The Shaman

The shaman put the blindfold over my eyes. Lying on my back, I was instructed to let out a slow deep breath, and then another. Silence settled in, filling every pocket of space around me and I noticed the rhythm of my heartbeat. As the shaman began to shake the rattle nearly at the same pace as the internal metronome, I felt a pinched muscle in my neck from the angle of the pillow behind my head, but thought it would be disrupting to move.

I don’t quite recall exactly how I found myself making an appointment with the shaman and showing up at her secluded home in a remote woodland canyon, but I had come to the end of a long journey and I was desperate for answers that I didn’t have the courage to speak for myself.

I was ready for death. The death of a path that I had completed and which no longer served my soul’s journey in this life. I also wanted answers—I wanted to know that there was something worth the pain and anguish that was waiting for me on the other side. I wanted to be assured that there in fact was life after this impending death.

The rattle was getting louder and accompanied by a second, followed by incoherent words and phrases that were quietly, then loudly chanted. Rather than dropping into a dream-like state as I was lightly instructed to allow, I became hyper focused on the pinch in my neck that was worsening by the second. The stabbing pain was all I could feel or think about—I wished for the session to end but it was to last for at least one hour, or maybe more.

I wanted so badly to move. Even just to shift slightly. But I was immobilized by the fear of interrupting the healer in the middle of her trance state. I wished for death rather than to speak up. I instructed myself to focus on the rhythm of the rattle and drift off, but to no avail. After an excruciating hour the shaman was finished and the rattles came to a stop, the room fell silent once again. Finally, I shifted and stretched my neck, finding immediate relief, but the horror of having wasted hundreds of dollars for an uncomfortable hour-long neck ache. As the shaman came to, I could see a bit of surprise in her face at my swift alertness and she asked about the visions I saw. I had spent the entire time focusing on and fretting about my pain that I missed the experience completely. I said I couldn’t remember. She recounted the visions that came to her during the session—something abstract about a tiger, a butterfly, and a flowing river.

My frustrations escalated as I quietly gathered my belongings and thanked her before leaving for the long drive home to the life I was trying to escape from. It was many years later that I realized that the lesson I received was profound even though I didn’t have the sort of mystical experience I was expecting. Countless times in my life I have not spoken up when put into an uncomfortable situation, more worried about the other person’s feelings than my own well-being. It cost me my entire past life, rather than a few moments of discomfort for someone else. I missed out on the experience at hand while being preoccupied and trapped in the uncomfortable situation because I couldn’t speak up. This lesson brought an awareness of my patterns of a lifetime of self-betrayal.

Is it more important to be liked so as not to disrupt the other person, or to speak your truth even if it pushes others away? Being alone isn’t all that frightening—I’ve known loneliness my whole life and haven’t died of it just yet. I’d rather form deep relationships around honesty and truth instead of superficial niceties just because that’s what “we’re supposed to do.” I have found that I’m certainly not everyone’s cup of tea and that is okay, not everyone is meant to. I do things a bit differently and I continue to walk in two very different worlds. Being a good human is more than being only good to everyone else—I have to be good and honest with myself too. However, there is always still more work to be done.

The Guardians of Mojave

Thank you to the desert for this short story.

“The Guardians”

The sun lingered, still bright and glaring in the late afternoon yet dipping down past the ridge line of the western bluffs. To the east, the shadows of the cholla and dried shrubs began stretching across the rugged canyon. Dusk was still a few hours out. Methodically, I set up camp for the night, in mid wood chopping, I paused. The doves softly cooed in the distance. The muted whisper of the wind through the blades of the nearby yucca. A smile a thousand miles wide spread across my face—there it was, the absence of human sound. No background whir of freeway traffic, no lawnmowers or leaf blowers, or barking dogs. The city was long gone. Only the occasional distant yips and song of coyote punctuated the aural landscape. That was what I came here for.

As the last orange rays of light evaporated from the canyon floor, leaving behind a blanket of violet and and indigo hues, I saw their shadowed figures standing motionless in the distance. Huddled together, they conversed about the stranger who had arrived. Whispering to each other, they were curious, but kept their distance and watched me as I started a small campfire. As I warmed my hands I returned their gaze. Soon the cold evening winds picked up—ushering me to seek warmth inside the shelter of my camper instead. I doused the remaining embers and closed up camp, but not without bidding goodnight to the figures who contentedly kept watch through the dark hours under a moonless star-studded sky.

