Sunday was BYOB day at the Civic Center Market and the market did a great job - the vendors all had brown bags. The only plastic I saw was reused, which people carried with them from home.
The market was giving away canvas bags and the Green Sangha, was giving away for a donation, cotton net produce bags.
It almost felt wrong putting a bunch of dusty radishes and damp cilantro into a clean net bag. Free plastic bags off the roll I used to throw away, but now I've got beautiful bags that cost money. I want to keep them pristine.
I'm getting over it, slowly, but new habits take time, I keep reminding myself.
Another group that included the West Marin farmer at Paradise Valley Produce, had made and were actually making on the spot, produce bags from second hand t-shirts. The beauty of the bags were the labels kids had decorated that were stitched onto the front.
One woman had a soft sided basket with handles that she carefully laid her produce in with no bags at all. "This is how we did it as I was growing up," she said and ran off.
"I put everything in tupperware once I get home," a man said as he filled a brown bag with lettuce.
I whipped out a green bio bag and grabbed some lettuce too. "These are the bags to get," the farmer said pointing towards me.
I was trying to not let the wet greens stick to the side of the bag and have this green limelight moment turn into a plastic wrap debacle. No such luck.
The bio bags stretch when they come in contact with water taking on a strange consistency. The lettuce fell out of the bag, I went after it, the canvas bag with eggs, roots and broccoli on my shoulder hurled itself south. I couldn't untangle my left hand from the bio bag. I smiled. They politely looked away.
Along with plastic bags the market seemed to have also banned plastic boxes. I didn't see a one.
There were however a lot of people and even though that made parking a chore we were all pretty nice about it. And being nice to my neighbors is probably the most important greening I can do. Even when they do take the last damn parking space.
Sunday was BYOB day at the Civic Center Market and the market did a great job - the vendors all had brown bags. The only plastic I saw was reused, which people carried with them from home.
The more I hear in the news about people on the planet going hungry the more I appreciate the northern California food on my table.
And I don't mean a generic thank-you-for-this-food kind of gratitude, not that that isn't a component; it certainly is. What I mean is I am appreciating my food - actually feeling appreciation for it.
My friend, the Renaissance Woman, told me of a study where people appreciated dirty, polluted water. Every day they talked to it, felt appreciation for it, saw it as clean and yes, the water became clear. Drinkable.
Maybe she made the study up, maybe it never happened. It doesn't matter. I believe it's true. It seems possible.
So I've been talking to my food. Respecting it. I taste the food in front of me like I've never tasted it before and I do not take any aspect of it for granted. I work that last grain of rice off the plate, eat the crumple of pizza sausage that falls in my lap. I lick my spoon, my fork and my knife. I lick my fingers after I lick my lips.
And I picture plenty of food for everyone on the planet. I don't know how that picture will happen but it seems possible.
And picturing it as already true seems like a good place to start and the only way I can hold that isn't already so.
After reading In Defense of Food I was over Michael Pollan. I was nearly over him before reading his latest book, but now - now, I'm into him again.
I was checking in on food news at the Ethicurean today and found a link to an article that he had in the New York Times Magazine last week. And it was exactly what I needed to read.
I was recently in a group in which there were divisive comments made about Marin County and the people that drive hybrid cars, "to feel good about themselves," they said. The gist was that conserving is less than intelligent, whatever the form of conservation. My heart was slamming against my ears. And I wasn't in an arena to speak out. This was not a high point of my week.
But a few days later in rides MP on his local green horse and in the third paragraph of his New York Times article Why Bother? he explains that my experience was not unique. He writes,
Tell me: How did it come to pass that virtue--a quality that for most of history has generally been deemed, well, a virtue--became a mark of liberal softheadedness? How peculiar, that doing the right thing by the environment--buying the hybrid, eating like a locavore--should now set you up for the Ed Begley Jr. treatment.
I've read the article twice and I'm heartened. I'll continue bothering with my damn drops in the bucket and when it's full I'll empty it onto the pots of greens on the back deck and fill the bucket again.
Thank you, Michael Pollan.
The last time I was at the Saturday farmers' market at the Ferry Building I stopped by Rancho Gordo Beans. And bought pinto beans. Then with my head still down I walked quickly away.
