Monday, October 22, 2007

It's been said of me: "If it's green, she'll eat it." So it was no surprise that, on a stroll in the Spadina Avenue area of Chinatown, I stopped in front of makeshift table on the sidewalk scattered with bunches of fresh, delicious-looking herbs and greens I'd never seen before.
My reporter's eye told me these herbs and greens came from the seller's garden. The seller was a hundred years old, or so she looked, but with a youthfulness that made me think: I want to be like her when I'm that old! She had straight white hair cut in a pageboy, a thin but tough body, a wide smile, energy to spare and only one tooth in her gums. Her eyes were dancing. I liked her.

"What is that?" I asked, pointing to the first of the mysterious bunches.

Big smile, the elder jumped up, eyes twinkling and speaking words I didn't understand. A younger woman hovering close by tried to translate, but I couldn't understand her, either. [Meanwhile, I'm registering her energy; I think she had more than the two of us young'uns put together!] Elder pulled a leaf off the bunch, crushed it, and stuck it under my nose. I didn't recognize the aroma.

"Salad?" I tried again.

"No salad, no salad," the elder said emphatically, shaking her head and making a chopping motion with her hands, followed by an eating motion.

"Cook?" I said.

"Hah." She made the chopping motion again.

The younger woman said something in anglo-mandarin. "Cook first?" I asked her. She laughed, then lowered her voice and her eyes, and said modestly: "Very good for body."

I pointed to the next bunch, and we went through the same thing. I really, really wanted to know because I tend to eat greens raw and I had awful visions of poisoning myself.

I pointed to a bag filled with luscious squash blossoms and leaves. I knew what to do with those. "I'll take the herbs, and the flowers," I said pointing to everything and picking up the bag of squash blossoms. The elder snatched the bag out of my hand, pulled out a blossom and dug out the little orange thingy inside, then with a flourish, threw it away. "Hah?" she asked. "I understand, I nodded. Then she took a stem with leaves and started peeling the stem. Yes, I nodded, I know.

How much? Five dollars for the lot. Take that, Harvest Wagon! They would have charged $10 just for the squash blossoms.

For dinner, I decided to cook the lot. I heated some olive oil and garlic in a shallow saucepan, and sauteed the herbs and the gutted and peeled blossoms and leaves into a kind of chiffonade. Then I seasoned and squeezed some lemon juice over it. It looked like a bit of a mess. I poured myself a glass of wine; I thought I might need it. Then the first mouthful, and ......... heaven on a fork! Mamma mia! Tonnerre de Brest! It was the most delicious vegetable dish I've ever tasted.

That was two days ago and I'm still alive. I guess I did it right.


  1. It sounds fabulous - and it does take some nerve to try thingss when you're not sure what you're eating! xo

  2. That sounds sooo good. Its so disapointing these days that there is no actual food in our food, and they charge half a years salary for anything remotely good for you. She sounds like a pistol!

  3. Ummmm~
    That story took me away to the first time I ate sauteed squash blossoms and melted mexican cheese~using a thick warm tortilla to eat it. I worked with a lady from Mexico City (American) and she was a very, very good cook.
    This little meal sounds like heaven to me~bon appetite!

  4. i bet it was delish.
    stuffed squashblossoms are awesome.
    what a steal.


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