First was the sunny farmers’ market in my neighborhood, Charles Village. The streets were full of vendors selling jams and jellies, bright cherries and peaches in summertime, baskets of arugula and lush, leafy things, stalks of asparagus in spring, shiny eggplants and elephantine zucchini. There were always cheerful men playing guitars, shaking tambourines, singing.
But my little tummy was rumbling and I was foremost interested in breakfast, which was one of two things. The first was an elephant’s ear from the impossibly elegant Parisian woman who presided over a table of croissants, éclairs, and madeleines. The palmier was the size of my face and I held it in two hands, anticipating the joy in its flaky, buttery goodness.
The second was the savory option, which I began to crave as I got a bit older. The mushroom lady—whose table of oyster mushrooms, enokis, and hen of the woods would now give me goose bumps—set up a smoky grill on which she would sear meaty portabellas and warm up fresh pitas. The pita would get stuffed with the hot mushrooms, a handful of milky feta, greens, and a dousing of hot sauce. This is an awesome breakfast.
It was also fuel for the rest of the day. Next was the Near East Bakery, owned by Armenian friends of my father’s. I was a kid in a candy shop, only the candy was bins of pistachios, juicy figs, massive blocks of halvah, and barrels upon barrels of olives—and this was before grocery stores had such things (Fairway did, but I lived in Baltimore!).
Armenian soap operas played in the background as my mom and I loaded up on grape leaves, fragrant spices, and doughy breads stuffed with fava beans and sprinkled in za’atar. This would become my favorite weekday lunch. In the cafeteria, my friends would whip out PB&J and I would gleefully dig into my fava bean pie, laced with chilies.
Next was Mastellone’s, where we’d watch the owner’s mom make mozzarella behind the counter, her arms swinging as she pulled and pulled and molded the curds. She’d sometimes offer me a piece of the just-made, still-warm mozz. My mom would gather fresh lasagna noodles, good olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, sausages, and big bunches of basil. I’d watch Mrs. Mastellone and her cheese, rapt with total awe.
That’s how I felt my first time in Fairway. There were all the sights, smells, and surprises of my childhood culinary Saturdays, the mountains of gleaming grapes, more cheeses than I knew what to do with (and I know my way around a few cheeses), sides of dry-aged beef, golden olive oils in lovely bottles. And even someone making fresh mozz(!), although not an Italian grandma. A food playground, all under one roof.
Perhaps it is no surprise that when I asked my mom, “what do you want to do for mother’s day?” she answered, “Why don’t you have me over for dinner?”
So that’s what I’m going to do. In honor of my mom, who taught me that shopping, cooking, and breaking bread are opportunities for joy, I’m going to make a simple and joyful meal. I’m going to suck all the fun out of shopping, choosing the most beautiful veggies, perusing the olive oils that I now know so well.
I’ve planned out a menu, but knowing me and what I’ve learned from my mom, it’s subject to change. A beautiful stalk of purple asparagus or perfect scallops might strike: inspiration. And then I’ll load up on whatever moves me, and rework accordingly.
Sauteed Wild Mushrooms with lots of garlic
Fennel and Celery Root Salad
And dessert…any suggestions?