment, traveling with my mom and my daughter for one more week.)
The video below from a past Wild Routes tour should also help get you excited for the trip to come!
The past year or two have really been… something. Anxiety, whether on a grand scale (climate, racial, social, pandemic) or smaller scale (motherhood, finances, work, clutter) can throw us off our game and leave us reeling. In my own life, anxiety has a tendency to spiral, where one worse-case-scenario after another ricochets around in my brain (all day, and, excitingly, sometimes all night).
It’s time to tame this tiger.
Below is a blog post I originally penned back in 2017.
Ah, life was so simple then. (wink, wink) Who knew anxiety could get this big, this fast, and for this many reasons?
The tips below have helped me for years to get a handle on my anxiety, whatever it’s roots. Try one of these tricks or try all ten, and see if they help loosen that knot in your belly, if only a bit.
I’m cheering you on, friend. You can do this.
Tame your anxiety tiger
As a kid I was anxious. Anxious that I’d get a bad grade or that my house would burn down, anxious that there was a monster under my bed or a murderer on the block.
Oh, and tornadoes. Those were really scary, too.
I spent my college years worrying about school, money, my future, and if my little house in the country had securely locking windows. Then onto motherhood and, well, you get the idea.
When anxiety shows up it hijacks my day, robs me of sleep, and makes it feel like everything is falling apart – though I can almost guarantee you that’s it’s not.
But now, in my 40’s, I’m finally getting a handle on it. Anxiety is no longer the order-of-the-day in my world. It’s a rarity, a call to action, an invitation to change.
I finally have some tricks up my sleeve so that when anxiety comes on strong I know what I need to do to get centered again.
And now anxiety has become a great reminder to get things back on track.
Needless to say, if you are in a mental health crisis please seek care with a trained therapist. This tools below are simply my way of dealing with the day-to-day of an anxious mind.
Here’s my remedy. I hope it helps you.
Ten Ways to Beat Back Anxiety
1. SLOW DOWN
No, it’s not always possible to dash off for a beach vacation when you’re feeling anxious or to take a break from your day-to-day busy life. But taking charge of your agenda but cutting some obligations off of your to-do list – even temporarily – can help.
Think in terms of the flu. If your body was sick, what activities would you have to cut?
Find the courage to cancel a visit, reschedule an appointment, or simplify a meal to buy yourself a little space to slow down.
This mindful practice can help you get centered and can put things back into perspective.
Sleep is vital as well.
When I’m feeling anxious I go to bed as early as I can and rest as long as possible. Grab some herbal tea (tulsi, lavender, kava kava, linden, and milky oats are all helpful for calming the nervous system), light a candle to focus on for a bit before you lie down, then tuck in (without a phone or computer). Let yourself unwind slowly to welcome sleep.
2. LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media can be a nice way to stay connected with far-away friends and family but it’s also an anxiety bomb waiting to explode.
Disturbing images, sharp comments, and just too much baggage are all easy to absorb when we’re feeling out of balance.
Take a media fast until you feel centered again, or simply create some limits on how much time you engage there.
3. CUT THE CAFFEINE
With apologies to my friends who own the coffee roastery, caffeine is a big contributor to anxiety.
I had another friend once confessed, “I just can’t drink coffee. When I drink coffee I instantly turn into a really nasty mom.”
I get that. When I’ve had too much caffeine I have a shorter fuse and am more prone to anxiety. It also depletes magnesium in the body which has a very direct effect on our anxiety levels.
Cut the buzz.
Wean yourself slowly or go cold turkey. It’s your call. I love homemade herbal chai as a caffeinated tea or coffee substitute. I make a big pot of it every Sunday but don’t add the milk. Then I can drink it for several days without having to make a fresh batch.
4. MAGICAL MAGNESIUM
(2021 EDIT: Now that I sell a Magnesium Mist, I’m rephrasing this section so as to not violate FDA regulations. I encourage you to Google “benefits of magnesium oil” to learn more.)
