Friday, September 20, 2013

God Answers Denis' Prayers about Wild Mushrooms

Mushrooms Boletes

So, last week among the mushrooms springing up beneath the thickets on this lonely point where we were staying, I found what looked like the Cep, also known as the King Bolete. These large, brown mushrooms are found and eaten everywhere in Europe. As an American I've felt lame and ignorant when it comes to harvesting and eating what is so OB-vious to other people everywhere. And FREE! There are some species I know beyond any shadow of doubt. Like Morels which, if you know me you are sick of hearing about. The Common Puffball is pretty safe as long as you don't confuse it with a very young mushroom of another sort in its early stages. Once, I even found the Giant Puffball. They are so enormous,I swear when I saw it in the woods from a distance, I wondered who on earth kicked a soccer ball to here!? It deteriorated before I could eat it all.
Anyway, I was relying on some of my guides to help me figure out what is edible and what is not. Two of my favorite guides:
Edible Mushrooms by Clyde M. Christensen  He is a no nonsense kind of guy who believes the best way to harvest edibles is not by knowing all the poisonous ones - there are too many - but to know the edible ones so well you will never make a mistake.
Mushrooming Without Fear: The Beginner's Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms by Alexander Schwab is a fantastic guide. He show-cased some of the most common edible mushrooms and each species had many photos and characteristics to look for so you would never, ever mistake them for anything deadly. I trusted him. Even when I read:  "the white network on the stem of the King is very clear and makes identification almost foolproof." It is that "almost" that is a little unnerving.
After fingering each page of his book, I couldn't stop myself gathering a whole lot of the best examples, Ceps, Birch bolete, Larch Boletus, Puffballs. Then, I brought them inside and prepared them for supper.
Many mushrooms
Ready to clean

Mushroom Mix

I peeled the caps - they all had a membrane that was easy to pull off - cleaned them, dried and sliced them. Sautéed them in a little butter, added chopped garlic, chicken broth and white wine and commenced reducing the liquid. The aroma filled the cabin and I couldn't wait.  As they simmered away, I thought, "I'll just take my iPhone and google poisonous boletus because, just in case. As you probably know, anyone who is a situational hypochondriac should stay away from Google. So I found a ton of sites that mentioned that some Boletus are difficult to identify and some species might make you sick especially if you are elderly or a little unhealthy or just don't care to risk 48 hours of your life blowing out your intestines.
Denis was reading on the porch when I rose from my chair and confessed that after a little more research I didn't think I should take the chance. His relief shocked me. I hardly believed him when he said he had been praying I WOULD NOT even taste them. He insisted he was sincere. If he had tried to stop me, I suppose I would, of course, have eaten the whole mess. This is not a virtue.
I stepped into the bathroom for a minute and when I came out the pan was empty. Anita had already dumped them in the trash.
I need a living mentor. Where is she?!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stink Horns and Fly Agaric Mushrooms

On this small point of Wisconsin land that gently bulges into Pike Lake there must be several dozen species of trees from larch to maples. Last week something in nature aligned with trees, weather and decaying earth because the ground gloriously released hundreds of mushrooms. Everywhere. Some as big as dinner plates and as soft as Nerf balls, others so tiny and camouflaged you would never spy them unless you stared at your feet for a hundred years.
WI Cabin
Pike Lake Cabin

Boletes Not sure what kind. Perhaps "Red Cracked"
I saw lots of boletes - distinguished by a hundreds of tubes on the underside giving them a sponge-y feel and appearance. Dozens popped in the grass just outside the cabin door - golden nuggets blending with the yellow leaves that are beginning to fall from the maples. I was sure they were  larch boletes and I collected them, determined to eat them later. We found several fairy rings - mushrooms that are supposed to be delectable, but we decided we needed more information on them.
Fairy ring mushrooms
A Fairy Ring

Fly Agaric 1
Immature Fly Agaric (Aminta muscaria)

Fly Agaric 2

Two of the most fascinating species (I can't identify that many) were unmistakable. Aminita Muscaria - the beautiful poisonous Fly agaric. I love finding this legendary mushroom of fairy tales and wood elves. When young its round cap varies in shade from orangey-red to straw yellow and sits perfectly round on a white stem. The cap is covered with white or pale yellow warts. As it matures it flattens and broadens into a plate that can range from three to ten inches across. It attracts flies who lap up the sticky surface with their little tongues, go into a dizzy dive and fall dead. Apparently there are folks in Siberia (and who knows where else) who risk enjoying the hallucinogenic properties and live to tell. But I guess its a gamble, not everyone survives. So how good could the trip be? Or how bad your life? (I never fail to exclaim.)
Stinkhorn Mushroom

Denis alerted us to a stinkhorn mushroom. Yes, it stinks and yes, it's shape is disgustingly hornish. He had wandered over to a bench near the water and got a whiff of something so revolting he looked around thinking he had stepped on a rotting carcass. As he peered into the grass he noticed an odd-looking mushroom. It was about six inches long and the cap was covered in an olive-green evil-smelling slime. As Denis wafted the air my direction I took an involuntary step back. By the end of the day it was covered with flies and black beetles fighting for a place at this slimy table.
I never fail to wonder at the strangeness of mushrooms. At their mycelium which lurk unseen in rotting wood, garden soil, even in the foundations of our homes, at their fruiting bodies suddenly appearing out of nowhere in mind-numbing varieties. That they can be literally drop-dead gorgeous and kill you in a single bite or be so delectable you crave them like crack cocaine. All these things are why I am bewitched by them and that God should make so many! As many as the stars, perhaps.

Friday, September 6, 2013

You have no idea

After one of my book readings this summer, a lady approached me with a comment. She had read my book and quite liked it, but had to exclaim in a loud voice so everyone around could hear - "I DIDN'T KNOW YOU WERE SO SMALL!"
I'm not very quick with repartee. It's only much later when I'm lying in bed at night that I might think of a response so stunning it would go viral on youtube. (By morning I've forgotten it.) So all I managed to squeak was, "Well, how BIG did you think I WAS?"  ( I didn't really want to know the answer to that.) She patted me and assured me that she didn't mean to insult me, it was just that, surely, with all the things I did in the story, one would need to be quite a large person.
In a twist of kismet or whatever you call the quirks and folds of the universe, another woman came up to me at the same evening and said basically the same thing. She sounded aghast: "But you're SO SMALL!!"
I have never thought of myself as small, petite, tiny - none of that. Woman who are size 2 are small. I am way larger than that. In fact, although I'm not that tall, I consider myself stout. Sort of chunky. Solid. Curvy.
So when Denis sent me pics of these dog tee shirts last week, I thought perhaps I should order the last one and wear it to my next reading. Although historically the last dog I owned was a poodle. (He had to be put to sleep in his prime and I loved him so much I cried to see him go.) However, we did NOT accessorize. EVER. I admit he wore a purple sweater for winter walks and because of my white hair which gets a little frizzy when humid I KNEW passersby were thinking, "There goes another dog owner who looks just like her dog." This did make me paranoid.
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When I read a book I always get a mental image of the author or character that is described. Meeting them in real life can be enlightening. Even photos don't always give an accurate impression. So it's not surprising that people have ideas about how I look. I don't want to disappoint readers, but there it is. Or, rather, there I am. At this stage of life, accepting what I look like feels pretty good. These days, I'm caring more about those sneaky inside places that still need a lot of work.
Here at Toad Hall, we are looking forward to the weekend. Family is coming tonight and our house will ring with grandkids. Pulled pork sandwiches and watermelon for supper. Tomorrow my daughter-in-law is running a 10k and the kids are going to do the family mile. I hope you enjoy your weekend, too. Read a book. Take your dog for a walk. Get outside. And we, none of us, will worry about what others perceive about our size. Not today, anyway.