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On Sunday a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions struck my garden. James and I went for a lovely drive out in the country side, and while there was a bit of rain and some darkly menacing clouds in the sky, we really didn’t see anything more alarming than the goat below, which stood in the middle of the road and refused to move for love or money.

By the way, excuse the crappy iphone photos in this post, the camera did not travel with me.

Upon venturing back to Calgary we spotted signs that something’s amiss:

And then some more:

And by the time we turned into our street, we drove right into winter. That ever happen to you? You leave and it’s summer, come back to winter? Not in August, you say? Welcome to Calgary.

All the streets were white, there were huge puddles of slush, and stunned kids were wearing parkas.

Except for that wasn’t snow on the ground, it was it’s dangerous cousin – hail. Apparently we missed a hailstorm of epic proportions, hail so thick and powerful that ‘it came down like a brick wall’ according to my mother.

Signs of destruction and carnage were everywhere – tree branches broken, leaves stripped, flowers trampled, plants and cars wrecked. Of course my poor garden did not escape unscathed.

These tomatoes that were bushy and gorgeous:

Are stripped bare:

Raspberry bushes crumpled:

Tomatoes that were lush and gorgeous:

Now broken and sad:

And I’m not even talking about my poor flowers, or trees, or anything else. I guess we’re lucky our car escaped, seeing our neighbors car covered with a hastily thrown on blanket. It was an event of epic destruction and carnage. The neighborhood plants are destroyed, which is fine I guess, since our temperature this morning was only 5 degrees, and it really did feel like winter is in the air. The local paper is reporting that outdoor pools are going broke because this is our third cold summer in a row.

And for me? After I find it in me to pick up the pieces, I quit this game. Way too much time, money and effort went into this gardening adventure for me to have such losses so late in the season. I don’t mind feeding baby cucumbers to local rabbits, as I figure if they’re brave enough to venture into my yard and get yelled at by my cats, they probably need them more than I do. But to lose them to hail seems so senseless, and uniquely Albertan, that it makes me want to pack up and move with a greater zeal than I’ve ever felt.  I will grow no more veggies until I have a greenhouse. A hail proof one.

A foragers paradise

Every fall a number of families gather baskets, totes and knives and take to the woods to take part in a ritual as ancient as our species. It involves the venerable tradition of foraging for food, in this case mushrooms. Gathering mushrooms is a thriving tradition all over Europe and Asia, although little done in North America, with the exception of immigrants and amateur mycologists. When you think about it, it’s a pretty cool tradition – a lovely forest walk, the incomparable fresh air of the woods, and baskets of food that you didn’t have to grow or buy.

Of course the main reason for mushroom hunting is the wild mushroom taste that does not compare with anything else. Unlike cultivated button mushrooms, their wild cousins are much more complex, must be cooked fully, and deliver a taste and texture unlike any other. There are dozens of edible species, some prized world over, like boletus, others a reliable standby that seems to grow when every other type is scarce.

It takes time to learn to spot mushrooms. They like to hide, often in plain sight, and you have to get your ‘mushroom eyes’ on. For a long while I can’t see any, so I have to stand still, turn slowly in a circle and try and spot one. As soon as I do, somehow the eyes and brain adjust to picking out the patterns of the mushrooms and it becomes easier from there on in.

There are a couple of tricks to harvesting mushrooms, first you must cut the stem off at the base with a really sharp knife. A small paring knife works the best. Never rip out the mushroom with the base, as the spores become less likely to regenerate there next year. Secondly, ensure that there is no insect damage. Some species of insect that I don’t know the name of, lay eggs in mushrooms, which become larvae and eat the flesh until they hatch. Sadly larvae is really gross and damages the mushrooms leaving hollow tunnels that eventually collapse and rot the flesh. So – if you tip the sliced mushroom over, and see the tell tale hollow tunnels in the stem or cap – leave it for the larvae to finish off. The mushroom must be completely intact to harvest. This will be the minority of mushrooms that you’ll find, approx. fifty percent of mushrooms will be damaged, so it’s a numbers game to get a full basket.

On this trip there were plenty of wild strawberries, tiny and fragrant to snag too, and some sour relative of the raspberry that I don’t know the name of.

Once you get your haul home, it must be processed immediately. The mushrooms spoil in a matter of hours, so as soon as you get them home they must be washed, gently scrubbed clean and inspected for insect damage, and cooked right away. There are plenty of choices on this front –  they can be fried, made into soup, be marinated, preserved with salt, and if fried, frozen for future uses. All preparations will yield wildly different results, and all are amazing.

