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edible

san juan mountains

Traversing the San Juans to bring you the story of local food, season by season.

No. 8 Mud Season 2012

Considering lamb the best short-season seeds hunting asparagus iron horse fuel Eat dirt (really)


At The Farm lunch bistro, you’re likely to be sitting next to the person who grew your lunch.

Photo of colt Tawa at the owners’ Seven Meadows Farm, by Deste Relyea

Homegrown and homemade food for eat-in or take-out, community farm stand, books and locally made products. Lunch mon-sat 11-3 • catering • private events 34 West Main in Cortez • 970 565 3834 www.sevenmeadowsfarm.com

Local,100% Natural Meats, Seafood and Poultry

Births at

Mercy Regional Medical Center

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Contents

2

Publisher’s Letter

4

Jama Crawford: Interview

5

6

10

Top Seeds for the HighAltitude Gardener By Jess Kelly Iron Horse Food

By Anna Riling

Ode to Dirt

By Rachel Turiel

11

Eat Dirt

By Rachel Turiel

13

The “Best Of” 2012

16

Treats in the Ditch

19

20

22

By Emily Brendler Shoff

On the Lamb By Lauren Slaff

Counting Churros By Lauren Slaff

Going Wild: Foraging for Food in the San Juans By D. Dion

24

outtakes


Publisher’s letter

S

ome years ago, at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, I experienced an “aha!” moment. It wasn’t a mystical connection with the ancients or anything. It was about compost. The Tribal Park is adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park, with its paved roads, nattily dressed Park Interpreters, and World Heritage Site status. The Tribal Park has none of this, but it does have something quite titillating: untouched Ancestral Puebloan ruins with their material detritus intact. You get to climb rickety ladders up cliff sides and peer at these materials through old windows. My friend, who had majored in archeology, foamed at the mouth from the thrill of seeing a broken yucca-fiber sandal and a pair of thousand-year-old corn cobs. I looked at the cobs and said, “This is why my compost pile sucks.” The quality of climate which has preserved so many artifacts and made southwest Colorado an international hub of archeology is the same one that makes local agriculture, if you’ll excuse the pun, a tough row to hoe. My compost pile was a grim witness to the fact. After a year of cheerfully tossing kitchen scraps and leaves in a heap, I failed to harvest the “black gold” that was promised by my composting book (I suddenly noticed that it had been written in perennially damp Massachusetts). What I got were desiccated remnants of lettuce nubs and apple cores. At that rate of decomposition, it would have taken a few thousand years to convert my leavings into useful material. I despaired. Dry is just the start of our troubles. Add to it our Biblical-scale plague, every summer, of one or another destructive insect. The other day I reminisced with a friend about the Year of the Grasshoppers, when I left a pot of herbs on the porch in the morning and returned that afternoon to find them devoured down into their roots. Then there was the Year of the Webworms which, naturally, metamorphosed into the Year of the Miller Moths. We kept our windshield wipers on when we drove at night. We could create our own system of time, naming the years for their bugs. Finally, there is the cruel brevity of our growing season. Forget about sweet potatoes. Banish melons from your mind. You’ll barely have time to pluck a cherry tomato and a sprig of basil before some rogue frost crushes them in August. I conclude that a person would have to be extremely stubborn to grow food in southwest Colorado. Luckily, many people here are that stubborn. You know who you are: midwives of lambs in March blizzards, tenders of sauce pots when the restaurant is empty, planters of seedlings in frosted windowsills. You are the keepers of the local food

2  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

flame in the off season, and once again we are telling your stories in this issue of Edible San Juan Mountains. We explore the history and flavor of Churro sheep and look at why they work so well in our landscape. We learn how to forage for wild roadside asparagus. Patches will be emerging all over the region before spring is finished. We discuss processes for determining the best seeds for our region’s cranky growing conditions. It turns out that there are seeds that actually love our clay soil and short season, and will reward us for growing them. What you may not know as you battle the local elements is that you, and Edible San Juan Mountains, are part of a local food movement that is happening everywhere. There are seventy other Edible Magazines around North America… and counting! They are telling the stories of seventy distinct local climates and food cultures, just like we are. That is why, in the unlikely “growing” conditions of a historic recession, our magazine is growing too. Last week I attended a conference of Edible publishers, marketing directors, and editors in Santa Barbara, California. You can bet that nobody ate at chain restaurants. We relied on Edible Santa Barbara to lead us to the best food in the county. When the RV caravans pull into our mountains later this season, they’ll have Edible San Juan Mountains to guide them. In this issue, we’re excited to announce our own annual “Best Of” the San Juan Mountains. You voted, we tallied, and now we all have a lot of eating and drinking to do. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of patronizing these winners, now’s the time. That is the one really great thing about springtime in the Rockies: for a few short weeks, you won’t have to wait for a table.

Laura Thomas, Director of PR and Marketing


edible

san juan mountains editor and Publisher Rick Scibelli, Jr. rick@ediblesanjuanmountains.com

Managing editor Jess Kelley

copy editor Chris Brussat

writers Lauren Slaff Rachel Turiel Emily Brendler Shoff D. Dion Anna Riling

photography Rick Scibelli, Jr.

food styling Lauren Slaff

marketing director Laura Thomas 970-946-7475 Laura@ediblesanjuanmountains.com

On the Cover: Derek Goldtooth works at the Cortez Livestock Auction in Cortez, Colorado. His duties include shepherding livestock in and out of the sale ring. His job also includes keeping an eye out for flying hooves, swinging horns and the not-so-infrequent stampede. He also loads and unloads livestock, usually from horseback. He rides like a runner runs: without thought. Goldtooth, an Arizona native, also lives at the auction house. “I live right upstairs,” he says. You won’t find a story about Goldtooth in our Spring issue. The truth is, we went to the auction house looking for sheep people. We also went for the show – the art of the auction and the rich cast of real people it attracts. If you have never been, it is well worth the price of admission (free). So there we were, and there was Derek Goldtooth, herding, orchestrating, riding. And smiling. And although we didn’t find any sheep people, we did find a cover. – RS

contact us info@ediblesanjuanmountains.com edible San Juan Mountains 361 Camino del Rio Suite 127 Durango, CO 81303 To send a letter to the editor, email us at rick@ediblesanjuanmountains.com. For home delivery of Edible San Juan Mountains, email rick@ediblesanjuanmountains.com; the rate is $32 per year. Edible San Juan Mountains is published quarterly by Sunny Boy Publications. All rights reserved. Distribution is throughout southwest Colorado and nationally by subscription. No part of this publication may be used without written permission of the publisher. © 2012. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies and do notify us. Thank you.

  3  


in the garden

Jama Crawford and her husband, Bob Kauer, in their century-old Durango farmhouse.

