“I want us to be a family that forages together.” I told Gabe.
“That’d be fun.” He responded not really knowing what that means or looks like but eagerly jumping on board as he often does when I come up with yet another lofty dream.
So we have a few books on our shelves that identify edible plants through scientific illustration, I’ve been out mushroom hunting once, and we’ve talked about taking the kids for hikes but that had been the extent of our foraging experience until one Friday afternoon in April.
Gabe and I were invited to choose a curated date through the site HowAboutWe for Couples. In their own words, “HowAboutWe is a company that helps people fall in love and stay in love.” In my own words, “it’s a company that helps couples such as ourselves plan fun dates because we are too overwhelmed with the idea to do it ourselves.”
We dropped off the kids at school then headed east and into the woods with local foraging expert, Langdon Cook. Along the three-mile path he identified miner’s lettuce, fiddlehead ferns, huckleberries, salmon berries, wild raspberries, Oregon berries, and stinging nettles.
Being in those woods was familiar. I grew up with the pacific northwest forest as my backyard and spent my days snacking on huckleberries and cursing the stings from nettles.
Wispy moss hung low on the trees casting a soft shadow on the green carpet below. Small buds appeared on a wild plum tree just starting to open up as the warmth of spring had just hit.
“Don’t even bother trying to get those plums.” Langdon told us. “The birds will beat you to them.”
Near a trickling stream he brushed aside the grass to show us the tightly curled sprouts of a lady fern.
“This is what you are looking for.” He said as we watched him clean off the brown outer layer to reveal a citron colored fiddlehead fern. After the first one he pointed out to us we continued to see them along the path and cried out with excitement with each spotting.
Our time in the woods with Langdon was about learning what to look for and quite frankly just about enjoying the time outside, being with my husband and away from work.
At home I wanted to take a bit of what we found in the woods and make a date night out of it. So I grabbed some gardening gloves, a few bags and took the kids to the park after school.
“We’re looking for nettles.” I told the kids.
“Why?” They asked in fearful protest.
“Because I want to make something for dad for date night.”
It wasn’t long before the adventure felt like a treasure hunt and when we happened upon our first patch, lush with the bright green frilly leaves of stinging nettles, we all shrieked with delight.
I donned the gloves and for the first time in my life I picked stinging nettles. My childhood was about avoiding them and now I was gathering them for dinner.
Roman was eager to join in the harvesting until the nettles somehow stung him through the gloves. I was very empathetic when I dropped a freshly plucked branch on my sandal clad feet.
We carried on, quickly filling a bag and happily recounting our plans for pesto to the curious passers by.
Sure there had been a few stings but we did it. Well on our way to becoming a foraging family.
With the gloves still on I plunged our foraged treasure into a large pot of boiling water. I remember Langdon assuring us that after 20 seconds in a hot bath the nettles will lose their sting.
In our garden I foraged some mint and blended that along with the nettles, pine nuts, Parmesan, lemon juice and olive oil to make a grassy pesto to stir into our avocado soup.
I love that Gabe doesn’t think I’ve lost my mind when I take our three kids into the woods to gather stinging nettles for dinner. Or that he doesn’t laugh at the idea of learning how to distinguish deadly mushrooms from the delicious ones. In fact he not only encourages this sort of behavior in me, he comes home from a date in the woods then immediately signs us up for a membership to the mycological society and gets downright giddy at the idea of putting the membership sticker on our car.
When I say I want to write a cookbook he goes and gets my half-written proposal printed and turned into a book in order to push me closer to my dream. And when I talk about wanting to move our entire family to Italy for a season he fills out the paperwork for the kids’ passports so we’ll be ready to go on a moments notice. When I mention I want to start painting more there’s suddenly a little watercolor kit on my desk. He not only supports my dreams, he takes the first step before I do. He’s the one, quietly in the background pushing me, encouraging me and inspiring me to keep on coming up with ideas like taking our family out into the woods to gather the ingredients for our dinner together. Without him I’m not sure I’d be so brave.
We make a good team, he and I.
*This post was sponsored by HowAboutWe but the words, as always, are mine. I was eager to jump at the chance to tell you about this company because it’s a service that Gabe and I desperately need. We’ve got the dating at home thing down. But when it comes time to go out and enjoy our incredible city we are overwhelmed with the possibilities. HowAboutWe for Couples (they have a singles site too) is all about wonderful experiences, tailored for two. Members browse the curated collection of local dates, pick the ones they like, and go.
Right now, HowAboutWe is located in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and LA. But if you sign up even if you aren’t in one of those cities, they will email you as soon as they are in your area.
If you sign up to become a member you automatically get great deals on some really creative date ideas in your area.
Go ahead and give it a try. See HowAboutWe’s collection of free dates here. Any company that gets couples to spend more time together doing fun things is good by me.
Chilled Avocado Soup with Mint & Nettle Pesto
1/2 small shallot roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Combine the avocado, shallot, broth, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a blender. Blend until smooth adding more broth if you’d like a thinner soup. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate for one day.
Mint & Nettle Pesto
Langdon uses nettles wherever you would spinach – in pestos or nestled in between sheets of pasta along with ricotta. He says it is one of the most protein-rich plants and freezes beautifully so you can enjoy this taste of spring all year long.
I realize that many of you don’t have access to stinging nettles like we do. Feel free to substitute arugula, basil or Italian parsley for the nettles.
1 cup blanched, drained and chopped stinging nettles
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup firmly packed grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine the nettles, mint leaves, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, Parmesan and salt in a blender, food processor or mortar and pestle. Mix until pureed then pour in the olive oil. Blend until it just comes together.
Use right away or cover and refrigerate for up to one week.