Monday, October 24, 2016

Happy Hunting Grounds

Carmel moved from the city to the country for two years and then back to the city again, where there's work, and she now visits my place for her shot of woods and countryside and, by the way, my expertise with pot roast, this time with Italian red wine sauce and served with polenta. Tres sophisticato!, or something like that. Carmel's friend with the lolling tongue is Janey, her exceptionally fine purebred border collie. The two of them are among the waning number of my friends still willing and able to walk the woods and bushwhack for the adventure of it. Beautiful and temperate late-October days can't be wasted! So off we went (with me wearing hunter orange; it's crossbow season) climbing some strenuous slopes, descending into ravines, and Janey reverting to feral dog and kicking up as many leaves as she could. I had explained why mushroom-hunting season was over and how I had preserved my finds when we found a fresh Hen of the Woods between the "toes" of an oak tree.
       I said it was edible but I'd leave it there because I had my year's supply, and Carmel, who'd never seen one in the wild before, to my surprise said, "I want it. I'll take it." So we cut it from the earth, and I explained its anatomy and how to cook it (break or cut it into florets and sautee or roast like cauliflower), and here she is with her prize. She took it back to the city--what an adventure for the mushroom!--and cooked it for herself and boyfriend, who was once Demetrius's best friend, and they pronounced it delicious.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Asking for Miracles (and thanking You in advance)

Loneliness feels to me like episodes of freezing weather within. I walk the woods, exercise until I drop, clean my road shoulder, work, rake, go places: last night to a Protestant church's annual pork-sausage supper. I love the food, so I went. I wonder how many people did not attend because they'd have to sit alone. It takes a certain form of courage. I sat next to an old couple, said hello and "Please pass the applesauce," the most wonderful applesauce in Franklin County. I forced myself to stay certain number of minutes so as not to dash away. I forced myself not to cry. There were several reasons to do so. I'll skip them. Wide awake until 2:00 a.m. Woke early.

It's a beautiful October day, so, back to the woods to try again to create peace within. Mostly I don't mind being alone, but not when there are so many wonderful things to share. Often when I walk I ask myself, "What extraordinary thing will I see today?" Foxes? Blue asters? Doe and fawns? "Please show me something wonderful," I asked. "Thanking You in advance for a miracle." I saw nothing through the loneliness draped around me. No one even to tell. Raked my lawn while more leaves fell all around, and appreciated what I could. Normally I do that well. A former prisoner of war once said, in a documentary film, "A good day is one when the lock is on the INSIDE of the door." Still a little cloud. Go away, loneliness! Go away! It's unbecoming! Heartache isn't real!

I raised my teary eyes and saw something strange. Moving closer I saw it was--good God, in my very own yard--at the base of a tree, Hens of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) had grown! The king, the twelve-point buck, of mushrooms! Not only fascinating and beautiful--but edible!

I laughed huge hearty genuine laughter, said "Thank you!", carefully cut four of them from the earth and roasted the fronds of two until they were beautifully crisp, chopped and sauteed the rest for later (I'm still "off my feed," unfortunately) and sold the other two "hens" to a grocery store for $20 (the first time I've ever approached a store and done that) because their season is short and I couldn't eat or preserve them all--and it's to share, because this mushroom, also known as "maitake," is used by major medical centers for its anti-cancer, anti-tumor properties. Go to WebMD or the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center website to learn more.
A miracle in more ways than one! Both of these fresh "hens" were at the foot of the same tree.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Carefully I select from my collection of 13 old restaurantware coffee cups the one which suits my mood or the one I think will alter it for the better. These are the three with airbrushing. The blue and red are from Buffalo China, the goldish from Shenango. Buffalo, Syracuse, and Iroquois were three major manufacturers in upstate New York and I started with six cups from Syracuse China while living in Syracuse 30 years ago in an apartment measuring 10 feet by 12 feet, not caring because I'd shared a flat for three years and wanted my own life. At the Syracuse China (now out of business) factory outlet with its bins of seconds, cups and saucers, I selected six different cups at just a few cents each; four survive intact, and I keep one that's cracked, hoping it will heal.

None of these were among them. Over the years I have eBayed, seeking mostly to replace the one Syracuse cup with a Greek key design around its edge, broken when a table collapsed, never found, but now and then falling in love with a cup for no good reason; I did not grow up in or near a diner, nor eat at any. My passion for them must be prehistoric. They are with me every day and never leave. They do not booty call. They do not come home at 3 o'clock in the morning and lie to me about where they were.

Fine china I never had, don't have, and don't want. It doesn't suit my knockabout lifestyle or keep the coffee warm--the whole point of thick-walled, thick-lipped restaurant china. The blue cup has a matching saucer, one of two cups in my collection that does.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Winter Weather Forecasting with Persimmons

I stole these wild persimmons, but I agreed with myself, and don't you, that whoever makes the most effort to get them deserves them? It was only a few and for a good cause: cutting them open, then halving their brown, almond-like seeds to get a forecast of winter weather.

