“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1
For my entire life I have been solidly sitting smack dab in the middle of here and there, this and that- but most especially between younger and older, the second class citizen of a nebulous region uneasily perched upon the hump of my family’s backseat Buick. Besides hand me downs and occasional hand me ups, enfolded into this forked over position has been implicit understanding of what it is to straddle and join two separate worlds. And even with aplomb going so far as to shift and compromise when necessary to gain small favor in the attempt to stake my own piece of ground. Queen over no true territory I have always been able to flux fluid in the face of change, composed in the in between.
So it comes as sobering surprise when for the last many weeks I have struggled to roll with the dramatic changes underfoot, silently pulling the reins of time back to no avail. I’ve watched under exacting autumn light as the surrounding greenery has grown up and thinned out desiccated bone dry bare while plump jumpy critters on overdrive scuttle about, monarch caterpillars turn inside out and upside down asking the great questions of life, and school buses snake their circuitous routes. Stretched thin at the intersection where divergent demands exist I find myself stuck between the anticipatory surge to survive another winter and the overwhelming drag to slow. Wistful is my name, I miss the relaxed ease of late summer soothe.
After a lifetime of scampering to connect, flex and flow with the go, I find a new desire emerging, the compelling need to finally drop my bags and stop working to reconcile left and right or up with down, to simply be in the middle of a muddle. In a moment such as this, I only need to look down at my feet, savor the hard earth below and- drop anchor. What better chaperone in the art of attachment than the famously bull headed thistle, inspired muse in the creation of steadfast Velcro, the beloved and perhaps bedeviled Burdock?
This recalcitrant character Arctium lappa is a study in headstrong behavior. It happens to be wild food favorite of herbalists and diners of macrobiotic cooking. Surprisingly this sought after plant can be found skulking about derelict lots, crooked road sides, and lumpy open fields, the direct result of indiscriminant spiny burrs willing to hitchhike upon anything that’ll move. Possessing a monstrous leaf span up to 2 feet long and one wide with a wooly rough undercoat, any thought that this could be an ordinary plant is hurriedly cast aside. Inside certain well stocked stores, burdock roots might be found grouped outside their element in prim rectangular baskets by the Asian produce. These dime-in-diameter grubby looking sticks approximately ten inches long look perfect for stirring a witch’s stew or spading a two headed poisonous frog, but exude a far too earthy appearance to be included in literal feasting. Self possessed, unshaken they stand the test of time and are revered by foragers and eaters who can gaze beyond the repugnant or at least the unglamorous. While burdock can be harvested for its seeds, leaves, stalk, and roots, it is best left for knowledgeable enthusiasts with a keen eye and a sturdy shovel.
Their taproots dive unstoppable into the tarry depths unfettered by the good opinion of others or the empty wants of an unwanted neighbor, pausing only long enough to shoot out a lateral hold here and there. This willful focus, this “I am root hear me roar”, this testimony to place is captured in a sweet dense core which is prized for building strength and stamina from the inside out. Burdock’s support is far reaching, from nourishing the lymph and immune system, the liver, kidneys, lungs, and nerves, before finally touching the outmost peripheral skin. In spite of looking like no more than an unwelcome weed, occasional consumption of this dock will have one feeling and perhaps even looking a little pretty.
When it comes to preparation, the food is best taken from a first year plus plant (midway through the second year the vital energy gets transferred to the seeds) when the brown black skinned roots are still tender and needs a little good natured scrubbing. It unexpectedly tastes somewhere between a potato and a Jerusalem artichoke, mildly sweet and earthy with a crisp yet mucilaginous edge. While unappealing sounding, this sticky tooth actually binds to toxins and contaminants in the digestive track and assists in pushing it through. Clearly this is not your ordinary garden variety vegetable to be routinely counted as part of your daily five. Rather burdock is iconoclastic mentor and friend to body and being. It reminds us to blossom where planted, dig deep and feed our inner most secret regions. Arctium calls on us to stand our ground, fully embracing the far reaching parts of ourselves, even when one happens to muddle in a puddle.
Clay Pot Miso Chicken: Serves 4, adapted from Epicurious. The original recipe called for an enormous amount of miso, soy sauce, and mirin. More than my sodium levels could bear, so I scaled back big time. I still found the reduced mirin a bit too sweet for my taste, so I made further changes down below. It is best after you mix the liquids to sample a spoonful knowing that the flavors will intensify in the oven and in the ensuing days. Adjust accordingly. The bitter greens are perfect counterpart to the sweetness of the dish.
2 chicken breast on bone with skin
2 chicken thighs on bone with skin
2 burdock stalks, scrubbed and sliced thin diagonally
Splash of apple cider vinegar
1 large onion chopped
1 bunch green onion chopped in 1” pieces
½ lb shitake mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
½ jalapeno seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. grape seed oil
1 ½ Tbsp garlic chopped
1 ½ Tbsp ginger finely chopped
2 ½ C stock
¼ C white wine
¼ C mirin
¼ C barley miso
¼ C soy sauce
Cooked mustard greens/ bok choy/ kale/ broccoli rabe
Directions: Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place chicken skin side up on a tray. Roast chicken for about 35 minutes and then put aside. Reduce oven to 300. Place burdock in a bowl covered in water and a splash of vinegar. Sauté onion, green onion, mushrooms, jalapeno, garlic and ginger for several minutes on a medium high flame until fragrant and lightly browned. Add drained burdock. Mix liquids into a slurry and then pour over cooked vegetables to deglaze the pan. Place chicken inside a Dutch oven and pour the vegetables and liquid on top. Braise for an hour and serve hot with rice and greens.