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Tag: Arnaud De Grave

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

The Kiruna underground iron mines should be appreciated and (un)known as a place of many tours and detours. They hide many treasures. Though in fact, to be honest, they do not. They hide iron ore, a bit of copper and probably a lot of unworthy stones of assorted kinds. That is exactly what they hide. Period. Actually, to be fully exhaustive, they do hide a little bit of something noteworthy. Shiitake mushrooms. Of all things…

I guess that will require a bit of explanation.

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

Inside the Iron Mine of Kiruna to hunt Shiitake mushrooms

First of all, what the hell was I doing in Kiruna? It is very far north. Well, basically that is why (the hell, yes) I was up there, because it is way up there. With an almost-full moon, close to the shortest day of the year, that being late December, and minus twenty-five degrees—that is in the grade of Celsius, the proper one, do not get me started on Fahrenheit’s stupid one—you can make for an enjoyable little adventure. Mine included some good food, some trips to the bar, some hikes resulting in frozen beard and some other excursions. One excursion took me to the Norwegian harbor town of Narvik by train, wonderful landscape and nice company. Another one took me down the famous iron mines. The normal way to do so is by following an organized tour. Touristy stuff. However, through some mingling, I got a private tour down there, given by a retired miner, retired mining consultant, former first-generation-computer-hacker, almost retired underground shiitake mushroom farmer. Yes. Underground shiitake mushroom farmer. He was a man in his late sixties probably, one that can easily be imagined finishing his sentences by “jolly good, old chap!” He went by the name of Sven.

Second of all, let me enlighten the (few, no doubt) people who are not familiar with the shiitake mushrooms. They are considered, and rightly so, a delicacy and can be found in various dietetic shops, and are an ingredient of traditional medicine, especially in Asia. In Japan one could get them on the trunks of some specific sort of oak trees, apparently the favourite host for the mushrooms, allegedly under guard from legions of armed-to-the-teeth samurai, given that it constituted food very much appreciated by the high classes of society. But one cannot rely on samurai and special oak trees nowadays and recently some science has been put into trying to make its culture more proficient.

One has to play music to the mushrooms, they like that. Click To Tweet

The current process does not involve samurai, but some nifty techniques, engineering almost. The mycelium of the shiitake is inserted into a log of compressed wood chips of some specific variety of alder tree (mycelium is the shiitake to be exact, what we eat is the fruit of the mushroom—I’ve always wondered by the way why someone at some point started to eat mushrooms, I can imagine sentences such as: “you should try these things, when they do not kill you they are pretty tasty…” which is truly mysterious if not totally insane, if you ask me). The miming done by Sven seemed to imply that said-injection is to be done by means of a syringe. These logs are sterilized before the injection in order to reduce the growth of other competing mushrooms and also reduce the fighting for supremacy over the pieces of compressed chips, and of course remove undesirable diseases. The logs are then packaged in plastic and stored.

I was introduced to these logs somewhere around 540m under ground, somewhere hidden inside the Kiruna iron mines, one of the biggest underground mines in the world. I could give you a full report on how and why and what of the production of iron (later to be transported as beads by train to the very same harbor of Narvik where I was just a day before) as the man explained it all, together with the history of the place, but this is not the time.

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

Sven showing off his Shiitake mushrooms

Our mushroom man, being a former hacker and responsible for computer security (i.e. try to get the computers not to be destroyed by moisture and that sort of things, no Internet security here) chose a particular room, nay, bunker almost, to start his farm. He got that idea after visiting some town in northern Japan, on a mission dealing with sharing information and skills on how to run a iron mine, the Japanese apparently were eager to know about the Swedish way of doing things. Interestingly, in that same trip to Japan, there was one guy in the Swedish delegation who later would become known for making ice hotels and ice bars, popular touristy things. Shiitake farm, ice hotel, this was one innovative inspiring trip indeed!

The mushrooms’…er…room is of reasonable size, controlled in temperature and in moisture and with radio playing constantly. One has to play music to the mushrooms, they like that. When Sven receives an order, he transfers the logs from the storage room to the, er, growing room. Then he plays them, like a flute, or a tambourine. Maybe he is a fan of Bob Dylan. Or of Eddy Van Halen’s famous tapping guitar technique. By inducing vibration inside the log one starts the process of growing. It is then rather important not to go around kicking the shelves if one does not want to have mushrooms sprouting all over the place. It is an art. Within one week after the playing, or tapping, the mushroom’s fruits are ready to be harvested, cut one by one and then packed in paper bags. Sven did have two logs ready at the time of the visit. That gave maybe 300 grams of shiitake. Courtesy of the house!

Crumble the mushrooms if they are dried or crush them without care if they are fresh. Do whatever you want (preferably with your bare hands, I love that smell lingering on them afterward), Click To Tweet

The little piece of paper he gave as a souvenir comes with a Shiitake soup recipe (for six people), translated here from French (probably originally translated from Swedish. I do not speak Swedish, I can guess what’s going on when I have engorged enough akvavit and if the person speaking to me is from the fair sex (but is there one sex affair which is fair, honestly?) and true to the Scandinavian standards. I allow myself this little digression because our man insisted that one should make sure to have a lady “handy” when eating his mushrooms. That and also that said-lady should clear her scheduling around nine months from the date of the diner. If you catch my/his drift. Wink wink. He was full of anecdotal stories and examples of babies appearing here and there after the ingestion of said mushroom):

10g of dried or 100g of fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 or 2 stock cubes of meat stuff (or other flavour if you are a vegetarian)
1L of boiling water
2.5dL of crême fraîche
1 small onion, minced

Crumble the mushrooms if they are dried or crush them without care if they are fresh. Do whatever you want (preferably with your bare hands, I love that smell lingering on them afterward), but be sure they will be able to mix in the liquid dammit! Throw them with the cubes in boiling water. Add the minced onion and let the mixture boil nicely for twenty minutes (half an hour if the mushrooms were dried ones). Add the cream, and stir until the consistency is satisfying. Spice it up with a bit of salt and white pepper. Top it with a bit of parsley before serving.

I did not feel like having soup even if it was suitably cold and snowy outside so I decided to just fry the mushrooms in a pan, with butter and some noix de muscade (but just a little, this being powerful stuff). Then I added a bit of water and some liquid cream to make a sauce for some pasta. Plain and simple. The mushrooms had a hard time in the returning trip planes: Kiruna-Stockholm then Stockholm-Copenhagen, quite a long trip with wind, snow and such. They were not very pretty when I pulled them out of the paper bag. But as soon as they started to make funny noises in the pan, then the smell became quite wonderful. And tasty. They went well with a bottle of 2000 Haut-Medoc (it was time to drink that one, Medoc is not a vin de garde, at all) and a bit of grated Parmigiano. The invited lady has been requested to keep her schedule empty until to August next year. One never knows…

M. finding his way to a spot for creating a suitable new home for a seedling

Extreme Loggers – Planters in British Columbia

“Live an interesting life and you’ll take interesting pictures.”

— Jim O’Connell

M. finding his way to a spot for creating a suitable new home for a seedling

M. finding his way to a spot for creating a suitable new home for a seedling

You know the photographer Arnaud De Grave from such HESO projects as the interview with Christiania documentary photographer Charlotte Østervang as well as his in-depth gastronomic reportage on French Truffles and the simple art of Gnocchi. Of course. The French-born, raised and educated in engineering education De Grave, had, until very recently, lived and worked for many years in Copenhagen, Denmark as Associate Professor at the Technical University of Denmark. As part of his work, he traveled to various countries for seminars and guest lecture spots–Singapore, India, Japan, even the USA. He had co-founded BOP in 2004, all film…as he says, “the whole idea behind my photography is film”, and only began “digicrapping” because his mum wanted to see Japan before he came back. Oh the impatience of the modern generations…!

But De Grave has always been a closet skater-punkrock-DIY kid, even if he didn’t know it himself, so it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when something in him clicked, so to speak, and, as he had long been entranced with using old analogue cameras (Olympus Pen F, Hasselblad, etc…), it wasn’t until Japan that he began processing his own black and white film in his bathroom at home. Doing so inevitably leads to the feeling that one should show someone else (and preferably whole groups of people in a gallery-esque setting). More and more heavily his life turned from sedentary academic to one of restless documentary exposure. When, in a sudden fit of typical photographic wanderlust, he abandoned his very sensible and well-paying job at the university in order to pursue a dream of his to be “like the tall trees, you know what I mean” and ramble across continents to propose an esoteric course of study at the University of British Columbia, some of his colleagues may have thought he was daft, going through a mid-life crisis, or just French, who knows. But we at HESO, who met Arnaud at a beer-soaked table in a small pub in Shibuya some five years ago (alongside the interviewer Jon Ellis), never once doubted his decision. In fact we gave him a ride. Here’s what he has been doing:

Extreme Loggers – Planters in British Columbia

Jon Ellis: Tell us a little about the project, what it entailed, and how you are in a position to be doing it.

Arnaud De Grave: I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and am pursuing a M.Sc. in Forestry, so the starting point is a clear interest in trees and forests. Last Christmas a friend of my landlady was house-sitting our home and for one reason or another she was still there when I got back from my trip to Europe, and she lives in a small community on an island up north by Vancouver Island called Alert Bay (on Cormorant Island where she happens to be a former radio journalist for CBC, Radio Canada). One of my intentions was to go live and work/volunteer in a small remote community somewhere lost in B.C. over the summer to learn about the way these people live and to record it photographically. We chatted about it and she invited me to Alert Bay as a starting point and I went (so do not invite me if you do not want me to come, for I will come!) She had me meet a lot of fantastically interesting people there (sailors, furniture makers, retired hand-loggers, First Nations chiefs, you name it they are there) and one of them (Roland) is the owner of a company called Bivouac West doing, amongst other things, reforestation. There was no easy possibility of an “internship” in one of these remote communities, but Roland told me about his job and invited me to join them in one of their reforestation projects in May or June. My job would be to give him visibility in exchange for accommodation and food. Or so he said… Little did I know I’d have to carry boxes of small trees, bags of fertilizer and drive big trucks! It took about 5 months to get in the position and be able to do it, roughly. And it happened by luck, or maybe perseverance, or surely both.

