kindness of strangers.

Since I grocery shop and cook for folks for a living, I spend an inordinate amount of time at Your DeKalb Farmers Market.  Only five minutes from my house, this place is a gigantic hub of culture, food, and activity.  The store is packed nearly all the time with 100,000 customers per week, and people in my town tend to have a love/hate or hate/hate relationship with YDFM.

I have an almost exclusively love/love relationship with the market.  I’m constantly amazed and tickled by the kinds and colors of people I see there, speaking a wide variety of languages, wearing all manner of eye-catching outfits, perusing a wild and ever-changing assortment of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and live sea creatures, cheeses, coffees, and housemade specialties like breads, pastas, sauces, soups, and desserts.  I go to the market nearly every day to grab fresh produce for clients, always hunting for items grown in Georgia or neighboring states.  Even if I’m not feeling particularly chipper when I arrive, I find myself smiling shortly thereafter.  If you must know, I’ve even made a “scavenger hunt” list of what to look for at the market…someone wearing tons of bling, someone with a crazy hat, someone freezing out their baby (it’s super cold in there), someone who should have grabbed a cart instead of the jammed basket that is threatening to spill over at any moment, etc., etc.  It is a magnificent place to people watch.

I’m at the market so often, I call it my office, and I have made friends with many of the employees who work long hours, earning not-so-much money.  The majority of people I’ve befriended are from Ethiopia or Eretria, and they religiously send cash back home to help their families many miles away.  I guess it’s odd for other market shoppers to observe my conversations with my veggie guys, who call me by name and often give me hugs or their traditional hand-shake-shoulder-bump greeting.  But, it seems natural to me to chat with the people I see each day, who offer to help me find the freshest items available- even if it means stopping what they’re doing to go in the back and haul out a new box of jalapenos/ mung sprouts/ mushrooms/ green beans/ you name it.

In the busy meat department, I have also made lots of friends.  They may cut a special pork tenderloin for me, even though there are none on display, or hop over to a different counter to serve me when I’m waiting.  We chat for a few minutes about family, the weather, or how busy the market is that day.  Their eyes light up, as do mine, to have a moment of conversation and take in a friendly face amongst the sea of shoppers.  I am delighted to know each one of them.

One of my favorite guys in the meat department, Temesgen, has been out sick for weeks.  I’ve been asking his coworkers about him relentlessly, missing his warm smile and our daily chats.  I’ve been concerned that staying home from work so long would cost him his job.  I couldn’t get a straight answer about what was making him ill.  Finally, on Monday, I found out that Temesgen has a brain tumor.  He’s had surgery and is on life support, unable to breathe on his own.  Tears poured out immediately.  My friend.  This, big-hearted, lovely man who always asks about my mother and has overcome adversity to be here in America, is dying.  He has four children and a wife who is a cashier at the market.

I’ll admit that I am an emotional being who lets others in pretty easily.  But I am struck by the weight of my sorrow for Temesgen and his family.  Teetering on the edge of tears for days, listening to his coworkers express their sadness, sharing a good cry with Almaz, a cashier…I have been a mess.   I’ve felt extremely helpless in this situation, sending love out into the Universe, just hoping that Temesgen and his family will receive it.  I am moved by the power of the kindness of strangers.  It is amazing to me how small exchanges of pleasantries over time–a flash of a smile in recognition of a familiar face, an effort made to provide extra special service, a talk about family or allergies or work or roots or dreams of travel– can turn into a place carved out in one’s heart for an unlikely friend.

I was able to pass along a card, awkwardly expressing my mournfulness and how Temesgen made a difference in my life,  and some money, which is being collected for the family from the market’s large community.  And that is the best I can do, in addition to continuing to send Temesgen and his kin my love.

This is a food blog, as you well know.  And this has been a long, sad story not really about food.  But food connects everyone and forges relationships- planned or not.

I encourage you to smile at those around you.  Take time to say hello and ask your neighborhood workers how they are before you place an order.  You never know how that kindness may brighten someone’s day or make an impression upon them.  Or how they will move your soul in an expected way.  People- that’s what it’s all about.

Temesgen has always been proud of my work and intrigued by my job…so I’m gonna go ahead and get on with sharing a meal with you today, hoping that I will bring you a little joy, though I may not know you at all.

By the way, I am experimenting with a new camera this week, so please forgive the lack of uniformity in size, color, pixelation, and saturation of photos.

final plate- pizza with peaches and kale and cauliflower salad

Whole Wheat Pizza with Bacon Onion Jam, Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Kale with Cauliflower and Fennel Salad.

We’ll start with the salad, because it needs to chill before serving.

greds for cauliflower and fennel salad

Salad ingredients:  combine in a big bowl:

1 head cauliflower, chopped into small florets*

1 bunch carrots, or a few larger carrots, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin

1 bulb fennel, core removed, sliced thinly on a mandolin, plus a Tablespoon or two of the fronds, chopped

2 heaping T capers, or more if you like (reserve brine)

big handful flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly

2 handfuls or so roasted pistachios

sliced carrots

fennel bulb

sliced fennel

salad ready to toss

For the dressing:

mixing mustard vinaigrette

2 T caper brine

juice of 1 juicy lemon (plus another one after chilling if needed)

2 T champagne or white wine vinegar

1 heaping T whole grain mustard

3 cloves garlic, pressed

squeeze of honey

couple pinches salt and pepper

Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously while you slowly stream in olive oil- 1/3 of a Cup+, until you feel the dressing thicken up.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  It should be quite tangy.

add capers to salad

cauliflower and fennel salad

Toss ingredients with your dressing and place salad in the fridge to chill for at least an hour, but longer is even better.  The cauliflower needs time to break down in the acidity of the dressing.

*This makes for a very crunchy and refreshing salad.  It’s raw and lovely- but if you want to opt for less chewing and raw-ness, you can blanch your cauliflower in salted boiling water for a few minutes first- until it is just fork tender.  Then, allow the cauliflower to cool before mixing it with the other salad ingredients.  It works both ways!

For the pizza:  Preheat oven with a pizza stone to 500°.

cooking bacon

Bacon onion jam:

6 pieces bacon

2 fresh onions, sliced

Place bacon in a cold heavy pot, and turn heat to medium.  Brown bacon until crisp.  Then, remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate and drain all but about 2 – 3 T of the bacon grease.

onions in pot

onions tossed in bacon grease

Add onions to the bacon grease, along with a pinch of salt, and toss.  Allow onions to caramelize slowly, turning heat down to medium low, until they are soft and darkened.

caramelized onions

This takes about 20 – 30 minutes.  Stir the onions occasionally.

greds bacon onion jame

Then add:

chopped cooked bacon

3 cloves garlic, pressed

1/2 Cup apple cider

1/2 Cup chicken broth

2 T red wine vinegar

1 t maple syrup

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

add broth and cider to bacon onion jam

Allow the ingredients to simmer, stirring now and again, until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture looks and feels jammy.  Taste- it’s awesome.  Should be sweet, tangy, and salty from the bacon.  Remove bay leaf and transfer bacon onion jam to a bowl.

bacon jam

Now you’re ready to build a pizza!

dough stretched out

Stretch out your dough or grab a whole wheat naan crust or a pre-made pizza crust.  We used a store-bought whole wheat dough and stretched it out.  We shook cornmeal onto the pizza peel to prevent sticking and to give it a little crunch on the bottom.

greds for pizza toppings

Toppings:

2 Georgia peaches, sliced

5 (or so) kale leaves, ribs removed, sliced into ribbons

goat cheese, kept cold until you’re ready to use it

shredded parmesan

shredded mozzarella

pizza with bacon onion jam

Spread your bacon jam across your dough like you would tomato sauce or pesto.  Then, add a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese and top with your peaches.

close up pizza with peaches

Crumble your goat cheese all over the pizza and then scatter your kale ribbons.

kale topping peaches and onion jam

Top with shredded mozzarella,

pizza with mozzarella

and carefully transfer (scariest part) your pizza to the hot pizza stone in the oven.

pizza cooking

Bake that baby until browned and bubbly, turning once after about 7 or 8 minutes.  It should take 12 – 15 minutes in all.

pizza cooked close up

Remove pizza to a cutting board and use a pizza cutter to slice your pie into triangles.

