Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A High Desert Essay: The Road of Life

You know what I like about long road trips? You have plenty of time to think; especially when you are traveling in Nevada or southern Idaho. As I am driving through the high desert with really nothing to draw your attention to, I enter the "eyes-open-daylight-dreaming" zone. It's a zone where you have to stay in touch with reality, but only enough to be real and stay real. By that I mean, you still got to focus on the task at hand - driving a car.

A few miles into my “zone” a few past events in my life pop into my head. I try not to think too much about the past because there isn't anything that I can do about it. Been there, done that, it's over, I think. Sure, I think about what if I had done some things differently, but then you get in to the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" game which gets you nowhere. So I tried to focus on the future and make sure that I don't repeat past mistakes. What? Past mistakes? I took some time to think about that, perhaps 50-60 miles. (Time almost becomes irrelevant, but distance is what you are trying to achieve so it becomes the measure.) Again the rule is no worries about what you did back then, but to try and understand how and why you made the mistake so you don’t repeat them. What I discovered was that some past mistakes were just out of my control. Or were they? Although scientists say nothing is truly forgotten from your brain. You somehow only selectively remember certain things and is or was that reality, or did you unwittingly change how you recalled some of the past? These paradoxical questions consumed at least another 50 miles of thought; unfortunately without any resolution. So now I'm at least 100 miles in with nothing accomplished or resolved except miles traveled towards my destination. I am beginning to realize that any thinking of the past is fruitless. However my mind is a big collection of past events and the little mind gremlin in my head keeps on resurrecting past things, events, and thoughts as I drive along.

Again, I try to focus on the scenery but there's really nothing to see and so the little mind-past-times-and-events gremlin in my head returns with more personal history. Out loud I say, "Stop thinking about the past and focus on the future." As if this is going to help? My traveling companion - my dog - looks at me with a look to say, “say what?” He then returns to his blissful sleep.  I then earnestly work on thinking about the future. I ask myself how do I think about the future. The future hasn't happened yet so how can you think about it? An epiphany emerges. I realize that the future is akin to the road I am driving on. I see the Interstate in front of me, for sure a half a mile, sometimes further. Sometimes as I crest a hill I can see the road I'm about to travel on for miles ahead. This is my future. Then it comes to me, I can't really see the past (except in my rear view mirror and it fades fast) - only vaguely remember it, and the farther I drive the more vague the memory of the past becomes. But if I look at the road ahead it is clear, I see it, it's where I am going - it is my future (albeit not too distant future). I'm smiling now starting to believe that all these miles traveled have given me a revelation on life. Woo hoo! I can see my future.

I further realize that I am in full control of my future. I can stop, turn this way or that way, but always looking ahead I see my future. But as other cars pass me I get solemn and realize that they too can affect my future. The guy right next to me can simply choose to swerve without any warning and immediately affect and alter my future, maybe even direly. All I can do is react. Same goes for the poor bastard driving next to me. I exchange a quick glance with my neighboring driver on my right with a Mona Lisa hint of a smile that I, at this instant, control not only my future but yours too, buddy. How do like that? You are truly clueless as to what I can do. All of a sudden to my left is another vehicle passing me probably thinking the same to me.

Hmm? I can see my future. I can control it within reason, but unexpectedly someone or something else can change my future beyond my control. I ponder this for many miles. I look at the bug splatters on my windshield and realize that I have affected their futures too. They didn't affect my future, but something bigger could. A deer or cow could definitely affect my future. What about tumbleweed?  Nah, I would blast right through it.  What about a large rock or some other junk?  Ugh, I shudder;  luckily only bugs for now.

The weather is sunny and clear, so I'm traveling as fast as I can legally go and then some. I can see far in front of me. Right now, at this instant and as I look ahead my future is bright and sunny too. If the weather were different, like foggy, or rainy, or snowy, I would slow down. So would my life. I began to realize that life isn't always as the country song "Sunny And 75." There are times when you are traveling in the dark or limited visibility. There are times when road conditions are not safe; or when you choose roads - other than highways - that force you to drive differently, e.g., slower or more cautiously. I now come to the conclusion that I am truly on the road of life.

So now I adapt my highway future paradigm to my life - now. I've only got a few more miles to go before I stop for the day, so I feel I got to wrap this up. I'm in a zone that's for sure with all these metaphysical prognostications. Oh my, then it hits me, where am I? On this trip I am on my way to a specific destination.  I took the time to plan an itinerary and route. I have a road map. F' me! Do I have a road map, an itinerary for my life? Now I'm totally dismayed. The little thought gremlin in my head is giggling, no, hysterically laughing. Dang! I spy my exit ahead ending today's travels and my eyes-open-daylight-dreaming - back to reality. There's more traveling tomorrow to consider this.

Wow, I just drove about 300 miles and don't remember much about actually driving. Cool.

Please note! Eyes-open-daylight-dreaming-driving is dangerous and is not recommended. Losing focus on driving could lead to an accident.  Stay alert while driving and always focus on safety.  Who knows you could impact and affect my future.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chanterelle Mushrooms!

I had to take advantage of the last of beautiful fall days. So Rocky (my blue heeler dog) and I decided to go on a deep forest hike and chanterelle mushroom expedition.  I love those golden trumpet shaped mushrooms that are bountiful in the fall.  When cooked in soups, or sauteed, or included in sauces, they impart a nice mellow flavor.  They are forest gold.

Normally I would include a Google My Tracks app map of our hike but then that would show you where my chanterelle mushroom spots are.  Mushroom pickers are notoriously famous for guarding and keeping secret about their mushroom harvesting locations.  So, sorry no map included except to say I found them within a 20 minute drive from my house. Washington is perfect chanterelle mushroom country so just about anywhere there are woods you can find chanterelles.  If you are interested in chanterelle mushroom picking and it is your first time, make sure you take someone who has picked chanterelles before so you make no mistakes in picking the wrong mushrooms.  Also let someone know where you are going.  Wear good warm clothes and sturdy boots for walking over uneven ground.

Chanterelles are typically found in second or third growth Douglas fir forests. I have found them partial to shady areas and where there is a lot of old woody debris, e.g., old fallen trees and limbs.  If you see one chanterelle mushroom you will probably find more since their root system (if you can call it that) is quite extensive underground.  Cut the mushroom low on the stem versus picking it because if you pull it out chances are you will damage the root system and mushrooms will not reappear.

Rocky and I found a nice forest trail and walked along it but the trail was too rocky and open - unlikely finding chanterelles along this trail . As we continued down the trail I spied a game trail that leads up into the woods which seems much more conducive to finding mushrooms.  Sure enough as soon as we get deeper into the woods there are mushrooms everywhere - big ones, brown ones, white ones, small ones, tall ones, all sorts of mushrooms except the mushroom I was seeking - chanterelles. However I take seeing so many different mushrooms to be a good sign.  It is fall so the golden color of maple leaves on the forest floor mimic the color of chanterelles so I find that I have to look hard.  I finally find a chanterelle mushroom about the size of my fist, a good sized one.  It is simply beautiful - golden color, smooth fluted top, nice and round.  As I carefully pick this beautiful mushroom, I see more and more chanterelles that I didn't see a moment ago. I realize I found the chanterelle mushroom motherload. There were so many I am selective on which ones to harvest. I only pick perfect ones - good color and shape, and those that are not too small but then again not too big.  Realizing that I just started my walk, I decide that  I will not pick all of them here but hope of find more farther along.

The game trail continues to go deeper into the woods.  I make sure I am tracking my route using my Google My Tracks app on my smartphone so I will not get lost and can, if necessary, re-trace my route. I notice that this game trail has seen more traffic than just game by the garbage of empty sandwich bags and pop cans left behind. The trail continues to climb up and deeper into the woods and hills.  As I look for mushrooms I also have to keep an eye on where the game trail goes.  I believe I have a lot of experience with following game trails and know that they can easily diverge or slowly fade away.  The game trail winds around windfalls of downed trees and avoids steep draws but continues to climb deeper into the woods. A look at my progress on the My Tracks app shows a twisty this-way then that-way track that I have walked.  I see that if I continue on this game trail that it should intersect farther on with a gravel road - at least I hope so.  As game trails go it is not bad walking but you still have to step over logs and limbs, walk over uneven ground, and through deep brush.  A road will eliminate all that and make walking easier and faster.

Sure enough I spy another chanterelle mushroom just off the game trail, and as before where I spy one I spy many.  Again I am selective in which mushrooms I harvest - only the beautiful shaped golden ones that are medium sized.  There are so many that I say to myself, "Once again you have found the chanterelle mushroom motherload."  Rocky is finally curious in what I am doing.  He sniffs the mushrooms and looks at me quizzically as if to say, "what are you doing with these things?"

