Monday, August 26, 2013


 My plane landed and I found my way back to his house, the house he shared with so many others, a communal monstrosity in the Parisian suburbs. My trip had been long and tiring, back from deep, dark Africa, and I headed straight for a long, lovely soak in piles of bubbles in the old, cracked claw-footed tub. I closed my eyes and let the warm, sudsy water wash away my aching heart and confusion as months of emotional turbulence came to an end. I needed this couple of hours alone before I faced him, after all that we had been through, a space in time ending one lifetime, beginning another. The house was empty, no one home, so I took my time, pampered myself, long and luxurious. After what seemed like an entire afternoon, I climbed from the tub and slipped into my gold satin robe just as he walked in. He had wondered nervously if I would make that decision to return, to join him, doubted that my love was strong enough, real enough to come back. He had rushed home from work, still not sure if I would be there waiting. But come back I did, as uncertain of my reception as he of his. He stepped across the threshold of that steamy bathroom and smiled shyly and I walked into his open arms. He wrapped me in his warm embrace, never to let go.

 And he had brought me a bouquet of tulips. Yes, I still remember the tulips, orange and red and yellow, wrapped in crisp white paper, fragrant and beautiful. Tulips the same gold as my robe; tulips as perfect love.

 We weren’t a couple made for roses. Deep red or pale pink, roses are too traditional, too mundane, a flower one is expected to give to a lover along with diamonds and Champagne. Yet I’ve always preferred deep, mysterious, blood-red garnets to diamonds, a nice, fruity white wine to Champagne and voluptuous, lush peonies, frilly, feminine carnations or gentle, sweet tulips to roses.

 We are no ordinary couple and the flowers we choose reflect our outlook on life, our unpredictability, our romance and passion for life as it is, not as we wish it to be, not as others claim it should be.

 For our wedding day, his sister brought us carloads of flowers, purple and blue, cream and pink, roses, yes, but globe thistles and fuchsia, chrysanthemums and irises and so many I can’t name. She created arrangements, vases and bowls filled with flowers, bouquets bursting forth in wild abandon. Like our untraditional wedding garb, our outrageous, red tartan-clad best man and artistic, gypsy matron of honor, formal, tame, traditional arrangements just wouldn’t suit for this out-of-the-ordinary day. Festoons larger than life spread throughout the house, an air of celebration. And she brought me a bridal bouquet in shades of violet and lavender and creamy white, tea roses, thistles and baby’s breath to match what I wore, to complement our passion.

 When we moved into our first home together, that tiny doll’s house of a home sandwiched in between two grander constructions, squeezed in like a second thought, his sister came back and edged our handkerchief-sized lawn with plants, green and bright, and offered us 3 lovely, tiny rose bushes, beautiful, sweet-smelling yellow roses that would burst into bloom in sunshine bright color every spring. Living in that miniature love nest brought us some of our happiest memories, learning to cook in that white, bright comfortable kitchen, the French windows thrown open onto our beautiful garden where I could watch the flowers bloom; the walks to the market, coming home, basket brimming over with flowers, tulips, of course, and dahlias and carnations, whatever I chose, to arrange them carefully in the vase in the center of my kitchen table, an audience as I cooked, and tiptoeing up that walk to our front door a few months later, another basket in hand filled with bouncing baby boy like a lovely blooming flower himself.

 My first love was the gardenia. Plump, creamy, velvety gardenias, heady with the scent of something exotic and wild, their dark, thick clusters of leaves hinting of the jungle.

 We lived in a world rich with hibiscus, yellow, red, pink and orange with their colorful, fuzzy pistil bursting proudly from the center. Hibiscus, bright and gaudy, show-offs of the flower world, ostentatious like glittery showgirls, reminding me of old movie Island girls swaying gently in that tropical Florida climate, the breeze blowing through their hair, huge hibiscus tucked gaily behind one ear. But the gardenia stole my heart.

