The legendary Richard Aoki has passed into history. When I was an Ethnic Studies major at Cal, this picture was indelibly stamped into all of our impressionable young minds. Three bad-ass dudes (of course they were all dudes—it was the 60s) leading the struggle for the very education that we were now receiving, twenty years later!

By the time I fractured my pelvis & was wheeled off to aquatherapy, another 18 years later, the image was still easily called to my mind, but the bad-ass brothers’ names, not so much. Okay, not at all. At aquatherapy other things seemed much more pressing: getting in & out of clothes & swimsuit, hobbling from wheelchair to the funny little elevator chair that lowered me into the heavily chlorinated high school pool. Strapping the weights around my waist & grabbing a noodle? kickboard? (I can’t believe I’m not remembering what I held in my hands for stability!) to walk slowly across the pool & back again, backwards, sideways, frontways until that subtle moment when my body, fussier than Goldilocks, had had Just The Right Amount of exercise.

This is not a digression. You will see. Many other friendly aquatherapy regulars filled the shallow end of the pool: oldsters with the typical variety of oldster ailments, other (relative) youngsters like me who had been in accidents ranging from merely painful to truly terrible, like the man who had been shot up with 17 bullets & required an entourage of physical therapists to escort him slowly, agonizingly from one side of the pool to the other. Since this is an Ethnic Studies themed post, I am even more compelled than usual to point out he was a young African American man & statistically so much more likely to be suffering from bullet wounds than, say, me, the middle-aged, middle-class Chinese American woman who was bucked off a horse.

Anyway. While walking slowly across the pool one tended to fall into conversation with other aquatherapees (not a real word!) who were walking at similar speed & depth, so I started chatting with an older Asian American man who was recovering from a stroke. I don’t remember exactly what conversation bits soon led to me exclaiming with no small measure of excitement, “Wait! You mean that picture of the three bad-ass dudes, you’re the Asian one?!” Indeed, none other than the one & only Richard Aoki, Third World Liberation Front strike leader & Black Panther Field Marshal, was my pool-walking buddy! Awestruck, I gushed, “I owe my education to you!” (I think he appreciated hearing that.)

Water therapy got a lot more interesting. Along with re-learning how to walk, I picked up juicy nuggets of Panther lore, asked him Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Firearms But Had Nobody to Ask, & played the Do-You-Know game, Ethnic Studies Edition—of course he knew everybody, & was even related to an artist I knew from a completely different department of my life.

He told me of his early heartbreak when his fiancee forced him to choose between the Panthers & her. I was surprised & touched by the bitterness he still expressed about that long-ago disappointment; it seemed to have turned him off to women permanently. While ranting about it, he even quoted Shakespeare: “Frailty, thy name is woman!”

“Hey,” I protested, “you can’t say that to me!” But he ignored my objection & went on & on about how women can never be as revolutionary as men. I held my tongue & thought, “well, not if you have a narrow definition of revolution that involves so many guns all the time…” but I didn’t really mind hearing him spout off about it; I knew it was much too late for anyone, least of all me, to change his mind, so I continued avidly listening to everything he said, history coming alive for me right there in the tepid pool.

Our conversations were casual & chatty but somehow also intense. It seemed to me that his very aura had a Black Panther flavor: that unique blend of militance & community orientation. We discussed the pros & cons of available options for elder care within the Japanese American community. We talked about Carlos Bulosan & Frank Chin. I noticed various aging Black Panthers shepherding him back & forth to aquatherapy, just as my friends & family took turns bringing me. Eventually I graduated to driving myself to aquatherapy, & then finally to swimming again back at my regular pool, where I walked the shallow lanes with a lot less pain, no weights, no noodle, & also no Richard.

I’m grateful for Richard’s open friendliness at a hard time in my life, & for his dedication & leadership throughout his life, sexist blind spots & all. I feel very lucky that fate threw me in the pool with him for those moments, & I’ll always remember that should I ever feel the need to acquire a gun, I would be best suited for a shotgun. Thank you, Richard. May you rest in revolutionary peace.

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Welcome to Cooking With Weeds!

Weed Recipe #1: Allium Love

The wild onions love one corner of the yard & every year appear more numerous there. We are trying not to be alarmed.

Time this so you have fresh buckwheat fettucine just cooked when you want it. I think I dropped it in the water a couple minutes before the capers went in the sauce.

Chop all these on the fine side & cook em up in a large pan with olive oil & butter:
2 shallots
a bunch of wild onions
1 bulb of fresh green garlic
[Edited: oops, I forgot about the pine nuts. A small handful.]
about a tablespoonful of capers
Italian (aka flat-leaf) parsley

You start with all the alliums (sorry if I’m butchering the Latin language; I never learned any of it). [Edit, cont’d: put the pine nuts in after the alliums.] When they’re about done you add the capers, & a minute or two later sprinkle on the parsley, turn off the heat & throw the pasta in. Mix it all together with a little more olive oil, & serve with Pecorino & some onion flowers on top.

We served this with salad of spinach, strawberries, & caramelized onion, the essence of which I have already blogged.

For dessert, Weed Recipe #2: Meyer Lemon Mint Garden Granita, a hybrid between two of the granita recipes (Lemon & Mojito) from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.

If nobody has ever told you this before, take heed: DO NOT EVER PLANT CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT in the ground. Always keep it in a pot far away from the actual dirt of your garden, because “invasive” does not even begin to describe the voracious habit of the insatiable mint. We will go to our graves regretting the day we innocently stuck the tiny little mint plant in the ground. That shit is everywhere now. If you lift up a corner of the cardboard sheet mulch, sprawling seeking reaching mint roots are waiting there to send up a zillion shoots of everlasting, unstoppable mint.

Of course, this means we are never lacking in mint. The garden is also kind enough to give us lemons. So all I had to add for this was sugar, water, & a functioning freezer.

Put in a pan:
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
About 2 lemons’ worth of zest, microplaned directly into the pan

Boil that until the sugar is all dissolved, then take it off the heat, dump in a cup of mint leaves & cover the pan for a few minutes. Then remove the leaves, squeezing them out a bit to release more minty goodness.

2 cups water
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
a few fresh mint leaves, chopped fine

Stir it all together, pour into a wide casserole-type container (I use a very deep pie dish), & freeze for about an hour. Then you take it out & fork the frozen bits from the edge toward the middle, chopping & mashing with the fork. Put it back in the freezer, & repeat the fork action every 15 minutes or so until you end up with a nice pile of fluffy ice crystals. (Lebovitz has much more detailed instructions.) Garnish with yet more mint leaves (after all, there is an infinite supply) & a strawberry slice, if you like.

Totally unrelated to weeds, I have been seriously on the matzo brei. It was the first thing I was able to cook last year after the terrible pelvis fracture, so it claims an even fonder nook of my heart than it did before, which is pretty fucking fond. I basically follow Ruth’s recipe, but my dirty little secret is this: you really don’t need remotely that much butter. I probably use 1/3 of what she calls for. Salt too, a little less. What can I say, I’m a Californian.

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Look, Eastern Bakery has a mooncake order form on the web now! But you still have to mail a check the old-fashioned way. I love it. They also have an oddly unlinked page explaining why theirs are superior to mooncakes from China.

I have this dilemma every year where I overenthusiastically buy a whole box of 4 mooncakes, & then like 2.5 of them end up going stale in the back of the fridge because the stuff is so dang rich—even if you invite friends over, everybody eats just a couple of slices. I guess a better tactic would be to go to the bakery itself & buy just 1 or 2, but that’s a bit of a slog for me, especially right now when it’s still hard for me to walk up & down hills. (Remember the pelvis? Well it’s the knee on the other side that hurts now, from all the compensating, aka weird moonwalking moves on one leg.)

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The healing pelvis likes to sit around & watch movies. Lots of em. Recently rented The Story of the Weeping Camel & loved it, but you know what I just can’t get over? When the baby camel is born, it comes out with its humps all flat & folded over, like Tab A & Tab B. This is one of those obvious things that you just never think about (unless you regularly hang out with camels), I mean, of course they’re folded over, otherwise ouch for the mom camel, right? My brain just has not been able to let go of this insanely cute factoid ever since I saw the movie. It’s like camel origami. I even found some baby camel photos if you wanna see what I mean, but you should really see the movie, which, to tell the truth, has a whole lot more going for it than just the folded-over humps.

