…and kohlrabi slaw with walnut and scallion dressing!We watched a remarkable movie the other night. Waste land, which is about Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s lengthy project of making portraits of catadores, garbage pickers at the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro, was engrossing, disturbing, inspiring and hopeful, all at the same time. The landfill itself was massive and horrifying, and the jobs of the pickers – sorting through mountains of garbage to collect recyclables – seemed too awful to imagine. Yet they were cheerful, if not happy, and they’d created a supportive community for each other. Muniz makes a series of portraits of catadores in poses borrowed from famous paintings, and he uses the recyclable materials from the landfill as his medium. Waste Land reminded me of a film by Agnes Varda called The Gleaners and I. Varda, who is wonderfully curious and engaging, shoots a documentary about gleaners, people who follow after the harvest has been collected, to pick the fruit that was left behind. Varda shows people who find food and other treasures in vineyards, fields, and urban markets. Some live on the food and money they make from the objects they find. Some turn them into art. The film is a history of gleaning, a portrait of gleaners, a meditation on aging, a subtle examination of the artist as a gleaner, of the documentarian as a person who collects treasures from the world around her. Both films are about excess and waste, beauty and love. They are about the strength and fragility of people – in body and spirit. In both films, many of the people we meet have been living in this way, literally on the outskirts of society, since childhood, even for generations. They’re bright and energetic and resilient, but both films are permeated with an atmosphere of mortality and decay. The stories of the catadores and the gleaners remind us that life is fragile, and our position in society is more so. In this country we talk about a “safety net,” which seems to have failed many of these people completely. And yet they’ve built their own community to protect each other, and care for each other, to feed each other – they’ve built libraries and learning centers. Aunt Irma has set up huge pots in Jardim Gramacho, and she cooks for the pickers, using food thrown away by grocery stores and restaurants, brought to her as fresh as possible. She seems so happy with her life, and her role of feeding her friends, that it made me weepy. I could go on and on! Both films contained layer upon layer of meaning and beauty and emotion. But I’ll move right along now, to tell you about a meal that we partially gleaned. We were walking home from rec camp, on a blisteringly hot day. We passed a table with an awning covered with baskets of vegetables. It was part of an outreach program from Fisherman’s Mark, a local organization, called Farmers, Families, and Fisherman’s Mark. Local farms bring their excess produce, or the produce that’s just nearly past it, and they teach classes on nutrition, and provide demonstrations of easy ways to prepare the vegetables. We stopped for a glass of ice water, a moment in the shade and a chat, and left with some burstingly ripe tomatoes, a few kohlrabi, and a loaf of day-old whole grain bread. It was nearly too hot to cook, even for me, so we decided to open a can of chickpeas, and toss them with tomatoes, toasted cubes of bread, pesto, and small chunks of mozzarella cheese. All to be served over fresh and crispy baby arugula. I decided to cook the tomatoes just for a second, because I like how saucy they get, and I like the fact that they melt the cheese a little bit, but you could leave this step out, especially if you have fresh mozzarella! And I made the kohlrabi into a sweet and spicy slaw with carrots and a walnut scallion dressing.
Here’s Apfelsextet, by Pierre Barbaud from the Gleaners and I.
FOR THE CHICKPEA SALAD
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic – minced
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
about 1 cup bread cubes, toasted or lightly fried in olive oil
1/2 cup mozzarella, diced into small cubes
1/2 cup (+/-) pesto sauce
2 or 3 cups baby arugula
dash of balsamic
salt and plenty of pepper
Warm the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the garlic, and when it starts to brown, add the tomatoes. Stir and cook for about five minutes, till they’re soft and juicy. Remove from the heat. Add the chickpeas, mozzarella, balsamic, salt and pepper. Serve on a large bed of arugula, and top with the cubes of bread.
THE KOHLRABI SLAW
4 small kohlrabi, peeled and coarsely grated
2 largish carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
small handful of fresh basil, washed and cut into ribbons
THE WALNUT SCALLION DRESSING
1 clove garlic, roasted or toasted
1/2 cup walnuts
4 scallions, mostly white parts, washed and chopped finely
2 T olive oil
2 t sherry vinegar
1 t dijon
1 t tamari
1 t honey
water to smooth it all out
salt and plenty of black pepper
In a processor or blender, process the walnuts and garlic till they’re crumbly. Add the scallions, mustard, tamari, sherry and honey, and process again. Add the oil and process till smooth. Add just enough water (about 1/4 cup) to make it smooth and creamy, and as thin as you like it. Pour it over the slaw, mix well, season with salt and pepper.