Shiitake Mushroom Empanada

After all that Shiitake talk, here´s a quick and easy recipe. It needs the following ingredients:

400g flour
10g yeast
100 ml white wine (dry)
100 ml olive oil
100 ml milk
Half a glass of warm water
A good handful of Shiitake mushrooms
2 onions
2 zucchini

1 egg
Black ground pepper
Feta cheese

Start by preparing the dough: Stir the yeast into half a glass of warm water. Add some salt and the yeast water to the flour, knead for a moment. Slowly add the olive oil, the wine and the milk while you keep kneading until you get a dough which doesn’t stick anymore like glue to the bowl.

Keep the dough for an hour covered with a clean cloth to let it rest and rise.
In the meantime, prepare the filling: Chop the Shiitake, the onion and the zucchini in little pieces and fry them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, black paper and thyme to taste till they get softer. Put it aside.

When the dough has risen to appr. double its original size switch the oven on and let it heat up to 75 degrees Celsius. Cut the dough in two halves and knead with a rolling pin to get two sheets, each about 2 mm thick. Lay one of the sheets on the oven tray (apply some butter before or use cooking paper) and spread the Shiitake, the zucchini and as much of the Feta cheese as you like (crumble the cheese with your hands for better handling). Lay the other sheet on top and tie both sheets on the borders. Whisk an egg and spread it on top of the empanada, then put it in the oven. Keep it there for 45 minutes while increasing the temperature three times in steps of 50 degrees Celsius (the empanada is done in the moment its colour turns golden).

empanada recipe


Growing Shiitake Mushrooms On Logs

An update on the previous mushroom post .

I mentioned before that I inoculated some logs with Shiitake myself.

shiitake log

The first challenge was to find the right wood. While I have a lot around, there are some specific requirements to be met. Oak and beech are perfect woods, they also last the longest and will produce the biggest harvests over 5-7 years. Apple, maple and sweet chestnut are also suitable. I did not try hazel and alder. Logs should be 2-4 feet long and ideally have a diameter of 4-6 inches, so the fungus can occupy the log as fast as possible, which prevents infections with other (competing) fungi. The bark has to be intact. The log should not be too fresh (4 weeks+ after cutting, so the tree’s immunity mechanisms are not fully at work anymore) and not too old (less than 3 months, not dried out).
There should be also 6-10 weeks time left before major frosts.
Among the logs potentially fitting those criteria, I mostly got birch. For Shiitake supposedly not ideal, but possible.

shiitake birch logs

I drilled the holes, filled them with mycelium substrate, kept everything clean and then moist. Next summer, nothing happened. All the other logs produced lots of mushrooms, nothing on the birch. Its rings started to look whitish, which I took as a sign of the fungus spreading.
Earlier this summer, again – nothing. I kept the logs moist like the others, regardless.
Suddenly, this September, the first little Shiitake mushroom appeared on a birch log, 2 years after the inoculation.

shiitake birch log

Now there are more, and very nice ones.
So, if you try that yourself, and it looks like a failure, don’t discard the logs too early.

The fastest results I had by growing Shiitake on sawdust.

shiitake on sawdust

A pressed block gave me mushrooms regularly for 2 years. Less and less with each wave, but one can even activate it indoors. My first oak logs are going strong, and show no signs of fatigue.

shiitake oak log

Mushroom Time

Autumn is mushroom time. A wet August and September with mild temperatures are ideal, but that doesn’t happen every year. October and November can usually be relied on. And cooking is fun again, the body craves a warm meal. Mushrooms must have been the surprise eggs of the early human hunter.

mushroom t-shirt


I used to (and still do) go for lengthy walks to find them. Get up early (better before the ones in the know) and spend 3-4 hours in the forest scanning the ground. One develops a sense for mushrooms and their preferred places after a while. One might actually smell them, like a truffle dog, but it’s more likely that experience signals that a pretty birch tree with fresh moss underneath is just the place one would choose to live in if one were a mushroom. There’s also the weather component – a warm rain, and they pop, often overnight.


After such a day, I tend to dream of mushrooms. It’s like finding rare books in a library without catalogue, wandering along the shelves with the head tilted to one side, examining titles. Over a few hours it’s draining in a weird sort of way.


While good days fill the baskets quickly, more often than not there’s none, or only the grandpas, mushy and wormy inside.

Then I discovered Shiitake. Got some prepared oak logs out of curiosity, later inoculated some birch logs myself. Shiitake mushrooms like it warm and moist, they prefer higher temperatures than the local ones, so the outcome was rather uncertain.
It appeared to be well worth it.

shiitake logs

Shiitake logs fruit in waves. I found if I let them rest for a few weeks, then re-moisten them over night in the rain barrel, I can well control the fruiting and get a quite predictable harvest. Since I have several logs which can be rotated, there are always some mushrooms. Shiitake have a distinct aroma, few is needed to spice up a meal. I find it quite similar to garlic (and believe it imparts a similar odor…) They are very mushroomy, solid and chewy, and can be dried well, if there’s an oversupply. Since I can take them fresh directly from the garden, I never had a wormy one (they are also not prone to it, it seems). In fact, they are pretty creatures:

shiitake mushroom

I’ve tried several log stacking methods. Currently I keep some logs in a wine barrel from La Rioja. Without any care, there’s always a fruiting piece. The barrel keeps the logs from drying out too much in the heat of the summer, I think. And the occasional animal visitor to the garden has less access. Coming from the logs, the mushrooms are basically kitchen-ready.

wine barrel

Gardening Is A Serious Sport

Supposedly an English saying. I never heard that from the mouth of a Briton, but anyway. I think it is. Or at least can be.

Although I’m an avid cyclist and still pass the Marines pull up test, a day of gardening feels like good exercise.

I once kept a little track of it. When I inspected the plants first thing in the morning for slugs and critters and other threats, I ended up doing 50 deep squats. Walking down the main path takes 50-70 steps = 100-140 return, times 20 with the watering cans in the hand. Afterwards I carried the log splitter from the shed to the car (weight 44kg) – for nothing, because it wasn’t needed after all, so I brought it back. Reaching for that lanky tomato plant without harming it’s neighbors turned out to be a fine gymnastic move – hooold that position!
I do most of the pruning by hand with a razor-sharp Japanese saw and a number of scissors. While power tools have their place, they do not only require some preparations usually, but also are noisy. I often enough don’t feel like having even more engine roar around me.

In my childhood I knew an 80+ years old man who still went to swim training several times a week. His main transport was his bicycle (a black machine from biblical times). He cared about his garden every day literally until his last day.

Gardening as a physical activity seems to have a metabolic equivalent (MET) of 3.5-4 (one MET defined as the energy it takes to sit quietly, appr. 70-80Kcal per hour for an average adult). Of course, it makes a difference if one’s picking berries or if some serious digging in hard clay soil is the task of the day.
Now, jogging/running has a MET of 6-12, but you must be an excellent runner to hold that up over the course of 4-8 hours.
On the extreme side of gardening/landscaping, alpine farmers on steep meadows (where not much mechanization is possible) easily compete with marathon runners and triathletes on caloric expenditure.

In your private garden, you can even take it slow. Fresh air is good for bookworms, that’s my rule of thumb.

octopus head t-shirt

Octopus Head

Climbing Vines In The Garden

Climbing vines are popular for covering walls and pergolas. If you plan to use a climber for this purpose, a few points should be kept in mind:

First, such plants rely on a variety of climbing methods. For the gardener, the main question is, do they need support or not. Ivy i.e. holds itself by developing clinging roots. It is a common myth that they destroy walls directly; unless the plastering is already loose the danger seems to lay more in uncontrolled growth, which may be difficult to clean up after a few years. (Shading provided by a mass of leaves may also prevent walls from drying out, which is certainly not desirable in houses which already has a moisture problem.)

