oven fries 2

Root.

(on grounding, stress relief, and being a still point in a turning world)

Two hours drive from here, out in the desert, about 1/4 mile off one of my favourite hiking trails there’s a small hole cut out of a hillside. I used to tuck myself away there on a daily basis, for what I’d consider to be therapy sessions. For someone so often stuck up in my head, I hurtle forwards at a pace that tries to outrun my thoughts, very much like that hare in that story where the tortoise emerges victorious. Buried in the earth, in my little therapy hole, everything slows down and something clicks open and my body starts to, well, for lack of better words, drink it in. It drinks in the earth and it drinks in the slowness and it drinks in the darkness and for the first time in a long time I feel calm. And if I stay there for long enough then I would feel like I’d been plugged into a recharger. Now that I live nowhere near that little hole, I try to forge that connection wherever I can. Its not impossible, even surrounded by concrete.

Grounding, in a place like Los Angeles, where the very ground the city is built upon is shifting, is an interesting concept. Some places are more ‘grounded’ than others *waves at the North East*. Some situations are naturally more grounded than others– a guy I know lives in the same house his family has lived in for 300 years: now that is some serious root-age. Me? Not so much. I’ve moved house and place more times than I can count. The earth and slowness and stillness is something I have to force myself to pay attention to, to connect to, to remember. And here, Southern California, where the air is light and the light is light and the earth is even light because its mostly sand, I find that ground and earth and attention are even more important. Grounding can mean so many different things. From being solid and ‘earthy’ to seeing the world the same way everyone else does (ie. ‘rational’), to being calm. To me, it means something like this: facing reality. Accepting what is. Having a body (you’d be surprised how many people think having a body is irrelevant in the grand spiritual picture of things). There’s an earth under our feet and to me, personally, connection to it is a visceral thing. And as somebody who’s naturally not very grounded at all, who also lives in a place that is not very grounded at all, finding that connection, paying attention to it and nurturing it is even more important.

One of the ways I do that is to pay attention. To seek out that feeling of rootedness and connection that I find out in places that are wild, and to drag it through the cacophony of information in the city, to plop it down in the middle of my living room and say ‘you belong here too’ because, quite frankly, I don’t see any reason for it not to, other than the terrible drivers.

Another way I do it is to eat grounding foods. Cooked foods, heavy foods, meats, and potatoes. Roots. This time of year is root time anyway. When everything is turning inwards, and the leaves are rotting on the ground, feeding their nutrients back into the earth. Today the clouds are hanging low over Los Angeles and it looks like they, too, are reaching for the earth, attempting to fall down, to curl over on themselves, to find a cocoon and curl up in it and drink in the rootedness of it all. To set roots that drink deep and feed everything that’s above ground.

Roots are tangled and roots are messy. In setting down roots, life, too becomes tangled and messy. Roots come up covered in dirt and sometimes holding rocks in them and these roots don’t let go of these rocks no matter how hard you dry and pry them off. You get to the root of a problem, not the seed. The seed would be the origin but the root is what holds it in place– find the root of a problem and you can topple said problem until you’re standing over it like a giant on top of an anthill. No problem is too big once you find the root and oust it. Roots dive deep and drink deep and pull from places we cannot consciously go. And roots sustain things: they give nourishment and they keep things upright, they drink in what’s needed from those unseen places and pull them upwards. They support a structure with their invisible hold. A tree with shriveled roots will topple over and die. A human with shriveled roots starts to topple over, then gets her feet under her and runs to stay upright. In order to be still, one needs roots. Fact. The easiest way to do this is to dig down; drink deep.

The humble potato has been much maligned in recent years. I blame the paleo movement and the idea that a starch will somehow rot your joints and make your bottom big. My bottom might be a somewhat generous size for my frame, but I remain unconcerned about the potato’s insidious effects on my fat storage, simply because I love them and they make me feel good. Anything that I love and that makes me feel good gets filed under ‘health’ food in my own little mental tally of what is good and right and what is wrong and bad. Potatoes have the added benefit of coming from deep in the earth. Potatoes are comfort food and I am not entirely sure what came first— the grounding associated with comfort or the comfort that comes from grounding. Either way, when life gets hectic, when I start to feel frazzled, when my eye twitches for no reason and when a single cup of tea starts keeping me awake until 2am, I reach for the roots. Add to that a combination of my favorite plants— black sage, white sage, wild rose, California bay— gathered from the trails I frequent, and there’s a double dose of grounding: one in the earth and one in my place. There is rootedness and there is permanence and there is a still point amid all the chaos. And for that I, and my twitching eye, can take a deep breath and be grateful.

