Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bay Area Foraging Successes?

So I've tried a couple of things I foraged or wrote about a while ago.  I left you all hanging with my last post, but I still haven't tried the laurel nuts.  I'm thinking I'll try and roast them this weekend.  I did however try the fruit.  Hmmm? How to describe it?  As you can see in this pic, it looks like a tiny round avocado.
 Pretty cool looking really.  The flesh was much firmer, so I'm not sure it was ripe.  I read you're supposed to wait till the fruit turns purple before eating.  Most of the fruit was purple, but maybe it wasn't long enough.  I think I've lost the opportunity to try again this year, but it was hard to motivate after tasting it.  What did it taste like?  I only tried tiny nibbles.  One was hard and didn't taste like much.  The other was like chewing on a fleshy bay leaf.  A really strong bay leaf.  Blech.  It took me a while to get the taste out of my mouth.  Here's hoping the nuts are tastier.
I have had some better success with some infusions, or teas.  I tried both a fresh and a dried rose hip tea, made from hips of Rosa californica. There didn't seem to be much difference between fresh and dried.  It tastes like vitamin C, if that makes sense.  Not bad, a little sweet.  I also tried adding a couple of hips to other teas.  The taste definitely powers through, but fortunately I like the taste.

I also tried an infusion of madrone (Arbutus menziesii) bark.  I really like this stuff.  I've had it a couple times now.  In Flavors of Home, Margit Roos-Collins describes the flavor as "a little like Chinese green tea mixed with the fragrance of bark or wood.  It's flavor is homey and a little musty, like the smell of a room full of books that has been closed up for a season by the ocean."  I don't know about that last part, but I do know I had forgotten how she described the flavor and after my first couple of sips, I thought to myself that it tasted like green tea.  But an earthy green tea.  It's very pleasant.  I've mixed it with rose hips and white sage.  So far I think I like it on its own.

And last, but not least, I tried madrone berries.  I don't know if I've never paid attention before, but I have seen tons of madrone berries this year, both in the East Bay and on a trip up north to Mendocino.  The hills along one section of 101 south of Ukiah was blazing red with all the berries.  I finally spotted a tree with low-hanging branches on the side of a small road, and picked some.  I don't think they were ripe.  They were kind of hard and astringent.  Ms. Roos-Collins did say in her book, that fruits vary in taste from tree to tree.  I'm supposed to hike on Thanksgiving, so I'll look for some more.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

East Bay Fall, Redwood Park

So reminded by Christine's post over at Idora Design, I decided to go for a hike yesterday to look for California bay, or laurel, fruits.  I had read about eating them in Flavors of Home and was quite curious.  I know there are a lot of laurel trees on the laurel trail in Berkeley's Tilden Park, a really beautiful section in fact, but I got a late start and it's not very convenient for me to get to from Oakland.  That and traffic on the 24 made me take a last minute turn towards Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills.  And I'm really glad I did.

I parked at the Skyline Gate Staging Area and then preceded to go left on the West Ridge trail.  The area near the gate has been worked on quite assiduously by habitat restoration volunteers and the efforts really show.  There were tons of different natives peaking up all along that first part of the trail, and several cages around some planted natives as well.  This is a different area of the park than where I volunteered.

Here there were a lot of honeysuckle and some snowberries.

There were California fuchsia doing their thing, and hazelnuts getting ready to do theirs.
And this has already done its thing.  Anybody know what this is?
The most impressive were the madrones.  All the tallest trees were fruiting.  I'd never seen, or at least never noticed, this before.  Really beautiful.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Acorn Gelato

So when I started this blog, I had thoughts of blogging about food fairly often.  Those posts have been few and far between, but here's one I had to blog about.  I went to my favorite local gelateria, Gelateria Naia, last night.  I usually get something with chocolate and so was trying to branch out. Their flavors were very different than the last few times I've been there.  Since they use a lot of local ingredients I guess it makes sense that they would have to be in season as well.  I sampled the prickly pear sorbetto, which was good, but a little sweet for my taste.  And then I saw the acorn gelato.  What could be better for a California fall?  The sample was good, very light, and I decided would pair well with chocolate.  Ah well, I did at least try to branch out.   So I ordered the acorn with dark chocolate a perfect combination.

I went to Italy this summer and have been a little disappointed with the different gelato places I've tried.  In Italy, the gelato was very light.  Here most gelato is much heavier.  It seems more like regular ice cream, but with more unique flavors.  The gelato at Naia is much lighter, but still incredibly flavorful.  Some of the flavors are a single-malt whiskey and an earl gray, along with other more basic flavors like stracciatella.  There are now several stores and places you can buy their gelato here in the Bay Area.  They'll also ship to several western states, though you kinda have to be there to receive it.

For another blog entry about Gelateria Naia from KQED, click here.