Sunday, July 8, 2012

Adventures in salading

One of the few drawbacks to buying your produce from farmers markets is that you will on occasion find some creature with too many legs crawling through your purchases. This type of horrifying occurrence is so rare that all but the most severe of entomophobes can deal with the risk. But there it was as I was shaving red onion into the bowl, a small movement in the lettuce that I thought I had washed pretty well, a green worm writhing in what I would soon be putting in my mouth. I somehow managed to get it from the bowl into the garbage disposal, not a fate I would enjoy, that's for sure. After washing each leaf individually, I went ahead assembling my fresh summer salad, about the only thing one can eat on a 101 degree day. First went in the fresh cilantro, at least as fresh as one can buy from a grocery store. Next went in some capers, a fairly recent discovery of mine, salty little things they are, and then their cousins, black olives, both ingredients bought from the same deadly Giant grocery near my house.

Giant. The bane of Columbia Heights, one of the worst grocery experiences from which one can suffer. Whether it be the statues they have as cashiers, the patrons who seemingly have nowhere else to go, or the utterly rude employees, a trip to Giant is a thing to be avoided as much as possible. But they have the cheapest beer prices and sell it until midnight, so a trip was in order. Literally. In fact it was the second trip in two days, the first being for the olives, capers, and cilantro. That was when I slipped on the wet floor in the produce section. No wet floor sign, of course. The fall was more embarrassing than anything else. I cursed Giant and went about seeking some ingredients for a salad.

The second trip was for beer so Mr. Opera and I could drink it while enjoying the Fourth of July fireworks on the Mall. Even entering the store was annoying, as the people of Columbia Heights like to stand around in front of the doors with their shopping carts and bags or nothing at all, blocking the entrance for those of us who don't wish to make a trip to the grocery store an adventure. Already annoyed, I headed straight down the corridor of cashiers towards cold libation when I got behind a congregation of folks who had seemingly never used their legs to get anywhere. I tried to go around them. Who would expect that the area in front of a cash register with no wet floor sign could be a pool of pain? I slid on that invisible patch of wetness, right into a wine display. Funny thing is that my first instinct was to save the wine, which I did. But I hurt my knee. Five days later it still hurts to walk, and it's mighty purple.

No, I did not try to sue. One of the massive problems with our society is the litigious mentality that clogs our courts and ruins lives. I simply got up, cursed Giant again, grabbed some Yeungling (our compromise beer), loaded up my Nationals promotional six-pack cooler, and headed down to the Mall to meet Mr. Opera for the fireworks. Probably won't do that again; the mass of people and the overbearing police presence to celebrate "freedom" was too stressful to really enjoy the explosions, and we couldn't even drink the beer because, well, "freedom."

But back to the salad. Next ingredient: fresh jalepeno. Oh yes, jalepeno. I loooooooove peppers of all varieties. Gave the salad some bite, it did. Yum. Went well with the black pepper, feta, garlic salt, basil, and oregano I added to my concoction. And the tomato, oh the tomato. Mr. Opera and I go through tomatoes like Ted Nugent goes through ammunition. He grew up in a large Italian family who had the big Sunday dinners that us non-Italian folks think only happens in the movies. It makes you wonder how Italians survived before the discovery of the New World and its beautiful fruit, The Tomato. I can't even imagine Italian food without them. Well, there's always pesto. Mmm...pesto.  That reminds me...

The year was 1997. I was studying at my university's branch campus in Luxembourg. The program is designed to allow students to travel throughout Europe on weekends, and on the first weekend of my travels, a large group of students and I headed down to Cinque Terre, Italia. Oh, it was a large group, full of inexperienced travelers and horny college kids who had read in a guide book somewhere that hiking through the five towns perched on the cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea was the experience of a lifetime.

And it was.

We took an overnight train and eventually arrived at Riomaggiore, the city farthest south of the five, and spent the day hiking up to Vernazza, four towns away. The day was simply breathtaking. We reached Vernazza in the evening and found a tiny restaurant with an outdoor terrace. That was where I first tasted the divinity of pesto during one of the greatest meals I have ever eaten. It's no wonder the pesto was so wonderful - it originates from that region, as does the Chianti we drank. As we were finishing our entrees, but by no means our wine, a storm rolled in, and we took cover in the tiny confines of the restaurant. A guitar sat in the corner. A guy with a Polish name played Pearl Jam covers as we continued to imbibe the wine. The storm eventually passed and we watched the remnants of it on a beach along the Mediterranean. We slept outside that night beneath a covered passageway and hiked to the final city in the morning, catching an overnight train and rolling into Luxembourg just in time for our first Monday classes.

By the way, today's salad was wonderful, despite its wormy beginnings.

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