In preparation for my second-night Seder, Julia and I visited the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. This final day of March was sunny and bright and not too hot -- the perfect day for spending several hours perusing organic vegetables and obscure greenery.
"Oh look," said Julia. "Ramps."
"Ramps?" I looked around for the wheelchair ramps, thinking to myself, how cool of Santa Monica to make sure our nation's disabled have full access to organic fruits and vegetables.
She pointed to a box of weeds. "No, ramps. These." She picked one up. It was thin, with long green leaves and an anemic white bulb at the end. Dirt still clung to its roots. It really did look like something I'd pull out of my flower garden. I've never heard of ramps before. But then I don't read my Gourmet magazine very closely.
The vendor smiled brightly. Surely these two women would be buying a nice supply of ramps, priced at only (cough) $16 a pound. They did have a powerful, peppery taste. Maybe we could incorporate these into our planned "bitter herb salad."
Julia and her daughter are staying with us for a few days, and she is the primary reason I'm going ahead with my insane plan of hosting a Pesach Seder for nine adults and seven children next week. She's a foodie who cooked for a Parisian family in Corsica for a few years in her '20s, and continues to live a bountiful, delicious life. She's a woman I can bounce my half-baked ideas off of, someone I can watch and learn from. Best of all, she's someone who can take all the stuff about to go over in my refrigerator and make something marvelous from it.
I got home today and she's cooking up a compote. "I'm making apple sauce out of those five apples that were about to go bad in your fruit dish," she says, maddeningly matter-of-factly.
"Thanks," I say. "And why is the oven on?"
"I'm roasting those beets you forgot about in the crisper."
Later on she sliced the beets and zested some lemon over them. I stood watching her in awe.
I'm so glad Julia is here. She makes my kitchen happy. We spent several hours last night pouring over my cookbooks, and we're gonna have a kick-ass Moroccan-style seder. We're gonna make a tagine! We're even gonna make date truffles. Stand back! It's going to be the kind of dinner party I've longed to have...which is to say, it will be a dinner party that will actually feature edible, nay, exceptional food. Because Julia is here to oversee.
We didn't buy any ramps in the end, because we figured such a gourmet ingredient would be lost on our audience. We did buy $10 worth of heirloom potatoes to roast, however, because they were colorful and presumably tasty, and because I figure that if I can utter, "These are roasted heirloom potatoes," then my transformation from bad home cook into sophisticated foodie will have begun.
Keep your fingers crossed.