MALIBU WAY OF LIFE: Honor thy mother, nature from whom all goodness comes

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Moving a household brings sore muscles, sleepless nights, the monumental frustrations of never being able to find anything-and a dozen hourly delights as unexpected pleasures pop up in the nooks and crannies you never got to see as a shopper. An “Oh, wow!” moment came as I was carting trash out to the curb, mumbling about where I could stuff it so the Waste Management police would pick it up. Paying no attention, I stumbled over an errant ancient tree root and there at my feet was an outcropping of tender mycofungi: pale glistening, velvety-textured parasols nestled in the shaggy bark of an old olive tree. “Shrooms!” My new house was blooming mushrooms!

No, I didn’t eat them, though I thought about it. Instead, I hopped onto the Web to find out what I had. It could have been any of half a dozen varieties, none especially poisonous, but I chose to let them be and perhaps prosper and multiply. You see, mushrooms are a gift from Earth, tiny gems of nutrition that fit into none of the USDA categories of dairy, grains and greens, but transcending them all in the bounty of health benefits they bring. Did you know a single portabella has 20 percent more potassium than a banana and as much protein as a burger (with none of the fat)? All mushrooms are loaded with cell-strengthening vitamin B and with selenium, a great free-radical warrior that combats threats to the immune and thyroid systems.

In Asia, mushroom decoctions have been used for centuries to treat everything from colds and indigestion to heart disease, but recently science began to study fungi seriously. At the City Of Hope, studies on lab rats established that white mushrooms, the kind we usually stuff, inhibited the growth of breast-cancer producing hormones and was two or three times as effective as any other natural preventative. For men, mushrooms became important in 1996 when shitake extract was given to skin cancer patients to see if it had any effect. None on skin cancer, but it seemed to contribute to a 60 percent decline in prostate cancer. A study tracking 32,000 men began in 1998 and related tests are promising. At New York Medical College, researchers discovered last year that mushroom extract kills prostate cancer cells in the test tube.

Whatever science tells us, we can safely say that mushrooms are good and almost certainly good for you. With Earth Day coming soon and, with it, reverence for all things that grow from its soil or perfume our air or swim in the depths of its waters, why not sample some of Nature’s most generous gifts with the symbol of Her soil-more mushrooms.

STIR-FRY for the guys: Asparagus and Shitake

Adapted from “The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

(The National Nutrition Study discovered that men like their mushrooms sautéed as a side dish. Here is a recipe that heralds spring along with an everyday variation sure to please any man.)

Serves 8

1 pound thin asparagus

1 pound shitake mushrooms,

stemmed

1 stick good butter

1 cup minced scallions

4 Tbs. minced ginger

1/2 cup dry sherry

1 Tbs. grated orange peel

1. Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and then slice into 1-inch chunks.

2. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4-inch pieces.

3. Melt the butter and toss scallions and ginger until golden.

4. Add the asparagus and mushrooms and cook stirring until they are well coated with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add sherry and cover.

5. Cook over medium heat for two minutes, shaking the skillet from side to side so the mushrooms don’t stick-they drink up a lot of butter. Add the orange peel and cover until it wilts.

Variation: To make this the side dish the favorite men ingest most, add a tablespoon of garlic to the first sauté, replace the sherry with cognac and squirt lemon juice in place of orange zest-at the end, add a sprig of thyme to flavor the last steaming.

GAIL’S MARINATED MUSHROOMS-for the “girls”

Serves 8

(Studies tell us that women like their mushrooms marinated- in salads or at the end of a toothpick. This recipe comes from my good friend, Gail Wilburn, who has made these her blue ribbon specialty requested at every social gathering).

1 – 2 pounds button mushrooms, stemmed and brushed clean

1 cup cider vinegar

1 1/2 cup water

1/2 cup canola oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1 bay leaf, crushed

1 small onion, minced

1. Mix all ingredients and add mushrooms. Cover and “cook” overnight (or for two days) in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally.