Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Praise of Gnarled Carrots

It should strike anyone who pays passionate attention to vegetables and how they taste as perverse and even cruel for supermarkets and certain governing bodies (formerly the EU, though they've repealed the ban on weird vegetables) to deem countless pounds of produce specimens as not fit for market due to their puny size or irregular, twisty forms.

It's a topic I've griped about before, but I return to it this time to say that this practice is particularly disgraceful when it comes to carrots. While I've been known to pass up a bunch of bananas due to the alarmingly aberrant curvature of one of their members (please do not take this where your mind wants it to go, I beg of you), I can, at the same time, be found lamenting the present state of conventional carrots and wailing when I get to the farmers' market and everyone's bought up all my favorite skinny, twisty carrots. This tends to happen to me mostly in Rio de Janeiro, where the organic farmers' markets occur separately from farmers' markets that offer conventional produce, and the organic markets are so small and intensely frequented that all the tastiest items sell out before I even manage roll out of bed.

For some mysterious reason that might have to do with habit and the benumbing effect of consumer culture, people at the regular supermarkets seem satisfied to purchase bagfuls of these giant, rotund, uniform sticks that are as hard as wood and taste like chewed up paper wads. I can see why supermarkets and mass carrot producers would prefer to ship and stock these invincible wood sticks rather than delicate waifs like the ones pictured above left--these tender tinies are much more likely to swoon and faint under the stress of long-distance trucking. But their crunch is so crisp yet yielding, so subtle in their variations of sweetness, so redolent of spring awakening, that I have taken to going carrotless for weeks rather than compromise on the endlessly disappointing orange batons permanently on offer at the supermarket. The last time I caved and bought these gross carrots to add to a soup or something, I ended up leaving the majority unused in the crisper until they half decayed into the slightly gruesome state you see in the picture to the left. If you live in San Francisco, then you probably can find sweetly gnarled carrots even at the most random of conventional markets, and this post may not even be relevant to you, you lucky brat!

That is all. I end my rant with a side-by-side comparison shot. Of course, what you'd really need is a taste test, but it seems important to note that not only do gnarled carrots taste infinitely better than these orange stubs, they are also waaay more attractive and weird in the most benevolent of ways, as opposed to those wooden abominations that offer us a case study in sinister-weird. Happy carrot hunting!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Experimental Guest Post:
Southern Pepper Jelly

Pepper jelly available in red, green, and sunshine color, possibly Amish-made.

A note from Kale Daikon:
My dear veggie friends, today I introduce you to a new feature on WV: the guest post. My high school friend and sophomore year Winter Ball date, veg name Jalapeño Rice, has taken 15 experimental minutes out from his rising career as a skateboarding columnist and writer-at-large to send a dispatch from the outskirts of Nashville calling our attention to the southern phenomenon known as Pepper Jelly. A vegetable in jelly form strikes us San Franciscans as highly unusual, hence its appearance on WV. 
Speaking of the South and strange forms of jelly, you should also check out Vile Jelly Radio, a delightful smorgasbord of music, banter, and folksy advice broadcast live from Columbia, MO every Sunday (and available on the Internet forevermore) by the talented and pee-your-pants-funny Andrew Leland, who claims WV as one of his favorite blogs in this interview! Okay, I hereby leave you to the spicy musings of Mr. Rice.

Reed's Grocery, somewhere outside of Nashville

I am what is the word? The OULIPO movement did this? There is a fancy word for giving yourself a limitation in writing a narrative/story/text but I can’t think of it right now. But the constraint, the self-imposed constraint, I am installing in this anecdote is that I will only compose this for fifteen minutes exactly and I will not use the World Wide Web/ Information Super Highway/ Google or any other resource to aid me in the telling of this tale. I mean this as no disrespect to Weird Vegetables. But on the contrary I will honor Weird Vegetables by my becoming brevity. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and…uh…the other word…maybe the almost right word…he might have said…is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” But the more germane quote from Mark Twain was, “I was going to write a short letter but I did not have enough time.”
I only have 11 more minutes.
This epistle, as it were, concerns “pepper jelly.” My wife and I live in a surprisingly sophisticated, Cheeveresque enclave just outside Nashville. One afternoon we were going to meet our friends for an early dinner. I found myself at Reed’s Grocery—a small, family owned stand next to an ancient graveyard of the kind common in popular depictions of the Dirty South.
I wanted to get something for the couple we were meeting for dinner. I went to the back of the store. My wife was going to meet me across from Reed’s after work.
I walked to the back and saw several jars lining the walls
Ack 8 minutes…!!
Every kind of pepper jelly was in the back there. Like, literally, 9 different kinds of pepper jelly. I had never had it before and never even heard of such a thing. So I asked the proprietress, “How do you eat this? Is it sweet?” She said, “Yes. It’s sweet. It goes with…”
And she mentioned some things.
I picked out the green jar and bought that. I was sort of anxious about my purchase. I had visions of strange and not savory or sweet or delicious foods my Dad would bring home such as a weird form of Indian Ice Cream my wife still contends was soap. And unsweetened chocolate. So I am constantly interrogating myself to see if I am becoming my father? Was this, I wondered, some weird and not tasty/sweet exotic food item that would make the couple uncomfortable? Would they feel compelled to try it?
So nervously, when we arrived at the couple’s house, I brought the pepper jelly out of the paper bag and said something to the effect of, “Here I brought this for you.”
“Pepper Jelly!” she said as though she were greeting an old friend.
Here I had been concerned that “Pepper Jelly” was too out-there, and some weird thing, like unsweetened chocolate or ice cream that tasted like soap. Instead, Pepper Jelly, she explained, was a staple of her childhood and a common delicacy often served in social settings throughout the South.
She dispatched me to the local grocery store to get water crackers and cream cheese. We ate the pepper jelly that afternoon with the aforementioned items and it was delicious, slightly spicy but mostly sweet—a pleasing green color like the cover of Ulysses.
Since that time we have given pepper jelly to my parents and some other people and they like it. Here is where I would write some exposition about the history of pepper jelly and its sociological significance in the Southeastern United States.
—Jalapeño Rice

Some fans of pepper jelly, including the sultry-looking Lee Ann Rimes

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lettuce Dressing For Carnaval!

Look at this delectable lettuce! She's so perky and fresh you wouldn't even know it was 87 degrees out and humid enough to make you bathe entirely in your own sweat at a rate of two slick layers per minute.

Carnaval has just come to a close in Brazil, and it feels like I got hit with an enormous glitter bomb hurled to the soundtrack of a 1000 beating drums and 500 blaring horns. Drunken street parties are just about my worst nightmare, but I braved the crowds in Rio de Janeiro to put on a costume and hear some amazing music a couple times over the course of the four-day festa.

I came across this cheerful human vegetable after escaping the confetti crush of a bloco in the hilly, cobblestoned Santa Teresa neighborhood, where I used to live. A bloco is a street party in which a big band marches through the streets playing popular Carnaval songs, while people in costume follow along singing, dancing and tossing confetti and water and maybe beer on each other. This bloco had started at 8am (yes 8am), so I was feeling a little zombie-faced by the time I decided, a couple hours later, to make my salmon exit, moving determinedly hand-in-hand with my little owl friend (see above photo, left) contra the human tide.

We paused for breath after winding our way out of the thick of things, and that's when she appeared in our path, Alfaçinha, as her friends call her, or Little Lettuce, a nickname earned by her vegetarian ways. Below are more views of this most green of fashions. Extra props go to the coordinated lettuce scrunchy.

She was a welcome salad interlude after a morning full of sweaty meat hunks:

More photos from the bloco Céu Na Terra, which means Heaven on Earth, but for me was more like Sweaty Beer-Soaked Inferno Made Bearable and Even Pleasurable By Brilliant Costumes & Bursts of Joyous Music and Dancing.

UPDATE: And finally, in response to a very woolly, very crafty reader's request, here is my last-minute costume. The inspiration is a 3-in-1 rendition of Princess-Clown-Super Hero. (I hope I get extra props for the biker shortz.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Veggie Plops.

Veggie plops. That's what I'm calling these. It looks like someone just dropped these cabbages and squash from a high place and they landed into the shape of veggie-hued Hershey kisses. Spotted outside of a dusty old market on an island southeast of Rio de Janeiro called Ilha Grande, home to just four automobiles (firetruck, police car, school bus, and one other car) and a whole pack of happy dogs that have people who love them and feed them but that roam the island freely like cats due to aforementioned lack of cars. Here is the full shot of the market:

I like that these veggies masquerading as giant dim sum dumplings get such primacy of place, the star attraction alongside the brooms meant to lure in potential customers. That pink bike is pretty sweet too.

More soon! Carnaval is coming to Rio (oh, the humanity! drunken crowds marching all over my poor beer-soaked, sandy toes!!) and I have a sore throat. Maybe that will keep me home and posting more about weird vegetables.