Hunting for mushrooms, preserving perfumes and soaking dried beans

Antique perfume bottles perfect for perfume, scented home fragrances, candles and cologne.
Suzanne DeChillo | The New York Times
Antique perfume bottles perfect for perfume, scented home fragrances, candles and cologne.
Posted April 11, 2011, at 9:43 p.m.
Last modified April 11, 2011, at 10:44 p.m.
A wild Shitaki Mushroom at the "Wild Food Gathering stand at the South Street Seaport, New Amsterdam Market.
Michelle V. Agins | The New York Times
A wild Shitaki Mushroom at the "Wild Food Gathering stand at the South Street Seaport, New Amsterdam Market.

Q: Can you tell me about mushroom hunting? I’m interested in trying it but don’t know where to begin.

A: Although mushrooms pop up year-round, spring is the unofficial start of mushroom season for many hunters. Warmer temperatures and rain create ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of fungi. And while there are few things as satisfying as discovering a patch of gorgeous and delicious mushrooms to harvest and enjoy, a search must be undertaken judiciously.

An array of wild mushrooms are edible, but many others are mildly poisonous, causing violent stomach upset; some are deadly. Recognizing the difference is not easy, particularly for a beginner. For safety, identify every mushroom you collect. If you have any doubt about a particular fungus, discard it.

Consulting reliable field guides and taking classes are good steps in learning to identify mushrooms, but it’s best and safest to apprentice with an expert. In the United States, you can find a mycology club in your area through the North American Mycological Association (www.namyco.org/clubs), and attend meetings to acquaint yourself with enthusiasts, both amateur and professional. The biggest challenge will be convincing mushroom hunters to let you tag along when they forage, because their favorite spots likely are closely guarded secrets. Once you are invited, take plenty of notes so that you will know what to look for when you’re ready to find your own patch.

Q: Some of my favorite perfumes have darkened. Are they still usable?

A: If you keep perfume in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight, it will smell much the same two years after its purchase.

Warm temperatures (high 70s and 80s) and sunlight break down the oils in perfume, shortening its life span, says Olivier Gillotin, who creates perfumes at Givaudin. Using your perfume regularly also has an effect: Letting air into the bottle causes the liquid to oxidize. Over time, this alters the odor and may change the color. (Sunlight also can affect the color.) But just because a fragrance is more than a couple of years old or has a new shade doesn’t mean you should toss it. Often, even if the top notes (the initial aroma, which lasts 10 to 20 minutes after spritzing) smell “off,” the scent may be as lovely as ever after that. In this case, you could enjoy your fragrance for another five years or more.

When purchasing perfume, choose a small bottle with a spray dispenser to let less air in. To truly prolong the life of a perfume, store it in the refrigerator; the low temperature and darkness can preserve it for 10 or more years.

Q: Soaking and cooking dried beans takes a long time. Is there a way to speed up the process?

A: You can cut the preparation time significantly. To reduce the soaking period from as long as a day to about an hour, place beans in a saucepan, cover them with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the beans sit, covered, for an hour. Drain and rinse the beans before cooking.

To reduce the cooking time by half, or even more, use a pressure cooker. Follow the device’s instruction manual.

Questions should be addressed to Living, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Include name and daytime telephone number. Questions also may be sent by e-mail to: living@nytimes.com.

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