I went to a book reading in my neighborhood the other night. It was one of those bracingly cold evenings where you find yourself walking faster simply to seek warmth indoors. The author was talking about identity and how we all have different personas that we wear depending on our surroundings. He told the story of going off to college and wanting to hide his Queens accent because he desperately wanted to fit in with his more well-off peers. Similarly, once he returned home from college he discovered that he was attempting to mask his “uppity” college vocabulary and newfangled accent so as to not feel like a fraud amongst his family and high school friends.
You hear so much chatter these days around being “authentic”, but what does that mean? I think we carry all of our experiences with us, and that all of our identities, or personas, are equally authentic. Indeed, they enrich our lives if we allow them to. Of course, we give different weight to different experiences we’ve had, but they all matter. I love the idea that human beings are constantly changing and evolving. That depending on how curious you are and open to new thoughts and ideas, you can truly expand your world. Now that I’ve lived in NYC for almost 12 years, I am a very different person from when I first moved here. Back then, I wanted to hide my “Minnesotan-ness” and put on airs that made me appear more sophisticated. Living in New York has seeped into my bones and transformed my sense of self. Now I find myself thinking nostalgically about my time in Minnesota and some of the aspects of my personality that I was so quick to shed.
Twelve years ago, I was ashamed of not being as smart as the people around me. I thought I should be more worldly and culturally astute. I was only in my late 20’s and yet I felt like I had wasted time during my youth and needed to catch up on so many things. Instead of accepting myself for where/who I was, I berated myself and frequently felt like an outsider amongst my New York friends and co-workers. If I could do it all over again, I would be kinder to myself and allow the vulnerability and curiosity that is inevitable at such a young age. I would embrace what I did not, could not know and be open to asking questions without embarrassment. It is an identity that I should not have been ashamed of.
Now, when I return to Minnesota I often times feel the need to suppress aspects of myself that certain family members might not understand. I know this is universal, but I sometimes revert back to the person I was growing up under my parent’s roof. Although I feel somewhat like an outsider there, I’m more accepting of who I’ve become and try to allow the discomfort that lies in the space between who I was then and who I am now.
I had a few bags of chestnuts left over from Thanksgiving that I wanted to use up, and this recipe was exactly what I was looking for. It’s hearty enough to stand alone as a vegetarian meal, or can also be a delicious side dish. I love mushrooms, and the earthiness of the mushrooms pairs really well with the sweetness of the chestnuts. The marcona almonds sprinkled on top is completely optional, but I like the crunch it adds.
Mushrooms with Chestnuts and Thyme
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Yield: 10 servings
6 tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter
8 large shallots, sliced (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs. assorted wild mushrooms (such as stemmed shiitake, crimini and oyster), sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup Madeira (or substitute a full-bodied red wine)
1 7.25-ounce jar roasted peeled whole chestnuts, halved (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh chives
Marcona almonds, roughly chopped
1. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, deep non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add shallots and sauté until tender and golden, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds.
3. Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter and stir until melted. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender and brown, about 10 minutes.
4. Add thyme and stir 1 minute. Add Madeira and simmer until almost evaporated, about 1 minute.
5. Add chestnuts and whipping cream and simmer until cream thickens and coats mushroom mixture, about 1 minute.
6. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with chives.