Monday, October 19, 2020

Pasta, Myzithra, and Chanterelles, Oh My!

Last week my friend Dan told me that the Chanterelle mushroom season was just starting and wanted to know if I wanted to go out checking his “secret patches”* for the woodland delicacy. I like mushrooms, but frankly didn’t know anything about Chanterelles other than everybody around here always looked forward to the season’s start in late October. Sounded like an interesting adventure and all my potential excuses involved working in the yard or in the house...hmmmm???, sunny morning hike in the woods or work...tough decision. 😉 So, early one morning last week, Dan picked me up and we drove Hwy 138E up the North Umpqua river and then up Little River Drive to several different spots in the mossy, forested land of Douglas County. (*Dan was in no way secretive about these Chanterelle hunting areas he’d found over the years...I just thought it sounded better in the opening.)

This picture shows the beautiful color of a
chanterelle mushroom and its common size.

Apparently, the mushrooms can be quite abundant and are normally just peeking out from under the heavy, rich duff of the forest floor. Dan handed me a 5 gallon bucket and offered me a long knife with a brush taped to the handle. The bucket was just in case we hit peak season, the knife to cut the Chanterelle off at the base, and the brush was helpful to clean off fir needles and forest floor debris that was normally on the mushroom cap or stuck to the base. Although it turned out that we weren’t yet in peak season, we each got enough Chanterelles for several meals. 

Dan told me he had several ways that he enjoyed the mushrooms...#1 seemed to be in an omelet (sorry, I kind of blanked out as I envisioned the omelet...didn’t catch the other options...FYI, I’d skipped breakfast this morning so I’m claiming that my stomach had launched a mutiny and my short term memory was currently under attack). I decided that I’d follow that omelet wisdom and try my first batch of our booty that way. I caramelized the cleaned & chopped mushrooms in butter & a touch of oil, then added beaten eggs for an omelet. It was good, but tasted just like any store bought mushroom in an omelet. I was a little disappointed, but I did get a little “hunter’s rush” from having seized these mushrooms from the primal forest duff.

The next day, my dinner thoughts turned to making the mushrooms more of the star of the dish (thanks go to Bobby Flay & the Food Network for that sound bite phrase). When I was going to the U of Washington in Seattle, to a young man, going out to dinner meant going to an inexpensive restaurant that was known for its large plate loads of food...i.e., high on the list, The Old Spaghetti Factory. One of my favorite dishes there was the Brown Butter & Myzithra cheese pasta...I bet you wondered when I was going to make a connection to the title line for this post. So, I thought I’d recreate that dish and add caramelized Chanterelles on top of my version. 

I cleaned, chopped, and caramelized Chanterelles in butter and set them aside. In the same heavy pot, I added more butter and slowly cooked it down until it foamed, reduced down a bit, and browned. 

During the early stages of butter browning, I got out a wedge of Greek Myzithra and grated a good quantity (about a shy cup) of the hard, white, sheep milk cheese into a mis en place dish. While watching the butter browning process closely, I then started a batch of pasta cooking in well salted water. (I like any of the smaller, twisted, extruded pastas because to my mind they all hold a sauce really well.) 

I put a little of the final brown butter sauce
in a white cup to show off the lovely color.
Once the butter had browned, I used a kitchen spider (not the large attic spider watching me suspiciously from the corner above the refrigerator) to lift out, drain briefly, and transfer the al dente pasta to the brown butter pot with the grated Myzithra cheese. 

I tossed it all together, plated it with a nice side of broccoli, and gave the whole plate another once over with grated Myzithra, finally, I topped the pasta with the caramelized Chanterelles. (I'm actually kind of shocked I was able to stop, put down my fork, and take a photo.)

I’m really sure I upgraded The Old Spaghetti Factory’s version (at least my memory of it from...oh my goodness...a memory from over 45 years ago!) In all fairness, the Chanterelles were very good this way...better than in an omelet in my humble opinion. But, I’m not sure if some good (very market available) Cremini mushrooms wouldn’t be equally as good. Still, there is that “I foraged it in the wilds” thought floating around in my psyche that should account for something. (FYI: In case you ever wondered, the white button, common white, Cremini, and the Portobello are just different stages of the same mushroom (species Agaricus bisporus). The Portobello is considered by most experts to be the best tasting and most “meaty” mushroom...which stands to reason because it’s the fully ripe one...duh!

I also think that using a good Parmesan, Pecorino, or Asiago cheese would be delightful with Brown butter sauce & pasta...sounds like a good winter project for my taste buds (and potential challenge for the elastic material in my pant’s waistband 😎).

I'm not left handed, but since the fork was failing
to pick up anything else with my right hand...

