Archive for February, 2013

The Sapsucker

Posted: February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

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And what is this might you ask?  It is the work of the Sapsucker, a medium sized bird of the woodpecker family with a brilliant red head and a love for the sweet sap of trees!  It is mid-February now and the Maple trees have decided that it is time to start pulling water up from the ground and into their beautiful bodies.   The Sapsucker takes advantage of this and drills a line of holes into the trunk.  The holes then release sap from within and the birds then begin to “suck” the ancient elixir.  They know when to drill and you can be assured no book taught them.  They just know.  You can only imagine that this is how people first discovered the sweet sap of trees, by watching the birds and animals,  and thus we human beings learned how to transform it into a variety of delicious and beneficial substances.  I love these sorts of links between species, the ones that tie us all together and breakdown the divisions we so readily cling to.  Our myth of human superiority fails to stand up to scrutiny when one actually takes the time to observe our fellow life forms, our brethren creatures out here in the middle of space, inhabiting OUR Earth!  We are all one and we all have much to teach each other.  My fiance and I stumbled upon this tree the other day and it was hard to get me to stop licking the damn thing!!  This sugar maple’s sweet blood was delicious to taste on a late winter day.  This world continues to enthrall, amaze and soothe me every single day of my life!  Take a look around, magic is everywhere, all is divine!  The medicine of this cosmic perspective soothes all ills.  I continue to find connection, appreciation and new forms of self love by looking into the endless and wondrous mirror that nature provides.  Happy winter!  Go outside!!!  Image

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You like chicken, right?  Chicken is hard not to like!  I feel for the chickens, they don’t fly very well and they taste great.  That’s a bad combination for a bird,  a good one for us.  All praises, gratitude and blessings to the versatile and generous chicken!

This is a way I like to cook chicken that never fails to satisfy.  It is also very simple and easy which I also like.  Your first step is to get some chicken you feel good about buying.  I prefer to know the animals I am eating lived well.  I like to get animals myself when I can but I don’t like to raise them as then I become their friend and I don’t believe in breaking that bond unless I’m really desperate.  I hunt instead.  I’d get arrested for hunting people’s chickens, though, so I do the next best thing and buy one from a source I trust.  Once you have your chicken cut it up, if it isn’t cut up already.  In the picture above I bought all legs, which I love, and I love thighs too.  The rest of the bird is good as well, but it doesn’t really matter.  Do what you love.  I then look through what vegetables and roots I have on hand.
IMG_7302In this case I had potatoes, peppers, mushrooms and onions.  You can use whatever you like really. I put garlic in too, whole cloves in this case, as many as you like.  I chop up my vegetables and roots and such and then put them in a cast iron pan with the chicken.  I put whatever seasonings I want, like salt and pepper, I put in some olive oil, basil, thyme, etc.  Again put what you like and feel like having, the sky is the limit.  I’ve been using a lot of turmeric and curry lately.   Mix it all around with the oil.  After it is well mixed I take the pieces of chicken and lay them on top of everything else, just like in the picture, so that when you cook them the juices of the meat and skin go down into the rest of your ingredients.  Turn on your oven to about 375 or 400, depending on how fast you want to cook this, and then put the pan in the oven.  It usually takes around 35-45 minutes and then, presto, it is done.  I put some whole jalapenos into this one also to roast.  I love to take small bites of the jalapeno with the meal to add some spice.  You can make a salad to serve with this also or just eat it as is.  It is delicious right when it is done and it is also good for days to come.

IMG_7301I usually make a hefty sized batch and then send it along as a good lunch for the kids when they go to school.  They dig it.

Don’t throw away your bones!  We like to keep the bones and put them aside until we have a good collection.  You can freeze them if you want.  When I have enough I take them out of storage, cut them in half and put them in a pot of water.  I then add the ends and leftovers of the vegetables I have been using and boil it all for a delicious stock.  I usually add a little bit of organic apple cider vinegar to my stock along with some herbs and a bit of sea salt.  I usually let the pot come to a boil, put a lid on it and then let it simmer over night or throughout the day, whichever suits your needs.  I let it cook for six to twelve hours.  When it is done I strain it off and put into a big mason jar.  You can make soups from this stock or you can heat it up and drink it like tea.  I usually add a little bit of tamari to it, naturally fermented tamari, and pour it into a mug.   It is super tasty, delicious and beneficial!  You will be amazed.  Almost all ancient human beings cooked stocks and soups.  They are renowned for their medicinal benefits!  Your health will improve by making clean, unadulterated bone stocks!  It sounds like work but it really isn’t.  It is also great because you maximize the use of the products you have already purchased, grown or collected.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!!  Buen Provecho!!!

