Tiny Hen of the Woods

I found some really tiny Hen of the Woods (Maitake) mushrooms today:

Also found a few honey mushrooms, and cooked them up with maitake in a creamy wine sauce over brown rice:

The bread on the side is a spinach feta scone from Bake For You in Albany.

Pokeberry Ink

Fermented pokeberry ink with a stick pen:


Recently I've been trying to identify berries that I see around the area. Pokeweed is common, including a large plant growing on the side of my house. The bamboo-like stalks grow very tall. As a kid, stick-in-hand, it was always great fun to have at a large patch of the plant. A swung stick slices through the thick stalks like a machete, and a 10-year-old could make quick work of a thousand weeds in a few short minutes.

Dark purple berries grow on the plant, however they are apparently dangerously poisonous. However! Juice from the berries can be made into temporary ink. Fermentation makes the ink permanent. Click here for more details about making the ink.


Types of Cider

Sweet Cider: Straight from the press (blender)
Cider Soda: During active fermentation, the cider is fizzy, some of the sweetness is taken away due to mild fermentation, with a hint of alcohol. This stuff is *really* tasty. Better than sweet or hard cider in my opinion. At least of the stuff I have made so far. Just need to be careful: either keep under an airlock, keep it loosely capped, or regularly release pressure, otherwise bottles might explode.

Hard Cider: The cider after it has completely fermented. Very dry because pretty much every last bit of sugar has been converted to alcohol.

Pressing the Cider

I am using a Vitamix blender to crush the apples. The process I use is to:
1) Pick the apples from the tree, ideally after it hasn't rained for several days so that naturally occurring yeast has a chance to build up on the apples.

2) Disinfect work surfaces, blender, containers, knife, hands, etc. using IO Star no-rinse sanitizer.
3) Halve apples, remove stem, and scoop core/seeds with a spoon.
4) Chop apples

5) Blend, adding liquid (cider or water) to make blending easier.
6) For sweet cider, use a nut milk bag to strain cider from the apple puree. Or, for hard cider, place the puree directly into a sterilized fermentation bucket sealed with an airlock.

Fermenting the Cider

1) Place unpasteurized apple puree into a sterilized fermentation bucket sealed with an airlock.
2) Leave alone for 3-5 days. This gives the natural yeast on the skins a chance to permeate and multiply in the cider liquid. Maybe punch it down once per day to make to stir up the floating apple bits that are exposed to air.
3) Strain the cider from the solids, squeezing out as much liquid as possible using a nut milk bag.
4) The cider is naturally sparkling cider soda at this stage, and should remain so for several days as the sugar slowly ferments into alcohol. I would like to try putting it in a bottling bucket (a plastic bucket with a spigot) at this stage, and over a week or so pour glasses of the fermenting cider.
5) Primary fermentation: Put cider into a glass carboy or fermentation bucket sealed with an airlock. I don't think it is necessary to fill the carboy at this stage because co2 from active fermentation should fill any airspace in the carboy. Primary fermentation should take maybe a week.
6) Secondary fermentation: Transfer to another carboy or fermentation bucket using a siphon using a racking cane to ensure that the sediment is left in the bottom of the primary. Seal with an airlock.
7) Leave in secondary fermentation for a few weeks to months.
8) Transfer to bottles, possibly adding an ounce of cane sugar (dissolved in boiled water) per gallon first in order to carbonate the bottled cider.


Hard Cider (C1)

On my first batch of hard cider, I made a few mistakes. I fussed with it too much, not a big deal. I used a faulty airlock (hole) for several days during primary fermentation, maybe not a big deal because the cider was actively exhaling out the hole. I kept the seeds in the apples, also not a big deal, but seeds contain some bad stuff that I would prefer to keep out of the cider. Also, when I transferred to secondary, I wanted the carboy to be full so I added water, and you can taste the fact that it's a little watered down. I bottled several bottles with screw caps and no sugar. The unsugared cider is extremely dry, probably too dry. After 1 month and 5 days since picking the apples, I added sugar and bottled. I expected the sugar to add carbonation, however no carbonation occurred, at least as of a few days later. I'm guessing all the yeast died, which is a good thing. The sugar instead took away some of the excessive dryness, and now it tastes quite good, although you can taste the fact that it is slightly watered down.

