Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Adventures in Dyeing

After days of solid gray rain, I woke up this morning to a warm sun teasing its way through the golden hazelnut leaves outside my window. A perfect day for mushrooming.

Some kind of Russula, I believe
After breakfast, I biked to my favorite pond, where there were a few dozen varieties of funghi popping up. I was looking for a big patch, enough for a batch of dye for basket reeds. I had brought a guide book that a friend had given me as a thank-you present for lending her my cabin while I was traveling (The Rainbow Beneath My Feet, by Arleen Rainis Bessette and Alan E. Bessette), but I couldn't find any of the species mentioned in the book. So instead I harvested two large patches of unidentified mushrooms, as well as some salal berries and huckleberries.

The white-hot reed in the center is undyed
Back at home, I fired up Di's dyeing pot and tossed in the first batch of mushrooms. Once they'd stewed for an hour, I added some reeds. What emerged an hour later was a beautiful tangle of warm pinkish-brown, a true "mushroom" color.

The second batch of reeds just came out. They're still wet, and I can't yet tell what color they'll be, but I can already feel a creativity salon coming on...

Potato basket woven from mushroom-dyed reeds

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adventure Under Pressure

It's easy to find adventure when you're in a foreign land. When you travel, adventure finds you. The forest trail passes beside beautiful forgotten ruins. A handsome Spanish stranger offers to share a cab. An unfamiliar city traps you in her maze of one-way streets for over an hour as a  parade marches through, cutting off your every attempt to get where you are going and making you start to long for the familiarity of home--when suddenly you find a free parking space and, instantly happy again, set out in search of lunch. (The reason for the parade? "It's Saturday!")

But once you're back at Comfortable Old Home, slippers on feet and cat in lap, Real Adventure seems a little harder to come by. Which is why, when my friend Di offered to lend me her pressure cooker this weekend, frightened though I was at the thought of the thing exploding all over my kitchen and lashing me with hot broth and pot shrapnel, I jumped at the chance. To get what you want, you have to take risks. And I wanted boeuf bourguinnon.

I had a special roast I'd been saving for just such an occasion (I say "special" because, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, I've stopped eating factory farmed meats, and this roast was a gift from my friend the Master Craftsman, who got it from a small farm in Oregon). At the thought of creating (and then enjoying) one of my favorite French dishes, I gleefully browned the meat, tossed in some vegetables and herbs, added water, and turned on my computer. Di guided me through the process via e-mail:

Me: "I've just locked the lid into place, and now I'm supposed to bring the cooker to high pressure and maintain that pressure for an hour. How can I tell when it's at high pressure?"
Di: "When it starts spitting steam madly."
Me: "Excellent! That'll be exciting."

And it was. The cooker sputtered merrily (and surprisingly nonthreateningly) for an hour while I sat down with my friend Glass of Merlot to plunk away at my first post of the month....