 Each morning as I left the house for the day, each afternoon as I arrived back home after school, those two gracious gardenia bushes edging our tiny front porch would greet me with their enveloping fragrance, would draw me towards their lush, mysterious beauty. I would pause, breath in deeply and all my worries would disappear into the dreamlike quality of these unique, sensual flowers nestled amongst the jade green, otherworldly in their sandy, brown surroundings, pushing back against the stifling hot steaminess of the Florida days.

 Flowers are a regular part of our life; flowers filling terra cotta pots lining our Milan terrace, purple and red rhododendrons next to the rosemary and basil, under the vines and swags of grapes; flowers bought at the market, together, on a Sunday morning, wrapped in brown paper; flowers never forgotten on birthdays, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries. Cheery bouquets of tulips to brighten up a drab winter day, romantic bunches of peonies adding ardor and warmth to an occasion already brimming over with love, colorful bouquets of fuchsia and tiny carnation buds, sweet peas or sweet Williams, amaryllis and freesia, surely signs of friendship, bringing life and joy into our everyday world.

 Plump little hands covered in dirt, proffering fistfuls of handpicked wildflowers from the fields spread out before our house, a bouquet picked just for maman.

 The flowers he fills my arms with are never the ordinary, the expected, rather they are blood red dahlias, lush, fragrant peonies in oh so many shades of pink and deep purple tulips, plump and mysterious, the color of aubergines.

 My city is a secret garden filled with treasures, treasures hidden in plain sight, before our very eyes. Graffiti moves and twines around corners, paintings larger than life jump out into my path, tiny images play hide and seek, awaiting discovery and my consideration. Although grime and soot encrust tangles and swags of masonry flowers hanging delicately over doorways, besmudge stone faces and Madonnas secreted away in niches, remnants of other eras, each lends a romance to this city of mine, together they tell a tale if only one takes the time to look up and notice.

 How lightly, elegantly do the flowers grow, carved delicately, curving graciously over doorways and archways in black-edged white, in swirls of ironwork curling, weaving in and out. Flowers drooping in glittering mosaic, gold, royal blue, fiery reds and oranges and cool forest green, flowers amid bursts of palm fronds and bunches of deep purple grapes showering down the walls.

 Flowers spilling out from shops onto sidewalks; sidle around scuffed plastic buckets blooming with frilly tulips and peonies in tiny bunches, roses in every color from feminine to romantic to passionate. Towering golden sunflowers beckon. Primitive bouquets of dahlias, daisies, daffodils in season held together in rubber bands, slender stalks of green shoot up and out like fireworks.

 “One thing you should know about me,” he declared as I watched him dress on that morning many long years ago, crumpled sheets pulled up to my chin, drunk on love, “you will never receive anything from me on Valentine’s Day. I will shower you with gifts all year round, buy you jewelry, fill your arms with flowers, but I will not celebrate Valentine’s Day. I just want to make that clear from the start.”

 And as our first Valentine’s Day as a couple approached he stoutly proclaimed his disdain for this “American holiday, this commercial invention by some ad man or candy company created for the sake of making a few bucks. - And I certainly don’t need someone else to designate one particular day, tell me when and how I should tell you that I love you! I can do that when and how I please!”

 Yet on that first Valentine’s Day together, he placed a bundle of roses in my arms. He understood that expectation fluttered underneath my bold claim of agreement with him, my apparent disinterest for this special date, expectation fluttering like a schoolgirl heart as she places that shoebox decorated with pink crepe paper hearts and white doilies on the corner of her desk as she silently utters a prayer.

 So many Valentine’s Days have come and gone since, and each and every year he has filled my arms with flowers as he continues to claim his aversion for any celebration.

 As shops fill their windows with pink macarons or heart-shaped candies, boxes tied in red ribbon or fluffy white stuffed animals dressed up in lace bows, our routine never changes. Grumbles and moans emanate from my man, my lover, the most eternally romantic of souls, at the very first signs of cherubin, putti, Cupids, roses and hearts. He curses, fist shaken heavenward, as the date rolls around. Yet Valentine’s Day after Valentine’s Day he woos me, he pampers me and he brings me flowers, placing them in front of me shyly, like a nervous schoolboy wondering if his love is returned, gleefully, like a man caught in the act of an unexpected kindness or a good joke.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ice Cream

 Two little boys sitting on the steps of a building older than time itself, contentedly, joyfully licking ice cream cones. Una pallina di crema, one scoop of vanilla, the younger one would always demand, fearful of trying any other flavor. The elder was always more adventurous, more daring, more gourmand. Chocolate, maybe strawberry… he would even be the one to try the deep blue Smurf flavor.  

 We had driven to Mantua for an adventure of discovery, a voyage of culture and learning. We were living in Italy and wanted to open our little boys’ eyes to a world of wonder, knowledge and art. And culinary pleasures. The morning had been spent at the Palazzo Te, wandering from magnificent room to magnificent room, ogling the ornate frescos and paintings, wondering at the giants and grotesques tumbling from huge swathes of smoke and clouds, falling from the sky in the Sala dei Giganti, the Olympian banquets on the walls and ceilings of the Sala di Psiche. Noses mere inches from the walls, we spied graffiti, names scratched into the soft stone of the walls, visitors who walked these same floors, stood awed in front of the same images centuries ago. 

 To reward their patience, the interest and happy excitement of two tiny little boys, ice creams were called for. Sitting on the steps in the courtyard of some palace or church or other, they happily licked the dripping ice cream before it could slide down the side of the cone, onto hands. Photographs capture the moment, the glee, of those two little boys eating ice cream: two little boys bundled up in winter coats yet still enjoying a cornetto di gelato.


 We were an ice cream family. Our freezer was always well stocked with gallon rectangles of store-bought ice cream, an array of flavors to suit each one of us: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, Neapolitan – of which I would only eat the chocolate and vanilla stripes, leaving the strawberry for my younger brother - and Checkerboard. A boxes of cones, sugar cones and waffle cones, often tinted a rainbow of colors, were stacked under the counter in the cabinet closest to the refrigerator. For those of us who preferred their ice cream sundae style, served up in a dish, there was always a tub or two of whipped topping in the freezer nestled in the frost next to the ice cream, jars of chocolate sauce, colored sprinkles and whatever our hearts desired.

 Ice cream was never off limits. We were happy eaters all, gobbling up fruits and vegetables with pleasure, so no reigns were put on our snacktimes. Dinner was at six each and every evening and by eight we could be found sitting together, children and parents, in front of the television, each cradling a bowl of ice cream in our laps.

 Ice cream sandwiches, fruity popsicles and ice cream on a stick were the choice for after-school snacks and their presence in that freezer was constant and abundant. And how many times a week would dad pile us all in the car for a trip to Dairy Queen (Dairy Dip, dad called it, much to our delight!) for a cone or a cup? And he never failed to carry home a box of chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bars to always have on hand, his favorite. The familiar tinkling music of the beloved ice cream truck every summer afternoon had an almost spontaneous, animal effect and we would drop whatever we were up to and dash out into the street, coins clutched in expectant, eager hands.

 Dad bought an ice cream maker when I was in grade school. I have only vague memories of us sitting on the driveway in front of the house, churning ice cream. I don’t remember much; there may have been vanilla and peach, maybe strawberry. But I do remember the chocolate ice cream that came out of that machine The flavor haunts me to this day, and, like a Pavlovian reflex, just pulling up the memory makes my mouth water. Maybe it was the rock salt that we had to pack around the central canister, but the chocolate ice cream, light and icy, had a salty undertone that I simply loved! To this day, I yearn that lightly chocolate flavor with that hint of salt.

 Gallon blocks of ice cream, open the container and slip it into one of those Tupperware containers (slide the “drawer” out, cut off a slice, slide the “drawer” back in). Open the cardboard box flat, place it on the kitchen floor, stand on either edge to keep it in place and call the dog.

 I sit on the sofa next to my mother night after night eating bowls of coffee ice cream. Like her mother before her, the women of our family seem to be able to live solely on coffee ice cream as they age. I sit up a little straighter, as straight as her sunken sofa allows, next to her tiny, hunched body, my old mom. I have scooped out a bit of cappuccino swirl into a mug and spoon it sparingly into my mouth, making the tiny bit that I allow myself last as long as possible. She, on the other hand, cradles the carton in her lap and spoons it up until sated, replacing the carton back into the freezer for tomorrow night.

