It was Robin Wright who made me think about the Sunday farmers market.
Last week I read that Mrs. Underwood thought eating soft shell crabs was the best thing about filming “House of Cards” in Baltimore. Aw, hon, that’s like saying you’re one of us! Immediately I thought of the crab guy at the Sunday market, with his single cooler of squishy blue crabs crawling around inside.
They were sold live. So if you bought one, you had to boil it when you got home. Then you breaded it in some cornmeal and sautéed it right up. A soft shell crab tasted best on toast, the legs hanging out of the sandwich. A Baltimore delicacy!
April was too early in the season for soft shell crabs. But it wasn’t too early for the market, so I called my sister Gilly, who has the good parking juju, and we headed there with her son.
Every market had its smell – this one had an olfactory blend of popcorn and fried rice and good coffee. This market had its own sound, too, for it was held beneath I-83, the roller ramp of a highway that led in and out of the city from points north. It was the highway that froze immediately, because it was just one big overpass that vendors sheltered under on spring and summer Sundays to sell turkey burgers or African cloth.
Ten a.m. and the line for Zeke’s coffee was already pushing past the boundaries of the market, a queue of caffeine-depleted people that stretched onto the civilian sidewalk. Gilly and I ducked through the crowd to the pastry stall on the other side, which sold coffee that was just as good and had blueberry streusel, too.
Coffee was essential to getting your bearings in this cloth-bag carrying mob of tattooed couples in sandals or dads with strollers. Children with ice creams. Best girl friends in sundresses with loaves of bread tucked into their recycled totes. It was massive, this crowd, but they were happy with full bellies or at least bags of goodies that would fill their bellies later.
And of course, there were flowers.
“We’re going to do one loop around and see the antiques lady and then we’re going to do another loop around,” Gilly said, which sounded like the sort of insider intel one needed to tackle a market like this. But it just meant we were circling and circling in a pack of people as the overpass above us rattled with cars.
In other words, we meandered and enjoyed the sights – booths with tin jewelry, crocheted bags, or vintage prints of Baltimore. And the smell of kettle corn, followed by the scent of breakfast crepes.
“Look, there’s Kiefer Mitchell. Over there in ball cap,” Gilly said, pointing out a politician who serves in the House of Delegates. “You gonna take a picture of him, too?” she teased me after I snapped a shot of pastries and then one of pansies.
My sister preferred her savory to her sweet, which meant that after one lap we stood in line for shrimp toast and coconut chicken, ogling the dimpled pork buns and the pans of fried rice.
Of course, we hit the seafood stall. Not the guy who sold the crabs, because it was definitely too early for him, but the other seafood guys with their SUV fleet of coolers the size of my desk and filled with squid and shrimp and lobster tails. My sister and I each bought squid, and I sautéed mine on Sunday night. I added it to a salad of greens, Japanese eggplant, and croutons made from rosemary olive bread.
It wasn’t a soft shell, but I do think Robin Wright would have liked it.
Hey, CharmCityWriter readers: Gina Fabbroni is the winner of the first contest in honor of 100 posts. Over spring break, Gina traveled through more than a quarter of the country in a week. She visited a navy base, an army base, and an air force base, and attended an army ranger graduation. “Oh, and I listened to three books on tape,” Gina wrote.
Gina wins a $20 Starbucks gift card. Congratulations, and thanks for reading!
This is my 97th post! Have you signed up to follow me? There will be prizes each week as CharmCityWriter closes in on 100 posts. In fact, this week’s prize is for the very next person who signs up to follow this blog.