Going Off The Deep End

Season two of Mindhunter* was released in August on Netflix and I binge-watched it. The show is centered around the new-at-the-time Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, formed in the late 1970s. The main characters interview imprisoned serial killers to understand what makes them tick, in the hopes of solving contemporary cases. The show is so good. After I disposed of that series, Netflix recommended Criminal Minds – 10 seasons of brutal serial murder cases. It’s similar to Mindhunter, as it’s about the same Behavioral Science FBI Unit, but based in the present day.  The show is formulaic like Law and Order, which I love. 

barbie halloween the glorified tomato

I will say though, all this murder is getting to me. I’ve been paranoid, checking the doors several times before bed and making sure the outdoor lights are on. One night I heard a “bang” coming from the basement. My heart started to race. I grabbed a can of tomato sauce that was on the counter. I thought I could throw it at the perpetrator’s head. It turned out (thank God) to just be my cat. He knocked over a vase. About a week ago I was leaving The Gateway Shopping Center. It was late. I got into the car and then had the thought, “Say if someone is hiding in the back seat?” I unbuckled my seatbelt and checked. Another paranoid thought popped in my head when I was attempting a calm, “self-care” evening. I was taking a bath. The candles were lit and I had the eucalyptus aromatherapy diffuser going. All of a sudden my mind drifted and I imagined the unsub charging into the bathroom and electrocuting me, by throwing a blow dryer into the bathwater.

I need to take a breather from these shows. 

My husband thinks I have an unhealthy obsession with death. It must run in my family. My Mother and I always “fantasize” about our funerals. Who will come?  How many floral displays will be given? What items will be put in our coffins? We talk about the music at the funeral. My mom wants When The Saints Go Marching In to be her “Carry-out” song, performed by a brass band. We both want a big party with lots of food, instead of the traditional sober luncheon. We even thought to freeze my mother’s delicious meatballs so they can be served to the family at her funeral party. It just requires some planning. You shouldn’t freeze food for more than six months, so we would need a heads up before she dies. My mother and I always joke, your funeral is “the FINALl party.” It’s gotta be one to remember.

All of this death talk is reminding me that I need to write a will.  And get life insurance. My friend Cecilla and I have actually talked about this at length. We both don’t have kids and we own property. Who would be the next of kin?  Who will take custody of my four cats if Matt and I die at the hands of a psychopathic serial killer? I wouldn’t want the house to go up for some city auction, after all the hard work we put into rebuilding it. I really need to get these matters in order.

All this may sound a little morbid but these are my true thoughts (eek). I hope I didn’t scare you off…

*The Netflix show is based on the true-crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. I’ve read the book, If you’re into murder mystery, this is a must-read.

 

halloween the glorified tomato

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Learning, One Bite At A Time

As I mentioned last week, I want to elaborate on a few more edible plants I discovered at Fort Tilden while on a walking tour with naturalist, and Northern Eastern forager expert Wildman Steve Brill.*

Steve Brill helping us identify edibles with his illustrations on his iPad.JPG

Barbarea (Wintercress or Yellow Rocket).  We stumbled upon a low growing plant in a rosette formation. Brill directed us to tear a leaf and he asked what flavor it reminds us of. I thought it tasted spicy. Someone blurted out, mustard. “Correct!” Brill said with excitement, “This native edible is an Herbaceous plant (herb or spice). It tastes bitter, it’s part of the mustard family.” The leaves are dark green and shiny. In the spring/summer it has a tall yellow flower, the seeds are edible too. Wintercress can be used to make a garlic, mustard dressing, salsa or can be used in soups. It’s best cooked, otherwise too bitter. Wintercress is related to Watercress which you often see in the local supermarket.

Rumex crispus (Curly Dock). This is one of my favorites. It tastes like lemon and thus can be used in so many ways. It helps with liver function – boil it and drink in tea form. I couldn’t believe this flavorful herb was right under my feet and I didn’t know it. The perennial also grows in a rose-like formation and shoots up with a small yellow flower during the summer, turning auburn in the fall.  But it usually never gets to that stage, since it’s often mowed down. An easy way to identify this plant is by the curly leaf edges. With each plant discovered, Steve showed us illustrations he drew of the edible plant at different growth stages.

Edible Rockweed can be found right here on the peninsula!
Edible Rockweed can be found right here on the peninsula!

Fucus vesiculosus (Rockweed) – probably the most exciting edible of the day. We ate seaweed! The tour finished at the ocean where we tasted Rockweed and Sea Lettuce. Both you’ve seen while swimming around in the water this summer. Sea lettuce is “That seaweed you always see.” It’s the bright and dark green, semi-translucent stuff everywhere. Rockweed, which tastes better, is harder to come by but still found around the peninsula during low tide. It prefers to grow along rocky coastlines like the north shore of Long Island. It taste like salty fish “but in a good way”! It can be dark green or purple/brown (when less hydrated). It has “bladder pods” along its thin fronds. The Wildman noted, It’s excellent to use for a mock-fish dinner!” Other culinary uses include – soups, ramen, and  stir-fry. I also read this marine plant is used to smoke meat. Noteworthy, Rockweed is the original source of iodine, discovered in 1811. It was used to treat thyroid related deficiencies.

I was inspired after the tour, so I bought one of Steve’s books,  “The Wildman Vegan Cookbook” Don’t be thrown off by “vegan”, anyone can try these recipes– why not, right? The quote on the opening page has stuck with me, “This book is dedicated to all the nonviolent environmental activists worldwide who have risked physical injury, financial loss, and their liberty to keep our planet green, vibrant and alive.”

If this column has interested you, check out Wildman Steve’s calendar of events here. There’s still time to forage before winter is upon us!

*If  you need to backtrack, find my first column about The Wildman here.

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The Wildman

The Wildman in his natural habitat

His appearance is what you’d expect: utilitarian. The Wildman is wearing a long-sleeved blue windbreaker and khaki pants with multiple pockets. A strap holds a shovel and an iPad. A safari hat shades his face. His fingernails have already been in the soil.

Wildman Steve Brill 4

 “Take a quick look at my books and then we’ll get started,” he says. Several cooking and foraging books are laid out on the front window of his dusty car. As the parents get their kids’ jackets zipped and the snacks packed up, the Wildman breaks out in song, oddly, with his hands cupped to his face. It seemed to be an ancient “hand whistle” of sorts, but the sound is “pop, pop” and jazzy.

Steve Brill is a naturalist, environmental educator and author. He gained celebrity in 1986, when he was arrested in Central Park for eating a dandelion (MUST google). He studied pre-med at George Washington University but later changed his major to psychology, The Wildman is a self-taught botanist, forager, and vegan cook. He’s considered an expert in Northeastern plant identification and foraging.

My friend Susanne organized a home-school outing with Brill for a group of her friends and their children. The foraging tour was held at Fort Tilden. She invited me to tag along. I almost didn’t make it, but I’m so glad I did. Brill’s knowledge of native species is encyclopedic.

Our group was ready. Steve took the lead and we didn’t make it far before the first discovery. “Wait! stop, look over there!” Steve pointed to the ground. “That’s red clover!” We’ve all seen this small purple flower mixed in lawns or field grass. We each picked a flower and ate it. The plant tasted sweet and sugary. “It’s part of the pea family”. Brill explained. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) can be used in green salads and teas. Brill further explained the medicinal uses – cancer prevention and help with digestion.

Poor Man’s Pepper (Lepidium virginicum) was next located. The taste is sharp, almost exactly like the pepper we buy in the store. It’s hard to identify, unlike Red Cover. To the common eye, in blends in with any grass. Poor Man’s Pepper is in the mustard family and native to North American. Due to lack of refrigeration, spices throughout history were used to mask the taste of “not-so-fresh” foods, the Wildman explained. But in the 1700’s when Columbus returned to Europe with Poor Man’s Pepper, the plant grew freely, allowing even the poor to use this tasty, needed spice.

