Monday, December 23, 2013

A better nutcracker: Black walnuts and hickory nuts galore

Thanks to family members, I now have the right tool for the job - a nutcracker built to open black walnuts, not to mention shagbark hickory nuts.
Nuts are healthful, and available by gathering them into a bag as we walk in the woods or along pasture edges.
To shell the nuts easily, if you don't have access to workshop tools, vices, grips and the like, you need one of the super-strong, expressly designed nutcrackers available via a google search (see photo - around $50).
Now I will be less dependent on watching for supermarket "specials" on the price of English walnuts. Black walnuts are famed for their rich flavor and go for very high prices in the market place. A big thank you to my family for helping me bring the price waaaaaay down.
Woodland riches are free for the gathering. Watch for future posts on my recent adventures with black walnuts, shagbark hickory nuts, beech nuts, beech sprouts and more.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jackie Kennedy's condolence thank-you cards - one came to me

On November 22, 1963 I was 11 years old. I remember where I was when I heard the news, of course, and subsequently was watching live black and white TV when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. During these days I asked my mom what I could do, and she suggested that I send a letter of condolence to Jacqueline Kennedy.

I promptly wrote and sent the letter. Its contents are no doubt lost to history, but I saved the response I received in March 1964, after the Beatles had arrived in America and the world was rapidly changing beyond belief from those dark November days.

The black-rimmed card reads "Mrs. Kennedy is deeply appreciative of your sympathy and grateful for your thoughtfulness." The accompanying card has her signature on the upper front right-hand corner in place of a stamp, my name and address written in exquisite calligraphy in ink, and her married name printed across the back flap.

My newly-12 year old self also saved the March 18, 1964 New York Times article, "Shamrock is left at Kennedy grave," describing Mrs. Kennedy's visit to her husband's grave on St. Patrick's Day, and announcing "Mrs. Kennedy chose today as the "appropriate" time to acknowledge the messages of sympathy she received after her husband's death. She mailed 900,000 black-bordered prayer cards and letters"....the article adds that 2000 volunteers had been working since the previous December to open and sort the letters; that 1000 per day were still arriving at the White House; that the signature-franked letters had been distributed over a week's time to avoid post office overload.

-- Hilary Lambert November 22, 2013

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grape leaves are ready by June to make dolmas

In June around the summer solstice, I took an early morning walk in the fields across the road, and followed a side path into a profusion of young goldenrod plants and trees festooned with wild grape vines. I quickly gathered a passel (30-40, that is) of big lush new grape leaves, to make a pile of dolmas for a solstice party that night.
Yep you don’t have to buy them at the $7.89 per half lb olive bar, you can make them yourself. I used to buy jars of preserved grape leaves, but this is more fun. I first posted about dolmas using wild grape leaves late last August, but by then the leaves are a tad leathery and not so succulent when cooked. So grab ‘em young (a good motto generally!). They are still fine in late July – I harvested a bunch on July 21 on the high ground above Fall Creek off Freese Road. The local hipster enviro camp counselors seem to be using the “forked dragon’s tongue” characteristic of the grape vine’s growing tendrils to help little kids identify this plant but heck, it’s just grape leaves, eh?! (other motto: “What could possibly go wrong?”).
I cooked the grape leaves in boiling water for 1-2 minutes until they turned from bright green to olive green – drained and let them cool.Cut off the stem ends. Reserve a few to cover the bottom of the dolmas simmer pan.
Anticipating a gluten free vegan crowd at the solstice party, I grabbed my ancient trusty “Middle Eastern Cookery” by Eva Zane (101 Productions, San Francisco, 1974) and went with her “Basics” dolmas stuffing recipe:
1 cup (white) rice soaked in cold water and drained.
¼ cup each currants and pine nuts (I had raisins and not-roasted almond slivers, used them instead – this is based on the Peggy Renwick principle of “substitute everything”).
1 cup finely minced green onions or 1 cup grated onion (me, 1 cup roughly chopped onion).
3 T minced (fresh, please) parsley.
2 T fresh chopped dill.
2 garlic cloves (Zane sez “optional,” I say “Nonsense”)
½ tsp allspice
Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir this all up. Place a grape leaf on towel or counter or plate (“dull side” up – I could not discern a dull side; they both work). Place 1 – 3 tsp of filling on the leaf (depends on the size of the leaf). Here are the directions I cannot seem to fully comply with: “Fold end of leaf over to cover filling, fold sides in and starting at stem end, roll carefully to form a firm cylinder about 2 inches long, depending on size of leaf.” My firm cylinders look more like tiny envelopes, but they work just fine. Do this for all the grape leaves, eh? 
You may have leftover stuffing. I cooked it in a saucepan w/added water and served as a side dish with certified gluten free tortilla chips and it was wolfed, reckon that should be deered, down.
Spread the “reserved” leaves on the bottom of a heavy saucepan, place the dolmas side by side across the bottom, then stack them up until all are, well, ya know, in place (my recipe lingo falters occasionally, here because I am way too self conscious about that foodie term “reserve”).

