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“Magic Mommy” was a boutique baking company where Eva, my mother, was hired to help collect mushrooms. Stony Hollow in upstate New York was way beyond West Hurley, on the edge of the Ashokan Reservoir, near Blue Stone Wild Forest. Robin Karp, otherwise known as Magic Mommy, was a California native who was overflowing with ideas about the food revolution. She insisted our bodies would never decompose after death because we had eaten so many preservatives. She scared me so much I thought that Zombies were people who had overeaten sugar and cornflakes. I felt guilty for the nights I had cranked open a can of Chef Boyardee and enjoyed the strange, sweet tomato sauce. Eva and Robin warned against the impurities of chocolate and introduced me to carob.
Upon my arrival at the farmhouse, I found free-range chickens nesting in the living room on the first floor. A tin roof covered a makeshift bakery that someone had extended into the kitchen by smashing down a wall. Several stoves were stoked by wood, propane, and extension cords threaded the floor like a tangled weave of procreating snakes.
The farmhouse was bustling with activity as people rolled, measured, dipped, chopped, and packaged various baked goods. Among these treats were large batches of brownies and the famous muffin-topped mushroom bread, which were delivered to various locations, including Bloomingdale’s small and highly sought-after food court basement, Zabar’s checkout line, and cutting-edge stores like The Health Nuts.
I’m not sure who lived up at Stony Hollow. There were a lot of kids, and the farmhouse always had a collection of people. Privacy was acquired by tacking up a tapestry, but you always heard music and chanting. The smell of baking and homemade lavender candles filled the air.
We were informed that schedules were for Republicans, so we ate at odd hours and stayed up late to watch for witches and moon shadows. When we slept, we found places on the floor with sofa cushions; my favorite place to sleep was under tables. My mother felt justified in her parenting based on the new Dr. Spock philosophy: love and no discipline. She would say:
“We are animals. Some of us have the drive to survive. Some don’t. Those who will thrive will eat carrots, and those who will die will eat Twinkies. If you are tired, sleep- not tired, place your imagination into the stars.”
The tribe of children was like wildflowers. People had bunches of them, and everyone brought them wherever they went. We babysat ourselves in a rabble, chasing chickens and goats through the living room. We knew to stay out of the kitchen, and we obeyed. The air was filled with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and apples. We were given bowls with burnt-crusty end pieces of bread and plates of butter and jam. The crust of the bread and our fingers were the only utensils we had. Feeding was a rich textured process of smearing, dipping, and then being corralled to wash off under a hose outside.
Magic Mommy was famously known for her mushroom bread with an essential secret ingredient: Amanita muscaria mushrooms. Amanita muscaria mushrooms can cause confusion, disorientation, euphoria, inability to concentrate, incoherent speech, brain fog, sensitivity to sounds, periodic flashes of light, dancing lines that follow inanimate objects, and hallucinations. Magic Mommy defended that most effects were baked out at 375 degrees.
On the eve of the waxing full moon, Eva would gather all the children and read a few pages of Alice in Wonderland before we went hunting. The mushrooms grew in vast numbers in the thick woods, and my mother would take the cluster of children through the forest like the Pied Piper. We were muskrats of Woodstock, in bare feet, dirty rainbow tee shirts, aborigine afros, and haphazard haircuts.
Eva would drive whatever car had gas with us, crammed into any available seating. We swerved along Dug Hill or Spillway Road, singing to “The Candy Man.” It was our Magic Mommy theme song. We believed we were like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory: holding out for the good in people. We obsessed over secret ingredients in foods called preservatives that were there to murder us slowly, and why not kill and eat animals? We were told we were the chapter left out of Willy Wonka, because we were saving children from sugar addictions and bleached flour.