Tag Archives: weekends

Candy Caps, Hedgehogs, and Black Chanterelles: Mushroom Hunting on the Sonoma Coast

I can still remember my first bite of a wild Black Trumpet mushroom: rich and dark, almost chocolaty, the mushroom tasted like wilderness.  A friend of my husband’s had foraged for them in the mountains, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.  Fast forward a few years, and my amazing friend Bobbi keeps trying to get me to go out mushroom hunting with her, but either the weather or our schedules keep getting in the way.  Finally, yesterday the stars aligned and we were able to go out in search of the last of this year’s wild mushroom crop.

There are only a few places on the Sonoma Coast where mushroom foraging is both plentiful and legal.  We drove about an hour north of Bodega Bay to Salt Point State park, over winding mountain roads with precipitous drops to the ocean.  Once there, we loaded up our gear: a large basket, brown lunch sacks to separate varieties, and a pastry brush for field cleaning.  Then we started hiking into the forest up a gentle incline lined with spring wildflowers and a mix of tan oak and pines, ideal mushroom habitat.

We found our first mushrooms just a few minutes along the trail.  Positive mushroom identification is essential if you don’t want to end up losing your lunch, or worse; Bobbi knew what to look for, but we cross-checked with this field guide just to be on the safe side:


This guide is as essential as it is wacky.


Our first find was a rosy Russula — beautiful, but not food.  We decided to stray off the path for better luck, and Bobbi soon spotted a few yellow-footed chanterelles hiding under a clump of ferns that had been completely invisible to me.  The mushroom season in Northern California lasts as long as the rains, and this year has been especially dry, meaning thin pickings which had already been heavily foraged by other mushroom hunters.  But we kept on in search of more delicious mushrooms!

After several sightings of non-edible varieties, Bobbi spotted a small patch of Candy Caps.  These small, reddish-orange mushrooms are named for their sweet, maple-syrup fragrance.  Once I knew what color to look for, as well as their distinctive scent, I started seeing Candy Caps everywhere!  Our little lunch sack started filling up quickly with sweet-smelling mushrooms.

The chanterelles, meanwhile, were more elusive.  We found a few clumps of small yellow-footed chanterelles, but the real prize, the black trumpets, seemed to have all but disappeared.  Just as we were about to turn back, Bobbi spotted a few growing in a mossy clearing, and once I knew to look for the distinctive trumpet shape, I found a few, as well.  Mushroom hunting requires sharp eyes and lots of patience!

Once back at the trailhead, we reveled in our haul, relatively small but good considering the season is drawing to a close.  I was especially excited to experiment with the Candy Caps with their unique smoky-sweet flavor!

From Left to Right: Black Chanterelles, Yellow-footed Chanterelles, and Candy Caps

From Left to Right: Black Chanterelles, Yellow-footed Chanterelles, and Candy Caps

All the way home, I pondered what to do with our collection: the chanterelles would go in an amazing pasta dish my husband makes with Italian sausage and a cream sauce.  But what to do with the sweet Candy Caps — cookies, pancakes, or a savory dish?

Back home, we carefully washed and inspected the mushrooms for travelers (bugs) and then dried them in the oven (the flavor is supposedly intensified by drying).  The amazing maple-bacon aroma that filled the house made up for the fact that the total quantity shrunk down considerably while drying.

Candy Caps

Candy Caps ready to dry in the oven

After a brief search, I decided to go for a Humphry Slocombe-inspired Candy Cap Ice Cream.  I found the original recipe here, but combined it with a simplified non-custard-based recipe found here.  The result: a sweet-savory blend, closer to toffee than maple, with a distinct earthiness that is the only hint that the flavor began with an unusual ingredient for ice cream — mushrooms!

Meanwhile, the whole house still smells like maple syrup, and I can’t wait to try out the remaining Candy Caps in other recipes.  And I am actually hoping for rain so we can go out mushroom foraging once again!

Spring Break, Part One: Of chickens and the future

Today is Day Three of my Spring Break.  Already!  I had thought about spending this week in Florida visiting family, but then plane tickets were so expensive, and there was so much to do here.  So we decided on a long weekend in wine country followed by a “staycation” for myself while Drew went back to work.

I wish I had taken more pictures on our weekend away, but I was just having too much fun to think about taking lots of pictures!  My favorite one of the few pictures I did take was at a winery and organic/biodynamic farm we visited. I never wanted to leave this amazing place with animals, people, and plants living and working together in an amazingly beautiful setting.  My favorite part was the chicken run with some of the fattest and happiest-looking chickens I have ever seen.  So this is the  best picture I took of my big weekend away:Image

Now this is going to look like a very ordinary picture to many of you, and I confess that I almost felt silly sharing it.  “Editor Voice” is saying, really?  A picture of chickens — that is what you want to share from your amazing weekend getaway?  But yes, this was one of my very favorite moments from the trip, because it summed up for me a vision, a little twinkling and twinge of a dream I have for my future, one day when I get tired of living my current dream of the big city life.  That when I am a Real Grown-Up, I will go live on a little farm and have chickens and a garden and a dog and I won’t hear my neighbor’s TV at night while I am writing.

That’s the thing about dreams — when you achieve them, they become reality.  Then along with all the things that drew you to your dream, you realize all the things that make it real, and therefore imperfect.  San Francisco was my dream, and I achieved it.  I have been here almost six years now, and I still have those moments where I look around and think — wow, I actually live here!  But then there are also the moments where I wonder if we could be just as happy — who knows, maybe even happier? — somewhere else, maybe living a completely different life.  Taking the leap to move here took courage, somewhat careful planning, and faith in our family, friends, and in ourselves.  One day in the maybe not-so-distant future, perhaps we will be ready to take another leap and start another adventure.  Maybe one that involves chickens!

In the meantime, I will continue to revel in my simple city garden bravely sprouting the occasional vegetable in amongst the weeds despite my haphazard gardening approach.  There is an artichoke coming up right now, and some radishes, and maybe eventually some carrots.  And there are always lots of happy city birds who are thankful for this little patch of green they call home, or at least a good place to hang out, rest, and hunt bugs for a while.

A delicious day

Last week was a juggling week: confused new students, projects to grade, interviews and applications, not-so-good family phone calls, and a friend’s wedding-planning-freakout were just a few of the metaphorical balls I had in the air.  Needless to say, balance…I didn’t have it so much.  So I bristled selfishly (albeit silently) at the prospect of having to spend most of a glorious, sunny Saturday doing things indoors I didn’t really want to be doing.  I read somewhere once that the #1 determiner of the amount of stress a person feels is the amount of control they have (or perceive having) over how they spend their time.  I didn’t perceive myself as having a choice in the Saturday plans, and this left me with a slight twinge of frustration all day.  But part of marriage (and life in society in general) is about making compromises, so I spent the morning on the phone looking for a makeup artist for my friend’s wedding, and then we drove down to visit family for the afternoon.

But Sunday…I somewhat ferociously defended my right to determine how and where I would spend my Sunday morning.  And so it may surprise you to learn that my Sunday started with some completely elective housecleaning.  But when we work together, we get it done so fast!  And then everything is so shiny!  And I’m not constantly being driven crazy by allergies!  And then my Sunday began, and it was a delicious day indeed.  It was sunny and warm (and oh how I apologize to those of you who are still facing cold and snow and drudgery).  Here it was not quite iced-coffee warm, but it was picnic-in-the-park warm.  We stopped by our wonderful local grocery and loaded up on good things and then we staked out our favorite spot under a big tree in the park and were totally, perfectly indulgent for a while.   The low-level existential ennui of Saturday was long forgotten in a balmy sunshine-and-rosé-induced haze.  Balance was restored to my universe.  All thanks to a couple of unplanned and unscheduled hours, free to be filled or not, however we felt right at that moment.

april may 2012 095

This picture is actually from almost exactly one year ago, in the very same spot. Creatures of habit? Yes.

I am 100% aware of what a gift time like this is, and I will continue to guard it jealously.  Balance, for me, depends on being completely and utterly selfish with my time and with myself for at least two hours a week.  And for that, I do not apologize!

The tale of a coffee table, Part I

Drew and I both recently got weekends.  Weekends may be something you take for granted, but since he had been working retail, and I had been working on my MA, it had been a long time since we actually both had two consecutive days off (five years, in fact).  This meant that there were a lot of projects and things that got put off for those five years.  And one of those things was getting a proper coffee table.

When we first moved to San Francisco from charming Carbondale, Illinois, one of the main things we sacrificed was our office.  This was solved (more or less) by me setting up a folding table in one corner of the living room where I staked out a kind of desk space.  Drew’s job didn’t require him to take home work much (more like never) so he just plopped his ginormous desktop computer on a bedside-dresser-thingy in front of his side of the couch in the middle of the living room.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional, and it was supposed to be temporary.

Fast-forward five years…The dresser/table is still in the middle of the living room, the computer is dying, and I have had it with this setup.  Plus, I finally have weekend time to fill!  Enter one amazing Pinterest find: a coffee table constructed out of wine crates, with room for storage and on casters so you can wheel it away. I found the original post from Vintage Chic and started plotting how to get Drew on board.  Turns out he loves the idea, hates everything else out there on Craigslist, and loves me enough to give up a Saturday (and a Sunday, and part of Tuesday night) to make the thing.

So here was our inspiration:

photo credit: Becca Creative

Read on to Part 2 to hear about our adventures in carpentry!