Sunday, May 24, 2020

First Bruschetta of the Season

It all begins with a tomato - a real, ripe, perfect one. In this case, we used our first ripe tomato of the season.

While suffering a bit from an earlier attack by inchworms, it tasted wonderful.

The pole beans are also from our garden, though they are not part of our Bruschetta....

  • Tomato
  • 1/4 yellow Onion
  • Basil
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt

Separately, make some toasted thin slices of Ciabatta bread... I tend to eat Bruschetta on crisp thin toasts.

Wash the tomato and remove any blemishes. Dice reasonably finely, usually about a quarter inch dice is good. Place in a glass bowl.

Dice the onion (you will want about 1/4 as much as you have tomato) into chunks half the size of the tomato chunks or smaller.

Place in glass bowl atop tomato chunks.

Wash the basil and pat dry. Mince at least as finely as the onion. Place on top of Onion and Tomato. Now drizzle some olive oil over the stack and gently mix. Add the salt and ground black pepper, stir gently to mix, cover with a towel, and allow the flavors to mingle for at least fifteen minutes.

Serve by spooning onto thin, crispy toast and eating!

For our family, this has become a ritual preparation marking the start of Summer, or at least the season of the Tomato.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Giant Puffball Mushrooms in Chaparral

While Spring is usually considered the time for wildflowers in the deserts of California, they are not the only things you can find in Spring.

How about football sized mushrooms? Even if these particular ones were a bit smaller than typical, they are still wonderful things to encounter while wandering in natural areas this time of year!

There is a tremendous excitement to finding these unexpectedly along a trail or while exploring. These can be found in almost any part of the state, generally around the time the Dichelostemma capitata are finishing their bloom period.

My son found these - Puffballs as a group contain some of the most numerous edible mushrooms in our yard (note - never eat wild mushrooms - join a local mycological society if you really want to explore this. The Mycological Society of San Francisco is a great one at ). Hence the excitement when an unexpected "old friend" showed up along our path!

Turns out it hasn't been a great year for Calvatia booniana, as these were all ready getting ready to ripen their spores, and the mushrooms themselves are smaller than often encountered with this species. Still adds a flair of the hunt to any hike!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Wild Snapdragons of the Chaparral

California has a famously diverse flora, including the genus containing the domestic snapdragons, the genus Antirrhinum. The genus can be found across Europe, North Africa, and North America. California's species are in full bloom in the Chaparral (the bushy vegetation you find covering the coastal mountains on their lower slopes, generally).

We found two species recently that delight us whenever we stumble across them.

Antirrhinum multiflorum (above) is a perennial - a plant that lives for several years rather than just living within one growing season. The good news is if you find it, it will likely be there, and bigger, each year for several years. My son is always on the lookout for these, and found today's first one! These can grow to six feet tall, though normally are between two and four feet tall. The plants are sticky, so better to look than touch!

Antirrhinum coulterianum (above) in contrast is a fire-following annual, meaning it lives for a single year (actually about 6 months), sprouting, flowering, and setting seed in a span of less than a year. This plant is in a rush to grow, since Spring rains are fickle an it cannot trust the moisture will last. It doesn't grow a strong enough stem to face the wind - notice the twisting branches below the flowers? These "tortile branchlets" twist and turn through nearby plants to help keep the raceme of flowers standing tall. There is a second twist, in that this is a fire following specialist. Often, these plants are completely absent from the chaparral. They are waiting as seeds for the right conditions. Those conditions happen in the fall after a chaparral fire burns through the hills - all the soot, charcoal, and other remains of the fire trigger the seeds to germinate, after having waited for decades in the soil. You can generally find them for just a few years after a fire burns the chaparral off the hills, then they are gone again until the next fire cycle. Chaparral is a unique vegetation type evolved to burn completely several times a century.