"What's the occassion?" the cute guy asked. I'd prepared four different foods for the same meal and used the big plates reserved for company.
The night before there had been five different foods but he hadn't noticed as one of the foods was salsa which required I layer everything in a bowl to properly enjoy.
It was two days of unplanned celebration. In September I was confident that I would not be able to sustain local food meals through the winter. And stomp-my-foot sure that the summer foods I'd put up in the freezer would be gone by the end of the year. I pictured us withering away cold and hungry.
But I was happily wrong. The year round farmers' markets augmented with my freezer stash have completely kept me from the grocery store with the exception of one item stops for such necessities as baking powder, dish soap. Local Straus milk.
So I cooked. The big plate dinner was an egg and Santa Rosa cheese omelet. It paired beautifully with Marin Root Farm's mixed greens braised with leeks, along side roasted tiny potatoes (nearly too cute to eat). We had flat and ugly home baked bread with homemade butter that would make even a cereal box taste good.
The next night the salsa dinner started with a Sonoma County tortilla topped with leftover butternut squash, fried hamburger (it's been fifteen years since I could say that!) from a cow pastured on Grandma's old chicken farm.
The salsa was from my tomato and pepper freezer stash. And the final topping was inspired by another Dark Days Eat Local Challenge blogger, Green Bean. I mixed cilantro, shallots, ginger, olive oil and sea salt in the food processer. After inital pinched tastes we piled it on in great spoonfuls. Read - No Leftovers!
As much as I celebrate my foodshed I become ever more aware of the challenges facing our national and global food systems in terms of accessability, fair trade, enviromental sustainability, labor rights and our own national food security.
But change starts at home; Right?
"What's the occassion?" the cute guy asked. I'd prepared four different foods for the same meal and used the big plates reserved for company.
The first anemones on the market always remind me that spring is near.
I found these long stem anemones yesterday at the Ferry Building farmers' market. For $3. I wanted to whisper in the farmer's ear, "You should raise the price. These are really, I mean really, nice."
This is what I love about anemones. The best time to buy them is when they are still curled up, closed, playing ugly ducking to the swans they will become. They are hardly worth a second look.
But then, after a few hours, a day, depending on temperature and freshness, they begin to reveal themselves. And that, the slight opening tease, is the beginning of the pleasure. They curl back up at night.
And they perform this dance every day; opening a bit further as time goes on, showing off the colors and patterns previously hidden, closing up less in the evening until they drop their petals all together.
The dropping of the petals is its own enjoyment though. They do it slowly. The anemones loose their petals like a strip of silk stockings, their naked black middles remaining on the stem. No less beautiful in my eyes.
And it's a sin to remove even a petal before they have made their final bow. Which they will do when they are done.
I can't let a year go by without them.
I experienced a miracle.
The last year has been full of revelations; where our food comes from and it's staggering effects on the environment. All of which has led to my getting religion in the form of local foods.
Now the mysteries of food are actually unfolding to me.
Yesterday, and it was Sunday, the perfect day for a miraculous occurrence, I saw one of my favorite foods, butter, created from a bottle of cream. And I am here to spread the word.
"We are going to make butter," I told my aunt.
"We need a mixer," she said.
"I don't have one. We'll use a whisk."
"We'll have sore arms," she tried while I began whipping.
"Here." I handed her the bowl licking whipped cream off my fingers.
"We need paddles," she said.
"It's spitting!? What do you mean it's spitting!?" I approached her tentatively. And the contents of the bowl spit on me too.
I took the bowl to the sink then and with a spoon and smaller bowl kept up the whisking stirring motion and that's when the miracle occurred.
"Come and look." I felt like I was giving birth. Well, not really but it was an omnipotent moment. The contents of the bowl completely separated. Think the parting of the red sea.
A clear liquid splashed in the bottom of the bowl and the butter separated from it, sticking together, sloshing around.
"It's butter!" I yelled. "It's butter!"
No Moses. Only a hell of a lot of whisking. And no sore arms which is the biggest miracle of all.
Tonight I off loaded three quarters of the ten pound banana squash I've had in the pantry since September.
I remember the Saturday afternoon at the Petaluma market when I bought it. "I keep them in the barn all winter," the farmer told me. "Then I sell them to the market down the street. They cut them up and sell them by the pound."
I carried my apricot colored squash off then, proud to be a step ahead of the grocery. And I kept it in the pantry for four months and had to bully my friends, they are still my friends, to take a chunk home.
"I have two squash at home you already gave me," one complained.
"They aren't cut open. They'll last. Eat them for lunch." I commanded.
"I have one too," another tried.
"One is nothing," I countered. "Here."
They were more compliant than usual though as I'd invited them for dinner. "It's local," I said at one point.
"Duh," they responded in unison.
I was effusive of the mustard greens in the salad mixed with arugula and a hand full of my back deck baby greens. The salads were plated with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, rounds of pink lady apple, roasted pecans and drizzled with honey and olive oil.
"It has layers of flavor," my cook book friend complimented on the soup with Rancho Gordo tepary beans, summer stock, peppers and tomatoes from the freezer. I couldn't have hoped for higher praise.
The soup also had layers of story though. Other people have their summer vacation adventures to show and tell - I have soup. The buying, preparing and preserving of the summer harvests. It all went through my mind.
The best part though - sharing the meal. Even if it was merely a bribe to off load more squash.
A friend offered to teach me how to make squash raviolis. "Great," I told her. "I have plenty of squash." A complete understatement but she had no idea.
"I'll bring the rest of the ingredients," she volunteered.
She unpacked her bag of cheeses and noodley skins onto the counter. "What's that in the package?" I asked.
She held up a square of clear plastic the size of a condom wrapper. Sealed on either side, the package contained three cloves of garlic. "Isn't this cool?" she said. "They peel and package them in individual servings."
Now I know that packaging garlic into ticky tacky little packages is nothing in terms of the enviromental, social and health issues facing the world but in that moment I was ready to give up. But not without speaking my mind first. I felt my cheeks getting hot, my hair beginning to smolder.
After spouting off about Trader Joe's and garlic from China and where all the plastic in the world is going to end up, I regained my composure and offered garlic from Brentwood. In it's original skin. My friend graciously accepted and told me to peel it.
An hour later the squash raviolis were terrific. Candle lit table, laughter, seasonal salad and brussel sprouts.
I called my friend the next day to apologize - again. She admitted the garlic we used was really good. "It tasted," she hesitated. "Well, it tasted garlicy."
I nodded my head silently on the other end and allowed a small smile.
"But you've got to work on your delivery," she added.
Several months ago I had the privilege of seeing Van Jones speak to a large audience. The introduction he received told of an event where he had been on stage recently with Barack Obama. And that he was the brighter of the two stars. I was skeptical. Until I heard him speak.
Immediately I thought he is the next Martin Luther King. And today, the birthday of MLK, as I listen to the stories of MLK I continue to believe my first impression was accurate.
Here is a one minute video of Van Jones that restores or strengthens my hope each time I watch it. And I've watched it repeatedly.
Our downstairs, except for the kitchen is covered from floor to ceiling with plastic and blue tape while our ceiling is being somethinged. Retaped, refinished, Somethinged.
So I decided to cook. Not my usual mono-meal, squash in a bowl or brown rice with an egg. No. I decided to have every burner going while I stirred and flipped, griddled and mashed. Did I mention the pantry door is also draped and taped with plastic. Anything in there is off limits. More forced creativity.
And we had the best local meal ever. Upstairs on the bedroom floor. Watching the third season of Lost on a DVD due back tomorrow.
I mashed potatoes with milk and butter all from Sonoma County. Sauteed delicata squash that I'd under baked the night before. Quick steamed kale from the Sunday farmers' market. And I put together a winter version of salsa I'd dreamed of in the summer. It's took me until now to make it a reality.
In August and September I slow roasted peppers, pureed and froze them. Tonight I added the spicy cubes with a touch of water to tomatoes I'd also froze. Once the tomatoes, which had been roasted, with olive oil, garlic and sea salt, were partially thawed I easily removed the skins. That was it.
"Why's it so sweet," the cute guy asked.
It had to be the tomatoes. They were from the elderly man in Petaluma that grows them like they are members of his family. Buying them felt like kidnapping even though I was the one paying.
The cute guy also bought a roasted not-really-a-free-range chicken tonight and tortillas, both from the next county. Being mono-meal people though we layered one thing on top of the other into one bowl each and covered everything with salsa.
Yes, it was sweet.
The house is going to be taped up for a few days, which is fine with me. I'll cook.
The blue sky and bunches of radishes at the Sunday morning farmers' market had me nearly skipping. Not that I don't like winter, I do. In fact the fall and winter are my favorite seasons.
The lift in my step was nearly involuntary, as if a seed under my skin was busting out ready to bloom. And I couldn't help but enjoy the change.
Which partially explains the bags of citrus I came home with. I was captured by a round woman in an apron and one of them was clearly from the old country as my Grandmother would have said. And this woman with her unleashed pincurls kept feeding me citrus fruits. She was pronouncing names, telling me what each new fruit tasted like, handing me more, reaching into boxes, slicing, handing, talking about antioxidants, popping a slice into her own mouth, waving her knife around.
"Here. Taste." I had some variety of mellow something grapefruit in my mouth, a slice of yellow lime, a pink orange. "It doesn't taste like lime," she declared.
I shook my head, my hand filling up with peels. She was right. She thrust a piece of small orange fruit, a cross between a mandarin and kumquat at me.
"Eat the skin." Her knife stabbed the space between us. I didn't argue. My face puckered until I bit into the almost sugary skin and putting the other peels in my pocket I started filling a bag with the sour fruits.
Satisfied, but still talking the woman began poking pinwheels of oranges and lemons onto sticks and poking them into the sides of the boxes. And all I could think of were daffodils and the bucket of china lillies at the first corner of the market.
And I came home with some of everything. Buddha's hands and kumquats excluded. The only two things I knew the names of.
"They're from Fresno," I told my friend later, taking the bright skinned fruit out of their bags. Apologizing as Fresno is further than my 100 mile local zone.
"Fresno? You mean these aren't from Florida?!" She picked up a big grapefruit. "You can grow these here!? "In California!?"
I nodded remembering she's not a native and smiling let her excitement effect me too.
We had our own tasting party then, this one more slowly than my other and we discussed for awhile where in the world our food comes from.
This morning on the radio we heard that Greenpeace is chasing a Japanese whaling fleet from a whale sanctuary in the antartic. The whaling fleet is planning on killing 1,000 whales for scientific purposes.
I immediately came downstairs and googled Greenpeace.
And then I signed this letter to be sent to the White House.
Another drop in the bucket but it felt good to do something.
Later in the day at the local coffee shop the cute guy and I signed a petition to give industrial raised animals more space on production farms. I shy away from wild haired people carrying multiple clip boards but my guy heads right for them. When he told me what she was up too I nearly knocked her over to get one of the clip boards.
I asked if the petition could be signed on-line but the short answer was no.
If you see anyone with a bunch of clipboards and ink pens clutched in their hand, check them out. You might be able to give your main course a little more breathing space before it ends up on your dinner plate.
(My hair is getting wilder every day.)
I live in a condo. With a shared common area yard. Shared with the neighbors two small children, their one large dog and enough plastic toys to entertain a hand full of generations to come.
All of which is to explain why I don't garden. Oh, and there is little sun. And the year I planted tomatoes they were eaten by the town roof rats. That was the last straw. Actually the last tomato.
But every January I get the urge. It's a physical pull in the center of my chest. I want to plant seeds. I want to dig and to watch things grow. I begin designing elaborate cantilevered structures to hang plants from with sonar devices to keep the kids and critters away. Two nights ago I imagined an enclosed greenhouse.
"Do you think we could build one on the back deck?" I asked my resident cute guy builder.
He pointed out our deck is over the garage. And up three flights of stairs.
Ummm. I haven't given up.
In the meantime I took blueberries for muffins out of the freezer last night and remembered the Fairfax farmers' market where I bought them. Not quite like growing them but that hot summer evening, the redwood trees in the park, the subsequent walk around town snacking on blueberries all came back to me.
Not the harvest memories I'm longing for but I love them all the same.
Maybe I shouldn't have put the greens with stinging nettles in the blue bowl. They would have looked better in the orange. Or left in the pan. Maybe I should have tried to fluff them.
They made everything clump together. Until then the kale and chards with carmelized onions looked great. Edible. They were greener than hundred dollar bills. I could distinguish one green from the other.
After the nettles, they clumped. One big wad. I cut it up and combed it with a fork. Then I had a lot of little wads. That stuck together.
The cute guy looked in the bowl. "What is it?"
"Greens." I said it with confidence. "Yummmmm. The carmelized onoins are so sweet." I took another bite. "And the greens are..."
He took a little from the serving bowl, surveyed it on his fork, eyed me with distrust. "Don't laugh," I told him. He nibbled a stem. "Just try it. You'll like it." He took a bigger taste.
"Oh yeah." That's great," he said. "What's that over there," he yelled. I turned my head.
"Where?" I turned back to see his fork retreating from the bowl. Empty.
It looks like I'll be eating clumpy local greens for the next couple of days. Damn ugly but they don't taste bad.
I figured out the best way to cook winter squash -- have the cute guy do it!
Tonight he baked a centerpiece kabocha squash, smashed it up with butter and a bit of brown sugar. It was the best squash he's ever made.
"It's the only squash I've ever made," he reminded me.
Still it was delicious. He made good points.
In Defense of Food
The threat of colliding storms couldn't keep me away from Michael Pollan's premiere author's event last night to promote his new book, In Defense of Food. The holidays were events to get through for this evening. My star was on stage. His book was in my hands. The message: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants., half a haiku, already memorized from the front cover.
He came out, all legs and laced up boots. He talked about shopping and eating from the outer edges of the grocery store to find Food. To avoid the food science products of the middle aisles.
He talked about the satisfaction of eating Food. That you don't need as much of it to be satisfied. Patricia Unterman interviewing him disagreed and I'm more in her court on that point then in his too. I know that if a little is good, more is better.
And he talked about the huge toll on the environment by methane belching cows. I tried to picture that, a nice brown jersey cow belching, but couldn't. Apparently it takes a giant toll on our air quality though.
And then we parted ways. Michael Pollan, my rock star of the eat local, protect the environment, reduce my carbon bite movement hit on bananas. He said he wasn't a purist about eating local. Fine. I was with him. We do the best we can. But then he condoned eating bananas. In fact, he said, we should enjoy them now in the last days of cheap oil because it isn't going to last.
I agree with the enjoy part. Especially when food is imported. It's getting to us at a high cost. But I also believe that eating closer to home is better for the environment and is a way everyone can participate to one degree or another to make a difference. And it felt like Mr. Michael Pollan backed off on his previous point to raise awareness of the high cost of consuming cheap imported foods. I'm disappointed.
He still has great points and layers of useful information in just the first five pages of his new book. And I want to believe that he is simply sculpting his message to be accessible to a larger audience rather than the local food zealot I've become as a result of his previous book, Omnivore's Dilemma. Time will tell as he's speaking all over the country in the next few months.
In any event, I'm reading the new book and sticking with local foods as much as I can. It's one thing I can do.