I never knew how much I loved silence until I moved to Los Angeles. From Palm Desert where I'd lie on the floor of my favourite canyon and just listen to the desert hum, to LA where, for the first few months, I'd sleep with ear plugs and a pillow over my head because the noise was just so intense.
Silence. I love it. Crave it actually.
So I go gathering plants- where I get to walk for hours without encountering a single person, and to hear the birds and the bugs and the wind without hearing voices or cars or sirens. These things make me insanely happy. I'll bring a snack, and find somewhere nice to have a picnic (usually on top of a nice rock or up a friendly tree), and then take my bag of goodies home and spend a few hours processing- hanging things to dry, stripping bark, making tinctures, whatever is in order.
Have you ever been walking in the mountains of Southern California in the spring? We have all of these insanely fragrant plants- the salvias and the artemisias and wild cherry blossoms and grapes, and redroots, and it all mixes together into this heavenly, heady perfume. You can get high on the smell of spring- believe me, I've done it. And it occurred to me while I was out walking that this is where regional cuisine comes from. When I was walking around in India, some of these herbs that we pay a fortune for were just growing there by the side of the road. Same goes in France or in Italy-- in fact that's why the different regions of these different countries have such varied food traditions. They were the original foodies, these people who couldn't travel very far, and made do with what they had. Regional cuisine comes from the weeds that grow around you. I think that's kinda cool.
I've written about this before, a long time ago, but I can't for the life of me find the post. So I'll rephrase for those of you who haven't read your way through my archives. Before this country was a melting pot of people from different cultures who wanted to recreate the dishes from the places they grew up in, there was a culture of people who had their own regional cuisines. Land-based ones just like everywhere else. I'm not suggesting that we go and appropriate Native American cuisines now (since that would be kinda silly), but that we build our own food cultures based on what we have.
I've been making this herb mix lately. It's a lot more hassle than, say, going to the store and picking up a jar of Herbs De Provence, but I tell ya, there's something magical about the process of gathering and drying, and eating something that tastes like the mountains you love. I've called it 'Herbs De Californie', because I'm unoriginal. But it's amazing- black sage, white sage, lemonade sumac berries, rose petals, and, when I have it on hand, bee balm (it only grows in one spot in California, and my garden supply is low). And I've been using it on everything- chicken, steak, lamb chops, and just as a tea because it's that yummy on its own. And a few days ago, I roasted a lamb shoulder.
And, please excuse my language, but this is the shit. One 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder-- it's a pretty cheap cut as far as lamb goes. Full of delicious fat, and enough for 4 hungry people. I made it with lentils, but you can always just reserve the cooking liquid for something else.
California lamb and lentils
1 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup herbs (I use Herbs De Californie. You can get creative with your own combination of local herbs or, if you're booorring, just use Herbs De Provence, though I guarantee it won't blow your mind nearly as much ;) )
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup beef stock
2 cups french green lentils
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tb olive oil
Make little incisions over the lamb, and insert the garlic cloves whole. Then, sprinkle all of the cracks and crevices with your herb mix, finishing by patting down the outer surface with what's left. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top.
Preheat the oven to 250. In a casserole dish, warm the oil, and sear the roast on each side until golden brown. Discard the cooking oil, and place the lamb back in the pot, with the stock. Cover and cook for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, pour the onions and lentils into the cooking liquid (which should be plenty- if there's not much you might need to add some water, or less lentils). Re-cover, raise the temperature to 350, and cook for another hour.
Remove the lid, and check the lentils. Are they tender enough? Remove the lamb and set aside (covered in tin foil, to rest), and put the pot back on the stove top on high to evaporate off the rest of the liquid. Once finished cooking, stir through the chopped parsley, and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Put the lamb back on top and serve, or slice and serve separately.