The evangelical impulse in foodaism is strong. The only meat vegetarians eat is the tongue they have to bite to keep from commenting on your meal. We all want others to listen to our advice on what to eat, what’s good for you, what’s good for the planet, where the best tacos are. Foodiasm, like any religion, seeks converts. Whether by example or straight out harangueing, we want you to follow us. It’s not the best trait of any religion, but there it is.
Christians speak in terms of sowing faith to reap believers. I guess I take the metaphor literally. My particular call is to get people to rip up their lawns and plant vegetables. I’ll be more specific: artichokes. Three years ago I hired a group of day laborers (they were all legal, at least by Mitt Romney’s standards) to tear out the lawn and median strip that lay in front of our house since we bought it. Most houses on our block—most houses in America—suffer the same curse: dense lawns, underwaterered, under-oxygenated, sucking out nutrients from the soil, providing habitat for barely any insects, birds or wild creatures, and in general contributing nothing but soul-deadening neatness to our neighborhoods.
The men tore our lawn out, and in its place I planted rows of mostly globe artichokes that I bought for a dollar each from Home Depot, and from Pete the plant guy at the Venice Farmers Market on Friday (he’s also at Mar Vista on Tuesdays). In one season the artichokes rose up like spiny sage-green candelabras. I harvested 130 pounds of buds, much of which we ate and gave away, the rest I boiled, cleaned down to the hearts, then pureed with olive oil and stord all year for pasta sauce and bruschetta.
After the harvest I cut the plants down almost to the ground, and sure enough, new sprouts come up and form the next seasons plants. This has gone on for three years, automatic division and growth, helped along by plenty of goat manure, very little water, and occasional thinnings. This year I had 146 pounds. (Dividing artichokes is a skill I had to teach myself. With a sharp shovel slice down between the sprouting leaves. The root should separate easily and, when planted, grow into two new plants).
Why artichokes? They require little water (though they like more, they can make do with less), they love the foggy Venice climate, and they are utterly delicious. Convincing, right?
I gave some to Sebastien, who never complains that his neighbor created a vegetable jungle where a neat lawn once was. (If I went on match.com I couldn’t have found a more suitable neighbor—Sebastien grew up on a farm in the south of France, is also passionate about the environment and food politics, and as a very busy actor always seems to be away when the goats are loudest and the garden is at its least attractive).
I took the last of the spring artichokes, boiled them, stripped off all the leaves and the thiste, and marinated the hearts in olive oil, garlic lemon and bay—all from the yard except the olive oil and garlic.
Anybody can do this. Everyone should. But there I go, evangelizing.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Steam a large quantity of fresh artichokes of any size. When the bottoms can be easily pierced with a fork, they are done.
Strip away leaves, use your thumb to pr away the thistle, and place the hearts whole in a bowl. If some fall apart, that’s fine.
Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, minced fresh garlic. Bay leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, sme thinsliced lemon, salt and pepper.
Stir well. Cover and refrigerate 1-5 days before eating at room temperature.