Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Upstream On Sale Today

My new book, Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table, goes on sale today. Pick up a copy at your local indie book storeAmazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks. It's also available as a free audiobook with an Audible trial.

The timing of the book's release has been known for more than a year, but we couldn't have predicted the socio-political atmosphere it would land in. Wild salmon have survived all manner of tectonic tumult through the ages, from fire to ice, in part because of their genetic diversity and legendary resilience. The human-caused upheaval of land use, economics, and politics is more recent. Even more recent is the acrimony and partisanship that gets in the way of people coming together to solve problems.

Wild salmon face myriad problems today—and so do we. Most of their problems are our problems. We are tied to these fish like no other, and taking a closer look at our relationship with salmon strikes me as a worthy pursuit, especially in light of current events.

A big thank-you to everyone who helped me see this book into print as well as my many readers and supporters. I sincerely hope you enjoy Upstream and find passages that stay with you.

Monday, June 5, I will talk about the book and show slides at Town Hall Seattle, 7:30 pm.

Friday, May 19, 2017

New Book on May 30!

I'm pleased to announce that my new book, Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table, will be released on May 30. The official book launch will be at Town Hall Seattle on June 5. The night before, on June 4, I will host a four-course salmon dinner at La Medusa restaurant in Seattle with the Field Trip Society, featuring Copper River salmon freshly caught by my friends at Drifters Fish in Cordova, Alaska. Both events are open to the public.

Back to the book. For the past several years, I've been chasing salmon—and those who love them—across the greater Pacific Northwest, from the agricultural valleys of California to Alaska's wild rivers to the inland mountains of Idaho. Along the way I picked nets with commercial and tribal fishermen; snorkeled spawning beds with fisheries biologists; visited the kitchens of salmon-obsessed chefs; and casted a line with hardcore anglers. 

Our relationship with these magnificent fish goes back thousands of years in North America, to the arrival of the first humans on a formerly unpeopled continent. Now the question is whether this bond, so vital for so long, will continue.

Here are snippets from early reviews:

From Kirkus: A tale of a species on life support and the ramifications for people, nature, and place… Exposing striking human-salmon parallels, these stories tell of settlement and cultural clashes, of life cycles and migrations, of deforestation and industrial agriculture, of racism and gentrification, and Cook skillfully illustrates the interconnectedness of it all. Seeking the wild in a landscape fraught with man-made alteration and annihilation, the author interrogates the nature of wildness, posing urgent, provocative questions… Blurring boundaries and complicating the oversimplified, Cook provides a moving, artfully layered story of strength and vulnerability, offering glimpses of hope for growing humility and reverence and for shifting human-nature relationships.
 
From Publishers Weekly: In this insightful book, Cook clearly outlines scientific information, giving details on the salmon’s life cycle, distribution, preferred habitat, and physical appearance. But the focus here is less on facts and research and more on how “Pacific salmon culture in North America is a dance between fish and humanity.” Cook connects with chefs, fishermen, ecologists, fish wranglers, reef netters, Native Americans, and countless others to get their perspectives on the state of dwindling salmon stocks and the impact on them of fish hatcheries, commercial fishing, dam building/removal, and wildlife conservation. In the end, Cook acknowledges that salmon’s recovery, just like its demise, will come from people…this work is a great place to learn what needs to done—and an entertaining view on the positive and negative connections humans have with the natural environment.

From Library Journal: Cook deftly conveys his love of nature, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and the delectable eating provided by fresh caught wild salmon…passionate and well-written.

From Booklist: Cook’s salmon travelogue easily appeals to anglers, salmon eaters, nature lovers and everyone in between. The Pacific salmon is a great American fish, and by writing about it with such care and curiosity, Cook establishes its ecological importance and tells a great American story.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Wild Ramp Aioli

Every year for Memorial Day weekend our family goes camping with several other families in a beautiful canyon in the rain shadow of the Cascades, where we have a decidedly better shot at some sun.

The food is always over the top. In past years we've barbecued a whole pig, grilled Copper River salmon over the fire, dug holes in the ground for Dutch ovens to make Chicken in the Dirt, and prepared all sorts of appetizers and dinners with our foraged morels and spring porcini.

But the dish that everyone seems to clamor for most is an elaborate concoction of smoked baby potatoes with black garlic vinaigrette and wild ramp aioli. (Ramps are a type of wild leek that grows east of the Rockies.) For years I thought my friend J had invented this carnival of flavors, but it turns out the Danish expat by way of San Francisco picked up the recipe during his Bay Area years, from a little joint you may have heard of called Bar Tartine.

I don't normally have the patience to put all those pieces together into a single dish. Instead I wait for its fireside appearance each spring, knowing J can't go without. The ramp aioli by itself, however, is right in my wheelhouse, so when I got a message from my mushroom hunting pal David saying that some fresh ramps were coming my way, compliments of his employer Earthy Delights, I knew just what to do.

This wasn't my first brush with ramps. I've seen plenty while picking morels back east. Ramps are beloved in the Appalachians, especially in West Virginia where nearly every little mountain town has a ramp festival, and in the northern woods of Michigan. On my last visit to the Upper Peninsula I picked ramps with friends from Marquette. But that was a while ago, and if there's one wild food I wished was native to the Pacific Northwest, the ramp would be near the top of the list.

To make this wild ramp aioli I used pickled ramps. The recipe is a conflation of Earthy Delight's version and Tartine's. You can use fresh ramps, too, and in a few weeks I plan to update this post after using ramps that are currently fermenting in my basement, which is the method that my friend J and Bar Tartine prefer.

3 pickled or fermented ramps*, with tops**
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

1. Place food processor bowl and blade in freezer for 15 minutes if possible.

2. Chop ramps. (I used previously pickled ramp bulbs and fresh tops—see notes below.)

3. Add chopped ramps, dried mustard, peppercorns, cider vinegar, lemon juice, and egg yolk to food processor and process until well mixed together, about 30 seconds.

4. Combine oils and slowly add to processor. Ingredients should thicken to a mayo-like consistency. Continue to add oil. Add salt to taste and more lemon juice or vinegar if necessary.

5. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container.

Makes enough to fill a 6-oz jelly jar.

The ramp aioli will have the rich flavor and creamy consistency of a typical aioli or mayonnaise, but with the added garlicky bite of wild ramps. Using just the yolk and not the egg white will give it more body. For a chunkier aioli with flecks of bright green ramp tops, don't over-process (unlike mine pictured above).

* Pickled Ramps recipe:

1lb ramps
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp salt

1. Cut off root tips from ramps and trim leaves, leaving just a little green. Reserve tops for another use. Rinse ramps.

2. Blanche trimmed ramps in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and quickly shock under cold tap. Pat dry and place in a pint-sized canning jar.

3. Combine pickling ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over ramps and set aside to cool. Seal tightly and refrigerate up to two months.

** If using fresh ramps for the aioli, cut off the tops (the green leaves) and then blanche the tops in boiling water for 30 seconds, shock under cold tap, and squeeze out excess water before adding to food processor.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Licorice Fern Liqueur

As I wrote in a recent issue of Seattle Magazine, now is the time to seek out one of the Pacific Northwest's most striking ferns for your summertime mixology needs—before it retires for the year. The licorice fern is a beauty that lives in colonies in mixed lower-elevation forests, often well up in the tree canopy.

I typically see it adorning mossy big-leaf maples, where its roots, known as rhizomes, form an interconnected latticework beneath the moss. It will also colonize suitably moss-covered alders, madrones, and even glacial erratics, those big boulders left over from the last Ice Age that sometimes squat unaccountably in the middle of the woods. The key is finding some within reach.

Licorice ferns in abundance will form green waves undulating through the forest until the heat of summer causes the waves to collapse and the individual ferns to whither away. With winter rains they come back to life: just add water.

The flavor of the root is licorice-like, yes, and also spicy like fresh ginger. Infused in water or vodka, it makes a slightly picante syrup or liqueur that will remind you of the mesmerizing glades of spring licorice fern as you sip a thirst-quenching summer cocktail.

1. Peel and chop a few finger-length pieces of licorice fern root.

2. Cover chopped roots in a half-pint canning jar with vodka (for a liqueur) or water (for a syrup).

3. Refrigerate for two to three weeks, shaking every few days.

4. Strain and measure liquid. Make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar that is half the amount of reserved liquid. For example, with my 2/3 cup of fern-infused liquid I made a syrup with 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. To make the syrup, boil the water and whisk in sugar until fully dissolved. Allow syrup to cool, then add to reserved liquid.

Licorice fern liqueur can jazz up a refreshing glass of soda water, improve a cheap prosecco, or comfortably join the other esoteric mixers at your cocktail bar.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This Must Be the Place

I had the pleasure of sitting down recently with Eric Parkinson, of This Must Be the Place, a podcast that seeks to reveal "the unique physical, cultural, and emotional layers of places."

