A woman picking fruit from a tree in a city.
A woman picking fruit from a tree in a city.
Photo: BrendaLakemanPhotography

Mother Nature has free food up her sleeve, and its closer than you think

Three years ago, in a parking lot, I officially became an accidental urban forager. I had just completed my annual breast cancer survivor checkup and my results were all clear. There was only one thing to do on that wickedly hot summer day. I had to rejoice and decompress with a chocolate milkshake — but I was in for another unexpected treat.

I sat in my car in an unassuming strip mall parking lot and calmed my thoughts by looking at clouds while I sipped my milkshake. And then I saw it. …

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Photo taken by author.

Lettuce just isn’t for salads, people.

I called my friend last week and said,

“Why don’t you come for lunch on Tuesday? I will make something delicious!” I added, “And it will come from my garden.”

She was probably thinking it would be a tomato salad or boiled creamy baby potatoes with fresh dill or maybe even a souffle with pale onions.


I already had something in mind. Lettuce soup.

When fall arrives with its chilly mornings, dappled Van Gogh sunlight, and my lettuce starts to grow long legs and weird looking leaves?

I know it is time for lettuce soup.

I first learned about lettuce soup from a beat-up 1971 copy of The Four Seasons Cookbook by Charlotte Adams — I found it in a thrift store years ago. Being the curious cat that I am — I had to try it. …

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Photo by Medical News Today.

This little powerhouse herb is so much more than pesto. And I plant it in a very strange place.

Years ago, my husband announced to me that he didn’t like basil. I asked him why. This was serious stuff as I am nuts about basil.

“Because I don’t like pesto.”

So I did what any good wife would do. I planted a pile of it and slowly and sneakily put it into all sorts of dishes. (Not one of them had pesto.)

When he raved about the lamb stew, soup, salad or sandwich — I said,

“I put basil in it.”

His eyebrows went up and he slowly admitted that it was pretty damn good.

Job well done, basil!

This lovely, clean-smelling and delicious thousands year old herb is absolutely stuck in pesto hell. …

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Photo by The Washington Post

Your rotisserie chicken has 21 servings if you do it right.

Years ago, people would roast a Sunday chicken, and then it reappeared as something else during the week. I still do that. BUT, sometimes we just don’t have a handy chicken kicking around in the freezer, or we’re too lazy or forgot to thaw it(me), or we just need to get something healthy on the dinner table tonight, fast.

Hello, rotisserie cooked chicken — savior of rushed, lazy and forgetful cooks.

I don’t know about you, but a rotisserie cooked chicken in my neck of the woods costs $9.00. …

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Photo by author. Kids of all ages love this!

Because this recipe is a life-changer.

My husband called from the Pacific ocean, where he was on his annual fishing trip with a few good friends.

“I had to call you — your homemade Rice Krispie squares are a huge hit with everyone! People moan and shake their heads when they eat it. We are rationing down to one square a day to make them last.”

I laughed.

He was catching 150-pound fish but he called me about a Rice Krispie square.

I can hear you right now. You’re thinking, “Rice Krispie squares? Who gives a damn about Rice Krispie squares?”

You will, that’s who. Listen. These aren’t any ordinary Rice Krispie squares.

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Photo was taken by the author. Wrap was eaten shortly after!

And it will probably be the best thing you eat all summer.

It must have been Fate. Years ago I worked for a national television network and my boss loved to hold working lunches. Usually, the meeting was as dry as the sandwiches he brought in from a local deli. Gag. But on that fateful day, he ordered wraps from our cafeteria run by a Scandanavian woman who was an amazing cook.

I remember nothing about that meeting. But I still remember the unusual and delicious wrap (and I’m still making it today!)

The platter was in the middle of the boardroom table. On one side, the normal roast beef wraps. On the other? Spinach wraps with chicken, cold, steamed asparagus, and long slices of mango.

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Photo by Seasons and Suppers

Your guests don’t need to know it only cost you pennies to make.

My father-in-law smiled at me across the dinner table and said,

“Kim, I need more of that barley dish. I think it is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I never thought barley could taste so good.”

He dug right in for a second helping and then I sent some home with him too. And we still had some for lunch the next day. Yes — pearl barley risotto knows how to stretch itself.

The delicious barley dish my father-in-law loved so much? It cost less than $5.00 to make and it made a huge batch.

My inner farm girl was secretly thrilled.

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Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Change your perspective and your life improves instantly.

Lately, I’ve been freaking people out as I’ve been foraging and cooking dandelions. Many people automatically think dandelions are toxic, or weird or taste terrible. Thankfully, they are out to lunch on all counts.

Yes — there is even beauty in a dandelion. (And they taste amazing too!)

When you easily dismiss what you perceive to be ordinary, old, frail, broken, weird, unusual, or imperfect — you immediately suffer, although you may not be aware of it at first.

Because you always miss out on a richer life when you close your eyes and mind to the beauty in unloved things. …

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Photo by Intermarche.

Don’t miss out on delicious food just because of its strange looks.

Way back in 2014, I was in a grocery store in France and saw several colorful posters throughout the store. They were hilarious, captivating, and they had a powerful message.

And they were also part of a nationwide campaign to creatively solve a massive problem the French grocery stores and farmers were having — thousands of pounds of produce being thrown away because consumers didn’t like the odd look of them.

These display posters were in front of huge bins filled with perfectly healthy fruit and vegetables — except they were weird shaped, asymmetrical, and quite often looked like balloon animals. …

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Image of Julia Child by Saveur.com

Salad Nicoise has everything you’re craving right now.

When I was in my 20s, in a thrift store I found an old cookbook called, The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child. It was published in 1968, had a retro red hardcover, the recipes looked good, the black and white photos were hilarious and it cost a $1.00. But the clincher of the deal? I found the recipe for Salade Nicoise — the famous French salad I’d fallen in love with at a cafe in Paris.

Yes — some people fall in love with people in Paris — for me — it was a salad.

Little did I know then, but buying that little red book brought me into a time machine with one of the best cooks on Earth. …

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Miriam Doerr Martin Frommher/Shutterstock

Wild mushrooms are a forager’s delight — when you know what you’re doing.

When I was a kid I picked loads of wild Saskatoon berries with my family but I was curious and yet terrified of wild mushrooms. I’d see them everywhere when I was on my bike or walking with my dog — so many shapes, sizes, and colors, and I was fascinated by how quickly they’d pop up after a rain shower. But I didn’t touch them. Because like most children — my parents taught me that all wild mushrooms were dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.

But I did know one adult who didn’t think like that.

Mrs. Kostuk was an elderly Ukrainian lady who lived in our little village and I adored her. She was tiny, wrinkled, and she had a massive garden. Little did I know her fountain of wild mushroom knowledge was something I’d wish for when I became an adult. …

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Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

These 50 forgotten summer pleasures bring meaning to your daily life.

I have an interesting visitor coming to see me in an hour. He wears cool glasses, a cowlick, and a big smile. He’s 8 years old and the son of one of our cottage neighbors. His name is Max and he’s full of curiosity, loves nature and his father has taught him how to forage (which he told me all about in magnificent detail.) So when I offered to give him a dandelion blossom cooking class — well, his face lit up and he jumped at the offer.

Max doesn’t need to know that he’s interrupting my work day. I’m happy for it. Because picking dandelion blossoms out in the rain with a joyful kid who loves to forage? And then to show him how to cook the lemon-yellow flowers into little perfect deep-fried morsels? That’s an idle pleasure I’ll gladly jump at too. And it only takes 30 minutes from picking to eating fried flowers.

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Photo by iStock.

Foraging for fiddleheads — one of the world’s delicious delicacies.

My cottage neighbor just casually mentioned it in our conversation when he stopped to chat. He knows I’m a forager (he’s one too) and he saw me picking dandelion greens. My husband and I bought our boreal forest cottage a few years ago and this place makes my wild forager’s heart sing.

So when my neighbor said,

“Kim — have you picked fiddleheads yet? If you cross the creek there are a ton of them deep in the woods by the old beaver dam.”

