30 September 2011

They don't call it the KING for nothing!

Well, we were back in the woods today, foraging for more mushrooms, and we also came home with some beautiful rose hips and cranberries. They were all growing together, so what the heck - the more the better! 

We got a lot of both Boletus edulis and Boletus bicolor today. The Boletus edulis are called King Boletes, and for good reason - they are very large and almost regal, sometimes hiding, sometimes out in the open - just amazing to come across. They grow to about 8" (20cm.) across the cap, as well as in height.
King Boletes (above)
 I just love the beautiful stems of the Boletus bicolor - almost like mini tree trunks.
Today's haul

Wild cranberries

Cranberries grow all over Cape Cod. They are just starting to ripen right now, so we didn't pick that many, but will go back for more in a couple of weeks.

The opposite is true for the rose hips, which have been mature and ready to pick for well over a month, now. It was fun to get some at the tail end of their season. Some people even pick them after the first frost, as they are the sweetest then. Although they are probably most commonly thought of as ingredients in tea (think Red Zinger, one of my favorites!) rose hips also make wonderful jelly - a Cape Cod tradition.
 Rose hips and cranberries (above)

For dinner, Jack sliced mushroom caps and stems (the least woody parts) and sauteed them in a combination of olive oil and duck fat, with a touch of butter.
When the mushrooms were tender (in literally a few minutes for such fresh specimens) Jack added lots of coarsely chopped garlic and a little heavy cream. He then added creamy cooked orzo to the mushrooms, followed by freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper, and some grey sea salt. He tossed it all together in the pan, quickly, and the dish was ready to serve.
As an accompaniment to this somewhat rich dish, I made a simple salad of mixed greens, heavy on arugula (my favorite). I added halved, sweet, red cherry tomatoes from our garden and my regular everyday dressing of extra virgin olive oil (a light French one), freshly squeezed lemon juice, grated fresh lemon zest, dijon mustard (my favorite is Maille), freshly ground black pepper and French grey sea salt. Actually, I almost always add minced garlic and shallots to my dressing, but for this dinner, simpler seemed better. The lemony flavor contrasted well with, and provided a welcome foil for the creamy mushroom orzo. Additionally, the greens and reds of the salad provided a beautiful visual contrast to the creamy whites, tans and browns of mushroom dish. (Sorry no picture of this!)

The next dish I want to try with our mushrooms is soup. Our Russian friends said that this is their favorite way to use the bolete mushrooms.

King Boletes - a meal fit for a king!

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28 September 2011

Autumn on the Terrace

Another great quality about Autumn is its still sunny, but noticeably cooler weather. We enjoy lunches, and often dinners as well, on the terrace outside our kitchen, almost as frequently this time of year as we do in the summer months. The light is different now, with the sun crossing the sky at a lower angle than it did a couple of months ago. The shadows are more intense throughout the day, creating contrasts not seen in the summer.

We are keeping the pool open as long as we can. It's a bit of a challenge keeping the pool free of falling leaves, but well worth being able to sit outside and enjoy the look and sound of the water. I believe the sound of gurgling water is one of the most calming and enjoyable sounds on Earth. And I wouldn't trade the oak tree near the pool for less leaves in the Fall, since it provides such beauty on its own, and welcome shade in the summer months. Jack is braver than I am, still taking daily dips in the pool, despite the fact that the water temperature has dropped significantly.

This past week, to our great delight, we received a surprise anniversary gift from our oldest son, Giles, and his wife, Mia. Do you remember the post I did last year on decorating our pool terrace? I ended the post with a tongue-in-cheek phrase that all I needed to complete the outdoor decor was a set of Missoni beach towels (at sky-high prices, which I notice have been reduced slightly since last year).

Well, at the recent Missoni for Target sale, Mia quickly nabbed us our own set of Missoni towels, and a fabulous Missoni box to put them in. According to Mia, on the day that Target opened sales of these products, there was such a rush of people trying to buy these items, that they crashed the Target website! I feel so lucky to have a daughter-in-law who knows just what will make a silly girl like me happy. I mean just look at how perfect these colors are on our terrace: the coral-y rust colors of the tiles and the blues of the pool water.
Another pleasure of Autumn is the bright berries and goldenrod we can cut. I keep a pair of hand pruners in the car, for just such treasures found along the road.
I am so glad to have the Autumn months to enjoy these great additions to our terrace, and can't wait to actually use them next summer when the water is warm enough for wimpy moi to venture in again!

Another Autumn joy is chrysanthemums. They bring such vibrant color and last for so long, just when other flowers are beginning to fade. These mums in our hanging planters (below) are beginning to fade, themselves, right now...but they have been in full bloom for over a month now! We bought them before our pig roast in August. Behind this setting is a Euonymus alatus, aptly called a burning bush because its leaves (which are just starting to change here) turn slowly to an intense burgundy red by late Fall.

So what is my next big idea for this terrace? Look what is still available at Target stores, as well as - already(!) - on Amazon.com. They're non-breakable, which is a must by the pool.

Now I think our terrace will be complete (until the next big idea). And the best part is it all looks at least as great in Autumn as it does in Summer!

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27 September 2011

Joie de Vivre in Autumn - Foraging!

I don't know about you, but I am one who always gets a little bit depressed over the end of summer. It goes back to my childhood, when every Labor Day meant the end of our glorious summer vacation on Cape Cod, and a return to school (even though I liked school) and Minnesota (even though I liked those winters, too). Then after I had kids of my own, the fall always meant the end of my time with them over the summer months. Yes, I was one of those moms who mourned the start of school and cried when my kids went back each September. (Although believe me, I got used to my "freedom" pretty quickly, too!)

So it goes...plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. I am still the same, wishing that summer could last a month longer, that the pool water would stay close to 80F for a few more weeks, and that the vegetable garden would continue producing at its prodigious summer rate.

But then, after a few weeks of autumn, I always mellow into appreciating it for all its glories.  
Autumn is a time of different bounties, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated.

The cooler weather and shorter days herald a season of foraging in the wild for foods that you can't get the rest of the year, such as divine, earthy mushrooms, and tangy, sweet Concord grapes, to name just two we have been getting this week. Foraging is one of the French joies de vivre that I adore, and one which most Americans don't often think of. There is much more available in the wild than most people think, and it's not difficult to find what used to be secret locations, since you can generally find what you're looking for (or even simply what to look for) on the internet.

I have posted before about Chez Panisse and other restaurants who are taking advantage of the "eat local and in season" mantra by incorporating foraged local foodstuffs into their menus. Nothing tastes better than freshly picked produce, and part of the joy is in picking it oneself, immersing oneself in the environment in which the food grows. Another great thing about foraging for food in the wild is that you are getting organic. Away from main roads and public ways, there is little chance of pesticides and herbicides reaching your quarry.

Jack and I began last week by picking Concord grapes on Monday, right down the road from our house. We got a huge haul, and I've already made jam, which I will write about in a separate post, including the recipe.

Then on Tuesday, we were heading up to Provincetown to visit some of the galleries there (playing hooky at our own gallery), when we passed an older man and woman walking along the roadside with full baskets. As we looked at them, we both turned to each other and exclaimed in unison, "MUSHROOMS!" Jack did an about face and another U-turn, so that we could come up alongside the couple, and offered them a ride, since they looked tired and it was beginning to drizzle.

As it turned out, they were the nicest couple, who had emigrated here from Russia a few years ago, and had gotten a love of foraging for mushrooms instilled in them as children in the USSR. They drive to the Cape every fall to get several varieties of mushrooms - as do numerous other emigres of Russian, Polish and other Eastern European roots. This couple was lost and tired and so grateful for a ride in our car. By the time we got to where their car was parked, and met up with their two friends (also Russian) we were on our way to becoming great buddies. We told them that we loved fresh mushrooms, and that we would like to find some of our own. This surprised them, as they generally think Americans are uninterested in such outings, but they kindly led us into the woods to search for mushrooms, and even gave us some of their own prize finds, to help us identify which ones are edible. By the time we said goodbye, we were all laughing and hugging, having exchanged email addresses. Hopefully we will see them again in Autumns to come!

Jack and I ended up going back to those and other woods a couple more times last week, and coming home with some real beauties, which we cooked and have had for dinner every night since. I will say, we did our research looking up pictures of edible mushrooms online, before actually cooking them. 