Sprinkle the layers with lemon juice if you have it. Add 1 cup water or stock (I added more as needed while it cooked – don’t want the dolmas to scorch), 3 T olive oil, and cover with a heavy plate, saucer or other simmer-proof item, to prevent the dolmas from unfolding while cooking. Cover and simmer over low heat, checking frequently, for about 1 hour. Test for tenderness (eat one). Remove from pan, cool, and place on a serving platter, garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon wedges if you got em. Serve with bowl of chilled yogurt (plain not sweetened), or not. They will all be eaten quickly.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Quick Fixes and the Sustainable Long Haul: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Hydrilla and Our Watershed

Quick Fixes and the Sustainable Long Haul
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Hydrilla and Our Watershed
Forthcoming in Network News 2/12, newsletter of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network Thanks to Mark C. Whitmore and Judy Abrams for editorial assistance.
Hilary Lambert, Steward
In the winter 2011 issue of Network News, our lead article stressed the need to work toward a sustainable energy future for the Finger Lakes, in the face of a rapidly warming climate. The choices we make and paths that we follow in the near future will determine the long-term fate of the clean and plentiful water our region (and the  Great Lakes) is presently known for.
The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network Board of Directors’ actions and Network programs increasingly stress the interdependence of clean water and energy choices. The Network’s 2011 Strategic Plan  includes the goal of “supporting new and ongoing successful collaborative projects with short and long-term impacts on maintaining and improving the lake, its tributary creeks, and the watershed,” by “helping communities prepare for climate change impacts.” Further, in May of 2012, the Board voted to approve a “Position Statement on Hydraulic Fracturing,” stating that “We oppose the continuation of hydraulic fracturing and urge immediate emphasis on an energy policy that promotes conservation and renewable energy sources."

Early symptoms of climate change are extreme weather events and the movement of species into regions where they previously could not survive. The invasive species presently bedeviling Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca, Hydrilla verticillata, is from temperate latitudes similar to ours in Korea, and survives well in northern climates: it is not a true climate change opportunist. However, part of the Hydrilla Task Force’s initial response strategy was the hope that a cold winter would kill off plants established in shallow waters. Instead, the mild (or “missing”) winter of 2011-12 helped hydrilla survive and prosper. As with the Asian Clam infestation in Owasco Lake to the east, this apparently “new normal” weather benefits the spread of these aquatic invasive species.

For information about the excellent long-term eradication program developed by the Hydrilla Task Force of the Cayuga Lake Watershed, information about possible impacts of herbicide use, and “everything” hydrilla: To sign up as a Hydrilla Hunter, contact:

Another aggressive invasive – this one attacking the hemlocks in our gorges – is the aphid-like Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae, aka HWA). A true climate change opportunist, HWA has been making its way north for decades with terrible destructive force, sucking the life out of majestic old hemlock stands in the southern mountains and valleys, and turning the hemlock stands in New Jersey’s wilder places and Pennsylvania’s uplands into brown skeletons (maps:

Cornell’s Mark Whitmore is a forest ecologist and nationally-recognized expert on HWA, which first appeared in the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 2008. He has been mapping its spread and advising on limiting its immediate impacts, and is also concerned about the Emerald Ash Borer’s potential for ecosystem destruction/transformation, in this period of rapid climate change.

