Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowed In In Florida (Jacksonville)

Season's Greetings from Jacksonville, Florida, where I'm enjoying that gluttonous, post-party feeling that comes from A) stuffing myself with really good vegetarian food and B) drinking what amounts to a cocktail's worth of tinctures (I like to call it my daily Tonic-tini), and wishing you all a heavenly Christmas.

So I've put about 5,000 miles on the odometer in the past five months, what with the whole "making friends out of strangers and plant-medicine out of weeds" adventure I've been on. Between the stories in this journal and the other encounters and escapades not fit for a blog (but maybe a book?), I'm finally ready to go back North and see what I can write. And plan. And make manifest.
But first, there's this pre-Christmas blizzard to contend with. You know, there's a sort of irony that comes with getting snowed in in Florida, but it's nothing compared to the surreal feeling I got this evening driving through the outskirts of Jacksonville. The streets had a vintage feel to them, and the neon lights and trails of sunset transformed the neighborhood landmarks and gray city blocks into a movie set of three-dimensional Edward Hopper paintings. Each building looked like it was its own perfect model; miniature diners and crab shacks and Mexican markets rendered in well-lit, perfectly painted plasticine.
Driving back over the bridge after catching the dusk-end closing of the 365 days-a-year farmer's market, we stopped at a tiny corner drive-through and walk-up restaurant for ice cream sundaes. The building was shaped like a soft-serve ice cream cone, and looked more like a Disney World prop than an actual restaurant. I wish I still had a camera; it was one of those perfect life-as-art moments.

Driving to Jacksonville, I found myself chanting Hare Krishna along to every song that came on the radio. For a while, tuned to a really great classic rock station, it felt like I was part of some incredible traveling Kirtan, singing along with Supertramp and Guns N Roses as we simultaneously warded off and extolled Kali Yuga, the current age of strife. I wasn't counting along on my prayer beads, but I'm pretty sure I chanted an entire round to the end of Free Bird.
It was great. I know it doesn't count as Japa (using beads to chant the Mahamantra with intention), but for a while there, cruising along the Florida panhandle, drinking horchata and fingering my new mala, I had a grand old time. At Blue Boy Herbs, one of the girls and I would sing the Mahamantra to Beatles songs (Eleanor Rigby was the decided favorite), but that's nothing compared to belting it out to traditional Christmas carols like The Bells of Paradise (Down in Yon Forest). That one's definitely my new favorite.

Both of the friends that I drove here to visit are guys I met on this trip, gentle men with interesting perspectives and stories. Andreas is a Mexican-born artist I met in a hostel made of tree houses this past Halloween. Before he moved down here to go to school, he was a professional massage therapist in the Berkshires, and before that, he served in the Mexican army.
Blake is down here for school, too. An herb-smart former Marine-turned-hippie who came down South after Katrina hit, he and I met at the Essential Herb Cottage this Thanksgiving. Blake worked herbs with Linda for several years, and as far as she and Whitney are concerned he's as much a part of the family as any blood or by-marriage kin.
Both of these guys like good food, a fact I'm relishing after two weeks spent completely surrounded by amazing vegetarian food. Between cooking kidgeree and pumpkin soup at the Essential Herb Cottage, walking down the lane to Darrell Martin's cabin for lunch every day, and taking prasadam at New Talavan, my tummy and taste buds have been seriously blessed in Mississippi. After a certain number of lovingly crafted veg-head meals, its just makes sense to continue the meatless love-fest. Karma or no karma, there are so many amazing meals you can make out of plants, why bother the cows?
Last night, Blake and I went to Andreas' apartment for dinner. The menu: sweet potatoes, baby winter squash and eggplant broiled in a home-made spice rub, served with red Swiss chard, Andreas' Ayurvedic lentils, and bottles of Guinness' super-tasty new anniversary stout. (The Wandering Herbalist's opinion? Less hops than the original, but still enough to send me right to sleep!)
Tonight's dinner came almost exclusively from the Farmer's Market: oven grilled corn on the cob, pan-seared mushrooms seasoned with Montreal Spice mix, steamed mustard greens with Bragg's liquid amino acids, oven-baked sweet potatoes, biscuits, and fried bananas for dessert.

Broiled Sweet Potatoes, Baby Winter Squash & Eggplant

Chop one small winter squash, leave the skin on, and scoop out the seeds. Cube one small eggplant and add to the bowl, along with one large sliced sweet potato. Coat with olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons Bragg's liquid amino acids, and -in no particular order or quantity- the following spices:
Himalayan sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh rosemary, parsley and oregano
Ground ginger, garlic, paprika, and cayenne.
Marinate in the spice rub, then spread out on a baking sheet, pour in about 1/2 cup of water, and bake at 450 or so, stirring occasionally until caramelized and delicious.

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