I was awoken by the far off yips of the coyotes deeper in the canyon and the faintest glimmer of a fast approaching morning peeking in through the east facing window. Who would pass up a desert sunrise if they have the chance? What starts as a slow burning ember along the horizon, explodes into a roaring wildfire of colors stretching madly across the sky.

Edging open the door, bracing myself for that blast of crisp desert morning wind, I saw what I expected but no less filled with awe as if it were the first I had ever witnessed. I took it all in. As the light seeped into the desert, first among the neighboring ragged cliffs and then into the crevices between the cacti and dusty rocks, there they were. Huddled again, the shadowed figures casting sideways glances likely wondering if I had made it through the night. I poured myself a cup of tea, and through the rising steam I greeted them and thanked them for allowing a stranger to share their company for the night.

Medicinal Mushrooms Workshop

Why medicinal mushrooms and what do they do? Are they even worth it? What’s hype and what’s science behind medicinal mushrooms? Learn how fungi can support balance in the body, mind and community.

Mushrooms have been used by humans from the beginning of time yet they still capture our attention and fascination. Even modern science has taken note. But what makes them so alluring?

Learn all about the uses and benefits of the popular cultivated fungi and others that you can find locally in the wild of Southern California. What is the science behind them and how effective are they?

We will discuss the health benefits of: reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, maitake, lion’s mane, fly agaric, and psilocybe, and how they interact with our immune system and work to restore balance in our lives.

Each participant will take home a double extraction tincture we made in class, plus samples of different mushroom extract powders.

Medicinal mushroom based snacks and beverages will be provided.

Masks and social distancing required.

Jess Starwood is an author, herbalist, chef and mushroom hunter. She has a Master’s degree in Herbal Medicine and author of Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying, and Using More Than 25 Wild Fungi available August 2021. See more on instagram @jess.starwood or jstarwood.com

March 27th, 2021
4:00-6:00pm
Thousand Oaks, CA (Exact location to be provided after registration)
$75 per person, includes materials, food and beverage


To Register:
$75 (includes materials fees) paid via VENMO @theforesttable (preferred) and please submit the form below:

No refunds one week prior to event. When full, waitlist will be available.

Mushrooms of Los Angeles + Beyond

Thursday, March 11, 2021
5:00pm PST
Live via ZOOM, class will be recorded for registered attendees

Despite its dry climate, Southern California is a diverse habitat for fungi. From the medicinal turkey tail mushroom, to delicious chanterelles and southern candy caps, to the toxic destroying angel mushroom, this class will help you identify and discern these and many other interesting species you are likely to encounter in the local neighborhoods, parks and woodlands in the greater Los Angeles area.

This online class covers :

  • Mushroom identification skills and resources
  • Top edible mushrooms found in Southern California
  • Ideal fungi habitats, seasons and weather patterns
  • Toxic species to avoid
  • Local medicinal mushrooms and their uses
  • Ethics of foraging and environmental concerns regarding mushroom hunting

After class, you will receive a full-color high-resolution identification guide of 15 common mushrooms to look for in Southern California plus recipes featuring these mushrooms.

If you can’t make it live, the class will be recorded for paid attendees and can be viewed at your leisure.

Jess Starwood, herbalist, forager and chef, creates an innovative yet traditional approach to herbal medicine, wild foods and connecting the community with our local natural environment. She was recognized as one of the most creative chefs in Ventura County by Edible Ojai & Ventura County magazine in December 2019 and has worked with Michelin-starred chefs in Los Angeles, CA to bring nutritious, wild foods to the table. Not only sharing a love for unique and unusual foods, Jess strives to help students cultivate an intimate, sustainable and connected relationship with the land. She is the author of Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying, and Using More than 25 Species of Fungi available August 17, 2021 from Countryman Press. Instagram @jess.starwood and jstarwood.com

TICKETS & REGISTRATION

Mushrooms of Los Angeles & Beyond
March 11th, 5:00pm PST
$30

To register and secure your spot in this class, please complete the form below and send payment of $30 via VENMO to @theforesttable Your link will be sent to the email address you provide below.