 I share the joys of discovery with my young son as he is introduced to the pleasures of an old-fashioned ice cream sandwich. And he is hooked. Nothing like this in his European home, creamy, smooth vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between thin chocolate cookies. He comes to see the ice cream sandwich, nothing fancy, no twists and turns on the classic, as representative of everything American, and he would clamor for one every single day we were there.

 Snow cones and soft serve, smooth swirls of sweet, whipped, pastel confection, light as air, pretty as a debutante in an eddy of tulle and silk; Creamsicles and fudgsicles, hand-churned buckets studded with fresh fruit, pops on sticks.

 Raspberry ripple, fudge swirl, chocolate chip, rocky road, filled with surprises!

 Floats, sodas and milkshakes, egg creams and smoothies, liquid ice cream.

 The ice cream of my childhood, my youth, ice cream that I offer my sons as a bit of their American heritage, special treats when home.

 Brain freeze! Da Bombe!


 College days, evening outings always included a trip to Hillary’s Ice Cream in University City on the edge of campus. Bright lights, a wide, brilliant, shiny expanse with a mile-long counter displaying a dizzying choice of flavors. How to choose? Stay safe, choose coffee, coconut or chocolate. Mix ins? All the rage! M & M’s or chopped nuts or marshmallows and always topped with jimmies.

 Milan, a new tradition with my sons. Little hands held tightly in mine, we make our way to Piazza Piemonte where my favorite gelateria stood, warm and dim. Freshly churned gelati, vaniglia for one, stracciatella for the other, caffè for mom, so pure that it would begin to melt as soon as we stepped out of the shop. Or wander a little further for a choice, gelato for the little one, dairy-free for the elder, granità per la mamma, always granità in the sweltering hot days of an Italian summer.

 French crème glacée… sitting in the yard behind their grandparents’ house, a gaggle of little boys, all arms and legs, squiggly and wild, each clamoring for a cornet or an Eskimo or a slice of ice cream cake. Always from a box, brought home from the supermarket, but a happy ending to an afternoon spent digging in grandpère’s garden and splashing in the pool.

 Hand in hand, husband and I take our summer afternoon stroll. While others are enjoying a pre-dinner apératif, sipping beer or white wine on terraces outside neighborhood pubs and cafés, we know that our steps will lead us to the ice cream stand in front of the chocolate shop. A single scoop of lemon sorbet is always my choice in the hot months, a single icy scoop of lemon sorbet, the perfect round placed atop a homemade cone. He is a wilder, less predictable in his choice of flavors. Maybe he’ll ask for pistachio or almond milk. Or coconut. But he will also ask for a single scoop in a cone and together, hand in hand, we will wander away towards to continue our summer evening stroll, licking ice cream as the sun sets.


I scream
You scream
We all scream
For ice cream!

 The innocence of childhood all wrapped up in a cone. Standing on the sidewalk, on the beach, in the front yard, a game of concentration before it can run down one’s arm. The magical musical notes of the ice cream truck in summer, school’s out, long days spent running barefoot through the grass, kicking a ball down the block, meeting friends in the park. Chasing that elusive ice cream truck before it disappears out of site. Pennies, nickels, dimes for a cone.

 Two women in Manhattan, rushing from dinner to theater, a brisk pace down a crowded New York sidewalk. “I have to admit that I have quite the sweet tooth,” one claims, slightly embarrassed. “That’s why we’re friends,” returns the other. At that moment, they spot the Mr. Softee truck with the familiar cartoon character on the side, his froth of ice cream sitting cheerfully on top of his waffle cone head, jaunty red and white bowtie completing the look. “What do you say?” I ask, nervous that she might think I was joking, offering ice cream that may not really be ice cream. Or that I was simply just being silly.

 “Oh! I love Mr. Softee!” she cries and we head towards the truck, sidle up to the window like two young schoolgirls, standing on tippy toes to place our order. “One vanilla soft serve, and one chocolate!” The exchange is made, our coins for two cones with that familiar towering eddy of cream.

