There are many things we love to do when we’re up in the Berkshires. Taking hikes is at the top of the list. It is still a bit early (snow and mud on the ground) to go on the more ambitious hikes, so we decided to take a simple walk along Ice Glen road. At the end of the hike we ran into a woman walking with her puppy. We stopped to talk with her and discovered that she keeps chickens and raises or grows all her own food. She also has a flock of alpacas and spins and weaves the fiber. I mentioned that I spin and she invited us to walk over to her house, where she gave me a trash bag full of her alpaca fiber.
It was crazy how much we had in common with her. She mentioned that she has a son who’s a photographer in Brooklyn. But what put me over the edge was when she said that I could dye the white alpaca and mentioned that she picks wild mushrooms to dye her fiber. She uses turkey tail mushrooms to dye her wool blue. I’m going to have to keep my eye out for them this year.
My new challenge is to process the fiber. I usually buy fiber that has already been washed and carded. I am going to borrow equipment from someone in my spinning group to card it. I’ll post more when I work on the fiber.
I am excited by this new challenge. It was so unexpected to meet such a nice woman and come away with gorgeous, soft alpaca fiber.
Okay, it’s bad when you are belated on your own birthday!!! But I’m so behind on everything that I thought I should just start here.
On my birthday, Neil and I decided to play hookie. It was a little drizzly, so we just put on the rain gear we bought for our trip to Iceland and went for a hike. There is a park in the middle of crazy, urban Queens, NY called Forest Park. And it is just that. A forest. It’s really a weird feeling to be walking in the woods knowing that you are in the middle of NYC.
Neil and I started learning about and hunting mushrooms last year. We’ve been lucky enough to find some delicious edible mushrooms. However, we were disappointed last Fall not to find hen of the woods (aka maitake). They generally grow under oak trees in the Fall. As we walked, we kept our eyes open for these mushrooms, and were lucky enough to find a few clumps of them.
They are beautiful mushrooms without poisonous look-alikes, which makes them quite safe for beginners. (Okay, now I must add that if you are ever going to hunt mushrooms, please consult a guide, an expert, or both. Do not go off the photos on this blog!!) These mushrooms have been described as resembling flamenco dancer’s skirts. Love these colorful descriptions!!
I asked some of my mushroom friends how they prepare hen of the woods. We decided to pull them apart like broccoli florets, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper and grill them on the bbq. They were delicious. What a lovely birthday present!
I’ve been organizing a fundraiser at my daughter’s school in conjunction with Earth Day. We are selling oyster mushroom growing kits through Back To The Roots. If you order one, Back To The Roots shares a portion of the profits with my daughter’s school in Brooklyn.
My husband gave me one of their kits for Christmas and they are really fun. C’mon, you know you want to try this! Just make sure to enter “PS58″ in the coupon code for the school to get credit. The offer expires on 4/20, which is our school’s Earth Day celebration.
This past weekend was jam-packed with birthday fun. It was also a very mushroom-filled weekend. My in-laws gave me a pocket knife, and Neil gave me a collecting basket for mushroom hunting. On saturday morning, we christened both, by going to Stony Brook in Harriman State Park for a walk with my mushroom group. The weather was spectacular and the leaves were just starting to turn golden.
We walked along a stream and found lots of mushrooms, including delicious black trumpets. With all the rain we’ve had, this summer has been one of the best for mushroom hunting many people can remember. This is my first year, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Here are some photos from the walk.
That night we went to see Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil. The production was spectacular. I would love to go back several more times to absorb all of the layers of scenery, costumes, performances, etc. If you can possibly go to see it, you should run now and get tickets. It was amazing. We got heavily discounted tickets, so were able to bring Lindsay. I think it blew her 7-year old mind.
Then Sunday, which was my actual birthday, I slept in. For those of you with young kids, you know how rare and wonderful this is. Neil cooked up the black trumpets with eggs and we had a nice breakfast. The day was beautiful, so we went for a walk in Prospect Park. Later that night, we met friends for dinner and came back to our place for drinks afterwards. It was a great weekend with family and friends and I felt very celebrated.
Yesterday we went to the Bronx Zoo. If you haven’t been there, you really need to go. They work really hard to make realistic and livable habitats for the animals. It is a far cry from the concrete jail cells that used to be common in zoos. All the money goes to support wildlife recovery efforts, education, etc. You can spend the better part of the day there and still not see everything.
So while I love the zoo and the animals, I have been bitten by the mushroom bug. Seriously, I can’t walk down the sidewalk in Brooklyn without peering into people’s planters to see if there are mushrooms growing. This season has been quite rainy, so there are mushrooms popping up everywhere. Even in the cracks of the pavement you will see mushrooms forming.
