There is nothing like fresh fruit and vegetables, is there? The quick way to secure them is to head to the local supermarket. Given my Southern, farming roots, I like to go to farm stands. Or even better -- pick my own produce.
Summers are great for visits to local farms. The large ones in the Boston area, such as Russell's Orchard in Ipswich (http://www.russellorchardsma.com), are great for berry picking. I've been there for each harvest -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc. I'll be back for apples in the fall. I haven't picked too many vegetables this summer, though.
Until yesterday. My friend and colleague, Nancy, has a lovely garden in her backyard in Framingham, MA. I discovered this delicious fact while we were sitting next to each other at a board meeting. I told Nancy that I had started a cooking/food blog and she invited me to raid her garden.
Who could pass up such an offer?? So yesterday, I drove to Framingham. Nancy's garden was absolutely delightful. I loaded up on Thai basil, mint, curly-leafed parsley, sage, rhubarb, Swiss chard, tomatoes, squash and pole beans. Cooking will be so much fun over the coming days!
Raiding Nancy's garden was just the beginning. Nancy invited me to accompany her to an Uzbeki-owned market that opened late in 2009. We drove a short distance from Nancy's house to Fresh Choice Market, located at 855 Worcester Road, in Framingham (www.freshchoicemarket.com). The owner is Tommy Schneider, a real entrepreneur!
There was lots of fresh produce. What really caught my eye was the extensive variety of smoked fish (herring, paddlefish, salmon, mackerel and trout), keffir, farmer's cheese, and cold cuts. I was in heaven!! I absolutely love smoked fish. After all, I grew up in New York City, and ate bagels and some variety of smoked fish (lox, herring, etc.) on a regular basis. I was tickled pink by the labels on the smoked fish, which were printed in Russian Cyrillic. I always associate smoked fish with the Nordic countries. But think about it -- Finland and Russia share a border. Smoked fish is central to the cultures of countries that border the sea. I had a hard time deciding between the smoked trout and the smoked herring. I ended up with the trout. I also debated about buying keffir, a dairy drink that has the consistency of yogurt. I opted for farmer's cheese.
My excitement grew as Nancy guided me to the bakery section. Omygosh!!!! There were several types of homemade Russian bread. I picked out a loaf of rich, dark brown rye bread.
Nancy and I got in the check-out line. I looked at my basket of smoked trout, farmer's cheese, and Russian bread. What was missing? A red onion, of course. While Nancy held our place in line, I ran to the produce section and picked out two -- one for Nancy and one for me.
The icing on the cake was the fact that Nancy gets a 10% senior citizen's discount on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Farmer's Choice. The total for my basket of goodies was a whopping $10!!! I was most struck by how inexpensive the trout was. I picked out a 10-oz piece that was priced at just $3.77. Try finding smoked trout for that price at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Not happening!!
That brings me to my next observation, and the subject of my car chat with Nancy as we drove back to her house. Markets that serve immigrant communities tend to be more inexpensive than ones that serve the general community. Given the fact that I love to cook cuisines from the Americas, Africa and Asia, this insight has saved me hundreds of dollars. I love going to the Vietnamese-owned supermarket on Dorchester Avenue. Where else could I get a quart of strawberries for under $1.00?? Or several stalks of lemongrass for under $2.00. The same amount of lemongrass would cost me nearly twice as much at Shaw's or Stop and Shop. Same thing with the smoked trout that I found at the Uzbeki market.
I patronize a South Asian market in Coolidge Corner, Brookline. I had searched -- in vain-- for years for curry leaves. I had noticed the shop on trips to Coolidge Corner to meet friends for lunch. One day, I decided to check the store out. I went in and timidly asked the shopkeeper whether he carried curry leaves. He smiled, walked to a refrigerator and handed me a bag. I've been guarding those leaves with my life. I also picked up huge containers of cardamon seeds, coriander seeds, cloves (I enjoy making my own curry powder by heating the spices in a non-stick pan, cooling them, grinding them in the coffee grinder and then mixing them. Amazing!!), and garam masala (which I use frequently in everyday cooking). I didn't pay more than $3.00 per container. Stop and Shop doesn't even carry spices in containers that large and charges upward of $4.00 for tiny jars of spices and seasonings.
Regular supermarkets are great for staple items. But for my fun dishes, I find my way to the markets with the ingredients that I need. In addition to being more inexpensive, they're just fun to shop in. The cacophony of different languages, the smells, the bustle-- they make me feel right at home!