Eating with Hands, Eating with Eyes

April consisted of waves of travel given over to Seasonal Fruit Desserts. But a few days at home that gave me time enough to plant some peas, lettuce, chervil, amaranth, and an assortment of brassicas that I didn’t have time to label. Travel is grueling, but each time I come home there’s some change to be seen as seeds go from their first green bits to true leaves and beyond, change that’s harder to see when you look for it each day. A watched pot doesn’t boil, and the same can be said for a sprouting seed. I love coming home and being surprised by the progress.

I ate some amazing food while away—dinner at Nostrana in Portland, always high on my Portland list—and breakfasts too, for Portland is great breakfast town. It also has a huge number of food carts. I was invited to judge them at the “Carty Awards” as part of the IACP conference, just held there. I had the idea that they’d be like the carts I’m familiar with, which, while spirited, are not the cleanest foods in the world —no organic products or hormone free meat, to be sure. But these were as far as that as Nostrana is from a pizza chain. Little sandwiches and bruschetta in one, Hungarian goulash in another. Divine ice cream spiked with Oregon whisky in a third. Roast suckling pig, amazing vegan smoothies made from kale (!), soups, light as a feather granola with rich yogurt and fresh raspberries, and lovely light tamales, not the heavy ones we eat in New Mexico were featured in other carts. And while bratwurst and schnitzel aren’t my kinds of foods, those from the carts were excellent, especially the sauerkraut and slaw sides. The quality of food in carts can be stellar, it turns out, making them a great place for young, energetic chefs and people cooking the foods of their recent pasts in Trinidad, Thailand, or Mexico to get a start without undertaking the costs of opening a restaurant. But regardless of the quality, you’re going to be standing up and eating off a napkin or a paper plate, mostly likely, though not always, with your hands.

After the food carts event I took part in a “Food Salon” on a ranch in South Texas, an weeken that was mainly about cooking and eating vast quantities of very lusty foods (read lamb and pork) cooked by an assortment of Texas chefs and one New Mexican, myself. I brought the last of my Concord Grape Pie filling and turned it into a cobbler. Pastry queen, Rebecca Rather, was brought forth some pretty tasty pastries. My Olive Oil Cake was sliced into layers and interspersed with whipped cream and deep red strawberries from Austin’s Boggy Creek Farm. The farm also contributed bags of peas, bunches of sorrel, chervil and lambs quarters, lettuce, spring onions and herbs, which we transformed into a pea and onion braise and a big herb salad—the only green foods to be seen for days. A bag of Steve Sandos cannellini beans were braised in cream and herbs. Fried oysters were grabbed by the fingers and dipped in a searing jalapeno-tomatillo sauce and all in all, this was big sumptuous, dig-in food.  No one was wearing their best clothes, beer was an ideal beverage though some Texas wine appeared, too, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of pulling out my camera and surrendering it to all those good greasy drippings.

Quite in contrast to this Texas food fest was a lunch of magical garden-like dishes that I ate on a very rainy afternoon at Ubuntu in Napa. I’ve written about Ubuntu before, but this time I was especially struck by the thought that only people who work in the world of the garden could visualize the dishes that come out of that kitchen. Each was a landscape unto itself, a dazzling world of plant material where even the usually discarded (tiny) tops of carrots and their greens are included. While the Texas ranch food was that kind you want to dive into, pick up and chow down, my dining companions and I could hardly bring ourselves to disturb the plates at Ubuntu. We looked, admired and questioned them long before we even picked up a fork. And while I really don’t like to pull out a camera in a restaurant, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to visually dive into these plates and come back up with an image before eating.  But the odd thing about Ubuntu’s food is that I don’t really recall the flavors. Were they too subtle? Were they simply overwhelmed by the visuals? Do I now have a heathen’s palate? Or was I just tired from a late night and a long hard drive in the pouring rain?

I loved the enchantment of this food, but I have to say I also like eating off a napkin in front of a food cart, chocolate oozing out of waffle or crumbles slipping Cheap NFL Jerseys off a sandwich, and I can just as easily get into gnawing off a bone or leaning over a juicy stuffed tortilla, a long-neck at hand. Back home there’s my garden to challenge me, but I’m wondering if I can bring that enchanted little world of tender green things into more lusty proportions. The enchanted dig-in –that’s what I’m going to aim for. Will let you know what I find – or tell me what you’ve found in that department. And sorry that there’s no photo. I accidentally put my i-Photo program in the trash and now I can’t find it.  Next time.

0 thoughts on “Eating with Hands, Eating with Eyes

  1. Elissa

    Ubuntu sounds wonderful…challenging, but wonderful! And if you have a heathen’s palate, I’ll eat my hat.
    Great post, Deborah!

  2. Lois Downy

    I saw a great write-up for Ubuntu in our local newspaper (I live in Sonoma County), but haven’t been to visit yet. I always appreciate a restaurant that serves vegetarian gourmet food, so I’m determined to get there soon.

  3. Giovanna

    So glad you enjoyed Portland’s food carts–I have that granola and ice cream on my list, though not in the same meal (although, granola, cream, whiskey…what’s not to love?).

    Having just eaten a chickpea, wheat berry, roasted cauliflower, and greens pita at the market, I know what you mean about diving in. The chili sauce colored my hand, and dripped past my wrist. I couldn’t completely clean it off, so I pretended my hands were hennaed. And enjoyed sniffing them as I finished my downtown errands.

    1. Deborah

      Ah-ha! So there’s an answer! Love that, Giovanna. And that combination of foods and flavors sounds so
      really delicious—and not a lamb or a feral pig in site.

  4. Giovanna

    Actually, there was a lamb in sight…I could have gotten it with roasted lamb. But somehow it felt funny to eat lamb on the go. And also like more than I needed for lunch.


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