Sure enough as I fill my bag with mushrooms I lose sight of the game trail. I am now standing on a very steep slope to the point I could touch the ground with my hands without any sort of bending or stooping. I simply had to lean just a bit, extend my arms and I am doing a three-point or four-point touch with the ground. Another check of the My Tracks app shows that I am less than 100 feet from the gravel road. Good because this is way too steep for me.  I could tell the road was up ahead because the sun was shining through trees from a clearing - the road.  The bag of mushrooms is now very full and heavy.  I estimated that I had picked well over 10 pounds of mushrooms. Climbing the steep slope was difficult itself, but now lugging a heavy bag of mushrooms made it a bit more challenging.  To make my steep climb easier, I fashioned a kind of a rucksack out of the dog leash and the bag so that I could securely transport the bag of mushrooms on my back. I then did a four-point spider type of crawl up the steep slope.  I had about 100 feet of elevation to climb and I did it in 20 foot sections.  Each 20 feet I stopped and caught my breath for a moment.  I believe even Rocky was happy for the rest stops since even he was struggling at climbing up the steep hill.  Finally I reached the top of the hill, waded through some thick salal that was over my head in height and burst out onto the gravel road.  Oof, glad that was over.

The old gravel forest road twisted and wound its way back to where I had started albeit about three
miles farther than my one mile game trail and hill scramble.  I used my improvised bag of mushrooms rucksack all the way on the road too. All told the My Tracks app said that I had traveled 3.9 miles and gained almost 750' of elevation.  The short jaunt back to the house was all smiles in that I had a bag full of mushrooms and Rocky had a great forest adventure. As I walked I began to think about mushroom recipes.

Here are some tasty mushroom recipes that you can try with chanterelles or store bought mushrooms.

Preparing chanterelles... thoroughly wash them to remove forest debris and grit. Let them air dry in a colander. They will keep for several days in a cool, dry place.  I have read that chanterelles should not be eaten raw but only cooked. 

Italian Sausage with mushrooms and rigatoni
This is a long time family favorite. It can be made with shitakes, porcini, button or chanterelle mushrooms.  If using dried mushrooms reserve the mushroom soaking liquid and mix it in with the beef broth.

1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage (I prefer hot)
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp rosemary
1-2 bay leaves
1 T dried parsely
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup half-n-half
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups Rigatoni, dried pasta then cooked

Heat large pot over medium heat with olive oil.  When oil is hot add chopped onion and saute until onion is soft about 3 minutes.  Add Italian sausage and cook until sausage is no longer pink about 5 minutes.  While sausage is cooking break up sausage into smaller chunks.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes.  Mushrooms will release water and cook until water is nearly gone.  Add white wine and herbs and cook for about 5 minutes until at least liquid is reduced by half or more.  You want that concentrated mushroom flavor.  Next add the beef broth and simmer uncovered over low heat for 15-20 minutes until the sausage-mushroom mixture gets thick by being reduced.  Meanwhile cook the rigatoni pasta until al dente.

Add the half-n-half to the pot and mix well. Cook for another 5 minutes, but do not burn or scald.  The sauce should be creamy.  Add the pasta to the pot and mix well.  Finally add the grated Parmesan cheese to the pot and mix very well.  Serve with crusty french bread and perhaps a bit more grated Parmesan cheese on top. Enjoy.

Hungarian Wild Mushroom Soup
I love to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into this soup when eating it.  The bread soaks up the soup and the mix of flavors is just wonderful.  It would be a good soup to make after you spent a cold day in the woods.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup flour
1 T paprika
1 t dill weed
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream

In a large Dutch oven or pot heat the butter and olive oil together until the butter just starts to sizzle. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes or until the onion is soft and nearly translucent.  Add the mushrooms and white wine and cook until nearly all the water the mushrooms give off and the wine are gone, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the flour and paprika, mix well, and cook for about another 2 minutes until very fragrant.  Add the broth, water, and dill weed and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. If the soup gets too thick add a bit of water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into a bowl and add a dollop of sour cream. Serve with some crusty bread. Sometimes I add a few drops of balsamic vinegar just to add some acid to the soup.  Enjoy.

Simple Chanterelle Mushroom Saute
There are so many things you can do with this mushroom saute - mix it in with scrambled eggs, or add to a brown gravy to make it a "Jaeger Sauce" (Hunter's gravy), or on top of toasted french bread or crostini as an elegant appetizer, or mixed with wild rice, or simply served mixed with pasta.  It's just a wonderful and flavorful mushroom saute.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. Chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp rosemary.
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add butter and olive oil and when butter just starts to sizzle, add chopped onions.  Cook onions 3-5 minutes until they are soft and translucent.  Add mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.  When mushrooms have given off most of their water, add white wine and rosemary.  Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until white wine is cooked off about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat, taste and add salt and pepper to taste.