Saving California from Purple Sea Urchins

California’s beautiful northern coast is currently under attack by purple sea urchins.
We came to save it.

Purple sea urchins (uni) are currently swarming on the west coast, from San Francisco all the way up to northern Washington. According to a recent AP article, millions of the spiky, squat spheroids have decimated kelp beds and left delicate coastal ecosystems denuded and in risk of collapse.

We don’t need much of an excuse to eat urchin roe, so we drove down to Humboldt County to forage what uni we could and help save the west coast.

We timed our visit to coincide with the new moon/spring tide, and used Google Maps to select Baker Beach as a likely hunting ground. Here’s what happened when we got there:

(click for larger images)

Next time we will take our snorkels and wet-suits and go out to deeper water to gather the big fat ones from the ocean floor.

West Coast Truffle Hunt

Winter is truffle season in Oregon, so the weather can be tricky to plan around. We have been trying to arrange a hunt for a few years but have been foiled by soaking wet or snow-covered ground. This year things came together and we hired a wonderful guide, James, and his lovely truffle dog, Augie (click for larger images).

Because the fruiting bodies of truffles are all underground, it was quite a different style of mushroom hunting than what we’re used to. Rather than looking around for splashes of colour or tell-tale signs of mushrooms, we just followed Augie and watched as he bashed around happily in the woods. Augie is a Lagotto Romagnolo,  so he’s born to hunt, swim, and retrieve, but he has also been trained from a young age to find truffles, and he’s really good at it. Never mind that they’re all 20-30 cm underground, he can smell them out and is quick to dig.  As the dirt flies, James gets ready to distract Augie with a treat in one hand and to snatch up the truffle with the other. Although he prefers treats to truffles, Augie still managed to gobble a few of the precious things.

You can hire James and Augie for your own truffle hunt via their website: Terra-Fleurs.

Watch Augie do his thing:

Truffles don’t have much flavour, and the texture is firm and a little crumbly, like a raw mushroom cap. It’s best to slice them raw, as thinly as possible onto hot, fatty food to make the most of the intense aroma. The aromatic compounds are oil-soluble, so they’ll infuse fats with their wonderful scent. We put a wheel of Brie in with our truffles for a few days and it came out smelling strongly of truffles. We have heard people do the same with eggs and blocks of butter.

The scent of white truffles is difficult to describe; it’s wonderfully earthy, richly herbal and has high notes of spicy garlic. The black ones are also earthy with a sweetly sweaty character. They smell strongly of dark chocolate and have a distinct pineapple fruitiness. James says he can’t leave his truffles open and exposed to air on the drive home because the smell in the car just becomes overpowering.

Here’s what we did with some of our truffles (click for larger images):

Goto Islands, Part 2: Oysters

Click here to see Part 1 of our trip to Japan’s Goto Islands.

We heard about Goto Island’s famous oysters and decided to send some to Aya’s parents in Osaka. We stopped at a seafood company called Maruoto and the day took an amazing turn.

Maruoto specializes in big, beautiful oysters.

We had only been in the store for a couple of minutes when Shin, the owner’s son, offered to open some samples for us. They were huge, but so delicate and gently briny, like a sea water custard.

That was just the beginning of what turned into an amazing afternoon. Read on to see more.

Continue reading “Goto Islands, Part 2: Oysters”

West Coast Gooseneck Barnacles

Gooseneck barnacles are so ugly it’s hard to think of them as food. We’ve heard that in Spain and Portugal, percebes can cost up to $200 per kilo at restaurants. If people are spending that much to have them with a glass of Sherry, they must be pretty special.

On a recent trip to the far side of Vancouver Island we spotted some on the rocks at low tide and took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Hard to believe that inside these dinosaur-like heads and leathery bodies hides incredibly tender flesh with a flavour something like shrimp crossed with scallops.

Click through to see them cooked and served.

Continue reading “West Coast Gooseneck Barnacles”

Summer Figs

Kamala clapped her hands loudly, so that the golden bangles tinkled. “Your poetry is very good, brown Samana, and truly there is nothing to lose if I give you a kiss for it.” She drew him to her with her eyes. He put his face against hers, placed his lips against hers, which were like a freshly cut fig.”

Siddhartha (Herman Hesse, 1922)

This passage always comes to mind when Vancouver’s fig trees are heavy with fat fruit in the hot weeks of August. But the simile “like a freshly cut fig ” did not conjure up a very desirable image when I read the passage for the first time as a teenager. At that point I was only familiar with dried, wrinkled brown figs that came threaded onto a loop of straw. It was decades before I first met up with the luscious red interior of a fresh one and finally understood.

We like to poach these summer treats with ginger and cardamom and serve with a scoop of ice cream, or slice thickly for a pizza topping.

This year Aya made some wonderful tarts (click any image to see larger photos):

Click through to see how the pizzas turned out.

Continue reading “Summer Figs”

Green Citrus Marmalades

Sudachi are golf ball-sized citrus, prized in Japan for their intense flavour and aroma. You might find a paper-thin slice atop a grilled fish or a curl of rind in a steamed custard.


If you’re lucky, it might be the even-more-fragrant (and expensive) yuzu.

In an brazen attempt to bring down the culture by turning its basic culinary tenets on their head, we decided to make sudachi marmalade.

No-one in the history of Japan has ever done this.

Why would they? It is insane, and not delicious.

We are ill-equipped to judge the sanity of making sudachi marmalade…

…but we can tell you that it is insanely delicious.

Dark, bitter and densely packed with everything good about marmalade, it has the aroma of limes that have been meditating for years on the true nature of citrus.

For our next trick, we decided to make a batch with Key Limes.

Florida was unfazed by this.
Continue reading “Green Citrus Marmalades”

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu ramen is a specialty from Fukuoka, Kyushu. It is famous for its thick, pale broth made from pork bones and its rich flavour. Back in another life, Keith used to refer to it as “dog breath ramen” when passing by the kitchen vents in Kyoto. (He doesn’t call it that any more, as you’ll read in a post to come later.)

The chef at Gonta Nagahama-Style Ramen makes it his daily mission to serve the best, most authentic tonkotsu ramen in south Osaka. He wouldn’t let us take a photo of his broth pot, but we can tell you it was filled with big bones and murky liquid and had clearly been cooking for a long time.

Click through to see the chef make his signature dish, served with diced green onions, ginger and a couple of slices of fatty pork. Continue reading “Tonkotsu Ramen”