Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The adventure of the edible orchid

It was a glorious Sunday in May. I thought, why not go?

You know how it is. A spring Sunday dawns cool and gray, but then brightens to a soaring blue sky, brisk winds, dazzling sunlight, and endless greenery. Have I shown you bits of my garden?

These are columbine, so named because the blossoms are supposed to resemble doves (of the pigeon family, Columbidae, from the Latin columba, dove, originally meaning "gray" ). Below, the last of the bleeding hearts, and their companion hostas.

Of course it isn't time yet for really summery flowers, like my bright red Asiatic lilies or the purple coneflowers and yellow primroses that will bloom behind the garage. I'm told "the true gardener likes to improve every spot." Is it all right if the true gardener also doesn't like to weed much? It's so interesting just to watch what grows.

 Meanwhile, what to do with a day off? Let's go visit a fellow hometown food blogger for inspiration. And, by cracky, what is Katie of Katie's Passion Kitchen doing? Why, she's got her very own booth at the Country Market in nearby Frankfort, Illinois. I can go there.

So I research the place on Google maps, and quickly stand convinced I shall know where I am going. I embark. The expressway takes me to the major thoroughfare of LaGrange Road. LaGrange Road takes me ... a bit too far south. Far enough that I quickly feel sure, tooling along, that I have passed by the Historic Business District of Frankfort, and certainly passed the corner of "Kansas and Oak Streets," where the Country Market's website has assured me I want to go. And what of those signs propped up along busy LaGrange -- signs far behind me now -- beside the strip malls, the banks and restaurants, also reminding everyone of the existence of the market? Ah hah, look closer: the signs don't show a helpful arrow pointing vaguely ahead. The image is instead of Frankfort's old granary building. Drawn firmly white against an artistic horizon of farm fields and white clouds, it did look, from a speeding car, very much like something pointing the way.

Luckily I am alert enough to realize all this can't be right. Look at all these farms. I slow down, pull onto a gravel road, turn around, and attempt to pull out of a gravel road into fifty-mile-an-hour rural traffic, all in a rear-wheel-drive car that gets little traction on stones. Done. Sorry, sir.

I point the car north, back to urban surroundings. In a few minutes I see other, more useful plain brown signs directing the tourist -- for really, what else am I -- to that historic business district. I decide to follow them, end up creeping and turning along narrow, shady streets, and guess from the growing congestion of cars and people that I must be near my goal. Indeed I am, for there in a village-green sort of space I see tents and trailers and homemade mom-and-pop business placards; I glimpse pots of flowers on the ground and shoppers browsing among them. I smell popcorn and grilled foods grilling. It might be one of the medieval fairs of Champagne, only on a small scale and in Frankfort. There is a public parking lot, on Hickory Street. I run my car into the last open slot.

Now it is time to get out and walk about like a tourist. My first goal of course is to find the vendor stall of that fellow hometown food blogger, known for short as KPK. I do. There is a little crowd gathered around her "bruschetta bar." I place an order for #2, the marinated grilled mushrooms and gorgonzola, and as I savor, I take advantage of a lull to introduce myself to the very busy lady at the fires. We do a bit of the squealing-female-OMG-nice-to-meet-you thing, and then she very kindly gives me a sample of her herb infused lemonade tea with edible orchid. This will mark the first time I have ever eaten an orchid. What a day for adventures. It tasted mild and freshly crunchy, like an unassertive grape skin.

The remains on ice -- dendrobium?

Delicious. Bidding goodbye for the present to busy KPK, I wander historic Frankfort. The houses are beautiful, solid, modest, built seventy or a hundred years ago in the style probably of fifty years before that. Their porches, green lawns, tall trees, and flags all bring to mind the look of many another midwestern town. Take away the cars and mentally dress the passersby in formal clothes, and it might be 1860. Why does that image seem to jar? -- as if we expect, even in our imaginations, that people of the past would have lived in bigger settings, or in a world under two suns. What with the Civil War looming and all. They would not be like mere us, walking these very streets.

They would not be like mere us, peeking through a big screened window right into the side parlor of a little house-turned-shop. The parlor was painted yellow and furnished with a yellow flowered chintz sofa, and graced with houseplants and pleasing bric-a-brac. The room lay quietly exposed to anyone -- like me -- who cared to ogle right from the sidewalk. If it had been my house and I had been sitting on the yellow chintz sofa reading, I might have shaken hands with you without even getting up. Across the narrow street was a tavern built of, or at least faced in, whitewashed wood. Its wooden sidewalk, purposefully cluttered windows (signs forbidding "no public intoxication," etc.) and sloping wood awning made it look like an import from Dodge City -- also a midwestern town, lest we forget (hello Kansas). Come to notice it, all the streets are strangely narrow. They were designed with horses in mind. Take away the cars, and it might be ....  Steps, cross walks and shop entrances are jerry-rigged here, re-cemented and buttressed with handrails there. The impression is not of decrepitude or neglect but of simple, and maybe artistically preserved, age. Why wouldn't the town want to keep itself nice and attract tourists, even local ones like me? Tourists peek in windows and jot down restaurant names. They covet yellow chintz fabrics and fat, glowing porcelain red hens in charming boutique windows. I had forgotten to mention they also covet the silver Jaguar with the Hawaii license plates, which the elderly man in the plaid "bucket" hat, wasn't it? -- was polishing so carefully. The car, not the plates.

Then again, you know me. Feed me an orchid and I stand astonished and pleased. 

The Frankfort Country Market runs every Sunday, from 10 am to 2 pm, rain or shine, April through October. Take LaGrange Road south, under the huge white footbridge to Nebraska Street; turn left, and follow Nebraska to Hickory Street. Turn left and take Hickory to the public parking lot at the corner of Hickory and Kansas Streets (lot will be on the left). The market is one block north and one block east, at Kansas and Oak Streets.  


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