Gather: Food, Medicine, & Dye

Weekend Workshop and Wild Food Dinner

June 19-20, 2021 • Trout Lake, Washington

Join foragers Julie Beeler, Lorelle Sherman and Jess Starwood for an unforgettable weekend in the woods where you will learn plant and mushroom identification, fabric dyeing with foraged plants, and a locally sourced six-course gourmet wild food dinner in celebration of the Summer Solstice. Located in Trout Lake, Washington at the base of Mt. Adams, the area is rich with edible and medicinal plants and fungi that will be collected and used throughout the weekend.

This workshop will take place on occupied territory of Yakama people. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Peacekeepers Society, a nonprofit founded in the mobilization of Yakama Nation ‘tribal trainers and wisdom keepers’ to promote positive social change for Native youth and adults.


Plant Identification and Foraging with Lorelle Sherman

The Pacific Northwest gifts us a bounty of wild foods in the spring and summer months, from roots to shoots, berries, greens, and possibly even mushrooms! We will get intimate with the local landscape by learning to identify, utilize, and sustainably harvest local and seasonal wild ingredients.

Through hands-on experience in the field, you will learn how to identify common native and invasive wild foods that you can confidently harvest on your next outdoor adventure. We will work through basic plant identification, ethical foraging practices, and easy and delicious ways to prepare and preserve your newfound wild ingredients. Group taste-testing and wild tea drinking will bring these local flavors to life. Come prepared for an easy hike and bring cloth, mesh, or paper bags to bring any foraged treats home with you for further flavor exploration.


Six-Course Wild Food Dinner with Jess Starwood

Forager, herbalist and wild food chef Jess Starwood will be serving a hand-crafted gourmet six-course dinner and drinks on Sunday night, celebrating the culmination of the event and the Summer Solstice. We will be enjoying an intimate experience with the local environment through new tastes, textures and wild flavors.

As you dine among the trees, each course tells a story about the land around you and the current season. Little to no processing of foods preserve their natural flavors and allow their unique subtleties shine through. This elegantly presented meal is crafted from locally sourced wild and organically farmed ingredients, completely plant-based and gluten-free.


Wild Plant Dye Workshop with Julie Beeler

Discover the alchemy of natural dyes and explore the bounty of botanical palettes. The serendipity of painting with plants combined with the ancient traditions of natural dyes yields unique and colorful results.

Working with plants that you forage in the wild along with Bloom & Dye’s locally grown flowers, you will gain knowledge and insight all while experimenting with the art of natural color.

We will be exploring a variety of ways to work with natural dyes; creating botanical bundles and prints, and making dye baths to create rich color palettes. Everyone will try their hand at different Japanese shibori traditions. Each participant will receive a variety of different natural fabrics to test and dye along with a linen foraging satchel to experiment with different colors, palettes and patterns. The custom instructional craftbook will allow everyone to continue their exploration at home.


About Your Instructors:

Julie Beeler, artist, designer and educator, grew up with a deep love and curiosity for the natural world. Educating others on how plants, fungi and their colors reflect the beauty of nature is something she is moved to share as a way to inspire care, stewardship and impact. Her work is bound up in the landscape; every thread is infused with botanical energy, as she gently simmers Mother Nature to unlock her colors. Drawing on cultural traditions and ancient natural dye histories each textile object is a record of a place and time, reflecting our relationship to the natural world. She has been recognized with numerous awards throughout her career as a designer of interpretive, editorial, and educational content, that supported cultural vitality with a commitment to preservation and conservation.
Instagram @bloomanddye and bloomanddye.com

Jess Starwood, herbalist, forager and chef, creates an innovative yet traditional approach to herbal medicine, wild foods and connecting the community with our local natural environment. She was recognized as one of the most creative chefs in Ventura County by Edible Ojai & Ventura County magazine in December 2019 and has worked with Michelin-starred chefs in Los Angeles, CA to bring nutritious, wild foods to the table. Not only sharing a love for unique and unusual foods, Jess strives to help students cultivate an intimate, sustainable and connected relationship with the land.
Instagram @jess.starwood and jstarwood.com

Lorelle Sherman Lorelle is a forest ecologist, naturalist, and wild foods forager who weaves conservation and ecology into her teaching. She has been foraging and teaching for over ten years in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Lorelle has a BS in Wildlife Biology and a MS in Forest Ecology. Since arriving in Oregon in 2015, she has worked with government agencies, private timber, and non-profit groups to develop and implement wildlife habitat and vegetation studies from the Oregon Coast to the western Cascades. Throughout her career, she has prioritized environmental education and science communication as a way to help others build meaningful connections with the natural world. Instagram @lorellemorel and lorellemorel.com


EVENT DETAILS

SATURDAY
10am Welcome & Introductions
11am-4pm Foraging with Lorelle Sherman
6-8pm 6 course Wild Food Dinner with Jess Starwood

SUNDAY
10am-3pm Dye Workshop with Julie Beeler

Lodging is not included in this event. Some great local options:

Elk Meadows
Trout Lake Valley Inn
Cozy Cabins
Trout Creek Campground
Peterson Prairie Cabin
Guler Mt Adams Park

COVID-19 Protocol: 

  • If you are sick or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with anyone who is sick/experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, in the 14 days prior to the workshop, please do not attend. Send us an email and we will work out a solution. 
  • We will be following Washington State COVID-19 protocols, guidelines and recommendations at the time of the workshop. 
  • You will need to bring and wear your own mask or face covering. 
  • Please maintain 6ft of physical distance from any other workshop participant who is not in your immediate household at all times.
  • Dinner will be served out doors with no more than 6 people per table from two households. 
  • The workshop is limited to 12 participants + 3 instructors and will primarily take place outdoors with the exception of some botanical dyeing taking place in our indoor 1,300 sq. ft. studio space. 
  • We will provide all individual tools and set up in personal stations to avoid unnecessary sharing of items. 
  • The studio space will be sanitized both days and will have plenty of soap and hand sanitizer on hand. We will provide disposable gloves for those who wish to use them.

TICKETS

GATHER: Food • Medicine • Dye
June 19-20, 2021
Limited to 12 participants.
$400/person + $25 materials fee if registered before May 19, 2021
$450/person + $25 materials fee if registered after May 19, 2021

We are currently SOLD OUT

To be added to the wait list, please submit the form below:

Refund Policy
No refunds after 7 days prior to the event.

Call of the Wild (Food)

A food journey. 2008-2020

My life, for the most part, seemed to be pretty typical and average. Degree. Job. Married. House. Fancy car. Up until one life-changing day that I held my two month old first born child, who cried nonstop in my arms for an endless twenty-four hours after an adverse reaction to a routine vaccine. Reality hit like a brick wall in those turbulent, panic-ridden hours. I was inextricably linked to this human in a way that I never had been connected to another. Sure, a marriage vow was one thing, but this. This was a connection, a love so much deeper, dare I say karmic. Her life, her very existence depended completely on me. Who was I to take on such a responsibility? I barely knew how to take care of myself. During my pregnancy my diet was the worst in my life, I had gained over 75 pounds, and was on the verge of becoming diabetic. In those dark, endless hours of comforting her alone that fateful day, and feeling the most helpless I ever had in my life, I ruminated on the meaning of my life and questioning my early motherhood at 25.

My daughter and I, 2008

One month prior, my newborn also suffered from severe eczema that riddled her skin with angry and irritated boils. She was not a happy baby. I knew something was not right, even though the doctor passed it off as normal and from my nascent research I suspected it was due to a dairy allergy. But she wasn’t drinking cows milk at one month old. It was me and my addiction to cheese and ice cream. Her incessant crying made it quite clear to me then the relationship of what we put in our bodies—be it foods, medicines or other non-natural chemicals—has a drastic effect on us. Not only that, I needed to be strong and healthy to raise her in the best way that I could. But, it was only the very first step on a long and winding journey ahead.

