(a love-hate relationship with my mother’s kitchen)
The holidays are a great time to reflect on home, family, career, and the direction of my life. No really! I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my family this year. I was thinking back to my mother’s kitchen…
They were slimy. I remember it quite clearly. They were really, really slimy. Oh, and brownish grey. Not greyish brown, which would almost have been acceptable. They were brownish grey. And slimy. Did I mention that?
If like me you grew up in the decade of folk rock and worrying about Vietnam (as a place to be sent in tacky khakis as opposed to visiting it with your new boyfriend), you might have an inkling of what I’m talking about. Remember I’m a chef.
Remember them? They came in cans. They were slimy. They were brownish grey. The 60s were a time when mothers everywhere were cooking things that came out of cans, out of boxes, out of new plastic pouches that allowed some mythical jolly green giant to preserve his veggies for later consumption “just like fresh”. You can still see those mushrooms at many pizza places.
I loathed them. My family knew for many years that I hated mushrooms. In fact it wasn’t until visiting an aunt during my college years that I had actual, fresh mushrooms. There she was in the kitchen (my aunt, not the mushrooms, well, actually, they were there too), whipping up a stir-fry of green beans and freshly sliced mushrooms.
Now mind you, it isn’t that I didn’t know what a mushroom looked like. I’d seen them in the grocery store. But my mom wasn’t one of the people buying them. Neither were the moms of any of my friends. But here was my aunt with a package of them, slicing and cooking! I waited for them to turn slimy. And brownish grey. They didn’t.
So what’s a boy to do? I politely tasted them. Oh my. These were good!
It turned out they came in many edible varieties. Okay, I knew that theoretically. I just hadn’t know they didn’t all turn out, well, you know…
I started experimenting. Did you know that peas actually do come in pods? It’s not just an expression. And there are things you can do with them that don’t involve butter sauce. Carrots can be had in ways other than sticks and candied! Hell, veggies aside, did you know that meat can be cooked in ways that don’t involve Shake ‘n Bake, cans of Campbell’s Soup, or Hamburger Helper?
Now don’t misunderstand. I loved my mother’s kitchen growing up. I learned how to cook there. And, for the time, and for someone who had given up her career to raise four kids, she was quite progressive in the kitchen. She taught us all how to cook. Admittedly much of it involved cans, boxes, bottles, and frozen packages, but it was a start. We didn’t grow up on “fast food” – not that there was as much of it then as there is today. I probably only ate at McDonald’s half a dozen times prior to adulthood.
And, in truth, other than having a list of foods that I grew up hating (didn’t we all?), I loved eating what my mother cooked. It’s more of that whole hindsight thing. I discovered later on that I hadn’t needed to grow up hating so many foodstuffs. I suppose that’s part of what reflecting back on family is all about…
So what’s this all lead to? I have friends who hate certain foods. In fact, I could point to almost any of my friends and they could list off the things they hate. Many of these they’ve hated since childhood. I’ve had the good fortune to bring some of them over and re-introduce them to these childhood foods, or go out to dinner and do the same. Cooked fresh, and perhaps cooked well for the first time in their lives. Okay, sometimes I have to double-dare them to re-try the food, but it’s worth it.
If there’s one of those little menu items left over from your early years. One of those things that your mother made over and over again trying to get you to like it. And, very possibly made badly because, well, if like mine, they started out with bad or mediocre ingredients… perhaps it’s time to give them another try? Oh, and I still pick the slimy, brownish grey mushrooms off my pizza slices…
Simple and easy to prepare, this recipe will get you over that loathing of mushrooms. If it doesn’t, well then, you just don’t like them!
2 lbs mixed mushrooms (3-5 varieties would be great)
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of butter
¼ cup of olive oil
Cut mushrooms into bite sized pieces. Heat oil and butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and mushrooms and a sprinkling of salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until they are slightly browned. Add the white wine, soy sauce and cream and continue heating until the liquid starts to simmer. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to low, and continue cooking for 2-3 more minutes – the liquid should thicken into a gravy-like texture. Remove lid, add pepper to taste (you probably won’t need more salt with the soy sauce in the dish). Serve ladled over thick slices of country bread.
Serves 2 as a main course, 4-6 as a side course.
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.