Monthly Archives: April 2008

Dandy Burger

It’s game time. My boy is scheduled to take the mound today. I deliver the pep talk and then hand him a shot of nourishment. A sports drink? An energy bar? Nah. I hand him a hot Dandy Burger.

Yes, I’ve gone off the deep end. Just when you thought I was done with $&@%# dandelions…

What can I say? I had a fresh crop on the lawn.

This recipe comes from a member of the Forage Ahead Yahoo group. I adapted it slightly, adding more flour and onion plus an egg.

1 cup packed dandelion petals (no greens)
1 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp each basil and oregano
1/8 tsp pepper

Mix all ingredients together. The batter will be wet and goopy. Form into patties and pan fry in oil or butter, turning until crisp on both sides. Makes 4-5 very nutritious veggie burgers.

The Mariners bullpen could use a few of these.

Doc Weed: Foraging on the Rise

While I was going crazy for dandelions this past month, you might have noticed that I referenced a certain Dr. Peter Gail in several posts, such as this one and this one. Gail, who also goes by Doc Weed, is the president of the Defenders of Dandelions and proprietor of Goosefoot Acres in Cleveland, Ohio, selling his books and DandyBlend coffee substitute. I first came across Gail in my search for dandelion recipes. His Dandelion Celebration proved a treasure trove of information on how to harvest and cook the common backyard weed.

Recently Gail has been part of a discussion preoccupying members of the Forage Ahead Yahoo group: Is interest in foraging increasing? The blog Cincinnati Locavore initially posed the question, receiving responses from some professional foragers (i.e. those who teach foraging workshops and lead field trips) including “Wildman” Steve Brill and Leda Meredith of Leda’s Urban Homestead. Both Brill and Meredith reported a recent increase in interest, with classes and field trips filling. Now Gail has thrown his hat in the ring with a post on his blog.

Quote: I am finding far more interest in my workshops now than has been the case since 1998 and 1999, when people were responding to the Y2K scare, and were coming out in droves for my classes.

I’ve always focused on the fun and educational value of foraging—the time spent in the outdoors learning how to identify, harvest, and cook wild edibles. But more and more I keep hearing how this “forgotten skill” will be in demand in the not-so-distant future as we are faced with escalating energy costs, food shortages, and possibly large scale societal changes in a post-oil world. What do you think?

Fried Razor Clams and Garlic Fries

To celebrate the tentative opening of one more razor clam dig this spring, I busted out some frozen razor feet the other night and whipped together an old favorite: Fried Razor Clams and Garlic Fries. Catch that? Fried and Fries. Those of us foraging in the outdoors and dining regularly on superfoods don’t worry about our occasional deepfry intake.

I’ve evangelized the golden razor clam before, back in the first days of this blog. Clamming for razors is a hoot, and eating them is…well…even hootier. But I neglected to supply a recipe (not that it’s culinary rocket science), so here’s an encore edition.

The foot of the razor clam, known as the digger, is the tenderest part. If I’m cooking frozen clams I’ll use a mallet to tenderize the clams, but the diggers don’t usually require such handling. For the batter I tried crackermeal instead of the standard breadcrumbs this time around, and while some folks swear by the cracker, I didn’t notice an appreciable difference. My main departure is to add cajun spices. On the East Coast many clammers prefer giving their clams a good soaking in milk, evaporated milk in particular, but I find that my defrosted razors are already swimming in an ambrosial bath of milky white clam juice. Whatever works for you.

Fried Razor Clams (for two):

1/2 cup milk optional
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup crackermeal or breadcrumbs
seasoning to taste

Mix the flour, crackermeal, and spices in a bowl. Dip the clams into the egg, then the batter, and move immediately to a pan of hot oil or butter. Fry until deep golden, a couple minutes a side. Remove to paper towels. Pretty simple. A squeeze of lemon and more cajun spices and you’re ready to eat. Cold beer is a must.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

I’m always amused by the accusations aimed at sea lions by angry fishermen. Can we get something straight? The sorry state of our salmon fisheries has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with a bunch of resourceful pinnipeds. It has everything to do with a bunch of resourceful bipeds.

Sea lions are opportunists by nature, sorta like humans. A few of them—the Lewis and Clarks of the sea lion crowd—discovered that you could swim 100 miles up the Columbia River and find easy pickings at the Bonneville Dam fish ladder. They told their buddies. Now there’s a sea lion convention below the dam.

Last year while shad fishing at Bonneville, I ran into a crusty old sturgeon fisherman. He was catching shad for bait that day. Wrap-around mirror sunglasses and fatigues. A real hombre. He told me a sad story about how the sea lions had learned to target sturgeon when their usual tablefare wasn’t around, said he’d witnessed it himself. “Ain’t a pretty sight. Got-damn lion taking down a 80-year-old fish, fish been swimmin’ around down there since before any of us were bornt.”

As he was packing up to leave, the sturgeon fisherman gave me a wink and said there were ways to deal with the sea lions. A couple days later I read a story about a lion washing up dead, several bullet slugs in its head, and thought of my sturgeon fishing friend.

