Wednesday, April 28, 2010

#21 Mushroom Festival - Grafton, IL - April 24, 2010

#21 Mushroom Festival - Grafton, IL - April 24, 2010

 The Skies were angry that day my friends.  It was almost as if Mother Nature Mother Nature felt my pain at this Mushroom Festival.  I had tried to enter the cooking competition, but was rejected as they were already to capacity.  I was also told that all entrants needed to provide 500 servings to enter. A difficult task to complete out of your kitchen and then transport for an hour to Grafton. 

 Here is the plate I received from the 12 chefs that showed up.  It was a fairly impressive array (although maybe not worth the $10).  From bottom kinda counterclockwise (my descriptions): 1) Cream of Mushroom Soup, 2) Mushroom and Garlic Bruschetta, 3) Boursin and Mushroom Phyllo Cup, 4) Chunky Mushroom Soup, 5) Mushroom Tapenade on Toast, 6) Mushroom and Orzo, 7) Mushroom Crepe, 8) Tomato and Mushroom Ravioli, 9) Mushroom Alfredo Pasta.  There were no real winners, just some that didn't make as many mistakes.

Maybe it was just sour grapes, but I wasn't happy with being left out of the cooking contest, and I wasn't too impressed with the creations. I really wanted a mushroom trophy. I will admit I admired the gumption of the mushroom crepe. I mean the poor lady made 500 mini crepes, held a mushroom filling, held a hollondaise sauce, and then created each one individually. It was way over salted, but she explained that the cream may have evaporated out over the 2 hour holding time. I can believe that, and I cast my vote for her. Also, please note that the experienced festival connoisseur has appropriate rain gear available in the trunk of his/her car at all times.
This wasn't much of a festival, as the tent on the left was the only vendor there. It was a sad Magic T-Shirt booth which sold airbrush mushroom designs.All I saw between that tent and the sampling tent was opportunity. I mean, no mushrooms for sale? No mushroom crafts? No hippies?
Now those of you that follow my facebook page know that I actually tried foraging for morel mushrooms before this festival. I scoured the wild for any glimpse of of the wild spores, but alas no luck. Ok, I really trekked through my parents' backyard, but in all fairness it is pretty wild and has a creek. On the left you can see some white mushrooms that I have found are Agricus. Edible but not morels. On the right I found some droppings. You can easily tell by the shape and size that these are clearly Lion droppings, and I got the heck out of there.

Festival Trinket of the Week:  Like I mentioned, there was only one flippin' vendor and I wasn't shelling out $10 for a bad t-shirt.  Instead, the stars seemed aligned.  As I took a break from my foraging, I came across this original signed mushroom art in my parent's basement as I beat my brother in Ping Pong. I have no idea why they would have ever bought such an item.

This is a classic from my childhood.  One of the first American families I remember being friends with in Lakeland, FL introduced us to the mushroom puff.  It's a simple recipe (with all recipes I have no actual measurements).  Saute about a pound of mushrooms in some butter. At first it will seem like way too much butter, but then the mushrooms will soak it up.  After that, add a package of cream cheese.  Simmer until combined.  Cool. Crack open some premade crescent rolls.  Roll out dough.  Distribute filling. Roll up dough.  Cut into 1 inch pieces.  Brush each top with an egg wash. Bake at 350 until golden brown.  Solid.

Video of the Week: Tim Buck Two playing what I believe is a Jimmy Buffet song.  Somehow I empathized with the chorus, "Wish I was somewhere other than Here".  The band was actually really good, and I believe that two of the members were even blind.  What's lost in this nonsense is the sweet belt 'o' harmonicas the guy on the left had on.   

So maybe this "festival" wasn't quite the winner I had hoped for.  I want to thank my brother for accompanying me on this venture, and for the record he voted for #4 the chunky mushroom soup.  In retrospect he may have been right.  It really didn't have a flaw, but I wanted to reward the ingenuity and effort of the three-step crepe executed in a tent.  I mean the lady carefully made 500 crepes and stored each one carefully on a sheet of wax paper.  That dedication and attention to detail needs to be rewarded (and she wasn't associated with a restaurant or its equipment).  I stand by my decision.  I had been working on a crystallized ginger and mushroom sweet dessert, which I think should have been given a chance at the least.  

My mushroom foraging didn't go very well even though I searched near a stream right after the rain just like this site had suggested. Oh well.  If you want to be an amateur mycologist then I would advise you first determine if you find this mushroom "humor" funny.  If you are still interested then you may proceed to what seems to be the go-to guide on all things mushroom related.  Either way, no matter what you decide, I implore you, nay beg you, to get this extremely serious morel mushroom sniper hunting hat. That's creepy. 

Maybe I was too hard on this festival, as it was probably more of an event to promote the accompanying winery.  In fact a glass of wine was included in the $10 plate fee, although I couldn't find a soda for the life of me.  This festival still has potential, even though I was discouraged to find this was the 7th year. Oh well they can't all be winners and once you have been to the  testicle festival, nothing seems quite as bad anymore.  Grafton, IL is a beautiful city along the Mississippi River, and it always seems more peaceful along the river.  Maybe I just need to relax a little and go with the river, always moving forward.  This dancing mushroom makes me feel at peace for some reason, although slightly hypnotized as well.

I can't believe I've made it through this whole post without a bad fungi (Fun-Guy) joke.  Well if you were hoping for some, here you go.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

#20 - Sheep Festival - Waterloo, IL - April, 10 2010

#20 - Sheep Festival - Waterloo, IL - April, 10 2010

Nothing like seeing mother with daughter. For those of you who are sheep uninformed, an adult female is referred to as an "ewe" and the male is a "ram". That little guy is the lamb, which is simply a sheep under 12 months old. After that the meat is referred to as mutton.

This was a strange festival. We celebrated the sheep, learned more about them, and even clogged. Then, we proceeded to eat their young.

Ahh...The lamb lunch. It was quite possibly the best deal I have come across in all of my culinary travels. For $7 you get a buffet spread of: a lamb bratwurst, lamb burgers, lamb chops, sliced roast lamb, sliced roast lamb with BBQ sauce, and some excellent potato salad and baked beans. The kicker is that it was also all you can eat. Everything was delicious, and the chops stood out for me as they weren't over done as many amateurs are likely to do. It's always a good sign when your table mates each have a different opinion of the best item.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a little intimidated by farm animals. There is something in their eyes that screams, "If I wanted to I would just run right at you and inflict pain". In fact a friend tells me that a cow is capable of jumping over a fence, but simply doesn't know they can. This flock of sheep looked very agile and conniving.

There were also some great demonstrations. On the left is one unhappy sheep getting a haircut. This professional sheared off the wool in one piece in under five minutes. On the right, there was even a border collie display. With just some blows of a whistle, that clever little dog corralled those sheep like water in a funnel.

Last year I upset some of my vegetarian readers by gorging myself over BBQ in Kansas City. This is the vegetarian's revenge. Just look at the little guy, he's adorable and you can almost hear him baaa'ing away. I almost feel bad about eating his friends.

Silly Festival trinket: I picked up this "sheep" for a song at $3. It's a red dyed wool covered wooden sheep with some kind of white rose and wicker hat on its head. You could ask a lot of "why" questions, but it's better to simply take in the simple genius and move along.

Video of the Week: Let me be the first to introduce the Thunder and Lightning Cloggers. Apparently asking their lead dancer about their lack of wooden shoes was a fairly dumb question as we all know that is a Danish thing. These American cloggers were great, I just don't understand any form of line dancing.

For the first official festival of the season, this was a virtual home run. Friendly people, great food, and numerous learning opportunities. In the first picture, an astute reader would notice that the ewe is not very woolly. After speaking to the breeder, he informed me these sheep were "meat sheep". I think that name explains itself. In fact they are a specific breed that doesn't require shearing or any other type of real care called Katahdin. You see, wool isn't as valuable to the small farmer as one would think. Apparently raw dirty wool is only worth about $2 per pound. In order to get more the shepherd would have to clean and refine it, which takes labor. Be that as it may, there is nothing like wool socks in winter. Interestingly the phrase "Black Sheep" is a derogatory term named for the occasional black sheep born into a white wool herd due to a recessive gene. The black wool is vastly less valuable due its inability to be dyed like its white counterparts.

Another beautiful day on the festival circuit. I have learned to be very sceptical of festival events that sound great but end up being disappointing. Case in point: Sheep Olympics. I imagined sheep running, leaping, and maybe even a javelin involved as some 80's rock band music blared in the background. No dice. Instead, it was a bunch of kids leading lambs up and down ramps. Too bad.

I may not be a sheep professional but if you want to learn everything there is to know about sheep and then some, just click here for Sheep 101. Maybe you don't want the interesting tid bits and jargon from sheep 101, then this site is just the facts ma'am, just the facts. For some reason, I immediately thought about Shari Lewis and her creepy puppet "Lambchop" while writing this, here are some terrible knock-knock jokes from the duo.

Loyal readers will also know my love of Wallace and Gromit. Here is a clip of Wallace doing some silly sheep saving, and apparently Shaun has his own show as well. Here is a pretty silly episode of Shaun and his sheep buddies playing soccer with a head of cabbage. Or even better, Shaun the Sheep also has a fairly silly website all to himself.

I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail (yes I said it). Did you know that a lamb can shake its tail up to 300 times per minute? That's pretty quick.