F O R A G E R
(A Special Sneak Preview from Edible Ojai)
22 October 2014
I eat all day. I grow professionally-scaled food and eat a lot of it the minute I see it. Chomp. I have a grocery store full of peanuts, apples and salty crackers. Crunch. We own a Mexican restaurant and gourmet bakery. Munch. Ben and Meg bake bread every Thursday. At any given time I own as much as 12 pounds of organic butter. Sounds good, eh? Hot bread from a wood fired oven covered in melting butter? Crunch. I am surrounded by so many caloric opportunities it’s a wonder I am not as big as a Subaru four-door hatchback.
The informed public knows that breakfast is ballyhooed as the day’s most important meal. Conversely, night-snacking will yield nothing but ephemeral guilt and girth for your waistline. I usually think I have no time for breakfast and claim I never eat it unless I am on vacation and can enjoy the luxury while waiting to do next to nothing. But while dawn-treading at work, if I set myself before a wide swath of ripe, sweet Italian peppers or bent over a line of crispy cucumbers I am within reach of a breakfast that is as distinctive as it is healthful. Did you know you can eat the hearts of two heads of Romaine lettuce at six-fifteen in the morning and feel satisfied for over 45 minutes? Did you know that arugula is not just fit for a fancy salad eaten on the posh? I shove wads in my mouth all day. The list of vegetative foods that can not be eaten raw is short: eggplant, artichokes, potatoes. If you want to nitpick about the rutabagas going unmentioned, just cook some up for revenge. They accumulate arsenic.
Plowing through three ears of raw sweet corn on my way down the row is a heavenly routine. These are the nuggets the ear worms were murdering already, so, just in case you work for the IRS, I want you to know I keep track of everything I eat and tax myself brutally for every bite. The overreach sounds whimsical but it’s true my dears, oh so true.
You have marveled at the wonders of the fresh, no? You wait patiently for your own tomatoes to ripen, intellectually fulfilled by your devotion to modest self-sufficiency, but it’s the taste-buds that are running the show. You didn’t know you think with your mouth, and it is true that many open their mouths without thinking, but test your cerebrum against the allure of a plate of hot French fries some afternoon and see if you can talk your mouth out of attacking the whole pile. Oh, the remorseless gullet! Fresh tastes best and, thereafter, yields a mysterious rush of energy and mental activity nearly akin to enlightenment. The whole body now responds to the just-picked vitality of raw green beans! These are the sensations awaiting you when consuming your own backyard vegetables at home. Since I live everywhere I go, feeling quite at home nearly all the time, opportunities for educated, even sensational, consumption are offered randomly at every turn.
Except perhaps at the irredeemable tables of the pot luck. The traditional pot luck enables the bringing of home-cooked dishes to the home of the host where bowls of cold casserole, dip, and overdressed salads, all tasting much the same as the other, stare at you from atop the checked table cloth like a visiting aunt whose name you can never remember at the right moment. You plop your crostini or your marinated radicchio and smashed olive salad on the table cloth and wonder why you made that when you might have imagined how many 7 year-olds were going to be in attendance who do not relish radicchio. And the cold crostini. Well, after enough alcohol all these discardables will be endowed with desirable qualities everyone except my wife will succumb to.
People, and we know many of them because we run a public house, think I must live like the Prince of Monaco because my wife is a professional cook. No doubt people, the same sorts aforementioned, might be jealous of the broad pallet of consumables I haul home so my applauding wife can create a daily masterpiece. Though this scenario takes place often, sometimes to obtain the certain civility and camaraderie that home-dining provide, my wife is often exhausted from cooking all day, surfeited from all the knowledgeable tasting and mindless nibbling that food preparation entails. She is, as they say in Ventura, “done in the kitchen.” Say you’re a plumber. When you get home, the last thing you want to do is unbolt the toilet from the floor. Say you’re a lawyer. The last thing you want is for your cheapskate neighbor to come over for some free advice. You just sat down with a tall boy and now you have to talk liability at kick-back thirty? It’s like that for Olivia Chase. She’s kind of had it already with the knives and simmering, you know? I may offer (not often enough) to whip something up, or at least chop, prep and contribute to the civilizing efforts of meal-making at our own address. These thinly veiled efforts are blatant but not false, and Ms. Chase accepts the gesture with graciousness, acknowledging that we sit down to relationship.