neither old nor bold: experiments in mushrooming

Dear Internet,

I had the sweetest, most lovely day today. A real “resistance is fertile” kind of day, so I thought I’d share it with you.

First, I went to a mushrooming workshop at the Glynwood Center. Upstaters, do you know Glynwood Center? They are a Slow Foodie kind of place – it’s 200 acres or so of beautiful fields, meadows, woods, a requisite ancient stone mansion, a sprinkling of handsome outbuildings, and a storybook-cute organic garden (which also functions as a working 50-member CSA). They suffer from your standard Slow Food-type problems (a serious lack of peeps o’ color as well as peeps o’ not very much means), and, like most Slow Foodie-esque endeavors, I have some qualms, but overall it’s a very special little world.

To be fair, they are located in Cold Spring, New York, a painfully cute richie/whitie kind of town. And you can’t really fault Glynwood for not simultaneously solving all the world’s problems. The thing is, they do what they do – promoting an appreciation of local agriculture and local economies – flawlessly and with a sense of seriousness and purpose balanced with excitement that is deeply pleasing to me.

It’s not a neohippie place – they have their shit together (and here I hope my mom doesn’t read this post, or she will call me up asking what’s wrong with hippies. It’s hard to explain to people who wear tie-dye shirts unironically and who also happen to have given birth to you, but, well, a lot. I’m sure you feel me and nothing more needs to be said. Except, perhaps: hacky sack.) Board-of-directors-type people (NYC lawyers staying at their summer homes for the weekend) have sat in on every class I’ve been to, but even they, while comically easy to pick out (tooled Italian loafers, I’m talking to you), tend to be thoughtful and interesting.

My food scientist pal Natalie and I took their mushrooming workshop last year, when the instructor was the very capable, funny, and amazingly well-educated Bill Bakaitis (whose wife is brilliant and fascinating too – and if I had known her rad biography when I took the class and saw her hanging around the margins I would have made it a point to make her my pal). He regaled us with terrifying, hilarious, and bizarre stories of his time as the mushroom-expert contact for the Poison Control hotline – without a doubt, his knowledge has saved many lives.

The workshop consisted of a lecture, a foray (what mushroom hunters call a mushroom hunt), and an analysis of the foray’s findings. We had a great time, but left feeling that what we really learned was how much we didn’t know about mushrooming and how freaked out we were by the very idea of doing it ourselves. There is only so much an 8-hour class can teach you about the thousands upon thousands of mushrooms out there, some of the tastiest of which have nearly identical twins that will stone cold kill you.

In the year since, I’ve made sporadic (a pun!) attempts to identify mushrooms myself, with varying success. I joined the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association and got absolutely no response to my membership dues and emails to join their list serve, which is sad because mushrooming should really be done in the company of people smarter than you. I often find mushrooms and attempt to identify them using an arsenal of guidebooks and notes, but aside from the odd puffball here and there, I have yet to come across the mythic cache of boletes or chanterelles or even morels. I’m getting there – cautiously. I figure if I take this same workshop every year and work diligently throughout the year by myself and with any groups I can find, my skills will slowly improve. I was gratified to see at least three people from last year’s workshop in the class again today – I am not alone in my need for continued hand-holding!

Note to self: those chanterelles you thought you spied last month were cantharellus cinnabarinus (“Cinnabar Chanterelle”) –  perfectly tasty (albeit insanely miniscule), so be on the lookout for more!

This year the workshop was taught by Gary Lincoff, who literally wrote the book on mushrooming in the USA. Really – he wrote the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, by far the definitive guide. I was excited to study with a master teacher, and he lived up to all expectations. My mentor pal Selma (of Bloodroot fame) had mentioned that she used to go on forays with him and his wife in the 1970s and early 1980s, and I mentioned her to him, thinking this rock star of the mycological world wouldn’t remember her. I had forgotten that no one ever forgets Selma, and he was immediately all smiles and said that they learned so much together on their hikes and hunts. He brought his wife over to meet me, and we all basked in the glow of all knowing the same special person. I had an in with the cool kids, albeit cool kids 35 years older than me.

Gary was a great teacher, and the foray was enchantingly beautiful and fascinating.

I walked with Gary and listened to stories about finding honey mushrooms and beach plums and wild daylillies with Selma, then I walked with his lovely wife and talked about my business and her job as a graphic designer. Then I learned that a woman in the class had gone to the same cooking school as me, so we talked food for a while. What a pleasure to be around interesting, engaged people.

After the lecture, I got my book signed (“Lagusta – Hope you enjoy this guide. With Bloodroot and some good mushrooms, what else do you need? – Gary” with a cute little mushroom drawing), my picture taken with Gary (holding a “destroying angel” killer mushroom), snagged some tiny puffballs and hedgehog mushrooms for dinner, and I was on my way.

True puffballs (top left) and a pigskin puffball (scleroderma citinum, middle, one whole and one cut open), foraged by me!