Jama Crawford

J

ama Crawford surveyed 19 expert gardeners and seed purveyors in comparable climates to determine which vegetable seed varieties do best in our region. She presented her research findings at the Homegrown Retreat held at Fort Lewis College in February 2012. Edible was thrilled to catch up with the woman behind this time-saving resource for gardeners. Shared Harvest Community Garden was started in 2001 (at 7,000 feet) by Crawford’s husband, Bob Kauer, and today has 65 households participating annually. Edible San Juan Mountains: Why spend your time putting together this list of over 400 seed varieties? Jama Crawford: I did this in lieu of knitting, TV, or whatever else people find to do while waiting indoors for spring. Sometimes I play Scrabble with myself. Making a seed list was a whole lot more productive than most things I find to do on long winter nights. I think it took about 40 hours, but imagine the thrill of finding the same seed pop up again and again, and me shouting to my husband in another room, “We must plant Black Seeded Simpson!” Did any aspect of this project come as a surprise to you? I am always surprised by how our biases keep us in a rut. We always buy Nelson carrot seeds, even though they split come the monsoons. So why is everyone else on this list recommending Chantenay carrots? Maybe they know something we don’t. At this point I don’t know why some seeds earned more points than others, but now I want to try the winners and find out. I was surprised to learn that some acclaimed varieties are now owned by Monsanto. I didn’t take these seeds off the list (there is no reason to believe they are GMO), but I did mark them so people who prefer to vote with their dollars can do so. The most surprising result was the enthusiastic response from local foodies and gardeners who, like

4  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

me, just want to narrow their seed selection options. Were you born with a green thumb or has learning to garden been a process? I grew up in the high-altitude sage desert of Oregon. Those were the days of Jell-O and Spam, and we just didn’t garden much. Then I lived a couple decades in the Midwest where insects are big enough to carry away tomatoes. So I was no stranger to garden failures when I moved to Durango in 2003. Little did I know things could get worse. I fried or froze everything I planted. Happily, I was introduced to Shared Harvest Community Garden and the property owner, Bob Kauer. Working alongside master gardeners, I finally learned how to grow vegetables in this challenging environment. And to greatly sweeten that deal, Bob and I married a few years later. So now I have a very personal interest in the success of our garden. Is there any piece of advice you wish you knew a long time ago when it comes to seed selection? I’d like to quote Bevan Williams from Heartwood Gardens in Bayfield. He is an incredible local gardener who migrated south from Montana. He said something I wish I’d known years ago, basically that Southwest Colorado has both a short frost-free season and a dry, high-altitude location that radiates daytime heat into the clear nighttime sky. Cold nights slow down the growth of many plants, so Bevan said it is best to choose varieties for tender vegetables that are 20 to 30 days shorter than our actual growing season. So, for our garden at 7,000 feet, any seeds that require 75 days or less from germination to harvest are likely to reach maturity within our 100-day growing window. If you had to pick one seed and grow only that one for the rest of your days, which would it be? I think a Connecticut Field Pumpkin. Nothing conveys the colorful bounty of a fall harvest quite like a creamy pumpkin pie.


Top Seed Variety Recommendations For The Short-Season, High-Altitude GardenJama Crawford of Shared Harvest Community Garden has consulted seed vendors who specialize in high-altitude and shortseason gardening (including gardening in Montana, Alaska, Maine, Idaho, and Washington) in order to narrow down a list of seed varieties specific to the San Juan climate. She then sent the vendors’ list to local expert gardeners and nurseries in Bayfield, Durango, and Ridgway to find out which varieties these experts have had the best results with. Crawford then compiled this information into one eight-page, nine-point-font Excel document. Yeah, we agree: awesome! The complete document, with ratings on 432 seed varieties,

CATEGORY

40 different crop categories, method suggestion (i.e. seed vs. transplant), days to harvest, vendor options, comments, and more can be acquired for a $5 donation to the Shared Harvest Community Garden. Please contact sharedharvestgarden@yahoo.com for payment, file format information, or to add your favorites to the list. Shared Harvest is earmarking donations for the purchase of a hoop house. The Shared Harvest Community Garden donates its extra produce to a variety of non-profits in the Durango area, including the Women’s Resource Center. Below is just a fraction of the highest scoring seed varieties in popular categories. Happy shopping. – Jess Kelley

recommended variety

beet

cylindra

broccoli

green sprouting calbrese

cabbage

Flat Dutch

carrot

Nantes Scarlet

cucumber

lemon

Kale

Red Russian

lettuce

Buttercrunch

melon

sugar baby watermelon

onion

cippolini

pepper

poblano Ancho

pumpkin

Jack Be Little

radish

Cherry Belle

squash

Waltham Butternut

tomato

Cherokee Purple

Not enough? Want more? The complete document, with ratings on 432 seed varieties, 40 different crop categories and all sorts of useful information is available for a $5 donation to the Shared Harvest Community Garden. Contact sharedharvestgarden@yahoo.com.

  


in the saddle (bike)

iron Horse food fueling your mad pursuit By Anna Riling

Arthur Wyman, 56, catches his breath during a spin class at Core Value

I

’m kind of a gaper on a bike. I stop to look at real estate brochures, moo at cows and snap pictures of changing aspens with my phone. While my friend, an avid cyclist, glues Shot Blocks to her bike frame so she doesn’t sacrifice speed unwrapping them, I’m taking in the view at Baker’s Bridge eating leftover Easter candy. This strategy was not exactly a winning one in last year’s Iron Horse, the infamous 50-mile road race from Durango to Silverton that touts two mountain passes and almost 7,000 feet of climbing. Granted, I did the Citizens’ Tour (an untimed version of the race), so all I had to worry about was not getting shipped to Silverton on the shuttle of shame. The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has been a yearly pilgrimage for cyclists for over four decades. The premise: man versus machine as hundreds of riders try to “beat the train.” The train being the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s Twenties-era steam locomotive. I’m at peace with my less-than-elite status as an athlete, but as a chronic off the coucher, I can’t help wonder how the other half lives. I don’t see a lot of Fun Size Snickers bars in the Tour de France, and I have a feeling that dropping out of the peloton for a potty break is kind of a no-no. For this story, I wanted to find out what and how much one should eat and drink before, during and after the race without bonking, hurling, or winding up in a bush. If one’s idea of vital nutrition does not include a brew with a Windex hue, what whole foods alternatives are out there? And what’s the deal with the pasta pig-out the night before a big race? As for that last one, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the body is only able to stockpile around 2000 calories of glycogen, the stored form of glucose, or blood sugar. So gorging on lasagna is not necessarily going to provide an advantage, and experienced cyclists agree. “Sitting down the night before the event and having a giant bowl of pasta? Why?” asks Marisa Asplund, professional cyclist, triathlete, and trainer. Introducing unfamiliar foods to your digestive system, she says, can lead to gastrointes6  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012


