I’m just back from a short visit with good friends in Los Angeles–leaving these rural acres from time to time for urban settings shakes things up, expands my sense of the world and helps me see my Vermont life. That our friends love good food of all sorts also meant we were in for some sensational eating–both in their home and in the taquerías and inventive restaurants that abound in LA.
Stacie is a fabulous, caring cook who has taught me a good deal about creativity in the kitchen. She scours the farmers’ markets of Venice and Santa Monica for the freshest organic ingredients — we ate her kale and farro salads, her strawberry-balsamic ice cream, her fresh pastas with corn and pancetta, with pea shoots and favas, her ragú–amazing cooking with incredible ingredients. What I’d give to have such ingredients, fresh, most months of the year!
And so, of course, they took us to the farmers’ markets (there’s a market every day of the week!). I was instantly envious of my friends–for what they have access to on a daily basis– and even more, of these farmers–to be picking such gorgeous artichokes and peaches and strawberries at all much less in May! To have citrus and olive trees! Almost everything imaginable that comes from a garden or orchard was there. Fresh, organic, perfect. I have never eaten such tasty cultivated strawberries anywhere. Period.
In spite of this bounty, my friends still wish they could grow their own food–they want to run out to the garden to snip a bit of sun-warmed mint or basil; pluck the zucchini flowers, shaking out the critters hanging out in the pollen just before she reaches the sauté pan; race the just-picked corn to the kettle. But they live on a tiny city lot with a narrow, short border of flowering vines and a small patio. They live in LA. They rent their place.
They’re creative: tucking chard and beans here and there between the jasmine and bougainvillea flowers, and growing herbs in a barrel: sage, mint, oregano, cilantro, tarragon and thyme.
They pair cucumbers with basil and lemon thyme in a modest pot:
They grow tomatoes and zucchini in their own pots:
Something beyond a desire for fresh and safe food compels them to grow a few tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and beans. Something beyond the taste of a just-picked herb. They can get all of that and of a quality perhaps superior in those farmers’ markets. In other words, they are driven by something else–the simple and profound desire to produce even the tiniest bit of their own food, to participate in the natural cycle of earth to plate. This small garden gives far far more than bodily sustenance. It gives them perspective as they slow down to tend to weeds, to water, to make sure the pots are in the sun or shade, and to pick the fruits of that caring. It gives them pleasure.
And so back here in weather-tossed Vermont, as I head out to our local, twice-weekly farmers’ market to look at what local farmers are harvesting, I think back to those boxes of blood oranges, strawberries, zucchini and tomatoes gracing the tables of the California market, and I remember that sweet, tiny garden in the middle of Los Angeles. I think about how what I take for granted–dirt to sink my hands into and a palpable sense of living within an ecosystem rich in variety and deep in direct connectedness–is the stuff of other people’s dreams. I think of the book I am reading, David Abram’s Becoming Animal–a startling, challenging, and powerful look at what it means to be our full selves.
As I set out into the garden I think about Abram’s observation that
“…we feel compelled to distinguish our reflective selves from our material bodies, and strive to hold ourselves aloof from the density of the earth.” (p.303)
Stacie tending to her small garden within the metropolis is trying to do the opposite–that small gesture to connect with other living things and with the source of her food is a step towards staying in touch with the wild earth. It gives me renewed determination to travel this path of eco-gardening and cooking, in contact with the density of the earth.