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Eating food this fresh, flavorful and honest every night isn't something I'm accustomed to. This week is turning out to be more of a blessing than a chore.
Day Four: Thursday, August 21
The East Atlanta Farmer's Market was tonight, and I finally got my ratatouille ingredients. I bought a lot of other exciting things as well, including a huge bag of collard greens from Steve Miller, along with potatoes and roma tomatoes. I bought eggplants and tomatoes from Scharko Farms, and lovely spreadable goat cheese from Decimal Place dairy – perfect on my bread along with Hidden Springs honey.
I have to say, it's difficult to pay $11 for a bag of collards when you know you could get the same bag of greens at the grocery store for $3. There's no denying the twinge of pain my wallet is feeling, although the market is often far cheaper than buying organic produce at Whole Foods. And yes, it's nice to know my dollars are staying local, especially here at the EAV market where many of the farmers are literally my neighbors. But I'd be lying if I said this week didn't entail some financial sacrifice.
I used our former columnist Kim O'Donnel's ratatouille recipe, which I find instantly comforting. There's no dish in the world as fresh and yet hearty, as bright as it is filling. My kid hates every ingredient in ratatouille (except tomatoes) but he gobbles the stuff up like it's a bowl full of chocolate-covered Cheetos whenever I make it.
Day Five: Friday, August 22
I woke up this morning to find my precious bread knocked onto the floor – most likely the work of my naughty cat. I nearly cried – I'd been so looking forward to my breakfast of bread with goat cheese and honey. But the loaf was a scattered mess of crumbs and unsalvageable. I stood miserably in the middle of the kitchen and ate leftover ratatouille out of the container for breakfast. It was still good (much like beef stew, it gets better on the second and third days), but my stomach craved the stability of carbs.
Later in the day, a rare gift: A woman who lives up the street called to say her figs were ripe and that I was welcome to pick as many as I pleased. I took a break from making my second batch of bread (which turned out better, denser and sweeter than the first) to go gather figs. I brought them back to my kitchen counter and stood there, gobbling the sweet, gooey treats greedily.
Day Six: Saturday, August 23
Yes, there are many things that taste better when you buy them locally. The differences between a mealy, pallid supermarket tomato and a juicy, vibrant, locally grown tomato are well-documented. But even veggies bought from the farmer's market can't compare to eating something you've grown yourself. One of the best things about summer is the taste of cherry tomatoes, still covered in pollen and warm from the sun.
Most summers, I have a moderate veggie garden – it's one of the true joys of my year. I become obsessed and often try to keep my plants alive well into the fall by covering them with bags to protect from the frost. This year, I didn't do enough to replenish the soil in my small plot, and my garden was practically barren. It yielded only one red pepper, two tomatoes and three miniature Japanese eggplants.
I also bought a lemon tree a couple of months ago, specifically so I could have lemons this week. When I bought the plant, there were four small green lemons on its branches. I figured that by the time my local eating week rolled around, I'd have four ripe lemons. Those four lemons are still small and hard and green. "Maybe they're limes," my husband offered. But karma is very straightforward when it comes to gardening – if you don't put good things back into your piece of earth, it will refuse to produce for you.
One thing I've discovered this week is the amazing difference between store-bought potatoes and locally grown ones. I have Steve Miller to thank for that. While other farmers in the market mainly stick to tomatoes and eggplants, Miller devotes just as much energy to staples such as potatoes and onions. His potatoes are startling.
I'm ashamed to admit that I've never cooked local potatoes at home before (another one of those items that's hard to pay premium for when they're so cheap at the grocery store). They're startling in part because they taste like something, like earth and natural sugars and ... well, I guess they taste like potatoes. You should try one. Potatoes that taste like potato are surprisingly potato-y.
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