hole in the sand: pop-down dinners
It's the tail end of summer, and I'm joyfully dancing around in clothes after many months on not being able to tolerate much more than a skimpy swimsuit. But summer does offer more than miserable heat and oppressively sunny days, especially when it comes to the produce aisle. Soft sweet berries and dripping stone fruits, milky fresh corn in the husk and honorably textured tomatoes—what's not to love? So in an almost bittersweet farewell to summer, we're going to put the horrors of 110 degree days behind us and pay homage to this important season by dining on a few of its late-blooming morsels found in the wild. (Summer kind of goes into October in the desert, right?!) These early fall dinners will take place in outdoor venues (weather permitting), so come soak up the sunset and fill your lungs with the last of the warm winds.
The "TGIF Menu" is rotating between different locations on the three available dates, so if you were to attend all three dinners (5 gold stars for you), just be forewarned that the menu will remain roughly the same for each event. But the ambiance will change...it's a grab bag! (And don't be deterred by the early start times—they're scheduled this way to enhance the outdoor dining experience. And It's better for your digestion ;)
If you can't make it out for one of these, but would like to, be on the lookout for fall 2.0 in November.
where does the dinner take place?
The dinners take place in private residences in the Joshua Tree area, and each host is a collaborator in creating a unique dining experience. After you purchase your ticket(s), you will receive a confirmation email with your receipt, and then a second personal email from Sarah, which will give you the address and directions.
What time should i arrive?
Your confirmation email from Sarah will indicate arrival times, which vary depending on the venue and host (sometimes there’s a cocktail hour.) But in general, 10 minutes ahead of your reservation time is a good target, as we will get started promptly and begin serving the first course shortly after the dinner start time.
WHAT IS THE BEVERAGE SITUATION?
Water will be provided for all guests, but if you would like something else to accompany your meal, you may bring that with you. This is BYOB, so please bring any alcoholic beverages you might want to consume.
where can i see the menu?
Each dinner consists of three or four savory courses and one sweet course to finish, with each course focusing on one (or more!) featured ingredients from this region. These dinners aim to creatively bend and exhibit the featured ingredient, reshaping it into a collection of surprising culinary configurations. The menu is not published ahead of time and will be shared with you when you arrive for the dinner. Think of it as an adventure!
I'm a vegetarian
Great! Please select the vegetarian option when you checkout.
WHAT IF I HAVE A FOOD ALLERGY OR DIETARY RESTRICTIONS?
Please contact me with any serious concerns before you purchase a ticket: email@example.com I will do my best, but may not be able to accommodate your specific needs. Please make sure to mention any allergies in the first field in the "additional information" section of the checkout page.
I'm PREGNANT OR NURSING, ARE WILD FOODS SAFE FOR ME?
Certain ingredients are known to interact with the female reproductive system and are not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing. Although only a small amount of these ingredients are used for seasoning, please be aware of these possible interactions. It may be best to dine with us another time; if you do choose to attend, please note this in the dietary concerns field in the "additional information" section.
I'M NOT PREGNANT OR NURSING, ARE WILD FOODS SAFE FOR ME?
There is an inherent risk in eating any food, but particularly with uncultivated varieties. I have done extensive research on all the plants I use, from both culinary and medicinal perspectives, and use negligible quantities of these plants. Although it's rare, there's always the possibility that a food will not sit well with you. The dinner features one plant or grouping of plants, but often I pair the featured ingredient with other wild herbs, so If you have a serious health condition or a compromised immune system, it's best to avoid consuming unknown foods. Please contact me if you have any specific questions about the safety of wild foods: firstname.lastname@example.org
what if i need to cancel?
Bummer! Please notify me ASAP. Tickets are non-refundable for cancellations made within 24 hours of your reservation time, or if you fail to show up. The number of tickets available are limited, so let's make sure someone else has a chance to eat if you can't!
PREVIOUS DINNER ARCHIVe
april 27, 2018
WEEDS! (AND OTHER EDIBLE SPRING GREENS)
A weed is just a plant, oblivious to human desires. And ironically, they tend to be people lovers. The more densely populated an area, the more diverse and densely populated are the weeds, too. The science behind it is pretty simple—non-native, invasive species have to be "brought in," and these byproducts of our globalized culture have more outlets to hitch a ride where there's transportation and commerce. The further away from the city, the sparser the weeds. Even here, you'll notice that highway 62 and its businesses tend to be surrounded by fortresses of spontaneous sprouts, but a couple feet from the main road, and you're mostly surveying a native habitat. But some of these plants are aggressively resilient, and extremely fertile with astonishing seed production. A few mustards—Saharan, London rocket, and Hoary Meditteranean—and grasses like Brome, have pushed into the farthest corners of the desert, and are setting up camp in the most remote, rural pockets. So, what can we do to help out the native species and prevent a total take-over? Eat them! Taking these plants out of the ground is not a crime. It's a good thing, and it's one thing foragers can do to encourage native plant dominance. This dinner will feature all three aforementioned mustard species, some grasses, and a few native plants too, like stinky bladderpod, California buckwheat, saltbush, and wild rhubarb. To read more about mustards, the star of the show, scroll down to the March 2018 ingredient: http://www.sarahwitt.net/hdtk/#/hdtk-archive/
APR 27: eat the weeds MENU (and some fun footnotes)
1. fromage blanc seasoned with green tea leaves and SALTBUSH[i] greens, charred radicchio, rutabaga spears fermented with CALIFORNIA BUCKWHEAT[ii] flowers, and a couple cured OLIVES that came from parking lot trees in Yucca Valley
2. house-cured salmon—or—braised fennel and eggplant seasoned with WILD FENNEL seed, crunchy salad of asparagus and cucumber, crispy MEDITERRANEAN HOARY MUSTARD[iii] chips and a sprinkling of its flowers—some fresh, some pickled with tarragon and lemon balm (not pictured)
4. hand-slaughtered and plucked PIONEERTOWN ROOSTER[vi]—or—globe artichoke (both prepared confit-style), sticky Icelandic rye bread, onion confiture, STINKY BLADDERPOD[vii] seeds, LONDON ROCKET[viii] salad with red wine vinaigrette
5. blood orange panna cotta, CAINAIGRE[ix] compote, chia brittle, GLOBE MALLOW flowers, and a little FILAREE for flare
[i] FOURWING SALTBUSH atriplex canescens, chenopodiaceae
Eh, so we’re not starting off with invasives, but saltbush is a survival food-of-a-plant. It’s a tall dusty, grayish shrub with seeds packaged in a little papery sheath that has four „wings“, hence the name. It’s pretty bitter, but if you boil and leach it for a while, you’ve got a simple potherb on hand.
[ii] CALIFORNIA BUCKWHEAT eriogonum fasciculatum, polygonaceae
Again, a native species, recognized by its rusty, spherical flowering heads that bob atop skinny, similarly colored stalks. It’s super abundant in these parts, and the flowers, when coarsely ground into a meal using your hands, have a rustic texture that makes it an excellent additive to baked goods. Or you can steep them for an astringent eyewash.
[iii]HOARY MUSTARD hirschfeldia incana, brassicaceae
Ugh, this one is everywhere. A lot of people think it’s the Saharan mustard, but it’s not. The seed pods are really short and adpressed (shooting upwards against the main stalk). The leaves are pretty damn hairy, and the flowers kind of taste like broccoli! (makes sense, in the same plant family!)
[iv] CHAPARRAL YUCCA hesperoyucca whipplei, agavaceae
In its final blooming season, this particular yucca species sends out a grand asparagus-like stalk from the center of its bursting orb of sharp lance-like leaves. Elegantly, little buds begin to form and create a bushy creamy cluster at the tip of the stalk. Various yucca plants were a toolshed of resources for native populations—the Cahuilla Indians used the leaf fibers for cordage, sandals, and baskets or nets. The roots contain concentrated levels of saponins, meaning it can be transformed into an excellent sudsy soap. And the stalk with blossoms were eaten raw or roasted. Some species are soapier than others, watch out!
[v] FOXTAIL BARLEY hordeum murinum, poaceae
Grass, it’s everywhere. Kind of. While I was researching the most invasive grass species in the desert, I learned that really, most invasives tend to follow people—they need to be transported somehow. Which means out here, in our rural parts, we actually don’t suffer from the same kind of complete take-over that happens in more urban areas. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but in planning this dinner, I recognized that my initial plan, to feature only undesireable weeds, was not feasible. But back to grass. Out here we have a lot of bromes—dozens of species—and the tiny clumps of bunch grass, or schismus. I found some attractive downy chess and foxtail barley, and since things dry out here pretty quickly, a juice wasn’t possible. And because seeds are virtually impossible to winnow, especially in the spring when they aren’t really „ripe“ for pickin’, I decided to go with a grassy infusion. It’s subtle sweetness pairs well with the floral aroma of the delicate yucca blossoms. (I think.)
[vi] BACKYARD CHICKENS….I tried. Confession: these birds were not from the most tender flock. But I’ve been questioning my consumption of meat lately, and after learning how to process chickens from my neighbors (two French men who also raise goats), I was determined to serve this homegrown-style meat at this dinner. So we snagged six roosters and in a matter of hours, they kind of looked like the birds you’d find at the grocery store. With unbelievably smaller drumsticks (I’m talking thumb-sized here folks) and a few lingering feathers, these guys were decidedly rustic. They were cooked low and slow for many many many hours. Alas, they resemble well-done beef more than succulent poultry. But!
They had great lives, free-range runnin’ chicks that foraged on the same desert plants we’re eating tonight, and were slaughtered humanely by good people with good intentions. There’s more artichoke if anyone, well, chokes…
[vii] BLADDERPOD peritoma arborea, cleomaceae
It’s not called stinky bladderpod for no reason. The aroma is complicated, kind of like burnt popcorn laced with jalapenos. The pods grow into bloated little capsules, and the longer they sit, the spicier they become. The seeds are less pungent, and pack only a tiny punch of heat. The Cahuilla Indians used to bury the pods in a fire pit for days. I tried fermenting them with cabbage, but here you’ll eat them as a little garnish on the salad.
[viii] LONDON ROCKET sisymbrium irio, brassicaceae
Perhaps my favorite of the invasives, rocket is delightfully spicy and fresh. The leaves resemble arugula, and kind of taste like it too, with a little more kick. The leaves I collected are so delicate that I decided it would be a shame to cook them, so they’re in their purest form, as a simple salad. Collect this one in your local parking lot now before it ages too much and loses that baby-green appeal!
[ix] CANAIGRE or WILD RHUBARB, rumex hymenosepalus, polygonaceae
Another desert native, it’s one of the few leafy greens you’ll find out here. But it’s not everywhere. It grows in little pockets throughout the Mojave, and the stems can be used similarly to cultivated rhubarb. The leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and shouldn’t be eaten unless you leach them well. The roots contain excessive tannins and can be used in a dye. But the stems have a nice weedy, front-lawn tinge that makes it...well, special.
January 20, 2018
Pinus Monophylla (Pinaceae): Single-leaf piñon pine
Inarguably one of the most potent food sources for native populations, piñon pine nuts contain nearly 3000 calories per pound of raw nut, nutritionally rich in the fat and protein categories. The harvest window for the nuts (which are contained in the cones) is very small, and these prized nibbles are also a favorite of critters, so as soon as they hit the ground, it’s over. Cahuilla Indians would stay near the groves throughout the short-lived piñon season in August, shaking boughs to loosen mature cones and catch them in baskets. The green cones can be harvested before they open into toothy balls, which would extend availability backwards to June, but the immature cones are tightly closed and require quite a bit of rendering to coax the seeds from their shells. Traditionally, this is done by roasting them in a pit, opening up the cavities to reveal the nut still tightly bound by its casing. So additional battering ensues. All other times of the year, the needles can be snipped and infused in teas, sauces, oils, vinegars…any liquid really! The resulting flavors can range from bitter and woodsy to punchy and riding the edge of citrus. The flavor of pine is pretty strong and can quickly wipe out any complimenting elements to a dish, so start out modestly. As with juniper, if you’re infusing a stew or sauce, it’s good to contain all the plant parts in a cheesecloth sachet so you can easily remove the needles when you’re satisfied with the flavor; as romantic as it sounds, picking individual pine needles out of your mouth while you’re trying to eat is rather unpleasant and distracting. Trust me, it’s no fun, even when you’re sitting around a campfire in good company.
PINYON PINE MENU
1: pine nut pate, prickly pear pomegranate seed confiture, pine vinegar candied orange rind, fennel and carrots pickled with california bay, juniper and pine needles, wild buckwheat crackers
2: curried pine tea soup, mango pinyon freme fraiche, sweet potato and beet chips, butternut squash tangles, lime
3: pinecone smoked egg, watercress, radish sprouts, pea shoots, pinecone smoked black sesame seeds, beets, sherry garlic vinaigrette
4: braised lamb shanks-or-oyster and enoki mushrooms, cinnamon pinyon persimmon sauce, cous-cous, mint
5: cardamom ice cream, meyer lemon meringue, candied pine needles, fennel pollen, pinyon pine syrup