Tag Archives: foraging

Spring’s call

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After a few weeks of increasingly anxious waiting, good news keeps bursting from the ground. Harry secured a contract for a few months that might become full-time work. The boys were accepted into a school that is a significantly better fit with our educational philosophies. While there is grief in leaving friends behind, we are eagerly anticipating joining this community. I am so thankful to have relief from the unknowns, as well as the opportunity to look forward to new experiences. In the meantime, I am relishing the present. It’s spring, friends!

Spring beckoned me to the garden, sore back be damned. Peas, lettuce, arugula and kale are in the ground and the tiniest of lettuce leaves are now visible upon careful inspection. A few peas peeked out today, too. Flower seeds were sprinkled all around, too. For me and the bees. A couple hugelkultuur beds are in process, ensuring my reputation as one of the craziest gardeners in the neighborhood. (The fact that I’m not THE strangest says more about Seattle than it does me. I have neighbors down the street who grow a ton of food, own goats, and trap and eat bothersome squirrels on their property.)

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I transplanted a bunch of perennial herbs and flowers out of this bed to make room for my first half-ass hugelkultuur. It’s our sunniest spot that’s ok with the landlord to change around, so I try growing heat-loving veggies here. I threw a ton more logs down, some leaves, weeds and grass, a layer of compost and a layer of topsoil. Fingers crossed! (Really should’ve done this last fall…)

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Here she is, simmering and sitting pretty for the next month until I plant.

Anyways, it’s not the first time I’ve covered a yard with cardboard and newspaper while neighbors craned their necks. After submitting a to-scale plan and receiving approval, I xeriscaped our front yard in a Colorado HOA suburban community that was filled with perfectly green, weed-free, Round-up abundant, sterile turf yards. Mulch and newspaper was a surefire way to get all busybodies talking. I ended up doing most of that work at night with a headlamp on, mostly to avoid gawkers and cranky old men with nothing better to do than complain.

In comparison, this time feels easy, if not downright delightful. I got landlord approval years ago! Many people pass by on walks and ask about the project with genuine interest. I’ve met five new neighbors since the mulch was dumped. Gardening is a fabulous way to build community in a neighborhood that appreciates it. Most people in Seattle do, thankfully. If they don’t, they’re certainly not surprised to see it. Gardens and weeds are tolerated, along with the chickens and goats of urban farming nutheads. (Oh, how I dream of joining them.)

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Enough mulch was dropped on our driveway to bury a bus. The boys immediately took to rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Give them a pile of mulch and they’re like sheepdogs around sheep. They need to move it. Three days in and I’ve barely made a dent in this pile. Oy.

Spring brought rain and wind, which was surprisingly absent most of winter. One of the nastier days we hunkered down to watch Mary Poppins as a family. It was the first movie in ages that hasn’t landed our boys crying in our laps. They giggled like crazy, eyes wide in wonder, “She’s flying with an umbrella!” “They’re dancing on the roofs!” The sweetest sound in our house in ages was the boys singing “Chim chiminey” repeatedly after the movie’s end. (And, by George, Mary doesn’t even sing “Let’s go fly a kite!” It is Mr. Banks, of course! Somehow, it’s still her voice in my head when I’m biking. Even now that I know better.)

Spring brought a morning of traipsing through the farmer’s market with Miles, who eagerly accompanies me anywhere offering quesadillas. On our way out, with our treasured orchard apples, my favorite loaf of bread and a few veggies in hand, I spied the word “nettles” written on Foraged and Found’s sign. My heart skipped a beat. I’ve wanted to try them for years but always let intimidation stop me. This time, I walked away from that booth with an extra skip in my step, a bag of stinging nettles, and a bag of watercress. I immediately knew what dinner would be.

I didn’t handle the nettles at all until they were blanched. I dumped them straight from bag to boiling water, treating them like hazardous waste until I was certain they wouldn’t sting me. Our first encounter left me confident enough to forage for them now. The taste is absolutely worth a possible sting.

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Toast a delicious piece of bread, sourdough rye if you’re lucky, and top it with a thick layer of chevre. (I had a black truffle chevre, and oh man, that was extra nice.) Spread on some nettle pesto and voila! My first real bite of spring came courtesy of those nettles and I’ve enjoyed spoonfuls of it almost everyday since.

