Secret Meetings and Brown Paper Bags
She eyed me a bit suspiciously and after a long pause, repeated, "Do I have any Marguez for sale?" The wind kicked up a bit and my patience started to flag, but she was the only one, to my knowledge, who had Marguez, so I had to keep my cool; I nodded, and then she went into a long soliloquy that covered, in turn, raising lamb, a secret recipe, and an FDA crackdown. I nodded my sympathies and then, in a whispered voice, she confided that while she didn't have any with her that morning, she just so happened to have two half-pound packages back at her ranch and she could bring one the following week. It took a lot for me to convince her to agree to giving up both packs, but after a few more minutes she agreed. It would have to be a secret, though, and she wouldn't list them on her board. If I wanted Marguez, I needed to be there the following Saturday morning. Period.
True confession: I like lamb. A lot. How this happened, I'm not entirely sure, because I grew up in a family where no one ate lamb, except for my grandfather and he only ate it once a year when we would go to the Greek festival at church. "We don't eat lamb," my mother had told me, when, after begging my grandfather for a taste, I had become intrigued by it's musky, wild flavor. I was nine. Always an animal lover and in a once in a lifetime six week period where I followed my mother's every dictum, I didn't eat lamb again until I was in my mid-twenties.
Everything happened to my palate once I moved to California, which in itself is a pretty ridiculous claim about a palate that came of age in New Orleans, but it's true enough. Maybe it was riding around all of the coastal roads framed by green hills and dotted with flocks of grazing lamb, or, maybe it was a result of getting my palate around a million little tastes of crazy, musky, almost fetid cheeses, but California did something to my palate that made me a teeny tiny bit obsessed with lamb.
So, it didn't take much to get me salivating when one rainy afternoon as I was ironing sheets (don't ask) and watching Food TV, a Barefoot Contessa episode came on with Daniel Boulud, who was cooking a dish with Marguez, white beans, and spinach. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Actually, my mouth couldn't stop watering at the thought of recreating this dish.
It had been a long week and that first Saturday when I attempted the buy, I was ready to go home and make a pot of my own. Unfortunately, it would be another long week before I could replicate Boulud's wonder in my own oven. Suffice it to say, I spent that long week dozing on and off and counting--lambs.
The following Saturday morning got away from me way too quickly, sucked up by a deep conversation with Mr. B over the California economy, a second cup of coffee, and a serious rain storm that made venturing out worth a second though. In the end though, even with the clock nearing 11:30 and past the time when most vendors are even still selling, I hopped in the car and made a last mad dash for the market.
Lamb Lady was one of the few vendors operating when I cued up in the line. There was another couple straight ahead of me. I glanced down at their purchase and saw two packages of sausage on the table. I was pretty sure they were MY packs of Marguez. My instinct was to push them aside, grab the sausages and make a dash back to the warm car. But, I was a regular at this market and surely, someone would recognize me.
I managed to wait my turn. "I didn't think you were coming," Lamb Lady said. "Oh. No. Of course, it's just...I was delayed," I said, gesturing to the rain. I realized, of course, that this was a silly excuse to make to a woman who worked the land and tended animals.
And then, right there, after changing a few niceties that amounted to a string of meaningless words, her eyes softened and she drew me in, almost intimately. "These are the last two packages. I can't make more until I right things with the recipe and get FDA approval," she whispered as she reached in the cooler and pulled out the sausages; our hands met as she pushed them across the table and I reached down to touch them. Quickly, she slid them into a plain brown paper bag and just as quickly, I handed over my money, slipped the bag into my tote and ran through the rain drops back to my car.
So, what is Marguez and why all the hoopla over some lamb sausages?
Marguez is a lamb sausage made with cinnamon and red pepper and stuffed into lamb casings; it is definitely Moroccan in taste and is fabulous grilled and served with harissa, but it also goes well with white beans, or chickpeas, spinach, and stews.
I wanted to follow along with Barefoot and Daniel, but by the time I got home with my treasure, it was lunch time and I was hungry. I sent Mr. B out, in his rain coat and with an umbrella, to fire up the grill, while I busied myself with a quick preparation of a Moroccan Carrot Salad with pistachios. I pulled the last of the pita bread from the refrigerator and dug around for the remains of last week's hummus.
We feasted on the Marguez, along with the Moroccan inspired sides while the rain came down in torrents. It was darn good sausage and eating it left me feeling hopeful for Lamb Lady; I sure hoped that she could find some sort of resolution with the FDA.
Mr. B's Soul-Satisfying Grilled Marguez Sausages
1 pound Marguez sausages
Fire up the grill. Mix a few Tablespoons of olive oil with a the Harissa, depending on your preferred heat level toleration. Lightly brush the sausages with the mixture and cook on a hot grill until cooked through. Remove from the grill and sprinkle with the cracked pepper. Allow to cool slightly; slice into rounds and serve with Harissa.