I looked around my kitchen and noticed that my cupboard was bare. Actually, more pathetically, my fridge was bare. My fruit bowl was bare. Everything. Bare bare bare. And with the beautiful weather approaching this weekend, I wanted to have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand.
Friends and family (and some of you) know of my trials and tribulations (and kvetches) grocery shopping in Cambridge/Boston without my own car, my preference for finding kosher goodies in NYC, and my frustration at not having a driver’s license for weeks on end after my wallet was plucked from my purse (long annoying story!). Well, with temporary license in hand, replacement ZipCard at the ready, and a few local foodie recommendations with directions printed, I was ready to set out exploring.
Since Earth Day was this week, I rented a (somewhat less expensive) hybrid for my 3-hour tour. Once you get past having to press a “power button” to start the car, most of the features are similar to a normal car, thought it is not quite as much fun to drive as my old convertible!
My first stop after picking up my fixed computer (yeah computer!) was Tabrizi in Watertown – a Persian (Iranian) bakery that happens to be under supervision by the Boston Vaad.
They also have a good sized selection of packaged food – nuts, teas, and specialty items. I stocked up on rose water, orange blossom water (which I use with many almond recipes, both sweet and savory), and pomegranate concentrate. The owner, Mohammed, was quick to remind me that the pomegranate concentrate is not for drinking, but great for marinating poultry and meats, and can be mixed with balsamic vinegar for a unique sweet and sour flavor (Pomi can be used to substitute but is not as rich). Of course, I could not resist a few freshly baked sweets – walnut and almond macaroons and Persian baklava (made with cardamom) – and soft pistachio nougat.
A word to the wise — when you go to Tabrizi, bring quarters for the meters. As an infrequent driver, I forgot about this and parked across the street in a small lot near a dry cleaners. Though I was only in the bakery for 15 minutes, the evil looks I received from the not-such-gentlemen loitering and watching me from their truck as I left my hybrid and swiftly crossed the street, muttering out loud that I hoped I could park here for just a few minutes — followed by the bright yellow tow truck that was just pulling into the lot as I was deftly backing out of my spot leads me to believe that Watertown does not take kindly to interlopers. In my meager defense, I will say that there were no signs saying that the lot was for that side of the road only. I’m just saying.
(Largely) unfazed by the tow truck that then followed me out the little lot, with only minor thought of “what if this guy follows me for the rest of the day?,” I made my merry way with only a mere three U-turns before I arrived at Russo’s.
The focus at Russo’s is beautiful produce at great prices. Yes, there are flowers and plants outside, and a lovely bakery in the back, and bottles of oils, bags of pasta, bars of chocolate at knee level. But, the gems at Russo’s are fresh from the farm, sometimes still clinging to the earth where they were born, often smelling of their luscious juices inside.
Upon walking into the store, I immediately called ZipCar to find out if I could extend my time because I realized that I would be unlikely to be able to return the car in my allotted 3 hours. Alas, someone had reserved my car and I had no choice but to return the car at the previously agreed-upon hour. I had to be very disciplined. No meandering. No exploring. Just the basics. I had to be back in my car with the power button pushed before 6 pm to make it back to the garage in time. This would be difficult, but I reminded myself that I could always return.
I felt like a heathen as I zipped through the piles of fruits and vegetables rather than strolling. In grocery stores and markets, I am definitely a flâneur, so I felt quite a pull. I did stop to breathe for a moment when one of the men unpacking fruit offered me a taste of mango. I initially turned him down in my rush, as I said (with my best NY strictly business attitude), “thank you, but I know I’m already going to buy the mangoes, so don’t worry about giving me a taste.” The gentleman scolded me, plucked a fruit from the top of the mound, sliced it open, cubed it down to the flesh, and handed it to me. Delicious. He then handed me the second half, happy to see me happy.
My cart filled with zucchini (so cheap that I could not resist…zucchini bread, here I come), dark purple eggplants and beets, bundles of fresh herbs, several mangos, a few tomatoes, blood oranges, lemons and limes, and La Tourangelle grapeseed oil (“huile de pépins de raisin,” strangely, the La Tourangelle roasted walnut oil they had was not kosher… see Resources), There was almost no line line, and I made it safely to my car with my now very full French re-usable bag in tow.
I did get stuck in traffic and made one wrong turn, so it was a race to get the hybrid back to the garage. I made it. Well, just barely.