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At times we have to choose between the path that is conventional and the path that is not. In today's world that once worn path that our great grandparents traveled is so overgrown and forgotten that it barely exists. Our goal is to reforge that forgotten path and make it new again.

The Family Eggers

The Family Eggers

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Mackenson & Marie with Scary & Worried

Mimicking their Jack o' Lanterns

The Other Power Ranger

Storm Cookies

While Hurricane Sandy moved inland and rocked our neighborhood, we stayed safely indoors and made cookies.  We shelled enough walnuts for a batch (with a little extra) and added them to chocolate chip dough.

After cleaning up the yard, bottling tap water and filling the freezers with ice in preparation we hunkered down to wait out the storm.  Some of the things we did to pass the time and not focus on the blowing wind and pelting rain (in between weather news updates):

  • board games, Monopoly and Catan Jr.
  • clarinet
  • bagpipe
  • bongo
  • guitar
  • shell black walnuts
  • read The Magic Tree House
  • watch the movies "Babe" and "How to Train Your Dragon"
 We all made it through the storm in one piece.  There was no structural damage or flooding, the power and water stayed on - though internet was lost for a while - but all in all we were very lucky.  Plus we had great cookies and lots of time together. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dinner at Our House

For the past 4 years, Friday nights have been homemade pizza nights at our house.  Our most recent pizza was topped with wild-foraged mushrooms, cheese and meat ends from our local corner grocer, homemade tomato sauce,and as always homemade crust.  With the pizza we also had our homemade applesauce.    


For his second batch of saurkraut, Joe chopped red cabbages this morning.  Two heads of cabbage were enough to fill a two gallon pail.  Joe added whey leftover from strained homemade yogurt and some salt.  At the sound of a knife hitting a cutting board coming from the kitchen, Ferris and Anabaena ran in to inspect.  They sometimes find treats when we make that sound.  Thinking Ferris wouldn't like it, Joe gave a piece of cabbage to him.  Ferris ran to other room where he always takes his "treasures" to enjoy.  It turns out that our dogs both like cabbage.  Who knew?   

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Meal #1: Pumpkin as a Soup Bowl

Cooked Pumpkin Shell

Pumpkin Gnocchi Dough


Meal #2 : Pumpkin Gnocchi click for recipe used as a basis

 click here    

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Joy of Sauerkraut

  About two months ago we attended the Mother Earth News Fair southeast of Pittsburgh.  One of the many lectures I attended was by a man named Sandor Katz.  This is a man who ferments almost everything before eating it.  I was indeed a bit skeptical after years of reading in the Center For Disease Control database concerning disease outbreaks and the multiple mentions of botulism along with the hospitalizations and deaths associated with this foodborne disease.  What is botulism?  Well for those who don't know, it is a bacterial spore forming organism that turns up in our food supply from time to time.  The spore germinates (sprouts) under anaerobic (no oxygen) environments and produces a toxin that causes muscle paralysis and can often lead to death.  It used to be very common in low acid canned goods like green beans and corn.  This was one of the reasons your grandmother insisted on boiling the canned green beans for five minutes before eating them.  Boiling will denature this deadly toxin.  Well Sandor Kratz stated that there are no reported cases of botulism from fermented vegetables (he either said this in his book or lecture....I do not remember).  I was very skeptical of this claim, so I combed through and searched the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published by the CDC.  I went back several years, and to my surprise I could not find any reference to fermented vegetables causing botulism toxicity.  A peer reviewed literature search revealed the same findings.  I did however, find many references to fermented meat, fish, blubber and other animal origin ingredients leading to botulism poisoning.  This is probably due to the high acidity (low pH) made by the fermentation process with lactobacillus bacteria when fermenting vegetables.  The bottom line is that my skepticism of the safety concerning fermented veggies waned quite a bit. 
     Back to the Kraut:  Armed with new-found knowledge that it was indeed a low risk to ferment and eat vegetables I thought I would give it a try.  We already make beer, yogurt and bread why not expand our fermenting experience?  We bought four big heads of cabbage, took off the outer leaves and ran them through the food processor.  Unfortunately we ran the cabbage through with a grater plate instead of a shredder so our cabbage pieces were quite small, but only a minor detail.   We put the cabbage in my 6 gallon brew pale, added salt (2 TBS), some whey (for a starter culture) and a little bit of vinegar.  According to what I read, the whey and vinegar are unnecessary, but being our first time I did not want to take chances on the wrong bacteria getting established.  The whey (lactobacillus culture) and the vinegar (lower pH) were safeguards to promote growth of lactobacillus, the fermenter of all things acidic.  We added enough water to cover the cabbage shreds and put the lid on the brew-pale with an air lock I used for home brewing.   As far as I could tell oxygen is the enemy of fermentation of veggies (like beer) so an air-tight container is critical. 
   We waited about 2 weeks with only a few peeks inside the bucket in the meantime.  I am not sure how to describe the smell....noxious, nauseating or just plain awful many be the best description.  My daughter described it to her Grannie as smelling like "diarrhea".  At the end of two weeks I was a little unsure if something had gone epically wrong or not.  There was a little bit of mold on the top which I scraped off (no big deal really) and a horrid odor that permeated through the house nearly initiating everyone's gag reflex.  I looked at some on-line forums and for the most part everyone on-line reported this as normal or usual.   I knew I had to be brave so I took a spoonful out of the pail, let it air out a bit and took a bite.  It tasted like a cross between canned store sauerkraut and pickles.  We waited a few more minutes and the odors coming from the bucket o' kraut seemed to significantly dissipate and the concoction began to smell more like good old fashioned sauerkraut.  I put some in a small pot and brought it to a boil and then let the kids try some.   It amazingly tasted just like sauerkraut, though the texture was different as this homemade kraut was in smaller pieces and strands than the commercial stuff.  Overall it was a good flavor and the kids ask for it regularly.  This means that the kiddos must like it.  We plan on trying the process again in the next few weeks.

Scarecrow or ScareDOG?

Yesterday our family made a scarecrow to decorate the front yard.  We leaned on tradition and stuffed a pair of striped overalls and flannel shirt with leaves. The leaves were collected curbside from a neighbor.  Joe anchored an old clothesline post, Marie donated her hat and Mackenson drew the face.  The kids each stuffed a glove with leaves and I stapled our funny little man to the post.  We all danced around and laughed, enjoying our happy harvest creation.  Isn't he friendly?  See, he's waving! 

Some time later as I was hanging Halloween decorations insides I heard a deep rumbling sound.  Our usually goofy Labrador, Anabaena, was on alert to the front door, posture low and stiff with hackles raised and growling.  She had seen the paper mummy I taped to the front door.  After unsuccessfully assuring her it was safe, I opened the door so she would pass and see it wasn't someone lurking outside.  She ran out, still barking at the door.  Ferris followed her; the prospect of a trip to the front yard his only care.  Ferris trotted around in the sunshine innocently but Anabaena's attention immediately went from the lesser threat on the door to the giant Scarecrow just outside.  She lunged and attacked, biting at the poor Scarecrow's leg and retreating to bark and growl her warning.  Evidently he didn't look so friendly through Anabaena's eyes.  She eventually stopped barking but remained suspicious, not relaxing until we were all safely indoors.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sulfur Shelf Doner, a Family Meal

So we've been mushroom hunting.  We have found a lot of mushrooms, tried them (no ill effects), and preserved them.  Now what?  How do you go from picking something out of the woods that looks like this...

Sulfur Shelf Mushroom aka Chicken of the Woods
to something that actually looks like food?  More importantly, to something that tastes good?  

Sauteing mushrooms with carrot, onion and garlic
Here's how I prepared this evening's meal using a portion of the above sulfur shelf mushroom. To a large cast iron skillet I added olive oil, chopped red onion and chopped carrot.  It cooked until the onions were translucent at which point I added the previously sauteed and frozen mushrooms (Joe did that the other day).  Once the mushrooms were warm I added chopped fresh brussel sprouts, about 1 tablespoon of curry powder and a little salt.

