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Decompressing

I usually write because something is the predominant “thing” in my life and is changing my perspective and I want to talk about it.  I am writing now simply because I should.  Have you ever said something to someone that you in fact didn’t actually understand about yourself until that moment, when you said it to another person?  I have been particularly chatty with one individual in my life lately, and the moment I told him that writing is my decompression device, I realized the truthfulness of what I had written.

Imagine that you have a bank account, and that you earn just enough to keep your balance extremely close to your bills, with little to spare on a day-to-day basis. Maybe you don’t have to imagine!  Let’s say you are not someone who balances your account to the penny.  And let’s say every time you pay your bills, you are actually short by a few pennies.  However, lucky you, one of the bank employees keeps throwing a few of his own cents into your account so that you never get notified that you are coming up a tiny bit short.  That is how I viewed most of God’s interaction in our lives; as a series of unseen, unnoticed acts of kindness that I am not aware of and that He gets little thanks for.  Recently I have been asking God for the sort of intervention that is more obvious.  Nothing big, necessarily, just more attention-getting.  In other words, “c’mon God, take some credit, steal the show.”  I wasn’t asking to win the lottery, or for more customers, or less wrinkles…just that the figurative “pennies” I know are paid out from heaven to my account would be undeniable.  At least by me.  I wanted to be able to say, “Aha!  I knew it was you!”  I am telling you this to encourage you to try it, because the answer was almost immediate, and my awareness of God’s presence in my life was changed immediately as well.

I had a boyfriend once who was big on grand gestures.  In between them, his love was harder to grasp.  When I broke up with him, and he told me that he couldn’t face his life without me in it, I discovered that the love was always there.  But for me it is the continual affirmation of a person’s part in my life that brings me peace in a relationship.  When I open my eyes and heart to that part of my relationship with God, the continual affirmation, peace floods in.  The grand gestures are necessary, but it is the constant knowledge of His presence and intervention on my behalf, and my response to it, that makes it a “relationship.”

 

 

Third Annual Resolutions for a New Year

I posted this on my personal fb page a few months ago.  But I reread it and I felt inspired again to plod on.  I think it is because I have been working on our greenhouse, which feels so….well…right.  I am going to make an Adama compost pile out of old pallets.  And am looking for some old shutters to add a homey feel to the actual greenhouse.  So here is what I wrote and still stand behind.

I am merciless when it comes to dealing with dishonesty, even a slight fudging of truth, in the context of a personal relationship.  At my age I believe that people should stand behind what we say and do, come what may.  If you are a little bit dishonest with me, I will a lot bit distrust you and everything you say from first perceived lie forward.  No apologies from me for that part of my personality.  And I want to be called on my own fudgings.  As my daughter wisely told me when she was 4, when I apologized for being an out-of-sorts mother that day, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Someone once told me that we bring certain people into our lives because they bring us to a dark place that we need to explore on some level.  It must be true, because whenever I think I am beyond that, I find myself allowing someone to cause me to reach for a flashlight all over again.  This year I am only letting in those who illuminate.  But I will keep some candles around, just in case.

I would be happy homesteading.  I long to leave it all and grow my own, sew my own, build my own, be nourished by my own.  I want people to visit my imagined house in the country and sleep in my guest room filled with cozy touches, be seduced by the scent of fresh air and bread in the oven, play UNO by a crackling fire with a glass of herbal tea from the garden, and give in to being completely nurtured.  I would take in a child or two or three who needs me.  I would get off the coal, gas, fracking, nuclear grid and thank God every day that he planned for our energy needs from the foundation of the universe with that burning star in the sky.  Yes, I would miss my kids, but their visits would be spectacular.

I am giving up shopping for a year.  Except for Goodwill and the like.  (update…I have kept that resolution resolutely)  Just for me, not for Adama.  The greenhouse that we had built behind the restaurant is just about finished. (its finished) Before we plant, I am going to fill it with all of the extemporaneous things I own and have a big sale. (I did that, too.  But I didn’t sell enough)  This is the year of loosening further the ties that bind.  I don’t want things, I just want adventure and events.  I only want to keep those things whose beauty inspires me. Can you fill a garage with laughter?