Why is HWA a problem? Most obviously, it destroys one of our most beautiful, evocative trees. In ecosystem terms, hemlocks are a keystone species for our cool creeks and their biodiversity. If hemlocks die, creeks will be exposed to the sun and warm up, and steep shale banks will erode and collapse, altering creek habitat and sending warmer, turbid waters to Cayuga Lake.
In 2009, HWA was found on hemlocks in Cornell University’s Cascadilla Gorge and around Beebe Lake. In response, a collaborative project, involving Cornell Plantations, Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources and Mark Whitmore, was organized to track and where possible mitigate HWA impacts. A trained group of citizen-stewards carry out regular monitoring for the spread of HWA in Six Mile Creek, Edwards Lake Cliffs, Fall Creek, Fisher Old Growth, Lick Brook, Steep Hollow, and Coy Glen. This local effort is part of a larger project, led by Whitmore, to meet the challenge of invasives by increasing stakeholder knowledge and involvement. That means you! Learn more and get involved via the Cornell Plantations invasive species web pages:
The non-winter of 2011-12 may be responsible for a sudden leap of HWA along Cayuga Lake’s western shoreline. In 2011, the infestation was mapped as individual infested trees and small stands, in the Glenwood Pines area along the southwestern Cayuga Lake shoreline. Not so any longer.

In early July 2012, Judy Abrams noticed something wrong with a big hemlock that holds down the banks of a steep shaley creek on her lakeshore property, several miles north of the Glenwood area. She learned that the tree was infested with HWA, and soon realized that all of her estimated 200 hemlocks are infested or will be soon. Judy called neighbors to the south, toward Glenwood – they have it too. A quick check revealed that it is present in hemlocks on all their properties.
Lakeside landowner Judy Abrams and affected hemlock tree.
Note the creek it shades, and steep shaley banks it stabilizes.
 As with hydrilla, the immediate, short-term management options for HWA include insecticides – infested hemlock trees can be protected individually with chemical insecticides. Cultural practices can also slow impacts; biological control agents are under study (Fact Sheet, Early Detection of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae) in Small Northeastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) Woodlots, 
Here we arrive at the question of the sustainable long haul mentioned in the title. Herbicides and pesticides applied over several years will have adverse impacts on Cayuga Inlet, and on our gorges and their creeks. The potential for homeowner misuse of currently registered soil drench pesticides and subsequent environmental contamination (proximity of streams) is great. Professional applications pose far fewer risks and can help save the local genotypes of hemlocks. However, maintaining the current habitats with pesticides is untenable for the long run. We’ve got to continue to develop biocontrol and tree resistance. Experts like Whitmore and the Hydrilla Task Force know this; monitoring of impacts from treatment programs is standard (although underfunded, in the case of hydrilla).

So, what about the sustainable long haul? In a situation of rapid climate change, when do we let the hemlocks go? Long-term, can we really prevent the takeover of our lakes by green mats of suffocating hydrilla, and impacts from other invasives steadily wending their way into warming places? Beyond the next few years, can we realistically expect to keep our cool creeks and clear waters?

A 2011 study reports that, by 2100, “global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth's land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type -- such as forest, grassland or tundra -- toward another.” The study further states that the rapidity of change “will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth's water, energy, carbon and other element cycles” (NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory 2011, December 18. Climate change may bring big ecosystem shifts, NASA says. ScienceDaily; Jon C. Bergengren, Duane E. Waliser, Yuk L. Yung. Ecological sensitivity: a biospheric view of climate change. Climatic Change, 2011; 107 (3-4): 433 DOI:10.1007/s10584-011-0065-1).

This is not good news for the future of our favorite places, plants, animals, and water resources. We can ignore this freight train coming at us; we can say “It won’t happen until after I’m gone” – or we can begin to think and plan ahead in a meaningful way, that can lead to an increasingly different, eventually transformed – but healthy, sustainable – landscape and life for our descendants.
Locally, the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative ( is already looking ahead. Their mission: “We are committed to helping Tompkins County achieve a dynamic economy, healthy environment, and resilient community through a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.” Their programs need everyone’s support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally, the results to serve as a template for other local communities.  As with banning fracking one town at a time ( ), perhaps we can slow this freight train down, one locale at a time. 
Let’s keep talking, thinking, and being creative. The quick fixes are good for what ails us right now; the sustainable long haul is necessary for what comes after us.

Here is what landowner Judy Abrams is doing right now, with an eye on the sustainable long haul: "I was horrified that all the hemlocks on my property were infected with HWA and relieved to learn from Mark Whitmore that even trees near death can recover if treated properly. Because the insecticide is an imicloprid product I weighed the consequences: untreated, badly infected trees last a year or two; less affected trees live up to 4 years. If my 200 hemlocks die, my beautiful gorge would be denuded, and the cliffside and driveway would erode. The insecticide is toxic to bees, but is painted on trunks and absorbed. This treatment plus slow release pellets later protects trees up to 7 years, and by then there may be natural control methods. On Mark's advice, I hired White Oak Nursery in Geneva. The cost of saving 200 hemlocks is less than the cost of removing two large dead trees."