More than 80% of Americans are magnesium deficient – thanks to depleted soils, lifestyle choices, diet, and our health. (More on the reasons here.) Getting some absorbable magnesium in or on our bodies can be a game-changer to support a healthy lifestyle.
Magnesium is easiest for the body to absorb when applied topically, but if you are deficient you can use a combination of internal absorption and external application.
We love Calm. For an edible magnesium source it’s absorbable and clean. It’s also pretty sweet-tasting so I’m considering buying an unflavored bottle to cut a flavored bottle with it. Go slow with magnesium! Taking too much will result in epic diarrhea. You don’t want that. And please don’t ask me how I know. (Ahem.)
HOMEMADE OR PURCHASED MAGNESIUM OIL
Magnesium oil is simply magnesium chloride that has been dissolved into an equal part of distilled water. No, it’s not an oil, but it is commonly called that because of its feel of it on the skin.
If you are magnesium deficient the oil may tingle, itch, or sting after application, so apply to your feet if you’re a newbie (or using on kids). With continued use, this sensation lessons until after a few days it feels simply like applying oil.
To make your own magnesium oil simply boil 1 C distilled water and combine with 1 C magnesium chloride flakes. Stir to combine, cool, and transfer to a clean spray bottle. That’s it. For real. Or you can buy mine, already made! Apply daily to feet or abdomen.
Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths are also helpful, but not as good a source of magnesium as magnesium chloride.
5. GET OUTSIDE
Nature heals. Getting outside and away from the overwhelming business of our day-to-day life is a game changer. Biophilia, baby. Carve out even a few minutes to walk and breathe and be in nature and you will find your anxiety taking a back seat to your gratitude.
Whether that means a walk around the block, a visit to a city park, or a hike deep into the wood, find the green. It heals you.
6. SOOTHE WITH THE POWER OF PLANTS
Herbs, essences, and essential oils are powerful for body and mind.
A few favorite nervine herbal teas and/or tinctures that throw me a lifeline day after day include:
Tulsi (Holy Basil) flower and leaf
Blue Vervain tops
Linden (basswood) flower and leaf
I can’t encourage you enough to seek out these herbs, and learn about how they impact our bodies and minds.
Flower essences are also a wonderful gift. While I make my own, purchased Rescue Remedy spray and/or drops are readily available at natural foods stores and coops. I carry one in my bag and use it daily when I’m struggling.
Essential oils can also be a blessing. When I was a new (anxious!) mama I created an essential oil blend for my colicky, rough sleeping (read: not sleeping) baby.
I was amazed at how well these essential oils worked not only for him, but also for me. Enough so that I relabeled the blend for adults and offered it undiluted for diffusers and baths as well. I also recently released a limited edition Peaceful Mind Mask Mist for the current world we live in. It’s been a huge support for me when I’m anxious and out in the world.
If you are stocking your essential oil kit for the first time or want to treat your anxiety with something you already have on hand, the following scent are tops for anxiety and can be found at your local coop or natural pharmacy:
Lavender – if you have only one single essential oil let it be lavender! Helpful for anxiety, sleep troubles, and skin issues lavender EO has countless uses.
Tangerine – a wonderfully bright and uplifting oil. Helpful for those prone to depression as well.
Ylang ylang – A complex, rich, floral oil for depression and anxiety. One of my favorites.
Always use essential oils properly diluted on your skin, or put them in a diffuser or bath. Never apply undiluted.
7. SEEK CONNECTION
You weren’t meant to do this alone. Not parenting, not keeping a home, not the day-to-day grind of work and bills and life. None of it.
Find your people.
Call your mom, your sister, a friend, a counselor. Seek out like-minded people though a church, art collective, or parenting coop.
People were not designed to be solo, especially during difficult times.
8. FACE YOUR S**T
Get real about what’s troubling you. Money? Relationships? Impending doom? Sit with it and mindfully focus on what you can control to remedy the situation.
