The Messy, Blessed Now

Mushroom Paté & Entanglement

Bare Bones is written by Beth Dooley and Kip Dooley. Their weekly essays and recipes come from mother-son cooking and wisdom-sharing, and are indebted to many farmers and artists and food workers and home cooks. This edition features a recipe for Mushroom Duxelle. Subscribe for free and share below:

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Washington, D.C. — Downtown boarded up, once more the city empty, except for National Guard and tanks on every street south of K, and a little girl swinging between two adult arms, whom Alli and I see as we drive home from the farmer’s market, just past the shuttered McPherson Metro. She waves to a soldier by a giant glass bank. He lifts a hand from his M-16, and waves back a strange, gloved daisy.

The Apocalypse, I wonder: is it coming? For most of my life I found such questions insane; couldn’t grasp the evangelical lust for rapture, the jihadist quest for annihilation. Is it rapture the Trumpists are seeking – or nothing at all? Are we headed towards a second Civil War? Is it racist to question the term “anti-racist” in a Zoom call with only other white people? If I pick up groceries for a neighbor in need, and if I donate monthly to my local Black Lives Matter, do I still have to call my Republican uncle to have that dreaded conversation?

These are the questions that trouble me from within my absurdly cocooned world of privilege, this clean apartment and quiet neighborhood, these frictionless days before my computer. I think I’m starting to grasp that desire to be subsumed, taken over, taken into the fire, scorched clear to heaven, taken elsewhere, anywhere but this endlessly ambiguous repetition of history, this endless, muddled now.

How on earth are we to be in this horrible moment? What on earth are we to do? Mushrooms may hold clues, if not cures; an antidote, at least, to all that yearning for clarity, purity, that always seems to lead to sharp edges, violence. Mushrooms are the soft magic of the earth right here, the talk between the trees, the mystical sensate mycelial network digesting and recombining all that tastes, to us, like waste. Their strange shapes and subtle flavors slow the mind, and remind how to savor, how to sit, how to wonder, how to digest. There is nothing more worldly and otherworldly than mushrooms.

We’d gone to the market, Alli and I, to pick up mushrooms and drop off a few weeks worth of frozen compost. I learned that five thousand pounds of food scraps are collected each week from four D.C. markets. Hundreds of volunteers haul heavy bags of slop to empty lots where bacteria, and microbacteria, and worms feast and shit and turn it to soil that becomes the bed of community gardens like the one on 14th, between a parking lot and a gas station, where Alli grows herbs and the flowers she fetched and delivered by bike to our friends who were living alone last spring when the lockdown began.

Here I pause to remember that I’m alive – that we’re alive. Here I pause to give thanks that I am healthy, and I am writing, from my life to yours, from our life to ours. Suddenly, hopelessly glad we’re still here, tonight I will cook a heap of mushroom paté for my beloved, from a recipe my mother made by feel, by smell, cutting rough and not thinking too much. I hear a voice rising from the earth in this: Do your work, do your best, wrestle, wrangle, then eat, then rest. You are blessed.

Inspired by:

  • Ross Gay vs. Entanglement - The VS Podcast

  • Angels in America - Tony Kushner and a supercast including Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Mary Louise-Parker (Special Series from HBO)

  • “All My Friends are Finding New Beliefs” - Christian Wiman (via Poetry Unbound)

  • Ancestral Lineage Healing with Dr. Daniel Foor

Minneapolis, Minn. — I’m sipping a cup of chaga tea this morning -- yes, tea made from mushrooms, foraged from a birch tree on the shores of Lake Superior. It tastes slightly of damp woods, maple sweet, a little bit bitter. Much as I’d like another cup of coffee, chaga is a more grounding source of morning warmth. It goes great with a splash of cream.

Over the past few years, mushrooms have burst into popular consciousness thanks to new research on their wide-ranging health benefits, and their role as the plant world’s“underground internet.” In clinical trials, psychoactive mushrooms are showing miraculous results in treating addiction and mood disorders. Mushrooms could even be used to clean up oil spills and break down toxic waste.

Did I mention that they taste good? Rich in umami – the oft-forgotten, subtle “fifth taste” in seared beef, soy sauce, and parmesan cheese – mushrooms add a subtle, meaty quality to dishes. Tonight, I’ll cook a whole basket from Northwoods Mushrooms into a rich paté to use in pastas, or serve on polenta and flatbreads.

Northwoods farmers Jeremy and Aimee McAdams cultivate a wide variety on hardwood logs. Jeremy tells me that many mushrooms you’ll find in the grocery store are mass-produced in sawdust basements. Those grown on logs like oak and cherry are firmer and more flavorful: “The mushroom has to work harder to break down into the bark and extract the nutrients, so it develops more character.”

Jeremy and Aimee grow a range of varieties, all high in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins: 

  • Shiitake: a mild smoky flavor and meaty texture, great for full-bodied soups, omelets, and rice dishes, grown on red and burr oak.

  • Oyster: slightly sweet and woodsy, with a firm texture. Great for soups, grown on aspen.

  • Nameko: producing a cashew aroma and a mild nutty flavor, these are great for risotto and quiche, on pizza or bruschetta. Grown on black cherry.

  • Lion's Mane: These shaggy-looking mushrooms grow on oak and have a sweet flavor and firm texture, reminiscent of lobster. Ideal for pasta and risotto. Used commonly in China to enhance concentration, memory and mental clarity. 

I like to keep packages of dried mushrooms on hand for last minute soups, stews, pasta, and rice dishes when I don’t have access to fresh ones. They keep for months, and require a simple soak before cooking. The leftover liquid makes a fine stock.


Mixed Mushroom Duxelle

Serves 4 to 6

This thick, rich mushroom paté is delicious tossed with pasta, served over polenta, or spread on bruschetta. It will store for about a week in the refrigerator, three months in the freezer.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup finely chopped shallot

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 pound assorted mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, lions mane, oyster, etc), trimmed and finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons tomato paste

¼ cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the shallot, garlic, mushrooms, and thyme. Stir as the mushrooms release their juices, and continue stirring until the pan becomes slightly dry, about 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until it begins to brown, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine, scraping up any of the bits that have clung to the pan, and cook until the liquid has reduced to a glaze. Season with the salt and pepper to taste, and serve over pasta, polenta or bread. 

When shopping for mushrooms, look for firm mushrooms that are not marked or show any wetness. Store in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator. 

To use dried mushrooms, place them into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 5 minutes until plump. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and then cook as you would fresh mushrooms. Use the reserved soaking liquid for soups, stews, etc. 

Learn more and buy Northwoods Mushrooms, Clayton, Wisc.

What’s nourishing us:

“Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus” - Nic Fleming (BBC)

“What is Umami?” Rachel Sugar (Vox)

“Magic Mushrooms and the Healing Trip” - Michael Pollan, produced by Sky Dylan-Robbins (The New Yorker)

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change our Minds, and Shape our Futures, by Merlin Sheldrake

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, by Tradd Cotter

The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms & Lichgens of North America by Robert Rogers

Thanks for reading, friends. Join us next time as we celebrate Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of St. Brigid that marks the halfway point between winter and spring. Write us back by replying to this email. You can reach Beth directly at .


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