Friday, October 02, 2009

Living off the fat of the land

I guess it's fairly obvious that I've got a lot on my plate these days, so to speak, and my writing has taken a back seat to more important ventures. I do still cook, once in awhile (last week produced a kabocha and eggplant mulligatawny of sorts, spicy with curry and cardamom, with coconut milk for body), and this time of year I still think about treks to spongy woods, even in my compromised mobility and subsequent preference for the sloth of a warm couch and chenille throw.

Thank goodness, then, for store-bought chanterelles and Langdon Cook. Some of you might know his blog, Fat of the Land (I've had him linked on my sidebar for some time now). His new book of the same name has recently been published and is now available for sale on Amazon.

Cook is a modern, urban male indigenous to an opposite coast where clams are fried, not dug. Relocated to the Pacific Northwest for graduate school, he met a fascinating young poet with an ear to the wind and an eye to the ground, and by her beauty, found himself rapt. In a comically-told recollection of her contempt at his efforts at a woo with a reconstructed fast food breakfast sandwich (""I don't do McDonald's", she said dryly"), his now wife and twice-babymama opened the door to a world that would clearly become a new passion for Cook.

Langdon Cook is no latter-day Euell Gibbons, and Fat of the Land - Adventures of a 21st Century Forager is no Stalking the Wild Asparagus. More than simply a field guide to modern locavory, FotL is a series of witty vignettes that are really about the people and places that have informed his passion - they all just happen to involve the hunt for "foods that don't run away." These are forthright tales of character-building trial and error (smashed shells of many razor clams before hitting limit), of humility at the smallness of men in an unforgiving landscape (and fast tides that fill slow boots with icy water), and thankfully, of hard-won triumphs (even if those triumphs are later rudely stolen in the middle of the night by greedy raccoons and must be re-won the following day). And more than a gatherer of popular and less-loved wild foods alike, Cook is clearly a writer.

Each story is about one ingredient and ends with a recipe for that ingredient. This afternoon, as I finished reading Fat of the Land, I was stricken with the coincidence that tonight's dinner, for which I had shopped only an hour earlier, was only one or two ingredients away from the last recipe of the book: creamy chanterelle pasta. Instead of peas to add color, though, I added pea shoots, my pasta was a gnocchi and I added toasted pumpkin seeds for added protein and seasonal crunch (Lang uses bacon and bowtie pasta in his rendition, and while this year I happily coughed up $8/lb for my chanterelles, I doubt he ever pays for a mushroom).

Gnocchi with Chanterelle-Pea Shoot Cream

Saute a minced shallot and a clove of garlic in a bit of butter and olive oil. Add a handful of clean chanterelles, torn into bite-sized pieces. When mushrooms have released their liquor and start softening, add cream, a few tbsp of fresh thyme, a few good scratches of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a minute, then add a handful of pea shoots and an 10oz package of gnocchi (cooked), and toss together until pea shoots are wilted. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds and copious amounts of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Buy Fat of the Land.

29 comments:

Maggie said...

Hang in there!

Zen Chef said...

We miss you out there Heather. Thank you for recommending this book. Sounds like a great read. I'll pick it up before i go on a long flight to asia later this month.

Hang in there!

glamah16 said...

She's back! Looks like your eating well my friend.

Manggy said...

Thanks for the review- I'll look out for Langdon's book! (not hit the shelves here yet.) "Looks tasty" ;) and I don't miss the bacon at all. (Shocking, I know...)

Peter G said...

Good to see you back! And thanks for the great recommendation!

anno said...

The only thing better than great food is great food with a great book: both of these sound wonderful--thanks!

Foodycat said...

Good luck with the final countdown (headbanging to poodle-perm rock).

We Are Never Full said...

we do miss you and really can't wait to see the little one when he's finally here.

langdon reached out to us to read the book as well and jonny's almost finished. he's mentioned quite a few times to me how much he's enjoying it. i'm looking forward to his review! thanks for this one... i'll have to compare it to what jonny writes.

that dish though - damn!! if that dish doesn't make the young one want to pop out and say "damn that was good - me wants more!" i don't know what will.

very culinary said...

Exciting times! Start stocking up on cereal. Soon you'll need food that doesn't require an oven or stove. Or mixing, for that matter.

Bellini Valli said...

I am sure you are eating well and enjoying life Heather!!!! Thanks for sharing this boom with us.

lisa said...

Great review. Can't wait to see a copy of the book.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Yum, Heather! This sounds so good! :)
Sounds like a great book too! Nothing wrong with a fried clam!

LC said...

Heather, you rock! Thanks for the lovely review. You'll find out soon that foraging is fun for the whole family. My kids love finding fungal treasures in the woods. And fishing? Let's just say I'll be ponying up for a drift boat next year once my boy has demonstrated requisite swimming skills. Oh, and foraging beats the hell out of Baby Einstein and other such ridiculous scams--check this out.

Heather said...

ohh wow. that looks so delicious!

Leigh said...

nice to see you back Heather. Hope all is well in your world.

Brooke said...

Good to see you got off the couch and cooked something. As always, looks unbelievably good, and I want it in my belly rightthisveryminute.

The Spiteful Chef said...

I really love the idea of having a humorous anecdote re: one ingredient or style of cooking, followed by a recipe for such.

That's kind of the methodology I've been using for my book (which will likely never be published, but I like the idea of having one somewhere, lest I die and my children are left without any heritage because mommy tends to throw away keepsakes instead of...keeping them).

Nina Timm said...

I love how you contrast the smooth creaminess of the pasta with the crunchiness of the nuts!!!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Great review, Heather.

Oh, and the gnocchi don't look bad, either... ;)

Fresh Local and Best said...

This book sounds fascinating! I'm glad to see you writing and sharing your cooking adventures again.

Best,

Christine

Lo said...

Awesome food, as always, Heather. What a great plug for Langdon's book... interestingly enough, I just popped over here from his blog.

Now I'm just waiting for the day when someone describes me as a "fascinating young poet with an ear to the wind and an eye to the ground" ... You haven't lost it yet, my dear.

peter said...

I had some witty shit to say, no doubt, but the captch is "lickless."

Ken Albala said...

Eccola! What a nice review. I shall buy this right now. And this dish looks lovely too, but the word for these shrooms is so much nicer in German, you have to say it aloud: pfifferlingen.

Brittany said...

Heh. I love foodycat's Europe reference. Now I'll have that guitar "solo" in my head for the next day or two.

Nice to see you taking the time to blog, being that you're 8 months pregnant or whatev.
Inspiring. Perhaps I'll get off my non-prenant ass and do the same.
Maybe.

And I'm going from here to amazon to get my paws on that book.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

This is the second blog I've read about this book and when I first saw it, I thought everyone was reading this book I know of by the same title about the growing obesity problem in this country.

Gnocchi look lovely. I tried pea shoots for the first time this spring. I ate them in risotto. I was terrified to try them because I thought they might actually taste like peas and we can't have anything I eat taste like peas! Fortunatley, they taste much better.

Leah said...

I love this blog and your writing.

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JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Welcome back Heather! :)

prashant said...

Sounds like a great read. I'll pick it up before i go on a long flight to asia later this month.

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