Cornering the Market on Mint in Montgomery

If anyone in Montgomery was looking for mint this weekend, they were out of luck.  Mr. NewYorker bought every last package to be found in Winn-Dixie, Publix and Fresh Market.

You need a lot of mint to make mojitos for a crowd.  Lifelongnewyorker should probably have surveyed the mint situation before she invited 20 people over for a night of Mojito Madness.

Back on Staten Island, the what-to-do-this-weekend dilemma had many possible solutions.  Go out to dinner at one of many many restaurants. Catch a local play in which friends were appearing.  Head into Manhattan for music or theater or dinner.  So many activities, to be done in the company of friends or in the company of strangers.

The pickings are slimmer here.  There are a half-dozen restaurants worth eating in.  The Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF) puts on excellent productions, but not that many.  After a few months here in the South we realized that, if we wanted to have a social life, we were going to have to entertain.

I now believe I’m on the road to becoming the Pearl Mesta of Montgomery.  Well, of  a certain slice of Montgomery’s population.

Our first foray into entertaining was in May when we held a housewarming.  We told people to come over around 7:30.  This was our first lesson in how people here are different from those in New York.  At 7:25, the doorbell rang and our first guest walked in.  By 7:35, there were twenty people in our living room.  The folks who rang the bell at 7:40 apologized for being late.

I like to entertain, but the 25-person party is work, and I could see that Mr. NewYorker didn’t feel like doing it once a month.  So the next foray was right out of Martha Stewart: we invited about five friends over for a Make Your Own Pizza night.

This idea came to me while sitting at work and I sent the invites out without quite doing my homework.  Our crop of basil was flourishing, so we’d have pesto.  Likewise, an abundance of ripe tomatoes meant slow-roasted tomatoes would be offered as a topping.  I checked via e-mail with my old hairdresser, Jimmy, that my recollection about making a nice light pizza sauce was right (it was: crushed tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and a little bit of dried oregano; cook for no more than 15-20 minutes).  To the two sauces we’d add three cheeses: goat, feta and mozzarella.  For toppings, we knew we could get pepperoni, olives, artichoke hearts, onions and red pepper.

Which left the issue of the crust.  Back in New York, I’d have visited either Johnny’s pizzeria or stopped at Moretti’s bakery and picked up pizza dough.  But that option is not available here.  So we went shopping on the Great Pizza Crust hunt.  I thought flatbreads would work nicely, but Mr. NewYorker was aghast at the idea of using pita as a pizza base.  We’ve been told that the Publix in Florida offers frozen pizza dough, so we carefully inventoried the contents of three frozen food aisles before confirming that the Publix in Alabama, alas, does not.

Near the gourmet cheeses we found a display of Mama Mary’s perfectly formed crusts, or bread disks as I came to think of them.  They were geometrically pure, and pocked at regular intervals with mysterious round indentations, clearly made by machine.  They were firm, like LPs.  But they were the right size and hey, what else were you gonna do?  But just as I moved to place them in the cart I saw the “use-by” date: December 27, 2010.

Pizza dough with a 7-month shelf life?  I put them back.

Finally, we found the Boboli, a pre-made crust we used often when the Abandoned One was small. We wanted the personal size, and visited several markets in search of it.  Finally I went online and entered my zip code.  Alas again, if I wanted personal size Boboli, I’d have to drive to Birmingham.  But the 12-inch would do.

Wanting to duplicate the crispness of New York pizza, I simply slid each pie laden with toppings directly onto oven racks, as the packaging suggested.  I then took one of my guests on a house tour, only to return to the kitchen in time to find smoke billowing from the oven.

The toppings had dripped.  A lot.  But the pies were fine, and the next day we simply put the oven into self-cleaning mode.  Four hours later, all that remained were five small ash piles on the oven floor.

Last week I decided it was time for another party.  Again, this thought happened at work.  I’ve become a disciple of spontaneity, so I dashed off an invite to a Mojito Party and asked my guests to bring some tapas.  I included Mr. NYer in the invite so he would know what to expect. Folks really liked the idea of mojitos.  A winner!

What neither of us expected was a shortage of mint.  The mint in people’s gardens? Bolted, burned and gone to seed.  Mr. NYer travelled from market to market in search of mint.  I came home on Thursday to find a few small plastic packages in the refrigerator.  I looked up recipes for mojitos by the pitcher.  According to these, I would need anywhere from six to ten cups of firmly packed mint leaves.

So, on Saturday morning I went out in search of mint. Perhaps Publix had a delivery.  It didn’t.  I went to the Curb Market, a farmer’s market downtown.  None.  I came home and pulled the mint out of the refrigerator, and stood there gazing at it.  Mr. NYer came in, “Do you want me to go out [in this 100-degree heat] to Fresh Market?” he asked.  “I’ll do it if you think we need more mint.”  Well I did think so, and he made yet another mint run.

You know the end of this story, don’t you?  I made about 16 quarts of mojitos Saturday night.  It was good.  And I have plenty of mint for my iced tea this week.

The Food I’ll do Without

I went to a local pizza joint with a friend last night.  We shared a calamari pie with hot peppers and a crispy crust.  It came piping hot out of a brick oven right behind the counter.  

I am guessing I’m not going to be getting pizza like that in Alabama. 

I’ll also miss being able to buy Italian sausage in all its forms:  link, cheese & parsley ring, hot, sweet, with or without fennel.

How many varieties of extra virgin olive oil will the markets have?  Probably Berio and Bertolli only.  At least I won’t be tempted by the array of $30 bottles I see every day at Dean & Deluca, where I currently go for my lunchtime soup.

Bet there won’t be a butcher’s where I can buy pinwheels (rolls of skirt steak stuffed with parsley and romano cheese ready to put on the grill). 

And veggies … will I be able to get artichokes, either fresh or frozen?  Eggplant? 

Cilantro, fresh mozzarella, Italian canned plum tomatoes, Barilla pasta?

Arborio rice, balsamic vinegar, French sea salt, roasted green olives, Italian bread, chestnuts and finnochio, cannolis and sfogliatelle  …

Cheesecake?