I recently heard a debate of atheists against believers in God.  Both sides made some sense. The thing that made no sense to me, however, is that someone would have a goal of talking another person out of believing in God.  Misery loves company?   I suppose that if I arrived at my faith based on empirical evidence, an atheist could talk me out of it.  And then I and my atheist friend could sit around and talk about the meaningless of life together.  At which point I would reach for a flashlight.

 

Sweet Sourdough

Sourdough has been a part of my life for at least 20 years.  There have been times when my starter was like a baby in our family.  My first real cafe opened much later than I had anticipated, and I had to take my bucket of starter with me every where.  It needed to be fed 4 times a day, and still does.  I have tried other starters that are less high-maintenance, but they don’t show the vitality of this one.  There is something satisfying about stirring in the water and flour and checking on it later and seeing the little volcanic bubbles rise and erupt.   It is a living organism and I had a big part in its creation.

Just before we opened Adama, I was nursing my starter back to life and had to take it with me whenever I left the house for more than a few hours.  I went to the 24 hour fitness on Canon Perdido and left my car in the valet parking.  I told the attendant to be careful of the little bucket on the passenger seat and told him what it was.  A year later, not having parked there since, I went back, and the attendant asked me if I had my starter with me. There are worse things to be remembered for.

We had a lovely family of artists, well-known in Santa Barbara, as customers for my cafe in Carpinteria.  One day the matriarch of the family brought me a little pot of sourdough starter.  She told me that her niece, a bakery/restaurant owner about my age, had passed away.  She had flown to the state where the niece had lived, perhaps Colorado, I cannot recall, and helped to dismantle the bakery.  She brought her niece’s starter home, hoping to keep it alive.  I understood.  It is a very personal thing.  There are not many living things that a person tends to 4 times a day for years that don’t greet you with love when you walk through the door.  My starter is an intrinsic part of my life, and an important consideration any time I make plans to be away for more than a day.

My dear customer had made a valiant attempt to bring the starter back to life, with no success.  “Deeahna, do you think you could try?” she asked me forlornly.  How could I refuse.  I fed it four times a day for a week or so, until it was pungent and full of belching craters.  Then I took out the amount she had given me, and the rest I poured into my own starter.  When my customer came in, I returned to her the now-viable starter and said, “I took some of it and mixed it into my own.  Please know that as long as I am a baker, your niece, my sister-baker, will have a part in my bread-baking and her starter will live on.” She teared up, and often as I am driven to annoyance at the inconvenience of it all, I am reminded of the blessing of being alive and able to enjoy fragrant, tart, crusty, chewy, warm sourdough bread.

Preface to My Cookbook

I received a lovely e-mail yesterday requesting a cookbook.  Ironically, I just got started on one recently.  Here is the first page, completely unedited….

I have had requests for a cookbook for years.  Decades.  I have a folder that contains encounters with the public that I thought would make funny recipe sidelines.  Some of them are 20 years old.  However a cookbook at this stage of my career presents a certain dilemma.  I have been a vegan for 7 years.  Many of my most requested recipes are not vegan.  These requests come from loyal customers who have followed us through every metamorphosis.  I am planning to open an all gluten-free vegan cafe.  Many of my recipes contain gluten.  I really want to include all of the recipes.  I will likely, no, surely, offend some people.

I am not the kind of vegan who thinks that animals are never meant to be eaten.  I struggle with that issue.  As a woman who worships at the feet of Master Jesus, (something that annoys people even more than my being vegan), the book that I base my truth on has many instances of animals as food.  And Israel was called the land of milk and honey, something I still grapple with.  Because I definitely don’t think we were meant to drink the milk meant for other baby animals.  Just our own mother’s.  In an ideal world, a limited amount of meat would be consumed from animals that had a nice life and lived to a nice age.  I think.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  I haven’t figured it out yet.  And since I can’t figure it out, I don’t eat meat.  Of one thing, though, I am sure.  The Creator has to be appalled at how we treat the creation.  I know that I will never eat meat as long as factory farms exist, and as long as animals are treated as nonentities.  I don’t even trust the farms that say they are humane, so I suppose that I will never eat meat again, and I am OK with that.  The thought of it has become creepy to me anyway.  

So, do I include the quiche and the brisket from a few restaurants ago, two of my most sought-after recipes?  How about the potato pancakes?   The brownies that started it all when I opened my wholesale business 27 years ago called Mark’s Mother’s Brownies?  Those brownies are the one thing that I have not been able to satisfactorily veganize.  I go back to them every so often in my learning curve and try again but so far they are not worthy of their namesake.  I just got a request for one the other day, from someone who has remembered them for 25 years.  What to do?

