IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball definitely knows his way around good food. It's no surprise, of course, as the 30-year-old driver has made his way around the globe on various teams before signing with Chip Ganassi racing in 2010. The driver of #83 has made his home in Indianapolis for six years now, and has become one of the city's biggest fans. In fact, when he and his wife got married last fall, they held their ceremony in Indianapolis as a way to show off their adopted hometown to friends and family, although the couple are both from Southern California.
While the rest of us choose our restaurants and meals based mostly on taste, Kimball has one more unique criterion to meet: His have to be compatible with a diabetic diet.
Since his diagnosis in 2007, Kimball has become a vocal advocate for diabetes awareness. He's also become quite the discerning foodie, as well as a season-loving Hoosier. The SoCal boy learned to love seasonality through the great farm-to-fork food Indiana is known for, and discovered that the minimally-processed foods coming out of Indy kitchens helped manage his condition.
"You have meals and menu items that reflect that. You have the winter vegetables and the stews, and spring salads and all of those things. You definitely get to enjoy soup season and salad season, and I enjoy pairing that cuisine with the seasons."
Kimball also appreciates that Hoosiers do not let the first signs of spring go uncelebrated.
"You don't enjoy when the whether is good as much. Here, when you first get that first pop of sun, everyone's out enjoying it. As a city, everyone embraces it. When the weather's good, everyone makes the most of it," he said.
And while the rest of us enjoy central Indiana's all-star produce for their flavor, Kimball and diabetes patients like him depend on the slow-digesting carbs in fresh fruits and vegetables to keep their blood sugar stable.
"One of the things that makes it easier is getting fresh, clean food. Non-processed and non-stored, fresh vegetables and fresh fruits. Meals that are just built off of good ingredients. That makes it easier for my management. Very rarely are fresh, farm-to-table meals high in fat content, and processed food."
Diagnosed in his early 20s, Kimball became the first IndyCar driver with diabetes. The manufacturers of Kimball's insulin pen and products, Novo Nordisk, came on as a full-time sponsor for the driver in 2011.
Diabetes patients like Kimball calculate how much insulin they'll need based on the number of carbs they intend to consume and, in Kimball's case, injects himself with an insulin pen. If they give themselves more insulin than they need, their blood sugar may drop causing a loss of consciousness or even death, so Kimball has to take his carb counts seriously.
"I still sometimes misjudge my carb counts. I think everyone with diabetes knows it's just a learning curve. Every meal can be a learning experience, but at the same time, I know I can get good nutrition when I'm eating locally. I do enjoy the local scene rather than chain restaurants. My wife will do anything in her power not to go to a chain restaurant. I will admit, I do, every now and again, go to a chain restaurant," Kimball said. "We've lived in Indiana for just over six years now, and to be able to see that food scene grow, really over the last three or four years, has been spectacular."
Right now, Kimball is stoked to get into new downtown brewery St. Joseph's, which he loves as a potent combination of "fresh, great local beer and 100 years of history."
In Kimball, you'll find a huge fan of Indianapolis as a city. "VisitIndy has done a fantastic job of bringing people to town. Indiana Sports Corp with the Super Bowl, the Final Four. Some friends and I biked down and walked around during the Final Four, and what an incredible atmosphere!" He's a known haunter of local music venues like Old National Centre among others.
"I think people think because it's in the Midwest, it doesn't have a lot of culture, and that's a mistake," he says of his adopted hometown.
But before he can get behind the wheel or mosh so hard at Deluxe, the man has to eat, and his picks for essential Indy dining are pole-position-worthy for sure.CLICK HERE to see Charlie Kimball's picks for great Indy dining
Charlie Kimball's Top 5 Indianapolis Restaurants
This one was bound to get on a list of great restaurants. Chef Abbi Merris has long been famous for her magical ways with seafood, and the restaurant is worth a visit even if all you want to do is sip cocktails. "We love Bluebeard. I've been paired with Chef Abbi [Merris] at the Rev event and she always does great work. She always does a great job of creating flavor profiles that are so interesting. When I won my first race, a bunch of friends and I went to Bluebeard to celebrate. And then for my wife's birthday in October, we asked Chef Abbi to just kind of feed us, and she built a menu for us." Who knows if you will catch Kimball and his wife at the restaurant on your next visit, but the gorgeous patio and the standout menu are worth a visit no matter the sports stars that may be sitting just a few feet away.
