Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Band I'm Loving Right Now


I've been listening to these guys compulsively. Specifically, this song and this other song. And track #3.  And track #10. And track #12 is probably my favorite. And the rest of the album.

"Like all good fruit, the balance of life is in the ripe and ruin."

C'mon, that's poetry, man.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Freezing Chanterelles

After roasting and risotto-ing all those gorgeous mushrooms I was given, I still had two pounds of them remaining. At this point, I decided to squirrel the remainder away for a lonely, rainy, mushroom-less day. But how? After a little research on the Internets, I discovered the typical ways one would preserve most wild mushrooms don't necessarily work for chanterelles. Dehydrating, for instance. Upon rehydration, I read they refuse to plump back up and regain little of their amazing fresh flavor if they do. I landed upon a pretty simple method of saving these mushrooms: freezing them in water. It seems this method is pretty popular. I hope it works!

One thing I did discover was that chanterelles absorb quite a bit of water during the cleaning method - more than I expected. After weighing out and washing exactly a pound of mushrooms for our Thanksgiving (Two-Way Chanterelle and Pear Bread Stuffing), I reweighed them. My mushroom pile had gained almost 7.5 ounces of water weight!  

Even after spin-drying them, they only lost about an ounce of moisture. I wasn't too concerned, since they would ultimate be soaking in water anyway.

After washing the mushrooms, I coarsely chopped them, put them in a quart freezer bag, and filled it up with water until the mushrooms were covered.

You will want to get out as much air as possible, to dissuade freezer burn. I like to lay the bag flat with just a little crack open on one side, and then carefully push out of the air, while sealing the bag at the same time. Another trick that works is to leave just enough space for a straw to fit in the bag and then suck out all the air before sealing. You will probably also get a good slurp of mushroom water this way, to warn. I love freezing food in Ziploc bags - soups, stock, sauces, etc... - as they lay flat and puzzle nicely in the freezer. The bags also open easily if you need to access the entire frozen block of stuff.

To defrost the mushrooms, put the bag in a bowl of warm water until the mushrooms are soft. If you need them in a hurry, leave them bowl under a dripping faucet so the water will move around a bit and promote faster defrosting. Drain and let dry on a paper towel or colander and they are ready to use!

This is all theoretical, of course, as I've never actually frozen mushrooms before. I'll let you know if the stuffing comes out terrible - or scrumptious, as planned!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Correct Way To Open A Pomegranate

Just saw this. Mind... BLOWN! Thank you who ever made this video.

Chanterelle Risotto (AKA Fancy Schmancy Rice-A-Roni)

Yes, I'm still eating the chanterelles. Yes, they are still awesome. 

I'll start this post with my siren photo.

See, now you can't look away. Nothing bad ever originates from a sauté pan with a pat of butter melting seductively inside it. I could add anything to this - brussel sprouts, bananas, old shoes - and it would all be delicious. What I actually made was Chanterelle Risotto, from The few ingredients included:

2 tbsp. of butter (but you know this)
2 cloves of chopped fresh garlic
2 cups of sliced chanterelles
2 tbsp. of butter (yes, more)
2 cups of Arborio rice
5 cups of broth - I used chicken.
2 cups of grated parmesan

Melt the butter over medium high heat, and then add the mushrooms and garlic until the mushrooms are browned. The recipe said three minutes, but mine took markedly longer to reduce most of the moisture out of the mushrooms. Some people don't like to wash mushrooms, as they can absorb a lot of water in the process. As these mushrooms came from the wild, they were very dirty, and definitely needed a bath before cooking. I rinsed them under running water and spun them in my salad spinner before chopping, but they still needed a longer pan time to brown. More on this later. 

The mushrooms went from this...

... to this. The heat drew out not only the added water from cleaning, but also all the water the mushrooms naturally hold. The volume was cut in at least half. 

Set the mushrooms aside and melt another two tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a new large saucepan. Stir in the rice for a few minutes, to soak up the butter and toast it a bit. Start adding the broth in slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, and continue to stir the rice so as not to burn it. When most of the liquid is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup broth. Repeat this process until the rice is tooth tender. This took about 5.5 cups of broth for me.

Once the rice is tender and creamy, stir in the mushroom/garlic mixture and heat through. Remove pan from heat and stir in parmesan.

Voila! That's it. In hindsight, I wished I'd added some kind of chopped vegetable to the mix. Broccoli or cauliflower would have been perfect, or even chopped spinach or kale. Nevertheless, it was fantastic and easy, too. And the best part? Plenty of leftovers for lunches later. Yum!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Roasted Chanterelles

Today a friend gave me a bag of Chanterelles her husband had recently hunted. A bag, as in a big brown grocery bag! How lucky am I?! I graciously whisked them home, after sending a quick gloat-photo to my husband and sister.

