Behind our house there is an old horse path that wanders through the woods, follows along a stream, over a bridge, and ends at a few old pastures. I walk Luke there often, allowing him to run off leash and explore nature - what would be, in another life - his natural habitat. He seems free out there, like he has known this path his whole life and is coming home to a familiar place.
When I am out there with him, I too feel like I am present in another life. As if the trees and meadows are welcoming me, saying my name in a greeting they have whispered for centuries. It is so quiet out there, and the only people I ever see are those on horseback. It is easy to forget the time, the day, the year, and be transported back in to a day gone by. A day that, perhaps if you believe in that sort of thing, I may have seen before.
I often wonder if I have lived this life – my life – before. Perhaps this house I live in, built in the late 1700's, has been an anchor to us, brining us back each life time. It becomes easy to remember a warm and hazy evening in July, a dirt path, heavy petticoats and a basket on my arm. There are no paved roads, no cars or trucks speeding by – just dirt paths, horses and footsteps. The dog runs ahead of me, following the scent of a fox that weaved in and out of this horse path just minutes before. He is only six months old, a puppy really, and finding new scents is a daily occurrence.
The path is alive with birds and toads, all warning each other that a predator and her dog are on the loose. I search the ground and bushes for things that I know to be edible. I find black raspberries, grape leaves and black birch. There are mushrooms of every shape and color, and I know which ones can cure sore throats and stomach pains, muscle aches and insomnia. I place my treasures in my basket and continue on my way.
I see the dog up ahead on the path, waiting for me patiently – always protective and curious. He has given up on the fox and waits for me to treat him with a black raspberry. I always do. He runs ahead and on to the path that leads to the forest, scaring a doe and her fawn in the process. They take off deeper in to the forest and I watch, always in awe of their majesty.
We continue on, finding more black raspberries that I add to a jar in my basket. I spot the green hickory nuts growing in their trees – not ripe yet, but in a few more weeks they will begin to fall and I will come back with many baskets to fill before the squirrels gather them all up. I climb over a fence, skinning my knee in the process, to get closer to a river grape patch that I have spotted. The little green grapes are budding and growing larger each day. I make another mental note to visit this spot in a few short weeks.
The field we come up on is always the dogs favorite place to run – he sees it and takes off with reckless abandon. He dives in to the tall grass and runs in laps around the fences. I try to run with him, but can't ever keep up. We both hop the fence at the far end of the field and begin our journey home. Sluggish and panting, we make it out of the woods and back to the path we follow home. The dog runs ahead of me and on to the little wooden bridge that stretches across the marshy river.
Suddenly I hear a splash.
I drop my basket and rush to the bridge, hoping that my ears were wrong. I look over the side of the bridge to see the puppy swimming in the murky waters below. There is no current today, thank goodness, but the water is blocked up with river reeds and giant floating islands of mud and plant growth. The water is high, so there is not much space to swim under the bridge, maybe six inches or so. I try to reach him but my fingers slip and he has paddled his way under the bridge. I frantically search the waters for him, fearing that the river weeds and muck have dragged him under the water. I picture him drowning before my eyes, nothing I can do to help him. I scream his name and run to the other side of the bridge, where I gratefully discover he has made it to the other side.
I would like to point out that at this point of the story, if this were a true eighteenth century novel of some sort, it would be the perfect opportunity for a dashing young man in britches and a long riding coat to come upon the scene. He would jump off his horse and in to the water and scoop up the puppy, handing him to the sobbing girl hanging over the side of the bridge, who was of course soaked in pond water and wet from the elbows up - hair a mess from sweat and tears. He would be handsome and brooding, probably not very friendly but with kind eyes and an interesting past. He would take the girl and her dog on his horse and bring them home safely and probably start a fire for her in her little kitchen. The puppy would sleep in front of the fire, happily saved, while the girl made the handsome stranger some supper and a cup of tea. Naturally, they would fall in love (amidst some terrible rumors and a few obstacles that get in the way – all for good measure, of course) and live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, for my story – all of the events are true, except for the chivalrous hero. I had to be the hero of this story, because as soon as I heard that splash I was pulled out of the 1780's and plunked right back in to 2015. Luke fell off of the bridge and I had no idea how I was going to save him. Thankfully he was wearing his harness, so once he swam under the bridge – cut brooding gentleman and cue distressed Meg – I could grab him by it. He is still so young and little, swimming like that tires him out very quickly. The edges of the river that flow under the bridge are so over grown, there is no shore line for him to swim to. Basically I had to hang my upper body over the bridge, grab him by his harness (which thank goodness he wears – if he had on just a collar it would have been another terrible story) and pull him out. Let me tell you, fifty pounds of soaking wet dog is not easy to pull out with just upper body strength. Thankfully, I got him close enough to the bridge that he could use his front paws and claws to grip the wood and I pulled him out the rest of the way.
