Miraculous Fruit

My most unforgettable fruit experience was one summer in Fujian Province, China.  I had not planned to go there.  Eighteen years old I was based in Shanghai learning Chinese for a year and my friend Beth had gone on a side trip and had gotten very sick.  She was stuck in bed on an IV drip and I spent the mornings wandering the sweaty Fuzhou streets.  The Chinese word for Loquat is Pipa.  Synonymous with the word for the Chinese Lute I had eaten this teardrop shaped fruit many times before in a traditional cough syrup but the fresh fruit was an unparalleled experience.  Big bunches of orange fig like clusters with thick crooked branches holding it all together.  They were being sold spread on blankets on the street and their season was notoriously almost magically short.  The flavor was something like a cross between a cherry and a peach with a soothing cooling effect on your throat.  I still dream of digging in to that massive bunch of chin dripping goodness.  I only ever had the privilege to eat fresh Loquat one time and not to belie my age here that was close to twenty years ago.  I hear from my friend Tres that they grow like crazy in the Carolinas – I can’t wait to get my hands on this tremendous fruit again.  Perhaps I would take a hint from the classic medicine and play on a pairing with mint or liquorice.

Hami Melons are named after a town in Northwestern China’s Xinjiang Province.  I traveled to this area during that same year of study abroad.  The streets of the town and most public gathering areas were lined with grape vine trellises and many hundreds of years ago the clever silk road merchants had built underground tunnels to preserve and transport water through this arid desert town.  Like a sweet and susserant secret in the shade of a blistering day Hami melons are delicate, perfumed and somehow both yielding and crisp at the same time. The flesh is a pale pinkish orange and as pretty to look at as it is to eat.

Numbers three and four on my list are like yin and yang, lychee and longan.  Lychee have pink patterned skin, gentle and generous sweetness they have a floral femininity and a slight tartness that adds a dimension of coyness to their perfection.  Beauty that yields too easily would never be worth the pursuit.   Longan (means dragons eye, and they do have a very eyeball like gelatinousness) has a distinct maleness compared to lychee’s femininity.  The outer skin is a dull brown and leathery, the flesh is coarser and its perfume is reminiscent of leather chairs and tobacco.  They are still sweet but their sweetness is muted in comparison to the lychee, self assured, they don’t feel the need to hit you over the head with their charms.  I was thinking about fruit lying in bed this morning and as you can see these two took on a very distinct personification.  Lychee and Longan are qipao (“chee-pow”) wearing fruit.  Qipao were worn by both men and women in China all the way until the fifties and sixties.  Maggie Cheung is the perfect example of the skill that is needed to affect this amazing costume, high collared and slim waisted with that tantilizing slit up the side.  I remember watching her win runners up to Miss Hong Kong wearing this very same traditional chinese dress.  Suzie Wong’s universe managed to ingrain itself on our collective consciousness.   It was inevitable, how could we resist her feminine whiles.  Meanwhile I feel as if the male version of this costume is often forgotten.  Often deep brown and sometimes shiny black made of crisp black silk; always always with the white cotton undershirt.  Donnie Yan wears the men’s qipao beautifully. Understated and suave as per his portrayal of Bruce Lee’s master in Ip Man.  That kind of strength in character waits for its adversary to approach and keeps a centered kernel of calm no matter what kind of wild and charged fisticuffs might be flying nearby.  The longan definitely has this same kind of refinement, as if it has within itself a little bit of a vacuum.  It’s stillness and subtlety draw you closer.  I love this idea of a qipao wearing fruit especially as I’ve often felt like peeling one open there is a redolent suggestion of unzipping or unbuttoning.  Knowing that one might be imprisoned forever in Hades makes the fruit all the sweeter right Persephone?

Who am I trying to fool.  I haven’t really ever met a fruit I didn’t like.  I’ll chow down on some Durian and have a gay old time, although I would love to learn how to effectively get the darn things open without risking life and limb. Mangoes, grapes, watermelon… fruit is nature’s most current newscast.  “Early Equatorial Spring and all is well”… “Mountain Valley Midsummer in full effect” etc.  There really is little improvement to be found for fruit.  Jam, Liqueur and Wine are our best attempts to preserve that oh so precious Now.  That’s why I find the latest trend of fruit shaping more than a little redundant.  Watermelon, triangle or square?  Really?  And the Buddha Pear?  Could it taste any more divine having spent it’s ripening encased in hard plastic?  I truly doubt it.



Moo Chi

Daikon, watermelon radish, parsnip and burdock

Good Morning Kim Chi eaters. We are working on something new in our kitchen that we wanted to share with you. While we have been busy cranking out our traditional flavors we are also given to experimentation and exploration. This weeks project was root kim chi and it is delicious. It is made in the same fashion as our napa cabbage version but using all sorts of sturdy, handsome root vegetables. Moo meaning radish in Korean and our kids think Moo Chi sounds like a mix between a cow, a martial art and the beloved Japanese treat, Mochi. While it is none of those things it sounds like all of them + something tasty to put on your nutritious bowl of brown rice, summer squash and snap peas. When I was reading about making moo kim chi I stumbled on the urban dictionary word: kimochi. It is a Japanese expression that means a gift given with no obligation. A gift from the heart. So here you go- our moo kim chi is a kimochi for you and your family… and when you ask for more: “May I have some moo chi,” it sounds like smoochie. So don’t be surprised if you get a kiss out of the deal as well. To your health!

