Tag Archives: fungi

Morel Madness and Creamy Morel Pasta

Ever since I returned from New Zealand I’ve been hearing tales and seeing pictures of abundant morels popping up all over northern California. We had tons of wildfires in California in the last two years and are having a very rainy spring thanks to El Niño, which means a perfect storm for morels! Morels are known to pop up in recent burn scars, and since I just graduated with my PhD from UC Berkeley May 15, I finally had time to head to the mountains and poke around for these elusive earthen treats myself!


Burn scar from the King Fire

We headed up to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to check out the burn scars from the giant King Fire that scorched over 97,000 acres of land two years ago. Spring in the Sierras is beautiful and we saw tons of dogwoods blooming.


Dogwoods blooming

We knew we were onto something when we began to see the burned ground carpeted with these cute little orange cups, Geopyxis carbonaria, which are associated with wildfires.


Cute orange cups of Geopyxis fruiting in the burned duff!

Morels are quite elusive, and it took us a while to find what we were looking for, but in the meantime we enjoyed our tromp through the beautiful Sierran conifer forests.


Posing with a giant Jeffrey pine

Before we could find any of the delicious elusive treats, we had to survive some infamous Sierran inclement weather first – it started to hail!


Hailing in the Sierran conifer forests

We were beginning to lose hope, and then finally Vince found the first morel of the day!


Vince grins with delight at the first morel of the day!

It cold and hailing, but that instantly melted away when I found my first morel – so much glee!


Me posing with my first ever California morel!

We were getting so much hail that we considered turning around and heading back to the car, but those thoughts quickly melted away after Brian found the mother lode!


Brian posing with his morel finds!

We were all infected with the morel fever which kept us warm despite the continued hail.


Hail in our hair and we don’t care! We got the crazy mushroom eyes!

At a certain point it began to hail so hard we decided it was indeed prudent to return to the car..


Shivering in the pouring hail

We still found some morels poking out from under the hail as we tromped back to the car!


Can you see the morel poking out from under the hail?

At the end of the day, it was totally worth it!


The morel catch of the day!

Flying high with the morel mushroom fever, we could not wait to prepare a feast to highlight our mushroom bounty. We made a quick stop at Berkeley Bowl on our way home from the mountains to gather ingredients. We decided to cook a creamy morel pasta served with salad, green beans, and fresh baked sourdough toasts (courtesy of Vince) topped with burrata cheese. After admiring our catch of the day, we set off to clean and cut the morels.


Morel bounty!

The first step was to cut and sauté the morels in butter.DSC07537


In the meanwhile, chef Vince prepared the green beans. I just love the morels on his t-shirt peeking out from behind the cupcake apron! It’s a good look, don’t you agree?


My sister and brother-in-law, who are big board game fans, gave me this Morel board game as a gift. The premise is that you are walking through the forest, hunting for morels. We thought it was a perfect activity for fellow hunters Brian and Alex to do while Vince and I prepared the pasta. Here they are deeply involved in the game sitting with the salad, green beans, toast with burrata, and cherries that we got to accompany the creamy morel pasta.


Can’t get enough of hunting for morels! Playing the Morel board game while the morels cook

The next step of the pasta after cooking the morels to golden brown perfection is to chop up two shallots and plenty of garlic and sauté them in butter until they also turn golden brown.


After the shallots and garlic are cooked, add in the heavy cream, then the mushrooms. The mushrooms permeate the cream with their flavor and it is sooo good!


While the mushrooms marinate in the cream, onions, and garlic, cook the pasta and grate the parmesan cheese. Once the pasta is cooked, mix it in with the creamy mushroom sauce.


Creamy morel pasta with shallots, garlic, cream, and morels

Next, add more parmesan to the pasta!


Adding way more parmesan to the pasta

Thanks to my fellow hunters for helping me find this awesome morel bounty!


Cheers to my fellow hunters – Brian, Alex, and Vince – about to enjoy the morel mushroom feast!

Cheers to morels and friends!DSC07562

The salad and green beans complemented the creamy morel pasta perfectly. It was definitely a meal to remember! Now let’s go hunt for some more morels!!!


Salad, green beans with slivered almonds, and creamy morel pasta!

Ingredients for creamy morel pasta:

  • Morels
  • fettucine pasta
  • heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • two shallots
  • lots of garlic! to taste
  • parmesan cheese

Sonoma county mushrooms and wine tasting

So I was invited to give a talk to the Sonoma County Mycological Association on Thursday night. I spoke to them about my research on fungal diversity in Yosemite National Park. Here is the little blurb about me on their website.  There are so many mushroom lovers in the bay area you wouldn’t believe it! In October I spoke at the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz and the Bay Area Mycological Society, and this February I spoke at SOMA.  People in the bay area really love their mushrooms, and there are so many truly talented amateur mycologists! While my research isn’t on mushrooms per se, I did my best to make the talk fun and accessible to all and entertaining for the full hour that they gave me.

Me showing off some winter chanterelles

Me showing off some winter chanterelles

The people at SOMA were super engaged and asked tons of good questions and it was super fun to speak with them! I was very energized about my project after speaking with the people at SOMA :) However, rather than rush back to the lab thursday night and drive in the dark, I figured that as long as I had made the trek to Santa Rosa to give the talk, I might as well take the day off on friday and enjoy the fruits of Sonoma County on Friday. After all, we wouldn’t have wine without my favorite fungus, Saccharomyces cerevisiaewhich is of course responsible for wine, beer, bread, cheese…basically all the good things in life!

The president of SOMA graciously gave me a long list of recommendations for places to wine taste in Sonoma County, which undoubtedly would keep me occupied for many weekend wine tasting adventures.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed by my options, I decided to ask the front desk at my hotel and stop at vineyards located on my way home to Berkeley.  Being a poor grad student, I ended up going to the vineyards that the hotel gave me free passes for, and I must say; I was not disappointed!

Vineyards in Sonoma county. How lucky am I to live in northern California??

Vineyards in Sonoma county. How lucky am I to live in northern California??

How gorgeous are these vineyards?? Man it was a beautiful day in Sonoma county – not to gloat too much to my friends inundated in snow on the east coast – but you should definitely come visit me here :) I stopped in at Kenwood winery first, as it was the closest to my hotel in Santa Rosa. The people were a bit surprised to see a lone wine taster, but honestly I think it served me well visiting places on my own.  I got to talk a lot with the people pouring the wine at the vineyards, got insider information on new places to visit, and probably got more free pours this way :) Here is the friendly wine pourer at the Kenwood winery.

Kenwood winery

Kenwood winery

As I pulled out of the Kenwood winery I noticed an olive oil store, so I decided to stop by for a taste.

Olive oil? Yes, please!

Olive oil? Yes, please!

They had some delicious mushroom themed oils such as truffle oil and porcini oil, which were tasty, but I was actually inspired to buy some delicious balsamic vinegar. Who wants to bring some nice crusty bread to my house and dip it in my balsamic vinegar with me?

The olive oil and vinegar tasting got my taste buds going so I decided to stop for lunch at Cafe Cetti before continuing on to the vineyards. I figured having an entire pizza in my car was a good idea to get me through all the wine stops. And indeed, it served me well throughout the day :)

Artichoke heart pizza

Artichoke heart pizza

So after Kenwood I continued on Highway 12 and stopped into Deerfield, which is known for its wine caves. I stopped in and checked out the wine caves, which were super cool! However, it was too crowded and I didn’t have a free coupon,  so I stepped out without tasting any wine.

wine caves!

wine caves!

wine caves!

wine caves!

Next I continued on to BR Cohn, which was an absolutely stunning winery with a beautifully situated tasting room up on a slight hill.

Wines at BR Cohn

Wines at BR Cohn

So much wine…so little time…

Wines at BR Cohn

Wines at BR Cohn

I started off with a Sauvignon blanc, and then continued with the reds that they are famous for. I enjoyed the Barbera and the Cabernet Sauvignon immensely. Don’t they have the cutest glasses there?

BR Cohn

BR Cohn

I met some nice ladies at BR Cohn who were visiting from Seattle and told me that I had to go to Valley of the Moon winery.

vineyards at Valley of the Moon

vineyards at Valley of the Moon

This was definitely my favorite stop in Sonoma. They had absolutely delicious wine and I surprised myself by buying 2 bottles! I bought a Rosato Di Sangiovese and a Pinot blanc. I didn’t even think that I liked a Rose very much, but this one was delicious. The Pinot blanc was also super flavorful and fruity. Now I just need an occasion to drink them! The wine pourer found out that I forage for mushrooms and got super excited. He is starting a kitchen at Valley of the Moon – who knows, maybe one day we will forage together!

Valley of the Moon Winery

Valley of the Moon Winery

My last stop was at Benzinger, which is a biodynamic winery.  They compost everything, grow plants that foster pollinators and predators of insect pests, and have goats to eat cover crop and fertilizer with their manure. More wineries should be like them! They had a Sauvignon blanc that was like nothing I’d ever tried before, and of course, I had to buy it :) It was so delightful and flavorful and smelled like flowers and fruit and was just super unique.

I feel pretty accomplished hitting up 4 wineries in a single day, but there are countless more that were recommended to me.  I especially hear that Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley Road are good. Who wants to plan a trip with me :) ?