Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Protagonist Adventures in California Cuisine: Brussels Sprouts, Turnips, Apples: Pumpkin In All Forms

Down Gilman street toward the freeway you remember that you never (never!) exit at Gilman street headed west on I-80. The frontage road is also of little use (paritcularly on weekends) as greasy townies from Cities Past Richmond wend their into The City (or Berkeley should there be a college football game). You might think that city streets are better than crawling at 20 mph on the interstate but you'd be wrong. Sitting at a stop at a manic and bizarre nine-hundred way uncontrolled intersection for five or ten or ninety minutes as cars barrel past and you have nowhere to go but attempt a left turn is a recipe for a hernia.

For you see, the couple in the Subaru in front of you won't move their goddamn car and you shout at the window for them to Grow Some Goddamn Balls! But it's a Subaru so they're lesbians and they cast a scalding glare as the air escapes from your tires along with the crumbling artifice of 5,000 years of patriarchy. Slowly and inexorably.

But you're not there. You know better--you're on San Pablo Ave. What's that? Backed up for eight traffic lights? Quick make a left and now you're on Kains! Ah Kains! And now you think you can't get past Cedar on Kains. You are wrong! Cross the Avenue again and now to 10th and make a left! Here's where it gets sticky (that's what you're telling me, I know)--crossing four lanes of angry University traffic. Suicide, no? Worse than anything Gilman St. might throw at you? How wrong you are! You are so wrong that it is funny! Haha! When San Pablo is backed up for eight traffic lights so is University! Barring the occasional spot of douchebaggery--if the drivers are obeying the basic rules of the road--you should be able to zoom straight through the parted Red Sea of late model Japanese cars as they wait with an eerie patience to move a car-length closer to the hills or the sea.

That's not your business though. Socioeconomics and geography are not for you. Gay rights and patriarchy are things you talk about at the dinner table to pretend that you are Socially Aware. You don't actually care about them. You are a middle-aged upper middle-class heterosexual couple (probably secular Jews [probably self-hating]). You are looking for food. You are looking for The Best Food in the Country. The Best Food in the Country that you are so blessed to have available to you on your front porch. That unification of Ingredients and Technique that defines California Cuisine.

And it is November. You, oh educated one, you know what you're going to get. And what's that? Why Apples! Brussels sprouts! Turnips! Apples again! Even more apples! Apple slaw! Apple salad! Apple compote! Apple confit! Apple conclave! Apple compost! Apple convex! Apples and apples! Show me a restaurant without apples in November and I'll show you a restaurant at which it is not worth eating! Show me a restaurant without brussels sprouts in the autumn (that's how we say it in California Cuisine Land--it is not fall but autumn [adjective form: autumnal]) and I'll show you a restaurant without a soul! Show me a restaurant without turnips and I'll show you a restaurant that doesn't care about weird virtually flavorless root vegetables! Then there are the apples!

And when you sit down you will no doubt lament the lack of that one particular obscure French appelation on restaurant's list of wines by the glass (though they have three of them by the bottle, all decently priced) and you'll snidely mention this to your server and then order a glass of chardonnay--"though you don't usually drink California wines." And then you'll ask if they plan to have dungeness crab--how can they not when this is California in autumn when the Crabs are in Season!

Oh aren't you in for a treat tonight! Remember, it is autumn--which means you can eat pumpkin in every form. Start with pumpkin soup! Then pumpkin ravioli! Then wild salmon on a pumpkin puree topped with an apple-turnip tapenade! And for dessert? Pumpkin pie? No! How banal! How quotidian! How facile! What a terrible person you are for even suggesting it! You will have a warm apple-pumpkin crisp on a bed of pureed apples and pumpkins and topped with apple and pumpkin spiced whipped cream of course! Would you accept anything less? I didn't think so.

(Butternut squash and pears are an acceptable substitute. Huckleberries too, but only Wild and Hand-Picked. But you knew that.)

And you lament that you can't get the turnips in your own garden to taste as good as those you just ate. And after thanking the chef you leave in your automobile (probably a Volvo, maybe a Saab), sated and self-satisfied. You wend your way back to your 1920's Craftsman home, let in the dog that substitutes for your child, and head to your bed where you celebrate your tired and loveless marriage with a quick kiss and some light reading.

And as you drift to sleep there's one last thought that flits in and out of your head--I can't wait for spring and I can't wait for asparagus!

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