mushrooms: a love story.

my mom wasn’t really big on cooking.

she cooked for me and my brother because she had to.  we were growing boys.  back when i was a kid, i don’t think she had the free time to sit down and really dedicate herself to the art of cooking in between all the working, helping with homework, cleaning, and weekend folk dancing.  we made a lot of boxed and instant foods because they were cheap and easy.  looking back, i know it was hard for my mom to raise us alone for most of my childhood.  but she made my life great one pan of slightly burned rice-a-roni at a time.

that being said, i remember my mom making two particular dishes i thought were the bee’s knees.  the first was toaster oven baked chicken legs.  they weren’t anything fancy, just onion soup mix and chicken legs slow cooked in a glass casserole dish.  but i love dark meat, and i love onions, which meant as soon as those suckers ended up on the dinner table, i got sticky all the way up to my ears in delicious chicken juices.

my mom’s second signature dish was “mushrooms and onions.”  and that is exactly what it was.  sliced white button mushrooms and one sliced onion sautéed with salt and pepper.  she didn’t use any black truffles or bacon grease or chicken stock to flavor them.  she didn’t garnish them with fresh parsley or serve them on a bed of greens.  she just cooked mushrooms and onions in a pan with salt and pepper.

and i loved them.  i loved them.  i would feast on those suckers until they were all gone.  no, they weren’t gourmet or restaurant quality or freshly harvested from the mushroom grove in the yard (because we didn’t have one).  they were just food my mommy cooked especially for me, and that was enough to make them amazing.

“mushrooms and onions” taught me two things.  first, occam’s razor should be considered when cooking.  japanese cuisine does a great job of keeping it simple.  some of the world’s most delicious foods don’t need to be seasoned into submission.  they just need a simple pan fry, a little bit of love, and a hungry child to receive them.

second, mushrooms are amazing.  to this day, i love mushrooms.  white button mushrooms aren’t even that good, and i still love them.  my mom kept my mind open as a child.  she intentionally fed me a lot of foods that most people hate as they grow older in an effort to nip picky eating in the bud.

she succeeded with flying colors.

lo and behold, here i am in japan.  i’ve moved on from white button mushrooms.  i eat brown beech mushrooms, white beech mushrooms, enokitake, hen-of-the-woods, butterscotch mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, and pine mushrooms.  moreover, i eat raw fish every week.  i eat fermented soy beans for breakfast on the regular.  i eat sour pickled plums, every type of fish eggs you can imagine, and a variety of animals with tentacles.  and i relish them.

and i have my mom to thank for that.  my busy, loveable, rice-a-roni toasting mom.  i’ll never forget your mushrooms and onions for as long as i cook.

2 thoughts on “mushrooms: a love story.

  1. My parents did this with us- and I still managed to be a bit picky :P I still don’t care for raw tomatoes, or any kind of pickle but pickled beets. But anything else is fair game. See: all the wild animals we consume. As far as mushrooms- Have you ever tried either morels or sheepshead? He took us out morel hunting in spring when I was a kid- they’d got this astounding, earthy, meaty flavor. They’re very, very expensive to buy (usually dehydrated) because they only grow wild. But the old man used to pick them 10-15 pounds at a time. Sheepshead you can slice like steak and sautee.

    • i love sheepshead! here in japan they call them maitake, or “dancing mushrooms,” and i tend to cook them just like you said. although i am guilty of saucing them with a bulgogi like marinade on occasion.

      morels are some of my favorite mushrooms ever. i’m from northern missouri, so i can totally relate to your story about going out with your dad to find them. morels are an excellent example of the kind of food i wish people ate more; overseasoning them is a travesty. all they need is a little butter, some garlic, and a sprinkle of salt to reach their full flavor potential.

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