Trust & Chance: Eating My First Foraged Mushrooms

I wrote about a newfound love of mushrooms and foraging a while back in a blog post. My wife loved mushrooms and I hated them, the net result making me feel like I didn’t understand either. So I did a modest amount of research and immediately felt engulfed in a world I simply hadn’t seen before.

I never had an interest in Volkswagons until I bought a Golf TDI in 2010. I would have easily confused a Rabbit with a Golf with a freakin’ Yugo at that point. Once I was in my little diesel devil I saw them everywhere. I swear I see a Golf TDI every other day. I also see a lot of pregnant people nowadays. I don’t think I paid as much attention before parenthood but now I feel like I can spot a pregnancy at glow. Now that I’ve learned a bit about mushrooms, been on some nice collaborative forays and exhausted numerous references for identification, I feel like mushrooms are nearly everywhere. It’s their world and I just live and eat in it.

Short of sword swallowing, I think this hobby made wife more nervous than anything. There are less deadly mushroom varieties than deadly sins but my wife found every scary story on the internet that preached chastity with eating this mystical mycological fruit. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that they got to me, too. I mean seriously, have you heard about Nicholas Evans almost dying and getting a kidney transplant?!?! Reading about kidney failure or even worse from something as innocent as foraging was almost enough to scare me away from such a hobby. However, the world of mycology, the wealth of variety, the chance of finding them and the idea of collecting these endless experiences won me over.

As time passed, I kept my eyes open and did my best to learn how to identify what I found. The Audubon app and guide are great, there are many other great books, too, but eventually it was a few words of confidence from people that had more experience than I did. They were practically strangers but the confidence of a couple encouraging words were what finally tipped the trust in myself, them and some books and gave me the courage to eat mushrooms I had found on roadside forests and dank crevices of the earth. And I’m here to blog about it!

 

Chanterelles were first. I was on a walk in my neighborhood near an area known for flooding. This was about a month ago and we were in the midst of an awesome series of storms. I think it rained for nearly two weeks straight and the ground was exploding with mycological life. There’s a knot of land between a couple houses, on a forested corner of the winding streets of Archer Woods. On a bank of moss and mondo grass there were little orange trumpet-like Chanterelles stalks popping up from the growth. My immediate thought was, “Holy Shit! Those are chanterelles!” but I was not quite confident immediately. I was walking dogs with my sister in law and I paused and finally said that I thought those were in fact Cantharellus cibarius. I picked a handful and brought them home. Nobody believed me and they made me swear not to eat them. I was convinced so I sought out to convince them, too. False gills? Check. Forked false gills? Check. I was sure.

Bock Bock!Chicken of the woods was second, the next day. I was on the usual family walk when something caught my eye in a patch of conifers right off the road. Once you see a Laetiporus you’ll be able to recognize them from afar. They are nearly unmistakable, could be confused with a sulfur shelf but unlikely. They are also delicious and finds are usually profound (this one easily was a four pound haul). I think mostly because it looked so alien but also because she didn’t trust my mushroom identification skills, Cindy forbade me from eating this, too.

That weekend we went to our first group mushroom foray with the Piedmont Mycological Society. There was a mix of skill levels, a lot of field guides and a couple of degrees in tow at a far away conservatory. I brought the previous days’ finds with me but also found a few pounds of hedgehogs, indigo milky caps and chanterelles there. The group nearly fell on me and my chicken of the woods as I pulled it out and gave it to another forager – an offering for a society dinner the following Sunday. The knowledgeable and experienced gave bifocaled but quick glances with quick, confident “yups, chanterelles” to the orange blossoms formerly suspect. And Hydnum repandum were quickly met with a nearly ubiquitous “Mmmmm…hedgehogs.”. Cindy was sold.

On the way home she double checked the location of my neighborhood chanterelle find. We stopped by the spot and she jumped out, in the rain, to collect new fruit. Once home I could barely keep her out of the kitchen before she cleaned and cooked all of the chanterelles. We had them with some fettuccine after cooking them down in some butter and garlic. They were amazing: nutty and earthy with a hazelnut sweetness. Cindy woke up in the middle of the night and leaned over saying, “I think my stomach hurts…do you think the mushrooms were poisonous?” to which I replied, “They could only be mistaken with Jack-o-lanterns and those only give you diarrhea for 1-2 days, and I’m not mistaken.”. Needless to say we’re both still here.

The following day I went for a walk near the Eno river. I had once found a huge chicken of the woods here and the Cole Mill park on this river felt like a hot spot for foraging. I ended up finding my first ever Craterellus cornucopiodies, or black trumpet. Trumpette de la Mort“Trumpet of the dead” in French, this fungi is deceiving because it looks nasty to the untrained eye. It’s also really hard to see. Even though they grow in patches they tend to look like shadows or play on light before they look like mushrooms. But the flavor is unmistakable, bold and beautiful. I hear that some chefs prefer the taste over truffles and it’s easy to see why. Black Trumpets became the second mushroom I actually ate, ending up cooked down in olive oil and in a pizza with caramelized onions…again, amazing. These mushrooms are often recommended for novice mycological foragers as there are no poisonous lookalikes.

