Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thanksgiving in J-ville

We spent the day with Nick’s cousin who operates a goat farm with her family just down the street from where Boone’s Farm was (is, although now his land is vacant).  I made a pot of chanterelle chowder to bring along, and got invited to speak about our journey and the soup around the table just before dinner.  There was quite a variety of people around the table, and so much good food.  We took home several jars of homemade deliciousness—sauerkraut, tomato sauce, cheese, and lots of vegetables from their garden.  Food is something that brings people together, and everyone loves to share it.  With all we’ve been gifted, I’m almost certain that Butter weighs more now that she did when we left.

Ashland, again

We hit the jackpot, again, although it required hiking in the rain for most of the entire day.  We left our cozy hotel room after a long morning of crappy breakfast and hard talks.  Anticipating our return home to LA has raised questions surrounding what comes next, which can get kind of heavy at times.  All this time, we’ve just been living in the moment, but now we’re suddenly  both forced to face the reality of what comes when we return home.  Reality seems like a strange word to use given that I don’t think I ever want to make my previous life a reality again. 

The forest, walking among big trees, felt nurturing and loving to me, something we don’t always feel from each other.  I was thankful to be in the among the trees despite the fact that most of the first few mushrooms I picked up were too soggy to bother with after last night’s downpour. 

We drove north from Crescent City towards Brookings, not just for the mushrooms but also because we’d been invited to Jacksonville for Thanksgiving.  Our friend, old man Nick’s, who introduced Andre and I to each other a couple of years back, has a cousin who lives in J-town with her family on a goat farm.  They make cheese and raise vegetables.  On the drive, we stopped constantly to hop out of the bus and into the forest for a quick peak.  By the end of the afternoon, we’d found quite a variety of edibles—porcini, chanterelles, another giant cauliflower, lobsters, agaricus, hedgehogs—not too many of any one in particular but quite enough to share for Thanksgiving. 

Most exciting to me was the fact that Nick would soon be joining us.  I was able to find a rideshare online for him and he was expected to arrive around 6AM tomorrow morning.  We stopped hunting just after dark, heated up a little leftover porcini soup in the parking lot, and made our way back to Johan’s apartment in Ashland.  What a funny thing all this driving back and forth had become.

As planned, Nick arrived early this morning.  Andre got up to let him in, and asked if he wanted to sleep a bit.  Nick requested a beer.  Oh, Nick.  We slept a bit longer, but Nick was eager to go out picking so we made a fast breakfast of acorn pancakes topped with the dumpster figs I preserved back in St. Louis and headed up into the hills to poke around the forest.  At 79 years young, nothing stops this man from exploring the hillsides.  We found several pounds of an agaricus variety, although we never ended up keying them out so they made for pretty spore print cards rather than dinner.

We spent the evening cooking in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, pausing to eat and enjoy wine while we caught up and exchanged stories with Nick.  He’s full of stories, and bullshit.

rain, rain, rain

We left Joseph’s house in the early afternoon after a brunch of matsutake and beef soup that he cooked last night.  He served it over very thin egg noodles, and we ate while we visited.  I’ve grown to really adore this man.  He has very little, almost nothing, in terms of possessions and money, and yet he is so generous and communal. Before we departed the following morning, they surprised us with a wonderful gift—a jar of preserved smoked salmon that he caught a couple of seasons ago, and another jar of silver salmon from that same year.  I left him with some “plum bombs” and a few trinkets from our gift box.  This was going to be the last time we’d get to see them for a while, and I already started missing them before we even pulled away.

Andre mailed some mushrooms to Los Angeles, a practice I have not been fully supportive of, but I understand his need for serving a client and for making money.  Sadly, we learned a few days later that the packaged arrived smelling fowl.  The mushrooms rotted again.  We could have made $30 or $40 by selling them locally, but the prospect of 3X that much was a chance he wanted to take.  Lessons.  After the post office, we went to a café to use internet.  Winds were expected to be 60-90 miles per hour on the coast and we needed to come up with a plan.  Reluctantly, we booked a cheap hotel and hunkered down for the night with a bottle of organic vodka, which Andre used to make greyhounds with the pink grapefruits we rescued from the dumpster, and I whipped up a big pot of porcini soup, made with potatoes, onions, caraway (thanks to Joseph for the tip), and more than two pounds of porcini.  I used the same béchamel used for the chanterelle chowder to make it creamy.  It was fantastic.

After dinner, we watched the parking lot of our hotel fill with water, making mini-tsunami waves as cars entered and exited. We were thankful to be tucked in our nice warm room, bellies full of hot soup, and we were excited at the promise of what the rains would offer in the coming days. 

Chanterelle Chowder in Gold Beach

Andre and I stealth camped in Otter State Park with a wonderful ocean view after picking more than 10 pounds of chanterelles today.  The sun came out after a long morning of rain at Joseph’s RV park, where we’d been sleeping for the past couple of nights.  Some visitors arrived around 9, so we got up and started making breakfast, pretending to be picnicking—acorn flour pancakes topped with fruit, a new favorite.

We hiked all day just north of Gold Beach picking chanterelles while watching and listening to the waves crash atop the bluffs below us.  A huge storm had moved in, and was expected to bring more rain in the next few days than they’ve had in a month, maybe longer.  It made for a lovely day as we were completely protected by the shelter and care of the giant trees that house our favorite foraged food—mushrooms.  I found 2 huge lobster mushrooms, the freshest we’ve had on this entire trip, and we loaded bags with heaps of chanties, our new favorite agarics (wine-colored and smithii), amanitas, porcini, blewits, and several others that we intended to key out later. 

Before leaving town, we stopped into Joseph’s buying block-style shop to say goodbye and I convinced Andre to offload some mushrooms.  We had more than we could possibly eat, more than we could ship off to LA, and they were filling our entire bus floor, leaving us no room to walk.  I had a feeling they’d just end up rotting before we had a chance to sell them elsewhere.  The fun for me is picking and with a full bus, we’d have to take the day off.

That evening, we cooked dinner for Anna and Joseph—chanterelle chowder with leeks and potatoes.  We visited all night, drinking wine, playing with the dogs, and watching television.

Matsutake Mushrooms with Joseph

Just like the first time we met him in a parking lot in Forks, today we randomly ran into Joseph in another parking lot – this time, in his stomping grounds of Gold Beach.  He invited us for dinner, the dinner he prepared for us the night before.  The one we didn’t show up for… hippies.  Thankfully, soup is always better the second day.  When we arrived at his trailer, which was parked next to Anna’s in a little community of travelers, we were almost immediately served porcini soup, made with 3 pounds of fresh porcini, which was followed by the most delicious morel pasta I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  It was loaded with thin slices of ham and more whipping cream than anyone deserves to eat in one sitting—not to mention all the love he put into it!  Joseph is such an amazing and beautiful man.  He really has very little, but gives so much, like so many others we’ve met on this journey.

The next day, Joseph took us on a little adventure into the forest.  He wanted to show us one of his secret matsutake patches.  For those of you don’t know much about mushroom pickers, this is a rare treat.  No one gives away their secret patches, especially matsutake given their market value.  Moreover, this guy is a professional.  His patches are the real deal.  The road was wrecked by clear-cutting, entire hillsides completely bare and soil was running off into the water below.  This wasn’t a good sign, and Joseph remarked about how he wasn’t sure whether or not his patch would even be there by next year at the rate he’d seen them cutting.  Once we arrived, we found the pickings to be only mediocre, although the hike was quite lovely.  We each gathered about a pound of matsis, as they’re called for short, a process that requires some digging into the top layer of duff on the forest floor.  I worry that, even without using rakes or other tools that go down into the topsoil like some of the professional pickers, matsutake patches get destroyed pretty easily.  Once the mushroom surfaces, it often cracks, leaving it less valuable than those found underground.  That said, the mycelium gets disrupted and torn up a bit from the digging, and the mushrooms never have the opportunity to sporelate.  Some might argue that this type of harvesting is completely sustainable, but Joseph says he’s seen fewer and fewer mushrooms in this spot over the years, and suggested that it could be due to over-harvesting. 

When we arrived home, Joseph whipped up a huge pot of roasted chicken with thinly sliced matsutake mushrooms for us, stuffing our bellies like a good papa does.  It felt so comforting to be cooked for and cared for as he did for us, like being home with mom and dad.  I’ve really grown to love this man, and his wonderful friend Anna.  Even Joe Joe, his maniac dog has a little spot in my heart.  

Gold Beach or Bust

Andre and I stayed at Johan’s apartment last night, which sits atop a gallery right in the middle of downtown Ashland.  We did laundry and caught up on emails and phone calls, then tucked ourselves in for the night and watched documentaries until our eyes hurt.  What a luxury, technology.  This morning we woke up, pressed a cup of coffee, sliced some bread for breakfast, and read the news.  There’s trouble in Israel, nothing new. 

After a lovely walk around town for me, and a visit with a friend for Andre, we loaded up Butter, said goodbye to Ashland and the luxury of his humble abode, and headed up a mountain road towards Gold Beach.  Passing through Medford on the way, I suggested we pop in to Trader Joe’s.  Ordinarily, I’m not an advocate for diving during business hours.  First of all, I don’t want to scare employees who might have to run us off on an otherwise ordinary trip to the dumpster and, second, I don’t want to risk the bins getting locked for those who rely on diving as means to acquire food.  That said, we went anyway, but took extra precautions so as not to be seen. That certainly doesn’t excuse the fact that I violated my only rule—no diving during the daytime.  Sometimes, though, rules are meant to be broken.  Before the dive, as we always do, we made our “grocery list,” wishing for almond butter with flax seeds, yogurt, and eggs.  Everything else we already had, more or less, thanks to our luck in the forest and the bounty of Johan’s garden.  The dumpster granted our first two wishes, no eggs, plus we got pasta, soft baked chocolate chip cookies, a pound of cheddar cheese, peanut and flaxseed butter (in addition to the almond butter), cocoa and almond butter (almond-style nutella), jalapeño and cilantro hummus, and so much.  This waste would not go to waste, not this time anyway.

Fully loaded, we continued on our drive towards beach.  The journey was absolutely spectacular, coasting along the winding road lined with giant redwoods and cedars, then finally reaching a 4,500 ft pass where we took in the view of Mt. Shasta peering out just above the cloud forest.  The snowy peak looked as if it was hovering in mid-air.  We must have stopped 5 times, at least, to take in the beauty and much needed (and well-deserved) sunshine.  Unlike the past few days, the past month actually, the sun was out in full force. Just before sunset, we found a lovely old growth oak forest where we stopped for the night to set up camp.  We built a fire, enjoyed the clear sky filled with twinkling stars, and sipped wine while the vegetable soup I put on the fire finished cooking.  I sat, looking up at the stars, and wondered how I will fair when I return to my normal life in Venice.  I cannot even imagine what it will be like to live with constant access to hot water, an oven that I can use to bake cookies, and all the luxuries I’ve grown to realize and appreciate as true luxuries.  Thankfully, I still have a couple of weeks on the road, and I am still enjoying every moment of the adventure.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Applegate Fox

I hopped on the back of Johan’s ATV before breakfast to go harvest some apples in an old abandoned orchard down the road.  We picked about 6 or 7 pounds thanks in part to the picker I brought along on this trip.  Riding around the forest, up and down hills and over bumps, I realized why those pesky kids back at my mushroom spot in Colorado seemed to be having so much fun merely going back and forth on the dirt road along which Andre and I were camped out.  Riding on an ATV is fun, but so is hiking. 

On our drive in to town, we spotted a dead fox in the road.  It wasn’t there last night, so it was probably fairly fresh.  The curvy road must be a real hazard for many animals.  After catching up on phone calls, emails, and the news in Jacksonville, Andre and I decided to check out the dumpster at the new Trader Joe’s in Medford.  As usual, it was full of goodies.  We hauled out organic chickens worth nearly $20 each, bratwursts, heaps of vegetables including 4 avocados, which I haven’t had since leaving LA, 6 pounds of rice, and on and on and on. 

On the drive home, Andre said he wanted to keep an eye out for the fox.  He wanted to bring it back to Johan’s to take a look at it, but it was already gone by the time we had to make our last turn onto the forest road that leads to his house.  We jokingly said that Johan probably snatched it up; in fact, when we arrived back to his place he was not so patiently waiting for us hippies to arrive.  We were late as usual, and he was ready to skin it and cook it up for us for dinner.  Yes, you heard me.  Fox was on the menu tonight.  Roadkill fox, that is.  It took about an hour to skin, mostly because he was being careful not to tear the pelt, which he intended to stretch, salt, and dry for its beauty.  Afterwards, he quartered it, removed the parts that had been traumatized by the impact to its leg, and cooked up the heart and the loin.  The rest went in his freezer for later use.  We had a 6 pound organic dumpster chicken to cook, after all.

Why was it so easy for me to play with the chicken, wrapped in plastic, under a running faucet like I’d play with a baby when giving it a bath?  I washed its belly, held its legs and moved it as if it were dancing, then quartered it with ease before tossing it in a big pot to cook on the wood-fired oven.  I could barely manage to take pictures of the dead fox being prepared in the kitchen sink, much less touch it or play with it.  Why is it that packaged meat, dumpster meat even, is so easy for me to cope with, but salvaged meat killed by a motorist—perfectly fresh and good looking meat, was so difficult to contemplate eating.  I don’t eat body parts, hearts, gizzards, livers, tongues, unless I’m in a third world country and its expected of me.  Tonight, Johan sliced a bit of fox heart, fried it up and stabbed it with a fork, then handed it to me to taste.  Holding the fork for a few seconds, pondering what it was and where it had come from, I was reluctant to put the fork to my mouth.  Finally, it went in and I began chewing, rapidly, like I chew raw garlic because I know its good for me even though it burns going down.  Hmm… it was actually pretty tasty, chewy but tasty--it was a heart, after all.  I took a bite of loin that had been charred ever so slightly on the wood fired oven.  Much to my surprise, it was also quite tasty - I mean, WOW.  I took several bites, being mindful to share with the others.  Would I eat it again... YES, but only IF it were served to me.  I can’t honestly say I’d pick up an animal from the side of the road, skin it and consume it with the same ease (and it wasn’t easy) as I did with Johan that evening.  I can say that I was happy the animal didn’t go to waste.  I was thankful for the nourishment that the animal gave me.  I was thankful that I didn’t have to kill that animal, that it didn’t come wrapped in plastic, that there was no waste, and that I’d get to see that animal again next time I visit Johan’s place, at least it's beautiful exterior.  Maybe there'd even be a little fox-chop left.