Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tonight is All Hallow's Eve, which means roaming bands of kiddie-winks in cute outfits, and loads of candy*. In the run-up to today, we've been doing various Halowe'en things:

Headless Horseman

Pumpkin carving - I decided to do a "complicated" pattern that came with the carving tools. (Yes, you can buy special carving tools - luckily they are cheap!) So, we now have a headless horseman outside our door (see the picture) - it turned out really well, I think.

The House

We had a really fun Halowe'en party at our place on Saturday and have some pics up on Flickr (sorry, friends and family only - ping me if you haven't been invited and I'll do so).

At work today many people brought their young kids around for trick or treating. It must be quite surreal for the tiny 2 to 4 year-olds to walk down a hallway with large mounds of candy* outside each door. Most kids do the obligatory sing-song-screech "Twikawtweet", grab a handful of the good stuff, and move on in quick succession. The adult equivalent would probably be something like walking past a row of ATM machines that have $20 bills sticking out. Ka-ching! Move on...

* candy == sweets

And finally, a cool poem with a suitably spooky tone:

The Listeners by Walter De La Mare

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Yaaark

Wow, I'm on a roll here tonight!
Anyway, A and I are heading off to New York for a long weekend in November. (It's a big family outing - A's brothers are coming too). I had no idea how hard it is to find a hotel in NY over a holiday weekend - and they're expensive! We eventually found a place in Manhattan that isn't too expensive and should allow us to all share a room to cut costs. (Sniff! No hanky-panky...)

I was toying with the idea of trying to see a show by Mikanic while we're there - one of the band members went to university with me at UCT, and was part of the popular SA band, Sons of Trout. We'll have to see how things work out, but I think we'll be too busy and too pinned down in Manhattan to make it out to a show.

I'm really excited about visiting NY - we'll defintely do a museum ot maybe two. (The Met is top of our list). Hopefully we'll get some good food. And a peek at some of the famous landmarks (Ellis Island has been mentioned a few times, so that I can get the full immigrant experience)...

Some random links

1. http://www.comingzune.com/ - An advertising site for Microsoft's Zune. Worth looking at for the quirky design and interesting music videos / graphics. "The Second Coming of the Monkey God" is weirdly good.

2. http://www.msdewey.com/ - A web search engine with a human face.

3. IE7 was released a few days ago! If you don't have it installed yet, I recommend installing it. (You want to be one of the cool kids, right?)

4. www.hopeisemo.com/ is an amusing mockumentary/videoblog by a teenage girl. Feel the angst...

5. The Decemberists have a new CD out (The Crane Wife). We saw them perform this summer at ZooTunes, and they were awesome live. A safe purchase even though I've not heard the album.

6. DJ Shadow has a new CD out too. This requires listening-to before I decide if I like it.

Meat labels

The NYT has an article on Whole Foods' new meat labeling strategy. The initiative was started by Whole Foods’ chief executive, John P. Mackey, a vegan who has been increasingly outspoken on animal-rights issues.

I think if you're going to eat meat, you should know where it came from and how the animal was raised, so I'm in favour of this.
Now, when will we have glass-sided slaughterhouses open to the public? :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Oregon mushrooms

While in Oregon, we went on a great walk through the woods near Susan's house. I was on the lookout for mushrooms, but as usual A saw all of them before me! :)

We found three "interesting" ones that I took back home to identify.

The first was Coprinus Comatus (Shaggy Mane) - there were dozens of the tall, white, unopened mushrooms along the path we were hiking on, and many older mushrooms that had started disintegrating. At first I thought these were two different mushrooms, but it was soon clear that the black, inky ones were the "grown-up" versions of the white ones. Identification once I got home was quite easy, and now I think I'll be able to spot these without any problems.
Apparently they're good eating too, used in soups and stews.

The next was a bolete with a viscid (slimy) cap and yellow-green pores. At home I set it up to get spore prints overnight, and found brown spores. Identifying this one was a bit more tricky, and I'm still not 100% sure, but it seems to be a Suillus caerulescens.

The last was a gilled mushroom, slightly viscid when wet, with a tan-brown cap and white stipe, and yellow-brown gills. Small dark-brown hairs on the cap, which was darker in the center and became tan on towards the edge. Spore print was creamy-white. The stip was hollow and filled with a fluffy white material. There were the remnants of a partial veil present, but not a large, frilly annulus. This seems to be a Armillariella mellea (Honey Mushroom), although the annulus and cap in pictures look a little different.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Potgooi and other language stuff

I was looking around for "Afrikaans news for dummies" as podcasts. (One of Raymond's tips for learning a new language is to listen to the daily news read for foreigners - there are e.g. Swedish and German ones available).

No luck finding Afrikaans news podcasts - I came across the SABC's Afrikaans radio station that streams their content (RSG), and have a few downloads, but not the daily news. (There's a big list of SA streaming radio here - I'll check out some of the other likely Afrikaans candidates in the future - )

I did manage to find several Afrikaans podcasts (called "potgoois" in Afrikaans), just do a web search for potgooi and you'll find them. Most are pretty lame (music, lame interviews, chit-chat).

Now to look for French news for dummies... Oh wait, Raymond found that already!

Guy's Guide to Wine

Oh frabjous day! The good folks over at Dancing Bull Wines have finally released their guide to wine for guys. (I wrote about it earlier)

Some gems from a quick look through it:

  • Guys eat pizza (with meat, pepperoni, or veggies), burgers/grilled food, Asian food, BBQ, Italian subs, spaghetti, mac & cheese, wings, burritos and salad.
    Salad has the caveat "She's going to order it, so you may as well know what wine to pair with salad". Apparently pepperoni is not meat. And BBQ is not grilled. (OK, maybe it's smoked).

  • The "You understand beer, wine will follow" section is an amusing guide to wine styles using beer styles as the key.
    Most Americans outside microbrew-land seem to like Coors, Miller, Bud, etc. So, I guess, using the key, that means they like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio. (AKA "girly wines", according to another wine-for-men marketing campaign)

Seen in Oregon

Body piercing
saved my life
Thank you Jesus!

That was the slogan on a sign outside a church in Eugene. A and I would chuckle every time we saw it, but I only really got it once we were back in Seattle.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mushroom dinner

I cooked a fun mushroom-themed dinner last night, and was very pleased with the results!
This was all a prelude to watching the season premier of Battlestar Galactica - which totally rocked!

Here's a quick run-down of the meal and quick recipes for the bits I cooked*


  • Crostini with parmigiano reggiano and sauteed chanterelles in a marsala cream sauce

Main course:

  • Fusilli with creamy chicken of the woods and thyme sauce


Crostini with parmigiano reggiano and sauteed chanterelles in a marsala cream sauce

1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp unsalted butter
1/4 lb of chanterelles, cleaned and broken into pieces
2 small shallots, minced
1 tbsp heavy cream
1-2 tbsp marsala wine (I used dry)
Salt and pepper

I bought my chanterelles at Whole Foods (PCC in Issaquah had them for less, but was too far away to make it there between work and dinner). The ones at Whole Foods were a little sad, but picking through them I got a few decent ones - probably about 1/4 lb.

Clean the chanterelles, preferably with a brush or moist cloth. Cut off the dried-out ends and any other sad bits. Pull them apart and break them into small pieces with your fingers (this is fun, they have a great stringy texture!) Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan over med-high heat and add the shallots. Sautee until they are translucent and start going brown. Add the chanterelles and toss to coat. Add a pinch of salt and cook the mushrooms for 5-10 minutes, until they have stopped giving off liquid. Add the marsala and simmer for a minute or two - the mixture should be slightly wet, but not soupy. Add the cream and remove from the heat. Stir and season to taste.

Server on toasted rounds of baguette topped with a thin slice of parmigiano.

