Sunday, April 27, 2008

Food and Relationships
Getting to the Heart (of the artichoke and other things.)
or How Food Reminds us of Rituals

Ode to an Artichoke: Pablo Neruda

Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

I've been staying with my friend Jen for a few weeks. Tonight I steam artichokes and we eat them in the soft light of her living room while outside the window the sky darkens behind the pink blossoming cherry tree. We're winding down at the end of a day and a crazy weekend. We're talking about men, about our disappointments at things said and things unsaid in past relationships. Both of us are single and we'd like to find a good guy and settle down.

So I take the artichokes off the stove and put them on a plate with two bowls of dipping sauce-- butter and something else fattening. And we sit and talk and eat artichokes, pull off the wet succulent leaves and put them to our mouths, sliding the leaf flesh off with our teeth.

It's quiet outside and the trees look black against the blue sky. She's disappointed about something an old boyfriend said to her recently and I can relate. So I listen. We pull off the leaves and talk and without thinking get into the habit, the ritual that the food teaches: pull off the leaf, put it to mouth, slide off the leaf flesh: leaf after leaf after leaf we eat and slowly we feel better.

Eating like this reminds me that when done slowly, eating is more than just habit, but ritual.

As humans we need rituals to keep us centered and grounded. And I'm not talking about the ritual of peeling open a frozen meal, popping open the microwave, waiting for the “ding!” then eating quickly so we can get to A) B) or C).

Slow food is good not only nutritionally, but because when we eat slowly and naturally, the food preparation, the eating and the cleaning-up gives us rituals that help our lives. And when we grow our own food, or at least find its source, this ritual is extended and deepened even more. And in the process of slowing down, we can peel away the layers of our surface conversations with our loved ones... and we can get to the heart of the matter.

Sure, I don’t really get how busy life can be, especially for parents with young children. But why can’t our eating time be a refuge from the hectic schedule that we have to juggle. Why can’t it be a celebration of some kind. Why can’t it be a feast? A daily feast. A few months ago, I heard a program on NPR called The Family Dinner Reconstructed. It talks about how studies show that children from families who eat together were less likely to smoke, do drugs have drinking problems and were less prone to depression and less likely to develop eating disorders. Check it out. It talks about how the quality of conversation at meal time was also a very strong predicter for language aquisition in kids.

Getting to the heart of the artichoke is my favorite part. I dug out the little prickly pins on the leaf-side of the artichoke and then took cut the soft heart with my fork and ate it in a few pieces. When Jen got to the heart, she ate it quite differently. I had to catch myself from telling her how to eat it. She picked up the thing and ate it from the opposite direction. Though a shared ritual, eating is also be individual.

After eating our artichokes and seeing the pile of discarded and toothed leafs laying in a clump of purple and green pile on our plates… I thought, what an apt metaphor for relationships this little artichoke makes. Before it’s cooked, it’s tough and prickly and you’d think you couldn’t eat it. It takes patience and time to get to the heart. Just like with people. Perhaps there's a reason why something so prickly can only be accessed one leaf at a time. And why it takes awhile to get to the heart of the matter.

I bought these artichokes at Harry and David's in Medford, Oregon.
An exuberant gentlemen was excited to give me his secret for making them.

Add lemons to keep greenness
Several Peppercorns
2-3 Bay Leaves
Cook it in 3 inches of water with the lid on, till the leaves are soft.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Before the love of food comes the love of cooking. . .

Nephews Andrew and Truman

As a kid my mom let us cook and bake with her. We helped measure and mix: a pinch of this, a dash of that, a heaping teaspoon, a little sifting of flour, lots of careful egg cracking and then we'd snap on the blender and go to town.

As I grew up, my mom would turn the kitchen over to me and I created all kinds of crazy things.... once I whipped eggs whites into a meringue, added a bit of purple food coloring and some almond extract and then scooped spoonfuls onto a greased tin and baked it. I made home made pudding and froze it during the 80's when Pudding Pops were the craze. Mine turned out lumpy. Lumpy and frozen is not a good combo. I remembering pouring and shaking several spice containers into a bowl of cookie dough then throwing in almost a whole container of poppy seeds. The cookies actually tasted good.

Last weekend my nephews got a little creative with chocolate and vanilla pudding, strawberries and little shortcakes. Cooking can (and should be) playful... the way it is with children, don't you think? Maybe I should be a chef... get paid to play with food.

French Secret Chefs
Cooking with the Nephews
Andrew and Truman in the Kitchen
Cool stops along the way where I found tasty bites at interesting hang-outs.

Pangea restaurant in Ashland, Oregon

Cookies and Pie in Eugene: Palace Bakery and Zenon Cafe

On Pearl Street in Eugene I found these fat pumpkin cookies at this bakery

The place is next door to the lingerie store with the coolest name: Freudian Slip :)

A few stores south is ZENON CAFE

that has a whole glass case full of homemade and tasty PIES.

Eugene is the city of uber-activists, where even the dirt is a forum for protesters who are especially fond of using rainbow-colored spray paint.

Juicy Burgers at Tyee: Tyee's Landing

On my way to Southern Oregon. I took a detour to see the Umpqua River and wine country. I Stopped for a delish burger in Tyee Landing on the Umpqua River. Love this place. The owner tore off a wall of a house so that diners can see the beautiful river, and even eat from the porch.

Organic Soup in Ashland: Pangea

At Pangea in Ashland I discovered coconut milk, curry and yam soup and a tall glass of rose water lemonade. I also sat by a guy who calls himself the Pop Messiah online, he's a hot filmographer in LA.

When I snapped a shot of he and his girlfriend and child, he said, "I appreciate the art" meaning, my attempt at being a photographer. So I asked him what he did. His girlfriend said:

"He makes commerials, you know the elephant commercial during the superbowl? He made that."

They guy had a great smile and was super affable and wearing an Indiana Jones-like hat. His girlfriend is a fashion accessory designer in LA.

I didn't remember the elephant commercial, but the guy said his name was Joe Rey and he directed me to some of his work on his Website He makes super-cool commerials and music videos and is a filmographer/creative director in LA. He and his girlfriend and their baby July live in both Portland and LA and often stop at Pangea on their way back down to LA. He directed the sexy music video I Need You of Lee Ann Rimes. The artistry of the video is as appealing as her voice. Check out some of his work HERE. I epsecially like his short film called Bat Prophecy where he jerry-rigged a flimsy mechanical flapping bat onto some contraption suspended above his camera and ran around in the city and on the subway filming people's reactions to the bat.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On the Road in Southern Oregon to Northern Cal
Part One: Near-Naked Moments in Wilderness

On the foothills of the ethereal Mt Shasta, at the end of a country road past grazing cows and a bubbling stream banked by blossoming crabapple trees is a cool hot springs

where the locals come to gab about politicals while sitting naked in a Turkish style sauna then dipping into the river like fish.

I found my way to Stewart Springs a few days ago. I was tired from camping and needed a little soak in the hot springs. While sitting in the darkness of the sauna -lit only by a burning wood fireplace- enrobed in my towel, I overheard naked old guy #3 talk about how the "government" was spraying chemicals over the town and he knows because one of his ecologist friends tested a sample off his skylight and it contained higher than normal toxicity. A new couple came into the sauna and for their sakes, I said, 'aren't we supposed to be relaxing here?' I was trying to dispel the negative karmic energy emanating as this gentleman as he spoke about the government trying to kill us. Really, isn't this the last kind of conversation you want to have while you are trying to forget the world and unwind at a mineral hot springs retreat?

Here is a guy who was here with his girlfriend, look, Jesus is on his back. Here's the deal, most of the people who hung outside on the deck at the retreat were literally "hanging out." We were within spitting distance of Mt Shasta (sort of) and Oregon is very close. This is nuddie capitol of the West.

The routine at the hot springs retreat was to spend 10 minutes in the mineral bath and 10 minutes in the sauna, followed by a plunge into the 40 degree creek. I arrived at the same time that a grey-haired flat-chested hippie lady showed up.. the woman who is responsible for the new age oil paintings in the foyer of the retreat. ... the ones with a red naked woman painted to look like a tree in front of a purple sky with yellow blossoming flowers coming out of her head. They are good paintings, don't get me wrong, but I've seen almost exact kinds in Moab, Utah, at Joshua Tree...and Sedona, Arizona.

Here's one of the angels who resides by the river at Stewart Springs. She has wings and her hands are clasped in prayer or is she getting ready to dive into the creek.

So, I took a video of me interviewing a woman who works at Stewart Springs named Sequoia who was living in her jeep while working there. I tell her that I'm living in my car too... which is not entirely accurate. I lived in my car one night.
On the Road in Moab, Utah
Or part Two: Near-Naked Moments in Wilderness

I envy this bird, look where it lives!

In the last month. I've been practicing the art of traveling lightly, both in Moab, which in April was wonderfully hot and in then this week in Southern Oregon. MY friend Jen and I found a hike near a creek up Millcreek Canyon in Moab, Utah and since it was 80 degrees, I peeled off my clothes in a convenient cave and put on my swimsuit. Mid trail there's a place where you can verge and head down to the willows and a clean meandering stream full of big boulders.

Travel Tip: Mill Creek Canyon trail follows a crystal sandy-bottomed river full of several deep swimming holes. The hike requires wading in some parts. The locals love to come here in the summer when the weather is 100+ degrees. It's not in the state of federal parks, so you don't have to pay a fee.
Directions: From downtown Moab, head east on center street, turn right on 400 E, then left on Mill Creek Dr. Merge right when Mill Creek Dr. turns right and the Sand Flats Rd. goes straight. Finally, go left on Powerhouse Lane until it ends at a dirt pullout and parking area.

At Mill Creek, the water was too cold to completely plunge in (it was April when I went), but I waded and splashed around then lay on the hot rocks and in the hot sand.

What could be better after a long winter under the stinky inversion of Salt Lake Valley then to leave the slushy city and head to Southern Utah redrock country to scale rocks, hike up a canyon full of hot towering rocks, stopping to pick spring watercress.

Spring Watercress

to walk under in a natural rock amplitheater at night under the Universe's own star show, walking along the rim looking for Deadhorse Point (a precipice where legend says old cowboys used to lead wild mustangs and after they choose which one's they wanted, they'd block off the bridge and let the other Mustangs starve and waste away.)

and we camped on a lonely bluff overlooking a Marscape, climbed the knarled arms of an ancient juniper and walked barefoot in red soil where Indians once walked.

Jen posing on the final leg of the Millcreek Canyon trail.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I borrowed this image from the internet. Looks like some kid drew the Mario Brother's Super Mushroom guys. Image found:

What old-growth forest mushrooms can to do to help national security

Speaking of mushrooms... a new friend of mine recommended Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets. Today I've been reading more about cloning mushrooms starting with a petri dish (like Bob Rudel does- read two posts ago) and found myself absorbed in the chapter that talks about mycoremediation- a cool method that uses mushrooms to clean up toxic sites. Mixing mushrooms into contaminated soil and covering it up while it does it's magic. Some logging operations have even used chainsaws that are powered with oil that's infused with fungi (spored oil), so that a mushroom grows over the cut trunk and cleans off the oil residue. Diesel contaminated soil is treated with oyster mushrooms and as a result changes from a dead pile of dirt to a dynamic place where plants can grow. I'm OVERSIMPLIFYING this, so read the book! Or check out this Website Fungi Perfecti.

Stamets even researched the use of fungi to remediate after chemical warfare. it costs much less and in some cases has proven to be more effective than the conventional method. Stamets has a patent for a fungal strain from an Northwestern old growth forest that was effective in nuetralizing "very close surrogates of chemical weapons such as sarin, soman and the VX fammily of compounds"

"Saving our old growth forests could help national defense," writes Stamets. Could someone please explain this to George W. Bush?

"The microremediation method is elegantly simple: overlay straw or wood chips infused with the right mycelium to create a living membrane of enzymes that rain down on the toxins in the topsoil."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I met Jane Goodall!

What a classy lady. In the middle of all the hubbub of people wanting to buy books and have them signed and taking photos with her, Goodall sat on her chair with a sense of calm and peace that's hard to dismiss.
At one book signing she had this to say:

"People say to me so often, 'Jane how can you be so peaceful when everywhere around you people want books signed, people are asking these questions and yet you seem peaceful,' and I always answer that it is the peace of the forest that I carry inside."

What elemental memories do we carry inside us? Or are those memories so distant that we reflect only the confusion of the city with it's glaring lights, traffic and nonresponsive miles of asphalt?

Jane wrote a book about knowing where your food comes from and eating mindfully with an intent not to do harm to the planet.

I love that Jame Goodall's mother encouraged her natural curiousity for the natural world. Goodall talks about hours she spent watching and being fascinated by the chickens around her home.

"My mother being so wise, she could've grabbed hold of me, but she saw this little thing running toward the house, all covered in straw, eyes alight with excitement ... She sat down to hear my story. And I can still see it in my mind's eye: the hen rising up a little on her legs, and this slightly soft white thing coming out, plopping on the straw."
Leopold on pumphouse up Millcreek Canyon, Moab

Aldo Leopold talks about farming, about our responsibility, about the dynamic earth we walk on everyday.