653 Virginia Ave., 686-1580, bluebeardindy.com
Peter George's newest restaurant has been a boon for his own brand as well as the Herron-Morton neighborhood, where Kimball calls home. "It's three or four blocks from our house, so it's easy to go to, and we were really impressed with the atmosphere. Now that the weather's nice, every night, driving home from practice at the IMS, it has just been packed. That's such a great thing for this neighborhood." The new spot is known for its respectful treatment of high-quality local produce and an outstanding wine list.
402 E. 16th St., 925-5000, tinkerstreetindy.com
Arguably the original in farm-to-fork dining, Kimball ushers visitors to this place like the faithful drag their family to church on Sundays. "You can't ever underestimate Patachou. Whenever we have friends and family coming into town, no matter where they're staying, [we tell them], 'You gotta go to Patachou for breakfast.' You can't go wrong there. In fact, we buy coffee beans from them to grind at home." Make sure you try at least one omelette from here in your lifetime, as their lineup is unmatched in the city. Kimball also confessed to a weakness for their heavenly (although admittedly not exactly diabetes-friendly) cinnamon toast.
225 W. Washington St., 632-0765, cafepatachou.com
St. Elmo Steakhouse
Another Indy flagship, Kimball has been known to frequent this ultra-famous steakhouse. "As an institution, I love St. Elmo's. I'm a big red meat eater. My wife is a little less, but I love the shrimp cocktail. I love the history of that building. I think the Hugheses have done a great job embracing the history of Indianapolis, from the sports to the culture that the city has." You can, of course, get a big ol' slab of red meat here, but don't underestimate their outstanding cocktails. Go old school: An extra-dirty martini.
127 S. Illinois St., #2, 635-0636, stelmos.com
St. Joseph's Brewery and Public House
We could spoil this blurb by telling you everything you could ever want to know in the span of 200 words, because we're good like that. But we recently visited this new location, and we have way more to say about it than 200 words. Head here for a pull preview of the new Brewery.
540 N. College Ave., 602-5670, saintjoseph.beer
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Ecc 9:7
I can't speak for what God would say if he were pressed for comment on one of his houses of worship being turned into a place of drinking and eating, but I think the Ecclesiastes verse pretty well sums up my initial look at the new downtown brewery. The highly-anticipated opening finally happened last week in the converted church, which makes its home at 540 N. College in the former St. Joseph's church.
You can't help but have a smug little grin on your face when you walk up the ancient-feeling stone steps and through the completely intact heavy church doors. Inside, the vaulted cathedral ceiling and airy cream-painted interior takes your breath away, and you can't help but stop and do that dumb thing where you just spin around slowly with your head back at that idiotic angle that makes your mouth drop open. When you're turning a church into another kind of building, there are exactly two ways to nail it: Remove any trace of its former identity, or lean into that identity hard.
St. Joseph's pulls off the latter with applause-worthy finesse, and follows up with great beer and elevated pub food.
The bright steel tanks and hoses placed where an altar once stood are reminiscent of a grand pipe organ. The dining room is divided between a bar space with televisions, two sections of tables and extra seating in the choir loft. The next time I go, I'll ask to sit up there if it's possible, as the views out of the windows are stunning.
Okay, but what about the food and the beer? Pretty darn good on both accounts, especially for a green kitchen and a new brewery. If you want to sip on something easy and light, go for the kolsch. If you like your beers with a little more body and nuance, I have to highly recommend their house saison, a perfectly balanced, slightly funky brew that drinks well with food or all by itself.
On the food front, we kept it to a couple of munchable small plates: The short ribs and the Capriole goat cheese and crab-stuffed, bacon-wrapped peppers.
The short ribs are first braised and then flash-fried. This does the work of both tenderizing the meat so that it falls off of the bone, while the flash frying gives it kind of a shell of Korean barbecue sauce. You can pick them up with one hand without having to go all T-Rex on those bad boys to separate them from the bones. Consider it both one of the most tasty and simultaneously civilized ways to enjoy ribs. The seasoning was just right and cooked all the way through, and the frying gave it plenty of texture and crunch. I would definitely order these again (and again, and then maybe again, in the same sitting, if I'm being honest).
My bacon-wrapped, cheese-and-crab-stuffed peppers were equally good, although much more difficult to eat. The goat cheese turned them from a heavy bar snack to a lighter, not-too-greasy bite. The only thing that was frustrating about them was the cheese, naturally, smooshed out when you took a big bite, though, as the unabashedly messiest eater at any table, this did not diminish my enjoyment of them.
All in all, I'd say that I can't wait to go back and try more food and happily drink the beer. The quality of the brewing is not up to such a novice quaffer as myself to decide, so I'll wait for Rita to chime in on that particular. But I can say that I'm looking forward to taking visitors and family here for some good food, good beer and to gawk at the interior.
Profile: St. Joseph's Brewery
Info: 540 N. College Ave., 602-5670, saintjoseph.beer
May 30, 4pm - 9pm
Raise your glass for the Southside folks! This uber-fun, German-themed beer fest is bringing out The Original Alpine Express for this very special occasion. This one-stop shop of a festival lets you sample suds from Taxman, MashCraft, Planetary and Oaken Barrel without having to do any driving. Plus you can sample all kinds of German eats like knockwurst, brats, potato salad and a whole mess of other stuff. They’re making mighty fine beer on that side of town, so this is a great way to experience it all in a day, and it’s only five small American dollars to get in.
German American Klub, 8602 S Meridian St, $5
IndyGrown Urban Farm Tour
June 6, 2-8pm
You probably know IndyGrown as the organization that helped make your farmers market selection more diverse. They’ve been instrumental in turning many city lots into productive gardens. IndyGrown is a cooperative network of urban farmers in Indianapolis and this tour is an opportunity for you visit all four of our member farms—Big City Farms, CUE Farm at Butler University, Growing Places Indy, and South Circle Farm—in one afternoon. You can choose to bike the tour or go on the bus, plus the whole event ends with a gorgeous farm-to-fork dinner at Big City Farms.
Locations vary, Bus tickets $30, bike tickets $20
Mixture: Indianapolis Cocktail Tour
June 19-20, times vary.
Yes, yes, yes! We finally have a cocktail tour to rival the Circle City’s many fabulous brewing tours. This one starts out on Georgia Street and winds through Mass Ave, Fletcher Place, Fountain Square and puts you face-to-face with some of Indy’s best bartenders. The event runs for two nights, and you can buy a combo ticket for both or go to them separately. Either way, with the number of bars they have participating, it would only be safe to break it into two nights.
Various locations, $50 for one night, $85 for both
Bacon and Beer Classic
July 11, 11a-10p
It’s kind of all right there in the title, isn’t it? OK, fine, we’ll give you more details. This glorious marriage of all things that are right in the world is going down at Victory Field. You can get a ticket either for the brunch portion of the day or the evening portion of the day, and there will be over 40 bacon-inspired dishes to sample and 80 craft taps to taste. The Beer and Bacon Classic is a national event that is coming to Indy for the very first time this year.
Victory Field, 501 Maryland St, $29-89
Need more summer fun? Check out our Summer City Guide in this week’s NUVO.
One of the perennial pleasures of being an Indianapolis resident is being surrounded by a bevy of unbeatable taco joints. Some fancy, some are holes in the wall, but all are delicious. Buen provecho.
La Chinita Poblana
La Chinita Poblana isn't your average taco joint. The small shop serves up East-meets-Southwest style fare, like chicken tacos spiced with tamarind and cumin and topped with sweet chile de arbol salsa, star-of-anise braised beef tongue with avocado crema, and crispy Japanese eggplant with carrot-ginger-habanero dressing. Prices are modest — at $3 each, you should absolutely get more than one flavor (a lunch special offers 2 tacos, a cup of soup or chips and salsa, and homemade agua fresca for $8), and definitely get an order of the mole sweet potato fries. Desserts include a Thai tapioca pudding with mango and whipped cream, a crispy chocolate banana eggroll or tres leches flan.
927 E. Westfield Blvd., 722-8101, lachinitapoblana.com
One of the OG's of Mexican food on the near eastside, this yellow building has long been the home to some really delicious tacos and other Mexican food accoutrements. Woefully, we forgot it on our list of delicious stoned dining, so we wanted to give it some love on our tacos list. Drive down New York Street to catch this fabulous little spot.
1642 E. New York St., 917-0095
The "street Mexican" lineup at Bakersfield typically consists of eight tacos - including the fan favorite fish (crispy mahi) and Pastor (marinated pork and pickeled red onions) - two tortas, two salads and chips with dips, including vegetarian options. Bakersfield's guac - hand-cut with chunks of avocado, lime-forward and punchy - won a "Best Guacamole in Cincinnati" award from three publications last year. If guests waver on a decision between the more than 50 varieties each of bourbon and tequila available, a large poster of Johnny Cash holding a glass of whiskey might push them away from the tequila menu. A full bar is available for those who prefer other liquors, and rotating drafts will offer selections of local and national craft beers.
334 Massachusetts Ave., 635-6962, bakersfieldmassave.com
La Margarita is most famous for its impressive tequila selection, with flights available at a variety of themes. With a name like La Margarita, it probably also goes without saying that you should order a pitcher of margaritas—and the top shelf pitcher is worth it. The bar also features an impressive lineup of craft beer. They serve lunch specials every day at the Fountain Square location, which has also played host to classic pinball tournaments in the past.
1043 Virginia Ave., 384-1457, lamargaritaindy.com
You might call this a "hole in the wall" kind of place, but the food here is outstanding. Get a plate of real, homestyle tacos or enchiladas, and pour on lots of the handmade salsa. Everything is spicy and flavorful, but the surroundings are not exactly tourist-friendly, and the service is notoriously slow. But we assure that the wait is well worth it. The restaurant even serves a handful of vegetarian options of you prefer to skip the meat, and killer flan.
2958 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr St., 927-0493
Revolucion has been serving up a variety of tacos for a couple of years now. But what sets them apart isn't the tacos, but the huge selection of salsas available to splash all over your tacos, chips, or whatever is nearby. They have sweeter, lighter salsas and devilishly mouth-searing varieties, not to mention crazy-delicious guac and queso. The beer selection changes regularly, so you'll have to become a friend on Facebook to keep current on what's new. One of the very best things you can avail yourself of while there is the spicy margarita. It comes with a chili-salt rim and a little pepper in the glass, and while it won't make you sweat or make your eyes water, it definitely leaves behind a Satisfying tingle on the lips.
1132 Prospect St., 423-9490, facebook.com/RevolucionIndy
Neal Brown has been trying to get to know Juanita. This is what he'll tell me about her: she's relaxed but she's going to make sophisticated food. She'll be dressed-down while drawing in a foodie crowd. She's got flavor and nuance. And hopefully, she's going to be the taco restaurant that will seriously change the game when it comes to Mexican food in Indianapolis.
Just like artists and writers, chefs sometimes need to get out and soak in a little inspiration by way of research. In this case, the Libertine and Pizzology owner had to break out of what he knew about Mexican cooking, which was a lot by most folks' standards, but still paled in comparison to the complexity of the dining scene that awaited him across the border. Mexican food to most American diners involves a lot of heat, queso blanco, and a lot of grease without much subtlety. In reality, however, Mexico, like America, is a pretty large country spanning a few different biomes and growing zones, producing massive variety within those "basic" ingredients — including several hundred varieties of pepper. That's what Brown went down there learn to do.
"Coaxing flavors out of different combos of chilies. I had played around in my kitchen and I couldn't quite grasp it. So I went down really to understand why they use certain chiles in certain applications," said Brown.
This would not be the first instance of the chef's American palate receiving a Sin Cara style smackdown south of the border. What consistently surprised Brown was the subtlety of how the same ingredients were remixed and remade according to what that food needed to do.
"The other reason was to learn about masa and tortilla making and the different ways in which they use varying quantities of certain ingredients to yield different types of tortillas." It makes sense, but also illuminates how limited Americans' exposure to real Mexican dining is. "That was a big revelation for me when I was down there, to learn that a little more water in the same recipe and it yields a completely different type of tortilla for a different application. That was sort of mind-bending because I think we're all used to just sort of tortillas,"
That would be like walking into a bakery and demanding "that one kind of bread," when they're all made of flour, water, and yeast but have such different styles.
"Mexican cooking is as nuanced as French cuisine, I guarantee it. The diversity of the regions of Mexico — the food in Puebla and Oaxaca and Yucatan — are all wildly different and use different ingredients. The food in Mexico is a regional cuisine, much like it is in France and Italy."
Similarly, the whole nation isn't just one lawless narcotrafficers paradise as the stories we often see out of the regions bordering our Southwest states.
"In Mexico City, there are very few issues. The City is a totally sophisticated megopolis. It's the second-largest city in the world. I really went there to get the most bang for my buck. I could have spent a month traveling around these different regions, but who's got a month and who's got the money?"
