Monday, June 16, 2008

Let them eat petrol

Last week all over Spain truck drivers went on strike. The reason was simple: Gasoline prices are ballooning; working now actually costs more money than many workers make.

Andrés and I don’t pay much attention to the price of gasoline. We don’t have a car. Hell, he doesn't even have a driving license. We live in a city with a decent public transport system and we really only use it when we don’t feel like walking or biking, which isn’t very often. Of course, though, the current rise in oil prices manifests itself in other places. Our flights home this year were unmentionably expensive. And, of course, the prices of most commodities have gone up.

Last week, the transport sector decided they had had enough. For five days they refused to pick up or deliver anything. They spent that time sitting in the right hand lane of every major highway in Spain, greatly disturbing traffic patterns. This in a country that thinks the number of wheels on the road is directly proportionate to its ranking in the first world.

So, for five days: Nothing picked up, nothing delivered. Not even the mail.

Photos in the local papers showed farmers in Galicia dumping milk into the fields; fruits and vegetables left to rot in warehouses; and tattooed truck drivers sitting stubbornly in the cabs of their great trucks, refusing to budge.

Naturally, people panicked.

By Wednesday every supermarket in Barcelona had been picked clean. I went to the Sant Antoni market and it looked like Sunday. I went to Bon Preu and I was met with an apocalyptic sight. The produce section contained nothing but empty fruit crates, a rotting head of lettuce and, oddly enough, a few organic avocados and tomatoes, which I promptly decided to buy. The meat and poultry section loomed in iridescent whiteness at the back of the store. The shelves containing rice and pasta had been picked bare. There was no bottled water, no cartons of milk. The remaining jarred and tinned goods stood like solitary figures on the desert landscape of the preserves aisle. It looked as though people were preparing for war. (Or at the very least a snowstorm in the North East).

But Andrés and I didn’t panic. In fact, we spent the greater part of last week picking our own cupboards bare, endeavouring to produce good meals without actually purchasing much of anything. And it was fun.

It did become frighteningly clear, though, how inexorably tied we are to oil; how powerless we are in front of our dependence on oil, and how little we have done to protect ourselves from the consequences of that dependence. Oil is inextricably tied to our most basic needs and we've just sat back and watched it happen.


Things are back to normal today. Prices have been jacked up three times what they were nine days ago. The businesses are merely trying to make up for the losses they suffered last week.

But the lessons of last week do not forebode well; they linger. One of the most disturbing images of the ‘crisis’ was a police escort for half a dozen oil tankers, provided by the government to make sure the service stations continued working as normal. There were no special trucks employed for food or water. No police escort. As far as sustenance goes it would appear that petrol trumps all.


Here are some of our favorite recipes from last week. This section is titled "Scavengers' delight".

Black Bean and Orange Soup
We always have plenty of dried or jarred pulses on hand. The dried are mostly for slow cooking; the jarred to prepare hummus for unexpected guests or whip up a quick lentil soup. This being Spain, there are always oranges. The soup gets thick once it cools. It can be re-heated and served over rice or used as stuffing for a fajita or burrito.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
2 15 oz. cans black beans
1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
1 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and saute until soft, 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, and cloves and saute until fragrant, 1 minute.

Add 1 cup beans, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 cup water. Mash the beans with a fork. Simmer, uncovered over medium-high heat, until liquid is reduced and thickened, five minutes.

Add the remaining beans, bay leaf, and 6 cups water. Simmer, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, until soup is fragrant and somewhat thick.


Pumpkin, Red Pepper, and Zuchinni Curry

We had a zucchini and half a red pepper lying around. And the only thing left at the veggie stand on Mistral was a small pumpkin, which I thought was funny.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon clove
1/2 small pumpkin, peeled and cubed (about 1 cup)
1/2 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 can coconut milk
1 zucchini, cubed
Basmati rice

Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or wok over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and saute until soft, 10-12 minutes. Add cumin, turmeric, and clove and saute until fragrant, 1 minute.

