Urban Foraging*


It turns out that the decorative purple leaf plum trees in our front yard yield a fruit called a cherry plum.

Gabriel, in his infinite chef wisdom, burst into my room the other day and said “Mom. We need to jam these plums.” Then he rallied Ross from next door and they picked 5 lbs.

After I said Yes, we should jam them! I right quick looked them up to make sure they weren’t poisonous.

And a whole new world opened up on my laptop.

First, the tree is called a prunus cerasifura:

Purple-leaf plum trees are a precursor to the domestic plum and cherry tree—an ancestry told by its scientific name. The genus name Prunuscomes from the Latin for “plum.” The species name cerasifera is derived from cerasum, meaning “cherry,” and ferens, “bearing.” It was named for its fruits before modern edibles were cultivated—now, with domestic plums and cherries, Prunus cerasifera classified as an ornamental tree, not an edible one. But purple-leaf plum tree enthusiasts the world over will tell you the fruit’s virtues are overlooked , and they will share recipes for cherry plum cordial (good with seltzer or gin), compotes (add a sugar syrup), and jams (use brown cane sugar and try a dash of chili). (www.gardendesign.com)

Next, when I looked for said recipes I found these two sites:

www.eatweeds.co.uk and www.fallingfruit.org

Eat Weeds is a site devoted to the 25,000 edible plants that grow in the world, trying to raise our awareness past the meager staples in the grocery store.

Falling Fruit is a non-profit dedicated to mapping the bounty of urban streets for foragers. As the website says By quantifying this resource on an interactive map, we hope to facilitate intimate connections between people, food, and the natural organisms growing in our neighborhoods. Not just a free lunch! Foraging in the 21st century is an opportunity for urban exploration, to fight the scourge of stained sidewalks, and to reconnect with the botanical origins of food.

Look. I don’t know about intimate relations between people, food and natural organisms. But I did think about the many orange, lemon and apricot trees planted on urban Southern California streets that flower, fruit and rot to waste.

Same thing in Oregon, where blackberries grow in riotous abandon.

No one knows who’s fruit that is, at the park, on the parkway, on the median. Can I pick it? Or not?

Because of this confusion, the food goes to waste.

Think about that.

There is a person—I won’t name names, but she gave birth to me—who’s been known to cruise the alleys in her neighborhood and snatch low fruit hanging over people’s fences in the alley. A few weeks ago I was in the car when she directed my dad into an alley, leapt from the car, snatched the tangerines hanging over the fence and jumped back in. On the way home from church, no less.

All right, she had permission. And a point when she said “What? One family can’t eat all that fruit by themselves!”

Such an easy thing, to allow others to pick the fruit from your trees.

Well, consider my awareness raised. And my cherry plums jammed. This post where I got the recipe has all the same pics I took, so I’ll just leave it at that. They kind of taste like cranberries, but I think we should have let them ripen in the sun a few more weeks. Next, I’m going to try cherry plum cordial (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and brandied cherry plums.

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, spy around your neighborhood and see what you can forage.

*JFK Amy already thinks I am the most crunchy Pioneer Woman-y mom she knows. Urban foraging just might push her over the edge.


Let’s Talk Turkey

You probably noticed that last week, my town was trending on Facebook—trending #1, in fact.

For the SECOND time this year.

The first time was when a Facebook post by our local police department went viral. I don’t know who writes the crime updates, but they are Freakin’. Hilarious. Right now, they have this whole thing going about wearing other people’s pants (OPP).

You might be amazed to know how many people are walking around wearing OPP, especially if those pants have meth in the pocket.

They went viral after posting the video of a man—who looked a lot like CNN’s Mike Rowe—robbing a bank. They asked for tips. They got a lot of tips, pointing towards Mike Rowe, because it’s not just the cops in my town who are funny, let me tell you:


Mike Rowe—who is also funny—addressed the controversy in a Facebook post of his own and Boom! The Medford PD was on the map.

Last weekend, our local paper posted an article called Medford May Look For Ways to Curb Nuisance Wild Turkeys”.

This is front page news. Deservedly. I have personal knowledge of this problem.