e Fitness Center. Wyman, who said he hasn’t been on a bike since he was 13, is training for the upcoming Iron Horse Classic. “I just got my bike.” tinal problems. Especially, one can imagine, if that spaghetti is flopping around in there with all those pre-race butterflies. Asplund, a Durango local, took second place in the Iron Horse three years in a row. In the past, she used to eat so much sugar that the dentist could tell she was a cyclist with one peek at her teeth. After looking at racing through the lens of whole foods nutrition and a mind-body connection, she says, “Something shifted inside.” “For me, nutrition is huge,” she says about training. “It’s about 80% of it.” Meanwhile, Myra Miller, a Registered Dietitian at Durango’s Mercy Regional Medical Center and meal plan creator of the Iron Horse Training Program, agrees. She says that bowl of pasta is okay, as long as there’s more to it than just marinara. “Make sure that it’s well balanced with some vegetables and some protein,” Miller says. “Eating carbohydrates with protein and a tad of fat helps burn calories for a longer period of time.” The Skinny on Carbs Asplund recommends upping the intake of complex carbohydrates a few days before the race to top off the body’s glycogen reserves. This method of carb loading has been shown in studies analyzed by the ACSM to boost endurance (not to mention to avert hours of unpleasant oregano burps). A quick and dirty primer on carbohydrates: The glycemic index (even I know this) plots carbohydrates on a scale from 1 to 100, and is a measure of how quickly a carb is converted to glucose. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all considered complex carbs with a low glycemic index (a carrot clocks in at 39), are not the most rapidly assimilated fuel source during exercise. That’s where the gel comes in, a viscous, sugary goop designed to provide a quick burst of energy. As for actual saddle time, consuming 30 to 60 grams of simple carbs per hour has been shown unequivocally to extend performance   7  


in endurance events, according to the ACSM. That’s about one gel every 20 to 30 minutes. R ace Day As for pre-gaming, Asplund starts race day with complex carbs, and she starts early. A sample meal plan begins at 5:30 am, mercifully with coffee. “Get 500 calories in your system two to three hours before the race,” she suggests. “That’s a pretty big bowl of oatmeal, some nuts, and some fruit. Start on a pretty full tank.” The ACSM agrees. By eating 200 to 300 grams of complex carbohydrates three to four hours before exercise, an athlete can enhance performance. When it comes to recovery after a ride, complex carbs are better at restoring glycogen levels than simple carbs, according to the ACSM. So if you do two Coal Banks back to back, you have a good excuse for helping yourself to a bowl of homemade granola at Bread. Protein I thought I was doing myself a huge favor last year by downing a monster protein shake in the morning and then mixing protein powder in my water for the ride (it’s okay, roll your eyes at my athletic ignorance). “You can eat protein during the race, but it’s not going to be as accessible as the carbs as a fuel source,” Miller says. In the realm of endurance sports, turns out those protein shakes are bunk. Most people can meet their protein needs through diet alone, according to the ACSM. Personally, I’d prefer my body’s building blocks take the form of a Carver’s Mexican Scramble (or the hot cereal if you’ve got more willpower than I on a rough Sunday morning). That said, for vegan or vegetarian athletes, it may be difficult to get enough daily protein, says Miller. In that case, a protein shake might be a good idea. Just keep in mind that the USDA recommends 0.3 grams of protein per pound per day for adults. Fluids, fluids, fluids As for washing down all that protein, glass of Metamucil aside, the ACSM recommends drinking enough water to avoid sweating out more than two percent of your body weight. A baseline body weight can be determined by weighing oneself naked, in front of a www.telluridemobilemassage.com mirror (just kidding),

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first thing in the morning for three days in a row. Sweat rates during exercise vary widely, according to the ACSM, from less than half to over two liters per hour. After a recent spin class, I lost two pounds, or about a liter of water. That’s about 1.3% of my body weight (that’s my weight, couched in a math problem). According to the Mayo Clinic, the body uses and expels more water at altitudes greater than 8,200 feet (as in, everything past Durango Mountain Resort), which may mean an extra swing into an aid station for a bottle refill. “Your respiratory rate is going to increase to gain more oxygen when there’s less in the air,” says Mikel Love, a Registered Dietitian at Peak Wellness and Nutrition. Which means, she says, an increased amount of water lost to the atmosphere as it’s exhaled. Don’t forget the electrolytes. The ACSM recommends consuming a sports drink every hour of your ride, which should contain carbs as well as sodium and potassium. “Sodium is very important for balancing our body fluids,” explains Miller. “It’s a fluid retainer.” That’s the clinical term for potty break preventer. All this sounds more like math and less like, well, food. Personally, recording my carbs to the tenth decimal is kind of like giving a girl a twenty-dollar glass of Scotch when she’s already dancing on the bar at The Ranch: no measurable effect. Besides, I don’t want to know how many carbs were in that entire bag of Chip Peddler’s tortilla chips I inhaled after a ride to Vallecito. Luckily, if you already eat a healthy diet, you don’t have to break out a calculator at every meal. According to the ACSM, the diet of athletes does not need to differ significantly from that recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Except maybe to stop at half that bag of chips. Okay, brass tacks. It’s the big day, the weather is bluebird, you’re spandexed, lubed, and perhaps half expecting to see this morning’s oatmeal again. Hopefully you’ll have eased up on the training a few days out, perhaps snacking on a few extra bran muffins. You’ll have topped off your tank the night before with a balanced meal (think brown rice, broccoli, and tofu, not fettuccine alfredo). Choke down that five a.m. bowl of oatmeal, even if you don’t feel hungry; it’ll pay off later when you’re sucking on a gel packet like its ambrosia. During the race, try to consume enough simple carbs so that you don’t feel full or hungry. Drink water or a sports drink well before you feel thirsty, but not enough to have to get off and drop trow. Pass on the protein shake, and save your money for the pulled pork sandwich at Serious Texas for your celebratory feast. Don’t forget the most important post-race complex carb: an ice cold Pinstripe from Ska.


COCONUT WATER ELECTROLYTE DRINK

SWEET POTATO OAT BARS

Serves 1 INGREDIENTS

Makes 24 pieces INGREDIENTS

2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons coconut powder

5 sweet potatoes

Juice of two limes

4 cups rolled oats

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

¾ cup milk (or almond milk)

1 tablespoon agave sweetener

½ cup maple syrup

METHOD

¼ cup ground flaxseed

Throw it all into a bike bottle and enjoy!

