Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mushroom Hunting


It was an early spring day in 1967, so early in the season that the leaves were barely buds on the trees. The sun was warm but the breeze was cool. We joined another doctor's family and headed into the woods to hunt mushrooms.

With directions from a trusted friend, we hoped to find lots of morels. The locations with the biggest mushrooms would never be shared, but we might find some small-to-medium ones. And besides, it was a nice day to be outside.

My fifth birthday was not until later that year, and yet this was not my first, nor would it be my last, mushroom hunt. I enjoyed being outside, and I loved looking down at the ground as we walked along, spread out across the area, I decided that being closer to the ground was an advantage and I found a lot of them. I had learned to pick them carefully, so that they snapped close to the ground. They were then placed carefully in the brown paper bag I had with us.

The only difference between this hunt and others is the photographic evidence. (I'm the littlest one with the pale blue sweatshirt.)

Once we got them home, the morels were inspected to make sure any insects were removed, then well-rinsed, drained, then tossed gently in flour or fine cornmeal and fried in a large skillet. It had to be large because we always ate them all. I don't remember anything we had with them, though I'm sure there was other food. But when we ate morels, they are all I remember.

The areas we used to hunt mushrooms was gradually lost to us, developed for housing, or changing hands to someone we didn't know (and therefore couldn't get permission from). By the time I was in junior high school the only morels I saw were gifts to my dad from one or another of his patients.

After college I stayed in Massachusetts (where I once thought I saw a tiny morel by the back steps of a building, but only once and it was a many years ago). I never see morels in the grocery stores here, and I have given up looking for them there.

So I was surprised a few years ago to find a package of dried morels in the store. They were expensive, but I couldn't resist them. I brought them home and put them in the cabinet because I had no idea what to do with them. With their water-weight gone they were as light as air. I knew they had to be reconstituted, but was pretty sure I wouldn't want to fry them the way my mom had "back when."

Soon after I was delighted to read a post by Molly Wizenberg at her blog Orangette in which she swooned over some morels. I bravely asked for her advice in the comments and she suggested sauteing the reconstituted mushrooms with green beans or asparagus.

It took me three more years, but while my wife was out of town, I finally gave it a try. In fact, I ran two parallel food experiments. I played with some short-grained brown rice and some black wild rice, cooked together as a kind of pilaf. While that was going I turned to the morels.

I opened the package dubiously, wondering if they would just crumble to a powder. They survived OK, so I soaked half of the package in hot water while I cleaned and cut the asparagus (on sale that week). I heated up butter in a skillet and sauteed the mushrooms and asparagus. I no longer remember which went in first (I got two phone calls while I was trying to cook) but it certainly looked OK.

I plated it with the rice and remembered to take a picture before diving in.

I want to tell you that it was perfect - that the morels had the same taste I remember from childhood. Alas, I cannot. They were good, and they were entertaining, but the texture was definitely lacking, and the taste muted. I can't blame the poor mushrooms, deprived of their water so long ago that they probably barely remember themselves. But what they mostly did was spark a desire in me to track down fresh morels, somehow. I'll be on the lookout.

And on an up note, the rice was very pleasing to me and I even remember the proportions I used. We'll be having that again.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Books Read in Early 2010


Although I've gotten used to typing 2010, I'm still not used to seeing it. It still looks a little fantastic (as in science fiction) to me. Nonetheless, here we are approaching the ides of March. So far I have read fantasy, non-fiction, and one mystery. And here's what I think of them.

Books Read in Early 2010

Serenity Found, edited by Jane Espenson
non-fiction essays about the Firefly universe
Back in 2007 I was delighted with Finding Serenity, a collection of essays about Joss Whedon's TV series Firefly. This is another collection of essays, some about the TV series, some about the subsequent movie. And again I was pleased with the effort. Some essays are more scholarly than others. Most contain a certain amount of humor. Some might even convince a non-fan to pick up the DVD's and try them out. [And if you liked Warehouse 13 on SciFi channel - OK SyFy - you can thank Jane, she's co-creator of the series.]

Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder
I have been meaning to buy this book for years now. And last summer I finally bought it, along with a giant pile of other books to take on vacation. And somehow, it didn't make it to the top of the pile on vacation. When we got home, it stayed in the vacation bag and when I needed to travel in August, it wasn't the book I picked up. I was visiting with family and my younger brother was engrossed with Poison Study - it was keeping him up even later than usual at night. I mentioned I had been meaning to read it and when he finished it before I left, he asked if I wanted it. I gladly accepted it. Then when I got home I was embarrassed to find that I now had two copies of the book.

I started reading and was not sure at first if the book was for me. The opening scene is in a dungeon and that if followed by a chance at redemption layered with deceit. Then there are secrets inside secrets, and a dance of trust with many players. I was hooked. And now I'm waiting to read the sequels (which I will endeavor to remember I have before acquiring duplicates). And don't worry, the extra will go to the public library for their next book sale.

Afterburn, by S.L. Viehl
fantasy, sequel to Bio Rescue
I've had this book for a while, started it twice, but got no further than the first few pages. I don't know why, I liked Bio Rescue well enough, a story set on a world not unlike earth, but whose primary sentient beings are water-dwellers. A world whose land masses are wanted by settlers, refugees, and by military operators for strategic purposes. I picked this up again and pushed past the first section, in which young Burn expresses his frustration, to find a complex story that was a good read. Some characters return from the first book and there are new relationships to follow, across several species. Political maneuvering underlies much of the action, some pulling strings, others trying to react in ways that aren't against their personal ethics. I'm glad I pushed though.

Ponzi's Scheme by Mitchell Zuckoff
During the height of the Bernie Madoff publicity last year, a local man, a professor at Boston University, was interviewed about a book he wrote a few years ago. The book, Ponzi's Scheme, is a very readable biography of Charles Ponzi. I'm don't read many biographies, but this one reads like a story. Zuckoff is a journalism professor and he approached the story by gathering all the info he could, cross-checking the details of one account with another, and finally coming to understand Charles Ponzi. Through this telling of the events that led to one notable spring and very hot summer of 1920 I feel that I, too, have come to know Charles Ponzi and some of the things that motivated him. I can't say I'm sympathetic to him, but I understand how his self-deception and greed led him into a dead-end fiasco. I highly recommend this book.

Shakespeare's Champion by Charlaine Harris
A Lily Bard mystery, Book 2
This is the second Lily Bard mystery, set in the town of Shakespeare. It opens with murder intruding into Lily's life, in the gym where she regularly works out. I'm growing to like Lily, though her (understandable) thick shell often makes this a bit hard. And through Lily I'm getting to know the other residents of Shakespeare, with all their warts. And then there's the attractive and strangely-familiar stranger that keeps turning up...

Gale Force by Rachel Caine
Book 7 in the Weather Warden series
This series drives me crazy. Even with the "willing suspension of disbelief" that one must bring to any speculative fiction, this one leaps from one unimaginable improbability to another. But, having said that, at least the main character knows who she is in this book (unlike one of the previous books). And the feisty characters entertain me. And I leave each book forgiving Rachel Caine for the ride she just took me on and wondering when I should start the next one. In this one the Djinn David asks Jo to marry him, and she agrees. Then all hell breaks loose, but since that is nothing new to these characters, that is just the beginning.

Fool Moon by Jim Butchers
Book 2 of the Dresden Files
Harry Dresden, Wizard (the only one listed in the Chicago phone book), pissed off his friend the detective in the police department at the end of Book 1. That means she hasn't been hiring him to help investigate otherwise unexplainable crimes, putting a big crimp in his wallet. Then something turns up, something that the FBI wants no on else to look at. That doesn't stop the Chicago cop or Harry. There are all kinds of predator in this book. I'll be back for Book 3.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Rest of the 2009 Books


Now that it is March of 2010, I'm finally getting around to posting about the books I finished in 2009. I last caught up on a bunch of them in August, and have been posting in the side bar the rest. So first the entire list, followed by comments on those not in the previous posting.

Books Read in 2009

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski
The Postman (Il Postino) by Antonio Skármeta
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser
The High King's Tomb by Kristen Britain
The Exile and the Sorcerer by Jane Fletcher, Lyremouth Chronicles: Book One
The Black Ship by Diana Pharaoh Francis
Dervish Daughter by Sheri S. Tepper
Fiddler's Green by Ernest Gann
Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Book One of the Dresden Files
Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris, the first Lily Bard Mystery
Idaho Code by Joan Opyr
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, a Kate Daniels Novel
The Traitor and the Chalice by Jane Fletcher, Lyremouth Chronicles: Book Two
Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs, an Alpha and Omega Novel
The Empress and the Acolyte by Jane Fletcher, Lyremouth Chronicles: Book Three
Excuse Me, Sir ... Your Socks Are On Fire; The Life and Times of a Wilderness Park Ranger in the Adirondack Mountains by Larry Weill
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris, a Sookie Stackhouse Novel
When the King Comes Home by Caroline Stevermer
Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs, an Alpha and Omega Novel
Child of a Dead God by Barb & J.C. Hendee, A Novel of the Noble Dead

The Traitor and the Chalice by Jane Fletcher
Lyremouth Chronicles: Book Two
The Empress and the Acolyte by Jane Fletcher
Lyremouth Chronicles: Book Three

I started reading this fantasy series in the summer (see the review of the 1st one here) and decided to go ahead and read the other two. A pair of people falling in love under sudden circumstances (in book 1) are bound to have a time of adjustment. And if that weren't conflict enough, the stories that the warrior told of the missing chalice led the sorcerers to the conclusion that it was dangerous to have loose in the world. So now the promise the warrior had made to look for it for her island village (as an excuse to leave with dignity) was now a task she was forced to take on for real. Book two was a quick read. Book three ended up being a bit tedious with one of the main characters out of commission a good portion of the time, and the other being just generally in a sad, bad mood. The book included a section at the end written as a story - a fable really - passed down through the ages. As you read, you realize that the fable is a version of the novel you just read, but told through the eyes of someone not completely in the know, mixed with what must be local lore. Quite entertaining. All in all, I'm glad I read the series, but I probably won't re-read them (something I do with books I love).

Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
an Alpha and Omega Novel

A new fantasy novel about modern werewolves, and one in particular. Alpha Wolf is a well-known concept, but this explores the Omega Wolf. Everyone (including her) thinks she is the opposite of Alpha, the most submissive of submissives. But everyone is wrong. I like her and I like this book and am looking forward to more of them.

Excuse Me, Sir ... Your Socks Are On Fire; The Life and Times of a Wilderness Park Ranger in the Adirondack Mountains by Larry Weill
True-life stories of the times the author spent walking the miles and miles and miles of trails in the Adirondack woods, as a ranger and observer of the people you find there. Contained some chuckles and some outright laughs for me. It was an impulse buy I didn't regret.

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
a Sookie Stackhouse Novel
Book 8 in the series was one I liked (better than the last one). Sookie has had ENOUGH of being pressured/blackmailed by the vampires. But she also hasn't heard from her new boyfriend in far too long. This book doesn't go anywhere much, but does introduce a new spin on Sookie's family history.

When the King Comes Home by Caroline Stevermer
In the cities and the country, the saying was "when the King comes home..." yet there was a difference between saying it and seeing it. The King has, after all, been dead for generations. The young apprentice finds the man wandering a bit befuddled by the river and is then caught up in a political struggle, a war, and witchery. All the while, she wants to be true to her art, unless her soft heart will let her stray from that goal.

Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs
an Alpha and Omega Novel
The second book in this fantasy series was even better than the first. Now that she knows more about what she is, the Omega in the book is more fun to follow.

Child of a Dead God by Barb & J.C. Hendee
A Novel of the Noble Dead

My love/hate relationship with this series continues, as does the series. The mixed band of adventurers has new information, but still not enough. And the enemy (at least the one they know about) is still plotting and getting more unstable while he's at it. I keep wishing that there would be a bit more action - like wishing that the 2-hour tv movie was condensed to a brisker half-hour show. I like the characters (when they aren't being too self centered and/or peevish that I want to just smack them) but if the proverbial "other shoe" doesn't drop soon... Well I'll probably keep reading anyway.

I'll start catching up on the 2010 books soon.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Working on a Book Post


Hello, all. In spite of what this blog looks like, I have not actually dropped off the edge of the world. I've just not been in a creative mood, and have had too many distractions.

I have, however, been reading, both blogs and books. So I'm currently working on a post to tell you about those books. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Tasty Monochrome


Carmi's prompt caught my attention this week. My first thought was of snow pictures, because I do like white-on-white, but the photos I have of snow were not taken by me.

I did take this picture this past December. My wife was on a cookie-baking binge. Yum. These are maple bears.