I’ve been wanting to participate in Gay’s (A Scientist in the Kitchen), Market Event, but, frankly, our markets are kind of boring up here in the Vendée.
Could be all the rain.
The markets we went to in Spain were all outdoors, taking over most of the streets and plazas in the village.
They were loud, bustling, raucous affairs, teaming with shoppers, people meeting and chatting, kids running and dogs barking
Here they are all indoors, in purpose-built pavilions.
And, being French, everything is very neatly stacked, arranged,…. Even the shoppers are ‘propre’!
So rather than waxing eloquently about the wonders of my market, let me tell you about my own, somewhat slow, learning process, taking me from the giant supermarkets to the small veggie stall.
In the U.S. people buy big (Costco); here they buy small.
It’s taken years to break myself of the ‘sack of potatoes’ habit when I buy food.
I’m feeding two people. We have potatoes once or twice a week. What am I going to do with a 10lb (5 kilo) or even a 5lb bag of potatoes?
For a long time, I just couldn’t convince me that it was okay to buy in small quantities.
That it didn’t say bad things about me as a person if I only wanted/needed 6 olives.
That it didn’t reflect negatively on my status in the world, my disposable income, my ability to provide sustenance for my family, my capabilities as a ‘femme du foyer’ (housewife) or the size of my penis (Just seeing if you’re paying attention…)
At the markets here (at least in France and Spain) one does not touch the merchandise. The vendor will pick out your fruits and vegetables for you. You tell them what and how much you want and trust them to choose. If it’s a perishable item, like an avocado or a melon, you also tell them what day you will be eating it so they can select appropriately. They do know their stuff, after all.
I always felt that, if they we’re going to do all this work for me, I should make it worth their while, and buy lots.
Then, one hot summer afternoon in Spain, I popped into a small market to buy a bottle of water.
All I wanted was 1 bottle of water.
I was there for 20 minutes.
There was a woman in the shop already, doing a bit of shopping. I watched as she bought (as best as I remember):
4 thin slices of salami, which had to be cut
4 thin slices of ham, which had to be cut
3 thin slices of some bologna-type sausage, which had to be cut
8 thin slices of chorizo, which had to be cut
4 thin slices of Manchego cheese, which had to be cut
1/2 of a very small goat’s milk cheese
1 small wedge of a soft cheese
1 spoonful of fromage frais
1 chicken breast
2 pork chops
a small handful of strawberries
1/2 head of broccoli
2 containers of yogurt
Well, you get the idea… Everything was carefully sliced, cut, weighed, and wrapped by the shop owner, with a smile and a “What else”.
I would have bought a lb of some kind of cured meat, a whole chicken, a slab of cheese and a bag of oranges.
I would have ended up without nearly the variety and, probably, with lots of waste.
I still have to really force myself, and I often end up with a bit more than I intended, but I can now buy 2 potatoes, or 3 apples, or 8 strawberries, or 6 olives….
The biggest challenge in cooking for one or two or three, is not the cooking; it’s the shopping!
And the planning to use up all the odd bits….
Here ‘s my last cool weather dish for those of you still waiting for spring – or anticipating winter – in memory of the lesson learned in that little shop in the village.
Chicken Breasts with Spanish Rice
2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1/3 green bell pepper
1/3 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 cup brown rice
1 can whole tomatoes, 15 oz (450gr)
1/4 – 3/4 cup chicken stock or water
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs olive oil
Chop onion and peppers. Mince garlic. Cut chicken breasts in half. Heat oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breasts, and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes each. Remove to a plate. Add chili powder, onion, pepper, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Open tomatoes and drain liquid into a bowl. Chop the tomatoes and drain again. Add drained tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and rice to pan. Measure the drained liquid and add enough water or chicken stock to equal 1 cup (or however much liquid your rice package calls for). Pour this over the rice/vegetables in the skillet and stir well to combine. Lay the chicken breasts on top of the rice and cover. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until rice is done. Mine took 20 minutes – check rice package. Stir occasionally while cooking. When done, serve – either from the pan or arrange nicely on a platter.
Check out all the markets at A Scientist in the Kitchen right after the end of May.