Make a budget. Have a difficult conversation. Ask for help. Protest. Donate. Volunteer.
Because at the heart of anxiety is usually a specific fear or group of fears for the future.
Saddle up and take it on.
You’ve got this.
9. WRITE A DIFFERENT STORY
Anxiety is usually one big game of make-believe.
It’s our imagination, hard at work, making up worse-case scenarios for the future.
Pull the plug on this self-defeating loop. Write a new story. One that you might not believe yet, but that you want to believe in. And then write it again and again until you begin to believe it.
And then watch it unfold.
Because if your anxiety can use your imagination, so can your optimism. Which story do you want to come true?
And while you’re at it, practice gratitude.
There is so much for us to be thankful for. But when we’re drowning in anxiety it doesn’t feel that way. We see messes instead of magic, lack instead of abundance, a cloudy future rather than a gorgeous sunrise.
Make a habit of practicing gratitude.
While you brush your teeth, while you wash your dishes, while you drive to work. Start with ten things each day that you are thankful for.
This is a post about homeschooling (interest-led learning/unschooling in particular).
It’s not a post about how one parenting path or learning journey is better than another (it isn’t). It’s not a post that assumes all of us have the privilege to stay home with our kids (though I wish that we did). This post says nothing about the incredible teachers out there doing magical things all year long in our schools (but holy heck do I salute them and the life-changing work they do in the world).
And though we live in the country now, that’s new(ish) for our family, and much of our homeschooling journey took place in a little house in town (because learning happens everywhere).
Instead, this post is simply about homeschooling. It’s for parents and caregivers just embarking on this journey, or parents and caregivers already on this path but whose confidence is shaken in their decisions to keep their kids at home.
This is the story of our family’s experience, some 18+ years in. Here goes.
We raised two kids and never sent them to school.
We denied them the childhood rites of passage of school busses and lunch boxes; class bells and recess; homework, tests, and graduation.
And sometimes I worried: what if we got the whole thing wrong?
What if there’s a reason the path through childhood almost always begins and ends with school?
Because when you stay inside the lines and live life by the well-worn rules, you’re doing as you’re told. And if everything goes sideways, at least you did what you were “supposed” to.
But when you go rogue and chart your own course? If your child struggles and falls then the whole unbearable burden hangs heavy on you.
So, yeah, it was a little terrifying.
We did it anyway.
Straight out of the gate we charted our own course. No school, and hardly any “school at home” either.
Just two kids raised wild and true and free.
A blacksmithing forge, a (weedy) garden, and some unreasonably long road trips. A flock of sheep, a library card, and more art and craft supplies than we could jam into the cabinet.
We had math that looked like baking croissants, history that looked like an obsession with Norse mythology, politics that looked like protests, biology that looked like farm babies and foraging excursions.
I recognize the privilege of this freedom that we have and am grateful to have been able to make this choice for my family. Countless parents don’t have the privilege to even make this choice. Life, circumstances, poverty, or oppression have already made it for them.
To those in this reality, I see you. Know that there are as many beautiful ways to raise your family as there are families. And this is simply the story of the path we have charted. It’s not The Right Path. It’s simply our path.
So what has it been like?
Honestly, we’ve had so much fun.
My kids and I connected–deeper than my wildest dreams.
They had the space to grow up as slowly as they needed to while we chased fireflies, slept in the yard, and spent our days following the luminous threads of their insatiable curiosity.
Our life was built brick by brick of their wonder, curiosity, creativity, and dreams.
We healed what was broken and learned side by side. Day after day, year after year.
A friend (who works with children) once said to me, “Well, you know that your kids are exceptional. They’re not like ordinary kids.”
And I told him this:
“No, my kids aren’t like other kids, but they’re also not exceptional. They’re simply normal kids who never had to fit into a mold that didn’t suit them. They’re just kids, unbroken, who never stopped asking their questions and chasing their dreams.”
And I believe that.
Ordinary kids are exceptional if we just let them be who they are, and live their messy, beautiful, non-linear lives.
And suddenly here we are, all these years later.
They’re 14 and almost 19 now (where did the time go?). And I suppose the questions you’re asking are: was it really worth it? Do you have regrets? Did going rogue really work out for them in the end or are they hopelessly unprepared for life in the “real world”?
I know when I first set out, I was desperate to see the kids who’d grown up outside of the box. Show me the grown ones! How are they now? They could be my hope as I, too, broke the rules and forged my own way.
So here is my answer:
At 14 and 19, my children are thriving.
They’re both chasing dreams that are true to their hearts and living the lives that they’re called to. They have passion and friendships and depth and insatiable curiosity and know themselves better than most adults that I’ve met.
And as for the “real world”, that’s where they’ve been all along. They never stepped out of it and into those rigid walls.
So yes, they’re ready to get out there and in it, because they truly never left.
Are their lives perfect and is our home always ringing with four-part harmony? Of course not. Because we’re human.
We argue. We make mistakes. Sometimes we say hurtful words or do things we regret. But overall, our home is more harmonious and caring than I ever dreamed possible.
We truly like one another. Perhaps because of how deeply we know one another. And I credit that to the endless hours we’ve spend in one another’s company.
Did they suffer from their lack of school time? No. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of suffering, they both truly thrived.
That said, this isn’t everyone’s right path, and that’s 100% okay, too.
Even if they have the resources to run with homeschooling, not every kid–and just as importantly, not every parent–is cut out for this ride.
You’ll never hear me say that’s one proper route forward. There are truly as many beautiful paths as there are people And for many, that path may shift with time. If you homeschool for a bit and then stop, that’s cool too. There aren’t any rules or litmus test you need to abide by. Just do you, and honor your kid.
Listen to your child, listen to yourself, then make the best of exactly where you are and what you’ve got to work with. I’m rooting for you, whether your path and mine are similar or not.
For those embarking on a similar path to mine, I’m rooting for you, too!
If you’re here for advice, I’d simply say this: stop worrying and start living. They’ll learn to read, they’ll develop social skills, they’ll become independent, they’ll follow their hearts.
Tell your neighbor that you don’t need a teaching degree to be qualified to teach your own; tell your mom that reading doesn’t need to happen at age 5 to be perfectly timed; tell your uncle that social skills are not tied to how much time your children spend with like-aged peers.
Hand out copies of “How Children Learn”, “How Children Fail”, and “Teach Your Own” like party favors to your nay-sayers.
And then get back to the business of living, playing, exploring, questioning, discovering, and learning alongside your kids.
I’ve seen more mullein this year than ever before, and the timing couldn’t be better. This common weedy plant of dry, sandy, disturbed areas is a wonder for supporting healthy lungs–something so many of us can use this season.
Because mullein is abundant, easy to identify, gentle, and safe, it’s a great beginner’s herb for those exploring herbalism for the very first time! And now more than ever, this is an herb our bodies are calling for. (Read on for how to brew your own mullein herbal tea for weary lung support.)
When we’re inhaling smoke and other irritants (hello, wildfires) or even experiencing mild asthma symptoms, mullein goes to work to help us breathe easy again. Even here in Wisconsin, far from the ravaging fires out west and in Canada, the haze in the air is evident. And I’m deeply called to brew this herb to nourish my family and myself.
While I pause before I suggest we take more from this weary earth, I do believe in my heart that when we connect with the plants and the planet, we can help to heal our relationship to the Earth and begin the work of restoring the health of the planet we call home. As long as there’s reciprocity, the plants are here–just waiting for us to lean in and listen.
In my first book, Herbal Adventures, I give loads of mullein plant ID tips so you can confidently forage your own (clears throat and whispers: mullein≠lamb’s ear)! I also share several recipes (like herbal cough syrup, an herbal steam, and an herbal tea blend for cough and cold season). But it needn’t be complicated! Even a simple mullein leaf tea is incredible for soothing smoke-weary lungs.
