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Shopping for Mr. Right

First published in Northwest Palate, May/June 2006

In 2002 I moved away from the high and dry desert of Colorado—where they actually eat things like cactus and rattlesnakes and bulls' testes—to the damp and luscious fertile valley of Portland, where everything grows profuse and green, except maybe cactus. Long enamored of the Pacific Northwest, I couldn't wait to get my lips around a fresh Oregon marionberry, to suck on a soft juicy clam dripping with beurre blanc. Food lust overcame me, and I was ripe for the picking.

The first lover I took was Fred Meyer. He had a reputation around town as a corporate toady to Mr. Kroger, and he'd seen better days, but I let my guard down. He was so big, so generous, showering me with gifts of organic produce and Columbia footwear, light-switch covers and Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. How could I not love him and his abundant offerings, coming from a land where such hedonism did not exist, not under one roof, anyway?

A Northwest neophyte, I failed to read the signs in the seafood case: farm-raised, food dye added. I didn't know any better. I bought pound upon pound of salmon, Dungeness crab, mussels and clams, a trembling delight for a former landlubber used to smelly, mushy seafood flown in from far away.

I thought I was happy with Fred until I met Irvington Market, or as I called him, Irv. His seafood case was the real deal. Wild, fresh, and bountiful. Expensive, yes, but worth it. Perhaps he couldn't give me yard refuse bags or Calvin Klein underwear, but by God, when he had berries, he had mountains of them, locally grown. Irv was a top-notch guy, classier than Fred, and he schooled me in the more discerning art of Northwest cuisine. I mean, Fred's a great guy and all, but looking back, I can see that I was blind to his lack of sophistication.

How could I know that Irv was in the midst of a slow and agonizing death? He never warned me. One day I showed up and his produce section was gone, his grocery shelves stripped. Sure, there was still the wine, the cheese, the bakery, even the seafood, but I knew it wouldn't be long before each and every part of him shut down. Call me selfish, but I started shopping for a new lover right away.

I became a bit of foodie slut, hanging out in every market from the Alberta Co-op to Zupan's. In summer I heard the siren song of farmers markets, with their burly growers and modern-day earth mamas. Gender played no part in my desire—I just had to have that patty pan squash, those honey-roasted hazelnuts. Nor did I limit myself to any particular ethnicity. Uwajimaya became my Zen master—I strolled his aisles as if I were in a museum, ogling tanks of geoduck and razor clams, fondling the barbecue pork buns when no one was looking. Becerra's satisfied my cravings for achiote and chile, the hot Latin flavors of love. As for the Edelweiss Sausage Company, oh my! Suffice it to say the bratwursts were very filling.

Before too long, I had a market in every part of town: New Seasons in Northeast (and his twin in Sellwood, whom I visited on the sly). I shacked up with that interloping out-of-towner, Whole Foods, drawn again to his sheer excess of tantalizing items. But I was smitten by the little guys, too. City Market on Northwest 21st Avenue seemed to be my perfect soul mate. And that mouthwatering Mecca, Elephants Delicatessen—my God, could that Elephant satisfy me with his All-American Meatloaf.

I was insatiable, buying up every new species of mushroom and finding myriad ways to cook baby bok choy. I became a believer in true cod, battered, buttered, or poached in white wine. And I drank only Northwest wine. Australian reds? Who needed them when I had a big Cave B Syrah? California whites? No way. Pinot Gris and the occasional dry Riesling were now all that would pass my lips.

By the time the calendar flipped to 2003, I'd gained five pounds, then five more by 2004. I no longer step on the scale. My lovers like me just the way I am, wanton and hungry, a bit thick around the middle and a little dribble on my chin, but always an eager, open student to their artful and amorous ways of seduction.

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