This Must Be the Place

forest_lgI had the pleasure of sitting down recently with Eric Parkinson, of This Must Be the Place, a podcast that seeks to reveal “the unique physical, cultural, and emotional layers of places.”

We talked about foraging in the deep emerald forests of the Pacific Northwest, the tenets of slow food, and the myriad charms of nature in its many guises, among other topics.

Eric is a curious and penetrating interviewer determined to get at the heart of both our individual and collective sense of place. You can listen to our conversation here.

Spring Foraging Classes

classes6I’ve partnered once again with both Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec and The Field Trip Society in Seattle to offer a variety of spring foraging trips, from short wild edible ID walks in a Seattle park to all-day shellfish extravaganzas.

Below are the classes and dates (plus one special dinner). Check back for additional classes.

Spring Foraged Dinner, March 19, La Medusa, Seattle

Wild Edible Hike, March 24, Issaquah, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, March 30, Dosewallips State Park, WA

Wild Edible Hike, April 20, Issaquah, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, April 28, Dosewallips State Park, WA

After-Work Wild Edible Walk, May 2, Seattle, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, May 13, Dosewallips State Park, WA

Candy Cap Custard

candycap3This winter, mushroom hunters in California are crying Hallelujah! Unless they happen to live below Oroville Dam

The Golden State hasn’t seen rain like this in several years, and the fungi have responded in kind. But with so many storms rolling in off the Pacific, the mushroom patches have also taken a beating, so timing is still everything.

I was able to thread the needle earlier this winter, sneaking into Santa Cruz for a week of sunshine right after a major pummeling that washed out roads near where I was staying in the hills. The weather turned again just as I was leaving.

My destination was the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, one of the great myco events on the West Coast, but I also managed to get into nearby woods to pick a year-plus supply of candy caps.

candycap4I’ve written about candy caps before. It’s a complex of species in the milk cap genus, Lactarius. Candy caps are noteworthy for smelling intensely of maple syrup once dried, effectively putting mushrooms on the dessert menu. The two species of candy cap I encountered on this trip were L. rubidus and L. rufulus. The latter grows with oaks and is quite mild, but the former—if dehydrated at a low temperature (I think we set our dryer to 95 degrees)—is wonderfully fragrant. We found hundreds of them growing among a stand of old Monterrey pines.

Though candy cap cookies are my usual go-to recipe, the first thing I made when I got home with my bounty was an egg custard, adapting a very simple recipe that I typically make with huckleberries. The candy caps gave this creamy and satisfying dessert a pungent aroma of maple syrup, which paired well with the huckleberries on top.

candycap11 small handful dried candy caps
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup huckleberries
fresh nutmeg or cinnamon, grated to taste

1. Pulverize dried candy caps to dust in a spice grinder or food processor. Pass through wire mesh sieve to remove any large pieces. Cover mushroom dust with 1 cup warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Pre-heat over to 325 degrees. Combine milk and mushroom water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

3. Mix egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl.

4. Slowly whisk in hot milk-water mixture until frothy. Pour into 4 ramekins.

5. Place ramekins in an oven-proof dish or tray filled with warm water. Bake for 40 minutes. Carefully place a small handful of huckleberries atop each custard and bake another 10 minutes. Test one for doneness with a knife tip; if it comes away clean, the custard is done. Sprinkle with fresh nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

pudding1I’ve been cooped up this fall, finishing a new book. (More on that later.) Meanwhile I get the usual texts and emails from friends in the patch, scoring hauls of chanterelles and porcini, sparassis and matsi. So it was a relief to finally get out the other day.

Hopeful forecasts for a good ski season seem to have some merit. Above 1,500 feet the thermometer was in the low 30’s, and above 4,000 feet there was a nice dusting of snow. I went up to some of my higher elevation patches anyway just for a look—and it didn’t take long to see that many of the high country mushrooms are done for the year in the North Cascades, although matsutake continue to plug along. But down around 2,000 feet I found kings, hedgehogs, chanterelles, more matsi, and lots of gypsies. So I have not gone without my annual infusion of Matsutake Sukiyaki.

As for the others, I chopped them up for a bread pudding served with a roast chicken. Normally I make a typical stuffing for the bird, but this totally un-fussy bread pudding is now my go-to. It really shines with wild mushrooms.

4 – 6 cups stale country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tbsp butter, divided (plus more if needed)
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 lb wild mushrooms (e.g., chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, etc.), rough cut
3 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1 heaping cup grated Gruyère cheese
handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large skillet, sauté onions in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until caramelized. Add more butter if necessary and reduce heat so that onions are nicely browned and not burned. Remove from pan.

2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In same pan, melt another 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté mushrooms. Cook off any liquid released by mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan.

4. Beat eggs in a large bowl with half and half. Mix in grated cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add bread, onions, mushrooms, and stir together.

5. Grease an 8-inch baking dish and dollop in bread pudding. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 20 minutes, until pudding begins to brown on top and is cooked through.

The Field Trip Society

fieldtripsocietylogoNew class announced for October 27!

The Field Trip Society is a new Seattle-based business offering a wide range of hands-on experiences for the adventurous learner, from outdoor excursions to cooking classes. I’ve partnered with FTS to teach foraging and wild foods workshops.

Here’s my fall lineup:

October 6: Wild Edibles of the Cascade Foothills. We’ll take a three-mile hike through forest, not far from Seattle, discovering nature’s bounty along the way. We’ll see dozens of plants and fungi, learn about their identification and natural histories, and discuss culinary uses. This in-depth exploration is perfect for the nature lover and adventurous eater.

October 24: Foraged Dinner at La Medusa, Seattle. In this intimate and educational dinner, I’ll discuss autumn’s most prolific Northwest fungi: where they grow, how to handle and care for them, and delicious and simple methods to prepare them for harvest dinners. Guests will have the opportunity to wander into the kitchen to see the chefs at work, as well as dine on a five-course meal complete with wine pairings at one of Columbia City’s most beloved restaurants, La Medusa. Price includes 5-course meal, wine pairings, and gratuity.

Chokecherry Jelly

chokecherry1Last week Martha and I spent a couple days mountain biking near Winthrop, Washington, not far from North Cascades National Park. On our way home we couldn’t resist stopping off at a few roadside patches bursting with fruit. Elderberries were already ripening, and chokecherry trees hung heavy in the sun.

The chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a shrub or small tree native to much of North America, mostly above the Mason-Dixon line. Here in Washington State, as in much of the Western U.S., chokecherries prefer drier habitats (in our case, rain-shadow terrain east of the Cascade Crest), such as arid canyons, gullies, and scrubby benches above lakes or streams, where you’ll sometimes find them clustered with elderberries and serviceberries. Named for their astringency, chokecherries get sweeter as they darken, but if you wait too long the birds and other critters will nab them first.

Martha and I grabbed plastic grocery bags repurposed just for such an occasion (I always keep a few handy in the car) and started pulling bunches of fruit from the trees as cedar waxwings and robins voiced their disapproval from above. Martha tasted one off the vine; her mouth went into an instant and involuntary pucker. Though it was a little early, we scouted for trees with the ripest fruit, knowing this harvest would need some sugar at home. It didn’t take long to amass several pounds between the two of us.

Jelly is probably my favorite use for chokecherries. I’ve also had them in a chunkier form preserved in sweet syrup. This was on the Umatilla Indian Reservation during the First Foods ceremony last spring. Along with a variety of roots, huckleberries, venison, and, of course, salmon, the chokecherry is revered by the Umatilla as one of their original food staples, and no wonder. They grow in profusion throughout the drier parts of the Pacific Northwest, and with a little processing that involuntary pucker becomes a lip-smacking grin.

We washed and rinsed our chokecherries at home and then covered them with water in a kettle. The kitchen soon filled with a distinctive cherry aroma as they simmered on the stove. After processing the fruit we had two quarts of fuchsia-colored juice. One quart got put up for a future jelly-making session and the other went back into the pot. The resulting jelly is easily one of the most beautiful for its luminous color, right up there with Rosehip Jelly. It’s pink and doesn’t look like anything you’d expect to find in nature. Even with added pectin, the jelly is soft and smooth, barely holding together, which is just how we like it.

This recipe is for 4 cups of chokecherry juice. It’s on the tart side. If you like your jelly sweeter, or you have less juice, adjust accordingly. You’ll need to add a commercial pectin because chokecherries are low in natural pectin.

4 cups chokecherry juice
5 cups sugar
1 package (1.75 oz) dry pectin
1/2 cup lemon juice

1. Cover chokecherries with water in a non-reactive stock pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, occasionally mashing softened chokecherries with a potato masher. Allow to cool, then strain juice through cheesecloth or jelly bag.

2. Return 4 cups chokecherry juice to pot along with pectin and lemon juice. Bring to boil and add sugar, stirring. After a minute of hard boiling (careful not to foam over), reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring.

