THE BLOG
07/11/2013 08:11 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

The Man Who Doesn't Want to Go Home, a Feast of Mushrooms

The Man Who Doesn't Want To Go Home

There is a bench near the woods that is hidden from view as one walks along the road. A man drives to the woods each day after work, parks and locks the car, walks 300 yards and then goes to sit on the bench. He smokes cigarette after cigarette. Eventually he gets up, walks over to the car and drives off. His routine is the same every day although I only ever cross paths as I walk past the bench with my hound. I know he is there before I see him: the acrid waft of cigarette smoke greets me first. The man's back faces me and he does not know I am there. I recognise the man by his egg-shaped bald head and expensive suit. The same thought crosses my mind each time I see him: "His nice shoes must get ruined in that mud." I don't think he knows what mud does to expensive leather. Or cares. Today is Sunday and there he is. This time dressed in a jumper and jeans. Outside of his workday routine. I recognise the shiny egg-head. He is smoking. I almost want to ask him why he doesn't want to be at home. I just know the answer so I don't ask.

The sparrow has lost all his relatives and is alone. I noticed that the family of three is now reduced to one. I worry for the sparrow. Is he one of the two babies who were born outside my kitchen window last spring? What will become of him all alone in the winter? How will he cope with no one to talk to, with no kin who speak his sparrow language. Do sparrows join other sparrow groups or he is condemned to be by himself forever? I noticed that the blue tit is also on his own. He used to have a best mate (or a sister or brother) and they travelled every day to the Budleia together to wash in the bath or peck at the suet balls. There is only one blue tit left. The sparrow and the blue tit don't seem to talk much these days. They used to play in the bird bath together when they were more than just the two of them.

There's an elderly lady I see every day with her irascible hound, Louis. The lady hobbles along with her cane and her willful companion often threatens to pull her over. The lady's husband died exactly a year ago. He used to sit on that bench too. One day he felt unwell and forty-eight hours later he was gone. We talk about her loss and how she hates being alone. "The days are so long", she laments.

The birds are alone. The man chooses to be alone, smoking cigarette after cigarette as he sits on a bench. The lady is alone.

The view from the bench is a bunch of trees, the hills beyond and a huge sky. One could get lost in that sky.

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen

A Feast of Mushrooms

The smell of wild fungi in the woods these days is inebriating- musky, earthy and heady when the rain touches them and the warmth of daylight seeks to dry them out. I imagine that with each breath I take I am inhaling zillions of mushroom spores (watch this space :))- it certainly feels that way. Would be interesting to see how those who are fashionably allergic to everything would cope with a walk in the woods during mushroom season. Now is the time to be picking mushrooms and hanging them to dry in laundry cupboards in preparation for Winter (please remember that many mushrooms are deadly poisonous so unless you really know your cèpe from your pleurot, don't do it). In my experience, picking wild mushrooms in Britain can be full of surprises- our soggy climate results in waterlogged mushrooms that are are home to maggots. It is advisable to slice the mushrooms open before cooking (just a word of helpful advice). I was taught to collect and cook mushrooms by my very, very dear friend, Madame Bué. She was in her 70s when we met in the apartment block in Bordeaux where we both lived; I had just moved in and she came knocking on the door to say hello. We became instant friends: I loved her like a mother and admired her: she had seen her husband shot dead in Paris by the Nazis during the Second World War and despite this managed to make the most of life. Madame Bué would take me foraging for fungi and we would return to her flat to savour them. Here's her recipe: Heat olive oil or butter in a pan over medium high heat. Add slivers of garlic and brown lightly. Add the sliced mushrooms and (very important), at least half teaspoon of sea salt. The salt draws out the impurities and moisture from the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have wilted and the moisture has evaporated from the pan, add a splash of dry white wine. Reduce the wine until the pan is almost dry. Serve the mushrooms immediately, garnished with a copious handful of very finely chopped parsley, and as an accompaniment to a very bloody steak. Be sure to drink a glass of Bordeaux with your meal. Here's a sample of mushrooms I saw today (only one is edible):

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Bisporella citrina

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Agaricus sylvaticus

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Laetiporus sulphureus

Photos copyright S. van Dalen