Monday, December 24, 2012
Yesterday, I walked into a shop called Two for the Pot. It's on Clinton Street, opposite the flower sellers outside Key Food (from whom I have been buying tulips. But where do tulips come from in December?). I pass or see this shop almost every day. After eight years of living in the neighbourhood, I have never been tempted to go in. But I was looking for something in particular, and thought they might have it. Can't say what until the Frenchie has unwrapped it. I found it - obviously. The small shop stocks coffee beans, English teas and biscuits and cookies, miscellaneous spices in large glass jars and coffee paraphernalia. I was served by the owner, who told me apologetically that they don't take plastic in payment. We haven't for 40 years, he said. 40 years... So I went out and found real money (cash back at Key Food, after a purchase of red wine vinegar and basmati rice).
So, there was that, and I left Two for the Pot, a real shop owned by a real person, with sundry items and a fragrant bundle. (Shouldn't it be called One for the Pot? One bag/scoop of tea for each person and one for the pot?)...
Then, I was looking for lime leaves. I wanted to make tom yum kung, the Thai soup that can be very, very good, or very, very bland, but which needs that lime leaf bitterness. I summoned up all my courage and walked into one of the Middle Eastern stores I have never entered, on the southern side of Atlantic, opposite Sahadi's (whose new layout and larger size have actually made human movement within it tooth grindingly difficult). I really don't know why courage was needed. Just the newness of the experience and the oldness of the shop. Why do you walk past a closed door for so many years, despite the interesting things in the windows, the open sacks of spices on the floor inside, the cat looking through the glass at the world outside?
Two cats greeted me inside. A mewing black shop cat and a shy stripey tiger on a shelf. The owner was behind the counter serving a customer, and two old men sat in a corner between boxes of liquorice sticks and what I think were carob pods. A fully veiled lady watched me, as I walked in. For that the courage. The ordeal of being watched. I waited and when he was finished with the earlier customer the white-haired man asked politely how he could help me. He didn't have lime leaves (who does?) and suggested I try Mr Kim's across the road. But I practically live at Mr Kim's and knew that was no good. Well, thank you, I said to him, and I'll come back for something else. Any time, he said, you are very welcome. And then said, Wait! and rushed to the end of the counter and lifted from a baking tray there a fat lozenge of layered phyllo stuffed with syrupy pistachio nuts and asked me if I knew what it was. Baklava, I said...Yes! he cried, as though I had performed a very clever trick. Handing it to me in wax paper he made to give me another and I demurred, thanking him, and walked back out into the dark afternoon taking an appreciative bite of the buttery pastry before saving the rest for the Frenchman.
Eight years I have lived here. Why now? Malko Karkanni Brothers. But apparently the sign is wrong and has been since 1917. They are the Karkenny brothers. I will shop there now, for a while. And if I learn Arabic (I wish), I can buy the The Arab Times there, too.
In the end, for the tom yum, I used some of the clementine leaves still attached to the fruit I bought a few days ago. And some lemon zest in a long peel. The soup was delicious, and just what my incipient sniffle needed. In it were a few fat shrimp that I bought at Fish Tales on Court Street, whose own line stretched to the door, mostly people picking up holiday orders, which were lined up in the chilled glass case at the end, in rows. What was in them? As I waited a man bounded in and handed a gift-wrapped bottle to Alex, one of the counterman. Happy Christmas! Another man heaved onto his shoulders a large box that said Live Lobster, Rush Shipment, and left with it. I got my guilty shrimp (the way they are caught kills a lot of other marine life) and one pound of wild salmon and left, past the Christmas tree sellers and their lights, past the traffic of cars with trees strapped to the roofs.
In our dark apartment I turned the lights on on the terrace, plugged in the tree and took the kikoi cover off the presents Vince had arranged at its feet. The cat likes to rip their ribbons apart and the kikoi deters him. I unpacked the shopping bag, hid some gifts, and started to peel shrimp.
(I'll post the recipe later. It really was wonderful.)