Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Adrian Eats

Truck Stop Coconut

I went tumbling into the truck cab just beyond the California border. The driver was blond and gaunt, and he was firm about getting us in quick. Robby hoisted me from behind and Sweeney grabbed my arms, bracing himself against the dashboard. The momentum from the extra weight of my backpack sent me sailing over the trash that covered the floor, into the raised bed behind the seats. The driver reached over Robby, and slammed the door, took out an American Spirit Light, and smoked it quickly. "I'm Wayne," he said. "I can take you as far as Fresno."

For several miles, everything was silent except for What a Long Strange Trip It's Been which seemed to be issuing from all corners of the cab. Wayne explained that we were going to have to hunker down in the bed when he drove through weigh stations, and as he spoke, I realized that the cab floor was virtually covered in fruit rinds: apple cores, orange peels, shredded lemon halves, whole coconuts with the tops sawed off, avocado peels with fork-marks through its green flesh. There was none of the usual truck driver garbage, no chip bags or candy wrappers or soda cans. In an unaffected tone, Wayne asked where we were from. We could have said the moon, and he wouldn't have been surprised. We tried to explain where we were going, but realized pretty soon that we weren't exactly sure. "Wayne," I said, over the roar of the truck, "you sure eat a lot of fruit."

"That's because I recently started a raw foods diet." He enunciated the last part, as though in quotes, to keep from seeming pretentious.

"Sure," I said. "That's great. Do you feel better because of it?"

"I'm getting fuckin' sick of fruits and vegetables--but yeah, I do."

When I asked what he ate, he said, rather darkly, "Salads." But then: "Lots of kim chee and sauerkraut, too (which he provided a comprehensible recipe for) and fish, too--I let it marinate in citrus for four hours, so that it kills the bacteria but protects the enzyme. And also, cured meats, like salami. All of that's raw. But I make my own beer. That's one thing I can't give up."

As Wayne elaborated, I thought about the dissolution of socio-economic distinctions--in a lot of ways Wayne was this totally blue-collar, chain-smoking, gruff, guy who grew up in the poor town in Michigan. We had just come from a solidly middle class, new-age wedding in Mendocino, and here he was talking about the same stuff they were: the importance of digestion, of keeping the natural enzymes in the food so that the body has more energy for everything else. "Some people use fifty-percent of their energy for digestion," he said, taking out another cigarette. "By the way, will you change the cheesecloth on my sprouts?"

Sweeney and I were crouched on the bed, and realized that amongst all the other debris, were two large pallets holding Mason jars full of sprouts. Wayne directed us as we fished through bags and boxes which were splayed everywhere, until we found a roll of cheesecloth and a pair of scissors. We cut the cloth into strips, and then unscrewed the lids of all the sprouts, and replaced the old strips--bouncing with the truck all the way. Wayne, still smoking a cigarette, one hand on the wheel, took each jar and dumped the excess water out the window: one by one.

At a truck stop near Redding, he straightened out his cab, threw away the trash, and a soft silence fell between the four of us. Sheepishly, we brought out rations from our backpacks, much of which were leftovers from the wedding, and shared with Wayne. He cracked open the crown of a coconut and handed us three straws. We took the straws and froze. "Well," he said, and we put the straws in and drank. It was sweet, cold and not filmy the way it is in supermarkets. We gave him some hummus, bread, and pesto, all of which weren't raw, but OK, he said, "because at least the bread was sprouted." He took out a cooler, and drew a couple of jars of homemade kim chee, which he shared with us. It was a warm day, angling toward late afternoon. Back on the road, I sat against the back of the cab, spooning the flesh out of the coconut and listening to Wayne's story:

"This shit's hard on your body. I've been trucking for five years, now. A lot of guys come out of it with serious body problems. Rail workers, by the end of their career, all have sciatica. It's when this nerve running from your hip down to your feet gets all fucked up from the bumping of the cars. They get paid for the rest of their lives because of how much damage engineering entails, er, incurs...

"I like to pick hitchhikers up. I used to be homeless. I was homeless in Berkeley for nine years, more or less of my own choice. I mean, in Berkeley, you can eat three meals a day year around if you're homeless. I used to hitchhike a lot, then... but then, Carmen got pregnant. Carmen's my baby-mama. We'd only been seeing each other for a few months, and she was working at this daycare in a church. Since she conceived out of wedlock and all, they fired her, and so, well, we had to get a house... we have three kids now. I was just home for my daughter's 6th birthday... I love me kids. And I love Carmen. I just never wanted to marry her...

"There's a lot of folklore surrounding Mount Shasta."

"There is? Like what?"

"Well, supposedly there's this guy, Saint Germaine, who roams around the base of the mountain, sometimes stopping into towns. He's a prophet, a mystic-guy. And then, there's supposedly a race of aliens--so, yeah. I guess those are the only stories..."

Wayne's Kim-Chee/Saurkraut

Head of cabbage (chopped in strips)
Finely chopped carrots, radish, broccoli, garlic, pepper, etc...

Put ingredients into a jar, and pack down with water or miso so that the liquid is just a little higher than the vegetables. Keep the lid loosely, but fully covering the opening. Let sit three to four days.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lily Eats

Ants Erotic

Even that first house, where you lived before sex existed. The wildness of your backyard, a country of buckeyes and decaying apple trees and English ivy, which your mother shredded to dirt and saplings in the interest of killing that bamboo, that bamboo will take over the yard if you're not careful. And all your forts and stashes razed, leveled, you hit puberty, shave off your pubic hair, tell your mother it looks like she napalmed the lawn. All of a sudden, you are exposed to a whole new street--Tulip Avenue, which runs behind your house, and which the jungle kept hidden until now, there are neighbors you never met--longhaired, stuttering boys poking at your new bareness.

Somewhere on this new road, there is a pet macaw, which your mother likes because it is a piece of the exotic, cerulean and yellow--but it rails into the night, no words, just matches the train which screeches at the base of the hill. Tropicana oranges. Coal. Commuter cars. When you were thirteen, you walked along these tracks with your brother, against the brick-colored rock, carved out to make room for trains, down over the Viaduct, where that boy was killed when you were eight, but keep up now, thirteen, and smoking one of your first joints with your brother, and all of a sudden that rancid heat tickled you. Places you didn't even know had nerve endings--your elbows, the arch of your feet, were tickled, you giggled and your brother laughed, and with your open mouths hot straw rushed in.

Sex didn't exist yet but muscles were a different matter--you played softball, or something like it but with no rules, in the field next to the Children's Center. You made the boys use your softball because the laces were yellow, not red, and your strange, wrinkled little kneecaps were branded with grass prints You lived less than a minute away, and had running taps, but out of glee, drank from the spigot on the outside of the Presbyterian church. Your mouth was instantly numbed, and you were learning for the first time that things taste differently according to how you acquire them. Later, this will serve you well, the pungency of all skin appealing to you at times and repulsing you at others, and you will know, This is the water you want.

There was also, in summer, the issue of the mulberries. Both purple and white grew--purple along the paved road leading into the state park, white in your backyard, along the fence, and on the street perpendicular, where you found yourself walking. The purple were too sweet but they were a satisfying color, and because of it, you ran the risk of eating one infested with ants and not knowing until you tasted a mild blood on the back of your tongue. The white deprived you of this excitement but were tarter, came up with the first crocuses of the year, unraveled to reveal a dark core. Where everything was being held together, and still eaten. Mulberries were no specific delicacy, but they came forward every year with no coaxing, like the most domestic of lovers, and in this availability, were seductive.

All kinds of fruit, really. The pears in Mr. Smith's front yard which flourished for years--but his wife moved out, there were outstanding warrants for his son's arrest, and the pears seemed to rot before they ripened. Honeysuckle along chain link fences, which mothers tried to pull up by the root but daughters relished, learning the gentleness with which one must demand that single drop. Women are always coming in an out of an appreciation for nectar. Plums which may not have been plums at first but which you ate anyway, to the dismay of your friends, convinced you were poisoned, I am dead, Horatio, but no--they were plums, as plums are wont to be. Their taut, sour little bodies thumped to the ground every year, and you ate, taking no real pleasure in their taste, but exuberant with their presence.

There must still be fruit that grows there, but you haven't eaten it in years. The blackberries you crushed between your thumb and forefinger have stopped blooming or else are pulverized by new and smaller hands. You drink water from the sink, watch the new chestnut trees rise--bent, like a grove of question marks--in the backyard. You think, there was nothing so erotic as my life before it, nothing in these homes and yards. You drive into Baltimore proper, climb into bed with your lover, who has no garden--and, kissing him, find that you have a mouth full of ants.

Lily Eats


"A family who has at least two kinds of whole, cooked garlic--garlic to be eaten as its own food."
(That's amore).  A family, which is where people go to eat and join and die, though I've heard some people go abroad for that.  For this one in particular: plump noses, and silent r's brought for the holidays from Boston, Antoinette (An-tone-ette) the Matriarch, the Oma and Bestemama, nervously stacking plates and emptying cans and looking for more bread.  It's not even her house, but when you get to be so old, who can sit still?  And who can move very much?


There are three different constitutions, I told my father--and I'm Pitta, and bitter foods are good for me, and (tears in my eyes, now) I'm supposed to avoid garlic.  His eyes snapped to, "Eat as much garlic as you want," the authority and desperation of a general under siege on his own soil.  Or maybe, "Eat as much garlic as you can." 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gourmet to All That

"Julia Child, one of my Boston neighbors, epitomized this old-school notion of apprenticeship. As her dinner companion one evening, I watched as she became frustrated by the restaurant’s dim lighting, grabbed a huge watchman’s flashlight from her pendulous satchel and proceeded to illuminate her main course. She wanted to investigate her food before eating it, the waiter’s recommendations notwithstanding. This act of spontaneous journalism evolved from a lifetime love of education and reverence for true expertise. Her first question upon meeting a young chef was always, “And where did you train, dear?”"

-Christopher Kimball, "Gourmet to All That", NY Times Op-Ed

Adrian Eats

Mama Comes to Town

Last Friday evening, for the first time in history as parent-child, my mother ordered us a bottle of wine at Chez Lola's after arriving from Portland for a visit. It was a cold night. Chez Lola's is this psuedo-French restaurant on Myrtle Avenue, which I hadn't been to since the brunch, two winters ago, when Sweeney and I finally decided to be together--on the sidewalk, afterward, we'd found a box of sticker rolls: rainbows, bears, hot air balloons, Israeli flags. Beyond all else, my mother was excited to see that I was carrying a bicycle helmet when I walked in. "My girl," arms open, then, "--a helmet!" I ordered duck ravioli, and a woman who may as well also be my mother, Cindy Maze, ordered a broiled chicken that came with creamy, white, mashed polenta and peas. Like potatoes, but with a higher note, a sweet taste at the back of your throat. We drank the wine, talked about New York. About naughty Sam Adams, the Portland mayor, letting your kids grow up etc... After all, here we are. We ordered a thick slice of red velvet cake, baked on restaurant's premises. I didn't know this until the moment it was served, but traditionally, the reason for the 'red' is beet juice. Beet juice! It was rich and wet. Most bakers substitute it these days for red-dye. No wonder most red velvet cakes available taste like dust.

All the boys helped out (shredding, setting) when my mother came over to my apartment for dinner. I got frantic towards her arrival--I don't know, wiping dust off the sideboards?--but when she walked in the door, the artichokes were ready. Greg was visiting from Harvard for the weekend, and he helped me serve (what I would have done if he hadn't been visiting, God only knows): eight steamed artichokes with a bowl of lemon juice. A spinach salad with shredded carrots, soy sauce, and goat cheese. Salmon cakes with onions, walnuts, dill, fresh sage (from my herb garden!) and Greek yogurt, and Greg's Superhero Mashed Sweet Potatoes:

6 to 8 large sweet potatoes
More butter and some milk
A lot of garlic (we're talking, 10-plus cloves, a whole bulb, whatever)
Some pancetta or bacon, diced
Enough cayenne pepper to make you nervous

Boil. Mash with butter, milk, and garlic. Fry the pancetta/bacon, but with haste, and not to the point where it loses it's chew. Stir into the mash, along with the cayenne pepper. Serve hot. It'll keep you from catching an autumn cold.

We all squeezed around the kitchen table, which we moved into the living room to accommodate everyone: Cindy and Nadine were there, too, along with all the boys, some from the cellar. We ate and bellowed, Nadine told us about narcissistic musicians she slept with in the 70s, and Cindy and I talked about the Trinity Alps, the women we share in our lives from home, the mysteriousness of girls-grown-up. Robert's roommates recently moved out because the woman was pregnant, and she left several boxes of pregnancy tea behind which Robert gave to me. So after dinner we all, including the boys, drank Yogi Tea's Mother-to-Be, eating colorful, tasteless cookies from an Italian bakery my mom stopped at earlier that day.

The day that Robert gave me the pregnancy tea (in addition to other abandoned food, like a strange Ukranian grain, elbow maccaroni, flaxseed etc...) we were sitting in his 12th-floor apartment on a sunny morning after breakfast, and he said, "Sometimes it amazes me that I am able to live on my own--like, that I haven't accidentally killed myself yet. And what's even more amazing is that I, you know, scrub the shower without anyone asking me to, and sweep. Stuff like that." I agreed. After all, it's things like not putting furniture next to the radiator that you don't learn until after your first house has burned down. How have we not made more mistakes? I suppose there's time. Having two crones visit me for the weekend--two women who I draw a very specific wisdom from, who at some point became women I looked to--emphasizes this miracle, this phenomenon: how do we do it without them? If we are in such amazement, how much doubt must they have had, letting us leave? If I'm astounded every time I pay for electricity, they must experience a constant bewilderment: three-thousand miles apart, and suspending all worry. My mother said it's about a willingness to suffer, to let your child suffer, and suffer with them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lily Eats

How mine should taste

The closer to the heart, the quicker it heals. Joel tells me this with the tattoo gun already buzzing in his hand, just before leaning in. Nearby then, I think, and tell him about the bakery, wonder how fast is my pulse. I already had three cups of black coffee--one free with oil change from a generic-blend Dixie, one that I spilled down the front of my shirt on 36th St., and hurt just as much as the tattoo. One over half a vegan burrito (tofu chorizo, a puddle of mole, shoestring potatoes cooked mild where cheese might go) in a restaurant where cell phones aren't allowed. And I have a fast heart, or so said my doctor, who went out of business, but I've seen enough to believe in this observation she was dead on.

+That spot doesn't feel too good, does it?
-Not really. But I almost sliced the tip of my finger off a few weeks ago, and since then I've been trying to zen out about pain.

Chelsea had the breakfast polenta, and we talked about making Halloween mean something. Whether it was about butternut squash or baked pumpkin seeds, or how a typewriter is all a man needs to go crazy. Brittle cornmeal, two fried eggs tucked under molten white tortillas, a copy of the calendar between us. I taste the end of a polenta triangle to know what mine should taste like. On a Tuesday morning Hampden is like a vacant post-parade: none of the usual walking tours, just resident crazies and shopkeepers, a woman with a curbside sale neurotically rearranging the same Coca-Cola playing cards and imitation Tiffany vases. Boys with skateboards watching me feed the meter, the crisp stench of mourning beer and menthol and crosswalks. Ah, buddy. It would almost hurt more not to get a tattoo.

And after, down the Avenue on the balls of my purple suede feet, I convince Chelsea to stop in Ma Petite Shoe--a quality footwear & quality chocolate emporium, and ask for cacao with no milk. The Taza line is all vegan, the salesgirl tells me. I buy two round disks of dark chocolate infused with yerba mate, wrapped in unbleached paper. All the stores on this block are inside row homes, and we climb down the perfunctory 4 stairs to the street. We try out the chocolate--a grainy, separatist moment, with the sugar traveling first, knifelike, to the brain, and next the cocoa beans, and finally some dark shudder. The tea (so close to blood) and my skin already scabbing--maybe healing, but no quicker for its proximity to my heart.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adrian Eats

Slow Cooked Yellow Squash

At this point in the season, yellow squash is one of the only remaining vegetables from summer that hasn't been forked over the border for growing. The very last of them are still being picked close by. (For instance, at the Red Hook farms, which I visited the other week.) Now is the time to cook your final, true-to-the-season yellow squash, and glean that last bit of summer zing to bring with you into the cold months. The only squash you'll be getting come a fortnight or so, are the big, often frightful winter variety, who's taste resembles potato. They can be tasty, if done right and cooked long enough, but they do not beat a forkful of that squeaky, hot September gourd of yore.

(With help from Mark Bittman's, How to Cook Everything.)

1 to 2 lbs of firm yellow squash, with big middles
3 tbs of butter or ghee* (easier to digest in the winter)
2 tbsp of local honey**
Minced fresh mint leaves
Salt, pepper, paprika
Wooden spoon (for gentle stirring)

Cut the squash into 1/4-inch rounds. Plop the butter on a large skillet and turn heat to HI. When the foam staves, dump in the squash and turn heat to MED. Add salt. Stir gently for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the squash begins to brown. Flip often, but allow to cook unevenly. When some of the rounds have become translucent, add the honey, minced mint, and other spices. Turn heat off completely and give it one last toss in the heat of the cooling skillet. Serve quick.

*Ghee is clarified butter, popular in auyervedic nutrition. Due to its lack of lactose, it has recently become more widely available to mainstream consumers concerned with food allergies/intolerances.

**Organic honey from bee farms in your particular region is great for the immune system. The bees are making the honey from local flora, thus providing you with important antibodies specific to your environment.