Add pumpkin and saute until browned, 5 minutes. Add red pepper and saute for 2-3 minutes.

Add coconut milk and simmer, partially covered over medium heat, until liquid is reduced and pumpkin is soft, 15-20 minutes.

Serve over rice.

Quick Tomato Sauce

I gave Andrés a pasta maker for Christmas and every Saturday or Sunday we have homemade pasta, which requires nothing but egg and flour. I usually make the sauce. Last Sunday all we had was a large can of whole, peeled tomatoes.

1 can of chopped tomatoes, including juice
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, red wine, thyme, honey, fresh ground pepper, and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes.

Serve over pasta with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I first tried carrot juice fifteen years ago in Seth's kitchen. He presented me with a glass of fresh juice and dared me to try it. It looked funny, too orange. I was apprehensive. Raw carrot juice was for people like Seth and his dad, Ira--people whom I thought were obsessively concerned with health and wellness. Not me.

In the blossom of my high school years, I was insufferable. I ate whatever I wanted. I smoked. I was a weekend binge drinker. I gained thirty pounds every summer, and then lost it all again in October before wrestling season. I never wore a seat belt. Still years away from any real sense of accountability or adulthood, I was invincible--a portrait of hubris, clueless and stoned.

And yet, carrot juice intrigued me.

"If you drink this," Seth said, "You'll feel so stoned."


"Drink it."

So I drank. It tasted sharp and sweet and potent, like some exotic liquor. Ten minutes later, I didn't feel stoned; I felt horrible, doubled over in pain. He explained how my system, in its state of toxicity, was most likely rebelling against the juice, which was all wholesomeness and purity.

Spitting curses, I refused to believe him. I stayed away from carrot juice for a long time.


I hated vegetables as a child.

Because mom only knew how to overcook vegetables, I ate them overcooked. Boiling was her preferred method: death by water. By the time she finished cooking, the color and nutrients would bleed out, staining the water a deeper color than the vegetables themselves.

In section IV of The Wasteland, Death by Water, T.S. Elliot writes of Phlebas, the drowned Phoenecian sailor, whose lifeless body bobs like a cork in the water for two weeks:

"Phlebas the Phoenecian, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and the loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers."

Floating with the tide, his salt-bleached skin and bloated impotent form remind me of my mother's vegetables--the look, the taste. Stacked on my plate, their limp, pale bodies were grim reminders of the life they once contained. Neutered, languid, and nutritionally vacant, there could be no rebirth; their nutrients would not pass on to me. They were truly dead.

No wonder I hated eating them.


Throughout history, philosophers like Aristotle have tried to pin down the nature of essence--to describe it as something that contains the whole of a thing, even in infinitesimal quantities. To be an "essence" means to have one hundred percent of the qualities or properties of a thing in only a small fraction of its true form.

Think spark as an essence of fire. Think soul as an essence of life. Think vegetable juice as the essence of the vegetable itself.

By drinking vegetable juice, you are getting nearly the full essence, almost one hundred percent of the nutritional benefit, minus the matter or roughage. In other words, the nutrients are directly absorbed into the bloodstream for an unparalleled energy boost.

This is why many people become obsessed with the health benefits of juicing. To some, it becomes an entire lifestyle. There is an entire web-based niche market devoted to these type of people. Think Jack Lalane . Think this guy.

Yet that seems to be the allure. Most people who juice are not part-time dilettantes. They are enrapt with the juicing idea and lifestyle. Many juicers are eccentric, extreme people.Their clothing and fingertips are permanently stained purple from cutting slicing raw beets. You can find them stalking the supermarket produce aisle late at night because they know this is the time when produce boys, in green aprons and plastic gloves, begin to stock the shelves with fresh vegetables. They are the ones who ask for organic kale. They are the ones who buy the purple chard and mustard greens.

I'm thinking of one evening last week: It's 11:30 p.m. and I have nothing in the fridge to juice in the morning. I have to pick up some vegetables. Now. I hop in the car and drive forty-five minutes to the only late-night supermarket I know in Manhattan. Save for the hum and crackle of the lights, the store is silent and empty. I walk to the produce section. The machine that sprays water vapor on the leafy greens in has gone haywire, spraying its misty arc randomly into the air over the aisle; it creates a barely perceptible shimmer in the florescent light. It looks unreal, chilly.

We moved days before, and all of my clothing is still in boxes. I've been wearing the same baggy, white linen pants, moccasins, and blue shirt for four days and haven't showered in quite some time.

I run my hand over the heads of broccoli. I scratch the itchy, week-long growth on my chin. I think to myself as I walk through the water mist, a plastic basket hung through my arm, What the hell am I doing here?

For the first time I realize I am truly a juicer. I smile. The wheat grass looks so fresh. So green.


Juicing requires devotion, if only for the time it takes to prepare the vegetables, juice them, break down the machine, clean its parts, and reassemble it. For the uninitiated, it can be a long process. Many people who give up on juicing do so for this reason. I now have the cleanup stage down to about 5 minutes, but it took me a few years to get there.

Like fasting and cleansing, juicing is also a something people use for detox and healing. Many people use juice fasts as a way to kick-off a longer, more comprehensive health recovery or weight loss regimen. Others include juicing into their daily, long-term routines.

While researching juicing regimens on the web, I came across many sites devoted to juicing leafy green vegetables like kale, chard, spinach, bok choi, wheat grass, collard greens, and cabbage. The idea is the greener it is, or the more chlorophyll contained in the vegetable, the better it is for you. Unfortunately, leafy greens can taste pretty bad compared to beets, carrots and other sugar laden vegetables.

My juicing regimen used to consist of carrots and beets. I often juiced whole bags of carrot. Then I realized how much sugar I was putting into my body. Since then, I've stuck primarily to leafy greens, with a few carrots and beets thrown in for taste.

When I first tried juicing greens, I was surprised to see my shabby, forty-dollar centrifugal juicer produce such high quality juice from leafy greens. I expected a frothy mess with little or no good juice. But it all went well--not much foam either. It even rivals what some of the fancy juicers can do.

It ain't absinthe, but it'll get you high.

The first time I made it, I didn't drink it right away. I was a little awed. I bent down to look into it closely. I moved it around in the light and studied it for awhile. Smelling the foam, I decided it was the greenest thing I had ever seen. If the color green had a scent, it was this. It held me spellbound for awhile, lost in its depths. Gearing up for the worst, I took a little sip. It wasn't bad. Shocked, I downed half of the glass. It wasn't bad at all--nowhere near the bitter, acrid bile I was expecting. It was even a bit refreshing.

I can do this, I thought.

I lift the glass again.


It's now 5:15 am. I have to be at work in three hours. I just finished cleaning my juicer in the sink, a once tedious, time-consuming process that I now complete in no time at all.

A twenty-ounce glass of cabbage, spinach, garlic and carrot juice stands before me, taunting me with its bitter potency. I think back to the first time I tried juice all those years ago in Seth's house. In defiance, I pick up the glass and down the whole thing like a tequila shot. I stand up. There's a rumbling going on somewhere in the depths of my bowels. I sit back down.

I feel funny. I think I'm stoned.

I should call out of work today.

This produced 16 ounces of juice.

Steve's Green Juice:

All ingredients should be used fresh, preferably bought the same day. I use a centrifugal juicer, in which a spinning metal blade grinds the vegetables, expelling the juice from one end, while catching the roughage in a container at the other end. Most people say that leafy greens are best juiced in a single auger or manual press juicer.

Also, remember to use only organic produce while juicing. This is important. You don't want to consume super-concentrated levels of pesticides and agri-chemicals.

1 medium sized cucumber
2 celery stalks
a lot of spinach
1 head bok choi (green part only)
1 large handful cilantro
1 olive-sized piece ginger

(If you want, add a few carrots or some beet for taste, but you'll lose that fabulous green color.)