Tuesday, April 29, 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.

Monday, April 28, 2008

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?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

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.

Friday, April 25, 2008

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)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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.

Monday, April 21, 2008

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.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

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.

Friday, April 18, 2008

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.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We're in the New York Times!

Okay, so it's just a comment attached to an article ... you gotta start somewhere.

Check out today's Bitten column, "Foragers, Speak Up," by Edward Schneider. Then scroll down to comment #27. Booyah!

To Eat of Not to Eat, Vol. 2

A couple months ago I posted my first volume of To Eat or Not to Eat, with the question revolving around the edibility of Amanita muscaria, the infamous fly-agaric mushroom of fairy tales and kitsch culture. In that case, the mushroom is inherently poisonous and requires skillful preparation for the table—but what about mushrooms with dangerous chemical makeups that are caused by external environmental conditions?

The above image was swiped from Chickenofthewoods. COW is a veritable morel magnet [reminds me of the prank played by cooks on gullible new busboys at the Black Dog Tavern: "Too many mushrooms in the soup! Bring me a mushroom magnet from the restaurant across the street! Hurry!!"... But that's another story], and this photo documents his first morel of the year, one mushroom hunters might call a "bark beauty" or a "mulch morel." He found it in downtown Corvallis, OR, in some new landscaping.

We mushroomers love finding bark beauties, particularly those of us urban foragers stuck in the city. Signs of life! No fossil fuels necessary! The thing is, though, there are questions about the edibility of these mulch morels. Where did the mulch come from? Was it sprayed with chemicals during processing? Did the property owner carpet-bomb it with herbicides?

On top of those questions, there are biological implications regarding the mushrooms themselves. Many species of fungi are known to be bio-concentrators of environmental contaminants—that is, they soak up and sometimes even magnify the nasty chemicals and heavy metals in the soil and air around them. This fact became painfully clear after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown; around many parts of Europe wild foraged mushrooms are still subjected to radioactivity tests before going to market.

These questions can lead an inquisitive mushroom hunter down a dizzying rabbit hole of self-doubt. For instance, if there are questions about mulch morels, what about the morels that pop up each spring in fresh clearcuts? Loggers are known to spray herbicides before planting the next generation of Doug fir monocultures. Is the mushroom love worth the risk?

Or burns. Morels can be prolific in the year following a forest fire. But what if PCB-loaded fire retardants were used, or other chemicals? Do burned forests release naturally-occurring chemical combinations that are less than desirable in our food?

Over at the Cascade Mycological Society's forum we've been discussing this topic after fellow morel fanatic Sleromevoli stumbled on a goldmine of bark beauties only to learn from the landowner that the area was just hammered with herbicides. He let them be. But no doubt some other 'shroomer is hungrily eyeing those morels and might not ask such questions—or might not care. What about you? I'd like to hear from some morel maniacs on this topic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No fiddling around?

Discretion is said to be the better part of valor, but when do we take it too far? While out walking the other day I found a nice patch of fiddlheads—the new spring growth of ferns, named for their distinctly violin scroll shape. Mature fern fronds are toxic, but the young emerging shoots of a few particular species are succulent and delicious, their taste often described as a cross between asparagus and artichoke. High-end restaurants charge boocoo for this delicacy of spring.

The fiddleheads were unfurling amid a tangle of devil's club and salmonberry along a boggy section of trail. The proper way to forage a fiddlehead patch is to scout the fully leafed-out ferns in the summer or fall when they're easier to identify, then return the following spring to harvest a small portion of the new growth. You take two or three fiddleheads per cluster, never more than 40 percent of the total. Unlike many other plants, ferns don't grow back once picked.

I was in a quandry. These delicate green beauties, curled up and tender in their papery sheaths, sure looked tasty. But I couldn't ID them. There's one particular species of fern, bracken, which has been proven to have carcinogenic properties. It causes intestinal cancer in mice, and has been implicated in higher rates of stomach cancer where humans traditionally eat it. That said, bracken fern is considered a delicacy in Japan and has been a staple of Native Americans' diets for millennia. Many experienced foragers warn against it just the same.

I picked a bunch anyway. Back at home I tried cleaning a few. The brown papery sheath didn't come off as easily as other fiddleheads I'd eaten in the past. These definitely weren't the sought-after fiddleheads of the ostrich fern. Other choice varieties include the lady fern and cinnamon fern.

