Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Wild Table

One of the perks of being a writer (besides the endless hours of self-doubt and boatloads of cash) is the chance to hit the road and meet up with likeminded folks—and call it work. Likeminded in my case means those who enjoy spending time both outdoors in nature and indoors in the kitchen.

This past weekend I traveled down to Eugene, Oregon, for the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival. Along the way I stopped near the funky coastal hamlet of Yachats to visit with a friend who I knew only from Facebook. David is an ace cook, mushroom forager, and photographer. His food photography graces the web site Earthy Delights. His wife Anna is of Russian descent, which makes her genetically predisposed to sleuthing out fungi.

Together the three of us hunted some of their favorite spots and came away with a cooler filled with beautiful #1 matsutake buttons, plump porcini, and a variety of other edible boletes. Back at their home, we celebrated our bounty in Russian fashion—Za vashe zdorovie!—with a shot of yellowfoot-infused vodka (and then another) and got down to the business of snapping a few pics of that evening's wild table.

Unlike me, David is an organized and well prepared food photographer. He had a light box and tripod in his office along with various deflectors and gizmos. We set up some of that evening's goodies, starting in the upper right corner and moving clockwise: yellowfoot-infused vodka, salt-cured saffron milkcaps, matsutake, golden chanterelles, king boletes, shots of yellowfoot vodka, wild scaber-stalk bread, dried chanterelle spice rub, and smoked salmon spread.

After a first course of homemade ravioli with a pork and chestnut filling and a salad course of romaine hearts with fresh-shaved porcini and a Meyer lemon dressing, we proceeded out front into the cool evening air to grill: matsutake caps with a ponzu marinade and dipping sauce of soy and key lime; traditional olive oil and garlic marinated porcini; a fillet of wild Chinook salmon with chanterelle spice rub and rock crab butter; and a dessert of pears with spruce bud syrup. As the decanter's waterline of yellowfoot vodka ebbed, multiple bottles of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir appeared. It was a feast to savor, capping off a fruitful day of foraging with new friends on a miraculously sunny fall day on the Oregon Coast.

The next morning, after a rise-n-shine bowl of Matsutake Wonton Soup, I drove the pretty little Alsea River through the Coast Range, spying salmon fishermen along the way, to Eugene for the mushroom festival. It was a huge success, with a big crowd of fungal fanciers, more than 400 species identified, and a bluegrass band playing outside. Volunteers whooped it up at the After Party and I made the wise decision to spend one more night. I also had the opportunity to put a few faces to names, including the elusive Chicken-of-the-woods (aka Laetiporus Sulphureus) and Dimitar Bojantchev, moderator of the Mushroom Talk listserv. As a nightcap, my hosts in Eugene, Bruce and Peg, plied me with their delicious (and powerful) homemade blackberry brandy.

The next day I bid adieu to Madame Muscaria and the rest of the characters that make Eugene and the Oregon Coast such a pleasure to visit, with plans to make it back down there again as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Upcoming Events

This fungi train keeps a-rolling...

Thursday night, October 24, I'll be part of an all-star lineup for Seattle Lit Crawl. Other readers will include Ivan Doig, Will Self, Claire Dederer, Neal Thompson, Ellen Forney, and many more. Join me at Capitol Cider at 8pm for the "Farm to Fable" crowd, with readings by Kathleen Flinn, Joe Ray, Kurt Timmermeister, and myself. After Party at Richard Hugo House at 9pm.

This weekend, October 25-27, I'll be in Eugene, Oregon, to speak at Lane Community College on Friday at 7pm, as part of the Cascade Mycological Society's fall lecture series, and on Sunday I'll be signing books at the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Fest.

For fungi fanciers around Puget Sound, I'll be reading and showing slides at Village Books in Bellingham on November 13 as part of the North Cascades Institute's "Nature of Writing" series. And on November 14 I'll be at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

After that, I take a bite out of the Big Apple. More on my East Coast swing later...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Porcini Lasagna per Marcella

My first cookbook was Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which collects into a single volume two of her earlier books, The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking. (Actually, it was owned by my girlfriend Martha, who would later become my wife, and even back then it was dog-eared and flecked with red sauce.) We refer to the book simply as Marcella, and it remains our go-to reference for Italian cuisine.

For many of us, making Italian at home means a night of romance: wine, maybe too much of it; endless antipasti of olives, roasted peppers, prosciutto; some candlelight. It’s an occasion. Having a signature Italian ingredient on hand such as fresh porcini mushrooms (translated as the evocative “little pigs”) seals the deal.  

When we heard that Marcella Hazan had passed away at the end of September, we took a nanosecond to decide on dinner. It would be a night to celebrate the whiskey-drinking, chain-smoking woman who introduced so many Americans to Italian culinary traditions. We cracked open a bottle of Chianti and started slicing up the last of our hard-won little piggies, which we had gathered in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State for just such a meal. Next we flipped open Marcella to remember her very particular rules about making a béchamel sauce. A Porcini Lasagna would mark the occasion.

This recipe is adapted from both Marcella and a recent edition of Health magazine (a publication she would surely object to). While conventional, store-bought mushrooms such as cremini and portobello will suffice, it’s the sweet, nutty flavor of fresh wild porcini that truly makes this dish.

12 lasagna noodles, boiled and drained
4 cups milk
8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
6 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
1 tbsp sage, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 lbs mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup Asiago cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Make the béchamel white sauce by simmering milk in a saucepan and setting aside. In a separate pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour to melted butter while stirring until a paste forms; the paste should darken ever so slightly without becoming too colored. Slowly whisk hot milk into flour. Continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth. It should be thick enough to coat a spoon. Stir in minced garlic, most of chopped parsley (reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish), salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside and cover.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté diced onions until soft and translucent. Remove to a bowl.

3. In same pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and sauté sliced mushrooms until tender (porcini mushrooms should be lightly golden on outside). Season with salt and pepper. Return onions to pan and add chopped thyme and sage. Cook together, stirring, another minute. Remove from heat.

4. Mix cheeses together in a bowl.

5. In a greased 13 X 9 inch baking dish, assemble the lasagna. Spread a few spoonfuls of béchamel over bottom. Place three noodles lengthwise in dish, then spread about a 1/2 cup of sauce over, followed by a third of the mushroom-onion mixture, and 1/3 cup of cheese. Repeat layers twice more. Top with final layer of noodles, remaining sauce, and cheese.

6. Bake uncovered, about 45 minutes. It should be lightly browned on top and edges. Garnish with remaining parsley and allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wild Mushroom Show

This year marks the 50th year of the Puget Sound Mycological Society's annual mushroom show in Seattle, and what a silver anniversary it will be! Join the fungal fun this weekend in Seattle.

Unless you've been living under a mossy rock, you probably know this has been a extraordinary fall for fungi in the Pacific Northwest. The cool, wet weather is bringing out a diversity of wild mushrooms, including some of the mycophagist's favorites: king boletes, matsutake, bear's head, and many more. The woods are so full of chanterelles right now that commercial pickers are earning a dollar or less per pound!

Rarities will also be on display. Seems like everyone is finding blue chanterelles this year, in a addition to many unusual varieties of inedible, colorful, and poisonous fungi.

If you're new to mushrooms or looking to improve your knowledge, the annual show is a great way to bone up. Real mushrooms, identified by common and scientific names (and edibility), will be on display. Expert identifiers can ID your catch with their microscopes. There will be cooking demos, lectures, slide presentations, and more mushroom-themed kitsch than you can shake a morel-handled walking stick at.

I'll be at the show on Saturday from 3pm until close, selling and signing copies of The Mushroom Hunters, and on Sunday I'll be giving a slide talk, "Adventures on the Mushroom Trail," at 1pm and signing books afterward.

PSMS Annual Show

Saturday, October 12, 2013 – 12pm - 7pm
Sunday, October 13, 2013 – 10am - 5pm

The Mountaineers
Magnuson Park
7700 Sandpoint Way NE,
Seattle, WA 98115