Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tree Hugging and Mushroom Hunting

The weather had been erratic, first very warm and then extremely cold, followed by rain and snow in the higher elevations. So, when we left Santa Rosa on a sunny Saturday morning for a trip up the coast to go mushroom hunting, it didn't occur to me that it might be raining when we got there. But lo and behold, within 5 minutes of our arrival at Salt Point State Park the rains came. I was starting to beat myself up for not remembering rain gear, except umbrellas, when I mentioned my dilemma to another mushrooom forager. Suddenly there were 4 extra rain ponchos from 3 different people and all 4 of us, including my sister, her boyfriend and my son Shane, were covered.

Almost miraculously, as we started hiking in the forest the rain eased up, the sun shone through trees and the mushrooms were visible. Donna and Phil had never been hunting before and we had 2 experienced pickers with us - mycochef Patrick Hamilton and his friend Kathy.

We mostly picked on steep inclines. It was defnitely slippery as the underbrush was wet. At one point, I was hiking down toward some mushrooms and grabbed onto a small tree. It broke and I found myself hurtling down the hill. The next thing that I knew, I had my arms on either side of a large tree and was hugging it. I was still trying to figure out exactly what happened and knew that slamming into a tree saved me from breaking my neck as I was flying down the hill. And I am willing to admit in any case that I am a tree-hugging sort. I was incredibly thankful. The best part was that only Phil witnessed what happened which I am sure was something that could win on America's funniest home videos.

After picking pounds of black trumpet, oyster, and yellow foot mushrooms we were quite happy to return to our spot and have a wonderful pot luck lunch. We ate outside under a very large suspended tarp which protected us from the rain but not from the cold - it was only 39 degrees F. which is record setting in my part of the world. (I know that for some of you that would be balmy.) After lunch we headed home down beautiful Highway 1, driving in the alternating rain and sun.

The trip would have been uneventful if a cow had not decided to just wander into the road in front of my car which luckily was not going very fast (which is almost impossible considering the hairpin turns).

We arrived home, happy to be indoors and out of the car. I was a bit bruised but well enough to prepare mushrooms which took some time. We had sauteed black trumpet with smoked salt, and oyster mushrooms both roasted and sauteed. The oyster mushroms were a wonderful addition to the Thai red curry butternut squash and tofu that I prepared the previous night.

Donna and Phil took some mushrooms with them to turn into sandwiches for their plane trip home.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Quick Trip to San Francisco

Although I only live about an hour away from San Francisco, it is a world away. And one that usually involves expensive parking and too much traffic. But this past weekend, I took one day and went with my son Shane to visit with my sister Donna who is here from the East Coast. So, Shane and I took the ferry to SF which was incredibly relaxing for me, and boring for Shane. The weather was clear and sunny, a San Francisco rarity.

We walked a lot and that was great. We took the Muni bus and the cable car, acting like San Franciscans and tourists alike. We took in the sites at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market and watched a cooking demonstration. It was great to be in the audience and not behind the burners, for a change. As we perused the market stalls I had to restrain myself from buying lots of beautiful vegetables so that I wouldn't end up carrying them around all day. Shane convinced me to buy a smoky eggplant dip named Aubergine and a baguette which we devoured later.

The bus ride to Haight Ashbury left us a bit hungry so we popped into a Mexican place. I snuck out and went to the sausage shop next door for a vegan sausage with hot and sweet mustard and grilled onions. Other than the roll which was too white and soft for me, it was a nice eat-on-the-go snack which provided enough energy to walk further into the Haight and hike up to Buena Vista Park.

I can't imagine a nicer or more relaxing day in San Francisco. I hope that if you go, you have a similar experience.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Desert and The Sun

I have been to Phoenix and back. I forgot how much energy it takes to travel and remain sane on either end of the trip. Being away usually seems to work out just fine as long as one can manage to stay healthy after breathing the recycled air on the plane. (I have some secret weapons that I use when traveling that almost always help, and Airborne is not one of them.)

I spent two days in Tempe, the college town next to Phoenix, with a young woman named Diana, who could not have been nicer. I went to the local coop and got some bulk food, fruits, and veggies to munch on during the day. One night I ate at an Ethiopian restaurant nearby called The Blue Nile. The food was plentiful, flavorful and affordable ($9.95). I couldn't even finish my entree which consisted of injera (a large pancake made of fermented teff flour) and 5 small vegetarian dishes. I didn't want to take it home because I didn't think that it would taste good the next day but the waitress (possible owner) suggested that I do so and it was quite delicious reheated the next morning. The injera was some of the best that I have had. Maybe the desert heat, or the Ethiopian stout, improves the taste.

I hiked up Camelback Mountain that day and the view was spectacular but would have been more so without the smog. Having 111 days without rain did not make that Valley more hospitable.

The following day I stopped at The Farm at South Mountain which is an oasis in the desert. I met Terri, one of the Barn Godddesses at Garden Territory onsite. I had set up a cooking class for the group of dietitians that I would be meeting at my conference (the reason for heading to the area). I definitely met a kindred spirit and recommend a trip to The Farm at South Mountain or for anyone going to Phoenix. It will make you feel grounded.

From there I joined my group of dietitians, most of whom are true foodies. We heard speakers including Deborah Madison (speaking about meat, of all things) and Terry Conlan from Lake Austin Spa in Texas. I had two great meals out - one at Rancho Pinot Grill where you'll get one of the freshest and most filling roasted vegetable plates ever, and the other at Elements at The Sanctuary which featured Chef Beau Macmillan. His sesame-crusted tofu did not meet my standards but the small plate (that's what they called it but it wasn't) of White Cheddar Grits with Roasted Maitake Mushrooms was incredible. The decor and view are stunning and the prices reflect that.

We spent the entire day at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. It was interesting watching other teachers in action. I leanrned mostly that one must have a sense of humor and be open to anything happening. We started the day with chocolate and ended with wine. What could be wrong with that?

I am once gain happy to be on my home turf and get back to work and some kind of routine. I do hope that I can get my newsletter done in time to send it out in February. Time for other writing but first let me think, what shall I eat?