The other night a friend told me I should give cooking classes. "I'm an accidental cook," I told her.
"You're always cooking something new," she said. "I'm in a rut. I cook the same things all the time."
It wasn't until I hung up that I realized eating seasonally doesn't accommodate cooking ruts for long. Sure, the guy I feed doesn't believe that there is ever a season without chard or kale and it's seeming like he may be right, but logically I know it can't grow year round.
Last summer when I was picking up speed with the summer squash the season ended. Same with the tomatoes. I was ready to live on them forever and then one day, they were done and it was time for winter squash. Now we're eating carrots and cauliflower.
Eating seasonally forces change or rather, it inspires creativity. The food informs what we're having for dinner more than I conform preconceived ideas to a meal. That's what happened when I accidentally cooked Indian food this week.
It started with a head of cauliflower I didn't quite know what to do with. And then I bought another head and another because, well, because they were so good looking. I know, I have a problem. But then I found a recipe for ginger cauliflower soup seasoned with curry powder. No more problem!
I found half a bag of yellow lentils hidden in the back of the potato drawer and decided to make dahl. I've always wanted to make dahl. I used summer peppers from the freezer, ginger from Fresno and local garlic that made my fingers smell from peeling it. I sprinkled in turmeric and we had dahl like it tastes at the restaurant, but better.
And lastly, since I believe that dahl and nan are the perfect marriage, I made nan. Oh, heaven. I made nan. And a cilantro pesto with olive oil and more ginger. The guy and I are still swooning.
And to think this meal would never have happened if tomatoes were in season year round.
Mondays are a harsh transition from the recycled greenness of my kitchen to the sidewalks of the food-to-go financial district. Every other person has a box, a tray, a cup, a tray of cups, bags of boxes, boxes of bags.
Rarely does a cashier look up before adding additional packaging or a customer look down to refuse it. The movements are robotic; bag it, move on, don't skip a beat, don't interrupt the line and decline. The machine will fall apart.
There is so much food in the high rise world of business and over the years I've eaten it all. It all tastes the same. The scones taste like bagels with or without butter. The organic salad tastes like the chicken burritos. The beef burritos taste like the turkey sandwiches, which taste like the vegetable soup, which taste like the pizzas by the slice. The pizza tastes identical to the Chinese food and the bread doesn't taste like anything, which is exactly how everything tastes - like absolutely nothing at all.
Any taste that once existed has been processed, bred or shipped out of it so it can be delivered in manageable, ready to serve, plastic wrapped pallets.
All of which shatters any illusions that my diet of local food and multiple recycle receptacles makes a fly speck of difference in the scheme of things. When the realization doesn't kick me in the stomach or ignite my hair on fire, it's laughable really. We are a damn big world.
And yet my efforts and the hard work of so many people I know is a start to the large answers we need to move towards sustainability individually and collectively. I've got to believe that's true. Or go home and back to bed.
Sunday mornings are my main farmers' market but this morning a fierce wind was rattling our windows. It was raining. Sporadic, giant amounts of rain, raining. And it was warm in bed.
This is why I used to go to the grocery store, I thought. I could stay in bed reading the paper, sipping coffee and then with pretty hair I could use my umbrella into the store and leave with paper bags, the kind that perfectly fit the recycling cupboard, and completely dry, pack my car and go home.
The thought propelled me out of bed and into two pair of pants, a scarf and the cute guy's rain jacket determined to find food that didn't remind me of the Stepford Wives or Soylent Green.
I nearly had the farmers' market to myself. Five minutes out of the car and I got caught in a downpour between the protea vendor's tent and the cute Capay Valley guy with the gorgeous leeks. And then I realized the jacket had a hood.
At his designated corner the yogurt man was calmly standing in full rain regalia without a tent over his table listening to On The Media through perfectly planted ear buds. I bought a mason jar of plain, he gave me change and we never mentioned the rain.
Then the wind grabbed a set of tents that were tied to tables weighted with ice filled trays of gaping fish. A collective gasp reached up to grab the poles and the wind dropped them, ice cubes skidding on the ground. Everyone looking at each other, what-to-do, written across their faces.
The mushroom lady bagged her mushrooms in plastic instead of brown bags and I'm sure it was the wet hair that won half a smile from her. In any event, it was high praise.
Nearby the Prather Ranch guys were cool as ever, even next to the tortilla man in his hollywood set tent, completely dry and in short sleeves. I don't know how he did it.
The furthest ends of the market smelled of Swedish Waffles like they never have before. And the kettle korn folks were there, blue tarps flapping, popcorn popping. Crazy.
I felt like I needed to buy something from everyone, primarily for the fact that they were there but then secondly, because it was a dry market without the coffee vendor. Thankfully I had coffee at home.
