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Never in a million years did I think I’d say it, but we ate seaweed twice this weekend. On purpose.

It all started a few weeks ago when Brent and I watched a webinar on how eating well is essential to overall health. That’s no surprise, but we did learn a thing or two. Among the handful of application points we took away was a big thumbs up for the virtues of seaweed. Did you know that this sea vegetation can help curb appetite, and provide a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals and protein? It can also aid digestion and promote other health benefits.

Most likely, that’s not enough to make you run out and indulge in a heaping bowl of seaweed. But we enjoy an occasional cooking adventure, so we decided to do a little research and give it a try.

Before we got that far, we actually ordered a seaweed dish when we stopped for lunch at Crave at the MOA on Friday. We shared their seaweed salad and it was delicious. Really!

If you’re not used to cooking with seaweed, your first question might be, “Where do you get it?” That’s what we wondered. We started off at a local Asian grocery store, but came up empty-handed. When in doubt, give Whole Foods a shot. And wouldn’t you know, they have a whole section full of the stuff.

After pulling ideas from a bunch of online recipes, here’s what I came up with. It’s much like a Miso soup. Honestly, I had very cautious expectations as I watched the hunks of green leaves simmer on the stove. But if Brent’s response is any indication, it turned out quite nice.

P.S.: If you’re a family member reading this, don’t worry, we don’t plan to bring this soup for the holidays, but if you give us a heads up, we’d love to make a bowl for you.

Seaweed Soup
Prep and Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
12 whole dried medium shiitake mushrooms
6 cups warm water
4 medium-sized pieces 
Kelp seaweed, cut to bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced thinly
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 T minced fresh ginger
1 carrot, thinly sliced
4 T dry Veggie Base powder
4 T chopped dulse seaweed, cut to bite-size pieces
4 T Amino Acids or soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
3 T green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 tsp “Sea Seasonings” Kelp Granules (optional)

Rinse mushrooms, kelp and dulse and soak in 2 cups of warm water for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Save the water. Directions:

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the mushroom/seaweed water in medium soup pot. Add onion and healthy sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and ginger and continue to sauté for another minute.
  2. When mushrooms and kelp are soft, thinly slice the mushrooms and chop the seaweed into bite-sized pieces. Cut out the mushroom stems when slicing mushrooms and discard. Add to the soup pot along with the soaking water, and 4 more cups of water and Veggie Base. Add carrots. Bring to a boil on high heat.
  3. Once it returns to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Season with Amino Acids (or soy sauce), rice vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add green onion and serve.

Serves 6

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Success!!

Our first foray into the wilds of Sakatah Lake State Park just west of Faribault, Minnesota proved fruitful! Ha! Sorry I couldn’t resist saying that. We were geared up for a fun day and we weren’t disappointed. There were plenty of foragers who joined us as the trip was organized by the Minnesota Mycological Society. Over 60 people arrived at the Park and were ready to forage by 10am. Our quarry was Morchella esculenta, or the common morel mushroom. And in case you didn’t know, it is the official state mushroom of Minnesota.

The season is still rather early as our winter hung around for an extra 3 weeks. The trees haven’t even leafed out yet. You can still see through the woods as if it were the middle of April. It made it a little easier to get low and see to the ground, however the ground cover is springing up pretty fast now. Another week and the morel mushrooms should be perfect. The group found quite a few, but they’re not very mature yet.

A word of advice, you will want to take precaution against ticks and mosquitos. The best way to do that is to treat your jeans, your shirt and your socks with permethrin. You can get it in the form of an aerosol at most camping stores or as a spray. We opted for the spray. Don’t treat this stuff lightly. Do NOT spray it on while wearing your clothes. You must treat the clothing and let your clothes dry for at least 2 hours before wearing your outfit. You do NOT want to spray yourself with this chemical. We purchased the Sawyer brand and treated our clothes earlier in the week. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear gloves. There are plenty of prickly shrubs and you will get scratched if you’re not properly covered. When we arrived it was overcast and had been sprinkling. This was a good thing because otherwise it could’ve been warm to be covered up as we were.

Not a bonanzaa, but a typical basket. Conditions should improve over the next week.

Finding the morels is not as easy as you might think. They blend into their surroundings as they are a grey to golden yellow in color. At this time of  year, look for dead or dying elm trees with a nice sunny southern exposure. The ground needs to warm up a bit for the fungus to fruit, so this year especially you’ll need to look carefully. Another item to carry is a long stick to bend ground cover over while you peer closely. Some folks used old ski poles, others had their favorite hiking rod. Still others had carved their own sticks with wooden morel mushrooms at the top of the staff. I opted for something provided by mother nature. I found two nice sticks each about 3 feet long. A used hockey stick works pretty well too.

