food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Archive for October, 2010

Fall Foray

One of the beauties of having a self-structured work schedule is that, on an excruciatingly beautiful Fall day, you can throw your shovel down and take yourself on a hike. I wouldn’t necessarily make a habit out of it; and I definitely wouldn’t write it into your business plan, but sometimes it’s just gotta happen. Last Tuesday was one of those days. I had made better-than-expected progress on terracing a client’s backyard (ripping out sod and putting in veggie beds!) and the call of the crisp air and sunshine became too loud to ignore.

I chose Oyster Dome,a hike I’ve done a handful of times since I’ve been in Bellingham and have always enjoyed. An early steep climb is quickly rewarded 2 miles in with an incredible view of the San Juan Islands. On a whim I threw Paul Aurora’s All That The Rain Promises And More, a great pocket guide to mushrooms, into my pack (forgetting altogether a water bottle).

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for 5 years now, and am ashamed at how little I’ve managed to learn about mushrooms in that time. I’m fascinated by them; I love eating them; I’ve even grown one of those starter kits of oyster mushrooms. But I’ve never made a point of meeting them on their home turf and learning who they are.

Tuesday was a great step in that direction. I had so much fun searching for and identifying these little creatures. Some of them look almost extra-terrestrial, but they couldn’t be more of this earth. What you see above ground, what we know as mushrooms, are actually the fruiting body – the reproductive bits, if you will – of fungi. They carry tiny spores (often, but not always, in their gills) that are dispersed by the wind (or the hands of humans), hoping to find an environment that suits them. Meanwhile, beneath the surface of the ground, the mycelium – an elaborate webbed structure – is on the prowl for nutrients.

Anyway, that’s enough of my limited knowledge of biology. If there’s a latent fungi-phile waiting to surface in you, David Aurora and Paul Stammets are two wealths of knowledge and inspiration on the subject. Keep an eye out too for local speakers and foray opportunities; there’s nothing like getting out in your own back yard.

Here are some of the characters I got acquainted with on Tuesday:

I have to admit, I’m notorious for looking down while I hike. My lack of coordination combined with my big feet combined with tree roots and stones have occasionally added up to skinned knees and twisted ankles, and I often have to remind myself to look up and take in the beauty of my surroundings. Well, mushroom hunting gave me a bit of an out in that regard. A reason to keep my gaze low and a reminder that there’s no shortage of interest and beauty no matter where you look.

That said, lifting my head up came with its own rewards:

And as the clouds move in, threatening an end to the sunny clear days we’ve been blessed with in this first month of Autumn, these words seem particularly appropriate (if at times hard to embody):

I used to think I needed the sun to have fun. Rain was an inconvenience, something to wait out, not wade in. The farmers needed it. I didn’t. Rain meant I couldn’t do things. It was the enemy of activity, the bane of beach barbecues, an imposition from above that didn’t have the courtesy to call ahead.

Mushrooms changed all that. Now when it rains, I can’t wait to get out, to plunge into that pristine, misty realm of glistening freshness and fleeting fragrance to see what new wonders the earth has to offer. The miracle of mushrooms is in their spontaneity and resilience. Springing from ground that looked so hard and bleak, they seem to embody all that we carry, and bury, inside us: secret passions and dormant dreams awaiting inspiration, instigation, and conditions that precipitate growth. Rain has become my catalyst, drawing me up, bringing me out.

I still savor the sun – who doesn’t? Rain refreshes, sunshine caresses. But as I bask in the hazy glow of another lazy summer day, my life feels as empty as the sky above, and as surely as the shivering survivors of winter look forward to the spring, I find myself yearning for clouds returning, all that the rain promises, and more…

David Aurora.


Fermentation Station

Who are these mysterious cloaked figures in our kitchen?

Not pictured: 5 gallon crock of sauerkraut

Draped in all kinds of strange cloths, they sit there – for what can seem like ages – emitting interesting smells, attracting the attention of humans and fruit flies alike (hopefully the latter are sufficiently locked out).

Behind Door Number One:


AKA Mushroom Tea

AKA Too Easy (and tasty) NOT To Make Yourself

Ingredients (makes 1 gallon)

1 Kombucha Starter (the “Mother” or “tea beast”)

2 Cups Kombucha (from a pre-made batch or from the store)

3 Quarts Water

1 C Sugar (refined white – for whatever reason the yeast loves it! or cane sugar don’t use honey)

8tsp (or 8 tea bags) of black tea


* Dissolve the sugar in the water in a pot

* Bring the water to a boil; once boiling, turn the water off and add the tea

* Allow the tea to steep for 15 minutes

*Once the liquid has cooled to lukewarm, pour it into an uber clean wide-mouthed gallon jar

* Add the kombucha and the kombucha mother and cover the mouth of the jar with a tea towel and rubber band it tightly over. Trust me, the fruit flies will be more than curious!

* Keep the kombucha in a warm dark place – a kitchen cupboard works great – and test it every now and again.

In 1 – 3 weeks, it should be ready! What is ready? Well, it can vary depending on your tastes – I’ve had kombucha that was sweet and kombucha that was damn near vinegar! Both, I should note, were delicious! Once you get the hang of your brew, feel free to try different (caffeinated) tea combinations. Occasionally I’ll try a green tea/rooibos combo; friends have tried adding ginger and loved it.

And Door Number Two?

Fermented Jalapeno Hot Sauce

Ingredients (Makes 1 ¼ cups)

¾ pounds hot peppers, topped and chopped
2+ cloves garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2Tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider or white vinegar
Water, as needed


* Blend chiles, garlic, salt and sugar in the food processor until you’ve got a thick porridge
*Transfer to a glass bowl and cover with cheesecloth or a tea towel; let it sit for 3 or 4 days at room temperature. Look for small bubbles to appear – You might just hear some fizzing! You might, too, see a little mold forming on the surface. Skim it off and move right along!
* Put your mixture and the vinegar in a small pot and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so.
* Add water – or any additional salt, vinegar, sugar, etc – to adjust the taste and thickness. Feel free to pass it through a food mill if you like a smoother sauce.
* Put your sauce in a jar and refrigerate – watch (and TASTE!) the flavors meld and change.
* Pour liberally on omlettes, stir fries, roasted potatoes, and anything else you can think of!

Here’s 5 gallons of Deliciousness bubbling away:

The beginning stage of Hard Apple Cider

Well I guess this is the beginning stage of hard apple cider:

The rest is pretty simple. Pour your cider into a clean carboy and top with an air lock (both available at most brew shops). We added about 3 cups of honey, too, to give the natural yeasts more to feed on (a yeasty kick in the pants) and add some sweetness to the mixture.

The rest is good old fashioned neglect, a key ingredient for so many fermentation adventures. Careful: too much neglect can result in a serious flavor-trashing and mold build-up (oh, sauerkraut ’07!). So keep at least a casual eye on your brewing cauldrons; they’ll thank you for it with delicious tanginess that will liven up the darkest of winter days.