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!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Favorite things

Hello, this is Eva's new food blog.
I will write about the act of life worship in this temple: the kitchen. Plants are the focus. I eat plants because their individual beauty is a most imaginative creation. Their diversity is a map of earthly beauty, appearing in so many colors and characteristics and each so beneficial and important. I eat plants because eating animals is increasingly perplexing----and I am a lifelong vegetarian unable to digest animals. I eat plants because I want their attitudes to be a part of the harmony of my energy. Plants are tough and hardy----even delicate plants can smile at the sun from the tallest mountains, flimsy greens can power a horse to ride crazy through the plains. I idolize the pacifism of plants. I most admire farmers, and plants are the babies of their nurseries, facilitating income and a hard but decent job for the alchemists who must choose dirt over a lifetime squirreled in the office or factory. Local seasonal cooking is nature worship!

Winter is so difficult for me. I don't want to admit its necessity to the cycle of life sometimes; I just want the sun, the glorious sun to always baste me with its sugars. This past winter I ate mostly seasonally, and I missed the sun's offspring, the red-bonneted strawberries, the exploding tomatoes. No bell peppers or tomatoes in January this year, except when I want to the taqueria I guess. There was only one operating farmers market in Portland this winter, and it was a 10 mile drive away, but I visited as often as I could. I bought turnips from the Iranian immigrant, Indian mustard greens and onions from the farmer Lyle, who I even worked for a little bit in order to get some discounts. Kale and carrots, turnips and onions, collards, many many greens. Michael and I ate greens endlessly, and he became cranky about it, and I fantasized about the coming blossoms with such intensity that I began to fear that they might never come. At winter's end, the desire for spring and summer becomes so desperate sometimes that it seems as if you are waiting for a deliverance from a Santa Claus-like shepherd of fate, and her workings are mysterious and there are nightmares: what if the sunshine never comes? It has been slow, but it has started coming, finally the dilation!

Nettles and catnip were the first market treasures for me this dark and cool spring. I never cooked with nettles before, and made soups and teas from them. They don't really taste much different from the greens we consumed all winter, but their presence was an exciting departure from kale and collards. The big Saturday farmers market opened a month ago, and the bounty is steadily expanding. The first market, I had to arrive there almost at the end of the day, and everything was gone! That was a pleasure to see, because the farmers do need to be rewarded. They are our lifeline into the uncertain future of food. Did you ever expect food uncertainty in your lifetime? I have intuited most of the uncertainty we are starting to feel from our unsustainable lifestyles, but somehow I hadn't anticipated food supply anxiety to happen yet.

The farmers market makes me so happy in that way, and in the way that participating in local food, you are at the nectar pipeline of life, and it is very delicious if you are patient. It's not that cool having endless collards for four months, but then the spectacular mouth awakening happens at the same time that you get to liberate your feet and hands from gloves and socks, and suddenly I feel my fertility skyrocket with the greatest intensity ever.

I have been practicing this borderline masochistic power yoga lately and riding my bike as fast as I can so I can make calorie room for the spectacular food the season is bringing. If I am lazy, I am only hungry for two meals, but the splendor lately calls for big three.

last night---eating alone
Red cabbage from the sad-faced but then quick-to-smile Iranian immigrant farmer, braised in apple cider vinegar and sugar with Hood River granny smith apples
Baked lemon rosemary tofu
Fessenden sourdough bread with Fraga Farms chevre and home-grown radish sprouts
Organic beer and organic weed

recent breakfasts
Whole oats toasted almost burnt and then cooked. I eat them with flax seed, almond milk, local bee pollen, raisins
Quick oats soaked overnight in Norris organic whole milk yogurt, diced apples, raisins and flax seed

Saturday night dinner with Rob and Chris
Jorinji miso soup with seaweed, spicy cress and Japanese parsley
Bittersweet farms salad with Oregon walnuts and hempseeds
Risotto with Wild Things farms shiitakes, homemade stock, celery, carrots, celery leaves and parsley from our backyard
local radishes
Fessenden sourdough
French grape vodka shots
organic weed
tea of fresh catnip from Wild Things farms, lavender, chamomile and Wild Things nettles

Michael has been in Palm Springs, making the cash that we will butter the farmers' hands with tomorrow, and I will make him a huge dinner in his honor. Braised turnips, dandelion green salad with tempeh, chickpeas in coconut milk and shiitakes, homemade naan, a big salad. I'm also pickling mustard greens as directed by the Japanese immigrant farmer at the Wednesday market and have been growing sprouts in the cupboard. It is very easy and cheap to grow sprouts, you would be surprised! I'll post directions.