Wednesday, February 08, 2017

On Mushrooms

"On mushrooms?!" - you'll say. And I'd respond: "Why, yes, yes, on mushrooms, 'cause why the heck not?!" Aren't you tired of politics? I don't care what continent you live on right now, you must be weary of this political stage the world is keeping us on nowadays.

So, we'll talk about mushrooms today just to change things up.

A couple of years back, I went to a Kathy Griffin stand-up show. As usual, it was hysterical, but aside from that, she told a story about she and Cher, the legend. Apparently they are good friends and one night Kathy was visiting Cher and they got hungry. So Kathy told Cher to order a pizza. Allegedly, Cher asked: "I don't know how pizza happens, Kathy! How does pizza happen?!"

And that bit just stuck with me.

Last week, I bought this huge carton of mini portobello mushrooms and I was washing them in a pot, in the sink. I know Rachel Ray tells you to never wash mushrooms, but just to brush them with a wet paper towel, but I don't buy that. I wash mushrooms the same way I have washed them ever since I was 6 years old and I picked them in the woods myself. 

My American 'convenience' mushrooms

Washing that huge pot of mushrooms in my sink took me right back to the days when my sister and I came home from a whole day in the woods with bags full of mushrooms (most of them looked like mini portobellos ). Washing the mushrooms was us, kids', job. We had to put them in buckets and sink them in water – they don't really sink, the suckers, they mostly float. But what that does is make the dirt and the pine needles float, as well, so you can scoop that out.

Washing mushrooms is a thankless job, because you never feel like they are ever clean. All those little folds under the hat are full of dirt and needles and they stay pretty much that way, regardless of your efforts. You can change the water in the pot 100 times, and I guarantee you that you'd still have dirt floating at the top.

For a moment there, I relived so many wonderful childhood memories. My sister and I and all of our friends, wandering the woods of Northern Carpathians in search of mushrooms. The smell of the woods came back to me. The slopes, steep with almost no trails. The sore calves trying to stay up-right and trying not to squish the bag full of mushrooms under us, when we did fall on our butts. The smell of sweat in the summer crisp mountain air. The sting of the bug bites we got and the acid burn of the cuts we got while making our way through the brush.

The sharp pain shooting straight into our brains from the freezing mountain stream water pouring over our hands as we were washing the mushrooms when we got home. We would run our fingers through the mushrooms in the ice cold water to make the dirt come off of them. The voice of the parents threatening us that there won't be no dinner if they'd found one spec of dirt in the mushrooms before they'd cook them for us. The weight of the stack of wood we would bring from the shed to make the fire to cook them on the stove.

This was more than a childhood adventure, this was our dinner. We would have gone to bed with milk and a moldy piece of bread if we didn't bring home mushrooms or berries from the woods. Trust me: we knew how mushrooms happened! In dark woods, in the shade (they love shade), sometimes under roots and moss, this is where they love to grow. The darker, the better and the bigger mushrooms. With lots of help and lots of work to bring them home, get them cleaned and then cooked. This is how mushrooms happen.

Although we were kids, we knew the good ones from the "crazy" ones (the ones that make you crazy, not the ones that behave crazy). We also knew the different tastes – the yellow, small ones were sweet and full of flavor, but you had to find tons of them to make a meal and they are not easy to find. The mini portobellos were the easiest to find, and the huge portobellos close to impossible. Dry years were the worst, because they hate drought. It gave us purpose, and knowledge into the way the world works, something that kids nowadays ... well, don't get me started.

Now, 30 some years later, in my kitchen, I was wondering as I was cleaning and cutting these beauties for my dinner: "I wonder if kids nowadays know how mushrooms happen?! I wonder if they just think Costco makes them." They probably do.

To this day, mushrooms in gravy and garlic sauce is one of my favorite meals. And every time I make it, I relive those far away days when my sister and I would scour for food. I am grateful for such simple memories for they are anything but simple.