Frying flatbread
 While the mushroom mixture sizzled on one side of the stove-top, flatbread was cooking on the other.  For the flatbread, I added 1 cup of flour, 1/2 tablespoon yeast, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 cups of flour to the food processor (with dough attachment).  I added more flour slowly until the correct dough consistency was reached (the dough should be stretchy and not sticky; it will form a ball in the food processor).  I pinched off a golf ball-sized piece of dough and placed it on a cast iron tortilla skillet.  If you are lucky enough to have one of these beauties it is a wonderful way to make flatbread.  Any frying pan will work though.  I used a mini rolling pin to flatten the dough but a spatula could be used to press it flat.  Press it thin and cook one at a time.  I flipped the bread to cook evenly and kept the finished ones warm in the oven set to 200 degrees F.  It's kind of like a huge pancake.   

Flatbread sandwich made with wild-foraged mushroom
The kids, Joe and I topped our flatbread with the mushroom filling and rolled it like a doner or taco.  It took us a few bites to realize we were missing a sauce.  So we spooned some homemade plain yogurt over the mushrooms.  Perfect.

A continual mealtime activity for the kids is to name each part of the meal and tell where it came from.  Tonight was no exception.

Dinner was amazing.  It's a good feeling to cook something new that everyone likes.  It's a great feeling when that meal involves something we all worked for, foraged for in the woods.  Dinner was more than a good meal; it was the enjoyment of our labor, a reminiscence of a beautiful autumn day spent hiking in the woods together.  More evening should be shared this way.               

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The Fam and I scored a bunch of apples at a great price from a local orchard.  I love apples.  I love the way they smell, how they taste, the variety in color and flavor and their culinary versatility.  An apple fresh from the tree is as much of a delight as an artfully crafted caramel apple or the ever-famed apple pie.

I have many fond memories involving apples.  When I think of the semester I spent studying abroad in Estonia, apples come to mind.  Most restaurants served apples in some way.  There was one restaurant in particular that had an apple appetizer on each table.  It was a small bowl with the main ingredient of chopped apples.  The bright, sweet fruit provided a splash of sunshine in a long, cold winter.  I was impressed with the love of apples the residence had.  I was something I could relate to.  Memories of my first overseas adventure come to mind with the smell of an apple.

Another memory I have of apples is from my childhood, an afternoon spent making applesauce with a family friend and local applesauce legend (at least in my young mind).  This woman made the most phenomenal applesauce from the trees growing in her farmyard.  No other compared.  She had shared with my family and we raved of her skill.  In the normal way that kids perceive things, I don't know how one thing led to the other but my mom, two sisters and I were invited to make applesauce and observe her method.  I remember the excitement as I watched her cook the apples and how she exclaimed that it wasn't any secret and it wasn't a hard thing to do.  I was certain it was some kind of magic.  This woman's name?  Just Plain Barb, if you would have asked my younger sister back then.  Last names weren't important and she knew her simply as "Barb".  Barb earned this name when my sister was asked a question to which her answer was Barb's name.  She responded with "Just Plain Barb", and the pseudo-name stuck.  Her applesauce, it had a name too.  It was Barb's Applesauce.

Our recent wealth in apples had me pondering how best to enjoy them.  We could eat all of them fresh; just slice them up and dip into some peanut butter or caramel.  I could certainly manage that.  Mackenson asked for caramel apples which I gallantly attempted and royally failed in making (they were still yummy, just not too pretty).  Thinking back to Estonia and how much I enjoy apples in the middle of winter convinced me to purchase more apples and preserve the heck out of them.  I decided to try my hand at making and canning applesauce.  I have long since forgotten how the magic I witnessed years ago worked in that farmhouse kitchen.  With wishful thinking I chopped a bunch of huge, wonderfully smelling apples, put them in a pot with a little water and lemon juice.  I sprinkled sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger over the apples.  Not measuring, just guessing.  When the apples started to soften, I mashed them with a potato masher.  Now I had to taste them.  With my first bite I was left exclaiming, "Barb's Applesauce!  I made Just Plain Barb's Applesauce!".

