Archive for the ‘food foraging’ Category

Marvelous Mushrooms

February 17, 2010

Regular readers may recall that every so often I get a bee in my bonnet about a particular kind of produce.

Persimmons come to mind. Brussels sprouts too. No surprise that a blog named Lettuce Eat Kale showcases a certain dark, leafy green, whether roasted or dehydrated.

Today, mushrooms get their due. Recently, I’ve become a tad obsessed with these forest favorites as they show themselves, post-rainy season, in my neck of the woods.

First, I felt compelled to make Mushroom Risotto. Compelled. So at a farmer’s market I stocked up on a big, brown bag full of crimini, shiitake, and oyster mushies. And I made a big, brown batch of risotto, its inherent creaminess offset by the earthy flavors of the three fungi.

My recipe is similar to this one, sans cream, from Simply Recipes. But I have nothing against cream, cream and I are firm friends, so I’ll definitely give Elise Bauer’s version a go. And I encourage you to, as well.

Then I read Barbara Kingsolver’s love poem to the mighty morel in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her lyrical account of a year living off the land.  This exotic edible, which defies attempts at domestication, sells for a small fortune during its short season.

With a little local help, Kingsolver uncovers the mystery of where Molly Mooches (morels to the rest of us) pop up on her very own property and her family set out to hunt and gather this prized wild delight.  She finds a perfectly good home for them in Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding, from Deborah Madison‘s Local Flavors (downloadable here).

Next up, the forageSF Wild Kitchen Chinese New Year dinner, where fungi was featured in not one but two of the seven courses, made up of mostly sustainable, foraged, local, wild ingredients, natch.

The communal dinner kicked off with the smoky subtlety of Black Trumpet Mushroom and Wild Radish Dumplings and ended on a high note with Ginger Candy Cap Ice Cream. The candy cap mushrooms offered a deep, rich, maple-syrup like sweetness to this delish dessert.

I know, mushroom-infused ice cream. Who knew it could be so good?

Then just last week, I was wowed by the dreamy creaminess of Scott Howard’s reinvented macaroni & cheese, at his restaurant Five, in downtown Berkeley. This mac&cheese only marginally resembles the American classic mama used to make. And that’s a good thing.

Little ramekins of loveliness ooze with orzo, cream, and smoked gouda, topped with sliced, braised morels, a dollop of tomato jam, and a smattering of bread crumbs. A decadently divine dish.

Ready for a recipe?

Today’s offering, Chanterelle Pate, comes courtesy of chef Mary Kuntz, whom I met while reporting on the Sprouts Cooking Club.  Kuntz has worked in many acclaimed local restaurants and taught cooking to teens in Richmond public schools for about a dozen years.

She recently ran a four-week cooking class for Sprouts attended by Kaiser Permanente employees and their families at the Westside Cafe in Berkeley.  The mushroom pate was a big hit with her students.

For a primer on choosing, caring & cleaning mushies, whether wild or cultivated, start here.

Enjoy experimenting with these woodsy wonders.

Mary Kuntz’s Chanterelle Pate

Ingredients:

1 lb. cleaned, sliced chanterelle mushrooms

1 stick butter

3-4  finely chopped shallots

2 cloves minced garlic

½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or lemon thyme)

1-2 cups dry white wine

2 cups peeled almonds (blanch & slip skins off)

salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Sauté the sliced mushrooms, shallots, garlic, parsley and thyme in the butter in a large frying pan.

2. When tender, pour over the wine, add almonds, and simmer till most liquid is absorbed.

3. Pureé in a processor in batches, add salt and pepper to taste, and some more soft butter to make richer, if desired.

4. Place in serving terrine and sprinkle with a little more minced parsley.

5. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours (or overnight) to allow flavors to develop.

6. Serve with toasted baguette, dark rye bread, or wheat crackers.

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The Lemon Lady: Feeding the Hungry, One Bag of Produce at a Time

October 22, 2009

The Lemon Lady needs a new nickname, methinks.

Anna Chan, 37, has outgrown the title, which doesn’t begin to describe the difference this anti-hunger activist has made in less than a year in her one-woman campaign to get fresh produce into the mouths of people in need in her community.

This stay-at-home mom from Clayton, in Contra Costa County, has (almost) single-handedly harvested, by her own estimates, 12,000 pounds of local produce from neighbors’ front yards. She’s also collected more than $60,000 surplus fruit and veg from local farmers’ markets, which she hauls in the back of her SUV to food pantries in her area. And she’s donated hundreds of seedlings and helped plant veggie gardens in her county in the hope that she can inspire others to grow their own row — and feed their families whole food.

In September I spent several hours watching Anna in action. We met at one of her many pet projects, a modest but thriving veggie patch in a low-income neighborhood of Concord. (Anna got involved with the garden after being approached by Kathy Gleason,  corporate donations coordinator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who sewed the seeds for this edible effort on her own time by getting to know the neigborhood and seeking out other volunteers.)

Out of one of the apartments popped a proud mom who gave me a spontaneous tour of the garden before Anna even pulled up. Begun with seedlings tended and donated by The Lemon Lady, the summer bounty included tomato, eggplant, pepper, and squash. When Anna arrived, the three of us chatted about the challenges of raising corn and the ease of growing Asian greens such as mizuna. We were just three moms, one Japanese, one American, one Australian, talking about the joys of making tomato sauce from scratch with homegrown produce to feed our hungry kids.

anna.chan.lemon.lady.2Before we left, Anna gave the grateful woman a seed catalog, with the promise of more seeds to come for a fall crop. Next stop: The lively Concord Farmers’ Market, where Anna distributes cardboard boxes and chats with vendors when they’re not serving customers. Farmers such as the pear purveyors from Alhambra Valley Farms and the Bautista Ranch veggie peddlers willingly pack up leftover produce for her to cart away at the end of the market to take to local food pantries, including the Salvation Army, SHARE Pantry, and Monument Crisis Center.

While the market was in full swing, I sat down with Anna to get a sense of what drives this former office manager to spend hundreds of hours volunteering for the greater good, one piece of produce at a time.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that a challenging childhood, made a little less rough by the kindness of strangers and community volunteers much like herself, serves as a constant reminder of the importance of giving back.  That’s not some pat charitable phrase for this petite and pretty woman; she knows what it’s like to encounter tough times and deal with health concerns. Now, blessed with a thriving toddler, a supportive dentist husband, and a happy home life, she wants to help others less fortunate than herself. Plus, the gal has a big heart, a passion for nutritious home cooking, and energy that doesn’t quit. (Typically she does a farmers’ market surplus run four days a week.)

Anna’s efforts add a public service spin on the au courant activity known as fruit foraging. She combines two old-fashioned concepts: gleaning and doing good, and in a time of great need (one local food pantry recently closed for a day; demand is so high it ran out of food) she simply cannot stand to see perfectly good produce go to waste.

Not surprisingly, those she comes in contact with sing her praises. “She’s a local gem,” says Jessie Neu, the director of the Contra Costa Certified Farmers’ Market. “She’s a life saver,” says one food-distribution volunteer from a local food bank. The California Garden Clubs recently honored Anna for her community service and her efforts to promote growing greens and getting fresh, nutritious food to hungry people.

And it all began way back in February, when this suburban mom was simply trying to find a way to soothe her colicky child to sleep. Anna resorted to driving her fussy, nap-fighting toddler, so Ava would drift off to the Land of Nod. (Oh, boy, do I remember those car rides from my own sleep-resistant son’s early days.)

As Anna tooled around her neighborhood she saw trees laden with luscious lemons ready to drop and rot. Where others saw potentially fallen fruit, Anna saw good food needing a way to get to the hungry.

So she worked up the courage to knock on strangers’ doors to ask homeowners if she could collect their excess fruit for local food pantries. And she left fliers letting her neighbors know that she’d noticed their bounty and wondered if they’d be willing to share their surplus by leaving a bag or two for food bank donations, or allow her to pick their extra produce. The response? Overwhelmingly positive. People have happily donated lemons, as well as oranges, apricots, plums, peaches, tomatoes, beans, and zucchini.

Anna’s on a mission to spread the word that many food banks gladly take fresh produce. “Many people don’t know where their local food pantry is located and don’t realize that food banks will gladly take fresh produce,” says Anna. A lot of people, she points out, incorrectly assume that only canned goods or government surplus food is acceptable in such places. Not so.  (Check out a revealing New York Times Magazine article for the back story on why food banks are now accepting more fruit and veg in the recent Food Issue.)

To learn more about The Lemon Lady, visit her blog, where she champions the work of food banks and farmers, shares the joy of growing food with her daughter, and encourages others to follow her example in their own communities.

Check out one of her favorite baking recipes: lemon bars, of course.

And if you have an idea for a more fitting moniker for this food advocate, please share it below.

Images courtesy of The Lemon Lady blog.

