So many things are afoot these days, including a November Kinfolk Workshop on herbal infusions right here in Chattanooga. You can get your tickets here while they last! Also, a while back I mentioned that we were going mushroom foraging & promised you a recipe, and now I’m making good on that promise. The morning after the French dinner, Rebekka & her husband Manley picked me up bright & early bearing hot coffee, and we drove out to an old growth deciduous forest outside of Nashville. I kept calling it that. Because that’s where mushrooms live. And that’s what we were after.
I’m no mycologist, but I knew that much; I knew I needed an old growth deciduous forest. We drove deep into the forest and then walked in even deeper, investigating every dead & rotting trunk we saw. I was there in hopes of identifying wild edibles (though again, not being a mycologist, I wouldn’t eat them unless they were positively identified by a professional), and Rebekka was there to forage for mushrooms to dye yarn with. Which reminds me, do you like our hats? I like my hat, nay I love my hat. Rebekka knitted it out of yarn she dyed (which you can buy at her new store Camellia Fiber Co.!) and the color I’m wearing is called, get this, cast iron! Even more exciting? She’s now carrying hat pattern kits! She was more successful than I in our foraging, and has since achieved some beautiful earthy hues with the mushrooms we found that day.
What I did happen upon, however, was a massive, angry rattle snake. Well, more precisely Manley happened upon it with me a footfall behind him. No rattle. It just struck. It straight struck. A mere few feet from us, it whipped out faster than I could register what was happening. We ran, a primal sort of run. A slipping down the embankment sort of run. And then I, like the brave little fool I am, crept back up the slope to look at it: thick coils, now rattling, hissing, and flicking it’s forked tongue. I was in awe. Toadstools and serpents in an old growth forest are, admittedly, my speed. We here in the south have a pretty one dimensional view of the symbol of the serpent, but it’s so much more than Milton’s snake in the garden. When I see serpents I think of Ouroboros, the eternal return, rebirth, the shedding of old skin. The very rhythm of being. Forever passing away, forever becoming.
It’s no great observation: both the great beauty & great bastard of life is that time marches inexorably forward. Moment to moment particles are in explosive flux, entire multiverses of possibility are imploding at every moment while others accordion outward with violent, star dust & dark matter spangled force. There are so few moments in time that I would’ve been happy to be crystalized in, where the feeling was so purely ecstatic I could’ve died happy. From a Motel 6 in the pacific northwest to the park by my house, most of those moments have involved either an embrace or laughter. Pretty much all of them have involved considerable amounts of oxytocin flooding my neural synapses, if I had to guess. And all of them have been followed by a sadness and a futile desire to grasp at them.
I used to be obsessed with feeling ecstatic. I woke up everyday searching for it, trying to synthesize it in my laboratory. It doesn’t work. We have to live in time, accepting that our joy will fade the same as our pain, and both will come around again just the same. Summer fades to fall, trading the technicolor of tomatoes and summer squash for that of soon to smolder leaves and autumnal gourds. Sprouting fecund from the earth comes the dancing mushroom, the hen of the woods. Also come the saffron colored chanterelles and all manner of poisonous aminitas and sweet hedgehogs and gilly oysters. These beautiful liminal times aren’t really what’s hard to accept, the change. Every time the season changes the world seems to be lighting up somehow. What’s hard is all the in-between times. All the days where your heart isn’t breaking and you aren’t falling in love. The leaves aren’t changing, no snow has fallen, nor are garlic scapes sprouting up. The seemingly milk toast days that fill out our years. That’s when you really need to see the art in your daily life, when you need to fall in love with the sacred ritual that is washing your hair, the miracle that is butter, flour, water, and heat.
When I long for electricity & season change, that’s when I have to remember that the world is not a long line. It’s not some concrete, corridor. It’s a living, breathing disc, a circle. A wise serpent. And for every joy that fades another lies in front of me. But more than learning to wait for the great joys, the seas of oxytocin that crash over you and just as quickly ebb, you can learn to find ecstatic experience in the everyday. Looking beneath rotting trees for mushrooms, hands in butter and flour making a short crust, cooking, knitting, and brewing all sorts of everyday magic. The everyday magic is the only way to be happy. If you live to find the highs and to avoid the lows, you’ll always grasp & be forever hungry. I would know.
To honor the mushrooms of fall I made a galette filled with hen of the woods & chanterelles (inspired by this delicious looking galette from Imen) found at the market as opposed to in the forest, though one day I hope to possess the skills that will allow me to safely ingest the spoils of the forest. Along with fennel, a touch of cream, and a few generous pinches of Dancing Fern (an ACS winning Reblochon style cheese made here in Chattanooga by Sequatchie Cove Creamery that also happens to currently be my favorite cheese and not just because it’s local but rather because it is amaze). It’s an earthy free form pie, and it’s my ode to forests, serpents, fungi, and all of that everyday magic. An ye harm none, do what thou wilt.
The humble art of kitchen magic in the form of herbal infusions, everything from oils to salt to spirits, is what we’ll be covering (both the making of & the enjoying of!) at this month’s Kinfolk workshop here in downtown Chattanooga; I’d love for you to join me! You can learn more about it & purchase tickets here.
ps. As some of you may know…I’m opening a shop, Sweet Gum Co. full of southern made & found kitchen provisions! It’s looking like we’ll be opening sometime in the next week (no promises, but I hope so!). If you’d like to be notified of our grand opening, you can sign up for the mailing list in the sidebar.
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 small shallots thinly sliced, about 1/3 cup
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 3 pinches of kosher salt
- 1 med fennel bulb, halved, cored, very thinly sliced
- 1/2 tsp herb de provence
- 1/8 tsp fennel seed, ground
- 8 oz wild mushroom in bite size thin slices, about 1/4" x 1.5"
- juice of half a lemon
- 1/8 cup heavy cream
- fennel fronds to garnish
- 2 oz good, pungent soft cheese, like dancing fern, cut into chunks
- 1/2 a recipe of buttery pastry crust
- In a skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and a pinch of salt, cooking without browning until fragrant & turning translucent, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add in the fennel along with the herbs de provence, fennel seed, and another pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occassionally, until the fennel begins to soften.
- Add in the mushrooms, lemon juice, and the final pinch of salt and cook just until mushrooms are softened and just cooked through.
- Remove from heat and stir in cream.
- Heat oven to 425°F
- Set aside the filling in a bowl to cool completely.
- Meanwhile roll out your dough on a well floured work surface into a rough circle.
- Gently place dough onto a sheet tray, and mound the cooled filling in the center, dot the top with the pieces of cheese and fold up the edges, trimming them to make it a move even shape if desired.
- Bake at 425°F for 25-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
- Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly at which point it can either be served warm or allowed to cool further and be served at room temperature. Garnish with fresh fennel fronds.