battle 2–days 2 & 3–mushrooms

Oh mushrooms.

I don’t actually feel that bad about struggling with mushrooms more than squash since mushrooms aren’t really a vegetable. This is total practice, scrimmage, powder puff.

Tuesday night I got off the portabella crazy train and tried regular ole white mushrooms. With meat. Actual meat. Not pretend portabellas-taste-like-steak meat, actual meat. I saw my friend Sarah F.–who has had a lot of success getting her husband to eat vegetables by covering them with meat and cheese but not onions, so I love her a lot–over the weekend in Portland. She suggested I try stuffed mushrooms with Italian sausage, and when I asked her how she makes hers, she recited her own recipe from memory. Not only was Sarah’s from-memory recipe recitation amazing, it included this gem: Add cheese. When you think it looks like enough, add more. Sarah. Wonderful.

stuffed mushies

The stuffed mushrooms were the easiest meal to make yet since I was pretty familiar with preparing the majority of the ingredients (after a lifetime of Hamburger Helper, I have at least learned how to brown meat, which was the most labor-intensive part of putting together this mushie meal….well, that and grating cheese, which tired my arm out a little). They were also the prettiest. Even though I made them as our main dish/dinner, I got very excited about how lovely they were and started planning our next party just so I can serve stuffed mushrooms hors d’oeuvres .

finished stuffed mushies

And they weren’t bad! They were kind of good! I considered them for a long time and whether what I was enjoying was the meat and cheese or the mushrooms (obviously it was the meat and cheese), but I really tried to pay attention to the mushrooms and I finally decided I didn’t hate them. The texture is still weird, but maybe it’s just because it’s a new taste, a new feel, and I’m just not used to it, but if I didn’t hate it, then it’s something I can work with. White mushrooms, in.

Then I shared them with Melissa R., whose husband is staunchly anti-vegetable (see? other people like me are definitely out there, they’re just mostly dudes), and tried to convince her to convince him to try them, but he’s feeling betrayed by my little project and isn’t really speaking to me right now (OK, he wasn’t home), but she loved them. Success!

Even though a large part of this project is learning how to cook, if I’m screwing up half the shit because my learning curve is steep, it won’t bode well for my battle with the vegetables. So I’m treating myself to a night out every now and then to let an expert cook for me. Last night, David and I and some friends had dinner at Parker’s on Ponce, a little fancy pants independent steakhouse in Decatur, because once upon a time Melissa force fed me a mushroom there and I didn’t vomit in her face. The mushrooms at Parker’s are served as a side, and even though everyone keeps encouraging me to try them in smaller bits, like cut up and sautéed as part of a marsala (I don’t even know what that is) or soup, I think I can only beat these monsters if I fight them with a fury.

Parkers

I asked our server a bunch of questions about the mushrooms–what kind they were (button), how they were prepared (marinated in red wine and sautéed)–before briefly faltering when I saw they had grilled portabella something or other on the menu. I mean, I really didn’t love my portabella and the idea was to come here to have an expert cook mushrooms for me….but for fuck’s sake, I really wanted an actual steak. Meat, meat, meat. I ordered the 8-ounce filet with a side of mashed potatoes and merlot mushrooms. And. They. Were. De-licious.

Note to Bethany: Julie—2. Vegetables/Fungi—0.


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battle 2–day 1, part 2–mushrooms

Well, my sister, who is more or less a supporter of this project, will be happy to know my portabella burgers were a total failure, so even if it wasn’t mushroom week and I wasn’t already planning to try something new every night, I would be forced to cook them another way again tonight. I’m starting to think this was a terrible idea.

I went to the farmer’s market to stock up on supplies for this week’s battles with mushrooms. When I got there I realized I had been shopping for the same 12 things for so long I had no idea where to look for any of the new items on my list. When I couldn’t find half the ingredients, I decided I shouldn’t go to the farmer’s market by myself anymore and I left rather dejected. I did manage to pick up portabellas for the first battle, but that was it, so I have to go back with a chaperone for the rest of this week’s mushies.

When I got home, I did the same thing I did last week, I sat around and waited. It’s not like I hadn’t learned my lesson from last week, I had. It’s just that I was pretty sure it wouldn’t take long to grill a few pieces of mold. I was right about that. And I was wrong about a pretty similar thing I was wrong about last week, which was assuming the sitting and waiting would be fine, even though I don’t know how to grill. What I learned about grilling is that it takes a while to heat a charcoal grill. People who grill things know this. I do not grill things. I did not know this.

Many people suggested portabellas to me as a good introduction to mushrooms. I was skeptical of this advice because of its sheer size, but people assured me, no, Julie, you will be fine, it tastes just like steak. I believe you will not be shocked to learn this opinion came from a vegetarian. Having never so much as touched a mushroom in my whole life, to avoid mucking up my dinner I prepared the portabellas exactly the way friends and the Internet told me to: I marinated them in olive oil and balsamic vinegar—which I understood to mean washing them, something I assume you’re supposed to do with all vegetables to avoid salmonella and the plague, and then dropping them in a casserole dish filled with oil and vinegar—and an hour later when the coals were fired up, I tossed them on the grill where they promptly combusted. David said it was because of the olive oil, but I had done exactly what everyone told me to do, so I believe everyone’s instructions should have included more specific warnings on how not to explode my portabellas.

cooked mushies

I added provolone cheese just before I took the charred mushrooms off the grill, then I topped them with some fresh tomatoes and viola, portabella charcoal bricks. They looked beautiful. They tasted like crap. Chewy, oily, burnt crap.

Mushrooms—1, Julie—0.


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battle 2–day 1, part 1–mushrooms

I’m a little behind the eight ball on preparation for this week’s battle with mushrooms because David and I were on vacation most of last week and only arrived back in town this morning, on the red-eye. So I’m exhausted, unprepared and kind of uninterested in taking down mushrooms right now. Cooking, blah.

Nevertheless, bleary-eyed and bored, I mapped out a preliminary plan for this week, which will be a little different than most weeks. For one thing, mushrooms aren’t actually vegetables, they’re fungi. I don’t know what to do with that information. I considered removing them from the list, but they’re such a ubiquitous food that I felt I would be doing a disservice to myself by not including them. The other thing is that because there are so many types of mushrooms, I’m going to try something new every night with a different kind of mushie rather than checking out for the week after I win tonight. I know, I’m getting crazy with the rules. Calm down.

Tonight I’m making grilled portabella burgers, which I chose because I’m hoping I won’t have to do too much other than slap that bad boy on some bread and call it a day. But despite how easy I think the cooking part will be, I am most afraid of actually eating portabellas than I am any other mushroom. They’re so big and it will be the main event on my plate (I mean, really, it’s so big), so there’s basically no escaping it. It just now occurred to me that I don’t have a back-up plan for if I fail. Like, if I truly hate portabellas, what am I going to do for dinner tonight? Blastit.

I have pretty solid plans for three other nights–Sarah L.’s creamy mushroom risotto with rosemary pork loin, Sarah F.’s stuffed mushrooms, and Parker’s on Ponce’s side of some-kind-of-mushroom-but-I-don’t-know-which-one-I-just-know-I-was-forced-to-eat-one-once-and-it-didn’t-kill-me with the bloodiest red meat of my choice, mmmmmm (I’m taking a break from cooking and going out for this one)–but I need one more good suggestion for Friday. Something easy.

For christ’s sake, it’s only Week 2.


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that one time i realized i needed to grow the fuck up

I hate vegetables. So I don’t eat them.

“You don’t eat vegetables?!” I guess it’s a natural question for grownups to ask another grownup. It’s the consternation and obsessive need for verification I don’t understand. “Brussels sprouts?” Come on. I mean, I hate vegetables, and you’re going with Brussels sprouts right out of the gate? No. I don’t eat goddamn Brussels sprouts. “Eggplant?” No. “Asparagus?” For blerg’s sake, no. “Mushrooms?” No. “Peas?” No. And on and on until someone finally lands on something like…corn. Yes, OK, fine. I eat corn.

StupidVeggies

I’m always surprised at how galvanizing my hatred of vegetables is. Friends, family, total strangers, new acquaintances, colleagues, whoever is standing in earshot learn this news and truly fear for my life. They rally around me and campaign for their favorite vegetables. “Julie, I really think if you just give artichokes a chance, you’ll see, you’re a fart sucking idiot.” Friends have suggested donating my (live) body to science to be studied for surviving on little more than meat and potatoes. People I meet in passing profess an exaggerated, undying love for vegetables, enumerating them one by one, pausing to ask again, “Are you sure you don’t like kale? It’s my favorite.” Still don’t. And every single one of them swears he or she will be the revolutionary who will change it all for me and that this will be the year I will learn to love Swiss chard (this will also be the year I learn Swiss chard is not cheese). People really love vegetables. And I find this shocking. Was I the only child in America hiding peas in my milk and feeding broccoli to the family dog? Hating vegetables is rooted in something, somewhere real. I know I’m not alone.

 

Then one day in the early summer of 2008 life as I knew it took a sharp right turn. I mean, utter upheaval. It happened at a dinner party hosted by grownups and attended by adults, so it was assumed, understood, a given that I would act right and polite and do my due dinner party diligence by not puking on their food. Until they served a caprese salad. A caprese salad, as you may or may not know, is a tomato. It also has some cheese and basil on it, but it’s basically a tomato. And tomatoes I do not eat. Because why? That’s right, it’s a vegetable. And you naysayers who want to call it a fruit can stuff it, because I don’t eat fruit either. Eight or so of us sat at the table; eight or so pieces of tomato and mozzarella rested beautifully on the platter. The man sitting to my right took his tomato and began to pass the platter in my direction, as if he expected me to take it from him and maybe take a tomato and maybe pass the platter to the woman on my left. I just stared. I thought of suddenly feigning illness and making a quick, sick-like getaway to avoid contact with the dreaded tomato and possibly achieving my goal of not puking on my friends’ dining table. Then I began to have psychotic fantasies of the tomato leaping off the platter and eating me, which is totally something a vegetable would do. During all this mind wandering, the man to my right had managed to maneuver the platter into my hands, and there we sat: the killer tomatoes and me. Finally I selected the “salad” with the smallest tomato and the biggest piece of cheese and settled in to meet my slow, miserable, painful death by tomato.

Caprese Salad

But holy for serious, I liked it.

And that was the day I became a bona fide grownup.

In the transition to my new world order, I realized these sad facts about my life, pre-grownup:

  1. My husband, who is an excellent and knowledgeable cook, had all but stopped eating vegetables because of me
  2. Because we could never agree on what to cook together at home, we had established a lifestyle of eating out almost all the time, which negatively affects both our waists and our wallets
  3. And because I never really needed to, I never learned to cook

So I decided to kill all these goddamn birds with one stone. I’m going to take on vegetables. It’s me…against them. If you’re the betting kind, bet on me. I’m the winning kind. I win shit.


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