the curiosity of steingarten and snails

I just finished reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything. The book is a compendium of Steingarten’s food writing from 1988 through 1996, all previously published in Vogue. For those of you who don’t know who Jeffrey Steingarten is, here is a representative picture:

The man is something of a hero to me. He has a voracious appetite (helpful and necessary, considering his career) and a relentless commitment to any topic he takes on–blue food, fruitcake, and microwaved fish included. My Aunt Lucille bought me this book for Christmas, as well as his It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, and I have been chipping away at chapters for the past four months or so.

I admit, the idea of a food critic is kind of silly–what makes someone better at eating than anyone else? But Steingarten’s food adventures in New York, Tokyo, Memphis, Tunisia, Italy, every corner of France, and several dozen other places gave him the power to eat with discrimination, and his propensity to write about them left me with food history tidbits and recipes galore. I cannot wait to make his black mulberry granita with foraged mulberries! It is going to be in the mid-80s this week, and a refreshing frozen treat after lunch will be perfect.

In his chapter entitled “Rosemary and Moon Beans,” Steingarten provides an account of eating paella in Madrid. The paella recipe called for either twelve snails or two sprigs of rosemary. After my initial confusion, Steingarten cleared it up: when one catches snails for their paella, they feed them rosemary for a few days to purge them of any toxins and to flavor them. The snails themselves then provide enough rosemary flavor to the dish.

Now, one of Mano Farm’s biggest pest problems is snails. Snails love to nibble on all of the kale, chard, zucchini leaves, beet greens, and assorted other leaves on the farm. They also seem to love moisture, and the past week of California June gloom seems to leave a layer of dew on the plants that the snails love. In the spirit of pest control and culinary adventurousness, the farmers and I have been collecting the snails over the course of the past day or so, and we will soon begin the process of purging them and finishing them off. I have been doing a lot of research about snail preparation from weird websites like this, but I think the project is going to be a success.

Initially, I just wanted to prepare them in the traditional style with garlic and herbs, but today Justin mentioned the idea of a snail taco and I am pretty jazzed about it. Spicy snails with homemade tortillas, chopped onion, and chile verde, perhaps with some of the pickled garlic scapes that I made with Quin the other day. (The scapes are pickled with bronze fennel, lavender, fenugreek, celery seed, and dried chile. Translation? Yum.) My, oh my, what a bounty lies ahead.

P.S. For my birthday, I asked for ice cream. Quin bought me Mint Galactica Coconut Bliss and we ate it while watching another episode of Star Trek. My god was it delicious. I was skeptical about the mint-coconut combination at first, but it was pretty perfect ice cream. Dairy-free ice cream for the dairy lover.

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