Category: Foraging

Calvatia gigantea: Giant Puffball

Last weekend I did the whole monkey run loop in Ithaca, a beautiful 5 plus mile loop with stunning views, fields, forests, water, hills, and Mushrooms! It was a mild saturday after a rainy friday and I found a field mushroom with pink gills and an orange mushroom but these two mushrooms got crushed in my bag by the huge puffball I found; Calvatia gigantea. This giant puffball was a bit misshapen, probably due to other animals that had decided to take a bite out of this tasty treat, but it was so big that even after cutting off the entire oddly shaped, critter nibbled exterior (which my teacher recommended I did quite thoroughly for sanitary reasons), I had plenty to make into two delicious meals.

The puff ball before skinned, just cut in half. Note the pure white inside. You don’t want to eat any puffball that has begun to discolor inside. I admit, the apple is somewhat of a midget apple so it may not be a fair size comparison… But it was quite large!

The first meal I made was what I am calling puffball parmesan. I would say it was as tasty as any chicken parmesan I’ve ever had!Here is how I did it.


(made about 4 servings, depending on how hungry you are. Note: although just as delicious, I did find that puffball parmesan is not quite as filling as chicken parmesan. I ended up eating hald of my 8×8 casserole dish for one meal!)

  • 1 Calvatia gigantea (I used about half of my large one for this recipe)
  • bread crumbs (I made my own out of some old hard bread, adding whatever yummy spices I had around like sage, thyme, rosemary, basil, salt and pepper and some fresh chopped garlic)
  • eggs (2-3 should be enough)
  • butter or oil (I used a mix of olive oil and butter)
  • spinach
  • tomato sauce
  • parmesan cheese
  • mozzarella cheese

Preheat your oven to about 350 F.  Wash and trim your puffball thoroughly to get get rid of the tough and possibly unsanitary outer layer. Cut it into hamburger thickness slabs. Have two bowls ready, one with your eggs beaten, and another with your breadcrumbs. Get a pan warmed up with oil or butter. Then dip each slab of puffball into the eggs and then roll around in the bread crumbs. Fry lightly on the pan until golden brown on the outside.

Arrange these breaded puffball slabs in a casserole dish. Pour some tomato sauce over them (I added some spinach too for some extra nutritional value). I also mixed up the extra bread crumbs and egg I had and through that in too. Then put some thin strips of parmesan cheese cheese on top, sprinkle some parmesan and stick it in the oven until the cheese starts to bubble, and you have yourself a delicious puffball parmesan! I honestly think I might have been able to serve this to an unsuspecting passerby and they would have thought it was chicken parmesan.

My puffball parmesan just out of the oven. Yummm.

After this delicious feast I still had half of my puffball left, that I was surprised to find remained in good condition in my fridge for the week. So today, as I seemed to have caught the cold that has hit Ithaca hard I decided it was time to make a big, hearty soup. Last night I boiled a chicken breast with the bone in to start the stock, but found it to still be quite weak, so I decided to make it a chicken-miso soup. Being a fan of using what I have in the fridge if I can I decided to cut the res of the puffball up into little cubes and throw in into my soup instead of tofu! At first each little cube seemed to be expanding with the liquid and and floating on the top but as I let the soup simmer they shrunk down in size and tasted quite yummy! Although ingredients in my hearty soup included a cup (uncooked) of brown rice, carrots and onions sautéed and then thrown in, garlic, and kale. And of course lots of miso, some pepper, and chili powder. Although I don’t have much sense of smell or taste right now the soup tasted good to me and is definitely warming me up and making me feel better. If I made it again I might add less rice or make sure I had more broth though because the rice soaks up a lot of water and turns it into almost a stew.

I hope you enjoyed these puff ball recipes!

A Lucky Mushroom Day

Disclaimer and warning: Please do not use any information on this site to identify or eat mushrooms. Mushroom identification is a complex thing and I am only a novice!

Mushrooms of Field and Forest, PLPA 3190 taught by Kathie Hodge is quickly becoming my new favorite course at Cornell. This class takes up my whole wednesday afternoon and evening but I am not complaining. Last wednesday we went to Danby State forest (near Abbot loop) to hunt for mushrooms and it seems as though a little spell put on me by our TA using a mushroom wand (a stick covered in mushrooms) gave me some good luck. It seemed that my finds grew more and more spectacular through the afternoon.

First I found some beautiful specimens of the Ash-tree Bolete (Gyrodon merulioides), right under some ash trees, as their name suggests. These mushrooms are edible but only “ok” in the taste department according to my friend. But their spore surface is quite beautiful in my opinion. Looking like a spiderweb network of subtly ridges lines, it makes me think of a view of a complex mountain range as seen from a spaceship.

The Ash-Tree Boletes

The beautiful underside of the the Ash-tree bolete

As I bent down to pick some other rather small mushrooms I looked through the forest and spotted a large orange-ish spot on a tree 20 or so yards away. Indeed it was a mushroom and quite a large one at that! It was Big Laughing Gym (Gymnopilus spectabilis or jumonius) growing on a still live maple tree. Can you guess by the name that is might be hallucinogenic? This  sturdy stemmed, fleshy mushroom was a bit of a tricky one to identify but given its size and a few other subtle characteristics I am pretty sure it is G. spectabilis, which has recently been renamed G. jumonius. The smell of Big Gym is almost sickeningly sweet but it is said to taste bitter, although I cannot say from personal experience.

Big Laughing Gym

The underside of Big laughing gym, with a smaller one with partial veil still intact

As I continued to walk in the lowlands of Danby state forest I came across two more amazing specimens! Words would not do these two mushrooms justice. (the best always comes last)

A Beautiful Parasol Mushroom (Genus: Lepiota, Species: Procera?). Such feathery delicate features!

Here is the underside of the parasol, showing a prominent annulus (the ring that comes from remnants of the partial veil.)

And the grand finale is an Amanita muscaria var. Formosa, common name the yellow – orange fly agaric.. A picturesque, but hallucinogenic and poisonous mushroom.

Here you can see the underside of this amanita. Notice it has an annulus (the ring around the stem), although less distinctive then the lepiota, and a volva (the wide, bulbous base)

And there you have it! Well, almost. My mushroom hunt ended somewhat dramatically with an auspicious dead snake. I’ve been seeing a lot of snakes recently, which to me symbolize the ability to transform, but this snake was dead so I will take that as a sign to not test my luck with any “transforming” mushrooms.

This dead snake had two puncture wounds above its eye, almost looking like it had been bitten by the fangs of another snake. I think it is an eastern ribbon snake. If anyone has a guess as to how it might have died I would love to hear your thoughts!

below are a my own hand drawn illustrations of the four above, with key identifying features labeled.

For some more pictures of mushrooms you can check out this facebook album. Also, the Cornell mushroom blog is fun and my teachers flickr stream has some great photos.

The Importance of Food

I just finished watching a great TEDTalk featuring Roger Doiron talking about gardening. It was sent to me by a dear friend who was in my Permaculture Design Course this summer, and came at the perfect time as I had just been drawing up plans and ideas for my parents garden that I will get a chance to work on this spring. Doiron Makes the argument that gardening is a subversive act. It is subversive because if people can grow their own food it is putting power back into the people’s hands and taking power away from big corporations. It is putting power back in your hands by giving you more control over your health, diet, and wallet.

Over the past several years food has become an increasingly important subject in my life. I myself am not what I would call a foodie; I will eat just about anything you put in front of me whether it is fast, slow, greasy, fresh, meaty, or vegan, and am probably only a little better than the average American, and far worse then my many foodie friends, when it comes to cooking and kitchen know how. But I do appreciate and highly enjoy good food, which is perhaps why I tend to find myself surrounded by foodie friends.

But beyond that, as I have been wrestling with the ideas of sustainability, community, and social change each strand I follow seems to bring me back to food.

  • If we can grow food sustainably that will be a huge step towards a sustainable earth.
  • In every community I have been in meal times are what literally feed the community.
  • If we want to create social change we first need to make sure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.

Food is a basic necessity of every single individual. Therefore, even if you are a microwave meal or McDonalds kind of person, you must interact with food each and every day. It may in fact be this, that food is a necessity, that is the ingenuity behind huge money making corporations like McDonalds.

And amazingly, it isn’t just the food industry that has found a way to make a profit off of our need for food; For every food calorie we eat it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce that 1 calorie. This is in our highly industrialized food system of course, where petroleum based fertilizers are the norm and gas guzzling machines and trucks are used to process and get our food to us from thousands of miles away.

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) Michelle Obama's White House Garden. Compare this to the image below...

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) If the White House Garden were to be representative of our industrialized agricultural system this is what it would look like. Yes, we are subsidizing a system that is 80% soy, wheat, cotton, and corn and only 20% fruits and vegetables.

It seems that if we change our food system we would inevitably change much more than just our food system; We would effect global economics, global health, global happiness, and global sustainability.

So how can we change the food system to create positive change in all these areas? Doiron thinks the key is in encouraging and inspiring more people to grow their own food. That’s right, it might be as simple as growing your very own kitchen garden. You will eat healthier, feel healthier, save money, and be sticking it to the big bureaucratic corporate machine  all at the same time. And, you will probably be happier as being involved in your food tends to encourage community and connection to other humans and the natural world, which tends to lead to greater overall happiness.

I think this last part about community and overall happiness is why I have found myself continually coming back to food.

For me, being someone who grew up with a phenomenal cook as a mother and a father who refused to go to a fast food joint even on the longest, most remote stretches of highway where nothing else was available, I grew to desire and expect good quality, healthy, fresh meals. Perhaps it was this desire that led me to live in coop in college where home cooked dinners were part of every evening. Also, growing up with no TV dinners and coming from a Jewish family where holidays and celebrations often included large, elaborate, and delicious meals I was conditioned to associate food with good company and a time to connect.

For me, the kitchen always seems to be the center of the house. Whether you are preparing a meal, cleaning up after a meal, or chatting with the those who are cooking and cleaning while you wait for some tasty morsels to come your way, the kitchen is where people gravitate. The kitchen and food is also often where conflict arises; people have different dietary preferences, someone doesn’t clean up their dishes, and oh no! My leftovers that I was going to have for lunch are gone! But working through and resolving these issues provide important real life lessons in conflict resolution, community building, budgeting, cooking, cleanliness and more.

Well, this has been the case for me and the kinds of people I have gravitated to in my life. But this apparently is NOT the norm. In Doiron’s talk on TEDTalks he gave the astonishing statistic that the average american now spends only 31 minutes doing food related activities each day. This means 31 minutes a day cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals! It seems a stretch to me to  even fit just eating 3 meals in that time, let alone preparing and cleaning up.

There is another reality out there where the TV room is the center of the house. In this scenario food is quickly taken from the freezer, microwaved and individuals sit silently eating their food in front of the mind numbing television. No time for family discussions of politics, news or current events, or for sharing of the trials and tribulations of one’s day.

Having grown up in a household and in communities where food and meal times were not undervalued I have been attracted to local food cooperatives and farmers markets to do my shopping; another social and festive way in which to interact with food. This of course got me thinking more on where my food comes from and issues of food justice.

The conclusion I have come to is that we need localized food systems. We need more people involved in their food, growing a more diverse array of food that celebrates and preserves more cultural diversity and holds communities together.

Having come to this conclusion I have decided to join the subversive gardening movement and start growing food in my parents yard this spring. I encourage you to do the same! Having taken a permaculture design course and studied agriculture at Cornell University I am well aware that growing food can be quite complex. But it can also be quite simple and you have to start somewhere. I myself have become a bit intimidated by complexity of academic analysis of growing food and “right” and “wrong” ways to do it but I have decided I have to start somewhere, so why not start with putting a few seeds in the ground? Maybe I will start a trend and before I know it the whole block will be filled with front yard gardens. And then before you know it neighbors will be interacting again we all find yourselves out on a sunny Saturday afternoon eating fresh veggies and pulling weeds. This could indeed be the way to revitalize community…

Creative by Nature

Glimpses of a Creative Universe, by Christopher Chase...


Creating "new" from old has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time, but turned into a full-time adventure in building and living in a tiny "reclaimed" house. Beginning in 2012, I will live in this 120 square foot space for the length of my PhD studies in Literature and the Environment, and perhaps beyond. In this way, I hope to live a little smaller, leave a little lighter, and learn in what ways formal study can be acted in the every day.

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