Delicious Countertop

Delicious Countertop
Bring it home and eat it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life Leaks

Though they are currently buried in snow there are millions of acres working on the finest edible scraped from the unforgiving terrain.  After forest fires have ravaged our glorious mountains turning them into the surface of a planet screaming of poisonous gases and choking dust the morels crawl out of the blasted remnants of the forest to let us know that family and food are far more important than all of the Armageddon earth will launch at us.  Keep it simple and enjoy. 
We will be there.  There being wherever other people are not.  It is quite obvious to the morel hunter that every other car in the parking lot is there to pick his quarry before he can.  This is why we avoid the main paths; in places where it is wise to remain on the main paths.  Hanging off of some dead tree on the edge of a cliff that is part of the unstable ground of a recent forest fire is the most likely place to catch this denizen of the Northwest backwoods.  They leave early in the morning; like last night, just to make sure nobody else gets there first.  Arriving at the starting point before dawn they hike 17 miles up to the hinterlands and arrive at dawn marveling that nobody has beaten them there.  Immediately the quarry is spotted and the hunt is on for the next 6 hours and bags quickly fill with the resources involved in the crafting of cuisine of the summer and thick winter morel gravies. 
Actually this wasn’t supposed to be a very mushroomy note.  Morels are on the mind in March though.  It is interesting that they happen to be some of the spendier items available in marketplace haute cuisine.  Again it is interesting to follow that another step and realize they are lying around in vast quantities and nobody is really interested in seeing them.  Hustling from one television to the next with barely the time for a gas pump we trod them underfoot in housing developments malls and other like asylums.  We cry and hug a holly because of a massive forest fire yet they shout out, “Come and get it.”  Are you beginning to catch on to the real topic?  I didn’t think so because that was just a vague lead in, a teaser.  Here it is.  The big secret.   The best food out there doesn’t have to be expensive the eaters just need to get creative.  Like so many things in life.  So Morels teach us a basic lesson about eating well.  You can eat extremely well for very little money.
Though I have not mastered any of the concepts involved in this blog we actually have been formulated and feel dispensary with one.  Our family is medium sized and growing and so far for several years we have kept our budget at about one hundred dollars per person per month.  How do we do this?  We don’t eat.  Just kidding.  Actually we eat far better than can be imagined by 99% of the US.  Of course we also put into our food the labor and time needed to masticate so morally.  While many things that might bother an accountant aren’t figured into this bit the truth is we eat extremely well for so very little.  Not everyone can or should attempt the total madness but there are points that can be interesting to all with taste buds. 
Primarily I am not suggesting that everyone become an overzealous fungophile.  Or indeed that you personally begin eating only instant oatmeal every other day.  The summary of our method goes like this.  We begin with the grow or gather what you can method.  Next is the start with the basic ingredients movement.  Followed immediately by the make it yourself and the don’t believe it when they tell you its food.  For example “fast food”.  The last standard is very important and is often lost on us in America.  It states, “Don’t waste it.”  All of these are important, but there are also smart ways to shop.  There are grocery segments and you should look for the best pricing in each segment for the highest quality material from as close as possible to where you live.  Long sentence, but it goes like this.  “I want apples…it’s March…apples are either 5 months old with no bar code, or from the other side of the earth and I don’t know the farmer there though I’d like to…they cost a buck fifty a pound but we need fruit.  Oranges are in season, have a peel to ward off any shipping nastiness.  They cost less and are in season.  Anyway, not to assassinate the point with the boredom of the reader, but we need to be able to have a starting point when we shop our local co-ops etc.  I’m not cool with a 24 page synopsis on shopping techniques in my name so I’m just presenting the direction of the solution.  Figure out the grocery segments as you see them and begin making decisions that are focused on eating organic high quality local food for the best price possible.  Obviously all of those rules bend around and around, but it’s surprising how thrifty it can be to buy local.  If you avoid the Monsanto wannabes that spring from the fertile soil of ORGANIC groceries then good food can cost less.  Don’t trust the labeled out conglomerates that tell you it’s organic so they can charge twice as much for something.  Trust your local farmers, food crafters, and chefs. 
