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.