I suffered immediately from an abrupt and serious descent into post-partum depression those first few months, several times seriously plotting to run away with my daughter and to never be seen again—or worse. My husband at the time insisted that I somehow “fix myself” and nudged me in the direction of pharmaceuticals. Without knowing any better or having any support in alternatives, I was promptly prescribed high doses of drugs that numbed every last bit of feeling and emotion out of my existence. As a naturally highly sensitive and emotional person that needs to sense the world through deeper meaning, creativity and feeling, I was nothing but an empty and robotic shell. The days went on and on—I mechanically moved though the actions of what I thought I was supposed to do, never again crying, but also never smiling or laughing. Days, months, years went trodding by, every day just like the last. I lost any passion or interest I had for life—the only things that vaguely interested me was food and my nascent garden.

After the success of relieving my daughter’s severe eczema by removing all dairy from my diet, I switched to a completely plant-based diet and bought my very first cookbook. I explored every recipe in that book and to this day it remains one of the most stained and tattered tomes from those relentless early explorations in the kitchen. Each meal was an adventure to look forward to, an empty creative canvas. And, I was getting healthier and what seemed like endless, uncontainable energy. By removing dairy, my chronic pain and environmental allergies nearly completely disappeared. I had spent most of my childhood and young adult years embarrassingly suffering from chronic sinusitis, likely contributing to my introversion and shyness. Had I only known.

While nearly all of my ailments disappeared with this initial change of diet, it didn’t quell the depression. I was terrified to go off the drugs without knowing what the other side would be like. Yet, there was this pressing, relentless voice in the back of my mind pleading with me to realize I was finally strong enough to release them.

I continued to study food and nutrition, burrowing deeper into the rabbit hole of how the foods we eat interact with our body, mind and even our spirit. I leaned into raw food diets and everything they promised: weight loss, increased vitality, improved mental clarity, and boundless energy. Carefully tracking everything I ate, it came nearly to an obsession. I began to make everything our family ate from scratch—breads, crackers, chips, sauces, granola, condiments, desserts—and every meal was carefully crafted and thought out with organic ingredients from the farmer’s market or the garden. Often times I made several different meals, from something only moderately healthy my then-husband would tolerate, something simple for the kids, and then I would thoroughly enjoy my latest culinary experiment. Exploring food was the only thing that kept me going in a loveless marriage and the lonely, exhausting, and monotonous days of toddlerhood. Every waking day felt excruciatingly the same as the last, for years on end. The only memories I have of those years are in memorized recipes and hard-earned meals.

My favorite garden tomato of 2012

At long last, I came to a point where I felt that I could finally free myself from anti-depressants in 2012. I felt that no matter what life brought to me, I could nourish myself and those I loved through food. Despite recommendations, I abruptly quit taking the medication and as my body detoxed the pharmaceutical, I began to see the color, hope and passion not only to return to life again, but in a new way that I had never dreamed of.

As I examined intimately each bite I took throughout the day, I began to look at foods and ingredients in a new way and how they made me feel. I wanted to know more. Where did they come from? How were they grown or processed? How many hands have they touched? What resources went into its production and its transportation? What air did it breathe when it was growing? Most of us have no idea how our processed foods are stripped of nutrients and real flavor, then artificially manipulated to seduce our taste buds and neural pathways into an endless cycle of cravings and addictions. For what? More, and more fake food until we no longer remember what real was or even that a carrot grows in dirt. I wanted to know what real tomatoes tasted like, what an in-season heirloom watermelon smelled like when it burst open from its unbridled ripeness. So I grew them. Whatever seeds I could manage to get my hands on, I planted in my front yard. One year, I had 75 individual plants of 20 organic heirloom tomato varieties were growing in my garden. With a great array of other heirloom vegetables and unusual herbs, I transformed our insipid suburban lawn into a food forest.

I was after real foods and real flavor.

Through my questing and research for real food, I experienced first hand the results of our entangled connection to the foods that we eat. With a newfound drive for a better way of living, I kept digging deeper. This unprocessed organic whole food diet was great and all that, but that voice started whispering to me again. These foods are good for me, but are they good for the planet? Where are they coming from and what are our options? I turned to my garden. And I turned to higher education, pursuing a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and finished with a degree in herbal medicine where I focused on the nutritional and medicinal aspects of herbs and, specifically, mushrooms. I still couldn’t quite find the answers I was looking for.

At the beginning of my schooling, which was enormously difficult with two children under the age of 6 and the dismantling of a nine year marriage, I encountered a single plant that changed my perspective one more time—Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. It seemed foreign, strange and incredibly uninviting—something I could not connect with in any of my memories of being in nature which was rooted in the Arizona desert and forests. I learned all about this plant’s nutrition and medicinal benefits and was astounded that a single plant could be capable of so much. It was more than something to eat or make into a tea. I began my search for this plant as I learned that it was found only “in the wild.” It did not need to be coddled by a farmer, fed artificial nutrients and watered regularly. It was self-sufficient. It didn’t rely on any humans that thought they knew better. It was real. This one plant sparked a whole new raging wildfire of passion for real food.

This concept of “wild food” had not been completely unfamiliar to me, as in childhood I had devoured the book My Side of the Mountain multiple times and had longed to run away to live in a tree and eat right off the land as Sam Gribley did—to make acorn pancakes and dandelion salads. Well, let’s be honest, it was mostly about the pet falcon. I’m still waiting on that one. But alas, I grew up in the Sonoran desert at the time and making a home in a saguaro and lack of water did not seem as enchanting. I digress.

My gateway wild food: Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica

On my quest, I escaped to my local trails during the day, dragging along my two restless children, touching most any green leafy plant, looking for stinging nettle’s identifying characteristic and lasting sting. (Admittedly not the best way to go about it, regarding the dense populations of poison oak in our area) The day I found it, a most memorable moment, was incredibly empowering. I could find and identify a single nutritious and medicinal food in the wild on my own. I’ve since seen a similar wave of excitement wash over folks who learn about and identify wild foods for the first time—or is it more a remembering? There’s something innate and primal about our connection to these same plants that have fed us for millennia and it is only recently that we have forgotten that connection through our domestication and disconnection of our food.

Since then, my journey spiraled rapidly into an adventure of all that wild food has to offer. From new and unique flavors of native and non-native plants, hunting for wild mushrooms across the United States and exploring exotic fruits in Mexico, deeply studying herbal medicine and nutrition with many different and inspiring teachers, investigating new culinary possibilities, connecting with some of the world’s greatest chefs, and not to mention how the simple act of collecting acorns on my daily walk becomes an integral part of the forager’s life.

I found a little bit of myself in the foods that I collected and tasted. Wild food escapes our attempt at their domestication. It doesn’t need us, nor follows any of our rules or bow to our attempts to contain it. We, however, need wild foods. We need them and their land to thrive. We need them to remind us of our own not so distant wildness. And that this wildness is too quickly slipping away. I’m not suggesting we all become foragers, but somehow cultivate a renewed connection to this invisible land that is so quickly poisoned and polluted, plowed over and pushed aside by shopping centers and sprawling suburban neighborhoods. It is not another hip product to be bought and sold. And that is why it escapes the capitalistic nature of our contemporary mindset. If we try to put a price tag on wild food, we cannot afford it. We have to change our thinking about food. It is the rudimentary foundation of life itself. No matter who we are or where we came from, it is our history. And our future. It is real food.

A foraged spring salad, 2020.

I wrote a book.

I wrote a book.

I accomplished my biggest life goal today. So here is my long, exhaustive story of writing a book, in case you are interested in how this journey has come to an end: From the time when I first learned to read and write, excelling in all the advanced reading and English classes in school, I have loved books and everything about them. I wrote poems in second grade that won contests and were published in a book. I wrote and drew children’s stories by the time I was 10, hand bound and printed from a typewriter, dreaming of having them published someday. I devoured the nature books my grandma and uncle had on the bookshelves, even dictionaries and encyclopedias, fascinated by the complexity of words and their ability to transform a reader with knowledge through words on a page. To go on journeys and adventures in the imagination just by peeling back the pages and diving in.

I remember the moment, not long after moving to California in my early 20’s, driving home from work, that I decided on a few goals that I wanted to accomplish in this lifetime. The first was to design for a magazine. I did that five years later, making my way to art director just before my first daughter was born. The other goal was to write a book. The problem was, I didn’t know what to write about. I didn’t have a story to tell, or knowledge to share. My first honest attempt was nearly exactly twelve years ago, as I was home with a brand new newborn I found a little time on my hands and decided to attempt the NaNoWriMo, where one challenges oneself to write a 40k word novel in the 30 days of November. I wonder if I still have that unfinished novel, somewhere, but it was never finished and the idea of writing a book was shelved until a few years ago.

Two years ago my good friend Pascal Baudar asked me why I wasn’t writing a book. I didn’t believe I had the authority to write about anything even though I had completed my MS program a few years prior and had been writing scientific research papers for years. I went with the idea of a mushroom cookbook and put together a nice proposal and submitted it to a publisher. It was nearly accepted, but was turned down at the very last minute. I know now they had just signed another similar book with another forager. The editor felt so strongly about my book that he passed my information along with a recommendation to a literary agent who fell in love with my concept and photography which led to a meeting in San Francisco early last summer. However, after a few more ‘no’s’ and her impending leave of absence, she also passed my information on to another agent that she thought would be a better fit. At this point, I nearly gave up but persisted anyways and sent her my proposal. She came back to me with good news, but the publisher didn’t want a cookbook. They wanted a mushroom guidebook for beginners and requested a new proposal. Within days, I turned around a new proposal and they were thrilled, but wanted a book profiling 25 top mushrooms of North America with 40k words and 50 photos in six months.

The problem was, mushroom season in Southern California was certainly over and was waning on the west coast. Not to mention the onset of a pandemic. Oh, and many mushrooms I had never found yet, particularly Hen of the Woods which is only found on the east coast. Six months to trust nature and my mushroom hunting abilities to show up across the country to find something I never found before. Luckily I have a few fantastic friends who have helped along the way to make this possible.

Five and a half months later, I have submitted all of my work, despite the editor changing the deadline several times. I leave for the east coast next month, one more time, to find the one I am still missing. The hen of the woods. For now, the biggest part of this project is done. I wrote a book called ‘Mushroom Wanderland’ and it will be published by Countryman Press, released next year.

‘What next?’ … everyone asks. It is strange to be working towards something for so long, for a lifetime, for it to go to the last stage of ‘I want to write a book,’ ‘I am writing a book,’ to now ‘I wrote a book.’ And that is it. There is an emptiness, a silence, very much like that of the birth of my daughter exactly twelve years ago, where a thing that was once a part of me, is now separate and vulnerable to face the harshness of the world. I will probably write another book, not sure what about yet, but I know I will continue to wander and wonder about the world through this very human experience.


PREORDER NOW: Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying, and Using 25 Wild Fungi by Jess Starwood

The breathtaking beauty of mushrooms from a master forager: how to identify and use them in cooking, home remedies, and spirituality.

Foraging for mushrooms is a meditative and rewarding escape. Even if readers aren’t ready to head out into the woods, this enchanting visual guide is a welcome introduction to 25 easily identifiable species, organized by location and use. Author Jess Starwood has led hundreds of foraging trips, sharing her knowledge of nature with students. This, her first book, is a celebration of fungi—perfect for both beginner and longtime mushroom admirers.

No matter their use, all mushrooms have specific characteristics that are easy to recognize with the right teacher. Under Starwood’s guidance, readers will learn to identify caps, stipes, gills, and pores. They’ll encounter species such as Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Candy Cap, Chanterelle, and more; learn the best harvesting seasons; and enjoy delicious recipes using culinary favorites. But, above all, this guide will have readers growing their connection to nature and dreaming of the wonderful world of fungi.

Acorn + Persimmon Tart

The many tastes of the season here in Southern California come together in this simple yet satisfyingly complex dessert, the Acorn + Persimmon Tart. The most time consuming part is to process the acorns which are abundant this time of year. My preferred method is to cold-leach them, which retains flavor and nutrients, however it can take several days to do this. Processing acorns is an entire post in itself, but can be found repetitiously online from other sources.

For this recipe, I started out with cold-leached acorns from the local mountains that were ground to a fine flour using a high speed blender. Persimmons were once a common tree planted in yards of older neighborhoods that tend to produce copious amounts of fruits. Not everyone is a fan of persimmons so it only takes a little bit of asking around to glean some fruits. Heck, you might even make some new friends in the area.