I have learned a lot in the 27 years that I have been doing this.  Of course a whole lot of it is about food, but more of it is about people.  More specifically, about one person.  Me.  Nothing brings out all of your shortcomings as much as having to rub elbows with other people, lots of them, day in and day out.  Employees, customers, landlords, government officials, electricians, plumbers, the linen guy, the water softener people, the produce supplier, the dry goods supplier, the dishwasher chemical serviceman, the homeless people hanging out in the alley, the people from the restaurant next door using your parking, the vendors at the stands at the farmer’s market, the passersby wanting to use the restroom, the musicians, the charitable groups that daily request free raffle items, the friend who works for you while you try to work on not destroying the friendship, the POS support man, the wine and spirits distributors, the nonstop parade of salesman, both in person and on the phone,  and the friends and family members who surprise me and don’t understand that what they are seeing in my face is frustration that I cannot sit down with them and not annoyance that they came.  

That’s as far as I have gotten, but I am putting it out there to get some feedback about what I should include.  Thanks!

Restaurant Homesteading

Restaurant homesteading is the best way to describe our current metamorphosis. Maya, one of the servers here at Adama, interviewed me the other day.  She is an environmental studies major.  As we spoke about the ways in which we at Adama are trying to walk more softly on the earth (or on the “adama,” which means earth), I was amazed at how much the little changes have become who we are.

A couple of years ago when Marsha and I pondered the restaurant-to-be, we agreed that it needed to have meaning apart from feeding hungry customers.  There is reward in providing sustenance.  But as I grow older, I ask myself more often this question: Am I just taking up space, or am I leaving the space any better than when I got it?  As someone who believes in a creator, am I honoring him by respecting the creation?  Do you show your love for an artist by trampling on the work of his hands?  People put a coaster down on a table so that the glass doesn’t leave a ring (however I am not one of them).  Maybe we should treat the planet like a valued table and purposefully try to preserve its beauty.

We are part of the Santa Barbara restaurant composting program.  One day when the representative was here, I went through some of our garbage with him to make sure that I was separating it properly. There were three things that he told me were plainly not recyclable.  These items were the containers that our “milks” came in, the tofu packaging, and the foil wrappers from Earth Balance.  I set out to eliminate all of them.

We now make our own soy, almond, and coconut milk.  Hemp will be added as soon as we go through what we have.  We dry out the pulp and grind it for flour, intend to use the soy milk to make tofu, and have been making ice cream out of both the almond and coconut milks.  We use the containers from vegan cream cheese and miso to store the ice cream.  And we now purchase Earth Balance in a 45 lb box to eliminate the wrappers.  We use coconut milk for curry as well, avoiding the cans that it previously came in.

Yesterday I made a nut milk bag with the sewing machine that I keep here at Adama. For the drawstring, I used the ties that our linen service uses to bundle our dish towels. It was so easy and makes the whole milk-making process less messy.  It is, for me, profoundly satisfying.  Just as using convenience foods has a domino effect in our lives, I am finding that preparing foods in a way that is not always convenient is like a gift that just keeps giving; for me, for the customers, for the planet.

 

Less Recycling, More Repurposing

This blog is going to start chronicling my attempt, both in my personal life and at Adama, to recycle less and repurpose more.  The problem with recycling is that sometimes its confusing.  And eventually whatever is recycled becomes trash.  I mean sooner or later, you know?  I recently discovered the term “repurpose” and realized that I have been trying to do that but didn’t know to call it that.

I have always been a conserver.  Not OCD about it, but, o.k., maybe a little.  Its never been a financial thing.  Its like I tell the servers, use as much water as you want to wash your hands, the more the better.  But the operative word here is “use.”  Don’t turn on the water and then soap up your hands for a minute while the water goes down the drain.  I can never get out of my head the fact that some people walk with a jug to acquire some dirty water.  I conserve water out of respect.  And out of vivd memories of the NY water shortage of the mid-60s.  Some people see suffering, see shortages, see the way some people and animals struggle and frown for a moment and forget about it.  I have never been one of those people.  Its a hard life when you internalize these experiences, but I am content to be discontent regarding the plight of others.

I know I haven’t said much about repurposing yet, but I will.

Feeding the Hungry

What I am going to write about right now is the kind of thing I usually don’t share.  I think that when you give, it should be in private.  I try to keep my charitable acts between me, the Lord, and the recipient, unless it is possible to act anonymously.  But I am going to tell you about something I did and how it changed me.

Santa Barbara is full of people asking for money.  With Adama being directly across from the Salvation Army Hospitality Center, and with its close proximity to lower State Street, neediness is all around me.  The huge undertaking and the financial stress of Adama has opened my eyes to how easy it would be to suddenly lose everything.  As I walk down State, I often ask the Lord to show me who the hungry are.  The young adventurers who are on a year-long trek living on the streets by choice don’t tug at my heart.  I think that what they are doing is a great experience, however I think that they should work a few years and save up for it.   Someone else didn’t choose, and that is who I want to help.

A few months ago, I was on line in the market.  In front of me was a middle-aged woman, pushing a wire cart stuffed with belongings, and purchasing a can of ravioli.  She obviously was without means, and likely homeless.  I asked her where she was going to heat up her ravioli.  She said that she just ate it cold from the can.  I thought about the amazing food I eat, and it broke my heart to think of her eating cold Chef Boyardee.  I said, “Why don’t you be my guest for dinner at my restaurant tonight?”  She brightened up and took the address.  She didn’t come.

A couple of weeks later, she showed up for lunch, and we served her the works, including a fresh juice.  Have you ever helped out at a soup kitchen?  My experience has been that perhaps because of pride and embarrassment, the people are not always outwardly grateful.  I understand.  But Elizabeth was exuberant, and it was a joy to serve her.  I told her to come back whenever she wanted to.  I somehow felt confident that she wouldn’t abuse my offer.

At least a month had passed, when a couple of days before Mother’s Day, as I was busy baking by myself in the very early morning, Elizabeth came in through the back door.  She was carrying a gift bag.  Now I have to digress to say that I have a few health issues that would be helped if I kept hydrated and especially if I made myself drink lots of tea, especially green.  I don’t like tea.  There is only one tea that I enjoy and it is the tea that comes in a bud which opens into a flower as it brews.  I never buy it for myself since it is expensive.  I haven’t had it since the first time someone gave me some, several years ago. Nobody up until now knew about my fondness for that tea.

Inside the gift bag was a pot specially designed for that flower tea, and a canister filled with the buds.  I looked up and said, “Elizabeth, do you know that this is the only tea I really like in the whole world?  It is my absolute favorite.  But I never buy it for myself.”  I gave her a big hug.  She pulled a little note off the bag, and told me to read it.  It said that words could not say how much she loved her meal.  And that real mothers are made in heaven.  That her mother smiled at her through me.  “Feed the hungry,” it said.  “My mother never let anyone leave the house hungry.”

Sometimes Marsha and I will excitedly share ideas about how we can change the world for the better when Adama starts to see a profit.  But my experience with Elizabeth showed me that God is not constrained by what I don’t have.  He blessed and ministered to me through Elizabeth in the midst of her poverty.

I have more to say about this, but I think I will stop for today.

 

 

 

For Such a Time as This

Years ago in NYC I peripherally knew of a young girl who lived in my outer neighborhood.  I don’t think Donna and I ever went to the same school until high school.  Even then, we were barely acquainted.  Our paths crossed on facebook through mutual friends and our interest in all things vegan.  She is an activist and educator.  With her significant other (and a very significant other he is), Chef Al, a 22 year vegan and master of vegan cuisine, they make the issues of animal treatment and the importance of knowing what is in the food we consume unavoidable lines in the sand.

Do you know the story of Esther?  Back in the day, all the beautiful women were brought before King Ahasuerus so that he could pick one to live in the palace and be his new queen.  Esther, a young Jewish orphan girl, was chosen.  Some time later, Haman, an important prince in the kingdom, was exalted by the king, who declared that all the kingdom would bow down to Haman.  Mordecai, the uncle who raised Esther, refused, reserving that honor for God alone.  Because of this, Haman decreed that all the Jews be killed.

Mordecai told Esther to plead with King Ahasuerus for the lives of the Jewish people. When she declined, he said some words that have stuck with me for most of my life. “How do you know that you have not been placed in this position for such a time as this?”

