Sunday morning, for the first time in many weeks given the convalescence thing, I went to Central Market. With my parents. It was Passport to France time, and the longing for France and all things French was profound and palpable. Oh - look! Ingredients for ratatouille! How adorable! Look over there ... black truffles!! For $299 a pound, available in tiny packages for $12.99! Cute signage everywhere with le Tricolore and the happy workers dressed up for the occasion, complete with red berets. Even the incorrect French spelling of certain items did not mar my delight. It was still all totally adorable to me.
Mom and Dad had one basket for their list. I had another.
I had finished up at the meat counter. I had just gotten my Passport to France-themed marinated chicken breasts. Instead of the usual offerings - and my usual purchase of the garlic pesto marinated chicken breasts - I broke out and selected the Herbes de Provence marinated ones and a couple of "au poivre" ones. Herbes de Provence, just the mention of it, reminds of high school and my high school French immersion even in San Angelo, Texas. I came home from one high school French class trip to France with this exotic thing, in an adorable rustic small clay pot, called herbes de provence. I rationed those herbs for years, then used the adorable small rustic clay pot as a shelf decoration. For years. Then, years later, you could get them anywhere. Here is that very thing - available at Sur la table - where the composition of the herbs in the little crock is described as "[a] signature seasoning from the south of France...a blend of aromatic and flavorful herbs such as lavender, basil, rosemary and sage. This glorious mixture, traditionally packed in a stoneware crock, is commonly used for meat, poultry and vegetable dishes. Made in France." Emeril's recipe is a little more involved, surprise.
I thought I was okay leaving mom to her own devices over at the seafood counter. She had been to Central Market at least 42 times since I'd been in convalescent mode. I was making my way from the meat counter to look at all the French wine displayed so prettily but that could not be purchased until noon. It was only 10:12 a.m.
But I circled back anyway. Good thing. She was a little perplexed over the number thing, as many rookies are at Central Market. Yes, you have to pick a number to stand in line and wait for your number to be called at either (i) the seafood counter or (ii) the meat counter. There are two different number dispensers: one for the seafood counter (pink pieces of paper) and one for the meat counter (blue pieces of paper). I'll give her the point she made that it was not precisely articulated anywhere that the number dispenser for the seafood counter was the one facing the seafood counter. She was a good sport about it all.
We figured out though during this time for the explanation of the system that her number for the seafood counter had been passed up. She had 44. They were on 46. She was not fazed by this in the least. She explained her misunderstanding and confusion to the nice fishmonger (and played the "I'm from out of town" card too). But if you have a nice New Orleans accent and good hair, as she does, you can probably get away with this pretty easily. And she did. She got her place back...they went back to No. 44. Not sure what Number 47 thought about that.
I did not realize until later that she was no doubt emboldened by the sight of soft-shell crabs over at the seafood counter.
They are not there every day. And they will not be around for long. Their season is limited - just a few weeks. And Mom is quite the crab conoisseur, so for this special time of year, instinct kicked in and she firmly but politely asserted her right to be No. 44.
After that was all taken care of, I continued my reverie on my Passport to France.
The reverie reached a fever pitch when I turned and saw an entire end of an aisle displayed from top to bottom and all sides with darling canisters of La Mere Poulard Cookies. Now La Mere Poulard is a very famous, well, maybe "touristed" is a better word, restaurant (and hotel now too) on the very scenic tourist spot of Mont St. Michel, with the restaurant known for, at least decades, the big puffy omelettes and the mixing of their batter in a special musical way in enormous copper bowls.
Mont St. Michel was a fixture of every high school trip to France. It is a lovely, magical place if you stay, as I once did in the married state of things, actually on the island in one of the small hotels, and are able to see the quaintness of the stone buildings in the early morning, without the din of visitors, and having all to yourself this tiny fortressed island with water all around and its winding, twisting cobblestone roads all up and down the mont.
As I stared at this display and marveled at how something from my distant past of high school and married days could end up here, now, in front of me at Central Market, I was lost in reverie of the passing of the years, so many trips since then, so many memories....
"Ma'am, you're not allowed to take pictures here."
"Huh?...what? But I've done this for years?"
"Well, I guess you've just never been caught."
It was a buzz killer. But it also just made me feel like they were doing the Passport to France thing all just right: definitely no pictures in France unless you ask nicely, and humbly, beforehand. I did some legal research on the no photographs rule. I do intellectual property law after all. It was unsatisfying, this quick search, and more research will be done.
But the interrupted reverie is forgiven. I was shocked to learn that mom did not think these soft-shell crabs merely adequate. That alone would have been pretty high praise coming from someone who is very, very serious about crabs: catching them, preparing them, eating them, and critiquing others' preparation of them.
But these soft-shell crabs from Central Market that were sold to No. 44?
"Some of the best I've ever had."
The prep is easy, but because it is easy, the soft-shell crabs had better be good if you're doing this little to them. Here's the exotic recipe.
- Melt some butter and olive oil. Not much butter though.
- Dredge softshell crabs lightly in flour, with some salt and pepper.
- Saute until nicely brown and on the crispy side. Do not overcook.
That's it. And if those little crab legs sticking out creep you out at all, an icy cold bottle of Dixie beer would probably round this out nicely.