Grapevines use curling tendrils, therefore strong wire may make a convenient support. Clematis tends to develop stems strong enough to support itself after a few years, so choosing some main branches for attachment to the wall or pergola should be sufficient.

Most vines try to reach sunlight with a minimum of effort, which can result in a mass of leaves on top and visible stems further below. Regular pruning helps! It is as well the best recipe to get flowers on flowering vines and helps to avoid the “Wilt” in clematis (a serious problem where within a short time a formerly healthy looking plant suddenly collapses – its caused by a fungus; planting deep and not allowing the branches to move and break in the wind are the best prevention).

Do not underestimate the weight. We have seen some wisteria moving a massive pergola by following the direction of the sunlight during the day!

If you feel you don´t have enough space in your garden for growing climbing vines, remember that clematis is native to forests and used to climb in trees. Climbing roses in old trees can make a wonderful display, too.

climbing vines

In the photograph: A pergola overgrown by clematis and hydrangea

Plant and Grow Japanese Maple Trees

A favorite for small landscape spaces, the Japanese maple (acer palmatum) grows slowly to reach a mature height of between 15 and 25 feet. This variety of maple tree has an indeterminate growth pattern, but can easily be pruned to any desired shape and height. The most popular Japanese maple planted in home landscape is the burgundy-leafed variety, but there are also green and red leafed varieties. Japanese maples will put on a spectacular fall foliage show, producing blazing colors of yellow, orange and scarlet red in the late fall.

Planting Site
Japanese maple trees are hardwood trees that grows best in slightly acidic soil that is moist and well drained.
The planting site should provide the tree with some shade from the hot afternoon sun. On the east side of a tall building or taller tree is the ideal planting location so the maple will have an afternoon reprieve from the direct sun during summertime.
Don’t forget to consider the mature size of Japanese maple when selecting a planting site. The tree can be pruned to fit into even the smallest of landscapes, but remember that type of pruning will be an on-going project.

When to Plant
Spring or fall is the best time to plant a Japanese maple. Planting any type of tree during the heat of summer puts it under too much heat stress and the tree usually will not survive.
Spring planting allows the tree several months to become established in its new home before winter. Fall is the second best planting time. Fall planting allows enough time for the tree to make some root growth progress before the soil freezes in winter.

How to Plant
Dig the planting hole twice the diameter of the root ball and twice as deep as the root ball is tall. The large planting hole will give the roots plenty of soft soil to grow in and become established. When the hole is ready, add a 2 inch layer of peat moss to the bottom of the hole, then add a 6 inch layer of organic matter (compost) to the hole and pack it down firmly. Place tree in the hole to make sure that it’s setting at the same depth as it was in the container. Adjust the amount of organic matter accordingly so the tree is at the proper height before back-fill the planting hole.

Prune the tree only in the winter or early spring by cutting away any dead or diseased limbs, then shape the remaining branches as needed. Tree sap will run freely from the cuts made to the trees during the summer or fall and potentially cause the early demise of the tree.

red japanese maple tree

Red Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum “Seigen”)

Orange Flowers

I still remember when I first saw and smelled orange trees in the South of France many years ago. There were actually two smells: The scent of the blossoms (which is one of the most marvellous perfumes I know), and, closer to the ground, a fermentation smell. The farmer invited us to erect the tent on his meadow, and this meadow was actually an old orange grove, still full of old orange trees, which threw some overripe fruits from time to time.

I’ve visited several spectacular orange groves since then, and have some trees myself by now. I still get excited when I see a citrus tree somewhere, esp. the forgotten ones, standing in the backyards of old, abandoned houses, still producing fruit after fruit.

Speaking of orange flowers takes me to flowers which are orange, since there appeared a nice comment (from Spain – did I say oranges?) on the orange flower T-shirt:

flower t-shirt review

Shameless pitch: Go and get one, too. It´s good for your wardrobe.