Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Forager Feast and Birthday Bash

It was our good friend Jessica’s birthday and a group of us were getting together a littlee party for her. I was asked to help with the food…and we all know what that means…I was goin’ foragin’. None of my buddy’s could make it, so I headed out all by my lonesome. Armed with the custom speargun my Brother Justin had made me, and my trusty Banksboard dive float loaded with scallop bar, flashlight, license and everything else I couldn’t keep on my person, I kicked out into the Pacific once more in search of a fresh seafood treat. My friend Queeny mentioned that she was thinking of giving up on vegetarianism and was interested in trying “all the sea foods that coastal Native Americans ate in southern California!” I had replied with a grin that I would see what I could do. So today, as I swam over the vibrant emerald green sea grass meadows that swayed in the gentle surf, I began planning for a smorgasbord.

The sea was generous and I was grateful. It was nice to see so many huge lobsters as well...now that the season is closed, they seemed to give me a clever grin and say "move along, nothing to see here!" I managed a pair of giant keyhole limpets, a small pacific rock scallop, a Norris top snail, some sea water for another batch of sea salt, and a few fish. As always, the pure pleasure of flying through the giant kelp forests had me smiling big and breathing deeply all the way home.

I pulled the last two lobster tails from last season and the last of the abalone from the freezer and set to work. I even grabbed a couple more cactus pads from the yard to throw on the grill.

I made a batch of teriyaki abalone skewers (which my buddy Bill seared perfectly on the grill), a big batch of lobster Mexican seafood cocktails, sautéed limpet, sautéed fish tacos, and nopales (also expertly grilled by Bill), which we added to a whole slew of tasty carne asada. We feasted, flintknapped, and had a lot of laughs…but totally forgot to get photos of the food, with one exception (thanks to Katie), the sautéed limpet.

My buddy Mitch gleaned quite a few grapefruit as well, so we’ll be making some grayhounds and palomas soon! All in all it was a great party and a good feast. Oh, and Queeny ate a bit of every wild foraged sea delicacy. Happy birthday Jessica. Keep the old ways alive!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Agave Roast at Morongo: Desert Delacacies

We had the honor of attending this year's traditional pit roast of wild harvested agave at the Malki Museum on the reservation of the Morongo band of the Cahuilla tribe. The desert landscape was so beautiful and spring was evident in the fruiting of many desert species. Nicholas Santos and I set up early and helped excavate the pit to get at the sweet gems below. Once uncovered, David the archaeologist who leads the gathering and pit roasting of agave and yucca hear each year, began removing the traditional food from the earth oven one by one.

The feast was truly delicious, with traditional foods such as cactus, rabbit stew, acorn and salt bush also being served. Nicholas and I were delighted to try the acorn, which contrary to what we've been told was absolutely fantastic! 

We led flintknapping demonstrations and offered hands-on opportunities with stone tool production throughout the day while listening to traditional singing.

All in all the event had a great turnout. It was a true honor for us to be there and share in this feast and gathering. We thank our very generous Morongo hosts and the Malki Museum for their support and their dedication in keeping the old ways alive! _words by Kevin Smith, images by Richard G., Bill K. and Kevin S.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Upcycling Part I: From Trash to Tools

"I can't sleep. My mind is going a mile a minute!" "Well stop thinking about it! I'm not your father!" "Dude, it's not that. I'm thinking about something completely different!" "It's the trash isn't it?" "It's the sweet, sweet trash!" Frank and Charlie, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I remember in first grade when Ronald McDonald came to school preaching "recycle, reduce, reuse." Maybe it was just the way I had been raised, or perhaps the influence of my awesome and insightful beatnik teacher Mr. Van Gorden, but I distinctly remember wondering how a clown wearing a plastic jumpsuit, plastic nose, plastic wig and shoes, representing some of the least healthy food in America (served in Styrofoam) was going to educate us on the environment? I know, big thoughts for a youngin', but I guess I've always marched to the beat of my own drum. All said and done though, the creepy clown had a point, but today's post is aimed at looking beyond "recycle, reduce and reuse", though these topics are certainly linked. 

The old saying goes "One man's garbage is another man's gold." A statement with which any hoarder would certainly agree. I do not advocate bringing home every "gem" found in back alley's and junk piles and stockpiling them like pack rats for later use...not if you ever want to bring a date home at least. But I strongly support upcycling whenever possible.

Upcycling is the process of taking an old discarded item that was intended for one use, augmenting its shape and using it for a new function. In archaeology, we use the term use-life to describe how artifacts have functioned over time and are eventually deposited into the archaeological record. For instance, a stone bowl that has been broken through use, is then used as an anvil stone for shellfish processing, broken again through time, a fragment of this is later grooved and lashed to the end of a plant fiber line and used as a fishing weight. Upcycling has been a human tradition throughout the world for generations.

For at least 2.6 million years our ancestors made stone tools. After European contact, indigenous peoples around the world who still relied on this technology, found a new resource...glass. And so, from the dumps, landfills, and shipwrecks that Native flintknappers encountered, a wide array of upcycled glass found its way into their traditional hunting and processing assemblages. 
Inspired by the works of historic knappers from Australia and North America, I spent the last few days gathering glass, transforming and refining its shape into effective tools, the old way. From a plate glass table, bottle bases, and a sky scraper window smashed on the concrete, a wide spectrum of colors and projectile points emerged. My flintknapping kit consists solely of an antler tine cut from a black tailed deer shed antler I found while working as a shepherd on the north coast, a hammerstone which was a river cobble that came to me in the planes below the Grand Tetons, and a fragment of leather left over from my buddy Nicholas' fine leatherwork.

Weather it is a scrap of aluminum upcycled into a clam gauge (as my buddy Kirby recently did with his friend Garo, the Wild Blue Chef), or a scrap of steel blacksmithed into a one-of-a-kind knife (post soon to come), or the hobo stove you cook your grunion on that was once no more than a coffee can and a disposable aluminum pie plate, upcycling is fun and creative! This tradition says "forager" to the core! 

So get out there, want the waste, grab the garbage, take the trash, reuse the refuse, remember to bathe afterwards...and always strive to keep the old ways alive! -By Kevin Smith

Saturday, April 20, 2013

After Work Delights

I landed some work recently as an archaeological monitor which was really nice as I have been waiting on student loans (again) for way too long! As the area we were observing was clearly "sterile soil" (no cultural layers or resources such as artifacts and ecofacts being present) I found some time to observe the local botany as I surveyed the surface in search of archaeological sites. In the fields that were slotted to be graded for development I came across a bounty of wild mustard, lambsquarter and wildflowers. The long and short of it was this...the next day this area would be a flat barren foundation for houses and roads and these plants would be gone. So as far as I was concerned I had little options.
After work I gathered wild mustard and some lambsquarter.
Call me old fashioned or country (and I'll take it as a complement) but I doubt there is a more beautiful site in the world than my wife's smile when presented with a bouquet of wildflowers! Silver lupine, mustard, pineapple weed, to name a few were in bright bloom and brought a nice feel of spring into our home that evening.
This was my first time enjoying lambsquarter, a plant that grows throughout the state, and I certainly hope it is not the last! This little plant is as delicious as it is prolific. I sauteed it up and layered the leaves with goat cheese in a tasty omelet the next morning. A little chili powder and a dash of homemade sea salt and I was content. A gourmet meal from the weeds in a field.
Keep in mind that several plants bear a resemblance to lambsquarter to the untrained eye, including nightshade which is deadly poisonous! Remember, aste not want not, don't cry over spilt milk, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, and always strive to keep the old ways alive! -By Kevin Smith

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brunch and Easter Dinner

The last few nights of the grunion season (for the next few months) were a blast. And, as usual , low on funds, I had to whip up some delicious foraged foods over the next few days to save money. It was Easter, and time for a celebration...countryman style!
For brunch it was our go to staple, ramen, but this time with sauteed grunion and grunion roe. The latter of which was surprisingly delicious!

I pulled one of last season's lobsters from the freezer, and used the shell from the legs and tail to cook some nice sea flavor into a tomato cream sauce. Gluten free lobster pasta for only a few dollars a plate was a nice way to enjoy the coming of spring.

Gotta go work on my thesis...more foraging adventures soon to come! In the meantime, for all those foragers who've been waiting for spring to arrive, get your plant identification books out of the archive,  get out where the wild edibles thrive, forage up some food and keep the old ways alive! -By Kevin Smith

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Midnight Run

"Do you know what a grunion is?" "No but it sounds like an angy gnome!" " Well, my husband is going to be out until 3 am looking for them. He'll probably be pretty grouchy in the morning" "Yeah, if you wake him too early, he's definately going to be a giant grunion!"-Chelsea and Gabby

It certainly is rare to have an opportunity to wear my Carharts in hot and sunny southern CA, but we were planning to start fishing at around midnight, so I figured I could use a little more insulation than normal. Heavy duty carhart pants, long sleeve shirt, flannel, wool socks, boots, and a hobo stove? Oh yes, we were headed out to Malibu for an adventure, countryman style!
Sam picked me up around 10:30pm and we swung by and swooped up Nicholas Santos a few minutes later. Then it was a mad dash for the coast, and compared to the normal insanity as far as traffic goes, it was smooth sailing. When we reached the beach, we sat tight laughing and carrying on for a time while Sam routinely scanned the surf with a torch.

It was a full moon, or at least full-ish and only a few days on the wane, and the grunion were on the move. At first it was just a few here and there, but soon they were slithering, flipping and flopping all around us. Nicholas said one even swam up into his boot in the surf! We scrambled around scooping up theses little delicacies with our hands and dropping them into five gallon buckets with a great deal of laughter as the little fish evaded many of our most nimble attempts.

A group of girls out for a stroll and a drink on the beach approached us with curiosity. “What are you guys doing?” the boldest one asked in disapproval. “Catching grunion,” Sam replied with a grin. “We’re gonna cook up a feast tonight,” I said with a chuckle wrestling with a fish who slithered right out of my hands and back into the surf in a flash. That’s when I saw their expressions and realized that they were not the types who usually approach us, licking their chops and eyeballing the catch with dreams of a fish fry. No, this crew had come down the beach to stare us in the eye, disapprovingly, in hopes of ending our ignorant barbarian attack on the helpless fish. I smiled and said “grunion are incredibly abundant, and we are just taking a few to feed ourselves and our families. They’re really an incredible fish…which Sam is going to tell you about, after all, he’s a fisheries biologist!” Not as ignorant as you thought huh? I thought with a grin making a mad dash back into the surf in pursuit of another fish. Sam explained the species, their ritual of spawning, and the importance of an ethical and sustainable harvest while the group simply ignored every word still considering us to be savages. O.K., I thought, maybe the anthropological approach will reach them. With a grin, I piped up “we forage because it is fun and productive and it is directly in line with how our ancestors subsisted from their natural environments for millennia.” I was met with cold stares. Thinking the disapproval may have been coming from a place based in dietary restriction I asked, “Are you guys vegetarian or vegan or something?” in as polite of a tone as I could muster. They replied that they were not, that they ate mostly beans and vegetables and some chicken. At this point I was getting tired of being judged for being a forager especially from folks who support the commercial meat industry without batting an eye. That’s when the one girl piped up “I’m not vegan or anything, but I had a cockatiel!” O.K., eat your store bought cage raised antibiotic ridden chicken in front of your caged bird and judge me for a sustainable harvest, I thought, realizing at that moment that there was really no reaching her,  but before I leave… “Well, the bottom line is this. The reason we are all here and able to talk about food today is because we all come from a long line of successful foragers who subsisted exactly as me and my friends are right now. We forage because it is the single most sustainable and ethical way to bring food to our table.” The most vocal of the group looked at me and said in support “and you know it’s fresh!” I smiled, nodded and went back to work. One out of five understanding our life way was a good start for the evening.

The run was small on this beach in Sam’s opinion, but with around 15 fish in the bucket, Nicholas and I were satisfied with our first grunion harvest. I started a small blaze of yellow pine I had gathered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, mesquite I had gathered in the desert on a rabbit hunt with my buddy Alex, and ash that was left over from bow carving. The hobo stove my brother Justin had made me was working like a charm. Nicholas and I scaled the fish while Sam dusted them in flour and spices and tossed them into the olive oil to sizzle. We ate the fresh caught grunion at around 2am on the beach in Malibu listening to the surf crashing up and down the beach. “Now this is how to start a spring break!” Nicholas said with a chuckle. We all nodded in unison as we enjoyed the subtle flavors of a local, sustainable, and fun filled harvest.

