Not long ago, a neighbor said he’d been in the woods of Connecticut and found a hen-of-the-woods mushroom, and he was giving it to us to eat. If you have not seen such a mushroom, it is sort of like a towering floppy pinecone. It looks like this:


That is not a small tomato. For example, this mushroom can wear the same size hat you wear:


And it’s decent at a party:


I found the mushroom flummoxing, and also suspected that taking and eating a heretofore unknown mushroom foraged by a man whose last name one doesn’t know might lead to a double funeral where the eulogy would also serve as a PSA not to eat gift fungi. Additionally, since having the bike that replaced my stolen bike stolen (stolenbikestolen stolenbikestolen), my generally low-level trust in my fellow man has diminished to a near-vanishing point. But my husband made a lemony mushroom thing with pasta, and after watching him not die 10 minutes after eating that dish, I also ate it, mostly because I did not want to cook something else.

The next question, though, was that 90 percent of the mushroom was still there, and did we want nine times as much lemony mushroom pasta? Did we want to store the hen, which was of the woods, in the refrigerator, so that it looked like Fraggle Rock every time we opened the door? Did we know why the mushroom released the smell it did when it was in the refrigerator? Did we answer these questions? No. We just moved it around from counter to refrigerator shelf, and every confrontation I had with it renewed my jumpiness. I handled my feelings by cleaning out the refrigerator around the mushroom, when it was in there, and found worse things. Here is your trigger warning if you care for avocados. Look away!


I will tell you something true: I spend more time thinking about what would be a good addition to the compost bin than I spend thinking about what to put into a pot for dinner. I gather brown paper bags and sprinklings of pine needles and ash from the fireplace and apple cores and liquified parsley like a cackling witch who is psyched for fresh soil in three months. Why?  Because it helps negate wastefulness. Because an enormous amount of my effort expended on cooking is for naught. I have made from scratch healthy versions of foods my kids have loudly claimed to like, such as chicken nuggets and tater tots, and so I have moved from presenting leafy greens to presenting puffy browns and the three-year-old will still cry and refuse to eat them. I am trying to abide by the advice of a book that instructs parents to decide what food to give kids and when, and let the kids decide whether and how much they will eat (it is called “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense”). It is supposed to cut down on nagging and negotiating, give kids agency within bounds, and prevent them from developing sugar lust by bargaining for dessert or putting food in “good” and “bad” categories. But I also try to send them subtle messages, like this:


and I avoid overtly punitive food selections, like this:


And you think, or I think, Yay! Reason will prevail! And you turn to simple foods, like cereal and apples, but then you (move to the second person and) you are eating your cereal and turn away and turn back and it looks like this:


and you’re like, Fine! There’s an armless asexual doll in my cereal bowl, but I was basically done anyway. What else is going on? Is there a pterodactyl drinking from the toilet bowl? Super! Is Drake upstairs, going through my drawers, trying on my winter stuff, stretching out my sweaters? That’s cool, I like a roomy sweater.


Do you need me to let you into my drawers?


Drake? Would you like a big mushroom?





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