I’ll freely admit it: I’m a hippie at heart. I started experimenting with herbs at an early age. No, not those kind. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme were my herbs of choice.
I tried all kinds of food experimentation, usually at the expense of my family’s unfortunate collective palate. Don’t get me wrong, I could easily follow cookbook recipes, but somehow they seemed so mainstream and – dare I say it – Betty Crocker conventional. I was a closet epicurean experientialist who longed to deviate from order!
I distrusted processed and packaged foods and tried every natural, whole-food diet imaginable: vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, and raw foods, among other eco-friendly practices. My family was not supportive of an “evolved” diet and accused me outright of culinary permissiveness.
Fast-forward to today’s counter-culture food revolution. The hippies initiated a back-to-the-land movement by farming organically and cooking communally. This concept has since been adopted by top chefs and made au courant by their popular farm-to-table menus and group dining experiences. Haute cuisine is now steeped in hippiedom.
So, when Chris invited me to see the world premiere of Roger Bean’s hit 1960s musical “Summer of Love” at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, my inner hippie jumped for joy at an excuse to trip the food fantastic and explore some of the natural food establishments Orange County has to offer.
“Chris, where shall we go?”
“Well, that depends—”
“Are there any hippie restaurants in Newport?” I interrupted.
“Stasha, hippie and Newport have never been used in the same sentence,” Chris replied dryly.
“What about all those fantastic gourmet trucks? They’re about as counterculture as you can get.”
“Hunting down food trucks on a Saturday night might prove daunting,” Chris advised.
“OK, so what do you suggest?”
“The Camp, of course,” he smiled.
“That’s perfect!” I exclaimed.
The Camp is the country’s first green shopping center and is considered an ecologically utopian retail oasis, offering visitors a garden of earthly delights. Its eco-friendly pedestrian thoroughfares, sprinkled with Adirondack chairs, benches, hammocks, and pit-fires, provide guests with a tranquil setting to enjoy shopping and dining pursuits. Hippies would have been proud to frequent this center. The Old Vine Café, Valhalla Table, ECCO, Mesa, 118 Degrees, and Milk + Honey are some of the outstanding restaurants to choose from.
Chris and I chose Native Foods, founded 17 years ago by acclaimed vegan chef Tanya Petrovna. We bellied up to the counter and ordered our dishes.
“I’ll have the Gandhi Bowl with blackened tempeh, kale, cranberries, steamed veggies, and curry sauce over brown rice. And Asian Lettuce Wraps, please.”
“The Hollywood Bowl with ginger-marinated seared tofu, veggies, kale, brown rice, and roasted peanuts with tangy lemongrass peanut sauce, and Native Chicken Wings for me,” Chris added.
We made our way to a communal table in the artistic yet simple dining area, and sat down. Within minutes, everyone was conversing with us from all sides and sharing stories about vegan food.
Our dishes arrived and we heard “oohs” and “aahs” from several neighbors.
“Okay, so what is this and how do I eat it?” whispered Chris.
“It’s the Asian Lettuce Wrap,” I chuckled, “loaded with mushrooms, jicama, garlic, ginger, soy noodles and seitan (“wheat meat” that provides a complete protein and delicate meaty texture). Just drizzle on the spicy garlic soy sauce, roll it up in the lettuce and eat.”
“Wow, this is not what I expected,” Chris remarked. “It’s delicious.”
“I know,” I preened while creating the perfect forkful from my Ghandi Bowl. “I could eat like this every day.”
“I have no idea what these Chicken Wings are made of,” Chris shook his head in wonder. “But they’re better than the real thing. And this Hollywood Bowl – it rocks.”
“I think you’re now a daydream believer,” I grinned, packing up my leftovers.
“Don’t doubt it,” Chris assured me, offering up his empty plates as proof.
I quickly refilled my fresh watermelon juice and lavender lemonade, and grabbed my things. We made it to the show with minutes to spare.
To say “Summer of Love” was everything I expected is an understatement. The story resonated profoundly and brought home unnerving similarities between the hippie aspirations of the ’60s and our present clime.
The musical score, made famous by The Mamas and the Papas, Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Blood, Sweat and Tears, among others, is worth the ticket. The set, lighting, sound, costumes, and choreography all work harmoniously to support an incredibly talented cast.
We left the production having what I think was the perfect counterculture experience and a song in our hearts:
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now …