Finally–Durham Farmers’ Market

It’s embarrassing to start two blog posts in a row with the phrase, “It’s a little embarassing . . .” So be it.

It’s a little embarrassing to have lived in Durham for over two years and never to have visited the Farmers’ Market. My early complaints about store produce were always met with tching from friends, who would scold, “You just need to go to the Farmers’ Market!” But their admonitions were also laden with various qualifications, “It’s small.” “You need to go early.” “It’s only on Saturday.”

Such comments had led me to expect a dozen or so ragtag booths, populated by earnest, tie-dye clad organic farmers, each with three or four tomatoes and some salad greens on display, all of which would have disappeared by 9:00 a.m. Why would I drag myself out of bed on the only day of the week I can truly sleep in for that?

Yesterday morning, though, I found myself in unusual circumstances. First, I was Fredless, since he was working a 24-hour shift at the hospital where he serves as a chaplain. Second, I was awake and about by 9:00. It was a gorgeous morning and I had nothing to lose, so I figured I’d stop by the Farmers’ Market and see what it had to offer.

Quite a bit, it turns out. First, there were these tiny heirloom tomatoes from Bluebird Meadow Farms. The orange ones could well be the sweetest, most perfect little tomatoes I have ever eaten.

I ate about half of them plain, then put the rest in this salad of olive oil with a dusting of sea salt. It turns out that plain was best–they were simply so perfect that the extra flavoring was wasted.


There were also these baby eggplant, though I can’t remember where they came from. They are coated in kosher salt, waiting to be broiled with olive oil and pepper as I type this.


Best of all, however, was this:

These are goat’s kidneys, from Meadow Lane Beef farm. Neither Fred nor I have ever tried kidneys, but they are soaking in milk and will be cooked for supper tonight. They are supposed to be quite tender and delicious. I will post results.
Durham Farmers’ Market, I am sorry I ever doubted you. I will be back!

Pork Belly at (the) Federal

Our gluttonous streak continued last week, as the fried chicken extravaganza was followed by a pork belly blowout at the Federal.*

Federal remains our favorite Durham restaurant, and has become the site of a weekly post-Weight Watchers pilgrimage, where Fred can order his beloved pork sandwich with cheese and jalapeno peppers and I can sample the Federal’s many fascinating specials.

One special that’s eluded me since I arrived in Durham has been the pork belly (a cut of meat from the pig taken from the underside–essentially uncured bacon). It was on the menu on our very first visit, during a heady six-month period last winter when every foodie in America (including me) could seem to think of nothing else besides little piggy undersides. That night, so many of us had descended on the Federal that there was none left for me, and I had to content myself with the carnitas.

Those carnitas began our love affair with the Federal, but in our weekly visits over the past year pork belly did not make another appearance until last Monday.

I was thrilled and worried. The reasons for the thrill should be obvious. The worry, though, grew out of my struggles through what is coyly known as “maintenance” in Weight Watchers–the tortuous battle to keep off those pounds your body so desperately wants back, the battle you will wage for the rest of your life if your idea of a good time is to eat pork belly while reading a book, preferably with a cat on your lap.

That day, the Weight Watchers scale had revealed a 1.2 pound gain. So I made a compromise: I would order the pork belly, but I would eat only half of it and save the rest for lunch.

You know what happened. I was utterly unprepared for how greasily good that pork belly would be. It had been roasted with a slightly sweet, jerk-style rub and was served with chopped sweet potatoes roasted with onions. The meat itself was achingly tender, each of the four slices containing a quarter-inch layer of creamy fat. I don’t know if the sweet potatoes and onions had been cooked alongside the pork, but it tasted that way.

After eating two slices and half the potatoes, I should have stopped. I should have asked for a box right there. But, I rationalized, how well would this dish heat up? The meat would overcook. The potatoes would lose their succulence. The glorious perfection of the moment would be lost. Carpe diem, I said to myself, and dug right back in.

*It’s probably a good time to note the longstanding cultural debate over how to refer to this article-defying restaurant. A few months ago, a friend told me that since it’s called “Federal,” I should say “Federal” and not “the Federal.” I thought this was nuts–surely a bizarre whim concocted in the picky brain of an overly scrupulous English major.