P.S. It seems that I could save some digits (should that be on a T-shirt? Save the Digits) and just use the same end of meal, finished, empty plate picture for all my blog’s food oriented posts...and looking at the picture has made me realize why I never think about doing a pre-rinse on my plates for the dishwasher.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Galapagos I : Quito, TelefériQo, Pisco Sours, Otavalo Market, Cuy, and the Flu

The Motley Crew had decided that traveling together was just the only way to really wring out every last bit of fun a trip had to offer. Visiting the Galapagos was on everyone’s bucket list so we all booked the cruise on the Celebrity Xpedition. Now you may be wondering how the title for this post relates to the text so far...well, Susan had seen a Samantha Brown travel episode on the Cloud Forest of Ecuador. She figured since we were already heading to Quito, why not go several days earlier and take a van to Minto, where we’d stay at the El Monte Sustainable Lodge in the Cloud Forest and enjoy Thanksgiving in Ecuador. Sounded pretty good to the Malicks & the Graybills, so the six of us booked a “pre-cruise” destination. The Casne's planned to join us in Quito after we returned from the Cloud Forest.

Susan & I went up to Portland the day before our flight to see Grant & Sandy. They had a friend who’d just opened a martini bar in the Pearl district...named Olive or could we resist going there! Turned out they had invited their daughter Stacy and her boyfriend Nathan to join us. We had a great evening and we later learned that this was the first time Nathan had met Grant & Sandy...we were the buffers for the Meet The Parents event! (Incidentally, Stacy & Nathan got married and now have two beautiful children...even after meeting us...go figure.)

When we’d arrived at the Quito airport, Jim & Layne were on the same flight but were seated a few rows up from us. They got off the plane just a few minutes before us and boarded the waiting bus to the terminal. We stood/sat/stood/sat for quite a while waiting for the next bus and then once in the terminal, we waited for 1 ½ hours to reach the head of the passport checkpoint. Apparently, many flights into Quito arrive late at night and are bunched up in the landing queue. My guess is it’s done this way so the airport workers don’t have to be there long hours in the middle of the night. (Looking at it from a financial point of view, it does make perfect sense...the airport saves money because they don’t need to have services and personal working all night.) All the while we stood in a static line, we could see Jim & Layne transform from patiently waiting passengers to not so patiently waiting, very tired people. Layne was actually starting to look a bit pale as well. 

Jay & Leslie met us at the Sheraton when we arrived at 1 am, but for some reason a welcoming party didn’t materialize...go figure! Later we found out that they did a layover in Lima coming in from New Zealand and had to deal with all tiring diversions such as getting lost in their room's big, soft bed and being forced to enjoy a large pool in the hotel with a spectacular laminar water they may have already been worn out when we first saw them.

After our morning walk in the Parque La Carolina (a beautiful park with lots of larger than life, caricatured people, a block from the Sheraton Quito), Susan & I met Jay, Leslie, and Jim in the Graybill’s room. Turns out Layne was actually very sick and could not get up...good thing we got a picture last night with her in it! We talked until almost noon and then walked out to find a place for lunch. After lunch, Jim checked on Layne and reported back to us that she was still pretty sick. 

Jim urged us to go out exploring, so we hired a taxi to take the four of us up to the TelefériQo gondola lift (teleférico and Quito). The taxi driver told us it would be $4 US dollars (one way) to take the four of us up to the lift. (And I do mean US dollars, as that is the official currency of least as of 2012.) We were a little concerned about getting a taxi back, but Edgar (our driver) said it would only take us an hour and that he’d wait...obviously we were not in America anymore. The gondola tickets (round trip, thank god!) were $8.50. This gondola lift is one of the highest in the world going from 10,226 ft (3,117 m) to 12,943 ft (3,945 m) along the east side of the Pichincha Volcano. There was a trail that went up to an observation site that of course we had to take. A point of information doesn’t matter that you are in WILL lose your breath and have to stop frequently while walking uphill above 13,000 ft. (The four of us walked up the trail towards the Ruku peak for about ½ hour before we all “hit the wall”...probably only got to 13,500 ft elevation or so...but it really doesn’t matter, I was done! I would like to know how they got horses for rent up there, I never saw one!)

Upon returning down the mountain after 2 ½ hours, we found Edgar faithfully waiting for us with his taxi. We gave him $15 as a tip and considered it a great value! Returning to the Sheraton, we had a message in our room that Layne had been taken to the hospital and Jim was with her. Jim said she was in good hands and we should continue exploring and have dinner without them. Leslie found a street vendor selling roasted plantains with queso fresco cheese and decided that she had to try it. We all got to taste it and for street food, it was pretty good as an appetizer. 

Found an interesting place just down the street for a real dinner and decided to give it a try. The menus contained only pictures of what you were ordering...with the Spanish name for the entrée, but otherwise gave us very little idea of what was in it. Seeing that we were not locals, we were brought four complementary Passionfruit Pisco sours to help ease us into dinner. Our waiter could speak a little English which helped us choose from the menu. I chose Tacu Tacu, which is a typical Peruvian beans & rice dish. Since we were in Ecuador, I thought I’d kill two gastronomical birds with one Pisco Sour. I have to say that presentation of the dish was not up to my expectations. It tasted all right...but, you tell me what it looks like. (P.S. - Later I found out Tacu Tacu is a native Peruvian, I may have been the victim of some cuisine disdain by our chef.) I don't know what Susan had, but that picture looked a whole lot better, so I added it to the collage as "balance". Dinner for four (with 3 more Pisco Sours) cost us $96 and we left a $10 tip since we’d read that it was not expected but a little extra was appreciated...

Layne was returned from the hospital after 2 bags of IV saline, some meds, and a lot of attention from the doctors and nurses. The Concierge at the Sheraton was awesome and constantly checked on Layne as well as acting as interpreter and as her advocate during the hospital stay while keeping us all informed as to what was happening...she was fabulous to have around! To celebrate Layne getting better, Jim, Jay, and I went to a little bar & restaurant nearby that evening (the ladies all declined our invitation) to have some beer and much for When in Ecuador...

The next morning, Layne stayed at the motel (under the watchful eye of the Concierge) while the five of us piled in a small van and headed for the famous Otavalo Market (locally known as the Plaza de los Panchos and about 56 miles from Quito) as a tour set up by the Concierge (what a surprise, huh!) Susan had read about it and convinced us that it was a must for the trip (after all, it was shopping in Ecuador). We stopped for a break at Mira Lago and some photo ops...and of course had a snack. The Otavalo Market was really fun, lots of bright colors and plenty of variety. I found out that Susan was in the market for several table clothes, and she scored within minutes of our arrival. (Jim, Jay, and I wandered around mostly and wondered if any of our clothes were going to be replaced with market items upon our exit from South American.) After making several vendors very happy, our group packed back in the van for a short ride (5 miles) to Cotacachi. Although the claim to fame for the town is its leather products, we were primarily interested in the lunch included with our “Market Tour”. Lots of spectacular scenery on this entire tour/trip...really glad Susan pushed us all to "hit the road".

Before lunch we took a tour of a fabric business and had an interesting tour and demonstration of various natural dyes used by the Ecuadorean people. I didn’t realize how versatile the Cochineal Scale insect was...crush it and you get a bright crimson color, add lime juice (acid) and the color turns a deep orange, add a bit of soda ash (base) and you get a gorgeous, deep cool is that! I don’t think we bought anything here...but my attention was on the dye demonstration and my back was turned from Susan & Leslie...and, hey! Wait a minute...I think I’m missing a pair of pants and one of my favorite shirts...hmmm...and I don’t recognize that new table cloth!

Now for those who are a bit stomach squeamish or very fond of small animals of the rodent persuasion, you might want to skip this paragraph and scroll past the lunch photos. A national delicacy of Ecuador is Cuy...known to us a Guinea Pig. All of us except Susan ordered it because When in Ecuador... (and as always, she was one of the smartest!) The golden potato soup with avocado was the best and we all were amused that popcorn was the “bread” for the table. We were also shocked to learn that Jay could do Karaoke with a pan were the members of the band. The Cuy was a little greasy for my taste and neither Jay or  I were fond of the presentation...but it was another bucket list item checked off for us...or maybe best just put in the bucket next time. Of important note here, Cuy is NOT listed in the book 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die...just sayin’...

One fact our tour guide noted, that amazed us all, is that roses are a major export for Ecuador. The reason is that roses cultivated at the equator (in Ecuador) will grow very straight and on very long stems. And as we all know, long stemmed roses are sold at a premium price...who knew it took the equator to help make the best long stemmed roses?

We arrived back at the Sheraton to find Layne ambulatory and willing to join the group for some gab time. None of us were very hungry...I know that may come as a shock after such an obviously extravagant & exotic lunch (with popcorn!)...but it was true. So we all just ordered some various soups for a light dinner. Tomorrow morning we leave for Minto and the Cloud Forest of El Monte.

P.S. If you aren't very good at stringing electrical and telephone wires in an orderly fashion, Quito has some job opportunities for you.

P.P.S. We're pretty sure that Layne had gotten the flu just before catching their flight to Quito...thank goodness it was the short version and that the Sheraton's Concierge was so pro-active for her!