Mushrooms have been much on my mind. They’re everywhere in the woods – but I select them from the shelf at the Food Co-op. This time of year wild mushrooms like chanterelles join the ones local mushroom growers provide year round like shiitake and cremini. Portobellos are a favorite. (They fill a bun so nicely!) Jack Bishop’s “Portobello Mushrooms with Red Wine and Oregano” is quick and delicious.

But now also, I have mushrooms in the house – or at least the potential for mushrooms. A “blob” in a plastic tote (a gift from our builder) is allegedly going to sprout shiitake mushrooms! I’m following a schedule: misting for two weeks – then dry, then submerge, and start over. I’m on day four so not much to see yet – but it’s an exciting thought. The builder says it works and he’s usually right.

Now I’m in the midst of making “Polenta Gratin with Mushrooms and Tomato” – a Deborah Madison recipe. (I love Deborah Madison – she never lets me down. She explains and inspires always. I never pick up my cluttered-with-sticky-notes copy of “Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody” without encountering something pleasing to cook.)

Today I’ll make the firm polenta and refrigerate. I’m actually looking forward to stirring for the entire recommended 30-45 minutes – this is for company so I want it to be good. Deborah says it’s the “time spent cooking that brings out the full corn flavor.” (She also says it’s a good time to catch up on reading.) When cooked, half of the polenta gets poured out into a baking dish and the other onto a baking sheet, wrapped with plastic film and refrigerated.

Putting the rest of it together looks easy for tomorrow. I have a mixture of mushrooms – around a pound – to slice, and add along with garlic mashed with salt, to olive oil cooking with an onion, bay leaves, thyme and marjoram. Then add half cup of dry white or red wine and simmer till reduced and add two cups of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes in puree. Simmer a little longer, “taste for salt and season with pepper.”

The tomato-mushroom sauce gets spread over the polenta in the baking dish and covered with grated provolone and Parmesan. Another layer of polenta (Deborah warns that it might be necessary to cut it into smaller pieces before placing over the sauce). Cover with the remaining sauce and cheeses.

I like the description of this dish as “hearty and straight-forward” and the thought of baking till it’s “bubbling and hot throughout” – about 25 minutes. Along with greens from the CSA and an apple crisp, this should make for a festive, fall Friday night.

Regret Analysis

My husband is apt to apply “regret analysis” to decision making – will we be sorry if we don’t do something? It’s not always possible to know how the regret might lodge, but one gray morning, deciding whether to hike or not, we acknowledge that dry hiking days are numbered. My old friend always says: “You won’t know if you don’t go.” So we set out.

It felt good to pack up a portable breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches with blueberry jelly on Seedy bread, a big bunch of grapes, and tea in cups-to-go. We headed for Mount Zion – a short hike, but a challenge with an elevation gain of 1300 feet in two miles.

The maples begin to turn and lean out yellow over the road along Discovery Bay, and traffic is lighter. Signs of autumn –  like the chilly and damp parking lot at the trailhead.

Littered with sienna brown leaves fallen from surrounding rhodendron, the trail climbs between mossy rocks and narrow trunks of closely growing trees. Bracken just begins to bronze. Salal, kinnikinnick, and moss-covered downfalls crowd the sides of the path.

The ascent up Zion is steady, not relentless, but steady up. Half an hour along, I shed fleece, happy for the easing of crochets in joints and muscles. Breaks in the trees reveal Mount Townsend across the way. The Townsend trail is so much harder and longer that it surprises me to reach the gravelly small summit of Zion in just an hour.

Ribes, ocean spray, and many rhododendron surround this little rock outcropping at the top. A cloudbank obscured the view below. But in places the sun, shining through thin clouds above us, lit up parts of the cloud below – like sunshine coming through a window onto the floor. Cold and quiet – a bee dozed on a wizened blossom of fireweed, a lone squirrel chattered, but no birdsong.

We drove home another route – on Center Valley Road through Washington farmland – barns and fields – then stopped at Red Dog’s farmstand looking for eggs. It’s fun to drive the farm road beside rows of kale and strawberries, and buy huge, delicious sweet carrots to chomp.

Home to a lot of the day still intact – and no regrets!