All photos by Helen Geisler

 

 

lion's mane mushroom

photo by Helen Geisler

Have you ever stumbled upon this strange looking fungus in the woods?  I remember the first time I saw it.  It was so unique and thought provoking that I spent about ten minutes with it not realizing at the time that it was a choice find.  I knew no better then. To this day I still feel a bit silly for my ignorance.  That one I saw all those years ago was lucky to get away!  The Lion’s Mane is a SCORE!

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The proud author with a super fresh and sizable find!
photo by Helen Geisler

I like to call this fungus the Seafood of the Forest because of it’s delicious oceanic flavor.  This interesting looking mushroom, when prepared correctly and sauteed in a hot pan is a lot like fresh scallops!  I recently brought one to the restaurant where I work and gave some to my friend’s who own the place.  I’ve brought them mushrooms before, but upon looking at this “creature” they both seemed a bit skeptical.  I reassured them.  Once prepared and eaten they couldn’t believe their taste buds, high marks all around.

These wonderful “mushrooms” are medicinal and have been used for millenia in the East and who knows for how long here in the Americas.  I’m sure the Indians could have told us plenty about them.  The Lion’s Mane is said to be good for memory and nerve damage in the brain, amongst other things,  which is  especially poignant in this age of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Dementia. Drop the pharmaceuticals people, look to the Earth!  She has all we need and it’s fun to go get it!  This incredible fungus is delicious and good for you!  To think that for all these years people have said health food doesn’t taste good!  What a joke.

When you find a Lion’s Mane check how fresh it is.  Sometimes they will be yellowy or brown around the edges or full of water if it has been raining.  If you are lucky it will be prime.  Either way it is worth taking with you.  I have, on rare occasions, not taken one because it was too old and weathered, but that is rare.  If it is wet bring it home and slice it into steak size pieces.  You can then use towels to absorb excess moisture by pushing down on the pieces you have cut.   After that put them in the fridge on a plate and let them sit for a couple hours.  I have found them frozen on trees and it doesn’t seem to effect them poorly.  They do like hardwoods and especially the Beech trees which are majestic, a smooth grey and have a bark that resembles elephant skin.  The Lion’s Mane, like most things, grows to different sizes and sure, bigger is better!  More to eat.  This fungus has no poisonous look alike.   I have found them  hand sized and I have found them, one this year, about the size of my head (see photo.)  They are easy to prepare and stay fresh for a considerable amount of time in the refrigerator or outside in mild to cool temperatures.

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Looks like a brain and is good for your brain!
photo by Helen Geisler

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Golden brown and ready to eat!
photo by Helen Geisler

I like to cook these mushrooms as I would seafood or scallops.  Simply.  Use olive oil or butter and get your pan hot.  Slice your mushroom into half an inch thick steaks. Lay your slices in the pan and let them cook until they are a light golden brown.  Use some sea salt, pepper and maybe an herb you like to season them.  Once done take them out, set them aside and give them a try.  They are phenomenal!  My kids love them too!  You can use these mushrooms in other dishes as well.  They easily serve as the meat of an entree you are preparing or are perfect as a gourmet appetizer by themselves.  Lion’s Mane are versatile and their flavor holds up well with sauces.  My first choice is to eat them on their own, simply cooked!  These are one of my favorite fungi.  The season to find them is fall in the eastern woodlands here in Virginia.  I am told that they are found in all of North America, in temperate Asia and in Europe.  Keep your eyes open.  Some folks have said they have found them in spring as well, winter too.  I have spotted many while driving as they are a striking white and stand outwhen you do see them. They are unmistakable once you are upon them.  Lion’s Mane are magical, like most things in nature, and will make your day a special one indeed!  Bon apetit and happy hunting!

Author’s Note:   This mushroom is somewhat of an exception in that it has no look a likes at all, poisonous or otherwise and is regarded as safe. It is very important to follow the rule “when in doubt, throw it out!,” or, better yet, leave it alone!  It takes time to become an experienced forager so err on the side of caution when hunting.  It is good to reconnect with our food gathering roots, so do it wisely!

island breakfast

photo by Helen Geisler

Breakfast.  For me it is sort of the forgotten meal.  It is at the beginning of the day which makes it feel like you don’t really get to just hang out and cook.  You’re on a mission and breakfast is just providing fuel for that mission.  Breakfast seems utilitarian more so than the other meals of the day.  Dinner, being at the end of the day, is when you are winding down, it is a more relaxed session!  Plus it is rare to serve alcohol in the morning, which really does enhance and relax a meal, save for you hardcore freaks out there who like to get an early start.