We talked about foraging in the deep emerald forests of the Pacific Northwest, the tenets of slow food, and the myriad charms of nature in its many guises, among other topics.

Eric is a curious and penetrating interviewer determined to get at the heart of both our individual and collective sense of place. You can listen to our conversation here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Spring Foraging Classes

I've partnered once again with both Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec and The Field Trip Society in Seattle to offer a variety of spring foraging trips, from short wild edible ID walks in a Seattle park to all-day shellfish extravaganzas.

Below are the classes and dates (plus one special dinner). Check back for additional classes.

Spring Foraged Dinner, March 19, La Medusa, Seattle

Wild Edible Hike, March 24, Issaquah, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, March 30, Dosewallips State Park, WA

Wild Edible Hike, April 20, Issaquah, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, April 28, Dosewallips State Park, WA

After-Work Wild Edible Walk, May 2, Seattle, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, May 13, Dosewallips State Park, WA

Wild Edible Hike, May 18, Issaquah, WA  *NEW*

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Candy Cap Custard

This winter, mushroom hunters in California are crying Hallelujah! Unless they happen to live below Oroville Dam...

The Golden State hasn't seen rain like this in several years, and the fungi have responded in kind. But with so many storms rolling in off the Pacific, the mushroom patches have also taken a beating, so timing is still everything.

I was able to thread the needle earlier this winter, sneaking into Santa Cruz for a week of sunshine right after a major pummeling that washed out roads near where I was staying in the hills. The weather turned again just as I was leaving.

My destination was the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, one of the great myco events on the West Coast, but I also managed to get into nearby woods to pick a year-plus supply of candy caps.

I've written about candy caps before. It's a complex of species in the milk cap genus, Lactarius. Candy caps are noteworthy for smelling intensely of maple syrup once dried, effectively putting mushrooms on the dessert menu. The two species of candy cap I encountered on this trip were L. rubidus and L. rufulus. The latter grows with oaks and is quite mild, but the former—if dehydrated at a low temperature (I think we set our dryer to 95 degrees)—is wonderfully fragrant. We found hundreds of them growing among a stand of old Monterrey pines.

Though candy cap cookies are my usual go-to recipe, the first thing I made when I got home with my bounty was an egg custard, adapting a very simple recipe that I typically make with huckleberries. The candy caps gave this creamy and satisfying dessert a pungent aroma of maple syrup, which paired well with the huckleberries on top.

1 small handful dried candy caps
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup huckleberries
fresh nutmeg or cinnamon, grated to taste

1. Pulverize dried candy caps to dust in a spice grinder or food processor. Pass through wire mesh sieve to remove any large pieces. Cover mushroom dust with 1 cup warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Pre-heat over to 325 degrees. Combine milk and mushroom water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

3. Mix egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl.

4. Slowly whisk in hot milk-water mixture until frothy. Pour into 4 ramekins.

5. Place ramekins in an oven-proof dish or tray filled with warm water. Bake for 40 minutes. Carefully place a small handful of huckleberries atop each custard and bake another 10 minutes. Test one for doneness with a knife tip; if it comes away clean, the custard is done. Sprinkle with fresh nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

I've been cooped up this fall, finishing a new book. (More on that later.) Meanwhile I get the usual texts and emails from friends in the patch, scoring hauls of chanterelles and porcini, sparassis and matsi. So it was a relief to finally get out the other day.

Hopeful forecasts for a good ski season seem to have some merit. Above 1,500 feet the thermometer was in the low 30's, and above 4,000 feet there was a nice dusting of snow. I went up to some of my higher elevation patches anyway just for a look—and it didn't take long to see that many of the high country mushrooms are done for the year in the North Cascades, although matsutake continue to plug along. But down around 2,000 feet I found kings, hedgehogs, chanterelles, more matsi, and lots of gypsies. So I have not gone without my annual infusion of Matsutake Sukiyaki.

As for the others, I chopped them up for a bread pudding served with a roast chicken. Normally I make a typical stuffing for the bird, but this totally un-fussy bread pudding is now my go-to. It really shines with wild mushrooms.

4 - 6 cups stale country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tbsp butter, divided (plus more if needed)
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 lb wild mushrooms (e.g., chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, etc.), rough cut
3 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1 heaping cup grated Gruyère cheese
handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large skillet, sauté onions in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until caramelized. Add more butter if necessary and reduce heat so that onions are nicely browned and not burned. Remove from pan.

