Misc Foraging

Apples

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.

Acorns

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

Butternut

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).

Links

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

Purslane

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

Links

* 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

Black Raspberries

I have a ridiculously short and easy commute into work, a little over two miles. I usually try to ride my bike this time of year. I have ridden past this spot a hundred times, and the other day looked down to see brightly colored berries on the side of a short hill alongside the road. I parked my bike to investigate, and before I knew it I was full from eating so many delicious black raspberries like it was nature's Halloween candy.

It's strange how difficult it is to get over the feeling of embarrassment foraging for food along a common commuter-line, it feels horribly uncivilized. This is the last place on the planet anyone would ever go. It's a god awful pit full of prickers, poison ivy, and jewelweed (poison ivy's antidote) where you are on display with cars driving overhead watching you sweat and toil. But whatever. It's worth fighting through the discomfort to get to enjoy this treasure, every day til it's gone. How much more convenience can you ask for? It's less than ten feet out of my way. And I can tell you this much, there is *no* competition for these berries. They are all mine.

One day I eat berries like I'm a bear fattening up for a long hibernating winter. Then, on my way home I pick the area clean and collect a pound to bring home. A few days later even more berries have ripened and I'm back at it, eating berries until I'm ready to burst. And again the next day, collecting a full two pounds to bring on a visit with friends for the weekend. All on an area not much bigger than a ping pong table.

As I ride away from the berry patch with seeds stuck in my teeth, I spit them out along the road. By doing so I can't help but wonder... Am I planting a giant garden right now? After a few years of this will there be black raspberries growing all along my entire commute? It's amazing to think that foraging is a natural and wild form of cultivation. Consuming and producing are one and the same. Quite unlike consuming anything in a civilized way.

Berkely's Polypore

Over the period of 17 days, this little bud of a mushroom:

grew into this behemoth:

This is Berkely's Polypore. I saw one growing in the area last year, a few hundred feet from this spot and wondered what it was. It looks very similar to the chicken mushroom. It is listed as "edible". I broke off a piece of the wild mushroom and it had a rich, fresh, and pleasant mushroomy odor. The reports I read of eating it described it as bitter and bad-tasting, so I wasn't in a big rush to try it. It is best eaten while still young because as it gets older it becomes increasingly wood-like, much like the chicken mushroom. After eyeing the mushroom for 19 days, I assumed it would be old and gross to eat but how do you know if you don't try? So I brought home a leaf. The inner part of the mushroom is more woody than the outer part, so I cut the outer part into small strips.


I then pan fried it with onion, garlic, and olive oil. The end result was really good. No bitterness, it tastes wonderfully mushroomy and has a robust texture, on the verge of rubbery yet not rubbery at all. Kind of like octopus or squid that hasn't been overcooked.

I wouldn't hesitate to use this much like a chicken mushroom, and put it in Jurek Burgers, veggie chili, or any other dish that calls for wild mushrooms. In fact I should freeze some for winter.

Taconic Crest Trail

The Taconic Crest Trail has been on my running bucket list for a while now. Ever since I heard about E dropping off a bike at one end, driving to the start, running the whole route, and grossly underestimating how difficult a 50 mile bike ride would be after a 30+ mile mountainish run.

The trail proved most elusive. I have repeatedly searched online for a quick answer to one simple quesiton: "Where does it start?" with nothing to show for it except vague answers like, "[The northernmost point of the] Taconic Crest Trail unofficially begins in Pittsfield... But of course you can make your own official start at the northern end in Williamstown, MA via Williams College Hopkins Memorial Forest or Petersburgh, NY via Petersburg Pass parking lot". So it has three starting points? And also, "the trail heads up into Vermont". So I can't even narrow down which of 3 states it starts in, is it NY? MA, or VT? And of course with such generic New England names like Pittsfield and Williamstown, we've got towns with those names in MA, VT, *and* NY. The road to the trail is called, "Taconic Trail" or "Route 2" for short, is that the trail? Or just a highway?

The Taconic Hiking Club provides a map of the trail if you can find it. "The package includes 11 wonderful maps and a booklet"... "Check out Williams College store downtown Williamstown, MA and if they don't have any they'll point you in the direction of a local store that might." So I'm going to drive all the way to Massachusetts to a store that will point me to a store that might have a map? All I want to know is where to start, do I seriously need 11 maps and a booklet for that?