This breakfast is super simple.  It is an offshoot of one my Mom used to sometimes make:  Rice with cinnamon, butter, sugar and cream.  Mine is a more evolved version of the same, no offense Mom with some little quirks.  Instead of sugar I use honey, and instead of cream I’ve been using goat milk.  Why?   My woman and I are on a “yang” energy building diet.  I partied and ate quite a bit the last year so I am cleaning out my temple!  Cream would be fine and probably more delicious, half and half would do just fine.   For those of you afraid of half and half?  Get over it!  Take something else out of your life, like diet soda or snickers bars.  Good wholesome half and half, organic and hopefully local, better yet unpasteurized, is wholesome food and tasty to boot.  I also like to add fruit to this dish.  Today we are adding mango.  I love mango.  I like them on the harder side, not crazy hard, but firm with slight softness on the outer edge.  I like them to be a bit sweet but also a bit sour.  A mix.  Kind of like a banana still tinged with tiny streaks of green.  I am not big on over ripe, super sweet fruits.  Use what you like.  Instead of sugar with this I like wildflower honey.  Honey is medicinal, don’t ask the FDA, they are highly suspect anyway, but it is true.  It is also a delicious sweetener.  You don’t want to add too much, so go light when you add it.  You can always put more.  Maple syrup can easily work too and is quite a treat.  Don’t buy the fake crap, like Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima.  They are a fraud and are mainly corn syrup.  Get real maple syrup, I am betting it is somewhat medicinal too, in moderation of course.  The last element you need, besides cinnamon, which should be high quality as well, is rice.  My mom, if I recall correctly, used long grain white rice.  I like basmati or jasmine rice.  I like the texture and flavor of both of these strains of rice.  Did I forget butter?  Yes.  My yang diet has me using goat butter, and it is divine.  Use any high grade butter you like.  We get big Amish rolls of butter and everyone loves it, the kids, the animals, all of us.

Cooking rice is a learned practice.  I’ve had periods where I cook it perfectly and then periods where I lost my touch.  Right now I am on a roll and have been cooking it perfectly every damn time!  I put in a pint glass full of rice, I don’t think we have a measuring cup so I just use whatever is handy and near the size I want.  Whatever you do use double it when adding your water.  I don’t add anything else.  Heat to a boil, set to simmer with a lid and then wait until the water is almost gone, just a tiny bit of moisture left.  I then turn it off and let it sit.  It comes out perfect every time.  I will sometimes add butter and let it melt inside, sometimes I don’t.  I don’t know what I base that decision off of, it’s just my whim.

While the rice is cooking you can cut your mango.  Peelers can work on a mango but lately I have been cutting it first.   I cut down the flat side of the seed getting a nice “filet.”  Once off I use a good knife to cut the skin off.  With the flat side of the mango against your cutting board I dice it up.  I do both sides.  You can then peel the remaining skin off the flesh surrounding the edges of the seed and either eat it by hand or cut it off too.  You can also give the seed to your kids or your wife to finish off.

You are now ready to put your rice in a bowl.  If you haven’t already put the amount of butter you like into it.  Add your mango.  After that add as much cinnamon as you like.  You can then drizzle your honey or maple syrup on top of that.  Once completed add your cream or goat milk, or milk or whatever.  You could go milk-less too and this would still be delicious.  Some folks may like to add chopped fresh mint.  For extra spice you could put a little grated ginger in or diced jalapeno.  I usually just eat it without the extra herbs and spices.  This highly nutritious, refreshing breakfast is cheap, easy and super delicious!  Kids and adults adore it in equal fervor.  In mid winter it’ll make you feel like you woke up on the north shore of Oahu!  Blessings to you and yours!  Live it up and eat well People!!!

simple tacos

photo by Helen Geisler

Simple tacos?  It seems hard to screw this one up but time after time I have been given, or have bought, crappy tacos.  How could it be?  It all seems ludicrous but unfortunately it is true.  Living in Virginia for the past 14 years probably hasn’t helped.  This post is an effort to change all of that.  Now if I were to be asked the question “If you had to pick one type of food to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?”  My definitive answer would be Mexican food.  No questions asked.  I love just about everything, but the simplicity and deliciousness of Mexican cuisine is above all others in my humble opinion.  This is when it is done well!  Fresh!  Handmade!  Refried beans, carnitas, carne asada, enchiladas, guacamole, so many salsas, fresh lime, cilantro and peppers of all sorts, just to scrape the surface, keep me coming back for more.  Much of the food I ate growing up was Mexican food and I was lucky enough to spend time with lots of people from there or descended from those roots.  They are blessed roots and I feel honored to have been put into proximity with their culture and ways.  That being said I figured a little post on simple tacos was in order.

The tacos pictured were made using fried tortillas and are “hard” tacos.  Many people love soft tacos and so do I.  Either way is great. To me a taco isn’t a taco if you aren’t using corn tortillas.  My favorite corn tortillas are those that are handmade with corn, lime and salt.  I think that is it.  Many store bought tortillas are littered with a bunch of other crap thrown in there that I really can see no purpose for.  Tortillerias or little Latino tiendas are common now in most of America.  You can find good hand made tortillas in most of these.  The ones pictured above are from Whole Foods and have minimal ingredients, taste good, but are not “da kind” so to speak.  They work.   Get some good tortillas.  If you want to fry them, which is a delicious way to go, it is easy.  I have used pig fat, olive oil, coconut oil and even butter to fry them.  I avoid most canola and other “vegetable” oils as they are low grade.  Butter and olive oil are easier to burn so you have to be careful.  Either way get some good oil or fat.  If you know an organic butcher or your local market has left over pig fat trimmings see if they will give you some.  You can take it home and render it yourself.  The “fat” myths of the past are just that.  Eat good fat.  So once your oil is hot, but not psychotically hot, put your tortilla in.  Give it a little time and then fold one side over.  You can put something in between the two sides, like a carrot, to keep a nice little space open so that your taco shell is not too tight.  Let them cook until they are rigid.  You don’t want to burn them.  You can do them two by two or one by one depending on the size of your pan.  If you want to keep them warm put a plate in the oven on low and as they finish put them in the oven. Make as many as you need.  I wouldn’t make more than you need as I never have had luck in keeping them.  They are difficult to store.  If you prefer soft tacos I would just wait to heat your tortillas until after you are done with your fillings.  For soft tacos you can easily heat them on the burners of your stove if you have a gas stove.  I have many times had all four burners going as I rapidly heat up lots of tortillas in a short time flipping them as I go.

As for what you put in the tacos??  For these simple tacos I would suggest making a salsa, grating a little cheese and preparing some meat, usually pork, beef or chicken.  Many times I have used venison that I have hunted.  Fish also works though I may make my “toppings” differently in that case.  Vegetarian tacos can be made using refried beans or tofu, tempeh, or grilled vegetables.  Whatever you decide to use this technique will be delicious. These tacos in the photo were made with organic pork that we scored at low cost from a friend.  I would always try to use organic or locally raised meat.  After the tortillas are done I usually just throw my cubed or diced meat into the same oil if it still looks clean and good.  Many times the tortillas absorb the oil so the pan is just right for cooking other things after they are done. If there is too much just pour some off into a container.  For pork and chicken I cook the meat through, with venison and beef it is not as important.  Sautee your meat with a little bit of sea salt.  I don’t spice the meat much as I like the flavor to be distinct and simple, later you will be adding herbs, onions and spices on top of the meat  Cook your meat until it is beautiful and then you can put it in the oven with the tortillas.  Keep the oven on low heat and do not keep your meat there very long as you don’t want to dry it out.  If I am going to add cheese many times I put it directly on to the meat after I turn the heat off.  It melts smoothly over everything that way and is easily moved from pan to tortilla with a small spatula.  It is fine to just grate it too and then add when you are building your taco.

For salsa, in this case, I make a simple salsa fresca or pico de gallo.  Many other salsas could be used and are delicious as well.  For this recipe take three roma tomatoes, depending on how many people you are feeding you can alter your amounts, we’ll say this is for two people.  Dice them up and put them in a bowl.  Cut half of an onion, use your favorite variety, and dice it up smaller than the tomato pieces.  Next take a jalapeno, cut it and check it for spice level.  Jalapenos seem to fluctuate drastically in their spiciness.  I’ve had some that really hit you hard and then I’ve had some that are almost completely spice-less.  Check the one you are using and then put in your amount accordingly.  Dice it small, I usually include the seeds.  Take a nice handfull of cilantro and chop it up.  I don’t cut mine super fine.  Cut it evenly.  Take one lime, cut it in half and then, once all of your other ingredients are in the bowl, squeeze it over everything.  Finally add a bit of sea salt.  Mix everything together.  Once it is well blended taste your mixture and see if you need more salt or more of any of the other ingredients.  This simple salsa is one of my favorites, it has a distinct fresh flavor that lights up any room and any taste buds.  If you desire you can make a light crema to put on top as well.  I usually do this by putting some sour cream in a bowl, adding a bit of lime juice, salt, black pepper and a little water to thin it down.  You can vary the thickness with how much water you use.  Stir it until it has a nice smooth texture.  The tacos in the photo above are crema-less.

