Last Saturday, I bundled up and headed over to the Brick Works Farmer's Market. I don't recall whether this is true or not, but my memory says it was a lovely day, and so it was. I walked all the way to Greektown and took the shuttle bus up by Bridle Path. I have to say, it was quite the experience: I have never seen produce look so beautiful in all my life. That's saying something coming from a girl who grew up in the county. When I handed a five spot over to the man who sold me my sweet potatoes, he said "Red or white?" I'd never heard of white sweet potatoes before. Purple, yes; they're plentiful at most of the Asian markets in Chinatown. But never white.
Have you heard of rainbow-striped radishes? Did you know there are at least three varieties of baby spinach, and likely far more? I bought a pound of mixed kale, red and green and lacinato from a shy woman with blonde hair. Apples were piled high on three long tables at the back of the room, and I stopped in and snagged a litre of real apple cider -- you know, not overly sweet, still tasting of the orchard -- from two little boys who tried, with their best sales tactics, to get me to buy two. "Sorry boys, it's just me," I said.
A trip to the market is expensive; I looked down into my grocery bag and could barely believe what I'd paid. But what I bought can't be found at the supermarket. Mostly, I get stress at the grocery store. I get stress and anxiety and frustration. The aisles at downtown supermarkets are narrow and cramped. I can never find what I'm looking for, or they simply don't carry it (smoked paprika, cocoa powder), or the item isn't worth buying (drowned and rotting Romaine, overripe avocadoes). Heading to the market is an event. It makes sense, even if it isn't a bargain.
A Frenchman who runs Bee's Universe sells honey (evidently), rabbit and eggs. I know the combination sounds odd, but he does.
"People, you know, they don't want to buy rabbit. They think bunny bunny, but it's good. It's good in stews," he said.
"I'll make a note of it," I answered as I pushed my eggs to the bottom of the bag.
They are the best eggs I've ever eaten, the yolks thick and rich and full of flavour. I don't know about the rabbit -- maybe he's right -- but he was on the nose with those eggs.
There's the owner of an artisanal cheese operation, and another who sells half-decent gluten-free breads. It was really something. And the sweet potatoes? They were thrown in a stew with spicy sausage and spinach, and sweetened the broth ever so slightly. They were, for the record, the creamiest sweet potatoes I've ever tasted. We eat because we have to, and often forget how good things can taste all on their own. A little sea salt and a drizzle of good olive oil helps, certainly, but if something sings all on its own...that's magic, folks. The man who sold me my sweet potatoes had a sign saying, "Remember how good food used to taste?" or something of that description, and it was so apropos. I don't remember -- I grew up during industrialized times -- but I can well imagine.
It's been a good week. It's the kind of week where you sport your favourite little black belted dress mid-week, the one with the cowl neck you found for a steal last year at Ann Taylor in Michigan, and are met at lunch by a mysterious man on a secret mission. You spot each other in front of Scaccia, an Italian eatery, and hang out for a few minutes to appear perfectly covert. He encourages you to hide the evidence (kale caraway bread -- shh) as you return to your cubicle, everyone unsuspecting. No one notices. While he is in fact perfectly sane, this dress in particular inspires him to compare you to the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn, which causes you to blush all day long as though you were sixteen all over again and were just told that so-and-so thinks your kilt is pretty swell. Not so becoming for a very serious and sophisticated Marketing Coordinator, I should think, or rather an undercover spy (fortunately I've since recovered, though the Malbec I'm currently sipping on is inspiring its own particular brand of redness.) This man has been scorned for inappropriate conduct, rest assured. We can't have spies throwing their colleagues off missions, now can we? It's in our collective best interest to remain on guard at all times.
It's the kind of week that brings mushrooms baked in balsamic vinegar, and corn pasta tossed with a velvety tomato sauce, garnished with peppercress and parmesan cheese.
It's the kind of week that sees to it that you have an espresso and ricotta cheesecake with a walnut crust on a Monday. It's the kind of week that is hectic, but makes you feel as though you are on the top of the world: finally, work feels familiar. It's the kind of week that requires Big Band music and ensures that you master knitting after all and the kind of week that gets in the way of your reading. It's the kind of week that interrupts the responses you are trying to write to your friends, and informs you you're lucky to even have friends, considering how busy you have been between trying to keep on top of things, working a full-time job, working a part-time job, and everything else in between. It makes sure you laugh a lot. It makes sure you smile a lot. Probably more than is healthy.
It's been a chilly week in the city. This is for certain. But I skip and I jump and I leap. I sense it has something to do with the sweet potatoes, but I can't be sure. That goat cheese sure gives those potatoes a run for their money.
Sweet Potato, Sausage and Spinach Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Yields 4-5 bowls
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 1lb each)
1lb new potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
6 cups (1.5 quarts) low-sodium chicken broth (I used Pacific)
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sausage links (I used hot Italian, but chorizo would make a fine choice)
9oz fresh baby spinach, washed well and spun dry
1 tbsp lemon juice or wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed
In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, brown and cook the sausage over medium-high; set aside to drain. In the same pot, add oil if necessary and heat onion and garlic until softened and fragrant. Add chicken stock, sweet potatoes and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, mash part of the potatoes to thicken the broth and to balance the consistency. Add sausage, spinach, lemon juice or wine vinegar and cook for an additional 15 minutes to allow the flavours to co-mingle and the spinach to grow tender. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve with crusty bread, if desired, to soak up the broth.