Another find were hundreds of wild onions. These are similar to spring ramps or wild leeks. They are rather potent for their size, so you don’t need very many. But we can tell you how delicious they are! We sauteed the wild onions with our vegetable medley for diner tonight and it was terrific! Are you wondering about how the morel’s taste?

Early May Morels from Minnesota!

Well, we can tell you that we just sauteed them in a little butter with salt and pepper. They were outstanding! They are a very meaty mushroom. Eating them is like taking bites off of a steak. We’re looking forward to our next foray near Lake Pepin.

If you like biking, you’ll enjoy Sakatah Lake State Park too. The Sakatah State trail runs about 40 miles from Fairibault to Mankato. It’s an old, paved railroad bed and the biking is easy. There are plenty of rest stops with picnic tables. Bring a lunch and enjoy the fresh air. We biked for about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace and covered about 14 miles.

By the time we were ready to bike, the sun had emerged and warmed us up providing a little of the season’s first humid air! Spectacular!

Are you finding any morel mushrooms? Have you gone foraging before? If you’re willing to share a good location to find some, please feel free to type a tip or location in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!

Other sightings today included a bluebird, early spring wildflowers (Dutchman’s Britches) and several species of woodpeckers.

Blue bird

Dutchman's Britches

Rest stop on the Sakatah State Trail, Minnesota

MMS - MN Mycological Society Members

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We’re going mushroom hunting with the Minnesota Mycological Society this weekend. How complicated could that be?

#2 DSW Boots

Well, much more than we first thought. Utmost on our minds is the warning about the risk of ticks. Having a good friend currently suffering beyond description with Lyme disease for many years now, we’re taking those warnings seriously. So, that meant spraying down our clothing with permethrin this week. Check!

We also needed something into which we can collect our load of mushrooms. So tonight I bought a basket. Check!

Among other things, we also had to find a suitable pair of boots since we’ll likely be trudging through some muddy territory. Being a man, Brent’s first thought was: Fleet Farm. Hmmmm. I went along and we bought two pair of boots. Admittedly, I made the purchase rather hesitantly. You should have seen Brent’s face when I claimed that they just weren’t “cute” enough. C’mon girls, you get it, right?

So, by the end of today I had three different pairs of boots in front of me. They all have their benefits and their down falls. I’m curious which pair you think I should pick!

#1 Fleet Farm Boots

#1 FLEET FARM BOOTS 
Benefits: reasonably priced, most durable and sturdy, best traction
Down falls: least “cute,” worst fit

#2 DSW BOOTS
Benefits: pretty cute, best fit, most versatile
Down falls: highest price, perhaps a little high of a heel for hiking

#3 Target Boots

#3 TARGET BOOTS
Benefits: darn cute, lowest price
Down falls: merely a “decent” fit, not overly versatile, a little “much” for mushroom foraging?

Vote for which pair you think I should keep!

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It’s that time of the year – Morel hunting time! Last year was early, but this year is more par for the course and the season is promising to be good as there’s been a lot of moisture in southern Minnesota.

Lisa and I attended the annual Morel Mushroom Foray preparation meeting at the University of Minnesota tonight. If you think I’m crazy about mushrooms, or just plain crazy to want to eat wild mushrooms, well, okay. But I’m not the only one. There were well over a 100 people at the meeting tonight. Membership with the Minnesota Mycological Societyor MMS, is up. We’re new members as of last month. It’s a really good deal and it gets you out into the woods with some fun people. Memberships are Student: $15, Individual: $20, Family: $25

MMS meeting at the University of Minnesota

I’m excited about getting an early start this year with the MMS group. You might recall that I blogged about our foray in the fall to collect autumn specimens in Lebanon Hills regional park in Dakota County and that I found a 7 lb Hen of the Woods less than a mile from my front door.

We’re geared up for a couple of foraging expeditions in May. Have you ever foraged for wild mushrooms? Do you have any spots you’d care to share? We understand if you want to keep your place a secret, but otherwise we’d love to hear from you!

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Once in a while our schedules converge and we find ourselves with something on the calendar nearly every night of the week. This is likely par-for-the-course for those of you with children, however, we strive to avoid these situations. But this week the situation is unavoidable.

We have the Minnesota Mycological Society meeting to start the week. This month the mushroom lovers will be discussing the upcoming foraging forays for the annual spring morels. I have to convince Lisa to sign the waiver so we can participate in the foraging. Lisa mentioned this in an earlier blog. She wonders why my hobby must include a death and injury waiver. But I think she secretly is looking forward to it!

