Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Dolly Madison!

In recent days, it has become apparent that Dolly Madison, the turkey, is actually male. She has some black feathers coming on her chest, and the weird red fleshy bits on her head and neck have multiplied. She even has a purple sweep over each eye, like a drag queen in bad early 80’s eyeshadow. The discovery of her true sex has not changed her name or the pronouns by which we all refer to her. We say ludicrous things like, “Look, Dolly’s strutting!” and “Listen, Dolly’s gobbling!” But no one feels obliged to switch to masculine verbiage, and Dolly does not care. Gender is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.

One more interesting thing about Dolly’s new look: the dingle on her nose, which she seems to be able to operate—at least making it stand up a bit when she’s interested in something, such as my head appearing in the barn door—can also be extended, or drooped I should say, during The Big Show, which involves poofing herself out all over like a Mummer, dropping her wings and revolving majestically so you can get a good view of all sides. When fully drooped, this dingle, barely an inch long at rest, hangs down past the end of her beak. It’s the damndest thing you ever saw. Nature goes to incredible lengths to ensure future generations of turkeys. (Broad-Breasted Whites like Dolly can’t actually mate naturally any more, because they’ve been bred to grow quickly into tasty, easy to pluck T-day entrees, but we’re going to avert our gaze from that fact and dwell instead on where Nature was at in the Turkey Promulgation Project when we intervened.)

Yesterday, Thanksgiving morning, while John was out in the dog garden grilling the tofu for Thanksgiving dinner, I found out that, in addition to his other well-known gifts, such as the ability to cause a woodstove full of miserable, wet firewood to burst into flames simply by putting his hands near it, John is also a turkey conjurer. In the middle of a stream of conversation with Dolly, John interjected, “Give a little whistle!” and Dolly gobbled loudly. He can do this at will, for my entertainment and the children’s. It’s certainly going to be a good party trick when the weather turns warm again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Invaded by Beauty

Most the of invasive plant species around here were introduced to this country as ornamentals, then escaped and spread all over the place by means of their very successful reproductive strategies. We have purple loosestrife; Russian olive; that USDA darling of the 1930s, the multiflora rose; and my personal favorite, the bush honeysuckle, which is so shallow rooted that in a fit of pique you can tear one out of the ground with your bare hands, even if it’s 10 times your size. We also have a few pyracanthas, or firethorn, pictured here. They’re a nasty customer, and good luck getting rid of one without chemicals. Fortunately, their successful reproductive strategy involves these beautiful red berries, a real treat at this brown time of year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken

Tonight for dinner, we are having our annual Fall Fungus Risotto, starring a new special guest myco-entity, the Sulphur Shelf, aka Laetiporus sulphureus. The Fall Fungus Risotto tradition began early in this century when I found myself one October in Scotland, where I chanced to eat one of the best meals of my life (at the restaurant of a Holiday Inn Express, no less), which included a locally-foraged Autumn Mushroom Risotto.

This experience was too wonderful not to be attempted again, so each year I make my fall risotto with whatever I have on hand, usually some boughten crimini, a dried porcini stock and one or two fresh shrooms extracted from the woods.

We are running late this year, thanks to the wedding; the usual September-October mushroom flush is long gone. In fact, the whole autumn apparently occurred while I was not looking. My friend Pat’s photographs of beautiful local scenery record the foliage that completely escaped my attention while it was hanging right outside my window. This makes me think that in addition to its other bad qualities, excessive stress makes you blind.

However, Nature in her mercy has vouchsafed me a cure for Autumn Deficit Disorder: in spite of the late date, Pat discovered a big clump of a beautiful mushroom that at first we took to be Hen of the Woods. But when I, the ever-dutiful mushroom hunter, went to look it up, I found that it lacked the Hen’s gray color and ground-dwelling location. This beauty was orange, shelf-like and growing on a downed log. It was, in point of fact, not the Hen but the Chicken—Chicken Mushroom being another of its aliases. According to Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America, by David Fischer and Alan Bessette, we may have years of Sulphur Shelves at the Fall Fungus Festival, because they tend to re-grow on the same log for several seasons.

So my autumn has been redeemed with a mushroom new to me, which in its raw state smells dee-vine. It will share the stage with the humble criminis and porcinis we depend upon, as well as some onions from the farmers market, our home-grown garlic and some Arborio rice all the way from Italy. We will eat this glorious feast by the fireplace, accompanied by a nice Shiraz and not much else. I don’t believe in crowding the plate when there is something so extraordinary to concentrate on.

I’ll let you know how it all cooks up.