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.
I love markets. Inexplicably so and completely. When I visit a new city, forget monuments and museums: I carry a list of all the must-see markets. (Just ask Sameer, who saw me squeal with glee each time we found a new one in Barcelona, and who – accidentally – ended up buying me a kilo of figs from one of those markets. That’s a lot of figs.)
Of any market, though, I best-love my home market, and not just out of bias. May through October, every Tuesday, at the south edge of Cabbagetown in Riverdale Park West, vendors set up stalls. Riverdale Market is amazing for so many reasons. It’s a producer-only market. All vendors have to grow/raise or make their goods: there are no “farmers” who buy from large vendors and resell at a premium. Growers must follow [near or beyond]organic or wild/foraged and sustainable practices. I always encounter a happy mix of single-product vendors (the mushroom man, sprout growers, honey seller) and full-range farms with a variety of produce.
More importantly, at Riverdale I stock up on the best pickles ever. On crisp October days, I drink a steamy paper-cupful of just-ground cacao. Angelos sells my very favourite kefalograviera cheese and olive oil that tastes like home. Yesterday evening I was gleeful to find the season’s very first coronation grapes, and chatted with their farmer about how he cares for his vines.
Apart from production standards and yummy finds, the market just has a spirit of camaraderie and love of good food that’s infectious. Prices are reasonable, produce is handled with care, the old man selling beets always sneaks me an extra “for good measure”. In exchange for a crisp $20 bill each week, I walk home feeling positively abundant. Last night I scooped up everything pictured: a bag of pear tomatoes and striped baby heirlooms, two pounds of lacinato kale, a box of grapes, 14 peaches, six purple beets, a glut of summer squash and head of garlic – all organically grown, put in my hands by their growers, driven in from a few kilometres away.
We so often focus on the many costs and externalities of cheap food. Groundbreaking studies tell us organic isn’t any healthier than conventionally-grown produce. We spend on average only 10 percent of our incomes on what we eat as we bemoan rising food costs. I’m guilty of this over-analyzing, this urge to make my food functional. But really – I only need as antidote one glorious bite of a fleshy, warm-from-the-vine heirloom tomato in mid-August; the ritual of roasted sweet potatoes through Ontario’s long winter; June’s first snappy green beans. Beautiful food, food that’s grown with love, is best.