I’ll just say it: if I never have to walk into another grocery store again, I will be okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I love grocery shopping more than the average person. I’ve been told by my housemate that it’s a regular anthropological study, watching me in a produce section. I fawn over the vegetables, make notes, and roam around haphazardly taking in the stock. I pick up apples one by one, run my thumb over their skins with care, much as I imagine a goodly squirrel treats his walnuts. Eventually, I gather a bagful of acceptable specimens. I pull heads of lettuce off the shelf until I find the prettiest and frilliest of the lot. Max has taken to giving me a head start when we shop together: we usually cross paths somewhere around the preserves and honey. I can’t help it. Grocery stores are nice places.
But it’s late-March in southern Ontario. I’ve finally tucked my parka away in the closet until next year. Parka-less, I’m stuck in the grocery store, under the fluorescent lights and the fake umbrella tree in its entryway. See, Toronto’s many markets won’t be open for another month or so. Count on your fingers with me: this is almost five straight months that I’ve been seeing Whole Foods. We’re entering a long-term relationship. Each year, I forget my city’s long winter. I expect a fling with the grocery store.
There’s been some strange behaviour on my part. Take today, for instance: I grocery shopped on my lunch hour. I efficiently toured the aisles. On autopilot, I packaged kale and chard and a whole bag of alphonso mangoes, yielding and begging to be peeled. My favourite produce man brought me a bouncier bunch of cilantro from storage (he’s started to anticipate my requests, after all these dates). Breakfast tea, olive bread, preserves went into my basket. Twenty minutes later, I was back in the sunshine walking to the office.
Hoisting the bag over my shoulder, I recoiled. What on earth had I become? I was – dare I say it – an efficient grocery shopper.
As it goes, efficiency has taken over my dinner table as well. A steady stream of avocados parade through my kitchen. They ripen and get squished in warm wheat tortillas, slathered in the tangiest Greek yogurt I can find, sprinkled with cumin and sea salt and cracked pepper, heated through ’til the wrapper is spotted with golden bubbles. Which – if not inventive – isn’t terrible, once you taste it.
Come May, my neighbourhood market will be back, and I’ll be back to asking a million questions about asparagus and radishes. I’ve started a countdown. Until then, efficiency will tide me over.
Warm Avocado Roll
This is hardly a recipe at all, but it is delicious and takes two minutes from pan to plate. I’ve decided, in my many samples consumed since February, that it’s just the cure for grocery store blues. Cumin – in one-sixteenth teaspoons – it’s magical stuff!
1/2 very ripe avocado, sliced
2 Tbsp whole milk yogurt (thick Greek varieties work best, here)
a sprinkle of coarse salt, a shake of ground cumin, a turn of black pepper
1 small whole wheat tortilla
Place the tortilla shell in a nonstick or greased pan over medium-high heat. Line the middle with avocado slices and dollops of yogurt. Sprinkle with salt, cumin and pepper. Pull up the sides and squish down so it all sticks together. Let it heat through. Eat, over the sink. Repeat for dinner until the markets finally open, wherever yours may be.
Ms. Dagg was my grade ten English teacher. She was just as an English teacher should be: a bit crass, dressed all in black, with a penchant for nice shoes and cat-rimmed glasses. She read Don Delillo and Graham Greene and didn’t roll her eyes (at least, I never noticed) when 15-year-olds made sweeping statements about human nature. I idolized her.
One day, in the most complimentary way, she called my writing purple prose. I had never heard this expression, so when class ended, I ran to the library for an OED, as keen 15-year-olds do. (This whole act strikes me as funny now, trying to recall the last time I physically opened a dictionary.) I pulled the tome from the shelf and flipped quickly to the letter P. Dear reader, I was a frequent dictionary flipper. I was awesome at landing on just the right page.
Purple prose: n. extravagant or flowery writing, especially in a literary work.
It’s funny how the slightest, most innocuous comments shape us. Since that day, purple prose has hung over my head. It’s followed me like a hazy violet shroud. Crept up behind me as I type sentences and craft paragraphs. See, that there? I just did it. “Hazy violet shroud” is a very purple-prosey way of saying purple prose.
And here’s the thing: it makes me cringe a little. Purple prose is a real burden to carry. Whenever I return to my writing, old pieces I’ve crafted, I see the (sometimes unnecessary) embellishment. That I get hung up on the tiniest visual details. That I spend whole paragraphs teasing out a memory just so, replicating it with my fingers across the keyboard. I spent my university years slashing passages out of papers, ridding myself of my purple plague. Concision and clarity – adjectives be damned!
