Saturday began with a breezy, perfect bike ride to our hometown Farmers’ Market with my two good friends Joey and Clark. We rolled up to Bob Henry Park with a goal: to scour the market for the best the place had to offer.
We parked the bikes in a tidy row and began fraternizing with the farmers, bakers, soap maker and the rep from Mainstreet Siloam, who was out of coffee, but I’m trying to get over it. I had to be as excited as any of the wide-eyed kids present, though my eyes swelled with the sight of fresh spinach, prickly okra, dirt-clad sweet potatoes, caramelly local honey and yeasty pastries.
I perched my sunglasses atop my head and commenced chatting it up with a friendly farmer from Laos, but more recently, from Westville, Okla. His table, covered with a thin red plastic tablecloth, boasted okra, a variety of spinach which included the stems, young royal purple eggplant, and gobs of yellow squash. I think I would have bought the goods without the conversation, but he sure made me feel good about my purchase of spinach and okra—sharing with me that, in Laos, the spinach is often prepared during postnatal care due to its high iron content, combating a woman’s blood loss. I picked one of the two remaining bags of spinach and Joey grabbed the heapingest basket of okra. Our bag was now filled to the brim with perky green vegetables.
The pastries were not such an easy sell. Mrs. Skopp had so many kinds of baked goods, including honey wheat bread, carrot-pineapple bread, ready-made pizza crusts, chocolate chip cookies, jellies and preserves ranging from jalapeno to nectarine-lime. And kolaches.
Joey and Clark both have Czech heritage and I remember the bready, semi-sweet pastries from my early childhood in Texas, where Mrs. Skopp grew to love, then bake, kolaches as well.
After deliberating for quite a while, we settled on the carrot-pineapple bread, which was suggested to us by a passerby who noted our distress, and two kolaches, one filled with nectarine and the other, blackberry. As we tallied up the total, she threw in a sleeve of her thin, slightly crispy, chocolate chip cookies. It seemed like this was a gift of sympathy, condolences for our suffering through the decision process. Also, I think she really wanted us to try them.
The gift was well received, and the three of us soon tore into the carrot-pineapple bread followed by the cookies and kolaches. It was then that my comrades showed me that these kolaches were not what they knew by this name. I don’t think that either of them were, however, disappointed with our Texan versions. These were soft and had a thin crust, a sugar doily on top.
We had a simple dinner, eating what we had gathered earlier in the day. Together, the three of us and Joey’s sister Erin cooked.
The spinach was wilted in hot olive oil with loads of fresh, halved garlic cloves and salt. We cooked them until the greens had a glistening, deep color and fell limp.
For the okra, we sliced them from just below the stem through the tip, tossed in olive oil and salt, then grilled them until charred in places and mostly tender. For the okra, we felt it necessary to have a dipping sauce: mayonnaise with curry powder I bought in the old city of Jerusalem. This ended up being my favorite dish.
After standing over these three dishes to prepare them, we sat down to them, served one another, and ate slowly. The spinach was minerally and soft with an occasional sweet garlic clove. The okra, a little slimy and comforting. The sauce with the warm, velvety taste of curry. The beef, simple and tender. The day, successful.