 Giggling, we walk away, taking mouthfuls of the ice cream, recapturing some little sliver of our youth.

Monday, August 12, 2013


To market, to market to buy a penny bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

This little piggy went to market.

A-tisket a-tasket A green and yellow basket

She went to the fruiterer's
To buy him some fruit;
When she came back
He was playing the flute.

 Wander up and down the alleys, the multitude of alleys; it seems to go on forever. Take that first, quick glance at the elegant glass cases filled with perfect rounds or thick, pale wedges of every imaginable type of cheese sitting in picture-perfect straw baskets. Rows upon rows of marinated vegetables, slick olives, perfectly aligned sardines glistening in their tiny individual containers. The fat fishmonger is moving constantly, chatting with clients, tossing whole fish onto the scale before scooping it up again, knife wielded, her arm coming down with a deliberate, assured thwack. Her stand a portrait in silver, gray and white, a dash of pink, a shimmer of blue. Prickly urchins, shrimps, clams smell of summers at the seaside, a box full of eels slither and twine around each other, black and frightening. Fat, long-limbed crabs, thorny lobsters, their claws safely collected in rubber bands, slither and clack and fall all over each other.

 Garnet red meats, raw, cured and smoked, stacked up or spread out in mouthwatering temptation, huge bunches of sausages dangling from shiny aluminum racks like so many ball-gowned debutantes waiting for the next dance. Chickens, hens, squabs, pigeons, claws stretched outwards, head, beak tucked under a feathered wing. And the pastries, graciously decorated pastries flaunting their beauty, trying to outshine the perfect little chocolates nestled in rows beside them. Loaves of bread, crusts a deep golden color echoing the plywood background.

 The scents and smells of a market assault, tease, attract. Tangy, sharp, briny. Of the sea, of the barnyard, of the earth. Yeast.

 Rue Mouffetard. We picked our way between the wooden stalls erected up and down the street, agog at the splendor stretching out before us. The fame of Rue Mouffetard had reached us long before we arrived in Paris, two young things on an adventure, armed with little more than a sense of adventure and a few years of high school French. This busy, bustling street was usually buzzing with students and tourists, its cafés and restaurants open all hours, spilling out onto the street in the brightness and heat of a summer’s day. Except for market day. Terraces cleared and made way for market stalls; butcher shops, fruit vendors and the like opened storefronts and set up shop right on the narrow street.

 We stumbled up to the burly man - thick ropey arms sporting a portrait gallery of tattoos, apron stretched taut over his belly, his entire being in perpetual movement- on the other side of the plywood stand, separated from him by mountains of peaches, tumbles of cherries, perfect apricots the color of the bridesmaid’s dress I wore for my cousins wedding. We watched as he scooped up handfuls of fruit with his weathered hands, scooped up fruit and pushed it in brown paper sacks, deftly twisting the corners with a single flip of the bag. He looked in our direction, pausing only long enough for our command. And we stood there, mouth open, sweating just a little under the hot sun and waiting for the other to say something. We had been so confident, felt such the parisienne… and now words failed the both of us. How to ask for two peaches, a handful of cherries, a dozen apricots? It should have been so very simple, but words failed us on this, our very first market visit. Finally, holding up two fingers with one hand, my cheeks blazing, I pointed to the pile of peaches with the other and mumble “Deux”. Pointing to the cherries I charaded a scoop, my cupped hand brushing through the air in a sweeping comma. I smiled sweetly hoping to be forgiven for my clumsiness, my lack of mastery of his language.

 We slunk away from the stall, embarrassment mixed with pride and contentment. Here we were, our first day in France, our first market trip in Paris and, no matter the communication barrier, our basket was filled with fruit, a roasted chicken and cheese, our own purchases.

 The sweet taste of success.

Saint Sebastian
Le Conquet
Melbourne, Florida

 We are market fiends. Wherever we travel, whether small town, country village or cosmopolitan metropolis, we search out the market: sprawled across a paved parking lot, tiny booths gathered in the town square or multi-storied covered complex, we are drawn as moths to a flame. We collect markets as others collect stamps or coins, with the same glee as teens collect autographs of their idols, the same satisfaction with which vamps collect broken hearts. While other tourists are sitting in sidewalk cafes or searching out famed monuments, we, camera in hand, are heading towards the market.

 A marketplace is a microcosm, a reflection of society as a whole, with its own codes and rules of behavior, a market etiquette, if you will, that is known and understood only by those who have grown up living the experience. Others must learn it like a foreign language. There is a vocabulary to learn: mûr (ripe), pas trop mûr (not too ripe), bien cuit (well done), pas trop cuit (slightly underdone), croustillant (crispy), pour aujourd'hui (for today), pour demain (for tomorrow). There is a certain dance to be learned as one wiggles one's way up and down the aisles or as one waits in line. There is the etiquette of politesse: the greetings, the chit chat, the deference to the advice of the vendor, the indubitable authority.

 A market is a gathering place of every section of society: just stand in one single spot and you will bump up against everyone who lives in one place… the snooty uppercrust with their sense of entitlement and their urge to squeeze the fruit and riffle through the lettuce, oblivious to those around them; veiled women dressed from head to foot in black fingering the shimmering fabrics in baby blue, shocking pink and pearly white embroidered in gold; mothers in pastel polos and pleated skirts surrounded by a gaggle of blond children all dressed much like mom; hippies and beatniks sporting dreadlocks or frazzled hair tucked up in colorful scarves selecting loaves of organic bread, sacks of tomatoes, scoops of spices; elderly couples weaving in and out, from booth to booth, hand in hand, tucking purchases into an old-fashioned basket or an overflowing caddy, leeks and potatoes, apples and sweet corn. Young, old, smartly dressed or dressed down, singles, couples, families, they line up together at the meat counter, stand patiently elbow to elbow awaiting their turn in front of the chilled glass cases filled with cheese, gather their paper bags of fruits and decide what to make for Sunday lunch.

 A slice of society.

 Everything can be found in a market. Food, yes, fresh fruit; sausages of beef, pork or lamb, spiced, herbed or boozy with the local wine; chicken or rabbit straight from the farm – watch the butcher remove the head and feet as you wait; salads in which tiny slugs nestle or carrots with the dirt still clinging to their gnarly bodies; salt fresh farmed from local bogs or paprika by the tableful in tiny plastic sachets or ceramic pots shaped like the pepper; handmade linen tablecloths, mops and brooms, couscous pots large enough to serve a dozen convives. Racks of clothing, hand-tooled leather bags, socks and handmade knives. Live animals…I once carried a live chicken home from a market, grasping the flapping beast by the legs, holding on for dear life.

 A dreamlike gathering of food trucks. Crêpes being flipped on a huge griddle and slathered with Nutella. Ladles of Chicken Yassa or Beef Maafe scooped up into aluminum containers by a bevy of lovely Senegalese women. Samosas and tandoori kabobs wrapped in waxed paper, loaves of fresh brioche, tressed and dotted with grains of sugar twisted into a plastic bag. Pizzas slipped into cartons, fragrant couscous topped with spicy merguez or chunks of grilled lamb, sizzling nems accompanying a chicken and green pepper curry. A Tower of Babel at the market: Russian, Arabic, English, Breton. French, Portuguese, Vietnamese.

 I push my way through the market, dodging baby strollers and impossibly sharp metal shopping caddies. I press through the crowd towards my favorite fruit and vegetable stall like a salmon swimming upstream. I stand and observe the guy next to me in his pale blue polo and his obviously expensive sunglasses perched atop his head manhandle the lettuce that will soon be selected to go into my basket. I see utter delight and surprise light up the face of the elderly woman who was offered to move ahead in line by a gracious fellow shopper. I spot a local chef, wooden crate tucked under one arm, standing in line unrecognized by all but me waiting for his order. Christmastime and the mayor makes his appearance, buying bread with his wife, shaking hands; one spies the jolly, old Santa, plump and joyful, handing out candy to the little ones. Ocassionally we are offered a musical accompaniment by the top-hatted violinist or an accordian player or two. Or a holiday choir. We offer a brisk yet warm Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur to the vendor at each and every stall, behind the stand before pointing to the melons or pears, before selecting a goat cheese or a wedge of comté, before asking which of the chickens is best for roasting, how much veal for eight guests. And a cheerful Bonne journée as we are handed our change and a package of something fragrant wrapped in crisp white paper.

