My First Post!

This month, I started my first class with Algonquin College’s Social Media Certification programme. As a project for the classes, I’ve decided to create a blog about food, travel and life on the road.

I’ve always had a passion for kitchen gardening, cooking and learning about new foods. However, these general interests were brought to a whole new level when I started traveling and living overseas.

Over the years, I’ve travelled to more than 30 countries and spent time living and working in Afghanistan, Austria, Barbados, Botswana, Germany, South Korea, the U.K. and of course my native Canada. With each new voyage, my favourite way to learn about the culture, language and people was through food. It’s truly amazing how sharing a meal can not only bring people together but open your mind to a whole new way of seeing the world.

Tara and Jurgen in Bangkok

Jurgen & Tara visiting Wat Po in Bangkok, Thailand

From 2008 to 2009, I volunteered for a children’s garden based learning project with the FAO and doing research on food security and health in Barbados for my Master’s degree in 2008 – 2009. Slavery, colonialism, small island development and of course globalization and changing food systems had a tremendous impact not only on food security but also on dietary habits, health, agriculture and the way contemporary Barbadians view local foods. The lessons learned on an academic, as well as a personal level, have further developed my understanding of food as a reflection of place, time, culture and memory.

These days, I’m living in a little Austrian village called Gols which is in the province of Burgenland. Set on the border between Austria and Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia, Burgenland is the perfect place to learn about Central European heritage and old world cooking traditions.

I first came to Gols in February 2014 with my Austrian boyfriend Jurgen. Jurgen and I met in Bangkok and spent 3 fabulous months traveling around Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore before he convinced me to join him in Gols. But after 6 months in Austria, it was time to leave. I returned to Canada for a few months but now I’m back again on another tourist visa while we struggle through the immigration process (wish us luck!)

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a lot more about life and food in Burgenland including posts about local traditions, foods, dining out and the challenges, frustrations, exploits and eureka moments of an expat learning to shop and cook in an Austrian kitchen.

Thanks for reading, I hope to see you soon!

Advertisements

Foraging Update: Cattails, Nettle, Asparagus, Milkweed Shoots & Wild Mushrooms oh my!

Once the wild garlic and the fiddleheads were harvested I thought my foraging days would slow down a bit before the wild mushrooms took over but boy was I wrong!

I’m constantly amazed at the variety, versatility and bounty of our natural surroundings.

Here are some of the recent wild edibles I’ve found on my walks. I hope you enjoy them and find some inspiration to do your own foraging where you live!

P.S. foraging, identification and recipes to come sometime when I’ve got time for blogging! 😀

Pheasant’s Back:

Pheasant's Back

Cattail Shoots:

Cattails

Cattail Shoots

Wild Onion Chives (in the bucket sitting next to a pot I bought just 24 hours earlier oups!):

Planting Herbs

Milkweed Shoots & Stinging Nettle Tops:

P.S. Easy on the milkweed – we need to leave lots for the monarch butterflies! 🙂

Milkweed Shoots & Stinging Nettle Tops

Wild Oyster Mushrooms:

Wild Oyster Mushrooms

Wild Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster Mushrooms

What’s your favourite thing to forage in spring?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please share your comments below!

Wild Garlic

Spring is in full force! It’s time to forage dandelion root, burdock, fiddleheads and wild garlic. Too busy for writing these days with all of my free-time in the fields, gullies or the bush. The fiddleheads are almost done and the wild garlic season will be over soon too. Make sure to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer! 🙂

Foraging for Wild Garlic

Korean Burdock Tea – 우엉차

Burdock Tea

Korean Burdock Tea – 우엉차

Burdock Root

Burdock Tea (우엉차) is a medicinal beverage commonly found in both South Korea as well as Japan. Burdock tea has a subtle earthy and flavour that’s reminiscent of ginseng.

It’s said that burdock tea is beneficial for weight loss, improved blood circulation, relieving constipation, as well as having anti-cancerous properties. However I encourage you to do your own research before using burdock for it’s medicinal properties.

*Pregnant women should avoid burdock.

Ingredients:

  • Burdock Root
  • Water

Instructions:

To use as a tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1teaspoon of burdock root. Cover and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes.