If you're wondering if the chef was concerned about safety in Mexico, the short answer is "no more than anyone would be in a dangerous neighborhood in America." Aside from the northern border towns, the police and military presence, said Brown, made the city itself feel a lot safer than other parts of the country. Brown's driver told him that many of the best taco shops in Mexico City are in the close-crowded barrios filled with tin houses. His driver also said that it was too bad he couldn't taste them and still come out alive.
"There aren't the problems in Mexico City that there are in Northern Mexico," he said. "But there are plenty of places in America where you wouldn't go because they're in dangerous neighborhoods. It's the same there."
In bringing back that authentic cooking, Brown hopes to similarly infuse the authentic dining style he picked up in the country.
"It's going to be a fonda style restaurant. It's going to be really casual. I ordinarily would say 'cantina' but I'm afraid it's going to give off the wrong [idea]. In the US, the word 'cantina' has a different meaning. In Mexico, a cantina is the equivalent of a bistro. And in a cantina in Mexico, they would actually wear what most would recognize as sort of classic bistro uniforms: black pants, white shirts, black aprons. But in America, it comes off meaning 'bar.' So we're like a fonda: we're casual, we're going to specialize in Mexican antojitos, which are small plates, and tacos. I've always loved ceviche, so we're going to be doing fresh fish preparations from all over Latin America."
"It won't just be Mexican food and tacos. It'll be a little bit more wide-reaching, but it will all fall under a sort of Latin Food umbrella. Mostly influences from Peru and Mexico though."
And if you're wondering if the Libertine owner has plans to bust out another outstanding bar program with a Latin twist, the answer is, "Well, duhhh."
"Lots of tequila, lots of mezcal. Obviously pisco, cachaca and a full craft cocktail program. We likely won't have whiskey, gin, any of those things. We're working through the cocktail program right now."
As for the person coming up with the bar program, Brown will only give me a hint.
"I can't tell you. All I can say is it may be a past Libertine employee, someone who knows tequila and mezcal very well."
We'll keep you updated on when this new joint finally opens its doors (because mine will be the face pressed against the glass), but for now, you'll just have to take our taco recommendations and soothe your craving at another restaurant until Juanita finally comes to town.
This week, our font of all knowledge is Black Acre's Steve Ruby, cat owner and fruit beverage consumer. Both a gentleman and a scholar (literally, as Ruby has his JD from IU) as well as a brewer, he's here to answer queries of both a cosmic and quaffing nature.
Question: How do I keep the scent of homebrewing contained to one room of my basement? Any tips on making sure it doesn't stink up the house?
Steve Ruby: Why would you try to limit that glorious smell?! But I'm here to answer, not ask, questions.
Sorry to say, though, that if you have to stay inside there isn't really much you can do aside from opening windows, using fans, or anything else you would do if you were cooking. All work, but are not super effective. On the bright side, any smells that get into the house fade pretty quickly — less than a day — so that helps.
When we were still homebrewing regularly we almost always brewed outdoors. If brewing outside is an option, I would go that route, it really is the only way to keep the smell of brewing from getting into the whole house. It also makes cleanup a lot easier. Unless there's something that makes brewing outside impossible, or you are a bubble boy (or girl), I would move the operation outdoors.
Question: Do you think cats get jealous? I've been out of town staying at a friends house with her cats, and now mine won't let me cuddle them. What to do?
Ruby: A resounding and absolute yes. Felines are perhaps the most jealous of all the animals, sans wallabies, but fuck them.
First, a list of techniques that I would NOT recommend anyone try:
• Reasoning: This is a futile use of your time; cats will listen to no logic beyond their own.
• Clutching your cat for as long as possible despite their protests: You will only end up with an angry cat and a possible ER trip.
• Taking them out on the town: Cats are easily startled and a night out on the town might prove too much, ending the night with them hiding underneath a porch for an indeterminate amount of time.
• Any sign of unconditional love towards your cat: Your love for your cat may be unconditional but theirs is assuredly not. The lack of reciprocity will only cause heartache for you.
I would, however, recommend these techniques:
• Bribery, Bribery, Bribery, Bribery: I've had my cat for several years now and this the only technique I've ever had success with. I'd recommend Friskies but that's largely dependent on your cats' preferences.
Question: Sometimes I feel really small compared to the infinite cosmos. How do I get more information about space without that sucking feeling of my realizing my infinite smallness in the universe?