JE: I understand that the show is being sponsored by the Alliance Française cultural centre, how did that happen?

ADG: In trying to hold my end of the deal, i.e. to give visibility to the company, I investigated different possibilities: magazine articles, my own website(s), photo exhibitions… As I have collaborated with French cultural centres in the past (in Denmark) I tried that door and found some ears to listen to my story. I think the fact that I contacted them while creating the project and not when coming back with a “finished product” was appreciated. I explained the project, my motivation and we worked together on a reasonable outcome. They asked for a possible partnership with UBC Forestry and after a discussion with the Dean he agreed to sponsor me a bit and come give a short talk during the opening, so everybody is happy at the end.

JE: Why a photography exhibition, rather than something more academic?

ADG: My M.Sc. thesis is about sustainable forest resource management of ski resorts in the context of climate change and I have been toying with this idea of mine for about 2 or 3 years now. Indeed I quit my job in February 2011 and got accepted as a M.Sc. student at UBC Vancouver in September 2011, so I am currently in my second year of M.Sc. (more or less as I take time off of my studies from time to time for photographic projects such as this one.) As my life is split between many different activities, I like to define myself as a pluri-monomaniac, if that makes any sense. So yes, it was tempting to try and combine the two and push my research into tree planting. However, after some more thinking, I’m sticking to my original plan. Although it would be nice to be able to combine my M.Sc. and photography somehow… If anyone has any idea about how to do that I am all ears.

JE: The photographs suggest very isolated locations, were the logistics as ‘Apocalypse Now’ as they appear to be?

Apocalypse Now logistics

Apocalypse Now logistics

ADG: They were. We took choppers and I have to admit I was tempting to whistle (or rather sing at the top of my lungs) Wagner’s Ritt der Walküren several times. I only shut up out of respect for the other people in the helicopter, and the fact it was super loud in there and also that it was so beautiful that sometimes/often it would make one speechless…Originally the crew (about 14 people) would be going for 3 or 4 weeks on a boat and sleep by the cut blocks. However because of unforeseen circumstances –and as far as I know now it happens all the time– the boat was unavailable so we had to fly with floatplanes every morning, sometimes to be flown to a position where we would be taken to the planting site by helicopter. Sometimes some trucks would be waiting for us with the boxes of seedlings (small trees to be planted) and the logistic would be worked that way. So a big part of the planning consists in barging trees and trucks and quads where they should be, to be used by the team. Weather is not very stable in coastal BC in the spring so one can imagine hair-pulling decisions and problems the boss of the company has to deal with. One day we could not fly. “If you can’t see you can’t fly” would eloquently say one of our pilots… And as the deadlines and margins for error are very slim, it is quite the logistical nightmare. Did I mention grizzly bears?

JE: You’ve picked a very distinctive style for the photography, an almost organically grainy b&w, What is behind the choice?

ADG: It may sound pompous but I guess that’s my style. Really there is no particular reason beyond it is the way I like my pictures and I like the way I can do the whole process myself. It is very important to me to physically perform the complete workflow of photography. All were developed in my bathroom (stainless-steel and Rodinal) and printed in a real darkroom on fibre paper. There is magic in seeing the picture bloom in the developer tray, a sensual aspect in rinsing your print, feeling the gelatinous surface before going out to the light and check contrast, tones, etc.

Do not think that I am a complete luddite, as I have nothing against digital photography for example (when I am not in a state of inebriation that is) but I do prefer the slowness of film.

I could argue that the final atmosphere fits very well with the mood I want to convey and the references in my mind (Eugene Smith’s work on Pittsburg’s steel industry for instance had a huge impact on me when I saw the exhibition in New York City in 2001, both from an aesthetic and love for printed photography point of view) but that would be a posteriori thinking. I do think that it works very well with the photo-journalism type of work I am doing with this project though. About anything can be justified in hindsight with enough rhetoric.

JE: One of the things that comes through very strongly from the pictures is the almost absolute destruction of the forest by the loggers. How did working in that environment leave you feeling?

ADG: That’s a tough one… I knew about logging and clear-cuts, but I have to admit the extent of the “destruction” took me aback. Especially “heli-blocks,” where logging is performed by helicopter, very remote, with no easy access, very steep… so only the most valuable trees are taken but loggers still need to cut a lot to be able to get said big trees and also to be able to have the helicopter operate (build a pad, get fellers down, get trees and fellers out, etc.) The amount of left-over was pretty insane to see. Even if I weren’t a hippie tree hugger–although I do like trees very much–it made me quite angry. I swore a lot that day. I also swore a lot because the terrain was pretty insane to work/walk in.

