There are farmers’ markets that are basically foodie self-esteem polishers, and markets that aren’t (I’d link to the South Side Market in Fort Wayne here, but it’s so “aren’t” it doesn’t even have a website). Detroit’s Eastern Market is somewhere in between. The long winter precludes locally grown produce much of the year, but there’s a major produce hub in the city, and lots of wholesalers use the market to offload stuff that’s just a little too close to its sell-by date, so even in the dead of winter you can get some bargains on grapefruit.
But there’s always a healthy percentage of mom-and-pop outfits, and a few weeks ago I paused at one in the furthest-flung shed, where a portly Lebanese man stood behind a booth offering “extra extra virgin olive oil.”
“Extra extra virgin?” I said. “I spend all this time learning olive oil grading, and now there’s a new one?” He wasn’t amused. “Try some,” he said, gesturing to a basket of oil-soaked croutons. I told him no and asked what made it so virginal. “I make it here from my family’s olive trees, in Lebanon,” he said. “It is the best.”
I thought for a moment about how a guy would go about importing just his family’s personal olives, what sort of border inspection would be involved, the problems of transporting delicate produce halfway around the world, etc. Then I looked at the bottles. It was a cold morning, and the oil had congealed in the bottles to a murky green glop. “You take it home, it warms up, it is fine,” he said. No salesmanship, just plain statements and a certain rock-solid dignity. This is why I stay out of animal shelters; I would select all the one-eyed, three-legged puppies and kittens. It was $15 for a liter. What the hell.
I took it home and put it on the shelf. Four hours later, the glop had diseappeared, and the oil was a lovely yellow-green. I tipped a little into a saucer. Waiters and foodies are always gassing on about olive oil — how you can cook with this grade and not that one, how this one is fruity and this one is acidic, how the Italian product differs from the Spanish, etc. — but I confess I’ve never been able to taste huge differences in them, unless the bottle had been spiked with peppercorns and garlic. I buy 90 percent of my olive oil from Costco, and rely on the vinegar to carry the day on the salad. It just so happened, this day, I had a loaf of fresh Italian bread. Broke off a piece, dipped it in the oil, and…
Well. My mouth went to Lebanon for a few moments. It wasn’t Hezbollah’s Lebanon, but a sunny place in the country, with a view of the ancient hills. I rested in the shade of a tree with a gnarled trunk as big around as a 200-year-old oak, but it was still warm enough that the breeze was like breath, and…
Blinked. Back in Michigan. Friends, that was some butt-kicking olive oil. I actually licked the saucer. I’ve heard that Mediterranean fisherman sometimes begin their day with a shotglass of the stuff, instead of coffee. I’m going to start doing that. Or maybe pouring it on my cereal.
I mention this because? Not sure why. I have to go make tiramisu in a few minutes — Bossy’s coming to Detroit tonight — and I need to get in a food head. Not that I will be putting olive oil in my tiramisu, mind you. It’s just fun to think about food on a Friday.
It beats thinking about politics, but Bryant Gumbel offered an in-between stop this week. On his HBO “Real Sports” show, he profiled Barack Obama, basketball player, featuring footage of Obama playing then (in Hawaii) and now (with some friends, in long Adidas exercise pants, not shorts). He’s not bad, I have to say, quick and crafty for a 46-year-old, a real (dare I say?) team player. Gumbel made a mention of Obama’s game being a factor in “basketball-mad Indiana,” and I wondered if he was right. Indiana loves basketball, true. But it doesn’t love all basketball.
It’s safe to say the Hoosier game is the Knight version — no showboating, no star antics, very Larry Bird-in-college. The NBA style, the ghetto game, not so much. Obama made an interesting comment about basketball being a black art form much like jazz, paraphrasing from memory, “individual improvisation within a defined structure.” Improvisation starts with an I, and you know what they say about where that letter appears in “team.” Beware, Obama. Tread carefully.
Only one bit of bloggage before I tiramisu (yes, it IS a verb), but I recommend you treat it with extreme caught: typeracing! I had no idea I could type 70 words a minute — if only my brain worked that fast.
Have a good weekend, all.