That meeting is to be followed by a celebration of the latest class of Stephen’s Ministers at a nearby church. Stephen’s Ministries has been an important part of my development as a believer and to see the addition of new Stephen Ministers will be a happy occasion. In short Stephen Ministers are trained to provide one on one Christian care to hurting people. The training takes six months, so it will be fun to meet the latest class.

Another exciting opportunity will be a concert on Friday. As a part of the lead up to Easter, we’re going to attend the Andrew Peterson concert at New Hope Church (scroll down the linked page for Gospel information at New Hope.) Concert time is April 15 @7:00 p.m. (Doors open at 6:00 p.m.) The concert is free, so if you’re interested, please show up!

You can check out a sample of Andrew’s music here:

We have painters coming to paint two rooms in our house as well this week. Plus we started building shelves in one of our closets. So we’ve cleared furniture and emptied closet contents in preparation for that work, so the house is in a temporary state of confusion.

If you have any advice for how you manage through busy weeks, please leave us your ideas as comments as we’re sure it will help!

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Well, I should have known it might come to this. Considering our current interests, Brent and I could have joined a biking club, maybe taken some cooking classes or an art class, possibly learned Hebrew. But my husband is pleading with me for us to get involved in the Minnesota Mycological Society. Yep. Mushrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love mushrooms. I’m glad he does too. But of all the variety of clubs we could choose from, he wants us to join one that makes you sign a death waiver. That’s right. Specifically, it states:

“I (We) realize that when engaged in wild mushroom activities, that serious physical injury and personal property damage may accidentally occur. I (We) further realize that there is always the possibility of having an allergic reaction to or being poisoned by the eating of wild mushrooms and that these adverse reactions to eating wild mushrooms range from mild indigestion to fatal illness.”

You can wear a helmet while biking because there is a chance you might wipe out. I suppose you could burn your finger while cooking. I’ve even been known to cut myself with one of those Cutco knives. And who’s ever heard of serious injuries taking place in an art class? But we’re talking about “fatal” illness. Do we have to pick the hobby that makes you sign a waiver warning of fatal illness?

Brent in Senegal

I should have known. I married a man who spent two years in the Peace Corp – specifically Senegal, living in a hut, eating with his hands and fighting off poisonous snakes. So, that means when he comes home with a seven pound mushroom he dug up in the woods down the street, he’s going to react a little differently to the idea of making it into dinner than I do. (See photos in our 9/26/10 post.)

Kalli at Our Wedding

I should have known. My friend’s young daughter, Kalli, put it quite simply at our wedding reception. She turned to me after Brent finished singing an Elvis tune with the band and said, “Well, I can see you’re not going to be bored.” And she was right.

Brent Sings at Our Wedding

So, I imagine we’ll sign the waiver and join the club. We’ll probably go on some of the foraging trips. And we’ll probably have a lot of fun, meet some interesting people and eat some delicious delicacies. I wanted to get into biking and Brent met that goal with great enthusiasm. I will take a deep breath, sign the waiver and hope and pray no poisonous funguses pass our lips. It’ll be an adventure!

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We’re wild about mushrooms! Our wet summer has given way to a wet autumn and Minnesota’s damp forests are producing a bonanza of wild fungi. I got interested in wild mushrooms a couple years ago while Lisa and I were dating. Last summer we were too busy trying to sell a house to spend time adding to our limited knowledge of them. But I convinced Lisa that spending a little more time on it this fall might help us enjoy the outdoors more.

Tom Peterson helps students identify the day's foraging results.

Last year I noted that Dakota County offered a 2 -day class in Lebanon Hills park to learn how to identify, find and hunt wild mushrooms. I was excited to see the class being offered again this weekend. You can monitor the county’s offerings on their website: forever wild. The class starts Friday night with a 3-hour introduction to the mushroom lifecycle and identification of the “fool-proof four”: Morel (Morchella esculenta), Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus), Chicken of the Woods (Laetiportus sulphureus) and Puff Balls (Lycoperdon pyriforme), and about 6 other species. Then it continues on Saturday morning at 10am with a quick run down of the agenda before taking off into the woods to forage and bring back your findings for identification. The day ends with a gourmet chef [Randy Smuk] teaching everyone how to prepare the day’s findings in several soups and a variety of noodle dishes cooked up in an outdoor wok. Then everyone sits down together and eats the bounty. Yum! The cost is $50 per person and it’s worth every dollar. The meal is served complete with wine offerings and this year everyone was treated to special chaga tea. You can find boat-loads of websites dedicated to mushrooms and the special medicinal value of species like the ones that are used for the tea. For example – check out this link:

Not only was this fun, but we also met some rather interesting folks. The instructor, Tom Peterson, is a local mycologist from Burnsville. Tom is a foraging expert who runs his own wild mushroom business and sells to local high-end restaurants like the Lake Elmo Inn. He has several dedicated groupies, both ladies and gents, who hang on his every word during the class and phone him often when needing identification assistance. I divided the class between conservative outdoorsmen driving Ford F-150’s who showed up in their waterfowl rain gear on the soaked Saturday morning. They were ready to tromp through the the rain and damp and hunt down some living fungi as if this was prep for the day when we all might need to learn how to live off the land. Another group seemed like a blend of liberal save-the-planet Subaru drivers with Mark Dayton and AIR 9:30 am radio bumper stickers – laid carefully so as not to disturb their green “Wellstone” shrines on their tailgates, along with 60+ former hippies who warned about misuse of hallucinogenic “shrooms.” Their warnings were descriptive enough to make me wonder whether they spoke from experience. Several others were pairs of friends and a few flying solo as their spouses weren’t into the activity. Apparently, fungi is a good non-partisan relationship builder.

An eclectic group savored the day's findings together at Camp Sacajawea

Tom is an excellent teacher and very generous with his time. He lives and thinks mushrooms nearly 24 hours a day. His eyes often stared to an unseen horizon as he shared his passion. It seemed foraging for wild mushrooms was a means to practice his unique outdoor religion. The room quieted when Tom spoke about the mycelium as being nearly on par with human consciousness and alluding to a possible common ancestor. This is an amazing conjecture considering there isn’t any physical evidence of the mushrooms that existed 30 days ago let alone thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago. Stories of government sponsored terrorism against old growth honey mushroom mycelium were shared on Friday night. Apparently, ditches are being dug around the city to break up massive mycelium superhighways around the county. Who knew?!

At the end of the day Lisa and I did pretty good. We found Elm Oyster or pleurotus ostreatus. Highly desired and rated! We’re going to put it in some spaghetti sauce. We also found armillaria mellea or Honey Mushrooms. Excellent and abundant right now! Going back to look for more of these. We found hundreds of laccaria amethystina. There isn’t a common name for that one, but it’s an amazing violet lavender color.

We made a wonderful scrambled egg dish this morning out of the laccaria amethystina. Although the color is fantastic, this mushroom doesn’t really have any flavor, however it’s very moist and it soaks up the flavor of what you cook it in. So we sauteed it with fresh herbs from our garden and a little olive oil and butter before creating our breakfast.

Sauteed laccaria amethystina with onions, herbs and bacon

But the real treat was to come later in the afternoon. After class and running a few errands I was a little sad that I had only found one of the fool-proof four, namely puff balls. Since morels are only available in the spring, that meant I was aiming to get a least two of the remaining three. But Lisa and I had both asked God earlier in the day for a successful mushroom hunt, so with aching muscles, tired legs and droopy eyes, I headed over to the park down the street. There’s a small lake a few blocks away with a sizable wooded area. We use it frequently for quick bike rides. I headed over to the park and hiked down the path toward the first giant oak tree. I stepped carefully into the foliage and made my way around the base of the oak. I looked down and spotted grifolia [grifola] frondosus or “Hen of the Woods.” Sometimes AKA Maitake. I knelt down and stared in disbelief. This one was one of the biggest ones we’d seen that day. Several had been plucked in Lebanon Hills, but this one was bigger. I reached under the giant fungus and pulled it free and carried it out to the grass near my backpack. It was too big to fit in.

My first grifolia frondosus find weighed in at 7 pounds!

My late afternoon search had been rewarded! This is the biggest mushroom I’ve ever seen and it was nesting a few blocks from my front door. This is a highly prized mushroom that fetches about $10/pound on the open market. I didn’t bother to look around for more. This was more than I could handle by myself. I’m sure there are more out there. When I got it home it took Lisa and I about an hour to clean and “field dress” the quarry. I filleted it like a giant cauliflower and sliced it into half inch steaks to get at the meat. Later we boiled it and saved the broth to make soup. There has been considerable studies on the immune system enhancements and cancer treatment possibilities of this mushroom.

Today we made Mushroom Miso soup with it. And it was quite delicious. Have you ever foraged for wild mushrooms in your neighborhood? Or tried some unusual dishes with your find? We’d love to hear about it. Or maybe you think we’re crazy? In either case, let us know!

A delicious soup made from our grifola frondosus!

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