Yes chefs.  The spend a hundred a month per person is derailed by these fantastic folk of the culinary world.  I love chefs and wish I could partake of their craft more often.  Luckily you’re not insane and you don’t mind eating out now and again so go eat at the local hot spot.  They can be put through the same processes as your own food and if they are serving high quality fare they won’t mind knowing that you are interested in the best. 
There was not a ton of extrapolation in this episode and I promise that I will expand on some of this conceptually in later issues.  In some deep and psychologically problematic way I would rather have a bit of entertainment in these blurbs or blogs or whatever than to list off the facts.  This is most probably because I don’t know what the facts are, or would be.  I’d better get some morel hunting soon or this winter is going to send me over the edge. 
Since I am a practiced picker I have some fantastically important advice for all of you fungal hunters out there.  Stay out of my patch.
Also, keep eating good food and stay away from Monsanto and drive throughs.  Big business doesn’t care about you no matter how much they spend on advertising to tell you they do.  Get to know your local farmers and support producers that are trying to do it right not just paying for a certification that has ceased to mean anything.  Packaging is bad and so are bar codes.  If you don’t know where it comes from or can’t pronounce the ingredients it belongs in the trash.  Keep in touch and remember, Eat Better, Live Better.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dreams of Spring

Ahh the New Year. The mind immediately turns to fresh leafy greens and early morels. The time is ripe to dig for and pick shellfish off a thousand miles of NW beaches with the dreams of 10,000 foot vertical hikes brewing in the sub-conscious.  We love our mollusks but January first brings to mind the earthiest delicacies of all.  Forgetting the pain we long for the incredible rises and falls of the morel hunt and recall the smell of being satisfied with a couple of pounds alongside the headiest swamp greens in existence.  Razor clams are the harbinger of the foodie New Year since they are barely available through the dictated weekends of the winter and in fact all shellfish are best garnered during the colder months.  They also mean that gardens and wild greens along with wildcrafted and closet crafted fungus are the best foods available for at least another 10 weeks.  This year we are going to try our hand at propagating delectable black and lovely massive white morels in the mulch around our grape vines. We will start with about ten pounds of fully colonized mycelium and expand it exponentially in our laboratory followed by our mulch beds.  Then it is spread under our shady Pinot Noir vines to await the first burst of sun and sixty degree temperatures.  If you know where my grape vines are don’t take too many of my morels, or if you do, do it at night so I don’t catch you at it.
First though back to the fresh greens. There is one in particular that everyone should consider drastically important since it comes up early and fast and is everything we need to chase the winter deficiencies away. It is called Urtica Dioica by plant nerds and provides oh so much more than little white bumps on your skin when you touch it. We all know it as Stinging Nettles and it is plentiful early in the spring alongside the earliest of the fungophile prey.  While looking for Early Morels you will no doubt encounter pain and odd sensations in your hands from lovely little green leaves and their white puncturific hairs adorning tasty the self-same Stinging Nettles.  They in fact often boast extra large green leaves that are much more tender and delicious when picked early. I usually pluck most of mine early in the spring after donning football pads, and wrapping myself in a twenty foot tarp. We eat some, juice some, boil some, and dry a bunch of the excess. In fact for juice freaks, as zingy and wonderful as they are in the spring, rawish they are actually dangerous later in the year to the kidneys and urethras. Our excess dried nettles are then added to teas, beer, and food throughout the year. I am also going to boil a large pot down to a thick extract and add it to my cow’s drinking water as a nutritive tonic since I like to have happy cows and they boast of the best and heartiest vitamins and minerals.
Do you eat Easter pudding? Pretty unheard of on the fast food menus we are used to these days but it was extremely important before we got our food in styrofoam, vitamins in bottles, and minerals in fortifications. It was used to add the nutrients back into peoples bodies after the winter and was made with Bistort, Dock, Dandelions, and that’s right, Stinging Nettles. They can be up to one-quarter raw protein and are chock full of Iron and Calcium, Potassium and Sulphur along with Manganese, Lime, Sodium and plenty of vitamins A, C, D and K. They are actually far more plentiful in these vitamins per ounce than carrots, and oranges and have more Calcium and Potassium than milk and bananas. To be honest I can’t really take the space to list all of what they have in them but let’s just say they are just about the coolest plant ever to eat in the spring. As a fantastic milk producing agent and great in beer they are the perfect addition to my controversial Mommy Beer. Actually we do no such thing (as far as we can state here in semi-public), but beer is also a great promoter of lactation, though not recommended to those without great will power. Although we haven’t gotten into the trace mineral elements or the natural random acupunctural qualities we must let nettles rest for now as they most certainly will in the earth for the next month or so.
Perhaps I’m a bit ahead of my time since we only just started breaking fifty degrees and it is still only light for 9-10 hours a day but I keep dreaming of Arugula and little beautiful lettuce leaves creeping out from under the chill. Right now though we are still working out the old greens that luckily were spared in our microclimate. Kale and parsley are abundant and chard is on the comeback trail.
We also have plenty of garlic and shallots thanks to a wonderful friend who brought us a big bag to get us through. This is where stocking up is extremely helpful and can keep us in the gourmet edibles all winter. We are still knee deep in salmon and have at least 8 kinds of mushrooms in our freezer or in our pantry. Actually one of the freezers is in the pantry so I suppose there might be some double meaning or paradoxical problem with that statement. For all I know the mushrooms in the freezer in the pantry might understand this double negative and go poof into the ether the second this is published. Let’s say they don’t. Then they will go poof in a cream of mushroom soup or set quietly under a remoullade atop a salmon fillet soon enough. Regardless of how it will happen they will go poof and disappear in the near future. Of that you may be certain.
Initially my idea of a blog was full of purpose and I suspected that we could help people eat well on less money but I’m not going to just give everybody all of my mushrooms. That means I have to tell a bunch of people to start picking them which means they will find my spots right? OK so go pick mushrooms but stay out of my spots, got it? Here in the depths of a fierce NW winter it is far better to approach mushrooms the fancy way and to grow them in little white blocks on your kitchen table, a closet, garage, or heck why not a whole warehouse then you can give me some. There are great sources for these blocks and they will turn out large amounts of gourmet mushrooms if cared for properly as well as leave visitors to your home thinking, “The food was great but those people are pretty far out”. I highly recommend them. I also highly recommend that you stay out of my morel spots and start some of your greens inside very soon.
Just because I’m crazy and Jan. 1 means start to plant stuff that will die long before they ever see the light of the sun, I am planting Rocket, Brassicus, and other greens along with poor little peppers destined to suffer in 4” pots a month before they can be moved out. I am expecting an early spring and that we will have the perfect variations of rainfall and sunshine so my peppers will turn into trees and live long and fruitful lives. People say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. Oh yeah, a new fun thing to try. Since we are also close to starting tomatoes I’m going to try this grafting thing and see if I can grow some of the more desirable types on NW hardy rootstocks. I’ve got a few that have worked well for the past several years and that I keep convincing myself are becoming more blight resistant. I would love to get some massive Purple Cherokees to grow well on my heirloom plum tomato plants rootstocks. Is this getting too gardeny?
Well it might not work out perfectly but you can always look forward to hearing how Maude does looking, I mean smelling for truffles this spring. I have a killer spot where I am sure they are growing and have been feeding her truffle oil to get her psyched up for it.
Keep eating good food and stay away from Monsanto and drive-throughs. Big business doesn’t care about you no matter how much they spend on advertising to tell you they do. Get to know your local farmers and support producers that are trying to do it right not just paying for a certification that has ceased to mean anything. Packaging is bad and so are bar codes. If you don’t know where it comes from or can’t pronounce the ingredients it belongs in the trash. Keep in touch and remember, Eat Better, Live Better.