This year the feds are trapping some of the sea lions and hauling them off to zoos. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the story.

(photo by embot)

Warts and All

We’re loaded for bear here at FOTL. Just picked up an arsenal of lures, swivels, weights, and the incomparable Smelly Jelly. The last four days have seen more than a thousand Columbia River spring chinook counted over Bonneville Dam each day, with more than 2,000 on two of those days. The time is now.

Down at the tackle shop the boys are talking up the Mag Wart, pictured above. Aren’t those tempting little buggers? Personally, the hot red color has me fired up. I can just see my fly-fishing bretheren rolling their eyes. Look how far he’s fallen. Thee Originoo Trouthole shakes his head sadly. What can I say? Fishin’ is fishin’. I’ll save the flyrod for shad. The chinook get the wart.

I’ve never fished for springers before, so this is terra incognita—or aqua incognita, as the case may be. My plan is to drive down next week and camp somewhere in the Gorge, then spend a day at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River—a place known, rather unfortunately, as Drano Lake—and see if I can hook into one of these upriver brights from the bank. It’s mostly a boat show, so my expectations are not high, but I figure I’ll learn a ton on this first exploratory mission.

Salmon aficionados consider Columbia River spring chinook to be quite possibly the tastiest salmon of them all. What makes spring chinook so special is their high fat content, fat translating into flavor. As the name implies, springers return to their natal rivers earlier than summer and fall chinook, which means they must survive the rigors of a freshwater environment for a longer stretch until the fall spawn begins. Since they won’t be eating during that time, their bodies are equipped to handle the holdover with extra fat reserves.

If they’re not eating, you might reasonably ask, how do you get them to strike a lure? Short answer: piss ’em off. The Mag Warts are outfitted with rattles to irritate the salmon, and they thrash around like an injured baitfish. A honking big buck of a springer just can’t help himself; he must take a nip out of the Wart as it swims past his nose. In theory, at least.

This year’s run of upper Columbia River springers, forecasted at 269,300 fish, is the third largest since 1977. This causes no end of confusion among those who don’t closely follow the plight of salmon and salmon fisheries. Wasn’t most of the West Coast just closed to salmon fishing? they ask. Yes, but not for the current springer run. The summer and fall runs, especially those in California, are looking dismal, hence the emergency closure. The springers are in better shape this year, and at FOTL we hope to tie into one and offer up a recipe or two soon.

A Sign

When will this winter release us from its clutches? I’m ready to do a dance. To carry around a pouch stuffed with rattlesnake bones and chicken beaks. To fill the night with incantations.

Heading east on I-90 yesterday, I wasn’t even out of Bellevue and the snow was already swirling around the car like a mad swarm of insects. Several more miles up the highway and my intended destination for harvesting stinging nettles and fiddleheads was covered by a few inches of fresh snow. I could see this obvious fact at 70 miles per hour.

Plan B.

I pushed on over the pass to the “sunny side of the mountains.” The white stuff was falling in downtown E-burg. A hay rancher blew snow with his irrigation line.

All was not lost, however. Spring is fighting back. I found a sign of the season (several, in fact) right where it should have been, hiding among dead leaves beneath a tall cottonwood down by the river. Witness Exhibit A, Verpa bohemica, known to some as the “early morel.”

Eating verpas is not advisable, though plenty of folks do. They’re mildly toxic and the toxins can build up in your liver over time. They don’t taste nearly as good as true morels either. But most mushroom hunters get excited when they find a verpa because it can mean only one thing: True morels are right around the corner.

You can distinguish verpas from true morels a couple of ways. The cap of a verpa rests delicately on the stipe, with a skirt that hangs over, unattached at the hemline. Slice one open and most likely it won’t be hollow like a morel; it will have some cottony material inside.

This pair of verpas to the left had dried out caps, indicating that either they fruited a while ago, or, more likely, they decided to pop their heads up after that three-day warm spell last week only to get promptly frost-bitten for their trouble.

I checked some of my other spots while I was at it. Snow, snow, and more snow. Where there wasn’t snow, the ground was cold and mostly dead-looking, excepting the bravest green shoots testing the air. While morel hunters are enjoying a banner year in most of the country, I fear the season could be a short one in my neck of the woods.

Grow Your Own

By now most of you interested in local food issues and the environment have probably read Michael Pollan’s latest dispatch from the food wars in today’s New York Times Magazine. If you missed it, the article exhorts readers to grapple with climate change by planting a vegetable garden—”to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.”

A friend of mine told me the other other day, after seeing a comment of mine attached to a NYTimes piece, that I was giving Pollan too much credit for galvanizing the local food movement.

Well, I’ve mentioned Pollan exactly once in this blog previously, but it’s true: I do give him kudos.

Like any successful writer, Michael Pollan has earned himself a backlash. Critics question his facts, his sourcing, his originality. My take is this: Pollan’s genius lies in his timing and his ability to synthesize a panoply of arguments. Though the original ideas may not be his own, he has the skill to make those ideas clear and accessible to a broad audience. He’s droll and self-effacing; serious without being overly earnest, didactic without being too judgmental. In short, he’s a good messenger. (Lord knows we need to get the message.)

