Every other night, after a rehearsal in Hollyweird, when driving by a local market with a display of pumpkins and straw upfront, I swing my car into its parking lot and begin wandering aimlessly along the aisles.
And I don’t really know what I’m looking for: Sometimes, I pick up the discounted apples and try to detect the smell of the gardens from which they’ve been gathered. Would those gardens be from somewhere up north: From the latitude that keeps teasing me with dreams of my future home? Or would they come from the East Coast, where the dreams of my former home have long been put to rest?
Most of the time, these perfect looking apples have been shined with some waxy substance, and the smell is long gone. Still, I insist on trying the next batch.
And then, there are the pears! They are starting to come in different colors, these days, and in various degrees of graininess. And that texture: It is unmistakable in desserts! And they are best accompanied with some slowly simmered ganache or a fuss-deserving caramel. Lazily, they glisten on top of paper-thin crepes, like slivers of amber from the coast of my very former home, on the Baltic Sea. And they smell — like Indian Summer and bedtime stories, in the countryside.
Ooh, corn! It’s white and super sugary this season! I grabbed a whole batch the other night: “10 for 2”. How ever have I forgotten about the existence of corn, for this entire year? Sometimes, it’s as yellow as the petals of sunflowers. That type — is a bit denser, and it doesn’t fall apart in stews. But this white creation should be nibbled on, after dinner, instead of a handful of honey roasted nuts.
This time of year, mushrooms take over at least half of an aisle, at the market. The portabellas are always de-stemmed and tamed into some styrofoam and plastic containers. But once unleashed — they are each bigger than my palm. The baby bellas, despite being the most regular visitors all throughout the year, are especially juicy these days; and the criminis always remind me of the bellas’ darker-skinned cousins.
And what in the world are these? They’re tiny and come in a clump, with a common root still attached.
I study the grains of soil caught in between each miniature creature; and I remember the thrill I felt if ever finding a generous gathering like this, in a forest of my most original home, left behind so long ago.
I wouldn’t call upon the help of other gatherers, back then. Quietly, I would kneel onto the mossy ground, that chewed and slurped underneath my rubber boots; and I would twist my finds out of the soil, by their common stem. (That’s the secret with mushrooms: It’s best to twist them out. That way, the fragile web of their roots doesn’t get destroyed.)
And the best part about such a find is that, most likely, there are more of these creatures around: For they’re rarely solitary. And so, I would continue kneeling, scanning the ground for more hidden caps. With my heart racing, I would whisper to every tiny creature I would locate under a leaf:
“Come here, you lil’ munchkin!”
And I would imagine some forest gnomes scowling at me from branches: Those mushroom caps were meant to be their hats. (Don’t you know: Gnome are very dapper dressers!)
The black trumpets — always freak me out a little. How can these things possibly be eatable? They look like dog ears!
And the oyster mushrooms — I prefer them dried.
An entire basket of loose shiitakes attacked my nose with a whiff of moss. These creatures are leathery. They’re the earthiest and meatiest of them all. There is a whole other flavor profile assigned to mushrooms in Japanese cuisine: Umami. Savory. Earthy. Incomparable to anything else, really.
And they caressed my palette with memories of my people’s home — from the very original homeland, on the Pacific coast.
“What a treasure!” I thought the other day, rushing home to make a stew.
No, no, no! Actually, it should be a soup.
Yes, definitely, a soup!
A soup that could fill my current home — with the aromas of all of my former homes, and all the homes to come.