Last night as the evening dinner service winded down, Donna got up and sang with our Tuesday night band.  As her Etta James-like voice covered us in awe, I looked around at the people in the room, including Marsha, my friend from our days at Bible College thirty-two years ago, Robert and Mike, who besides providing music, have blessed us each in their own ways by virtue of the inspiring men that they are, my new friend Chef Al, whose excitement about vegan food is contagious, and whose smile is so disarming he could probably charm a snake,  as well as the last two guests who were at Adama celebrating a birthday and got treated to an almost private concert, and, of course, Donna, who was once barely known to me and is now surely a sister/friend. And I thought, for such a time as this.

Donna could tell you her own stories of the magic of this past week…the chance encounters with friends who she didn’t know were in this area (Donna and Al are living in Ashland, Oregon) and how we have all become connected.  There are so many “for such a time as this” moments in life.  I say all of this to encourage you.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that one day whatever is going on in your life will make sense.  It will. By the way, Esther went before the king and saved her community.  That is what we celebrate each year at Purim.

I would rather be good than rich or famous.

Customers ask often how it is going for us here at Adama, and wouldn’t it be better to be somewhere (i.e., State Street) where there is more pedestrian traffic?  And why don’t I advertise more? Of course we would have more business if Adama was run by 5 partners who could split up the projects and had the financial capabilities of promoting the restaurant until everyone knew about us.   But it is just little ol’ me with no financial capability, so things progress slower at Adama.  Nevertheless,  they do progress.

To get what is in my mind successfully to your plate is something of an evolution.  I listen to customer comments (not reviews, however, but that is for another blog), order different dishes off the menu for my own meals all the time, and tweak and modify until what is on your plate is what I envisioned in the first place.  When a restaurant opens in a busy spot, odds are that even if the food is mediocre at best, it will do o.k.  So there is not a whole lot of motivation to keep going back to each dish and making it as good as it could be.  The money is coming in so why do the extra work.  That is how I viewed the food in Venice, Italy.  I found almost every meal to be discardable slop.  I would have been content with a handmade pasta and a nice marinara.  But I guess nobody cared because, after me, 10 million more unsuspecting one-time tourist customers would surely take my place.   I adored Venice; it just wasn’t a foodie trip for me.  I am sure that I will get some comments about the amazing food some of you ate in Venice, and I welcome them.  I would love to go back and do it over.  What I really want to do is spend the night in a sleeping bag in one of those mysterious empty buildings before they disintegrate and listen to the water lapping against the outside walls and just feel history.  With a bowl of handmade pasta and marinara.

Well, here on Chapala, between Haley and Gutierrez, a few people might just happen upon us, but most of our customers have sought us out.  And it is imperative that they have a memorable dining experience, because the only way that we grow is by word of mouth. This results in better food.  It has to be good.  It has to be.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way, since the joy of this work is in serving you food that I am excited to place before you, and having you tell us excitedly how much you enjoyed it.   I would rather be good than rich.  So maybe one day when the food is everything I think it can be, I will think about moving and actually comfortably paying the bills. But not now.  Really, though, I think that any location would be a let down after this amazing old building, you know?

My Team

I have a team of people who build me up and always stick up for me even when I don’t think they should. After we divorced, my ex-husband remained a member of my team. I remember telling him about an incident I had when I was a long-term substitute school teacher. His response was, “They are just jealous.” It probably wasn’t true, but the fact that he thought so was soothing balm on my hurt feelings. Marsha, my friend for 30 plus years and the manager of the front of the house at Adama is like that, too. Even though I have, in my attempt to speed her along on her learning curve, been hyper-critical, whenever anyone says anything negative about me or the restaurant, she immediately jumps to my defense. I can get teary now thinking about it. And Erubiel, my cook? If it is really slow, he secretly logs out and just keeps working. Once I showed him a photo of someone who I had a sort of crush on, and he made the sourest face. He is like a family member who thinks nobody is good enough for me. And he goes beyond the call of duty without being asked. My sister acts like everything I make is magic. And my daughter always seems to know what I need, emotionally and materially, without me asking, which I am not very good at. And I know that my son always has my best interests in mind even though he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. My brother will indulge me with the same funny stories that I ask him to tell me over and over. I probably could survive without the love of the people who I just mentioned, but I wouldn’t want to. I hope you have a team. But I think it is equally important to be a member of one. I want my beloveds to know that I am on their team. In their corner.