Sunday, November 23, 2008

food tours

Celeriac, frisee and endive, cresses and spinach, pumpkins and walnuts. Grapes, persimmons, apples, pears. Smiling!

I'm home and it's fall now. I feel the glorious Californian autumn color bath at this moment. It's the beginning of the hour and a half sunset, an experience of the mellowed oranges and titilating pinks, swirled sherbert consolations for the coming winter. Winter feels far away though; tomatoes are still in the farmers markets, mingling with the greens and turnips and the mega-gifted watermelon daikon. These tomatoes are the pale-faced latecomers, but we are glad to have them anyway and I hope you are all making busy deliciousness with these coveted nightshades. I am, as usual, in seasonal disorientation after yet another month of travel. 10 days ago I was in the back of a crumpled Fiat van in England, with a lapful of digestive biscuit crumbs, putting my palms to the windows as we passed the never ending storefront variations on Paki and Indian takeout.

Flowing through the world by my taste buds, England really fucks up my compass! My stomach asks, Why are we here? I was there playing music, and England was not my only stop, but it was a big chunk of my month. When I am unsatisfied with food, it's the only thing on my mind and in England, I had a one-track mind. My tourmates and I unspooled our finest food fantasies in hungry times at British rest stops and before a couple of our weirder shows, where promoters who never even showed up left us a loaf of bread and Tesco hummus. 

I am no fan of the English breakfast, but I am so impressed by its strangeness. Steamed tomatoes? The sauteed mushrooms? The always-Heinz beans? It doesn't make me drool, but people really do love it.  I love the national commitment to a plate of food that to me, seems abstract in its flavor choices. 

A month before I departed for this tour, I traveled around the United States for part of August and part of September for a grueling job. When I recall my gastronomical experience on that voyage, which was through Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and New Jersey, I forgive the British for their food. Their food is only trashier than the decadence of Europe,  but the Brits are food geniuses compared to the food offerings of those states. 

It was a struggle in those states, excluding Jersey, to find any food that wasn't stripped of its nature and bullied into some variation on too much fat, too much sugar, too many chemicals or too much salt. We worked very very long days, and seeking food meant cutting into our meager sleep, so we ate strangely. We lived in hotel rooms, often without window circulation, and gluey gravies of Chinese food left cemented fragrances of celery and canned mushrooms, still smelling outrageous when waking at 6 am. At that hour we walked to the lobby for a rushed meal of sugary denature before a Fox News broadcast in the company of other sad and puffy laborers. 

I did my best on that trip. I found Japanese restaurants in southern Georgia with buttered rice but adequate miso soup. I found tofu in Tex-Mex. I searched out itsy bitsy farmers markets next to train tracks where very non-hippie farmers sold us melons that we gulped late at night in our hotel during rainstorms, and tomatoes and peppers we chopped onto pizza, lettuces we ate with our fingers. The Georgia peach was a myth until we found a farm stand in Georgia with the gamey-est, fuzziest, most dripping fruits and blueberries so cheap that we filled our cheeks for days. I missed cooking so very much on that trip. My enviornmental conscientiousness howled with grief as I consumed so much takeout and every meal left a diaper-like buttprint of styrofoam, cardboard and plastic. The only thing I want to leave behind is peels, rinds and other bits, and some fertilizing shit, but during that horror month, everything was the opposite. 

Despite the unlimited chips and brown sauce and other utter weirdness, Great Britain has got it going on compared to most of America. I do prefer the perfected crisp loaves of France and their milky farmy ferments, and Italy's overall vegetable sensuality, and even the frites of Belgium because it's instantly factual, they are much better than England's, but England is so much smarter than America for common public food. At the airport, there are goat cheese sandwiches with grated beets, carrot and apple and organic yogurt. Rest stops always have vegetarian soups. Pubs often have spectacular food, always a veggie option, that matches nicely with the steamy windows and hand-pulled ales. 

But most stunning and sought after, for me, is the food that immigrated to England. The dal, the rice pilau and its flourescent bits, chutneys, raita, naan bread, all reminding someone of somewhere other than England. The county has beautiful pastures, cozy people who drink so much tea and are so nice, awesome castles, wonderful musical people and all, but without their immigrant friends, they would not have a chile among them! That's not comfortable for me.

Now I have to pay tribute to my favorite restaurant on the whole tour, TASTY HUT. We were in Dublin in a shitty neighborhood and we were so starving. Nothing looked good. It was dire. It was cold. This place did not look good. They had a full Indian menu, but no sign of a kitchen,  just one of those doner carcasses and the meat dustpan and a few Indian dishes looking bacteria ready under a sneeze guard. Honey persuaded me to try it anyway, and we ordered a bunch of stuff. We went to the back of this sleazy place, it was all yellowed, and discovered a cement wall with almost a hole punched in it where orders were placed. About 5 serious-looking men were cooking back there. I began to get so hungry and so excited! It defied my expectations, it was so good, I licked my fingers in sincere glee! My tourmates almost fought each other with chicken bones to get the most tandoori chicken until I mediated by imploring, ORDER MORE! We loved it. They had a sign outside depicting a big cartoon cowboy. I don't know why they are what they are, what makes them love people so much that they decide not to make shitty food but come through and mysteriously crank out the calories god intended? I loved these guys. They would not accept compliments. It's true right, of course it should be good! Do we love to live?

When you tour Europe, people always make you food, and these people not only love life, but they love music. My best shows were played after served a loving meal. The first night in Switzerland, we had an excellent crusty bread, salad and a mushroom risotto. I ate until my body said stop and it signaled to proceed for so long! Delicious wine helped the process. Premium butter helped as well. 

We played on a boat in Lyon and the chef, who would not speak to us, made us a tomato cheese tart, Morroccan stew and couscous, and the wine also helped in this case. I was in ecstacy, and then came the cheese plate. 

In Belgium one of our friend's mom made us Peruvian food, and also in Belgium we had lentil croquettes with yogurt herb sauce and mashed root vegetables. When we played Paris, the club was having some kind of photo shoot and there was a table of model vegetables. Enchanting pumpkin and big curves of lettuces. I assumed they were going to be sacrificed for our dinner and I lept with joy! 

Apparently, in a tease I associate with Paris in general, the vegetables were not for us but for show and I ate a very small plate of sub-par tortellini which I supplemented with delicious grape leaves after midnight. I had a day off in Paris to compensate for my tease, and I filled my purse with cheap fresh figs, a pudding-ripe persimmon, heirloom apples. I don't think the vendors have ever seen so much satisfaction in one unjaded American grin. I also had a baklava, dusted with green, in the shape and size of an ice cream cone, which I ate on the way back from the cemetery in order to brush off the dead with sweet thriving life. But then I ate so much I was downed with a stomachache and the only cure was a metabolizing jog through Paris. People couldn't believe it! The jogging was too much for them. I felt so fun and outrageously American, huffing and jiggling through the streets where women wear uncomfortable shoes in some bid at sexy neccessity. I mean, how do they burn off unavoidable pain au chocolat, frowning?

I am flooded with food memories. Big, grainy scones from a 500-year-old market in Cork, Ireland. Healthy lunches which stabilized moodiness, hot pureed soups, consistently fantastic naturally leavened breads, hoofy cheeses. I know it's sinister, but I am secretly excited about the contracting economy. I want so much contraction that regions castrated by multi-national corporate food agendas get their local lusts back and everywhere you travel, there is a new unique food joy on the banquet. Breakfast at Motel 6 in Statesboro, Georgia: serving locally grown grits, local wildflower honey, gamey Georgia peaches and mint tea from their herb garden, that's my dream.

But most of all, I wish to stay in one place for a while and enjoy my own food system and its seasons, and find my most sustainable place within it. The olives and grapes are being picked, and lemons starting to go wild in backyards here in California. I can't wait to express myself for Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

my chapel is summer

Of course I haven't been writing in my blog.

I've been imitating my food and basking in the summer sun.

Around this time, summer starts to make me a little crazy. I feel like a bobbing butterfly, indecisively jerking over the panorama of bountiful beauty. If my mission was pollination, I would know where to land, but here in the summer city, I don't always know what to do. The outdoors calls to me, but sometimes battling traffic on my bicycle doesn't always cut it; even parks seem too hectic. Driving somewhere is of course out of the question. I only want to be one place, in my own private rays, with no clothing or city pieties in my way, finding my route to blissful solar appreciation. When I relax into the sun, the bees approach me, wondering if I am a flower and if I could find a way to photosynthesize, I think I would be pleased to depart from humanity.

It was our first wedding anniversary recently, and for days we soaked up naked radiance at Wilbur Hot Springs. The moon, naked as an egg, saluted us in the evening. The trip was an affirmation, a reward for the hard and strange work of making family in uncertain times.