To find out more about climate change, looming impacts, and what can be done, consult these sources: - Yale Project on Climate Change Communication; - The network for those engaging the public in the transformation to low-carbon, resilient communities; Climate central: why climate change matters.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Day lily and stinging nettle feast in May

Primitive Pursuits Day in May was planned as an all-day public event with music, food and numerous crafts and activities for all ages. As a trainee instructor I was assigned to helping people make dogbane cords for necklaces and bracelets, accompanying the making of bark baskets, hot-coal burning of wood containers, chipping points for arrows and tools, throwing atlatls, weaving mats out of reeds, meeting animals and raptors – and eating wild foods.

The day before the big event I volunteered to gather day lily bulbs for the wild foods cookery. Jed sent me and Abby down to the floodplain of Fall Creek across the road – big beds of day lilies there. Following a hot and grimy half hour of vicious grinding efforts to dig into the dry soil with our picturesque digging sticks, I trekked back up to grab a shovel and Sefra’s extremely cool trowel. (From comments, I gathered that it is THE trowel to have. I felt so ignorant, of a well-developed American subculture where garden trowels enjoy high status.)

After that we were rolling, and at the end of two hours staggered back uphill with our arms full of day lily plants – the tasty (dirt-covered) bulbs attached to the long green leaves. The beautiful flowers had yet to form. It is ok to harvest day lilies – they are a prolific non-native and their numbers recover quickly; and as with the ramps mentioned earlier, you can re-plant what’s left of the bulbs after cleaning, for re-growth.

Unhappily for a brief time, both of our trusty leaders Jed and Tim looked at us in dismay when we showed up all proud and such. I guess due to the prep required for such a large amount of plants, it simply looked like a problem to them. Jed said, “How will we prepare them?” as though he and Tim had not, a few weeks previously, showed us how to dig them up, clean them in the nearest running water, cut the best solid firm dark bulblets from the rest of the roots, mash them with a big rock and fry up with a bit of flour and salt into tasty day lily bulb fritters. I guess he was doing the ol’ Coyote Way thing, because we burst out with big explanations of how to do all that and he just shook his head and … ran away to work on something more pressing.

So I took the big heap back to my house, soaked them overnight in buckets of water to loosen the dirt, got up early the next day to trim the roots from the leaves, cut off all the usable bulbs, washed and scrubbed some more. This took several hours and yielded about 1.5 pounds of day lily bulbs. That’s a lot, considering, but – also consider the inputs of water and labor. (During the day-long event, our chef Shawn added about another quarter pound of cleaned bulbs from lilies I had not had time to “process.”)

The day lily green leaf stalks can be peeled down to a white inner core (like cattails) with a tender not-quite-scallion flavor, but that is a VERY labor intensive process with low yields, so I gave it up after cleaning and prepping a few handfuls.

Happily, wild foods chef Shawn took one look at the 1.5 lbs of concentrated day lily bulb treasure and knew what to do. Like me, he felt that sauteeing the bulbs in a bit of oil with salt (in a big skillet over a hot-coal wood fire) for a few minutes was all the prep needed. (That’s how I prepared them a few times back in the 1970s when I first got into this stuff.) This gentle treatment allows their surprisingly complex flavor to emerge. To get folks to take a bite, Shawn said they were “like tiny potatoes”  – but the flavor was more interesting than “potato.” Surprise and thoughtfulness were the expressions on samplers’ faces after their first bite.

The other delicious wild food gathered and prepared for the day-long event was nettles, yes the very same, the scary dreaded stinging nettles that cause people to cry and thrash around for ten minutes until the pain subsides.

Wear gloves! Gather them in giant quantities while they are young (when cooked they are greatly reduced, like other greens)! Break off the tender, new-growth top third. When they are dropped into boiled water or sautéed, the prickers instantly vanish, and the resulting cooked green is deeply flavored, tangy and iodiny like seaweed (or, I am told, certain single malt Scotches). They reflect the essential flavor of the deep green that emerges outdoors in late springtime.

Chef Shawn combined these two flavorful treats as small bites served in tiny paper cups. He sprinkled a garnish of chopped day lily leaf cores on top until those ran out.  Assistant cook and fire tender Stephen carried the morsels around through the crowds in a pine bark basket. People would bravely try a nibble – then their expressions would change and they would say “Wow!” “Delicious!” “I can’t believe how good this is!” and many other mildly astonished remarks.  We had enough to feed folks steadily from 10 am to 3 pm.