Cider Soda (CS1)

I bottled some of C1 during mid-primary fermentation using twist caps. It was really tasty stuff, although I had to constantly release pressure from the bottles.

Grape Cider (GC1)

I made a small batch of cider with a bit of wild grape juice added to give it a little red wine character. The mistake I made here was that I strained the cider from the solids without letting the yeast build up in the cider first. This meant that the airlock never actively bubbled. After a few weeks, the sugar content was gone, so it seems to have fermented. The grape cider, at the time of bottling, smelled like dirty socks, but tasted ok. After maybe 3 weeks, this has been bottled without adding sugar. After bottling, the bad smell went away, and the wine tastes really simple, clean, and right in between dry and sweet. I'm trying to place the taste. It could be a light rosé wine, or maybe a wine you might get at the farmer's market.

Next Batch

Next time I would like to avoid all of the above mistakes. Also I would like to try keeping a batch of cider soda in a bucket with a spigot to be enjoyed as it ferments. At some point I would like to try killing off all bad stuff with sulphites and pitch a beer yeast. Just to see how different it ends up from the all-natural approach. Maybe a small batch. Also, I have been fermenting at summer basement temperatures. I could probably ferment at warmer temps.

Mistakes to Avoid

* Don't add water to increase volume
* Don't rinse apples or strain the cider right away if using natural fermentation. It needs to ferment with the skins if using natural yeast.


* 15 medium-sized apples yielded 10.5 cups of apple mush, which made 6.5 cups of sweet cider.
* This is interesting: "Sweeter ciders are slowly fermented and repeatedly racked (moved to new containers) to strain the yeast that feeds on the cider’s natural sugars. Dryer ciders (meaning they contain less sugar) allow the yeast to consume the majority of cider’s natural sugars and result in a less sweet drink with a higher alcohol content."


* This video says they don't add anything (yeast, sulfites, sugar?), how do they manage to ferment for 5 months and end up with a carbonated product? Hmm, they could add additional cider to add sugar. But how come their yeast survives that long when mine didn't? Lower temps?

Second Roundage

My friend A was kind enough to let me pick apples at his house. He's got three beautiful apple trees with all kinds of apples, big ones too. Hopefully I can turn it into a proper batch of hard cider. And sweet cider. And everything in between - it's a *lot* of apples. Two big bags of apples pureed into 6 gallons of mush, and that was only roughly half of what I collected:

Misc Foraging


Apples are everywhere right now. They make great cider. In this case I'm using ugly apples that I wouldn't necessarily want to eat. I rinse them, scrub away most of the sooty blotch, halve, remove stems, dig out the seedy core with a spoon, chop, and toss into the blender. Add a little water, blend, and strain with a strainer bag. Really tasty stuff.

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

These mushrooms taste a lot like oysters. They make an awesome mini soufflé. Recipe involves whipped egg white, a yolk, onion, basil, cheese, and shaggy mane. Yum!

Hen of the Woods Mushroom

These prized mushrooms have been showing up on local oak trees. Tonight I froze what I had since I was eating other things.


I've been meaning to try something with acorns ever since last year, when we had TONS of acorns everywhere. Cracking one open reveals an amazing familiar smell that I can't quite place... Some kind of yummy desserty smell. However, it is super tannic and devastating on the palette. I busted these open, dug out the nuts, blended with water, and repeatedly rinsed at the sink in hopes of leaching out the tannins. To no avail, however, they were still impossible to eat. I'm soaking them now, but don't feel much enthusiasm for putting more effort into making these nasty things edible


I happened to spot one of these. Removed the green skin and cracked it open. Inside is a nice nut, a lot like a walnut only smaller. Not too bad to eat, although I guess they are much better with some kind of aging process.