Unfortunately one gets used to seeing fallen trees. And also the planters, after a while, appreciate the terrain for the ease with which they can move through it and perform, so they are happy to see a cleared area because they know they can plant a lot, as they are paid by the tree.

K. in the heliblock, the aftermath of some logging operation

K. in the heliblock, the aftermath of some logging operation

JE: Does the replanting make a difference or is this the ‘plaster on a gaping wound’ that it would appear to be in the pictures?

ADG: It does make a difference. I would rather stay away from political considerations as this exhibition is primarily about the people working in the field and not a statement for or against governmental attitude towards forest management. However, there would be a lot to say about that, but it has the tendency to push me in “angry young man territory” as you yourself said to me once, albeit on a different, but not too unrelated, matter.

An interesting fact is that the tree species which are replanted are the ones living there originally, and if left to natural regeneration there is no guarantee that the same species would grow back the same as before because of climate change for instance or because some tree species are more prone to take over (called pioneer species) or because some are shade intolerant but grow slower so when the faster one are there it is tough for them to grow even if they were living in that zone before… So replanting definitely helps. The companies are also responsible for these trees until they reach the “free to grow” stage (about 3 or 4 metres high). It is not: we plant and then we get our legal obligations checked and move the hell out of there and destroy some more somewhere else.

JE: The work of the planters looks back-breaking. What kind of people end up doing the work?

ADG: It is indeed a very tough and physical job, I was not by any means doing the same kind of job the planters do (although I tried it for a little while, I did plant about 80 trees), but I was helping the foreman (who was a woman by the way, a tough one) by carrying around boxes of seedlings, bags of fertilizer, etc. Imagine moving a friend of yours to a new house, but instead of boxes of books in the elevator you carry trees, sometimes on logging roads, sometimes directly in clear-cuts. Sometimes we had to patch roads which were supposed to be “quad-able” but were not, or declared so by someone who never used a quad in his life, so we had to rebuild them with logs and stones… Fun times… The planters do long days: from around 8am to 5pm they plant, and there is commuting time as well. Weather can be sunny, hot, rainy, freaking cold. So it is a very physically demanding job. And the bugs! Ho man, did I hate the bugs!

About the people doing it, well, most of them are people who like the lifestyle: seasonal work, hard but in the open space of Nature. Some of them do it because they are happy to work in the forest but doing more environmentally pro-active than cutting trees down. They are also doing this job for the money, for it is well paid.

A lot of people think that tree planting is a student job over the summer. It is, but not in coastal BC. In the interior where it is all flat and where one plants trees in a trench (not to diminish this kind of work which is also very physical, but less technical, but it brings experience.) The company I was working with only hires planters with a lot of experience. Most of them had been planting for about 6 to 8 years, and more.

JE: It sounds as brutal as it looks… take it you won’t be going out to work as a backcountry planter! What’s next for you photographically, and with your forestry work?

ADG: Well, I am actually considering asking Bivouac West to hire me as a full time helper for a month next spring/summer. Definitely not a planter as you can hardly call 80 trees experience haha… But I’d like to see more and live on a boat for some weeks. Besides, I have a proposition to go and work a bit as an assistant for a forester some weeks in December this year. So I guess my adventures in the woods are not finished yet. And I’ll hopefully do some field work for my M.Sc. thesis in the coming year, which should lead to travel and photography opportunities. Chicken and egg sort of thing…

From a photography point of view I always have a good half-dozen projects in progress, some will never see the light, metaphorically speaking. A very long on-going one is (of course) based on old-growth forest and trying to find a way to capture with pictures the complexity and beauty of it all. The main issue is that it is very multi-scale, from gigantic 70 m high Western Red Cedars to small moss and mushrooms embedded in their roots. It might be only an excuse to go muse in the woods though… I’d also like to get back and document a bit of this other jungle which is the urban land. I live very close to a very lively neighbourhood in Vancouver (namely, for those who know, East Hastings Street) and everyday is a new surprise down there. For me photography is about whatever triggers my interest and a way to make my life interesting as well. I often remember Jim O’Connell’s words (whimsical as always): “live an interesting life and you’ll take interesting pictures,” words that I may have a tendency to misinterpret or at least try and reverse.

JE: Thanks! Anything you’d like to add in closing?

ADG: Go out, take pictures!

Arnaud would like to acknowledge: UBC Forestry, Alliance Française de Vancouver, and BivouacWest

Arnaud De Grave’s Photographic Site

Truffles Close up by Arnaud De Grave

Hunting Truffles – Il Tartuffo – Les Truffes

Hunting Truffles - Il Tartuffo - Les Truffes

Truffles Close up by Arnaud De Grave

Arnaud De Grave has hunted underground for Shiitake Mushrooms in the Kiruna iron mines mushrooms. He has hunted, harvested, cleaned and cooked the potentially fatal Coprinus Comatus. Now he’s on the hunt for the infamous truffle…

