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.