Thursday, September 22, 2016

Moss Gazing

In Japan there is a tradition called “Hanami” that means tree-blossom observing. During a short period in the spring when the trees are in bloom, people gather to admire their beauty together. The delicate flowers are fleeting and ephemeral, offering lots of inspiration for poetry and artwork about the fleeting nature of life itself. I often think of this while doing a similar activity here in the Northwest- “moss gazing.” But I think that the lessons learned from this are quite different from the ones the sakura blossoms teach Japanese poets.

You see, moss is not fleeting. Moss is constant. Moss is ancient. Mosses were the first plants to emerge from the ocean and conquer the land. They range in size drastically and can be found in almost every ecosystem on earth. They have been here far longer than humans have existed and they blanket our world with the memories of some of the first life forms on Earth. Instead of reminding  you of the frailty of life, they remind you of the constancy of life. That you are just one little blip in the timeline of something much bigger than you, or me, or anyone.

So when life gets overwhelming and my problems seem larger than myself, I escape into the woods and practice the art of moss-gazing. That’s what I invited my guests to do with me this magical night- to make a point to notice the minute and the tiny; the dramatic landscapes found within the soft carpet of moss underfoot and the diversity of flavors hidden under a rotten log. Everything they dined on (and dined out of) was inspired by the delicate wonders of the forest floor, transformed through the poetry of manipulated ingredients and manipulated silica. Just remember, if you’re having trouble seeing the big picture, just look closer. 

I had such a wonderful time planning and executing this magical event. I hand-made all of the serving vessels and plates of out glass and ceramic, dyed all of the napkins, and even made the mossy installation hanging over the table to remind guests of being in green woods dripping with moss. I foraged most of the food for the menu and prepared all the food as well (with a little help from my mom in making the rolls!) 

The menu was full of foresty goodness, from roasts cooked in "Forest floor" to secret buried chocolate treasure, to mushrooms for dessert (really!) Here are the courses: 

1st course: A blank canvas of herb-enriched soft bread; a cracked texture reminiscent of the first stages of decay and peeling bark. The smallest zesty moss balls with which to dress it - fresh bright herbs and tangy goat cheese. Things that are salty, sour, smoky on the tongue. Time to wake up and get present. 
Dutch Crunch rolls make with spinach and nettle powders, zesty goat cheese balls rolled in wild herbs, pickled fiddlehead ferns, alder-smoked sea salt, and fresh butter, all served in homemade glass and ceramic vessels. 

2nd course: A cluster of cool asparagus moss dusted in powdered flavor. A slice of forest floor hugs a fungi cluster- a conference of umami turns into a meeting with wine which evolves into one hell of a party in the woods. 
Spinach crepe filled with a white wine, butter, and parmesan wild mushroom filling. Plated on a handmade stoneware plate with marinated asparagus, a dusting of nettle powder, and a sprinkle of parsley. 

3rd course: A deer rests in the moss, nibbling on acorns. A westerly breeze brings with it the far-off spiciness of juniper. The winds are changing. The soil underfoot carries with it the secrets of new life, of dormant seeds, of one last show before winter's snows. 
Juniper-Infused cream and bright green herb oil; edible soil flavored with olives and juniper; spiced pickled acorns; mint-spruce pea puree; sunflower and pea sprouts; and forest floor roasted beef with a sprinkle of alder-smoked salt. 

Dessert: The intoxicating perfume of nature's gold fills the air. The damp woods smell of almonds and apricots and the dew-covered plants drip as bare feet walk over soft moss. The treasure hunt begins. 
This special dessert is in honor of chanterelle mushrooms, and is made of: almond-lemon moss cake; spherified chanterelle cream anglaise; browned butter and peach/apricot ball covered in saffron spheres; candied chanterelle mushrooms; matcha-almond pudding dots; and a tapioca crisp with matcha powdered sugar. Lots of delightful apricot flavors with undertones of almonds, grassiness, and caramel earthiness. 

After Dinner Treats: A dive into the soil's bitter, dark, earthy flavors. A symphony of licorice notes from the depths of the woods: mushrooms, roots, rhizomes. What treats will you find gracing the bark? Hiding under the moss? 
Lots of special licorice and bitter-sweet treats to nibble on after the feast. I infused a special digestif liquor just for the event, made with many wild plants including licorice fern rhizome and sweet cicily roots for their licorice flavor blended with my "first" bitters blend. I also served coffee brewed with anise shelf mushrooms and juniper cream. A large, bark-covered silver tray accompanied these drinks and on it were lots of other sweet little nibbles: nutmeg, vanilla, and anise shelf mushroom meringues; pine nut matcha bon bon; and cacao nib balls with pistachio and lions' mane mushrooms. After nibbling on these little bites, the guests discovered that the bark they were served on was actually cinnamon, and began nibbling on that as well! There were still a couple of surprises left, too,... 

One final surprise for the guests at Moss Gazing were little gold foil-wrapped treasures hidden under the moss on the table. Inside were my "chocolate truffle truffles"- silky chocolate ganache infused with real Perigord black truffles marbled with fondant to mimic the patterns found inside the fungi for which truffles get their name. I watched as excited guests unearthed the moss on the table with glee to find these treats to take home and remember the evening by. 

To see more pictures from this event, visit my website or my Facebook page
To learn more about what I do and why I do it, visit my Patreon page. 

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