Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Empty Buckets?

There's a lot of chatter right now in mycological circles about proposed legislation in Oregon to require permits for all mushroom harvesting in the state. As written, the law would apply to both commercial and recreational mushroom hunters, although there is a proposed amendment to exempt personal use gathering.

After reading through the documents, I'm still not sure what I think about the legislation. There are arguments to be made for and against permitting. Complicating the issue is a whirlwind of accusations and counter-accusations flying around the message boards. Some say the bill is designed to discourage out-of-state commercial pickers and buyers; on the flip side, private landowners claim that a robust permit system will help to limit theft and property damage by truffle poachers.

The issue of truffle poaching, I suspect, is a real problem in places such as the Willamette Valley, but perhaps it needs to be taken up separately. There is also the question of large numbers of mushroom hunters impacting sensitive habitats on public land. This, too, is no doubt a problem in a few select areas where the habitat is limited (e.g., the Oregon Dunes) or the numbers of harvesters exceptionally large (e.g., Crescent Lake). But it’s hard to imagine that these instances can’t be handled on a case-by-case basis.

In general, it seems to me that public land managers in Oregon are in a better position to determine regulatory decisions in their districts than a sweeping, citizen-backed legislative effort. Admittedly, one could argue that land managers are playing "catch-up ball" when it comes to all things mycological, and we also know that citizen efforts have been necessary through the years to move an intransigent governmental apparatus.

The bottom line is that I'm in favor of getting people outdoors to interact with their environment. Local, state, and federal governments should erect as few barriers as possible to this outcome, while simultaneously protecting our natural heritage for future generations. It's a balancing act, to be sure.

For years, Washington State's Gifford Pinchot National Forest has required all mushroom hunters be permitted (a free permit in the case of recreational pickers), ostensibly to study land use patterns and user group demographics. In this case, the data might be useful to land managers trying to make decisions about sensitive habitats. On the other hand, the permit is a barrier to what is essentially, in most cases, a low-impact outdoor activity. Besides, it's only valid for 10 days, which strikes me as miserly, especially since a biannual commercial license is $125, considerably more than an annual fishing license.

I'd like to hear other thoughts on this subject. Comments open.

Photo: JacobC

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Urban Naturalist

I'll be contributing articles on occasion to the Seattle P.I.'s Urban Naturalist blog, helmed by Waverly Fitzgerald. Here's my first post, on that ornery yet useful weed, the stinging nettle. The post was actually inspired by the children's book, Wake Up, It's Spring!, which my daughter Ruby broke out of retirement this week.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Razor Clam Foraging & Cooking Class

***UPDATE*** Just a few spots left.

Attn: Razor Clam Newbies! In association with Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec, I'll be offering my first razor clam foraging and cooking class at the end of March. This is something I've wanted to do for a while, but the planning required has stymied efforts. Until now.

This is a pilot program, and as such it's a great deal. We have rented a house on the Washington Coast north of Ocean Shores for two nights, March 28-29. This coincides with morning razor clam openings on Friday and Saturday. The program will begin Thursday night with an informal "nightcap" discussion of razor clam biology, habitat, and foraging technique. The next morning we'll dig razor clams on the beach right out back. That night we'll reconvene at cocktail hour to go over processing (razor clams require cleaning) and then make a three-course feast with our catch. There will be an opportunity to dig another limit the following morning before checkout.

The cost—including 2 nights at the Seabrook resort, foraging instruction, breakfast on Friday/Saturday, Friday lunch, and Friday dinner—is $225 per person. Register at or call Jeff Ozimek at (206) 842-2306 x115. Deadline to register is 3/17/13. Hurry, space is limited.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Win Free Tickets to Voracious Tasting

***UPDATE*** Thanks for the comments. Oysters and stinging nettles seem to be topping the list, along with some oddities like kangaroo. Whoever the "unknown" poster is in the first two comments, received at 9:26 a.m. and 9:29 a.m. respectively, you'll need to get in touch with me in order to claim your tickets. Email finspotcook at gmail dot com. Thanks for playing everyone!

I have a pair of tickets to give away to Seattle Weekly's 4th Annual Voracious Tasting and Food Awards. I'm setting the bar super the first to leave a non-robo, spam-free comment and they're yours. Let's make this quid pro quo: tell me about the last really good wild edible you ate, whether in a restaurant or at home, and what made it so good.

From the press release: "Held at the Paramount Theatre, Voracious Tasting will feature bites from 40 of the areaʼs great restaurants and food trucks, an open bar with beer and wine, and cocktails stirred by over a dozen mixologists from some of our favorite watering holes. Join us as we toast Seattleʼs diversity of delicious local cuisine at a reasonable price of $45!"

That makes this pair of free tix a $90 value. Comments open.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pimentón Clams and Pig Face

This post is a shout-out to my peeps in the shellfish dept. One of the benefits of helming FOTL is the opportunity to share my experiences with others keen to forage and cook wild foods—a recipe for good times in the outdoors, with fun people.

My shellfish classes, in particular, have escalated (perhaps as word has gotten out and each subsequent class is intent on besting the previous one) into veritable bacchanals. There's something about working up a sweat on the tide flats and then whumping together a feast over campstoves that encourages plenitude: folks show up with champagne, beer, cheese, salumi, cookies, and other treats. We've had basement apple wine, home-cured sausage, and empanadas. There's almost always a fillet or two of smoked salmon and recently someone brought bento boxes packed full of potstickers, barbecued pork, and candied almonds.

On the trail to the tidelands - (c) Susan Choi
The blueprint is simple. Everyone meets at the beach, where we make introductions and go over some key points of identification, biology, habitat, foraging technique, regulations, and precautions. Then we hit the shellfish beds to gather our limits of clams and oysters. The rest of the day is spent hanging out back at the picnic shelter, cooking our catch.

My co-leader, John Adams, manages Taylor Shellfish's Dosewallips facility. As a third-generation shellfish farmer, he also has his own family business, Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters, where he's been making a name all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond for his Skookum Point oysters. Recently a writer from Bon Appetit dropped by to sample John's stuff.

An oyster bed for bivalve dreams - (c) Susan Choi
John and I are fortunate to have Jeff Ozimek, outdoor programs coordinator at Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec, in our corner. Jeff is the mastermind behind all this fun, and Seattle Parks & Rec (if they ever have a budget windfall) would be smart to look across the pond to see what Jeff is doing to get his community outside interacting with the natural world.

For my part, after the clams have been dug and the oysters picked, I get to relax a little bit. Delegation carries the day as the students do the prepping and cooking. Usually there are a few who lead the charge. This past weekend Team France made Steamed Clams with Wine and Herbs while Team China filled a wok with Spicy Black Bean Clams. I watched, offering the occasional advice and encouragement. We all slurped oysters until we could eat no more.

We usually get a few "repeat offenders" at each class. This time around we were pleased to have back photographer Susan Choi, who graciously provided most of the photos for this post.

Even the rain couldn't put a damper on the proceedings. John built a fire, the canopies went up, and we continued the feast. Finally, well past dark, the park security detail had to shoo us out. Everyone went home with plenty of shellfish.

Picking the right oyster: Does it have a deep pocket? - (c) Susan Choi

Pimentón Clams and Pig Face looks back to my new year's resolution to cook more improvisationally. It's a variation on Pasta alle Vongole, and a keeper. The pig face of the title, smoked jowl, is a lot like bacon, but try to find the jowl if you can because its mix of succulence and crispiness can't be beat. Combined with the clams, smoked paprika, sweet red pepper, and some white wine, the resulting sauce makes for a distinctively Iberian way to dress up pasta.

I've made steamed clam dishes that hail from all over the world. Italian clams and Thai clamsMexican clams and Japanese clams. This riff on Spanish clams turned out so good that I expect the recipe below to take its place in the inner circle of my go-to clam dishes.

Linguini with Clams, Pimentón & Smoked Pig Jowl

10 oz linguini
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 lb smoked pig jowl, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp semisweet (or sweet) smoked paprika
salt, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 dozen manila clams
2 handfuls wild watercress, dandelion greens, or arugula, torn
parsley, chopped for garnish

1. In a large, deep-sided saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low and slowly cook diced jowl, rendering fat until the meat is crispy, about 30 minutes of mostly untended cooking with occasional stirring.

2. While the jowl is rendering, bring a pot of water to boil and add linguini. Cook until not quite al dente, drain, and set aside.

3. When diced jowl is crispy, raise heat to medium, add onions, and cook in pork fat for a minute before adding garlic and red pepper. Cook together for another 2 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and paprika. Salt to taste.

3. Raise heat to high, de-glaze with white wine, and allow to bubble for 30 seconds, stirring, before adding clams and covering.

4. When clams begin to open, mix in greens and linguini. Continue to stir, coating pasta and reducing liquid if necessary. Serve and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 2.

Drinking wine, working the wok - (c) Susan Choi