Umberto Eco, in his masterpiece Il Nome Della Rosa (The Name of the Rose, Harcourt 1983 for the English language version) mostly know by mere mortals from the eponymous film (1986), starring Sean Connery as Sir Guillaume of Baskerville, and a young Christian Slater as Adso the novice monk), presents the truffle as a fruit (black or white with the latter supposedly having a more powerful flavour), found in open-forest and particularly seen in the Benedictine terroir which is where the novel takes place. Umberto makes one of the abbey monks say that it is a pain in the arse to find — granted the monk, Severinus is well named, master herbalist of the abbey, uses a less flowery language — because truffles hide underground, more secrete than a typical mushroom, so that only a select few, by God of course, and animals with a prodigious sense of smell, can detect it. And these godly creatures are, yes, pigs. The main problem is described as being how to restrain said pigs when they smell out a truffle, for they instantly want to devour it. Adso, as the narrator, then proceeds to recall a later memory describing the lengths some gentlemen, captivated by this rare treat, would go to hunt truffles. Much as they would hunt fine game, following pigs as they would have followed carefully bred hunting hounds. Funnily enough he makes a joke because of the similarity of sound between “truffle,” “el tar-toufo” in Italian and “der Teufel” in German, meaning, well, the Devil… I cannot recommend enough reading that book.

Hunting Truffles – Il Tartuffo – Les Truffes

And indeed, truffles, “les truffes” in French, whatever their colour is (opinion, and prices, vary on that matter), are a delicacy that some people are ready to go to some length to savour. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, famous French gastronome from the 18th century called them “le diamand de la cuisine” (the diamond of the kitchen) and who am I to disagree? I recently got my hands on some grams of truffles and enjoyed some recipes, part of my grand plan to extract myself from society and live in a small cabin in the mountains for some time … To be fair, my mom and dad did the buying though we all did the cooking, and of course the eating.

We bought about 50 grams as prices that day were 1000 euros per kilogram at the market (it could reach up to 4000 euros per kilogram at a retailer’s shop). For American and English readers, that’s a lot of money per ounce, pound or stone or whatnot. The dictionary says: “a unit of one-twelfth of a pound troy or apothecaries’ measure, equal to 480 grains (approximately 31 grams)” so you can do the math. Heh.

Hunting Truffles - Il Tartuffo - Les Truffes

Truffe Noire du Périgord via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, let’s stop feuding and talk about truffles instead. One should technically call it “tuber melanosporum” but we’ll stick to truffle. It is a mushroom, a real one, only it flowers underground, from one to fifteen centimetres (a couple of inches, dammit!) Anyhow, the mushroom lives at the foot and amongst the roots of certain trees: oaks and hazels. Actually truffles live in symbiosis with the trees. And that is a problem for truffle gatherers, because they need “something” to tell them where to dig. This something, as stated in the introduction in accordance to Umberto, is the legendary nose of a hog. However, even if truffle hogs are naturally able to detect the truffle, they also have the tendency to be quite uncontrollable and they almost live to eat them fungi! Therefore nowadays people train dogs, and some of the older people in the business apparently prefer to use a specific fly (Suillia Gigantea or Suillia Fuscicornis). One might ask oneself why the pigs (and particularly the sow) are so attracted to the smell of truffle. Well, there are rumours stating that the smell of truffles is quite similar to the smell of boar’s saliva, which is a very strong sex pheromone for the female pig. What does it say about us being so keen on eating these things due to their strong flavour? I prefer not to mull to much over it.

So. We got the truffles. Now we want to eat them!

The two recipes we did are the following, a pretty simple one and a more elaborate one. One evening we made scrambled eggs with truffles (“brouillade aux truffes” in the dialect of Southern France where I happen to be living now), one cannot really get simpler. Then, the next day, salad of luke-warm lentils and soft-boiled egg with truffles (“Salade de lentilles tièdes aux oeufs mollets et aux truffes”) which turned out to be fancier but actually less enjoyable …

Lets start with the complicated one (for 4 people):

  • 250g of lentils “du Puy” (that’s the green ones)
  • 50g of black truffle, if possible fresh (i.e. not from the freezer, nor dried)
  • eight quail eggs
  • a soup spoon of white vinegar, one of Xeres’ vinegar, three of sunflower oil
  • some thyme, laurel, two small shallots, some chives and persil
  • one carrot
  • a coffee spoon of mustard (Dijon of course!)
  • salt and pepper

First you have to cook the lentils as usual, with no preliminary soaking, in 3 times their volume in water, with the diced carrot, laurel and thyme. They should not be overcooked, but keep a bit of a crunch, though not too much. Man, that sounds like one of my grand-ma’s recipes: “cook it just enough, not too much, well, you’ll see …”

While that is happening you can soft boil the eggs. Here I have to say that I’d use regular hen’s eggs, not these damned quail eggs, as they are a pain to have soft-boiled and honestly I do not think that the taste difference would be very strong, so just get eggs on the small side. And indeed we didn’t manage to get them soft-boiled but nicely done (as can be seen in the pictures) but it was another pain to peel them. Quail’s eggs are for snobbish posh people, French up-nosed bastards, period.

When the lentils are done they should be mixed with a dressing whisked together out of the remaining ingredients on the list.