What to do? I emailed my findings to the ForageAhead Yahoo group. Recently we'd had a thread about the carcinogens in bracken fern. I quoted my wife Marty, who's normally cautious about food but had her sights set on these toothsome-looking greens: "Everything gives you cancer these days." A fellow named Green Deane, proprietor of the Eat the Weeds web site, wrote back:

Everything causes cancer, and the truth is we all get cancer every day. Our immune system just takes care of it. Perhaps I am getting cranky but I would trust the nutrition in a fiddlehead before the advice of a nutritionist about the fiddlehead. When it comes to food, our ancestors got along very well without the advice of nutritionists, doctors or researchers. They ate successfully for hundreds of thousands of years, certainly tens of thousands of years. I think a non-calorie sweetener is a far greater threat to your life than a fern. Personally, my rule is if my great grandmother would not recognize it as food I don't eat it (coco-puffs, non-dairy creamer, carbonated cheese food, margarine, et cetera). And stay away from doctors, they make you sick.

Cranky or not, Deane raises some good points. On the other hand, I'm a fan of science and empiricism (if not corporate nutritionism).

So it's settled. I've decided to try them. Just a few. Maybe one. If this is my last post, you'll know why. I also plan to do a little research at the library to see if I can narrow down the list of possible species. Eating a new species from the wild is always unnerving, particularly in the plant and fungal kingdoms. Our ancestors sacrificed a lot of lives in the long lab test of edibility. I don't plan to join the errors in the annals of trial-and-error, but I do want to honor their courage—only on a small, hopefully not so life-threatening scale.

This whole imbroglio reminds me of related discussions going on lately in mycophagist circles, of which more tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In Bloom

There's a low-elevation trail I've been walking every couple weeks since early February. Even though I got hailed on briefly yesterday, the succession of new spring growth was a comfort. I found trilliums (Trillium ovatum) in full bloom. Also known—aptly—as wake robin, the trillium is one of the first splashy wildflowers of spring. A few were even starting to turn pink, as they do late in the bloom, sometimes even reaching a deep purple before fading. On the east side of the mountains the trilliums generally coincide with the first flush of morels; being on the west side, I didn't hold my breath.

Along a boggy section of trail the skunk cabbages (Lysichitum americanum) had grown up considerably since my last visit. According to the U.S. Forest Service, skunk cabbage "is edible but has a concentration of crystals of calcium oxalate which can produce a stinging, burning sensation in the mouth when chewed raw." Native Americans roasted and dried its roots.

Nearby another early wildflower, the Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), was just coming into bloom. In the treetops above a purple finch sang its warbling tune while waves of ruby-crowned kinglets came through, calling to each other. White-crowned sparrows and violet-green swallows have returned, too.

At the end of the trail I saw this jaunty red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Despite its visual appeal, the berries of this shrub are not considered choice.

Before leaving I picked a few petals of the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) to add flair to a salad of spring greens from our garden. The Rubus genus includes raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, cloudberries, and others, most of which are famously edible.

Oh, and btw, it's manly to dig flowers. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

p.s. I also saw another interesting plant that I'll get to tomorrow...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shad on a Shingle

One species that seems to be filling the void vacated by West Coast salmon is the American shad, the largest member of the herring family. Who knows, maybe this non-native import from the Atlantic would have thrived anyway, but it's hard to dismiss the idea that all that habitat altered by the damming of large western rivers has been waiting for a tenant.

Though I never enjoy killing a fish, taking home a burlap sack filled with shad doesn't feel so bad. Several million shad returned to the Columbia last year. (I can't dig up the actual number because WDFW and ODFW have enough fish-related problems to worry about much less keeping tabs on healthy fish runs.) Without much of a commercial fishery, most of those fish are available to recreational anglers, who barely put a dent in the population. With shad season coming up, it's time to polish off the stack of last year's cans in the basement and tie up some darts for the '08 run.

Usually I'll fillet and smoke a mess of shad for the freezer and have the rest canned. Smoked and canned shad is reminiscent of canned tuna, only richer and gamier. Some people (who don't like fish) think of it as fishy; their disinterest means more for the rest of us. The cans lend themselves most obviously to casual lunch sandwiches, but you can also make an easy hors d'oeuvre for dinner parties: Shad on a Shingle. Adorn crackers with a dollop of smoked shad salad, which might include diced onion, mayo, seasoning, lemon juice, and a pinch of chopped parsley. Serve this and you'll know straight away who the real fish lovers are.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wake-Up Call

California's coastal salmon season has been cancelled. That's right, all coastal fishing for salmon—both commercial and recreational—is kaput. The Governator has declared a state of emergency and filed for federal disaster relief. Even though the ban is for only one year, this could be the death-knell for the state's storied commercial salmon fleet. Much of Oregon will be shut down, too. The San Francisco Chronicle has the story.

FOTL's condolences go out to his brothers and sisters of the angle to the south, and though his home state dodged the bullet, Washington won't be looking forward to a stellar season either, with chinook spotty and coho numbers way down.

These are not good times to be a salmon and steelhead fisherman. We can only hope that a move as drastic as this will provoke the necessary soul-searching to effect change. Salmon evolved to survive droughts, floods, volcanoes, predation, periodic downturns in marine productivity, and whatever else Mother Nature could throw at them. But they're no match for dams, hatcheries, pollution, rapacious logging, profligate irrigation, flood-plain subdivisions, and desert golf courses. Do you want wild salmon? The choice is ours.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Travels on the Infobahn

Our car has been in the shop all week. Such luck should happen to everyone for at least a week out of the year. You walk more, or take the bus. Or find some other sort of vintage transportation that might be referred to as quaint. You slow down. It being springtime, you're more aware of what's popping up in your neighbors' yards.

A lot of foraging requires gas, which is unfortunate. Mushrooming especially. Not having use of a car has made me more of an urban forager this week. The dandelion obsession continues, and I've been keeping an eye out for mulch morels. Yesterday I topped all the dandelions in my front yard once again and pulled the petals while watching the Mariners game. We're having guests over for dinner this weekend; after hearing my radio interview, they've demanded to be feted with dent de lion.

Just the same, I've still managed to travel plenty this week. My travels on the Infobahn have taken me all over the country:

  • down to the Bay Area to see FeralKevin getting in touch with the wild;

  • over to Ohio, where Cinci Locavore is discovering the joys of eating locally;

  • up to Wisconsin for an herb walk in the Prodigal Gardens;

  • on to West Virginia, to hear the mysteries of plants revealed by the Herbwife;

  • back to California where the Hunter-Angler-Gardener-Cook makes art out of wild game and his green thumb;

  • and back home to the Northwest to eat sustainably with Mixed Greens.

That was just one of many trips I took sans automobile. Like I said, we should all break down once in a while.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Cost of Our Appetites...

...for cheap power, timber, produce, development, and so on.

A story in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer by enviro reporter Robert McClure raises the specter of $40 salmon this season. That's $40 per pound! Federal authorities will be meeting near Seattle this week to decide the fate of California and Oregon's chinook fisheries. As reported earlier, the California fishery is on the verge of total collapse, with returns at historical lows. We keep hearing noise about poor ocean conditions beyond our control, but really now: Could it just possibly be that agricultural diversions, subdivisions, dams, pollution, and a host of other man-made problems up and down the Golden State have finally taken their toll?

The modern history of salmon is a history of depletion and collapse wherever humans have settled and fished, with government failing the people at every step. The first to go were Atlantics in Western Europe, then Atlantics in the New World, now Pacific salmon on the West Coast. Is Alaska next? Fortunately the State of Alaska is taking steps to safeguard its prolific wild runs, such as a ban on farmed salmon. But timber, mining, and development continue to knock at the door.

Let's look at McClure's article a little more closely, because at least we have a reporter here who gets it.

* In the 8th graf he notes the rising price of chum salmon, the species of Pacific salmon at the very bottom of the commercial totem poll, the salmon also called "dog" because it's frequently used to feed sled-dog teams rather than people way up north. This is a scary thought.

* The next graf is telling, with a quote from a seafood marketer who refers to America as a "nation of salmon eaters." Good for us. Salmon are a superfood, loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids. When managed correctly, they provide a renewable cocktail of nutrition on a massive scale. We would be beyond stupid to let such a resource slip away.

* In the 11th graf McClure explains that the Alaska catch forecast for this year is down from last year by more than a third—but no biggie, because last year saw a peak catch. Salmon are cyclical. While their numbers go up and down, if managed correctly the down years can still be good years, with no reason to fear the future.

* Graf 15 presents the enviro view of California: the slide is due to "diversions of massive amounts of water to farms and cities from salmon streams in California's Central Valley."

* The next graf is the usual hemming and hawing from the feds: "...an unusual weather pattern that pummeled the marine food web, killing tens of thousands of seabirds and leaving the young salmon with little to eat." Maybe. But nature doesn't usually conspire to eliminate a species as resilient as the salmon.

