Saturday, September 14, 2013

Transitions, White Button Mushrooms, and Clams

I am a fan of the transitional seasons.  This cool air somehow actually is correctly called "crisp." It's hard not to think of the savage weather and nature's backbite elsewhere -- still, the sky here is perfectly blue and the pines sway.  And the sound that has the felines jumping is the same sound I struggle to decipher each year at this time:  the first acorns falling.

Would that we could transition so flawlessly.

Don't worry, I'm not in a moralistic essay mood.  You lucked out today.

However, I have the fidgets.  Dancing legs, jerky hands, twitchy eyes.  It's one of those days requiring a decision:  whether wearing myself out, most likely in the kitchen, for the pleasure of enticing aromas and edible accomplishments will be worth the debilitating pain that will hit around 4 pm and stay a few days.

I'm worried about Fred's ears.  This does Fred, nor Fred's ears, any good at all, and I surely don't need additional fret material.  Still, this is ridiculous.  Way back in March, he lost hearing in his right ear suddenly and was badgered into a visit to the medics.  They saw serious infection in both ears, and prescribed an ineffective antibiotic and some drops.  He spent about six to eight weeks in the "eh?" mode, then got sufficiently better such that he could, in an act of pure machismo, ignore the problem again.  The medics still saw infection but were going with that cutting edge "watch and wait" strategy.  So last week, Fred is suddenly pretty exhausted again, and Lo!  He announces, "I can't hear out of my right ear at all... and I don't feel very well." And you know that's true, because he made an immediate appointment with the doc and did not go to his ukulele band practice.

None of that is why I am worried about Sweet Fred's ears.  It's what the doc said she saw.  "Raw, bloody eardrums." *That* is what worries me.  She's prescribed the same treatment because, I suppose, it was so freaking successful the first time.  I did highly athletic and artistic cheerleading maneuvers when Fred protested the antibiotic and she duly called in a different one.  That's my adorable health care consumer, advocating for himself!  Now, if I could just get His ADHD-Ness to go pick the new antibiotic up from the pharmacy, we'd have it made in the shade, we'd be cooking with gas, we'd be doing the hokey-pokey.  Or something.

Having lived with raging infections and almost constant high levels of inflammation for... well, at least since the inception of this everlovin' blog, I can attest to the fact that persistent infection/inflammation tires a soul out. So I've a case of the Guilts.  Fred has been into calling himself an "old man," daily staring death in the face, etc.  I, of course, have ignored this aberrant and manipulative behavior.  And now must see to it that the poor guy gets the best napping spots, curative foods, miraculous spices, the most angelic cat of the hour, the softest of throws (I am the Queen of Throws), and constant encouragement carefully mixed with adequate commiseration.

Fred is King of Pasta, if I am Queen of Throws.  He makes Scott Conant look like an amateur.  However, part of this Ear Thing has been a propensity for prepared foods, frozen meals, and such -- a propensity helped along by my lack of activity in the kitchen.  If you've read much of my blog, you know that I start most days by loudly whining:  "O dear Lord, I don't feel good." See?  I even give up distinguishing between correct adverbs and incorrect adjectives.  We are talking serious pain, fever, and general... O dear Lord... MALAISE.

In the last two weeks, however, I've made myself prosecute a war against Fred's frozen foods and pre-fab concoctions that contain enough sodium and unpronounceable chemical agents and preservatives to make anyone feel like an "old man." And last night, my Dear Readers, I peaked.

Even when Fred is ill, I make him do the grocery shopping.

Not true.  I can't do the grocery shopping.  So, if Fred would like to eat, Fred must do the market runs. As mentioned, my guy has a full-fledged case of adult ADHD, so these trips can be exacting and frustrating, both for the shopper and the one waiting at home, praying that he adheres to the list.

The Grocery List.  Source of goodness, spawn of evil. I know I've written a few posts about shopping, and since I wrote them, and I am writing this, it's all from my point of view.  Oh, right, I just remembered -- one of my best efforts involved the purchase of a laxative.  That figures. But I've an imagination, and ears (both functional and not in the least bloody), so I know that the invigorating atmosphere of our local mega-store can induce splattered concentration patterns within mere minutes for Fred.  Or, he will concentrate so very well that he enters the twilight zone of hyperconcentration, hyperfocus.  That's when, after leaving with a list of fifteen items, he will return with fifteen versions of one of those items, each with its own peculiar story. Fifteen different kinds of cumin, from seed to ground, from organic to fragrant with pesticide.  The other fourteen items?  Forgotten.

So the art of The List matters.  I try to stick to restocking, which cuts down on the need to choose between brands, sizes, colors, etc.  But there are times when a body wants something different -- lately, for me, it has been root vegetables.  I want beets.  Turnips.  Rutabagas. Celeriac. On that Pyramid quiz show, the correct response would be: "Vegetables you can buy in the produce section of most any grocery store."

But the answer I get is always, "I looked.  They don't have any."

This answer applies to a new brand of shampoo, as well as to tomato paste.  It's the same response when I put down sherry or bay leaves.

Then there is the ENORMOUS problem of Fred's innate sweetness.  I will usually give up on my desired list item after two or three trips to the store, and two or three "I looked and they don't have any." I no longer ask him whether he asked an employee for assistance -- that would be the same as suggesting he ask someone for directions were we ever lost in this massively ill-designed metro area.  So I stop writing it on the list, give up whatever recipe or food hankering was in play, and go back to the basic restocking format.

But then, aha!  Fred will be shopping and suddenly SEE the former list item in question.  In his sweetness, he will then usually purchase every bit of the item that is on display.  It might be three months since I listed it, and while both need and desire for whatever it is has long disappeared, Fred's sweetness raises the importance of the item like poor Lazarus trying to take an unperturbed dirt nap.

I went through a mushroom phase recently.  I was practicing making sweet and savory rustic tarts, and a caramelized mushroom and onion tart is a heavenly thing.  But in the interest of not consuming so many pounds of butter (using Julia Child's pastry recipe) and preserving our lives, my tart-making was put on hiatus.  With certain items, given the economic realities of life here in Tête de Hergé (also rationing, oy!), I often make a parenthetic entry on the grocery list: "buy only if on sale." So it goes with mushrooms.

Okay, enough back-story.

Under the influence, but unbeknownst to him, of bloody eardrums and a raging infection, tired from chauffeuring some sick old woman around to her medical appointments, Fred made a run to the store.  The old woman had given the old man a short, restock sort of a list, because she was cognizant of his fatigue, and does love him.

But the Evil Produce Manager decided to put all of his freaking mushrooms on "Manager's Special." Not just "regular" special, "Manager's Special." Super-duper special.  And so it came to pass that our refrigerator was filled to the brim with mushrooms, all, as they say, "on the verge..."

It's a wonderful food,  the mushroom.  I just consulted a nutrition site for info about raw white button mushrooms (the exotic type with which we insulated the fridge) and read:

This food is low in Saturated Fat and Sodium, and very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron, Zinc and Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin D, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Selenium.
Now, really, isn't that grand?

Oh, hell, there's more to the back-story.  This is commonplace, I believe.  It's like the war about how to properly hang toilet paper.  In this instance, of course, I mean, do you wash your mushrooms, clean them in some other fashion, or just use the suckers as they come, removing the obviously gross, such as slime and gobs of dirt?  I despise a wet mushroom and opt for the paper towel method of vaguely wiping at them. Fred, dear heart, is phobic.  Wash them, scrub them, and don't you dare use those nasty stems!  It's an argument I cannot win, especially if he watches me cook.  (I've gotten used to gorging on mounds of amputated stems while he makes sickening gagging noises.)

Yesterday was one of those days.  Our beloved neighbor, Richard, still high from adding a male grandchild to his collection of six girl grandbabies, came banging on our door in search of help starting his car.  Richard, like everyone we know, cannot fathom our sleeping habits, mostly because we have none.  It was about 8 am and Fred had gone to bed at about 6:45.  I was bebopping around, denying a 100+ fever at that time of day and converting temperature points into domestic energy. So after warning Richard that Fred might be a bit... dim, I woke the poor guy up and off they went to do guy stuff.