This morning I made a small batch of Just Plain Applesauce for my family to eat today.  This is how I did it, my method is very imprecise:

  • 4 huge apples
  • sugar
  • water
  • lemon juice
  • ground cinnamon
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground cloves
  • ground ginger 
Core, peel and chop apples into small pieces.  Put in large pot with a little water at the bottom.  Add a little lemon juice to keep the apples from turning brown.  Cook until the apples can be mashed with a potato masher.  You could skip this step if you like super chunky apple sauce or you could go one step further and process with a food mill or food processor.  I like slightly chunky sauce and the potato masher was perfect for this.  Add about 1/4 or so cup of sugar, it just depends on how sweet you like your sauce and how sweet your apples are to begin with.  You may want to add a lot or none at all.  I used about 1/4 cup of sugar (remember the apples I used were very large).  Add spices to taste.  I like a lot of flavor.  I gave the apples a few good sprinkles of each spice.  I used more cinnamon than the other three spices.  Use the spices you like.  Maybe just cinnamon or cinnamon and nutmeg or cinnamon and clove.  Cook it to the consistency you like it.  I like it a little bit juicy but not runny.  When it is on my plate I like it to stay in it's own little puddle.  There was enough applesauce so that if I were canning it would have fit into two pint jars.   

So you see, Just Plain Barb was right.  It is easy to make applesauce.  Now my family has apples to enjoy on the bleakest day this winter.  And that is the magic...                    


     The foraging adventure continued yesterday (20 OCT).  While on our way to a local apple farm we noticed a parking lot chock full of black walnuts.  We stopped, exited the Jeep Liberty, put on some blue rubber gloves and picked away.  For anyone who doesn't know, black walnut hulls leave a rather dark and semi-permanent stain on your skin.  Bottom line is that if you go after these delicacies, it is best to wear some kind of glove to keep your hands from being stained brown.  That ugly brown stain on your hands could last for up to two weeks giving friends and co-workers a rather negative opinion of your personal hygiene habits.  In the case of walnut stain, no amount of soap and water will clean your skin.  At any rate after gloving up, all of us (including Mack and Marie) were able to gather three rather large bags full of walnuts in about 15 minutes.  I would estimate about 50+ pounds.  Of course they will weigh significantly less after being de-hulled and dried.
     After filling three bags full of walnuts we continued on our way to the apple farm and made our purchase of well over 20 lbs of apples.  Applesauce will abound from our kitchen over the next week, and I'm sure there will be further posts on this subject.
    On the way home we stopped at a rather large county park I had noticed on the map and researched on the Internet earlier in the week.  It has a stream running straight through the park, and was said to have great scenic views.  When we arrived we were not disappointed.  Huge granite rock formations line the stream, and the tulip, oak, maple trees and lower shrubs are in full fall color with red, orange and yellow beauty.  The maples are beginning to lose most of their leaves, as well as some other trees, but overall the scene is very picturesque.
Chicken of the Woods or Sulfur Shelf Mushroom
   While walking we noticed a few little treats along the way.  We found a small patch of oyster mushroom, but more significantly we found a large orange fruiting mushroom growing in a shelf-like pattern on a downed rotting tree.  After Sara pointed it out to me we both came to the same conclusion, "I think this is the sulfur shelf.".  This processor of decaying wood is also known as "chicken of the woods" reportedly because the taste and texture is similar to white meat chicken after it is cooked properly.  We harvested it off of the downed tree which was well into what I would estimate its 4th or 5th year of decay.  Most of the trees around it were tulip trees and oak so we suspected that this was one of these hardwoods as well.  As with harvesting anything from the wild we left about a 1/3 of it growing and cut the rest off of the stump and put it in our "collection bag".  Of course being the extreme amateurs we are, we reserved positive identification for the follow up research.
Older Chicken of the Woods
  We walked a little further and noticed another large fungal growth of about the same size also growing in a shelf-like pattern on a downed tree.  This one was growing in more of a coniferous stand of trees.  The trees around this log in its 2nd or 3rd year of decay were what I think white pine.  This rotting log seemed to resemble its still alive brethren in regards to what the bark looked like.  The difference with the mushroom fruiting here was a significantly lighter color and only slight hints of orange.  It looked familiar, but I was not sure what it was.  I was sure that it was a polypore mushroom, which literature states this family of mushrooms are generally safe to consume.  After some debate we remained unsure, but harvested 2/3 of it and continued on our walk through the park still taking in the scenery.
Joe with Chicken of the Woods
  We left the park with no more finds and identified our shrooms.  It turns out that both of our finds are indeed Laetiporus sulphureus otherwise known as sulfur shelf or chicken mushrooms.  Evidently when sulfur shelf ages it loses its bright orange color and begins to fade to white.  We also found out that even though it grows on deciduous and conifer trees it may not be 100% edible.  There are some experts who say when it grows on honey locust, hemlock or conifers it has the potential to have toxic properties, primarily related to GI upset though reports are mixed.  Also up 1 in 10 people may have allergic response to this mushroom such as GI upset or even mild swelling of the lips.  There is also discussion that there are actually different species of sulphur shelf...one that grows on deciduous trees and one on conifers.  Whatever the case, we wound up rejecting our second find of the pale sulphur shelf as it is always better to err on the side of caution especially with mushrooms.  That second find is now in our compost.
   Sara and I each tried a sampling of sauteed sulphur shelf last night.  It is the most flavorful mushroom we have found so far.  As far its namesake "Chicken of the Woods"?  Well I would not say it tastes exactly like chicken.  I would say it tastes more similar to the "Tofurky" turkey substitute that appears on our table during the holidays.  Very good flavor with a similar consistency to white meat poultry, but not quite the same.  Nonetheless, a very very good mushroom, and since our sampling of it last night.....no GI upset so I think we have another winner in our mushroom hunting adventure.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Today on the drive home I noticed a marvel growing in a neighborhood yard.  A nice little row of white fungus growing along what appears to be the underground root of a dying sugar maple.  Actually the amount of shroom was not so little as it turns out.  I was pretty sure it was the elusive oyster mushroom.  OK so its not really shitake as the titled indicates rather Pleurotus ostreatus or Oyster Mushroom, but it's still a catchy title.  I pulled into the driveway in my gray Jeep Liberty CRD in full Army camo uniform, walked up to the house and rang the doorbell.  A young man in shirt and tie answered the door with a aura of confusion on his face.  Of course this confused look was amplified when I asked him, "please may I gather the mushrooms from your front yard?".  He said something among the line of "knock yourself out" and promptly closed the door.  I "harvested" 3lbs. and 1oz. from this neighborhood yard and brought it home where I positively identified it as Oyster Mushroom.

Sara and I both tried a piece raw and I must say it is a rather bland tasting mushroom.  I say bland compared to the Hen of the Woods we have been eating lately.  I sauteed several pieces also...yup still bland but pleasant.  I cleaned and pared away the inedible areas then sauteed some and boiled the rest before vacuum sealing and freezing.  I also am drying a small sample (maybe 1/2 lb). 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We have Worms

Well I figured after about a month it was time to share with the world my vermiculture experience.  About a month ago the Eggers' attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Western PA.  One of the lectures that Mackenson and I went to was about Vermiculture or the culture of worms.  Composting through vermiculture seems like a good idea considering the end result of the compost being absolutely incredible with vermicompost being much higher in soil nutrient than regular compost.  Mackenson and I were both stoked about this prospect.  Mackenson was more excited that mom and sister are both vermiphobes and he is not and myself being excited that our food waste can be turned into something very useful in a fraction of a time of regular the composting process.  Macky continually uses talk of worms to gross out the girls in the house and I use it as a teaching point for the kids illustrating how food waste is turned into worm poop dirt.

I started out building a bin out of a rubber-maid tote based roughly on a design I had seen at the Mother Earth News Fair in mid-August.  I drilled some holes in the lower sides large enough for some 3/4" PVC pipe to fit through each about 1/3 of the way in from the sides.  Two pieces of pipe were cut slightly longer than the width of the bin.  In these two pieces I drilled many (and I do mean many) very small holes through the pipes.  The pipes were then placed width-wise though holes in the bin.  Caps were placed on the end of each pipe with similar holes drilled through the caps.  All of this was done to increase airflow though the system.  About 12  3/8" holes were drilled in the center of the container lid in a circular pattern.
I stacked the bin with enough dry shredded paper to fill the bin completely then added about 2 cups of water to wet down the paper.  I then added a few vegetable scraps in one corner and bought some "red wigglers" from the local pet-smart.  The next day I joined a worm forum.
Luckily a fellow vermiculturist (thanks Brenda) I was able to get additional worms, some starter vermicompost and some good advice.
Its been about a month now, and my population seems to already be exploding as there seems to be a plethora (love that word) of worms now.  I was feeding once or twice a week, now it seems like I can not keep enough food in front of these critters.  Additionally I have noticed more worms congregating along the sides of the bin near the lid.  Luckily escape is difficult from my system due to design, but this is still a concern.  I have noticed that there is more condensation on the lid than in the past and I think this may be the reason for the current worm protests as perhaps moisture levels are becoming too great.  I will add more dry shredded material in the next day or two to see if this remedies the problem.  I am also considering starting a second bin in the next week or so.
That is all for now in the adventure. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hen of the Woods

