Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Forager Traipses: Help me forage in far-off lands

bee-sting betty

Thanks to my dear friends in Oakland for housing her. You know who you are.

All raise a great cry of pity for my poor darling, Bee-Sting Betty, a 1997 Honda Shadow, who has been locked in an Oakland warehouse for the last two years. With a helpful ultimatum from the dear friend whose space it is, I booked a flight to the Bay Area — ostensibly to sell the bike, but probably, and dishearteningly, just to move it to storage and deal another day. But what I really want is to have it back.

On an impulse, I spent yesterday at the DMV. Now I’ve got my motorcycle license back; I’ve got plates; and I’ve got a new plan. Go West. Drive Bee-Sting Betty home to Madison. Avoid snow. Forage along the way.

Now, a cry for help.

Because what is the point of a road trip if not to find great pie/carne asada/barbeque/diners/salads? Where can I go mushroom-hunting in New Mexico? Or find the best octopus taco in southern California? Where are the best places to sleep in Oklahoma, a state I have never even thought about once? And what, seasoned travelers, must I absolutely bring with me, aside from underpants, leathers and a headlamp? I have a limited grasp of geography, and an even more limited ability to plan ahead. So—help.

Check out “Bee-Sting Betty and her November Routes,” the Google map of my route in its current form.

Start from SF: Nov 3, or as soon as I can get my bike cleaned up, tuned up and insured.

Mandatory stops so far are few:
• Modesto
• Los Angeles
• St. Louis

Suggestions, comments, portents of November-flurry doom? Email my gmail address: Kate dot golden. Now, God help me, I have to pack. Missives, dear readers, will be sparse these next couple of weeks, but I’ll try to keep you updated.


A little-hailed benefit of exercise

Those of you who know me, prepare for a shock: I love running.

It’s a newfound love. I still, mind you, find the actual stepping one foot in front of the other not only painful but awkward, as if those were somebody else’s legs down there. But yesterday’s experience gives me a major incentive to do it anyway.

I do manage to force myself to run at least once a week. The old pant-and-shuffle. And yesterday was as glorious a day as any to waste by causing myself pain. I took a little detour to a certain log in my neighborhood, just to see whether anything interesting had come up. Six weeks ago I found it blooming with oysters, but the last time I’d gone back I’d found just a few babies plus a few of the now-ubiquitous cold-weather Flammulina velutipes. I figured they were done for the year. After all, I’ve already mourned the waning of mushroom season.

As so often happens, I was wrong. The first oysters from the log had been white; the next batch had yellow caps; these were darker-capped. But still obviously oysters—a lot of them, and in good shape. I shivered as I stripped down to my tank top to swaddle my haul in my long-sleeved shirt, and carried it home like a baby.

It’s like having a fungus for a coach. I may even go running again today.

Know Your Audience: Mushroom-seekers and chicken-killers

As an old-media reporter who’s used to sending my stuff out into the ether and forgetting about it, it’s a whole ‘nother world to have all this intel on you people, my readers. Please, no paranoia; I’m just talking about the search terms you use to find me, which WordPress saves. I know it’s probably rude to go into this, but some of these terms just kill me.

I’ll skip over the largest group, those of you who know me or my blog already.

I feel a certain affinity with the next-largest category of seekers: You have found a mushroom or a berry. You are trying to identify it, or decide whether to eat it. “Pholiota squarrosoides edible?”, for instance.

This is how I spend many days, so it is nice to know you, too, are out there. I can only hope I’m not contributing to the Great Internet Stash of Misidentified Mushroom Photos.

Among the natural-world seekers came a personal favorite for its illustration of two feelings I so often have: a dearth of precise botanical descriptives, and a hope that the tubes’ great wisdom will somehow know what I mean anyway. The search: “what is the name of the little red berry.”

A few seem already to have decided their bias before they arrived: “freaks in madison”; “huitlacoche slimy excrement.” Well! As you like. I’m ambivalent on the huitlacoche, personally. And an ambiguity: If you found me by searching “i kill chickens,” were you, as I imagine, declaring a secret to Google and wondering what kindred souls it would return to you? I have never killed a chicken, to be honest. Perhaps you will find happiness in a chicken-killers’ Meetup group, whose members are mostly foxes and minks?

Finally, I am afraid I have been no help to those who came here seeking knowledge of how to cook stinkhorn eggs, or on a completely unrelated note, of spinal-cord lesson plans. But stay tuned.

The Forager gets the Halloween spirit: Food that glows

glowing mycena lucentipes credit cassius stevani

Mycena lucentipes. Credit Cassius Stevani of the University of Sao Paulo. Via

Science Mag reports that San Francisco State University’s Dennis Desjardin discovered some new green-glowing mushrooms, Mycena luxaeterna, in Brazil. While Desjardin et al have been night-hunting Brazil for glowy mushrooms for several years, we norteamericanos could likely track down some foxfire here, too, if we stayed up late enough.

Those liver-flavored honey mushrooms I’ve been telling you about — Armillaria complex, common around here — glow in the dark. Not the fruiting bodies, but their root-like rhizomorphs. So do the fruiting bodies of various species of delicate little Mycena mushrooms. And the well-named jack-o’-lantern mushrooms, Omphalotus, which Madison has plenty of, and various other fungi that are busy consuming rotting wood.

