Ancient greens

Hello again, it’s been awhile.

I stumbled over how to continue this blog. I felt it needed a better grounding in scientific principles but I didn’t want to sacrifice the fun my kids and I were having with making “masterpieces” in the kitchen, complete with idle tales of the life of plants.

I decided that we should do a tour through plant biodiversity. When I teach courses in plant biodiversity we start with blue-green algae, a group of bacteria that are able to harvest sunlight and turn it into sugars…and then turn sugars into a bunch other things like protein and complex carbohydrates.

Blue-green algae are not actually algae at all and are rightly named cyanobacteria. They share a closer relationship with E. coli than they do most of the plants you’re familiar with but some whopping primordial cell engulfed a wee little cyanobacteria like a greedy pacman way back about 2 billion years ago. This colossal event leaves us with the somewhat confusing picture of two entirely distantly related groups having the similar trait of being green and “plant like”.

You may have heard of cyanobacteria if you’re a smoothie enthusiast. Smoothie outposts will be happy to put a scoop of spirulina in your drink, claiming GIGANTIC health benefits.

It’s not inaccurate really. They host a great deal of amino acids and valuable fatty acids. There is some research to suggest that it may harbour important bioactive compounds for immune function that would be worth further study.

While they are not algae they truly are a vibrant blue-green. This verdant colouration is what really piqued my interest. That, and this recipe at Spirulina Academy for Spirulina Tapenade

To summarize – 1/2 can olives, 1 clove garlic, 5 basil leaves, 1 tsp salt (it calls for himalayan salt). I was a little short on himalayan salt so substituted table salt :). 2 tbsp capers, 1/2 lime juice, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp spirulina powder. Place everything in a blender. Blend until paste. Spread on crackers and garnish with pimento.

Nice, I say. Low on the equipment and fairly simple on the ingredients. I march to store and outfit us for this adventure.

The gear

The gear

The kids are wise to my tricks now. Oldest (11), rolls eyes. The youngest (7) can still be recruited. Ah, parenthood. The days are long but the years are short.

My youngest looks at the ingredients in jars and cans and asks a good question: “Why do you write about this stuff?”.

Valid. She’s sharp. I explain that the food doesn’t represent where it comes from when it is only shown in pretty jars. It appears sterile, like it was made in a lab when in fact its origin is more like this:

Capers in the field

Capers in the field

And that I think the dirt is important. I think the weeds are important. I think valuing the reality of food is important, including the fun incorporated in a 7-yr old using a blender.

She’s satisfied. She gets to use the blender after all. So we get to work.

We’re at the garlic stage here and I ask my little sous-chef, “Okay, what are we adding here?”, convinced she’ll get it right, daughter of a botanist.

Garlic (fyi)

Garlic (fyi)

“Onion!” she replies proudly. OMG, child. Well, correct genus I guess. We move on from this awkward moment.

My daughter cannot stop eating the capers. She loves them. Capers are a cute food. As a child I thought they were mini-olives but in university I learned that they are more closely related to broccoli. Quite adorable little nubs and rather tasty. The heavy basil in this recipe hurts none either.

We put in the spirulina…

This is a re-enactment. Note blue-green colour already in blender.

This is a re-enactment. Note blue-green colour already in blender.

blend as instructed…and produce a substance….


That looks remarkably like meconium…

Yes, meconium. I will spare you the link but suffice it to say that it is one of the treasures of the first few days of human life [if you are not a parent and do not plan to ever become one, please do not read this section. It will only disturb you]

I mention this unfortunate resemblance to my husband (not the children who proceed to gobble it up and merely mention that it is perfect St. Patrick’s Day food).

My husband’s reaction is that perfect blend of horrified and nostalgic that I was hoping for. We are whisked back in time to the primordial days of our own kids. Goddamn but the first few days of parenthood are a trip. I make a mental note to bring this to my next baby shower. It will be my civic duty to prepare the expectant parents. Let’s face it, peeps. Newborns are a scary joy with you wondering whether the next moment is going to offer some new form of putrescence or profound peace. It’s 50-50 at any point in time.

But, I digress. I’m happy to say that with respect to this appetizer, we salvaged our minds from our macabre reminiscences with a slab of pimento.



Now it looks like Christmas, all forest green and bright red! Yay for pimento! Saviour of all things dark green. One has to wonder whether such garnishes have altered our perception of more unsavoury remembrances for generations.

No glacial timeframes needed to see this dish disappear. This little cracker dish is a hit and is consumed before I get it on a proper plate.