At a time when we're told to focus on the big picture – namely giving to the less fortunate and thinking of others before ourselves -- it's ironic to feel as though you’re being pulled to focus on the small things. If you don't pay attention, you could find yourself pulled under a strategically placed mistletoe, miss the wreaths recently hung against the marble wall at your workplace, accidentally imbibe one too many festive cocktails. There are so many details to this holiday.
After spending a good amount of the wee hours of Sunday morning trying to get home from a late-night shift, I found myself, four hours of sleep in me, at a prestigious venue in North York built in the late 1800s serving brunch to J. Crew clad ladies and their well-to-do husbands, sipping on Chardonnay and eating plump shrimp. When I served at a wedding back in the fall the grounds were gorgeous – you could see the giant trees in the distance, the abundance of orange and red leaves, and the weather had just begun to cool off. Now, on the inside, pine trees were up and decorated in red and gold, setting off the mouldings and dark parquet floor. R. and I hung out in the women's locker room sipping on coffee in tiny elegant teacups on saucers and eating a breakfast of baked apple oatmeal out of a plastic container, talking about her love life and impending trip. It's the kind of conversation where issues of personal value arise, where you ask yourselves what the big issues and the small issues are. We finish our coffees and return to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, moving seamlessly from relationships to the purpose of doilies on saucers. We’re small fish in a big pond, but we get around just fine.
A friend of mine is currently battling cancer. He is twenty-eight. The last time I spoke to him he was boarding a bus, preparing for a day of radiation. Prognosis is good, all things considered, and the fact that he has more lives than a cat works in his favour. While it's no small thing, that he can make light of the situation and find the humour in it proves how much larger than life he really is. Speaking with him now, he seems calmer now, wiser now. Seven years have passed since we met and we’re getting older. Cancer is large, larger than all of us, but shows up so small.
My former boss once told me that her husband, who is not a very big man, sold her when he said, “Dynamite comes in small packages.” I smiled.
And then there are these mushrooms, because this is a food blog after all. They garnered rave reviews at the corporate holiday party I brought them to last week and I actually like them quite a bit myself. They're delicious and satisfying and addictive, but don't sit too heavy as most appetizers do. What sets these mushrooms apart, to my mind, is the balsamic vinegar they are tossed and baked in prior to being stuffed. It lends a welcomed acidity and sweetness, mellowing out the richness of the filling. It's the kind of thing I might serve to a small group of friends one night over wine and conversation, the kind of small group that fills a room from end to end.
Adapted (slightly) from Food52
Serves 15-20 people
Please note that this recipe makes quite a bit of filling. The reviewers over at Food52 mentioned tossing some of it into a frittata or an omelette -- a nice idea. It also makes a good dip for crackers or broccoli.
6 pints mushrooms
4 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 package cream cheese (light is fine)
¾ cup grated Pecorino Romano, Asiago or other salty hard cheese
1 onion, chopped and caramelized
3 garlic cloves, minced
1lb ground pork seasoned with fennel and red chili flakes OR mild Italian sausage, browned
Preheat oven to 350F. Stem and clean the mushrooms and toss with the olive oil and vinegar. Season generously with sea salt and pepper. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
For the filling – mix everything together in a large bowl. If your ingredients (caramelized onions, meat) are warm when you add them to the cream cheese it should be pretty easy to mix together.
Stuff the mushrooms and bake for another 30 minutes or so at 375F until the tops have browned.