The thing about Fred, and me, too, and perhaps it's true of you -- once wakened?  We're up. So with his hour's worth of sleep, he made coffee and I indulged in my second SuperMug-sized Italian roast.  We did doff our hats to sleep, out of respect, by drinking the coffee in bed, while having a stimulating discussion of "What We Can Do With Mushrooms Today."

The wise among you are probably shouting about how nothing makes a better "new boy grandchild" gift than thirty pounds of white button mushrooms, on the verge.  Well, we're just not as sharp as you are: Harrumph.

Fred finally fell asleep, fell being the operative word, as I witnessed the weaving pattern he made just before collapse.  Competely wired, I began to make the world's largest batch of spaghetti sauce.

It turned out to be a thing of beauty.  We had no tomato paste, of course, that being one of those items that are no longer carried in the modern grocery... so I worked with some of the wondrous dehydrated tomatoes that Brother-Unit Tumbleweed supplies by mail, as well as several varieties of canned 'maters.  Through years of List Training, I have a great selection of either no-sodium or low sodium unseasoned diced tomatoes.  That way, if there is any screwing up of the tomatoes, it's on me.  Don't get me started on the amount of sodium in canned goods, and the pre-seasoning, in general, that has run so rampant as to ruin the fabric of this country...

I decided to opt for doing more of a traditional "gravy," slow cooked, layer upon layer of flavor.  Nutty garlic, sweet onions, so on and so forth.  And a ton of chunky-chopped shrooms.  I showed the mushrooms the water, grabbed a paper towel for looks, and pretty much just rough chopped them as they came.  No slime, minimal dirt.  I even minced the stems so nicely that they'd impart great flavor but not be visible to the naked eyes of this old woman and her old man.

Things may have gotten a bit out of hand.  I know that simple is best.  I know that less is more.  But I was febrile and trying to balance a very unbalanced sauce.  It was, you see, a bit heavy on the mushroom side of the flavor profile.  Out came the sherry and some exotic vinegars.  A bit of shredded this, a touch of sugar.
And then... in the back of what I consider the Canned Tomato Cabinet, I found a huge can of clams.

I hate clams.  But Fred loves them!  And considers their liquor divine.  So once I had balanced earthy, sweet, tart, and various kinds of spices, and the "gravy" had married it all together well... I turned off the blessèd flame and added the can of clams, mixed it all well, a big smile on my prednisone moon face, and covered it to let the clams do their thing unperturbed.

Just as I washed the last dirty dish and pot, Fred got up (again).  That's an amazing phenomenon, one worthy of scientific inquiry.  I finish vacuuming, and Fred says, "Is there anything I can do to help?"  I finish laundry, and Fred says, "Can I swap that load from the washer to the dryer for ya?"  Funny, though, that the tendency will lapse after instances where my brain explodes all over the ceiling.

But I was happy, so we made more coffee.  The First Lady would be proud of our fluid consumption, and I know my cardiologist would have adored my heart rate.

As Fred is Pasta King, a few hours later he made the pasta.  By which I mean he boiled the dry pasta until it was perfectly al dente and sufficiently salted to destroy my sodium-sparing efforts.  We each had two heaping bowls and declared it a good thing.

The troubles began about an hour later.  Not for me, just for Fred.

And, of course, it had to be the unwashed mushroom, and those minced stems.  I have, evidently, built up an immunity to mushroom detritus over the many years I've been munching on that earthy delight.

Fred never blamed me, or the mushrooms.  He was too weak.

But I think it could have been the clams.

On the up side of things, Fred didn't mention his ears for the rest of the night.  And when he went to bed, he stayed there, zonked.  He is still there, in fact, and it is now 1 pm.

There are leftovers, lots of leftovers.  And I have a feeling they are mine, all mine.  Fred is likely to insist on prepackaged, frozen foods, and may even eat alone in his office.

What am I going to do with the rest of these mushrooms?

Enjoy the beautiful day, as I hope you are beneath the same delicate china sky, surrounded by the same crisp air.

© 2013 L. Ryan

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