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Further adventures of the temporarily disabled: Donna found out that you can borrow a beach wheelchair at Crab Cove in Alameda & also at Crissy Field in San Francisco. These are wacky-looking, dune-buggy-evoking contraptions & they definitely grab a lot of attention from everyone on the beach, so if you’re feeling shy it might not be the best thing. Anyway, we have now tried both.

The one at Crab Cove worked out much better:

I’m pretty sure the one at Crissy Field is meant for a child; it’s really narrow & if we hadn’t brought our own cushion it wouldn’t have worked for me at all. It was also much harder for Donna to push than the one at Crab Cove. I think I was just too big & heavy for it. Fortunately, Crissy Field is liberally sprinkled with benches, so I ended up walking quite a lot (that’s a relative term), with frequent sitting breaks.

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It’s been 11 weeks since my ass so painfully parted ways with horse & saddle. At looong last, leaving the house has gotten easy enough so it no longer has to be all about doctor’s appointments & physical therapy. I guess you could say the terms of my house arrest have gotten more flexible. Maybe I’m on parole now?

The latest example of this delicious freedom: Last night I got an urgent phone call from Eve, reporting breathlessly that Bakesale Betty is now making lemon slushies out of neighborhood lemons! (We can only assume this heartwarming micro-localism is a legacy of the recently-decamped Temescal Amity Works.) If I had gotten this message even a couple weeks ago, all I could have done was sigh wistfully, shrug, & add it to the long list of Deferred Delights Of The Outside World.

Instead, this morning I took cane in hand to accompany Donna on a studio-scouting mission in the neighborhood, after which we walked (walked!!!) up the block to Betty’s. How happy I was just to be there again! My delirium only increased upon discovering that the famous chicken pot pies, which went AWOL last winter due to kinks in production logistics (ironed out by sacrificing cakes!), have made a comeback, now in take-and-bake form. The instant gratification factor is gone, but I am willing to wait & bake the pies for dinner tonight. Besides, this also meant we were not forced to choose between the pies & Betty’s even-more-famous fried chicken sandwich, that irresistable bundle of banh-mi-meets-downhome-Americana.

But what about the lemon slushy?? Well, I’ve always wished that we had streetcorner frozen lemonade carts here like they do in New York. But now… Betty & her Temescal lemons kick East Coast frozen lemonade booty, & hard. Best of all, my stomach uttered nary a complaint. Thanks to too much ibuprofen & other such drugs, I’d had the most non-acidic early spring in memory. An entire February & March suffered without benefit of blood oranges! I’ve been testing my recovery with tart early strawberries, & now with the lemon slushy I can declare the battle is won!

For those of you suffering from ibuprofen-torn stomachs, the very excellent advice I got from my herbalist is: marshmallow root. You take a handful of the dried herb, throw it in a quart mason jar with cold water, & stick it in the fridge overnight. Drink it throughout the day, squeezing the herbs to get as much of the viscous goo as possible. I was drinking this stuff for weeks, & it really does help.

There, how’s that for a comeback food post?

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Oy vey. Where do I even begin? My excuses for not blogging just get better & better, but trust me, I’d rather be blogging. Back in February I got bucked off a horse, fractured my pelvis, & I think you can imagine the rest from there. I’m hobbling around with crutches now & doing physical therapy exercises of various kinds, & gnashing my teeth with impatience. If you can walk, be fucking grateful!

Speaking of gratitude, here is a particularly blogable tidbit: in the East Bay (that’s San Francisco Bay Area), if you have old medical equipment you’re not using, or if you are in need of free medical equipment, Home CARES Equipment Recyclers is the place to go. Obviously a shoestring operation, they work out of a church basement on Broadway & 27th in Oakland. They’re only there on Thursday afternoons between 1-4pm. You drive into their parking lot from the 27th Street side, go down underneath the building, & there the good people are on your left. You can get a tax deduction receipt if you’re giving them stuff, or if you’re like me & want a cane, they’ll bring out a selection for you to pick from. Too cool!

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