2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice ¼ cup each dried apricots and raisins ½ cup chopped walnuts

COMPARISON Nutrient information per bottle: 160 calories, 25 g carbohydrates, 377 mg sodium, 764 mg potassium. Gatorade (8 oz): 50 calories, 14 g carbohydrates, 110 mg sodium, 30 mg potassium. Heed Sports Drink mix (1 scoop: 3.2 tablespoons): 100 calories, 26 g carbohydrates, 40 mg sodium, 25 mg potassium. This recipe falls well within the guidlines recommended by the ACSM Both recipes adapted from Marisa Asplund

Pinch of sea salt METHOD Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a 9”x13” baking dish with olive oil. Place sweet potatoes in baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Remove skins and mash. Add the remaining ingredients to mashed potatoes and mix well. Press into a cake pan and bake for about 40 minutes, making sure mixture doesn’t burn. Remove from oven and cool. Cut into 24 pieces and wrap individually to use on the go. (200 calories, 29 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein per bar)

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In the garden

Ode To dirt by R achel Turiel

O

ld reliable Earth, our heavy, warm and lithic ball, has turned the corner, literally. Chugging along in its elliptical dance around the sun, the Earth has waltzed into spring. How easily I forget about celestial bodies or gravitational pull when walking this small patch of earth, newly washed in spring green. How connected it all really is: dandelion leaves and our planet’s tilt. Because, more compelling than the Earth’s position is my position on the Earth. As I stroll around, eyes focused on melting ground, I am jolted awake, renewed by my first eyeful of dirt. Yes, dirt. It is the bare soil, glistening with snowmelt like spent coffee grounds, where everything begins. Bend down for a better look. The smell is freshly dug potatoes, the sound is hisses and gurgles, the feel is grainy and sticky. And the taste? Well, it wasn’t so long ago I was walking the woods in a rarefied state and wondered, what does dirt taste like? As an adult, my days no longer included tentative licks on mud pies. Bowing down, I flicked my tongue out below the orange-barked ponderosa pine, against chocolate brown earth and…oh, fresh and moist and gritty. What is this stuff of eroding mountains, shifting seas and

10  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

decaying life? Daisy chains of molecules become nutrition sipped by growing roots and then returned to the soil upon death, soon available for young upstarts. This stuff is renewable! One handful of my garden soil contains slivers of wood, crumbly autumn leaf particles, sticky clay, and loamy grains from the compost with a shard of calcium-rich eggshell, the diamond in the rough. This is just what I can see. In the same palmful lies roughly six billion microscopic bacteria, seventy million actinomycetes, seven million fungi, not to mention a couple ants, maybe a centipede and a squirmy red wriggler if I’m lucky. I cannot separate the soil from what it provides. Nothing less than life. That hamburger you just ate came directly from the soil, also your cotton shirt, the gas in your car (think about it, fossilized plants). Who else loves the dirt? The pocket gopher, dressed in the same color dirt it pushes – dark in the mountains, ashy pale in the San Luis Valley – spends its solitary life burrowing through the earth, moving four tons of soil to make its home. The mole, too, spends most of her half-blind life below ground, probing the dark underground world with her furless snout. Don’t forget the earthworm: strange, slimy, segmented beast. Not only does the earthworm aerate the soil without disturbing growing roots, it also spins garbage into gold in its intestinal factory. It takes a village to build good dirt. Ants push the soil around, bringing deeply embedded minerals to the surface. Deer, birds and foxes die, leaving their remains to nourish plants, and in turn their own relatives. Somewhere in the high country this spring, a gopher will churn up a mound of soil, spreading seeds onto a freshly tilled bed. Roots will take hold. Rain will fall. And a human will walk through this wondrous place, marveling at the mysterious and persistent nature of life.


wake up the garden

eat dirt

Make a plan. Notice where the sun falls and where it’s stolen by shadows. It’s easy in the blank slate of spring to imagine growing your entire family’s ration of fresh vegetables, but be realistic. What do you want to grow and why? Some crops are worth growing because they’re easy (lettuce, herbs, zucchini). Others are worth growing because your children graze on them like they’re at a candy buffet (snap peas, cherry tomatoes). And still others will just never taste as good from the store (tomatoes, carrots). Take stock of your space, your time, your goals and make a plan. Amend your soil. Good food starts with good soil. Haul in manure and/or compost. Here in the San Juans, you’re never too far from a small livestock operation where someone will be pleased to be divested of their manure mountain. Make sure the manure or compost is finished: crumbly, dry and without a strong odor. Don’t be too chagrined about clay soil, it holds water and nutrients, just needs a little lightening for the roots to push through and breathe. Get started! Early spring (March through May) is not too soon to sow seeds of cold-hardy plants outside. Peas, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spinach, chard, radishes, cilantro, parsley can all withstand light frost and some snow. In fact, most of these crops wither and bolt in the sun but will fluff up their leafy coats proudly in the cool days of spring.

The new health prescription is: get dirty. Walk barefoot in the dirt; let your children lick mudpies; don’t wash those farmer’s market carrots too thoroughly; sink your hands in the dirt until your fingernails are crescents of brown. The hygiene hypothesis, backed by scientific studies, claims that the millions of microorganisms that enter our bodies via dirt benefit us in multiple ways. Dirt is teeming with minerals essential to human health, including calcium, iron, copper and magnesium. Pregnant women in many parts of the world routinely ingest the clay below the soil surface, not only for minerals, but because clay relieves nausea, possibly because it binds with toxins to remove them from our bodies. Several dirt-dwelling bacteria, when ingested, activate neurons which produce serotonin, the body’s natural antidepressant. Even the harmful microorganisms in dirt are useful. When children are exposed to parasites and pathogens in dirt, their immune systems are stimulated, protecting them against a myriad of autoimmune disorders. Children living in rural areas, especially on farms, show lower rates of allergies and asthma. Patients with multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease have experienced relief by ingesting small amounts of the whipworm, a parasitic worm. It could be said that gardening is the adult form of playing in the dirt. Get dirty this spring. For your health.

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INGREDIE


ENTS

best of

EDIBLE SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS

 We are pleased to announce the winners of Edible San Juan Mountains’ 2012 “Best Of ” competition. This was a reader-driven competition and all votes were cast and counted on our Facebook page (facebook.com/ediblesanjuanmountains). Some categories finished shockingly close, some establishments even coming in with tie votes. We’ve noted these highlights here as well. Thanks for voting!

Best Coffee: Spruce Tree CoffeeHouse, Cortez Located in a renovated, lilac-colored home in downtown Cortez, the Spruce Tree offers organic, fairly-traded coffee that’s locally roasted. We love their trademarked tagline that boasts: The second-best way to wake up in the morning is at Spruce Tree. Voters agreed. 970-565-6789 318 E. Main Street, Cortez, CO www.sprucetreecoffeehouse.com Hours: Monday through Friday, 7 am - 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 7 am - 1 pm It should be noted that Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters in Mancos was edged out by one vote in this category. Best Farm to Table Restaur ant: The Farm Bistro, Cortez For this one, the farm came first. In 2005, Rusty and Laurie Hall purchased the now Seven Meadows Farm, and a consistent surplus of lettuce spawned the creation of this favorite lunch spot. Using up to 90% local ingredients at the height of harvest season, the menu changes daily, and the on-site farm stand offers – you guessed it – lettuce to go. 970-565-3834 34 West Main, Cortez, CO www.sevenmeadowsfarm.com Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 am - 3 pm This was by far the most active category. The Farm narrowly edged out Cyprus Café in Durango just as voting closed, while La Cocina de Luz in Telluride was an editorial favorite.

