Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Fast The Rain


Has come. I will head home soon, locked up, ice-bound, until the roads do clear. I am working on a post about our trip to New Ulm, where I saw no gnomes and donned no lederhosen. I am going to make an attempt to work on the post in Word, then cut and paste into the blog so that I do not have to be online to write. Wish me luck, and little in the way of ice.


Mackenthuns



Yesterday evening, we stopped into Mackenthun's (Mak-en-toons), Minneapolis area's best local food offering. What do they have to offer? One word -meat.

We bought blueberry summer sausage, garlic summer sausage (to add to the the venison summer sausage we already have from the local hunters), cranberry turkey wild rice bratwurst (the best brats I ever had were this summer's blueberry wild rice brats from the same), German sausage, and Mackenthun's original brats.

We are freezing these to bring back to NYC with us. 

Tonight I am making a duck we picked up from the same. It's my first duck and have little idea what to do with it. 

Rime



This morning, around 9:30 am, the view from the second story, looking northeast, up-slope.

Last night, after an evening of pizza with my brother-in-law in Minneapolis, we noticed fog under highway lamps racing across the landscape, south to north. The temperatures were well below freezing,  the wind southerly, and the result a rime. Feathery crystals were deposited on the van this morning.



The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner's hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moonshine."

`God save thee, ancient Mariner,
From the fiends that plague thee thus! - 
Why look'st thou so?' -"With my crossbow
I shot the Albatross."

-excerpt of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel T. Coleridge

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ice Henge






The roof slopes less dramatically than they do in other, more robustly precipitative, climates. Aesthetics over practical pursuits, conjoined with coarse asphalt shingles and steady heat loss conspire to ice damming at the eaves. The re-frozen waters, maybe 4 inches tall, hold back the unfrozen; water then climbing back up the pitch to find its way down. I believe this is the first time that I have seen icicles hanging from the vents in the soffit, although I am sure those more familiar with wintry climates could tell me how common it is. 

Home repair mishuginas will tell you that water backing up and behind the wall is winter's most fretted scenario, outside of oops, heater down and all my pipes froze to bursting! There is no perfect roofing solution, although those severely pitched, A-frame homes you see in mountain chalet-town do a wonderful job if you can take the prospect of arriving to an isosceles triangle every night. 

Today it is 19 degrees F, but I add to this that it feels positively warm the last few days. Yesterday, while cleaning the roof of snow (well, my brother-in-law, really, as I am constitutionally incapable of scaling pitched icy roofs), I was only in light wool sweater and jeans. Warm at 19 degrees and I wonder why it is I shiver so much in New York at 37 F!

We're looking at an unusual warming trend in a few days time. It is supposed to rain. I've never seen it rain here during my winter stays. Betsy is concerned, yet I am ignorantly hopeful that it will rain long enough to loosen the grip of those ice dams. Neither of us is positive about the wet everything that will flash freeze that night when it drops from 35 degrees F to five in a matter of hours.

But enough of the weather, although often enough it seems that is all that is going on here.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Eve



We arrived to a good dousing of snow. This, early morning, before sunrise, out bath window.

The view to the southeast, around 9 am, sun low, and diffuse behind low clouds.

Even the sun and the clouds hunker down in winter.

Flora and fauna, inanimate.

Thankful to arrive, we did well, despite the possibilities, a bit of black ice in Indiana. The tree, tall (11 feet), decorated, strong scented. There is no seed in the bird feeder, testament to the weather, Rex's age. The roof has been shoveled off, thanks to an eager brother in law. Spared. I've no winter boots! But must take photos, out there, the darkness merges with the light, a convergence of high contrast and low.  

Okay, off to make Christmas Eve dinner. Not what you would expect -enchiladas, completely random.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gaunza In Pictures


Chop, Fry, Drain, Set Aside, Add, Mix, Stuff


One lb mushrooms, one lb genoa salami, one big onion, one bunch Italian parsley.

Fry the onions, then toss in bread crumbs to lightly toast. Some salami fell in. Oops.

Set aside, add one cup grated pecorino romano.

Fry salami and mushrooms.

 1 lb ground pork (seasoned), 2 lb ground beef. Fry, drain, set aside.

Two cups dry, 4 cups wet, Basmati rice -heresy to mom, better to me. She reads the blogs. She doesn't trust different rice.

Add two cups sauce to the cooked rice.

Mix the pork, beef, salami, mushrooms.

Add the onions, bread crumbs to the mix.

Stir in the rice -quantity to your taste. I used most, with one wet cup remaining. Add parsley.

 Almost done. Really.

 
As many eggs as you wish, boiled, sliced, mixed in.


Now, stuff the bird with it. Just as good in a chicken as a turkey -maybe better? You'll have extra. Be prepared to be stuffed yourself.

Recipe linked to here.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unreal American

I've been frustrated over the last decade by the conversion of relatively inexpensive, commonplace Italian foods into high-priced delights in NYC. In the 1990s, I could buy fresh Italian loaves for 75 cents, pecorino romano for 4.99 a lb. in Italian neighborhoods. Part of the change is inflation, but the other part is that the working class Italians that used to be the regular customers have become the minority in gentrified Williamsburgh and Carroll Gardens. They've moved out.

That, of course, is the story of NYC. I live in an extremely diverse, immigrant's neighborhood that, from what I hear from old-timers, used to be Italian and Irish. What is lost for Italians is gained by everyone from Albanian to Bangladeshi, Polish to Pakistani, Russian to Ukrainian and me. Food is pretty inexpensive in my neighborhood because people simply won't or can't pay what is being payed in other neighborhoods (I get sticker shock when we're in the Minneapolis suburbs). Five Sunkist oranges for 2 dollars (always), four kiwis for a dollar (now), asparagus bunch for a dollar (now, from Peru), even Organic Valley milk is 2 half gallons for $7 (every day), smoked Kielbasy for 2.99 a lb., and think about the halal butcher's filet mignon for $7.99 a lb.

In my neighborhood, not only can I afford something like real Basmati rice, I have to choose from 5 brands. Ten pound bags go for ten dollars at a local Pakistani market and the bag has a zipper lock. If I buy American basmati, which by every measure is not the same thing, it is often 5 or 6 dollars for the pound. I understand and appreciate that it is more expensive to produce rice in the U.S, but the problem for me is that it is not basmati. No matter how much I spend, the texture is different, the length of the grain is different, the stickiness (or lack of it) is different. So, much like the American counterpart of Italian products, I avoid them. But I am lucky, extremely so, to live in my neighborhood, and have access to these markets that help sustain me.

This year's gaunza will be made with Indian basmati rice -a lighter, better rice than what my family traditionally uses. We will see if my mom notices the difference.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Laetiporus Cincinnatus or How We Saved The Minnesota State Fair


Preceding post, Mushroom People, ...

...doing as mushroom people do, we left the trail and walked along the slopes around the wetland, on the neighbor's property too, into the untamed woods that no one ever seems to explore. We saw hundreds of Indian Pipe clusters, but little in the way of mushrooms. We found two great washouts from recent heavy rains, but then, no great mushrooms. After pausing near a newly fallen oak amongst a field of hog peanut in the sunshine, we move back towards the property line and decide its a wash -all we have are common puffballs.

We headed back for the house. Passing a great oak tree, just a few feet ahead of Rex, he says something, and to this day I'll never remember what, but as I turn my head to listen, in the corner of my eye I catch a singular ray of sun passing through the branches above. My eye follows that beam of light downward to the base of the tree, and Oh My God, what is that?! Rex! Look! What is that? "Oh, that's a Sulfur Shelf. Look at that," he says in his casual man about the woods way. Wow, what should we do? Should we dig it out?


Laetiporus in its environs at the base of a large oak tree.

