How To Build A Solid Wall Yurt

This manual provides step-by-step instructions on how to build a semi-solid wall fully portable yurt in under 40 hours. Assembly time: 3-4 hours. Disassembly time: 2 hrs. Available on or, or from the author's website at

Friday, May 24, 2013

Using Dandelion Flowers

You face a choice: eradicate them or enjoy them.  My personal choice is to enjoy them. It’s dandelion that I am talking about.  Every spring, the first flower to bloom in the northern hemisphere seems to be dandelion, across every lawn north of the 49th parallel, and even well down into the central USA. Europe, too, has dandelion in abundance.
But dandelions are only noxious weeds because of our perception of them.  In fact, they are one of the best sources of nourishment of any plant, from flower to root.  In the spring, the young dandelion greens (the tender leaves) are delicious in salads or boiled and buttered, with thyme.  Once the plant starts to produce flowers, the leaves tend to get a little bitter, but are still edible until the hot summer sun toughens them up.
Dandelion flowers, though, offer some of the best bounty available in the spring.  Whether you want to make homemade dandelion wine, dandelion syrup or want just to enjoy the flowers fresh in a salad or steamed or sautéed, they are delicious.
There are a variety of ways to prepare dandelion flowers.  Begin by picking either fully flowers or buds that have not yet bloomed, but that are full. When cooking the flowers, they will close up, in any event, and will shrink by about 80%.  Four cups of loosely packed flowers will render down to about 2/3 of a cup if sautéed, and ¾ to 7/8 cup if steamed.  If you choose to boil the flowers, be sure to save the juice.  It makes excellent soup base or water when making homemade bread (use sage and parsley to kill some of the bitterness).
To reduce the slightly bitter taste of dandelions, avoid picking stems (containing a white milk) with the flowers.  Also, if you have lots of time, remove the calyx (the green cup-like shell holding the petals) from the petals.  You will need at least five time the amount of flower petals if you choose to do this, but it is the stalk and green calyx that hold most of the bitter flavour.  Unfortunately, much of the nutrients also are found in the calyx.
All methods of preparing the flowers for consumption require that you rinse the flowers under cold water, to remove debris.  (If you are squeamish, you will also be removing any aphids, ants and other insects).  Be sure that you pick flowers in any area that has not been treated with herbicide or insecticide. Also, any areas where animals may have urinated (corners, near trees and shrubs, against walls, etc.) should be avoided.
The first method of preparing the flowers is to sautee them.  Dandelion flowers, like the more mature leaves, can have a slightly bitter taste (reminiscent of tonic water).  Heat two or three  tablespoons of grapeseed or olive oil in a skillet. Add two cups of flowers, recue heat to low, spice with 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of thyme.  Cover the skillet and cook until the flowers are tender.  Serve with peas as a companion.
The next method involves steaming.  Steam the flowers for about 7-10 minutes.  Save the liquid, as much of the nutrients will have leeched back into the water.  Remove the flowers and, in a bowl, toss the flowers with melted butter and a little corn meal.  Add a little hemp or flax oil for a smooth taste, or use ginger, melted butter and brown sugar for a lighter, sweet taste. If you wish, you may boil the flowers instead of steaming them.
Dandelion flowers can be eaten raw, as well.  The buds, when washed and chilled in vinegar, make excellent snacks, while the flower petals (or entire flower & calyx) are great additions to a tossed salad.  Sprinkle sunflower seeds or crushed walnuts on the salad for a great complimentary taste.
The next blog will deal with making dandelion wine.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Morel Cousins

While morels are considered to be one of the most distinguishable fungi in North America, and are thought to be almost universally non-toxic, each year there are reported incidents of allergic, toxic and fatal incidents involving these mushroom-like delicacies. However, in most cases, reactions are not from morels, but from the morel’s evil cousins.
Many members of the mushroom family have relations that look like safe, edible mushrooms, but are deadly or disagreeable.  Morel look-alikes are almost non-existent.  However, there are a few fungi with which you should exercise caution. Unfortunately, these second cousins, known as “false morels,”  tend to grow near, and in the same conditions as morels.
Perhaps the most frequently encountered morel imitator is the “brain mushroom.” The brain mushroom has a wrinkled, rather than pitted or honeycombed surface.  Its dark brown stout body  and bulbous, brain shape make it relatively easy to distinguish from true morels.  It tends to “slime” quicker than morels due to its interior spore makeup, and does not have the same nutty taste as the morel. But if it is toxic, how will you know what it tastes like? In past centuries, many brain mushrooms were sold in marketplaces, cooked and consumed with little ill effect.  However, for many people, there is no toxic or allergic reaction.  Unfortunately, what was edible yesterday has been known to kill people the next day. For many, the symptoms are no worse than mild diarrhoea or upset stomach.
Harder to distinguish are look-alikes for the half-cap morel, whose tapered cap is held to the stem only by a band at the top of the stem, half-way up the cap.  Again, though, this false morel has a wrinkled surface, rather than honeycombed.
The “Big Red” false morel is generally found in south eastern USA, and is distinguished by its bright colors.  Most morels tend to be colored similarly to the leafy carpets in which they are found, which will help to distinguish “Big Red” from true morels.
Generally, even the imitators do not produce a severe reaction in most consumers of morels.  Unlike many mushrooms with their extreme and deadly toxicity, false morels are more likely to cause upset, rather than intense reaction.  Many people are spooked by the possibility of poisoning, and will shy away from any wild fungi.  Some avoid any variation in size or coloration.  But morels in poor conditions, or varying soil types, or even climatic conditions, will produce varying results.  Some yellow morels, found growing in gravelly trailside soils in Manitoba, are of a gray color, while some growing in the willowy drainage ditch sites in Minnesota are tall and spindly, with an elfin morel (false morel) look.  Classic black morels growing in the rich red soils of the Dakotas have taken on a reddish tinge like the “Big Red.”  Yet, all are true, edible morels.
The key is to exercise both caution in picking, and moderation in consumption.  Aside from a very few imitators, there is no need to fear morels.

Where Morels Grow

Fortunately for morel lovers, morels grow in almost every state of the USA and province of Canada, and in part of Mexico.  They officially are found in all but the Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico, Florida & Georgia, Alaska and Hawaii and the provinces of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland-Labrador.  Yet, at least three varieties are common in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan, one found in northern Georgia, and one in the eastern regions of Alaska.
Morels are identified as at least 16 separate family members, from the common yellow morel and  black morel to the half-free and western blond morel.  While each is specific to a region, many of the taxons identified are almost indistinguishable from the common yellow or black morel.
Generally, morels are found where winter temperatures reach near or below freezing on a sustainable basis, where deciduous forests allow filtered light during the late spring season, where daytime temperatures are not above 80F during the fruiting season, and where the spider-like rooting networks are able to penetrate and spread in the soil substrate. 
For these reasons, hot, arid regions do not host morels.  Similarly, deep, dark evergreen forests are inhospitable hosts.  However, some varieties of mushrooms do grow beneath evergreens.  At the same time, sandy, dry soils generally are not welcoming hosts.  But morels will grow in these soils where they adjoin more beneficial soil substrates.  Thus, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and other low-population states produce morels.
As stated earlier, morels need a looser substrate in which to spread their root-like filaments. Theoretically, then, mountainous regions would not be suitable terrain.  Yet, morels are common in the Pacific Northwest, where leafy mulch provides the needed soil conditions, and spring light, moisture and warmth is abundant. 
Half-free morels seem to deviate from their morel cousins’ preferred sites, growing well in the mossy shoulders of small creeks and drainage ditches.  These morels  are found from the  Dakotas to the maritime states and provinces, from Tennessee to Manitoba, and along the Pacific states.
The classic black morel grows abundantly in the Midwest, along the Pacific Northwest, Colorado & New Mexico, and even in Mississippi.
The classic yellow is even more wide-ranging, from the west, throughout Manitoba and central Canada, central and south central USA, and even the eastern seaboard states, while its sister, the Western Blond, is commonly found in Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.
Even in the Yukon and eastern Alaska, a unique morel, the fuzzy footed morel, can be found in abundance, venturing into British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado.
All varieties  are distinctively cone-shaped, and equally delicious.  All are welcome spring snacks across all of North America, and can be found with a little determination, and lots of luck.