The hot springs is situated on 1800 dry hilly acres three hours from here. We stayed in a simple, cool room in the tiny resort's main house building. We cooked our meals in their deluxe communal kitchen. We didn't bring much except pounds and pounds of the bursting juicy fruits of the season. Enormous bumpy heirloom tomatoes and tiny green striped symmetrical ones; cucumbers and onions; delicate salad greens; plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots and all of their hybrid cousins; basil and parsley; tiny watermelons and almost-molding cantaloupes. We just brought breads and cheeses and pastas to round out our meals. Those foods are not common in our house because of my preference for more macrobiotic styles of cooking, but Michael loves that stuff and you must obey your love's preferences in order to celebrate him.

We left Oakland on a foggy morning last week. We woke up and immediately headed for the Wednesday farmers market near our home, but I guess I was misinformed because there was no market. We went to Berkeley Bowl to fill up instead. The market is considered one of the best supermarkets in the country and there is no shortage of both the fresh and the exotic. I have read stories detailing the owner's every morning visit to the Oakland Airport to bring the store its special selection of delicate international fruits; the display is stunning, but that anecdote is the bullseye of my discontent. I don't want irridated mangosteens or strawberry papayas. I want the farm fresh stuff, that's why I go to the markets. But the market wasn't open. The Berkeley Bowl's heirloom tomatoes were a few blushes short of the usual vividness, the cucumbers were grown in a Canadian hothouse, the melons didn't really live up (but you never do know with melons); the stone fruits were knockouts though. Michael calmed me down. It's just food!

It was funny because the hot springs were located in the county adjacent to the location of the farms where most of the food we buy is grown. Full Belly Farms and Riverdog Farms are supplying us with corn, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, onions, garlic, green beans and melons this time of year, but I must brave the congested Tuesday Berkeley market in order to purchase their treats. I wanted to just show up at the farm and ask permission to pluck from the fields but I wasn't about to intrude uninvited on a farm during the peak of the busiest season.

I just read Adam Gollner's The Fruit Hunters, a spectacular book that has revved my appetite for fruit exponentially, so our every activity and attitude at the hot springs was punctuated by a yellow peach or slice of green melon or juicy bite into a black apricot. We brought so much fruit that eating it constantly barely dented our supply before we left. We bathed in the smelly cauldrons at midnight, in surprising privacy, and afterward retired to our room and ate runny nectarines naked while hot summer breezes exhaled sublime relief into our tiny room. It was unforgettable in its decadence.

The Fruit Hunters reminded me that the tastiest fruits are often the blemished and homely varieties that won't ever make it to stores because of their un-porn appearances and weak state for shipment. This hypothesis was proven this afternoon when I had the last peach of the five I found in a basket, offered for free in a nearby neighborhood. The peaches were grown in somebody's backyard and their prettiness was easy to dispute, but the flavor was outstanding. I also have about 15 pounds of plums scored on Craigslist. I only wish I was able to pick the plums without offending anybody! The woman who put the plums on Craigslist had showers of plums all over because her neighbor's enormous tree was slouching and bending into her yard. The woman allowed us to pick them while she was at work but the neighbor was highly suspicious of our picking and she and her friend were being exactly contentious and nosy. I hope we didn't get the plum offerer in trouble; her gesture is considerate and excellent public service. Please implore your neighbors not to let their fruits go to waste! We will make jam and have a bread making party. If you live near here, you're invited.

We did manage to dwindle our fruit supply enough at the hot springs that when we realized that Full Belly's Guinda farmers market would be open on our drive home, we headed there and stocked up on an orchid watermelon and two cantaloupes. I also bought a bag of sun dried figs which are so tasty that crystals of sugar shine and split out of them! Of the melons, two out of three have been eaten, and only one of those two ruled. I made horchata via Diana Kennedy out of one of the orange melon's seeds. While horchata usually served at taquerias is usually a powdered version of a too-sweet rice and cinnamon drink, the horchata of Diana Kennedy's excellent Mexican cookbooks are made from the pulp and seeds of the melon, blended with sugar and then left to sit for five hours, and then strained. This drink is very unusual tasting, chalky and almost kava kava like, but good, and certainly better than the Kool-Aidy horchata served like liquid frosting at the swap meet.