Best Cocktail: Eno, Dur ango In Durango, where you can swing a bat and hit at least three microbreweries, finding a killer cocktail isn’t always so easy. That is, until Eno opened in 2010. Another brainchild of Cyprus Café owner Alison Dance, Eno is wine, gourmet coffee, locally sourced tapas, and a classic cocktail list that uses high quality and locally sourced alcohols to hand-crafted drinks served in crystal. We suggest making it a double. 970-385-0105 723 East Second Ave, Durango www.enodurango. com Hours: 8 am - 10 pm MondaySaturday (closed Sunday) Stonefish Sushi and More in Cortez was a very close second, their cocktails so delicious they’ve inspired pilgrimages from foodies far and wide.

The Raspberry Lemondrop at Eno   13  


Best Gluten-Free Menu: Cosmo Bar & Dining, Dur ango Just about every item on this largely seasonal and locally-sourced menu will be made gluten-free upon request – the wait staff is on it. Not to miss would be the wild mushroom and prosciutto pizza or the rice flour-battered shrimp and calamari that comes coated in a sweet and spicy sauce, with crispy lemons and limes. No gluten? Who cares? It’s so good, you won’t miss it. 970-259-2898 919 Main Avenue, Durango, CO www.cosmodurango.com Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4:30 - 9:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 - 10 pm Cyprus came in a close second in this category

970-882-HOPS (4677) 100 S. 4th St. Dolores, CO www.doloresriverbrewery.com Hours: Tuesday through Sunday at 4 pm until they close

Best Burger: Harvest Grill and Greens, Dur ango It’s hard to beat the burger that is served just yards away from where the main ingredient is grazing in an open field. Located on-site at James Ranch and started by Cynthia James Stewart, the signature Harvest Burger beef is grass-fed, and comes with aged Belford cheese (also made on-site), caramelized onions, fresh greens and a rosemary garlic mayonnaise. Giddy up! 970-676-1023 33846 US Highway 550, Durango, CO www.jamesranch.net/harvest Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 am – 7 pm (Summer); Saturday, 11 am – 5 pm (Winter)

Best Baked Goods: Serious Delights, Dur ango Nestled inside Nature’s Oasis, Serious Delights pretty much nailed their business name. All products are crafted on-site, from scratch, and feature locally-sourced ingredients including Blue Horizons Farm whole wheat, and Honeyville honey. Chocolate banana spelt cake, anyone? 970-403-1517 300 South Camino Del Rio, Durango, CO www.seriousdelights.com Hours: 7 days a week, 8 am - 4 pm There was a four-way tie between Durango Coffee Company, Bread in Durango, Sweet Rhi’s in Telluride, and Pagosa Baking Company, for runner-up. Who has a sweet tooth?

Best Brewery: Dolores River Brewery Here, all lagers, ales and stouts are -- like food should be -- unpasteurized and unfiltered. And you can taste it. These “living” beers are made from the finest ingredients, then produced and served with 100 % recycled equipment sourced from far and wide – we’re talking from LA to the UK. The DRB begs the question: Does your beer come from a factory or a brewery? This place has good character and great beer. 14  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

Best Cart Food: Harvest Grill and Greens, Dur ango Farm to cart and back again would better describe the food and practices used at this food cart. Farm-raised pork bratwursts are served on locally baked rolls or Wildflour Bakery’s gluten-free bread and accompanied by freshly-picked salad fixings. One hundred percent organic ingredients are used in sauces, condiments, dressings and desserts, and as a zero-waste establishment, everything is recycled or composted. 970-676-1023 33846 US Highway 550 Durango, CO www.jamesranch.net/harvest Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11am-7pm (Summer); Saturday, 11am-5pm (Winter)


Best Chef: Ver a Hansen, Cyprus Café, Dur ango For over a decade, Vera Hansen has been the creative mastermind “behind the line” at this award-winning Mediterranean café. Not the first notch on her signature baseball cap, Hansen has also won the Iron Horse Top Chef award. Calm and collected no matter what the waitlist looks like, Hansen focuses on working closely with local vegetable farmers and meat producers. Her food = local favorite. 725 East Second Ave, Durango, CO www.cypruscafe.com Hours: Monday through Saturday lunch, 11:30 am -2:30 pm, 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm Just around the corner from the Cyprus Café at the Ore House in Durango, chef Ryan Lowe is perfecting locally raised steaks. He came in second place for Best Chef.

Jalapeño poppers. Best Après Ski Fare: Kip’s Grill, Pagosa Springs A day at Wolf Creek, the ski area that boasts the most snow in Colorado, is not complete without the latitude contrast of a Baja taco and a cold one at Kip’s. If you stick around long enough on a Friday evening, you might get to be that guy dancing in his ski boots to live music, spicing up last call with an order of jalapeño poppers. 970-264-3663 www.kipsgrill.com 121 Pagosa St., Pagosa Springs, CO Hours: 7 days a week, 11 am - 10 pm

We believe in simp fast food with an at that feels good, w reminds us that som in life are quite

Vera Hansen Best Dessert: Telluride Truffle & Sweet Rhi’s, both in Telluride. Tie! Of course, how can one choose between something like Telluride Truffle’s triangle-shaped Belgian chocolates in flavors like the Black Diamond (tequila with a touch of salt and dark chocolate), and something from Sweet Rhi’s? It’s impossible, nearly, when chef Rhiannon Chandler not only just made a batch of salty and sweet peanut bars, but also will deliver them to you. Both, please. Telluride Truffle 970-728-9565 www.telluridetruffle.com 101 North Fir Street, Telluride, CO Monday through Sunday, 11 am - 5 pm Sweet Rhi’s Catering, personal chef ’s and private cooking lessons 480-205-2404 www.sweetrhis.com

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ZiaTaqueria.com   15  


In the ditch

TREATS IN THE DITCH By Emily Brendler Shoff

I

n May, when the snow still flies in Telluride, we have a tradition. My husband, Andy, and I and our two little girls climb into our beat up 1985 mud-brown Land Cruiser, drive an hour to the west, and forage for wild asparagus. The truck is not necessary. Our far more fuel efficient Subaru would work. After all, the places we like to go are mostly in the ditches alongside empty farm roads; we don’t need high clearance. And it isn’t like we are going to gather bushels of the succulent spears. At most, between nibbles of the stalks and games of hide and go seek, we’ll end up with two to three pounds of wild asparagus. No, we take the truck, with its split vinyl seats and roll-down windows, because part of the day is imagining we are living a simpler life in a simpler time. The smart phones are left at home. Gone too is the Subaru’s snazzier sound system. In the truck, it’s KOTO, Telluride’s radio station, or Andy’s old Grateful Dead tapes. Or better yet, it’s just the wind and the sound of the San Miguel River as we meander about 1500 feet to the warmer and wide open fields of Norwood. For the day, we could be anyone, maybe even a family like in Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, harvesting food because we have to. Once in Norwood, our eyes take some time to adjust to the electric green of its fields. Our Telluride eyes have become accustomed to brown sprinkled with occasional white. Spring is late in Telluride. Sometimes, actually, it never comes. We just leap from snowstorms into wildflowers. But in Norwood, spring is right on time. Newborn calves nuzzle against their mothers’ broad flanks. Goats have jumping contests with one another. “Life is here!” Norwood screams. Spring is here. And somewhere, in Norwood’s ditches, dainty stalks of asparagus are hiding. We just need to find them. 16  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