3. Remove from heat and skim foam. Ladle into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch head room, and secure lids. Process jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms and Smoked Ham Hock

oyster_pastaMy usual oyster mushroom spots aren’t producing so well this year. Maybe it’s the combination of record winter rain followed by record spring heat. Who knows? Fungi are mysterious.

I’ve gotten used to kicking off the spring mushroom season with oysters before heading to the dry side of the mountains for morels and porcini. So I tried something new: cultivated oyster mushrooms.

While in Vancouver, BC, to give a talk at the local mycological society, one of the members, known as The Mushroom Man, hooked me up with an oyster log. In the past I’ve found my own wild oyster logs in the woods and fruited them at home, but this was my first attempt with a commercially inoculated log (basically a block of compressed sawdust that’s been injected with oyster mushroom spores and incubated in a plastic bag that retains moisture and humidity). I followed the directions, gave the log a good soaking, made a few incisions in the plastic wrapping so it could breathe, put it in a cool corner of the basement—and promptly forgot about it.

A couple weeks later Martha told me I better go check on my log. Sure enough, the enormous caps of fresh oysters were sprouting from the top. I harvested this first flush and watered the log again. A second fruiting is just starting as I type this.

In the past I’ve made a lot of Asian-style dishes with oysters, like Bibimbap and Udon Soup. This time I put them to use in a classic Italian pasta where they went toe-to-toe with a smoked ham hock that had been braised in white wine, chicken stock, fennel, onion, and garlic. The resulting stock became the base of the sauce and was insanely savory, while the tender hock meat paired perfectly with the robust and chewy oyster mushrooms.

Growing oyster mushrooms at home is a fun science experiment, especially for kids, and at the end you get a delicious meal. Just make sure to check your log every day or you may miss the action.

Braised Ham Hock

1 ham hock
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 small fennel bulb, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Pasta Sauce

2 tbsp butter, divided, plus extra if necessary
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup reserved braising stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk or half and half), divided
1/2 cup reserved braised ham hock meat
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 – 2 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 oz fresh pasta

1. Braise smoked ham hock. I had my butcher saw the hock in half, then I braised it in a small pot with white wine, chicken stock, fennel, onion, garlic, and peppercorns. The liquid should cover about two-thirds of the hock. Simmer, with lid on, for about two hours, checking occasionally to make sure there’s enough liquid, until meat falls off the bone. Add more water, stock, or wine if necessary. When meat is tender, discard bone and fat, reserving braised ham. Strain stock and reserve. You should have plenty of meat and some stock left over for another use. Set aside enough meat and stock for pasta, about a half-cup of each.

2. Over medium heat sauté diced shallot in a tablespoon of butter. Add chopped oyster mushrooms and cook together several minutes. Add more butter if necessary. Deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add a ladle of reserved braising stock and a quarter cup (or more) of cream or milk and reduce over low heat.

3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 tbsp butter and quarter cup of cream or milk to large pasta bowl and warm in oven.

3. Cook and drain pasta according to directions. Meanwhile add frozen peas, braised ham, and goat cheese to sauce, stir lightly for a minute, and toss with pasta in warm bowl. Finish with grated parm.

James Beard Award Nomination

JBA2I’m happy to report that my article “Into the Woods” for EatingWell magazine has been nominated for a 2016 James Beard Journalism Award.

The article follows Jeremy Faber, of Seattle’s Foraged and Found Edibles, on a mushroom hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana in Portland, OR, supplied the recipes.

For more on the secretive world and hidden economy of wild mushroom hunting, see my book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America.

New Classes & Lectures Announced

forest_lgThe spring foraging season is just around the corner. I’m partnering with The Field Trip Society and Bainbridge Island Parks & Recreation to offer a variety of classes for beginner and intermediate foragers.

Due to high demand for these classes, some sold out immediately, before I could even post them here. I will try to offer more in coming months (stay tuned), although shellfish classes are largely dependent on tide schedules.

Classes

* For Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec classes, please call 206-842-2306 x1 to enroll or be put on a waiting list for future classes.

Slide Lectures

A Taste of Place

9780762453788I first met travel and food writer Joe Ray a few years ago when the two of us read together at Seattle Lit Crawl. At the time, the New Hampshire native had recently returned from a 10-year stint in Europe and was living on Lummi Island near Bellingham, Washington, absorbing the culinary metaphysics of The Willows Inn and its young chef, Blaine Wetzel, who had lately jumped up on the radar of globetrotting gourmands around the world.

Ray had already logged several months on the island and he was far from finished. We agreed to meet up again on Lummi in the spring, and when the time came, he graciously offered me the spare bedroom in the house he was renting not far from the ferry. “You don’t want to drive all the way back to Seattle after dinner,” he warned.

He was right. My wife Martha still talks about our meal at The Willows that night. Dishes included smoked mussels served in a little cedar box with wisps of fragrant smoke escaping from the lid, spot shrimp in nettle sauce with fresh-grated porcini steaming on top, spring lamb festooned with bright green miner’s lettuce, and many other inventive takes on regional favorites. Each of the seven courses arrived with the physical trappings of the Pacific Northwest: atop hot stones gathered from a nearby beach; lying across a splinter of Douglas fir from the rainforest; in a clamshell. The Willows is not an overly ornate or fussy place, but its attention to detail—in particular, the details of place—speaks to a deep affection for the region.

Ray’s collaboration with Chef Wetzel, Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest, is now out from Running Press. More than just a collection of recipes, the book explores what it means to live and work on an island in Puget Sound, and how the regional identity is expressed in local ingredients and foodways. Sockeye salmon, Dungeness crabs, hazelnuts, matsutake, and Pacific razor clams all make appearances, of course, as do other less expected ingredients: Nootka rose petals, madrona bark, the skin of halibut.

Joe Ray and I are neighbors now in southeast Seattle, so I caught up with him over a bahn mi and a game of pool at Billiard Hoang and asked what brought him cross-country to The Willows.

Joe Ray: By chance, I was invited to a wedding at The Willows in the summer of 2010. I met the Inn’s then-owner, Riley Starks, who’s a food lover’s food lover. He farmed, raised chickens, had run a pasta company, ran this great restaurant, and was part owner of a reefnetting operation called Lummi Island Wild—a total renaissance man. I even took pictures of his bookshelf, which featured titles on composting, seed starting, poultry raising, and Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full. I was so impressed with him that I got my Boston Globe editor on the phone and sold her a story about Riley and the unbelievable setup on Lummi and stayed a few extra days. At some point in there, he mentioned that the “chef from Noma” was coming to be the chef at the Inn. It turned out to be Noma’s chef de partie, a young chef named Blaine Wetzel.

LC: Do you remember your first taste of Wetzel’s food?

Ray: Of course! I was still living in Europe, but went back up to Lummi that December and was the first journalist to spend time with Chef Wetzel. In Europe, I’d been lucky enough to eat at several of the world’s best restaurants, including El Bulli, Sant Pau, El Celler de Can Roca, and Noma. Wetzel’s food wasn’t at that level yet, but then again, he was still in his early 20s and it was clear he was on his way. I wanted to tell the story of both the riches they’re blessed with up there and how it all comes together with Blaine in the kitchen to turn The Willows into one of the world’s great restaurants.

LC: You do that colorfully with a series of introductory chapters—vignettes, really—that capture life at the Inn and on Lummi Island. The second half of the book is the recipes. Translating restaurant magic into step-by-step instructions for the home cook is its own art form. Tell us your process…

Ray: The more detail-oriented you can be, the better. For a chef, recipes are often in their heads, with a few hastily scribbled lines in a notebook to jog their memories if need be. In my year at The Willows, I’d be paired with Blaine or one of the other cooks every Friday, all day long, and we’d turn one or two recipes they were cooking for that night’s meal for 30 into something that serves 4 for the book. It’s a lot to work through. Something that might require a huge stockpot at the restaurant might only need a saucepan for the book, but I’d be damned if I was going to spend a full year up there and not nail these.

LC: Seriously, though. Is this a book for the aspirational chef or can any home cook reasonably make a meal from it?

Ray: I think it’s a bit of both. This isn’t something full of weeknight meal ideas. At all. This kind of food doesn’t happen quickly, even if you’re a chef. But if you want to make incredible food, like The Willows’ famous smoked salmon, this is how they do it.

LC: I remember that smoked sockeye! At any other restaurant it would be a centerpiece. At The Willows it was a “snack” in between courses. Frankly, some of those snacks are as memorable as the mains. I see that one of my favorites, Caviar and Crepes, opens the recipe section…

Ray: Yes! Try it!

LC: Any final words of wisdom for home cooks who want to incorporate a sense of place into their cooking?

Ray: Cook the best of what you have access to. The Willows is a great model for this. Yes, they forage, but it’s just a part of it. They’ve also got a farm for fresh vegetables, salmon from Lummi Island Wild, and Jeremy Brown [a local troller], so it’s much more a combination of what’s growing and what’s perfect right now.

Author photo by Steve Raichlen; Dried Mirabelle Plum Skins by Charity Burggraaf