Once he was out I broke down sobbing. Another timely cue for a brooding gentleman, but alas I was a wet mess all alone, with a gratefully puppy licking my face. My arms are bruised up and I lost my sunglasses (#2015problems) but Luke is safe so I couldn't care less. Also, I am starting to do pushups, because I am apparently very weak.
Luke is safe, he was hosed down and slept the rest of the evening. I had a beer and took a shower as fast as I could. Life looks very different in 2015 compared to the late eighteenth century. I love being in my house and in our surrounding area because it does transport me back in to a different time – but I am also very thankful for modern amenities, like showers...and beer...and a cell phone to call my actual chivalrous hero and sob on the phone to him about my most recent tragic adventure.
Speaking of adventures – have you guys heard about the most recent project Betty and I are working on? We are going to Tamworth, New Hampshire for a weekend long (3 night) workshop in October. We are going to learn all about photography, post processing, food styling and recipe developing, as well as have a lesson in sourdough bread making from a local baker, and mushroom foraging from the New Hampshire Mushroom Company. We are beyond excited! When we went to visit the mushroom company, Eric – the company's founder – sent us home with a ginormous box full of amazing mushrooms. We were given lions mane, yellow and blue oyster, chestnut and elm mushrooms. I brought them home and immediately started planning out what I wanted to make with them.
I love the flavors of fall, and to me, mushrooms are the perfect autumn ingredient. I wanted a recipe that really let them shine, but that also complimented their strong musky flavors. I decided on some pheasant, a bit of pork belly, and some blue cheese to balance the saltiness. My favorite way of eating mushrooms is just sauteing them with some salted butter and a few herbs like rosemary or thyme. I took all of the mushrooms, except the lions mane, and sauteed them in a bit of butter. In another pan I fried up small chunks of pork belly. Once the pork was done, I transferred it to the mushroom pan and sauted it a bit longer, to mix the flavors. I decided that the lions mane (which Eric told us could be fried up perfectly like a steak) would be a good base, topped with some shredded pheasant, a bit of blue cheese crumble and finished with the mushroom and pork belly mixture. With a little bit of red wine, this dish is a perfect meal if you have two portions, or a fantastic appetizer if you have just one, or share with someone else.
For all of you thinking about joining us for our October workshop, you can find additional information under the tab “Table Sharing” at the top of this page, or here. You might get to try this recipe at the workshop too!
• Mixed Mushroom and Pheasant Canape •
makes 6 servings
• For the Pheasant •
note: You can easily substitute chicken or quail or turkey for the pheasant in this recipe – I just liked the gamey flavor that the pheasant added to the mushrooms.
• 1 pheasant
• 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
• bunch of thyme and rosemary, tied into a bouquet
• salt and pepper for seasoning
Preheat oven to 450F
Wash and clean out your bird, pat dry with a paper towel
Lather the bird with soft butter, being sure to get in the creases of the wings and legs.
Stuff your bouquet in the birds cavity and tie the legs. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 40 minutes or until juices run clear.
Once the bird is cooled, shred some meat off and set aside.
• For the Mushrooms and Pork Belly •
note: we were given mushrooms that may be hard to find at a grocery store, so feel free to use a mixture of mushrooms that you find appealing. Just be sure to mix up a few varieties for different texture and flavor. If you cant find lions mane (also known as bears head) you could try using a portabello mushroom as the base. It will not have the same texture, but it will fit the same purpose.
• ½ lb oyster mushrooms
• ½ lb elm mushrooms
• ¼ lb chestnut mushrooms
• 2 tablespoons salted butter
• ½ lb pork belly
Do not rinse your mushrooms – either wipe them off with a dry paper towel, or use a pastry brush to gently brush away any dirt.
Slice off the stumpy, dry end of the mushrooms with a sharp pearing knife. Tear each mushroom away from the base, leaivng a long stem and an intact cap. If you are using button mushrooms or larger varieties, you can slice them to the size you would like.
Melt butter in a large cast iron pan until shimmering. Add mushrooms and sautee until golden brown. If you have too many mushrooms that would fit comfortably in your pan, sautee the mushrooms in batches. Too many mushrooms in one pan means that they wont brown.
Meanwhile, chop the porkbelly in to small cubes. Heat over medium heat until brown and crispy. Set aside.
Once the mushrooms are done, add the pork belly and toss to incorporate. Set mixture aside.
• For the Lions Head Mushroom •
• 1 lions head mushroom (makes about 6 steaks)
• salted butter
• blue cheese (for assembly)
Slice the mushroom in to thick cut steaks
Melt butter in a large cast iron pan
Place mushroom steaks in the pan, and brown on each side for about 2 minutes per side, or until golden and a bit crispy
Remove from heat and begin plating. Place one lions head mushroom steak on a plate, followed by some pulled pheasant. Add some crumbled blue cheese and top with the mushroom and pork belly mixture. Serve hot.
listening to: Liz on Top of the World by Jean-Yves Thibaudet