Sunday, February 28, 2016

Early Morning In The Old Growth Forest (edible poetry)

The sun is a soft yellow orb, rising up through the stately trees. The colloidal mist scatters its rays in perfect sunbeams, highlighting gnarled stumps as if with a spotlight. It is at this magical barely-dawn hour that the birds are the most active, and I listen to their cacophony of sweet songs as I watch the last wisps of smoke from the previous evening's fire drift up amongst the ponderosa pines and disperse. I take a deep breath and the smoky, earthy, woodsy scent of dry bark and wild ginger and campfire fills my lungs. What a perfect day lies ahead of me in these magical woods. 
My take on the classic Milk Punch. Orb is "golden milk:" almond milk steeped with wild ginger, pink peppercorns, vanilla, and grated turmeric root then sweetened with raw local honey and frozen into a sphere. Served with pine nut- infused whiskey. The musky earthiness of turmeric works wonderfully with spicy wild ginger and the pine nut whiskey is the perfect finish to round out the flavors of a dry high mountain forest.

Exposed By Snowmelt (edible poetry)

One of the most fascinating things about early spring is discovering the grotesque wonders hidden underneath a thawing blanket of snow. Spring reveals new life, but it also reveals death: the bones of a slaughtered deer, the cinders from campfires in fall hunting camps, the small bodies of rodents that couldn't take the cold. These forms are mesmerizing and beautiful: delicate bright purple violets growing up through a decaying ribcage or a soft layer of white mycelium that grew under the snow blanketing a fire-blackened rock. Life and Death: an everlasting circle with complex choreography. Death may seem like something to fear and dread, but without it we couldn't have life. For that I am grateful.


Elderflower meringues with white fir ash and rosemary blossoms. The bitterness of the rosemary and fir ash counteracts the sweetness of the crunchy meringues really nicely. 

Eat Dirt (Interactive event)

If different soils affect the flavors of plants (and more specifically, grapes) so much, why don’t we pay a little more attention to them? Oregon’s geology is inspiring: one minute I am walking over sandy limestone full of seashell fossils, the next I am springing over soft spongy hummus of decaying vegetation, and pretty quickly I stumble upon broad swaths of desolate-looking black volcanic rock. What excitement lays under our feet, if we only pause to look at it! 

This project is a collaboration between myself and Nicholas Keeler of Authentique Wine Cellars. We explored the part soils plays in the terroir of wine through a 6 course dining experience based on the concept of "eating dirt." Under sculptural light installations, participants dug through edible soil flavored with foraged nuts and mushrooms, cracked open warm oven-baked clay to reveal roasted root vegetables and surprise geode-themed gifts, and waited with anticipation for the sensory delights of each course (including a course that was scent based, utilizing dry ice.) Guests learned about the geological history of the Willamette Valley through the various courses from one highlighting the volcanic era through lava rock cream puffs to the current breaking down of soil by mycelium addressed by wild mushroom chocolate truffles. Special thanks to Anne Boulley of Artisanne for being the resident chef the night of the event and making sure everything went smoothly! Photos by Athena Delene Photography

Also, special thanks to Keeler Estate Vineyard for allowing us to do our event here free of charge. Many thanks as well to our many eager volunteers! We couldn't have done this without you!

The barrel room, ready for guests. Glasses catch the sparkling reflections of the twig chandeliers, and the handmade stoneware plates are ready to hold the interesting foods featured as part of this event. 

The first course: Seared scallops in elderflower-juniper cream sauce with edible silver leaf. This course was paired with Authentique Wine Cellars 2012 Chardonnay, a crisp lemony wine perfect for pairing with delicate seashore flavors. This course was the first chapter in the story of Willamette Valley soil: until about 12 million years ago, Western Oregon was on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Prior to that, it was under the ocean for 35 million years, slowly accumulating layers of marine sediment, the bedrock of the oldest soils in the valley. Keeler Estate Vineyard, where the event was held, is actually full of fossilized seashells.

Second Course: Volcanic Surprises in 3 flavors. Black sesame choux au craquelin with charcoal crisp filled with beet-rose-lemon goat cheese; poppyseed choux with raspberry-rose curd (not shown here); edible geodes made from lemon-hibiscus fondant with wild rose and wild violet sugar crystals coated in white chocolate and black sesame seeds. This course was paired with Nicholas's 2013 Chardonnay, which had a meyer lemon-like tanginess with notes of sweet honey and white flowers. This course represents the next chapter in the history of the soils on this vineyard: the explosive one! About 15 million years ago, the massive Juan de Fuca plate collided with the North American plate, driving this land up out of the water! That’s why you’ll find fossils on top of mountains in these parts- Western Oregon rose out of the sea, forming the Coast Range and the very volcanic Cascade Mountains. All of this volcanic activity left behind some truly spectacular natural sights, including gems such as thundereggs, opals, agates, and jaspers. Volcanic rock is full of exciting surprises, as the guests discovered while interacting with this course!

3rd course: seasonal root vegetables wrapped in wild herbs and grape leaves, then roasted in clay. Guests got to break open these clay lumps with a hammer to unearth all sorts of glorious discoveries: potatoes that smelled of juniper, beets that were flavored with pine, and some special non-edible surprise geode necklaces! It was so fun to watch everyone interact with this course. I didn't tell anyone beforehand about the necklaces I'd hidden in some of the lumps, so there was a flurry of excitement when the guests discovered that there was buried treasure to be found! The wine for this course was Nicholas's 2011 pinot noir, Nick's first commercial wine. It was harvested late in the year (Nov. 1st) and that, combined with less oxygen exposure during processing, gives it a delicious creaminess and raspberry tasting notes. It is a wine of dualities: first a crisp bite of frost covered mornings, then after sitting in the glass for a while it opens up to a fruity warmth. We encouraged everyone to go slow and savor this wine since it goes through such a transformation and luckily this interactive course offered the perfect opportunity to do so!

3rd course, contd. one guest shows off her treasure found inside a cooked clay lump: a fragrant potato! In the background, guests dress up their already-excavated roasted root vegetables with homemade creme fraiche, porcini and alder-smoked salt, and micro greens that they harvested themselves with tiny little scissors. It was great to watch everyone decorate their own plates while sipping Nick's delicious 2011 pinot noir. This course told the story of the next chapter in the history of soil in the Willamette valley: About a million years ago, a layer of wind-blown silt called "loess" started to form. This continued until about 50 thousand years ago as the basalt and sediments on the valley floor, weathered down by thousands of years of erosion, were carried by wind and deposited on the NE facing slopes in the northern part of the valley. These soils, such as the Hazelair found prominently on Keeler Estates Vineyards, are rich clay-ey soils formed from these sediments.

Three lovely guests show off their finds: scented potatoes and beets, plus a bonus surprise geode necklace! I absolutely LOVED watching the guests interact with this course. It was exciting enough to get to break things with a hammer, but once they discovered there was buried treasure to be found, all hell broke loose (in the best way.) 

The mess left behind after the 3rd course was gorgeous: piles of broken clay and colorful tissue paper, laced with fragrant grape leaves and herbs. 

4th course: Sous-vide venison with juniper tapenade, acorn malt soil, and black truffle. This earthy dish highlighted the natural terroir at Keeler Estates, especially since we foraged some of the ingredients within an hour of the event starting! How's that for fresh flavor? This course was served with Nicholas's special 2014 blend, made just for this event and full of bold flavors that complimented the venison wonderfully. Guests were able to dig in the layers of flavored soil, bringing to mind the various soil layers we'd explored in our dinner thus far: sandstone, volcanic, and loess. One of our wonderful volunteers Ariana shows off the earthy trays, complete with little skewers made from whittled lichen-laden twigs. All of the volunteers that helped out at this event were absolutely wonderful. Every time I went back to the kitchen to check on things, it was full of happy laughter and smiles as they worked hard to help plate and deliver each course on cue. I couldn't have asked for a better team. Also, HUGE thanks to Anne Boulley who pretty much ran the kitchen the night of the event. She was the genius in charge of this tender sous vide dish and the perfectly-seared scallops. So glad I got to work with these wonderful people!

5th course: this palate cleanser was made up of edible "basalt" made from pears with a cardamom-vanilla coating, served with mist scented like an early morning meadow walk. I used my homemade "Meadows" bitters blend full of pungent herbal flavors like sagebrush, mugwort, and yarrow (which you can buy on my website,, if you are so inclined) tempered with sweet birch to make a sensual, enlivening scent. It made for a great presentation when I poured the scented water over dry ice hidden in a bed of foraged lichens to both make the lichens appear alive and flood the table in a refreshing mist. In this photo Nicholas demonstrates the art of pouring as I look on approvingly. It really was such a pleasure to work with this guy, from start to finish. Nick was enthusiastic about my wild ideas from day one and did everything within his power to make my artistic dreams come true- he even came down one day to help me glaze plates one day! This man is not afraid of doing things differently in the sake of making them better and his creative passion definitely shows in his delicious hand-crafted wines. It's so fulfilling to work with someone as passionate about their craft as you are about yours. 

5th course, contd. Our photographer Athena Delene Photography sure did a wonderful job of capturing the mysterious beauty of this palate-cleansing course! How sexy is that meadow-scented mist pouring out the side? And such perfect composition! I feel very lucky to have had such a wonderful team working on this project with me. smile emoticon Those rocks in the photo are completely edible: in fact, they are chilled pears with a cardamom-vanilla coating, served with refreshing meadow-scented mist. After guests interacted with the "cold" part of this course, they were handed a warm towel flavored with a woodsy infusion to give the feeling of a cozy sauna after a brisk walk. Continuing our story of the soils here: at the end of the last ice age about 18 thousand to 15 thousand years ago, a glacial dam near current-day Missoula, Montana repeatedly flooded the Willamette valley, creating such a deep lake that only the very tops of the hills were left sticking out. This dramatic event left deep, rich silts perfect for growing grapes. How incredible to think of the juxtaposition: volcanic peaks drenched in cold water from melted glaciers, their jagged rocks getting rounder and rounder with more weathering from these powerful floods. This palate-cleanser course is a celebration of the invigorating experiences of hot and cold.

6th course. Before letting everyone go play in the dirt one last time, I talked about the last chapter in the evolution of the Willamette Valley's soil: the living topsoil, full of mycelium. Mycelium, the living network of fungal life, holds the texture of the springy soil together while breaking down decaying matter and recycling nutrients. The mushrooms pop up after the rains are the fruiting bodies of much larger organisms and a good reminder that we are all just one part of a larger system of life. The wine served with dessert was Nicholas's Hombre 2012, my personal favorite of his creative wines. This is a bold wine, full of passion and creativity. I love its earthy aromatics balanced out by rich chocolate and luscious red fruit. This was the wine to end an evening on, a perfect culmination of the creative energy both Nicholas and I have poured into this project over the last several months. We paired it with earthy foraged mushroom-flavored chocolate truffles and nutty edible soils as our dessert course: hazelnut soil with porcini truffles, pine nut soil with chanterelle truffles, and acorn flour soil with candy cap mushroom truffles. What a perfect way to end a magical evening.

Guests discovered one last geode surprise for our dinner based on discovery: the lights above each of the three barrels that the edible soil and truffle dessert was presented on were made to look like the insides of geodes. I grew alum crystals directly onto the light fixtures, then emphasized the intense sparkle with swarovski crystals to really catch the light. 

Each guest also got a test tube to fill with edible soil to take home as a reminder of the fun they had playing in the dirt with us. 

Many thanks to the wonderful Anne Boulley for helping us the night of the event! She was crucial in keeping things running smoothly "backstage" and was such a great energy to have on board. 

As I reflect on this event, I am really pleased to say that I accomplished both of my goals: 1. To get people to interact more with their landscape through the terroir of soil and 2. To encourage participants to shed their adult inhibitions and embrace the child-like joy of discovery. At one point near the end of the night, I walked down the table and just took it all in: people playing with their scented warm towels and folding them in unique ways, people pouring mystical-looking of concoctions with dry ice foraged from the palate cleanser course from glass to glass, people arranging clay-covered potatoes into small pyramids and piles, and a lot of smiles and laughter. Those are the moments I live for, knowing I gave an enjoyable and unique experience to all of the people who attended this event. We really did have a wonderful time playing in the dirt. :) 

If you want to see more photos of this event, take a look at my Facebook page. I'll also be updating my website to include this experience. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mushroom Truffles (from EatDirt)

Wild Mushroom Truffles with Edible Nut Soil. 
From L to R: porcini truffles with hazelnut malt soil, candy cap mushroom truffles with black cocoa and acorn flour soil, and chanterelle truffles with pine nut soil. These were the dessert course of my EatDirt event on Friday night. For those that missed it: it was a conceptual food/art event focusing on the theme of "Terroir" or "taste of place," with a special focus on dirt. I collaborated with Authentique Wine Cellars up in Amity to make this experience. The menu consisted of edible rocks and soils made out of foraged ingredients with a lot of interactive components. It's hard to explain, but I'll be posting lots more pictures of the event soon on this page, my website ( and my Facebook page if you are curious and want to know more! These dessert delights were presented in piles on top of wine barrels for people to dig through and nibble on, like looking for rocks in a pile of dirt. The second photo is the aftermath the next morning- tiny little garden tools, empty drink glasses, and memories of an amazing night!

Geode Surprises! (from the EatDirt event)

I am feeling overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness this afternoon after my Eat Dirt event with Authentique Wine Cellars  went so well! I'm also really excited that I can show all of you some of the secret surprises the event held. I wanted to allow the adult attendees of this event to experience the same excitement as I did the first time I cracked open a geode at age 5, so I built that inspiration into the event and didn't tell anyone what I was up to. I felt like Willy Wonka Santa Claus and it was the absolute best! 

The above picture shows edible geodes as part of the second course, made with hibiscus-lemon fondant, wild rose and wild violet sugar crystals, white chocolate, and black sesame seeds. 

Here are the edible geodes pictured in the first photo with the other components of the second course (which focused on the treasures hidden in volcanic rocks.) On the left: black sesame choux au craquelin with charcoal sugar topping and a filling made of beets, goat cheese, roses, and honey. Middle: hibiscus-lemon fondant with wild violet and wild rose sugar crystals, white chocolate, and black sesame. Right: poppyseed and black cocoa choux pastry with raspberry-rose curd. The floral and lemony flavors of this course paired wonderfully with Authentique's 2013 Chardonnay. 

This is a close-up of the special geode lights I made to illuminate the dessert course (I even grew the alum crystals directly inside the lights!)

Last but not least, here are some porcelain necklaces with alum crystals that I hid as surprise treats as part of the vegetable course (I wrapped root vegetables with aromatic wild herbs and grape leaves, then coated those bundles in clay and roasted them for a couple of hours. Guests got to break open these clay lumps with a hammer to unearth their discoveries, and I hid the necklaces in colorful tissue paper inside some of the lumps as well so they'd find a special prize instead of a potato and make the hunt even more fun!) I had SO much fun watching the guests at this event let go of their inhibitions and dive right in to experience the joy of discovery. More photos of the event coming soon, and I can't wait to put an album together with full descriptions so those of you that missed it can follow along.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eat Dirt Menu!

Somehow 5 courses turned into 6, and 3 flavors of edible soil turned into 7 (because why make things easier on yourself, right?) I can't believe this is happening tomorrow! I'm so excited! Just a couple of last-minute tickets are a available here, if you still want to join the party!

Underworld (edible poetry)

I miss you when you leave, my dear
I eat the fruit that kept you here
And dream of your scarlet lips
This room still carries your scent of rose
The perfume of flowers soaking into my clothes
Though spring is a foreign thing, to me
In this damp dark I wait eagerly
For you to return home to me
With stories of the light
Until then: I'll have a drink. 
Pomegranate sphere with a cocktail of wild rose vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup

After the Rainchill (edible poetry)

I feel the raindrops splashing on my raincoat on this dark and stormy day in the woods, beating out a soothing rhythm on my sore shoulders like a micro-massage. I am swimming through a mist of tiny droplets like a Swiss Cheese ocean. I am a pixie. I am a mermaid. I am present. The rain makes everything fresher and as I hike, I nibble. A bitter fir needle here, a sweet clover leaf there. Rose hips glow brilliant red in the dim light and I put one to my lips, expecting the familiar waxy texture and tannic flavor. But this one is different- it bursts in my mouth, releasing a silky paste of tart brightness with just a little sweetness to it. These rose hips are January rose hips, softened and sweetened by repeated frosts and thaws. I gather a bucketful to take home, wondering what I should do with them. When I get home, I fry up some cold-day-in-the-woods-comfort-food: bacon. And then the answers come. 
Crispy pork belly with rose hip puree and candied ginger, a delightful balance of rich, sour, and sweet. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Truffles, Truffles, and More Truffles!

Remember my chocolate truffle truffles I made last week? Well, I've been having a LOT of fun with them. I went to the Eugene Truffle Expo yesterday and was really enjoying myself, sampling various truffle products and sniffing the real thing. When I stopped at the Sabatino Truffles table, their representative Jade complimented my necklace and asked if I sell my jewelry. I told her that jewelry is generally my "for fun" art, while my main art practice is devoted to food design and experiential art. At that point her eyes got really big and she started bouncing a little bit and exclaimed, "Oh my God, are you the girl who makes those chocolate truffle truffles?! I am FREAKING OUT right now!" Apparently she had seen my chocolate truffles on a group on Facebook, when the post on my artist page was shared several times in various different mycological society groups and pages. It made my day to be recognized for my work, and when I told her that I had actually BROUGHT those very chocolate truffles with me to show off, she got even more excited! We agreed on a trade: I traded her my chocolate truffles for the real thing, so that I can make more chocolate truffle truffles but this time flavor them with real truffles because... #truffleception.

But perhaps you are wondering what I MADE with these chocolate and real truffles?

On the top is a dessert dish: Coconut Maple Rice Pudding with Fresh Mint and Chocolate Truffle Shavings. 

On the bottom is a savory dish: White Truffle Risotto with Fresh Parsley and Perigord Truffle Shavings. 

How fun is that??

Here are two more comparisons: 

On the left is me shaving real Perigord truffles onto the risotto, on the left I am shaving my chocolate truffles onto the rice pudding. 

I feel very lucky: I traded one batch of chocolate truffles for THIS MANY REAL TRUFFLES:

That is 3.27oz, in case you couldn't see. Most of these are from Sabatini Truffles, but a couple are from an independent truffle hunter that traded me some of his stash for a couple of chocolates. 

Now keep in mind that the current prices for black truffles is $80/oz, and the price for the Oregon-grown white truffles is about $25/oz. (as far as I could find- Sabatino is out of stock so their prices for it aren't listed right now.) That means that the little pile you see above would retail for roughly $125. Not too shabby a trade for some chocolate truffles! :) 

Truffle prices can also vary drastically, some even go for THOUSANDS of dollars an ounce- literally worth their weight in gold. Isn't that crazy??

This is a blurry picture of me looking fairly mischievous while holding about $250 worth of white truffles. (No, I didn't steal them even though I look like I am about to! ;) ) 

For those of you who maybe have never seen a real truffle:

My loot: one Perigord Black Truffle imported from France, and a bunch of Oregon White Truffles. 

The insides have a beautiful marbled pattern, which was my inspiration for the chocolate truffle truffles I made. 

But now, what to DO with all of these truffles??

The volatile scents of truffles are fat-soluble, so it is best to process them in a such a way as to capitalize on that. The smell is really really strong- my whole house smelled like truffles after leaving some pieces on my counter overnight. 

You can infuse the scent into fatty things just by placing the truffle slices into an air proof container with some butter, cream, or eggs and leave it all sealed in the fridge overnight. The scent of the truffles will permeate the fatty foods and flavor them. Since eggshells are porous, you can make truffle-flavored eggs just by sticking a truffle in your egg carton for a day or two! That's the technique I am using to make some chocolate ganache for more chocolate truffle-truffle-truffles. As I type this, I have some cream and butter in a container with plenty of black truffle shavings to infuse them in the fridge overnight. 

I'm also using some of the white truffles to infuse some light olive oil. I just grated them very finely and added them to a big mason jar with lots of very mellow tasting olive oil. Here's another interesting fact: most of the truffle-flavored oils on the market are not, in fact, made with real truffles. Most of it is chemically-flavored with just ONE of the many chemicals that give them their complex flavoring. You can learn more about this in an article by the NY Times. It's really interesting to taste-test real white truffle oil next to the typical commercially-available ones: the fake ones tend to be a little stronger and more garlicky, while the real ones have a much more complex but subtle flavor. Truffle oil goes wonderfully on starchy foods: pasta, potatoes, rice, popcorn, etc. Since I can't have butter, I love using this as a substitute on my popcorn because it has the richness of butter. 


So, How do they Taste? 

Truffles are really interesting to me because, even though I love them, I really couldn't tell you why. At first sniff, they smell maybe even a little gross: garlicky, earthy, mushroomy. It's not necessarily a pleasant smell but it is strangely bewitching. It's like "well, they smell kind of gross and taste kind of gross but somehow I still really love them?" 

I suppose it's similar to indulging in a really good stinky cheese. Kind of gross but also amazingly good. 

I am a fan of black truffles because they are a little more earthy and fruity. The Oregon Black Truffles are a little more garlicky and sometimes even have very faint hints of petroleum, while the French Perigord truffles have a bizarre but pleasing floral overtone, like wild roses. The white truffles tend to be more garlicky (at least the ones that I have tried.) The shavings, as they dry on the grater I used, smell quite a bit like chanterelle mushrooms but a little more spicy. 

Now keep in mind that I only tried 3 varieties of culinary truffles yesterday. There are many, many more varieties of truffles on the market. I can't wait to try more! 

This has been a fun experiment and I can't wait to play with my goodies a little more. I'm going to leave you with one last picture, a close-up of the truffles on the risotto: