Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Of Figs, Farmer's Markets, and Lemongrass Tofu

After a week of cholesterol rich food in Nashville, I thought I might go a little easy on the meat and fat this week. A trip to Costco resulted in the purchase of some nectarines and to my delight, figs. I have long loved figs, in dried form, and most definitely, fresh. Figs are a big California thing, but I hadn't seen many in Hawaii.

In my trip to Los Angeles in June, I decided to check out the world famous Santa Monica Farmer's Market. My favorite podcast is KCRW's Good Food Podcast. It is hosted by Evan Kleiman, the chef-owner of Angeli Cafe, one of the first of the fresh new style Italian restaurants that popped up in the 80's. Every week, her show featured a visit to the Santa Monica Farmer's market by reporter Laura Avery (whose unmistakable voice I heard talking on a cellphone during my trip to the market).

There were some great peaches (white flesh or Babcock), a medley of berries in primary colors (yellow and red raspberries plus blueberries), and some fresh figs, which I hadn't had in years. Figs, when they are good, burst with flavor, and in Italy are often served with prosciutto, giving that deeply satisfying salty/sweet combination.

So when Costco had California figs, I grabbed a container full of them. They have actually been pretty good, and I learned a little bit about how to select them. These had various stages of green to purple. Basically, the more complete the purple color is on the skin, the sweeter the fig.

With figs for breakfast on Monday, I then decided I might have something vegetarian for lunch, which is unheard of for me. I went to the Kailua branch of Bale, a chain of Vietnamese restaurants. I usually have lemongrass chicken, which features that flavoring which resembles a mix of scallions and wood (which is what the texture will be like if you try ate lemongrass) so aptly named because of the earthy, citrus-y qualities. The great thing about tofu is that it absorbs the flavors of whatever you're cooking with it (which is why it tastes so terrible in many vegetarian dishes because I find the seasoning in much vegetarian cooking to be very bland, thus resulting in bland tasting tofu). In this case, the sweet/savory/spicy/acidic flavors were delicious and thought that this was a dish I could happily eat again and again.

I will now add Bale as an option when trying to figure out where to eat with a group of vegetarians mixed with carnivores (which happened often with a previous associate pastor Krista Givens, now ironically living in Germany as a missionary, which has one of the most meat dominated cuisines I've had). Italian has always been my standby, because a vegetarian (even vegan) has many delicious options: pasta simply cooked in a marinara sauce or maybe just olive oil and garlic (which we have at home often and is a favorite of one of my girls). But lemongrass tofu or vegetarian pho are great options.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Figs figure prominently in the Bible. After eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (the fruit is never named in scripture, it is only later presumed to be various types of fruit, apples and classically, the quince, which is a very ugly looking fruit), they took to covering their nakedness (their shame and embarrassment) with fig leaves. They leave the Garden of Eden, being denied the opportunity to eat the fruit from the tree of life, thus being "fruitless."

Later, in the New Testament, we find Jesus cursing a fig tree with no figs: a tree that is "fruitless." Perhaps this is an allusion to the Adam and Eve story, that when we are "fruitless" in our spiritual pursuits, it recalls the sadness God feels when we aren't ready for the grace of God or go the wrong way. Perhaps this relates also to when fruit isn't quite ready or ripe...the taste of it isn't very good. Maybe that's why faith is not very satisfying to many, because we haven't taken the time to let our faith mature and ripen to the right time.

Conversely, the eating of the fruit of the fig tree at full ripeness and sweetness gives us a metaphor of the sweetness of a fully explored, fully ripe relationship with Christ.