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.