Yesterday was one of the most perfect days in recent memory, mostly because from morning to night it was completely centered around food. We love food! Especially real food! Michael and I kicked off our sunny Saturday with a drive into Echo Park for our second meeting with the Los Angeles Bread Bakers at the beautiful home of David Dalzell, oven builder extraordinaire, to try making some wood-fired pizzas. Many thanks to David for his expert instruction and warm hospitality!
A few lucky members of the group had arrived early to take part in a pizza dough tutorial, so when we walked through the door we were greeted with the delightful sight of a dozen happy bread lovers mingling around a table covered in flour and wooden bread boards, with cute little pizza dough balls flanking the sides in their oiled containers and KitchenAid mixers in various cheerful colors keeping watch over them. A few folks tried their hands at the method of rolling pizza dough into perfect balls, forming a heart shape with their cupped fingers and rocking/rolling the dough in small circles on the bread board to create the ideal amount of surface tension before swiftly scooping it up and depositing it upside-down in an oiled container.
There was plenty of dough to go around and everyone brought tons of delicious toppings, so when it came time to build our pizzas we had our choice from delights ranging from vegan pesto and romesco sauces to homemade caramelized onions to garden fresh tomatoes, hot chili peppers, basil, and summer squash, as well as several different types of meats and cheeses. It was wonderful to have the chance to meet new people and spend the early afternoon relaxing in the dappled shade, watching the flames and embers glow inside the dome of the oven and appreciating all the food and good company we had come together to enjoy.
After we said our thanks and goodbyes, we braved Carmageddon (which was actually an easier drive than usual) to make our way over to the Eat Real Festival at the Helms Bakery District in Culver City. Our good friend Joel Robinson of nonprofit Naturalist For You was leading a foraging workshop and we were excited to attend. We arrived a bit early so we enjoyed some live music and a deliciously fresh fattoush salad from the Hungry Nomad food truck and bought some awesome wooden spoons from the adorable Backyard in a Jar VW bus. We then wandered over to the DIY section where Joel was setting up all the materials he had foraged that very morning from the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook area.
Joel’s talk focused on Ethnobotany, and he explained how California residents are starting to gain back some of the knowledge of local plants that the Tongva tribe had originally gathered over thousands of years. We learned all about the process of harvesting and processing acorns for food (something The Secret Goldfish has been extremely interested in as of late, since nutritious acorn meal can be used in bread). We also learned about the edible/medicinal properties of other local plants such as Mexican Elderberry, California Bay Laurel, Black Walnut, Mustard, Toyon, Horehound, Mugwort, Nasturtium, Water Plantain, Sweet Fennel, Wild Grapes, and Sagebrush.
Did you know that Toyon (the plant with serrated leaves and bright red berries that was mistaken for Holly and gave Hollywood its name) is a part of the rose family (along with apples, almonds, peaches, plums, and blackberries)? And that you can boil its leaves to make a delicious amber-colored tea? Don’t eat the raw berries though, as they can contain trace amounts of cyanide. Did you know that the two-toned leaves of Mugwort can neutralize the effects of poison oak, and that it conveniently grows in the same type of habitat? Or that mustard flowers are edible and taste just like broccoli, because they are in the same family of plants (along with cauliflower and arugula)? Or that the three properties of plants in the mint family are 1) stacked flower clusters, 2) square stems, and 3) opposing leaves?
Before you try foraging for yourself you should definitely talk to a professional like Joel who knows what he’s doing. Many plants look very similar to one another and you obviously need to be 100% sure a plant is safe before you try eating it. You should also be aware that you must have permission to harvest foraged materials on public lands. Many areas are designated habitat so there are rules about what/how much you can forage to ensure that the ecosystem is not damaged. The rules vary depending on the park/national forest so do some research before you try it. I’d recommend booking a free tour with Naturalist For You; you’ll get to go on an incredible hike led by a trained naturalist and learn all about the animal and plant life you encounter along the way, and you may even get to forage a bit while you’re at it.
Until next time,