Mushrooming: level one

Photo taken by the author near Radzymin, Mazowieckie, on August 9, 2016.

Photo taken by the author near Radzymin, Mazowieckie, on August 9, 2016.

Mushroom hunting is not a fringe discipline in Poland. It is a main event, one I never expected to join in on, at least not with any rate of success. Attempts at finding a mushroom “on purpose” always led to nowhere, and my limited mycological knowledge was pretty much useless, even when a mushroom found me. Because so what if it looks like a king bolete if I don’t know with certainty what other species resemble a king bolete, or which of those might be poisonous?

Years into taming the woods at my summer cabin, I am gaining a sense for what’s worth gathering. More importantly, I’m beginning to spot my prey. Indeed, foraging for mushrooms can be said to resemble the carnivorous chase more than the fruit picking session, with specimens sprouting up in a matter of minutes, it would seem, in unpredictable, mostly well-camouflaged places. It’s mushroom hunting, remember? And mushrooms are not plants at all, but rather chitin-rich separatists occupying the fungi kingdom.

It has been suggested (by the likes of Michael Pollan, to recent acclaim) that real, unwavering knowledge of a species resides not in the intellect but in the gut, and it derives not from books but from entrenched experience. Holistic, non-analytical and empirical, it follows the logic of impervious certainty: you know you can pick that chanterelle because it is a chanterelle, and only then is it also funnel-shaped and deep orange-y yellow, with a scent both woody and reminiscent of apricots, and with gill-like ridges running almost all the way down its sturdy, steadily tapering stipe.

The various types of boletes I dehydrate with Poland’s winter specialties in mind, though I might turn a half-dozen of them (or a few tasty parasol mushrooms) into an artery-jamming foil for a batch of biscuits. But the chanterelles, invariably, wind up as the star in what Mark Bittman teaches are the ultimate scrambled eggs: an unctuous custard, smooth and rich, stirred over low heat for ages and now stained a light tan from the sautéed kurki. (It’s worth noting that the Polish term happens to be a homonym for little chickens and evokes plainer, friendlier fare than its frou-frou English equivalent.)

Neither tedious nor boring, mushroom hunting is trance-inducing and highly gratifying. The promise of food at the end of the hunt imbues it with titillating purpose, but even better is the way each find is like an addictive video game’s sparkly chime, only real.

Crows on a crane

Though we moved into our gut-renovated home in mid-May, we are still a long way from being completely moved in. The pace has unraveled and the loose ends are the ones hardest to tie up and tuck away. (Lamps to hang, switches to rewire, walls to repaint, a swatch of oiled floor in need of a redo, a drain cover to replace, a doorknob to mount, curtains to hem—the fabric for which has not even been selected.)

Outside our windows, a construction site roars from 7am every day. The noise and dust are tedious and unbearable in turns. But the screams of heavy machinery and the crane’s in-your-face arc are a fitting witness to our own unfinished, unsettled construction.

But then evening comes, quiet settles in, birds take charge, Anker falls asleep. And home feels like home again (or, maybe, for the first time ever).

Photo taken by the author on June 25, 2016, at 20:47 in the evening in Warsaw’s Mokotów with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT fitted with the 200mm/f2.8 L-series lens.

Photo taken by the author on June 25, 2016, at 20:47 in the evening in Warsaw’s Mokotów with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT fitted with the 200mm/f2.8 L-series lens.

Halfway to twelve

Photo taken by the author on June 12, 2016, at 20:29 in the evening in Warsaw’s Mokotów with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT fitted with the 200mm/f2.8 L-series lens. Underexposed to show moon surface detail.

Photo taken by the author on June 12, 2016, at 20:29 in the evening in Warsaw’s Mokotów with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT fitted with the 200mm/f2.8 L-series lens. Underexposed to show moon surface detail.

My son turned six today and the moon was a half-lit wonder, spelling out six in the language of that clock-faced master of time.

Six, in this case, is everything that came before a summer’s countdown to the first day of first grade. Six, for us, is most of the tears he’ll cry in my arms and most of the nights he has wound up in my bed. It is learning to sit, eat, walk, ride a bike, ski, read, brush teeth and fend for himself while I have a lie-in on a Saturday. For me, in turn, six is what followed the long stretch of youth that preceded my life as I know it. 

But six is just half of twelve, says the moon, as if to remind me that nothing wonderful is over.

Article two in Magazyn Wino

This time, it’s all about jam making—and it’s as much about why we make jam as it is about technique. Editor in Chief Tomek Prange-Barczyński has added a section on pairing fruit conserves with wine and cheese and I’ve included recipes for three of my favorite kinds of preserves (strawberry with a smidge of rhubarb, blackcurrant, sour cherry).

Long-time readers (including and possibly not limited to my mother) will note this is a topic I’ve explored in the past.

I wish I had it in me to say more, but I’m overwhelmed with the big move. Yes, the apartment is nearly done. Yes, it all cost twice as much as I expected and took twice as long to complete. Anker and I have physically moved in, but we are still a long way from being done moving in. I am consumed with order-lust and a perfectionist’s anxious arrival in the reality of something long-coming. All I can do to keep my blog on a lifeline is plop in the pic I finally snapped today and back-date this beast so it looks like I posted something in May.

Now... back to arranging books by both topic and format under the cover of night.