California, my classroom, my kitchen, my home. This state has everything I could ever want-culture, weather, beauty, and of course, food. What is so fantastic about California is that within a day’s drive, I can be in a completely different environment, and that’s where I found myself this past weekend, in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is a gem of county located about 6 hours north of Los Angeles. It’s well known as a surfing capital, inhabited by a wide array of eco-friendly hippies and nature enthusiasts. Locals sport t-shirts saying “Keep Santa Cruz Weird”, while on their way to popular hiking trails, vegan restaurants, and of course, the beach.
By way of a happy coincidence, my trip to Santa Cruz fell right on the biggest social event of the season, the 40th Annual Fungus Fair. The weekend-long event is put on by the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz (yes, it’s a real thing). The event is not what you may be thinking, it’s not a bunch of hippies trying different psychedelic mushrooms for their spiritual affects. Instead, the Annual Fungus Fair is an educational event, with acclaimed professional speakers, seminars, and tastings which attracted mushroom heads from all over Northern California.
Since this past season was so dry in NorCal, the earth did not yield as many mushrooms as they have had in past years. Thank you global warming. However, the event had no lack of variety. The event planners outsourced to other, wetter counties for their shrooms. Overall, the event had over 160 varieties of mushrooms for patrons to touch, study, and learn about. Of course my favorite part was the mushroom snack bar which boasted candy cap mushroom ice cream, cheesecake, and lasagna.
While at the mushroom fair I learned that the world of mushrooms was extremely broad, and had quite a following. Mushroom hunters and pickers take their work very seriously, and consider it an art form. Mushrooms are not only tasty, they have important medicinal properties, and are important for the ecology of an environment. The Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz webpage includes everything you need to know about mushrooms, but as a basic rule of thumb, learn and always follow The Mycophagist’s Ten Commandments.
While at the fungus fair I picked up some fresh mushrooms for dinner. A variety of shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle. A pound was about 9 dollars, which I considered reasonable considering they were local and fresh. The following recipe was inspired by those shrooms.
Easy Vegan Mushroom Risotto:
Risotto is typically made with lots of butter and cheese, but for this recipe, I cut down the calorie count by leaving out the dairy, and instead focusing on the main ingredient, mushrooms. While the recipe is easy, it requires some attention with constant stirring, to get the same creamy affect without the dairy.
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 45 minutes
-1 yellow onion, chopped
-2 shallots, chopped
-6 cloves garlic
-3 cups Arborio Rice
-8 cups vegetable stock
-3 tablespoons olive oil
-1 pound of mushrooms (whichever you prefer, in this case I used the same ones I bought from the fungus fair)
-fresh sea salt
-fresh black pepper
In one pot, heat the vegetable stock to a boil. On the burner next to it, place a large pot on medium heat, and add the olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and onions and cook until tender. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, add the rice. Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup, add the broth. Stir for about five minutes or until the mixture has begun to thicken. Continue this process of slowly adding rice and broth until the mixture is thick. This requires patience, and should take about 30 minutes of constant stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the mushrooms before your last 1/4 cup of rice. (Do not add the mushrooms too early or they will become overcooked and mushy). Continue stirring for about 15 more minutes, or until you have reached a desirable thickness.
Enjoy with a simple mixed green salad and a glass of good white wine.