Monthly Archives: March 2015

Eating Weeds in the Arab World

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Purslane salad, by Esto.

Portulaca oleracea. The first time I tried it, was, admittedly, in Turkey. It was probably relatively early in the season at Çatalhöyük, when the dig house cooks were only feeding 40-50 people instead of the 100+ ravening hoards. There were tomatoes, cucumber, and a slightly tangy, green succulent seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice. What was it? I had to know. Semizotu.

When I got back to California I tried to figure out what it was exactly–even in the vast foodie farmers markets the vendors had no idea what I was talking about. Semizotu? What? Finally I found it, slightly wilted, high and in the back of the stall, stashed near some dill and parsley. THIS! This is what I was looking for! What, dear vendor, what do you call this? Pig weed.

Wow, okay.

I managed to figure out that it was also called purslane, but still struggled to find any–the farmers generally brought me parsley when I asked for it. But then I started to notice it everywhere. I was like Steve Martin in The Jerk with the new phone books: purslane! It’s in the sidewalks! It is everywhere! It truly was a weed, beneath notice for most people. Sadly I did not go full urban forager–I’d seen a lot of mess on the mean streets (sidewalks) of the East Bay.

Purslane, CC by  Alyss.

Purslane, CC by Alyss.

It’s rare to find purslane at the veg shops in Yorkshire, so I decided to grow my own. I tracked down some seeds last summer and sowed a bed. I felt extremely self-satisfied when little green sprouts started coming up, sure that I would be feasting on a bountiful crop in a few months time. As the purslane got bigger, I noticed that it didn’t look the same as I remembered, more leafy, less stalky. Maybe a different variety? Time passed and I was in denial. It’d taste it–possibly still a bit tangy? No. It was spinach. THE WRONG SEEDS. Absolute charlatan UK seed vendors.

Fast-forward to now, I’m back in the Gulf, where I can still occasionally find purslane. I also find winged beans, long beans, purple cheera, and other vegetables to learn how to cook, so I am completely fulfilled in my non-standard vegetable desires and occupy myself making curries and stir fries to varied results. I have a great cheera recipe.

Anyway, I found purslane at the local food shop in Muscat and decided to make a salad for dinner. Continuing my quest for the name of the global weed, I asked the Omani vegetable-price-marker what purslane was called in Arabic. She was slightly mystified at my question–it was called buckley on the label, but she seemed to want to call it something else. She couldn’t remember.

She grabbed the bunch of purslane out of my hands and went off with it, returning with another woman. Together, they explained that they called it farfina. A lot of laughing and chat about where to find it and how to use it–there’s apparently a great recipe where you chop it up very fine, combine it with dried sardines, pepper, lemon, and then put it on top of rice. It’s on the top of the list for recipes to try in the immediate future. In all the excitement, the purslane got a bit crushed and I had to sort out the wilted leaves later that night.

So, in addition to being extremely high in omega-3, a traditional medicine, and cited by Pliny the Elder as an amulet against all evil, purslane, weed of many names, found all over the world, can also help you make friends.

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Navigating Brutalism at the 100 Minories Archaeology Project

Back in 2012, Dan and I worked at the fantastic 100 Minories project with L-P Archaeology. They’re some of my favorite people, so I was sad that I was not able to work with them on the excavation phase of the project, which is currently in full swing. I have two blog posts about the evaluation stage, wherein archaeologists dug to 7m deep, punching test pits through the thick London stratigraphy:

100 Minories Project
Diggin’ Deep at 100 Minories

They have their own, very nice project website now, take a gander:

http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/ 

And they’ve featured some of the building recording photography that Dan and I did inside the old Navigation School, a 1960s Brutalist structure:

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Check out a few of the rest of the images HERE. I swear we used a scale in most of them, they just picked the ones without!

Mornings in the Manor

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It was all so new, a year ago, when I described the over and under and through of my commute to work, walking through a microcosm of English history. Now it passes in a blur, I’m either in my headphones listening to a podcast or buzzing by on my lovely Gazelle–the sturdy Danish bicycle that I steer over frozen cobblestones and muddy, overgrown pathways.

I was delayed this morning by a brief flurry of snow, predicated by an Easter pink and yellow sky. I don’t notice my commute much, and a lot of the culture shock has worn off. Now I hear my previous self in other Americans, going on and on about the subtle differences, the quirks, the realignment of world view, and I hope that I wasn’t that completely tedious. I probably was.

I can understand most of what people say these days, even the most York-shure, and I don’t get as many looks of utter incomprehension when I ask for eggs or butter. Verbal code-switching has become comfortable and useful, though there’s still the occasional confusion with “shop” and “store” and a few other things.

So I was in my at-least-partially-acculturated haze this morning, wheeling my bicycle over the big stone pavers of King’s Manor, when I crossed paths with one of the lovely porters. We don’t really have porters in the States, they’re sort of watchmen/caretakers of the building, but not janitors or rent-a-cop security. They are constantly kicking me out of the building, as I often work until closing time–19:00 (7:00PM)–shockingly early in academia-land. But they do it with a smile, especially after I engaged on a military-esque campaign of extreme friendliness until even the most curmudgeonly porter relented.

As usual, I greeted the porter with a big smile and wave, and, code-switching without a thought, asked him if he liked the snow this morning. He returned my smile and said, in the most charming of accents:

“No, no. We never like the snow.”

Something about his cheerfully brusque response, the big old medieval walls rising around me, and the clatter of my bicycle wheels over the pavers pushed me out of my acculturation and made me notice again, back to being a stranger in a strange land. But I’m okay with that. If anything it made me happy to be reminded of how far I’ve been, how much I’ve changed, and how many adventures are yet to come.