Last year I cut wild persimmons open expecting to see a knife, fork, or spoon shape and saw nothing like that, only seeds parked in their centers. This year I did more homework, finding that folklore enshrined in The Farmer's Almanac says the insides of persimmon seeds show either a knife, fork, or spoon. The knife shape indicates a winter with cold, knife-like winds ahead. The fork indicates a mild winter. The spoon indicates a winter with heavy, wet snow (the spoon resembles a snow shovel).

Slicing vertically in half a one-half-inch persimmon seed required a clamp and a very sharp knife, but I got the answer. Used a special lens to take the photo close-up so there'd be no mistaking it:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pretty Poison(ous) Fall Mushrooms

Amanita for sure.
Veil hangs off the cap's edge -- like a slip showing.

Shreds of a veil.
Two weeks ago, edibles were widely available, but today's pass through the woods showed me some strange and beautiful fungi that, after I looked them up, I found belonged to the Amanita family. Avoid this deadly family. Its mushrooms can be white, yellow, orange, red, gray, brown, or greenish. Gorgeous but poisonous. How are these Amanitas although they look so different? They show family characteristics. If you see even ONE of these characteristics, stay away.

1. Amanitas grow from a bulbous base.
2. Amanitas have a thin "veil" from the stem to edges that tears and shreds as the mushroom grows. Often, there are shreds left hanging, like a slip showing. Often, there's a ring around the stem where the veil was attached.
3. Amanita caps often have pimples or scales, or they look as if they were salted with flake salt or peppered.
4. Some Amanitas have shaggy stems.

These are from the woods, but Amanitas also appear in lawns and in mulch bought from garden stores.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

So Long, Suckers

I  could have a vine-covered cottage, but there's plants enough around here, and invasive vines shouldn't receive encouragement, so I set about pulling down the several vines growing roofward on the south-facing wall. I don't know what they are, but they have the neatest little feet--suckers--they use to climb the wall and hold on. They cling so tightly that when ripped from the siding it sounds like Velcro, and they take the paint off. For good measure I tore the roots out when I could and cut them when I couldn't.
Who cut the hearts into the cottage's nonfunctional shutters I don't know, but at different times they please me and other times make me ill. I used to know, way back when, an old man, German immigrant, a former Nazi Youth. He had heart cutouts in his shutters just like this. He apologized to me for the Nazis who imprisoned my dad for four years. He didn't know any better, he said, back then. I believe him. I'm seeing how politics can sweep people up. But now I have difficulties loving the heart cutouts and often don't even see them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A First Time for Everything

This is not a Hostess Snowball; it's a mushroom, a Bearded Tooth (Hericium erinaceus) and for a couple of years I've been reading that Bearded Tooth tastes real good, ranking up there with morels and chanterelles as "choice" eating. Found it in my woods on a fallen log along with several others, but took only this one and a smaller one about an inch and a half in diameter. I'd read that they tasted good only when extremely fresh, and turn sour as they age.

So in the kitchen I brushed off the bits of dirt and took a knife to it. The "teeth" are very soft, softer than coconut, and the inner part about as firm as a button mushroom's interior, except it's branched, like the interior of a cauliflower. It smelled good, like mushrooms. Not knowing what else to do--I'd never eaten one or been served one--I sliced it into little steaks.
Bearded Tooth in the pan.

Next I threw butter in a pan and let it sizzle, laid the mushroom slices in, and cooked them through. Never, never eat raw mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms. Many contain toxins that evaporate when they are thoroughly cooked. Sauteed in butter is my favorite. Added a little salt. The Bearded Tooth slices gave off a lot of water before they browned.

Next, the test phase. Before eating any wild mushroom or serving any I always taste a tiny, tiny bit. I'm not allergic to any mushrooms I know of, but a taste is enough to cause a reaction if one's going to happen. My guests do the same test. I swallowed and then waited a few minutes. When I did not choke, vomit,  or die, I ate some more.

Bearded Tooth is the most delicious mushroom I have ever eaten. It's sweet, in the way lobster meat is sweet. I'd rather eat Bearded Tooth than morels or even the chanterelles I like better than morels. I'd rather eat Bearded Tooth than Chicken of the Woods, or Hen of the Woods, or oyster mushrooms. I love first-time experiences!

Or I love most of them. On my way out of the woods with my basket of shrooms a buzzing wasp somehow got caught in the shiny hoop earring I was wearing in my left ear. It struggled and couldn't find its way out. I swatted at it and then pulled the earring out. By then it had stung my earlobe. It swelled and hurt like an s.o.b. and I prepared to transmit my GPS position and die like people on Mt. Everest do. When it didn't happen I kept mushroom hunting, forced by the swelling to remove a stud earring (I wear four in each ear). It hurt for two hours. Now I'm fine. If you love the woods, got to take the rough stuff with the good.