October 29, 2006 9:28 PM- the magical mystery tour

When I was ten and eleven, I spent every night and weekend that I possibly could at my best friend Stacey?s house. During those same two years, I also spent a whole month living with her family at their beach house each summer.

Stacey?s mom did food set-ups for photo shoots. Photos of the glistening hamburgers and perfectly crispy fries you?d see up on the board at Burger King, the fluffy stack of pancakes dripping maple syrup that you?d see in a commercial, Carvel ice cream cakes?her mom did lots of them. She told us about all the tricks they used to make the food look like that. Most of it was pretty gross and a lot of it was fake. To this day I can?t look at food commercials without seeing the artifice.

I don?t know a lot about Stacey?s mom because I was ten when I knew her and not prone to asking lots of probing personal questions. Her name was Joan and she once told me that she had gone to college at Purdue and that she had studied home economics.

When I think of her now, there is just no connection to my idea of a Midwestern girl who studied home-ec and the woman I knew.

Stacey?s dad was a filmmaker and a mean alcoholic (but that?s a tale for another day) and some of the wildest parties I?ve ever attended in my life were at their house. Her mom loved living large, loved unconventional people and had created a home that nurtured both.

Looking back, I think I was rather enthralled with Stacey?s mom. She cooked amazing meals from scratch, made beautiful hors-d?oeuvres and never minded having a full house of people. Every Autumn, she would hand-dip candles in the basement and make her own pickle relish. She was incredibly permissive and really didn?t pay much attention to what kind of trouble we were getting into.

One afternoon while I was sitting in the kitchen watching her cook she asked me if I liked mushrooms and without a moment?s hesitation I said yes.

She handed me a fat, white, freshly washed mushroom and watched me as I ate it. Although I was pretending it was no big deal, in my mouth I was grinding the rubbery bits on the very back teeth and trying desperately not to let it touch my tongue.

But I ate the whole thing. And, long story short, that day began my love affair with the mushroom.

Some years later, I was in Paris for my cousin?s wedding and stayed on another three weeks, which allowed me to both explore Paris and fail trigonometry simultaneously. (I had brought all math homework with me and promised my parents that I would study, but please, were they insane?)

Seeing me have a fabulous time cruising around the city by metro and moped, Isabelle, my bitch cousine, decided what I really needed to do was go camping with her and some of her friends in the Bois de Lyon. Did I mention this was in November? Camping in the cold and rain was less than appealing but, seeing as I spoke no French, I literally had no say in the matter.

The weekend was every bit as miserable as you can imagine if you knew the insufferable Isabelle and her dullsville boyfriend, Hubert. (Who had sex in the same tent that I was in while I was in the tent they had sex when I was right there! What in god?s name were they thinking? Because I couldn?t speak French I was DEAF?)

However?however! There was a most wonderful afternoon in the midst of the bad-bad-no-good-very-terrible weekend. We went hunting for mushrooms in the woods. And we got all kinds, none of which I could possibly recall since my mind was working overtime to expel all memories, delete all files, of what it was like to share a tent with Isabelle and Hubert.

What I can tell you is that we cooked the assorted fungi for dinner, stewed in butter and wine, and they were gorgeous. It stands as one of the best food experiences of my life.

Until today, that was the only time I had ever gone hunting for mushrooms. But, this afternoon, I joined a bunch of mushroom fanatics and we walked through the woods for a couple of hours and the ten of us collected over 50 different species of mushrooms!

Of course, all the ones I thought were safe to eat were poisonous so I have a long way to go before I?ll be whipping up any mushroom fricassee on my own. But I am inspired.

Some of the mushrooms I found were so tiny, a third the size of my pinky finger. Others were larger than the span of both hands put together.

It was just dazzling. That might sound a bit off since the weather here is blustery, damp and raw, but I was truly oblivious to the cold.

The more I looked, the more colors I saw in the thick layers of fallen leaves, mosses, ferns, scrolls of birch bark?I even found a tiny bird?s nest! I loved picking my way across the forest floor, finding the mushrooms tucked in unlikely places, nearly stepping on them when they were right in front of me, delighting in their uniqueness.

I certainly know* of magic mushrooms, but this, this was the real thing. Pure magic. I got in the car to drive home and felt wildly alive.

