My brother and his family came out from Brooklyn, and my mom came up from California for some good Pacific Northwest fun. We spent time on the water for a little fishing–that’s my niece, Nora and me multi-tasking with boat-driving selfie–and mostly just enjoyed our time together. The cousins, Skyla, Weston, Nora and May, live in such different worlds, and see each other only a few times a year, but they love each other so much it lifts my spirits just to watch them together. I am so thankful for our family, and for the NY and Cali members to make the effort to be here.
We went berry picking, and the kids teamed up with their grandma to learn the secrets of making The Greatest Pie In The World.
Just the smell of the pie cooking took me back to my childhood, and when it came out of the oven, we could hardly wait for it to cool. This is the pie I dream about–crisp, flaky, tender, savory crust and sweet, slightly tart blackberry filling. The very taste of August in the Northwest. Now…if the kids just learned enough to make it again themselves, I think we can squeeze in a few more before the weather turns. If only the whole family could be here to enjoy it!
The search for the elusive, wily, Puget Sound spot prawn launched (and concluded) Saturday. With just a four-hour season this year, there would be no messing around.
Three kids–Weston, Skyla, and Skyla’s buddy, Ava…
Five adults (that’s Neal putting all his crossfit training to good use)…
Two boats (Smarty, Helene, John and the girls on the hunt)…
One quick selfie in the brief moments before Weston returned to his customary job, napping…
…and 640 spot prawns. Not to mention countless great meals ahead.
Back at the dock, Weston woke up just in time to haul gear. “Going shrimping,” he said, rubbing his eyes and yawing, “is really relaxing.”
Jed showed up to fish one morning and before we hit the road, he handed me a single, perfect matsutake mushroom. I stashed it in my pocket, and from time to time throughout the day, I’d catch whiffs of the unique scent–a mix of pine trees, cinnamon and something earthy and mushroom-y. Someone once described matsutakes as smelling like red hots in a dirty sweat sock, but I don’t get the sweat sock part. They just smell delicious to me. More than once, my mouth watered at the thought of it.
Fast forward to dinner prep. Bruce and Aaron had a stack of enormous moose steaks; Calvin and April ran out to the truck, dug through a cooler, and produced a deer backstrap; Yvon broke out a magnum of Chateau Musar Bruce had given him; Rick was outside burning logs into perfect barbecue coals. I washed some rice, added the hydrating water from dried shiitake mushrooms, a bit of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt. Then, with great anticipation, I cut into that gorgeous matsutake. Inside, something moved. It was alive with small, white maggots. I recoiled. What to do? Figured I should give the crew the option. I showed them the wriggling mushroom slices and said we can either add it to the rice as planned, or toss it out and just go with plain rice. Someone said, “The rice is going to boil, right?” Another said, “Hate to waste a good matsutake.” There was a moment of silence, then the crew voted “Go for it” without objection.
It was delicious. And part of one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. Great food, great friends, great spirits. And a few maggots just to keep things on the adventurous side.
One of the things I really love about picking chanterelles with the kids is the chance to just walk through the forest chatting about whatever comes up. It’s such a relaxed way to spend time together, without all the intensity that rises when we’re doing other activities, like fishing or team sports.
On the afternoon above, Skyla and I talked about everything from her new teacher at school to potential Halloween costumes. Nothing all that consequential, but nice.
I also really appreciate that picking mushrooms isn’t as gear-intensive as our other pursuits–nothing to prep, no gear to wash off afterward, not even any lunches to make. We just go when we’re ready, walk around as long as we want, and quit when we’re done.
Some would say, “just go hiking or walking in the woods,” but I don’t think I’m there yet. I still need to have some kind of goal, or purpose to our outings, and I think searching for mushrooms provides just enough of it. For both me and the kids. As Tom McGuane once said about fishing, “I have to have a game to play.”
And I haven’t even touched on the eating part: chanterelle pizza, pasta with cream sauce, sauteed chanterelles on polenta…
Or the beauty of walking slowly through the woods this time of year. Or how close to home we can pick chanterelles. Or…
Okay, so that’s more than one thing I love about chanterelles. But you get the point.
Not many yet, at least where we were, but the ones we found were prime. Seems like we’ve had more than enough rain for a true bonanza, but I’m wondering if it’s because the summer was so dry, the soil still needs another good soaking or two.
Or perhaps someone was picking ahead of us and all we saw were the ones they missed?
Hard to say, but few-and-far-between is okay…we just wanted enough for a meal, and a little walking between scores makes it all the more fun. Anyway, we ended up with a couple of pounds for a pretty casual hour’s walk in the woods. Perfect.