And making your own couldn’t be easier.
Mullin Lung Love Tea
1 tbsp mullein leaf (fresh or dried)
1 cup freshly boiled water
Place mullein leaf in your favorite mug.
Add just-boiled water.
Cover and steep for 10 minutes or longer (up to overnight).
Strain and drink daily as desired. (Seriously, ya’ll. That’s how easy this is.)
Alongside dandelion, white pine, plantain, bee balm, and five other wild wonders, mullein is one of the ten plants I feature in my first book, Herbal Adventures! It’s out of print (sad face), but you can pick up a signed copy on my website (hooray!)/ And when you purchase directly from me, I plant two trees for every copy sold (Take that, Amazon)!
Most evenings you’ll find me either drinking a big mug of hot herbal tea (current fave: a blend of Tulsi, fresh ginger, plantain leaf, and wild peppermint), or sipping a mason jar of fizzy water spiked with either a dose of motherwort or blue vervain tincture or a squirt of homemade herbal digestive bitters.
I have a few favorite digestive bitters formulas (my go-to being dandelion + yellow dock + burdock + cardamom + date), but also love experimenting with new combinations of aromatic, bitter, and sweet elements. We ended up with a windfall of meyer lemons this month, and I decided to adapt an old recipe of mine to include some new elements. Today’s experiment involved yarrow, burdock, dandelion, lavender, chamomile, lemon, and honey. And I think it’s downright delightful.
Digestive bitters ease digestive woes while boosting our nutritional absorption from the foods we eat. I love including all manner of healthful, local herbs in my recipes, and encourage you to adapt this formula to whatever you have on hand.
Want to make your own? My recipe is below! Do let me know how you like it after yours is ready.
Note: if you’re using the photo for your recipe (versus the typed up version below it), you may end up bumping up to a larger mason jar after your bitters steep for a few days if you find that your roots were thirsty, or if you don’t have enough room to expand and properly steep.
Lemon, Lavender, & Yarrow Digestive Bitters
Makes approximately 1/2 pint of bitters
1 1/2 small Meyer lemons (or 1 regular lemon), washed and thinly sliced with the peels on
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp dried, sliced dandelion root (or 1 scant cup fresh)
3 tbsp dried, sliced burdock root (or 3/4 cup fresh)
1 1/2 tsp dried lavender flowers
1 tsp dried yarrow flowers and leaves
1 tsp dried chamomile flowers
1 1/2 tsp raw honey
1 1/2 cups brandy (=/-) – enough to cover herbs by 1 to 2″
Combine all fruit, roots, and herbs in a pint-and-a-half-sized mason jar.
Add raw honey, then top with enough brandy to generously cover the herbs and fruit by at least 1 to 2 inches.
Cover with a non-reactive lid (or a lid lined with plastic, waxed paper, or parchment).
Set in an out-of-the-way corner of your kitchen for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily or as often as you think of it. I strongly encourage you to taste your bitters throughout the process, so that you can participate in the magic and sense the subtle flavor shifts that happen over time.
Strain your bitters through a mesh colander, squeezing firmly to extract as much liquid as you can from your herbs. Compost solids.
Transfer bitters to a clean, dry glass bottle or jar (a dropper bottle is especially nice for daily use), then clearly label with name, ingredients, and date. To use, add to fizzy or non-fizzy water or (if you’re so inclined) to cocktails. If using to boost digestion (and why not?!), enjoy daily about 30 minutes before meals. Perfect to sip on while you finish making dinner!
Do you make your own digestive bitters? What’s your favorite recipe?
When we were in Ireland a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon Spoonful Botanicals, an intriguing fermented fruit-and-herb spread. Designed to be anti-inflammatory (and delicious) I was so tempted, but at €30.00 per jar it was way outside of my budget.
