Down the Rabbit Hole


Alice Liddell aged seven

Victorians eroticized children even as they considered them total innocents which may have been very convenient for Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. Scholars dispute if Carroll was a pedophile but it is generally acknowledged that his relationship with Alice Liddell, her two sisters and other young girls was unusually intimate. Dodgson may have wanted to marry Alice, one of her sisters or perhaps her governess. Despite many theories nothing has been conclusively proved but one thing is clear: Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has never been out of print, has been translated into 174 languages and is an endless source of enjoyment in films, art, ballet, opera, musical theater and theme parks as well as board and video games.

Using Wonderland: Curious Nature as a theme, the New York Botanical Garden’s current exhibit attempts to bring it to life. Some of it is wonderful like the White Rabbit,

White Rabbit at the exhibit

(although he’s green as he’s made of plants), in the center of a pond and the rabbit footprints that lead visitors from area to area (which are on a paper map- better had they been painted on the paths.) The exhibit at the Mertz Library, focusing on mind-altering plants like mushrooms and depicting the Victorian interest in science, includes four mini-dioramas and some material from Charles Darwin but would have been even better had more works been included.  The day we visited, the “high tea” served in various locales featured sandwiches on stale bread and lacked the promised clotted cream and jam supposed to accompany the very dry scones.

My “tea’ came in a paper bag with a plastic glass of weak iced tea

The New York Times raved about the exhibit:

but my friend and I gave it a B minus feeling there should have been more Alice-related items to see and far more comprehensive signage directing visitors. We noticed these odd-looking plants but thought only that they were peculiar and not set out to “stop and interact {with}. ” (My interactions with plants were limited to getting them into the ground, weeding, watering, and cutting them. We rarely spoke.)

It was a glorious late May day and the garden was  uncrowded. That alone was like tumbling down the rabbit hole. The exhibition runs until October 27th; if it sounds like fun, try to bring a child along. A young companion won’t be jaded and will likely find parts—or all — of the exhibit terrific.

Get into your own Wonderland with:

Crimini mushrooms


Mushroom Risotto

4 tablespoons  olive oil

1½ pounds mixed mushrooms, chopped

¾ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or less or none; I’m impossible about garlic)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1½ cups uncooked Arborio rice, rinsed

⅔ cup dry white wine

5 cups warmed vegetable broth

½ cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese plus more for serving

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and several grinds of pepper and toss to coat. Cook, stirring only occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until soft and browned. Remove from the pan and set aside. Work in batches if necessary.

Wipe out the pan and return it to the heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the onion, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the garlic, thyme, and rice. Let cook for 1 minute, then add the wine. Stir and cook for 1 to 3 minutes, or until the wine cooks down.

Add the broth ¾ cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding the next. With the final addition of broth, stir two-thirds of the sautéed mushrooms into the risotto. Cook until the risotto is creamy and the rice has a slight al dente bite. Stir in the cheese and season to taste.

Top with the remaining sautéed mushrooms, garnish with parsley, and serve with more grated cheese.

Maybe it only makes an impact if you watch? Do so:,vid:Q93VrYOXSe8,st:0



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