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.

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