After we returned home I kept thinking about it and wishing I had been able to pick up a jar. I did a bit of researched and realized that fermented chutneys are commonplace in India, and searched around for a recipe to experiment with making my own.
Using a Nourishing Traditions raisin chutney recipe as my jumping-off point, I set to work grinding and fermenting aromatics and dried fruit.
Two days later, I cracked the jar, took a taste, and swooned. Oh, yes. This is just what I expected from the boughten, Irish version–and then some. It was spicy, sweet, and exactly what my body craved. I was hooked.
Is it a chutney? A fruity spread? I have no idea. Make a batch, then call it what you will. I won’t lie: it’s not beautiful, but the taste makes up for the appearances. (I promise!)
Why fermented foods?
Lactofermentation provides important probiotics to the digestive system. We make a habit of eating them daily: homemade Beet Kvass, sauerkraut, ginger carrots, and more. This spicy, fruity spread offered one more delicious way to included probiotics in our diet.
Anti-inflammatory Herbal Allies
Lately I’ve been experiencing more joint pain than I’d like. (I suppose any is more than I’d like, but this is quite a bit.) So I’m doing my best to limit inflammatory foods like sugar and refined grains, and to incorporate anti-inflammatory herbs in my diet each day.
A daily dose of ginger, turmeric, black pepper, and other allies is already going into in my morning tea, and I drink a shot of tart cherry juice most nights. But adding more anti-inflammatory foods and herbs felt like a smart decision.
This fruity-sweet ferment includes turmeric, pepper, and ginger–warming anti-inflammatories that can help alleviate joint pain. And it’s so delicious that after surprising Lupine with a taste on a bite of whole-grain pancakes yesterday, she dipped into the jar and spread a generous amount on her next helping. “It’s so good that I’m taking more on purpose.”
Ready to whip up a batch? It goes together in a snap and will keep for weeks in the fridge once fermented (if you don’t gobble it up before that.)
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground (fine)
3/4 C hot water
2″ knob fresh ginger (peel on), grated
3/4 C dried dates
scant 1 1/4 tsp salt (divided)
Combine raisins, turmeric, black pepper, and fennel in a stainless steel or glass mixing bowl. Avoid plastic or other materials that may stain from turmeric.
Add 3/4 C very warm water (approximately 100 to 120° F) water and stir to combine. Cover and allow to soak for 1 to three hours.
Meanwhile, combine fresh, unpeeled ginger with pitted dates plus 1 scant teaspoon salt in the bowl of your food processor. Process until a smooth, sticky paste results.
After raisin mixture has soaked and raisins have plumped somewhat, transfer the mix along with any remaining soaking liquid to the ginger and date mix in the the processor. Pulse for several minutes until desired consistency is achieved. (I like mine as a spread so it’s fairly smooth, but chunkier is fine, too.)
Transfer paste to a suitably sized glass jar (I used a pint), allowing at least 1″ of headroom. Tap jar gently on the counter, then insert a butter knife to remove any large air bubbles and tap again. Smooth the top surface of your paste with the knife.
In a separate container, combine 1/4 tsp salt with 1/4 C warm water. Stir to dissolve, then pour gently over the top of your dried fruit mix, completely covering the surface of the chutney. Discard any extra brine that doesn’t fit in the jar.
Tightly seal and set on a stain-proof plate or bowl. Allow to ferment at room temperature (out of direct sunlight) for 2 days.
After two days, open your jar over the sink, just in case any brine spills out. (The jar may be slightly pressurized from fermentation. A satisfying “pssssshhht!” sound is perfectly normal and not a cause for alarm.) Most of your brine will have been drawn down into the fruit mix, but if any surface brine remains, pour it off into the sink.
Stir well, sneak a taste, then refrigerate.
Allow to mellow for a few days if desired, then spread on crackers, pancakes, waffles, apple slices, or toast, or stir into hot porridge.
Fermented chutney will keep for three months or more in the refrigerator.
