Smile Politely

Adventures with Mike at the Market

Last weekend I had the chance to visit the Market at the Square with a pair of fresh eyes: those of my friend Mike. My husband has been out of town learning to decipher sixteenth century German script, and Mike mentioned he might go to the Market Saturday morning. I had a lightbulb moment, and asked him if I could tag along. I was going to go anyway, to “research” my weekly column, and I figured this may be a rare opportunity to go with someone who doesn’t need to be plied with sweets. In fact, when I joked that, since this was Mike’s idea, I expressly was not going to buy him a cookie, he answered, “They have cookies here?” and I knew I was in for a good time.

I told my friend up front that he was going to be inspiration for this week’s article, and I think he thought I was kidding. And maybe I was, at first. Then reality (and Wednesday night) set in, and I got to thinking… Honestly, coming up with different things to say about food has proven to be harder than I thought it would be. It’s not that I dislike food; I love it, perhaps too much. Perhaps the Market can be a rather static atmosphere if you are actively trying to mine it for gold week after week. I mean, I think anyone who has read more than two of my articles knows I like fresh food. But that’s my bias. I mean, doesn’t everyone who shops at a local farmer’s market appreciate fresh food?

My friend actually seems like the last person on earth who would shop at a farmer’s market. His girlfriend, Maggie, once told me that he hates anything green. (He protested this.) A customary meal at their house is fried chicken and Stove Top, which you will never hear me complain about. Ever. So I asked him what he usually shops for. He said, “Well, when I can get here on time, I plan to buy lots of vegetables and fresh stuff. But usually I get here too late and then I end up buying meat and bread.”

This was very telling to me, and I’ll share why: I never once have bought meat from the Market. I am tempted–I am a devout omnivore that thinks all animals should be given an ecological and humane living environment right before the air dart through their skull turns them into my next meal. All of the Market meat purveyors advertise as hormone-free farms at least, and most are “grass-fed” and “organic” to boot. Mike’s take on it? “These are the most amazing pork chops I’ve ever had.” I think Mike may be on to something here.

As for bread, I usually have a preservative-laden, oaty-type loaf at home in the fridge. Chances are, I bought it a month ago and all of its chemical parts are keeping it as fresh as the day it rolled off the production line. Why do I not partake of fresh bread, you may wonder? Simply, I am afraid of it. I mean, you can’t put it in the fridge, or it gets too hard. You can’t leave it on the counter; it will turn to green mold in no time. I have no idea how many calories are in a slice (Yes, I am one of those.) In fact, it’s not even sliced. I didn’t share any of these anxieties as we wandered over to the Homestead Bakery tent. Frankly, it smacks of a neuroticism that someone who frequents the Market should have outgrown. Mike bought two (two!) loaves of bread, without even a thought about caloric intake or storage or slicing or anything! So I gave it a shot and spent $4.50 on oatmeal bread, with all of ten completely pronounceable ingredients. This, I thought, was pricey. However, the bread is delicious and I may be a convert.

Next was the noodle tent (there’s a noodle tent?) Pasta Alley from Decatur, Illinois has a delightful assortment of flavored pastas, in both semolina and whole wheat varieties. They even include nutritional information on select products–score! Maybe I’ve lived a sheltered life, but I’ve never seen flavored spaghettis before. In general, this subverts what pasta is for in my mind–to be a vehicle for deliciousness, not the main act. In short, pasta is Edie McClurg, not Angelina Jolie. The idea was intriguing, but I’ll admit I have no clue what to do with flavors like Habanero and Spicy Cajun. I purchased the conservative Garlic & Herb Whole Wheat Pasta, and as soon as I figure out what to do with it, I’ll let you know how it is (suggestions welcome.)

The trip was a success — I got my article and a new appreciation for what other people look for in a Market experience (thanks, Mike!). As we listened to a purple-haired ukulelist, I found myself going back to something I’ve contemplated before about our community market, and that’s this: it takes all kinds. And that is precisely what makes it a singular experience, week after week.

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