"There is, as yet, no sense of pride in the husbandry of wild plants and animals, no sense of shame in the proprietorship of a sick landscape. We tilt windmills in belief of conservation in convention halls and editorial offices, but on the back forty we disclaim even owning a lance."

"There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace."

"Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. ... The circuit is not closed; some energy is dissipated in decay, some is added by absorption from the air, some is stored in soils, peats, and long-lived forests; but it is a sustained circuit, like a slowly augmented revolving fund of life. ... When a change occurs in one part of the circuit, many other parts must adjust themselves to it. Change does not necessarily obstruct or divert the flow of energy; evolution is a long series of self-induced changes, the net result of which has been to elaborate the flow mechanism and to lengthen the circuit. Evolutionary changes, though, are usually slow and local. Man's invention of tools has enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity, and scope." (p. 254-255)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

FOOD ROADIE, Road Foodie
On the Road to Portland, Oregon
Last week Toni, Carolyn and I hit the road and drove to Oregon. Along the way we met up with long-lost relatives, the Fish Pimp and a fungus monger; lost our car bumper, changed our hair color, slept in a treehouse-like cabin

but managed to keep our wallets and sanity. We schlepped around Oregon sampling chocolates
eating mushrooms, chasing waterfalls, arguing about who's turn it was to drive, ogling local men (i.e.: Surf Gods at Pacific City),finding the best local food to make a dinner (crepes with Hebe Eggs, Blue Heron brie cheese and Oregon huckleberry jam), took turns swooning and spinning at the Aztec salsa club

Eating on the Road
Eddyville, Oregon Mushrooms

On our way to the Oregon coast we stopped at Rain Forest Mushrooms on the south side of the road not far past Burnt Woods, Oregon between Philomath and Newport. You know you've arrived when you see this sign beside the highway.

We met mushroom maker and monger, Bob Rudel, who loves to talk-you-up about mushrooms. He's a former physicist who worked for NASA and got tired of being in a lab so thought he'd make a go at mushroom-making. There are plenty of mushrooms growing in the woods near Eddyville, but Bob Rudel chooses to make his own, starting with mold in a petri dish then growing it on sterilized redwood sawdust: what Rudell calls, "sterilized cloned tissue work." Rudel began experimenting on making mushrooms when he was 10.

What does he love about making mushrooms? Well besides his love for eating them, Rudel says he likes the challenge.

"It's definitely a cerebral challenge all the time," he said. "There are a lot of unknowns; It requires hard work and the ability to make all these gizmos." Check out my video footage where Rudel tries to teach us the science of mushroom growing by comparing the process to sex, then telling us his nickname for mushrooms: "fungal erections." After he coined this term, I snapped on my video camera to see if I could capture his explanation.

What Do Mushrooms have in common with Sex? Bob Rudel tells all! We stopped at a pretty little town with daffodil fields called Hebe enroute to Tillamook and bought some eggs.

We made crepes with eggs and filled them with Rudel's fresh mushrooms and brie cheese from Tillamook's OTHER cheese place, Blue Heron cheese. We made crepes filled with Oregon huckleberry jam, Eddyville mushrooms,

Carolyn, Jenie and Toni on the Oregon Coast

Carolyn had three different hair colors on this trip. Which do you like best?

Natural Color, Post-Henna or final color: dark burgandy auburn.

We did have fun: except for that little fender bender in Kimberly, Idaho (see last post) and the other exception of course is that peach, pear hair pie compliments of the Red Neck Cafe (shouldn't the name have tipped me off?) The first night we spend at a hotel in the Dalles playing Mormon girl poker with a handful of hilarious wildlife biologists. (One of them proposed to Carolyn and tried to woo her with his fishing stories: he's known as FishPimp all over youtube for his exploits landing steelhead in various bizarre ways like reeling one in with a pink Barbie Doll fishing rod. The first day we ran around 23rd ave in Portland where I rediscovered a fun chocolate shop

and bought great chocolates like one made with two dark chocolate covered humps of carmelized hazelnuts and a chocolate ganache filling with crunchy hazelnut praline. LOVE IT! We also ate at a Japanese place called Mio Sushi. I had baked green mussels. These don't look as yummy as they tasted, but they were made with spicy mayo, sweet eel sauce and covered with fish eggs. YUM.