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.
My buddy Yvon and I made the trek up to Skeena Country to give talks at the SkeenaWild fundraiser, but also to spend time with our friend Bruce, and sneak in a little fishing, too. I don’t know if there’s a more important place for Western Canadadian conservation–or epic meals–than the wooden table in Bruce and Anne Hill’s kitchen in Terrace, BC. Ideas, plans, strategies and campaigns have been hatched, setbacks lamented, victories celebrated around this table, and I always feel honored to have a seat here. On this morning, Bruce and Yvon talk history and strategy for the video cameras.
Then we were off to The Shack, for more time with friends I never get to see enough, and some actual fishing. After a day on the water, that’s (from left to right) Yvon, April, Aaron, Bruce and Calvin chewing the fat before dinner. Rick, our host was, I believe, outside turning moose steaks and deer backstrap on the barbecue, and I took a quick break from tending the matsutake mushroom rice to snap this shot. The highlight of the night, and probably the whole trip, for me, was when Bruce put his prized Martin six-string in my hands, and with a mix of embarrassment and fumbling fingers, I plunked out and sang a couple verses of Long Black Veil with Bruce. My utter lack of guitar and singing skills made me unworthy of the instrument, but it’s a moment that’ll stay with me forever.
Lured in by the aroma of sizzling moose steaks, our landlord, Bob and his giant friend Ootza(sp?), dropped by for a bite and a visit. Bob is one of the finest steelhead anglers and cane-rod makers on the planet, as well as a staunch protector of his beloved river and fish. He’s also a hell of a nice guy. Any time I fish or talk with him, I learn something new. Stay tuned for fishing and fish…
There are moments in everyone’s lives that you just want to hang onto forever. This is one of mine. To have a photograph of it is, to me, incredibly lucky. To have one this beautiful, takes more than luck, though; it takes a great photographer. This image, shot by our good friend, Steve Perih (who also shot the new cover of Closer to the Ground–check out more of his work HERE), currently graces the cover of the 2015 Patagonia kids catalog. But the experience was even sweeter than the photo.
The kids and I were in the islands of northern British Columbia with Steve and two of my conservation heroes, mentors, and good friends, Bruce Hill and Gerald Amos. These three guys are among the handful of people who’ve had such an impact on my life, it’s important to me that my kids spend time with them as well.
After days of heavy weather, the wind fell out and Whale Channel magically turned to glass. A pod of Dall’s porpoises spotted–or heard–us, and we watched them come all the way across the channel to greet us. They twirled, leapt and swooped around the bow of the boat, as they often do, and we were all delighted to watch.
After awhile, the kids walked down the port side of the boat, and the porpoises moved to follow them. When the kids went to the other side of the boat, the porpoises surfaced to starboard, often swimming on their sides to look directly into the kids’ faces. I try not to anthropomorphize, but this was clearly some kind of communication, or at least recognition of something.
Several days later, we steamed back into Whale Channel, this time going in the opposite direction. And the same three porpoises raced across the channel, ducking back and forth under the boat until they spotted the kids. Then, as before, they held pace just a couple of arm-lengths from wherever the kids moved. I don’t know what, if anything, it meant, but it was a moment that feels, even now, somehow important.
“Next year,” our neighbor, Mr. Terashita, would say year after year, whenever I asked where he picked the coveted matsutake mushrooms here on the Island. But then he passed away, and his secrets went with him. Of course, I always figured I’d just stumble onto some matsutakes while hunting other mushrooms, but so far, it’s yet to happen. The only people who know where to find ’em locally anymore seem to be the old Japanese guys, and they aren’t talking. At least not to me. I completely understand.
But it leaves me to rely on the kindness of others to slake my craving for these unique, cinnamon-scented fungi. Like the ones in the picture, which are currently on their way to me from my good friend Bruce Hill up in BC. He’s dehydrating the mushrooms for shipping, and I’m stoked to cook with them. Thanks, Bruce!
If you have a secret matsutake spot, or cave in and buy them like I often consider doing, here’s a recipe: Wash and drain two cups of Japanese white rice. Add 2.25 cups of the liquid from rehydrating dried shiitake mushrooms, along with 1/3 cup rice vinegar and two tablespoons of soy sauce. Sprinkle in two generous pinches of kosher salt. Dice two medium sized matsutakes and add to the pot. Then bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes in a covered pot. Other options: for a sweeter finish, add a bit of sugar to taste (as my grandmother did) or a quarter cup of mirin. Some use bonito-dashi broth for the cooking liquid as well. But however you cook it, the result is simply amazing. Umami City! Spread a little of that ikura I posted about a while back over a mound of this rice and you’ll have what Bruce calls “The most Zen meal I ever ate.” Makes me hungry just thinking about it.
So, I’m going to try it with the dried matsutakes from Bruce, and I think it’ll be just as good. Perhaps, if they intensify their flavor during the drying process the way shiitakes do, the rice will be even better.
But if you live near me and know where to find matsutakes, and for some strange reason, want to share, by all means, let me know. But I’m not holding my breath.
Apologies for the long gap in posts here, but I’m just home from a little trip up north. It started with a surprise birthday party for my good friend and conservation mentor, Bruce Hill, who lives in Terrace, British Columbia. But what self-respecting steelhead bum visits Skeena Country in September without fishing? So the trip turned into a weeklong gig with Bruce and another great fishing buddy and mentor, Yvon Chouinard. I also got to spend some time with Gerald Amos, yet another longtime friend from whom I continue to learn. Hanging with these three environmental superheroes is inspiring, educational and a ton of fun. That’s YC above, giving Bruce and me a tenkara fly rod demonstration. (The remarkably fun and simple tenkara technique uses a rod without a reel, and I actually caught a fish the first time I tried it.)
As luck would have it, fishing was lousy. Headwater rains following a summer-long drought had the Skeena running low and dirty, and most of the fish had already moved through the lower sections. But fishing was really the smallest part of the whole trip. Mostly it was about hanging out with good friends, cooking together, eating and telling stories. And boy, did we eat. We were joined for part of the time by Chef Colin Sako and had free run of the Hill family’s incredibly well-stocked freezer. Wild mushroom season was in full swing, too, with matsutakes (aka pine mushrooms), chanterelles, oysters and porcini sprouting throughout the nearby woods. In the picture above, Bruce and YC are just getting started with appetizers of coho ikura (which we made from a gorgeous silver we caught earlier that day) and white king salmon sashimi. The main course involved lightly smoked black cod broiled with balsamic vinegar glaze, salt-broiled coho bellies and aromatic matsutake mushroom rice. A truly memorable meal. Hard to believe, but by the end of the week, we’d eaten that whole bowl of salmon eggs–over chicken eggs and toast for breakfast, on crackers and bread for snacks and on pretty much everything else at dinner.
We did find a few fish, too. Had to range far and wide, bust brush, scramble down steep banks and, one day, even hike across a wildly beautiful lava field to reach good water. I think a lot of it was simply to work up an appetite for the evening meals we dreamed up while fishing. That’s me with a 37-inch hen steelhead taken on the last day. Huge thanks to Bruce, Anne, Julia, Aaron, Amanda and Zosha Hill, YC and Malinda, Colin, Bob Clay, Tom Derry, Lindsey, Lisa and everyone else who pitched in to make it a week I will savor for a long time.