The homeless guy plucked at my coat sleeve. “Hey, you’re not thinking of going to the farmers’ market right NOW, are you?”
“Didn’t you check the Doppler radar? Huge storm coming this way–you’ll get soaked to the skin. I’d wait until maybe after 2:00 if I was you.”
I thanked him, musing on the excellent quality of homeless folk you get around here: Friendly, polite and up on their meteorology. But missing the market wasn’t an option, given my current mission: To put Portland in a box.
You see, my cousins Robyn and Jeff and I regularly hung out at the Portland Farmer’s Market before they posted to Afghanistan. They’re doing fine (or as fine as can be expected, given they’re in a war zone and their jobs don’t exactly keep them out of trouble), but Robyn’s sent a couple of plaintive emails recalling the excellence of much-missed Portland foodstuffs.
I decided to surprise them by cramming as much edible Portland into an Afghani-bound care package as possible.
I’d planned to spend the morning at the PFM, giving my requirements to the farmers and accepting their suggestions. Whatever I packed had to last for at least a month (since it can take that long to reach a soldier in Afghanistan), it needed to be fairly lightweight…and it had to say “Portland” with every mouthful.
So I ignored my streetwise meteorologist, because
- This was my last chance before the package had to be mailed
- Portland rainstorms are usually more mist than deluge
- Even if it does rain hard, it usually only lasts for a couple of minutes
- The weatherman predicted heavy rains, and Portland weathermen are almost always wrong
Notice the “almost” in that last bullet point. Two hours later, soaking wet with the deluge showing no signs of letup, I actually thought about going back to the car for (gasp) an umbrella.* If it hadn’t been a ten-block walk, I might have.
OTOH, I had the market almost completely to myself, I’d made my purchases and I’d had a ball. I’m back home now, drying everything off while I steep a cup of hot, fresh peppermint tea, and thinking this is going to be one helluva care package.
At the mushroom booth Kathryn, the demo chef, fed me free frittata. The mushroom sellers give her a mushroom to push (today, fried-chicken mushrooms AKA shemiji), and she pulls in stuff from surrounding booths to make a spur-of-the-moment mushroom dish. Today’s frittata incorporated new-laid eggs, feta, leeks and fingerling potatoes.
While I chewed, she thought. “I dunno,” she said doubtfully, “You could ship dried mushrooms, yes, but the fresh ones will be goo in a month.” We selected a small package of dried morels.
My favorite fromagerie, Monteillet, suggested Causse Noir, a tomme de pays-type sheep/goat cheese that’s harder and can hold up to the trip without spoiling (unlike my usual fresh chevre). It’s waxed, which should help it keep, and has a really nice tangy flavor.
Beeguy remembered that Robyn particularly likes meadowfoam honey, which tastes a bit like home-made marshmallows. “But you know, if you want to say Portland,” he mused, thinking hard, “Get the wild blackberry honey instead.”
The Draper sisters added dried, cinnamoned native apples while I grabbed a Stumptown coffee and Pearl Bakery gibassier to round off my frittata bite. And then the rain got serious.
I pulled up the hood on my rainjacket. The rain was surprisingly hard and steady (for glassland) and I began to wish I’d brought something besides a cloth bag for my purchases. They were getting drenched. (BTW, one way to tell a REALLY good bit of bread: It doesn’t dissolve in water. Thanks, Pearl Bakery.)
The mint lady’s son flexed the roof of their tent when I arrived, sending streams of water into overflowing puddles. She was ready with mint chocolate and peppermint soap for my care package, smiling despite the rain. “Thank god we got a new tent this year. Now if the winds will just hold off until about 3:00, we’ll be fine.”
Sara-Beth of Nonna’s Noodles suggested her home-made, dried linguini–she felt the angel hair pasta would overcook unless carefully watched, “and they probably won’t pay that much attention, with people shooting and all.” I selected the spinach version; after all, this is going to a Muslim country.
She also reminded me not to miss the jalapeno pepper girl two booths down; “I remember your cousin really likes the jalapeno jelly,” so I added some of that.
And the rain poured down, sweeping in waves across the aisles and forcing even Portlanders to get out their umbrellas. The butcher offered packaged steak jerky “made from eastern Oregon cows” (which, BTW, is fantastic), and winced at the thunder. “Probably won’t make expenses in all this wet.”
Lightning speared across the sky and the storm really ripped open at that; I barely made it to the hard cider booth, where the owner good-naturedly passed out samples to neighboring boothmates and the crowd huddled under his umbrella. “The best place to be right now, though,” he said with a wink, “Is the hot cider booth.”
It was packed; at least 20 people were pushing into the tent to warm up with cider. Anyway, my bags were full, so I passed it by and started the long trek to the car. The rain pounded down furiously; my clothes had passed the soaked-to-the-skin stage some time ago.
A guy in shorts and sweatshirt zoomed past me on a skateboard, sending up a spray that covered me head to toe. He looked horrified and yelled, “Sorry!” but I shrugged–it’s not like I could get any wetter. Then he hit a puddle deeper than the skateboard and went flying. “Are you OK?” I called, and he gave me a thumbs-up.
His skateboard was hidden underwater; it took us a second to find it and another minute or two to discover that skateboards don’t have much in common with surfboards. He finally picked it up and used it for a makeshift umbrella as he strolled down the street.
I reorganized my bags in case of falling, so that I wouldn’t send local apples and wild chestnuts down the river. As I did, I noticed a plastic owl on a windowsill, inside a barred apartment window. A paper was taped inside:
Mr. Owl has a job: He watches otherwise bright college students commit acts of theft by stealing a newspaper from this windowsill. Mr. Owl watches, and he sorrows for those students. Be kind, don’t steal, he hoots. And he hoots. And hoots. And hoots.
Apparently Mr. Owl did his job well; the newspaper was still there. Or maybe it was just the rain.
*Real Portlanders don’t use umbrellas. When my parents first came to Portland and went shopping with my sister, it started to rain. Mom naturally pulled out her umbrella. “Put that away!” hissed my sister, “You’ll look like a TOURIST!!!” Appearances notwithstanding, my mother still insists on carrying one…and I get a new umbrella from her every Christmas. They still have the tags on, which makes my parents shake their heads, sadly.