2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In same pan, melt another 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté mushrooms. Cook off any liquid released by mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan.

4. Beat eggs in a large bowl with half and half. Mix in grated cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add bread, onions, mushrooms, and stir together.

5. Grease an 8-inch baking dish and dollop in bread pudding. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 20 minutes, until pudding begins to brown on top and is cooked through.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Field Trip Society

New class announced for October 27!

The Field Trip Society is a new Seattle-based business offering a wide range of hands-on experiences for the adventurous learner,  from outdoor excursions to cooking classes. I've partnered with FTS to teach foraging and wild foods workshops.

Here's my fall lineup:

October 6: Wild Edibles of the Cascade Foothills. We'll take three-mile hike through forest, not far from Seattle, discovering nature's bounty along the way. We'll see dozens of plants and fungi, learn about their identification and natural histories, and discuss culinary uses. This in-depth exploration is perfect for the nature lover and adventurous eater.

October 24: Foraged Dinner at La Medusa, Seattle. In this intimate and educational dinner, I'll discuss autumn's most prolific Northwest fungi: where they grow, how to handle and care for them, and delicious and simple methods to prepare them for harvest dinners. Guests will have the opportunity to wander into the kitchen to see the chefs at work, as well as dine on a five-course meal complete with wine pairings at one of Columbia City's most beloved restaurants, La Medusa. Price includes 5-course meal, wine pairings, and gratuity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Chokecherry Jelly

Last week Martha and I spent a couple days mountain biking near Winthrop, Washington, not far from North Cascades National Park. On our way home we couldn't resist stopping off at a few roadside patches bursting with fruit. Elderberries were already ripening, and chokecherry trees hung heavy in the sun.

The chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a shrub or small tree native to much of North America, mostly above the Mason-Dixon line. Here in Washington State, as in much of the Western U.S., chokecherries prefer drier habitats (in our case, rain-shadow terrain east of the Cascade Crest), such as arid canyons, gullies, and scrubby benches above lakes or streams, where you'll sometimes find them clustered with elderberries and serviceberries. Named for their astringency, chokecherries get sweeter as they darken, but if you wait too long the birds and other critters will nab them first.

Martha and I grabbed plastic grocery bags repurposed just for such an occasion (I always keep a few handy in the car) and started pulling bunches of fruit from the trees as cedar waxwings and robins voiced their disapproval from above. Martha tasted one off the vine; her mouth went into an instant and involuntary pucker. Though it was a little early, we scouted for trees with the ripest fruit, knowing this harvest would need some sugar at home. It didn't take long to amass several pounds between the two of us.

Jelly is probably my favorite use for chokecherries. I've also had them in a chunkier form preserved in sweet syrup. This was on the Umatilla Indian Reservation during the First Foods ceremony last spring. Along with a variety of roots, huckleberries, venison, and, of course, salmon, the chokecherry is revered by the Umatilla as one of their original food staples, and no wonder. They grow in profusion throughout the drier parts of the Pacific Northwest, and with a little processing that involuntary pucker becomes a lip-smacking grin.

We washed and rinsed our chokecherries at home and then covered them with water in a kettle. The kitchen soon filled with a distinctive cherry aroma as they simmered on the stove. After processing the fruit we had two quarts of fuchsia-colored juice. One quart got put up for a future jelly-making session and the other went back into the pot. The resulting jelly is easily one of the most beautiful for its luminous color, right up there with Rosehip Jelly. It's pink and doesn't look like anything you'd expect to find in nature. Even with added pectin, the jelly is soft and smooth, barely holding together, which is just how we like it.

This recipe is for 4 cups of chokecherry juice. It's on the tart side. If you like your jelly sweeter, or you have less juice, adjust accordingly. You'll need to add a commercial pectin because chokecherries are low in natural pectin.

4 cups chokecherry juice
5 cups sugar
1 package (1.75 oz) dry pectin
1/2 cup lemon juice

1. Cover chokecherries with water in a non-reactive stock pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, occasionally mashing softened chokecherries with a potato masher. Allow to cool, then strain juice through cheesecloth or jelly bag.

2. Return 4 cups chokecherry juice to pot along with pectin and lemon juice. Bring to boil and add sugar, stirring. After a minute of hard boiling (careful not to foam over), reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring.

3. Remove from heat and skim foam. Ladle into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch head room, and secure lids. Process jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes.