Pot in the kettle

Learning the finer points -- and the health benefits -- of cooking with cannabis
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culture@sfbg.com

Save for the teeny-weeny skirts and gunfights, Sandy Moriarty is like Nancy Botwin, the main character of Showtime's Weeds. To casual observers, these women may look like regular God-fearing folk, but in their circle of marijuana smokers and edibles-eaters, both are local celebrities. Unlike the activities of her television counterpart, everything Moriarty does is legal.

Known now for best-selling lemon bars — sold exclusively through Oakland's Blue Sky dispensary and made with her psychedelic 10X cannabutter — and as a cooking professor at Oakland's Oaksterdam University, Moriarty's culinary escapades with cannabis began as a personal endeavor to test the plant's potency.

"I've always been interested in cooking and I was intrigued by the process of cooking with cannabis," said the Fairfield resident. "I wanted to push the plant to its limits and see what it could render me."

In the process, Moriarty discovered she could help a larger range of cannabis patients who needed stronger medication in their food. These "extreme case" patients, Moriarty said, include those with spinal injuries, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

"The need for something stronger [than what was available] intrigued me," said the mother of two. "I wanted to help those people."

So for several years Moriarty sporadically experimented with different cooking techniques. Her aha! moment came in the fall of 2004, when she discovered that slowly simmering a mixture of butter, leaf shake, and water for a few hours would evaporate the water and render all the THC-rich trichomes off the leaves. Unlike the cannabutters she had produced before, she could smell a sweet, rich, and buttery aroma that had a nutty taste.

"I let other people try it, and when they started dropping like flies, I knew that was it," Moriarty said. "It was like — wow!"

The discovery helped the 58-year-old catapult her life in a new direction. Though still a property manager by day, Moriarty now tends simmering stockpots of cannabutter in the kitchen of her ranch-style home at least four times a week (usually in the late evening or near dawn). And since January 2008, she's been sharing how to make her cannabutter, as well as other ways to cook with pot through oils and alcohol-based tinctures at Oaksterdam cannabis college.

Indeed, her cooking class — which is incorporated into a Oaksterdam weekend and semester curriculum that includes lessons on horticulture and politics/legal issues — is one of the most popular courses at the school. "A lot of students come just for the cooking," says Oaksterdam facilitator Trish Demesmin. "And once she gets to talking about her 10x butter, they're all ears."

But Moriarty hasn't stopped there. Feeling that she has conquered the realm of baked edibles — her creations, which are known for packing a potent THC punch without the ganja taste or smell, have gained something of a cult following — Moriarty is now focused on creating savory dishes such as pastas, salad dressings, and sandwiches. And thanks to the super-concentrated butter, Moriarty has been able to incorporate the green herb into dishes like fillet of sole Florentine, Thanksgiving turkey — even fried chicken. She plans to feature these dishes, along with recipes for baked goods, drinks, and vegan- and diabetes-friendly food items, in her upcoming cookbook, tentatively titled Cooking with Cannabis.

Moriarty's brother Al Wilcox says his big sister has come a long way from her days of baking brownies filled with stems and seeds. Wilcox, who medicates every day to help his arthritis, said the greatest advantage of his sister's food is that its strong potency means patients can eat less while watching their weight. The proud sibling predicts Moriarty could become the next Brownie Mary.

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