Monday, January 25, 2016

Ethnobotany Walk and Grubbing on Good Greens

I had the honor of leading an ethnobotany walk a few days ago. The workshop was designed to introduce students to edible, medicinal, and useful plants that grow along our local riparian corridors.

We encountered many delicious species such as the minors' lettuce pictured above and the mallow pictured below.

Edible thistle greens were found in great abundance, ready for harvest as well.

Students learned about useful species such as this osage orange (well protected by numerous thorns) as well. Special attention was paid to how indigenous peoples made use of such this case as the world's best wood for carving bows.

And soon after we found a world class arrow-making material: Arundo.

Students patiently listened and took copious notes and pictures while I yammered on about specific details of our local flora and what they meant, and continue to mean, to foragers past and present.

Of course, I also emphasized species to avoid consuming including this beautiful mushroom that was not to be found in my go-to mushroom identification book...

And this beautiful yet deadly poison hemlock!

We concluded the hike by an in-depth look at an easily identifiable and often abundant fungi, the puff ball...

And a group photo.

It was a heck of a good time!

When I got home I decided to finally make up a batch of saag paneer and aloo matar. The saag was made Punjabi style with wild mustard greens, while the aloo matar had additional spices such as my homemade sea salt and wild harvested mustard seeds from last summer. I even got some nice roti cooking over an open flame.

Try as I might, I can never seem to make my saag look pretty. There's just something about a greenish-brown curry that just doesn't look appetizing. But all I can say is this, try it once, and your eyes will never fool you again! This was absolutely incredible!
Well, we had a heck of a rain all last week and now it is clear and crisp which is a sure fire recipe for mushrooms to start popping up everywhere. I can't wait! Hope to see you out there.
Keep the old ways alive!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wild Nettle and Oyster Mushroom Quiche

Armed with my homemade bow and stone-tipped arrows, I paddled down a local waterway in search of migratory game birds the other day.
My mobile blind (kayak with assorted burlap and camouflaged netting) worked quite well. In the first few minutes of the hunt I already had several close shots on wood ducks and drifted to within ten yards of grazing deer and a whole family of otters. As the rain gently drizzled down and flocks of distant Canada geese honked by, I had a big smile on my face. This is the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday!

Can you see the otter looking back at me?
Waterfowl hunting seems to be the only activity I know where I can dress like a bandit and everyone will still smile and wave as they pass by;)
I once read a bumper stick that said "Vegetarian: An old Indian word meaning 'bad hunter'." As I missed shot after shot and spied a nice patch of wild mustard greens on the bank, this slogan came back into my head. I got a good chuckle as I switched gears from hunting to gathering and collected half a bag of greens for a favorite seasonal vegetarian dish: Punjabi Saag Paneer (with mustard greens instead of spinach)...but more on that later.
The next day, my buddy Jason and I headed out again, this time in hopes of finding more local oyster mushrooms.

We found a big cluster right off the bat but they had seen a little too much rain and were starting to degrade.
A little while later we came across a patch of honey mushrooms.
Then we found a super cool poisonous rough-skinned newt.
Then we found what we were looking for, a small but very health flush of oyster mushrooms!

As we turned to head back for the day, I spied a patch of edible stinging nettle and stopped to gather a few dozen leaves.

I had been wanting to try making a quiche for some time, and so I was not about to pass up the opportunity for one of my favorite locally abundant pot herbs!
On the way out I also snagged a few sprigs of wild fennel to throw into the mix.
Once home, I parboiled the nettle and sautéed the mushrooms with bacon and onions.

Next I layered the wild ingredients with egg, cream and cheese...not exactly a recipe for weight watchers, but wow was it good!

Abalone enjoyed watching her "favorite show" (me cooking) from the edge of the kitchen, and was subsequently rewarded for her patience!

