Thursday, July 9, 2009
I knew heaven was not far away if I just followed my nose. I was standing at one of the dozens of fruit and vegetable stands that populate Les Halles in the center of Dijon’s Saturday street market. It is next to impossible to do more than creep through at mid-morning on market day because of the SUV-sized baby strollers, the dogs on leashes, and the two-wheeled shopping carts of every description that form a permanent blockade. Brad and I elbow our way to one side of a stand to buy some fruit when our senses are aroused by the strawberries sitting in front of us. I have never been so enticed by a piece of fruit in my life as I wave my hand over the display to bring more of that aroma closer to my nostrils. We buy a carton and I began to dream of breakfast the next morning.
I don’t care how many farmers’ markets you’ve been to in America. And buying from local growers means nothing once you’ve tasted a French strawberry at the peak of perfection. The container filled with these delectables is a work of art. There is none of that dull uniformity of supermarket strawberries on steroids. Americans let themselves be fooled into believing that bigger is better, but beauty comes with a touch of imperfection in the randomness of shapes and sizes in this container. Nature has blessed them all, however, with a bright scarlet that is possible only when the fruit has the opportunity to rest on the vine undisturbed until the exact moment when it is ready to achieve its destiny – my breakfast.
On Sunday morning I slice one in half and find that brilliant red saturating the fruit straight to its heart. Every molecule calls out, “I’m ripe and ready to be eaten.” Soon my fingers and the knife blade drip with the sticky sweetness while the captivating essence of strawberry fills the kitchen. I could eat them straight off the cutting board, but decide to pair them with a serving of French vanilla yogurt. American yogurt would not have the same effect. With a tendency to over-sugar everything, the American counterpart would mask the chance to taste the pure, natural sweetener that is just-picked strawberries.
I scoop up my pieces of fruit and lay them on the mound of creamy yogurt in my bowl. Rivulets of juice make their way down the bone-white dairy folds as the strawberries settle into their soft base. Without delay I push my spoon in and raise an equal amount of yogurt and fruit to my mouth. My tongue slides over the velvet cream and strawberry mélange. If it were ever possible to taste an aroma, this is it. I want to bathe in it and walk through my day covered in a perfume of fresh strawberries. As I sadly reach the bottom of my bowl, my only comfort is that I know I’ll get to do it again tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.