I live in the hamlet of Phoenicia, in the Catskill Mountains of New York state. Here I write for my local newspaper, the Phoenicia Times. My column, "Heard by a Bird," is composed of local gossip -- but I invent it all. (This way, no one is offended.)
As part of my column, I create recipes for "rural food." For example:
On a clear, moonless night make this salad:
4 leaves romaine lettuce,torn
1 leaf escarole, chopped
2 grape tomatoes, halved
Place the bowl of salad under the stars for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
Submitted by Ellen Kermes.*
This recipe comes from Bonnie Fenman.*
Take it once a week, to improve health.
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp pine sap
1 tbsp almond powder
*These names are imaginary.
Another recipe was Kite Soup:
Mary Nepp grew up in a windy section of Oliverea, where her mother often prepared kite soup: "We had a fire pit in the back, and my mom would make soup in a little cauldron. My job was to fly a kite, loop the string around a tree, and tie the end to a wooden spoon. Believe it or not, the kite would stir the soup."
What kind of soup was it? Mary says it varied from week to week, but here is a sample recipe:
2 fish heads
1 strip hickory bark
1 pinch cinnamon
Some of my recipes for the Phoenicia Times could be eaten in the city as well as the countryside:
Here's how to make toast crumbs:
Toast a slice of bread for 5 minutes. (Don't add butter!) Grate the toast until you have a pile of crumbs. Sprinkle on cereal, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, etc. "Toast crumbs taste quite different from bread crumbs -- fresher and browner," explains Gil Harrington, from whom this recipe comes.
Here is a recipe that literally came to me in a dream (in which I ordered this sandwich in a London eatery):
2 thick slices Italian bread
1/2 banana, sliced
1 oz. feta cheese
6 olives, chopped
Looking through my Dream Journal, I find other food entries, including this:
I was in a deli in Inwood (the neighborhood I grew up in, in Manhattan), searching for a snack. High on a shelf, I found a bag of . . . at first I couldn't identify it, then I realized it was potato chips mixed with pretzels. I woke up wondering, did such a product ever exist?
For a number of years, my primary recipe project was the cookbook Cooking with Ice, which I eventually published in the volume Yes, You ARE A Revolutionary! Plus Seven Other Books (Soft Skull Press). The idea began when my friend Lawrence Fishberg said: "Now we're cooking with ice!" (This was a joke on the phrase "Now we're cooking with gas!" -- a somewhat antiquated idiom meaning "Things are going great!")
I began to think about cooking with ice. It is, of course, a paradox. You cook with ice, and the ice (almost immediately) disappears. No one will ever find the ice in your food.
Similarly, most meaningful subjects in life are invisible. Time can't be seen. Love is invisible. God, come to think of it, is invisible.
Cooking with Ice became a way for me to discuss the Eternal invisibilities.
Occasionally I still write ice recipes, although the cookbook is finished. (Will there be a sequel?)
Here is one:
Ice Rain Olive Crackers
Collect 2 ounces of rain in a wooden bowl. Freeze. Add to:
1 cup rye flour
2 olives, diced
1/4 tsp salt
Wait 20 minutes, then stir together. Shape into rectangles.
Bake at 350, until crisp.
(I like the word "olive" -- which may be written "O, live!" Also I admire the shape of olives -- oval and humble. Rain comes from the sky. It is nice to cook with a product of Heaven. Reading this recipe, one unconsciously thinks: "These crackers are blessed by Heaven.")
Perhaps this is the place to include my recent anti-recipe (which I adapted from the Red and Sweet Curry recipe in The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook):
0 cup oil
0 large sweet onions, finely chopped
0 cups tomato puree
0 tbsp brown sugar
0 tsp curry powder
0 tbsp water
0 tart apples, cored and finely diced
0 cups fresh peas
0 cups shredded or diced fresh coconut
0 cups cooked brown rice
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and saute the onions in it until tender. Add puree and sugar and bring to a boil. Mix curry powder with water and stir into mixture. Cook zero minutes. Add apples, peas, and coconut and heat through, about zero minutes. Serve over brown rice. Yield: 0 servings
My own food -- the food I actually eat -- tends toward 1970s Hippie Cuisine. I am a minimalist, in many ways, in eating, as well as writing. I like to eat just one food at a time. Recipes for such events don't exist (to my knowledge). If they did, they would look like:
Sit on a sofa. Tear off two or three small pieces of dulse. Eat them, while reading The New York Times.
I usually read while I eat. My friend Bob Jacobson lately gave me a subscription to The London Review of Books, which I often read while dining. It is a pleasure to chew millet, navy beans, nutritional yeast, and mango pickle while perusing such sentences as:
"'Perhaps, if we speak with rigorous exactness,' Dr. Johnson famously wrote in Rasselas, 'no human mind is in its right state. . . . All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity.'"
Another food I like to eat solo is raisins. We had been buying currants for several years, and suddenly I thought: "Why not raisins?"
I don't eat refined sugar, and raisins are a dynamic, friendly dessert.
Perhaps my greatest contribution to world food has been the recipe for Tamillyata. (As far as I know, I invented this dish. The name is simply a combination of the ingredients -- omitting the salt.)
1 cup millet
1 tbsp tahini
11/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp tamari
Combine ingredients thoroughly. Eat with a spoon.
Here is my method for cooking beans, which I have slowly refined throughout my history, since I became vegetarian on September 1, 1971, in Ithaca, New York. (This recipe is influenced by the black beans that accompany sauteed tofu in some Chinese takeout restaurants -- beans that have been cooked into pulverized fragments.)
Sparrow's Intuitive Beans
Soak beans overnight. In the morning, wash them thoroughly, while chanting Baba Nam Kevalam ("Love is all there is"). Place the beans in a pot, pour in water, light the stove. When the beans boil, stare at your spice rack. Let your intuition choose which spices to add. Boil beans for 7 hours. Try to turn the water and beans into gravy. Every so often, examine the mixture with a wooden spoon. When beans are done, ladle them into a bowl; add miso. (You may include kelp.) Spoon in rice or millet, too.
Excerpted from the Winter 2005 issue of Ascent, a yoga magazine about much more than yoga, winner of the 2005 Utne Independent Press Award for Best Spiritual Coverage. Subscriptions: $19.95/yr. (4 issues) from 334 Cornelia St., Suite 2, PMB 519, Plattsburgh, NY 12901; www.ascentmagazine.com.