Thursday, September 15, 2011

dragonflies, puffballs and rain

dragonfly, by eliza
 We are having the kind of week I wish we always had, save for the cold going 'round. This time of year is so rich and beautiful, and that juice is filling our week. Yesterday, after being at our friends' farm to visit and assist with processing their chickens (more on that later), we arrived home at dinner time to a swarm of dragonflies outside our door, and down the block. WOW! They were large, fast, and flying in swooping, arcing patterns, sure to collide with one of us (they didn't - I moved slowly and in a way I thought might appear "predictable" to a dragonfly on the move, but I'm sure it was quite unnecessary.) What was going on?? I remember seeing something like it one golden late summer afternoon in Wisconsin, while driving through the countryside past clouds of them, metallic in the low sun.  I had to look up reasons for the swarm, of course, and I came across the The Dragonfly Woman.  She is doing research on this very thing, and has a call out for some citizen science research; when you see a swarm, you can send her a report through the website.   She says that dragonflies swarm for two reasons: to feed (this is called a "static swarm"), and while migrating.  Apparently this past week there have been many reports of swarms across Pennsylvania and Ohio!  She also says that there are about 3 more weeks of dragonfly activity, so if you are lucky enough to witness such a swarm, let her know!
 Weather is changing, but is so fickle right now. It was downright cold today; took out most of the screens in the windows, and located my wool socks...I thought about taking down the hummingbird feeders today; we realized that it's been a week since we last saw them, even though there are still blooms on the scarlet runners and the monarda is blooming again. It makes me sad to have them go. They were such frequent visitors that I got a little lazy in my adulation - I could hear them arrive while I was at the stove, cooking, or sitting at the table - and now...they are gone.
 I was wondering where the bees were on such a chilly morning - they're all in the gourd blossoms, getting drunk and keeping cozy! They were moving sloooowwwly, but seemed quite happy.
 E. is fighting the cold, and it was a perfect day for making a fort on her bed and hunkering in for some listening (The Penderwicks) and book-making.
 One of Eliza's goals for the fall is to do more cooking.  She is picking out a recipe every week and planning for the meal - shopping list, helping find the groceries, cooking. Tonight she chose spinach lasagne...again, perfect in the cold weather. It was delicious.
 My addition to the meal was to cook up some of the giant puffball! I had quizzed my friend on some cooking tips, and had looked online as well.  After dreaming all night about cutting open puffballs to find all sorts of interesting things, including signs that it was not a puffball but a deadly mushroom, I was really anxious to get to it! The texture reminded me of tofu. Or a firm marshmallow. Or foam. But in a good is a firm mushroom, and was really pleasing to cut into (if you like that sort of thing, which I do).  There is a sort of skin that some people finds upsets their stomachs, so I peeled that off - again, a very pleasant experience, as it really peeled off in long strips, so easily.
 There is so much information on the interwebs, and certainly when dealing with wild foods you should know what you are doing, and in particular with mushrooms, so I went a little overboard on researching how you can tell you have an edible puffball. There doesn't seem to be anything else that grows to this size that would be poisonous.  This ball was the size of a softball - well larger than my fist - and they can grow to the size of a soccer ball or much larger (one writer claimed to have found one that weighed 50 pounds!).  Once cut open, it should be very white. No color variations. If there is any sign of gills or stem, throw it away, it isn't a puffball! Steve "Wildman" Brill has more information here.
 Anyway. I sauteed some onions in butter - can you go wrong with mushrooms and butter? - and having heard that puffballs are very absorbent and can get saturated and greasy quickly, I tossed in half of the ball, cut into cubes, and cooked it once the onions were ready. It was so so good!! And I was so tickled to be eating it!!! A puffball for the Week of the Puffballs! We'll see what happens to the other half tomorrow.

And for those of you who have hung in there through this lengthy description of how to eat a mushroom the size of your child's head, here are bonus photos of two other things that made me ridiculously and deeply happy this week...
Can you see it?
Isn't it WONDERFUL? It's a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar...yeah, I was very happy to meet him while following a friend through the woods to see some brilliant orange fungus.
And here is my child, rockin' some crazy awesome fashion. Ani-made t-shirt vest, Ani-made tie belt, single handwarmer...I am lovin' me some of this girl's style.
 Perfect. Perfectly Ani.


alissa said...

ani is gorgeous. tie dye hippie gorgeous. and i love that you get so excited about mushrooms and caterpillars and all that stuff.

Kerry said...

We used to pick puffballs in the woods across the road when I was a little girl, and my mother would fry them with onions and butter, just like you! Puffballs can't really be confused with poisonous varieties of mushrooms, so I never really worried about them.

The caterpillar is awesome!