My chances of anyone I know seeing me were slim but what if they did? I was buying the most common bean available from a well published purveyor of heirloom beans. There were black and white beans, green, speckled, striped and red beans. There were beans with names that promised passion; Santa Maria, Rio Zape, Ojo de Cabra, Vaquero, Nightfall and Midnight. There was a package of Good Mother Stallard.
I hid the pintos in my purse.
I grew up on pinto beans soaking overnight on the counter before they were cooked for hours the next day. They were grocery store commodity crop beans that could be stored indefinitely with increasingly long cooking times. And I loved them.
I'd never had pinto beans like the RG beans I shamefully shoved out of sight though. These were pinto beans that required no soaking. That were ready to eat after less than two hours of cooking. The only thing shameful were all the pinto beans that had come before. And the fact that I ate nearly the entire pot of new beans by myself.
I had no idea the age of a dried bean could make a difference. Or that there was such a thing as an heirloom dried bean. I'm entertained by the different varieties and support the cultivation of heirloom seeds by shopping for them, but the pintos, the pintos are comfort food.
Comfort food better than it was before. And that's hard to do.
The decline in dinner invitations has been gradual since the Eat Local Challenge and the time I shared a visual of a slaughter house over dessert. I said, I was sorry. But word has gotten out.
I eat local food, barely generate trash and when asked what's new I'm likely to outline a talk I heard about local economies and a sustainable future. That is when I'm not curled in a fetal position under the kitchen table in despair. My friends think it's weird.
But this weekend I got hope. The cute guy's grandkids were here and they could care less what I eat although they know there's something going on. All they cared about was another carrot and to make sure they got their turn carrying the bag of strawberries so they didn't have to reach as far for their eighteenth berry.
They wanted to know what organic is. I sat down and told them, saving the unorganic poisonous scary parts for when they are older.
They didn't like the grass fed hamburger or the goat cheese. They did like the last of the summer corn I took from the freezer and the raspberry ice cream we made. They thought organic sugar was cool. They wondered if brown sugar is already organic.
They washed the shells from the eggs they ate, nuked them until they were crunchy and then ground them, "until they're like powder," I said. And they broadcast them to the flower beds with increasingly grand gestures.
They wanted to know why about everything. And they wanted short answers or sometimes only half an answer.
We visited the worm bin. Found two at home, swatting whole schools of gnats. I'm sure we swallowed a few. We harvested worm tea and then slung it on the backyard. "It's already starting to grow," one of them yelled.
And they gave me an egg they found from their hens. An egg the size of a quarter. In a princess box. "We knew you would like it."
I swear it's gold.
The kids are the ones that will lead us to a sustainable path and it's not going to be weird at all when they do.
"It will be years."
I knew that was going to be the answer, but I told him how long I'd lived here anyway and that I was married on the property. I gave him dates. He added me to the waiting list for a space.
I tour the community garden once a week and the fence lines are bursting at the seams with blue borage. The borage volunteers indiscriminately and appears to be happy in any amount of sun. I stop and eat a few flowers. Aside from being fuzzy on my tongue their taste resembles cucumbers. Very cool. And on a bed of salad greens - instant art.
I've wanted to plant borage in the backyard but I'm wedded to the vision of white perennial beds. Once I allow color, and I'm tempted constantly, the project would be over.
On Sunday though, the ladies with the plant starts from Sebastopol brought in two pots of white borage. The gospel singing women that ride around on my shoulders broke into song. This was the farmers' market find of the year.
White borage. Food and art rolled into one. And I don't have to wait. That alone is worth singing about.
The Muse called on Monday sounding like it was her birthday, with word of the Great Sunflower Project, aka The Hunt For Bees.
"You've got to post it," she said.
The Eat Local Challenge posted it, Sunset Magazine covered it and it appears that 18,000 people have signed on to participate.
Make that 18,001.
Care to make that number higher? Check out how to participate.
All I want to eat is my new favorite salad.
It's a mix of Marin Roots Farm lettuces. Yesterday it was little gems and a variety with red lace edges. And I bought a head of a kind I swear is from a Beatrice Potter story book.
I add other greens I'm inspired to bring home too - wild arugula, mustard, pea shoots. I haven't tasted greens as good since the first time I tasted mesclun mix on an organic farm in Sebastopol. Fire rockets went off in my mouth and everything I thought I knew about the world in that moment disappeared.