I saw loads of interesting mushrooms at the zoo. Well over 20 different varieties. Sometimes it was hard to tell if a shelf mushroom was real or a realistic fake in an exhibit. I have been on the look out for hen of the woods mushrooms as they are being spotted in this area now. We were on a monorail ride and I thought I saw some down below. In the rhinoceros pen. It was a dilemma…for a second.
And yes, those are mushrooms in the photo above.
This past Saturday I went with my mushroom club out to New Jersey to look for mushrooms. I mentioned to the people I rode there with that I have been trying to find a Chicken of the Woods Mushroom (chicken mushroom for short). On the walk we found loads of boletes, which look a lot like how kids draw mushrooms. You might know them as cepes or porcini. Most of the mushrooms in the photo below are boletes.
We were also looking for chanterelles, which are a bright orange color. We found a few, although many were past their prime. We also found some Jack O Lantern mushrooms, which besides being poisonous, also glow in the dark. So when one of my car mates spotted something orange from the trail, we thought it was probably a group of Jack ‘O Lanterns. I was absolutely thrilled to discover chicken mushrooms. These tasty little mushrooms cook up to taste like chicken. What’s really nice about them is that when you find them, you really have a meal on your hands. There are also really no other mushrooms that look like these, so they are a very safe mushroom for beginner hunters like myself.
I thought it might be the heat, but after having a fever last night, I guess I actually am sick. I’ve been so run down lately that I have contemplated going back to sleep right after my first cup of coffee.
Although I haven’t been posting I have actually been doing things.
Mushroom Hunting (and eating)
Although we’ve recently gotten rain, it has been so stinking hot that there weren’t many of the expected mushrooms in the woods last weekend. This plant is called Indian Pipes and isn’t a mushroom. It is a plant that lost its chloroform through some weird evolutionary decision. It needs other plants (and that’s generally a mushroom called a russula) to bring it the nutrition it needs. There were no russulas to be found nearby. I did find some bright orange boletes that sautéed up nicely.
I made this blue shawl for Lindsay. She’s going to be a flower girl this month and the bridesmaids colors are royal blue. You can find the pattern here.
We have friends who are expecting a baby girl in September. I made this sweet little cardigan for her. You can find the pattern here.
Ever since I went morel hunting, I have been bitten by the mushroom hunting bug. There are so many things I love about it. I love walking in the woods. I love the treasure hunt aspect of it. I love looking so carefully at nature that you notice things you never would have from a mountain bike. I love photographing the amazing variety of shapes and colors. And of course I love eating mushrooms.
The last one is a bit problematic because I am still soaking wet behind the ears. The only mushroom I am able to identify with certainty is a morel. I have a great book which concentrates on a few easily identifiable delicious mushrooms (See my reading list). Every time I go out into the woods I hope to find some of them.
This weekend I was so determined to find some of these choice edibles that I was practically willing the mushrooms I found to be the ones I wanted them to be. That is not a very smart thing to do with mushrooms. Here are some examples:
Chicken mushrooms. They are bright orange mushrooms that grow up the sides of trees like shelves. They are so bright that you wouldn’t be able to miss them. I was so excited when I found this one! You can see the top and the bottom of the same mushroom.
Turns out this is a Ling Chih (Ganoderma lucidum). Here is what a chicken mushroom looks like for comparison.
I was also on the lookout for oyster mushrooms, which look like this.
What I thought were oysters at first turned out not to be. These have hexagonal shapes under the caps, not the straight gills that true oysters have.
My heart almost stopped when I saw these guys. Chanterelles!!!
Holy cow. We were having friends over for dinner the next night and I was already dreaming of the possible recipes I could make with them. Neil asked me to double check with my mushroom group (New York Mycological Society). I posted photos on their facebook page and within 30 minutes got an answer. Yes, they were chanterelles. No, they weren’t good to eat. In fact 1/4 of the people who eat them get upset stomachs. I was so disappointed. This is what the tasty kind look like.
And now looking at my photos I think I’ve come to a sickening realization. I think these guys are……..
baby oyster mushrooms! Gah.
After getting hit hard with morel fever, I started to wonder about something. Perhaps you’ve heard of endless summer, where surfers travel around the globe chasing summer. I started to wonder if you could do that with morels. I figured that the Berkshires were a few weeks behind us here in NYC weather-wise, so the morels would probably be still coming up when ours were done.
I couldn’t go the weekend I thought they would be best, but we all went up Memorial Day weekend. I joined the Berkshire Mycological Society’s hike that Sunday and sure enough there were morels! Most of them were past their prime, but we still managed to find enough to make a delicious morel scrambled egg breakfast the next morning.
This group is much smaller than the one here, and in fact only one member went that day. My mother-in-law and I felt as though we had a personal guided tour. I am definitely going to join them again when I’m up visiting.
I’ll post photos of the mushrooms I found up there on that hike. I’m just trying to identify some of them, which I’m not great at.