25 September 2009

Ghost train

Wednesday morning, I ventured out to buy things at the grocery I'd forgotten the day before, and to hit the farmer's market.

Our little local farmer's market is just that: little, local. There are several stalls with vegetables, a kettle corn concession, the guy from the fish market in Fullerton, people selling tamales and freshly roasted peanuts, orchids, herb starts, a woman playing guitar, a couple of folks hawking bread, a man with some organic coffee (I can't figure him out. This is a certified market and I know he didn't grow the coffee around here.)

It's hot and the lot where the market is held is dusty. Business seems slow this morning except for the man who sells heirloom tomatoes--he's mobbed. I take a slow turn past all the stalls, and the people who are selling, noting my green tote is empty, greet me with samples of their wares: "Nectarine. Very sweet. You try." "Best cantaloupe."

I've never gotten in the habit of accepting samples anywhere, and people think I'm crazy for this. "But you can eat an entire meal at Whole Foods," one friend protested. "Or Bristol Farms."

Maybe it's just my own brain calculating the likely microbial load of what's on offer...

In any case, I smile and nod and promise to come back after I've had a look at everything.

The difficulty with the farmer's market, I've found, is that every thing looks so fresh and smells so good that it's difficult not buy some of all of it. This morning, the beets are particularly beautiful, deep ruby, the Platonic beet-shaped form. I think happily of roasted root vegetables alongside a whole chicken, then ruefully realize it's supposed to hit 100F. At 100F, roasted anything is decidedly less enticing.

A couple of weeks back, the man from whom I buy green onions and parsley (tabbouleh salad, I think. Cool, refreshing...) had huge bunches of fragrant fresh dill. I love the smell of dill. It is the smell of pickles, not so different from the beautiful, crunchy half sours that the deli down the street sold us when we were kids, along with rock candy, halvah and proper pastrami sandwiches. Today, someone else is selling pickling cucumbers, the last of the season, and for one moment, I think I might put together a quick bottle of refrigerator pickles, but there is no dill to be had.

I consult with the fish man. He has arctic char, and I'm mightily tempted, but I don't know how to prepare it, and I don't like to buy fresh fish and keep it around. Instead, I get a half pound of large shrimp; I am making steaks for dinner, and the son will be thrilled to have some shrimp alongside. I double back and pick up three ears of fresh sweetcorn, surreptitiously testing kernels with my thumbnail as I dig through the stack looking for the freshest ears. Another stand, and I've got a ripe avocado. My tote is filling up.

Finally, the crowd around the tomatoes has thinned a bit. I spot a large green zebra, and test it, weighing it in my palm. It is closer to unripe, which is what I want, so I take it and present my prize for weighing. I am the only one in my family who eats fresh tomatoes, so I buy them sparingly. I ask the man to pick out a tomato that I can use on my sandwich at lunch. He is always good about this, which I appreciate, and asks what sort I would like, knowing that I'm not averse to a purple tomato or a yellow one.

"Surprise me," I tell him, and he considers for a moment, and does surprise me with a large meaty red one. It is excellent on rye with smoked turkey.

Next morning, after delivering first one child and then the second to school, I take cornmeal and self-rising flour from the pantry and mix them together with milk, salt and pepper in a cereal bowl. I wash and slice the green zebra, heat oil in my largest, heaviest frying pan, and dip the slices of tomato into the batter I've made and carefully lay them in the hot oil where they sizzle gently. It's been so long since I've made fried green tomatoes, something that my mother used to make as a very rare breakfast treat along with scrapple. She would eat fried eggs, too, but I dislike fried eggs, and instead have one poaching, while a piece of wheat bread to hold it toasts.

I am amused by using a truly green tomato in a recipe that calls simply for an unripe tomato.

My breakfasts are generally sparing: a bowl of homemade muesli or a couple of flax waffles with almond butter are the norm. The breakfast I am preparing--for myself alone--is more suited to a lumberjack. Of course, this week, I've been behaving rather more like a lumberjack than I normally do (yes, a good deal of the dead tree is still standing. Tomorrow, though, chainsaw and final dismemberment. Of the tree, that is.)

Finally, it is all ready: golden, steaming slices of fried tomato, poached egg enthroned on buttered wheat toast, and a second cup of hot coffee.

As I guessed, the green zebra lent itself perfectly to the recipe, the sweetness of the tomato a lovely foil to the crunchy, slightly peppery cornmeal crust that encases it. This is heaven. Without regret, I eat all seven slices slowly, savoring the contrast in taste and texture, and once breakfast is done and cleaned up, head out to saw, rake, hoe and chase off curious spiders.

Go listen to some good music: "Ghost Train (Main Title)" by Thomas Newman from the album Fried Green Tomatoes-Soundtrack from the Motion Picture. One of my favorite movies ever, I just watched it recently with the daughter. Though the fashions look dated, some things just get better with age, and for weeks afterward, the daughter would yell "Towanda!" at random moments.

No comments: