Tag Archives: travel

New Zealand Mushrooms! Part 2

Thanks for your enthusiasm about my southern hemisphere posts! My last post was about New Zealand north island mushrooms, but now we are going to embark onto the south island! As some of you may know, my PhD speciality is on fungi symbiotically associated with pine tree roots. Introduced pine trees make up a big proportion of New Zealand forests, and foresters were not able to get the pine trees to grow until they co-introduced the obligately mutualistic fungi along with the trees. Thus, much to my surprise, I recognized a lot of the mushrooms that I saw in NZ because they were northern hemisphere mushrooms that were co-introduced along with the pine trees. So you might start to see some photos that look awfully similar to my California mushroom hunting in Point Reyes National Seashore.


Posing with some beautiful Amanita muscarias. Am I in California or am I in New Zealand?

Amanita muscaria is probably the most recognizable mushroom species of all time. It is the fly agaric, or as my Swedish friends taught me, flugsvamp, recognizable from Mario Brothers, Alice in Wanderland, or the amazing manicure I got for the Ecology of Soil Microorganisms conference in Prague. It is a very photogenic mushroom and I had a lot of fun posing with it as I happened upon them in a hike in Arrowtown near Queenstown, New Zealand.


Having fun posing with these beautiful Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria is interesting because it is very invasive in the southern hemisphere and grows in huge abundances like I have never seen in the northern hemisphere. It would be really interesting to study its invasion ecology! But that’s a little too esoteric for this blog…for now I will just mention that they get really really big in the southern hemisphere, and they are everywhere, but don’t let their beauty trick you into eating them. They may look very appealing, but without proper detoxification they will make you really ill.


Big, beautiful New Zealand Amanita muscaria

The most fun part about mushroom hunting in New Zealand was watching my new traveler friends that I met from across the globe get psyched about mushrooms. Check out my Dutch friend Julia taking pictures of mushrooms. I got everyone into the mushroom fever!


My Dutch friend Julia can’t help but get sucked in to the mushroom fever!

My Spanish friend Claudia, who I met while traveling in Peru, moved to New Zealand several months ago. She now lives in Queenstown, and when I got there she took me and Julia on this amazing hike called the Sawpit Gully Loop in a cute little town near Queenstown called Arrowtown. It truly is a small world, after all!


Julia and Claudia hiking the Sawpit Gully Loop in Arrowtown

It had been raining a lot in the south island, which was a bummer for my friends who were hoping to partake in the adrenaline activities New Zealand is famous for, but it was great for mushrooms! We found so many species on this hike and I recognized all of the genera because they were all associated with the introduced northern hemisphere pine trees.


Julia, Claudia, and I, pumped on the mushroom fever :)

Here is a fun New Zealand species of Agaricus that I found hiking around the grasslands section of the trail.


New Zealand Agaricus


Hiking through the pine forest section, of course I found lots of Suillus because they are specialized to associate with trees only in the Pinaceae. Suillus are recognizable by their very slimy caps which is why they are commonly known as slippery jacks.


Slimy Suillus commonly known as slippery jacks

Suillus is a good genus to be able to recognize if you are lost in the woods because it is highly abundant (I literally saw thousands in New Zealand) and edible, although not particularly delicious. It has tubes instead of gills, often has an annulus (ring around the stem), always grows near pine trees, and often has a very slimy cap.


Underside of the Suillus

Mushroom identification requires you to utilize all of your senses. To that end, smells and tastes are very important forms of mushroom ID. I had all sorts of fun introducing my new friends to smelling and tasting different genera of mushrooms to learn their diagnostic features. For instance, Hebeloma is distinctive for its radish like smell.


Hebeloma smells like radish

Inocybe on the other hand is described as smelling spermatic. Can you guess what that smells like?



Another genus that was very common in the pine forests in New Zealand was Lactarius. Lactarius is known for it’s milky lactates that can often taste spicy or make your tongue burn. It’s ok to lick a small amount for identification purposes. I promise it won’t kill you :)



Lactarius lactates milky latex

A beautiful mushroom that I was very excited to see was the Hygrocybe singeriIn California these mushrooms are very common in redwood forests. They are so beautiful and colorful and slimy they are very fun to find in the woods. They are decomposer mushrooms that you can often find growing in leaf litter.IMG_4912

Hygrocybe singeri is recognizable because it stains black when you touch it.


Hygrocybe singeri stains black when you touch it.

For me, by far the most exciting find of the day was the hundreds of very edible Coprinus comatusThis mushroom, also known as the shaggy mane, is part of a large group of mushrooms called the inky caps.


Tons of Coprinus comatus AKA the shaggy mane

Inky caps are called that way because their spores are very black and the caps slowly melt and eat themselves (called deliquescing) to disperse the spores.


Inky cap deliquescing and releasing its black spores

You want to eat this mushroom when it is young and white, before it has started to deliquesce.


Young Coprinus comatus, in perfect condition for eating :)

Look how happy I am to be surrounded by tons of edible shaggy mane mushrooms :) Cheers NZ!


Eating my way through Israel: Part 1

So as many of you already know, I accompanied my advisor on a trip to Israel to help out some Israeli researchers with our fungal expertise.  So of course the purpose of this trip was for research, but you all know my ulterior motives already – FOOD :) As I fanatically took photos of all the delicious food we ate, Hagai, one of the Israel researchers, asked my advisor Tom if all of his American students were crazy like that. Nope, I think it’s just me!  I had an amazing time in Israel and really did not feel quite ready to return to the States after my brief 10 day trip, but I can take solace in the awesome spices and treats I brought in tow.

My stash from Israel - rosewater, spice mixes for red and green zhug, and sumac

My stash from Israel – rosewater, spice mixes for red and green zhug, and sumac

I spent my last shekels on date syrup at the duty free shop at the airport and I bought rosewater, sumac, and spice mixes to make red and green zhug at the Arab shuk in Jerusalem. I also couldn’t help myself and bought some gorgeous Armenian pottery to highlight my future cooking.

Buying Armenian pottery in the old city. Can you see me with my purchases?

Buying Armenian pottery in the old city. Can you see me with my purchases?

Tom and I spent the first part of the week in Beer Sheva hanging out with Ofer Ovadia and his grad student Stav at the Ben Gurion University in the Negev. We ate at an amazing Moroccan restaurant but unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera for that meal! Tom, however, brought his camera and sent me this picture from the menu, which he insisted that I include in my blog post. Internal organs anyone?

Restaurant from Moroccan restaurant featuring internal organs

Restaurant from Moroccan restaurant featuring internal organs

While I lack photos of the delicious unadventurous non organ meat meal that we did end up eating,  I did remember to bring my camera for our travels through the north of Israel so you get pictures of our meals in the north instead! I like to joke that I took the anti-touristic tour of Israel – I saw a lot of places that most tourists and probably most Israelis too have never been! We took a hike in the Negev searching for the Terfezia desert truffles, which unfortunately we did not find.  We also spent a bunch of time trekking through pine forests in the mountains near Jerusalem and the mountains in the north trying to find mushrooms. Alas, we were not so successful with mushroom foraging, and the only edible mushroom we found is Suillus collinitus. This is not known to be a prized edible and I have not yet tried it, but Russians apparently love it.

Suillus granulatus. Would you want to eat it?

Suillus collinitus. Would you want to eat it?

Stav and I took a train from Beer Sheva to Akko, which is a city in the northern tip of Israel. Hagai and Tom met us there and took us for an awesome picnic in the woods. I was too hungry to stop and take a picture of the pita, hummus, and burrekas that we ate for lunch, but I did capture the lovely baklavas that they brought for dessert. The orange thing is called kenafe, which is made of sweetened goat cheese soaked in honey and covered in orange crispy things:

Baklava pastries

Baklava pastries

Enjoying coffee and baklava in the Israeli pine forests.

Enjoying a picnic in the pine forests

Stav, Hagai, and Tom enjoying a picnic in the pine forests

We even took time to do some science!

Tom using a traveling dissecting scope to look for mycorrhizal root tips in the woods

Tom using a traveling dissecting scope to look for mycorrhizal root tips in the woods

After science we got hungry again and Hagai took us to this amazing restaurant up in the hills called el Arisa located in the town of Rama. I would return to this place for the view alone, which was truly spectacular:


View from El Arisa in Rama

And how awesome is the interior?

interior of the Arab restaurant

interior of the El Arisa

The view was just incredible, and luckily the food was amazing too! We ordered a bunch of “salatim” to share. Here is the hummus:



We also got fattoush, which you know how much I love:



My favorite though was this eggplant, chickpea, and tomato dish, called Manzala, which I had never tried before but was so savory and delicious:

eggplant dish

Manzala – eggplant dish with chick peas and tomatoes and parsley

Here is my plate all loaded up!

Hummus, fattoush, tabouli, eggplant dish

Hummus, fattoush, tabouli, eggplant dish

I also got my first taste of limonada, which is a super refreshing lemonade drink made with crushed ice and mint. I cannot wait to make it at home!



