Wild Foods: Nom, Nom, Nom

On Sunday, rain or shine, Andy and I decided to try something a little different: see what culinary adventures lay in our Portland backyard.

John Kallas, Ph.D., runs an entrepreneurial business called Wild Food Adventures, and he specializes in wild edibles. Not just plants, also clams and fungi. So, on a beautiful Portland day, we met Mr. Kallas at Jessup Bluff off of N. Willamette Boulevard to see what sort of yummies we had been missing. 

A beautiful Portland day

Only in the PNW is this normal

I wasn't sure what, exactly, I expected to get out of this workshop, but John Kallas clearly knows his stuff. He understands the plants he is looking at from germination to death and challenges students to do the same. He's practical, not flashy, and says if you're trying to entertain other people by suddenly becoming a wild food expert, you're likely to kill yourself. He encourages a practiced eye and a hands on, long term, studied approach.

Smart man.

I never knew the flowers of Broad Leaf Maple were edible. Actually, I didn't know that Broad Leaf Maple even flowered. And native, wild Fairy Bells produce a fruit after the flowering stage is finished that tastes (according to John) somewhere between a cucumber and a watermelon. 

Let there be fruit....sometime

Those whirly gig things were once edible flowers

We dug up wild carrot first. I won't bore you with all the gory details, but Wild Carrot is the plant most likely to be confused with Poison Hemlock. This is not really a mistake you want to commit. Wild carrots are tiny, and fibrous and smell like... carrot. They are also white. Less inbreeding to produce rampant amounts of beta-carotene, I guess. Once we took a good look at Poison Hemlock (and we have loads of the stuff here, it loves this climate), I can see how people could mistake the two. The leafy greens and the root are similar in appearance if you aren't carefully looking for differentiating characteristics. 

Wild Carrot greens

Wild Sweet Pea- delicious. The new leaf buds were sweet, tasting similar to a snap pea. The flowers are also edible. 

Wild Sweet Pea is hiding

Himalayan Blackberry- if you peel the outside layer, you can eat the inside. He didn't laud them as palatable, and they certainly aren't. Just meant if there's nothing else around. And we have plenty of Himalayan Blackberry. I spit it out after one chew and said, "Yeah. If I'm starving."

Next up, Wild Fennel. Watching Andy eat that was about as entertaining as it gets. Even store-bought anise is an acquired taste in my opinion- eating the leafy tops of its wild cousin is an experience on the taste buds. We looked for young growth, as older growth acquires a rubbery texture. Another difference? No edible bulb to dip in olive oil and salt like the Italians. 

Chicory- the first thing that came to mind when I saw it was the hours of the Oregon Trail computer game Andy and I used to play during our college years. We often killed our computer selves gathering the non-edibles by accident, which did not include chicory. If we gathered chicory, we lived another day. So, I was familiar with it. Similar to a dandelion but with some distinct characteristics, including, on most leaves, a pronounced curl. Very bitter, but I could see potential in a salad or stir-fry. 

Cat's Ear was another plant hiding out in the tall grasses, and for me, easily confused between a dandelion and chicory- all three look very similar. And they have similar, bitter-tasting profiles with salad/stir-fry potential.

Gathering up some Chicory, next to Wild Carrot

From here, we meandered across Jessup Bluff's hillside eating Garlic Mustard (tastes like garlic and is wicked, brutally invasive in the Pacific Northwest), Wild Mustard Greens, Salsify (known as goat's beard), Mint, and Curly-leaved and Broad-leaved Dock Sorrel.

Oddly, the Garlic Mustard was one of my favorites. The leaves have a nice, slightly spicy taste profile but weren't bitter, and the flowers themselves were garlicky. Maybe I can contribute to invasive species control by eating Garlic Mustard out of the Pacific Northwest.

Andy and I both agree that the Salsify was delicious. The new leaf buds have a sweet, grass-like flavor. John warned us that Curly and Broad-leaved Docks often take on an 'astringent' note when eaten raw. Andy promptly spit it out and declared it 'Listerine' (and not of the Winter Mint variety). However, according to John, the dock plants are wondrous and creamy when cooked. I'm thinking, collards? We'll see. 

Andy's 'Listerine' aka Curly Leaved Dock

We passed through a field of mint, and now I know where I'm getting my mojitos from during the summer.

At about 3:00, Andy mentioned something about grilled cheese. Unfortunately, there were no wild grilled cheeses out there in Jessup Bluff. 

All in all, we sampled a really interesting variety of easily found, edible plants that are everywhere in Portland. I think my summertime home salad bar just expanded. 

Broad Leaf Maple- flowers
Fairy Bells- flowers to fruit
Wild Carrot- roots & greens
Poison Hemlock- DON'T EAT
Wild Fennel- soft parts of greens & stems
Wild Sweet Pea- buds, flowers
Nipplewort- nice greens
Wild Mustard-spicy
Garlic Mustard- tastes like garlic
Salsify (Goat's Beard)-one of the best
Chicory- I liked, Andy hated
Mint= mojitos
Cat's Ear-again, bitter
Curly-leaved dock sorrel- supposed to be creamy when cooked, otherwise, 'Listerine'
Broad-leaved dock sorrel

Eat Your Wheaties

Columbia River Gorge
~7 miles, ~2660 elevation gain
An impromptu addition to the list. 11 o'clock on Saturday, toss everything in the car and head out to the Eagle Creek Trailhead near Bonneville Dam. The decision was made to throw in one last training hike before I go out of town for the next two weeks.

The Ruckle Creek trail branches off a paved portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, a meandering section of the former highway now open only to cyclists and pedestrians. It's charming and mossy and a look back into history. I think in a few weeks, I'll come back with my bike to take in the views from a two wheel point of view.

By May, I've normally abandoned the gorge. Too crowded, too humid, too much poison oak. But, it's been a cold spring, and it shows in both the alpine and in the valley. Snow levels are still lower than average, and flower displays have been next to 'nil.

Today I was hunting solitude and a training hike where I didn't have to be bothered with snowshoes, and many of the other hikes on my list remain snowbound in their upper elevations by four to six feet of white stuff. I was pleasantly surprised to get both solitude and no snow on this hike and equally enchanted with the verdant quality of the forest and the high, beautiful meadows the trail would pass through.  

Although I've hiked a decent percentage of the gorge's many trails, Ruckle Creek never seems to have made the check off list. My impression is that most people only use Ruckle Creek as a way to complete the very difficult Ruckle Ridge Loop (an unmaintained, user trail/scramble for those with bigger and grander cojones than I), as it's just foolhardy to try to come down what is often a hand over foot climb. My other impression of the Ruckle Creek trail was that it just sounded, well, boring. For myself, I am happy to report I was wrong and that I will most definitely be back to revisit this trail.

Ruckle Creek trail

Although rushing Ruckle Creek bestows its  name upon the trail, you leave the creek side almost immediately and go, well, up. So, carry water, because there isn't any, and you will sweat anything you drink right out. It's a good workout, gaining 3700 feet to the Benson Plateau in less than five miles. The sun was out when I started up the trail, and although it was warm, I was kept cool by a strong wind blowing through the forest. 

The forest was beautiful and mossy, full of sword fern, salal and oregon grape. And a few Fairy Slippers beginning to poke through.

fairy slipper orchid

Within a half mile of climbing, the trail briefly wanders through a mossy, hummocky area full of Native American vision quest pits.

vision quest pits

Respite done. The next mile is intense, climbing up and up and up a series of fifteen switchbacks to a tremendous view of the gorge, unfenced, of course. 

Watch your step.

From here the trail levels off again, rolling up and down through a series of incredible meadows and oak trees draped in hanging moss. When the season is right, I imagine the wildflowers here are incredible.  I was feeling sweaty and drained, and my legs were quickly approaching a gelatinous state. Between biking fourteen miles one way to work and jogging, I had maxed them out this week.

weather moving in: Wauna Point and the Columbia in the distance

From here, I had fantastic views of Chindere Mountain (I think) at the head of the Eagle Creek basin and Wauna Point and the Columbia. The wind was picking up and nasty looking clouds were beginning to roll in from the west. Reluctantly, given the shivering of my legs and the darkening skies, I decided to leave the final push for the Benson for another day. When I got to the trailhead at Eagle Creek, the skies opened up, confirming that I had indeed made the right decision.

Although I've only clicked off three training hikes in three and a half weeks, I can tell I'm getting stronger. Between the biking, running and hiking, my legs are definitely confused but managing. Up next: training my ankles while traipsing around in high heels on the cobblestone streets of Spain. Super.

Even prettier

even prettier on day five

I didn't even know bruises could turn this color. It's like the colored milk left over from eating some nasty food-dyed child's cereal, only on my thigh. Gross.

I also made a new discovery yesterday. While biking to work in Gresham along Portland's Springwater Corridor, I discovered that geese are evidently open to attacking cyclists. Little fuzzy goslings? Pretty cute. Their parents? Not so much. Matter of fact, I'm starting to think geese are downright evil.

Maybe my bike has a poltergeist that is out to get me. First train tracks, now geese, all within two weeks of beginning to ride again. We'll see how this cycling to work/ reducing carbon footprint/ fattening my wallet experiment goes.

I'm purty

MAX tracks, bikes and I do not  get along. OUCH.


Columbia River Gorge
~8 miles, ~2100 feet elevation gain 

After Tuesday’s twentyish mile long, impromptu, urban bike ride, I woke up to a perfectly glorious, bluebird, Portland day and felt like…sleeping. With gas prices climbing steadily and spring rain causing exponential grass growth in my yard, I have been neglecting my training hikes and today…well, I just did not feel like moving. Instead, I took a leisurely amount of time to wake up, stretch and yawn, and then proceeded to putter about the house, mate tea in hand, engaging me, myself and I in an ongoing debate between being lazy, being productive and finishing some much needed house & yard work (note: the yard is officially entering chia-pet territory now), or getting my butt in gear to hike Hamilton Mountain, number two on my training hike list.

Hiking won. But only barely.

I don’t particularly enjoy hiking when I have a time frame or deadline in which to complete a hike; I like a sense of movement and purpose while I’m outside, but I also fond of meandering, smelling the flowers, snapping pictures and taking my time inventing creative ways to swear at steep hillsides. Part of the reason I was feeling noncommittal today was because I had an engagement to be back in Portland, ready and presentable by 5:30 pm. So, when I tossed all my last minute gear in the Subaru to head to Hamilton, I knew I was going to have to move.  

Hamilton is a hike I have done in all sorts of interesting weather, yet oddly I have never hiked Hamilton in good weather. And today was about as good as it gets.


Depending on what source you use, it’s between three and a half and four miles to Hamilton’s summit. It probably took at least two and half or three miles before my leg muscles decided to engage correctly. Biking and hiking clearly use very different muscle groups.

After passing Rodney Falls and the Pool of the Winds, the trail begins to climb, passing quickly from deep forest to more open slopes until suddenly encountering the sheer cliff face below the summit of Hamilton Mountain and great views of the Columbia.

Today I didn't linger long. Just blazed through the trail in under four hours, with a lunch stop on the Saddle to contemplate views of the Columbia River Gorge and Table Mountain.

Hamilton's very distinct cliff face
"The Saddle"

According to some sources, Table Mountain is the power climb of the gorge- the first section of the final climb is one of the steepest official trails in the gorge. Damn. And it's on my to-do list. So I ate my peanut butter and jelly and contemplated Table and was very glad to be leaving it for another day.


Oaks Amusement Park

Is there anything better than Portland in the sun?

I think not.

Sometimes we need a little impromptu vacation time. Today, it was simply too damn beautiful to be inside. So instead, I left work early and took my first, much coveted, long bike ride of the season.

I love this town.

two dear friends were married here

East Bank Esplanade & the Steel Bridge