It is quite easy to learn to identify oyster mushrooms and stinging nettle. So, for the adventuresome reader, I highly encourage you to get out there and give this meal a try! I ate half of a 9" quiche in an hour's time... soooo good! 
Remember, always be sure to key out your plants twice in the field and once again in the kitchen to be positive that no potentially toxic hitchhiker species tagged along. Wear gloves while cutting nettle, at least until you learn the tricks of this stinging yet sensational green.
And always strive, to keep the old ways alive!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Madrone Berry Pancakes, a Wildcrafted Feast, and Black Walnut Ice Cream

"I love a fresh cut field with the first frost on, how it shines like gold when the sun turns on!" - Locash

There's just something about the winter time that beckons we get out and enjoy! This is my favorite time of year. Everything is green and wet and the fungi are popping up everywhere you look!
Though most berries are found in abundance in the summer and spring, the delightful and distinctly beautiful berries of the madrone tree flourish in the heart of winter.

Even a quick glance at this smooth, burgundy-barked cousin to the cinnamon tree, and you will never forget it.

I gathered up some of the fruit and headed on down the trail to see what else I might find.
Delicious seasonal greens including chickweed, thistle, minor's lettuce, and wild mustard were springing up in droves of vibrant green!

I gathered up a fistful of these edible sprouts and then spied a healthy black walnut tree.

After placing a dozen walnuts in my bag, I called it a day and headed home.
The next morning I enjoyed madrone berry silver dollar pancakes for breakfast.

For dinner I cooked up a fillet of the rockfish that my dad and I recently caught and paired it with a chickweed-thistle green salad, and sautéed oyster mushrooms from last weekend's gathering. The only part of the meal that wasn't wild harvested was the yam (though I sure wish there was a place to find them in the wilds of California). I even finished the fish with a sprinkling of my homemade sea salt.
The flavors were incredible!

For dessert it was one of my newest favorite sweets: homemade black walnut ice cream with homemade pomegranate caramel sauce (and yeah, I did forage the pomegranate).

My first bite of this concoction left me smiling so wide I had to wait a full minute before I could take another bite. The flavors danced across my palate and I was quite happy about it!

Have fun hunting, get out there gathering, find time for fishing, and always strive to keep the old ways alive!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Small Game Stew and Other Ramblings Too

"How did our ancestors do it? I mean, we worked hard for our food today. If they didn't get a rabbit by sundown, it's not like they could just go get something off of the dollar menu!" -Andrew

As first light illuminated wisps of fog over the meadows of our go-to hunting spot, my good buddy Andrew and I set a steady but silent pace in search of our dinner. The morning dew hung to cob webs and grass blades alike making for a breathtakingly beautiful start to a great day in the field.
It was our hope that we might secure some small game and a few fungi for a wild stew; the perfect dish on a cool and wet winter's day.
By mid morning we could already tell we were in for a heck of a good day!

We found oyster mushrooms in abundance, though many were a few days past prime and thoroughly soaked from recent rains. However we still filled a gallon bag with a healthy bounty from the trunk of a single old dead-standing cottonwood tree!
Late in the day, we were both successful in our hunt for small game. Ten minutes before the end of legal hunting light, Andrew got his first rabbit! I had had the honor of introducing Andrew to the art of sustainable subsistence hunting over the last year and was very proud of his fine shot.

We discussed the importance of ethical harvests, staying connected with the fish, plants, and game we consume, and gave thanks for the harvest we would enjoy this night!
As the rabbit braised in the pot, we cooked up an incredible oyster mushroom pizza!

The next day it was a fantastic rabbit and fungi stew!

It had taken us from sunrise until sunset to aquire our food, but every bite of savory pizza and wild harvested hearty stew has been well worth the effort! Besides, had we come home empty handed we still would have enjoyed all of the sights, sounds, and smells of a great day in the woods.
We had a great weekend out in the wilds of northern California watching deer, geese, and hawks in the daytime and listening to owl hoots echo throughout the forest as night fell.

We have plenty of stew for the coming days, dried mushrooms for the coming weeks, and memories to last a lifetime.

We hope to see you out there soon, by flood or by field.

Keep the old ways alive!