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!