Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mustard Leaf Curry

“There’s tons of good greens popping up right now!”-Me

“I always picture you squatting in a field somewhere eating grass.”-Nick

“Yeah, that’s pretty much accurate.”-Me

“When I was a kid, I wouldn’t eat my lunch. I would just wait for recess, go out to the edge of the playground and eat leaves. I think I did it because lettuce is green and tree leaves are green, so clearly they must be good for you…that and I loved the movie Land Before Time.”-Nick

“That’s a classic movie! Well, you used to eat leaves and now you’re in a Ph.D. program, so maybe there’s something to it!”-Me


“And, while you were eating leaves I was ‘eating grass’ and I'm in the Ph.D. program too!”-Me

“Hey, that’s two data points right there!”-Nick

“We should write a paper on this!”-Me

I got out on my longboard the other day for a cruise. The pines were pollinating the air, the dandelions were blooming bright yellow-orange, but what I was excited about most were the vibrant greens! While cruising the back country roads I came upon a patch of fresh mustard greens. On a whim I decided to fill the bag in my pocket and make a spring seasonal staple- Saag!


In India, saag is traditionally made with spinach which is cooked down with tomato, onion, and spices to make a “gravy” for chicken or traditional farmers cheese (paneer). In Kashmir however, the abundant fields of mustard which are grown for producing mustard oil also yield an incredible food source…mustard greens! In Kashmir, Saag is made with spinach or with mustard greens. I have often thought twice about making Saag because spinach is so expensive, but when you are a forager, this is no issue!

I filled my bag and headed to the store to get a cheap can of tomatoes. As much as I would love to say that I had just got a nice rabbit, I have had no time to hunt lately, so we were stuck using the rest of the free-range chicken in the refrigerator. When I walked up to the cash register with my on-a-budget purchase consisting of a can of tomatoes and a cheap beer, the woman next to me inquired “What’s for dinner?” I looked at my “ingredients” and chuckled. She continued “It’s just that I am a chef, so I am always interested in what people are making…pasta?” she guessed.  I replied “actually,” pausing to lift my bag of greens, “I just gathered up a whole bunch of wild mustard greens and I am going to make a traditional Kashmiri curry tonight!” The woman was certainly not anticipating this response and replied with excitement “Wow! Those are beautiful. I can’t believe how vibrant green they are! Where on Earth did you find those?” I took a look back in the bag and realized that she was completely right. These greens seemed to glow compared to the lettuce, spinach, etc. I had seen around the store! I replied with a grin “Once you learn to identify them, there’s food growing everywhere!”

That night I blanched and pureed the leaves, sautéed them up with tomato, onion, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander, etc. and made a batch of the best Saag I have ever cooked! My girl and I cleaned our plates with big smiles.

The next day we had Saag again for lunch…it was just as good, if not better the second day!

The following week I was out walking the dog near another mustard patch. The bright yellow blossoms moved in waves with the breeze and that is when I noticed them. A group of three Asian foragers were happily browsing the patch with bags full of greens. I approached the oldest man and asked if he was after the mustard greens. He replied with a chuckle and a sign that he didn’t speak English. I signed to the mustard growing beside me, and pretended to sautee and eat it, then pointed back to him. He laughed nodded his head, pulled a handful of leaved from his bag and gestured that he was indeed going to eat them. I replied with gesture and words that “I eat them too!” and promptly picked and ate a leaf with a grin. The man was pleased…so was I. This is one of my favorite things about foraging. Here we are, two guys who can’t understand a word from each other, yet we can relate beyond cultures, and beyond language, over our common love for harvesting and eating the bounties of California’s wild side!

Thistle, mustard, minor’s lettuce, chic weed, lambs quarter, dandelion…and so much more are perfect for harvesting right now. I hope to see you out there!

Keep the old ways alive!

Mushroom Pizza Revisited

“Bu-bu-buuuuuuu!”- Jessie making a trumpet call through the coastal forest to alert us to the presence of illusive black trumpets.

Some of my favorite seasonal recipes include variations of delicious mushroom pizzas. We finally got another short burst of rain the other day and so we headed out to the coastal forests armed with baskets and pocket knives in search of edible fungi.

The forest air was sweet and cool and though the mushrooms were scarce, we had plenty of fun tracking them down. The incredible views of the stark contrast between rocky reef and the white waters of the pacific also inspired us to gather up a basket full of late season mussels from the inner tidal zone (which I ate so fast I forgot to take a picture…but trust me, they were delicious as always).

We found little patches of yellow foots, a few black trumpets, the occasional hedgehog, and a couple of oyster mushrooms under the tanoak and fir trees.

As always we were very happy to be back in our element gathering seasonal delicacies for the table.


When we got home, Abalone slept like a baby dreaming of waterfalls, moss covered boulders, fallen tree trails, and all the sights and smells of a good day in the woods.

I sautéed up the mushrooms with onion and olive oil…

…whipped up a gluten free crust…

…and baked a sensational pizza for dinner! Coupled with a glass of our homebrewed Zinfandel and what more can I say other than “life is good!”

Keep the old ways alive!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wine Making-Zinfandel



Like I said, people make some pretty good wine in this area.” 
“That's why I'm here.” “Really? Because the world, or anybody who's at all conscious about what we're trying to do here...tends to think of us as a bunch of hicks taking on the French! - Bottle Shock (2008)

Last year I got to help my Dad and our friends Mike and Pam pick, crush, and ferment a massive amount of Zinfandel and Napa Gamay grapes. I was loving it! O.k. so it isn’t foraging per say, but harvesting and pressing your own wine in Sonoma County California is still a ton of fun and a story I just had to share with you.

My Dad had been searching for a while when he found the offer. The landowners had a whole vineyard ripe and prime for picking, but they had no intention of using the fruit themselves. We contacted them and were in the truck in an hour. Armed with bins and sickles we harvested from just morning until evening.

The vines were laden with sweet burgundy fruit hanging in enormous clusters. The vibrant green and gold leaves shimmered in the sun. I couldn’t help but cut a cluster now and then and take a huge bite of the sweet grapes.

By the end of the day, we had filled the truck beds, our backs were sore, our hands were sticky, and we were all grinning from ear to ear. It had been a heck of as good harvest!


Next, we crushed and fermented the fruit, racked the sweet grog into refurbished oak barrels and let the wine age. After a year the wine finally made it through malolactic fermentation and we were ready to bottle. Ron and I headed out to pitch in on the big day. We got a siphon going and filled bottle after bottle, corking them and setting them aside in cases. Again, we worked from morning to evening.



As we raised our glasses and toasted with the sweet nectar of the vine we had a unique sense of accomplishment. We now had first-hand experience with a centuries old tradition. We had felt the grape’s sugars stick to our fingers, the warmth of the fermenting wine up to our elbows as we pushed down the skins in the primary fermenting vessels, and the chill of wine spraying into the air as we attempted to siphon the barrels into bottles. Now we enjoyed the complexities of a beautifully crafted Sonoma County Zinfandel!

If you appreciate wine, I highly encourage you to pick, press, ferment and enjoy your own. Keep the old ways alive!