* A little further down McClure introduces an interesting wrinkle: the fact that, despite the catastrophic chinook projections, the commercial whiting fleet is dumping overboard an estimated 6,000 dead salmon off the West Coast, salmon caught in their nets known euphemistically as "bycatch." Hello? Can the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) please do something about this? And even if you're going to allow bycatch, can we please get those dead salmon back to shore so we can use them in the myriad in-river restoration projects going on that require salmon carcasses to replenish the nutrient load, projects such as this.

* Which leads us to graf 29 way down near the bottom of the article, the money graf in my opinion. In the larger picture this could be called a case of burying the lead, but give McClure credit—very few reporters ever get this far at all. In graf 29 McClure explains the nature of what is known in scientific circles as shifting baseline syndrome as it applies to Pacific salmon, and I'll quote the graf in its entirety: "Overall, salmon runs have been pummeled in Washington and Oregon, compared with historic levels. For example, while scientists estimate that perhaps 5 million to 9 million chinook returned to the Columbia River each year in the late 1800s, the number returning there from 1979 to 2006 averaged just 135,000."

There it is folks! Your greatest chinook salmon factory on the planet, the Columbia River system, has gone from producing an average of 5 to 9 million chinook annually to 135,000. California's great chinook nursery, the Sacramento watershed, is in similar straits. Blame this sudden 100-year plummet on poor ocean survival? I think not.

So when—if—you pay $40 for two serving sizes of salmon at the fish market, ask yourself just what the cost really is.

(top image Adam Holloway)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's for dinner?

In all the hullabaloo last week of going crazy for dandelions and making my radio debut, I forgot to mention what happened to that birch bolete I pilfered from a neighbor's yard. Well, I ate it for dinner. Linguini with Porcini Red Sauce, Dandelion Greens, and Dandy Bread. Along with the diced and sauteed birch bolete, I added some rehydrated king boletes (Boletus edulis) gathered last fall in Oregon's Rogue River Canyon. Reading the label on the bag, with my notations of place and date, I was transported back to those open canyon slopes of madrone and black oak where the large, rusty caps of the kings were poking through the leaf-litter—a generous consolation after a so-so weekend of steelhead fishing. Eating foraged food has a way of doing that, of breathing life into the past. My friend Bradley would say "Good action!"

To be honest, the mushroom sauce was even better the next day for lunch, after its flavors had more time to open up. It's remarkable what a couple boletes—what the Italians call porcini—can do to transform a simple pasta into something more noteworthy.

Birch boletes aren't as prized as the kings—they don't have the same depth of nutty earthiness or firm texture—but at this early date any bolete is welcome. In a couple months I'll be bringing news about the kings.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Epic Morel Season Shaping Up

OK, the reports are really pouring in now. It would seem that many parts of the country are experiencing a morel bonanza this year. You can get an idea of the shakeout by taking a look at this updated progress map. Georgia is positively filthy with 'em. The lower Mississippi states, drying out after late winter floods, are producing some monster specimens. They're even finding morels up in Michigan now.

Meanwhile FOTL's stomping grounds are relatively quiet, except for the odd report here and there of suburban landscaping morels. We're trying to remain calm, but truth be told this morel hunter is absolutely champing at the bit ... though with Snoqualmie Pass closed yesterday (again) due to an avalanche slide across I-90 and winter driving advisories throughout the mountains ... it could be a while yet. The upside: all this weather might produce a bumper crop eventually if the ground retains its moisture.

The image above was snagged from the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club, which continues to do yeoman's work in providing daily reports from around the states—and even the occasional find overseas. The impressive haul dwarfing Lincoln comes from Oklahoma. I love this quote from an Okie hunter: "Killed two big gobblers and their crawls were both plum full om morels this morning. The buggers been beating me to them." Does it get better than that, people? And here's a warning to tree-markers from a Missourian: "yo, for all you uns in st lou county looking for shrooms in county park and trail areas, stop marking trees and trails with orange paint and tape...if you cain't pick out da right trees by the gray light of pre dawn then you don't belong in da woods by uself anyway...don cum bak now ya hear..." Apparently it's getting a little tense in the woods.

Of course, if you want solitude and all the morels you can eat (or dry or sell), go to the Yukon in a couple months.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dig It!

Clamming seemed like a dicey proposition to me as a kid. I remember watching my dad wade out to his neck looking for quahogs. This was on Cape Cod, near the Eel River. Eels had the run of the place, I was told. There were lots of other slimy critters. To get the quahogs, you had to feel along the bottom with your feet. This was the sort of goopy bottom that us kids desperately tried to avoid touching at all. But I discovered early on that I loved the taste—the whole ritual—of eating what we simply called steamers. I left the catching to the adults.