I loved visiting Full Belly farm. The intern workers have a supernatural illumination about them. Glowing eyes, inviting freckles, gleaming teeth and honeyed muscle definition. I dream of incorporating this kind of labor into my life. When we arrived, there were alpacas and cute cows brattily chewing up and fertilizing a plot of corn that had been picked and the stalks had dried. The field workers cars had revolutionary-slogan stickers in Spanish on their bumpers. The worker woman at the farmers market gave a grandma a huge free watermelon and we all laughed at the farm dogs Chips and Salsa, who were surrendering to the heat by limiting activity to sparse respiration.

As you might assume, there are many cooking plans in the future for me. Tonight, I'll make Mexican food. Diana Kennedy's recipes are beginning to unlock Mexican salsas for me, which seemed magically impossible to imitate when I traveled around Mexico tasting from the mortars. The season is right for cooking Mexican food. I have pounds and pounds of tomatoes, onions and chiles, corn and squash. Homemade tortillas and horchata, the last of our tequilia, a watermelon, a pot of beans----I want to celebrate every night! Thanks to the church down the street, I also have nearly 30 pints of organic raspberries, in addition to my many pounds of plums. The church has a food bank on Fridays and for three dollars I got about 5 pounds of carrots, maybe 25 onions, a whole case of green onions and unbelievably, 30 pints of organic raspberries. This weekend, I learn how to can: pickled carrots and onions, onion chutney, plum chutney and jam, raspberry jam.

I guess I do have a summer role, the final step in the process that begins with the admired pollination: preservation. We'll taste summer in winter and autumn.

I just ate a dried fig in the reader's honor. Everybody enjoy your sunburns and cucumbers!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It's sunset time here in Oakland, muted pink and orangey. The fires in the distance have breathed a filminess over the climate. A drought was declared about 10 days ago. You could feel the flammability before that. A crunchy blondness blankets the hills. Fire engines squeal often, every wisp of smoke a potential awful mouth of fire.

There was no tarnish to the luster of the selection today at the farmers markets, no sign of wilt and dryness in these early days of declared drought. The first cherry tomatoes were out, pretty and  pricey and luscious. Green beans were there too, my first of this year, and a mysterious green called purslane which I neglected to buy after a unwinning taste test. The growers said that green is full of omega 3s and has other standout nutritional qualities, but I was after taste today and the green was bland. But it had a tough and oily-ish texture that, come to think of it, I'm pretty fascinated by. Maybe next time. 

I bought pounds of summer squash varieties, striped and yellow and green, globe-shaped and fanned. Carrots, radishes, cabbage, spinach----it was kind of a bland buy day. I've traveled so much in the past weeks that I have been craving the simplest and unfussiest favorites. 
I just returned from NYC yesterday. The city has an abundance of restaurants, and I am not very compelled to eat out lately. I don't have the money to spend on the kind of food I prefer (the kind I cook) and affordable restaurants often have a real quality disadvantage that makes me feel undernourished. I was hungry constantly in New York, walking and consuming sights, and craving the ultra-healthy, in-rhythm cooking that is making my happy demeanor and muscly power lately possible. I think I cured most of my moodiness and depression with a loving and vegetable-based life, coupled with exercise, and traveling can be really hard on me because that routine medicates me.

I didn't go to the Union Square farmers market, but did hit a little market near NYU and one in Fort Greene park in Brooklyn. The NYU market made me feel pretty bleak about the state of freshness in New York. The strawberries were shriveled and all the produce was limp and the summer stars were nowhere to be found. But then again, summer was a day or two away when I attended that market. After visiting the market, I went to a yoga class. The grunting and groaning students were lorded over by a mean and smug teacher, and the routine was a punishing sequence of prove-it postures. The noises people emitted were so vile and miserable that I almost had a breakdown, "These people are so fucking miserable, they need a peach without a carbon footprint and a few days of resting comfortably instead of model posing in gladiator high-heels while waiting for the subway!" was all I could think. I spent most of the class in a restful posture as a protest to the students engaging in this incredible strain in order to manufacture a stress as an antidote to another stress. My passive relaxation motivated the teacher's churning denouncements and the students screeched.

Gaining energy from your chosen calories is as important as the choice of how to burn that energy, and they inform each other. I like the peace of consuming gentle calories and then gently cycling through that energy. To me, it is a better idea than stuffing in meat and needing masochistic workouts to work it through. 