Wildman Steve Brill ready to sample the bitter Winged Sumac. Make pink lemonade with this plant!
Winged Sumac

The afternoon continued. We identified and ate 9 other edible species in Fort Tilden – Winter Crest, Curly Dock, Wild Carrot, Bayberry, Autumn Olive Berry, Winged Sumac, Common Evening Primrose, Sea Lettuce and Rock Weed. I’ll discuss these edibles in a future column – you can count on it.

Steve Brill works with nature centers, schools, day camps, libraries, parks departments, land trusts and other organizations, to educate adults and children on foraging and the importance of protecting our environment. If your interested in a one-of-a-kind nature experience, contact Steve through his website: wildmanstevebrill.com or by email here. Follow his wild excursions around NYC on IG @wildmansteve. And if you’re a nature geek like myself, download his app Wild Edibles Forage, to help you identify over 250 North American plants right in our backyard!

Wildman Steve Brill 1 Wildman Steve Brill 2

The Wildman in his native habitat,

Wildman Steve Brill 3

Red Clover

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Red Hot Chili Peppers

My column this week isn’t about the 90s funk-rock band out of L.A., rather I’m discussing the spicy, hot fruits that I grew in my garden this year.

cayenne peppers

It started this spring. I must have picked up a cayenne pepper plant by mistake or maybe it was mislabeled, who knows. I didn’t realize I had chili peppers growing in my garden until a few  weeks ago when they began turning red. All along I thought they were stunted shintos!

I found cayenne very easy to grow, unlike bell peppers* which I’ve had little luck with. I just watered the plant a few times a week and had some compost in the soil. You can harvest chili peppers when they’re green, but they will have less heat. The more red in color, the hotter they will taste. Keep in mind that cayenne pepper is stronger than Jalapeño. Eat with caution!

“Chili pepper” is a broad term. It is believed that there are close to fifty thousand cultivars! The peppers originate from central Mexico. They were brought to Spain and the rest of the world by Columbus in 1493. Their usage is worldwide and the peppers are found in just about every ethic  cuisine today. They come in all different fun shapes, colors, sizes and heat intensities.

Why do we like to torture our tongues and eat spicy foods?  Scientists theorize that humans eat hot food for the same reason we enjoy roller coasters or jumping into the icy cold ocean or even watching a tear-jerker movie. We seek out pain (heavy). More specifically, people can enjoy extreme sensations or fear if we know it poses low-risk. The chemical capsaicin is what makes hot peppers hot. The production of the compound is a natural defence mechanism for the plant, which prevents most mammals and insects from eating it. Interestingly, birds lack the sensors for capsaicin, therefore the fowl eat and spread the seeds in their droppings which helps to insure the survival of chilli peppers. Mother Nature is so smart — this stuff fascinates me!

chili paste

With my harvest, I decided to make a red hot chili pepper paste for use in various meals. Think marinated spicy hot peppers with sautéed shallots and garlic, all infused together in one condiment. After reading several recipes, I came up with my own variation, which I guarantee is FIRE!

chili paste 2

Paula’s Red Hot Chili Pepper Paste
(makes 1 1/2 cups)

Ingredients:

6 cayenne peppers
3 jalapeno peppers
1 red bell pepper (to cut some heat and add sweetness)
2 large chalets
5 cloves garlic
1 tomatillo (for tartness)
1 tablespoon loosely chopped cilantro
½ cup olive oil
Salt

Directions:

1. Chop all ingredients in a food processor
2. Heat the oil and then transfer the pepper mixture into a small saucepan. Cook on low for 20 minutes stirring occasionally. Let it cool.
3. Pour the mixture with the oil back into the food process and pulse for 30-40 seconds
4. Store in an airtight container, lasts up to three weeks.

I added the mixture to mayo for a creamy, spicy sauce. It was delicious on the burgers I made for dinner. The chili pepper sauce can be used in so many ways –  on tacos, Indian curry, marinated chicken breast – for some oomph, huevos rancheros, spicy red sauce. You get the point, enjoy!

*Fun food fact: green, yellow, orange and red bell peppers are the same fruit. The difference in appearance and flavor is due to the harvest time. Green being the earliest, red being the latest stage. The longer it’s on the vine, the sweeter it tastes.

For more follow me on Instagram – @theglorifiedtomato

food processor