So I'm planning to do some kind of medium-long Saturday morning run when I learn that I'll be on my own until dinner time. I wake up in the morning searching for someplace new and interesting to run and eventually find the Petersburg Pass parking lot on a map and decide to start there. It's an easy 50 minute drive, just 12 minutes past Grafton Lakes State Park where I was originally planning to run today.

When I get to the parking lot, I take a quick look at a graffiti'd info-less trailhead sign. On it someone has pinned up the following sign:

I scanned it quickly and walked away with the impression that somebody's poodle got chased into the woods by a bear. I didn't realize until after I returned and read more closely that this was no poodle. Basically a german shephard got eaten by a bear on the trail. Recently.

I sign into the trial register and mark down my plan: run out 10-15 miles then turn back. The first few miles work their way up the largest mountain on the trail. It's a steep-yet-runnable climb on a wide and incredibly well-maintained trail. I catch up to a small group of hikers. One of them, very attentive as though he is on alert, hears me coming and jokes, "good thing I didn't think you were a bear!".

5 miles into the run, the trail degrades and becomes a bit overgrown with the occasional muddy section. I come across a bird on the ground that goes into a total hissy fit, flapping wings, squawking, and making circles in the leaves, as it slowly departs into the woods. Later, I'm jogging along, and I see movement in the brush. Something is spastically coming at me. I imagine it's a rabid porcupine eager to kill me. When it emerges from the bushes, it's just another one of those darned birds leading me away from its young. During the first half of the run I find the birds amusing. By the second half of the run I am tired and in no mood to be startled by these peculiar animals. I curse loudly and flip them the bird. Right back atcha.

Once I reach 10 miles, I check the time and decide to keep going. I look down to see some giant bear tracks in the mud. The bear tracks are in the middle of a large berry patch. There are no berries at this point, only flowers. What is the bear up to? Eating flowers? Or perhaps staking out his territory for when he can fatten up on plump ripe raspberries?

I've always thought of black bears as little more than giant raccoons: annoying pests that might get into the trash or into your unguarded backpack looking for food. I run through my bear attack plan. "Spread your arms, look as big and intimidating as you can, make lots of noise, bang pots and pans together." I form my hands into claws and raise them over my head and say, "grrr". I look nervously at my skinny arms, realizing that I may have been underestimating my ability to dispatch the dog eaters who made these tracks.

I proceed along the obvious trail, failing to realize that the trail took a hidden left turn. I emerge on a hilltop, and realize that there is a road not far below. If I just go a little farther I can complete this entire section of trail! I bound down the hill for a while. Until I realize how much fun I've been having and how long it's been since I had seen a trail marker. I reluctantly stop and head back up the hill where I came from. After what seems like miles I discover where I went wrong. I explore the correct trail for a bit, but now I've covered 15 miles and it's time I started the long run back.

The relentless hills wear me down and I bonk. I'm walking up hills, taking sit-down breaks, really taking my time. I snack on a Clif Bar and a Granola bar. Not entirely satisfied, I occasionally grab the curled up tips of the ferns and eat those. Boy! A fern has never tasted so good! I drink my water sparingly. My backup is a Life Straw. However, this being a crest trail, there is no water to be seen. I make my way a few miles at a time, telling myself "22 miles, just make it to 22 miles". Then "25 miles, just make it to 25 miles".

As I make my final descent, a group of five hikers gives me a priceless once over. My phone is blasting tunes, I am bombing down the hill with a big grin and bloodied feet.

I am getting closer to civilization. Signage on the trees indicates, "No motorized vehicles". I hear engines blaring in the distance. That must be the parking lot! The engines get louder. I cock my head. Harleys in the parking lot? I am in LaLa Land after 29 miles of running when suddenly two dune buggies, slightly *wider* than the trail, hurtle 40mph towards me on the trail. HOLY SHIIIIIIT! I dive into the woods and watch as the driver gives me an incredibly polite wave, not slowing a bit. I give the stinkeye in return.

I stand up, dust myself off, and cautiously make my way to the parking lot. Nice way to transition back to reality after 7 hours of naturistic solitude.

Links

* Map of the run
* Informative yet ferbocious description of the trail