Meadow Mushroom

After a long summer with hardly any rain at all, we have finally gotten a steady rain. So far only for a day or so, but it should continue throughout the week. Meanwhile, the hot summer temperatures finally dropped, and the first signs of leaves falling from the trees has started.

Two days ago I had 15 minutes to spare, so I went for a quick walk in to woods to take a quick glance at a few Hen of the Woods spots. Miraculously I found a perfect one and took it home to freeze and make dinner with.

This morning, after a night of rain, I checked out several new areas as well as my old favorites. I found several Hen of the Woods mushrooms in a new spot, none in an area with tons of big old oaks that should have been home to many of them, and four baby Hen of the Woods in my old favorite spots that should hopefully grow nice and big with all the rain that is coming.

Meanwhile, I came across an area with several mushrooms that looked an awful lot like supermarket mushrooms. These looked like portobello-sized button mushrooms. When I got home, I looked them up, and it seemed like there was a very good chance these are a 'choice' edible that I have yet to try. I returned to the spot, fetched the mushrooms, brought them home, and did some research and identifying. I think they are meadow mushrooms.

I cooked up this recipe, added milk until it had a sauce-like consistency, and served it on pasta. I gotta say, this mushroom is amazing. It's like a supermarket mushroom on steroids. It has a very rich mushroom flavor. Even with a quick and sloppy job of preparation, the dish tasted like a fancy expensive gourmet meal.

This is what a mushroom should taste like. Fantastic.

The recipe is very clean and simple, and made a sauce of pure mushroom. I could see spicing it up a little. Maybe adding a bit of cream, wine, herbs, vegetable (I think there is asparagus in the original recipe's picture).


Interesting details about identifying meadow mushrooms
Simple mushroom sauce recipe

3 Mushroom Stroganoff

Harvest season is here, what a great time of year! Today we enjoyed Three Mushroom Stroganoff with fresh pressed grape and apple cider. I used this recipe, with some modifications to use what we had around the house (specifically: greek yogurt instead of heavy cream, basil instead of parsley, onion instead of shallot, and chicken mushroom, black staining polypore, and viscid violet corts instead of portabella mushrooms). Good stuff!

Chicken Mushrooms

It has been a spectacular year for chicken mushrooms. This is the fourth year in a row of finding giant chicken mushrooms growing in Clifton Park!

First B found a huge tree with chicken mushroom growing like mad and was kind enough to share. This is the same spot he found some last year:

This alone was enough to make a huge meal of chicken mushroom parmesan, freeze lots for using in the winter, and there was still plenty to share with friends! It's amazing how much like chicken this mushroom is. Take a look at the drumstick!

Shortly thereafter, a giant patch sprung up near my house on the same log where I found it two years ago:

Rattlesnake Cucumber Smell

B, S, T, and I made plans to run at the Tongue Mountain Range near Lake George. It's a challenging 12 mile loop over a range of small mountain peaks. None of us except T have run the loop this year, so we all agreed to get one in before the year escapes us. The Tongue Mountain has many unique features. Foremost is the fact that it is the toughest, wildest run that B and I can get away with squeezing in before work. That's 2 hours of driving and 2-3 hours of running before sneaking into work just under the radar. As long as the hair is combed and the bleeding legs are hidden from view it's just a normal day at the office. The timing worked out for T's job and S is a school teacher with summers off and this is his last week of freedom.

The run couldn't have gone better. The four of us made good time dancing over the rooty, rocky terrain. We spotted a really nice pile of Chicken Mushroom early in the run. We tried to miss all the turns, but someone always corrected the mistake before going astray.

It was an amazing feeling to be in a group of four bounding through the woods, not a fear in the world. We took the easier 5 miles first, then the extremely steep roller coaster of peaks, and finally the long and joyous (and a little harrowing) descent. As we ran down the last long slope, I smelled the perfectly distinct, crisp, cool, smell of freshly cut cucumbers.

Me: "Hey, does anyone else smell cucumbers?"

S: "Yeah! I smelled it a few times during the run."

B: "That's my new vegan cucumber after shave I'm wearing."