This was definitely one of my favorite meals in Israel. Arab food is soo good! I love all the fresh herbs. Everything just makes you feel good while eating it. After stuffing our faces with pita and hummus and salatim I was so full, but Hagai ordered a dessert called Sachleb so I had to try that. It’s sort of hard to describe but it’s similar to a pudding. It is vegan and made of coconut and corn meal and flavored with flowers.


Sachleb for dessert

After this amazing meal Stav and I went to Hagai’s house in Kamon, which is a bit like a garden oasis out in the mountains. Off the mountain there is a view of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the left and the Mediterranean to the right and it is just breathtaking. He has 2 adorable children, 2 spunky dogs, and 13 chickens.

Hagai's chickens

Hagai’s chickens

Incredibly, they made 24 eggs, which were some of the freshest and best tasting eggs of my life. Who wants to help me build a chicken coop?

Fresh out of the chicken's butt!

Fresh out of the chicken’s butt!

For dinner Stav made us some Shakshuka, which is a traditional Israeli dish of eggs on a sauce of tomatoes and peppers. Shakshuka always seemed intimidating to me but Stav says it’s super simple and you can make the sauce from whatever vegetables you have lying around. We used carrots, sweet potato, peppers, tomatoes, and tomato sauce.

Shakshuka sauce made with carrots, peppers, sweet potato, and tomato sauce

Shakshuka sauce made with carrots, peppers, sweet potato, and tomato sauce

When all the vegetables are super well cooked and you’ve added all the spices, you dig little holes and place the eggs in them. It is so fun! I can’t wait to try making this at home.

Shakshuka with fresh eggs

Shakshuka with fresh eggs

The day after our visit at Hagai’s house we hiked through some more pine forests and looked for mushrooms in the morning.  While again we were not super successful with finding mushrooms, we did find the remains of a lower jaw of a wild boar, which Tom graciously modeled for us:


Tom modeling the wild boar jaw

Before meeting up with another of our Israeli collaborators, Yohay Carmel, at his lab at the Technion University in Haifa, Hagai took us to enjoy another utterly delicious Arab meal.  We went to this restaurant in the hills in the north of Israel located in a town called Um-el Fachem called El Babour, which did not disappoint! Also, super excitingly, I found out that Yotam Ottolenghi himself loves this restaurant because he replied to one of my tweets about it :) They brought out plates and plates of different salatim. Eggplant covered in tahini and tomatoes covered in tahini, and stewed carrots and all sorts of things I couldn’t tell you what they are but they tasted fabulous.

Salatim at El babour

Salatim at El babour in town in the north of Israel called Um-el fachem. Ottolenghi himself loves this place!

How gorgeous is this hummus?

Hummus from El babour

Hummus from El babour

I couldn’t prevent myself from breaking into the pita before taking a picture:

pita at el babour

pita at el babour

We also got tabbouli and an amazing salad made of mustard greens and red peppers:

salad of mustard greens and red peppers

salad of mustard greens and red pepper

How vibrant are those colors? As you can see, we enjoyed the food:

As you can see, we enjoyed the food.

As you can see, we enjoyed the food.

Tom and I were super stuffed after all the salads but Hagai told us this place is known for their meat so of course we had to order more dishes. Tom got the kefta with tahini:

Lamb and beef kefta with tahini

Lamb and beef kefta with tahini

And I got the chicken kebabs:

Chicken kebabs from El babour

Chicken kebabs from El babour

I was so full at this point but they tasted delicious, and I got to keep the leftovers and eat them for dinner on the train ride from Haifa back south to Beer Sheva.  Stav took me to a really cool funk show out at a pub in the middle of the Negev that evening and we saw an awesome Israeli funk band called Bintel Funk perform. After my last night in Beer sheva I took a bus to Jerusalem on Friday morning where Yohay took Tom and me on an awesome tour of the old city.

Spice shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Spice shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Pretty rocks in the old city in Jerusalem

Pretty rocks in the old city in Jerusalem

Menorah shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Menorah shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Jewish husbands everywhere can appreciate this t-shirt

Jewish husbands everywhere can appreciate this t-shirt

We also got to climb up the towers of this Lutheran church and see a 360 degree view of Jerusalem.

View of the dome of the rock from the towers of the Lutheran church in Jerusalem

View of the dome of the rock from the towers of the Lutheran church in Jerusalem

Roman ruins in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem

Roman ruins in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem

Of course we stopped for lunch in the old city as well :)

Hummus in the old city in Jerusalem

Hummus in the old city in Jerusalem

I’m sure you’ve had enough for now, so I will stop here! But stay tuned for Part 2 where I will post about my visit to meet my Israeli cousins in Beit-El and more of my eating adventures through Jerusalem with my cousin Geula!