To make a decoction, add 1 teaspoon of burdock root to one cup of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

1. Scrub burdock root and slice thinly with a knife, a mandoline or a vegetable peeler.

Burdock Root

2. Dehydrate burdock on the lowest setting. At 95◦F it took about 8 hours however time will vary depending on humidity and other factors.

If using an oven, lay the burdock on baking sheets and set the oven to it’s lowest setting while leaving the door slightly afar.

Once the burdock is fully dried it should snap clean when bending.

Dehydrating Burdock

3. Store burdock in an airtight container.

Dried Burdock Root

4. You can make tea with dehydrated burdock root, or after dehydrating toast the dried root gently for a richer flavour.

Toasting the Dried Burdock

5. Steep the root in boiled water for at least 5 minutes. For a deeper flavour, boil the root in water and let steep for a few hours before serving.

Steeping the Burdock

6. Strain the burdock root and enjoy!

Burdock Tea

Braised Burdock Root – 우엉조림

DSC_0203 - watermark.jpg

In Korea, every meal includes anywhere from 2 to 12 side dishes. Side dishes – or 밑반찬 (pronounced ‘mit-ban-chan’) – aren’t just ‘free’ appetizers; they are the star attractions of every meal.

The most well-known Korean side dish is kimchi. There are literally hundreds of varieties of kimchi with each household having their own special recipes. But there are countless other side-dishes as well, such as: salted eggs, fried cucumbers, squid pancakes, pickled garlic and many more!

Today we’ll be cooking up some braised burdock root. In Korean, you would say 우엉조림 which is pronounced ‘ou-eong-jo-rim’.

Where to find Burdock?

DSC_0089 - watermarkIn Eastern Ontario, Burdock root will be ready to dig up around the end of April – beginning of May. But don’t wait too long! Once the plant starts maturing the nutrients will be pushed up from the root into the leaves, so catch them when they are young!

Alternatively, you can harvest burdock root in the fall once the leaves start dying back. When harvesting burdock, be careful not to break the root. If possible, wait until after a good rain which will make it easier to pull the root up in one long piece.

Click here to learn more about foraging burdock! (coming soon)

If foraging is not your thing, look for burdock root at your local Asian grocery store. It might be sold whole, cut into section, or pickled.

Braised Burdock Root – 우엉조림 (Ou-eong-jo-rim)

Serves: 6 – 8 as a side dish

Time: 1 hour

Braised Burdock Root is sweet and salty with a little bit of heat making it the perfect Korean side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lb burdock root (about 1 lb after peeling and cleaning)
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small head of garlic, minced fine
  • 2 tbsp dry cooking sherry *optional
  • 3 tbsp Korean soy sauce (국간장 pronounced ‘kuk-gan-chang’)
  • 2.5 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1-2 Korean chili peppers (고추 pronounced ‘Ko-chu’) according to taste *can be substituted with fresh or dried bird’s eye chili
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup (쌀엿 pronounced ‘ssal-yeot’) *can be substituted with corn syrup
  • 2 tsp sesame oil (참기름 pronounced ‘cham-ki-leum’)
  • Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • Water

Instructions:

1. Soak the burdock in cold water to loosen the dirt and give it a good scrub.

Burdock Root

2. Peel burdock root as you would a potato. Remove any soft or damaged bits.

Burdock Root

3. Slice the burdock root into 2 inch match sticks or julienne with a vegetable slicer. (I use a Kiwi brand vegetable slicer that I bought in Bangkok, Thailand – it’s the best!)

Burdock Root

4. Soak the burdock root in cold water and a touch of vinegar for about 30 minutes. Work quickly to avoid oxidation while making sure the burdock looks nice and fresh!

Burdock Root

Weigh the burdock root down with a plate to prevent oxidation.

Burdock Root

5. While you’re waiting, mix the soy sauce, diced garlic, thinly sliced hot pepper, brown sugar and dry cooking sherry. Set aside.

Ueong-Jorim 우엉조림 - marinade

6. Strain and dry the burdock root.

Burdock Root

7. Add the vegetable oil to a wok or a pot and turn the heat up to high. Sauté the burdock root for about 10 – 15 minutes or until tender.

8. Lower the heat and add the marinade. Cover and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes.

Ueong-Jorim 우엉조림 - simmering

After about 10 minutes the 우엉조림 should be coming along nicely!

Ueong-Jorim 우엉조림 - almost there!

9. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, the 우엉조림 is just about ready. Turn the heat up to high. Add the brown rice syrup (or corn syrup if you don’t have any) and fry at high heat. Stir often to prevent burning.

Ueong-Jorim 우엉조림 - just a few more minutes

10. Once the liquid has almost disappeared and remove from the heat.Now it’s time to add the sesame oil!

Ueong-Jorim 우엉조림 - ready for plating!

11. Once you’ve mixed the sesame oil into the braised burdock, plate the 우엉조림 with a sprinkling of gently toasted sesame seeds.

Ueong-Jorim 우엉조림

우엉조림 can be served right away or kept in the fridge for up to one week. Serve cold as a side dish with rice and soup or with sushi.

Do you like Korean food? What’s your favourite dish?
I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.

Birch Polypore – Medicinal Wild Mushroom

Birch Polypore a.k.a. Razor Strop

LATIN NAME: Piptoporus betulinus

COMMON NAMES: Birch Polypore, Birch Bracket, or Razor Strop

ECOLOGY: Birch Polypore is the most common polyporous racket fungi. Growing best in cold climates, it can be found almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere anywhere you find birch trees. While it grows mostly on dead birch trees, logs or branches, you can sometimes find them on living trees.

IDENTIFYING FEATURES:

Birch Polypore printBirch polypore has a rather nice mushroomy smell although the taste is very bitter.

Caps can range from 5 cm to almost a foot long starting out as little white bumps, turning into soft but rubbery bulbous protrusions. As they grow older, they become flat, kidney-shaped and tough.

The upper skin tends to be soft, smooth and white when young. As it ages, the skin remains smooth but it becomes  browner. As the skin of the cap reaches the pore surface, you’ll notice that there tends to be a slight rim. Eventually the skin will crack and peel away from the flesh.

The flesh itself is white while the pore surface begins as white but changes to a grayish-brown as it ages.

Like it’s name suggests, the birch polypore doesn’t have gills. Instead, it has hundreds of tubes with tiny pores showing on it’s underside. The pore surface will be white, turning to grey and eventually black. The spore print is also white.

There is often no visible stem, however if there is one it will be stubby and short.

SMELL:  Fresh and mushroomy

TASTE:  Bitter

MEDICINAL VALUE:

  • immune boosting,
  • anti-parasitic,
  • anti-septic,
  • anti-viral,
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-bacterial,
  • anti-styptic,
  • anti-tumorous,
  • anti-parasitic.

 

HARVESTING BIRCH POLYPORE:

An annual fungi, the lifespan of birch polypore can reach up to a little over a year and you can easily find young specimens growing late into the fall.

If you plan on eating the mushrooms, you should harvest them when they are very young, round and tender. As they grow bigger, Birch Polypore becomes so tough that they can only be used for teas and tinctures.

mushroom knifeWhen young, they tend to be more  rubbery making it necessary to cut the stems with a sharp knife to prevent the fruit from going squishy. As they grow older and firmer, you can usually snap them off by hand.

When harvesting older specimens, make sure that the porous underside is nice, clean and white or ivory coloured. You also want to avoid specimens that have a lot of bugs in them. The porous surface should be nice and clean looking.

HOW TO PREPARE BIRCH POLYPORE:

While young specimens are supposed to be edible, I tend to use a hot water extraction method.

mushroom brushAfter harvesting, you can clean and prepare the mushrooms right away or let them sit pore-side up in the sun for a day to boost their vitamin D content.

Remove the dirt off with a mushroom brush or vegetable scrubber and then slice the polypore into thin strips. At this point, you can use the mushrooms right away or dry them for later use.

If weather permits, continue to dry the mushrooms in the sun until they lose their pliability and snap easily when bent.

excalibur flippedAnother option is to dehydrate the slivers of mushrooms. Use the lowest setting and dry until they break when bent. After letting them air out a bit to remove any possibility for condensation build-up, store the dehydrated mushroom slivers in glass jars or another airtight container.Dehydrated mushrooms can be stored almost indefinitely.

HOT WATER EXTRACTION:

Making mushroom tea is a good way to extract the flavour and nutrients from tough, woody or rubbery mushrooms like birch polypore, turkey tail, chaga and other fungi that are too tough or leathery to eat.