This past weekend marked our first attempt at mushroom hunting.  We started this new hobby after discovering and identifying a Hen-of-the-Woods growing on a tree stump in our front yard.  I was elated to find out that this huge mushroom was indeed edible and considered to be a delicacy among many foodies.  Of course I was skepticle about potentially poisoning myself and the rest of my family so only after being 100% sure of what I was looking at with help of my friend Google and a few excellent shroom books I sauteed a small portion and ate some.  All of the resources say that there are no poisonous look alikes.  Even so, the rest of the family was "not allowed"  to partake despite Mackenson's persistence.  I figured if anyone would get sick from this it was going to be me.  It tasted like (get ready) sauteed mushroom!  Twenty-four hours later I was alive and well.  The next day as I prepared the rest of the 2lb mushroom and put it in a bowl for use on Pizza or some other culinary concoction I started researching on how to preserve this find.  As I was doing this I later found out that Mackenson was sneaking pieces out of the bowl....no allergic reaction, so another good sign.  We eventually added the hen to Friday's home made pizza with excellent results.  Since then we have added it to home-made mustard green enchilladas, soups and a sprinking in other dishes like scrambled eggs.
   Since I now knew how to positively ID this culinary delight I have found it in two other locations.  The first hen I found apart from the one(s) growing in front of our house was on the grounds of my work location. On the South lawn are several areas of mostly removed and presumably large stumps where the differences in surround lawn vegetation clearly define the area.  On one of these mostly underground stump remains I found my first "wild" hen of the woods not on my own property.  When I got it home it weighed in at 12.4 oz. which though not huge was still a cool find (see pic).  It was a bit mis-shapen probably due to being mowed over in the past, but still easibly identifiable.  The second "wild" hen relates back to our family foray and mushroom hunting expedition this last weekend where I found a 2lb 14oz Hen of the Woods growing at the base of an Oak in a nearby park (pic 2).  It was a little bit mangled undoubtedly from human activity, but in good enough shape to prepare for culinary use.  With this second hen we sauteed and froze some and dried two batches in the food dehydrator.  With the dried hen we kept one pint of mushroom pieces and another pulverived to mushroom powder.  There will be more about culinary use of this as time progresses.
  We still have three more specimens growing on that old stump in front of the house varying in size.  They will inevitably be harvested in the upcoming weeks and will turn into another adventure in culinary preparation.  Pictures to follow.

UPDATE:  17 OCT 2012
We harvested one of our hens off of the stump in the front yard.  It weighed in at 3lbs 2 oz.  We used part of it in a "garbage" stir fry with some leftover chicken, carrot, onion, garlic and misc spices.....it was surprisingly good.  We probably only used about 1/4 of it tonight and will find ways to use it over the next few days.

Written by Joe


So the Eggers' have been away from this blog for sometime, but with a little work we hope to regroup and revamp.  Since our last blog postings we have relocated to the Philadelphia area.  The Army moves me around every couple of years and with each new location come new opportunities for family entertainment and adventure. Some of the items in store will be posts about our new found hobby of foraging and all things related to culinary uses of "urban foraged" foods.  Of course ongoing hobbies of wood-working, soap making, gardening and other crafts will continue as well as some family life events of raising children.  Since being away from the blog our musical talents have also increased with Joe recently starting bagpipe lessons, Sara becoming proficient with the guitar, and Marie learning guitar and soon starting the school band (perhaps clarinet?).  More to follow about all of these topics.

Written by Joe