Musings: little indescribables

Morning at Oz Farm

My (limited) experience so far in life has taught me that my own ideas of what I should expect or what might happen cannot possibly comprehend what will actually present. I'm especially ready for that element of mystery these days as I continue to make weighty life decisions with very little to go on besides my gut. Rebecca Solnit describes this well in A Field Guide to Getting Lost when she says “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”

I have a love affair with little indescribables - the meandering paths and chance encounters and surprise coastal weekends - those things that are beautiful and, well, indescribable in their way of brightening your senses and making you really notice the path you're on. Like any love affair, they don't come along through pursuit. They present. Unexpectedly. Breathlessly.

Perhaps this is why I so enjoy cooking with new ingredients and re-imagining flavors in unexpected ways. I'm always looking for herbs, flowers, spices, and produce that I've never seen before; hoping to be able to capture that moment of surprise and intrigue from a diner. Whether it's the grassy flavor of a Californian olive oil lacing a cake or the scent of orange water on your salad, these subtle details are the ones that make you notice and slow down. They're the ones that make you question what you're experiencing, rather than just shoveling it down.

5 varieties of heirloom apples from the farm with coriander, a little brown sugar, lemon juice, flour, and a pinch of salt. Later topped with an oat streusel and baked for breakfast.

A "mise en place" of sorts

The photos in this post are from Oz Farm, an organic apple farm just north of Point Arena in Mendocino County, California. I found myself there after a series of interconnected events led to me agree to help a new friend feed everyone at his birthday weekend celebration. The entire weekend was somewhat of an unexpected indescribable special thing - you know the type - with interesting people, much laughter, and approximately 947 million stars dabbed across the sky; the milky way cutting a rainbow through it all.

With this theme in mind, here are some "surprise elements" I used while on the farm:

  • Coriander: inspired by Heidi Swanson, I've begun sprinkling ground coriander in my fruit dishes. Especially perfect in stone fruit or berry salads, it lends a complex and earthy citrus note. Despite having tasted coriander thousands of times in savoury dishes, it still tastes totally new to me once combined with something sweet. Just don't confuse it with cumin...
  • Lemon Balm: Also known as Bee Balm, Lemon Balm is a lemony mint (more lemon than mint) with a delicate flavor. It goes well in fruit salads as well, and can also be added to teas and juices (or cocktails!). I've also infused it into heavy whipping cream for panna cotta - it's excellent with berries. I found lemon balm growing all over the Oz Farm property. Plant some in your backyard!
  • Olive oil: My favorite budget-friendly olive oil is Corto. I only buy olive oil from California (it's just so much better) and this is my favorite I've found in terms of diversity. It works especially well in sweets because it lacks the peppery, bitter zing of some other olive oils.

I recognize that most of our life is not composed of these special flavors or moments or feelings. How could it be? Our routines and patterns and habits make the little indescribables that much more special when they happen, because they break us from the myopic vision we've had of the path below our feet and hint at a bigger, wilder world of exploration. Cheers to embracing that feeling when it happens.