Friday, February 27, 2009

Kohlrabi Downed by Fennel

In an alarming incident in my kitchen last week, a giant kohlrabi came flying in through the window looking to establish a colony of its Gongylodes Group, an offshoot of Brassica oleracea (of which kale--and broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts--is a member). This cosmonaut of the vegetable universe had been hurtling through space for weeks looking for a fertile landing ground, when its instruments detected the utopian plane of my kitchen island.

I shrieked in terror at this alien green menace and stood paralyzed as my Global chef's knife slipped from my grasp with a shivering clatter. Luckily, fennel had been lurking, as usual, behind the fridge and made a heroic flying leap to tackle the kohlrabi with ease.

Blinking at the ceiling from my now-prone position on the kitchen floor, I thought of Joan of Arc and drew strength from her to enter the fray. Wielding my sub-zero-treated stainless steel, I reduced the pair into a mass of slivers for a salad, which was enjoyed by all. Both can be eaten raw, sauteed, or roasted.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The land of little rain

Palm Springs is weird. It is a place where aloe plants and citrus trees grow in rock gardens between midcentury modern bungalows, a casual thrift store raid can unearth $5 Naturalizer pumps, there looms a monstrous hotel called Spa Resort Casino, and supermarkets sell brown splotchy grapefruits from Texas.

I was there in January working the PS International Film Festival, and between shifts as a venue manager – answering questions like, "Is this movie going to be in the handheld style?" deflecting comments such as, "I'm 83 years old and you expect me to stand in line?" and leveling the occasional threat, including, "Sir, do you want to be the person escorted from this theater by the police?" – I stopped by the Palm Springs Farmers' Market, conveniently located in the parking lot next to my theater-home.

It was January in the desert, and I was shopping on a strip of strip-mall pavement, not expecting much in the way of produce. I should have known better, considering that a small leafy grove in the courtyard of the Casa Cody, my temporary adobe abode, enabled twice-daily citrus binges and the decadent melty-sweet dates I buy at the Ferry Building and rhapsodize about to anyone who'll listen are grown on Flying Disc Ranch in nearby Thermal, CA.

Anyway, at the market, after brushing past a few soulless stands hawking out-of-season produce pulled from cardboard boxes, I encountered many charming vendors of organically grown marvels, including:

- a week's worth of enormous kiwis, tangy and bright ($3!)
- long and slender Fuerte avocados, creamier than Hass, with smooth, vibrant green skin
- a dozen lovely little quail eggs that I scrambled and ate with grainy toast on Inauguration Day. My gut reaction? Obama-approved.
- jewel-like khadrawy dates, encased in brown papery skins. Seriously, these are nature's candy. Will someone please explain to me the cold indifference with which my dates and I are usually met? (Yes, I really want an answer to that.)

But the morning's most surprising sight was definitely this guy:

He sold me red russian kale, spicy stalks of rapini, and baby magenta radishes that I consumed slowly and with reverence in an attempt to absolve my intake of Cherry Coke and glowing yellow popcorn.

What did I learn during this second annual desert foray? Whether in the form of a 20-something farmhand, a conversation about the long-lost formula for Bakelite, or the sight of arid brown mountains against blue sky, Palm Springs can serve up a refreshing cleanse to the palate – even to a self-satisfied San Franciscan.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Get Your Daikon!

It's that crazy-sexy-cool giant white Asian radish, not to mention my vegetable surname! A friend approvingly pointed out how dykey my veggie name was, which led another friend to suggest a queer ladies vegetarian dance party called "Get Your Daikon!" I'll let you know when it happens...

"Daikon" means "large root" in Japanese, and the phrase "daikon ashi" or "radish legs" refers to certain female gams that bear a pale, sturdy resemblance to the hardy root. I first learned about "daikon ashi" when my roommate took me to the Lunafest women's short film festival, where I saw this movie by Ru Kuwahata:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chayote Cutie

Chayote, the squash relative native to Latin America, is already cute as it is, with its little old man toothless wrinkle mouth, but add some googly eyes and you have an instant heart-breaker. I got these googly eyes (apparently the official product is called Wiggly Eyes, but "googly eyes" is clearly the superior term) from my friend David, who had leftovers from the Krampus New Year's greeting cards he sent out to commemorate the start of 2009. Who is (the) Krampus, you ask? Well you can read the Spiegel International version or check out info from a Walker Art Center exhibition on the Krampus, but here is David's explanation:

On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus is contractually bound to deliver gifts to children whose behavior has conformed to the moral code. Santa's half-brother Krampus knows no such obligation. He terrorizes those who have disobeyed, but he surpasses duty, wielding the cat o' nine tails wherever his whimsy carries him. This year, it carries him into the new year. May the coming months be blessed with googly-eyed glee!

I chopped up my little chayote [chah-yoh-tee/teh; rhymes with "coyote"], threw it in a stir-fry with some other diced vegetables, onion and garlic, and devoured it with Alpine European Krampusian glee. Chayotes are pale greeny-white on the inside and don't have a very strong taste, so I like to add some extra salty seasoning. I think I may enjoy how they look more than how they taste, similar to my feelings on spaghetti squash. More info and recipes here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Weird Carrot Cake

While we're on the topic of sweets getting tangled up in vegetable-dom, I thought I would mention my latest encounter with desserts imitating vegetables, or food-art imitating life. My thirtieth birthday occurred over the weekend, and I asked my cake-sculptor friend Gabrielle Feuersinger (of broccoli cake fame; her company is Cake Coquette if you need a delicious oddly-shaped masterpiece) to make a weird carrot cake modeled off the very carrots featured on this site. She answered my call beyond my wildest dreams by arriving on the scene with a gigantic creepy carrot.

To the left is Gabrielle caught in a Weird Vegetable sandwich (Erin on the right, me on the left). We're all trying to be sexier than that carrot, but it's kind of a lost cause.

I'm not sure which Weird Veg carrot can lay claim to the honor of being represented in spongy layers and icing, but I think she used a combination of the following two models for inspiration:

You may think that the logical choice for a carrot cake would be, well, carrot cake, but no, no my friend, that would be way too normal of a path to take. Rather, what your eyes are feasting on is the logically illogical choice of lemon cake. It was mostly devoured within the hour by greedy, sugar-encrusted mouths, but I still have the carrot butt (which is colored a little darker to represent the gritty end o' the carrot) wrapped in foil in my fridge, to pick at in small but steady binges over the course of this week. Thanks, Gabby!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Dream of Veggies

My friend Julia left a bottle of Coke in my fridge over the weekend, and I drank it tonight shortly before bedtime, I don't know why. And now I can't sleep, it's suddenly raining hard outside, and I wish I'd had a carrot instead. I feel like the little cupcake in this adorable stop-motion movie "Sweet Dreams" by animator Kirsten Lepore. I'd always suspected that the sugary folk secretly suffered from a bit of veggie envy, of feeling somehow not as substantial as their natural alternatives. The piece is ten minutes long, so watch it when you've got more than your usual Internet attention span going. And get ready for some racy inter-food-group lovin' between the cupcake and a curvy butternut squash!