September 24, 2014

From Oklahoma to New Mexico

Another milestone we may or may not be celebrating on this blog is Nessa's One Year California Anniversary!!! Last year at almost this exact date, Nessa and I made landfall in Cupertino, California, where she officially traded east coast for west coast.  

So, today I'm posting a retrospective of our whirlwind cross-country road trip to California - my third time moving a friend coast to coast via auto. You may remember the Photo-an-Hour we shared of the all day and through the night journey from Vermont to Tulsa, Oklahoma; some may write it off as delirious ramblings and blurry streaks of light, but other, like-minded midnight ramblers can probably relate all too well.

And after pressing the limits of an all day driving adventure, we finally crossed the Tulsa finish line as the expected overwhelming exhaustion hit us, nearly 26 hours later. Even though we were over the moon to have successfully surprised our friend, Molly, who only knew to anticipate us from the last minute text we sent her from Ohio, we had to immediately crash until further notice. Molly surreptitiously went about her Saturday afternoon while we napped in her bed until we were able to make the groggy leap from blanket-nest to BBQ dinner with friends, a small yet acceptable amount less delirious than before.

But we powered through, buoyed by the bonus that consumables in Tulsa are refreshingly cheap, delicious, and seemingly catered specifically to the local twenty- and early thirty-somethings that dominated the downtown atmosphere; it looked like a freaking social networking convention was in town. This is most likely because Tulsa is experiencing a comeback among new businesses in the area famously vacated during the mass exodus of oil industries in 1982, coupled with the harsh detail that nary a school, church, or even grocery store graced the business grid. Inconvenience, ahoy! All these young folk were fresh on the scene in the vigorously renovated and youthful downtown island, including our friend Molly who had moved there for a business opportunity earlier that year.

We spent the night touring the little bars and nightclubs and enjoying the local ephemera: shuffleboard, dirt cheap drinks, BBQ on every corner, billiards, running into acquaintances everywhere, and somewhat less enjoyable - the CRICKET. Ah, the dread cricket: swarming shade on city sidewalks and fields near you, should you happen to be in northeastern Oklahoma. I'll try to forget becoming hopelessly aware that I might be having a "D.A.R.E." moment, slashing at my skin thinking there were bugs crawling all over me until I finally found the offending (and very real) cricket trapped between my tank top and naked back, giving me an official Case of the Willies. 

Tulsa was a refreshing, but short stop on our tour West, because after an epic morning sleep-in + brunch, we were on our way to Somewhere, New Mexico.

Somewhere? Hopefully. We had the panhandle of Texas to cross, straight through Amarillo on the loathsome interstate until, well, we grew tired and had to stop to make camp. We dipped out of Oklahoma on tidy ranch town back roads, watching the sunset and playing Dry or Wet County Roulette on the hunt for tasty local beers and whiskey to whet our future esurient thirsts - wherever those thirsts may be.

So, beneath microbursts we sailed the geometric ribbon of asphalt, dodging smears of lightning clouds with their dumpy wetness obscuring the road polka dotted with the angry, yawning maws of tractor trailers. After several hours of this, we unfortunately reached that part of late night driving with no aim where we arrived at a destination with no discerning services for bedding down. 

Employing various cutting edge atlas-based technologies, we surrendered to the fact that we had much further to go until we were more likely to find a fitting sleeping scenario that  provided safety in concord with our independent natures and was still somewhat on course. 

And that's how we ended up setting up camp at 3:30 AM in Ute Lake State Park, just nigh of Tucumcari in the eastern plains of New Mexico, trying to convince ourselves that we were keeping sustainable road trip hours. 

But the lake showed great strength in its ability to remain harmonious with our desires and we were eventually on our way to coffee the next morning, blissfully unmolested. In Santa Fe, we sampled gourmet olive oil and vinegar and ate at the famously delicious street vendor, Roque's Carnitas, which came and went highly recommended. 10/10 would flirt with Roque for free Jamaica iced tea again.

There is something about New Mexico that pulls me in like a labyrinth, right to the centaur and never letting go. 

From the living rockscape of sunflowers and cholla to the sharp canyons in dry, dusty green, I'm a goner. This nearly proved true as we trekked into the extremely rugged and not for the faint of heart Jemez Mountains. We had ourselves a bitty adventure in the woods there on a goose chase for hot springs nestled in the secret nooks of steep ravines where we we wound up swapping relaxing soaks for some accidentally stumbling upon vintage meth labs and maybe almost dying. 

And that is to be continued...

September 23, 2014

Edible Mushrooms: Chanterelles

I love mushrooms. Whether they are growing on the forest floor or sauteed in garlic on my dinner plate, I am a fan of the fungal fruiting body. So it's only natural that once we found ourselves living a life amongst the trees that we would give mushroom foraging a try.

Disclaimer #1: Do not use any of the information in this post for the purpose of identification and never eat any wild mushrooms without the 100% identification of an expert. Be careful, be respectful, and if in doubt, don't eat or pick it. 

We decided to start out with a simple mushroom foraging goal: find our own Chanterelles, a mushroom from a complex and wide family with several edible varieties.

Chanterelles are most distinctively identified by their "false gills", which more resemble wrinkles than the gills most of us imagine when we think of traditional mushrooms. Chanterelles are sometimes vase, trumpet, or horn shaped and vary in color and ecology, and like most mycological curiosities, sit on the blurry lines of taxonomy.

Since I have a knack for keeping my nose to the ground and snuffling out the otherwise overlooked treasures of the mottled forest floor, we found several varieties of Chanterelles during this first year as newbie foragers, with tasty and passionate results. Almost every meal of wild mushrooms was ended with discussion on when and where we were going to find more.

When you mention the edible Chanterelle, the species of note is usually Cantharellus cibarius (lead photo & above) This is what you will most often find on your dinner plate when ordering seasonal wild mushrooms. It is a forager's delight - shining brightly like citrine gems amongst the hardwood forest leaf litter. It's hard to mistake the fleshy mushroom and it's sweet smelling apricot aroma once spotted from afar.

My favorite variety of Chanterelle is the Yellow Foot, Craterellus tubaeformis, and it's closely related ally, Craterellus aurora. I love them in their abundance, almost always frequenting the same mossy stream sides as I am. Their happy yellow stipes remind me that there is edible wonder afoot, sometimes inspiring me to pick dinner and other times just invoking that wonderful feeling of a positive identification.

I probably love them because I am so spoiled to have these fleshy beings throughout my local forest, including a tender patch just down on our riverside that I have anxiously watched grow from their young "button" form into the mature, edible form.

(It is sometimes a bit heavy to think about these secretive bodies, flushing so quietly under the protective canopy, just a stone's throw away from where we search)

But for me, the holy grail of Chanterelle hunting is Craterellus cornucopioide, the Horn of Plenty or Black Chanterelle. And lordy, are these ever hard to find. If not for my hawkish eyes, we would have walked right past these masters of camouflage (heck, we probably even did many times before), for in their purply-blackish design blend perfectly into the leaf litter. Decidedly different looking from its yellow footed and more famously available cousins, the Black Chanterelle wears its fruit in a velvety thin horn and is easily identified by its strong, sweet smell.

We cooked only a small amount of these babies up with a Yellow Foot harvest from the same day and unanimously decided they were not only the best variety we had ever tasted, but that the delightful aroma was absorbed into the rest of the more mild tasting mushrooms. Total culinary score, especially considering how hard they are to find.

Alas, Chanterelle hunting season here in Vermont is coming to an end. Soon winter will be upon us and we will return to our foraging books and field guides with our eyes towards spring and the bounties of a fresh season. So I'll leave you with my favorite picture of Phyllis wearing a Cantharellus cibarius as a hat and looking dashing:

You can read other posts where I gush over mushrooms and mushroom hunting here: 

And finally, just to cover my ass, Disclaimer #2: Tread lightly in nature. When foraging, take less than 5% of the total patch, leaving the rest to their natural obligations. Understand that allergies and other food sensitivities make trying wild edibles the consumer's risk. Do not use this post as reference or in identification.
Many plants are poisonous some are deadly poisonous. In the end, the responsibility for eating any plant must rest with the individual; for instance there are people who are allergic to certain wild edible plants. - See more at:

September 19, 2014

One Year in Vermont!

And it's been a great one! As I mentioned earlier, it's been just over a full year since AGP and I made the move from our nomadic urban homelessness to the permanent bliss of these four stone walls. Now here I sit, with a cat on my lap, looking out over a rag-tag team of chickens and our bucolic babbling brook while counting my proverbial blessings.