If he’s getting rich off his new gig as a spokesperson for local food, good for him. In any event, it’s a reasonable piece of advice: Go outside, get dirty, and make something grow.

Fiddlehead Fever

“Wow, these are just like restaurant fiddleheads,” said Marty.

Yeah, that’s because they’re the same thing. Or almost. As I mentioned in a comment in an earlier post, I’m pretty sure the fiddleheads I found the other day are a species in the wood fern genus, possibly the spiny wood fern (Dryopteris expansa), also known as the spreading wood fern or buckler fern—not the famous ostrich fern fiddleheads of restaurants and farmer’s markets.

Funnily enough, while Pacific Coast Native Americans enjoyed feasting on wood ferns, they passed up the fiddleheads for the root-like rhizomes, which reputedly cure tapeworm infections.

“In that case, forget the fiddleheads,” chortled Marty. “You ought to be eating the rhizome.”

We boiled the fiddleheads for five minutes, changed the water, and boiled them again for another five. After draining we sauteed them in a skillet with butter, salt, and a little pepper. Marty was bowled over. “These are just like vegetables!” Yup. “They’re better than anything in the supermarket.” Yup again.

The oft-repeated description of fiddleheads—that they taste like a cross between asparagus and artichoke—is dead on. Lightly sauteed, the coiled up foliage in the center takes on the same texture as asparagus tops, a crispy succulence that is strangely addictive. We just kept popping ’em into our mouths one after another until they were gone. The flavor is rich and buttery even without actual melted butter. Unlike cultivated veggies, though, fiddleheads have that same hint of earthiness that you find in porcini, stinging nettles, and other wild edibles. For a blast of this earthy dimension, put your face down near the colander as you drain the boiled fiddlheads and inhale the steam. It’s like breathing in the forest floor.

Just the same, I can’t give this variety the full thumbs-up. The papery sheath requires more than a little attention to remove, unlike the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern and other choice varieties, and it’s impossible to rub it all off completely. The other thing is you’ll be hard-pressed to find any information on the edibility of these particular fiddleheads, which can be a bit unnerving.

Save Our Wild Salmon

Somehow I missed the official kick-off of Save Our Wild Salmon‘s road show in Seattle on April 9. Maybe you missed it too. I get tons of mass-mails from a variety of enviro groups. The cumulative effect can be a desensitizing. But now, with the emergency closure of much of the West Coast to commercial and recreational salmon fishing, Save Our Wild Salmon’s newest campaign to spread the word is gaining traction. That’s a good thing, because wild salmon and steelhead don’t have much time left in the Lower 48.

The road show will travel 10,000 miles through 20 states on its journey across the country to Washington, D.C., “to educate the public about the Northwest salmon crisis and encourage people to be part of the solution.”

At the center of the road show is Fin, a 2-ton, 25-foot fiberglass salmon. You can keep up with the migration of Fin at Save Our Wild Salmon’s blog.

Bottom line: Breach four pork-barrel dams on the lower Snake River asap!

(Thanks to Buster Wants to Fish for bringing this to my attention.)

Honest Comfort Food

Mushrooms equal comfort food—this despite recent musings about the impurities found in fungi—and never more so than when piled into an American classic as timeless and enduring as meatloaf. My dad makes it with Cornflakes and leftover hamburger. Here at FOTL, we stand by the wife‘s Turkey and Chanterelle Meatloaf, as sacrilege as the turkey part may sound (in reality, a beefeater would be forgiven for mistaking the ground turkey for cow). It never hurts to have appropriate sides such as sauteed kale from the garden and boiled, butter-besotted new potatoes, along with a robust beverage, in this case Rogue Dead Guy Ale. But the true standout is the meatloaf, a moist and messy rendition that combines the class of chanties with a wink to old-timers thanks to sweet, baked-on ketchup. Go ahead, admit it: You’d like to dig a fork into your screen right now.

The key is the chanties. A 12-oz packet of last fall’s frozen haul adds a woodsy, even fruity note to the ‘loaf that you just can’t get from supermarket buttons. And the great thing about meatloaf for dinner? You’ve got unbeatable sammiches the next day for lunch!

Marty’s Turkey and Chanterelle Meatloaf

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 lb fresh chanterelle mushrooms (or 1/2 lb of previously cooked and frozen), chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
5 tbsp tablespoon ketchup
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (two bread slices)
1/3 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 lb ground turkey

Saute onion and garlic over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 2 minutes. Add carrot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and they are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, parsley, and 3 tablespoons ketchup, then transfer vegetables to a large bowl and cool.

Stir together bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in eggs, then add to vegetables. Add turkey to vegetable mixture and mix well with your hands. Mixture will be very moist. [We use Diestel ground turkey, which comes in convenient 1-lb cylinders that can be easily frozen.]

Form into 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a lightly oiled baking pan and brush meatloaf evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons of ketchup. Bake until meatloaf interior registers 170°F, 50 to 55 minutes.

Let meatloaf stand 5 minutes before serving.