Filling in time

30 12 2012

I hate this time of year.

I’m not big on Christmas at the best of times, but once the slight excitement of even that has passed, there’s nothing but shopping and turkey sandwiches until the New Year.

To try and fill the gap, we went on a little trip to Fort Langley this afternoon. We left it a bit late though, and it was already gone 4 o’clock before we arrived. Too late to visit the fort itself (if it’s even open at this time of year). So – we just kind of mooched around, looking for a decent spot to enjoy a cup of tea. I had my camera though, so enjoyed a few shots in the failing light (and temperature… it was ‘kin cold!) Suddenly First Born yelled and called me over to see some mushrooms she’d spotted. I’d seen similar ones before, and took a few shots to try and identify them once I got home. Here’re the results.

So, as I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions, I’m a member of the Vancouver Mycological Society. They offer many resources and references for identification of fungi. One is a database of descriptions and photos called Matchmaker. This allows you to set various parameters like size, colour, shape, etc., and it’ll help you narrow down the options of what it might be.

So – not that I’d want to rely solely on this tool to decide whether to eat a ‘shroom or not, but I’m reasonably sure that what we found was Peziza repanda. Here’s a link to the California Fungi site with some more information and photos. I love the statements that (i) it’s common but (ii) its edibility is unknown. Seems the potential lethality of fungi is a pretty good deterant to people recording the edibility of many of even the most common species! No – I don’t feel the urge to settle the question, before you ask!





BBC News – Mushroom soup claims fourth victim in California

27 11 2012

Oh dear…

BBC News – Mushroom soup claims fourth victim in California.

The Amanita family, according to Wikipedia “is responsible for approximately 95% of the fatalities resulting from mushroom poisoning, with the death cap accounting for about 50% on its own.”

At a lecture I attended at the Vancouver Mycological Society, I learned that an Asian edible mushroom  – The Straw Mushroom – was very similar in appearance to the young “Death Cap” and that recent immigrants to Vancouver quite regularly ate the latter by accident, resulting in poisoning. Perhaps this was the case in the BBC story… a little further South.

Wikipedia: Young Death Cap

Wikipedia: Safe-to-eat Straw Mushrooms

 





You look good enough to eat

25 11 2012

So I will!

Today was the day. After weeks of patiently watching fungus grow in my garage… I ate it. It tasted wonderful. I have never eaten oyster mushrooms before, so wanted to eat them tout seul to savour the taste. Having said that, I ended up frying them in a little bacon fat, but when all is said and done – I’m a bloke! The alternative would have involved an extra 5 minutes and some washing up liquid. Unconscionable! I went all out and put a sprig of fresh basil as garnish from my kitchen windowsill stash.

Feast your eyes…





The fun(gi) goes on and on

11 11 2012

Despite the almost certain failure of the coffee grinds experiment, the oyster mushrooms in straw seems to be marching on towards the inevitable fry-up!

The leading fruitings are now a good inch or so across and consist of many little pinheads which I guess will each become a mushroom. I’ve moved the bundle nearer the window as I gather that UV is an important part of their fruiting development. The mushrooms “sweat” a clear liquid which is interesting too.

The larger growths are now about an inch or so across

A clear liquid is “sweating” from the fruit bodies





Down in the fungals of Java

11 10 2012

So this evening when I put the car away in the garage, I remembered to check on my mushroom projects, safely hidden in there where Mrs Elephant won’t find them and freak out about fungus in her house.

Oyster mushrooms in straw? Nothing obvious happening. 😦

Wine caps in wood chips? Ditto. 😦

OK… not to worry… they’re not actually scheduled to be obviously spreading their mycelium for around 4 weeks, and it’s been less than one.

Wha’?

I’m a bloke! Impatience is my middle name. Well, it would be if my parents weren’t too stingy to have given me one.

Oh well, hardly any point looking at the coffee grinds then… whoa! What’s THIS?!

