Of mushrooms

Growing up in semi-rural Canterbury, one of my joys was the occasional opportunity to collect wild mushrooms. These were typically the field mushroom, which I’m told is Agaricus campestris, though some of the larger specimens may in fact have been the horse mushroom (A. arvensis). Even then, I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at free food, and in these days of getting all kinds of food and drink from the supermarket, there is something special about finding fresh food in the wild (these weren’t the only ones; we would occasionally harvest mussels from rocky beaches, or catch fish).

It so happened that the other day I found a wondrously large mushroom (though not nearly as big as some, such as the giant puffball, large specimens of which have been rumoured to be mistaken for sheep) growing in the overflow car park at work. So naturally I brought it home, as both a learning and a culinary opportunity.

A cluster of horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis). Copyright Wikipedia user “Luridiformis”.

Stargazer was delightfully mercurial in her response, one minute declaring that she didn’t like it, and the next completely changing her tune! That girl definitely responds well to a courageous example. Having eaten some bits of it fried up with butter and a little garlic, she declared that she loves horse mushrooms. Honeybee on the other hand cut to the chase and demolished her portion. The truly reluctant members of our little band were Grace’s parents. Apparently, they aren’t really to be blamed: the wilds of North America are full of toxic fungi of all kinds, and children there are told that distinguishing between the toxic and edible specimens is all but impossible unless you’re a mycologist. Myself, I think that’s probably over the top, at least as a lesson to carry into adulthood when the more subtle distinguishing characteristics can be observed; but I digress.

I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out that gathering wild fungi is not for the unobservant. Even in New Zealand, we have instances of the aptly named death cap, Amanita phalloides, which in one of God’s little jokes looks more like either the field mushroom or the horse mushroom than most other species of edible mushroom do in New Zealand. But it doesn’t look extremely like either if you know what you’re looking for:

  • The field mushroom and horse mushroom are white to light brown on top; the death cap is pale yellow-green.
  • The gills (on the underside of the cap) of the field and horse mushroom are pink or flesh coloured, darkening to a dark brown as the cap ages; the gills of the death cap are white.
  • The death cap has a bulb at the base of the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms do not.
  • The death cap has an upwards opening collar on the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms usually don’t have a collar at all, but if they do it opens downwards.
  • The death cap when bruised, cut or damaged turns vivid yellow.
  • The death cap emits a foul, sulphurous odour while being cooked; the field and horse mushrooms smell, well, like mushrooms.
Amanita phalloides, the death cap. Do not eat! Copyright Wikipedia user “Archenzo”.

Having said all that, if you’re unsure what a mushroom is, do yourself a favour and leave it alone. This is especially important if you have young children with you at the time, as it’s important to set a good example!

Happy foraging,

~Victor

Advertisements

A “Grace-full” evening

My birthday fell this year on a Monday.  Birthdays are the few days a year that we go out for dinner, so we decided to go a night early.  This year I wanted to try a small Japanese Restaurant in Rangiora called “Secret“.

Secret Japanese is hands down the best Japanese I have eaten in New Zealand.   I have tried many different restaurants all over the globe, but this one is up there with the better ones.  New Zealand Japanese Food is usually about par for the course (excuse the pun) with the likes of pop-up sushi shops on every corner, but tonight I got to taste some pretty darn good sushi from their sushi and teppanyaki chef.  The evening’s meals consisted of 3 sushi rolls which were quite large quantities compared with most and reasonably priced.  The most substantial roll had 14 large pieces.  We shared one rainbow roll, one dragon roll and a new one for me which was called a Godzilla roll.  The Godzilla was a California style roll with shrimp instead of the usual imitation crab.   It also had cashew nuts sprinkled on top and a wonderfully sweet glaze with a sharp, tangy ending note.  We also had their teppanyaki, mostly because it was late and the kids get bored quickly.  Little Duckie is still feeling unwell too, so it was nice that she wasn’t too easily disturbed by the shouts and cries of her older sisters which have become standard experiences when out to eat.  The manager was very accommodating and came around many times to clear dishes or entertain the little ones so that we could enjoy our evening in peace.   The customer service at Secret is fantastic.  When they did not have an item they sent someone out to get it rather than having to change my order.

The teppanyaki was delicious.  Each course was not overly rich or oily and had mild to moderate spice to complement the choice of meat, vegetable or fish.  Our two oldest girls had salmon (a treat I know, but they eat it rather than play with their chicken, so it works out more cost-effectively with very little on the floor).  Victor and I had a mixed set from the menu which came with seafood, steak, veggies, chicken, and rice as well as the customary miso soup and salad.   My parents also had set menu items as well as my brother.  After dinner, the manager greeted my husband and I privately and said that the kid’s menu item did come with a bit of frozen yogurt, but he didn’t want to offer it to them without speaking to us first.  So they enjoyed a nice dark chocolate one.  He also informed me that I would be welcome to have a frozen yogurt on the house because it was my birthday.  I shared this with Victor too as it was much too large for me to eat after such a wonderfully large dinner meal.

Cost wise I’d rank Secret as somewhere in the modest middle for a meal of this size and quality.  Each of adult dinner sets runs from $35-50NZD, drinks are extra, but water is free and served cold.  The restaurant itself is immaculate and well presented.   The music played varies from classic rock, soft rock, and some lighter notes with classical music.  It was not loud and even when other families were chatting I could always keep up with conversations around the table.  As I’m hard of hearing on my left side it’s quite nice to have a conversation and not have to shout because of the noise.

We ended the night’s meal and returned to my parent’s house to round out the night with an ice cream “Mud Pie” which is my preferred dessert for a birthday cake substitute.

It was a good night.  Hope you had a good one too!

~Grace