I subsequently replanted the leftover discarded and less-than-perfect day lily bulbs in my backyard and many are already sending up new shoots. Previously established plants are now flowering. The big red-orange blossoms of day lilies are edible – either just to munch, or Italian cooks batter and fry them and squash blossoms, tempura style. NOT ALL BIG or small LILIES ARE EDIBLE – many contain toxins. Know your plants!

Beautiful sounds in the early morning

I woke before dawn when the weather changed slightly and rain drops began to fall. I lay in bed and listened to the hesitant, occasional drops hitting the window and roof overhead, hoping that the process would gain velocity and turn into a good downpour. So many rainstorms “nowadays” yield only enough water to lay the dust, and then dry up or move on. Not enough to satisfy! After about ten minutes of drips and drops, the sound began to change into steady rainfall, and I relaxed.

Drowsing, I heard a wonderful new sound – a plasticky “thump thump,” coming from the corner of the house just outside my window – outside of the bedroom corner into which my bed is tucked. 

Dreamily, I thought of it as the first spurts of milk into a pail (where have I ever heard that?). The individual thumps became a rapid thumping – and then morphed into the sound of drops landing in water. It was rainwater coming off the roof into the big bucket at the bottom of the downspout.

Oh how beautiful the sounds, as I listened to the rainwater rushing down the drainpipe in drops and pretty little trickles, landing in the rising water to fill the big bucket. Later on that day I walked around the house to stare with deep comfort at the four 5 gallon buckets now filled with clear cold rainwater.

Maybe, with sufficient conservation and management, this July and August won’t be as bad as last summer, when I overwatered and my well went dry for six weeks.

(Read all about it – scroll down to Older Posts, or go to 2011 summer and fall dates listed in the archives)

Friday, June 15, 2012

The water marmot

We are slightly uneasy here in utopia about a rabid fox having bit a dog one day and a hiker at Buttermilk Falls State Park the next. (It was then shot dead.) Is this the start of an epidemic??

So at a recent Primitive Pursuits wilderness skills training they put us through our paces with our throwing sticks, to aim at targets in the woods “as though your life depends upon it.” Their serious message was somewhat marred by the nature of the targets – sticks set upright in the ground, each with an Oreo cookie perched on top. Hit the stick, get the Oreo. (Hit the Oreo, obliterate it.) These were Paul Newman brand cookies, highly virtuous in many ways, but not alas gluten free. We did this for about fifteen minutes. I did not bag a cookie.

Then we put our packs on and walked up the trail through the woods. Leader Jed discussed with us the animals that are prone to rabies locally, one of them being the water marmot. No one had heard of a water marmot? He insisted that it was a local, indigenous member of “the marmot family” and that he and co-leader Tim (who had vanished from our group) had often stalked it and the elusive fisher, up the very trail we were headed.* When it contracts rabies, Jed told us, it transforms from being a water animal to a land animal, and takes to the trails.

We continued to trudge up the steep trail, heads down, bunched in a group, thinking over all these worrisome things. Jed spun around and said, “I really think you all had better have your throwing sticks out and ready. And separate – get about ten feet apart – in case you need to throw that stick in a hurry.”

OK! We finally got it! We drew our sticks like lightsabers from our packs, spread out along the trail and began to scrutinize our surroundings. Several people ahead of me topped a little rise and were out of sight. Suddenly screams erupted from up there!! A loud bellowing and banging! People were shouting.

We ran up the hill, to see Tim galloping toward us through the trees, chased by a gallon water jug half filled with water, that he was pulling behind him via a string. “Help! Help!” he was shouting, “Save me from the water marmot!” We all threw our sticks forcefully at the gallon jug as it hurtled past. “Water marmot! Water marmot!” he screamed but then the string broke, and the marmot ground to a halt behind him.

We all ran to grab our sticks as he re-tied the string, and we regrouped to each again savagely attack the water jug as it hurtled back past us, chasing Tim to a big tree where he, it and we all stopped for lunch. Sefra Levin ran around in the woods with the marmot chasing her for another few minutes as she happily screamed “Water marmot!”
* Jed Jordan has corrected the water marmot facts listed above. It is an invasive species.

<<< Group recovers, following ferocious attack.