|THE HAUGEN FAMILY FARM|
Now he lives in West Hollywood, goes on auditions, and does makeup and hair (Mariah Carey was one of his clients).
He's showed me photos of his homeland but it's hard to picture Brian on a farm. "So you do help out when you go back?" I ask eagerly. "Can you drive a tractor?"
"Hell, yeah! I grew up on a tractor"...
The other night he invited me and some other friends to dinner. I arrived a bit early to find him dashing about the kitchen in that oh-my-God-people-are-going-to-be-here-soon-and-I-haven't-even-started-the-sauce-gribiche state that, having given dinner parties myself, I know all too well.
He was wearing a T-Shirt that read "Bring Back the Beet" and what looked like a scary black oilcloth butcher apron but what turned out to be part of the garb he dons in his capacity as developer, CEO, President, and head beautician/magician of Makeover Workshop.
"Check out this celery," he said, handing me a bunch topped by the deep greeniest leaves ever, the stalks as slender as a ballet dancer's waist.
"Wow, beautiful--did you go to the Farmer's Market today?"
"No, I grew it."
"Grew it!" I'd seen the strawberry patch, the basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, and heirloom tomatoes by his front door, but I had no idea he had a back garden. "What, you have a plot by the garage?" I asked.
"Kind of," he said, washing a head of butter lettuce. "I plant stuff all along the driveway. Hey, can you peel these beets"...
I peeled beets and snooped through the cupboards (one kitchen shelf was stacked high with cardboard packs of hair color). The other guests arrived. We exchanged news, we made fun of each other, we pushed aside the display cases of makeup, sat down, said grace, and ate.
We had oven-braised baby carrots in rich hues of orange, gold, and deep red.
We had avocado and roasted beet salad with citrus dressing.
We had chicken with warm bread salad and watercress from the Zuni Cafe cookbook (Brian used to wait tables there).
We had four or five different vegetables and Brian had grown every one of them.
We had coffee and Tom's delicious chocolate mousse with cardamom, we gossiped and gabbed, we did the dishes and when it was almost 11, Brian strapped on a headlamp and said, "Come on, I'll show you the garden."
So out we trooped, and here, hard by congested Santa Monica Boulevard, in notoriously cramped, impossible-to-find-parking West Hollywood, Brian, it turns out, has managed to create a 14-inch wide plot, backed by a cinder block wall, that runs the whole length of the lot-long driveway.
"L.A. has sun. The problem," he explained, gesturing to the adjacent three-story apartment complex, "is that the buildings block it out. Right here actually gets the best sun anywhere on the property, especially up by the garages where the house isn't in the way. At first I thought such a narrow strip would be constraining but the asphalt gives me a place to stand so I don't have to wade through the mud. The driveway makes a natural border. And I can plan small sections that turn out to be convenient to tend and pick from."
He grows curly kale, Russian kale, and Tuscan kale; red beets, golden beets and chioggia beets. He grows butter lettuce, speckled lettuce, watercress, brussel sprouts, romaine, arugula, and carrots.
"How do you water it?" Tom asked.
"Out of consideration for my neighbors--and because the water pressure out here is almost nil--by hand. In the middle of the summer I've hauled out twenty-five buckets of water a day, one by one"...
I thought of the love that had gone into the food we just ate. How often in L.A., or anywhere, do you get a meal in which every dish has not only been cooked by scratch, but where the cook has personally planted, hand-watered, and picked the vegetables?
"Want some arugula?" Brian asked, tearing off a good-sized bunch, then straightened up, gazed thoughtfully at the sky, and said, "There's a cold trough coming in from Alaska. I can feel it"...
He hopes to visit Roseau later in the spring.
BRING BACK THE BEET!