Who would’ve thought that putting words and images on a page with any great regularity would be so difficult for me? Aside from the fact that writing is difficult, I’m not very good at it, and my brain stops working after 10:00PM, all this traveling back and forth between B-ham and B’klyn is an exhausting time suck. But this weekend I stayed in Birmingham. In fact, this weekend I explored Birmingham and discovered the city I’d hoped to find.
It started with a terrific run along my usual path, but this time it was relaxed, meandering and without time restrictions. I had nowhere to be but present–it was luxurious! Breakfast was an almond croissant and more than decent cup of coffee at Chez Lulu, a local bakery/restaurant. I’m still partial to the almond croissants at Runner and Stone in Brooklyn, but these were pretty darn tasty.
That was followed by a trip to Pepper Place. “Have you been to the farmers’ market at Pepper Place?” I’d been asked since arriving in January. Being back in NYC most weekends, not to mention being a little jaded, what with Union Square Farmers’ market as my benchmark, the answer had always been “No.” My maiden voyage to Pepper Place was a most pleasant surprise! Though the variety wasn’t astonishing, the quality of the produce more than made up for the limited options. Chilton county peaches, fragrant and juicy truly were the best I’ve ever had. As were the blackberries which were the size of my big toes. And the tomatoes, not yet ready in New York were silky-sweet and meaty. All that lovely produce sold by lovely people with warm smiles and ready answers. One farmer, with sweet plump blueberries the size of cherries, mentioned that he came back to the farm after 40 years as a contractor in Denver. We discussed the merits of bat-guano-tea as opposed to chemical fertilizers.
Then later that afternoon I attended a fund-raiser for the local community farm, Jones Valley Teaching Farm catered by about a half-dozen local bars and restaurants. A few favorites of mine were in attendance: Little Donkey–bourbon and mini emapanadas; Carrigan’s–moonshine and bahn mi sandwiches; Hot & Hot– tequila and gazpacho…all good! And all for a good cause.
As if it the weekend couldn’t get any better, the following day, a friend introduced me to the Latin community by way of a pretty authentic Mexican bodega/restaurant/bakery, Gordos. The tacos and huaraches with carne asada, pollo guisado, and chicharones rivaled anything I could get in Sunset Park or Redhook in Brooklyn, AND at a fraction of the price (which are already pretty cheap)
In any event, more than the food, I think I was craving a connection to something familiar–something i hadn’t had in a long time–something that made me feel at home.
SWEET AND SPICY FARMERS’ MARKET TOMATO JAM
Makes Three (1/2-pint) jars
4 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (8 cups)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon roasted garlic (optional)
2 canned chipotles in adobo, minced
1 teaspoon pure ancho chile powder
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large non-reactive saucepan, combine the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, chipotles, ancho chile powder, vinegar, and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, glossy and jammy, about 50 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Pour the jam into clean jars and let cool. Seal and refrigerate.