 Ramshackle wooden stands piled high with enormous watermelons, jade green and heavy; we learned at a very young age the secret of rapping sharply on their sides, expertly listening for that hollow thud that let on they were ripe. Peaches and homegrown tomatoes, never as picture perfect as those sold in the supermarket but how much sweeter! Cardboard pint boxes filled with lipstick red strawberries, mangoes sold straight from the trees that thrived in the tropical heat.

 That stretch of road became one, long farmer’s market every single summer, a romantic lead in the story of our childhood, a familiar, much looked for sight, a part of the landscape. The long stretch of road was dotted with gas stations, their open lots allowing for a string of stands, welcome respite from supermarket fare.

 Nothing fancy or slick about this market. The vendors most likely grew the fruit and vegetables themselves, simply stuck on a baseball cap to protect against the searing southern sunshine and came to sell their wares. No perfect pyramids of fruit, designed to attract, no fancy billboard or backdrop with logo and name in elegant calligraphy. Just a single booth, maybe two in a half dozen gas station parking lots, prices scrawled across pieces of cardboard.

 Strictly Florida casual. But a market nonetheless, serving the best of Florida homegrown.

Monday, August 5, 2013


 There is something understandably squeamish about being confronted with a plate of raw.

 The very act of facing something raw somehow makes us feel awfully close to the animal from whence the beast came, almost cannibalistic, so primitive. Eating raw is the last bastion of civilized eating, the last wall to break down.

 Blood oozing from crude slabs of beef before being tamed; fish eyeing you accusingly or, quite possibly worse, staring uncomfortably off into the distance as if unsure of just where to look, eyes glazed over in boredom, glance averted. Biding its time, waiting for the knife. The empty, soulless eyes of that rabbit, pink skin stretched taut over bones, cleaver poised in midair.

 Viscous, slovenly squid splattered across the fishmonger’s stall, slithering along the stainless steel of the sink, squelching between fingers, slipping out of one’s grasp.

 Violent, barbaric, heathen.

 Man created fire for heat. And to cook. Raw.

 Uncooked. Unrefined. Painfully open, painfully, unnaturally exposed. Crude. Uncultivated. Rough. Vulgar. Tempers, language, atmosphere. A wound.

 In one’s natural state.

 Raw onions. Tears.

 Raw tomatoes. Blushingly sweet.

 Raw humor. Hands pressed over mouths, mirthful chuckles escaping between fingers, cheeks flaming red.

 Raw deal. Ouch, never again.

 Raw fruit. Peaches bronzed by the sun, nectarines kissed to red, cherries the intensity of blood and apricots blushing the color of bridesmaids’ gowns. Raw.

 Oysters, at first glance, are nasty little creatures, slimy, sluggish, glistening in a menacing, sloppy way. Gray outlined in dirty black, bits of grime or shell stuck inelegantly perchance, the color of the brackish depths from which they come, reminiscent of some creature from the Black Lagoon making its appearance in the dusky haze. Poked with the tines of a fork, the brute shrinks its ruffled skirt, recoils in astonishment. Alive. Scrape it noisily from the shell, the beast clinging energetically by its stump of a foot, yank it up and it hangs limply, drapes itself unappetizingly over the sides of the utensil. Aim the fork towards your mouth…don’t think…catch the briny scent of ocean, so many memories of a childhood spent on the beach come flooding back. Place the oyster in your mouth, on your tongue, quickly all at once, lips pulling it off from the fork. Swallow quickly and think of England. Nutty, buttery, sharp. A hint of something peppery, something sweet. A sip of chilled, spicy Muscadet, a bite of dense country loaf (a whiff of yeasty tang) slathered with salty butter. And we are ready to start all over again.