Asparagus grows well in soil that is moist but not soggy. Ditches and riverbeds tend to be good places to look. But we can’t stray too far from Norwood’s farms. After all, asparagus is an old-world plant. Any plants that are growing wildly are just the descendants of bolder ancestors that jumped the fence. We pull the truck over to a spot we’ve gone to before and strike out. Someone’s already visited this patch, and all we see are the cuttings. It’s a bit like hiking into a clear-cut forest. The girls get restless. Quincy, our two year old, starts to arch her back in her car seat. “I want something else,” she says. Maybe we’ve come too early. Or perhaps we’ve come too late. We pull over on a different farm road and start to walk. Andy has that look. I know that posture. It’s the same he uses when he spots chanterelles in the fall. He pulls out his knife and beckons us closer. We peer into the ditch. It’s then that we see the green shoots of wheat-like grass rising out of the mud. This is the telltale sign. Look beside these, and there should be asparagus. And this time, there is. Siri sets her basket beside her dad and gathers as he snaps. Quincy nibbles a few stalks and toddles toward a patch of dandelions. We blow their white puffballs into the sky and watch clouds move overhead. The clouds are moving so quickly, rushing to get somewhere. We, on the other hand, are so still. There’s just a girl beside her dad, collecting some greens, and another girl lying beside her mom in the grass. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have to get somewhere. When we return to Telluride, Andy brushes the asparagus and a few James Ranch steaks with olive oil and tosses them onto the grill. I open a Cabernet Sauvignon. We sit at our picnic table even though


the air is cold. We don’t want to give up on being outside. We bite into the asparagus. The taste is tangier than the commercial counterpart; the stalks are so tender, they fall apart in our mouths. Combined with the steaks, the cab, the smell of earth trying to free itself of snow, and the sounds of a river rumbling a few hundred feet to the south, it tastes like spring. Or as close to spring as we get here. I look over at my girls, both with a stalk in their hands, chewing away happily. We don’t have to gather wild foods, but our lives are better because of it. Mucking about in the dirt reminds us all of the joy of doing less.

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Ah Spring, Ah-sparagus By Lauren Slaff

I

n ancient Rome, Emperor Augustus coined the phrase “quicker than you can cook asparagus.” Whether you’re foraging for wild stalks or stalking wildly the oh-so-limited and short-lived supply of local spring asparagus at the early farmer’s markets, preparing this spring delicacy is a snap. That’s literally how it begins. About 2/3 of an asparagus stalk is edible – sometimes more if you are fortunate to get your hands on the most tender beauties of the season, the slender “pencil” asparagus. To separate just enough of the 1/3 fibrous root end without sacrificing its supple stalk and tasty tip, you simply give one a snap. Hold each end of a single spear (making certain to grab the top of the stalk and not the delicate flowery tip which can easily rupture) and bend it evenly and it will snap just where the woody bit ends and the tenderness begins. You can now use the length of that spear as a guide to trim the remaining bunch. My favorite preparations are simple and honor the delicate flavor that makes asparagus so unique. When I am feeling especially reverent, I go for the quick “blanch and shock” method. This involves plunging the trimmed beauties in well-salted (remember: like the ocean) boiling water for about 30 seconds to bring out the vibrant green hue, then immediately transferring them to a water and ice bath to promptly stop the cooking. I serve these warm or cold with a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. To develop the flavor further, you can roast or grill your bounty. Crank up your grill to high heat or your oven to 450 F. Toss trimmed spears with the zest of a lemon, a generous splash of olive oil, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan to roast or place them strategically on the slats of the grill so they will not fall through. For both methods, keep a watchful eye for color developing, turn once and pull as soon as they look toasty and bright green. Another drizzle of good extra virgin and a squeeze of lemon complete the dish. Whatever you do, to avoid haunting flashbacks of the mushy asparagus of days of yore, remember the words of old Augustus and avoid overcooking. To fully enjoy the subtle springy flavor of this early growing season delight, keep it simple, cook it quickly and enjoy with the fever that comes with spring.

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in the pasture

A young churro doesn’t let his youth dilute his sense of purpose at Arriola Sunshine Farm in Arriola, CO.

18  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS  SPRING 2012


on the Lamb by Lauren Slaff

I

have fond memories of gathering at my grandparents’ home in New Jersey for family supper. The meal that stands out most vividly is lamb chops my grandpa would bring home fresh from the family butcher. Simply prepared. No mint jelly. No pretense. I’d just pick up the delicate bone and eagerly pluck a tender nugget of medium rare deliciousness; then savor the crispy bits of fat intertwined with the tiny pockets of meat with its distinctly “lamby” flavor (derived from its species-characteristic fatty acids). Years later and thousands of miles west, I still share family meals celebrating and indulging in dishes featuring spring lamb. Only now our gatherings are right at the source at my “aunt” Betsy Harrison’s ranch in the Mancos Valley where she raises heritage Churro sheep. From kebabs to vindaloo, tagine to shepherd’s pie, flavorful preparations of lamb dominate world cuisine. As a global “lambophile,” I wonder why we Americans (especially those of us living in what’s considered the lamb capital of the US: Colorado) consume an annual average of less than one pound compared to 20 pounds per capita in countries like Ireland and a whopping 57 pounds in New Zealand? In contrast, Americans eat an average of 50 pounds of pork and 65 pounds of beef each year. Compared to other meats, lamb contains less marbled fat. What that means is most of the fat is on the edges and can be trimmed to taste. And to boot, more than half the fat in lamb is either the mono- or polyunsaturated variety often referred to as “good fat.” (To me, all fat is good fat, but I’m a hedonist with inexplicably low cholesterol.) Like the leaner game meats of our region such as elk, proper cooking technique is imperative to maintaining the flavor in lamb. Like those Brussels sprouts that mom “cooked to death,” not even remotely resembling the tasty orbs we now enjoy roasted and crispy, many folks have had lamb experiences that have, literally, left a bad taste. How to best prepare lamb is dependent on the cut of meat itself.

Lean choice cuts respond best to searing, grilling or roasting to a perfect medium rare. Those cuts include the rib chops or full rib rack, full loin roasts or its chops and leg roasts and steaks. For those of you who don’t feel confident employing the “touch testing” method, it will mean using an instant read meat thermometer to determine an internal temperature between 130-140 degrees F (for the record, the USDA recommends 145, but I like to buck authority in the interest of flavor). Whatever you do, don’t commit sacrilege by cutting into the meat to test doneness. As a matter of fact, don’t cut into the meat at all until it has had time to “rest” and allow the juices to redistribute, about five minutes for chops and upwards of twenty for roasts. This will insure a juicy and tender result. On the other hand, cuts of meat such as shoulders, shanks and other stew meat require time to cook slowly to allow those pesky tissues to break down and tenderize. Both braising (see your Winter 2011/12 issue of ESJM for technique info) and American “low-andslow” barbecuing can help achieve this tasty result. This is a great opportunity to incorporate bold ethnic flavors that lamb can easily stand up to. And if you aren’t patient enough for the slow cook method, grinding up this stuff produces succulent burgers (melt crumbled feta over the top and stuff in a warm pita with some cool Greek salad), meatballs and ragouts. The best and most economic way to sample the different cuts is to get to know and support your local breeder(s) and purchase a lamb of your own. (No, you don’t have to feed and clean up after it; it will arrive in nice white butcher paper from the local processor). Typically smaller than commercial breeds, Churros like those at Montezuma County’s Arriola Sunshine Farm yield an average of 35 to 45 pounds of cut and wrapped meat at 10 to 11 months of age. This is perfect for a family over the course of a year or if you are feeling less committed, find a friend or neighbor to divvy it up with. Whether historic Churro or other locally raised breeds, lamb is like nothing else. It is a way to celebrate local tradition and culinary culture. Like Aunt Voula says in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? Oh, that's okay. I make lamb.”

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Cindy Dvergsten leads her herd of Churro at Arriola Sunshine Farm in Arriola, CO.

D

counting Churros by Lauren Slaff

ating back to ancient history, lamb has been vital to both culture and cuisine. It was the entrée at the Last Supper, for God’s sake (pun intended). For centuries, rituals surrounding both the sacrifice and consumption of lamb have been central in religious observances and celebrations. In 1519, while exploring the American West, Cortez took with him offspring from fellow globe-trotter Columbus’s sheep. These are believed to be the predecessors of what are now called Churros. According to Diné bí’ íína’ “Sheep is Life,” a Navajo-managed not-for-profit serving any person interested in raising sheep, Navajo-Churro sheep are unique to the Colorado Plateau and are the first livestock breed to be developed in North America. In the high deserts and mountains of Diné Bikéyah (the land of the Navajo people), the Churro thrived under the care of their native companions, previously hunter/gatherers, taking a central role in their psychology, creativity, and religious life. Sheep came to symbolize the Good Life, living in harmony and balance on the land. Sadly, a series of federal government actions – an imposed Navajo relocation in 1863, a re-appropriation of grazing land and, in reaction to the drought of the 1930s, a forced reduction of a large percentage of the herds (some shot and killed in front of their horrified owners as recalled by elders according to spokespeople from Sheep is Life) – led to the almost total eradication of the Churro. In 1977, animal scientist Dr. Lyle McNeal, recognized the genetic and cultural significance of the Navajo-Churro and founded the Navajo Sheep Project (NSP). The goal was to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction so it could be reintroduced into the Southwest. According to NSP, there were less than 450 head of Churros in existence on the entire Navajo Nation at that time. The organization currently maintains a breeding flock just outside of Bloomfield, New Mexico, and over the years has placed breeding stock with numerous Navajo families. Area Anglo farmers became invested in conservation of this 20  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

“heritage” (also familiarly known as “heirloom”) breed including Montezuma County’s Arriola Sunshine Farms. Proprietor Cindy Dvergsten, who also raises heritage Red Bourbon turkeys, shared some startling statistics about the local sheep biz. Since 1930, she says sheep production in La Plata and Montezuma Counties has diminished from 50,000-80,000 animals per annum to a mere 5,000-8,000. So, like many of her cohorts, Dvergsten recognized the benefits of raising Churros beyond the cultural impact. Compared to other breeds, Navajo-Churros are drought tolerant, genetically resistant to many sheep diseases, have a higher lambing rate, produce not one but two crops of easier-to-use and more durable wool a year and, in my book most importantly, yield healthier lean meat touted for its tenderness and “sweet” mellow

SPRING MINT CHUTNEY

Like lamb, we associate mint as a sign of spring. Forget mint jelly and try this twist on traditional Indian mint chutney, also known as Hari. It is the perfect complement to lamb, whether grilled, seared or roasted chops, leg, rack, etc. INGREDIENTS

2 cups fresh mint leaves, firmly packed 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, firmly packed Juice of one lemon or lime 1-2 teaspoons sugar or honey 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, coarsely chopped ¼ cup plain yogurt (Greek style works best) 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped 1 Serrano or jalapeño pepper, with seeds, coarsely chopped Water as needed Salt and pepper to taste METHOD Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and have at it, adding small amounts of water as needed to create a smooth puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


CHURRO AND EGGPLANT MEATBALLS Makes 24 INGREDIENTS

“The day will happen whether or not you get up” – John Ciardi 1983

1 large eggplant 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 small onion, minced 2-3 cloves garlic, minced 1 pound ground Churro lamb 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 1 egg, beaten

Fresh Local Community Sustainable Education

Zest and juice of one lemon 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced 1 tablespoon ground cumin Salt and pepper to taste METHOD Heat grill to high. Cut eggplant lengthwise and score flesh with a paring knife in a “criss-cross” pattern. Drizzle each half with olive oil (1 tablespoon for both) and season generously with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on grill and cook until completely charred. Lower heat to medium, turn eggplant over and cook until tender. Remove to a large bowl and cover, allowing steam to soften further. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook onion in remaining tablespoon of olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute to bring out flavor. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Scoop out flesh of grilled eggplant and chop coarsely. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground lamb, eggplant, feta, egg, onion/garlic mixture, lemon juice and zest, parsley, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands to incorporate all ingredients. To test seasoning, take a small bit of meatball mixture and either microwave or broil until cooked through. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. Form golf ball-sized meatballs and sauté on the stovetop until browned on all sides or cook on a sheet pan or in muffin tins at 400 F until browned, about 20 minutes, but watch carefully. You will need little to no oil for cooking as the ground lamb releases quite a bit of fat as it cooks. Serve with tsasiki.

TSASIKI

on College & 8th (close to downtown Durango)

Open Daily 8am-9pm Visit:

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820 Main Ave.

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DurAngo Mon - SAt 1 - 5 pM 970 385 7300

INGREDIENTS

2 cups Greek yogurt 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated 2 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed Juice of one lemon Salt and pepper to taste METHOD Combine and enjoy. It’s better if you give it a couple hours in the fridge to allow the flavors to incorporate before serving.