All clean

Since we were dealing with a pretty small yield we decided to pan fry all the mushrooms with potatoes – a dish as old as the hills and well known in all Slavic countries.

The dish begins with a huge frying pan, some oil and a chopped onion. All the washed mushrooms are sliced, and begin to gently cook on low-medium heat with the onions.

Like their supermarket cousins they will release a ton of liquid, which will be considerably more viscous than button mushrooms, and will resemble okra, which is okay since the liquid will eventually disappear.

All wild mushrooms must be cooked fully, none are safe to eat raw, because they contain compounds which will upset the stomach and make you violently ill (not poisoned), but still not fun. Full cooking takes a good twenty to thirty minutes, and when done, mushrooms should be firm but not at all crunchy. They don’t need seasoning beyond salt and a bit of garlic, but if you wanted, some thyme would not be amiss. About half way through the mushroom cooking the potatoes are added to simmer in the mushroom liquid.

The whole pan takes on an unappetizing brown color, but the taste, oh the taste. Served with sour cream, chopped dill or a bit of ketchup, in our case, this one pan dish is a veritable reminder of the forest bounty. Sadly, or not, my camera died right about now, or else you’d have a photo of the finished dish, but it’s very unphotogenic so perhaps it’s for the best.

Changes, changes


Image by Pere Ubu

I’m the kind of writer that likes to write about things after they’ve happened. That way I get to process the information in the privacy of my own mind and change my mind a good deal in the process. Almost any significant experience I have has to take its time and percolate through my thoughts before I can articulate what I think.

I’ve always been like this, upon my return from a whirlwind week in London, it took me about six months before I could really talk about it. That’s at the extreme end of the scale of course, but it was also before I recognized how my mind deals with stimulation. A less severe example is the three weeks it took me to explain what I got out of the Body Worlds Exhibit I visited earlier this summer.  And the latest is the grim yet important book I finished that put me in a funk for about two weeks – the beautifully written, yet profoundly disturbing look at the sickness of our culture – The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.

I’ve never read anything else by the author, so didn’t know what to expect, and what I got was a very clear dissection of the culture of hatred that we live in. We see the results of this hatred everywhere, from the smog in the streets, to the disappearing wildlife, to the landfill of the third world where we ship our trash, and those are the mildest examples. A large section of the book deals with the cognitive dissonance that is created when we actively participate in this culture and the coping mechanisms we develop n order to continue to participate in it. It takes a hard look at the fairy tale of our daily life and exposes it for the fraud that it is.

It’s not an easy book to read. Many of the horror stories of humanity are so disturbing and insane, really, that it’s easy to begin distancing yourself from the book as you read it – well, that would never happen here, not in Canada, not in our current culture, oh we don’t do things like that anymore. That is until the book comes to very modern current examples of the way we externalize the costs to keep things the way they are. Until we realize that nothing costs what we truly pay for it. And until we realize that we, you and me, have also developed some deep coping mechanisms to avoid looking at reality for what it is. 

After I processed the book I went on Amazon to see what other people thought of it, and was gratified to see that any review that I write will not hold a candle to the great reviews others have written. The book seems to beg a long intelligent review, and many have obliged. I’d have to recommend it to anyone who has ever felt out of step with the values of current society, especially our insistence on productivity, time management and progress.  To anyone who thinks our society is slightly insane in many ways, and to anyone who is typically too busy to reflect much on it.



In other news – my bush peas were doing great – they were bushy. Until a momentous hail storm last Monday came and flattened the lot, just like last year. Now I have a great foot-thick rug of peas growing sideways, with the peas underneath yellowing from lack of sun. Sigh. I’m already jury-rigging a solution for next year – perhaps that will be my ticket to an early retirement? But otherwise the peas are doing wonderful – they are producing a large bowl per day which we gleefully shell and eat each night. All my friends’ peas are puny in comparison, so all hail the pea whisperer!

The tomatoes are also doing well, with the exception of one wee plant that simply refuses to grow. Otherwise they are all producing – before AUGUST which is very momentous in my neck of the woods. And the raspberries have settled in just fine and are already rewarding me with a few berries, something that they’re not supposed to do until next year.

I did plant a few cucumbers, but some enterprising bunny came and ate the lot. Oh well – if he needed them that much, who am I to argue?

I also have a new job, which I start next Monday. That came about in an oblique way, but has also occupied my time, and is a welcome change. The thing with jobs is that you cannot talk about the job, until the offer is signed, kind of like the first rule of fight club. Otherwise for some mysterious reason they are apt not to materialize.  Now I’m off to catch up with all of you!