(I substituted almonds for pine nuts because they were already in my house. I also added a bit more olive oil and lemon juice. Pesto is easy to make to taste. Have a bite, see what you think, and add more of what you want. We first enjoyed the pesto on pasta along with a watercress salad. In a somewhat miraculous evening, both boys ate both dishes! Plus, Miles exclaimed, “I love watercress!” which might be the nicest utterance I’ve heard exit a 4 year old’s mouth when faced with an all-green dinner.)

P.S. Are you on Instagram? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE instagram (beankathleen). It sharpens my focus on the everyday moments of my life that are filled with beauty. After years of using it, I think my eye is better trained to appreciate simple delights. I am so thankful for that practice. Plus, it gives me glimpses into the precious tidbits of other people’s lives. Or the not so pretty moments to which we all relate. I like seeing those, too. Occasionally I also post wacky pictures there. Like this one: my cry for help after the bags of nettles and watercress attacked me.

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Among the mushrooms + my first cookbook giveaway!

I find the lush wooded trails of the Pacific Northwest deeply alluring, somewhat mystical. My Colorado-trained hiking eyes are familiar with dry, rocky terrain. Here, however, I half expect a little gnome to run across the path and hide under a red capped mushroom. Or for Frodo’s hobbit hole to be revealed around the corner. A decade of northwest living has not yet accustomed me to the dense curtains of green that I had previously only envisioned through books and movies. Mostly fairytales.

Exploring Carkeek

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Massive ferns line the way amongst giant, moss covered evergreens. The rays of light that manage to peek through the canopy make for glistening moss and leaves. The return of rain in the fall awakens fungus, transforming the undergrowth. Mushrooms! They pop out to add dots of white, yellow and brown. Many congregate under the evergreens, others hang out on trunks.

Ever since reading The Mushroom Hunters, Langdon Cook’s fascinating account of our local foraging scene, I feel like the mushrooms tease me for my lack of skills. “Come here, little girl. Surely we’re safe! We’ll taste soooo good.” But, I am too smart and cautious of a woman to heed their tempting calls. Maybe someday I’ll learn to safely identify who is tricky and who is kind. In the meantime, I might require that every hike be followed by a trip to the market.

Angels or devils? I did not know, so I left them in peace.

Just like fresh, sustainable fish and well-sourced meat, I used to avoid buying mushrooms because I was afraid I’d end up throwing a lot of money into the compost bin. There are cheap button mushrooms to be found, for sure, but I longed to play with the chanterelles and the morels. Often these run over $15/lb at the market. They felt like a pretty serious commitment and I wasn’t yet confident cooking them.

Then, one summer evening in 2013, after hanging with the Two Crazy Monkeys all day, I drank a glass of wine. Or two. While checking email I discovered that one of my favorite Seattle chefs was doing a giveaway as part of her recipe testing for a mushroom focused cookbook. The person whose shroomy haiku won the most votes would win a tasting meal.

I’ve tasted Becky Selengut’s food more than a handful of times, through assisting several of her classes at The Pantry at Delancey and elsewhere. I also own Good FIsh, one of her other cookbooks. That book and its accompanying videos helped my brother and I take on an oyster shucking adventure, taught me how to choose and cook scallops, and guided me through my first time debearding mussels. Not only is she a great teacher, her food is delicious. I love mushrooms. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

A slightly-less-inhibited-than-usual-me contemplated my haiku. I realized that her fans and friends all shared a love for her wit and often irreverent humor so I fired off this little ditty:

Fungi kissed my log,

baby chanterelles emerged.

Morel of story?

AND I WON! Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed because there were some beautiful, truly poetic haikus written and mine was just a joke. But I won!

About a month before the dinner, Becky let me know the night would focus on the truffle section of her book. I’d never had even a taste of truffle before but was quite aware of its lure. I’m pretty sure I peed my pants. I danced and squealed my way to Harry, proclaiming how lucky we were. I didn’t know the half of it.

Becky and two of her closest friends greeted Harry and me at the door with champagne. I mean, come on! We can just stop there, right? It was our first date out in months. He didn’t have a job most of the summer and a babysitter was a big deal. To have a date and be greeted with champagne felt royal.

With champagne in one hand, the other soon held freshly baked gougères cut open to cradle a slice of white Alba truffle. We could’ve finished off the plate of those and called it a night. We all exhibited deep groans of appreciation. The rich man’s popcorn, “diamonds of the kitchen.” Whatever you call them, those things were absolutely amazing. I’m glad I soaked it in because I doubt I’ll ever eat one again. As Becky states in the section about what pairs well with them: “Truffles really like rich people.”

