Archive for the ‘Food and Medicine!’ Category

morel

It’s that time of the year again!  The young,electric green has sprung back into the trees, the flowers have begun to bloom in the redbuds, in the dogwoods and the showy orchids are sprouting in the hollows!  The vernal quarter of our annual circle has replaced the monotonous yet striking stark of winter with pure, unadulterated life.  This season is always exciting in the southeastern woodlands.  It is like a match has been set to dry tinder, boom!  Life is back! morel habitat One of my favorite parts of this season is the return of the morel mushroom.  I wait for it every year and each year it comes but always in it’s own special way and time.  No two years are alike and this year is no exception.  Last year came on quick, March was hot and the leaves and growth of spring came earlier than I had ever seen in my fifteen years of east coast living.  The morels followed suit and by March 24 we were collecting them.  Then a dry spell hit at the would be peak time and dried everything out.  There never really was a second bloom.  Usually the morels rise from the forest floor in succession.  It seems the blacks come first, then the little grays, and I’m not sure if it’s the grays that turn into big yellows or if the yellows do their own thing, and then, after about three weeks to a month, it is over.  As I speak I’d say we’re about two weeks in and it is a late season.  This spring has been cool and slow to progress. There has been good moisture with light rains falling sporadically over the entire “window” that is the yearly cycle of the morel.
morel tableThe numbers of mushrooms I have been finding in my favorite spots have not been stellar, though I am not complaining.  It is hard for me to wander far from my usual picking haunts as they have provided great harvests in the past, though I know there are other places that must be just sitting there, full of gorgeous, mature morels waiting for me to stumble upon them.  I try to scout a bit each year for new spots and I have walked miles this year doing so, though so far I have not found the new treasures I had hoped for.  All is well, though, my payment has been in solitude and time spent in beautiful places witnessing the rebirth of Spring!

Josie morel

My daughter Josie Mae with a fat basket

The morel is a magical fruit of the forest, it is so strange and enchanting that when you do happen upon one it is as if you are living in a fairy tale, they are quintessentially other worldly, though we often tend to forget that we live on a planet in outer space!  The morel plainly brings that fact into focus.  Each year the blooming of the morels tends to coincide with Easter.  I’ve always thought of the morel hunt as sort of an epic adult Easter egg hunt without all the corny rabbit laying eggs bullshit, this deal is real!

Hunting morels is enthralling and worth it’s weight in gold gastronomically as the morel is one of the tastiest mushrooms on Earth!  The morel does grow in all of the United States so, if I were you, I’d look it up in your region, see when it blooms and then, at the right time, head out and begin your search.  This is a great way to enter the endless world of wild food foraging and really scratch that primal itch.  You need be aware of a poisonous look alike that is called the false morel.  Look it up.  When you get to know the two you will see that they are easy to tell apart, but until then be vigilant and if you find what you think are morels consult someone in the know before ingesting them.  If you run into a huge patch don’t panic, they are easy to dry and store so that you can enjoy them throughout the year.

morels and greens

Morels with garlic mustard and dock, two varieties of wild forest greens

My best luck in finding morels has been in deep hollows with poplars, spice bush, showy orchids and the like.  I do best where the soil is a deep black and is loose and rich.  I have also lucked upon them in riverbeds in the silty soil many times clustered around Ash trees and Sycamores and Elms.  There are many tales of where to find them, I find all rules can be broken but that some general consistencies do hold true.  Lately some guy on a morel message board site has been claiming that cedar thickets put out tons of big yellows.  I have not confirmed this personally but remain intrigued.  I know that out west they also grow in coniferous forests and like burn sites.  Apple orchards, or abandoned orchards, have also been mentioned many times.   During this time of the year I can imagine them everywhere but don’t always find them everywhere.  They are magical, mystical and worth every ounce of energy you put into finding them.  Bring your kids along!  They increase the number of mushrooms you will bring home and they love the thrill of the hunt!  I have spent many a day with the kids picking to our hearts content all the while reveling in the beauty of our Earth.  At this time of year the forests are coming alive and when we spend time in them, we come alive too.  Morel hunting is a great way to reignite your connection to all of life.  We are blessed beings living in a blessed Universe.  Go check it out!!!

IMG_7817

I love jalapenos.  I love spicy food in general.  I love pickled and fermented foods.  Pickled and fermented foods love me.  It’s a great relationship.  I’m striving to get my other relationships in such a lovely state.  I grew up thinking pickled foods must be difficult to make.  At first glance it appears the process would take a lot of time, patience and skill to do it right and have it come out well.  I was wrong on all accounts.  It is crazy easy.  This particular “essay” is on Jalapenos, but you could do any vegetable you like.  You could even do hard boiled eggs, little fishes, mushrooms, whatever…  Some vegetables are good to pound first, like cabbage when making “sauerkraut.”  Even then it is not completely necessary.  This technique also allows mild fermentation which produces many healthful and beneficial side effects for your gut, and elsewhere.  FDA approval?  I quit listening to the FDA a long time ago.  So here’s how to do it.  Brace yourself!

IMG_7816

photo by Helen Geisler

Take a bunch of jalapenos, the jar pictured has about eight large jalapenos.  I cut them into “rounds” and put them in a quart sized mason jar.  Be careful not to rub your eyes or any other sensitive areas.  I could tell you a funny story about that, well not eyes, but it isn’t appropriate for this blog!  Fill the jar nearly to the top with your peppers.  You can also add onions, carrots or other types of peppers.  I happened to have a red pepper around that needed to be used so I cut it up and put it in too.  Grab some herbs, whatever you like, it is fun to experiment with different ones, and put them in too.  Use an amount that seems reasonable.  I have yet to find a herb that I used that I didn’t end up liking.  I then add two tablespoons of sea salt.  After adding your salt fill your jar to nearly the top with fresh, good water, preferably from a nearby, untainted spring.  Good water is important.  Once full with water put the lid on and shake.  I like to make sure everything gets well distributed and that the salt is fully dissolved.  Once this is done I wipe the jar and then put it up on the shelf.  Don’t hide it away!  It will look beautiful out where people can see it.  I usually wait three to four days before eating them.  The spice will diminish with time which is sometimes nice as the fresh jalapenos can be super hot at times.  I find the flavor mellows with time and the elixir becomes very rich.  I have had certain batches around for months at a time and they remain delicious and nutritious.  Don’t be alarmed if air comes out when you first open the lid.  It can happen each time you open it.  I am so addicted to these things!  Jars of them don’t last long.  I am moving on to experiment with other vegetables as well and will keep you informed of my progress.   I really did make pickled fish once.  My friend and I had caught a bunch of “chubs” from a nearby river.  The chubs are not prime cooking fish and have lots of bones.  We cut a bunch into nice filets and then put them in just as described above.  We let them sit for quite a while, a week or two.  When it came time to try them I was nervous as pickled fish seemed a big stretch for me at the time.  I was blown away at their flavor, texture and how much I truly enjoyed them!  Unbelievable.  Our kids were young at the time, my friend’s and mine, and they formed a little musical group.  What did they call their band?  The Pickled Chubs of course!  Anyway, the sky is the limit.  It seems the more I learn the more I realize that quality food is simple and that this Earth is incredibly abundant!  What a magical world!  Spice up your life!  Much love to you and yours!

IMG_7295

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!

IMG_6302

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.

IMG_6306

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

IMG_6314

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!

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!