Before today, I had never eaten chanterelles, but also had never eaten a mushroom I didn't enjoy. I was eager to make something, anything, knowing it would be easy and delicious.

When I got home, I spread the mushrooms out on the counter to ogle them. They looked harmless enough, and my friend had assured me they were safe as well. I nevertheless did a little research myself. Apparently, the golden chanterelle is Oregon's state mushroom and grows quite prolific in the Pacific Northwest, especially the coast range. Many mushroom hunters keep their picking grounds secret, which is ironic as it seems these mushrooms grow everywhere around here. Even our little property has a supposed cache of delicious fungus somewhere on it. When we were in the first stages of buying the plot, we would often meet one of our neighbors walking on the road, an elderly man from Poland, as he returned from his mushroom hunts in our backyard. He lamented politely the loss of his mushroom spot when we started building. All the trees (i.e., mushroom habitats) still stand behind our house. I think next time I see our neighbor, I should offer to split the profits, in exchange for his foraging knowledge.

The golden chanterelle does have a poisonous lookalikeOmphalotus olivascens, commonly known as the Western Jack O'Lantern mushroom, whose the gills are rumored to actually glow in the dark! Once I made double sure my bag was actual chanterelles, and I wasn't going to murder my family at dinner tonight, I began my recipe search and preparation.

The mushrooms were pretty dirty, with tons of fir needles and leaves amidst them. In my mind, this made them even cooler. Actual wild mushrooms! I brushed them off with my mushroom brush under running water and then spun them dry in my salad spinner.

The recipe I chose came from Sunset magazine, a simple roasted mushroom mix. Toss sliced chanterelles, shallots, and thyme sprigs with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast it all for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees. Couldn't be easier. I added some red onions, because I love roasted onions.

The chanterelles released much of their juices during the roasting, leaving them tender and buttery. It really was delicious.

I still have a good pound remaining of chanterelles and I already have tomorrow's recipe picked out: Chanterelle Risotto! What a wonderful gift to receive. My taste buds couldn't be more grateful!

Anybody want to become a mushroom hunter with me? :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Quest For Quiet

"He who sleeps in continual noise is wakened by silence." - William Dean Howells


A few years ago, I read an article in Men's Health titled "Is Life Too Loud?". Tom McGrath's piece spoke so intensely to me that I actually clipped it and squirreled it away. I often do this with recipes, home decor ideas, garden inspiration, etc... but never an actual research/informative piece. Of course, I can't find my hard copy now, but behold the power of Google. The article's main and ominous claim was that natural silent spaces were disappearing, and heading into extinction. Gordon Hempton, one of McGrath's key sources, defines silence as "no manmade noise for at least 15 minutes a day": no trains rumbling, no planes humming, no voices, no mumbles, no whispers even. In 1984, he pinpointed 21 distinct "silent" locations in his home state of Washington alone. But by 2010, that number dropped to less than a dozen, but not just in Washington - in the entire continental United States. Hempton memorialized one of these sites as the quietest place on earth, christened "One Square Inch of Silence", in Washington's Hoh Rain Forest at the Olympic National Peninsula.

Reading the article left me with a sinking feeling. I wondered, how could noise be that pervasive? Fifteen minutes is such a tiny slice of time! But it got me thinking about my surroundings. At the time, I lived in an apartment in Connecticut, adjacent to one of the prevalent, noisy thoroughfares that blurs together much of the populous mass of the New York Metropolitan area and its periphery. Our bedroom sounded like a race track much of the day, even with the windows closed, and we ran our box fans to block out the noise. At night before bed, when the road noise was predominant, I'd listen to relaxing music to lull me to sleep. Specifically Sunday nights, I tuned in to Hearts of Space (aptly subtitled "Slow Music For Fast Times"). Back in Oregon, where I grew up, a quiet space was always easy to find, just down a road or up a hill. But living in such a populated area, I had to actively seek out non-noise. Reading McGrath's article furthered my melancholy urge to return to the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to visit the "Sanctuary of Silence" before it was gone for good. 

