Agaricus Augustus: The Prince of Mushrooms

Princes are tall, noble mushrooms with feathered, golden caps that have a square-ish, marshmallow-like shape when young. They often crop up twice in a season, and are considered choice edibles.

These beauties appeared in July along a sidewalk edged with ivy. We carefully pried them out of the ground, marveling at their long stems, and carried them home.

Click on a photo to open the gallery:

What would you do with such fresh, tender, aromatic mushrooms?

Click on a photo to open the gallery and see what we did.

About two months later, the same stretch of sidewalk revealed another crop. Unfortunately, they went unnoticed for a few days and were a little past their prime when we found them.

At the same time, this batch of Agaricus praeclaresquamosus showed up very nearby.
These are quite similar to the Prince, with scaly caps, brown gills and a ring around the stem. Two noticeable differences are their grey-brown cap and their distinctly phenolic scent, like a bottle of ink, or that paste/glue we all used in kindergarten, or perhaps asphalt/creosote. Oh, and quite poisonous. So three differences, then.

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.

Elephant And Bear

We spied these beautiful 12th Century frescoes in the Prado.

We imagine the original conversation probably went something like this:
Client: “And up there, above the right arch, we want a bear.”
Artist: “A bear. Good choice. No problem.”
C: “You’re familiar with bears?”
A: “Bears? Oh, yes. My father and uncle used to dress up in a bear skin to frighten the kids at festivals. No problem there.”
C: “Okay, but it has to look like a real bear.”
A: “Of course.”
C: “Not like two men in a bear skin!”
A: “Ha-haa! No! Of course. No problem. And on the left?”
C: “On the left we want an elephant.”
A: “An…?”
C: “Elephant.”
A: “What, like a horse?”
C: “No, an elephant.”
A: “Elephant. Yes. No, that’s what I thought you said. Elephant. Good.”
C: “Do you know what an elephant is?”
A: “Oh, yes. No problem.”
C: “You’ve seen one before?”
A: “An elephant? Yes. No problem.”
C: “You keep saying ‘no problem’…”
A: “Yeah, no problem. An elephant… Like a horse.”
C: “What?”
A: “What?”

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).

Hunting grounds: a 20 year-old Douglas Fir plantation in North West Oregon.

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”

Goto Islands, Part 1

From Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four big islands, we took a ferry out to the small chain of islands called Goto for a week of camping. You may remember it from the Kamigoto surfing post a while ago.


Driving onto car ferries is one of our favourite parts of travel. It’s as close as we’ll get in our lifetime to putting a little private flying ship inside a giant interplanetary craft and taking a trip across the stars to explore other worlds.

Sasebo is a busy Naval port, and we saw many unusual ships on the way out of port. (Click on the gallery below to see larger images).

One of the US Navy patrol boats showed off their speed and maneuverability by catching air from the ferry’s big wake.
Looked like a lot of fun. Note the big machine gun on the bow!

Goto Islands appeared out of grey, rainy skies.

The local weather was actually quite lovely, changing frequently.

We followed whatever road seemed interesting, often ending up in situations that were unexpected.

Eventually we found our way back to the coastal roads and went looking for a seafood snack. Click through to see what we found.

Continue reading “Goto Islands, Part 1”