TL: How did you notice your cooking habits change once you decided to eat locally?
MF: I find that I can easily get in to a cooking rut—I make things I’m familiar with over and over. The exciting part of eating seasonally or getting vegetables in your CSA that you’re not familiar with is getting out of your rut and growing as a cook. The answer to this is finding a few great cookbooks that have easy recipes. I like to leaf through some of my favorites before going to the Farmer’s Market. “Everyday Greens” by Annie Somerville is great for veggies. (She has a recipe for leafy greens over polenta sprinkled with pumpkin seeds). This takes minutes to make. I absolutely love “Seven Fires” by Frances Mallmann. He’s Argentinean and so it’s mainly about grilling meat, but a favorite from there is a roasted squash, arugula and goat cheese salad. He also has a recipe for a meat stew served in a large winter squash. Guests are wowed by this, and it’s not hard to make. The classic, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan and the newer “Mediterranean Fresh” by Joyce Goldstein have easy-to-follow recipes that are just great. Then there’s always the Internet…I believe that if you can read, you can cook.
TL: How do you think getting ‘closer’ to your food has changed your approach to eating in general?
MF: I certainly eat a lot more leafy greens in the winter, as kale, chard, mustard, and collards are my bumper crop. Strawberries are coming in now.
I live in Northern California, and our farmer’s markets are amazing all year round, so it’s really easy to eat locally and I belong to a meat CSA that supports organic ranchers in Sonoma County. This doesn’t cost more than buying meat at a supermarket, and it’s all free range, antibiotic, hormone free–and delicious. I tend to cook a lot at home, and make simple rustic food. (That said, I’ve rarely met a taco truck I didn’t like). But even so, I love my garden. Recently a niece and nephew were visiting me, and my nephew especially was one of those kids who only ate macaroni & cheese. I’m actually astonished he’s grown on his diet of trans fat. But when he was here, we picked greens from my containers, cut shiitakes off my logs and made omelets that they both loved. I think the process of being in the garden encouraged them. As well, we made ice cream out of kaffir lime leaves and lavender from my garden and they were really impressed. So I’m not only eating locally and seasonally, but using my garden to bring in more to the fold.
TL: How did you become an urban forager?
MF: I actually learned to forage before I lived in an urban an environment. First with my grandmother in Kansas. We would walk her property and forage asparagus gone wild and morels. Then I lived in Alaska and food in the grocery stores was so expensive, and wild food so bounteous that we foraged nettles, fiddleheads, berries, and mushrooms. So when I lived in Brooklyn, and I’d spot a fig tree overhanging the sidewalk, or mulberries on a tree, or even grape leaves in easy reach, then I’d grab some as I passed by. Now I live in California and it is a forager’s paradise: miner’s lettuce, fennel, wild plums, neighbors’ fruit trees. And because it’s a growing trend, there are opportunities to try new things and learn about more unusual foraged fare like ginkgo nuts and seaweed.
TL: What should the first steps be for a would-be forager?
MF: To start: I tend to be a little intrepid when it comes to tasting things. I saw a wild plum on the ground–it was about the size and shape of a cherry–so I picked it up, smelled it, and then tasted it. Tasted like plum! My sister loves to going foraging with me so she doesn’t have to be the guinea pig. But for mushrooming, I went out with and expert and he taught me to hunt and identify porcini’s and Chanterelles. He also runs a nursery nearby my house, Green Jeans, so if I find other mushrooms I am 90% sure are edible, I still take them by his place for identification. The wild greens I mostly learned about from friends. For beginner’s, there are tours, classes, festivals, clubs and societies people can learn from. This is the safest way to go, especially when it comes to mushrooms.