January 25, 2007

Birds & Fungus

We were determined to conquer all the hiking trails of the Monteverde Cloudforest in Costa Rica.

It was our second day and we found ourselves running on the trail – with a bunch of young women all well armed with cameras and binoculars. All you could hear was whispering, rustling clothing, pounding feet on the dirt trail, then the incessant buzzing, like an insect, of autodrives as zoom lenses popped in and out frantically finding the focal length to photograph one of the most sought after birds in birdwatching world: The resplendent quetzaland here...which I call the whaleshark of the bird watching world.

Now resplendent…okay seems a little egotistical, a little hi falutin’, a little breathy, a little over the top for just a bird. Until you earn the honor of seeing one.

And then you suck in your breath – and your heart beats - and your eyes pierce through the trees like the predatory land mammal you are, and you pull your eyes away from the lens to catch the eyes of someone near you because of that human need to share the spark of discovery, of wonder, of, well, of resplendence.

Do you have any idea how much work it is to be resplendent…all the time?

Neither do I. I’ll bet the black-faced solitaires hate them – considering the song of the solitaire made me stop still every time it echoed through the trees – think of someone caressing the edge of a crystal glass with their wet finger. Resplendence for the ear, not the eye.

We saw a number of quetzals over two days – including a pair making a nest. We were in awe.

These student birdwatchers, almost all female, were in their early 20s and on their "reading week."

What happened to getting your first credit card, flying to a beach, scoping guys at nightclubs, getting hammered on tequila and puking outside while your best friend holds your hair back? Isn't that reading week?

These girls were serious and giddy at the same time. Bearing backpacks filled with all they could want in life:
  • the official, weighty, 2” thick bird bible of Costa Rica - check
  • another on South America if necessary - check
  • and of course, a guide to Migratory Pathway birds too who might be wintering here from North America - check
  • cameras, lenses, binocs, mononocs, a raincoat and an energy bar…and notebooks and pencils in order to furiously scribble down the count… check, check, check, check, check check, check and check.

This is not a hobby that will get you laid.

I said when I came back that I’m in serious danger of becoming one of them - a birder…and I fit the cartoon profile: I’m white, I’m female, I have Anglo DNA, I find nightclubs annoying, I don’t care about fashion, I listen to public radio…
...and I could have stayed there for days.

I’m doomed to hunting soon for the finer points and best prices of binoculars and buying a Tilley hat…Okay, I already love Tilley hats.

All this burst like a dam through my mind because I was actually looking up mushrooms.

And the entry in wikiland said mushrooming was like birdwatching. It’s that simple. And they’re probably right.

The only mushroomer I’ve met in the flesh was a cameraman I worked with a couple of times in NYC named Jeff. And I liked him very much. Which put mushrooms in good stead with me – not that they weren’t, I’ve always liked mushrooms - but he opened my eyes to what else is out there – the varieties.

Jeff is calm, erudite, well read, a gourmand, and (gasp) a liberal who sent me an email the first time G.W. Bush was elected, apologizing for what Bush was about to do to the world – he was joking, but it wasn’t so funny after a while…

And he told me about heading up to his weekend place with his family – and going into the woods for a good mushroom scavenge. He loved it. He talked about it with the bloodlust of a hunter…and how you have to be careful or the mushroom can get its own back in the potentially lethal game of hunting or hunted?

So about a month ago, on Christmas Eve I had a soup that reminded me of Jeff's passion…We were enjoying our annual dinner with our wonderful friends Nicole and Jean Paul. Who became even dearer when they installed a fireplace in their living room a couple of years ago.

Note to self: cultivate friendships with people who have fireplaces and pools and maybe summer cottages with wild mushrooms in the nearby woods.

The wild mushroom soup was good. No I mean great. Smooth, creamy, and looked gorgeous with speckles of mushrooms throughout. Oh I just can’t do it justice.

I know it was good because I slurped it back in seconds at a table filled with people who were in awe (or fear) of my gullet’s power…

It’s a nasty habit I have.

If I like your food, I’ll absorb it with focus, silently, like a machine, with my ears closed, and my eyes, mouth and nose completely on overdrive. And I eat with a speed that makes people back away from me carefully, making no sudden moves.

My mum laughed out loud watching a holiday video of me once. I was on a dive boat, eating lunch. The chef on the boat was a recent grad from the CIA and he had made a delicious meal – can’t remember what it was, I was probably hypothermic from the morning dives and working on pure animal instinct.

There I am on the video, in a chair, in the corner, plate on my lap, biting into something, staying inside myself and just nodding. And then biting again. And nodding.

Mum told me I do that all the time. She was wiping tears from her eyes. I had no idea. I’m not so sure it’s that funny. I think it pushes me beyond food lover, certainly bypasses any gourmand status I aspire to, and straight down into the glutton territory.

I am embarrassed by it…when I think about it…when I’m finished what’s on my plate.

I try to eat more slowly. I do.

Fortunately the lights were low at Nic and JP’s table that night so no one could see my cheeks and ears burning bright pink (again my Anglo DNA surges forth).

Nic tells me the Wild Mushroom Soup is from, will wonders never cease, The Silver Palate Cookbook – the cookbook that’s garnered me a couple of favourites that I’ve written about, but which often overwhelms me at the research stage with a tsunami of ingredients until, at the risk of drowning, I just put the book back on the shelf.
But there are gems in there.

My friend Nicole – we both call ourselves Nic – is a smart woman with a good heart, and a wonderful cook, another in my pantheon of instinctive cooks, who makes it all look easy…so if you haven’t tried this concoction and you’re feeling Januaryitis kicking in, get out to the corner vegetable market and root through the mushroom section…and give this a try…it will warm your soul…and, possibly, make you feel resplendent.


Wild Mushroom Soup
From The Silver Palate Cookbook, p.173
6 to 8 portions

2 ounces dried cepes, morels or chanterelles
¾ cup Madeira wine
8 tbsp (1 stick) sweet butter
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
2 pounds fresh mushrooms
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 cups chicken stock
1 pint heavy cream (it says optional…har har har)

Rinse the dried mushrooms well in a sieve under cold running water and soak them in the Madeira for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the onions and cook, covered, over low heat until they are tender and lightly coloured, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Trim stems from the fresh mushrooms and save for another use. Wipe caps with a damp cloth and slice thin. Add caps to the soup pot, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook over low heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.

Carefully lift mushrooms from bowl with slotted spoon and transfer to soup pot. Let Madeira settle a moment and then pour carefully into the soup pot, leaving sediment behind.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until dried mushrooms are very tender.

Strain the soup and transfer the solids to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add 1 cup of the liquid and puree until very smooth.

Return puree to the soup pot along with remaining liquid and set over medium heat. Taste, correct seasoning, and thin the soup slightly with heavy cream if it seems too thick. Heat until steaming and serve immediately.
The Mongolian stamp is from this website: http://www.birdtheme.org/thumbnails/thumbnails.php?coid=193

1 comment:

Julie said...

I think mushroom hunting is the better hobby. You can eat the mushrooms and with birding you just... wait -- you get to go to cool places like Costa Rica. OK, I vote for both. And that hat will look fabulous on you.

Also, the soup sounds spectacular! No wonder you were power consuming it.