We are not talking about wild turkeys on the outskirts of town. We are talking whole flocks smack in the middle of main streets. I have posted pictures of the little buggers on my Insta and Facebook. Just a few weeks back, Annie and I were delayed at an intersection while a great big mama held up traffic until she was gently herded to the sidewalk by a Prius.


We don’t have traffic in Medford, not the kind that makes people late. Unless there’s a turkey.

Yep. That’s a giant Tom just chilling on someone’s front lawn in the middle of town.

Totally unacceptable.

Our turkey story went viral, because the world understands the plight of a town overrun by turkeys.

(Right? That’s why, right?)

To show you how this all comes full circle, a few days later, the Medford PD posted a crime update where they caught all kinds of bad guys. A list of them, in fact.

And one of the commenters said “Look at that list. Not a turkey among them. When are you guys going to get serious about the turkeys?”

I’m telling you, quality of life is not just about clean air, green trees and good coffee. You also need to live among people who make you laugh.




Free Range Christmas Trees

“Let’s get a tree!” I said.

Shea looked at me warily. “Same place as last year?”

“No! For five bucks we can cut it down ourselves out in the woods. Just think of it, honey! A FREE RANGE Christmas tree!”

Saturday we were out the door by 9:15 am. Saw? Check. Permit? Check. Rope? Check.

Coat for Annie? Not so much. Although we didn’t figure that out until we pulled into the deserted, icy barely plowed campground at Fish Lake.

Twenty miles in was when I decided I would read the Bureau of Land Management rules for cutting down a tree in the wild. It’s pretty simple—you just have to keep the numbers 200 and 12 in your head: 200 feet from the nearest road. 200 feet from a lake. 200 feet from a campground. 200 feet from the river. No more than 12 feet from the nearest tree. No more than 12 feet high. And no more than a 12 inch stump left over.

All good.

But then there was this:

With forecasts for this winter predicting colder temperatures and above average precipitation, it’s as important as ever to prepare for the unexpected when looking for your holiday tree. Bring a handsaw or axe as well as winter clothing and safety equipment. Tire chains and a shovel are recommended, as is extra food, drinking water, blankets, a flashlight, first aid kit and survival gear. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so notify a friend or family member where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.

We had two of those things. TWO. And this was before I knew that we forgot Annie’s coat.

Huh. But I wasn’t about to turn down the Morman Tabernacle Choir to spread fear and anxiety, so on we drove into the great white wilderness, ill-equipped but optimistic.

We found this:


Gorgeous. It wasn’t too cold, right at freezing, so Annie wore Kate’s coat, Kate wore mine, I wore Shea’s and Shea sucked it up. We spent 45 minutes “searching” for a tree, which looked a lot like snowballs fights and snow angels and picture taking.

Then we got serious.

We discovered that a lot of free range trees are actually one sided, which works for us in this house because the tree goes against a wall. I liked the white pine trees—very Sundance catalog and since our house has a craftsman vibe, I knew we could make it work. Shea stood next to the tree we picked and stuck his hand up—the tree was probably right at 12 feet tall. We followed the directions with the stump, cut the tree down in two shakes and carried it back to the car.

We headed ten more miles down the road to Lake of the Woods resort, where we had a fabulous lunch at the grill and made reservations to camp in June.

Then we drove the 44 miles home with the tree. That’s it—44 miles. It’s still a small miracle to me that wild Christmas trees can be found that close to home.

This is what it looked like in the driveway.


“Dang,” I said to Shea. “It looks bigger now.”


So I took the big shears and trimmed the tree back at least a foot around the bottom.

“How much room do we have at the bottom?” I asked.

“Sixty inches.”

“How much room at the top”

“Oh, the height is not the problem.”

“Well, let’s bring it in and then I can trim more if I need to.”

So before you see this picture there are a few things you need to understand in terms of perspective.

  1. The black entertainment center is 8 feet tall.
  2. The couch is a 5 full feet away from the wall and four feet away from the TV.

Ok, you ready?


And clearly there’s not plenty of room at the top.

I laughed until tears ran down my face. Then I texted one of my Oregon natives and told her the tree grew four feet on the drive home. “Do you know how many times that happened to us growing up?!!” she texted back. “They do look smaller in the wild!”

