Monday, March 28, 2011

Secret Meetings and Brown Paper Bags

A few weeks ago at the Farmer's Market, I found myself hanging back in line, keeping a fair distance from the other shoppers. It was way too cold for a late February Saturday morning in California and all I really wanted to do was have a quick, but private chat with the vendor and take myself home. Finally, the line died down and I seized the opportunity to corner Lamb Lady behind her table. "I don't see it on your board, but don't you have some Marguez for sale?" I asked as calmly as possible.

She eyed me a bit suspiciously and after a long pause, repeated, "Do I have any Marguez for sale?" The wind kicked up a bit and my patience started to flag, but she was the only one (to my knowledge) who had Marguez, so I had to keep my cool; I nodded and then she went on into a long soliloquy that covered, in turn, raising lamb, a secret recipe, and an FDA crackdown. I nodded my sympathies and then, in whispered voice, she confided that while she didn't have any with her that morning, she just so happened to have two half-pound packages back at her ranch and could bring one the following week. It took a lot for me to get her to agree to giving up both packs, but after a few more minutes she agreed. It would have to be secret, though, and she wouldn't list them on her board, so if I wanted Marguez, I needed to be there the following Saturday. Period.

True confession: I like lamb--a lot. How this happened I am not entirely sure, because I grew up in  a family where no one ate lamb, except my grandfather, and that was only once, at a Greek festival. But, I do remember getting a taste of it then and being pleasantly surprised by its gamey taste; I was probably 9 or 10 at the time and apart from that one taste, I didn't taste lamb again until I was in my mid twenties. I don't recall either liking or disliking it, but I do know that I didn't seek it out on menus.

Everything happened to my palate once I moved to California, which in itself is a pretty ridiculous thing to say about a palate that came of age in New Orleans, but it's true enough. Maybe it was riding around all the coastal roads framed by green hills and wandering flocks of lamb, or, maybe it was a result of getting my palate around a million little tastes of crazy, musky, almost fetid cheeses, but California did something to my palate and that something made me a teeny tiny bit obsessed with lamb.

So, it didn't take much to get me salivating when one rainy afternoon as I was ironing sheets (don't even ask) and watching Food TV, a Barefoot Contessa episode came on with Daniel Boulud who was cooking a dish with Marguez, white beans, and spinach. It was a long week and that first Saturday that I attempted the buy, I was ready to go home and make a pot of my own, but it would be another long week before I could replicate Boulud's wonder in my own oven. Suffice it to say, I spent that long week dozing off and counting--lambs.

The following Saturday morning got away from me way too quickly, sucked up with a deep conversation with Ken over the California economy, a second cup of coffee, and a serious rain storm that made venturing out worth a second thought. In the end though, even with the clock nearing 11:30 and past the time when most vendors are still selling, we hopped in the car and made a last mad dash for the market. Lamb Lady was one of the few vendors operating and when we cued up in the line, there was another couple straight ahead of us. I glanced down at their purchase and saw two packages of sausage on the table and I was pretty sure that they were MY packs of Marguez. While my instinct was to push them aside, snatch the sausages and make a run through the rain drops, I somehow managed to wait. "I didn't think you were coming," she said. "Oh, no. Of course, it's just...I was delayed," I said, as I gestured about me to the rain, realizing it was a silly excuse to give a woman who made a life out of working the land and her animals.

And then, right there, after exchanging what amounted to meaningless words, her eyes softened and she drew me in, almost intimately, "These are the last two packages. I can't make more until I right things with the recipe and get FDA approval," she whispered as she reached into the cooler and pulled out the sausages; our hands met as she pushed them across the table and I reached down to touch them, and then just as quickly, I handed over my money and she, a plain brown bag with my Marguez.

So, what is Marguez and why all of the hoopla over some lamb sausages? Marguez is a lamb sausage made with cinnamon and red pepper and stuffed into lamb casings; it is definitely Moroccan in taste and is fabulous grilled and served with harissa, but it also goes extremely well with white beans, or chickpeas, spinach, stews. I made the Food TV recipe, but it certainly had to be modified from Daniel Boulud's original as it lacked much oomph; I played with it to get the spices just right. I served it with cous cous and Moroccan carrot salad with pistachios. It was darn good and left me feeling hopeful for Lamb Lady and the FDA finding some sort of resolution.

1 comment:

  1. I am always jealous of all year round farmers markets - in the midwest they don't open until the second day of June, but really the good stuff doesn't come in until late July/August.

    I joined a local CSA a couple years ago - for the first two weeks, all I got was kholrabi (which I never grew to like) and tiny carrots - oh well! You can check out my carrots in this post - so tiny!