We got to the Fort Greene market late in the day. There weren't many vendors, and most were sold out; most of the gems were absent. The prices were astounding, and I had to cook a dinner for about 10 people that night on my budget, so I went for the winter leftovers. I bought pounds of beets, carrots and potatoes and made a borscht, and then opted for the non-organic booth for salad greens because the organic greens were close to $20 per pound! I saw a dozen eggs for $10! I felt sad for the people of New York, the prices were so depressing. The produce in that city is hard to find, obviously floating into the city on the oiliest route possible, of mostly poor quality and shockingly expensive.

I did enjoy the abundance of falafel and pizza though, for the mouth feeling in the absence of the super-healthy body highs. Falafel is like the burrito of the east, and I've decided I can't choose between the two, I want both. My favorite place in Brooklyn is Oasis near the Bedford stop on the L, and it is cheap and somewhat suspicious in safety sometime, but I still love it. Michael and I had a big midnight feast there and made our faces greasy with zaatar bread and then walked miles and miles home into the steamy very early morning.

We drove up to Portland, Maine, for a musical engagement and it affirmed yet again how wrong and hostile American road food is. We traveled with our friend Latas, who is from Morelia, Mexico, and we know from our own travels through Mexico that even road food in Mexico is simply spectacular, regionally unique and impressively fresh. It was depressing to watch Latas dig into McDonalds on the turnpike. He perked up when we talked about the delicious quesadillas we all loved in Morelia. I can hardly describe them for the pangs of hunger on the other side of that fantasy. Luckily, at the Brooklyn flea market we found these papusas which were the culinary highlight of my trip to New York. We quickly rang Latas to let him know and he happily said he knew; he ate there for breakfast.

Energy is a big part of traveling. It is just my theory, but I think it takes much more energy to be on the road than to simply be at home. I can prove it with my hunger! Even traveling on the airplane makes me starving. I am up in the air, straddling this insane chi-expelling machine, zipping over the world----my body wants to compensate for that action with something good and delicious. But the airport makes me feel like I am in a sanctuary after the apocalypse; the food is suspect and neutered, loathingly prepared and in essence, a total insult to the creator.
Come to think of it, I can't think of any stronger evidence of death-worship in America than the loathsome, hateful and ugly way food is prepared and presented in mass-scale public facilities.

But at home, here we remember that food propels our intentions, and cooking is an art, and plants are the splendid silent partners in the creation of our actions and bodily substance, and I make even a simple dinner and feel relieved that no drought or crisis prevents this necessary worship. Traveling is somewhat scary as oil prices spike, and I am thinking a lot of oil and how it is in some way, another plant by-product, and burning it fills our world with the vapors of ancient life. It's hard to wrap my head around that thought without getting very off the subject, but I will say it gives me solace to know that oil does not sit between me and my food in too substantial of a way. 

Anyway, dinner tonight was summer squash slow cooked and dressed with lemon and parsley, and baked tofu, baked rice pilaf and a pressed salad with ume and tahini dressing. We have cherries, watermelon, nectarines and blueberries in the house. Lemon verbena, mint, thyme and valerian grow on the rooftop. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

delicious princess

Environment and appetite are so intertwined.

As a kid, I had a weight problem and ate compulsively. I was a slave to cravings. It took a major shift that is the greatest miracle of my life, but I conquered my childhood addiction to junk food, I said no to the fat calories of the death machine.

But I have tried to keep the concept of crave alive in my appetite. When I was hooked on the junk, I did not trust my cravings because I was brainwashed into the salt/sugar/fat hypnosis troika, but now that I worship plants and love healthy food, my cravings are my body's magnetic nudge toward the medicine I need.

So how mysterious since I've moved back to California that I am craving pretty much nothing. For the first few days, I wasn't hungry at all. The radiant smiling sun, the round-the-clock laughs and shouts, the car doors slamming, lowriders quivering from bass, the streetlamps leaking midnight brightness into my windows, I guess my body had too much environmentally to digest to even figure out what is its medicine. It's very very rare for me, but sometimes your body just wants a little break from the rough rigors of its miraculous task: metabolism.

It was the opposite when I moved from Portland to Oakland last November. I settled in on Thanksgiving, and immediately found myself craving beer, mushrooms and bread, the damp ferments that mimic that moldy micro-life environment. I don't know if that was really the most healthy example of guidance by cravings, because in that super-damp climate those things can exacerbate damp body disruptions, but I think it did help with assimilation and blending into the dark wet leaves.

Despite the weak appetite, I have been to three farmers markets in the 5 days since I moved here. It has felt like jumping a season. In Oregon, greens and root veggies are still standard, but here in the Bay Area, there are sweet pretty strawberries and bursting cherries. If you showed up at the Portland market right now with local strawberries, people would abandon their strollers and grimacing politeness to passionately dogpile in pursuit of the treat!

In Oakland and Berkeley, I even saw some zucchini, which at first I dissed as a greenhouse product or some trickery, it seemed too early, but then even the reliable growers had a modest pile of the summer staple. Already?

I almost felt nostalgic for that Portland local-eater deprivation at that moment. I grew up in a climate with harsh winters and living in milder places like California, sometimes you miss the snow-bound desperation that leads to joyous religious acts at the first whiffs of spring and the first nip of a delicious delicate raspberry that somehow remained protected enough through snowy months to birth such a decadent taste. Here, the seasonal treats just come a bit too early to feel deprived enough to shout at their yearly debut.

It seems too early somehow for the summery tastes already, but that didn't stop me from purchasing purple basil yesterday. It perfumed my daily miso so exotically, it hinted at the corn cobs and urgently plump tomatoes to come. I indulged in little gem lettuces with a ume plum/tofu dressing and in remembrance of the passing season's chill, we had some broccoli dressed with lemons from our old house's backyard.

Oregon is a wax and wane kind of place, but evidence blossoms everywhere here in the full dilation of nature's possibilities and pleasures. Bunches and bunches of easter egg radishes and varieties of arugula, cresses and herbs, flowers and honey, eggs and nuts, pickles and weird raw creations---all from the soil and toil of this fertile elbow, California. Because of my weirdly absent hunger, I didn't really indulge in much, but I do wish I had purchased the hot sauce created from a local sauerkraut maker's kim chee brine. That's definitely on the list for next week.

My new kitchen is set up and tonight I'll make sauerkraut. I'm researching loquats because we have a backyard tree drooping with the fruit. Our new backyard is so wonderful. There is a tree about to bear fruit, it is offering little infant-green fists that will probably unfold into plums pretty soon. There is a gang of orange alleycats who have balded the grass and made little beds in our backyard. Our neighbor is their tender caretaker. So many apartments are visible from our back porch, and their cooking smells meld and waft.

The afternoon we moved in was on a record-hot day in Oakland, last Friday. The city was buzzing with fever and pulsation. We rushed to move in, stimulated by the idea of dinner from our favorite taco truck once we had all the records, pots and pans, trunks and art, drums and zithers, up the stairs. We finished after about four hours of extreme labor, and even though I worked so hard, I barely felt hungry, even when the smell of frying fish filled the block. I devoured my fish tacos from Tacos Sinaloa anyway, and witnessed my neighbors eat their fried fish and have a five hour Vietnamese karaoke party. It almost brought tears to my eyes, it felt so right, after those bland months in Portland, now I was finally home and all the windows were open and I could see a woman selling strawberries and cherries on the corner from my living room and the warmth of the Vietnamese fried fish/karaoke party filled my world with a festive hominess that made me rejoice!

We drove down from Portland in a caravan on the 101. Once we entered California and basked in the perfumes of the warmed pines, that smell is the seasoning of heaven to me, I almost felt an Oregon-grown unworthiness of the pristine sun. We parked and swam in a rushing snow melt river, its freezing needles an indictment to my metabolism's sluggish winter. My mind was fertile with ideas on the way down to Oakland, all food ideas of course: opening a summertime and growing season cafe in an abandoned lovable building in Laytonville, CA which I would call Beat Poetry; starting a grain/bean/green lunch cart at Laney College; brown-rice horchata stand at the swap meet. But all that idea excitement is tempered by the realities of its execution, and I am still more content to feed my friends for charity and spend an afternoon alone savoring a stone fruit without anybody to answer to. I can barely imagine the prep work, accounting, menu building, all that shit, of the food entrepreneur! But then today I did go to an interview for a serving job at a catering company, and wistfully I fantasized about doing things my way.