This is lettuce I'm talking about. It's not supposed to be that good.
But back to making the salad. I toast a small pan of Jackie's walnuts thinking about the people who stole her orchard of irrigation pipes in the night. And then I burn the damn walnuts, curse and stomp and eat them anyway.
Slicing up organic strawberries from Swanton Berry Farm in Santa Cruz I top the lettuce in an oversized bowl.
Next is a third of a round of the Andante chevre crumbled over the berries. And gladly stuck to my fingers.
Adding the hot walnuts on top of the cheese is the best part. They make a noise you can hear even if you aren't quiet.
I've quit using bottled dressing and instead use Bariani's olive oil and sea salt. It's straightforward good. There's no question that a bite of strawberry, tastes like strawberry. The salt like salt, the lettuce like a pretty day.
Licking my fingers between each bite, I eat slowly, without a fork, tasting all the combinations of berry, cheese and oil, lettuce, salt and walnut.
Not wanting any of it to end.
The San Francisco Ferry Building is doing away with plastic, including plastic water bottles, at the farmers' market. They're making a celebration of it on April 22 and 26.
My favorite activity - the bag parade.
You see I've become a bag lady. It's been a gradual process. In fact I can still remember arriving at the market with no canvas or plastic bags whatsoever. I'd have a bit of cash and nothing else.
It didn't take long to get the first canvas bag but it was only big enough to hold a dozen apples. And the handles weren't long enough.
These days I've got three good canvas bags. And the cute guy has one too. And they're full with returns when we arrive. Egg cartons, strawberry baskets, yogurt crocks, plastic pots from garden starts. We carry reused plastic and cotton produce bags. He tries to remember his coffee cup.
But it's hard to be efficient. The produce bags are always the deepest item in the canvas bag with ten barbells on top of them. The cash is always in the other pocket.
And once my hands are full and there is nowhere to set any of it down without making a scene I see one-more-thing-I-must-have. And it's three people away. And I have no more hands. And with the canvas bags on my shoulders I'm a wide load. And I don't have my glasses on.
It's not pretty.
But it is fun.
The San Rafael Civic Center farmers' market is also having a BYOB (bring your own bag) day on Sunday, April 27.
BYOB and be the parade wherever you are!
I have sad news about the San Anselmo owl box with the webcam.
This evening when I went to check on it I was sorry to learn that the mama owl died last night. Heart broken is more accurate.
She had been sitting on eight eggs and I believe they'd all hatched. It was hard to tell.
The mama owl was like a house pet. I knew when she tipped her head a certain way that the male was near and he'd pop in soon. Unless of course I attempted to demonstrate this cute owl trick to someone else watching.
I knew she moved nearly ever two minutes, that the baby owls poked her in the butt and she would spread her feathers and it looked like she poked them back.
I'll miss her.
The baby owls have been taken to WildCare where they'll be fed until they can eat on their own. At that time they'll be returned to the owl box and the web cam turned back on.
San Anselmo is full of owls and subsequently rats or vice versa. And our town is full of poison boxes. The pest people say the poison doesn't have a secondary kill rate; that is if an owl ate a rat that ate the poison, the owl would be fine.
The owl people disagree. I don't know which is right.
What I know is the owl died and that sucks.
4/11/08 Update - The seven baby owls are doing great. One egg hadn't yet hatched. There should be photos soon.
4/13/08 Update - There are pictures of the baby owls here. Ugly little buggers. Also the mama owl was found to have the head of a gopher caught in her throat.
Last night I had dinner with the muse.
"I've been going to the farmers' market," she confides. "But I feel bad when I walk by a farmer and no one is buying anything from them."
I shake my head. Take another bite of pizza.
"So this week I bought flowers from the woman that wasn't selling anything. But they weren't as alive as the ones I usually buy."
I couldn't help but laugh. "It's like me buying the orphan winter squash."
"Exactly," she nearly yells. "I never have this problem at the grocery store." There's a moment when it looks as if she will throw her napkin at me for complicating her life.
And I know what she's talking about. I have a regular egg farmer that knows I want the jumbos and that I'll have an empty carton or two to return from my canvas bag. We recently compared notes after each having the flu. We talk about the farm.
