24 Aug 2014

Dinner with a mycologist

Last night we were invited to our friends' house down the street for dinner and mahjong. Being that he (Jianping) is a mycologist, it is safe to assume that some form of mushroom/fungus may be on the menu. When we arrived, we headed out to the back deck to find this display.
Jianping's fungus collection for the day
Apparently, Jianping went out with the kids to go hiking and ended up collecting some samples for his research (he is a prof in the biology department at Mac; same with the other mahjong player). These samples, as we soon found out, were actually not for dinner! In fact, the white ones on the left are the infamous "death angel" or "destroying angel" mushrooms (Amanita creata) that are known to cause a rather agonizing death rather quickly if you dine on them. They contain amatoxins that are known to inhibit RNA polymerase II (you'll have to take my course in cell biology to get the full story on that one...sorry). What caught Wendy's eye, however, was the rather large one on the right.

The biggest puff ball mushroom we had ever seen
It is called a puff ball (Lycoperdon umbrinum). We (and Jianping) had never seen one so large. Apparently, it is a very tasty mushroom, but it would not be eaten until the next day. Jianping described it as being best lightly fried in a little butter and garlic. For his research, however, he will dry most of them (after eating some of course...) and will take them to China for a comparative genetic study. His colleagues will harvest DNA and genotype them to see what similarities and differences are apparent in common fungi in the two different locations.

Even though we didn't eat any of these nicely arranged specimens, the stir fry was great! Parker persevered and learned (yet again) how to use chopsticks. Lots of encouragement and it only took him about 1 hr to eat his plate of food. No wonder he is skinny.
Learning to hold the chopsticks

On Sunday, we decided to go on our usual hike, and wouldn't you know it, we saw lots of mushrooms! Must be the season for them.

These might be chandrelles...
We found several logs completely covered with mushrooms. This was one of the best displays.

Must be a bit damp in the forest...
Found a few that were somewhat interesting shapes. I thought this grouping looked a little like brown flowers, but of course, we wouldn't touch any unless Jianping adds his mycologist blessing.

More fungi
The ultimate find, however, was one of our favourites - the lowly puff ball.

A 'micro' version of the puff ball (~1" diameter)

And no, we didn't take it home for dinner. I'm just guessing that jerk chicken and roasted corn-on-the-cob probably wouldn't go well with puff balls...

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