Autumn is also such a great season for picnics!

...And I love the different colors of mosses and lichens that have grown over the summer:

...And the low-lying shadows of the fall months.

 After the first day, we brought knives and baskets with us.
Some of our takings: we found four different kinds of edible mushrooms, including the absolutely delicious boletus edulis and its cousin, boletus bicolor

The boletus is known in French as cepe and in Italian as porcini. Both names can be found in American grocery stores and some farmers markets. Here is an interesting story about the cepe de Bordeaux.

We were hoping that the grey coral-like thing in this photo would be edible, but could not find any pictures of it online, so we tossed it (in the trash - NOT the compost heap where it could have spread poison to all of our gardens!) I will do another post on preparing these wild mushrooms, including recipes.

I can think of few things more satisfying than picking our own foods in the wild, coming home and preparing them to be eaten and enjoyed within hours of the hunt. As we sit down to dinner, the memory of those glorious woodsy, musky odors from walking around in the cool, damp under forest are still as fresh as the feast we are about to enjoy!

WARNING - If you do get your own mushrooms, always check to make sure that the variety you pick is indeed edible.
Some mushrooms are not just poisonous, they are deadly!!
I found this great picture online:
The caption says "All mushrooms are edible, some of them, only one time."

A good mushroom hunter's mantra: When in doubt, throw it out!
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08 September 2011

Tomates Confits (Sun Dried Tomates) - Part II

Today, I have been out in the rain taking some pictures of the tomatoes on the vine, and picking a whole new batch for today's preservation. I thought I'd share pictures of what the tomatoes look like just before they go into the oven to be dried out, since my post yesterday only showed what they looked like when finished.

On the vine (the leaves are just starting to wither):

Prepared and ready to go  into the oven for several hours:

As I write this, delicious, sweet, tomato and herb aromas are already beginning to waft from the oven. Mmmmm...

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07 September 2011

Tomates Confits (Sun-Dried Tomatoes)

This time of year, vegetable gardens (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) are just bursting with tomatoes - more than can be eaten right off the vine or in daily salads. One of our favorite ways to enjoy and preserve this bounty is to "sun-dry" them. I put them in the oven, instead of actually drying them in the sun, as it gets the job done more efficiently. By September, the New England sun just isn't as strong as it needs to be to dry tomatoes simply by the rays of the sun....now if only we lived in Provence or Tuscany! (sigh)

I say "preserve" somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as these tomatoes never last more than a couple of days at our house - they are just too delicious! In fact, roasting concentrates the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, so that they are almost like candy.

Here is my recipe. You can skip the sugar, if you want, and the tomatoes will still be sweet, but this way  accentuates the sweet tomato flavor.

Tomates Confits / Sun Dried Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 150-200o (ie; your oven’s lowest setting). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, if you want to save on clean-up later.

Wash and quarter 3 lbs. of plum or Roma tomatoes. Leave the skins on, but remove most of the seeds and juice, leaving just the tomato flesh. Lay the tomato quarters on the baking sheet, skin side down, in a single layer. Sprinkle with:
1 T. white sugar
freshly ground sea salt & black pepper
1 T. chopped, fresh rosemary leaves

2 T. fresh thyme leaves

Lightly drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes and put them in the oven for 1 hour. Turn tomatoes over (skin side up) and roast for another 2 hours. They will be withered and less moist, but not as dried out as sun dried tomatoes.


After following the above instructions, turn the oven off, but leave the tomatoes in the oven to dry out overnight (or an additional 12 hours).

Scrape the extra herbs and olive oil off the aluminum foil, and pour over the tomatoes. These can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks (if they don't get eaten immediately!) Alternatively, they can be place in jars, covered with extra virgin olive oil, and stored in a dark spot for several months.

·      Whole garlic cloves and/or fresh pearl onions may be roasted in between the tomato slices. Simply peel them and sprinkle with the herbs and olive oil, along with the tomatoes.
·      Other herbs may be used, such as tarragon, basil or savory. (If using basil, it must be well oiled, to prevent singeing.)

Kate Dickerson (copyright 2009)

Bon Appetit!

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