HedgehogsBy this time the hedgehogs I had found were petering out so I set them out to hopefully spore and become one with my garden. I’ve been trying to hit the Eno regularly since the trumpet score and the other day I came upon a few patches of the spine tooth spored hedgehog. I took home a couple of pounds and cooked them down in a cream sauce that I paired with a fig and chevre ravioli. I added three boletes (either edulis or variipes) I found on a dog walk that night and the combo was nutty, sweet and earthly – so f’ing delicious.

 

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These three instances have marked something significant for me – the point where I came full circle with a food. I love that moment, like eating something you’ve grown, hunted or caught. However, having the confidence in the fungal roulette of mushroom identification is like a badge of awesomeness…or tastiness. To that end I encourage anyone reading this to take a look around you, there just might be something tasty by your feet. But be warned, you should be sure about what you eat – like they say, any mushroom is edible…once.

A Day at the Beach: The Man With the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi

The Man With the Compound Eyes is Wu Ming-Yi’s second novel but the first to be translated to English. Ming-Yi’s environmental penchant and educational pedigree have served up a couple of books on nature and his fictional efforts capture much of that same energy. The Man With The Compound Eyes is the story of the effect of humans on the planet and the effect of humans on each other, playing on ecological and existential elements skillfully.

The Man With the Compound Eyes

Two main stories spin a tempest that ends up capturing a handful of shorter stories that collectively tell a tale of loss, love and life. In Taiwan, Alice has lost a husband and son to a hiking accident and she’s contemplating suicide. On a fictional South Pacific island called Wayo Wayo, the second son of the island’s Sea Sage, Atile’i, follows the tradition of all second sons and is cast out to sea on a flimsy craft with only seven days worth of provisions. In between these two pivotal characters is a vortex of trash, a literal island of refuse in the sea that will bring them together, wreck their lives, homes and habitats and eventually set them free.

The second sons of Wayo Wayo are forced to leave the island in an effort to preserve the limited resources – a conservational sacrifice that rings of Ming-Yi’s activist DNA. If Atile’i is lucky he will die after a week at sea on his talawaka and turn into a sperm whale like the other second sons’ spirits. Unlucky second sons that drown and are swallowed by the sea turn into jellyfish, mindlessly lost in current and forced to drift for eternity. It’s hard to tell if it’s good or bad luck but Atile’i ends up running his talawaka ashore on the trash island. The floating flotsam is sickly and disease-riddled but somehow keeps the boy alive until it comes crashing on the shores of Taiwan.

Alice is a teacher that has lost hope of living a full life without her husband and child. On the verge of suicide in a small house by the sea she befriends a lost cat that seemingly beckons her will to live day to day. The trash vortex is all over the local news but its impact is truly realized when the island is overwhelmed with garbage and its catastrophic effect – loss of life and land. In all this mess and chaos, Alice finds a young boy stowed away on shoreline forest and eventually gains the trust of Atile’i through kind gestures and food. The two do not speak the same language but cobble together communication with body language and hand gestures and drawings in sand. Before long they are sharing each other’s language and life in stories and experiences.

Atile’i learns of Alice’s Danish husband, Thom, and their small, adventurous boy, Toto. He hears how they fell in love with the mountains and beaches of Taiwan and how their love of hiking brought them together and eventually separated them. Alice is told tales of the Wayo Wayoan sea god, Kabang, and how these islanders live in harmony with sea and land with the help of elder Sea and Mountain Sages. Together they nurse each other back to health amidst the ecological disaster that is the trash vortex until they are well enough in mind, body and spirit, to finish their lives on their own.

Wu Ming-Yi does fantastic work with weaving magical threads into a sad and real human tale. The titular character, the man with the compound eyes, is a great example of this in that he is an omnipresent being seen only by the dying. The man with compound eyes sees many happenings and many different times, all at the same time, all reflected in his ommatidium. He is the ubiquitous being that helps the dead rest, a reaper for uneasy souls that need to be reasoned with. Though it seems quite clear that this character is either a hallucination or hyperbole, the man with the compound eyes is treated as real as anything else in the book – a trash vortex, soulless jellyfish, millet wine made by a woman named for millet and an island that lives in respectful harmony with nature.

Through the ommatidia of the man, the death of all can be seen. Alice’s husband, her child, the unborn child of Atile’i and the love that took his seed on his final day on Wayo Wayo and eventually Wayo Wayo itself. Like so many stories and lives, all good things must come to and end; and when they do, the man with the compound eyes will be watching.

This book compelled me to empathize with characters, convinced me of the reality of its twist on real places and cajoled me into believing the magic described in its pages. If the translated version could do this, I can only imagine how powerful it must be when read in its original language. Whether in that language, English or even Wayo Wayoan, this is a novel worth reading.

Haiku Record Reviews – August 2014

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent

A Sunny Day in Glasgow

Digital analog

Stereolab test tube child

Gooseflesh and giggles.

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The Rentals – Lost in Alphaville

The Rentals

Nostalgically flawed

underthought and under thought

…thought I would like it.

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The Notwist – Close to Glass

The Notwist

Casio cool kids

start calculator watches

and time the pan flash.