A Shout Out for the Eat Real Food Festival

August 29, 2009

chef.mimi.eat.real.festival

A roasty toasty day by the bay and foodie folk swarmed Jack London Square in Oakland to sample cheap-yet-chic street eats dished out of food trucks and pedal carts at the Eat Real Festival, an outdoor event where small bites sell for five bucks or less. Thanks, in part, to Twitter, grabbing good food on the go that won’t blow the budget is all the rage in the streets of San Francisco and beyond.

Last week, SF held its own street eats event. This weekend, it’s Oaktown’s turn, led by Anya Fernald, who headed up last year’s Slow Food Nation soiree. In the mix: Farmers, foragers, canners, cooks, chefs, and civilians, who stood in line to sample some of the best of the Bay Area’s mobile food. The mood on the street wasn’t preachy or political but more like a party, with wee ones running through a water fountain, grown ups lounging on the lawn listening to hot licks or, later, watching foodie flicks. And lots of adults sipping local brews out of jam jars as an antidote to the blazing sun.

What’s not to like?

It was a tad too hot for moi to queue for tacos, pizza, or even the Sexy Soup Cart Lady. On a friend’s recommendation, I made a beeline for the sweet treats at Aisu Pop, where handcrafted popsicles in flavors such as kaffir limeade & avocado and honeydew wasabi were moving like hot cakes. Too late: Sold out! Not to worry, I moseyed down to the next ice- cream peddler, where I tasted the subtle charms of sweet corn ice cream before settling on a scoop of Mexican chocolate from the good people at Pepito. Delish. Also refreshing, a Latina pushcart vendor’s watermelon spears doused with lemon juice, salt, and a few shakes of chili for a little kick along with the cool.

pepito.icecream.eat.real.vendors

Cardum Harmon and Cid Williams made a picnic in the shade as they noshed on sustainable barbecue and burgers. Their take: Why not bring the street eats back every week?

cardum&cid.eat.real.festival

Live locally? Swing by Sunday from 10-5. Go hungry. Bring cash. Eat real.

Photos: Sarah Henry

Food Foraging 101

July 8, 2009

The votes are in and the Bay Area’s favorite food forager is Asiya Wadud, the Chez Panisse bartender and urban fruit gatherer.

For the last 18 months or so Wadud could be found pedaling around South Berkeley and North Oakland scooping up fallen or really ripe fruit, such as hachiya persimmons, Santa Rosa plums, Meyer lemons, and Persian mulberries, and passing on this excess backyard bounty to hungry souls who put it to delicious good use.

(Wadud’s out of town this summer and fall but says a team of food foragers who will tend to members’ trees will be announced shortly, according to her blog Forage Oakland.)

I first learned about Wadud’s fruit-bartering-via-bicycle project in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. Since then she’s been featured in the New York Times and her photogenic self graces the cover of this month’s San Francisco magazine. Last week a New York Times Magazine story on urban homesteading included Wadud at the table of a local-grown feast. Clearly, her fresh idea has captured the mainstream media’s — and the produce-loving public’s —  attention.

Wadud’s rules for her volunteer program are simple: There’s no picking before permission is given. Ripe fruit is a terrible thing to let rot. Sharing the wealth with your neighbors creates good feelings and good food. She began with cold calls, knocking gingerly on strangers’ doors and asking politely for samples; she now boasts some 200 members.

Similar free, urban foraging programs abound in the Bay Area. Saddled with excess beans or blackberries this summer? Looking to trade some lavender for lemons? Check out People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), North Berkeley Harvest, San Jose’s Village Harvest and  Marin Open Garden Project. In L.A., Fallen Fruit is a resource for off-loading extra produce.

Programs that connect homeowners overwhelmed with fruit with volunteers willing to pick produce and take it to local food banks can be found in cities such as Portland, Ore., Philadelphia, and Boston. And websites like neighborhoodfruit.com and veggietrader.com help folks find willing homes for, say, a surplus of Meyer lemons or an abundance of dinosaur kale.

Future foraging posts will look at programs that offer folks freshly foraged local food for a fee.

In the meantime, since it’s peak produce time in most parts of the country, you’re encouraged to leave a shout out for your favorite, local, free foraging outfit below.

Oh, and while I think of it: Does anyone want the load of loquats that make a huge mess once they fall from the tree out front and strip the paint off my car? I’ve thought of them as a nuisance, squirrel fodder at best, but Wadud writes that this unfamiliar fruit makes some mighty fine chutney, jelly, or jam. Happy harvesting.

Cover image courtesy San Francisco Magazine. Photo: Sara Remington