I know I stared at him for a moment. My eyebrows shot up.

“OMG! There are fiddleheads here?? I didn’t know we had any wild ostrich ferns close by.” …

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Photo by BettyCrocker.com

Something fun & delicious for kids of all ages.

When you’re stuck on what to make for dinner tonight, tap into one of my childhood favorites: a tinfoil hobo dinner. My sister and I loved when our mother made these little packages— they were unusual, fun to eat, and always delicious.

The premise is simple.

You steam protein and vegetables with seasoning/sauce in a folded tinfoil envelope. You can use anything really — as long as the pieces aren’t too thick. Chicken breast, sausage, hamburger, fish, shrimp, even stew meat work well (but fish and seafood have much shorter cook times.)

And weirdly — they are so much fun to open and eat from. I’m pretty sure Mom loved hobo dinners as they were also easy on dishes and prep time too. And I don’t know about you, but I’m always game for that. …

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Lyudmila Mikhailovskaya/shutterstock

These are so delicious, you‘ll never hate dandelions again.

This is a story about how you can be a lover of nature and also fried goodness, as my sister says.

Fried dandelion blossoms taste lightly sweet and of their mild flower selves. I kid you not.

You get to be at one with the wild, and instead of killing a so-called weed you shall eat it instead. You instantly become the accidental forager. A cook of wild foods. Someone who knows how to eat for free. You’re like one of the pioneers who brought dandelion seeds on purpose to the New World.

“The common dandelion is an introduced plant in North America. In the mid-1600s, European settlers brought the common dandelion (scientific name, Taraxacum officinale) to eastern America and cultivated it in their gardens for food and medicine.”

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Photo by Canadian Dairy Producers.

A childhood favorite goes upscale with these 5 delicious additions.

One of my favorite childhood lunches was a grilled cheese sandwich. My sister and I walked home for lunch from school and if the stars aligned, Mom had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup waiting for us. Heaven!

They weren’t fancy as they were made with processed cheese singles on homemade white bread. But they were so good. Now, even though I profess to be an adult — I still occasionally sneak a slice of processed cheese into a grilled cheese sandwich.

Don’t judge — I know you have your own guilty food secrets.

But I’ve elevated my grilled cheese game. Try one of these options in your next grilled cheese sandwich (and why not today?) You won’t go back to your old ways. And don’t worry about crazy additions like mac and cheese — we have to draw the line somewhere.

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Aimée W Bourque� Simple Bites on Instagram

You hit pay dirt when you regrow what’s in your fridge.

Several years ago, my husband and I stopped buying over-priced lettuce mixes that came from 3,000 miles away. It always went slimy too fast, it had a smell even when it was supposedly “fresh” and then there was the big-assed plastic clamshell that couldn’t be recycled.

Something had to change.

We turned to a local greenhouse that sold “living lettuces” with their little rootballs attached. They cost about $3.00 which was fine until I could grow my own lettuce during the summer.

But the $3.00 a head bugged me. So I decided to experiment.

Once we used the lettuces and had cut their rootballs off (oh my — that sounds a little vicious, doesn’t it?) — I planted them in yogurt containers, added an inch of water, and placed them in a window with lots of sunlight. I watered them gently every few days and made sure they didn’t get any cold air from the window. …

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Photo and collage by author.

The quirkiness of cutting and pasting helps glue your thoughts together.

When I feel bored, blue, or befuddled by life, as much as I’m a writer and reader, I don’t always turn to my pens and books for solace. I reach for something simple yet unconventional instead.

I gather magazines, scissors, glue, an old scrapbook, and strew the works over my dining room table. And then I let my inner Edward Scissorhands take over and the table is soon covered with hundreds of snippets of paper.

Because surprisingly, serenity is worth hunting for with a pair of scissors in your hand.

The word collage comes from the French verb coller, meaning ‘to glue.’ …

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Photo by Harbour Publishing Co.

Don’t hate the dandelions in your yard. Eat them instead.