Kitchen chat & Fruit Kimchi

When Mara and I are in the kitchen we talk about all kinds of things. We talk about our families, what is happening in our community, politics, art, music and of course, food. We also often work quietly and listen to the radio.

Last week we listened to The Splendid Table on NPR and they had a guest on who was all about cherries. Sauted cherries, compote, jam and other treats. It got us thinking.. what about cherry kimchi? We are thinking apples, plums, lemon, spicy peppers and a hint of garlic.

Hmmm, we will let you know how it turns out.

God of Cookery


Hong Kong actor/director Stephen Chow made it into the mainstream US consciousness with 2001’s Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle 2004.  Both films were solid examples of Chow’s already well established comedic styling.  Hong Kong movie makers are no slackers IMDb lists 68 separate movie appearances for Chow, he’s definitely a seasoned pro. There is something about his earnest and soulful depiction of the underdog that cannot help but win your heart, especially when one is wiping away tears of laughter from his zany, over the top slapstick humor.  God of Cookery holds a special place in my heart.  Long before there was Top Chef, long before anyone in the US even knew what Iron Chef was this film rocked my world. Combining two of my favorite things, supernatural kung fu movies and insane attention to detail in food. One of the central precepts in this movie is one of my own life mottos.  Every one can cook. Actually my motto is “if you know how to eat you know how to cook”, but it’s pretty close – we all know how to eat.

dvd cover


Chinese language characters are dense in meaning the two characters in the title of this movie can translate as “the god of cookery” but could also translate as “the spirit of cooking”, “the spirit of eating” or “eat god”.  I like the last version of this translation because it is at once sublime and also ridiculous. There are beautiful circular references in this film where the same words are spoken on separate occasions to both the highest and lowest form of self, where lowbrow food is made into unforgettable food, where simple ingredients are imbibed with subtle life force. Nods to magical Taoism and Buddhism somehow sit easily side by side with some of the crudest over the top and simply stupid situational humor imaginable. It’s a rollicking good time and even though I’ve seen this film so many times, somehow, a few minutes in and I am committed and ready again for the ride.

Link to clip from God of Cookery


Directional Melons

No this post is not about a boob job gone awry.

In Chinese there are three melons which have directional names. East melon a.k.a dong gua or winter melon is a simply enormous white fleshed thick green skinned melon that is often used in medicine and in soup making. West melon or xi gua is watermelon and nan gua, south melon is the pumpkin. There somehow is no north melon, perhaps in northerly climes the growing season is not long enough to produce a melon of any kind, perhaps I’ve simply not heard of it yet. Coincidentally the Chinese phrase meaning “stuff” is dong xi, literally translated as “east west” and I suppose that it can be interpreted as – everything in existence is the difference between two opposite directions. The extremely simple recipe that I came up with finds a meeting place between east and west, that is east melon and west melon.

winter melon

Summertime often finds us with plenty of watermelon hanging about in the fridge. I’ve had so much fun with this melon in the past, straining it’s juice and mixing with limes (and occasionally vodka) to make a most refreshing beverage, I’ve made watermelon and heirloom tomato gazpacho which is simply delicious. This year I’ve extended my admiration for this prodigious melon to its skin. As a kid we used to go on boat trips in the summer and after a full day of goofing around in sun and salty sea we would use watermelon peel as a rub for sun exposed skin, a quick and juicy cool off. I can feel it now the balmy meeting of cool watermelon with heat kissed skin. As nostalgic as I might get about cold fruit meeting hot skin I had not until today thought of cooking this particular fruit.

Winter melon is prized because when one braises it in soup it softens to translucency and becomes inundated with tasty broth. I thought why not do the same thing with the watermelon skin.

  • Starting with a simple mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery) gently sweat the vegetables until they are fragrant then add a chicken broth. Mine was made from the bones of a store bought roast chicken. My watermelon skin had most of its red and green removed (sometimes however little flashes of color are nice) and I chopped it into bite sized pieces.
  • Add your watermelon skin and simmer until the skins are soft and their white color becomes transparent. This chicken soup is finished with a couple scoops of cooked quinoa or whatever your favorite soup grain might be. The watermelon skin lends a quiet sweetness to this simple dish which I accented by garnishing with a handful of course chopped fresh mint and parsley from the garden. I made something akin to east melon out of west melon, the rind pieces were a truly delightful explosion of broth and there was something almost meaty, hearty and satisfying in the interesting textural juxtapositions: liquid and solid; hot and cooling; slippery and chewable, east meets west.

I hope you enjoy it… I found it to be captivating “stuff”.


The most intense of vegetables

Tom Robbin’s novel, Jitterbug Perfume, begins with these immortal words. ” The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” Then he wanders in his marvelous bohemian prose for awhile and lands at my favorite lines about our dear beet: “The beet is what happens when the cherry finished with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”  Tell it, Tom.

Resisting the Commodification of Culture- Celebrations of the Harvest

One of our early inspirations for this business was the book “Wild Fermentation” written by the very inspiring Sandor Ellix Katz. In an early section of the book he says, ” We can merge our appetite with activism and choose to involve ourselves in food as cocreators. Food has historically been one of our most direct links to the life forces of the Earth. Bountiful harvests have always been occasions for celebrations and appreciation of the divine.” Katz suggests that through creating and enjoying cultured foods you “build your body’s cultural ecology as you engage and honor the life forces all around you.

We could not agree more!These are some wild plums that we harvested and then experimented with preserving  in salt to make something resembling the Japenese umeboshi. The result was a fascinating, lively, bubbling plum pickle which Mara reports eating for breakfast leaves her feeling great all day long.