Fusilli with creamy chicken of the woods and thyme sauce

1 bag fusilli pasta (450g or so)
2 small shallots
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 lb chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and broken in bite-sized chunks
100 ml cream (about 6 tbsp)
1 cup vegetable stock or broth
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Chicken of the woods is an interesting-looking mushroom - large flat "shelves" that are bright yellow or orange. You want onesthat are young and not too large or woody. I washed mine well in running water and cut off the dried outer edge and base. You might also need to re-wash bits as you break it apart - I found some folds with pine needles and dirt as I was going. Again, the easiest way to get this into bite-sized chunks is using your fingers. The flesh is very much like cooked chicken.

Heat the oil and butter over med-high heat and sautee the shallots until clear and starting to turn brown. Add the mushrooms and toss, frying for a few minutes. They'll soak up the oil quickly, and some of them will get a nice brown "char" marks. Add the stock and thyme and simmer for 10 mins until the mushrooms are fully-cooked. (A splash of wine never hurts either - I had some dry marsala open so I added some) Add the cream and season to taste (Note: this dish needed quite a bit of salt).

Cook the pasta in salted water and toss in the sauce once cooked.

* Yes, I cheated and got some mushroom phyllo thingies and dessert from Trader Joe's.

Monday, October 09, 2006

PSMS Exhibit

Just a quick shout-out for the annual Puget Sound Mycological Society exhibit, which is being held next weekend. For more info, see http://www.psms.org/exhibit.html

Sadly, I'll be away in Oregon, but if you're curious about mushrooms it looks well-worth attending. (Plus you get to taste some mushrooms prepared by "some of Seattle's finest chefs").

Mushrooms vs. Whole Foods

Mushrooms 1 : Whole Foods 0
(*See below)

So, I went to my last mushroom identification class last night. It was great fun! Instead of the regular instructor, we had a more informal class led by a young lady (err.. I'm really great with names, as usual), who went through some slides of the common mushrooms people collect around Seattle. This was interspersed with anectdotes of past foraging trips, interesting questions and suggestions from the class, and lots or ardent scribbling of notes. (Everyone wanted to know where to find mushrooms easily around suburbia, and good places for chanterelles...)

The class then moved into high gear when a German guy arrived - he was to be the cooking expert and do some cooking demos and tastings. He was obviously knowledgable and very entertaining to listen to - picture a cross between Sammy Hagar and Wolfgang Puck and that's him. He's travelled extensively and obviously knows his 'shrooms, but is far more laid-back about identification - you can tell he's more into eating them, instead of finding and identifying rare inedible varieties.

Coversation inevitably drifted towards the more gourmet, expensive and famous mushrooms that grow around here: chanterelles [2] and matsutakes.

Chanterelles are pretty tasty, and their texture is amazing - crunchy, chewy, almost rubbery. We had a delicious dish of sauteed chanterelles with shallots, garlic and cream during the class. Apparently it is very easy to find them around here, so I will have to try and forage some now that I have a decent idea of where to look, and how to spot the imposters.

I must admit I'm not familiar with matsutakes at all, beyond faint recognition of the name. You don't often see them on the menu outside high-end Japanese restaurants, but they're apparently *really* popular in Japan around fall. Since a nematode has sharply reduced the Japanese red pine population in the last 50 years, most matsutakes eaten in Japan are imported. Many come from the Pacific NW. Others come from China, Tibet, Korea, and recently they were discovered in Sweden.

Apparently the best way to learn how to identify matsutakes is to smell one. The smell is unique (Wikipedia describes it as "magnificently spicy, similar to cinnamon") and combined with their look is a good way to seperate them from non-edible and poisonouse look-alikes. Some of the more high-end food stores sell matsutakes, so keep an eye out for them and give them a sniff next time you see them.

Armed with this bit of advice, I stopped at the new Whole Foods in Sammamish on the way home (hey, it's right there!). I went in and luckily they had matsutakes! (I think they were labelled "common matsutake" - all medium-large and fully opened). I gave some a sniff, and found them milder and more perfumed than the Wikipedia description implies. More like a spicy nail varnish, maybe... I could probably do with a second sniffing opinion to be sure I got an accurate impression of the smell... (Interestingly, these matsutakes were reasonably cheap at $30/lb).

* Now on to some bitching about this new Whole Foods:

  • No paper bags for the gourmet mushrooms??! I'm not paying $30/lb for matsutakes and then putting them in a plastic bag! Even QFC and Safeway generally know to have paper bags available for the loose mushrooms.
  • Mis-labeled 'shrooms: There was a sign for chicken of the woods that seemed to be referring to white straw-like mushrooms. While I wasn't sure what the white ones were, I knew they weren't chicken of the woods... Next to these were the actual chicken of the woods, which were signed as lobster mushrooms. Hmm...

Is it just me, or is this the "Whole Foods that foodies forgot"?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Where'd my socks go?!

The answer: they got metaphorically blown off at the symphony last night.

Stefan Jackiw was the visiting soloist and played Mendelssohn 's Violin Concerto. All I can is "Wow!" - this ranks as my favourite performance so far. Technically dazzling, fluid and energetic, mesmerizing to watch. I felt invigorated and deeply moved at the end of the piece. He fully deserved the standing ovation (the whole audience was on its feet), and he came out for six bows.

Interestingly, his parents are both physicists. His father is the noted physicist Roman W. Jackiw.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mushrooom ID class

I signed up for an introductory course on mushroom identification at PSMS, and went for the second class on Sunday night. The first class covered some of the basics terminology and groups of mushrooms, and walked us through the use of a key to identify a mushroom. The second class mainly focused on keying mushrooms people had brought in. Almost everyone had been out over the weekend hunting for mushrooms, and there were some really impressive specimens!

A and I went out to Tiger Mountain earlier on Sunday and managed to find quite a few along the Bus Loop trail and Tradition Lake loop. Here are some of the mushrooms I found.

  • Boletus Chrysenteron. I had a fairly old specimen which made identification tricky. The stipe had started blackening and the normal reddish colour was almost impossible to see. Not good to eat - I tasted a little bit to see if it was peppery (to decide one keying question) and it had practically no flavour.
  • Conocybe Filaris. This turns out to be one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the Pacific NW! (Go me!) Luckily it's small and not likely to be something you'd pick accidentally to eat. Still, good to know... It commonly grows on compost, mulch and wood chips.
  • Pholiota Aurivella (Golden Pholiota). These were growing all over a dead tree right next to the path. I initially missed and luckily A spotted them. Mine were small and most still had the partial veil still intact which made them look like puffballs.

The class also keyed this one that someone brought in:

MushroomExpert.com also has a decent hyper-linked mushroom key, which looks quite nifty. (Not all Pacific NW mushrooms are there though). We use Mushrooms Demystified in the class. A hyper-linked version of that would be cool!

Matcha powder

I wrote about Koots and Starbuck's green tea a while back. My regular morning drink (when I indulge myself) is now usually a green tea latte. I really like the taste, and it seems to give you a more mellow lift than coffee. (At Starbucks I cut the sugar by asking for only one pump of Midori Melon syrup, instead of the three they usually put in).

I decided I'd try ordering some matcha powder online a few weeks ago, and looked around for a good retailer. I settled on Essencha more or less at random - I've never heard of them before, but their prices were decent and their website looked good.

I can heartily recommend them! Their service is incredibly fast and very personal. I got an email from them a few hours after placing my order (they noticed that I used essencha@domain as my email address - something I do with new online accounts to catch whether people sell or leak my info to spammers). They took the time to look at my personal website and said some nice things about my pictures. (On a side topic, I should really get my India, Nepal and Tibet pics back online properly - a lot are missing).

Anyway, after the nice email, I was already quite impressed with them. The tea arrived a few days later, nicely packed and with some free goodies thrown in: an extra 1oz of tea (kukicha) and a chashaku. The Matcha Sawa and Matcha Jade Bliss are excellent - I haven't tried the kukicha yet.