(long pause as we run)

Me: "Are you seriously wearing vegan cucumber after shave?"

B: "Ah ha ha... I'll let you figure that out for yourself."

And that was the end of it. We ran back to the car, drove south, and dispersed back into our daily lives.

A few days later, I typed a quick Google query into my phone. As I started to type, "cucumber smell..." Google auto-suggested, "cucumber smell in the woods", which I selected.

The very first search result is a question starting with, "I have been told by more than one person that if there is a rattlesnake in the area there will be the strong smell of cucumbers in the air near where they are resting."

Which brings me to the second of the unique features of the Tongue Mountain Range. It is well known for being a rare New York State ecosystem where large Timber Rattlesnakes thrive. B has seen them here before on a hike with his family, and others have posted youtube videos. I distinctly remember visiting the Utica Zoo on a field trip as a kid and seeing a rattlesnake behind glass. They explained to us that rattlesnakes exist in rare places in New York. I would never have believed I would ever see one (which I haven't) not to mention discover them by their smell. Of cucumbers no less!

I have since read several online discussions about the smell of cucumbers being associated with rattlesnakes (and copperheads). 95% of the comments from self-proclaimed experts say that it's a myth. While it does not prove anything, I find it hard to accept that the following three facts are a coincidence:

1) A myth exists that a cucumber smell comes from rattlesnakes
2) The Tongue Mountain Range is known for harboring rattlesnakes
3) The only place I have ever smelled random cucumber is the Tongue Mountain Range

Which leads me to believe the tiny minority, that rattlesnakes do in fact give off a cucumber smell. What's exciting (kind of like seeing evidence of Sasquatch) is that there seems to be no proof of the smell. However, here are a few comments that give some credence:

"I had heard this also several years ago - Rattlers give off cucumber smell. I can't add much in favor or against this belief, but it had been told to me about 10 years ago."

"My Grandmother swore by this cucumber smell = copperhead thing. I went with them to their summer place on French Creek many times as a kid. On one trip we arrived and as soon as she got out of the car she told my Grandfather that she smelled cucumbers and that copperhead was nearby. My grandfather mumbled some words of disgust through his lips and around the stem of his pipe and trudged off to unlock the cabin door. He came back to the car faster than I had ever seen him move. There was a copperhead curled up on the front door stoop. A good time was had by all (especially my grandmother and for a long, long time afterward). This incident became official family folklore."

"...I hate to tell you but it is true the smell of cucumbers and the smell of stinky sweet Lily of the valley. I physically have traced the smell directly to the snakes multiple times on my property. I don't care that people say it's a myth, I'm crazy, etc...I have smelled the smells and found the snakes. I wouldn't panic, I never do, it's just an extra warning to avoid that area right now. You could put a plastic owl on a stake near the areas and see if that helps."

"I was working with a USGS survey team one summer and we unearthed a nest of copperhead young (eggs and some newborns) - the whole area smelled like cucumbers. I don't know if the same would hold true for rattlesnakes or not."

So maybe it's the smell of *hatching* rattlesnakes.

Or maybe B really was wearing vegan cucumber aftershave.

Modern Maid Oven Repair

After we bought a new house, I set to work trying to clean our range (oven). This was several years ago. I stupidly went to remove one of the oven heating elements while the oven was plugged in. To add to the stupidity I was chatting on the phone with my friend T as I did so. When the element electrical connector touched the side of the stove, there was a giant kapow, I leapt back 15 feet, and the phone was thrown across the room. I picked up the phone, T told me how he'd work on just about anything but not a stove because those things carry a LOT of power. I'm not sure how I made it out of the oven with both of my arms not to mention my life, but it turns out that the giant spark WELDED the element to the side of the stove.

By basically cutting the metal oven around where it was welded, I was able to free the element from the side of the oven and eventually got it working again. Well sort of.

From then on out if I ran the oven at 400 degrees or hotter for 45 minutes or so, the oven would stop working. I needed to turn it off and let it cool down before it would work again. It operated like this for several years, not a big deal as long as you understand it's limitations. A few weeks ago however, it overheated for the last time. The oven let out an endless beeep that wouldn't stop even after disconnecting the range from power for 24 hours.