Now that you have everything made you can build your tacos.  Take your tortilla and put the meat with cheese on first(or put your meat in and then add your grated cheese,) add your salsa and then the crema and you are set to go.  These tacos are fucking delicious, fresh, clean and hard to stop eating.  My whole family loves them.  You can vary any of the recipes above, add avocado to the salsa, put your favorite hot sauce on them, whatever. I would try them first just as I have described them and then go from there.  I love to serve them with homemade refried beans as well. I will add my refried bean recipe at a later date.  The sky is the limit with tacos.  They are versatile and a lot of fun.  They are great with your favorite cold beer!!  So buen provecho, amigos!  Y gracias a la gente Mexicana por toda la comida buena!!!  Adios!

wild mushroom bruschetta

photo by Helen Geisler

At one point, I can’t remember exactly when it was, sometime in the early nineties, America got swamped with bruschetta.  Some of it was delicious.  I remember one restaurant in Santa Monica Canyon called Caffe Delfini, I think it is still there, that made what I considered to be the quintessential bruschetta. Grilled Italian farm style bread with diced fresh tomato, no seeds, basil, garlic, olive oil and sea salt.  My God it was, and still is delicious.  I stole their recipe, they actually gave it to me, and took it to Virginia when I moved there to help some friends open a restaurant.  People still remember it.  Then there were the other bruschettas.  In that era it seemed you could find a version in just about every restaurant including the hapless and slovenly chains such as the Olive Garden, amongst others.  Trips to those places only happened when I got lazy travelling or just plain weird when I wanted to experience the hollow blandness of mainstream American corporate culture.  I am, after all, an anthropologist, self-proclaimed. I study people and what they eat.  You could find all manner of low budget ingredients in these forlorn bruschettas, cheap Sysco canola oil, peeled and bagged garlic or worse, dire mozzarella cheese, strange packet seasonings, canned tomatoes, whatever, you name it and you could find someone making it into bruschetta. Ninety percent of the time, maybe more, it marred the name!

Fast forward to 2012, although I am now writing in 2013, lord have mercy on our souls! I rarely see bruschetta anywhere.  Granted I don’t go out to eat as much as I used to due to my snobby taste buds and desire for high quality ingredients.  Those two factors, amongst others, keep me out of most places these days.  This past September, I am nearly certain it was September, it is a lovely month here in the Blue Ridge Mountains and generally everywhere, I was out meandering in the woods like I like to do.  As happens almost every time I go out, I stumbled across a nice bloom of Oyster mushrooms.  They have been, and usually are, prolific in these deciduous woodlands.  I have found some every month since then and it is now February.  Anyway, I gathered them and thanked the powers that be for the treat.  Later that evening as I was wondering what to prepare for my family and bruschetta came to mind.  I thought of all the quirky and offbeat bruschettas I had seen in my blessed life and decided to invent my own version.  To this point I don’t think I had ever strayed from my highly successful classic recipe.  I had some left over baguettes from the restaurant I work in, Bizou. I had arugula, some parmesan cheese, I had garlic, olive oil, sea salt and lemon, if I recall correctly.  I then cut the oyster mushrooms into manageable pieces, see photo, put some oil in a pan and sauteed them with a little bit of garlic. When they were finished I cut the baguettes, lightly oiled them and then grilled them.  As that was occurring I mixed the mushrooms and garlic with arugula, a bit more olive oil, a dash of sea salt and a light squeeze of fresh organic lemon.  I did not want this to be too wet, so if you try it go easy on the squeezing and the oiling.  We want the flavor to be there but also the texture and moistness to be right.  I also went easy on the garlic and did not overcook it.  When the bread was ready, which doesn’t take long, I put it on a plate and then placed my mixture upon it.  My final step was to shave some good quality parmesan on to it.  I did refrain from adding any other herbs, though they could be added.  My reasoning behind this was that the powerful flavor of the arugula would most likely be interesting and delicious enough.  I am quite sure I was right.  You decide.  If you get the chance try it out, I really enjoyed it and so did everyone else who was there!  We’ve made it a few times since!  It pairs well with a nice montepulciano, which can be found cheap and they are delicious.  It would also be good with a white wine we have been serving lately at Bizou, it is a Frecciarossa Sillery pinot noir blanc.  Or, drink whatever the hell you want with it.  It is a great spin-off on all the cheesy interpretations of bruschetta and will stand up to even the cattiest of foodies!  I will certainly be making it again!  Enjoy!