But it's always my way in my kitchen, and it's iced tea time for me. More thirsty than hungry, iced barely tea is my favorite lately, and hibiscus sun tea with a little brown sugar. The Chinese drink chrysanthemum and licorice tea in heat. Mint sounds good too. The strawberries taste exactly like my childhood strawberries, which were the perverse bloated GM monsters that we dusted with sugar to help their wateriness, except these little organic strawberries aren't sugared, they just naturally taste so delicious. Ripe apricot, handful of strawberries, sunny day, it's happy for me, life of delicious princess.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I was thinking more about my last post----Jess commented on the taste of nettles, and she has a point. Wild foraged food tastes strong, gamey almost, can be tough. It can be hard to find dandelions, for instance, that aren't hairy and tough and bitter. It helps a lot to have a manual to help find the most succulent wild vegetables maybe. A big appetite helps too. If you are climbing through the forests all day and have no Trader Joe's rations in your backpack, I think the new strong flavors of wild food are more quickly assimilated. I cooked with nettles a few times this spring and found them sometimes to be hard to like. I made one soup that turned out green and tasty and another that was swampy. I snuck nettles into a risotto and nobody noticed they were eating tough burr-y greens. Everyone got all glowy because nettles are such a nutritional powerhouse food.

It's wonderful to make meals for friends who are used to convenience foods, which lack the vitamins and minerals that help us overcome our inevitable hangovers or lack of sleep or hormonal imbalances. When I cook medicine-style delicious foods for them, we get happily fucked up in a whole new way! The conversation is different from the Pabst-and-pizza dinner talk, but I do like both tables, pizza and medicine.

Michael has a good story about foraging for food without a field guide. He was working at Yosemite and took a days-long hike with friends through the high country. They didn't bring much food, they were headed to a big fish-filled lake so they just brough fishing poles, butter and sesame seeds. They also knew where to find ramps, which are wild leeks, so they anticipated fire-roasted fresh-caught fish dinners. But then they were misinformed and the lake was actually fishless and the guys didn't even know how to use their fishing pole. They lived off water and spoonfulls of butter and sesame seeds for the few days, until they lost their water filter, and then began hiking desperately for civilization. At Yosemite, leisure and the Grim Reaper weave so frighteningly quickly! The novelty of wild food is like that too. I will experiment with the flavors but then I think about actually subsisting on it and it sounds death-defying.

I'm packing up my kitchen tomorrow in anticipation of moving to Oakland. It's hard to reckon, even a couple of days without my kitchen and my reliable remedies and comforting habits. But packing is fun for taking inventory: the wooden lemon juicer, the tabletop pickler, jars and wooden spoons. It will be fun to experience the difference again between Portland and Oakland. Here in Portland, there's so much hippie pizza and an overflow of organic grocers and jam-packed cafes and bars. In Oakland, my neighborhood bar, Victors, has had scuffles between the lady bartenders over the tip jar and is generally extremely unfriendly. There's no organic shit in my Oakland neighborhood, just Asian grocers selling bottom-of-the-barrel cheap vegetables. There's no pretty little cafes, but Vietnamese iced coffee/gambling halls, liquor stores, scuzzy noodle shops. I like it better there, it's surprising to me too sometimes.

Friday, May 9, 2008

weed treasure

Next to the train tracks, inbetween freeway arteries, imposing on lawns, it's food. When I look into the hills and see the Oregon forest whafting out its foresty coolness, I can smell the perspiration of the mushrooms and the fragrances of wild hardy greens.