... And then we had our first baby - a beautiful, spirited, loud little bundle named Anika. Turns out, babies aren't quiet. During Anika's early colic days, we visited the pediatrician a few times, searching for any kind of solution to the perpetual squalling. His honest response was actually quite uplifting: "babies just cry." And cry she did. My husband and I coped as best as we could. Ryan's answer was to slap on some noise-suppression ear muffs from his shop. I refused to wear them for a long time; I believed I was somehow less of a mother if I "ignored" my daughter's cries. I felt I could (and should) habituate my body's response to the constant noise and mentally transcend my natural physical responses - the quick breaths, heartbeat ramping, the spread of hormones. My body wanted to fight or to flee, but I could do neither. Any parent will tell you, hours upon hours of crying will whittle away at you. It obscures your ability to reason, to think, and to function. It was torture.

Not surprising, the word "noise" is rooted in the latin word "nausea": basically, noise can make you sick. Yet, besides hearing loss, the health effects of noise exposure don't seem widely publicized. These include but are not limited to innumerable cardiovascular disturbances and mental effects, elicited from "endocrine and automatic nervous system" reactions. The list is very long. The World Health Organization (Europe) estimates that over "one million healthy life years are lost every year" just from traffic-related noise, and just in Western Europe alone.

Health impacts occur at much quieter levels as well. Author George Foy explains (in his very interesting NPR interview): "...most people live in a Western society in a pretty noisy environment, and it's an environment that can cause physical damage on the long term, even the level of sort of loud conversation or traffic passing out in the street outside your house, long term can boost your stress levels and cause cardiac problems." Too much noise can be toxic, even noises we consider ordinary and proper.

So, what decibel level is considered "too loud"? According to Elliott Berger, an auditory research scientist, the noise threshold for health hazard is "regular exposure above 85 dBA." Certainly, I thought, a baby's cry must make that cut - and it does, averaging between 110 and 130 dB. Here's some familiar noises for comparison:

Vacuum cleaner - 80 dB
Lawn mower - 90 dB
Electric drill - 95 dB
Blender - 100 dB
Chain saw - 110 dB

Also clocking in at 130 dB are air raids and jack hammers. No wonder I felt as if I were losing my mind! 

I also measured a few of my own common situations with a free decibel meter app:

The coffee shop - 70 dB
"Some Nights" in my car, at "soft-rock-out" level - 85 dB
Kaden crying in the car because his coat was crooked - 95 dB (to be fair, this included Anika's logically scream in response of "Stop that noise!")
Our bedroom at night - 35 dB

I am lucky in that I live in a location with little noise intrusion. I don't live in a metropolis, nor near an airport, train station, or freeway. I don't work in construction, in a factory or even a bustling office. But our home, in the proverbial country, is definitely not "silent." I still hear cars, planes overhead, and sometimes a train at night, as the sound bounces off the hills. If what Berger says is real about silence, it's simply not feasible, impossible really, to find it in its purest form. 

Conversely, too much silence unnerves as well. A decibel level of 35 feels as quiet as I'd like to go. Lying in bed at night, I sometimes feel as if I can hear everything, especially my breath and my heart, even the undulating rhythm as the beat moves from my heart to my head/ears. Sometimes, the quiet around me cloisters like a fog and the more I hear, the more I listen, and the more I hear. Maybe this is because the sounds of the refrigerator or the furnace fan are constants rather than variables. At least in nature, the players are never the same and its voice is metamorphic. Like Berger writes, it is "evanescent - it ceases to exist even as it is produced." My house, on the other hand, makes a never-ending, omnipresent, quasi-maddening hum. With a window open, at least I can hear the rain, the wind, the owls, the distance... 

I sound crazy, if poetic. But silence really can drive you mad. I found an article about the world's quietest room, a sound-proof (anechoic) chamber that does just this. It clocks in at a numbing -9 dB and is so quiet, the only audible sounds come from your own body's inner workings. First you'll hear its more blatant functions: heart pumping, lungs expanding, compressing. Eventually, you'll hear the mechanics of your own ears, the humming sound of the tinnitus that we all have. The longest anyone has spent in this room is 45 minutes. I guess if I can't hike to the middle of the Olympic National Forest, I could hop a plane to Minnesota. Is a heartbeat considered a "man-made" noise?

Realistically, no one can fully evade noise. There will always be a garbage truck booming, a siren wailing, a washing machine churning away. And as a parent, I can't escape the loud sibling disputes over the one silver superhero cape or midnight wails for lost blue bunnies (who are always right by the bed, by the way). Noise is an unavoidable byproduct of living. And with noise, comes unavoidable stress. Yet, within this lies some kind of reassurance, right? That we are moving, we are producing, we are living, and all is as it should be; this somehow makes it bearable. But silence is just not the usual anymore. You have to mine for it.

