Judy Nelson was a seventeen-year old blonde with a ponytail and perfect bangs who wore cashmere sweater sets. She was a cheerleader and homecoming queen, plus her Uncle Tick owned our town’s only teenage hangout. She wasn’t really a mean girl, but she existed far above me, in the upper social realm of my small-town Nebraska high school. So, of course it was Judy Nelson who, in 1960, achieved our senior class’s collective dream and moved to Southern California: Hollywood, Disneyland, Sandra Dee, Tab Hunter, warm beaches, convertibles, high schools with swimming pools, and Gidget.
We didn’t know then that there are two radically different cultures in California. There’s the Hollywood version found along the western corridor with spectacular coastal scenery, affluent residents, ideal weather, liberal values, and green consciousness. There’s San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego with homes priced from $600,000 to $60,000,000 and incomes that allow for angst about whether or not it is ethical to consume foie gras.
Then there’s California’s dusty interior from northern Central Valley to the southern desert. In hot Central California there’s Stockton, Lodi, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield where a Santa Monica-style bungalow can be had for $100,000, where well-paying jobs are scarce and where concerns focus on high unemployment and on how to incorporate the immigrant labor force necessary to grow more than half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
The two Californias disagree on how best to use the Sacramento River. As soon as you leave Sacramento and drive into the arch-conservative, Trump-country, San Joaquin Valley, the signs appear with regularity: “Congress created dust bowl”, “Dams vs. trains”, “Farmers use water too”, “Is growing food wasting water?”, “blame Pelosi for the drought.” Emotions run high and hot but the logic isn’t always clear.
Studies published in 2015 showed the general public what the farmers had known all along: growing food takes water, lots of it. While the chart below is a real eye-opener, the numbers don’t reflect the fact that California’s agriculture is a $46 billion dollar industry that provides 450,000 jobs. There’s never an easy answer.
So prepare this recipe for broccoli and tofu over noodles, pour yourself a glass of beer, take a two-minute Navy shower and get over your craving for chocolate.
BTW, last week we drove south on I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley so Sweetie could start work on a project in San Diego. Once we got to Lebec and the Tehachapi Mountain foothills of the Grapevine, the signs disappeared: Pyramid Lake was full, the hills were bright green, the wildflowers were blooming and Los Angeles was but a water balloon away.
Broccoli and tofu in Thai peanut sauce with noodles
- 1 c. soy sauce
- 1⁄4 c. balsamic vinegar
- 1⁄4 c. molasses
- 1⁄4 c. brown sugar
- 1 c. sesame oil
- 1 T. hot chili oil
- 1⁄2 c. Tahini
- 1⁄2 c. peanut butter
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 1⁄4 c. lime or lemon juice
- 1 bunch finely sliced green onions
Blend soy sauce, molasses, brown sugar, chili oil, sesame oil, Tahini, peanut butter, green onions and salt. Add lime or lemon juice while mixture is blending.
China Moon’s hot chili oil:
Bring 1 cup peanut oil to smoke point, add 1/4 c. crushed red chili flakes. Let steep until cool. Strain and reserve.
Broccoli and tofu with noodles:
Sauté garlic, ginger, sliced green onion and tofu in hot oil. Add blanched broccoli. Add noodles and some peanut sauce to pan. Bring back to heat. Sprinkle with cashews roasted in small amount of chili oil.
Serve with Japanese cucumber salad and Chinese 5 Star beer.