Remember to always advocate for the right and value of foraging. After all, even the most avid anti-hunters, anti-anglers and anti-foragers are only able to voice their disapproval because they are alive as a result of the efforts of thousands of generations of foragers that preceded them. From New York, to Stockholm, to Bangkok, to Los Angeles, there are always opportunities for foraging adventures just around the corner if you seek them out. So whether it is a harvest of surf fish with your hands, pit roasting agave, or a good spearfishing freedive, always strive to keep the old ways alive!

Words-Kevin Smith
Photos-Sam, Nicholas, Kevin.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Once in a Lifetime Lingcod...and Ramen

My brother Justin got out recently for a foraging adventure on the California North coast. As Langdon Cook put it in his excellent book Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, lingcod in Washington state are not particularly abundant and  so the season there is relatively short to keep the harvest sustainable. Here in California, we do not share that problem, lingcod are abundant largely due to great management on behalf of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game). We see these beautiful Jurassic-looking fish on nearly every outing. Their curiously dragon-like appearance in the shadowy depths of a cave on the sea floor is truly something to behold...and lucky for us they are also incredibly tasty! Though the population of lingcod is very healthy in our California waters, finding a fish of such epic proportions is a truly once-in-a-lifetime event...if you are really lucky. Perhaps it is due to the countless hours Justin has spent in the water since childhood, or maybe it is because he is half seal, but the following is the story of his foraging adventure and the ling of a lifetime... in his words.- Kevin Smith

We only had six feet of visibility and it took me 40 minutes of diving to find the 25 foot tall rock that I affectionately call triangle rock. I popped my head up through the canopy of bull kelp and looked around to get my bearings. My kayak was still on anchor, bobbing up and down a 100 yards away from us, where I thought this rock lay. I loaded the old worn out band on my 70 cm Rob Allen spear gun, took a few breaths, flipped the switch on my flashlight, and started kicking down to the rock. The top of the rock was 10 feet below the surface and I followed it to where it dropped off and met the sea floor. Here there was a series of small ledges that hold big 5-6 pound rockfish, but today they were safe from me. I was heading for a nearby cave I had found 10 months ago. I swam 15 feet along the base of the ledges to the entrance of the cave. My dive light illuminated the cave and inside I saw a huge lingcod head. I took my time and lined up a good shot. The spear struck true, and after a short struggle I was dragging the 29 pound lingcod out of the cave. I checked my watch as I hit the surface and I had only been down for 55 seconds, but it felt like much longer. That night I filleted the fish. I used the bones to make a dashi stock to which I added white meso. I put dried winter chanterelles into the broth, mussels I gathered from the rocks, along with snap peas and chard from our garden.  

On top of the noodles I put a fillet of lingcod. It was a very nice meal. The next day my friend used the head and remaining parts of the carcass to bait his crab traps. -Justin Smith

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Freediving for California Halibut Fish and Chips

Last year I got out for a dive with some buddies at a local spot. The visibility was decent, the marine life abundant, and we were all having a blast! Towards the end of the dive I found a nice California Halibut buried in the sand behind a wall of emerald sea grass that swayed back and forth with the gentle swell of the sea. His body was so well camouflaged that at first I was not sure if he would be legal size (they have to be a minimum of 22" to take), then I saw the tip of his tail exposed. From nose to tail it was evident he was more than legal, this was a sizable fish!

I lined up and released the spear and at once all that had been calm turned into chaos! A tornado of sand, scales and fins exploded from the bottom and took off into the depths trailing my 12 ft shooting line, speargun, and 40 ft floatline. I soon caught up with the fish and dispatched him with my knife (the most humane way seems pretty brutal when you see it in action, but a knife to the brain is a very quick death). Giving thanks was followed by a long spell of laughing out loud in a largely incoherent mess of obscenities and exhaustion.
That night it was a go to European and American classic, fish and chips! And I was a hungry graduate student no more! My wife and I feasted on that fish for nearly a month.

Remember, just before the freedive is done, look to the shallows for a little bit of fun, for you may find more than a few minnows here, look for their eyes and the whole flat fish may appear! Keep the old ways alive!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rabbit Stew and Blappleberry Crisp: Remembering an Early Summer's Harvest

"No offense to the easter bunny, but we're having rabbit stew!"- Anonymous-
My Fiancé and I had made the long trip north to my family’s orchard for my grandma’s 90th birthday.  When we rounded the final turn and saw the trees laden with fruit, I couldn’t tell who was more excited, me or our Jack Russell Terrier who began bounding around the back seat in anticipation. My cousin had made it out from Colorado for the event and brought with him his lovely wife and kids. It had been a while since the last time we’d seen each other, but we pretty much started up where we had left off.
 That evening as the setting sun’s last rays filtered through the stand of black walnut trees to the south, we walked the apple orchard.  I took a bite from the year’s first Gravenstien apple and noticed that there was a lot of rabbit, deer and wild turkey sign around. About that time my brother walked out showing me his new .22 caliber rifle. “I put a six shot group in a circle the size of a quarter at a hundred yards,” he said proudly as he opened the bolt action to show that it was not loaded, keeping it always pointed in a safe direction, and handing it over to me to inspect. The rifle was an old WWII era target model used both to train soldiers and to train boy scouts to shoot. The hardwood stock was beautifully finished with a deep chestnut brown and the action and barrel still exhibited the original bluing with no hint of rust. This was a beautiful rifle, and from the sound of it, accurate as well.
   Deer and wild turkey were not in season at this time, but Jackrabbit is open year round. Now I have heard many a hunter say some pretty harsh things about Jackrabbit. I have heard that it is stringy, tough, and downright inedible. But to all those skeptics I have one thing to say, clearly you have never had my wife's Jackrabbit stew! Early the next morning I crept out next to an old blackberry patch and watched from the brush, observing the rabbits in their natural element, hopping about, chasing each other, and stopping to brows a shrub here and there. Scouting really does bring out the magic that makes the country so special.
The following evening I took up my brother’s rifle and headed out to the same spot. Hunkered down below the shade of my favorite apple tree and concealed amidst a small clearing in the berry brambles, I waited. After a half hour or so, I slowly extended my arm and removed three ripe blackberries from the vine and ate them one by one. Again the sun set and the last beams were shining through the stand of black walnut trees, and then there was the rabbit. He ran into the orchard, stopped, rolled on the ground kicking up some dust, and began hopping straight towards me as though he wanted to eat right where I was sitting. About 15 yards short of my position he stopped, there was less than 20 minutes of legal hunting light left,  and the shot was true.
Many folks out there these days seem to think that hunting is a sadistic act, and that hunters are in it to see blood and kill, kill, KILL. But I will tell you that this is really not the case among a large portion of the hunting community. I am a subsistence hunter, I always hunt for meat which I share with friends and family, and though a good shot like this is something to be celebrated as the animal didn’t suffer at all, my favorite part of the hunt is watching the animal in its natural element. After all, far more than the average backpacker, the average hunter gets to experience the natural world so concealed that the woods come to life and go about their day as though no one is even there. And as a side note, all the people so down on hunting wouldn’t be alive to critique it if their ancestors hadn’t hunted for thousands of years with great success! But alas, I digress.
After saying my honorary prayer of thanks to the rabbit and the woods, I set to work. The rabbit was skinned, cleaned and butchered with a single obsidian flake, and as my Dad summed it up “I think that was quicker than if you’d used your knife!” I fried up the liver, heart and kidneys for a snack and put the rabbit in the fridge to “tack up”.
The following day I started the stew. After braising the rabbit in a pan the stock was started with carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. The rabbit was added, and then extracted a few hours later and the bones removed. When the meat was returned to the broth, so were a few mushrooms, potatoes, herbs from my Mom’s garden, and a bottle of my Dads award winning homebrewed zinfandel wine. While the stew cooked, my brother, cousins and I set out to get fixings for a crisp for dessert. We got the first pick of heirloom organic gravenstein apples straight from the trees and then finished off with a colander full of ripe blackberries. Though to be honest we ate more  berries in the field than we brought home for supper.
Once back home, my little cousin took charge and got the apples skinned, cored, and sliced while her brothers ate the “shoe laces” (long strips of apple skin peelings).
The fruit was mixed and the oat flour crust finished the blackberry-apple crisp, or “blappleberry crisp” as we call it, was in the oven. The whole family feasted and there was still enough stew for my lunch the next day! Of course the blappleberry crisp didn’t last long.
 When all was said and done, my cousin’s wife broke the news to the kids that they had just enjoyed rabbit stew from a rabbit I had got a couple days before. I was expecting someone to say “EEEWW”, but instead one of my cousins gave me a big smile and said “That’s legit!” -Keep the old ways alive! – By Kevin Smith