Wednesday, July 29, 2009

mountain view wins on this one

I've recently become a big fan of the Mountain View farmer's market, which is open every Sunday, all year, only two blocks from my apartment. The downside is that it is only open until 1 p.m., which requires that I wake up and leave the house in time to get there before it closes (which, if you know me, is not that easy). I complained about this a little bit until I remembered that the stores aren't even open on Sundays in Zurich, and that the farmer's market in New York was not within walking distance of my apartment.

One thing I like about the farmer's market is that you can sample most of the produce before you buy it. It's all local stuff, and probably picked only a few hours before you taste it. I'm a big fan of "try before you buy."

The other thing I like is the produce itself. It's all delicious, because it's all in season, and all picked only once it's ripe. They have everything -- lettuce for my BLTs, fresh eggs, blueberries, cheese, bread, pretty much anything that is currently ripe in northern California is laid out on tables, ready to be chosen, taken home, and eaten. The white peaches are amazing, and somehow impossibly sweeter than canned peaches. The strawberries are enticingly red and shiny.

But two things in particular make me love the Mountain View farmer's market more than any old market or supermarket.

Pluots and heirloom tomatoes. Sun-ripened, juicy, and delicious enough to warrant less sleep on Sunday morning.

Sorry, Zurich, you may have my favorite airport, excellent lake access, and the most efficient public transportation system, but you never gave me pluots. New York, I miss your convenient delivery services and infinite possibilities, but heirloom tomatoes never appeared on my doorstep or at a museum or bar while I was there. Do you have any idea what you're missing out on? Maybe it's best if you don't, because it would be pretty hard to know about such things and live without them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

happy belated fourth of july

I think that some things are more American than apple pie or baseball. Apple pie and baseball can be replicated pretty well when you're abroad. For the pie, just make some crust, add apples and spices, bake, and you've got your slice of America, ready to eat. Baseball -- just bring a bat, ball, and glove, and find other people willing to play a game that only matters in America, the Caribbean, and Japan.

BLTs, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to recreate properly outside of the States. For one thing, American bacon is very different from the stuff they call bacon elsewhere. And some parts of the world don't even have anything that they call bacon. For another, no one has quite the right kind of sliced white bread. I'm not saying that sliced bread is the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread, but it's just different. The sliced bread you can buy abroad is just... wrong, somehow. Not the right texture or taste, I can't explain it, but it's wrong. As for non-sliced bread, a French baguette or a Swiss Zopf are both lovely, and in many ways superior to plain, sliced, pre-packaged white bread, but not for a proper BLT.*

Same goes for hamburgers. No one outside of the States -- person or restaurant --seems to be able to make a proper burger. The buns are wrong, the meat doesn't taste quite right, and it just doesn't work the same way. It baffled and frustrated me while I was away, but now that I'm back, I don't eat them that much, and when I do, it's sometimes in a different form, like the Luther burger.

Now that I think about it, peanut butter and jelly is hard to get right outside of the U.S., as well. There's the bread thing, and then there's the fact that peanut butter is a very American product (it can be hard to find a good substitute brand once you're abroad), and even if you find good peanut butter (or import it in your luggage), not a lot of places have that clear, wobbly grape jelly that is used in 90% of PB&J (and doesn't really have any other use at all).

Deli sandwiches? The rest of the world has excellent meats and cheeses, but they aren't really sold in sandwich format. Pre-made sandwiches in Switzerland usually consist of a roll, butter, a slice of pickle, and a few slices of salami. Where's the tomato? Where's the lettuce? Where's the cheese? Basically, where's the sandwich part of the sandwich?

So on a scale of 1 to American, I'd say that sandwiches rank much higher than apple pie or baseball.

* (I rediscovered BLTs a few months ago and have been eating them almost obsessively since then. I've settled on farmer's market heirloom tomatoes, Trader Joe's buttermilk bread, red lettuce, and Trader Joe's bacon as the best combination. Plus mayo, and if you're feeling unconventional, ketchup and a fried egg. Heaven and a heart attack, both at once.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

two questions, california

First question: If there's a drought (and there always seems to be a drought), why does everyone insist on watering the grass until it turns into a muddy swamp? I know that you don't want your treasured green patch to dry up and die, but do you want it to drown, instead?

Second question: Why must you build your parking lots and roads to always have a ditch that is so (im)perfectly designed that it is nearly impossible not to scrape the bottom of your car when you leave the parking lot? Is the ditch there to catch the runoff from your drowning lawns?