I had to run out the door in a flash a few days ago, yelling, “Stop! Stop!” to my husband who held a spray bottle of weed killer in his hands. He looked at me and said, “I’m going to spray the dandelions — what’s the matter?”

I waved my hands in the air, “Nooooo — that’s a special patch of dandelions I’m growing for an appetizer next week. Trust me — you’ll love it.”

You should have seen his face. But he left my dandelions alone.

OK — I know your eyebrows are probably raised.

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Photo by Boyan Lepoev on Unsplash

Giving food to someone else always makes you feel better too.

I grew up in a small village, and dropping a gift of food on someone’s doorstep was common. My mom and her friends often shared treats back and forth between houses — and it was typically left on the doorstep. A bag of carrots from someone’s garden, a pail of fresh-picked raspberries, zucchini, eggs, honey, a banana loaf — simple kindnesses received and given that always brought a smile to my mom’s face.

It stuck with me. When I lived in the same city as my sister, I’d leave fresh baking in a bag on her doorstep. For a time, a friend and I both lived in an ancient historic building and often he worked late and I knew he wouldn’t have eaten. I’d pack up a container of the hamburger casserole or chicken I’d made for dinner and leave it in a bag hanging on his door handle. …

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And you probably have the 5 simple ingredients in your kitchen.

My grandmother always made rice pudding on the stove on Monday. It was the day she did laundry and the creamy pudding was a reward at lunchtime. I understand why she did it. Because I don’t know about you — but I need a reward for doing laundry too.

Today I am falling into the same pattern of my beloved grandmother (although I never do laundry on the same day of the week) and I have tackled the piles of laundry that seem to double and give birth by the washing machine.

While I sort the whites and make some semblance of order from the clothes chaos, I also have a rice pudding simmering gently on my stove. …

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Photo was taken by the author. Pancake was eaten shortly after!

Plan B for those who hate standing by the stove with a flipper.

Listen — I love pancakes. But I confess, I am a little fussy about them. I don’t care how much time I may have on my hands — I’m just not a patient flipper.

And I don’t like pancakes from a mix because they always have a weird chemical taste to me. And I’m not a big fan of being stuck by the stove waiting to flip their persnickety little fickle selves.

You know what I mean — you leave them for a second to pour a coffee and the next thing you know the smoke detector is shrieking. …

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Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

The one you never even knew you had.

My husband and I recently watched the sleeper documentary hit, The Biggest Little Farm on Netflix and honestly, it was so incredibly calming.

Watching the couple who had no money — figure out creative ways to buy a chunk of barren farmland was inspiring and thought-provoking. They share their mistakes, joys and how often their well-intended plans went awry.

My husband turned to me and said, “We’re like this, Kim. And you’re still a farm girl at heart.”

I laughed because he was right! He knows nothing makes me happier than creating something from nothing.

I was on the phone this morning chatting with my friend Tina. She too is a former farm girl — although — if I’m honest with myself — the farm girl never really leaves you. …

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

3 humble ingredients you have on hand — make this a tasty winner.

Confession. Sometimes, I can’t bear to look at another head of lettuce. It can start to bore me to tears. I enjoy lettuce salad but please know that many delicious salads don’t have even one leaf of lettuce in them.

And stepping away from your old salad standbys is such a relief from the lettuce doldrums. Especially when the fridge is feeling a little bare of the fancy stuff. Because as we all know — lettuce isn’t exactly a hearty vegetable that lasts in the fridge for weeks.

Thankfully, you probably have an overlooked ingredient in your crisper right now that makes a delicious salad. …

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Photo by author. Soup was eaten shortly after!

Make something delicious from all the odds & ends.

Mondays are one of my favorite days of the week. Why? Because while I’m writing — I also make soup. When you chop vegetables you craft food-for-thought-sentences at the same time. The key thing is — I never have any real idea of what kind of soup I will make. It all depends upon what lurks in my fridge.

Listen — let’s go have a look in your fridge right now. …


Kim Duke

I happily write about food, quirks of life & the art of simple living. P.S. I Love You. Mind Cafe. Globe & Mail. Honest & funny. www.thecomplicatedsimple.com

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