Holidays are looking distinctively low-key this year. Unable to travel to see my family due to common-sense covid protocol, it’s just us, hunkered down here at home.
In an attempt to make things still feel special this season, we’re throwing both old and new traditions in our winter holiday mix. And some fancy fizzies seem like just the thing to cultivate a more festive feel, even if we’re just hanging out at home.
With that in mind, I improvised the two soda syrup recipes below last night, and today Lupine and I are having a hard time not drinking them all before dinner time. Making them takes almost no active time, so get on it! If your family celebrates Thanksgiving, you can get these made easily with time to spare for tonight’s meal. (And if you wait until the last minute, just double down on the herbs and spices quantities, and steep for just 10 to 20 minutes instead of 2 hours, then quick-chill in the freezer.)
Amounts are so forgiving and flexible! I only measured because I wanted to share with you. Feel free to go rogue and wing it, throwing in your own favorite aromatics like thyme or sage, coriander or clove, grapefruit or lime.
Rosemary & Lemon Soda Syrup Recipe
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey or sugar
1 tbsp dried rosemary
12 whole peppercorns
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
2 tbsp lemon juice
Place all ingredients except lemon juice in a small cooking pot.
Place over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved.
Bring mixture to a vigorous simmer, then cover and remove from heat.
Steep for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight.
Strain and transfer to a 1/2 pint jar.
For rosemary syrup, add lemon juice and stir to combine.
Refrigerate until chilled.
Ginger & Cardamom Soda Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey, sugar, or maple syrup
2″ knob of fresh ginger, sliced or smashed
1 tsp cardamom seeds or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Place all ingredients in a small cooking pot.
Place over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved.
Bring mixture to a vigorous simmer, then cover and remove from heat.
Steep for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight.
Strain and transfer to a 1/2 pint jar.
For rosemary syrup, add lemon juice and stir to combine.
Refrigerate until chilled.
To use, add a splash to fizzy water, and serve over ice (we like approximately 1 tbsp per cup).
During my second week of high school, I lost my battle against worsening scoliosis and was fitted with a back brace–the thing I’d been desperate to avoid since the 4th grade.
Made of leather and steel, my brace was a medieval thing that fit from chin to pelvis, holding my stock-straight (If you image search “Milwaukee Brace” you’ll see what this monster looked like. It’s pretty intense.).
I wore it day and night–to school, at home–even to sleep. I remember going to the theater (wearing my brace) to see Sixteen Candles with some friends shortly after I was fitted with it. There’s a girl in the film who wears a brace–a super nerdy kid, of course–and she’s drinking from the water fountain. Everyone in the theater was laughing except for me, simultaneously embarrassed & annoyed (as she impossibly bent at the waist to drink–such rubbish) while feeling deep shame for being that nerdy kid, & burning from their laughter.
Drinking fountains–like cars, sleep, and being a teenager in general–were all more difficult in a brace. But that was my adolescence. Uncomfortable, awkward, and harder than I wanted it to be.
In all, I was braced for 5 years, from the start of high school through my freshman year of college. And while a brace isn’t something I’d wish upon anyone, it was one of my most important teachers.
Because the truth is, we can all do hard things–things we’re certain we aren’t capable of.
Things we don’t want, and things we try to wish away. I suppose even now that lesson holds, some thirty years later.
Right now, life is damn hard—for so many of us, and for so many reasons. None of us wanted this, & none of us know how long it’s going to last, nor how long we can take it. And I can so relate to that feeling.
2020 is something of a collective back brace for us all. We’re doing the hard, uncomfortable, painful thing because we don’t have another choice. And sometimes it pinches, & sometimes we can’t sleep because we feel like we’re suffocating, & sometimes it brings us to tears when we least want it to. But in the end, we’re going to come out the other side stronger, more resilient, and even better for it in small, invisible ways. I’m certain of that. I really am.
I’m rooting for you, friend. This sucks, but please know you’re not alone.