Thursday, February 18, 2010

Market Life

A friend of mine was thoroughly steamed about the situation where she works, and needed to vent, which she did; and that left us with the rest of the morning. She wanted to go to a farmer's market. Fine by me - I've liked farmer's markets ever since my grandmother took me to the city farmer's market where I grew up in Georgia. There's a little, upscale farmer's market in my neighborhood, and there's a big famous farmer's market in the north part of town (the one on Airline Drive if you're familiar with Houston.) That ended up being the farmer's market of choice.

We wandered by tables of vegetables, bins of packaged dried beans, and shelves laden with local honey and regional condiments. Then we ventured deeper into the farmer's market, out of the more grocery-like area into the asphalt-and-booth expanse where it helps to speak Spanish. The vendors were giving away samples of oranges, and they had the fruits fancifully piled up into little towers. Booths overflowed with onions, cactus pads, red peppers and jalapenos. Ever seen a 20-pound bag of jalapenos? Bulging with its green cargo, the sturdy mesh bag basked in the sun and peppered the air.

My friend and I ended up with some vegetables, nuts and dried fruit and honey, and hope. A farmer's market is very life-affirming in its way - it's more approachable than getting out of town for a hike, less immediately gratifying than sitting down to a rich meal (although it certainly suggests preparing such meals); it's less exclusive than keeping the company of your select family and friends and far less artificial than shopping in a mall. It affirms the role of the good Earth in giving us sustenance and the work of human hands in getting produce out of the ground and into our shopping bags. It forges a community out of the people of various sizes, shapes and colors and walks of life united in the love of good greens or onions or oranges or peppers. It was just what my friend needed. The lush head of kale she bought couldn't make her stressful job situation go away, but in buying the kale, and later at home cooking it up with a nice morsel of sausage, she was renewing her resolve to keep on living and keep on loving her work.

There are other Earth-given life affirmations around right now. Another friend of mine had a bumper crop of yard grapefruit that she harvested just before the hardest freeze of the winter. Grapefruit in a ceramic bowl evoke Earth, flavor, and health.

And I've been watching this yard in my own neighborhood. Unless I'm much mistaken, these are collards. A moderate freeze doesn't faze collards, which is why these are in fine fettle in February. I don't know for sure if any leaves have gone into the cooking pot, but the plants on the back side of the bed, behind the tree, are starting to look picked over! Why not? There's nothing better than fresh, frost-touched collard greens simmering on the stove.