At one tent I didn't recognize I popped a couple of satsumas from a wet box into a used bag, reached for a taste and then thought better of it. They tasted old. And that funny space between the skin and the fruit that gives a bit with a gentle squeeze, it was mushy. I put the fruit back but it was hard to walk away with only a few other buyers around.
One of the flower guys, he has nice anemones, lost part of this stack of wrapping newspaper but the pages didn't fly far from his truck. They stuck to the ground like hop scotch and wouldn't lift even with the increasing attempts by the wind. With help he peeled them from the black top.
"What a day!" I said to the fellow at the next Marin farm.
"It's just different," he said looking at me. "It's just different. That's all." And he was smiling. Stacking cilantro in the rain and the wind and smiling.
"Yeah," I said. "Just different." And I found myself smiling too.
"What are you going to do when the DDELC is over," a friend recently asked.
"The same thing I'm doing before the DDELC is over?" I wasn't sure if it was a trick question.
"Oh," she said. "I thought maybe you would go back to normal."
I've been reflecting on that. Normal.
I keep carrots in an office file drawer at work and last night I was digging in my purse for a pen and found watermelon radishes instead.
There are greens in the fridge to feed the worms in the garage. Doing dishes includes plastic bags and the art of propping them up into crumpling clear villages on the counter to dry.
I secretly slip grocery bags into my purse that coworkers leave in the kitchen to use at home for garbage and recycling.
Shaggy bread dough bubbles on the kitchen counter, potatoes sprout in the bottom drawer. The batteries we kept in the freezer have been replaced by raspberries and applesauce.
Our pantry has become a shelter for wayward winter squash, art and orphans all of them, which I've been placing in foster homes since the fall.
I buy nettles from a lady with a hundred tattoos, walnuts from a woman wearing a hat in the likeness of a furry chicken. I buy citrus from a Grandma with pin curls.
While I miss the athletic blond cashier at the corner grocery, I now know the guy that grows roots and greens. I have a crush on the man with the apples and the cheese guy seduces me with his accent week after steamy week.
My favorite brands are Dirty Girl Produce, Happy Boy Farms.
And I no longer check labels for calories or sugar content but instead I get tips from the farmers. "Last of the crop," or a whispered, "Sweet," as I fill the bag higher.
I quit using shampoo after reading the Herbwife's Kitchen and Green Bean's blogs and instead rinse my curls with a rosemary tea I brew from garden trimmings.
All of which seems quite natural. I've concluded this is as close to normal as I'll likely get, challenge or not.
All around Marin the quince are rich with blossoms. I've never seen them so thickly pink. The acacia are either reaching their zenith or taking the first step away.
In Mill Valley at the intersection to Muir Beach it's daffodil city. There are bridal white fairy trees, pink ornamentals, and stately magnolias on every street and corner through Larkspur. Daphne scents evening walks and azaleas continue to be brightly proud.
In my backyard the white camilia is budded, the dogwood doing its naked possum act before it bursts into flower. The scented geranium has slung its crazy legs over the edge of the flower bed while tips of green are making their way ant like along the branches of spirea. Arbors of iceland roses are covered in suckers, obstinate from the start.
The blue jay, more opinionated than the morning crows, has returned without a word of where he's been. And even though I was ruthless cutting back the hydrangea in the fall, it's gone wild. Again.
The neighbors eavesdropping plum tree is fat with buds while the other neighbor's apple tree has yet to consider another spring. The peach and apricot trees on the far other side haven't joined the party yet but they have a reputation for showing up late, lipstick on their teeth, hems a bit short.
Next door a lime tree is hung with fruit, the product of pure neglect while on my deck red habaneros hang by threads to the decimated plants that bore them, stalks and stems decomposing in their terracotta pots.
Some days it's difficult to consider that the environment is breaking down from over consumption when all I can see is the tenacity of its ridiculous beauty bursting out all around me.
Last week I had a conversation with the muse.
"What do you do with nettles?" she asked.
"I sauteed them once and they turned to mush."
I tried to make nettle mush sound good after that but she wasn't buying it. And the challenge was on. I vowed to make them appetizing.
Two days later the folks at CUESA included a recipe for wild nettle soup with olio nuovo in their Friday newsletter. Of course now I have to figure out what olio nuovo is although I'd probably leave it out anyway.
Then Saturday night the cute guy took me to dinner and the pasta special was not only made with nettles but served in a nettle sauce with pine nuts. The pasta was the color of emeralds, hundreds of emeralds and I was loathe to part with the smallest bite. After eating it I felt as if my blood had gone from red to green. As if I was superhuman. As if I would now be able to give tarot readings. And I'll never replicate the dish at home.
In fact I passed on the nettles at the market this week altogether. I saw them there in the corner, a waxed cardboard box and big sign saying, don't touch. "Think good thoughts," I remembered someone telling me, "and they won't sting." But I wasn't in the mood.
I've since searched for more nettle ideas. I found this article that validates my superpowers after eating nettle pasta. And this recipe at Wild Food Plants for a creamy nettle soup that I'm sure we would love way too much. Then I found a bunch of recipes from nettle tea to frittata at Mariquita Farm.
All of which makes me wish I'd brought some home. But next week with ideas in hand and more nettles at the market I may even invite the muse for dinner. And pick up a deck of tarot cards too and see if the powers are for real.
I never knew worms hibernated.
But apparently they do and that's why part of my Valentines, one pound of approximately 600 worms, is not here yet. They are still sleeping and new eggs won't hatch until it's warmer.
The cute guy was at his handsomest this Valentines. Usually we exchange, "heys", across the table but instead he surprised me with a full ensemble worm bin. It's beautiful.
I've moved the bin to three different places in the garage in anticipation of the arrival of my new pets. If the kitchen were larger I'd have them there.
The bin is made out of a plastic storage box, ventilation at the top and a screen added a few inches from the bottom. There's a shiny garden hose spigot on the side.
The worms will eat all the fruit and vegetable parts that we don't with a few acidic exceptions. This article claims they will even eat a pair of Levi's.
Then the worms poop like crazy (I'm assured it doesn't stink) and once a month I'm instructed to pour a gallon of water over them. The water leeches through the poop settling in the bottom of the bin below the worm screen. I turn on the faucet and wella, I'll have a gallon of liquid fertilizer. This is love.
I want to give worms to everyone I know. I want to set up community worm bins, bring a bin to work. We could set them up at bus stops, grocery stores, libraries. We could have them at every Starbuck's across the country. Wouldn't that be something!
I'll start with mine. As soon as those lovely worms get here.
Sometimes I have the smallest problem becoming obsessed with games. Last year it was computer Scrabble and lately I clear my mind with four suits Spider solitaire at enigram solitaire.com. (No, I won't link it.)
But now I have a game that is smart and benefits people needing food, freerice.com. It's brilliant.
I found the site at Danielle's blog, Touch The Earth Farm, and have donated nearly 1,000 grains.... cross that out, nearly 2,000 grains of rice to the World Food Programme by playing. Thank you, Danielle.
Yesterday there were 150,137,840 grains of rice donated.
The game is self-explanatory. A word is presented and you choose the best definition from one of four presented. The words become increasingly more difficult. With each correct answer 20 grains of rice are donated to the WFP.
The rice is purchased from the advertising revenue generated by the site though I barely noticed the advertising.
I read the small print on the WFP link and when possible the rice is purchased locally to feed populations needing it, which we already know, has the added benefit of also benefiting the community. Although to be honest, at the point people are that hungry, where the food comes from is not my first thought.
Per the game site my vocab level is at a 38 so far. More donating is definitely necessary!
I've been tagged again! First it was Chile and this time by my nearly a neighbor in the southbay Green Bean.
Thanks Green Bean!
The rules are:
(1) Link to the person that tagged you.
(2) Post the rules on your blog.
(3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
1. Food tastes better when eaten with my fingers.
2. I have a thing for little bowls.
3. Recipes were made to be ad-libbed.
4. Bread is better than chocolate.
5. I buy food because it's cute or pretty or has an orphan like quality.
6. None of my eating utensils match.
(4) Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
1. Alaska/Seattle Eat Local Northwest
2. Australia Gardeners Gastronomy
3. Portland, Oregon Old Dog New Tricks
6. North Hampton Sea Coast Eat Local
You people are next. (If you choose to be.) In any event it was fun visiting your blogs and knowing we are eating local everywhere!
(5) Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.
I planted four pots of baby salad greens in November from starts I bought from a tall elf like man at the Marin Farmers' Market. I didn't think of it as gardening or even growing food. It was an experiment. I mean, food doesn't grow through the winter. There's no sun, too much rain. It's cold.
But I'm often frivolous and the grower looked lonely week after week in his unfolded chair and tables full of six packs of mixed greens, spinach, mizuna, arugula and tat soi displayed in perfect rows.
"They'll be fine," he told me as I packed a flat with nearly one of everything. "They're strong."
They haven't seen my yard, I thought. No cover for protection, the big dog and kids from next door with their noses in everything. The frost. The night animals. They'll never grow.
And I'm an optimist. And often wrong.
The damn things took off. I have done exactly nothing after they were planted. No water, no food, no anything.
Every few weeks I take their picture and stand on the back deck saying, you guys are beautiful. You are so beautiful. And then I eat them.
I've harvested a couple of colanders and added them to market mix, once for friends after I made them taste the different kinds. And the plants keep going.
