An Ode To Evening Wandering: Wild Herb Blueberry Goat Cheese
Wandering is a beautiful ritual that I think too few people practice these days. It is not hiking, for going on a hike implies that there is a trail and probably a destination. Wandering is less structured than that; it is setting off without anywhere particular to go and letting your feet just take you. With wandering, there is no set pace - perhaps you’d like to move slowly and gently, studying the details of the world you’ve stumbled into. Or maybe you see a big hill and set off with determination, enjoying the breathless triumph of climbing quickly to the top. You could even skip, hop, or roll… there are no rules.
Wandering is freedom. It’s all too easy to fall into a bubble - the same routines, the same road to work, the same people, even the same food. Wandering releases you from that structure. You might be surprised at how little you’ve seen of the streets in your own neighborhood! I’m constantly discovering various treasures on my short wanders - fruit trees in vacant lots, brimming with apricots; escaped herbs that have broken free from the constraints of their garden home and are now traveling up the hillside, mixing with sagebrush; the silhouette of a tiny owl on a branch just feet from my head, surveying me with its big yellow eyes as I gasp in amazement at our closeness and its trust.
You don’t need any special equipment to wander. In fact, the simpler the better. I usually take along a small bag with some containers and scissors in case I come across a particularly forage-able surprise, but this is not at all necessary. It’s a good idea to carry along a small notebook to jot thoughts in, as wandering lets new ideas flow as your mind and body relax. Carry some water and maybe a snack unless your wandering will take you by tea shops or stores. Finally, make sure you have a way of staying rooted to your location, should your wandering mind and body take you too far away from the familiar. (A smartphone or map works wonderfully for this.) Limit distractions. Don’t check your phone. Go alone, if you feel safe doing so. (Bring a quiet friend if not.) Don’t set out with a plan or a destination but rather just let those “gut feelings” decide which trails to follow or which roads to turn onto. And most importantly, stay open.
My favorite time to wander in the summer is at dusk, when the world is starting to cool off, the fiery colors of sunset shining through leaves and sparkling through sprinklers. With the longest days of the year come evenings that stretch on and on, giving one plenty of time to get outside and breathe the fresh air long after dinner dishes have been done and household tasks finished. For a few precious moments the landscape is illuminated with fiery reds and pinks and rippling water turns into liquid gold. And then, a periwinkle softness blankets the streets and trails. Dusk in its soft blue velvet descends. Suddenly the clatter of daily life — kids laughing, dogs barking, the beeping of construction — is replaced with the melodic purring of symphonies of crickets and dusk birdsong. It’s time to get lost in the familiar because the blueness makes the familiar strange, enchanting, bewitching.
From apricot to blue, such a stunning transition of the landscape. The writer Rebecca Solnit understood the mysterious beauty of that particular blue, as she writes in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost:
“For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.” p. 29
And while that blue stays in the far distance during the day, it ventures a bit closer at dusk. It dances in the shadows and outlines the feathery branches overhead. It softens the world and reminds us to slow down, to trust, and to breathe. It bathes us in mystery. How appropriate, too, that many such blue-purple flowers are gracing the grasslands right now. Bright blue pops of bachelors buttons peek up through grasses and sagebrush and the delicate light purple blooms of herbs such as basil, mint, and thyme perfume the air with their strong flavor. Lavender, too, can be seen blooming prolifically in both gardens and in the hillsides, where it has escaped to a feral life in the wild.
These herbal blossoms gift us a dusky heaviness. Lavender in particular is not a light floral scent the way elderflower is, it’s heavy and solid, like the weight of a familiar down blanket or a dip in a wild hotspring. It’s an evening scent, the perfume of relaxation and sleep. How perfect to fill your nose with that wild medicine before you settle in to a restful slumber. Even better to encapsulate it in a stunning snack to enjoy the next day! Fresh goat cheese makes a great canvas for many flavors, textures, and colors - especially strong herbal ones. It’s quite easy too; in total it takes maybe 15 minutes of work to shape this stunning and flavorful snack. I like to start the cheese as I’m making dinner, then leave it to strain while I go on my evening wander. Then, I’ll come home and mix foraged flavorings into it and decorate it, then wrap up again and leave to firm up overnight while I sleep. It’s then ready to unmold and share - perfect for an afternoon at the beach or a potluck! *Note: if you live in the USA and want a particularly patriotic preparation, just serve this blue and white cheese ball with beet chips for a red, white, and blue appetizer filled with local flavor. Yum!
Blueberry and Evening Herb Goat Cheese:
1/2 gallon fresh goat milk
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lavender flowers
1 Tbs. cornflower petals
1 tsp. finely-chopped fragrant herbs (thyme, basil, hyssop, etc.)
1/2 c. blueberries, finely chopped
1 Tbs. honey
edible flowers and herbs, to decorate (I used bachelor buttons, lavender, and thyme)
- In a medium saucepan, heat milk to 180F. While it’s heating, mix the lemon juice and salt in a small dish. Once the milk reaches temperature, remove it from heat and immediately stir in the lemon juice and salt. Only stir about 4 times. Let the mixture sit for five minutes.
- Line a sieve with 4 to 5 layers of cheesecloth and pour mixture through it. Drain for 1 to 2 hours over a large bowl, making sure that the cheesecloth won’t be covered by the whey draining below it.
- Once the cheese has drained for a couple of hours, squeeze out any remaining moisture, then put the cheese into a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, except for the edible flowers and herbs to decorate. Give it a taste and add more salt, honey, or lemon juice as needed.
- Roll the cheese into a ball and place the edible flowers and herbs in a pleasing pattern. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 2 hours. Serve with chips or crackers. Makes about 1 1/2 c. of cheese.
*Note: this recipe also works with whole cow’s milk if you want a milder-flavored cheese or can’t find goat milk.
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