Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Today's Wednesday, which means the Farmers' Market will be set up downtown on the Sun Plaza. It's one of the highlights of my work week, to go downtown as the sun's sinking lower in the west and check out the goodies. I've become quite the seasonal cook, basing my menus around what's fresh and available from local vendors. Now that the summer's full on us in Florida, the salads are gone. Lettuce is a winter crop here, but it can't tolerate the high heat and humidity of our summer months. Instead, we get corn, collards, squash, peppers, eggplant, onions and leeks, melons--lots of melons, luscious and dripping with juice--and for another month or so, blueberries. I usually buy three or four pints of blueberries, and they never make it into pies or cobblers. Instead, I wash them and put them out on the counter in my berry bowl, and people in the house snack on them through the day.

You get a totally different feel for food when you're eating fresh and seasonally. Since my cooking revolves around the market, I associate certain recipes and foods with times of year--autumn and winter is for persimmons, pecans and fresh greens. Spring brings strawberries and later, blueberries. Summer is melons, corn, squash and eggplant. And so the seasons go.

In addition to the produce, we also have a local dairy that sells fresh, non-homogenized milk which you have to shake up unless you want to skim the cream off the top. Once you've had fresh milk like this, nothing else tastes quite as good. There's also a homemade ice cream vendor who's been setting up for the last month or so and wreaking havoc with my calorie counts; a local coffee roasting company that offers fresh beans roasted that afternoon; and the Georgia cheese guy, who has some delightful goat and cow cheeses.

My son's home before he leaves for his new job, and he's been going downtown each day to Starbucks to study his teaching materials. On Wednesdays he takes a break and meets me across the street at the market, where I buy him a couple sandwiches from a caterer who has her booth there (and I get marinated olives and fresh pesto for the house), and we talk as we stroll past the booths, admiring the homemade soaps, and the fresh breads, and the bead jewelry from the lady from Pakistan, while the three piece bluegrass combo on the stage plays old time music.

People ask me why I live in North Florida. I always feel like living here is as much a state of mind as anything else, and I feel bad for the people who stay locked into airconditioned little cubicles. I'm typing this sitting out on my back porch, looking over the flowers on my patio, smelling the gardenias in bloom. It's home, and there's no place else quite like it.

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