Monday
Apr222013

Overstimulation Nation

Dear world, I am sad. 

I feel sad as I put my newborn son to sleep for his morning nap, carefully timed so that is in the zone when I put him down (happy and drowsy), I can't stop thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing. What have we done?

Historical philosophers debated if the nature of man is inherently good or evil. Rested, I would ask? Or overstimulated and overtired? Coaching a newborn to sleep I have learned there is a fine line between a frown and a smile. 

Wednesday
Dec122012

Pennyroyal, Chicken Fajitas & Childbirth 

It's mid-December, raining, and I am 32 weeks pregnant. We are five days from Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, and the dark is densely dark, as early as 4:30pm. To my side sits a brown glass bottle of St. John's Wort from my garden, steeped in 3x as much potato vodka, desinted to become a tincture. I've been tending it for two weeks and now it's ready to be filtered, botled and administered for alleviating the winter blues (for others I should say, it is contraindicated for internal use in pregnancy).  

The St. John's Wort in its shady bottle is a ghostly reminder of the garden left behind by time. The beds themselves sit mulched and moist, absorbing these days of rain and damp, probably wondering what keeps them warm and frost-free this time of year. So strange.

Last Spring the garden told me I was pregnant. Let me explain. The first plant I dug into the earth in early May was a Pennyroyal seedling purchased from (my favorite source) Urban Harvest. It took like a 3 year-old to mud and quickly grew long tendrils of mint-candy smelling leaves. I had no idea what I would use it for, but was happy to have it scenting the backyard. 

Sometime in mid May the baby was conceived. We didn't know for certain (suspected, yes) that I was pregnant. Then one afternoon in early June I was walking through the garden and began to see stars. My head spun, and a most deep down visceral horror arose in my body- a Great Repulsion. Unkowingly and fast I plugged my nose and stepped away from the beds, glaring at the Pennyroyal. Stupdily confused I rushed inside and googled.  

The first thing I learned was that Pennyroyal is an abortifacient (def. causes abortion). Ha!  That was our Clear Blue sign. 

Weeks went by, a month, and I continued to avoid the Pennyroyal. It grew, and grew, and grew (as I grew)- taking over the thyme, poppies and arugula. With total disgust for the plant, I ignored its takeover and also ignored that garden bed. Then one day a funky mushroom smell wafter through the backyard. Curious, I peeked through the Pennyroyal and spied a flat yellow fungus growing near its roots. Enough was enough. I put on latex gloves, covered my nose, and proceeded to tear out the tendrils, roots, and scum. Quickly the spot where the P.R. once lay, laid bald. I was satisfied, and dumped the refuse plant matter far down the alleyway behind some bushes.

This first gush of a mothering instinct was clear. Others have been more, and less clear. For instance, the 2-week-long September chicken fajita craving (thanks to El Trumpo, Kensington Market) was truly an eat-chicken-fajita-or-vomit scenario. Nothing has ever been so quelling. 

A slightly clouded instinct has been my feeling about giving birth. From the beginning, my embodied sense is of a life coming full circle, of rapture, and joy in the process of birthing. Yet I am constantly fed messages that labour should be painful and terrifying, by definition laborious, and that's the cloudy part. Those messages seep in and remind me of the primal truth of giving birth- every birth contains death. The buddha taught that birth leads to old age and death. 

This is certain, and maybe this is the truly painful part. Everything that is born, ends. The life I know is about to end, the relationship my partner and I know, is about to change, the work I do, the free time I (sometimes have), etc. Laundry, breasts, sleep, these things that feel incredibly regular are about to be entirely uprooted. I saw a woman on the street yesterday who had exactly the body that I had a year ago, the one I might never don in quite the same way again. I felt a feeling of never going back, of losing something that has been the container of 'me' for so long. This skin bag, gone; this outline, re-drawn. I can not resist, and as much as I try, I will hurt.

Baby's head has dropped, pressing distinctly on my bladder, and waking me up 3-4 times a night. Nothing will ever be the same. I am both thrilled and wobbly in this massive unknown. 

Another 8 weeks left, or so. Until then, fajitas and laundry. 

Thursday
May032012

Nettles: Sting and Spring Cleanse!

This is my favorite time of year! Wild perennial edible foods are rushing into season, and my body and palette are ready for fresh things. Fortunately here in Toronto we have abundant natural beds of wild greens to forage. High Park, Toronto Island, Dufferin Grove, and alongside the Don Valley are studded with heaps of thick nettle patches in perfect perfection. My regular gathering spot is in High Park near the Cherry Blossoms. Here, alongside a flowing creek, they are a rich green colour, sooooo chock full of minerals:

Nettles (L. Urtica diocia) are dioecious plants, meaning their flocks have separate male and female plants, rather than having a single hermaphroditic plant. Cool! What else makes them animal-like? They have intense built in defense mechanisms. Trick is, this makes them FIREY! They are covered in tiny trichomes, miniscule spiky threads that act like hypodermic needles, and inject various chemicals (including histamine, achetylcholine, seratonin and formic acid) into unsuspecting animals (including human children). 

What else makes them animal (and human)-like? They are herbaceous perennials. After their season is over, their leaves and stems wither away and flatten back down to the earth where they become delicious compost. They leave little trace- not even woody sticks. Just compost. Ok maybe we humans aren't herbaceous, but do readily wither and return to the earth. Thank goodness. If only superhighways, styrofoam and electric cars did too. 

So, what to do with nettles? Whats the big deal? A few things. They are a renowned traditional herabl remedy for inflammation (a property confirmed by western science), for building blood, and as a diuretic. I personally find them an amazing tool for waking up! While you can wear gloves to shield from their sting, I often prefer to pick them with a bare firm hand (pressing tightly on their stems and leaves prevents them from pricking you!). Every now and then there's the odd sting (my index fingers are burning gently as I write this). Makes me feel vibrantly alive. Even my index fingers. At first my mind wanted to label the sting as bad and painful, and now, I just notice the sensation. Such buddhist teachers these plants. 

What to do at home with nettles? I make a few staple things: nettle tea (which the ancient Tibetan sage Milarepa is said to have fasted on until he turned a light green hue, developed legendary psychic and spiritual powers, and became enlightened. takers?), nettle pesto (with wild leeks, ingredients pictured above), steamed nettles with goat ghee and sea salt, and as a replacement for green veg in pretty much anything. My next project is rutabaga-nettle Lasagna with lamb.  

If for no other reason than to connect to the earth (your body) and pick your own food at least once a year, nettles are worth a few hours of urban adventuring.

There is no place like home!

Monday
Jan022012

Alchemy 101: Simple Homemade Ghee

Ghee [or 'clarified butter'] is a form of butter with its water content and milk solids removed. It is renowned in healing traditions for its ability to stimulate digestion and to strengthen the immune system.

There is no doubt that ghee is a remarkable healing food for the intestines. It provides butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid that is commonly made by the billions of small bacteria in our colon, as a byproduct of fermenting fiber, to fuel the intestine itself. With this fuel the intestine can renew its sensitive and exposed membranes, ones that can be overloaded and eroded by food sensitivities and compromising food choices.

Here we receive this magnificent natural medicine in abundance. Not only that, but ghee is also essentially casein and lactose free, making it an ideal source of healthy fat for any body. My body is a radar for these substrates and so far I can attest to having only good results and improved digestion with my homemade ghee.

You will need

1 pound or half pound of organic unsalted butter
cheesecloth
jar
frying pan
knife
half an hour

Instructions: Chop the brick of butter into cubes (so that it melts fast). Heat on medium until meltdown, then lower to medium-low. The butter will transform through several amorphous stages. After about 30 minutes, observe the ghee: the liquid should be golden, glowing, and incredibly aromatic, hovering smoothly over a sticky brown sediment on the bottom of the pan, and below a yellow-brown foam crust on top. Once you're ready to pour (follow your nose, it should smell like childhood), line a jar with a cheesecloth, securely, and pour on a long exhale. The orange hue will last only until it solidifies, so enjoy!

The ghee will last for a long time out of the fridge as long as you don't introduce any moisture, so use only a dry utensil to retrieve what you need. Mine tends to not last long enough to worry about storage!