Isn’t it funny when you are really into a certain thing – graphic novels or collecting rare orchids or, say, ecofeminist literary criticism – and one day you find yourself in the presence of an expert in the field whose depth of knowledge so impresses you that you’re totally overwhelmed? I felt that way around Carol Adams the first time I met her, and Selma, and every mushroom expert and most farmers I’ve ever met. I know my face gets all red, because I get so wired up when I’m in the presence of someone who took a passion and dove into it and really did all they could with it. Someone who kept their head down and focused on their craft until they emerged with something shining and beautiful on the other end – a novel or a painting or a painstaking collection, or just a head full of intense, ever-unspooling knowledge.

I fuckin’ love that, yo.

The funny thing is that sometimes I am around actual rock stars, and by and large they are not at all as impressive as farmers with dirt under their fingernails or mycologists with their wax paper and loupes and Latin names rattling so effortlessly off their tongues. With a few notable exceptions, being in a room with rock stars is the most exhausting experience imaginable (though one-on-one they are generally fine people, they are usually accompanied by packs of sycophantic freaks that make you cry with exhausted boredom as soon as you breathe their same air). Being around Gary Lincoff – a rock star in my world, for sure – was exhilarating.

After the foray, I drove back to town and went to Taliaferro’s to pick up some produce for the week, where Pete Taliaferro and I had a good talk about the pros and cons of organic certification, how cute his chickens are (really, they are, and if it’s not vegan to say that oh well), and the purple Brussels sprouts (!) he’s growing. We loaded up my car and he gave me a free cantaloupe, and I was off to work.

I unpacked the car at the kitchen, put away the produce and set about getting the kitchen ready for the onslaught of prepping and cooking that Sunday brings. I like Saturday nights. I don’t do any cooking, just tidying (arguably my most favorite activity in the world), double and triple checking shopping lists for the farmer’s markets tomorrow, double and triple and quadruple checking the schedule of deliveries for Tuesday, cleaning (no one understands my Saturday night cleaning binges, but it’s nice to start the week off with a clean kitchen, you know?), and anything else that needs to be done in order to completely clear my schedule and mind so that I will be fresh for Sunday and Monday.

I did all this accompanied by M*A*S*H, and realized that perhaps another reason I like M*A*S*H so much is because being in a long-distance relationship is a tiny bit like having a loved one off in a war, so I can emphasize with B.J.’s sadness about celebrating his wedding anniversary without Peg, all that kind of stuff. Reminded by these thoughts that my sweetheart is coming home for a little while on Tuesday, I decided that life is wonderful.

In continuation of that theme, I fried up the mushrooms for dinner (delicious!) along with some soup and had the cantaloupe for dessert. Am I the only person in the world who will stop eating an entree as soon as her stomach signals fullness, but will eat fruit (particularly melons) until she literally gets a stomach cramp? My love for fruit is a deep as the deepest ocean, I tell ya.

Then before it got too late, I made a few calls to gather up support for the Stop Crossroads cause, and felt good about doing a tiny bit of my civic duty.

I cleaned the kitchen, packed a few homemade peanut butter cups to eat in bed (I’m not ashamed to admit it), and headed home. On the way home the Saturday night-college town scene was at peak intensity: the sticky, humid streets filled with girls wearing almost nothing and walking that special freshman-girl-half-drunk-wearing-heels-for-the-third-time-ever walk (a sight to see, seriously), frat boy-type dudes hanging out smoking everywhere, and further down the street the faux-homeless kids mingling with the real homeless kids on the stoop, everyone playing guitars and idly tapping idiotic beats on idiotic drums.

It wasn’t super late and I thought of calling up a friend to get a quick drink and enjoy the crazy scene, but I decided against it. I always think I’m going to have a good time when I go out on a Friday or Saturday, but I usually end up contemptuous of the world. Sad but true, dear Internet. Unless I have two drinks, in which case I’m happy and calm and love everyone – which is why I never let myself have more than one drink. It’s not only that half my family are alcoholics, it’s more that two drinks makes me into a liar, and I’m happier being contemptuous and honest and sober.

So now I’m sitting in bed with three cats just where they should be – black cat Sula at the head of the bed, black-and-grey cat Noodle in the middle, and tortoiseshell Cleo at the foot (really – this is how we all sleep. It’s so weird, it’s as if they are trying to fill the spot in the bed where my sweetheart should be. When he’s home everyone sleeps crammed into our little double bed all higgeldy piggeldy.)

Thanks for reading, sleepy Internet.

Love and other indoor sports,

Lagusta Pauline

PS: Do you know the joke referenced in the title? If not, I will explain.

3 Responses to “neither old nor bold: experiments in mushrooming”

  1. Alison

    i am so envious of your mushroom hunt! I couldn’t have gone anyway but, oh how I love fungus. I have been hiking every morning with Percy and I have seen so many interesting specimens, but I leave them for someone who is braver and more knowledgeable than I. Just this morning I saw some of those tiny pinkish-salmon colored ones. I stopped and investigated for a while and then just stood back and admired their beautiful color like little pink freckles all over the rotting log. When I die, I hope I come back as a little pink mushroom. As always, I love reading your blog.


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