Once the mushrooms have been cleaned and prepared, you’ll want to simmer them in hot water to release the medicinal properties. Bring water to a boil and then reduce head to a simmer before adding your birch polypore.

While many advise letting the mushroom simmer for at least an hour, I recommend a maximum of 15 to 20 minutes to avoid having the tea become too bitter. Drink your birch polypore tea right away or save it for later use.

Birch polypore tea can be kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen into ice cubes.  Add the liquid or ice cubes to soup or stews to enhance the medicinal value of your meals while masking the bitter flavour.

Another great idea is to add the frozen tea to fruit smoothies. Yum!

OTHER USES: 

  • Sharpen Blades: Use the inner flesh of birch polypore to sharpen knives the same way you would use a sharpening stone (hence the name “Razor Strop”).
  • Field Plaster: Cut a strip off the underside and use it as a makeshift bandaid or self-adhesive antiseptic field plaster.
  • Tinder: Use dried out slivers as tinder.

INTERESTING FACTS:

otziWhile it’s been used for thousands of years, birch polypore shot to fame when it was found along with the body of ‘Ötzi’, a 5300 year old mummy discovered by two German tourists hiking in the Alps between the borders of Austria and Italy. It’s believed that Ötzi – who was suffering from Lyme disease – might have used the mushrooms to help clear parasitic worms from the stomach and the digestive system. 

*Click here to learn more about Ötzi the Iceman!

Ötzi the Iceman

otziOkay, so this post has very little to do with food. But it does have to do with travel, super cool things, and medicinal mushrooms so I guess it fits the bill!

While I would love to say that I had the chance to see Ötzi in person, I only leaned about him by chance after returning home to Canada while researching local wild mushrooms. It’s a darned shame, I know! 

Anyway, for those of you visiting Italy in the near future make sure to visit the Ötzi the Iceman exhibit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

Who the heck is Ötzi the Iceman?

Ötzi  is a well-preserved glacier mummy who lived during the Copper Age sometime between 3359 and 3105 BCE.

Mummy Otzi the icemanÖtzi’s body was discovered accidentally by German hikers along the Schnalstal/Val Senales Valley glacier in September 1991. Yikes! What would you do if you stumbled across a 5,300-year-old corpse?

The area where Ötzi was found is known as the Ötztal Alps, which was how the Iceman got his name. However, Ötzi also goes by many other names! Because the Ötztal Alps are located near the Similaun mountain and Hauslabjoch along the border between Austria and Italy, Ötzi is also known as: 

  • the Similaun Man,
  • Man from Hauslabjoch,
  • the Tyrolean Iceman,
  • Homo tyrolensis,
  • Frozen Fritz, or
  • the Hauslabjoch mummy.

What’s so cool about Ötzi?

Aside from being Europe’s oldest known natural human mummy… Wait! What am I talking about? He’s a naturally occurring glacial mummy! How freakin’ cool is that??? Okay, okay but there’s more!

otzi birch

Because Ötzi’s belongings were excellently preserved along with him in the glacier, scientist were able to learn a truckload of new things about how people lived during the Copper Age.

Among Ötzi’s possessions were two pieces of birch polypore (birch fungus) threaded onto hide strips. Since the fungus has a long history of being used for it’s medicinal benefits, it’s assumed that  Ötzi  might have been using it as a sort of ancient Neolithic ‘First Aid Kit’ to combat lyme disease which is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected deer ticks.

Click to learn more about the Iceman’s Equipment!

How did Ötzi die?

Poor Ötzi experienced a grizzly death at the hands of a bowman. That’s right, those German tourists hiking around the Alps happened across a 5300 year old homicide!

What led to Ötzi’s murder remains unclear but scientists are busy tying to solve the mystery:

Curious facts about Ötzi the Iceman

1. The Iceman has living relatives. In fact, research has indicated that Ötzi has at least 19 genetic relatives living in Austria’s Tyrol region;

2. Ötzi wasn’t on his game. After giving the Iceman a full-body health check-up, scientists discovered that Ötzi suffered from worn joints, hardened arteries, gallstones, a nasty growth on his little toe (possibly caused by frostbite), he was lactose intolerant and probably Lyme disease;

3. For someone with so many living relatives thousands of years later, researchers suspect that Ötzi was infertile. He also had a gap between his two front teeth, lacked both wisdom teeth and was missing a 12th pair of ribs.

4. The Iceman had tats!  Numbering over 50 in total, Ötzi’s remains were covered from head to foot in Copper Age tattoos. Unlike modern-age tattoos, Ötzi’s were made by making fine cuts in the skin and then rubbing in charcoal. The result was a series of lines and crosses mostly located on parts of the body that are prone to injury or pain, such as the joints and along the back.

5. Ötzi the Iceman’s stomach contents included 30 different types of pollen. According to scientists, Ötzi  ate his final meal – grains and meat from an ibex (a species of nimble-footed wild goat) – just a few short hours before his grizzly death.

Want to see Ötzi the Iceman in person?

Visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy where Ötzi and his artifacts have been exhibited since 1998.

Sources:

Wild Mushrooms of Eastern Ontario

14612559_10157734077185107_7666461331642631668_oWell folks as you can see I’m back in Canada! While I certainly miss Austria and all of my friends in Gols, it’s good to be home.

As spring approaches, I’ve been asked to do a presentation on foraging for wild mushroom for the local Green Thumb group. A great excuse to get back to my blog, I’ve been busy uploading photos and making videos.

45a

Dad holding a Giant Puffball

While I’ve always had an interest in wild foods, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to take a workshop with The Wild Mushroom Lady – hosted by Bedrock and Brambles in Gooderham, ON – that I felt comfortable foraging for wild fungi on my own. Well, with the exception of giant puff mushrooms  that is – which is the only wild mushroom we ever foraged growing up and which tastes absolutely delicious sliced up and sauteed with butter and garlic!

* Check out our review of The Wild Mushroom Lady!

Learning about and foraging for wild mushrooms turned out to be way more rewarding than I ever imagined. Learning about all of the local fungi, sharing my new knowledge with friends, spending time outdoors, harvesting and processing enough produce to keep my family fed the whole year through has been an amazing experience.

14543730_10157730823650107_9060064301991676351_o

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about the various wild mushrooms found around eastern Ontario and sharing my experiences in the bush and in the kitchen.

I hope you enjoy the photographs and joining me on my adventures with food in Canada and around the world. Stay tuned to learn more about foraging in Eastern Ontario!

Do you enjoy foraging for wild foods?

I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below.

The Wild Mushroom Lady

Cleaning Boletes

 

new pic Lin - flipped.jpgUpon returning to Canada in 2016, I had the chance to meet up with Lin Timbers – The Wild Mushroom Lady – in Bancroft, Ontario.

Lin’s wild mushroom workshops – hosted by Bedrock and Brambles in Gooderham, Ontario – provide an awesome introduction to foraging. By the end of the day, we had all of the information and confidence we needed to start foraging wild mushrooms on our own!

The workshop started with an introduction to some beginner mushrooms – such as boletes, chanterelles, and a few others. Then we moved into a few of the poisonous varieties, precautions, signs and symptoms and what to do in case of an emergency.

Cleaning Wild Mushrooms

Thanks to the lessons-learned that day and all of the wonderful follow-up and support provided on Lin’s Facebook page,  I was able to continue foraging for all sorts of wild mushrooms including a number of boletes, lobster mushrooms, honey mushrooms, oysters, birch polypore, chaga and a whole lot more!

Kira – from Bedrock and Brambles –  also introduced us to a number of edible wild flowers and weeds growing around her farm, including medicinal wild herbs and how to prepare them.

One of the highlights of the day had to be the food (of course!) Kira prepared a lovely kombucha, stinging nettle soup,  garlic scape pesto, a wild salad, desserts and of course our mushroom finds were sauteed with butter and served up individually so we could sample all of the different flavours. What a treat!

Following the workshop, I was invited to spend the weekend with Lin. Excited for the chance to cook together, I lugged out my tripod and Hungarian cookware which we used to make stir-fry for dinner. For breakfast  we  had the most delicious breakfast made up of French toast, maple flavoured bacon, sauteed chanterelles and daylily buds. Yum!

If you’d like to learn more about foraging for wild mushrooms, make sure to follow The Wild Mushroom Lady on Facebook. Or, if you’re planning a visit to the County of Haliburton sign up for a workshop with Lin and Kira!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post featuring Kira’s delicious stinging nettle soup!

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

Feverfew