Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shroomin', man...

This year, finally, I managed to book myself into a fungi workshop with Alison Pouliot. Mel and I have tried before, but these things seem to fill up damnably quickly. So you can understand that we were happy there were a couple of free seats on a weekend that suited us both. On an overcast Saturday morning we made our way to Trentham.

As we got there we were greeted with a veritable trove of all things fungal, all freshly collected and labelled by Alison.

The workshop kicks off at 11am with a couple of hours in the Trentham Neighbourhood Centre where Alison instructs the group, and we learn about the different types of fungi, debunking myths around identifying safe ones, and finding out how to figure out what should, and shouldn't, either make you sick, trip you our, or kill you. We covered smell, pileus shape and texture, gill types and appearances, stipe forms... it was incredibly thorough, without being an overwhelming flood of information.

After a short break for a late lunch we headed out for the foraging half of the workshop. The place Alison took us to was a great spot, with both native and pine forest areas, and the occasional section that had been in a bushfire. This all meant that we could expect quite a few different types of fungi. Below are some of my favourite shots of the day... I don't remember what most of these were, but I still like the pics.

It's amazing the amount of life right under your feet, that you don't even notice. And beautiful it can be.

Even things you may not immediately think of as fungus...

This is an image a lot of people would recognise... but where are the fairies?

This baby managed to stump Alison, which is quite an achievement. It's not an oyster mushroom; it's not the mushroom that tries to LOOK like an oyster mushroom but glows in the dark and is bad for you... it's something else again. I still don't know what it is, but it was huge!

Check these little babies out! They were growing on a pine cone on the ground.

A lot of people might recognise these as puff balls. These really are an interesting little organism, particularly in they way they spread their spores around -- when the time is right, in a great big puff :-)

Even these tiny little yellow guys are important. How easy would it be to walk right past them without even realising they're there?

These cute little jelly-balls are fungus too.

This is one of the naughty ones ;-) Very popular with people looking for an... alternate view of the universe.

And these... these are the beauties of the fungi kingdom, I think. They are gorgeous, and the smell... absolutely beautiful.

If you have any interest in the fungi world I recommend you keep your ears open in Autumn and get yourself into one of Alison's workshops. It's a good day out, and you'll learn heaps. Plus a nice wander through the bush is relaxing.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Carrot Cake

I love carrot cake, but it's not something I make all that often. In fact, I think I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say it's been YEARS since I last made a carrot cake. It's been so long, in fact, that I can't remember where my preferred recipe is.

No matter, I have a new preference. When I was making this I had a moment of doubt, as it makes quite a wet batter, but it all came together quite nicely. Oh, and don't let the long list of ingredients put you off - they're all basic, and the method could hardly be easier!

Carrot Cake
(adapted from Tracy Rutherford's recipe in 9 August 2004 "Fresh Living" magazine)
2 medium or 3 small carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup golden syrup
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup roughly crushed walnuts
1/2 cup dessicated coconut

Preheat the oven to 160C fan-forced, and grease a 20cm-round springform pan. Line the base with baking paper.

Sift the flours, bicarb soda and spices together into a big bowl. In a jug, whisk the brown sugar, oil, golden syrup, eggs and vanilla together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until they just come together.

Add the carrots, walnuts and coconut and mix gently to combine. The mix really is quite moist, but don't worry.

Pour the batter into the tin. Bake for about an hour. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then turn it onto a cake rack to cool completely.

Once it's completely cold mix half a block of Philly cream cheese with a cup of icing sugar then spread it all over the top of the cake. I dare you not to lick the bowl.

This cake turns out beautifully moist and incredibly more-ish. I ended up giving half of it to my neighbours purely so we wouldn't eat it all within half an hour. As you can see, we didn't even pretend to wait for the icing to set.