Even though they have been complete troopers through the winter, the last week of sun has strengthened them up even more. It's as if they are in training for the Olympics. Which means there are more of them for dinner.
I had no idea eating at home could be so easy.
I first heard about this Yes We Can music video by Will.I.Am from the only person I know who doesn't own a computer. Go figure.
And then I saw it on Green Bean's blog. She actually posted it on her sidebar which is not only cool but technically advanced in my elementary knowledge of blogs.
I've watched the video half a dozen times now and counting trying to figure why I'm so moved by it. Yes, it's sexy; it revs up, smoothes out, holds, crescendos. It makes my body sway, my blood heat up.
But it's more than that. The message allows for hope, gives permission for hope, encourages hope. It says, we deserve nothing less than hope and that whatever we want to accomplish, We Can.
And not just people of certain political persuasions but everyone.
My favorite line is, "We are not as divided as our politics would suggest."
This is a blog to promote eating locally as a vehicle to lessen our carbon bite on the environment but I could not resist posting this.
And now I'm going to go and eat a local carrot. Because I Can.
And so Can You!
2/18/08 More: The Eat Local Challenge blog has a terrific write up by Julie Cummins about this video, about hope, about eating local. Here's the link if you have a second.
Our local meals this week have not been worthy of the Chinese New Year. They've been fast food in the form of quick braised greens, brown rice and handfuls of almonds. One night we had scrambled eggs with the rice, another night a delicata squash with the kale. We've been eating bunches of carrots carried to work in wax paper bags, satsumas two at a time.
Hardly worth writing about except for the fact that we've managed to maintain real food as fast food when we need to.
The one trophy meal of the week was a pizza with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, a mystery artisan cheese, hot Italian sausage and carmelized onions.
Tonight I was at a loss for dinner. There was cauliflower and arugula in the fridge. Some onions and a jar of yeast. At least that's all I could see.
"I can't eat anymore greens," the cute guy said. He had his head buried in his hands at the table.
We walked downtown to eat.
"Where do you think zucchini comes from this time of the year?" I asked at the first item on the menu.
The waiter walked up. "We'll have the pizza," the cute guy said taking the menu out of my hand. "And the arugula salad. We'll share."
"Arugula is local," I offered once we were alone again.
"I know," he replied. "And just for tonight everything else here is local too."
He's such a good sport I played along, although I can't stop wondering about where those poor zucchini must have come from.
While the primary election results rolled in last night I was tagged.
Yeah, that's what I said the first time I was tagged a few months ago. I was clueless.
But now it's happened again.
And this time I was kind of excited. And then I read the rules and wasn't, because, well, I'd have to reread my own blogs and I've already read them 54 times editing them to begin with.
Still in the dark? The person that tagged me, Chile, does a great and succinct job of explaining (thank you!).
Even more succinct -- link up five of your favorite blogs on five different topics.
It ended up being fun, almost as if someone else had written the blogs but I had the memories.
I tasted the salt on the strawberries all over again choosing the blog on family.
The blog about friends wasn't that long ago but it was still sweet to remember. It reminded me of the lentil wreaths the Chronicle did on the front page of the food section this morning.
The blog I picked about me is embarrassing. Who is that crazy woman?!
I went straight to strawberry heaven for the someone I love topic.
And the last one about anything was the hardest. It was a toss up between two haikus. Here's the winner.
The best part of doing this was realizing that all the choices were interchangeable as to the category I picked them for. And that was the best part of all.
I used to buy little carrots in plastic bags. Sometimes organic, cut to a polite size, peeled. I assumed they were clean, ate them straight from the bag and was happy to live in such a progressive part of the world.
Some nights I would dump the entire bag in a double steamer, top them with olive oil, salt and eat them. All. Call it dinner.
But I could have been eating bagged rutabagas, or bagged potatoes, no offense to either, but the carrots weren't exactly distinguishing. They were orange, crunchy, the bag said carrots and the resemblance to a real carrot ended there.
They didn't have the earthy fragrance of carrots. They didn't have Bugs Bunny greens. And they were missing the veins of dirt in the skin. I didn't want to think about it but they were missing taste.
Maybe I pay more for the carrots at the farmers' market, I'm honestly not sure, but they are carrot-carrots, free range artisan carrots. They are rays of sunshine pulled from the ground, the difference between a Nestle's candy bar and an artisan dark chocolate with gold leaf. They are free of machines, warehouses, brands and trucking lines.
Farmers' market carrots taste like I remember on my Grandmother's back porch, the greens tossed to the cows and the tops placed in a pie tin bath while I crunched and waited for them to sprout leaves.
And these carrots come without a bag. Their only label is their impossible orangeness. And without cows across the fence the farmer is usually happy to keep the greens for their own chickens or compost.
I can still eat a bunch for dinner but they rarely actually make it to the pot.