But now there's a new egg farmer on the market. And the eggs are pastured closer to home. But if I buy those eggs I'll be cheating. I'll be scum.
The muse is right, shopping was easier at the grocery store when all I did was swipe the credit card and let the money be disbursed to faceless corporations with industrially fertilized bottom lines. The roots of my loyalty didn't run deep.
Now I look the people holding the bottom line in the eye. I hand them cash. I care about them.
Which makes it damn hard not to bring home an occasional orphan or buy eggs somewhere else.
The forget me nots are for Chile who started a declutter challenge last week that in a weak moment I signed on for. But what the hell does that have to do with eating local food, I keep asking myself?
This is my reasoning -
I've broken the strap on my big black city purse and had it repaired twice because I fill it with farmers' market food and it's already heavy with too much purse stuff. I can fit half a dozen oranges, half a pound of Blue Bottle coffee, a bunch of carrots with their tops intact, a pound of almonds and a bunch of asparagus on top of a library of reading materials and my camera and I'm still chic returning to the office. The purse needs to be decluttered.
And I'm going to can this summer. I don't know how but that doesn't matter. What matters is the pantry shelves are full. With stuff. It's got to go to make room.
Which leads to the kitchen cupboards that are full with a lot of kitchen stuff that I needed when I didn't cook. Now that I cook I need some different stuff, primarily some room to put stuff.
But I can't throw any of it away. Right? I've got to find the perfect home for it, all that pretty cluttery stuff.
For years I've been saving a stack of chipped fiesta ware plates for someone who does mosaics. I pictured a pastel bird bath, matching pots. Does anyone do that anymore? I doubt it.
Avoiding the kitchen I have however passed on a bag of books to the local meditation center that sends them to the Insight Prison Project. It's a start.
My long standing way to get rid of items I no longer need is to put them on the sidewalk in a brown bag with FREE written really big on it. I put the bag out early in the morning and it's generally gone by noon. Sometimes one item goes at a time, other times the entire bag at once. I never put out more than one lightly filled bag though. Sidewalk merchandising, I suppose, but then it's not junk and I don't want to put it out there like it is.
My hope is that the next person who gets the stuff can share the appreciation I had or simply have their own. And if not, that they pass it on too.
The winter challenge is officially over. And we didn't go hungry.
What I learned about eating local from November until the first asparagus in California is that it's not the challenge I thought it would be. The farmers' markets were less crowded with buyers but there continued to be plenty of fresh food; eggs, cheeses, meat, jams, nuts, yogurt, too many greens to name. I almost forgot to mention winter squash, potatoes, citrus fruits in a fifty shades of sweet and sour.
Having a bit of produce put up in the freezer was a bonus. The challenge now however is to finish what's left. There's one bag of peaches, one bag of corn. There's a few raspberries, some applesauce, half a dozen slow roasted tomatoes. We barely touched the pesto and didn't touch the frozen grapes that were so delicious in the summer at all.
The strawberries, blueberries and blackberries were the first to disappear. Next year I'll freeze more tomatilla sauce, more roasted and pureed pepper cubes. I'll skip the tomato sauce and stick to the whole roasted tomatoes with the skins that slide off in seconds with a quick introduction to hot water.
I'd like to say I'll store less winter squash but I doubt that will be true. I love crowding the table with them, their saturated colors and thick skinned personalities. I love their witch like warts and their Cinderella carriage curves. I eat them only out of obligation for having bought them.
My favorite find earlier this year were the wildly spicy pickled peppers from Happy Girl Kitchen. Next year I will can my own or a buy a case of theirs. I don't know how we've survived without them.
And my favorite recipe find was the no knead bread. I've loved serving it toasted and wrapped in a cloth on the table, local jams beside it. It makes me feel like we're in Italy although we've never been.
Mostly what I enjoyed about eating locally through the winter was this. When it rained I knew I would eat it, the same with the frost and the wind. I ate the southern afternoon light, the dark clouds, cloudy shadows. I devoured the late sun rises and early sunsets. Every winter pink sunset was in the food I found on my plate. And the mud and the cold and the quiet were there too. All the elements informed our food, strengthened our sense of place. Spoiled me for anything less then grown here.
Heartfelt thanks to Laura at the not-so Urban Hennery for dreaming of the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge and then tending to it so thoughtfully these last months. And radish bouquets to all the challenge takers that have also spoiled me with their own sense of place, good food, ideas, humor, care and knowledge.
The challenge is done but the celebration continues.
Are you sitting down? Really. Before you hear what I eventually tell you, you are going to want to sit down.
I received a free copy of the Earth Island Journal. There is not a single article that I haven't or don't want to read. The journal is all about food and farming, the ocean and environment, people doing good stuff and crappy, what-the-hell kind of stuff.
One short article wiped out my appetite; knocked out my breath. I'd heard it on the radio in January but was half asleep and didn't trust my hearing. Seeing the facts in print has made them real. The original article is from Reuters, 1/9.
China's population of 1.3 billion people uses up to 3 billion plastic bags a day. You read it right. Three billion plastic bags a day.
Take a breath. There is good news.
As of June 1, China will be following San Francisco's lead and prohibit supermarkets and shops from providing customers with free plastic bags. Yeah, China!
There are however 58 days left until June 1 at 3 billion bags per day. That would be 174 billions bags used before the ban takes affect.
I could be generous as the article says, up to and not exactly 3 billion per day. If they use a third less the number would be 116 billion bags used before the ban takes affect.
That doesn't really help though, does it?
Working in the city has it's benefits beyond the two year-round farmers' markets within walking distance. Today I walked to the World Affairs Council and listened to James Gustave Speth discuss his new book, The Bridge At The Edge of the World, Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.
Mr. Speth is the Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale, the Co-Founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and before today I'd never heard of him. He's been in the environmental movement since the 70's and the man is bursting at the seams with information and urgency.
There were a couple of synchronicities about his talk that got my attention. The first was he discussed our nations unsustainable consumerism and that studies show it hasn't made us happier. He went on to say that we aren't paying the true cost of goods in terms of the toll to the environment and our health. And if he hadn't already won me over he would have with his support of local food economies.
On the way there I'd been considering my own buying habits as I'd read a new challenge circulating the blogs from Crunchy Chicken to not buy anything new for the month of April. A hundred people had signed on. Great idea, I thought. I couldn't do it.
But walking back to the office I was wavering. It seemed impossible to hear what Mr. Speth had to say and consider buying anything new ever again. There needs to be a million people not buying anything for a month, I thought. Another block and I was at ten million. And then I worried about the people who make the stuff and sell the stuff and my heart was bleeding all over the place. Somewhere in there was a sustainable solution.
The second synchronicity was Mr. Speth ended his talk by advocating civic unreasonableness. And then he said, "Don't be predictable."
I got goose bumps. It was deja vu. Saturday night Diane Wilson, the high school educated shrimp farmer that wrangled zero emissions out of a multi-billion dollar chemical plant and wrote a book about it, ended her talk in Pt. Reyes in nearly the exact same way. "Be unreasonable," she said, and "Don't be predictable."
Maybe people have been saying those two things for years and I've never heard it. But I've heard it now And so have you.
So what are we going to do?
Here's an audio link of the interview Mr. Speth did earlier in the day with Michael Krasney. It's good.
I found kumquats this week at the Ferry Building market that I popped in my mouth one after the other until they were gone. I swallowed the seeds, talked with my mouth full. If I'd bought the entire box it wouldn't have been enough.
I know kumquats are generally politely sliced and tossed sparingly into a salad. That's nice.
They are even talked about with a slightly puckered smile if they are talked about at all. And then no one is paying attention.
When a kumquat is good though, when the skin is sweeter than sin, when the juice makes my wrists tingle and the sides of my mouth involuntarily smile, I pay attention.
I bite off the top with the stem, lick the first juice. Make sure it's good. With the tiniest second bite, I erase the almost sour with sweet and I'm ready. The entire fruit is next.
The rind is as orange on my tongue as it was in my hand and I resist the urge to chew it all at once. Instead I press the juice slowly from the inside, until the tart is almost too much and I can't stand the anticipation. Then like pressing on the accelerator at the last minute to run a red light I bite into the sugary skin.
That's where the truth of the kumquat happens. Where the taste of the entire fruit explodes then merges. That, right there, is what I'm talking about.
And I don't care if it's wrong to eat them whole. I can't stop until they are gone even though I don't know when I'll find them as fresh again.