Ruby: You should feel small because it's an infinite, uncaring universe out there indifferent to your presence.
Or watch some Cosmos with Neill deGrasse Tyson, he seems to put a good spin on the whole "infinite, uncaring universe" thing.
Have a question for a brewer? send it to email@example.com.
Rev at IMS
Rev is a food gala and the official kickoff for the month of May at IMS.
If you've eaten out at any locally sourced restaurants lately, you've probably eaten some foraged foods. Whether it's garlic ramps or morels, there has never been more demand for the delicate perfection of foraged food, not to mention the hefty market value of them (morels retail for about $40 per pound). Older than agriculture, the art of foraging for wild edibles is coded deeply in our DNA. Now it's coming full circle on the heels of the latest food trends, pushing diners to explore their neighborhoods and forests like never before in search of a flavor they may have yet to encounter.
And while morel mushrooms and garlic ramps, the darlings of the culinary world, are the much-sought-after wild edibles, we wanted to see if there was more to foraged foods than just the spring frenzy that gives way to summer farming. So I enlisted the help of survivalist Matt Shull of White Pines Wilderness Academy to show me where food was hiding, and if maybe it's been hiding right under my nose (well, in this case, under my feet) all along.
As a lifetime practitioner, Shull's first piece of advice was to spend a year just observing and identifying the plants and cross-referencing them with field guides — at least two, he says.
"Every year, there are professionals who die from eating the wrong thing," Shull warned. "Chris McCandless died because he misidentified a plant according to his guide. It was an error in the field guide," he said of the famous Alaska explorer on whom the book and film Into the Wild was based. That's just one reason why Shull recommends getting at least two reliable field guides and to cross reference them against each other. With that kind of (terrifying) information at hand, Shull wants amateurs not to think of the woods as one big, edible free-for-all, but to view foraging as one part of a much larger relationship to one's own natural environment.
Much of Shull's training works on the "village education" model, the same education model that has underpinned the teachings of the tribal groups like the Miami and Blackfoot Indians. Since one person can't possibly learn all there is to learn by experience, staying alive in a world of foraging means having multiple reliable bodies of knowledge on these plants. And while there are hundreds of field guides on the subject, the expertise required to tell the difference between two nearly-identical plants can sometime require multiple lifetimes of study.
That's why there is so much value particularly in passed-down knowledge of these plants. New guides are always being made, and not always by the people that should be writing them.
"We were consulted for a mushroom hunting field guide, and one of the identifiers they wanted to use was taste," he laughed, because there are some mushrooms and plants that will kill you with a single bite. In other words, if you're going out into the woods to forage, don't just start grabbing things and shoving them in your mouth. (This, by the way, quickly became an uneasy trust exercise as Shull would, in one breath, talk about the drop-dead dangerous poisons and then, in the next, hand me something to eat, which I did unquestioningly. For the record, I am alive, so his knowledge is trustworthy.)
Most importantly, Shull says, is to use one entire year to notice all the growth stages of a plant, which is the most reliable way to identify a plant species.
"You have to really live with the plant and get to know it," he says. "You have to watch it come up in spring, bloom, go to seed, and die back again in winter before you can be absolutely sure about what you're dealing with." It might sound a little new-agey, but when you realize that the carrot family has several deadly-poisonous members (with frighteningly similar leaves in some cases), this piece of advice takes on new gravity.
Over and over again, Shull points out plants along the path that have deadly cousins with leaves that look almost the same. That's why he encourages getting to know plants by family — both the edible and non-edible members — which will help you learn more of the nuanced identifiers that set the individual species apart.
From Shull's perspective, foraging is less about making a gourmet meal so much as finding essential nutrients in nature. One of his most famous and frequently-taught survivalist foods is pine needle "tea," which contains tons of vitamin C and may have helped settlers ward off scurvy. Infusions can be made with a variety of plants, and steeping is an effective way to get the nutritional value out of something not easily eaten (just imagine choking down a mouthful of pine needles).
Of course, that doesn't mean it can't also be delicious. One of Indiana's most invasive species, garlic mustard, tastes delicious with a deeply herby, green garlic burn. You could easily throw some into one of Shull's favorite foraged foods, sauteed stinging nettle.
"That's one you don't have to worry about over-foraging," laughed Shull, as any garlic mustard on a plate is one less plant choking up the natural habitat. "If you cut it all down, you'd be helping the environment."
Pre-agriculture, foraging would have made up a huge portion of a native person's diet, along with bow-hunted proteins. Back then, diets would have been rich in all parts of the "Big Four"— the four plants on which all parts are edible, all year. Those plants are pine, oak, grass and cattail. Even in the winter, the roots of many of these plants — down to the small, spindly roots of some grasses — can be roasted up and turned into a nutritious meal. Even the bark of the trees can be scraped for their sugar-rich cambium layer, the most famous of which is the cambium sugar from the maple tree. You may have been eating a "foraged" food every day for breakfast and not even realized it.
"The average American has about ten plants in their diet, nowadays," Shull said with a grimace. In just the short hour we spent in the woods, he pointed out over 15 edible plant species that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, everything from the flowers and leaves of the common violet, to the entire dandelion plant — even the roots can be roasted to make a coffee-like beverage.
Watching the plant bloom, die and re-emerge also familiarizes you with how time and maturity shifts the flavor of each plant.
Spring is an especially good time for foraging, as the plants are at their most energetic, green and flavorful stages of growth. Just like baby spinach has a more delicate flavor and mouthfeel, so do the smaller leaves on plants like dandelion, which contain more bitter, latex-like sap as they grow larger. Like the microgreens you buy at the farmers market, things are sweeter in spring. And just like microgreens, sprouts and seedlings pack a big, botanical flavor but without any of the bitterness of a more mature plant.
Even if you're not a greens-eater, you can still participate in a the foraging lifestyle without ever having to pick up your own digging stick. Mulberry trees are one of the earliest to set fruit and one of the easiest to harvest, and mulberries can be made into jams, pies, or replace raspberries in salads.
"The easiest way to harvest them is to spread a sheet out underneath them and find some way to just shake the branches," Shull says. If you've ever parked your car under one in summer, you know that mulberries have a tendency to fall like juicy red rain.
You can also go out and snap up little things like the eponymous buds on redbud trees, which taste slightly sweet, almost like a carrot or violet blossoms to add to your regular lettuce salad.
Between foraging and hunting for wild game, Shull gets a very complete nutritional profile with very little sugar or refined carbohydrates. This is the point in the article where it's worth noting that Shull doesn't have the paunch or ruddy cheeks so many of us non-wild eaters are sporting, myself included. I asked Shull what his thoughts on the Paleo and similar diets were, and if they are really worth what they say they are for your health and well-being. In short, yes.
"We're hunter-gatherers. We have been hunter-gatherers for 99.5 percent of the time we've been on this planet. I think it's naive to think we can just shift our diet entirely without massive complications," complications like an explosion of food allergies, diabetes, obesity, depression, and possibly even autism. Some studies have shown that the bacterial signature, or "gut biome," of hunter-gatherers is entirely different from the flora inside the digestive tracts of people with "modern" diets with a lot of processed foods. Whether or not that has an effect on our overall health hasn't been fully studied, something Shull hopes will change in the future. "Ideal" nutrition, however, has always been studied as a game of the earth's carrying capacity, which Shull things is equally naive.
"Is the ideal diet for one person different than the ideal diet for seven billion other people on one planet? Those things need to be studied separately," he says, hinting that one of the main issues might be that there probably shouldn't be seven billion of us competing for food.
"I realize it's a more difficult diet to adhere to," he says of the hunter-gatherer diet he chooses for himself. "The easiest diet to get everyone to adhere to would be to give everyone a multivitamin and a bowl of rice, and you could probably live your life that way, but that doesn't mean that's how we should live."
It would be an interesting experiment to see how perceptions of food and the U.S. obesity problem would change if more people were forced to interact with the environment that creates their food, the way trading your car for a bike makes you see your neighborhood in a whole new way.
That's what Shull ultimately wants, for people to get back to thinking about and connecting with their environment. That's the hot core at the center of the White Pines ethos: getting people of all ages to stop thinking of food and medicine as something we have to rip away and refine from nature, but rather discovering the ways that your environment can care for you if you invest the time and intention in understanding its mechanics. Beyond the spectator's draw of fun flavors and an excitement similar to that of panning for gold, Shull is teaching people of all ages that there is more to the woods than just songbirds and shade: the keys, perhaps, to a better way of life.TOOLS OF THE TRADE
[Music] Rock, Festivals + Parties, Sports + Recreation, Beer + Wine
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