February 06

This what the first porcini of the season ended up as. They were exquisite. Found one that had been kicked over yesterday. Fools. And a rather distorted giant puffball (which are also very tasty). I find it remarkable that the latter pop up in the middle of a park and get completely ignored, but then plenty of people find my fungophilia just as "remarkable".

Whariwharangi Beach, Abel Tasman National Park

Just back after five days in Golden Bay, staying with a friend in Wainui at the northern end of the Abel Tasman. We did the top of the Abel Tasman walk on Friday afternoon: from Totaranui to Wainui via Separation Point (300k map here). The beach pictured is right at the top of the park. Weather perfect.

We saw only one stingray at Wainui. As we were having the last swim of the day in the warm water of the incoming tide, one swam to have a look at us. We left the water rather promptly.

Two more reviews: one formal, one informal and unattributable. The first, from the Rotorua Daily Post/Weekender, by Judith Moore:

His book is a revelation — everything you want to know about truffles — the international scene, how to fondle and sniff a truffle, recipes, history, dog training. Most important of all, he gives instructions on how to grow your own truffle. With deft touch, entertaining text and good photographs, Renowden skips over the difficulties — alkaline soil, 10-year wait, porcine poachers — and waxes lyrical over the end results.

The informal review is a little more effusive. In it, a senior member of the British royal family (his name begins with C and he lives in Gloucestershire) thanks a friend for his Christmas present:

Bless you for sending me that absolutely rivetting book on truffles! It is un-put-downable!

In a further sign of royal approbation, the writer's father has ordered extra copies for the Palace library. Unfortunately, royal etiquette means I can't use the quote on the cover, but I am chuffed. As is my mum.

There is a traditional French truffled chicken dish called Poularde en demi-deuil, or chicken in half-mourning, in which a chicken has slices of black truffle inserted under its skin. You then leave the chicken for a few hours to infuse with the truffle flavour, and then poach it in a stock. When it comes out, the black slices shine through the white skin. There is a picture of a chicken roasted in half mourning in The Truffle Book...

In the Spanish Pyrenees, however, a few hours infusing is not enough. This thread on eGullet (wonderful name!) describes - with graphic and sometimes beautiful pictures - the preparation of a traditional Christmas dish. Chickens are stuffed (with foie gras, milk, breadcrumbs and black truffle) then wrapped in linen and buried in the ground for up to two weeks. The precise time depends on how cold the ground is - at that time of year it's close to freezing, which it would have to be to stop the chickens rotting. When nicely done, the chickens are slow roasted, and almost certainly delicious. I'd like to conduct some confirming research, of course... [Link via Boing Boing]

One of the good things about taking the amazingly charming Peg for a lunchtime walk, apart from the exercise, is that we walk various routes through Hagley Park - the park at the centre of Christchurch. And today we found the first porcini (Boletus edulis) of the year.

They were smaller than I normally like to pick, but this was one of the best known porcini spots in the park, and if I didn't get them they'd either be picked by another fungophile or booted into bits by some philistine. I fancy a little salad of raw porcini as a starter tonight: thinly slice the mushrooms, scrape thin wafers of the best parmesan (reggiano, of course), a little pepper, and mix carefully with some good olive oil from Waipara.

The Truffle Book was always intended to have an international audience. It's about the world of truffles and the truffles of the world, so I was particularly please when Jon Bonné, lifestyle editor on MSNBC, referenced the book as a source in a piece about aphrodisiacs, cunningly timed for Valentine's Day. Jon's blog, Amuse-bouche is also well worth a visit - full of interesting bits and pieces, or as he calls them, lagniappes...

On Saturday, I bought a wooden toilet seat. I don't often buy wooden toilet seats - although they are the only kind worth sitting on - but I had to replace a broken seat for an ageing relative. So I visited the nearest Mitre 10 and bought the only wooden seat they had on offer. It cost a little over $40. The box said "made with New Zealand pine", so I thought I was being a good consumer and supporting local industry.

When it came to fitting the thing (in itself, something of a challenge - I don't often spend 20 minutes with my nose pressed close to the back of someone else's toilet pan, or my own, for that matter), I noticed that the seat was made in China. I did a mental double take. This seat was made in China with wood shipped from New Zealand, and then shipped back here for sale. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have made the thing in NZ?

The answer, of course, is yes. Two loads of shipping avoided. However, the economic logic of retailing suggests that the Chinese seat is cheaper to Mitre 10 than locally sourced alternatives, enabling them to fill demand for wooden seats and make a reasonable margin. This is the reality of globalisation. We buy things from the places that make them most "efficiently" - which usually means for the lowest price. This relies on the ready availability of cheap global transport, and cheap labour in foreign parts. If neither of those things were available, we'd have people in NZ making wooden toilet seats for home improvement stores. And that would be a good thing. Perhaps I should start a campaign to encourage the use of NZ-made wooden toilet seats. I'm obviously coming over all Green...