The Deathcap

Speaking of mushrooms ‘tasting great’ in my last mushroom post… I found a large patch of these underneath an oak in the Adelaide Hills. For those who don’t know, these are Amanita phalloides. The deathcap. Yes, it will kill you, violently. After ingestion, you get some violent vomiting, nausea, the usual. You then think you’ve recovered, about 24 hours later, but in reality the toxins are smashing their way through your liver and kidneys. 72 hours later you’re dead or in a critical condition, curled up in a mushroom-like ball, cursing the fungal gods. If you manage to survive you’ll probably require a kidney or liver transplant/dialysis. These are the mushrooms which killed the mad emperor of Rome, Nero, after his wife fed them to him – fun fact. So yeah, unless you’re an insane monarch with a death wish, don’t eat them.

IMG_1855

Half a cap of one of these and you’ll be dead within 72 hours

Identifying these suckers is fairly easy if you know what to look for. All deathcaps have a ring around their stem, along with a ‘vulva’ at the base of the stem. The vulva is like a cradle in which the mushroom rests. This is less pronounced on the left- and right-hand mushrooms, but on the middle one the vulva is very clear. Deathcaps often have a ‘steep’, conical cap (though not the left hand one) and a greenish-brownish tinge on the cap. They always have white gills. Their impact on mushroom-picking ‘culture’ (yes, it does exist) is an unfortunate one, as many people are scared away by the possibility of ‘accidentally’ eating one of these. The truth is, if you know what you’re looking for and what not to eat – in other words, you have a positive ID on anything you put in your mouth – there is very little danger in mushroom picking.

[I just realised I hadn’t posted this, even though it was written last year – oops! Better late than never… hope none of you ate one]

– Alex

Kuala Lumpur & Penang

[This is a follow up to ‘Train Troubles’ – the first solo weekend trip I took to Malaysia]

As it turns out, I was slightly disappointed with KL. Without a local to show you around the suburbs, you spend most of your time on public transport or navigating between air con in the malls. And there are a lot of malls. It’s really just like Singapore in that there’s so much emphasis on malls and ‘brand shopping’ – albeit at one third the price. There is at least decent food but most of it is tucked away behind an hour or two on public transport. Next time: find some locals! I can at least recommend the Batu Caves and Chow Kit market, however. The Batu caves are a seriously impressive series of caves in the middle of KL which were turned into a large temple. There’s something like 272 steps to reach the top of first temple, and plenty of monkeys playing around the whole area. Definitely worth seeing.

Walking around Chow Kit market felt like being in a completely different city – you’re instantly transported from glistening malls and branded stores to what feels like ‘real’ Malaysia (as their tourism campaign would have you believe, “Truly Asia”). There are stray cats, mysterious puddles of motor oil/urine on the streets, and foreigners are uncommon enough to be stared at, as I found out. There are old aunties doing their daily shopping, haggling for rambutan and other unidentifiable fruit, vendors selling cendol in a cup by the roadside, and of course the ubiquitous meat-on-a-stick. There are stalls with an entire dissected cow – everything is sold: brain, innards, hooves – you could practically reassemble the animal with a little Frankenstein magic.

Back at the train station, I met a group of other backpackers who were taking the same train to Penang as me. We had all booked too late, when there were only upright seats left for an overnight train. The result? Very little sleep. I think they turned the air-con up high enough to solve global ‘warming’… It seems like everywhere in Asia the air-con is way too strong, as if they have to counterbalance the heat by blasting 16C air. The group I met consisted of two girls from England, a Kiwi, two other Australians and two English backpackers who were so generic they seemed to be replaced by another pair every time we met. Turns out just a few weeks in Asia turns everyone into drug addicts, as they all popped three or four Valium and got straight to sleep, despite the chairs.

We arrived in Penang that morning at 5am, and took the 6am ferry to Pulau Pinang (The island itself; there’s another township of ‘Butterworth’ which is *technically* still Penang). The ferry driver recommended some excellent Nasi Kandar places – like a pick ‘n’ mix for curries and fried food. After an excellent breakfast, we booked into the cheapest hostel in town and promptly fell straight to sleep.

