Adventures in Eating

By Katherine Tanney    
Photography by Katherine Tanney

One night last spring, while chewing on the ingredients of my usual salad—greens, crumbled blue cheese, chopped Fuji apples, and toasted walnuts tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (none of it organic or grown locally)—I noticed that my jaw was actually aching with boredom. My diet, I realized, consisted of three or four “greatest hits,” played in yawning weekly rotation month after month.

I’d been doing yoga for a while, with increasing dedication and ability, and my practice seemed to call for a diet that would make me feel lighter and more energetic. (With my salad I usually ate a big bowl of pasta or too much bread.) Because I’m getting older and hearing friends speak of heart disease and high blood pressure, I wondered how to maximize the nutritional and disease-preventing qualities of my food.

But my come-to-Chez-Panisse moment occurred after seeing a film at SXSW about a beautiful young woman’s success managing her cancer through a raw food diet. Not that I intended to go 100 percent raw—that would’ve lasted five minutes—but I did purchase a juicer and dehydrator on eBay, started sprouting my own wheatgrass, and warming, rather than cooking, my vegetables. Those were now considerably more expensive because I’d committed myself to avoiding genetically modified everything and buying produce grown organically and, when available, locally. Months later, I still feel as though I’m on vacation, enjoying an adventure not just for my entire being, but particularly for my taste buds. That’s why I’m writing this column. No discovery is complete until you’ve shared it with others. 

My Blind Date with French Sorrel

I was attracted by the luscious mouth-feel of its name and by the fact that several of the people who purchased it every Wednesday morning at Boggy Creek Farm were professional chefs. (I had taken a once-weekly cashier job at the farm as a way to get fresh produce.)

I didn’t think of tearing off a sorrel leaf to taste it. Instead, I asked Larry Butler, who owns the place with his wife, Carol Ann Sayle, what to do with it.

“It’s good on sandwiches,” he said. Then he extolled its high vitamin C content.

“I like sandwiches,” I thought, and confidently placed a bushel in my shopping bag.

When I got home I started preparing a salmon burger, that day’s version of a sandwich, happily anticipating the sophisticated French flavor (whatever that is!) that would soon grace my tongue. Thoughts of arugula floated through my mental archive of favorite flavors, along with other beloved green things—watercress and basil, chives, cilantro and sunflower greens. I couldn’t wait. I tore off a piece of sorrel and put it in my mouth.

Blech! It was like biting into an aspirin! My face actually puckered. I can’t eat this, I thought, disappointed and a little annoyed at Larry for not warning me when he had the chance.

It seemed the whole bunch would end up in the trash, but what a terrible waste. I knew sorrel had to be good for something. And so, in the interest of “making lemonade” out of the acid leaves, I looked through my cookbooks for a sorrel soup recipe. About an hour later, after throwing two sticks of organic butter and a couple of large, sweet onions at the problem, I had a pot of the richest, most wonderful gourmet soup I’ve ever made. I know that two sticks of butter do not add up to a particularly healthful meal, but, hey, I felt like I was eating in Paris! Better yet, the large bunch of grimace-inducing sorrel had been transformed into a velvety smooth, complex and richly layered achievement that delighted my jaded palate.