So I asked Laura, our favorite server, to give me some guidance.* She prefered “the Federal.” Brimming with triumph, I conveyed the news to my friend, who calmly responded that Durham residents who were around when (the) Federal first opened, and was known as Federal, find it hard to change. Naturally, the very next day, a friend at church said, “We should go to Federal sometime!” I wish just once I could be right about something.

*Of course, only the picky brain of an overly scrupulous English major would even think to formulate these questions. Or write about them.

We Discover . . . Kroger

It’s embarassing to admit that I have lived in Durham for ten months now and had never visited the one store that could have put a quick stop to my grousing about food prices in the Triangle. No, Kroger cannot replace our beloved DeKalb Farmers Market in Atlanta. Nor does it offer a particularly strong meat and fish selection. But in terms of price and selection, the Kroger on Hillsborough Road is the best we’ve found so far for our needs. Among the items we found today at reasonable prices were:

Cento Hot Cherry Pepper Spread
La Croix fizzy water
Wine
Wild caught perch (ok, it was in plastic wrap, but it looked quite good and was only $5.99 a pound)
Muir Glen organic low-salt tomato sauce
DEET tick repellent (I have failed to describe our recent tick incidents on this blog, but suffice it to say that we have two decapitated tick bodies in our freezer, where they will remain until we are entirely certain that neither of us has Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, STARI, ehrlichiosis, or another tick-borne illness I did not encounter on the CDC web site)
Cherries
Dust-free cat litter
Low-salt tomato juice
Organic yogurt
Coffee at under $10 a pound
Organic cottage cheese
Deli meats
Anchovies
Cheap Parmesan cheese (I am not above this)

And yet, in all fairness to my dear nemesis, Whole Foods: Their organic, free-range chicken is a better deal. But I can’t buy DEET tick repellent there.

Anotherthyme

Continuing to return to the haunts of my youth, we went to Anotherthyme this evening. This restaurant has a special place in my heart, as the one of the first establishments where I spent way too much money on dinner. It was comforting to return to the site of my first forays into adult dining–using a credit card to spend money I didn’t have, ordering foods with unrecognizable names, and drinking wine with food. And having those first long, intimate conversations over a meal about things that mattered, like love and God and friendship; and wondering if the person sitting across from you would be the one you married; and thinking how lovely it was to have the future ahead of you.

So it is nearly impossible for me to “review” Anotherthyme. Walking into that intimate interior, with the warm wood and white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling, I still feel a sense of magic. This is no accident–these are people who post a slide show of the interior on their web site. You can see why this is a place where I expect some new intimacy to develop, some depth of friendship to be revealed, some special bond cemented. It’s just that kind of place.

I also happened to love my salad with lemon tahini dressing, avocado, onion, parmesan and cashews. My dear friend Donna, who joined us, had the fried chicken she always gets and which she adores. Fred’s steak and my calamari did not stand out. If you want an experience where every dish is flawless rather than just good, and where you’ll find the latest trend done to perfection, Anotherthyme is not the place to be.

But I’ll go back. There’s something to be said for a place that has cast this spell over me for over 20 years. And it’s especially nice to return with an old friend, and the wonderful person you actually married, and to still remember what really matters.

Four Square

Both of us were feeling a wee bit blue and tired when we got home last night. And so we treated ourselves to a meal at Four Square, because several people said we should.

We liked it. We sat at the copper bar while we waited for our table and chatted with the friendly bartender, a philosophy major from Maine whose favorite philosopher is Michel Foucault. (I recommended she check out Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and she was kind enough to write it down as if she were deeply interested.) We were intrigued by the Four Square Martini, which includes gin, vodka, and cucumbers they’ve marinated in salt water until they just begun to reach the pickle stage. It was so spectacular that I was very sad that sobriety dictated ordering just one.

I had halibut that was tender and flaky. Fred had thinly sliced ostrich seasoned with ginger, garlic and other good things. Unfortunately we did not take notes, since we went in an effort to cheer ourselves up and not in an attempt to write a review. Luckily, it worked.

But we can’t afford it very often, and so this will be just an occasional treat. The total bill, with tip, came to $160. This bought two glasses of wine for me, a beer and a martini for Fred, desserts for each of us, one cup of coffee, two appetizers, and two entrees. See what I mean about Durham being so expensive?