No biggie. The oven is an old nasty smelly malfunctioning piece of crap anyway. We'll just buy a new one. Well guess what? For a few short years there was a fad where instead of installing costly overhead ventilation, Modern Maid and a few other (mostly related) companies built the ventilation into the oven itself. In our kitchen we have a beautiful picture window on the outside-facing wall. And of course it wouldn't make sense to put the oven in front of a beautiful few. Instead the kitchen sink is in front of the wall so you can look outside and water the plants while you're at the sink. Makes sense. Except that the stove needs to be on the outside wall so it can ventilate! To get around that, all of our cabinets have a ventilation shaft cut out of them down near the floor.

That fad has since passed. There is one model of oven that we could swap out. It's $3000 and has the most horrendous reviews imaginable. All the reviews talk about needed to repair it 6 times in the first year of ownership for example. So basically people in my boat are getting raked over the coals.

If we bought a normal oven, it would likely mean patching the holes carved in our lower cabinets and carving new holes in the upper cabinet for ventilation. Which probably would mean new cabinets.

Discussions about repairing the oven generally suggested replacing the circuit boards (there are two of them) or the temperature sensor. My temp sensor tested ok. The circuit boards are no longer available for purchase online, not that I could find anyway.

Because I was limited to sketchy alternatives, I was ready to look into some unexpected options. I found fixyourboard.com, which specifically advertises repairs for the circuit boards in my oven. I was skeptical at first, but got some confidence after watching their impressive testing capabilities:

Video of Fix Your Board's automated testing

I sent in my control board. When they received it, they quickly asked me to send in the relay board as well based on the problem I was seeing. I did, and within a few days the boards returned to me. I hooked them back up to the oven, and voila! It's working!

I am very impressed with fixyourboard's professionalism, and their ability to keep my old oven out of the landfill. It really saved the day for me.

* Modern Maid
* Model #: FDU186 2B
* Steady beeeeep, nothing on digital readout. Occurred while temp on 400 for nearly 1 hour. Had trouble in the past running at high temps for a long time. But this time it never returned to normal. After keeping circuit breaker off overnight and turning back on, still beeeeeep.

* Likely candidates for replacement:
# Relay Circuit Board: http://www.repairclinic.com/PartDetail/b1p13/Amana-Range-Stove-Oven-Rela...

# Temperature sensor (should be 1000-1100 ohms at rm temp). Tested ok.
# Clock/Timer and/or Electronic Range Control. (ERC) - http://www.fixyourboard.com/form.php
** Manufacturer part number: Y0308480


I have been casually eyeing some plants in the backyard that look like the edible purslane. It turns out that there are actually two different plants growing next to each other that look very similar. One is a delicious edible green called purslane. The other is a poisonous lookalike called, "hairy-stemmed spurge". Amazing (and a little scary) that they grow so close to each other.

Purslane has a distinctive red stem and succulent leaves, sort of like the leaves of a jade plant. It's really tasty. There's not a lot growing in my yard, it will take more willpower than what I've got not to devour it all before it gets a chance to spread.

Spurge has a slightly hairy stem and a milky sap that exudes when the stem is broken:

It turns out that milky sap is a good general guideline for things not to eat (unless you know for sure that it's safe).

(8/2/15: The purslane in the yard has developed millions of tiny black seeds which I have spread around a bit, we'll see if they grow into more purslane. I've been weeding most of the spurge.)

Note to self

Track down:
* wild carrot - Found this growing all over. Also found it's very deadly lookalike nearby. Surprisingly easy to confuse the two. I might avoid this one.
* wild aparagus - Went on a long mission to find these, could be tricky.
* lamb's quarters - I have since found these growing around the area
* cattails


* A concise description of some common edibles. Also be sure to check out the "Plants to Avoid" section.
* A somewhat unrelated page, but great and useful trees.
* Some poisonous plants to look out for