Thursday, August 24, 2006

Heyday at the Haymarket, or What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Have you folks completely given up on me? This is my personal worst--an obscene, 11-day blog-bandonment! I have good excuses, though, I swear! First, after teaching two summer sessions PLUS working at the farmers' market off and on all summer, I tried to squeeze in at least a mini-vacation before the start of the new school year. And as is my way, I try to combine travel and sightseeing with another of my passions, dog showing. So my dog, Grady, and I took off last Thursday for Fitchburg, Massachusetts (central Mass, I'd say about 45 minutes northwest of Boston?) for three days of dog shows. The first day, we did nothing (we lost). I was so depressed that I took myself off to the Trader Joe's in Framingham to cheer myself up. Trader Joe's is, second only to Disneyland, my favorite place in the whole world! And since I don't have one anywhere near me, it is always stop #1 on any away-from-home travel itinerary. Do you folks know the wonders and glories of Trader Joe's? If not, I would describe it as a cross between a health food store and a gourmet shop, with an amazing selection of interesting foodstuffs at shockingly low prices. A friend of mine recently asked, after hearing me gush about TJ's, if it was like Sam's Club or Costco? And no, it's not a huge warehouse like that--in fact, it's smaller than your average grocery store. But you can get such neat things there! I stocked up on olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olives and peppers, salsas and sauces, Cuban-style black beans, all kinds of nuts and dried fruits for baking, Marcona almonds, Morello cherries (European tart cherries that some lady just won the National Pie Championship with), Japanese panko, cookies, candies and snack mixes (they have a sweet, salty and crunchy blend with honey roasted peanuts, cashews and almonds along with peanut brittle bits that is just the best), whole-grained hot and cold cereals, marvelous coffees (like their new one, some kind of organic, shade-grown, fair trade Nicaraguan brew), and other yummy beverages like an organic lemonade and tea mix. My most interesting purchase this trip was Hawaiian sea salt in both the orange-red color that you might be familiar with and even a volcanic black version (I have a vision of using them both on something around Halloweentime)! I also get delicious treats for my doggies there--peanut butter biscuits are the fave at my house.

But perhaps the thing for which Trader Joe's is the most famous is that it is the distributor for the infamous "Two-Buck Chuck" wine from that wine-in-a-box guru, Mr. Franzia. The wine carries the Charles Shaw label (Shaw was a proper winemaker but lost his label--and his winery--in an ugly divorce, as the story goes) and sells for as little as two dollars in some places, hence the name. Unfortunately for winemakers, Two Buck Chuck has beaten many other wines (up to $20 a bottle!) in blind taste tests. So you see people flying out of Trader Joe's with cases of the stuff! God only knows where Franzia gets his wine from. I've heard that it started with acquiring a huge lot of bottled wine from an airline (American?) after 9/11 when corkscrews were outlawed. I have also heard that he buys leftover wines from California vineyards, which means you could get the dregs of the barrel or you could get wine that that particular vineyard bottles under its own label for much more money. But I figure at three bucks a bottle (it's Three-Buck Chuck in MA), it's worth the gamble. Sometimes the wine is just okay, and sometimes, it's really good. And if it's not the greatest, then I use it for cooking instead. But I digress...

So that was Friday, then back to the dog show on Saturday, where Grady got Winners' Dog, which means that the judge thought he was the best male of the breed that day. That earned him another point toward his championship--yeah! To celebrate, I decided to head into Beantown for some sightseeing. I actually drove to the Alewife station (I find that name charming, though I think it's a fish), and then took the T into the city. I was worried about trying to find parking in Boston proper, as it was a beautiful day and all of the Sox Nation and the Yankee fans were thronging to the city for the big rivalry game. I could care less about that myself, so I headed to Quincy Market (Faneiul Hall Marketplace) to poke around, shop, and watch amazing street performers. Then I had lunch at a cute little pub called The Purple Shamrock because it seemed like the sort of thing one should do in Boston. They were having half-priced appetizers during the game, so I took ordered two different things and made lunch out of it--very Rachael Ray of me, I know. I also toured a very moving Holocaust exhibit right across the street from the pub. But the best thing I did all day was the visit the Haymarket. It's a wholesale fruit and vegetable market right around the corner from the Union Bay Oyster House and the Bell in Hand Tavern, the oldest tavern in America. If I lived in Boston, I would hit the Haymarket every week. They have everything under the sun, including many exotic fruits and veggies that I had never even heard of, and all at about a third of the price of produce purchased elsewhere. I couldn't buy very much, because I had to schlep the bags around as I was sightseeing, but I got two pounds of peeled garlic for $2, a bunch of white asparagus for 75 cents, a pound of snow peas for a dollar, and four golden tomatoes that were roughly the size of a toddler's head, also for a dollar--a DOLLAR! Can you believe? There are also interesting little food shops that surround the Haymarket. I got two chunks of parmesan for five bucks, but I refrained from buying any goat, even though you could order it "fresh-killed, whole or half." [shudder]

Then on Sunday, I am very proud to tell you that Grady got his first Best of Breed and another point towards his title! Ok, so there were only four dogs total and no specials (already finished champions), but it was still pretty exciting! So we had to stay around until the group competition later that afternoon. Well, I guess we didn't have to--I just thought we did, as that's how it works in Canada where Grady is already a Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) champion. But it was fun to be in the group along with Beethoven the basset hound, Morgan the otterhound, and other top hounds in the nation. Of course, we didn't do anything in the group, but the judge called Grady "adorable," and I have to agree! ;-) So that put us home pretty late that evening (it's about a five-hour drive), and I arrived home to find a message from the farmers' market manager that people had been asking about me (and my conspicuous absence) at the local market. She said that people rarely request a specific vendor to return, but she asked if I would come back this weekend if she made a space for me and charged me half-price for the stall rental? How could I say no to that? So this was a week of much stress and very little sleep, between baking and canning every day, and also trying to get ready for school to start on Monday! Plus, I feel like crap. The ragweed is in full bloom, and I can't stop sneezing, I can barely see out of my squinty, watery eyes, and my head feels like it's stuffed with rags. So please, dear friends, I hope you'll forgive my lengthy absence. In fact, I am so exhausted, that I think a Sunday afternoon nap is in order. And when I awake, refreshed, I will post more (including recipes), I promise!


Anonymous said...

We also discovered the black salt at T.J.'s. There is always a bowl of it on the table. I like to use it on the tomato, mayo and basil sandwich, salads, and cheesey toasts with red pepper spreads. It is especially beautiful and delicious on avocados that have the centers filled with olive oil and balsamic. Next, we will try the red salt. So glad you had an adventurous week!


Randi said...

I love TJ's too and used to go every week when I lived in cali( 2 buck chuck). Now, I only go when I visit friends in Ann Arbor( 3 buck chuck). I bought the salt too. What breed of dog is Grady?

JoyBugaloo said...

Well, why didn't you all tell ME about the black salt if you already knew about it? Sheesh! ;-)

Randi, Grady is a PBGV, a petit basset griffon vendeen. It's a fairly rare breed, a little French rabbit hunting hound. If you know your French, you can see that the name is very descriptive: petit (small), basset (low to the ground), griffon (wire-haired), and Vendee is the region in France where they originate--an area full of scrub and thickets where bunnies abound! In truth, they look like a terrier mix, but they are all hound. I have two of them, and I just love 'em! :-)


Randi said...

Shouldnt Lapin be in that name too!! When you love a breed, one isnt enough. Thats how I feel about my dachshunds.