fungus

After watching with disbelief how the leaves of my squash, chard, bean and tomato plants begin to yellow, then brown, then become flecked with little holes, I finally decided to get some help. Disbelief because the garden had such promise when first planted, as I envisioned flawlessly produced vegetables that would magically sustain me for the next four months. From afar, connected to something bigger, the garden looked perfect.

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But it’s not really a surprise that the dance between health and disease would be as prevalent here in the garden as it is in our culture. I don’t know why I let myself get seduced by the promise of perfection every time I enter into a new creative effort. But I do. It took weeks before I had the thought to actually go to a local garden store with samples of each malady in hand. I learned from a saleswoman there that the wet humid conditions of this spring have been a perfect breeding ground for many undesirables, most of all….fungus. This kind woman seemed unfazed by her assessment. She didn’t try to sell me fungicide or chemical bug killer. As if she had taken in my inherent reluctance to interfere, she quietly suggested I simply pinch off the infected leaves and let the healthy portions of the plants continue to grow. I believed her. Of course there is no guarantee that this will solve the problem. But I left feeling the relief of this simple way of trusting that the good parts of the plant would prevail.

Next destination was to the theater to see Wonder Woman. What a wonderful movie! Good old-fashioned entertainment that left me with the message once again, that belief in the power of acceptance, of all parts of the whole, of good and bad, might be the true path of love. I’ve been thinking about the title a lot now. Wonder Woman. A woman who inspires wonder? The wonder of a strong self realized woman who needs no man to be complete? A woman, who in the wonder of her innocent belief that we are here to celebrate the life of mankind, not its destruction, is the most powerful of all?

I still cringe when I hear the word fungus. For some reason it carries the energy of malevolent unwanted growth that feeds on the living. And yet, I have been equally fascinated with the myriad forms of fungus I see growing in the woods. The forest is full of pungent earthy smell these days. It is what comes first, this intense aroma that feels inherently life giving. I can’t help but think of the huge bag of dried porcini mushrooms in my kitchen, how they carry the essence of this energy. Fungus is as integrally a part of this smell as any other and I am not at all repulsed here in the woods. Fungus is the principal decomposer in an ecological system. It is earth food. It can be medicine, like the lingzhi mushroom (literally meaning ‘supernatural mushroom’) forming on dead logs that have fallen across our path. Or become beautiful lichen growth emerging from the dense mineral rich stone of this landscape.

There is also plenty of the same fungus on leaves emerging from the ground here in the forest, as in my garden. In the woods, it looks completely natural. It is part of something bigger and never a true threat. It doesn’t have to be contained or controlled or destroyed in order to maintain what I think is mine. My way, my path, in my time.

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All the recently felled trees across the path in the woods have become teachers of this lesson. They can get chain-sawed out of the way in a flash, or they can sit there for years growing fungus and slowly decomposing. I don’t have a chain-saw, nor do I feel the compulsion to get these logs out of the way. I’ve already started spurs around them and these spurs will simply become a new part of the path, leaving the obstacle to return to earth of which it came. Is this progress? I don’t know. It is hard for me to let go of the path looking and feeling exactly the way I thought it should. It’s also hard for me to continue to believe that removing what has always felt like an integral part of ME, an event or behavior or person of my past, might actually be a trigger for health.

I came home and made big pot of earthy pungent porcini infused braised chicken legs** to have with my fresh salad of greens and herbs; baby kale, chard, mesclun, lemon balm, mint, basil, parsley, radish, and nasturtium, picked from the garden just moments before eating. I cherish the delicious balance of young fresh and green with old rich and brown in this meal.

After pinching off the dead or infected leaves of the plants in my garden, I am left with the space and beauty of a thriving plant in a thriving garden.

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As much as I feel the compulsion to let things be, I know it is equally okay, maybe even necessary, to remove and let go the parts that don’t serve. I’ve come to believe that killing what I think is bad or undesirable, will never work. Will this belief last? Ensure the freedom and growth of all around me? I don’t know. I am growing alongside this plant, learning something new each day.

**Porcini Infused Braised Chicken Legs
1 package chicken legs (about 2-1/2 lbs)
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 large garlic cloves thinly sliced
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1-1/2 cups organic tomatoes, fresh or canned, diced
(1) cup chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped olives of choice
fresh chopped herbs of choice (I used mint, sage, basil, and lemon balm)
(2) tablespoons olive oil
flour and spices for browning chicken

Prepare porcini mushrooms by soaking in (1) cup warm water for at least 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon and run under cold to fully rinse. Squeeze out excess moisture with hands, finely chop and set aside. Strain the soaking liquid through a paper towel and also set aside. This is very important as you will likely see the remains of little white worms that had been buried in the mushrooms and died in the drying process. I have researched this copiously. They are harmless and quite dead at this point. Even so, this rinsing and straining process ensures that not a one will make it into the stew.

Roll chicken pieces in flour with salt, pepper and a handful of dried herbs of choice (I used Herbes en Provence) and cook in large pot until brown and crisp, about fifteen minutes total. Remove chicken and add onion, cook until translucent. Add garlic, chopped porcini and their strained juice, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and olives and stir. Arrange chicken pieces and pour in chicken broth. Liquid should reach three quarters up the chicken. Bring to boil. Cover, turn fire to lowest low, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add fresh chopped herbs at end. Let sit at least ten minutes before serving. Really really good with homemade biscuits!!

gluten free apple cake

It’s the first week of June and I actually tried to light a fire in the woodstove this morning. It didn’t take. I’m all out of kindling and fatwood and the few pieces of newspaper just didn’t do it. I could have gone out and gathered some branches from the woods, but they’d still be wet from the overnight rain. I gave up. And instead, let the thought of apple cake take firm hold as my energy shifted to the kitchen. Just like that. There’s no rationalizing these urges. A warm oven to bake a warm cake, while channeling the warmth that is coming to feed the now bulging apple blossoms that will yield an abundance of apples for me to make a new stock of spiced apple slices with. This was all there in that thought. I actually looked up my own blog post to find the last recipe I documented for said apple cake. I decided to make the same cake, gluten free. It’s been on my mind, this thing with wheat, not wanting to eat too much of it, my middle aged body beginning to sensitively register the effects of a lifetime of possibly too much, so many people in my life now who have discovered their own sensitivity to the modified gluten of modified wheat that is contained in so much of our processed food. The recipe would have to be modified further to use up the rest of the whole milk plain yogurt instead of heavy cream, some honey instead of maple syrup, (I didn’t have any cream or syrup) and the very last quart of spiced apple slices from the harvest here almost two years ago.

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Combining and whipping together the butter, sugar and honey with a wooden spoon in a large metal bowl, produced a satisfying, thick cream. I beat in the eggs completely before adding the yogurt. All the dry ingredients were added to a smaller bowl to be whisked together before adding to, and mixing with the wet.

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I learned from a master chef at a birthday party last year, that the secret to making a moist and successful gluten free cake is to add chia seeds. She explained that they do the job that the gluten in flour normally does by absorbing and holding liquid in the batter. The apples are then folded into the well mixed batter.

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Once everything was mixed, and while preparing the pan, I let the batter sit for five minutes or so to give time to this alchemy between liquid and seed.

This journey with apple cake seems to be going on longer than I expected. There is a pattern forming but like a blueprint, it is only a guide at best. So much can happen in the making, flexibility becomes desirable. It is like making a series of quilts. There is a theme. Apples have been part of my life in a primal way for my whole life. Apple pie, candied apples, and apple turnovers are still objects of desire. But I always come back to the simplicity of the single beautiful fresh apple. One of my enduring memories is of trips to a farm in the fall with my family to get apples and pumpkins. My father would put the chosen bushel of apples, on occasion two bushels, out on the porch, usually red delicious, covered with a blanket, for keep all winter. I would go to retrieve one of those apples in the afternoon when I got home from school, cut it into slices, put it on a plate with a few pieces of cheddar cheese, sink into the couch, and eat slowly. I remember each sensation as if eating it right now, the sharp creamy cheese offsetting the crisp sweetness of the apple. The theme of comfort is as enduring as the memory. It’s time to read Ruth Reichl’s book “Comfort Me with Apples.’ Why have I waited so long? It is one of my daughter’s favorite books, I think shes actually read it twice. I find my copy on the bookshelf now, pages still crisp and untouched, a first edition sent to me in the year it was published, 2001, with an inscription from my mother, referencing the two apple trees I had just planted next to the ancient one in my front yard. My very first blog post here almost six years ago was inspired by the apples from those trees. And so it goes. Each version of apple cake becomes an evolved version of the last. A series could go on for a short time, producing just a few pieces, or it could go on for a lifetime to create a defining body of work.

I made the mistake of licking the spatuala after scraping all the batter into the pan. It was a shocking disappointment. A truly awful taste. My taste buds are so conditioned to the taste of wheat flour in batter and I wasn’t fully prepared for the difference. And for the time of baking I held onto the sinking feeling that this cake would be a disaster, truly afraid it might not be as delicious as the last and that I would have wasted my time and my precious last jar of apples. The journey doesn’t give us all wonderful easy places to rest along the way. When in one of those tough places, the only thing I can do is reach for a feeling good place. Only when the aroma filled the house with characteristic apple cake smell did I relax. It emerged from the oven with the golden glow that signaled all good. I had to wait about half an hour for the cake to cool enough to cut into.

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It was a beautiful sight, layers of apples nestled comfortably and competently in the moist cake. The first bite filled me with a joy of both recognition and delight, of a core need met, of the discovery of something new. This cake was perfect in every way. No one would ever know it was ‘gluten free’.

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Gluten Free Apple Cake with Honey

Cream 8 Tablespoons softened butter (1 stick) with
1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup honey
Add 2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
Add 1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt

Whisk together in another bowl and add to wet ingredients until just mixed
2 cups gluten free flour (of choice)
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Drain (1) quart spiced apple slices and fold into batter

Pour into 12″ round cake pan prepared with butter & (gluten free) flour

350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.