Lunch: $8.00 Monday-Saturday 12pm-2pm. Brunch: Sunday 11am-2pm. Dinner: Every night 5-9pm. ($15.00 Early Bird Dinner nightly 5-6pm.) 124 S. Hwy. 145 Rico, Colorado

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Going Wild Foraging for Food in the San Juans by D. Dion

F

orget the people prepping for doomsday by filling their bunkers with bottled water and a two-month supply of canned soup. When the apocalypse comes, the people who survive are going to be the Julie Petersons of the world, naturalists who can walk through the woods in their backyard and forage for food. People who know the difference between edible and poisonous plants, and how to harvest them. Peterson was introduced to wild foods as a child while backpacking with her family. Her father worked for Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School before the organizations were focused on rehabilitating urban youth, back when they were about wilderness survival. Her father would pull the needles from a spruce tree to make tea, needles that he explained were full of vitamin C. Peterson says, “I remember being so amazed. It inspired me to learn more about herbal medicine and the plants that grow wild around here.” Today, Peterson is a certified herbalist and Ayurvedic practitioner and it is she who inspires others with her encyclopedic knowledge about the plants that surround us. Peterson is the founder/ owner of Telluride’s Singing Springs Botanicals, which supports her way of sharing her passion for edible and medicinal flora by selling herbal remedies and other natural products. Some of the popular wild foods, such as berries or mushrooms, come out in the fall, but in the spring, there is a proliferation of greens. Spring, she says, is a great time of year to go wild. “A lot of wild foods require laborious prep, like collecting tiny grain seeds, removing the chaff and then grinding them into flour. So for someone looking to get into wild foods, greens are a great place to start, because you can just pick them and eat them.” And most of it is easy picking. Here in the San Juan Mountains, there are lots of wild areas and even empty town lots where the plants are bountiful once the snow recedes and the sun signals the change of the season. Plants like yellow dock, dandelion, chicory and burdock (called “gobo” in Japanese cooking) have bitter roots that help stimulate digestion, explains Peterson. They help 22  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   SPRING 2012

break down fats and can improve bile production and/or flow and help the liver to stay healthy. They are great for the transition from a heavier winter diet to the lighter foods of spring. “They are wonderful spring tonics and detoxifiers,” she says. Many of the spring leaves – lamb’s quarters, wild violet, fireweed and mountain sorrel – are high in beta carotene and vitamin C. There are also some familiar edible plants such as wild onions, asparagus and monarda (wild oregano). Other plants have secret attributes: alfalfa leaves and flowers are ultra-nutritious, purslane weed has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy plant. There is a native licorice that makes great tea, and bluebell flowers, says Peterson, “taste just like green beans.” One of Peterson’s favorite edible wild plants is one that avid hikers curse: stinging nettles. Nettles are so mineral rich that you could take them as a supplement, she says. The little hairs that sting when you brush against the plant are actually mini hypodermic needles that contain formic acid, the same toxin red ants use. And just like red ants, nettles need the formic acid for defense. “They are so nutritious, that if they didn’t have the needles, every wild creature would eat them until they were gone,” says Peterson. How does she avoid getting stung? She wears gloves, and she also harvests them in the spring, before they flower and become overly concentrated with minerals. To prepare them, Peterson puts the nettles in a blender or steams them so the stiff hairs can’t break the skin. The acid is destroyed by cooking, but it doesn’t have a bad taste anyway, says Peterson. “And it doesn’t sting your tongue after being blended either.” Nettles can curdle milk to make cheese and Peterson likes to add a bunch to her pesto to boost its nutritional value. Peterson also uses them in her Singing Springs Nutritive Tea and Gomasio Mineral Sprinkle. “Nettles are like the seaweed of the mountains. They are incredibly nutritious and have a very assimilable form of minerals…our bodies are made to take minerals from plants, and when we get them from plants, we absorb them more easily.” Don’t grab your basket and garden snips and head for the hills


just yet. Identifying plants can be tricky, and you should go with a trained guide such as Peterson before you start picking your own wild plants. There are some “rules” to harvesting that you will learn as well: take from the outside of the stand where the progeny grow, cut just above the nodes, and don’t harvest more than 10 percent of a stand, to name just a few. Once you’ve cultivated your wild plants skills, you can enjoy their benefits, says Peterson. They’re free and fresh. The produce we get in mountain towns typically comes from far away and is costly. It’s a very eco-conscious way to eat; there is no shipping or labeling, no pesticides or herbicides, and the soil that they grow in is not depleted, so wild foods are high in vitamins, minerals and “prana” or “chi,” their so-called life force. And because they are so nutrient dense, your body needs less food when you are eating or supplementing with wild foods in your diet. To Peterson, though, the most important part of going wild is that it grows the relationship between people and their environment. Peterson has the utmost reverence for plants, which she calls the ultimate alchemists because of their ability to convert sunlight, soil, air and water into food, medicine and shelter. “What don’t we owe to the plants?” she asks. “We tend to care more for what we appreciate. If you’re out there eating plants you’re not going to want someone to spray for caterpillars or dump waste on the land. You get a relationship where you care for the land and a sense of reciprocity grows.”

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Learn more about wild plants at www.singingspringsbotanicals.com.

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OUTTAKES

(clockwise from the top) Brenda Huffman hammers out the virtual miles in preparation for the Iron Horse Classic during an early morning spin class at Core Value Fitness in Durango. Cynthia Stewart and her husband, Robert, enjoy the calm before the summer storm at the Harvest Grill and Greens. An apple pie cools on the counter at Pagosa Baking Company. Cindy Dvergsten returns a young churro with a propensity to escape to the pen from which she came.


t e l l u R i d e

d u R A n g o

your customer is looking at this ... *reserve your space for summer

C r e at i v e Contemporary seasonal fare Proprietor chef Chad Scothorn

offering burgers, pizza, steak & lobster Now locally owned and operated. Proprietors chef Chris Crowl and manager James Allred

BAR

edible san juan mountains Laura Thomas: 970 946 7475

dining

in the Hotel Columbia 970.728.1292

919 Historic Main Avenue 970.259.2898

make your online reservation at www.cosmotelluride.com

make your online reservation at www.cosmodurango.com

REPLACING HIPS FOR 40 YEARS

AND RUNNING. ORTHOPEDICS CONNECTED

Since 1971, active adults have relied on Mercy to replace the pain of arthritic hips with hope. We now perform over 200 joint replacement surgeries a year. And with state-of-the-art technology and surgical techniques that enable total hip replacement through an incision measuring a mere 3.5 inches, patients can return to their favorite activities faster than ever. Take the first step back to an active life by calling (970) 764-3049 to learn more. 1010 Three Springs Blvd., Durango, CO 81301 路 mercydurango.org

The Orthopedic & Spine Center of Excellence Mercy Regional Medical Center Centura Health complies with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and no person shall be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination in the provision of any care or service on the grounds of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, sexual preference, ancestry, age, familial status, disability or handicap. Copyright 漏 Centura Health, 2011

Edible San Juan Mountains  

Spring 2012

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