Pullet Sperm and Armani Sweaters

In Shakespeare’s, “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” Sir John Falstaff calls for a flagon of wine.  His man asks if he will have it with eggs. To which Falstaff replies,

Simple of itself. I’ll no pullet-sperm in my brewage.”

I learned something today.  Unless a wine is so labeled, it is not vegan.  Of all things!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not vegan, hardly…let’s just say, I never met a pig I didn’t like.  However, I like to keep my options open.  A lot of wine is filtered with egg whites.  There are many good unfiltered wines on the market, notably from Alsace, which, I also learned, is a wine that has a ‘truer expression of the grape.’  Who knew?

How did this pedagogical incursion in the mystical world of wine take place?  Well, blame it on the rain and a building with a parking garage!!

It is amazingly bleak and drippy today.  In fact, I am wearing leggings, boots and a long black skirt and long sleeved turtleneck sweater and am still cold.  As mentioned previously, Sundays are the day we hit the farmers market, canvas bags in hand to gather food stuffs for the coming week…we supplement this by swinging by our neighborhood ’traditional’ corporate chain grocery store on the way home.  As far as corporate chains go, I prefer the Whole Foods up the block from us, but DH starts to develop his nervous twitch when I beg to shop there…tho’ let me FOR.  THE.  LAST.  TIME.  state, it is a myth perpetuated by the other grocery chains that Whole Foods is more expensive. No. No. No.  It is not.  That is, if you are a careful shopper.  I have gone in with my weekly list and came out with a total that was equal to what we spend at our more traditional market.

The thing is I think people are easily seduced by all of the specialty items…the jar of chestnuts from France for $15?  Yum, but if that’s not on your normal shopping list…my weakness is the jars of tuna packed in olive oil from Italy….but if you stick to a list, buy the house brand, you’ll do fine.  Besides, there is the factor of considering the price of buying REAL food vs. paying for a bunch of additives…if you factor in health care that results from eating processed but cheap food…you realize that what most people consider as low-cost, really isn’t.   Consider the associated costs of such things as childhood obesity.  I wonder how many parents who buy groceries at Whole Foods or farmers markets have overweight kids??  In my opinion, parents who feed their kids processed foods should get some sort of citation such as a traffic ticket only for child abuse…

DH cringes when I walk down the cereal aisle of a grocery store…

Dang, don’t even get me started.

Annnnnyway….where was I?  Oh yeah, so it was raining today…DH asked if I wanted to go to the farmers market…I know the hearty souls are out there, huddled in their stalls…selling their goods to even the heartier folk out there shopping.  I applaud such dedication.  However, I am not so inclined.  Besides it’s winter, all we buy is a bag of field greens for our week’s salads, broccoli and bags of root vegetables.  Did I want to get rained upon for that?

Instead, we went to the new  Berkeley Bowl supermarket.  For those of you not blessed with the good sense luck to live in San Francisco or Oakland, call your mayor (BTW did you hear HOUSTON elected a GAY mayor???  Really??  Like. Wow!)  or other city officials and beg them to open a Berkeley Bowl in your city.  Berkeley Bowl is like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s on steroids minus the markup.

This place is awesome.  Kinda organic, kinda hippy, kinda “oh-my-god-it’s–world-market here” place.  Plus it’s a type of co-op (which is a Bay Area thing –I swear, we’re all Trotskyites, (but that’s sooo cool), so the prices are cheap, really cheap.  Also, everything is labeled to say from whence it came—entering the produce section feels like walking into a geography/botany lab.  I found produce I have only seen in books…Malanga, anyone?  I bought a bag of red and white carrots…who eats the orange ones anymore?

And the Asian foods…let me just say, if you have the urge to make miso soup at home, start here…I counted four types of miso, red and white, bonita flakes, kombu, and a literal plethora of soba noodle variations.

Back story:  This is their new store…the old store was much smaller and the parking lot was a veritable postage stamp sized piece of real estate.  Those yoga-loving people in their Prius car are downright nasty when it comes to parking.  The parking lot was legendary for the “No, you butt head, it’s my space!” duels.  We shopped there once, but it took us an hour to park, and once we pulled out of our stall, a fist fight ensued over our spot.  We drove off, clutching our kale in fear…

The new store has a multilevel parking garage.  You simply park, walk to the sleek silver elevator, press the button, DING!  The doors part and you’re in the land of happy.  If you are a foodie who likes to cook, this is truly the place to be.  Everyone seems to be   grinning.  I felt as if we had walked into Toys R Us, but stocked with food not Barbies.  The store is stocked with everything.  No, really, everything.  I know that is hyperbole, but in this case, it is true.  They have everything.  I heard Ruth Reichl speak a few months ago, where she said that she and her friends play a game: they try and name an item not found at the Berkeley Bowl…to date, they haven’t had success.  It almost feels like overkill…walk though the produce and be overwhelmed by the 20 varieties of apples…did you know that there are three types of Fuji?  I meandered down the rice aisle and counted 15 different types of rice…I bought some purple jasmine rice from Thailand.  Purple.  The potato section had about the same number of variations…I never knew that tuber was so colorful…we’ve all had the tiny blue ones, but pink and orange?

The wine selection took up three aisles…three aisles of wine?  The Sake section alone went across an entire wall…just reading labels would turn a shopper into a sake expert.  The knowledge base that was evident by all of the shelf labels was worthy of what one finds inside the covers of Wine Connoisseur—hence, the surprise that all wine is not a vegan product.

What is it that is so exciting about good food?  DH and I love to eat, but that one activity does not a life make.  We were wandering the aisles, as was everyone else, in total awe and wonder.  I had to consciously restrain from touching things, I started to get self-conscious when I started petting the chayote…who wants to buy veggies already stroked by someone else??

I started to think, what else engenders such absolute adoration?  Where else had I felt this giddiness?  When I went to the Louvre, I was totally bedazzled into a similar state of awe.  I walked into the Armani store a week ago and swooned over the white (!) cashmere…the common element here is the artisan craftsmanship that brings me to my knees.

Dedicated craftsmanship is always good, but there is an almost ineffable point at which the crafter’s heart and soul are evinced in their art.  This occurs in something as mundane as an Armani sweater where the stitches are as fine as those woven into the silk webs of spiders, or as sublime as in the narrative filled details David’s Andromache, or something as fundamental as a well-grown bunch of chervil or artisinal cheese.

When I pick up a box of rice grown and harvested by a small family farm in Thailand, or an heirloom tomato grown in the best possible conditions, I feel as if I am receiving a gift that someone has dedicated their hearts to produce for me to consume.  We become partners, wherein my part of this bargain is to go home and create a dish worthy of the effort that went into growing or producing the food.

This understanding is the hallmark of being a foodie:  it’s not just about eating.

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Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 1:36 AM  Comments (4)  
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