Category Archives: Marty Camberlango

Behind the Swinging Doors (local grub)

written by Marty Camberlango, City Gardens farmer

Midnight. January 1, 2008

People all over the city are kissing at this very moment, champagne goblets clinking, plans for the future being professed. I’m at the Café de Paris, a little French bistro with one of the best patios in Boise, Idaho. I’m not on the patio. I’m in the kitchen. It’s freezing outside; there’s probably no one on the patio tonight.

But maybe… a couple cuddles in the corner of the empty patio, holding each other to keep warm, gazing up at the giant clock on the Key Bank building, counting down the seconds and excited to ring in the new year with a first kiss. For weeks the two, separately, were giddy with anticipation for this new years encounter.

I have no idea what’s going on outside the swinging kitchen doors, and the patio is completely beyond perception. Sounds are my only immediate experience of the dining room. Tonight there’s a French pianist. The chef’s father. He’s wonderful. Tonight is truly magical. The couple on the patio finally take a breath.

Table 9, a 7 top. 7 Apps. 3 spinach, 2 scallops and 2 hor’dourves plates. Starches 2 mash pot, 2 rice, 2 risotto, and 1 red pot. Cheese plates for 4. All night this code guides my every move. The kitchen reminds me of the pilot house of a navy ship: skunk bravo barring 30 degrees, turn rudder right 10 degrees, steer course one six zero…

From the other side of the swinging kitchen door come sounds more like chaos. Laughing, dancing, shouting. From my side of the door, nothing’s coherent except the piano. Hot behind! Fire plate. 86 tomatoes. “Drop 2 Fondants, please Russ!”

I’m spending new years with Russ the dishwasher and Dave the sous chef. Russ is a big guy whose python-sized forearms are covered with tattoos. On his left arm, the hunk of muscle that faces me all night is a sleeve of blue and red flames shooting up his arm from the wrist. A spider web covers his elbow like he’s spent a number of years in prison. Russ is only 23. He’s got crooked teeth and dirty blond hair. He loves metal and has never been to prison.

“Knife behind.” Dave’s the platoon leader, cooking and cutting the meat. Dave hates metal. Dave and I have a lot in common. Dave is 45. Damn good at his job, but isn’t fulfilled by the work and often claims to hate his job. I’m starting to hate this job too. On my first day, I grabbed a knife off the magnetic strip in front of Dave’s station. He promptly walked over and said, “Don’t fucking touch my knives.” Took the knife from my hand and walked away. Dave’s into fencing. I haven’t touched his knives since.

Back by the stove, Dave sautés and sauces all the entrees along with a million other things that need to be done. I’m by the swinging doors decorating plates, making salads, starching entrees, cooking desserts. At the actual stroke of midnight, I am plating a chocolate fondant.

I carefully place two half-heart shaped slivers of Granny Smith apples next to a pile of thin triangular slices of kiwi in a corner of a little square plate I’ve “artistically” splashed with mango and strawberry coulee. Surgically, I cut around the circular mold holding the brownie tower.

Lifting the brownie and mold off the baking sheet with a spatula, I think, “I hope this doesn’t break,” drop the mold and brownie into the middle of the fruit painted plate and take a deep breath. With bare fingers, I lift the red hot mold off the brownie and the plate, dust the entire thing with powdered sugar and ring the bell.

All night fondants have been breaking and it’s pissing me off. I am obsessed over it. The Fondant is the crème brulee’s decadent rival. It’s a brownie, however, not a custard. What makes it the crème del a crème is the chocolaty goo center that spills out onto the plate when lightly touched by the fork. It is here where art and chocolate mix, very French. Ideally, the chocolate consumes my fruit painting and the customer melts. I’ve never seen anyone eat the chocolate fondant. All I see are the two dark squares, supposedly windows, on the swinging kitchen doors as they snap closed. Another one out the door and another ticket completed, mission accomplished.

The sugar high must be something akin to French kissing in the freezing Boise air. Shivering from the cold, embraced in a lover’s arms, looking deep within him for warmth, she believes the tingling to mean, Yes, Yes, Yes, I’m going to have really great sex tonight. This is what I aspire to inspire with the chocolate fondant. The amount of sugar and butter used is sure to induce some kind of euphoria. On my second day at the café, the owner tells me (with an authentic French accent), “Marty, we use our hands. We make love to the food. Make it sexy!” as he showed me how to plate a salad. Le Cafe de Paris is not comfort food, it’s a romance.

At midnight, I just want to plate the last three fondants and get the fuck out of here. I don’t want to talk with Russ and Dave, and I don’t give a fuck about the foreplay of my food. My alternative reality has been ruined by a brownie…but then the maestro tickles the keys in a kind of piano player joke and everyone in the dining room laughs, even the couple on the patio. The kitchen door swings open and Taryn appears looking for table 9’s fondants. I try to catch a glimpse of the action. All I can see is gold, a guy wearing a tie, goblets of red wine and champagne and a flash of light that at first I think, diamonds? And settle on camera flash. Two fondants break and one is perfect. “Happy new year, Dave. Happy new year, Russ.”

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My Little Black Wheelbarrow

I saw you at 19th & Idaho. You were sitting in the shade under the golden plum tree, a black wheelbarrow with white racing stripes and a strawberry red velvet heart taped to the handle grip. Magically, you showed up in my garden. Such a hypnotizing contrast: night black and bright red. I couldn’t stop looking your way. You cast a spell on me. You are both beautiful and useful. I love you. I wonder who left you in my garden. Who’s the wonderful person that wears their heart on my wheelbarrow?

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Little red trumpet flowers lure hummingbirds into my backyard. Texas Hummingbird Sage works like a red heart. Wings buzzing, hummingbirds glide through the air, stopping briefly to lightly lip the sage flower and slowly insert their beaks deep inside the trunk. Gently they nibble the inner depths of the silk red petals. One flower and then the next, they hover collecting nectar from a dozen different flowers. Suddenly they’re off with the summer breeze over the fence to the next flower patch. The sage and I are left quivering slightly and glowing with satisfaction. Just as I let out an ecstatic moan, I swear, I hear the sage plant do the same.

These little seeds of love look nothing like a heart. They’re long and bulge in the middle like a canoe. The seed dangles from the tip of the toothpick, clinging to my spit, until I release her into the soil block. I need to use a dampened toothpick to pick up just one seed from a cup full. The damn things are tiny. Usually I fail to pick up just one lettuce seed and two end up in one hole. Comforted, watered, talked to, and loved, these nearly microscopic seeds grow up to be lettuce heads – a salad for four. One salad can provide energy enough for two afternoons of garden work. All from one tiny seed. Magic!

Another seed slightly bigger, almost heart shaped, needs 15″ of garden space, love, water, and boom! Two months later a 2′ plant births little white flowers. Bees, birds, crawly insects, and hornets visit. A month goes by and little green bumps have replaced the flowers and grown into 2″ peppers, the width of your middle finger, that slowly ripen in the summer heat from yellow into a boastfully proud carrot orange chili. Hot little fuckers and divine grilled on a kabob with rosemary crusted lamb and sweet red Italian onion. Yum. From seed to belly. Sassy. Hot spice on the palate. Wow. It’s all so magical, I naively believe…

Ankles deep in the mud, irrigation water bathes my shins as I trudge through the flooded garden. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and my heart is no longer in a mood to be impressed by magic. I think, magic my ass. Upon further thought, I note, heart shapes don’t even resemble an actual heart. It’s a make-believe symbol, a fairy tale, just like magic. Just like the thought that some woman, with a mad crush on me, snuck into my garden wheeling a symbol of her love and affection. This is all human invention, nothing magic about it.

If you’ve ever irrigated, you know the dangers of falling asleep while flooding your yard. My garden’s now a pond, and I’m wading my way to the head gate. Splash! I fall into the water and sink into the mud. Crawling forward, I lift my dirty wet body from the water only to slip and submerge myself again. “Boxers are a lot like a swimming suit,” is my deep thought as I give up and just lie there while water flows over my nearly naked body. It feels good in the hot summer night. It feels even better after I take off my wet boxers. I lie in the ditch, relax, forgetting my human drama. The cool water and warm night air wash the panic from my body while I watch the Texas Hummingbird Sage, water lapping at its buds. Slowly, I pull myself from the muddy water.

As I release the floodgate, the water rushes down the ditch to the next garden. In the waning moonlight, I stand naked watching the water slowly seep into the earth. My garden is no longer a pond. It’s some strange hour in the morning just before dawn. It occurs to me that naked is how I should start every day and that plant and animal sex isn’t magic at all. It’s natural, like my naked body. There is nothing supernatural or magical about birds and bees. Flowers, pollination, fruit, seedling, germination, life is a miracle but it ain’t magic. This is the epiphany I face with the rising sun. Spiders, ants, invertebrates get up every day to do their life sustaining work. We should thank them. They possess special life-giving power that cannot be completely understood. We should probably worship them, gods of the real world, the actual, the living. Personally, I envy the worm.

Magic is human conjuring. Bugs don’t cast spells, just people do. Love, for example, is magic. Romance is magic. She’s just a regular girl. I’m just a regular guy. Bam! Moments later she’s all I want, she’s all I care about, and boom, a 30-year marriage: that is magic. So it’s a regular day in the garden. Hummingbirds are dancing from flower to flower occasionally taking a break from pollinating to do-see-do with one another in what looks to be a very flirtatious and sexually active relationship. I’m mulching with straw, covering the beds I recently seeded with fava beans and spread over with horse manure. I’m trying to restore some of the nutrients in the soil. Something black under the plum tree that wasn’t there earlier catches my eye. It’s a black wheelbarrow with white stripes. There’s a red velvet heart stuck to the left handle grip! It’s a gift. I have no clue who it’s from. MAGIC.

That unworldly arena where magic plays its game is in the cerebral. Magic only affects the natural world when the mind inspires action. Who could the wheelbarrow be from? This thought consumes me. First thing that comes to mind are friends who are moving. Kelly could have left it, or Paige and Karl, but those are boring ideas. A secret admirer is more like it. I mean, a bright red velvet heart, somebody loves me! Is it so and so? That’d be cool. She’s hot. Spell cast; spell working. If it was a woman holding romantic notions who left this punk rock wheelbarrow, then I want her like a hummingbird touches tiny red flowers! I love her.

It’s amazing what the mind will make you think (and sometimes do). What if I meet this person and I’m not attracted to her? What if it’s a man? Will I still be in love? Thanks for the wheelbarrow, bro, it’s cute. The possibilities of the mind are nearly limitless. Nature’s possibilities, however, are much more concrete. In the mind, we can continue to consume the natural world and leave behind a pile of ash and a Santa Clause list of extinct lives. If we sanitize, antibacterialize, scrub clean, and Roundup the rest of the living world, there will be no more life.

Humans use magic, universities cast spells, and governments conjure. Birds, beetles, spiders, bees and worms just keep it real. In the city, nature is poisoned, paved, sodded and clothed. We don’t want it in our house and we don’t want it in our food. Ooh, gross, an aphid on my greens! Don’t poison the creatures that make life possible. If you’re going to squash something, make it the state.

Romantic update: Mystery still unsolved. Found a little container of salsa on my back porch, red hot and spicy! Still in love with a mystery magician.

Farmer Marty Camberlango

A farmer who considers growing an art and uses both heart and hands to do the dirty work.  I mentored under the shovel farming masters at Upper Rogue Organic in Prospect, Oregon.  I consider myself a decent gourmet cook. I have spent years studying and working with place-based foods. Most recently I spent a year in the kitchen, as the Chef’s assistant, at Leku Ona, a traditional Basque restaurant. I haven’t learned how to make a living from farming yet and earn my income as a personal gardener in yards close to town. Boise’s been my hometown for 17 years. I’ve lived in the Czech Republic and Korea and traveled throughout Europe, sharpening my farmer’s eye and growing soul.
City Gardens Market. On Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm, we host a garden market at our 19th St. Garden (NW corner of 19th and Idaho). You can also catch us at the Saturday Farmers Market in Downtown Boise. We garden a number of locations and are based in Old Town Garden City on Adams St., where we have a 1 acre plot that was once part of the original Chinese Gardens. We are driven by a hardy distaste for the combustible engine, the pleasure gained from using our bodies to do work, and the desire to reclaim urban land in the name of beauty, animal and plant habitat and delicious sustenance. Juxtaposed with the noise, fumes and concrete of smoke-belching urban life, City Gardens strives to be growth of a new kind – one of bird songs, dirt and the smell of fertility.
City Gardens
marty.citygardens@gmail.com or call 713-1675
3878 N. Adams St. Garden City, Idaho

Marty’s Shovel Manifesto

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I’m not sure when it was that I started to formulate my shovel manifesto. Was it the summer I was discharged from the U.S. Navy, pierced my ears, let my hair grow and spent every free minute rebuilding a 1967 VW Van? Or did the act of giving up the bright red VW the next summer, and becoming a bike commuter, ignite the first shovel epiphany?

1. The combustible engine – what an incalculable waste of money and energy. What percentage of our local government’s budget is dedicated to maintaining the automobile and its necessary infrastructure? We have an entire court system dedicated to traffic! How much of your personal budget goes to maintain your car? Cost benefit analysis in human life – traffic accidents have killed more people than war (than all the wars combined, in fact).

Back then I had no idea my anger at the automobile would turn into a love affair with the shovel. (Anger and love why are they always in such close proximity to each other?) A few years later, with life on a bike, I can’t imagine why someone would want to drive a car. It’s so wonderful out here in the wind, sunlight, guided by the moon, so real and alive! No longer am I angry.

2. Human power is healthier, more rewarding and pleasurable even while it’s hard work. It’s cheap and energy efficient. It’s life at a human pace, guided by human energy and it turns out (coincidentally or not) more humane. I’m happier on a bike, even in the rain. I smile more. I’d been hit by a car or two and I still loved my pedals, but even a freewheeling, self-propelled commuter is affected by human drama and finds himself blue. It was a girl and she had broken my heart. I rode to get over it. I pushed my body, forced my heart, lungs and muscles to pump me further then I had ever gone before and then pushed even harder, but it did no good and in the end I was still broken hearted.

3. Even the wheel is limited in its ability to help humans. Sometimes we have to stand on our feet. Sometimes we must kneel and other times it’s best to lie down. A shovel is useful in all these situations. It was a small patch of grass behind my apartment on 13th street where I discovered the magic of the shovel. Ever since, I’ve been articulating the shovel manifesto in empty lots and backyards. No longer am I broken hearted.

4. Digging in the dirt is good for the soul! To watch a plant grow, blossom and bear fruit is magical and warms the heart (even the most bitter and broken ones)! Last month I flipped a backhoe over and it landed on top of me. Luckily, I only suffered five fractured ribs. It was that day that I realized I can live without these gigantic hunks of metal and plastic. They are slowly killing us, some of us they kill instantly. I find life much more pleasant and safe without’m. Time to move on.

5. Don’t run a backhoe while writing a shovel manifesto.

Garden hoe,
Marty

Farmer Marty Camberlango
A farmer who considers growing an art and uses both heart and hands to do the dirty work. I mentored under the shovel farming masters at Upper Rogue Organic in Prospect, Oregon. I consider myself a decent gourmet cook. I have spent years studying and working with place-based foods. Most recently I spent a year in the kitchen, as the Chef’s assistant, at Leku Ona, a traditional Basque restaurant. I haven’t learned how to make a living from farming yet and earn my income as a personal gardener in yards close to town. Boise’s been my hometown for 17 years. I’ve lived in the Czech Republic and Korea and traveled throughout Europe, sharpening my farmer’s eye and growing soul.

City Gardens Market. On Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm, we host a garden market at our 19th St. Garden (NW corner of 19th and Idaho). You can also catch us at the Saturday Farmers Market in Downtown Boise. We garden a number of locations and are based in Old Town Garden City on Adams St., where we have a 1 acre plot that was once part of the original Chinese Gardens. We are driven by a hardy distaste for the combustible engine, the pleasure gained from using our bodies to do work, and the desire to reclaim urban land in the name of beauty, animal and plant habitat and delicious sustenance. Juxtaposed with the noise, fumes and concrete of smoke-belching urban life, City Gardens strives to be growth of a new kind – one of bird songs, dirt and the smell of fertility.

City Gardens
marty.citygardens@gmail.com or call 713-1675
3878 N. Adams St. Garden City, Idaho