We went out the next day and got a 9 footer from a lot. For comparison’s sake, here’s a side-by-side of the two trees.

On Saturday night I went to a mom’s night out. As I was recounting our successful-ish tree hunting story, one of the moms asked which road we took.

“We were going to take the 234, but we ended up taking the 140”.

The mom next to me snickered and rolled her eyes.

“What?” I poked her arm.

THE 234??? THE 140??? You Californians and your “the”. It’s just 234 and 140.”

I rolled me eyes at her and one of the other moms, a fellow transplant said “Your California is showing”.

In more ways than one, my new friends. In more ways than one.







Summer Boom

Back in California, we had summer thunderstorms.

But nothin’ like what happened on Tuesday.

If we lived somewhere flat, I’d have been huddling in the cellar. Because there is no that the sky can be these colors without mayhem following.

This was the beginning...
This was the beginning…

Sustained wind at 40 mph? Blowing all the newly mown field grass and dirt up the street?

Up to 100 lightning strikes per hour?

An inch of rain in an hour?

“Hasn’t been like this since I was a girl” said my neighbor who has lived here her entire life. “Did you bring it with you?”

The rainbow came in the middle
The double rainbow came in the middle

And my husband, standing outside with the camera. No matter our cell phones were blaring warnings to stay inside, downstairs and away from windows.

The dogs were not impressed. Sugar retreated to my closet and stayed there til morning. Lizzie, who is too stubborn to follow Sugar’s example on principle, had to get the fur scared off her on the balcony by a huge boom of thunder.

It was a fine and awe-inspiring display of the majesty of the heavens. Take a look. These pictures are basically the same view over the course of an hour.




My Thumb is Chartreuse

The awesome news is that we have garden beds:


The less awesome news is that for four straight nights, and after a robust imitation of Spring that caused all the trees to bud, we’ve had frost.

Good thing I didn’t transplant my sprouts.

Here they are, these precious babies that I planted six weeks ago:


Don’t ask me what they are, though. When I first planted the seeds in little pots, I labeled them with cute signs. Then I repotted and my Annie wanted to “help oo” and I lost track of what plants went with what signs. So if you recognize any of my sprouts, feel free to comment. The choices are: cucumbers, tomatoes, lavender and snap peas. Good luck.

I have never started a garden from seeds before. In So Cal, we just went to Lowe’s the first weekend in April that was sunny and hot and bought six inch plants. But we’re in Oregon now and everyone else was buying tiny peat pots and planning out a planting calendar and it made me feel behind.

I asked my cool neighbor Julie, who grew up on property, for pointers. She suggested a grow lite or a grow pad or something. Or possibly both, because she grows her seeds in the garage. I didn’t listen closely to that part because I thought “I’m only growing four things and they can live on the dining room table”.

What I did not foresee was that in the roughly twelve weeks before planting, the seeds would outgrow the tiny little peat pots and need bigger ones. So I went from 36 two inch peat pots which took up minimal space, to 36 four inch peat pots.

Which take up more space.

I also did not reckon on—that’s right, reckon on—the fact that Lizzie the Hound would be uncontrollably attracted to the potting soil.

Which led to the demise of four pots and some ugliness in the dog run for about a week.

At first it was too cold for the plants to be outside at all. Every afternoon I just moved them into the sun spots in the dining room. Then we had a stretch of warm, sunny weather. So every morning I carried them out to the patio and every evening I had to remember to carry them back in.

Which I didn’t, not every time. Some awfully cold nights, I forgot about them.

On Sunday, my English mother-in-law, she of the genetically gifted forest green thumb, asked with a sly smile how my plants were coming on.

By the time I was done describing the last six weeks, she was chortling gleefully into her white wine. Then she slammed her hand down on the table, looked at me from under her raised eyebrows and said—you can only do this justice in your head if you hear an English accent mellowed by 36 years living on Maui—“Why on earth did ya start with SEEDS??? Just go ta Home Depot and BUY THE SIX. INCH. PLANTS!”

Yes, mum. Right away. Mahalo.

I’m not giving up on my seeds, though. We’re going to plant them in one of the beds and see what happens next.