Monday, December 28, 2009

More Trail Work

Our days at the coastal sanctuary are numbered, but I'm glad to be leaving the place better than we found it.  Here's a before and after series of the latest bit o trail work.

The beginning, a dangerous slope with loose soil. 

The log cribbing -- halfway done.

Most of the cribbing done, with willow spikes at either ends of the logs.

The final product, with rocks capping the logs and some pine straw to make it look pretty. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Latest Mushrooms in Northern California

We've had a couple hard freezes, followed by warm spells and some good, drenching rains.  This has brought up a new crop of mushrooms.  It's definitely a new phase in mushroom season: gone are most of the amanitas, slippery jacks and chanterelles, and in their place are some smaller and more delicate fruits.

A beautiful shaggy mane.  I ate one once, it was delicious, but then again so are most things fried in butter.

Blewits!  A fragrant and sweet smelling mushroom, often found in rings around here.

Here's the last of the amanitas.  This line of death caps (amanita phalloides) was along the side of the trail.  They haven't sprung up again, so it may be the last of "Death Cap Row" until spring.  One of most poisonous mushrooms in the world, death caps are enjoying a territory expansion thanks to modern human activity.  These mushrooms will melt your liver about 3 days after ingestion. 

The only amanita that I've seen recently is the prized amanita muscaria or fly agaric.  Hoping we'll see some fresh ones this week!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Core Rocks and Face Rocks

On good days, I get to balance my computer work with some trail work.   This trail was precariously located on the edge of an unstable and eroding slope before I moved it upslope and shored it up with a rubble wall. 

Working with stone is so satisfying, especially because it balances out too much time spent in front of the computer.   It's really grounding.  I've always wanted to work on a trail crew (a la Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac)-- I thought I'd missed my opportunity after I turned 30 and no longer enjoyed living out of a backpack or my truck.   Nay, these days I get to work with stone and enjoy my recliner. 

The secret to a formal stone retaining wall (and to a lesser extend a rubble wall) is knowing how to use face rocks and core rocks.  Face rocks are the first large stones you place, some of which are buried into the soil below, which lean into the slope.  Core rocks are smaller stones that you fit behind the face rocks, Tetris style. 

Some face rocks are headers, and they extend into the core rock.  Others are spreaders, which are parallel to the length of the wall.  Tier by tier, face rocks backed by core rocks. 

There is something alchemical about working with stone.  Somewhere deep in my mind, a new philosophy is growing that has something to do with face rocks and core rocks.  Maybe also something about keeping your spreaders to a minimum.  Not sure yet, but it's reorganizing my brain, shoring up the slippery slope of consciousness with quartz and granite.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Doubled Up Mushrooms

Mushroom season 2009 is in full fruit right now in coastal California. Here's some recent finds under the theme "Doubled up."

Above, a beautiful young fly agaric (amanita muscaria) surrounded by some red (rosy?) russulas.

And here a pine spike (chroogomphus rutilus) is pushing up against an old slippery jack (suillus brevipes).

And finally a russula (can Feral Kevin confirm or correct this?) getting fresh with another slippery jack.

I've seen destroying angels leaning into edible agaricus mushrooms too -- that's a deady combo that has probably resulted in some melted livers in the past.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Celebrating Rock Turkey on Thanksgiving

Here's "Rock Eagle," a prehistoric rock pile sculpture located in middle Georgia. It's one of the most spectacular indigenous rock piles I've seen in the US. The Native Americans who built it are probably the ancestors of the Muskogee or Creek Indians. Known today as the Woodland Indian phase, this culture lasted from 1000BC to about 1000AD.

But most archaeologists say that the effigy sculpture is not depicting a eagle -- rather, it's most likely a turkey. Calling this sculpture Rock Eagle is massive projection of our own mythology of eagles as fierce freedom fighters ( never mind that eagles will eat carrion before hunting) and has little to do with Native American sensibilities.

On the other hand, turkeys were undoubtedly the most important bird of the prehistoric forest. Food, clothing, and building materials all are uses of the average turkey sacrifice. Even Benjamin Franklin petitioned for American national symbol to be the turkey instead of the eagle. Humble, gracious, and bountiful, this bird is still a symbol of abundance for the American Continent.

So in the spirit of gratitude this Thanksgiving, say a toast to Rock Turkey!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Chantrelles and the Potatoes of the Gods

Long time no DreamCrisp. Sorry about that.

But to make up for lost time, check out this pic of chantrelles we picked that are as big as your head:

I just picked some more today, not so big as these, but firm and meaty. There's a lot of ways to cook chantrelles, but my favorite so far is chantrelle-infused scalloped potatoes. Here's how to make:

Scalloped Potatoes of the Gods

basic ingredients:
chantrelles, cleaned and chopped
a couple cloves of garlic
1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
potatoes: 5 to 8 medium red or yellow ones.
1 cup of heavy cream (can substitute goats milk or half and half but you may need to add some flour to thicken).
about a tablespoon of salt and pepper.
olive oil.
butter optional for the heart-lover's special

Dry-saute the mushrooms for a few minutes, so the juices are running. add some olive oil near the end when you add the garlic and saute more.
Meanwhile, in a bowl mix the broth and the cream and the salt and pepper.
Drizzle olive oil into a shallow glass baking dish.
Add the potatoes to the skillet and get em covered with the mushroom goodness.
Transfer potatoes, mushrooms, and all the juices to the baking dish.
Add the cream mixture and stir it up.
You might want to top the mixture with some pats of butter.
Bake in the oven at 350 for about an hour, or until the tops of the potatoes are browning.

Wait at least 10 minutes for the Scalloped Potatoes of the Gods to cool before attempting to eat.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How to Make Wild Elderflower Fritters

All the elder just finished blooming in these parts. To celebrate, we picked some elderflowers and made some delicious elderflower fritters.

They were divine, and I'm not just saying that because I was raised in Georgia and love fried food. The flowers effuse the batter and make a fragrant and sweet treat.

Okay, to be honest, it reminded me of those amazing/obscenely decadent funnel cakes I used to get at Six Flags over Georgia. So maybe it all about the south.

This is what elderflowers look like before you dip them in the love:

And here's how to make elderflower fritters in ten easy steps:

1. Pick elder flowers, fresh white ones, not green ones. Be careful with your ID, of course, they sort of resemble blooming hemlock which is poisonous. Also, elder is a tree!

2. Clip the flowers down so there's just a bit of stem to dip with.

3. In a large mixing bowl, proceed to make a batter mix. We used one egg, a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt. But you could also just use pancake mix if you want to make it really, really easy.

4. For best results, let the batter sit a minute or two to thicken.

5. Meanwhile, heat up your pan with an inch of cooking oil. We actually used olive oil, but something lighter is probably better.

6. Dip the flowers into the batter.

7. Plunk those mugs in the hot oil and fry to a golden brown.

8. Optional: Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

9. Serve piping hot a la Six Flags over Georgia circa 1986.

10. Bask in the afterglow and rest assured that whatever health benefits offered up by fresh elderflower are effectively zeroed out by all the hot grease.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Clean Coal is Good Clean Fun

This made me laugh, even though I am pretty much resigned to the fact that the next 50 years will see more coal burning in the first world than ever before. Doesn't matter how clean it is if coal emissions rise by 500% after oil peaks.

On the up side, black top hats are gonna be in style again.