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Owl John – Owl John

Owl John

All over the place

in the best way possible

yet straight to the point.

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The Rosebuds – Sand + Silence

The Rosebuds

This bud’s not blooming,

loveless next to past efforts,

effortlessly dull.

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Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Shabazz Palaces

Lyrical flip flap

avoids the hip hop rap trap

by being psych crap.

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Spoon – They Want My Soul

Spoon

If you want my soul

travel back in time to when

I hadn’t heard this.

Haiku Record Reviews – February 2014

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Give the People What They Want

It would be kitschy

if it wasn’t so awesome,

tasteful and well-done.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

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Dog Bite – Tranquilizers

Soft yet somehow sharp

rendering of the 80s

for today’s earbuds.

Dogbite

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Warpaint -S/T

Broody reverb pop

perfectly under produced

for gloomy autumns.

Warpaint

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Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair EP

Grungy as ever,

Sounds like Belly in my ears

Cutely forgettable.

speedy-ortiz-real-hair

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Pixies – EP2

Silver tongued Black Francis

More Catholics, more cowbell

Humorless, harmless

EP2

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Hospitality – Trouble

New effort takes them

from “cute” to “kinda rockin’ “

with more riff, less raff.

Trouble

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Beck – Morning Phase

A forty something’s

mutation of Mutations -

tender tunes abound.

Morning Phase

Eggers’ The Circle – Poignent and Pertinent Prose

The CircleWhen Eggers is at his best he is inspirationally human and entertaining. In The Circle, Eggers is comfortable and at his best with a slightly dystopian story in a slightly parallel universe. The dust jacket says Celtic tribal art and Pantone 179 but inside it’s a suspenseful and tastefully modern tale for the times. Standing alone, The Circle is crafty story that plays on current events in a tone that would make Rod Serling crack one of those half-faced smirks. Next to many other Eggers pieces, especially his previous effort – Hologram for the King – this book may be the most pertinent and tangible thing he’s written. It wanders from the world we know without getting us lost, it alludes to the dangers of our convenient and connected culture without wagging a finger and entertains without effort – a good read that sends a critical message without invoking a sense of panic.

The Circle is the story of a high-tech company that essentially is taking over the world and taking away individual privacy. In the book The Circle is actual the name of a big, bad evil empire-company; kind of mash-up of Google, Apple, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and anything else you or your children are using to connect nowadays. This corporate menace welcomes the book’s young protagonist, Mae Holland, into the fold in the first few pages and what follows is like a Facebook version of The Firm. The happiness and connectedness of the The Circle quickly dissolves to the paranoia and control of an omnipresent entity.

Mae’s job at the Circle is essentially customer service, something else that is relevant and tangible to so many (myself included). Her work is entwined with her social media presence and her performance is ultimately hinged on the prowess of her public persona. The constant checking-in, pinging, zinging and status updates strike a familiar chord with anyone that is balancing any combination of rudimentary social medias but to see it written out over the course of a couple pages is laughable. I have to admit that I’ve thought of this bit often as I surf and update my own Facebook, Instragram and Twitter feeds – noticing the effort and work it takes to maintain something so trivial.

EggersAs if sensing that the reader’s guilt would be buoyant at this point, the novel embraces this and runs with it. Mae has an pseudo-Luddite ex-boyfriend that preaches and warns against her digital world enveloping her natural world, she works through her own doubts and existential concerns as she moves up in the company and there’s even a mysterious doomsayer in her corporate construct that tries to cajole her away from the growing, connected menace. Nonetheless, Mae is seduced by the Circle’s promise to connect everyone, free information and “complete the circle”.

The prime conflict in The Circle is the company’s move toward total transparency for individuals. It starts with the Jobsian introduction of a small, low-cost, remote web cam that is made available to the public. Many fervent followers of the Circle (Circlers, of course) start placing these cameras all over the world – from the most public and populated areas to the farthest reaching remote and intimate areas. In no time there is almost complete video feeds from nearly any place on the world. In the wave of transparency, some people start to push for total transparency – basically where an individual wears a camera at all times (save for potty breaks). At first a few short-sighted but earnest politicians don the camera pendants in an effort to display their pious position as a civil servant. Soon, Mae is offered up as the fist non-politician person to go transparent and she quickly becomes a meme-like celebrity (with several million viewers to boot).

With the world watching, Mae plays a pivotal role in its future. Her public performance ends up being the key to unlock this totaltarian technology or keep it locked away forever by exposing it for what it is. Exactly what it is will be up to the reader for the most part. I imagine many readers will find themselves thinking about what Mae could or should do as they log into and update their various social media feeds. This read may coax out what is left of your rebellious youth, your romantically human side – or it may pragmatically play on something that may actually be a good thing: global connectedness.

While never peaking to anything outstanding, Eggers delivers, sentence after sentence, a consistently juicy story that  balances exposition and third person narrative. Also, the story itself – the mystery or suspense that threads the characters together – is equally pleasing. Some may find it trite but I think it’s rare to find something that avoids preaching but pontificates valuable ideas without lacing the prose with guilt. The Circle is a light read that truly enlightens and well worth the 500 page investment.

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