For the past five days my hands have smelled of maple sugar. And of earth. Of sweetness. Even slightly of booze. And bacon, of course. I can’t forget the bacon.
That’s because I spent half of last Friday evening with my hands steeped in mushrooms. Why? I had my hands in Hands On Healdsburg activities.
Hands on Healdsburg, which kicked off last weekend, is 50 days of activities and classes celebrating wine, food and creativity offered by local businesses and personalities in the Healdsburg area. From mushroom foraging and floral design to salsa dancing, tree pruning and biodynamic gardening workshops, Healdsburg is getting its learning on from Jan. 9 through Feb. 28.
I was invited to spend last weekend in Healdsburg and participate in some of the activities offered during the kickoff weekend. (Consequently, this post lies in that murky area of sponsored posts since my lodging and classes were offered for free, although I will not be mentioning every activity.)
Which brings me back to the mushrooms and that smell that I just can’t seem to get off my hands no matter how much I’ve washed them in the past five days. Not that I mind that much. I mean what’s wrong will smelling of maple syrup? In my book, nothing. But how do mushrooms relate to maple syrup?
As I learned through a Friday evening cooking class on “Working with Mushrooms” offered by Relish Culinary Adventures, Candy Cap mushrooms are a variety of wild mushroom that are famous for having a distinctly sweet, not your typical mushroomy and earthy odor. Because Candy Caps also have a fairly sweet flavor, they are used most often as a flavoring for food or in desserts. Yes. Mushrooms. In dessert. And as a mushroom lover, I’m down with that.
Anyway, the class featured a completely mushroom-centric four-course meal, cooked—and then enjoyed—by the class. Local Healdsburg Chef Anne Cornell taught the class, which featured recipes using five different types of wild mushrooms (maiitake, hedgehog, morel, black trumpets and candy caps) that had been foraged locally earlier that day. The menu consisted of:
Sage Tempura Maiitake Mushrooms with Port Wine Reduction
Wild Mushroom and Chevre Tartlets
Petit Filets with Morel Butter
Kale Sauteed with Lemon and Garlic/Sunchoke Puree
Candy Cap Bacon Zeppole with Maple Bourbon Caramel Sauce
If you’ve ever taken a cooking class, typically everyone in the class chooses to work on a different dish, each of which are made by a small group. Although I’m usually not that into dessert making, for some reason I was all over making zeppole (which are like Italian donut holes) that day. Maybe it was just the idea of making dessert out of mushrooms. (And bacon!) Or maybe I felt I should face my fear of frying and bubbling vats of oil. (Fryophobia – it’s real!) Or maybe it was fifteen years of being exposed to Dunkin’ Donuts commercials telling me “It’s time to make the donuts” when I lived in Boston because…
So I chose to be in the zeppole-making group. And because I minced the Candy Caps (which had been soaked in rum to boot!) for the dough, and I helped roll the zeppole in Candy Cap infused brown sugar (same as when you infuse sugar with vanilla), my hands have smelled like Candy Caps for the past five days.
And like I said, I’m not complaining…
All of the recipes were good. In particular, the port wine reduction with the maiitake tempura was really nice, as was the hedgehog and goat cheese tart. And of course the zeppole were dee-lish. The dough itself was not even very sweet. What made the zeppole was the Candy Cap Sugar and the bourbon caramel sauce, although I could only have a little of that without feeling like I’d been hit by an insulin shot. I’ve never met a cooking class I didn’t like, so it was a fun class for me and delicious—albeit filling—dinner.
Kombucha and Shrubs
Fermented foods are all the rage these days. And fermented beverages are no longer restricted to just booze. Tonics such as kombucha, shrubs and kefir are becoming more and more popular as people have (re)discovered their health properties. One of the other demos I got to see over the weekend was how kombucha and shrubs are made, which were demoed at Shed Healdsburg.
[First a few words about Shed, which I have been to before and have to admit to loving, sponsored visit or not. Shed is a playground for locavores, gourmands, gardeners and people into beautiful cookware. I can attest to being 3.5 of those things. (I’m sort of a half-assed gardener that tries to grow succulents—they’re less difficult to kill—on my deck.) Anyway, Shed is a playground if you’re into food and drink and gardens. And it’s a James Beard Award winning space. It is literally a shed, but it’s the most architecturally beautiful, light-drenched, metal and reclaimed-wood shed you’ll likely ever see. Go visit – it’s tres cool.]
So kombucha. Have you ever wondered where this stuff comes from, why it sort of stinks and what that stringy, goopy thing is that lies at the bottle of the bottle and might slip, slime-i-ly down your throat if you drink it? Well I got answers to all my questions about kombucha during our demo with Shed’s Fermentation Bar guru Gillian Helquist.
Apparently kombucha originated in China and Russia. And what is it? It’s a combination of tea and sugar that is fermented along with a Mother. (No, not that kind of Mutha.) Like vinegar, kombucha requires a nice colony of bacteria and yeast to cause it to ferment. Unlike vinegar, kombucha peeps call it the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) instead of The Mother. Either way, that’s where your slimy, goopy, stringy thing comes from.
According to Helquist, SCOBYs can pretty much live forever as long as they don’t start molding, much like your great-grandmother’s sourdough starter. Helquist happens to be cultivating some pretty massive SCOBYs, which sort of resemble thick layers of white fat (seriously) that keep growing in layers as the get older and if they’re continuously fed. They are not attractive but are somehow fascinating. They easily fall under the “attract-repulse” phenomenon when you look at them, but apparently kombucha makers get very attached to their SCOBYs and, as Helquist said, there is a fair amount of “mysticism” about how they originated, including—I kid you not—stories that include alien visitations from outer space!
Friends of Sigourney Weaver aside, these bacteria are supposedly really good for your gut and restoring happy flora to it. Which is a good thing considering that there seems to be more and more evidence popping up these days that a lot of disease begins with inflammation caused by unbalanced digestive systems and unhappy guts. As chronic sufferer of unhappy gut and reflux, these are not bad things if you ask me.
Anyway, kombucha happens when you combine tea, sugar and a piece of SCOBY and let it ferment for a while. To make it all bubbly, you can add juice to it and do a second fermentation.
Shrubs have also become quite popular these days, and I’m not talking about topiary or Monty Python skits. And what are shrubs? They’re a good thing to do with ripe fruit other than make jam. It’s basically a drinking tonic made with vinegar, fruit, water and sugar.
During our Shed demo, Gillian shared her recipe for a Blood Orange Shrub with bay leaves and sherry vinegar and showed us the process for making it. As luck would have it, when I returned home after My Hands On Healdsburg Weekend, I came home to a house smelling of citrus. I had left some mandarin oranges on the counter and now they needed using. And fast.
So I decided to riff on Gillian’s recipe and make my own shrub! Here’s my adaptation of her recipe, which is happily beginning to ferment on my counter as I write:
Mandarin Orange and Rosemary Shrub
6-8 mandarin oranges
2-3 sprigs rosemary
2 cups organic sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 cups apple cider vinegar
- Wash oranges and zest.
- Combine with rosemary and sugar in food processor; pulse until combined.
- Slice oranges and place in a large, sealable glass jar. Add remaining sugar, the zest blend and salt.
- Seal jar and shake it up!
- Let jar stand at room temperature for 4 days; shake mixture each day to encourage maceration and begin fermentation.
- After 4 days, add vinegar, refrigerate and continue to shake/agitate mixture every 3-4 days.
- Let ferment for approximately 2 weeks.
- Strain and bottle. Keep refrigerated.
- Serve with sparkling water.
I’ll be adding vinegar to my shrub tomorrow and I’ll have to wait another couple of weeks to find out how it turns out, but I can post a short update when they’re done. I can already sense a shrub-making jag coming on, much like my jam forays a couple years ago. (Which can read about in some back posts if you go searching for them…)
Are in, according to the floral designers at Dragonfly Floral, a fun flower shop and garden right on the edge of Healdsburg as you head toward some of the wineries. Like Shed, I’d actually visited Dragonfly a couple years ago with my sister-in-law when we all spent a weekend in Healdsburg for her 40th birthday. What I remembered from that trip was that the shop seemed to work a lot with succulents, and they had some funky grounds that you could wander around.
According to owner Bonnie Z., Dragonfly is indeed intended to be a space for the community to enjoy. She says people are more than welcome to come to their grounds and wander around for a while, bring a picnic (there are tables available) or even just bring a blanket and read or sun themselves. She’s got about 6.5 acres for wandering, she said, which include a rose garden, wandering ducks and a big ol’ tabby cat. It has an abundance of rustic charm, right down to the 70s bicycle with high handlebars and a floral banana seat. (Remember those? I so wanted one of those bikes, but my parents claimed they were “dangerous” and too easy to flip through the high handlebars.)
In addition to a quick tour of the grounds, our group was treated to a boutonniere making demo and then each of us got to choose a boutonniere to wear home. I actually wish we would have had more time to learn about the principles of floral design and balancing out the elements you include in arrangements—that would have been really interesting. I guess that’s an excuse to try to go back and take one of their classes sometime.
Wine and Chocolate
The final class I participated in was a wine and chocolate pairing at Ferrari Carano’s Seasons of the Vineyard tasting room. As our instructor explained pairing different wines with foods is not necessarily about just complimenting the food, but is really meant to enhance the flavors of both and bring out new complexities in each that you might not taste when each is served on its own. We paired three wines—a red blends, Zin and a Cab with Scharffen Berger’s 62 percent Semisweet, the 70 percent Bittersweet and the 82 percent Extra Dark. The class also learned a fair amount about the properties of cacao, but I actually did a lot of research into chocolate when I went on a truffle making binge a few years ago, so I suspect most of the other students got more out of that part of the instruction than I did. Anyway, if you ever wondered what the “proper” way to taste wine and chocolate together is, here’s how:
- Take a sip of wine and let it wash over your tongue. Make note of the flavors.
- Take a second sip. Go on, do it!
- Break off a piece of chocolate and place it on your tongue. Let it melt on its own. Note how it tastes.
- Finally, sip the wine again and see how its flavors change once they’ve come in contact with the chocolate.
That’s it – pretty simple. But definitely an interesting exercise in exploring your taste buds!
All in all, I enjoyed the weekend. These are all activities I would be interested in trying regardless of a media weekend, so I’d absolutely check them all out again.
All recipes and photos copyright of Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes unless otherwise noted.