But then I think about writing I love. I think about the paragraphs I collect, because they make my insides tingle (does anyone else do that, collect nice paragraphs like treasures?). Writing and reading is so wonderful because it is vast and disparate. There is not a right way to write or right thing to read. If I choose one reason why I love blogging, it’s the exposure I have to other people stringing words together, trying to make something of their days. Blog posts are unfinished, by necessity – it’s up to the author when to press go, not an editorial team or publisher. These pieces are never really finished, polished, perfect. And the messiness is often so good.
My writing has evolved since I was 15-years-old, wielding a pen and some lined paper, trying to make sense of the world. As I keep writing, I see subtle shifts. I delete words, and sharpen sentences where I never used to, not because I should, but because I’ve changed. My eyes are wider to experiences and how I will document them (though probably with a flowery phrase thrown in for good measure). I’m still making sense of my hazy purple world.
I am my father’s daughter. Dad is my slightly taller, male equivalent. I’ve been told we have an identical gait. We hold a fork the same way. When I waitressed at my parents’ restaurant through high school, customers inevitably said, as I filled their water glasses: “Oh, you must be Nick’s eldest!” I would smile and cringe inwardly, as teenage girls do. I am my father’s daughter.
Dad likes to shop for clothes – alone – and tell everyone about the incredible deal he got on a cashmere sweater. He read every high school and university paper I wrote, and instilled in me a love of grammar and structure as he slashed misused commas. Dad and I like our coffee strong, though he tempers his with cream. At family dinners, we wince together at the weak dishwater my grandparents on either side brew. Dad will vouch that he and I even wear the same socks. (Mainly because I raid his pairs of stripes and argyle a few times each year.)
As much as we’re alike, we disagree more often than not. Because of the fierce stubbornness I inherited (from dad, of course), disagreement has led to a stand-off or three in my twenty-four years. But can you keep a secret? It’s good stuff, when people say I’m like my dad. He’s a pretty cool guy.
Of all the traits dad and I share, one sticks out. We both love people by feeding them. From my observation, few things bring him joy like inviting a host of people to our home, offering multiple courses of delicious things, and sending them on their way, sated and happy. Dad visits me in Toronto for the day and lets himself into the apartment to leave a three-litre jar of olives on the counter. He always has an array of garlicky Greek spreads waiting when I get off the train, be damned if it’s two in the morning. One memorable evening, he traveled the entire city of Windsor on a midnight fudge run. You see, he misheard my sister Niki’s request for a pack of paper lunch bags. White and milk chocolate fudge were delivered to a befuddled 15-year-old.
My parents visited this past weekend. In true form, dad deposited fruits and vegetables for a family of six on my countertop. I’ve been digging through my crisper all week finding goodies. A mango here, a head of broccoli there. Let me tell you: having someone else stock the fridge is mighty fun. It’s the Red Lobster treasure chest I loved as a kid, only instead of scented erasers, I pull out banana bunches.
Last night, rummaging for dinner ingredients, I uncovered a produce bag of tiny red potatoes.
Potatoes are one of those funny starches in my life. I love them. But I never buy them. Into my grocery basket go yams and pastas and loaves of bread, but nary a white potato. And what a shame, because potatoes are delicious. Especially the little ones – creamy and a little sweet with yielding skins. They’re versatile, quick to prepare and nourishing.
I knew at once what to make with these little red gems: the Pioneer Woman‘s Crash Hot Potatoes. I almost want to keep this recipe a secret, it’s so easy and tasty. But Ree shared and so will I. Boiled red potatoes are lined on a sheet pan, smashed with the bottom of a water glass, doused in olive oil and salt, and slid into a scalding oven. Twenty minutes later you have perfect potatoes: crisp browned exteriors yield to creamy insides. Try if you can to transfer them to a plate before devouring the lot. And then call your dad. Tell him he has to make these potatoes.
Water Glass Potatoes
Adapted from Ree Drummond‘s Crash Hot Potatoes
Serves two, as a side
10-12 small new potatoes, whole
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
kosher or sea salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Boil the scrubbed potatoes in salted water until they’re very tender. Drain the potatoes. Line them on a generously oiled sheet pan – much like you would to bake cookies. With a water glass, gently smash each potato to flatten it, being sure to expose the white flesh. Drizzle the potato tops with more olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt. Crack black pepper over each potato.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are golden and crisp. Serve with sour cream, or sprinkle with whatever herbs you have on hand.