Friday, May 30, 2008

Spring has sprung at Jean-Talon!

As you can see from these pictures (click on each to enlarge), our beloved Marche' Jean-Talon is back in full swing! Ok, so only the potatoes and the cherries above are local, but at least all the stalls are set up and selling something. We're making progress on the season at last. I was supposed to go to a dog show in New Jersey last weekend, but there was only one other class male (non-champion) entered, so I figured it wasn't worth the gas money to go down. Instead, we headed north to Montreal, as we are so wont to do, especially now that the weather has become quite lovely. And sure enough, everyone in Montreal was out and about, walking and biking and shopping and spilling out of all the cafes. It was just wonderful; there was a familiar, palpable energy of people making the most of what little non-winter they get each year.

As for me, I bought myself a cute polka-dot rolly-bag just like a real city dweller (or perhaps like one of the grandmas from the old country), and we worked our way through the whole market, filling my new wheelie cart with all sorts of edible treasures of the season. We got new fingerling potatoes called "La Ratte" which are reputed to be very nutty and buttery-tasting, tender young asparagus, fresh snap peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, some greenhouse-grown tomatoes, peppers and basil, and of course, that fleeting harbinger of spring, fiddleheads. My friend Cyd is especially fond of fiddleheads, though you'd never know it from her description of them. Allow me to quote her: "Fiddleheads are small, greenish-brownish things that seemed to have recoiled upon themselves to escape their own aroma of marshy rot. They are vegetation as Tim Burton may have imagined it." Tee hee. I suppose it's very fitting that the first time she ever heard of fiddleheads was in a Stephen King story where a girl was lost in the woods and ate fiddleheads to survive. Cyd continues: "These unopened fronds of a variety of fern are not for the culinarily cautious. They are somewhat elusive and daunting. Indeed, one may need to be lost, cold, starving and delusional to purposefully walk up and try one." Geez! If she hasn't completely turned you off to trying this somewhat asparagus-tasting delicacy, Cyd's favorite method to prepare them is quite minimalist. Simply saute' them in butter with some minced garlic for a few minutes until the fiddleheads are crisp-tender and the butter has begun to brown, season with salt and pepper, and if you really want to gild the lily, finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The quintessential taste of spring!

Once our cart was overflowing with produce, we headed back to the entrance to hit one of our favorite places where we always end up spending way too much money, Petit Olivier. There we bought the most amazing red pepper sauce, some artichoke dip, this awesome spicy marinated eggplant (and I thought I hated eggplant!), and of course, some roasted garlic-stuffed olives. At this point, we decided to break for lunch. We had a couple of our beloved Romanian hamburgers called "mici", then bought some extra ones to take home and grill ourselves, along with a pint of their wonderfully crispy housemade sauerkraut. YUM! To wash down our mici, we made our way over the Mangue & Melon for two most excellent smoothies. I had a triple berry/orange concoction that was delicious, except for the seeds that always vex me. And Cyd had something called the Mediterranean--their signature mango and melon smoothie but with a whole fistful of mint blended in. Cyd loved it so much, she declared it the official drink of the summer, and rushed right back into the market to acquire mangoes and melons to make her own frothy beverage at home. She urges you to try it as well. The "recipe" that we developed requires you to add about one cup of chunked cantelope to the jar of a blender along with the flesh of one ripe mango (also about a cup), one cup of orange-mango juice (try new Tropicana Pure=good stuff), six ice cubes, and to quote Cyd one last time, "as much fresh mint as you're man enough to take" (I recommend the leaves from 4-5 big sprigs). Blend, drink, and sigh with refreshment.

Before we departed Jean-Talon, we had one more important stop to make, at Au Pain Dore' for some more confidences. (I told you I was gonna do it!) Cyd got her favorite chocolate ones, but I had to have some of the ones sandwiched together with lemon curd. Man, oh, man! Now I really am going to have to figure out how to make those scrumptious little buggers at home! I haven't yet cracked the code, but I did get some new and valuable clues at the bakery. According to the little sign posted near the cookies, the ingredients included whipped egg whites, almond paste, powdered sugar, and as I suspected all along, flour. Surely, I will be able to work with that short list to make a reasonable fascimile of this addictive pastry.

Speaking of pastries, we had another sweet destination to visit in Montreal, a bakery called Fous Desserts (Crazy Desserts!). According to some learned folk on Chowhound, they have the best croissants in the city. Well, we tried the plain, the almond, and the chocolatine, and they were darn good. But I think my favorites are still to be had at Patisserie Belge. What we did discover at Fous Desserts, though, was an incredible nut tart that one of the Chowhounders claimed was their finest dessert. It has a buttery short crust (one of the best I've ever had, truly), and it's filled with a soft, fleur de sel caramel, and three kinds of nuts--almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios. So delicious! In fact, I'm afraid that this is another thing that I'm going to have to try and recreate at home. I think I'd like to try it with macadamia nuts in the mix.

All of this to say, we had a lovely outing over our Memorial Day weekend. I hope you did, too, before it was back to the grind. I started teaching the first summer session this week, so no rest for the weary. Oh well, cheer up...Fourth of July is right around the corner!


Randi said...

Are you sure those cherries are local??? I think its warmer here in Ontario and we dont have any local cherries yet.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Well, they SAID they were local, but maybe those Quebecers LIE to us! Tee hee. Truth to tell, I thought it was a little early for them, too. Hmm....


The Cookbook Junkie said...

I was looking through one of my biggest 'cookies' cookbooks last night and the section on macaroons and meringues had several recipes that used almond paste. I'm sure you'll be able to recreate these with no trouble.