Sunday, June 29, 2008

Olive you!

Katrina D: In a historic Weird Vegetables moment, Erin and I are blogging in the same post. We're up in Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival with my parents. Erin is mercifully standing in as my proxy sibling/ambiguous bed-time companion.

Erin K: When we're not oohing over the unexpected charms of our B & B (warm chocolate chip cookies at midnight! toilet paper wound into rosettes!), we're inventing activities outside the realm of our normal city-dwelling routines — like shopping for novelty shower curtains and searching for versions of our aged selves. This evening, on our way into The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, Katrina spotted the woman she wants to be at 65.

KD: Or just will be regardless of my own wishes. She wore a stripey t-shirt dress outside of the Kat Wok, a saucy pan-Asian restaurant, sushi bar, and nightclub. But back to vegetables. Wait, are olives a vegetable? Either way, we should talk about the Olive Pit in Corning, CA, an exciting mid-way lunch stop on the drive from San Francisco to Ashland.

EK: I thiiiiink olives are a fruit, but since I use them regularly as spicer-uppers of veg cuisine, they occupy a spot on vegetable spectrum in my mind. Regardless, the Olive Pit's got jars and jars of green gems, flavored in strange and delightful ways, identifiable thanks to signs with catchy names and handy drawings. I think the illustration of almond-stuffed olives looks like an ogre toe.

KD: Yeah, that place was nutty, kind of like the Nut Tree, only with olives. I felt like we were in an Andreas Gursky photo (lower right). Here's my Forrest Gump listing of all the flavors they had: Pitted, Green Pitted, Spiced Pimiento, Martini, Manzanillo, Queen, Garlic Style, Smoked Style, Kosher Style, Dill Kosher, French Style, Italian Style, Onion Stuffed, Almond Stuffed —keep reading, dahlings, it's only gonna get crazier — Smoke Flavored, Brine Greek, Cuban, Ranch (ew!), Cracked Sicilian, Napa Valley Wine, Mild Mustard, Hot Spiced, Jalapeño Style, Texas Hot Chili, and finally, Deep South Cajun. Whew! My fingers hurt.

EK: Strangely, after snapping photos and marveling at the various signs, we didn't manage to buy a single jar. This can be explained by the phenomenon of bulk-food turn-off —when I encounter anything edible in massive quantities, it loses its appeal. An obvious example is a vat of gravy, dispensed by hand-pump (I really saw it! In Ely, NV) but even a hotel pan of seared duck breasts can seem gross because there's just so many of them.

KD: Clearly, you do not share my mom's passion for the temple of consumer gluttony also known as Costco. I enjoy building my sense of superiority by lecturing her on the evils of buying gallon jugs of o.j. but then secretly grab a bunch of bulk-bought toilet paper and Kleenex from the garage on my way out. But if I had purchased anything from the Olive Pit, it definitely would have been the Dynamic Duo: Jalapeño & Garlic Stuffed. My only question is, are you Jalapeño or Garlic?

EK: Welp, considering one morsel of each is wedged into every olive, does it matter?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Weird Vegetables - Austin Edition

Contrary to what produce-vain Californians may like to believe, Texans do know what vegetables are. I witnessed a particularly pleasing spectacle of produce worship last Saturday morning at the Sunset Valley Farmers market just outside of Austin while visiting my beloved Jenny, high school bff and fellow S.F. native. The horn-tooting section of the market's website boasts that it was listed in the top 5 farmers' markets in the country by Eating Well magazine and in the top 10 by the Audubon Society. Apparently our own Ferry Plaza market ranks among the best, along with those in Ithaca, Madison, and Santa Fe.

Jenny and I pulled into the super-sized parking lot at around 10am and I could already feel the humidity clamp down on me as I stepped out of the car. The sun was particularly brutal (the heat must have hit the mid-90s already) but the excitement of various pickled things, brilliant red tomatoes, shiny green and yellow peppers, and sweet juicy peaches soon distracted me. The market is set up in a large rectangle, with farmers on the perimeter and artisans and music in the center mush pot. I picked up a peck of pickled okra (okay, just a jar) made with love by The Square Headed Germans. In a minor tragedy, it was eventually confiscated from my carry-on at the airport security check, so I never did get to taste those spicy garlic-infused okra. [muffled sobs]

My favorite farm stand was Morning Glory Farm, where the adorable pair in the topmost photo took us on a tour of their mini-daikon, assorted greens, and tea herbs. The mini daikon is in the lower corner of the photo on the left (above). Ain't it cute?

Their assortment of greens in particular whetted my appetite for weirdness. Bunches of red orach mountain spinach and wild lamb's quarters stood proudly in their own buckets, while other greens nestled together in salad mix baggies. Gracie (with the scrunchied pig-tails) says she puts the seeds of the wild lamb's quarters in fritters, but otherwise you can just eat these leaves raw as if you were a little lamb yourself. Other strange offerings included emu oil, yellow dock root, chasteberry, and horehound.

Jenny and I decided to sample the "everything but the kitchen sink" baggie, which included the following:

- amaranth
- orach
- beet greens
- lettuces
- pea greens
- broccoli
- chickweed
- sorrel
- kale
- tatsoi

The salad was hearty though a little bitter, so I added yellow peach slices on top. The combination was delicious. It didn't even need salad dressing.

My favorite artisan stand was the charming Belle and Burger. Belle also has a blog where she gives you ideas for being crafty (watch for the upcoming make-your-own-undies demo) and an online shop at Etsy, clearinghouse of handmade items to coo and drool over. I bought a hand-sewn card with a fabric strawberry and different-colored threads criss-crossing over it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vegetable Parinirvana

Last Sunday, our blog team witnessed a singularly magical weird vegetable event. Or rather, we witnessed the anniversary commemoration of a vegetable tableau vivant performance that ignited a burst of envy in me verging on spontaneous combustion, the kind of envy I feel whenever I think of Fanny Waters' charmed existence, easily mockable name notwithstanding.

"Vegetable Parinirvana" was a cosmic meeting of the minds between 18th-century Japanese painter Ito Jakuchu and present-day San Francisco artist and Tartine employee Rachel Corry. (That last detail is relevant for the simple fact that the statement "I work at Tartine" is another way of saying "I am wildly more beautiful, stylish, and artistically inclined than you or anyone you can honestly claim to be friends with. Now be a lamb and eat your brioche in the corner. Be sure not to drop any crumbs." I write this, of course, with the utmost affection for all things Tartine.)

Corry was inspired by an encounter with Jakuchu's circa 1780 ink-brush painting Yasai Nehan, or Vegetable Parinirvana to stage a live version in Golden Gate Park last June. The painting was part of a show at the Asian Art Museum on Kyoto painters of the Edo period.

The Jakuchu scroll portrays a dying Buddha surrounded by his followers, a religious scene commonly depicted in Buddhist art, only this version casts the Buddha as a reclining daikon (big white radish) encircled by all his best veggie mates, like eggplant, mushroom, tomato, carrot, and quince. There seems to be some serious academic debate over whether Jakuchu's painting is a parody or a mournful meditation (with the inevitable compromise that it is both) on this scene of parinirvana, a state that Wikipedia describes as "the final nirvana, usually understood to be within reach only upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening (bodhi). It is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice..." This Slate review of a similar show at the National Gallery in D.C. has a nice paragraph about the painting. There's also a very earnest Zen gardener who has taken an intense liking to Jakuchu's art here.

Corry began by identifying the vegetable worshippers in Jakuchu's painting and then constructed her own psychedelic technicolor costumes to be worn by her and 14 of her most vegetably able (veget-able?) friends on Strawberry Hill near Stow Lake in the park.

On Sunday, as we sat on the grass in a backyard across from Dolores Park, gazing at empty vegetable costume shells and glossy color photos strung up around the garden perimeter while guitars strummed on the sunshine, I felt a melancholy sweetness for the daikon Buddha, whose foamy carcass now looked like a gentle white shark leaning horizontally against the wooden picket fence.

Would whoever ate a daikon Buddha absorb its enlightened wisdom? Another reason to eat your vegetables!

More photos of the cutest veggies in the world here!