Eyes down, forks up
A walk about the neighborhood yields a meal or three.
It's common to think about wild mushrooms as being a far-off, deep forest, high mountain kind of thing. I suppose pictures of lush mossy forest floors punctuated by golden chanterelles doesn't help dispel that line of thinking. But mushrooming is actually an activity that urbanites can do very successfully, particularly here in the greater Seattle area. Some of the best mushroom meals I've had were from mushrooms collected from city parks (shaggy parasols, birch boletes, prince mushrooms), park and ride medians (shrimp russula), and, conveniently enough, the parking median of a house just down the street (porcini!). Morels are also a common urban ground score, popping up in piles of wood chips in the spring. That's like winning the mushroom lottery, as far as I'm concerned.
The possibility of finding edible wild mushrooms in the urban core is kind of a transformative realization. Knowing that a walk to the bus stop or grocery store, or around the block with the dog, or to the park with the kids could turn into a culinary event suddenly transforms all those previously mundane outings into a full on mushroom hunt. It's also been noted by others that it turns me into a bit of a doddler. I stroll slowly, eyes scanning for signs of a tasty prize. For me the effect is doubly transformative. I become far more observant of my surroundings in general when I'm scanning for mushrooms. I note the growth of plants, what flowers are blooming, and where edible weeds are sprouting. I notice honey bee activity, and occasionally stop to watch them at their work. I find previously unnoticed pockets in local parks, and pay attention to specific trees like birch, spruce, and oak which have relationships to some mushrooms. I become more engaged in my surroundings in general. I am focused, breathing slowly, and my mind is cleared of other distractions. These walks, even as part of a daily routine of getting to and from work, become more relaxing, more rewarding, and more enjoyable.
That's pretty amazing, I think. By introducing a hunter-gatherer activity to a walk around my neighborhood not only do I occasionally reap the reward of some really good kitchen ingredients, but I also increase the level of satisfaction and enjoyment of every outing. Such a simple thing to do, with such nice rewards for doing it. There are other activities that could activate this transformation -- birding, for instance, or foraging for edible greens.
Here's a few urban mushroom finds from last fall. I sliced all three of these up, dried them in a dehydrator, and stored them in a jar in the pantry. They ended up in some ravioli and some risotto, with a mushroom broth making it into a few bowls of ramen too.
However you get there, tapping into the benefits of the hunter-gatherer effect will transform your urban walking experience. Give it a try -- it's a real thing.