One day last week, my husband, my daughter Karis and I were taking a walk down the road by our house in Yosemite National Park when we came across a family of deer happily munching on grass. "Oh," sighed Karis. "Don't you wish we were like the deer and could find food so easily? Then we wouldn't have the hassle of driving to Oakhurst."
Being the annoying kind of parents that can't let any innocent comment go untouched, my husband pointed out that when it snows, the deer don't find it easy either. While I felt it necessary to take things to a whole new level by talking about how the Indian peoples who lived in the Yosemite area for 10,000 years were able to collect two year's worth of acorns — their main food source — in just two weeks.* My husband and I may have been busy turning a simple walk into a series of teaching moments, but in my heart of hearts, my daughter had me. Why did we have to drive over an hour round-trip down to Oakhurst at least once a week (and make the three-hour round-trip to Fresno at least once a month for all-important, happiness-sustaining visits to Trader Joe's and Costco)?
Shortly thereafter, I went to a party where a female ranger and a ranger's wife were rhapsodizing about "the box" — a once-a-week delivery of organic fruits and vegetables that comes right to your door (thanks to a community-organized pick-up system). The produce comes from T&D Willey Farms, a Madera-based community-supported-agriculture farm that supplies everyone from Alice Waters at Chez Panisse to, well, my neighbors. That all sounded fine, in fact very impressive, but, in truth, it was the women's clear eyes and perfect skin that made me come home and immediately order the box. (We'll ignore the fact that they are both twenty-plus years younger than I am.)
This week we had our first box experience. Peeling back the wrapper with the excitement of children on Christmas morning, we discovered sugar snap peas, summer crisp lettuce, red chard, spring onions, parsley, Camerosa strawberries and a vegetable called kohlrabi that looked like a Dr. Seuss design. Now what to do? We had one week to make use of everything in the box or be deluged with more. I felt like Lucy Ricardo at the chocolate factory.
The sugar snap peas and strawberries were easy. My daughter took them to school for snacks. We're salad freaks, so we dispensed of the lettuce quickly and I make chard tacos just about every week, so that had a purpose, too. Then there was the kohlrabi. Having never seen it before, I didn't have a clue how to cook it. I went on-line for recipes, then resorted to the advice of other "box" users — when all else fails, roast it — which is exactly what we did. Separating the greens from the bulbs, I threw them in with the spring onion, sprinkled it with Spike (my one cooking necessity, I'm hopeless in the kitchen without it), then poured on the olive oil. When everything crisped up, my daughter and I stood over the pan and shoveled the results in our mouths, oohing and aahing the whole time.
Then we turned our attention to the bulbs. Their exterior skin is tough and sinewy. Four knives, a cleaver and a vegetable peeler later, we finally wrestled them to the ground, leaving us with something soft enough to be cut into slices, sprinkled with Spike, (I don’t own stock, I promise), and covered with enough olive oil to keep a small fleet of biofuel cars going for a week. The result was lip-smacking delicious.
But here's the thing. Had I been a Miwok Indian living in Yosemite Valley, I would have fallen into the category of cooks who removed the nasty tasting tannin in their acorns by burying them whole in mud for several months. I am not a labor-intensive-type of chef. No removing the acorn hulls, grinding the meat into flour and endless leaching for me. I want to be like a deer, just scratching for food on the ground outside my door.
Maybe that's why I can't stop perusing the newsletter that accompanies "the box." Seems that eggs, milk, cheese, stone fruit, meat, olive oil, coffee, rice, juice and nuts can also be delivered to one's door. And while I love the ease of that as well as the whole organic, grass-fed, family-farm, simple life vibe, I'm hoping that if they send another vegetable like kohlrabi, they send Alice Waters too.
*The Natural World of the California Indians, Robert Heizer and Albert Elsasser, University of California Press, pgs. 95,96
(Photos courtesy T&D Willey Farms.)
-- Jamie Simons
In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city. (Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)