I have always loved the bioluminescence. Who wouldn’t? In the Chesapeake Bay, I dove into black water only to be surrounded by the green glow. On Coronado Island off San Diego, the waves crashed green and any disturbance of the sand, e.g. throwing it at someone, produced a brief, exciting flash. And in central Africa, a fungal glow kept me company on a fearful dark night when I was stuck in the forest.

A brief biology lesson. Continue reading

Pilgrimage: Papa Bob’s masonry oven

On a Saturday whim I drove out from Madison to Arena, Wisc., to see an oven I’d heard about. That is how I found myself listening to Papa Bob tell a story of the time he shot and killed a giant bear through the mouth from 11 feet away with a .22 rifle, in self-defense.

Bob McQuade, 78. Korea combat veteran, artist, ex-executive chef, husband to ballet mistress. Abilities include bricklaying, deer-hunting and bread-baking.

Bob McQuade, 78. Korea combat veteran, artist, ex-executive chef, husband to ballet mistress. Abilities include bricklaying, deer-hunting and bread-baking.

I drove out to meet Bob because I have a fantasy of going back to Alaska and starting a bakery with a wood-fired bread oven. Hell, we got enough wood up there. The fantasy comes in many variations. Sometimes I also make truffles, like Juliette Binoche in Chocolat but sans the child or the settling-down issues. Sometimes it’s a brewpub where W. uses the residual heat from the bread oven to brew the beer. Continue reading

End of mushroom times

I went to check out my favorite oyster-mushroom log at the University of Wisconsin’s Picnic Point, and the oysters had hightailed it. They had been replaced by velvet stalks, Flammulina velutipes, cold-weather specialists. We started seeing those more than a month ago, but now it seems they’re taking over the woods.

Velvet stalks in September. Photo, W.

Velvet stalks in September. Photo, W.

To say these little guys have “slimy” caps is to describe a range of goo from merely clammy to as if some slugs came and had an orgy on it, which slime comes off on your hand. The mushrooms are otherwise charming, with a rich red-orange-rust-brown cap, white gills and a thin dark velvety stalk … they cluster on wood. Which is some consolation for them being so insubstantial compared to the oysters that came before them. Upon cooking they whimper and disappear into other flavors. But hey, better than no mushrooms at all, right? I have assured them they’ll do fine in a pate.

Panellus serotinus, late fall oyster mushroom.

Panellus serotinus, late fall oyster mushroom.

While I was there I got me some late fall oysters—Panellus serotinus. Pretty easy to recognize, they looked like oysters but firmer, sturdier, with a stubby lateral stalk; a subtle olive-greenish brown cap with violet tints; decurrent light gills. Unfortunately, Arora says its appearance, like that of velvet stalk, “is usually a sign that the mushroom season is almost over.”

O, sorrow.

Ain’t over ’til it’s over, though. I’m still finding (and, as a neophyte, being flummoxed by) plenty of fungi.

If these mushrooms could talk, I'm sure they'd be telling me how unflattering this flash is. Top right, a honey (Armillaria). Front, dark-brown umbilicate mushroom I can't ID. Middle orange-brown, ditto. Left, maybe Hypsizygus tessulatus, but too dirty to eat. Back: Late fall oyster again.

If these mushrooms could talk, surely they'd be telling me how unflattering my flash is. Top right, a honey (Armillaria). Front, dark-brown umbilicate mushroom I can't ID. Middle orange-brown, ditto. Left, maybe Hypsizygus tessulatus, but too dirty to eat. Back: Late fall oyster again.

Wisconsin producer: Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats

(Warning: gushing ahead. Also crockpot besmirching.)

I know you all have been waiting to hear about my chuck roast.

W. and I dropped in on Paoli Local Foods (“pay-oh-lee”), just south of Madison, for its locavore-friendly signage. “Grass-fed beef,” it said. “Smoothies.” We had been biking and foraging for a few hours; I was exhausted, and W. was starving. I was thinking smoothie or salad, as I’ve been eating less meat these days. And then we got some samples of the daily crockpot beef.

Now, I am perhaps unfairly biased. But crockpots always seems like they appear at the sort of potluck where the salads are largely dressed in mayo, and like they’re keeping some mystery meatballs at an optimum bacterial-growth temp. My newsroom pal Jeremy, an excellent eater who had lived in the South (an area with which I am little acquainted), was always putting some piece of meat in the oven, cooking it for a day and deciding it needed another 20 or 30 hours. He swore by crockpots, and sorely missed having one. I say, slow cooking is all well and good. But does it have to happen in a plastic pot with brown flowers on it?

But this beef was the best I’d ever had. It had been cooked in its own juices and nothing else.

“Aha!” I thought. “So this is what beef tastes like!”

I began to notice the walls lined with freezers full of beef, pork, duck, pheasant, ostrich, bison, lamb, veal, eggs.

Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats owns the store, raises the animals, and supplements with wares from smoked trout to soap from about 80 local producers. Ruegsegger’s website says all the right things about sustainability, free-ranging, dry-aging and whatnot; they sound like an enlightened bunch. The meat, however, speaks the loudest on its own behalf.

Now, what to do with my very own chuck roast?

Paoli Local Foods: on County Highway PB in downtown Paoli. It’s open 10-6 Mon-Fri, 8-4 Sat. Ruegsegger Farms: in Blanchardville, WI. Offers CSAs, home delivery, tours. Owned by Ken and Sherrie Ruegsegger.