No. We decided to leave it until we called the mushroom people to see if they actually want it, but then, why wouldn't they? An unbelievable find, really. Look at that, a perfect rosette! My first sulfur shelf happens to not be the semi-circle shelf on the trunk of a tree that I imagined after all.

We were suddenly unsure about whether or not we should actually dig it up. What a majestic mushroom, why  ruin it, why disturb its chances for sporing? Why give it to anyone? Shouldn't we leave it, for its own sake? What if the neighbors notice its gone? It is in their woods after all. Maybe this is theft? What if they were waiting to eat it?

But then, what of the edification of 500,000 Minnesotans, what of the Fair? What of our pride too -our find and its attendant glory? Our decision then, let's call the mushroom people. Ring Ring. Message -arrgh. Hi, uh, we think we found something you're gonna want -it's a Sulfur Shelf. Please give us a call back. We went to dig up the mushroom, placed it in a box and put it in the cool, dark basement. If they don't call us, we'll eat it now that it's plucked from the earth.


The Sulfur Shelf was nearly 20 inches across.


About 6pm we received a call from Ruth, who had been collecting for the Fair exhibit all day and desperately needed a centerpiece mushroom. She told us that her husband would come out to get our finds, meeting us halfway in the parking lot of a Starbucks in Wayzata. We loaded up all our mushrooms -the puffball logs and the sulfur shelf, and off we went. Once there, we sat in the van until our man arrived. How is that when you participate in a parking lot hand-off, you feel you are moving in a covert, illicit manner? It must be written on the body, because you always can tell which car is the car, which unknown man is the one to receive the goods. When our man, who will forever be known as Ruth's husband, emerged from his vehicle, we exited our van and approached him.

Mycologist, I asked? "Yep." Okay, we got something for you, but we're not going to give it to you if you're just going to eat it yourself -that, we could well do. It must go into the Fair display. Agreed? "Oh, yes, of course. Agreed." In trade, we received a Minnesota Mycological Society business card. "Please consider joining," said the man.

The Sulfur Shelf is one of the Foolproof Four, popularized by Clyde Marting Christensen in his book Edible Mushrooms. As it turns out, our Sulfur Shelf or 'Chicken of the Woods', was not the common Sulfur Shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus, but Laetiporus cincinnatus, a less common species known as 'White Pored Chicken of the Woods' that tends to grow at the base of oak trees in rosette form. Most importantly, it has better flavor and all of the fruiting body is edible, whereas the common Sulfur Shelf offers only edible edges without boiling. So, if your looking for that woodsy chicken flavor in a stir fry, L. cincinnatus is the Sulfur Shelf you want to find.

On Friday of the same week, we went to the Fair. Now, I've never been to the Minnesota State Fair, and at least until recent competition from Texas, it has been known as the largest in the states. We had plenty to see and do, but in the back of our minds we were always making our way to the horticultural building where all the plant related exhibits were located. We didn't know where in the large building (built specifically for this purpose of agricultural/horticultural presentations) the Minnesota Mycological Society's exhibit would be.

After thousands of judged green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, rows and rows of identical looking corn cobs, bouquets of roses, bonsai, houseplants of every stripe, indoor sustainable garden dioramas and grow your own food displays, we stumbled upon the Mycological Society's exhibit and I can say that I was absolutely impressed with the magnitude of their work. Not for the sake of winning any prize, either, because they had no competition, but for the sheer educational effort, their desire to show hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans just what all that fungus around them might be.

Their exhibit was large -this image only a section of the centerpiece. Around back they had books, microscopes and slides, mushroom cultivation kits, posters, and what else. They also had members present to answer questions.

Proud hunters were we. Our 'purple ribbon' Sulfur Shelf at the top of the display.

In the case you cannot read it -that's Grand Champion.

The judge's comments attached.

In fact, we filled out the display quite well with our small log of Pear-shaped Puffballs, Lycoperdon pyriforme.

And Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, nicely placed on bark and timber, accentuated by moss and oak leaf.


And our larger log of Pear-shaped Puffballs.


Incidentally, they had the Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigantea, which I would have loved to find.


And some cultivated mushrooms.


Our Sulfur Shelf, from the side, a little worse for the wear, a little dry, shrunken, and decidedly less edible after four days.

The display also helped me ID some of the mushrooms I had seen on our hunt

 Golden Waxy CapHygrophorus flavescens.



Spindle-shaped Yellow Coral, Clavulinopsis fusiformis


What an adventure our first week in Minnesota had been. Rather unexpectedly, I felt steeped in mushroom experience, and primed for deeper mycological understanding. Although I still consider my interest in mushrooms casual,  my eyes are trained onto them now and my respect for them is that much greater.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Marie's Mushrooms


Marie and Vince found a bunch of oyster mushrooms in some unnamed park in the tri-state region. Ha! We can't all become foragers! Right? Well, I was the lucky recipient of a portion of what must've been a truckload. I wished I had that perfect oyster mushroom recipe, but alas, I did not. What I did have was blue potatoes, butter, herbs and garlic. And chicken breast. And a saute pan.

In the bag -so many!

The 'gills' suck up water and hold it. Not too much washing, she warned. Over concerned about mites and beetles, I probably soaked in the salty water too long - a minute is too long! These were tough, took a ringing and a squeezing well.

Blue potatoes.

The plate.

Sauteed mushrooms, butter, garlic, herbs, splash of wine, and sliced chicken. Chard on the side, along with potatoes. I think we could have eaten the shrooms alone, but this sort of cooking is not part of my particular cooking skill set -always in experiment, certainly not for guests, mode.

We enjoyed it thoroughly, and somehow it was more enjoyable because these were Unnamed Park mushrooms. Gonna have to get our hunt on.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

If Your In For Some Cake Humor...


Although this is meatloaf, it's certainly disgusting, but I like the bacon diaper. See the cakes here.





Monday, October 25, 2010

What About All These Peppers


So many peppers, what to do? How can one eat all these Caribbean hots and Habeneros, and Hungarian hots?

I chopped up 6 or 7 of the sweet bells which have been turning yellow in the bowl. I added one habenero and two caribbean hots. My left hand, the holding hand, is still burning. I sauteed these with some xvoo and then added other veggies on hand. Over brown rice with chicken -all for the coming days' lunches.

But still have more peppers to use.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mushroom People



The phone rang after my return from a sojourn in the woods, Rex answered. "Yes, hmm, yes, right. Okay, well maybe you should talk to my son-in-law Frank," phone and its umbilical cording extended toward me. Hello, this is Frank. "This is Steve, I hear you take photographs of mushrooms." Well, not only mushrooms, but I did take a number right here just a few minutes ago. "Well I belong to a group here called the Minnesota Mycological Society and we're looking for some special mushrooms, particularly the King Bolete." Oh, well I wouldn't know anything about that. "Well, I'll tell you what, we are going on a mushroom expedition about 30 miles north of here, tomorrow at 9 am, and maybe you would like to come along. Okay, I'll check with my wife and see if we have anything planned. I'll get back to you.

Afterward, Rex told us that he had called his friend John to tell him that he had found a sulfur shelf mushroom in the woods and that John had then reported it to his friend Steve -with whom I had just spoke. The sulfur shelf, which I knew nothing of, but imagined like a yellow half-circle on the side of a tree, had long since rotted, but Rex insisted that there were more interesting mushroom finds in his woods. When I walked in from the trail, Rex was on the phone making his best case that the mushroom people should come search on his property.

With a little discussion about the high quantity of mosquitoes and the swampiness of the location, but then the cooler day promised and the best words in the english language, no -ticks are over for the season, we decided we should go along for the ride, see what it's all about. The best part -the opportunity to ID some mushrooms with people who actually know what to look for.

