Help Identify Mystery Fungus

We have some wierd looking fungus growing near some onions in our garden. I’m hoping someone can help identify what it is.

It certainly doesn’t look edible. It is a blob resembling cat barf, except that when you look closely you notice that it is very fibrous. It also is oozing a yellow substance that looks remarkably similar to egg yolk.

We noticed this growing in an area of the garden where we had added quite a bit of compost combined with a commercial topsoil. Does anyone know if the onions caught up in the middle of this stuff would be edible if harvested in another month or two? I’m assuming so, but I don’t know how long any toxins produced by this fungal beast would persist.


Market Places

I am sharing these photos from a couple of trips I made to Taiwan with Wen-Ling. They are of a market place in the town of Sijhih, just east of Taipei. This market might be my favorite place in Taiwan.

Every morning vendors set up in an alley about a half mile from my mother-in-law’s home. They sell every type of food imaginable, from baked goods to fresh vegetables to freshly caught fish.

“Fresh-caught” isn’t a marketing phrase. The photo showing the fish with their tails tied to their gill-flaps is about more than just presentation. It is also to prevent these live fish from flopping off the table. The shrimp you buy are still moving, too.

Vegetables are all local. There is one garden/farm just around the corner from the market, next to a laundromat, in the middle of the city. It occupies maybe a half acre, but probably less. Lying in a ravine, all sorts of vegetables are grown there, along with tropical fruits like mango, papaya and some trees I don’t recognize. Other nearby farms also provide produce.

Along with the produce, vendors sell shoes and clothing, toiletries, and knick-knacks. The vending is all done between the hours of about 6 am and noon. By one o’clock it has reverted to a residential area. The vendors are basically setting up in the entrance ways to homes. Most homes in the city occupy three to four floors. The ground floor typically has a garage-like front with a living-room behind it. Bedrooms are usually on the third and fourth floors. The kitchen will also be found on the first or second floor.

I love the intimacy of this market place, the way neighbors easily meet and mix. I don’t understand the local alliances, the politics, and the personal tensions that exist. I bought some pastries one morning and brought them back to my mother-in-law. She wanted to know who I had purchased them from. It turns out I bought them from a woman my mother-in-law doesn’t do business with. None-the-less, we did all share the food. Perhaps it would have tasted better if it had been prepared by my mother-in-law’s friend.

I share these photos to highlight the differences between the typical American corporate market place and the traditional Chinese market. The Chinese market sells local food. If we consider the notion of degrees of separation, the typical customer at a Chinese market is separated from the producer of the food by two or maybe three degrees. In other words, the vendor may be the farmer who grows the chickens or the vegetables. Or, she may be a middleman between the customer and the fisherman.

How many degrees of separation are there between the American customer and the farmer who produces our food? We have the people who work at the grocery store. There are truck drivers connecting the grocery with one or more wholesale buyers operating cold-storage warehouses. Then there are the farmers. It may be four or five degrees of separation.

In Taiwan much of the food is probably produced within a forty mile radius of where it is purchased. In the U.S. the radius is probably a thousand miles, maybe more. In fact, some of our food may even come from Taiwan!

It is true that in America we can enjoy fresh vegetables and fruits throughout the year. Our food is relatively inexpensive. No one is deprived. But there are environmental costs associated with such a diet. And there are economic vulnerabilities. For instance, both Taiwan and America depend heavily on foreign oil. But, if our oil supplies were cut for an extended period how likely would starvation be in American vs. Taiwan? My guess is that Taiwan would fare much better.

In any case, my real motivation is to point out that there is an aesthetic component to the Chinese culture of food that is sorely lacking in America. And, it’s not specific to China and Taiwan. India has it, as does almost any developing nation. Our food culture here in America is an industrial culture, heavy on engineering, but largely lacking in beauty. I would gladly give up my local Fry’s supermarket if I could trade it in for an alleyway of vendors near my home.

This Evening’s Meal

This evening I came home to a beautiful meal. Wen-Ling prepared it from some food that she bought through a local CSA (community supported agriculture) chapter.

The CSA provides food on a subscription basis. They drop off once a week at Community Christian Church near us in Tempe. The food is locally grown.

I spoke to Andrew a couple of weeks ago. He was the CSA representative two weeks back manning the drop-off at the church. He told me Crooked Sky Farms sells their produce through a number of CSA drop-offs in the valley. They operate two farms, one in Glendale, and another in southern Arizona.

During the summer months the food comes from the farm in southern Arizona, where the higher altitude allows for cooler temperatures. Glendale, in the heart of greater Phoenix, is too hot for most produce during the summer months. But, Glendale is ideal for growing vegetables during fall, winter, and spring.

Wen-Ling had sent me to check out the CSA chapter two weeks ago. They bring food to the church once a week. Subscribers come in from 4 to 7 pm to pick up what Crooked Sky Farms has produced for that week. If my memory serves me correctly, each subscriber was entitled that week to something like three grape fruit, seven or eight potatos, a bunch of carrots, some dandelion greens, a fennel plant, some dried beans, some nuts. I might be forgetting some of what they had.

Andrew said they try to challenge people to eat at least one or two types of plants they normally wouldn’t find at a local grocery store. For instance, the dandelion greens and fennel were the unusual ingredients for that week.

They also brought locally baked bread and fair trade coffee from some local vendors. The coffee, of course, was not produced in Arizona. It was more likely from Mexico or Central America. But the bread was from a local producer. Those items were not part of the weekly subscription price. You purchase them separately.

Wen-Ling visited them today. They had eggs from another local producer, as well as goat cheese, which you see adorning our salad in the photo above. The goat cheese is from Black Mesa Ranch in Snowflake, Arizona. Snowflake is not what I would consider truly local to Phoenix. It is a couple of hours from here, above the Mogollon Rim. But, it is a hell of a lot closer than Europe or even Wisconsin.

The rest of the salad ingredients came from Sunflower Marketplace here in Tempe.

The salad had lettuce, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and the goat cheese. Wen-Ling also ground and sprinkled some home-grown rosemary. The only dressing was a tablespoon of olive oil. The combination of the kalamata olives with the goat cheese was tremendous. The goat cheese by itself was tasty but light. When combined with the olives it provided a very rich flavor. The artichoke played nicely into the flavor.

The dish of potatoes, leeks, and carrots was seasoned with some olive oil in which Wen-Ling has been steeping some chillis, rosemary, orange peel, and who knows what else. It added a spiciness that creeps up on you after you have had a bite or two. Delicious.

What was remarkable about this dish, too, was the flavor of the carrots and the texture and flavor of the potatoes. Because it was locally produced, the potatoes were very different from the type you get at your typical grocer. I guess the best way to describe them is they didn’t seem old. They weren’t the slightest bit shriveled and they had a meatier texture. The carrots were much more flavorful than the kind you get in an orange bag. They were slightly sweet, like home grown carrots. The leeks were very tender because they were young and smallish. Most grocery stores sell giant, mature leeks which are often on the tough side.

We intend to sample what they provide about once a month. We may eventually try out a subscription on a weekly basis. But, we weren’t sure about committing to that through the summer. Our schedules might conflict with the weekly pickup.

After this evening’s meal, though, I am intrigued with the possibility of subscribing on a weekly basis. It might provide a nice way to augment what we grow in our own garden with other fresh, locally-produced food.