Finally the truffles, thinly sliced or shaved, should be spread over the eggs which should have been cut in halves so that the yolk can flow down over the lentils. For a nice presentation it is recommended to make some sort of a nest with the lentil salad.

Well, it was not that great!

Hunting Truffles - Il Tartuffo - Les Truffes

Truffles with Scrambled Eggs

I mean, do not get me wrong, it looked nice and all, the lentils salad is delicious, eggs were good (if not soft-boiled), and the truffles were tasty. However, the savour of the truffles was a bit lost amongst the rest and I sort of feel it was a waste. That’s up to you I guess …

Anyhow, for the easy one it is, well, fairly easy: you crack open the eggs, mix them, and let the truffles soak in the egg mixture for a while. Then you cook them in a pot (not a pan!), with plenty of butter, but take good care of using a fork to prevent the mixture from transforming into a tortilla! A bit of crème fraîche mixed with it can help to make it smooth. Some people say that the trick is to have the truffles sit with the eggs before, like, in the same box, like, overnight, like, so they can mingle. They will all have a nice chat, maybe some will get horny and rub against one another, hopefully not of the same gender, and at the end the eggs will smell like truffle! Pretty amazing, huh?! One has to admit the thing has quite a powerful smell. And, to my disbelief, the eggs indeed smell, if faintly, of truffle even if the shells were still in pristine condition while the rubbing took place. I was baffled, to say the least.

So this was my experience with truffles, I thank you for your attention and will let you find a pig, some flies or train a dog and go hunt some of your own. If you are an adventurous scientist type you can have a look at the genome of a Perigord black truffle, which was released in 2010. And without further ado I say Au revoir.

HESO Photo of the Week by Arnaud De Grave

HESO Photo of the Week from Arnaud De Grave

HESO Photo of the Week by Arnaud De Grave

A native plant of the area, this part of the land has been under restoration for 2 years already

Cultural river bank restauration in Lillooet, BC

In Lillooet, British Columbia, about 250 km north of Vancouver, I was involved in helping a small group of First Nations’ volunteers from the Sekw’el’was tribe and some conservationist scholars who had been working to restore a riparian (i.e. a piece of land close to water, a river, a lake, etc. Here it is the Fraser river banks) piece of land in their community. First Nation is the official name native people from the Canadian part of Northern America call themselves, and the T’it’q’et First Nation band lives in Lillooet. For a number of years they have been removing traces of non-local invasive plants, removing traces of sub-culture (such as 4-wheel drive access, drunk driving and unauthorized fires) and try to put this specific piece of land back in its original condition. Land has multiple ecoservice and spiritual value for First Nations, especially riparian zones, and often it is surrounded by highways, power plant, etc. This one is also situated very close to modern “civilization” artifacts, but when one is inside it, one can feel nature coming back. It is a very slow process: weeding, re-creating wildlife habitat, seeding and planting specific species, etc.

In addition to the overall cultural and pedagogical experience of a field trip with the class of Forestry from UBC, this day taught me one thing: if one wants to have an impact one shouldn’t vent about one’s powerlessness but start doing something, even if only local, for inspiration comes from action. I was happy to help planting some shrubs and berry trees, and sharing time with the volunteers for a couple of hours.

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave (HESO Magazine)

The Simple Art of Gnocchi

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave (HESO Magazine)

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave

Driving through Europe this past summer, north to south, from Copenhagen, Denmark to Casteil, France (basically Spain) is a long, beautiful trip which takes around ten days. Granted, I made a few stops along the way. One of the stops was at my grandma’s, in Lorraine, France. Grandma is about eighty-nine and still lives alone in her apartment and, oh my, can she cook!

She is Italian by birth and came to France when she was two years old, her parents fleeing the rise of fascism spreading throughout Italy. Long story short, living through World War II and the rest of the 20th century, she became a maestra in cooking, both Italian and French styles alike. She can make a stew that would leave your mouth watering for days, using only a bit of this and that left in some corner of the fridge–stuff that one would think twice before giving to the dog. Or the hog for that matter.

And that one day when I slept at her place on my journey south, she made gnocchi. Is that plural for gnoccho? It does not actually matter at all as one usually doesn’t eat only one, let alone make only one. Like spaghetti I guess.

We had a nice morning together preparing the gnocchi. Actually, she did the preparing. I was sipping coffee, taking pictures, asking silly questions and learning about her youth and all during World War II and such. Eventually we had an equally nice lunch with some family who arrived later.

The Simple Art of Gnocchi

But enough of my blathering and on to the recipe:

  • 500 Grams Potatoes (“the good kind” said she, although what the good kind is wasn’t very clear to me, although you would notice when it is not the good kind…)
  • One egg
  • Flour
  • Wooden Cutting Board

That’s it. When she told me the ingredients I thought, “There must be a trick.” And there is. Apparently the tricky part is to use the correct amount of flour. And she says, the best way to make homemade pasta, gnocchi and such is on a wooden board, not on a plate or plastic or anything like that. And above all you must use your hands!

Now get down to it.

Boil the potatoes whole with the skin, as it does help to keep the potatoes from taking too much water inside them. Anyway it is not too hard to peel them afterward, but do use a fork as they are hot potatoes when they come out of the water (breaking news, huh?) and you need them luke warm to perform the rest of the recipe.

Mash the potatoes with some modern instrument which is more advanced than just a fork (I know, I also make my mashed potatoes with a fork because I like to have a few lumps in them…), but for gnocchi you need them as smooth as possible. Have a look at the pictures to see what I mean.

On the wooden board make a volcano of potatoes and break the egg into the center of it, add a bit of flower and start mixing everything with your hands, yeps, with the hands! I already said that.

Now is the tricky part: progressively add more flower while you mix, as if you were making bread, but do not use too much! Grandma’s typical advice: “Put some of it in, but not too much, just enough.”

When satisfied take some of the dough (can you call that a dough?) and shape it as a long, er, thing with the diameter of your choice, like say your thumb. Then cut this thumb-sized dough in small bits. Put a bit of flour on top to avoid it sticking everywhere.

And now for grandma’s secret: to have the gnocchi shaped and textured properly (the right texture being important for them to keep the sauce on top of them) you need to use a cheese grating device. Who would have thought?! By rolling them inside the cheese grater you’ll create the slug-like shape and the intricate surface features that will capture small amounts of sauce. Of course it requires a bit of training to achieve a suitable size, shape and texture but, hey, you have all morning right? Anyhow if you do things properly your sauce must have been cooking for four to five to six hours, plenty of time to play with the little slugs of dough…

Cooking them is easy, in a very big pot of boiling water (salted) they are ready when they start floating. You can use a “passoire” to get them.

Now serve in a big plate with grated parmesiano, and a healthy glass of Italian or French red wine. Buon appetito!

HESO Photo of the Week by Arnaud De Grave

Lebanon, Beirut, shot with an Olympus OM1-MD and 50mm 1.4 on Scala @ 200iso, October 2010.

Kids don’t care about politics, just learning how to fly…

Check out more of Arnaud’s photography at Azimut Brutal

Les Vengeances Tardives (Arnaud De Grave)

TARANTULA by Thierry Jonquet

“Du grand art dans la noirceur cauchemardesque.” *

— Michel Lebrun, on Thierry Jonquet’s work.

Throughout the millennia spiders have been represented in art as creative and cruel, perspicacious and pernicious. They can be as deceptive and deadly as they are delicate and demure. Tarantulas, basically bigger, hairier versions, belong to the same order–Araneae–as their little spider siblings. Ones which instill a much greater, and more illogical, fear into the reptile memory of much of the Primate order. Yes, like their arachnid cousin the scorpion, they are all venomous. And similarly the smaller the sting the more deadly the wound, and vice versa. Yet despite being the clumsy but lovable dumb oaf of a brother, what is the big deal about big spiders? Could it just be that, on the surface, with those massive fangs and spiky hairs, they appear more menacing? Which begs the question: what–and why–are we projecting onto them?

TARANTULA by Thierry Jonquet

The Skin I Live In - Almodovar

Pre-production Film Poster for "The Skin I Live In" - Pedro Almodovar, 2011

Tarantulas, like all other spineless creatures, rely upon an exoskeleton for musculature support. It is this external skeletal structure which literally holds them together and, without which, they would be utterly useless in maintaining a proper balance against their six-legged insect meal tickets. Thierry Jonquet tosses this metaphor grenade into his dark and menacing narrative world, where the skin in which we live is never our own choice and quite often becomes both a support system for enduring the arbitrary onslaught brought on by nature, as well as a web-like trap, self-spun and slowly separating us from the natural world outside to one of a burrowing internal horror, where life becomes so deranged that you are persuaded that in order to survive, you must devour yourself alive.

There are characters, to be sure: a plastic surgeon beset with grief and obsessed with his pet project. A woman complicit in her own detainment, torture and sexual exploitation. The self-mutilating daughter at the psychiatric institute. A deadly felon on the lam searching for his missing friend. What the connection is you will have to read–or see–for yourself.

Mygale [MIG-uh-lee] (Série Noire No 1949, 1984), the novela by Thierry Jonquet that spawned the new film from Pedro Almodóvar, La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In, 2011), starring Antonio Banderas, is a tale that begins with seemingly disparate tendrils that all coalesce toward the tangled center of a violent reality by the end of the 124 pages, most of which you will get through in one sitting with a strong pot of coffee and perhaps a desire for your own protective exoskeleton, or maybe just some Scotch.

The biography of Jonquet (b. 1954, Paris) reads like a typical rap sheet for the confused and cynical post-post-modern writer–that his “crime novels and children’s books have garnered many literary prizes,” and goes on to add that his politically tinged hard-boiled style of crime noir is one of the most popular in France. He has written over 15 novels, 10 children’s books and since 2001 had begun collaborating on a series of graphic novels with Jean-Christophe Chauzy, before his death in 2009.

Being published in English as a part of City Lights Noir series in 2003, suddenly Jonquet moved from being a regional favorite of the French to a world-renown author with translations in multiple languages, to being adapted into not only the usual Almodóvar film focusing on desire and identity, but an Almodóvar horror film focusing on desire and identity, starring Antonio Banderas as the protagonist. Isn’t that a bit like Picasso doing political comics for the Wall Street Journal? Kubrick, Hitchcock and Friedkin proved that horror can be done well, but can the normally eccentric Spaniard do justice to the philosophical treatise Jonquet has written about victimhood and the ambiguous role of the monster in society, a work that the French journal 813 calls their 17th favorite noir classic novel…of all time?

The thing that Jonquet, Ferlinghetti, and Almodóvar saw in Mygale, Tarantula, La Piel Que Habito, The Skin I Live In–whatever language you use–is that the themes are universal. As crucial as the soundtrack has always been as a juxtaposition to the imagery in Almodóvar’s film work, are Jonquet’s interwoven leitmotifs of figurative depth transposed on to a bittingly straightforward literal–the profound dark below the gently shimmering surface–mixed with his treatment of the banality of evil inherent in all of us, resulting in your basic horrifically absurd masterpiece of literature.

The tendency since Poe, Conan Doyle, Hammett, Highsmith, Chandler and le Carré is that “crime fiction” is pop culture, like jazz and photography–lowbrow art for the uneducated masses. How could these authors speak so eloquently to the collective consciousness on fratricide as did Tolstoy, on the innocence of love like Proust, the chivalry of Cervante’s Quixote, and on the bittersweet melodrama of humanity so well as Shakespeare–Impossible! We have no more writers of this prodigious literary heft. Or at least we will not recognize them until long past the oceans rise to cover our rotting bones. For the time being we will have to make do with Umberto Eco’s historical fiction, Haruki Murakami’s existential everymanliness, Elmore Leonard’s glib and gritty prose, and Thomas Pynchon’s phantasmagoric tragicomedy, among others.

A few French expatriates working in the Institut Français in Copenhagen have decided to make a passion project of turning the perception of pop into art. Since Labyrint‘s inception in early 2008, their goal all of their publications, including their translation of MygaleSpindleren, their sixth novel–is to promote contemporary French literature in Denmark by translating French writers known for their stylistic qualities, their sociological sophistication and their allegiance to a genre which today has become significant in France, but even more so in Scandinavia: crime literature.

The bistrot bookstore Les Vengeances Tardives (a pun for those Francophiles out there…Guess correctly for some fun photographic prizes) in Lyon shares in Labyrint’s singular vision of the power of the French what if genre gaining ground across Europe, and the world. Coinciding with the recent release of the Danish edition, Labyrint book designer Arnaud De Grave, whose cover photography speaks of a France only glimpsed in dark Marseille alleys and in the faces of its people (see gallery below), will take part in a group exhibition based on Tarantula and the recently released (August, 17th) La Piel Que Habito at Cinema Comoedia (13 AVENUE BERTHELOT 69007 LYON) on Monday, September 5, 2011 (exhibition & music from 18:00, projection and performance from 20:00).

* High art in a dark nightmare.
— Michel Lebrun

BOP ... in search of humanistic photography © Arnaud De Grave

BOP … in search of humanistic photography at Copenhagen Photo Festival 2011

BOP ... in search of humanistic photography © Arnaud De Grave

BOP ... in search of humanistic photography © Arnaud De Grave

HESO contributor Arnaud De Grave is a co-founder of BOP, Bricolages Ondulatoires et Particulaires, a French photography collective which roughly translates to “wave and particle craft.” The main goal of the eight members, as stated on their website, is to “promote film photography.” Though keeping analogue photography alive and well is only one of their goals. In their latest collective exhibition, “BOP … In search of humanist photography”, featured at the Copenhagen Photo Festival 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark, the French bring the noir et blanc with a particularly human touch.

Exhibiting eight separate yet coherent sets of gritty black and white photographs showing the world through the disparate eyes of a collective spread throughout the globe: a recollection of a trip through the streets of old Shanghaï, abandoned places around Grenoble, France, and the forgotten faces of eastern India.

More abstract sets focus on communication or the lack thereof, people in their own environment and exposure, in a literal and figurative sense. While BOP hosts many virtual exhibitions on their own site, the body of work on display in Copenhagen is mostly new work and definitely merits a trip to the show.

Currently ongoing through Sunday, June 19th, 2011 in Tove’s Galleri, Vesterbrogade 97, in Copenhagen, the highlight may be Saturday night when BOP pairs with Silver.Spoon Guerilla Dining to co-host “A walk…Epicurian journey through humanist photography” a French/Mediterranean inspired five-course beverage-paired guerilla event prepared by Chef Henrik Jyr, whose goal is “to make life as simple and enjoyable as possible.” Sounds as delicious as their Thanksgiving Feast. Tickets available here.

BOP ... in search of humanistic photography
Copenhagen Photography Festival 2011 Logo

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