Remove your cauliflower salad from the fridge and taste.  If it needs more zing, you can add more lemon juice.  You can adjust salt and pepper as well.

pizza and cauliflower fennel salad

Serve a couple slices of your pie alongside a nice helping of your cauliflower fennel salad.  We laid a couple pieces of pretty, local lettuce down as a bed for our salad.

Sit down and get ready to enjoy!

Yummo!  This pizza was awesome!!!!!!!!  Such a fun combination of summertime flavors.  The tangy, sweet, saltiness of the bacon jam paired beautifully with the soft, luscious peaches.  (I want to slather bacon onion jam on everything.  Caramelized Georgia onions = my version of candy.  Add bacon and forgetaboutit!!!!)  The tart goat cheese was the perfect complement to the sweet notes.  I loved the piney flavor of the kale, and its texture offered a little chew.  Oh, and the crust had just the right balance of crispy vs. chewiness as well.  Mmm.  Melty mozzarella and sharp Parmesan rounded the pizza out, bringing all the components together.  Fab.

I super enjoyed the crunchy, fresh cauliflower salad.  Its tang factor was powerful, but in a wonderful way.  Everything was so crisp and clean tasting.  Straight-up cauliflower in my mouth, deserving of the spotlight.  The licorice-y fennel, which can be overwhelming, was tamed to loveliness.  The carrots were sweet and bright.  Capers have a unique brand of tanginess that can really give a dish identity.  The richness of the pistachios tempered the acidity, offering welcome bites of nuttiness along the way.  A smash hit.

This meal was a great vehicle for combining so many of the summertime jewels that we now have at our finger tips.  We lucky Georgia folks are entering the most wonderful time of the year, as far as I’m concerned.  Summer crops are easy to use and full of flavor.  I’ve got 5 gorgeous red tomatoes just waiting to become culinary all-stars.

That’s it for today, my friends.  Hug your people.  Live life to its fullest.  Love one another.  I’m sending love to each one of you.

Happy cooking and eating to you,

ashli

 

 

 

 

 

Comment w/ Facebook

  1. Ash,

    That story is a heartbreaker. I think you and Adam are amazing.. you guys really walk the walk. The recipes you post are delicious, your blog is interesting and real. Im proud to call you both my friend. If you tell me who to see at the meat counter at YDFM, I will make a donation for Temesgen as well. Hope to see you soon.

    Reply

    • Ross, thank you, my friend. The donations would be taken by one of the Supervisors on duty up by the registers. You know, one of the ladies who comes running when someone yells. “PRICE CHECK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” They might look at you funny, but just tell them you want to donate to Temesgen and his family- to add to the collection. You are a wonderful person. xoxoxo so much love. Thank you.

      Reply

  2. Hi-Stumbled on your website while loknoig for zucchini recipes and adore all your photos and meals! You definitely have 2 talents that I wish I had but I get to enjoy them! Do you have photography tips??thanks for making food a glorious part of my day

    Reply

    • Thank you so much for kind words! My husband and I are constantly trying to become better photographers. Wish I had some tips for you, but we are really still learning and experimenting ourselves! I appreciate your note!
      ashli

      Reply

  3. […] I work by myself almost every day planning, shopping, and cooking for my clients.  My trip to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market tends to be the shiniest moment of my work day (until I deliver edible happiness to my people), […]

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