What you should know about mushroom enthusiasts is that they can sometimes be, err, socially awkward. Well, so can I, so what I really mean is secretive. Unfamiliar with the group we were about to meet at the McDonald's off a highway exit ramp, naturally we had to rely on our wits. Hmm, who might the mushroom people be? Those two, they look like mushroom hunters, dressed wrongly for a morning at McDonald's. We walked up to their booth and introduced ourselves, Rex, Betsy, and Frank. They looked at us, said yup, we're the group, but with no names given. Okay, neither is Steve because I heard his voice on the phone. We ordered some funky ass McD breakfast foods and took to our own booth. 

A woodsy, but professorial-looking man entered, who turned out to be Steve. He met with his group, and then headed over to our booth, but by this time, the others were rearing to go. Out to the cars then, where we raced off to the secret location -this I assume because it seemed odd to me that we would meet one exit away from our destination, not at the exit of our destination which also had a fast food restaurant. Our trail of cars sped down back roads, over burbling streams, past houses with horses, into an oak woods that looked quite a bit like the oak woods I grew up with on Long Island. 

We parked at a small, unpaved, unsigned trail-head. Left our cars to prep for mosquitoes, ticks (why, they're over, I thought), and hiking. Betsy joked that maybe mushroom men are unfriendly because they are insecure about walking around with so many baskets. It was a little funny to see these grown, aging even, men pull all kinds of woven baskets out of their trunks. We, of course, were unprepared for collection, which was their purpose and gave some members a reason to grouse. I explained that I would be collecting pictures of mushrooms, and information, if possible, nothing more. 

Ruth and one of the unnamed mushroom people. It becomes immediately apparent why baskets are useful, as Ruth tries to carry and protect multiple mushrooms. As it turned out, Ruth, who had the most unstable sense of direction and a whistle for 'lost!', was collecting for the Mycological Society's Minnesota State Fair exhibit. It seemed crazy to me that a woman so easily turned around in a woods would also spend her time collecting mushrooms. Her one basket overwhelmed by collection, I offered to carry in hand her specimens of moss-covered bark and mushrooms she intended to use to fill out the exhibition.



A puffball (?)

This is Steve, showing Betsy (in her mosquito net hat) the finer points of detecting 'ordinary' white mushrooms from the poisonous Amanita bisporiga, or Destroying Angel.


Ruth excitedly displays a Destroying Angel specimen, one of the deadliest mushrooms on Earth. She points out the 'skirt' on the upper stem and the bulbous sheath at the bottom of the stem -both indicating that this mushroom is of the deadly genus Amanita.

The annulus is the 'skirt' in the middle, the volva is the upside down 'mop' at the bottom -both on the stipe (stem). The volva is a remnant of the universal veil that once shrouded the whole fruiting body and the annulus is a remnant of the partial veil that shrouded the gills.


Puffballs, late stage. Also known as 'Wolf Farts,' as described by Tom Volk.  Incidentally I had heard one member of the group joking around about "the only professor with blue hair and his heart in a jar." I asked if he was talking about Tom Volk. He looked shocked, briefly -how do I know about this Wisconsin-based professional mycologist? Oh, thank you Internet, for occasionally helping with socializing.  I had discovered Tom Volk's website when trying to understand the pthalo blue wood at Weir Farm -his site gave me the answer.


No ID, but lovely mushroom.




These are choice edible Chantarelles, Cantharellus cibarius (for now).


Notice the buttery orange color and the pseudo gills -flattened and forked running the length of the underside.


But this one, hard to say. Kind of waxy, sticky looking. The 'experts' couldn't say for sure. An old Chantarelle, I wonder?


And that's the problem with eating wild mushrooms -how good are your experts? You want them to be sure-sure, really sure.


This was a good looking mushroom. Depressed top, whitish with pinkish splotches.


In profile, the green underside.


And the amazing pattern. No ID.


Turkey tails, or Trametes versicolor.


Something Steve said along the route is useful to remember -there are many, many edible mushrooms, but only so many that you want to eat.
For the society mycologists, the mushroom guys, this was a mushroom hunt. We began to feel as if the three of us were viewed as tag-a-longs, which I guess we were, but, it should be understood, were three comfortable in a woods and unusually observant. The mushroom guys, fast-paced, kept hollaring out that we must keep moving, forge ahead, while our focus was downward, slower, exploratory. The mushroom guys picked mushrooms and tossed them without much sensitivity -these were experts after all, not phased by trampling or other spoils of the hunt.


In fact, I was amazed how the endeavor of hunting mushrooms had little regard for trail rules, how bushwacking is the norm, how it requires trampling. I suppose the woods is lucky that there are so few mushroom people, which I can only gauge based on the multiple suggestions that we join the society and how few mushroom enthusiasts I actually know.

I inquired with Steve about the rules of hunting. How many do you take? "There's an unwritten rule that you pick 1/3 to 1/2 of the mushrooms." But what of the next person who sees only half but regards it as the whole, diminishing the supply by half once again, and so on? "Hard to say." Hmmm, secretive must be the norm.

Betsy had felt that the mushroom guys were dismissive of our endeavor, that they were the experts, and accordingly they would find the best mushrooms. That all soured when Betsy had found the Parasol mushroom, and had to beckon the experts to her location to name what she had successfully hunted and they had successfully missed.


The Parasol mushroom grows tall and slender, with a cap that extends quite large, a true fairy fungus said to resemble a parasol when open. The cap is edible, but should have brown flakes on white. Don't confuse it with the highly poisonous Amanita, who's own flakes are white on brown.


Which is why one's time with mushroom people is very important, because your future gastronomical choices will be defined by their attentiveness to your questions today. Could that be another reason why mushroom guys may have distanced themselves from a bunch of tag-a-longs -a nagging sense of responsibility?


As the photographer, I was often not in the right place, never fast enough to keep up with the hunt. I would hear "photograph" bounding off trees, and would make my way to the moment's hot location. Occasionally, Steve would point out a mushroom worthy of photography and give me a rough ID, as happened with the above and below yellow Coral Mushroom.




This one was pointed out for its unusual stem, apparently split and hollowed as seen below.




White Coral Mushroom.


I was told this is a young Sulfur Shelf, or 'Chicken of the Woods,' Laetiporus sulphureus. Oh, that's the mushroom that started all of this, the one Rex had seen and reported to his friend, who then called the Steve.


I wondered what this very green-capped mushroom was.


But no one could be sure. The mushroom people needed to move on to another location, but by this time I think we had had enough. We decided to head home as we hiked back to the cars. To Ruth's collection we offered our young Sulfur Shelf, Parasol, and Coral mushrooms and she was so ever grateful. What good would keeping them have done us! With the Fair only a day away, she needed as much as she could get, and still was without a grand centerpiece.

Now Rex, always a proud representative of his woods, continues to suggest that the mushroom people come to his place to look for more mushrooms. It was clear to me that the group had no interest in doing that, and so I suggested that we take a look at home and, should we find anything of interest, we'd give them a ring and meet halfway to deliver the goods. Good enough the group says, eyeing our generosity with a bit of skepticism, a little cart before the horse. Rex, though, is sure we'll find something in his woods for them to show at the Minnesota State Fair -the grandest exposition of all this agricultural, vegetable, faunal, even fungal.

We left the mushroom people around noon, headed home, had some lunch, and then Rex and I hit the trail while Betsy did some internet work at the Caribou Coffee. One of the first things we did was collect some of the Pear-shaped Puffball colony I discovered on the fallen logs the other day. 


We boxed up full sections of the rotting log for transport.


The best part of this collection of ordinary puffballs was that you could get an excellent view of the mycelium.

Then, doing as mushroom people do, we left the trail and walked along the slopes around the wetland, on the neighbor's property too, into the untamed woods that no one ever seems to explore. We saw hundreds of Indian Pipe clusters, but little in the way of mushrooms. We found two great washouts from recent heavy rains, but then, no great mushrooms. After pausing near a newly fallen oak amongst a field of hogpeanut in the sunshine, we move back towards the property line and decide its a wash -all we have are puffballs.

To Be Continued...