Monday, December 28, 2009


I'm not much for New Year's resolutions. Most of them don't take, and resolving to do better can be decided any day of the year.

But I'll go ahead and make one anyway. See that scrumptious meal above? That's Seared Duck over Squash and Sage Risotto. Easily one of my more memorable meals of 2009. Normally you wouldn't find it on this blog. You see, it doesn't contain a shred of foraged foods. Nada. The duck was farm-raised and I didn't resort to any trickery—for instance, ladling porcini-infused broth into the risotto—to post it here.

Instead, I reference this meal as a challenge to myself. I'm an omnivore and don't intend to change that. In other words, I eat meat, if only occasionally and mostly in small portions. Over the years I've made incursions into the Animal Kingdom with my foraging: free-diving for Dungeness crabs, digging razor clams, fly-fishing for salmon, spear-fishing lingcod. Always the animals have been of the fish or shellfish sort.

Mark 2010 as the year I get other kinds of meat, the furred and feathered kinds. It's time to up the irons on this foraging thing!


Big thank-yous to everyone who participated in Menu for Hope. The winners will be announced in January. Until then, Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Win a Day of Foraging with Yours Truly

Season's greetings everyone! Have you heard about Menu for Hope?

Menu for Hope, the brainchild of Pim over at Chez Pim, raises money to help feed people in disadvantaged parts of the world. For the past few years the money raised has gone to the UN World Food Programme, the largest food aid agency in the world, working in over 75 countries. This year funds raised will go to support a new initiative called Purchase for Progress, which enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to the UN global food operations. Rather than just distributing food, this program empowers participants to become self-reliant.

Here's how Menu for Hope works: Food bloggers around the world are offering goods and services which you can bid on. Each $10 donation earns you a raffle ticket for the item of your choice. The more you donate, the greater your chances of winning. If you donate $50, you can select five different items, or you can put all five raffle tickets toward the same item, increasing your chances. Winners are selected at random, and notified in January.

At Fat of the Land we're offering a morning or afternoon of foraging in the Seattle area. We could bushwhack through woods in search of edible fungi...or dig clams at the coast...or pick huckleberries in the mountains... The choice is yours. To bid on this item, select UW40.

Directions for bidding:

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW01 and 3 tickets for UW33.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we can claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your e-mail address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone.

Thank you and happy holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food Photography

Yesterday I was talking to an experienced photographer and asked him to rank the most important factors in taking a good shot. At the top of his list was light; composition came second. This was very interesting to me. My own ranking had those two reversed, with composition as number one. I suspect there are many of us amateurs out there who would like to believe that composition can trump all else, that those of us with a capable eye can frame a photo just so to make a good shot no matter what the light conditions.

Is this just my romantic notion of the artist? Certainly it's true that poor light conditions can flummox professionals, while really good light can make even amateurs such as myself seem competent. Somehow I'd like to think that an inspired shooter can get it done even in the basest of conditions. But my friend's point remains: Light is king.

Last week I took a half-day food photography workshop organized by Seattle Bon Vivant and taught by Penny de los Santos, who takes pictures for Saveur, National Geographic, and other magazines with exceptionally demanding photo editors. The workshop was held at Spring Hill restaurant in West Seattle, and over the course of four hours we looked at slides, talked shop, and photographed dishes prepared by the staff (including the four photos in this post, my best of the day). Penny went over basics such as light source, angle, styling, and so on, but it was her off-the-cuff remarks that really made an impression on me. For instance, Penny doesn't use a tripod. And because she's often on the road with limited kit and time to fuss around, her go-to lens is a zoom.

Well, both these facts fly in the face of what I've read in the past about how to take good photographs of food. With all the talk of tripods, you'd think you were committing a serious photographic sin without one, yet in Penny's words: "I just hold my breath and shoot." After all, how else are you going to get several different angles in a short time-span before the food dies on the plate? Also, because she uses only natural light (with the added aid of reflectors and diffusers), she must be ready to move quickly with a sudden shift in the clouds—or, if you're shooting in Seattle in the dead of winter, those few hours of workable daylight.

As for the debate over fixed lens vs. zoom—just look at Penny's photos and you'll be persuaded that it's possible to take a good shot with the latter, albeit a very nice and very expensive zoom lens. In short, don't be afraid to break the so-called rules.

The last nugget of wisdom I want to pass along is this. When I told Penny a little bit about what I do, she immediately got excited about the possibilities of taking pictures of landscapes, people working in the outdoors, the tools and implements of the forager. She was thinking about wild food foraging from a more journalistic viewpoint. Here at FOTL I see a lot more of those sorts of photos when I scroll back to the earliest days of this blog. More recently I've concentrated almost entirely on the plated food. This is in part because I was finally able to get some half-decent food photographs after bumping up to a DSLR a year ago. It's also due to the fact that much of my readership—much of the food blog readership at large—seems to be drawn to beautiful pictures of food.

I want to keep working on my food photos, but I think I'll try to capture more of the visual narrative in the future. The people, places, and stories. Oh, and no more cheating with automatic settings. It's all manual from here on out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Magic Mushrooms?

Here at FOTL Headquarters we're mostly into outdoor fun, good eats, and wild foods that have more than merely survival appeal. True, we've been known to expound on the nutritional benefits of weeds and concoct the occasional tonic, but we leave the wild medicinal trade to those herbalists, shamans, witchdoctors, and other alternative health practitioners who supposedly know what they're doing.

However, like the law, there is a time to take one's own personal health and well-being into one's own hands. And so it is with my ornery lower spine, specifically the troublesome connector at L5-S1. That's the vertebra where your lumbar and sacrum meet, an intersection of misery for many a modern human that has come down from the trees only to sit at a desk or drive a car. Mine's been hassling me for about five years now and I'm looking at drastic measures, though before such measures can be implemented I'm going to try one last crazy off-the-wall treatment...

...a drop of fly agaric for what ails me. Also known by it's scientific name, Amanita muscaria, this totemic toadstool from temperate woodlands around the globe was called "fly agaric" by the Romans for its use to ward off winged pests. It hails from the dreaded Amanita genus, home to the most deadly mushrooms in the world, such as the death cap (Amanita phalloides) and destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera et al).

The fly agaric isn't deadly poisonous except in the largest doses, but it packs a wallop just the same, a hallucinogenic brain warp that is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll to send Alice down the rabbit hole. Accounts vary. Some have reported transcendent spiritual experiences, others talk of nightmarish fits and vomiting. A forager friend of mine believes the North American variety doesn't contain enough pyschoactive ingredients to do much at all.

I write about this beautiful mushroom's sketchy history in my book. Quickly: Its psychoactive compounds have been known for millennia and nomadic Siberian tradesman reputedly ate the mushroom for the buzz when their beloved vodka was in short supply. Their reindeer ate it too, and both parties apparently ate the yellow snow around them that contained traces of the excreted drug. More than a few ethnobotanists have suggested that certain forms of Christmas iconography might derive from this behavior: jolly man dressed in red, flying reindeer, and so on.

As for me, my interest was piqued after reading this page on Henriette's Herbal pages. According to Henriette: just rub "2-3 drops of tincture on the spine, when sciatica hits. Relief is pretty much instant." She posits that the tincture "relaxes the muscles around the spine, where the hurt comes from, and when those muscles are finally allowed to relax they stop clamping bone all over the pinched nerve, which means the nerve can finally relax."

I've made my tincture according to the instructions, first chopping up a bunch of nice Amanita muscaria buttons, then packing them into a half-pint canning jar and covering with vodka.

So, dear readers, should I go ahead and try a topical application the next time I feel stabbing pain down my left leg? What do you think?