 

Antarabangsa, as the flickering neon sign so clearly advises, is an ‘enterprise’. In fact, it’s not all that different from some startup ‘offices’. I suspect, however, that Antarabangsa has a few more alcoholics. Antarabangsa is apparently a supermarket – at least that’s what we were told by everyone when we asked for the ‘cheapest alcohol in Penang’. What we found was encouraging: mostly locals surrounded by far too many empty beer cans for 6pm, and some bearded, tattooed, overweight expats who are past the point of ever returning ‘home’. Of course, they’re all seated on teetering stools about six inches from the ground, bathing in the warm neon glow of the supermarket’s sign.

The interior was something straight out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a ceiling fan whirring away at full tilt over a floor strewn with empty cans and cartons of alcohol. A stray cat napping in the corner. The floor hadn’t been swept for several decades, and there was what looked like a makeshift kitchen cum meth lab in the back. A lone lightbulb dangled over the cashier who was almost too perfect to be true: an unsmiling, obese, shirtless Chinese man with a gold chain around his neck, straight out of the mafia – that’s a shoplifting deterrent if I’ve ever seen one. He even had the bowl cut with the shaved sides.

For a bunch of young people looking to get drunk, it was perfect. The interior was a mess of cartons, boxes, and stray cats. Inside the fridges was every strong beer under the sun – all for under 3 SGD each. I chose a 16.8% Belgian variety – 6 Ringgit – 2 SGD. After that, the night became… shall we say, blurry.

Judging by the steady stream of patrons into the back of supermarket, there was either a toilet or a very efficient prostitute back there – turned out it was the former. When I came out, I noticed a green bucket about the size of a washing basket filled with an inch of water. One of the girls behind me confirmed my thoughts: “Are those fucking turtles?” She was right – there were two fully grown turtles apparently complacent in a bucket. Said girl clearly felt sorry for them, because she started spooning rice, straight from the cooker, into the bucket. Muttering something about “needing some protein”, she also cracked a nearby egg in. That was one of those moments I realised I should probably stop drinking, but as always, I didn’t.

Feeling emotionally fulfilled after our good deed, I explicably decided to wander off. I realise now that it was because I was hungry, and seeing as food is 90% of the reason I visit Penang, I was determined to make the most of it. I left the group of progressively more drunk backpackers and stumbled around for what could have been five minutes or two hours. After an indeterminate amount of time, I walked through a doorway and found myself in a heaven of neon lights, frosty Tiger beer, and frying meat. It was an enormous food court – complete with a karaoke stand in the center, where a drunk Chinese grandmother was belting out the equivalent of “Penang’s top 40”. If nothing else, I respect her lack of self-consciousness.

The food court was closing as it was by now three in the morning, but I found the stall with the longest line and took my place. When my turn came, I did that pretend-you’re-not-drunk thing and over-enunciated all my words: “I”, three seconds of silence, “will take one of your finest pork noodles, my good man”. I doubt the guy serving me understood, as he just raised an eyebrow and I ended up with a bowl of dumpling soup.

And then I woke up.

It was 11:40am, my shirt was unbuttoned but my bed was empty except for myself, and I had somehow managed to make my way back to my hostel. I even had my phone and wallet in my pockets and was only 30 Ringgit/10SGD/AUD poorer. Cheap night.

Thankfully, I had a series of photos documenting my night, from the noodles to the food court to the Antarabangsa sign, but to top it all off – the two turtles, complete with rice, bucket and egg.

Porcini mushrooms – the King Bolete

A few days ago, I – literally – stumbled across some Porcini: Boletus edulis, cep, the King Bolete. Highly prized across the culinary world ($100/kg is not unreasonable!), the Porcini originates from Italy and the south of France, where it’s foraged for in the mountains. I was, therefore, understandably ecstatic about my finds. Before these, the only mushrooms I’d been game enough to even try cooking were some I thought to be regular field mushrooms. They turned out to be the hospital-disinfectant A. xanthodermus – I’m just glad it hasn’t put me off wild mushrooms for good.

One of the porcini nestled amongst some oak leaves

One of the porcini nestled amongst some oak leaves

Continue reading

Satay Celup

Satay Celup at Capitol Satay in Melakka is a coveted meal, even by Malaysian standards. Satay Celup (pronounced che-lup) is one of the many hotpot-style, cook-it-yourself experiences very popular in that part of the world. From Korean barbecue to Japanese Sukiyaki (hotpot) to traditional Chinese steamboat, we ate this way more times in a month than I have in probably my whole life in Australia.

I suppose there’s something appealing about seeing the fresh, raw ingredients in front of you and being in complete control of your food. At least, that’s what it seemed like. Personally, I’d rather have the chef cook it the way he wants us to eat it – whether it’s smothered in ghee or glazed in a special sauce or seared for just the right amount of time. Anyway, you might as well just buy the ingredients yourself and do it at home, right?

Seriously - "what the hell is on this thing?"

Bristling with sticks of mystery meat

I think I’m about to eat my words, or at least my thoughts: Satay Celup is the best cook-it-yourself experience I’ve had yet, and it’s utterly impossible to imitate in your own home. Continue reading

Adelaide Hills Wild Mushroom Picking

I find that one of the combined ah… side effects of procrastination and holidays is the development of strange new hobbies. During the summer I decided to pick up knife throwing. Neither mum, the cardboard box used as a target nor the thrown $5 IKEA knives were very happy. I was, though. The holiday before that I spent far too long watching other people play games live online. Strange community, that.

These holidays just gone, though, I’ve become obsessed with mycology (the study of mushrooms). Boredom does funny things, eh? Thankfully, this coincides with autumn and winter here, prime mushroom picking season.

Roasty

A haul of saffron milk caps, best eaten fresh and roasted

 

At the most basic level, mushroom picking falls into the ‘foraging’ category of activities, which, for many people, is immensely appealing given the world of cellophane beef and pre-sliced vegetables so many of us live in. Foraging – believe it or not – is anything from trapping rabbits to picking blackberries to fishing. It’s living off the land and rejecting the norm, something which is becoming increasingly fashionable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing yet, but I’m glad to live in the Hills, where it’s still something done by grandmothers and grandchildren alike; solidly unpretentious.

Continue reading

The best drunk food. Ever.

It’s 2am. You’re a bit drunk. You realize you’re very hungry.

This… unique set of circumstances creates a perfect storm of fantastically unhealthy food. We being to crave short-term reward and the most gratifying eating experience. Almost always, this just so happens to be something hot, crunchy, fatty, and salty. This fantastic four of delicious-things-which-will-also-kill-you are something of a ritual for many weekend alcoholics. In a space filled with the likes of Mac ‘n Cheese, Döner Kebab, and $2 Maccas burgers, though, one food reigns supreme: the grilled cheese.

fuark

Grilled cheese à la drunk

The ‘best‘ grilled cheese has always been a contentious topic, but I think many people overlook the ..significance of the environment in which a grilled cheese is usually prepared: stumbling into the kitchen at 2:07am, fumbling for something vaguely bread-like to smear with butter and throw in the pan and top with whatever cheese you find in the fridge. That will probably produce something very different to a ‘gourmet’ grilled cheese prepared sober.

Continue reading

Groovin’ The Moo 2015

25th April, 2015

The moo was most definitely groovin’.

I’m not what you’d call a ‘festy head’ (note lack of being shredded for stereos, bruh), so it was a rare thing that I could be dragged into the mud and rain for a music festival, of all things. I admit, the lineup did it for me – Sticky Fingers, Flight Facilities, Hermitude, Meg Mac, Hilltop Hoods. With several of my favourite artists playing so close to home, I really couldn’t not go.

Staged shot (heh)

One of the three stages

Continue reading