So, here's what works for me, as a mom: 

1. Send the perpetrators outside. Yes, in the rain. More often in the sun. Less often in the snow, and/or thunder storms, hurricanes, and other such natural disasters. Put a coat on them. Give them some boots, gloves, insulated blankets, etc... They'll be fine. 

2. Go outside yourself. Open the door, latch it behind you, and listen, even if just for a few minutes. Even if all you get to hear is other noise. Switch it up a bit. Bonus points for bird calls, raindrops, rustling leaves, and all things non-mechanical.

3. Put on your earmuffs. Well, in my case, it's noise-cancelling head phones with most excellent music pumping through them. I use this technique at crucial moments, when the kids are tearing around the house in their latest game of superheroes, bad guys vs. unicorns, hide and seek on steroids, etc... You'd think it'd be Beethoven, or folk guitar, or Gregorian chants that I'm listening to. But of course I like to beat it up with a little pop musik. Heavy rotation lately include this song and this song. Because really, there's no sitting quiet in the middle of a maelstrom. I turn up my tunes and take the opportunity to do the dishes, tidy up toys, vacuum, all while keeping a close eye on my roving kids.

4. Stay up late. I do this a little too often. It's hard to pull away from that high-quality quiet produced only when the kids are sleeping. I do love to sleep, but I gather a peace of mind during those late-night hours that push me through many a blurry-eyed next day.

5. Get up early. As a night owl, I struggle with this. But when I can manage it, I get some of my best work done before the world wakes. It's a great way to start the day - well-rested, re-centered, and ready for the eminent onslaught.

6. Don't bellow "BE QUIET!" across the house. I think I do this every day, and it never works. I like to put a hand on a shoulder and explain it's time to be quiet. When this inevitably fails, see Number 3.

7. Recognize your winks of quiet and be present in them. Transform them into your kairos moments. Because so often moments are all you'll get.

It turns out, shortly after I started writing this post, my entire family fell ill with a week long flu. We spent most of the week in relative quiet (I mean, besides the hacking coughs). We rotated between lounging glaze-eyed on the couch and short toy sessions. Relatively speaking, this week has been one of the calmest I've had in a long time. I guess that's the silver lining. Especially in my house, quiet comes in cycles. I'll just wait until that rare moment comes round again to grab it, and enjoy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Three Hours to Take-Off

My little boy officially started preschool this week. He now attends with Anika each morning. I am so thrilled for him, for Anika, and... for me! As much as I try not to, I do lapse in capturing the Kaden's "firsts". I remembered at the last moment to snap a few photos on the porch, but with my phone, rather than the Rebel. Nevertheless, it was a big, momentous day for all of us.

"Okay, Kaden, look at me and smile!"
"Kaden, look up! Look at mommy!"
"Okay, now smile!" 

He didn't want to go. I knew he wouldn't. He repeated, "I want stay with Mommy. I want stay with Mommy. I no want go school!" the entire drive. At the door, he starfished me; I had to forcibly pry him off and hand him to the teacher. It was hard not to stay, hearing him cry "I want my Mommy!" over and over. I just put my head down in quasi-shame and bolted out of there. I knew he would be fine, and he was. The school called about an hour later, reporting that Kaden only cried for a few minutes. And when I came to pick him up, rather than rejoice in our reunion, he said "Me no want go home!" Exactly. Kaden, you are going to love school! You just don't know it yet.
He is such a joyous, sweet, curious little guy, but he relies on Anika in many ways. She is his best friend, constant playmate, and valiant protector.We are so lucky they can attend together, and that she can hold his hand a bit at the beginning. I am interested to see how things play out with them. But I do hope this will further Kaden's independence. (But Anika did tell me if the big boys, or "the gang," pushed Kaden, she will tell them to stop.)

So this brings me to... well, me. As hard as drop-off was, I walked away. I turned the corner down the dark hallway to the exit and opened the door to the outside. The light poured in, the cool air hit me, and I smelled something delicious... freedom! Kaden attending preschool allows me a full three hours of free time every day. I am beyond thrilled. The mere idea of two kids in preschool has propelled me forward for many months, years - I am not exaggerating. This has been a long time coming. I then jumped out the door and down the steps.

So, what should I do? On one hand, I don't want to make parameters for this time. On the other hand, I'd like to utilize it as best I can. One thing I know I DON'T want to do is clean. I can clean when my kids are home. I can't write, I can't read, I can't surround myself in silence. So that's what I will do: I will write. I will read. I will surround myself in silence. Or at least in unnoise. 

I am unabashedly looking forward.