*not in the biblical sense bien entendu, what I?m referring to is an anecdotal knowing.

got 2 cents?

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rachel says:
beautiful. i adore this photo essay! and now i have mushrooms stewed in butter and wine on the brain....
posted on: October 29

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Sheryl says:
How wonderful! My mom used to take us mushroom hunting, and we'd make spore prints. SOunds like a great weekend.
posted on: October 29

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plain jane says:
I was just today recalling a nostaligic memory of my son visiting for a weekend shortly after he had moved away to college. He took me Chantrelle mushroom hunting. Brings a big lump to my throat, the fall weather, the beauty of the NW woods, the joy of having my son home, the heartache of not having him living at home anymore.
posted on: October 29

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bp says:
god jane, now you've got me all choked up
posted on: October 29

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samantha says:
I really adore mushrooms - I could have them with every meal. (But cooked - I don't love them raw, so much.) What a great mushroom tale! They are all so lovely - and it's the best when you can turn a grey and cloudy day into something wonderful and delicious, to boot! (Am trying not to think about the trama of the tent. Bless your heart.)
posted on: October 29

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river selkie says:
wow, what perfect timing. a mushroom post so close to halloween. i realize i am prolly in the minority here, but i hate mushrooms. and i'm thoroughly creeped out from your post. grossness. except, i actually like finding them in the woods, but only to take photos of them. so i was happy until you spoke of eating them. but entertaining the thought of finding them, then eating them, that makes me want to gag. happy halloween!
posted on: October 30

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lizardek says:
haha! River Selkie, you made me laugh...my brother could have written your comment. He HATES mushrooms with a passion, but thinks hunting for them in the woods is great sport. Me, I love them, and this post is making me SO hungry! Those giant mushrooms, though, WHOA! Are those edible??
posted on: October 30

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dodo says:
Ahh. mushroom envy. it's a terrible thing!
posted on: October 30

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wee says:
ooo... damn. I'm wishing I could remember my magical mushroom song so that you could borrow it and sprout up mass quantities on your own, but alas. no. the mushroom song? It is vanished. I loved LOVED LOVED this post! It's hit on something I've been thinking myself... I've been thinking that the perfect gift for me? Would to have someone woodsy and botanically knowledgeable lead me thru "my" park and tell me the names of all the plant life I routinely goggle at, full of wonder and joy. Not that I don't enjoy my own descriptions (which are generally in the vein of "you know, that sticky outty plant with the spiky yellow leaves that looks all transparent and ghosty in the winter?"), but I really would like to know the actual name.
posted on: October 30

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Heather says:
Nothing quite like a sautee with mushroom and red wine sauce. Yum!
posted on: October 30

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fringes says:
It's been a long while since I've been to your blog. What a pleasurable post for my return. Glad to read your happiness and contentment through the lines, girl. Here's to good lives and friends...
posted on: October 30

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christina says:
I'm rather not fond of mushrooms, but reading this made me want to reconsider. You have that effect!
posted on: October 30

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finelyspungirl says:
I was just going to enjoy your post quietly, but as I got to the end of the comments, a song by Infected Mushroom came on my streaming radio! I had to tell you ;)
posted on: October 30

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endment says:
I have been seeing humdreds of lovely mushrooms - went out and bought a thick guide to muchrooms - then discovered that I need a guide to the guide. :) Love this delightful post!!!
posted on: October 31

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Lil says:
Were there no mushrooms of the "magical" kind?
posted on: October 31

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Marilyn says:
Having spent a chunk of my evening last night with my nose stuck in David Guterson's "Our Lady of the Forest"...I'm dumbstruck this morning by coming here and finding this post. (You didn't see any visions, did you??) ;)
posted on: October 31

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Vaguely Urban says:
Just *looking* at those 'shrooms is a mind- and mood-altering experience! They are amazing. Also, please do tell us more about Stacey and her family!
posted on: October 31

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art esprit says:
we always went "mushrooming" as children, and it was fun to see your photos here. yummy!
posted on: October 31

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gracia says:
Ahh, those rubbery little fungi finds! I'll have to rethink my old, stale opinion of mushys thanks largely to your post in honour of these edible delights. take care, g
posted on: October 31

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richard says:
You write so well.
posted on: November 01

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