For quite some time during my many years of fascination with health food, I obsessed over raw dairy-free desserts. The concept that an indulgence can actually be good for you was mind-blowing. Every week I would create pies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc from whole, nutritious ingredients for myself and my kids, and whoever I could cajole into trying them. They were always surprised that for one, they were dairy-free, and two, they were actually good for you despite tasting so sinfully delicious.

Persimmons in my house don’t usually get past my snacking habits, but inspired by my new stash of acorn flour, a bag full of persimmons, some pomegranates from the yard, and a pint of honey just harvested a few days before, I was set on actually making a presentable dessert. This recipe is incredibly simple with few ingredients, most which can be sourced locally or foraged. Except cashews. I still have yet to find a suitable replacement for these, and my pine nut stash is nearly gone.

Acorn + Persimmon Tart

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup cold-leached acorn flour
1/2 cup dates, pitted
Pinch of sea salt

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for 1-2 hours, drained (or sub pine nuts for all locally sourced ingredients)
2T honey
1 persimmon cubed

Garnish
Sliced persimmon
Pomegranate arils
Honey

  • Combine the crust ingredients into a food processor and process until it begins to stick together creating a dough. Add a few teaspoons of water if necessary.
  • Place into a tart pan and press to form a solid crust.
  • Combine the filling ingredients and blend completely until smooth in a high speed blender.
  • Pour the filling into the tart crust and place into the refrigerator for a few hours to set.
  • Slice a persimmon thinly and evenly using a mandolin and arrange on the tart, using the filling to secure the slices.
  • Garnish with pomegranate arils and drizzle with honey.

The Quest for Saguaro Fruit

The quest for Saguaro Fruit… is it the journey that makes it that much sweeter?

Deep into the heat of the Sonoran desert, the hottest days of the year, the giant saguaro cactus offers its deeply hued fruits to the winged folk—the white-winged doves, the woodpeckers and the bats—up to sixty feet above the ground. These green skinned fruits burst open like flowers, revealing their crimson flesh and hundreds of black seeds. This is the third year I have collected the fruits and it is not a casual task. Sometimes I get lucky and there’s a generous saguaro who’s large arm has become too heavy and bends downward, offering its nearly spineless fruit within reach.

At the beginning of my trip, I was able to grab a few fruits on a cactus that was conveniently next to a fence that I climbed on and used an extendable pool net to haphazardly collect them. They were completely unripe and unpalatable (but I still pickled them and they turned out great!).

The following night, on my evening walk, I noticed another cactus who’s fruits were bursting open—their tell-tale sign of ripeness. I had no pool net, ladder nor long stick to reach them so I grabbed a few nearby stones to toss at them hoping to dislodge a few. Apparently the cactus thought I was playing catch and bounced them right back at me. Noted: catching skills need improvement.

I went on my way, feeling a bit embarrassed, but remembering just down the path there was another cactus with the bent-down arm that I collected from last year. The darkness that was creeping in was fitting for the scene that I was not expecting. Within the year since I last visited, the cactus had died. This led me to wonder, was I the last human to eat its fruits? It had been a stately cactus with many arms, indicative of its age… possibly up to 200 years old. Had there been any other hungry wanderers that had enjoyed its fruit in that time? Surely it hadn’t been waiting for me… but that romantic idea had danced through my mind. Wistfully, I turned my gaze to the ground and noticed the remains of one of its arms. All of the flesh had decomposed leaving long thick ‘ribs’ of the cactus behind. It had left me a gift even after its death.

In the past, it was these sticks that were used by native people to collect the fruits. Some were long enough as they were, other times they were tied end to end to reach the tops of the highest cacti. I gratefully chose one stick and returned to the first cactus with the ripe fruit. I was reminded of the story by Shel Silverstein… “The Giving Tree” where the tree gives everything of itself, its fruit, shade, wood, and then it’s stump even after its death, to the boy.

I only took a few fruits. No more than what I needed to share with my family for this only once a year treat. No need for any special preparations with their delicate flavor. This fruit is mildly sweet, reminiscent of watermelon without the water and much less slimy than prickly pear fruit. It is full of tiny crunchy black seeds that can be eaten altogether with the fruit. One of my most favorites.

Is the taste that incredible and worth the effort? Or is it the journey to it that makes it that much sweeter?

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