The clams around Puget Sound are more forgiving, which makes a day of clamming...ahem...fun for the whole family. Non-native Manila clams (Venerupis philippinarum), imported from Japan in the early 20th century, are easily accessible at low tide, and because of their short siphons they're usually found in the top few inches of substrate. This means my three-year-old daughter can capture them, which she did repeatedly the other day, earning her own limit. The native littlenecks (Protothaca staminea) prefer a deeper lair, four or more inches under. While both sport a crosshatching pattern of concentric rings and radiating ridges on their shells, Manilas are more oblong than natives and usually more colorful. You can see the differences below:

Steamed Clams in Wine and Chorizo

I adapted this dish from a Gourmet recipe I found on Epicurious by doubling the amount of chorizo (and sautéing it) and replacing part of the wine with vermouth. Also doubled the garlic, always a good thing.

1 onion, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound chorizo
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp salt
2 (or more) tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup vermouth
2 heaping tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
2 lbs live littlenecks, scrubbed

In a deep casserole or pot, saute the onion, garlic, yellow pepper, and cumin seeds in olive oil until the veggies are soft, then add the chorizo. [Does anyone really know what chorizo is? After reading the ingredient list on the package I made sure to hide it from my wife. Though I don't have much (any) experience cooking with chorizo, I was still surprised by what happened next. After removing the sausage-like sheath, I crumbled large pieces into the pot, expecting the chorizo to brown like Italian sausage. Instead, it melted. But this turned out to be a fortunate twist.] Next add the wine and vermouth and bring to a boil. Dump in the clams and cover. When the clams have opened, stir in the cilantro and serve with good bread. The melted chorizo-wine-clam broth is ambrosial. You'll want to sop up every last bit with the bread.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Welcome KUOW Listeners!

Here's an archived link to the show >>

Today at 2:08 p.m. FOTL will be on KUOW 94.9 FM Seattle, talking with "Sound Focus" host Megan Sukys about a delicious and healthy plant you can harvest right out of your own backyard: dandelions. This is a radio debut, so no promises from this not-ready-for-prime-time player... but it should open your eyes (or ears, rather) to alternative ways of dealing with a so-called weed. You can listen online.

We've been chatting up dandelions quite a bit around here in recent weeks. You can read about the health benefits of dandelions here and my quest to find other "superfoods" here, or check out the following recipes:

* Dandelicious Omelet
* Dandy Bread and Muffins
* Dandelion Delivery Cookies
* Fried Dandies

Now is a dandy time to get out there—to abandoned lots, unmown fields, farm margins, even your own backyard or parking strip—and harvest a weed that we spend zillions trying to eradicate and yet is more nutritious than any domestic vegetable.

FYI for new visitors, other topics covered by FOTL since its January '08 inception include:

* truffle hunting
* oyster po 'boys
* morel mania
* putting the porcini in Cream of Chanterelle Soup
* harvesting stinging nettles
* digging razor clams
* marinating frozen salmon

(Image by auer1816.)

Dandy Muffins and Bread

Before making this recipe, you'll need to harvest a cup of dandelion petals. This shouldn't take more than 15 minutes with the right flowers and technique. Choose tall, robust dandelions that have been allowed to grow unmolested. Abandoned lots and field margins are good places to look. Generally the presence of dandelions indicates herbicides are not in use, but roadside specimens can contain the residue of other chemicals. Choose your spots wisely. You'll want to harvest in the morning, before the flowers have fully opened. Grasp the yellow part of the flower (the petals) and twist away from the green sepals and stem. Discard any greenery. I prefer the bread to the muffins.

2 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dandelion petals
1/4 cup canola oil
4 tbsp honey
1 egg
scant 1 1/2 cups milk

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl, including petals, and mix. Make sure to separate clumps of petals. In separate bowl mix together milk, honey, oil, and beat in egg. Add liquid ingredients to dry and stir. Batter should be fairly wet and lumpy. Pour into buttered bread tin or muffin tin. Bake at 400 degrees. A dozen muffins will take 20-25 minutes. Bread will take 25-30 or more minutes. At 25 minutes, check doneness of bread with a toothpick. If still too moist inside, lower oven temperature and continue to bake, checking every five minutes.

