Chia Amaranth Crisps
There's a danger in living in a place with distinct on and off seasons for wildcrafting -- the forager's blues. In the Spring, new life explodes upon this place, and the growing season swings low and wide in a frenzy of harvest and preservation. In turn, greens, flowers, herbs, berries, vegetables, and fruits fill my horizon, scarcely leaving time to consider their subtleties in depth, let alone stop to appreciate their beauty. Summertide is the brilliant flash of a camera. No sooner has the temporary blindness from the flare faded than the bracing quiet of the cold season has settled around my ankles. It catches me off balance every time, the suddenness of the change of seasons.
Of late, the winters here have been dry, too dry, the cause of devastating forest fires. I miss the peppering flurries and resplendent snow days of this place in my youth, the fresh-scrubbed alabaster shine of those times. These days, winter dresses in crusty shades of brown and slate, and parades around huffing winds and chuffing at ghosts. Wind erodes, you know. No less so a person's spirit than any rock.
Inevitably, the jealousy settles in, the insidious side-effect of social media. I see foragers in more temperate zones fill their kitchens with bountiful baskets of wild foods. I look out my window. More brown. More gray. More wind. I entertain homicidal thoughts. Stupid foragers showing off their treasures while I'm stuck wearing fuzzy earmuffs (whaa? you don't have fuzzy earmuffs?). The nerve of them!
Thankfully, I can count on my friends to shift my perspective. This time, my foraging buddy Wild Food Girl came along and slapped some rosy glasses on my face. We are in the same state, but she lives several thousand feet higher than me. No matter the time of year, her foraged food choices are slimmer than mine. Last week she bounded into town, and rejoiced over a few stunted dock leaves, a paltry handful of rose hips, some freeze-shriveled prickly pear fruit, and a bag of stinky sock berries. You can read her account of our foraging trip here. She's a gem, and I'm an ungrateful jerk.
Inspiration also came to me in the form of a cookbook. If you are a forager or wild foods cook, I highly recommend you study Faviken, written by Magnus Nilsson. His book blew the lid off of my winter melancholy. Chef Nilsson runs an entire kitchen influenced by local and seasonal foods in Sweden, a place with even more extreme seasonal shifts than here. He's cooking with garden produce treated in unusual ways, and foraged and hunted products throughout the year. In Sweden! Did I mention the part about SWEDEN? Dang!
It made me take a step back and refocus. Perhaps my winter isn't going to be quite as dismal as I feared. In fact, the long off-season affords me the luxury of deeply exploring winter's spare wild offerings, such as juniper berries and conifer needles. I will also be able to master some of the foods I preserved over the summer, from dried nettles, to dried porcini mushrooms, to wild seeds and grains. OK, scratch that part about being an ungrateful jerk. This could be fun.
Chia Amaranth Crisps
These shatteringly crunchy crackers are inspired by the flax crisps in Faviken. They are at once delicate and unrefined. They won't hold up to being a bed for cheese, but they can take a light dunk into flavorful dips, or be enjoyed on their own.
8 tsp. chia seeds
4 tsp. wild amaranth
4 tsp. potato starch, sifted
2 pinches salt
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp. powdered dried wild allium (substitute powdered onion or garlic)
1/2 c. water
1. In a small bowl, combine the chia seeds and water. Give them a stir, and make sure that all of the seeds are submerged in the water. Leave the chia in water until it turns into a gelatinous glob of goo, about two hours.
2. Sift in the remaining ingredients, and stir them in to combine.
3. Drop by tablespoons onto a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicone sheet. Use an offset spatula to spread the chia amaranth goo as thinly as possible. I found that I enjoyed the lacy look of holes in my crackers, but it was just as easy to spread the goo into a solid layer.
3. Bake the chia amaranth crisps at 325 degrees (F) for 12-14 minutes, or until lightly brown and starting to lift and curl in spots. If the crisps still seem floppy when you remove them from the oven, they need another minute or two. You want them to be absolutely dry, and slightly toasted.