Not just in the forest, the funky tangles of weeds you see on your city-wide bike rides likely have some edible plants in there too. The only thing standing between you and a wild-gathered dinner is some education. I've been trying to comb the books for knowledge. I love dandelion greens and the dandelion root makes a healthful roasty tea, and found crinolines of chamomile flowers on Sauvie Island also inspire the notion that in the weeds there are foods and teas. The plants that nudge concrete for little squares of livability, they seem even more enticing and delicious because of their determination, inhaling car exhaust and exhaling pigments and potential nutrition. I think wild surviving plants in the urban lifelessness hold an energetic essence that is helpful to our own defences.
I was inspired by a short story I read on the life of Euell Gibbons, left. The New Yorker recently published a collection of short stories on food, published through the years in its pages. Gibbons was profiled in one of my favorite stories in the collection. He took a reporter into the forest for a few very cold fall days in order to educate the man on stalking wild food. Late fall is not the most fertile time for edible plants in the climate they were exploring, but still Gibbons fed the man pretty well. They enjoyed greens and nuts and a few different edible aspects of the cattail. The men eat, but also become very acquainted. The profile is a beautiful story of an eccentric man's many adventures through wars and families and occupations, but also a portrait of one of the first contemporary enviornmentally observant cultural figures. There are many epiphanies and honest moments the men share; of course, it's because it's over breakfast, lunch and dinner, eating the foods that once soothed and propelled the more pacific natives to this continent.
People think that wild food in urban areas is pretty nasty. Euell Gibbons pointed out that the safety of food plucked in public city spaces was sterling compared to the pesticide-soaked roughage grown in farms at that time. I think Gibbons would agree that some urban spaces are more succulent than others. For instance, Oakland is not a very appetizing place for picking wild greens because there's condoms and TVs and hairpieces everywhere in the grass, but up here in North Portland, I stalk the mint! In Oakland, I judge the neighborhood and pluck rosemary in some places, but I will score any lemon still on the tree.
I remember when Michael and I were playing in JOMF and touring Italy, in Tarcento the residents had plots of arugula everywhere, even in the midst of freeway mazes and every meal I ate there that December featured the spicy and perky leaf. This edible plant was the landscaping.
I hope to have a mentor one day that will teach me about the edible plants of the region of the world where I want to own a home, the California Sierras. In the meantime, I will enjoy my new home in Oakland. I'll be there in less than a week, checking out the loquat and avocado trees in my backyard and popping off dandelion heads to make wine and identifying the violet.
I had a huge dinner planned for Honey and Liz last night, to fuel our jams, but the gas was shut off because the landlady forgot to pay the bill. It was ok, though, we had hummus and sushi rolls and a salad grown by Chabo and his wife. Very good. Tonight, no cooking, pizza and bike riding.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Of course it wasn't sunny for my last farmer's market day here---it's Oregon.

Twin days of sun a few days ago were eclipsed by a big ocean belch of cloud congestion. It is persistent, seems permanent. It sits phlegmy and windy over us except at the sunset. Then its crust peels back to the West and you see the underside of a foaming red sunset.

The farmers were cheerful though, cause it wasn't raining. That is a real treat. In a week or so my iron skillets and my violin and garbages bags of mingled soap bars and sweaters and speakers will all get loaded and packed away down to Oakland again, just in time for the first strawberries of their season. Full Belly Farm fresh-ground flours and cornmeal, brilliant stone fruits as big as butts, soft lettuces, no collards in sight!

There were still mostly greens at the Peoples market this afternoon, but more exciting varieties. There were collard tops instead of collards, which are flowering stems also called collards raab, and remind me of a delicate broccoli. I'm serving them to my guests tomorrow. Their yellow flowers are very impressive, and so tender and delicious with only a little salt and lemon.

There was also bulk fresh catnip, which is so skunky and dreamy with lavender in tea. On May Day, I carried around big sprigs of catnip which I gave to all the workers, because the tea induces an anti-labor mellow that I find very helpful for stopping global warming, stress mania and other plights of our times. It drives cats wonky but it makes humans unlock and live temporarily in Sun Ra's dreams.

There are people at the market with blue eggs but you have to enroll in a secret subscription service to get them. They get kind of irritated if you even ask; that's the barometer of the voracious demand!

I bought two bunches of radishes from the punk farmer, but did not get the mint cause I know where to scavenge it. Michael got two pounds of rhubarb and he's going to make a crisp in a few minutes. He accidentally misplaced it but the tamale couple found it and held it for him. I bought a bunch of carrots from the Iranian man, and a salad mix which includes miner's lettuce from the Japanese couple. I tried savoy but I wasn't wooed, its flavor was so strong and unusual that I could not commit. I'm a wimp! And I have too many spicy and herby green bunches already in the fridge. But I did get tiny turnips.

The best part was a food vendor who was making rice balls wrapped in nori. I had one of each; a tempeh, mustard and kelp and an ume, honey, onion and kelp. This man has flavor talent, they were so amazing and yummy. I think I may imitate them for my guests tomorrow. He makes mustard himself, it sounds easy and I think I'll try it. He told me he simmered the kelp for three days! What a magician.

At the farmers' market, you think food rules the scene, or the buyers or sellers, but actually its the exploding children, who are so crazy you think they have rabies! They are so well-fed and reared with such gentle rudders, they are disrupting our adult games with oblivious ease, acting as if they are participating in some kind of marketing life lesson with their parents but actually they are conniving some crazy shit!

Those were my first words as a kid, I swear!
Actually my first expression was:
But when I was a kid, my first chore was to ring the bell and say, "DINNER!"