This recipe is based on one in Peter Gail's The Dandelion Celebration; mine doubles the amount of dandelion petals. My first attempt—the muffins—used the recommended 1/2 cup of petals. You can see the color contrast in the two images above, with the bread and its full cup of petals better showing off the dandy essence. I might even add more petals next time. The final product is savory sweet, somewhat like cornbread, with the yellow petals an eye-catching glint of sunlight.

Dandelion Delivery Cookies

Take a great cookie recipe, add dandelion petals—and voila, you've got a dandy delivery vehicle. On the over-under I usually go with old standby chocolate chip, but this oatmeal cookie recipe from a woman who goes by Crescent Dragonwagon (good name, huh) is really a thing of transcendental beauty. Piling in a bunch dandelion petals detracts nothing and adds the salubrious goodness of the hated weed. But be warned: it ain't Easy-Bake OvenTM material.

This is a whopper of a recipe, requiring a coupla giant bowls and mucho measuring; I always halve it.

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 packed cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
3 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (or pecans)
1 1/2 cups raisins (optional)
2 cups dandelion petals

1. Cream sugars and butter in large bowl. Beat in egg, one at a time. (If halving recipe, one egg is enough.) When blended, stir in vanilla.

2. Combine oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a second large bowl. Mix in dandelion petals, carefully separating clumps. Stir in nuts (and optional raisins).

3. Stir dry ingredients into wet. If you're doing the full recipe, your wet bowl better be big.

4. Grease baking sheet. Scoop gobs of desired size onto sheet. You can make uncommonly huge cookies with this recipe. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes (or less for conventionally sized cookies) until light brown. Cookies are best if slightly chewy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Urban Foraging, Scene 2

Early morning commute, sun just rising over tops of buildings to the east. Cars whiz by on Dearborn; I-5 booms overhead. Our hero scrambles up a grassy hill from street level and steps through a hole in the chain-link fence. The undeveloped lot is bounded by apartment buildings on one side and the highway on the other. Trash is strewn about: a dirty mattress, beer cans, someone's torn underwear. He starts picking dandelions. These are big ones, unhindered by mowing or herbicides. He takes half-opened blossoms and pinches them at the base, twisting until the petals come free. The petals go into a plastic sack tied around a belt loop on his pants. Our hero sees two men approaching from the street. Uh-oh.

First Man (eyes red, wearing a trenchcoat and hightops): What you up to?

Urban Forager: Um...picking dandelions.

Second Man (ratty black down jacket, carrying a duffel bag): Dandy lions?

Urban Forager: That's right. To eat.

First Man: Eat? That's crazy talk.

Second Man: Sheeee.

First Man (burps and stumbles a little bit): Dandy lions, huh.

Urban Forager: They're really good for you.

Second Man (shakes head sadly): Sheeeeee.

Urban Forager: Seriously.

First Man: Them yeller petals?

Urban Forager: Sure. I'll bake something with them. Bread. Muffins. Maybe cookies.

First Man: Dandy lion cookies?

Urban Forager: Right. I could also make a dandy wine.

Both Men: Whoa!

First Man: Dandy lion wine, huh.

Urban Forager: That's right.

Second Man (smiling toothless grin): Sheeeeeeee.

The two men pause to consider the possibilities, look at the dandelions all around them in a new light, then lurch off into the 'bo jungle.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Urban Foraging, Scene 1

A quiet morning in residential Seattle. The streets are empty, most everyone is at work. Our hero wanders the sidewalks alone. Suddenly he stops, looks around, decides to knock on a door. He's wearing his fungi.com ballcap and sunglasses. No one answers. He continues down the block, then thinks better of it. Who will know? Peering around furtively, he steps off the sidewalk and snatches a large mushroom from his neighbor's front yard. The first birch bolete of the year.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Newsflash! (this is no April Fool)

Whew...FOTL is catching his breath after doing his first radio interview ever, with Megan Sukys of NPR affiliate KUOW Seattle 94.9 FM. You can tune into the "Sound Focus" segment this Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. The topic: foraging dandelions in your own backyard.

Let me just say hats off to Megan for helping this microphone-shy forager through the process. I have a new respect for the hard work broadcasters do every day as a matter of course. Megan was always ready with a question when I ran out of steam to keep the ball rolling, and her enthusiasm was boundless.

Needless to say, I don't know how the finished interview will shape up, but I can tell you we picked some dandelion buds in the yard and made an omelet in the kitchen. Megan also got to sample my Dandy Bread and Dandy Cookies, and I sent her off with a stash of each for her family and colleagues.

Don't forget to tune in this Friday. I'll post a link after it airs.