Now, Scott the mushroom man had warned us that growing Oyster Mushrooms on coffee grinds was a bit hit and miss, and not guaranteed to work. He also explained that they were the most likely to get “infected” by other fungi or molds. He’d explained about potentially having to spoon off any blue/green mold than might get established, so it wouldn’t out-compete the Oyster mushrooms. Or slime, or generally anything that shouldn’t be there. My heart fell. This looked like a very serious bout of white furry mold, like you get on old jam left at the back of a cupboard.

Sighing, I took it out into the garden, ready to spoon great gobbets of it into the compost heap. But then I noticed it looked quite pretty really. Uniform and clean and not at all grubby (as OBVIOUSLY the bad stuff would look, right?! 🙂 )

OK – no, I really noticed that one of the original millet grains we’d used to inoculate the grinds with had somehow been trapped in the lip of the plastic bucket… and had exactly the same white fluff. THIS must be the mycelium! It was working!!

So – 5 days in, and I’m reasonably sure I have at least ONE of the mushroom projects under way.

Mushroom omelette anyone?

[OK, Edit: Buzzkill sheriji (who has much experience with moldy coffee filters, it seems 😉 ) tells me it really is just mold. Bugger!]





Phillip Ross Molds Fast-Growing Fungi Into Mushroom Building Bricks That Are Stronger than Concrete | Inhabitat « The Reclamation Administration

10 10 2012

So anyone who knows me (or has read more than 2 or 3 of my blog entries) will know that I can be somewhat, er, obsessive!

Mrs Elephant delights (now she’s properly trained as a Special Education Assistant) in repeatedly suggesting that I’m “on the spectrum“. Just because I’m left-handed. She’s jealous, plainly.

So I like mushrooms! It’s not so bad. I like the idea of mushrooms at least. The ones with fried butter on them specifically. But as of last night I wouldn’t have felt the need to be defensive about it. I mean – I’ve been to only ONE meeting of the Vancouver Mycological Society, ONE “how to cultivate mushrooms” class, and ONE “foray” around UBC‘s Pacific Spirit Park.

But then I saw this article, and might have to admit that, perhaps, but only if you’re REALLY nice to me, I’d have to admit a mild obsession. Not at the CK level yet, but perhaps it’s getting there…

Phillip Ross Molds Fast-Growing Fungi Into Mushroom Building Bricks That Are Stronger than Concrete | Inhabitat « The Reclamation Administration.





Mycology is better than urology

6 10 2012

I just had an abso-bloody-lutely awesome day. I thought you might like to share, in case your own was only “meh”. It’s free – just give me a few minutes of your life and I’ll try and give you some vicarious entertainment.

As the more well-endowed in the memory department will recall, I recently joined the Vancouver Mycological Society. Their website makes the reasonably clever word play joke of this posting’s title, and that was enough to encourage me to part with my money. Being able to spout the Latin names for fungus is one thing… a sly and/or quick sense of humour is quite another!

As a fully paid up member (no jokes thank-you MM) of VMS, I get occasional emails of interesting mushroomy things happening around Vancouver. One such thing was information about a “hands on” mushroom cultivation seminar at the Homesteader’s Emporium on East Hastings, Vancouver. Sounded like a bit of a laugh, despite the $75 price tag. And there was the promise of taking home some interesting mushroom cultures. So anyway, I signed up and this morning found me up bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and on the road to Vancouver. Well, on the road to Vancouver anyway.

And so my adventures began…

This was waaaaaaay too early for the weekend, and I drove right past the motorway exit I needed, instead heading on auto-pilot for Richmond, where I work. Now the Lower Mainland is bifurcated (I’ve wanted to use that word ever since I read it in James Gleick‘s Chaos book when I was in my 20s!) by the Fraser River – and recursively so throughout Delta and Richmond in a way I’m sure Gleick would approve of. Basically this means that if you miss an exit… you’re screwed. There’s only a handful of bridges and one token tunnel. So my lack of attention while cruising along listening to “+” by Ed Sheeren (he may be a ginge, but he’s from Halifax, so I’ll let him off.) meant I had to carry on to the Oak Street bridge and approach the Emporium from the West instead of the East as I’d planned. This was a tad awkward for two reasons.

Firstly, East Hastings is Vancouver’s “dodgy bit”.  Now all things are relative, as Burt One-stone would have us all know, and so Vancouver’s definition of “dodgy” is still way safer than some small villages in the UK after dark (I was beaten nearly senseless in 1988 in the twee-by-daylight Stony Stratford. In true Jekyll/Hyde manner areas of it became no-go zones for “decent folk” after dark. I was nïave and was made to learn the lesson the hard way.)

Nevertheless, driving West to East along Hastings would take me right through Vancouver’s seedier underbelly. (It has other underbellies in full bloom, but this one is seedy.) It always makes me uncomfortable. Since the Riverview Hospital was basically closed down, many of Vancouver’s mentally ill have joined the already swollen ranks of its drug-haunted residents in congregating outside East Hastings’ many hostels and refuges. The discomfort comes from odd places. I guess I feel some sense of shared shame that our relatively affluent society can’t do better for these folk; that some I’m sure would reject it if we could; and lastly the very real possibility that any one of them could quite randomly launch themselves under the wheels of my car as it passed by.

Last night Mrs Elephant and I went to watch a French film as part of the VIFF festival (more later on that, I’m sure). As we walked back to the SkyTrain station, she was barrelled into by a tall and totally spaced out guy in his early 30s. He then barged into a similarly aged guy and started to aggressively accuse him of “looking at him a bit funny”. I forget the exact phrase, but meth heads the world over utter similar things randomly to slightly confused passers-by.

Where was I?

Ah yes – the second reason I didn’t want to travel West to East along Hastings… I’d only remembered the street names coming from the East! I hardly ever drive in Vancouver, preferring to use transit if at all possible The Homesteader’s Emporium was a little out of the city centre though, and I didn’t really want to have to negotiate the buses and potentially be late.

So anyway, having crossed the river via the Oak Street Bridge, I turned right along Marine and headed for Cambie Street, safe in the knowledge that it intersected with Hastings somewhere-or-other. Probably. All was well as I headed north on Cambie. I always find Vancouver a bit disorientating as you go downhill into Vancouver, and that just feels like it should be South somehow. So as I headed North over the Cambie Bridge (across False Creek), I was warmly reminded of my time working downtown, when I got to know this area quite well. Then I was suddenly shocked from my reverie to see Cambie Street as a cross-road, and thankfully was awake enough to take it.

Only Vancouver could have Cambie Street crossing Cambie Bridge and then turning into Smithe Street for no obvious reason, so it could cut across… Cambie Street!

Anyway, to cut an already lengthening story slightly shorter, I found myself on Hastings, and heading through scary-ville towards my destination. Thankfully traffic was pretty slow, and I spotted the turning I needed, and found a free parking spot on a road parallel to Hastings. 30 minutes early – bonus! Time for a tea. I walked past the shop which appeared closed and shuttered behind grills, just to make sure I’d got the right place. Safe in that knowledge I set off in search of caffeine (e before i). 10 minutes later I gave up, but had discovered that EVERY shop in the area was covered in steel grills. Every other building was a refuge or thrift store. There were little knots of weather-beaten men hacking up bits of lung through toothless mouths, or just sat on the pavement with their heads between their knees. One old lady was studiously counting out her morning’s crop of alcohol bottles at the Astoria pub to get enough refunded deposits for her breakfast, no doubt.

I didn’t feel unsafe particularly, just out of place. I headed back to the shop to wait, confident that there would be no cafés or bakeries in this area. The shop turned out to be open after all – just heavily grilled. It also turned out to be one of those annoying establishments with a door handle begging to be pulled, but which requires you to push to have any reward for your effort. The young lady in attendance seemed glad to have a customer, and I apologised for being a little early, but could I register for “the mushroom thing”? Apologising profusely for the absence of “Rick”, she declined, which wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. Trying a different tack and gauging from her late 20’s demeanor that I’d have more success in this direction, I asked if there was a local caffeine station she might direct me to. Plainly on firmer ground she said there were in fact two – The Wilder Snail (I shit you not – that’s its name) and The Union Food Market, which she recommended particularly. So, armed with instructions culled from Google, I set out bravely into the vast unknown (to me) which is Vancouver’s Eastside. And here my eyes were opened.

I admit freely that I was hugely biased. I have not previously walked these streets, and I wrongly assumed that the clean but somehow grubby at the same time feeling I got from East Hastings would continue for a few blocks North and South of it. How wrong could I be? As I walked up (down) Hawks Avenue, I was instantly in a downright twee environment. Parks; bike lanes; painted clapperboard houses; the aforementioned more party-prone mollusc; more parks; hipsters; cute young ladies with dogs; all manner of pleasant things!

True – to be fair – there was one young bloke trying to liberate himself of a truly epic loogie, being egged on by a Latino gentleman espousing the use of Tequila to lubricate its passage, but apart from that, it felt like a lovely area to live. Now, I’m not one to tell half a story (not when I can tell the same one three different ways!) There was one door with “We’re fucking watching you asshole” daubed on it. I was shocked! Surely it’s “arsehole” they meant! What is happening to the Queen’s English these days? And there were a few lengths of razor-wire here and there – presumably to limit the ingress opportunities of loogie-hurlers. But there were vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers, and fancy cars parked with gay abandon. Or potentially abandoned by gays – this after all being Vancouver.

So anyway, I marched past The Wilder Snail on my way to the “preferred” café, but realised I was running out of time to get back to the Homesteader’s Emporium for the start of the seminar. I hate being late, so I turned back. I must have been within yards of the Union Food Market when I did this, but such is life.

The Wilder Snail was OK. It had a clutch of “look at me” types poring over laptops or reading thick paperbacks. I ordered a regular drip coffee, which was served from a pump flask and cost more than it should. I took revenge by taking as much milk as I could fit into the cup without making a mess, and headed back in search of mushroom lore, via the opportunity to observe the habitat of dog-owning hipster chicks. The server wore a French T-shirt, and the radio was playing French music. Très escargot! (That’s French for “pretentious”).

I took a slightly different route along East Pender, and saw two very desirable homes for sale. Also a beautifully maintained pale green vintage roadster. I felt lighter as I crossed back over Hastings and into my mushroom adventure.

I thought I was the first to arrive, but the host Scott Henderson assured me that this was not the case, and I wouldn’t be alone. The 4 chairs laid out in the car park didn’t bode well for a large audience though, despite dire warnings that booking late might mean the cap of 15 people causing you to miss out. The first to (re)arrive was a delightful young lady who introduced herself as Sam, and things were already looking up. Within moments a couple of older ladies arrived, and the chairs were all full. Then came a more elderly lady from Bowen Island, who I immediately offered my chair to, to much gratitude and an offer of biscuits (where do old women secret such things? They seem to produce sweets and biscuits from the most unlikely folds of their clothing).

Eventually we ended up at 8. Myself and 7 representatives of the fairer sex – though some represented it better than others. Beginning to feel ever so slightly out of place, I was hugely relieved when another bloke turned up a few minutes late. He only lived 4 blocks away – I’d driven 50km, and the lady from Bowen had probably set off at the crack of sparrows to get there on time!

We started off stuffing pillowcases with straw and boiling it for an hour to pasteurise it, while Scott began teaching us all manner of interesting fungus facts. Rick Havlak, the Emporium’s owner had conjoured up a selection of additional seats and pens/binders, so at this point I could actually start recording the wisdom being shared. (Yes – all the women had brought their own pens. What are you trying to get at?!)

Having been suitably “educated”, we got to do stuff, and we were drilling holes in logs quicker than you could say “Bob’s your Aunty’s transgender live-in lover”. These were then filled in again… with dowlings inoculated with mycelium (see – I told you I was educated now!) of shiitake. Then we got to set fire to stuff (nearly anyway) by melting beeswax to seal in the mushroomy goodness. The smell was amazing as it heated up.

There were only 4 drills, so we paired up and within an hour or so, each of us was the proud owner of a bloody great big log teaming with shiitake spawn. (Somehow that just sounds so wrong…) Then the other shoe landed… these logs would take 12-18 months to “fruit”, and only if you cared for them just right! Oh well… at least I had fun with the power tools! 🙂

OK – lunch break. The remaining pillowcases of straw were swapped into the drum of water for their hour of sterilisation, and we were sent off to forrage for food. I’d brought an apple, which was as much forward planning as I could manage on a Saturday morning. But I knew where to find caffeine!

I wandered back to the car, and was mildly shocked to pass by a rather scantily clad woman who seemed in no particular hurry to cross the intersection in either potential direction. I collected my book (a learned tome on the various aspects of swearing – suggested to me by our man at Misfits’ Miscellany, and being greatly, if somewhat slowlyly (?!) enjoyed), and passed her on the way back too. Thankfully she didn’t regard me as one needing to be shown a good time just then, and I made my way physically if not mentally unscathed to the Wilder Snail. Here I ordered a London Fog. This, if you’re unaware, is a way of making many times more than the ethical amount of profit from a cup of tea and a bit of frothy milk. I sat outside so I could get a better look at the book being read by the young lady on the inside – In The Skin of the Lion, as it turned out. A few passers-by commented on my T-shirt (to each other, not to me). It yelled “I survived the Grind” in big letters. I figured since I’d walked it a few times in the last couple of months, I might as well let people know.

As I sat sipping my tea (if it’s expensive I’ve noticed that you drink it more slowly…) I happened to notice some urban art in the tree next to my table. It reminded me of the urban art I blogged about a few months ago. Or perhaps a Dream-catcher.

Anyway, tea drunk, book enjoyed, I headed back to fungus central. The afternoon flew past. We used hardwood chips to inoculate our own starter spawn for Winecap mushrooms (king stropharia). Because of the season, this won’t go outside until Spring, but is capable of giving many years of shrooms. The straw had all cooled down now, and we each made a bag of Oyster mushrooms with layers of straw and mycelium. These should totally colonise the straw in about 4 weeks and be shoving out mushrooms for the plate in around 6.

Finally we got to experiment with coffee grinds and more Oyster mushrooms.

Basically mushrooms digest organic material – anything from corn cores, through straw, wood chips  to coffee grinds. We learnt that it is important to limit the possibility of other fungi or bacteria out-competing the preferred fungus, and nitrile gloves and denatured alcohol were de rigeur for the day.

Our little group attracted occasional interest from the locals strolling down the back alley, and we were even asked if we were a prayer group (some of the local refuges were church sponsored). Mushrooms seemed to confuse most, but one more inquisitive fellow seemed to be completely thrown by the knowledge that you could eat mushrooms rather than just get high on them.

Quite shocked that we really had used the full 6 hours up, I loaded up my new fungi and headed for home… past a different woman who seemed to have problems finding clothes that covered her up properly. As I drove, I realised my left thumb was bloody sore, and was horrified to see a massive bruise on the pad of it. This was from pushing the dowling rods into the logs, and my “one a day” Aspirin causing my blood to be thinner than usual. I bleed more easily these days. Life’s a bitch, eh?

Now, as long as Mrs E doesn’t spot the boxes and bags of fungus in the garage, and the slugs don’t munch the spawn out of the logs outside, we’re on to a winner, dear reader. Photos to follow… if anything is good enough to eat!