Thursday 23 February 2023

Year of the Frog

 My year started with a bang on the 2nd of January, at my desk, eating a frog. Figuratively.

I used this expression with a few friends and they didn't know it. For me, it is about doing tasks you don't really want to do but that you need to do. They're often tasks that take a long time to get around to doing and could take a lot of focus and time to complete. When they're done, you feel great, but eating and swallowing them takes effort and energy.

I looked up the origin of the expression, which comes from Mark Twain; I've found two quotes online.

The principle of 'Eat the Frog' has been adopted by loads of life and business coaches to help their clients stop procrastinating. The method aims to help you to prioritise tasks so that you can be more productive. The idea is that you identify one challenging task (the frog) and complete the task first thing in the morning (eating it) and then move on to everything else that needs your attention. 

This year, I've been eating frogs. Lots of them. Never mind mornings, I'm reveling in frog-eating days. I'm getting lots done. I don't like to eat frogs, but there is a reward in accomplishing tasks.

Forget Year of the Rabbit; 2023 is my Year of the Frog. 

But I'll go with the Rabbit too.

According to the internet, this is what the Year of the Rabbit represents:

2023 is a year of the Water Rabbit, starting from 22 January 2023 (Chinese New Year), and ending on 9 February 2024 (Chinese New Year's Eve). The sign of Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity in Chinese culture. 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope.

Dog Vomit Slime Mold and Chicken-of-the-Woods fungi

While I haven't posted since early January, I do have a work diary filled with scribbles of topics I've wanted to write about. I have barely processed the trauma of 2022 and here I am eating the frog (more on this in another post) in 2023. I'll get to them.

That said, the past two weeks have yielded two recent gems that are too good not to be posted and saved here.

The first is a find of a magnificent 'Dog Vomit Slime Mold', and the second is a recent foraging find of 'Chicken of the Woods' fungus.

Dog Vomit Slime Mold (Fuligo septica)

Two weeks ago, I was out with the dogs on the trails in the evening when a bright patch of yellow on a log to the side of the trail caught my eye. Oh my heart - fresh Dog Vomit Slime Mold (Fuligo septica) aka scrambled egg slime. I've seen it before but never such a big patch. I got some nice photos, which I uploaded to iNaturalist. 

It looks structured but is soft to touch and will smoosh - like milktart.

The next evening, I ran the weekly GTR Timetrial. The route passes the slime mold log so I took the opportunity to photograph it again. The change in 24 hours was incredible. 

The yellow is the plasmodium stage and 24hr later it is an aethalium, in the
spore-bearing stage. I didn't try it, but apparently this aethalium is dry
and brittle, and breaking it open exposes millions of
dry, dusty spores.

Where the yellow is the scrambled-egg stage, the dry, brown form is the dog vomit stage.

I checked yesterday, two weeks after first seeing it. The logs were recently disturbed but there is still not a trace of it now.

Something I have not yet seen is the fruiting body of a slime mold. But this guy, photographer Barry Webb, has and he shares his images of slime mold fruiting bodies on his website. Take a few minutes to enjoy the magnificence and beauty of these structures, most of which are 1 - 4mm high. They're tiny. 

Slime molds are something special. They are not fungi. They are not amoeba. But they move amoeba-like when they are in the single-celled plasmodium stage - the yellow form that caught my eye. It is incredible to think that this yellow mass is a single-celled organism with only a cell membrane to keep nuclei and protoplasm in. It moves (at around 1mm/hour) in search of food, which it engulfs like an amoeba and then digests. It also engulfs bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. This is a timelapse video of one in motion.

And then, it stops creeping, and converts into a spore-bearing structure called an aethalium, which I saw 24hrs later. Incredible.

Interesting. Thank you internet.

This slime mold is not edible but it is also not toxic.

Slime molds are 'clever' (watch this video on YouTube about how smart slime mold are). In Merlin Sheldrake's book, Entangled Life, the section on slime molds is captivating.

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

On Sunday evening I ran the new GTR FKT route for February and on the Indigenous Traverse section (my favourite trail in the area) I found... the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) fungus. I've seen it a few times before but usually older specimens. I have been waiting to find a young one to forage for months.

Chicken of the Woods is so named because it tastes like... chicken. The texture is similar too.

Laetiporus means 'with bright pores', which it does have. 
L. sulpherus is a fan-shaped polypore (it has pores underneath to release spores, not gills) fungus that grows shelf-like in overlapping tiers. It is very easy to identify from its shape, moist-and-rubbery structure and also the distinctive sulphur-yellow colour of younger specimens. I was delighted. I picked some to take home to cook.

My 'Chicken of the Woods' culinary explorations included three dishes.

On Sunday evening: fresh from the woods, I tested a taste of sautéed 'Chicken of the Woods', which was much like pan-fried chicken strips in taste, appearance and texture.

Monday night:  I made Fried Chicken of the Woods in a light flour-egg-flour batter with cayenne pepper and paprika in the flour. That turned out well.

Tuesday night: a Sicilian Chicken of the Woods dish - onions, tomato, dash of garlic and chilli, and finished with a splash of cream, served on crusty ciabatta with a sprinkle of parmesan, served with a cabbage, cucumber and red pepper salad with a herb-yoghurt dressing.

Photos don't do these dishes justice - loadshedding lighting-by-headlamp.

Finding fungi can be hit and miss so depending on type of wood, temperature, rainfall... I'll be lucky to find young Chicken of the Wood again any time soon.

Two great finds.