 She walked into the kitchen as I was preparing dinner, as I was layering delicate, paper-thin slices of deep smoky red beef onto the serving platter, round and round in perfect concentric circles, and she stopped dead in her tracks, stunned. “Is that meat raw?” she stuttered, her hand clutching the front of her shirt at the spot just over her heart, crushing the fabric between her fingers. “Yes,” I explained, “We’ll be eating carpaccio for dinner tonight.” The color drained from her face as she backed away from me towards the door, her free hand stretched out behind her as she inched away.

 As speechless as she found herself, she managed to spit out a terrified “No, no, I can’t eat raw meat!” We had fallen in love with carpaccio during our long stay in Italy: thin, moist slices of beef covered with slender wedges of tender, violet artichokes and slivers of nutty Parmesan cheese, drizzled with peppery olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. A true delicacy. And, yes, eaten raw. Needless to say, not only did my American friend not partake of the carpaccio, I don’t even think she joined us at the table while we were dining.

 An English friend visits and we invite her out to dine. Thick cubes of freshly hand-cut raw beef, buttery soft and smooth, smothered in a creamy sauce, tangy with mustard and capers, the bite of diced onion and the heat of Tabasco adding to the excitement of this traditional French bistro fare. As my husband and I place our order, she hesitates, a slight bit afraid, but intrigued all the same. Her eyes slide from the menu and take in the dining room as if looking for an answer to her unspoken question. One finger silently taps her bottom lip nervously then glides down the list of dishes offered. Finally she orders the same, the steak tartare, and snaps shut the menu, a wan smile hovering on her lips. When it arrives, accompanied, of course, by sizzling, golden fried potato wedges dusted with fleur de sel and minced herbs, and a cool, tart salad, she pokes a slice of beef with the tines of her fork and scrutinizes it as she takes a deep breath. She scoops up a chunk of the raw meat from the glistening tartare onto her fork, studies it for a while and then bravely slides it into her mouth.

 Emotions raw, bitter like death, biting, like standing naked in the snow. A heart unclothed, the tears spill and I weep.

 A scorching blaze does not protect from the rawness of the weather. Severe, cruel, tearing at the flesh of our exposed cheeks, chafed and raw.

 My fingers slide over the raw wood, rough, inelegant wood. Harsh against my skin, now rubbed raw from the contact, yet I continue to stroke the surface as one would finger a lucky fetish. I push harder against the wood, as raw as bark, a sort of punishment, wanting to feel.

 Jokes, one after the other spattering like gunfire, base laughter, filthy jokes, raw language, crude and nasty meant to embarrass.

 I watched the images flash across the screen, raw home movies, scratchy footage. There he was, jumping, dashing across the beach, across the screen, as naked as the day he was born, in the raw.

 I have always been dazzled by the smell, the unexpected fragrance, if ever so imperceptible, of raw foods. Butter, eggplant sliced lengthwise baring the creamy white flesh, a crisp, chilled cucumber emitting waves of coolness and pale green. A jarful of eggs, cracked, spilling out into glass through cupped hands, slightly splayed fingers. A wedge of raw pumpkin or squash, hefty, weighty, imposing. A rugged, gnarly, rustic exterior protecting a delicate, sweet meat the color of Halloween, the color of glowing embers, the color of the sky as the sun sinks into the horizon. A sliver of red pepper. Seemingly no scent at all in their rawness. Yet (breath deeply) it is there.

4-6 servings

Macedonia, or fruit salad, is often found on Italian lunch or dinner tables all summer long. It is a simple and refreshing way to end a meal and the choice of fruits seems unlimited when you walk through a market. I love to make fruit salads with stone fruits because the flavours are different yet complimentary. Stone fruits go so well with spirits like Limoncello, a lemon liqueur from the Amalfi Coast, famous for the best lemons in Italy as well as for its beautiful views.

2 peaches

3 apricots

2 nectarines

20 cherries

4 tbsp Limoncello

8-10 tbsp honey, preferably aciacia honey but any runny honey goes

fresh mint

  Cut the fruits into small pieces and put them into a bowl. Mix limoncello and honey and pour it over the fruit, add some shredded mint leaves, stir and leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes before serving