That was just the beginning. The night unfolded with one stunning dish after another, each paired with wine (Becky’s wife April is a sommelier and contributed drink pairings for the cookbook, as well as our evening). I know. I felt like Annie arriving at Oliver Warbucks’ house. Silken Scrambled Eggs with Shaved Alba White Truffles (about a 1:1 ratio of egg to cream/butter–a bite of pure heaven), Homemade Fettuccine with Shaved Truffle, Black Cod with Truffled Potatoes and Beurre Rouge, and Braised Rabbit with Truffle-Stuffed Rabbit Loin. We ate and drank all night. We laughed a ton. We shared a lot of stories. It was one of the best dinners of my life.

If you’re like me, you won’t be buying truffles to cook that dinner anytime soon. But, you’re still in luck. Shroom contains fifteen different chapters highlighting a specific mushroom (cremini to oyster, hedgehog to matsutake), with recipes ranging from easy to difficult. Additionally, there’s lots of background and prep help. If you’re on the fence about shelling up cash for something a step above creminis, Becky’s book will give you the confidence to buy, prepare and consume those beauties. A year ago I assisted with one of her mushroom classes at The Pantry. I walked away feeling much more confident with cooking them and have greatly enjoyed making many mushroom-centric meals since. (None were tossed out!) With the addition of her book and videos as a resource, my only question is how good the recipe will be. Delicious, amazing, divine? These are not bad options.

Pike Place Market loot: yellow chanterelles, basil and dahlias

Acquacotta soup with chanterelles + a basil/garlic puree

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have already made multiple recipes from Shroom and I have tasted many others during her classes, our dinner, and her book’s launch party. These recipes are flavorful and diverse. She highlights a wide range of ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian. Acquacotta Soup with Chanterelles and Garlic on Toast nourished us well a few weeks ago. Normally I wouldn’t have been drawn to this recipe because I had no reference point for it but our CSA vegetable box contents happened to perfectly match up with the necessary ingredients. I was pleased to usher in October with a new, perfectly fall-like soup. Last week I made my first risotto! Chanterelle Risotto with Lemon Thyme provided an incredibly luxurious lunch on an otherwise ordinary day.

Today I do not give you a recipe, I give you a book. One lucky reader will get a signed copy of Shroom. As much as I adore Becky’s sense of humor and keen observations, I also respect her kindness. She lives compassionately and generously. She donates classes, buys coffee for the people behind her, teaches many, and hands slices of Alba truffles to the drooling fools in her living room. In that spirit, I knew shortly after our dinner that I wanted her cookbook to be my first giveaway.

To get your hands on this hot copy of Shroom, you either need to write a haiku or do something kind. I don’t care what the act of kindness is, just as long as it’s not something you normally do. Like changing toilet paper rolls for the next person. Let this gesture take you out of your comfort zone. Valedictorians and extra credit seekers, your act of kindness could be written about in your haiku. Or your haiku could be an act of kindness. But they need not intersect and you don’t actually get extra credit. Leave your haiku or story of kindness on my Facebook page, as a tweet, or as a blog comment to be entered. (If you comment on the Facebook page, make sure I can notify you by “liking” my page. For twitter, make sure to tag me @tableforlove. )

Though I’m not sharing a specific recipe today, you can find five of her recipes here. Take note of Clare Barboza’s gorgeous photographs. This cookbook is a work of art. Lastly, check out Becky’s How To mushroom videos on her website. They’re a perfect way to ease fears about cooking mushrooms or deepen your repertoire.

Good luck!

Closest thing to a gnome I spotted

11/1/14: Contest closed. The winner has been notified. Thanks for participating!

Rules

  1. The book will be shipped within the continental United States. Seattle residents may get it delivered by hand. Maybe even by bike! If you win and live outside of the continental USA, you may certainly ask to have the book shipped to a more local friend or family member.
  2. The contest will close on November 1st, 2014. You have until All Saints Day to be a saint. After Halloween you will need a plethora of veggie-rich, awesome mushroom recipes. This book will help with that.
  3. One entry per person. If you post on the blog, make sure you leave your email in the commenting widget so I can alert you that you’ve won. If you post on facebook, make sure the page is “liked” so that I can message you personally. Otherwise, I can’t contact you through facebook.
  4. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. Or throw a dart. But I’ll make sure it’s fair.
  5. Comment! Write a haiku! Be generous!