The Wine Country Online

Seasoned With Compassion

By Penelope La Montagne

I hoisted the turquoise cloth bag of produce out of the basket between the vintage handlebars as if I was picking up a baby after its bath. Holding the contents just as tenderly, I reached over the gate, unlatched it, and let myself in. I don't usually eat on Saturday mornings; it's my habit to sample the greens, roots, sprouts, and fruits at the farmer's market on an empty stomach. But now it was one thirty, and I was famished.

I moved with real purpose toward the kitchen door, brushing against the overgrown lavender and rosemary that encroached on the well-worn path. Their intermingled scents hung in my wake like fairies' breath. The wind chimes tingled a gentle "welcome home" as I pushed the door open, and grabbed the wall phone on the first ring. "Hello?" I said. A client. Damn, I was thinking,My cordless phone is broken, and here I am tethered to this 5-foot radius of kitchen, just out of range of the refrigerator. Peckish, and lightheaded, I had to galvanize my thoughts. What are my options from here? With my free hand I reached into my bag, spreading its fresh contents on the 2 feet of counter space next to the kitchen door. They made a designer's palette of nubile greens, harvest gold, white, buff and deep claret colored food. A quick assessment told me this was a meal.

"Yes, of course" I reassured the caller, as I leveled the flame under the griddle, which sits perennially on the stove. Unwrapping the goat cheese, I thought of the bearded Peruvian man who sold it to me, and his hillside herd in Bodega. He looks like some famous philosopher, I mused, as I nudged the soft crumbly white cheese with my finger along the diameter of a handmade tortilla. Picking up three leaves of arugula, I pressed them gently into the soft curd. Pleased with my composition thus far, I said "I think you did the right thing" to the caller, as I lay two crunchy snow peas alongside the baby greens. Next I tumbled a sprinkling of golden currants and dark succulent raisins between the banked layers of green and the soft berm of cheese. "Your instincts were right-on this time," I offered the caller, voice emanating recognition, as I folded the concoction and coaxed it on to the now-searing griddle. Never diverting my gaze from the half-round of steaming masa, I watched for the melting cheese to seep to its borders. Turning it over, the air pockets that had been rising on the top flattened against the griddle. My eye appraised the satisfying mottled gold color that the grilled tortilla had achieved. "I want to congratulate you on the way you handled that," I said into the phone with real conviction.

Without thinking, my hand reached for a cobalt blue salad plate from the open shelving above my head and plucked the deepest orange nasturtium from the window box, dropping it onto the bottomless blue. Sliding the farmer's market half-moon-full of cheese next to the blossom, I dusted it with a little coarse salt, and cut it into four wedges. The golden triangles oozed seductively at the cutlines. "Sounds great," I concluded, "I'm looking forward to it." And I hung up the receiver.

Free at last, I moved to my favorite wicker chair overlooking the river. Its flat arms are perfect for resting plates and mugs while reading. But there would be no reading for me now. I wanted to give this savory creation my full attention. The first bite was warm, the confluence of flavors smoothed the edges of my hunger and gunned my appetite at the same time. The crisp, crunch of the snow peas and tortilla stood up to the soothing seep of cheese. Chewy raisins spiked the tangy splash of arugula as it met my tongue. After all the flavors had introduced themselves, I washed them down with a lemony swirl of ginger beer.

As if by design, my morning's purchases were all represented in this simple yet sumptuous meal. None had been rejected and nothing that was needed was missing. Contrast, Creativity, and Compassion were the main ingredients of the "Farm Market Goat Cheese Quesadilla." It was an Epicure's plate, invented single-handedly, to be savored and remembered as one delicious moment in the river of time.