Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Somebody Take This Obese Pumpkin, Please!

It's the time of year when gourds start to take over, spilling from the oven and dinner plate onto people's front porches and various home display nooks. And the grocery stores start getting inspired with their gigantic pumpkin and yellow-and-green warty gourd displays. Around Berkeley and Oakland, I've seen a number of obese pumpkins basking in their orange Jabba the Hutt folds at the Berkeley Bowl, out in front of Sweet Adeline's cafe, and some random restaurants along Telegraph that I zoomed past too quickly to remember.

People grow these enormous pumpkins, win prizes at county fairs, proudly display their overgrown vegetable progeny in a blaze of harvest glory. And then the excitement fades and reality sets in. You have an enormous, unwieldy pumpkin that no one is going to eat, that will grow moldy and disgusting, and that you will have to hack at with a chainsaw before it'll fit into your green bin.

The photo above comes from a Craigslist post from a San Francisco family that won this 160-lb. pumpkin for correctly guessing its weight and, now that the euphoria of that victory has shriveled to a wizened tendril, are trying to pawn off this nuisance on someone else. Here's the ad:

160 lb pumpkin -- who can resist?

Date: 2012-11-13, 8:45PM
We won this pumpkin in a contest for correctly guessing its weight.
We've enjoyed having it for the past month, but now it's time to let go.
Wouldn't necessarily suggest eating it, but great for use for decorative, artistic, or composting purposes.
Yours for free if you'd like to come pick it up. I'll help you carry it to your car.
We're near Japantown.

The ad is still live as of this posting (it's here!), so I hope I am doing a public service by spreading the news to someone who might want this bloated orange monster.  "Who can resist?" I imagine the family members smiling weakly, trying to convince you of the irresistible allure of the 160-lb pumpkin that's been decaying in their house for a month already and that they are begging you to take off their hands. "I'll help you carry it to your car." Please help. SOS.

While I'm on the topic of ornamental squash, I'd like to remind you that it's the time of the year when we gather round and reread my all-time favorite McSweeney's Internet Tendency column, "It's Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers." by Colin Nissan. It begins:

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. 

It continues in pretty much the same vein, until the cumulative effect of the macho-dude swearing and swagger to describe such Martha Stewart passions for seasonal decor makes me laugh so hard I cry, every time. I especially love the gourd necklace.

When it rains it pours, and the veggie posts keep coming tonight after two months of silence. (It's been a busy few months.) It must be the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and an early T-day feast last Sunday that got me thinking about vegetables again. Enjoy your feasts and don't forget to include some weird vegetables.

And thanks to Amaranth Gadberry for foraging this amazing pumpkin plea from the brambles of Craigslist. Lastly, I leave you with some choice obese pumpkin photos culled from the Internet. While 160 lbs might seem heavy to you, some of these award winners weigh in the area of 1,300 pounds or MORE. Yikes. And yes, that is a man riding in a pumpkin boat.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Witchy Brew: Meadowsweet, Fennel, and Marshmallow Root

Magic herbs in the company of the very magical Clarice Lispector

Having recently moved from San Francisco's Mission District to the Berkeley-Oakland borderlands (by way of Rio de Janeiro for a year+ in between), I've had to seek out equivalents for my old favorites in my new neighborhood.  Scartlet Sage is still my #1 witch store, but I no longer live 10 minutes away, sadly. So I was happy to wander into the Lhasa Karnak Herb Company on Telegraph today while on my way to the heavenly Moe's Books to look for The Road to Xanadu (found it!). Rows of glass jars filled with magic herbs, walls lined with tinctures and tarot cards, stacks of teas, soaps, and beeswax candles. I inhaled all the familiar scents and felt a faint glow from my inner spirit crystal.

Today's discovery was a tea made from meadowsweet, fennel, and marshmallow root in equal proportions. I explained my mysterious stomachaches to the young witch at the counter and she recommended this combination to soothe the stresses of a sour, acidic stomach. She recommended it two ways: a spoonful heated up with almond milk (in a tea ball or strained afterward) and also brewing a big batch of tea and straining it into a mason jar because "these herbs like to expand." Or something like that. I imagine that it must be akin to the way wine likes to breathe. I had the milky tea earlier, which eased my way into a delicious post-teaching nap, and am now enjoying some post-dinner tea that's been stretching its legs in an old Spanish olive jar.

The taste is laced with licorice from the fennel, while the meadowsweet, an herb sacred to the Druids, reminds me of chammomile, though with an ever so slightly bitter taste. Marshmallow root, I've never had and I can't quite isolate its taste in this mixture, though I assure you it has very little to do with sticky sweet taste Kraft products. The tea has been soothing to me, even if it does taste a little medicinal (not necessarily off-putting though I can imagine some people not liking the taste).
marshmallow root (source)

But the strange marshmallow root, like insides of the more familiar campfire roasting treat, is slimy and thick, known as a "demulcent herb" that is meant to soothe mucous membranes (like the lining of my upset stomach). It also has about a thousand other uses, so if you are a witch-in-training as I aspire to one day be, you can read all about them here. More on its magic mucous properties from this site:

Both the root and the leaf of the marshmallow plant contain a substance known as mucilage polysaccharides, a mucusy substance that does not dissolve in water. It is this substance that causes marshmallow to swell up and become slippery when wet. This attribute of the marshmallow plant gives it the ability to soothe irritation of the mouth, throat and stomach, as well as to relieve coughing.

Mucilage polysaccharides! Weeeeird! But my stomach is saying, "aaaaaaah."

Flowering Kale

Here is a kale blossom to cheer your kitchen as the weather turns cold and the rain gives us an excuse to sleep scandalously late on the weekends and lounge around inside, being both lazy and industrious in ridiculous rainbow knit pants and crocheted slippers. I wish I could say this hearty bloom came from my backyard or an overgrown field I tromped across, but, alas, it caught my eye from a white plastic florist bucket. But the tiny tomatoes are, yes!, from my backyard.