• Posted by Califia Suntree on January 19th, 2012, 10:19 AM

    True story: Yesterday I’m rushing home to have lunch before an appointment, and as I approach my front door I see a nattily-attired gentleman rooting around under our lemon tree. Neighbors are constantly raiding our Meyer lemons, so I approach the man, irritated.

    “Excuse me, what are you doing?”

    The man jumps up, alarmed, and I see that he’s holding a big bouquet of purple and green sourgrass, both flowering wood sorrels that grow (as weeds) all over our neighborhood.

    “What do you have there?” I ask.

    “Just these. They’re for my restaurant!”

    I look at him skeptically, “What, for the tables?”

    “No,” he says, “for the plates.”

    This guy knows his edible weeds.

    “What’s your restaurant?” I ask.

    Mélisse!” he answers, gesturing to the celebrated, two-Michelin-starred palace of haute cuisine two doors down (and yet a world away…) Yes, indeed, this man in my flowerbed, in his Persols and cashmere scarf, was celebu-chef Josiah Citrin!

    I start to chuckle, imagining our humble sourgrass adorning the oversized white plates of one of Los Angeles’s poshest restaurants. “Ok,” I say. “Just ring the doorbell next time, or you’ll freak us out.”

    “I don’t want to freak anyone out!” says Citrin, scurrying quickly away, still a bit alarmed. “Thank you!”

    For some reason, I didn’t demand free food in exchange for our coveted weeds. But I definitely have a new respect for the chef, for his daring, his knowledge of edible plants (though I’m 99% sure he thinks he’s picking the very edible Oxalis stricta rather than our sort-of-edible Oxalis pes-caprae) and his obvious devotion to locally sourced ingredients!


  • Posted by Califia Suntree on December 20th, 2011, 6:10 AM

    In 2008, the New York Times ran a piece about so-called “flavor tripping parties,” hosted by an impresario who went by Supreme Commander (aka Franz Aliquo). His parties featured the so-called miracle fruit, synsepalum dulcificum, an ovoid red berry that makes sour things taste sweet. Chew the berry, and for anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour, your taste buds are taken on a wild, sugary ride. A few weekends back, I was lucky enough to be invited to a flavor tripping party, hosted by high school friends Alfred and Laura (pictured at left, with the miraculous berries, and a package of the active ingredient, miraculin, in tablet form). To celebrate their birthdays, the couple handed the fruits out to the assembled guests; we chewed and chewed and proceeded to rip apart a rather eccentric-looking buffet of bitter and sour foods, from to kumquats to yuzu and everything in between.

    That first bite of lime was scrumptious–like wedges of limeade–and I was popping raw cranberries and just wishing they  tasted like that “in real life.” Laura reported a concoction of sour cream on lemon wedges as “lemon meringue pie,” Guinness was “a chocolate milkshake, goat cheese tasted like cheesecake, and green olives tasted like chocolate fudge!” Other friends reported dark stout as “chocolate soda,” and people simply devoured cherry tomatoes.

    Alas, after that initial rush with the lime and the cranberries, I thought my flavor trip had come to an end. I munched two more miracle berries, but nothing–the snacks just tasted like themselves. (I ate them anyway.) Toward the end of the event, I was telling folks about my “immunity” to the miracle, when someone handed me a little wrinkled fruit. I ate it without asking what it was, and was kind of in shock–it was the single sweetest thing I had ever eaten. Like cotton candy concentrate crossed with dates or treacle. Turns out, I had just munched a whole umeboshi–a Japanese sour plum, that is extremely tart and salty. It was absolutely bizarre, to have your mind and eyes telling you one thing, and your mouth telling quite a contrary tale! A trip indeed…

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