“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared or fast food, confronts a platter covered with inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any creature that ever lived… The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”
8:04 on a Saturday evening, sitting at the kitchen desk drinking cheap red wine from a tiny rainbow San Francisco mug and breathing deep as the light fades from the sky, on our second day in a row without rain. Dogwood trees are bursting out in pink blossoms all over the neighborhood, and when I walked home from my lunch shift, there was still fresh snow on the Olympics across the water. Ryan puts a Miles Davis record on and sets to toasting, chopping, grinding and sauteeing an intoxicating combination of herbs and spices… cardamon, ginger, onion, garlic, fenugreek, cloves, cumin, and coriander—all the fixins for Red Lentil Dahl from scratch. The rice cooker is hissing softly on the counter. Assata wakes up under the table and wanders sleepily out into the twilight of the freshly mowed backyard… I sip my wine and scribble maps of the garden in my journal, plotting my first spring planting tomorrow. I’ve got a windowsill full of spinach, started from seed a month ago, and some little broccoli and butter lettuce starts Mom brought by last week, all of them eager to escape their tiny pots and set their roots into the soil.
The garden has been true to us all through the snow and frost and cold of winter 2008-2009… up until December we were still nibbling on tiny tomatoes that ripened in bowls on the windowsill. In February we harvested the last of the brussel sprouts, which performed exquisitely after being boiled for 3 minutes, then sauteed in garlic and olive oil, after which we dipped them in veganaise and rolled our eyes in sheer joy. the row of mixed kale has sprouted through every imaginable sort of Seattle winter weather, including our epic 2 plus weeks of snow. We’ve been baking it in olive oil and sea salt at least once a week, as per Erin’s fabulous recipe. And I’ve just now harvested the last of the root veggies, in early April.
Sip my wine, glance outside. Ryan is sitting on the top step with a towel on his shoulder, petting Assata. The yard is dark now, but the porchlight is on, and shining on a bush covered with soft pink flowers.
A few hours ago, I sat in this same chair, counting tip money and writing checks to pay bills. We talked about money, the status of our savings for the wedding and our trip to India this summer, worried about debt and student loans, rehashed the same old numbers over and over, discussed second jobs. We were quiet for a while, and then decided to set out for the bare bones, beginning-o-month grocery shop at our Co-Op. Surveyed the empty jars, grabbed our cloth bags, and set out for the bulk section of the West Seattle PCC.
We’ve both bought bulk for years, but its only in the past year or so that we’ve begun to develop our bulk shopping/cooking skills. I used to buy too much of this, or that, just to see it sitting in a clear jar on my kitchen shelf. Decorative bulk, invariably tossed out 9 months later. Now we know exactly what we need. Once we get to the bulk aisle, we spread out.
I headed for the big bins, to shovel out polenta (for delicious grits!), oats (for my morning oatmeal with soymilk and succanat–a delicious, less-refined sugar), red lentils, green lentils, and nutritional yeast (a delicious, killer source of B-12 for vegetarians/vegans, tastes a lot like cheese. we put it on EVERYTHING). Ryan took charge in the spice section, pulling down the jars and shoveling herbs and spices into tiny plastic bags. Bulk spice-buying is deeply satisfying. I think it appeals to my montessori upbringing— the tiny silver scoop, the numbered jars, the careful packaging (and the other end of the process: emptying the tiny bags into our reused spice jars back home, giddy when i’ve bought just enough to fill them. Excess gets rolled back into the bags and stored in a tiny cedar basket made by my mother). I cruise the fruit aisle, and pick out cheap organic fruit… 4 nectarines, 3 pears, a grapfruit. Ryan meets up with me, having gathered the ingredients for his dahl: tomatoes, cilantro, and naan bread for dipping. We check out, and congratulate ourselves as each bulk item appears on the screen, cheaper than we expected every damn time. 1 pound grits— $ 1.59. garlic powder—$1.51. ground ginger, $1.72. coriander—.33.
Leaving the store, we are giddy. We have enough spices and grains to last us thru the month, and then some, for 30 dollars less than I’d allocated out of today’s tips. At home, Ryan starts the dahl, and exquisite scents mingle and blend and swirl thru the kitchen on the draft from the open back door. I pile the grapefruit, tangerines, pears, ginger root and garlic into the hanging basket by the window, empty the bulk things into jars… tiny grains whisper across one another and land atop one another sounding like a light rain.
Finish my wine. Ryan dishes up dahl and brown rice, and surprises me with a candlelit picnic table in the dark backyard. wrap in a sweater and put on boots, and sit across from him, savoring each delicious bite in the quiet April dark.