On that note, lovely people, tell me more about your grounding and stress relief techniques please?

This recipe is a simple variation on the roast potato. That is, its a roast potato cut into big chunky french fry format. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that we have them once a week and have done for the last year, although at one point they were happening daily. We serve them with roast chicken and ketchup and mayo for dipping. I have, on occasion, made myself a single potato’s worth when home alone watching Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. I have also made ten potatoes worth for my entire family, and they went over a treat, although turning them all was a pain in the ever-growing bottom.

Seasonings can vary too. I use my Herbes De Californie most frequently, but sprinkled with Ras Al Hanout they’re quite spectacular (mix together equal parts harissa and mayo for a dipping sauce), and with Herbes De Provence they’re also delicious (aioli on the side), and sprinkled with ground up fir tips they’re also quite spectacular (homemade mayo made with fir infused olive oil).

Oven fries that are so much more than their name makes them sound like. 

1 big russet potato per parsimonious person, 2 potatoes per person if they are very hungry or in great need of comfort

2tb butter per potato

2 tb olive oil per potato

1tb finely chopped herbs per potato (I use white sage, black sage, california bay and wild rose here, but as mentioned above the possibilities are endless)

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375.

Get a big pot of water boiling on the stove, and put about 1/4 cup of salt in there. It should taste like the ocean (not the dead sea– if you make the dead sea, that’s a little overboard). While that’s heating up, set to peeling your potatoes. Once peeled, set them on the narrow side (the side they won’t stand up on, on their own) and cut it into three pieces lengthwise. Each piece should work out between 3/4 and 1 inch thick. From there, chop each piece lengthwise again, into 1/2-3/4 inch thick slices. See what we’re doing here? Now we have long potatoes cut into thick french fry shapes.

Once the water is really boiling, dump in the potatoes and cook for exactly 10 minutes. While its cooking, set a strainer in the sink. After ten minutes, quickly strain out the potatoes. You see you want them as cooked as possible without disintegrating– the more cooked they are, the fluffier their insides will be. Carefully dump the strained potatoes out on a roasting tray, and space them all so that there’s an inch of space in between them all. Put the butter somewhere on top, then drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and herbs over the top then put in the oven for 35 minutes.

After 35 minutes, pull out the tray, and carefully flip each potato piece. They should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip onto their uncooked sides and cook for another 15-25 minutes, until they’re golden brown all over. Remove from the oven when they’re ready and serve immediately.

  • SacredStar

    This is one of the nicest bestest most wonderful things I’ve read in a long while. Where’d you learn to write so well so clear n straight, deep and honest n sweet…I smiled the whole time reading this, felt my feet my energy searching flowing down reaching for the wet warm earth through my shoes through my 2nd story wooden floor down below my house into the dark earth beneath… want need my own little therapy hole carved n surrounded by stone ~sweet smell of comfort foot wafting up from the kitchen below… thank you **~))

  • Debra Burke

    Your words make so much sense. Simple as, well… a spud. I will consider grounding in a new way, I think. Thank you for your delightful, earthy wisdom. A true virtue….

  • Barb

    So simple. So true. So real. Thank you. I love your writing. For someone like myself, so ridiculously earthbound, the need to remain centered rather than sprawling is a real concern. Roots. As above, so below. :)

  • Louise

    Love this, love you…Potatoes and parsnips are autumn winners here, reading your rootology makes me hungry for dipping spuds into gunk and curling up with a tv. Pushpa P says “potatoes are bad for helt, causing joint pain, you should not eat”??? And I read somewhere that food that grows closer to the sun is better for us and my first thought was “what about my beloved potatoes?” can’t live without our roots mon.

  • http://www.hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com/ Butter

    Mmmm, taters, and parsnips, and dandies!

    Because I have barely a whistle of vata in me, I find that I do best by first turning to an hour or two of intense stimulation – riotous fun with friends, screaming down a hill on my bike, singing out loud – before retreating and rooting. Then, I think I most enjoy a nap in the sun with my kitteh.

  • http://theindigovat.blogspot.com Sylvia

    This is so wonderful, thank you! Your writing, as always, is perfect and wise and also makes me laugh, at the eye-twitching and Pride and Prejudice re-watchings with cosy bum-plumping things such as buttery potatoes or hot chocolate made with the creamiest milk and baking chocolate and, ahem, cream… feeling very familiar to me! Anyhow I just want to thank you for sharing these profound thoughts about grounding and rooting. I’ve just moved from a rural place to the middle of Oakland, in the Bay Area, and find myself muttering to all the trees and birds I see, clinging on to each piece of wildness I can find. I love your instance on cultivating wildness in the middle of LA– am totally inspired by that. And the simple wisdom of eating roots as a way to root in winter! Brilliant. Blessings in all you do! XO

  • http://theindigovat.blogspot.com Sylvia

    Oh my god, reporting back after having made said potatoes for my lunch. Holy moly, that was astoundingly delicious. I’m hooked! Fir tips and garlic tahini on top and so much olive oil…. An instant classic. Thank you again. :)

  • http://Facebook Shari

    When I am out of balance and need to ground myself, I turn to water. Water and I become one and it is amazing.
    I go to the lake and sit on the bank with my feet and hands touching the ground and I stare and almost meditate on the water. When I am still and watching the waves or ripples in the water it brings my mind, body, and soul as one and I feel calm, relaxed and very balanced. And that is how I ground myself.

  • http://lindaswatson.com Linda S Watson

    What a great post. Especially since I just finished a midday meal of chicken, carrots, turnips and potatoes. Really enjoyed your connecting eating and food with the spiritual.

  • http://dancingpomegranates.wordpress.com Cynthia

    Serious potato craving happening right now.

    Totally identified with the grounding issue :)

  • http://wortsnall.wordpress.com Alexandra

    Such a lovely and timely post. I’ve been thinking about roots (both edible and metaphorical) a lot lately. Recently I realized that in Chinese medicine terms I was very deficient in yang, which happily is remedied by eating warming comfort foods. Chili and homemade vegetable soup and casserole and potatoes soon put me right again! I wish all medicine were this delicious. We have such a screwy idea of what constitutes “healthy” food nowadays; food is medicine, and yet we treat it as the enemy. How is THAT supposed to lead to health?

    Your description of southern California where everything is light was so perfectly apt, by the way.

  • http://ethnobotanywallum.wordpress.com wallum

    Beautiful wordcrafting.

    Forests. Heathlands. Wallums. Anywhere with wild-growing plants, and I am wonderfully, magically grounded and re-energized. An instant remedy for all kinds of depressions, stresses or even over-excitements!

  • Tina

    Love your blog, your passion, your beautifully written words. Just so you know I too share your love of potatoes, and no bum too big will ever stop me. A twitching eye is a sign of stress, but I thought you might be interested to know that the humble potatoes potassium content is 1600mg, 46% DV!!! And a twitching eye can also be from a decrease in potassium. You’re so connected with your body and are listening to its needs. I’m always deficient in Zinc and have an absorption malfunction in my DNA called Pyrrole disorder. Before I come down with a cold or flu I CRAVE Oysters and buy a dozen and suck those baby’s down. When I found out about not having enough Zinc and B6, I was amazed at how my body knew what it needed. Automatically we seek out foods that can heal us. I’m currently studying for a diploma in Nutritional Medicine. Its my passion to heal myself and one day do the same for others through food. Thanks, Teen.

  • Nikki Ledford

    I’m loving reading your posts. I visited your booth at the Maker’s Market on Saturday and purchased some lovely items. Your writing is really resonating with me. I appreciate your deep love and connection to nature alongside the honesty of living in the city. I too, live and work in southern california. i grew up in the Santa Monica mountains. I love the wilds here and your description of the natural vs. made world that we live in. I work as a chef and I am committed to encouraging others to honor their inner primal wisdom while also maintaining a solid grounding in today’s modern world :) Thank you for sharing all your thoughts