Here are a few of the things I am thankful for this year in Vermont:

1. Chickens in the yard

It's been a whirlwind of adventure with these chicks in our lives, that's for sure. But what you may not know is that when I received them in the mail (yes, that's right) I got SEVENTY!!! And no, not all of them met that same brutal fate. Sixty of them were raised for a friend of mine since I had the patience, passion, and space to do it. Actually, the patience and passion wore out pretty fast once I realized what poultry husbandry really entailed (read: shit and dandruff EVERYWHERE). But now that the leftover crew has grown up a bit, we are starting to get the hang of it and are really looking forward to that wondrous day they start laying eggs. Yum!

2. A garden... kind of

Growing things is my jam. And, yea, even though my garden beds didn't exactly pass with flying colors this year, I still learned enough to make it worthwhile and have a blast doing it. I started planning and scheming in the dead of winter, growing all my plants carefully from seed in late March and you better believe that watching those crisp green sprouts grow while the winter tempest wailed outside helped me make it through to spring. So what if I'm not knee deep in zucchini and beets like I had imagined? The chard is doing great and every few days we get a handful of cherry tomatoes. And better yet, we eagerly look forward to next year so we can try again! If only winter wasn't in our way, damn!

3. Love = cats

My two insanely precious cats have lived perpendicular lives, intersecting here in the woods of Vermont. Sweet Phyllis was a city cat who lived the first years of her life inside yearning to be outside and Tina was a prairie cat who lived the first years of her life outdoors yearning to be indoors. Now they both get to go wherever they want, whenever they want. And to me there is no better feeling than watching Phyllis frolic outside as dirty as can be or watching Tina sleep the day away in a nest of blankets knowing that warmth and safety are her present and future. There is nothing like a happy animal, amiright?

4. A tiny house or two!

Another thing you may not know about us forest dwellers is that we are in the business of building tiny houses! These miraculously tidy houses are built on wheels so you can pull them anywhere your heart desires. It's amazing that we are able to sustain ourselves with these projects while at the same time providing affordable and alternative housing for others. And, dudes, there is nothing quite as nice as walking out of your front door and being at work! We are currently working on our fourth model. Feel free to ask questions! I will post more pics soon.

5. Friends for the duration

And of course, I am grateful for my friends, who reassure me time and time again that I may be gone, but I am definitely not forgotten!

I won't lie, living in Vermont is definitely a bit lonelier and a bit more hostile than living in the city. Winter seems to last forever and there aren't a lot of opportunities to meet people our age. But as I walk barefoot down the dirt driveway or hike into the state forest behind my house to catch the view of Magic Mountain at sunset, overwhelming feelings of pure delight override any niggling feelings of isolation. As we slip into a countrified routine, I feel more natural here than ever and that's a feeling, I think, that will last a lifetime.

September 18, 2014

Hamilton Falls

Some summer days ago, we decided to breach our beloved backyard forest for some local sights and sounds. We had (for some strange reason) been putting off visiting Hamilton Falls in nearby Jamaica, Vermont, despite knowing that this 125ft tall waterfall was thundering away right in our own backyard. So we thought we might go check it out!

Even though you can easily drive to the head of the falls and take a short walk to view it, we decided to take a more scenic route by hiking the West River Trail, starting at the Jamaica State Park campground and cutting up the footpath to the base of the falls.

The West River Trail is your typical restored rail-to-trail, winding from the rail's upper terminus in Londonderry for about 18 miles Brattleboro-way, with hopes to restore the lower portion in the future. Whether you are walking, skiing, or biking the trail, it's hard to imagine that there actually used to be a railway here; between the sheer rock faces to the west and the river right there to the east, it's no wonder that the line it's heyday was nicknamed "36 miles of trouble".

However, it's not quite so troublesome anymore, more likely to be frequented by kids tearing down on their mountain bikes than steam engines fraught with worry about making it back home to Brattleboro that day without taking a dip in the West River.

A few miles after leaving the campground, we turned up the Hamilton Falls switch road along the West's tributary, Cobb Brook, and were shortly rewarded with a glimpse of the falls.

Hamilton Falls is not all fun and games and splashing, frolicking delight. Though it retains the humble title of second tallest waterfall in the state of Vermont, it is also the second deadliest, with more than a dozen deaths occurring on site. It's not hard to see why once you get all the way up to the top.

Even though a safety ladder has been installed as an egress for swimmers, it's more of an "emergency only" than an "everybody in!" Despite the alluring crystal waters of the deep schist pocket right at the head of the falls, even a seasoned swimmer could get swept right over the edge. The threat of death obviously doesn't stop everybody and there were even a few swimmers while we were there, although we were able to resist the urge to tempt fate.

Didn't your mama ever tell you to stay away from the edge of waterfalls?