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Betsy Block




Photo, as always, by the masterful BD.

This piece originally ran on 01/24/06.

Since then, I have completely overhauled my diet and am one of the most extreme greens-eaters you'll ever not meet. That said, I sure remember the days of cream and cheese, fondly!

It was a beautiful fall day and I had a recipe for wild mushroom soup I'd been wanting to try. It would just be the four of us, with BD's bread and this lovely rich soup ...

There was only one small problem. I had just come back from my annual physical. Mostly, the news was good, for which I was very grateful. But there was one thing, almost too small to mention, that did weigh on me, though: The scale had foully registered a 6.8 pound gain since last year, which is really seven pounds, which, if you round off, means that basically I had gained 10 pounds. And I wasn't even pregnant. (When I was, 10 pounds was once the work of a week.)

Maybe it was muscle weight - only, I don't do any weightlifting. How, then, could this have happened?

"Your metabolism slows as you age," my doctor cruelly said with an evil laugh. (Okay, no laugh, but obviously still evil.)

Of course my first thought was, "Guess it'll have to be salad for dinner - forever." But then I realized there was another thought rattling around in the more evolved part of my brain, one based in the clear-headedness that goes along with - you know, age. This older, wiser part of me thought: Five pounds, 10 pounds, feh. Who cares? The biological imperative to look good ended with the birth of my second (and last) child. After more than two decades of worrying about my weight, the delusional "fat" spell has finally been broken.

What a relief! Because I'd really hate to have given up that mushroom soup, not to mention the almost-nightly wine-and-cheese courses (followed by a dessert chaser) I've so been enjoying for the past year. It's just metabolism. Aging. Circumstances beyond my control.

Crisis averted.

Amazingly, just at this critical, possibly life-changing moment of self-acceptance, BD stopped by for a little midday visit and brought with him not one, not two, but three little pastries just for me. He apologized, saying he'd bought them before I'd been to the doctor. I accepted his apology and hid the boxes in the back of the fridge.

So after our creamy mushroom soup, the kids would have their healthy fruit (mandated on certain nights of the week). Meanwhile, I'd wait until they were in bed before digging out my special treats. Suddenly, dessert seemed to have a deep, almost spiritual meaning. I was no longer just a mom fighting middle-aged spread. No. Now eating a big bowl of cream-enriched wild mushroom soup followed by three desserts had turned into a radical act of self-love.

By the next morning, as is my prerogative, I had changed my mind again. I decided to cut back on the nightly cheese/dessert courses. Not eliminate them entirely, of course, because then what's the point of living, but after having eaten a whole tartlet the night before more to prove something than because I actually wanted it, and still feeling it in my gut the next morning, I realized that a more moderate approach was probably called for. But only because that was what I wanted, damn it.

Wild mushroom soup by Bob Sargent of flora in Arlington, Mass.

I hauled my fat ass - I mean, I went into the kitchen to get to work. I checked the recipe and then the fridge and saw that while I was good on mushrooms, we'd actually run out of carrots, but, feeling especially creative and adaptable, I used celery instead.

Meanwhile, nine-year-old E was doing his homework in the dining room, and every once in a while he'd ask me a spelling or grammar question. I tried to answer patiently, but at the same time I wondered: Does he think I'm some kind of a genius who can cook and help him with his homework at the same time? But there I was, handling it, everything was humming along, when I looked again and saw it was almost time to add the white wine to the soup. So off I went to look over our extensive 12-bottle collection, only to find that every single bottle in the house was red. This one, I couldn't finesse.

I stopped cooking halfway through the recipe and called BD. Once he and the booze arrived, the rest of it went off like a charm.

Bottom line: If you need time to restock the pantry, this soup can take many hours to complete. With everything at hand, though, it should be an easy half-hour.

Nine-year-old E and I both really enjoyed big bowls of this soup with BD's homemade rolls. "Mmm, good," he said happily, unaware of the iconic cultural reference he was making to soup that, frankly, couldn't hold a candle to this one. As for BD, while he loves mushrooms more than anyone else in the house, suddenly he "needed" pasta for dinner. I wondered if there might be a little latent anger about all the cooking I'm doing. I made a mental note to check in with him. But he did have, and like a lot, a small bowl, on the side.

But as always, four-year-old P made it all worthwhile when she tasted just the tiniest bit of soup and said approvingly, "Good!" with a little nod, then added, "This is such a perfect evening, don't you think?"

Wild Mushroom Soup
Bob Sargent, Flora

3 T. butter

1 large onion, diced

cup leek, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 lbs. assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (Bob usually uses cepes and other boletes, hen-of-the-woods, and chicken mushrooms, whereas I, Betsy, use whatever is already precut and sold in a convenient package)

1 c. white wine

2 qts. Water (if using dried mushrooms, use strained liquid as part of water)

1 peeled, cubed starchy potato

6 sprigs each parsley and thyme, wrapped in cheesecloth with 5 bay leaves and tsp. black peppercorns

1 c. heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Melt butter in 6-8 qt. Saucepan. Add onions, leeks and carrots. Sweat over medium heat five to ten minutes. Add mushrooms and cook another ten minutes. Add wine and cook five minutes more.
  2. Add potato and two quarts water to pan and bring to a boil. Add cheesecloth-wrapped herbs and simmer until potato is very soft, about fifteen to twenty minutes.
  3. Let cool a bit, remove herbs and puree in a food processor or blender or put through a food mill.
  4. Reheat with 1 cup heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper.