Oysters and $2 Bread.
Back in the Fall, before H1N1 reared its ugly head and smacked me down hard, then allowed me to get up just long enough to smack me down AGAIN, Hubby and I went to an Oyster Festival up on Afton Mountain. Well, at Cardinal Point Winery, but I just love saying “…up on Afton Mountain,” reminds me of when I was a kid and my granddaddy would say it like it was a 3-day journey requiring pack mules and covered wagons.
It was a small affair by festival standards – maybe 150-200 people or so. But some odd things happened. So odd they warrant recording for prosperity…..and the first odd thing involved a $2 loaf of bread. How’s that for an opening hook?
Like I said, there were 200 people tops, most of them with picnic baskets and folding chairs, sipping wine, watching the Cashmere Jungle Lords, who, by the way, have gotten so OLD! Wait a minute. So have I. Never mind. The rest were crowded into the oyster/wine tent. They seriously needed an oyster wrangler because there were only two lines: one for wine, one for oysters. Problem was every single dear soul thought they were judging the gold medal chardonnays at the world championships because from our little vantage point at the back of the line we could see them: nodding, tasting, swirling, smiling, nodding some more. Then refilling their glass with another tasting. Come on people! Just fill your glass and move on to the mollusks so the rest of us poor saps can relieve our parched throats! But no, these wine hooligans clearly had something to prove.
So while we waited, and waited, then waited some more, I began to eye the delicious-looking $2 baguettes on offer from Albemarle Baking Company. What the hell? I’ll gnaw on some bread while holding my empty glass and peer longingly at the beautiful Rappahannock River oysters being shucked 50 miles away at the far end of the line. I handed over my bills and proceeded to chew. Bit into the thing like this was a soup line and the year was 1933.
That’s when I felt it. A sharb jab, jab, jab, in my back. Someone poking me….painfully! My jaw froze. Uh-oh. Feeling like Jean Valjean, I turned to find a crabby old woman with red Crayola eyebrows glaring at me. I say “red Crayola eyebrows” because I kid you not, she looked like she had gotten her grandson to help her with her makeup that morning.
“Is that bread any good?!” she barked.
“What?” I was taken aback. I mean……um…..come on lady, it’s BREAD. Not to mention, it’s ABC bread.
“Is THAT bread any GOOD?! she barked, jabbing her finger at the words “that” and “good”.
“Yeah, it’s good.” I replied, commencing to resume the chewing I had stopped when I thought I had suddenly been cast in the Afton Mountain production of Les Mis.
“Well,” she barked, like I was clearly lying just to spite her, and she couldn’t believe anything coming out of my mouth could be the truth. “Gimme a piece and we’ll see!”
My whole world stopped. My mind had to actually step back a bit and observe this moment from outside myself. Let it register. Let me get this straight. She wanted to taste my TWO DOLLAR bread to see if it was up to her standard. She wasn’t willing to let go of TWO WHOLE DOLLARS which might be wasted on a piece of substandard baguette. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not Scrooge, you can have my bread anytime. But this woman could clearly afford $2 – she was dressed for a Boar’s Head brunch (although I’m not sure those eyebrows are part of the dress code). She hadn’t even asked, but BARKED at me. Eyebrows had just paid $10 to get in, another $10 for food, but didn’t want to shell out $2 for something to dip in her oyster stew? Sheesh.
It might have been my imagination, but everyone in line seem to pause, hold their breath, and try not to look in our direction. I saw glasses held up to lips stop cold (lucky bastards who had cut in line for wine) and people TRYING not to look, but clearly looking to see how this would play out.
I meekly broke off a piece and gave it to her. She chewed. Paused. “Well, yeah, that’s pretty good.”
The surreality washed over me and I couldn’t hold back any longer. “Sure it’s good…..I mean, come on, it’s BREAD.” (said in that “Kill ’em with kindness” tone my Aunt Judy taught me with a shrug of the shoulders thrown in for good measure).
Red Crayola doesn’t like this. The crayons draw up sharply and more high-pitched barking shoots forth. I have clearly pissed her off. “Well. Some bread is GOOD. And some is BAD.” Jabbing finger for emphasis.
Yeah, whatever. I turn around and start chewing again. Wishing for all the world that I had a gallon of wine to chug. Hubby shot me a look that said, “WTF?!?!” I replied quietly, in what I *thought* was a whisper, “Yeah, I dunno. That may have been the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me…”
…and they left. Got tired of waiting I guess. I breathed a sigh of relief and chewed and chewed. We inched along, getting ever closer to those coveted gems of sweetness from the sea…and of course the wine.
JAB JAB JAB. The jabber was back! Jeez Louise, what now?!? I turn around to find a much younger, much angrier woman seething at me. She shoved a baguette in my face. “CLEARLY you were very DISTURBED to give a piece of BREAD to my MOTHER. So HERE YOU GO!” she barked, throwing it in my face, and stomping off to her car.
I was stunned. The people around me were stunned. “What did you do to HER?!” they all asked. Here we were all waiting for yummy food, some of us half-drunk, enjoying the warm autumn day. What had happened? Truth was, I don’t know. I still don’t. And what the HELL was I going to do with another huge loaf? Hubby and I could barely finish the first one. I looked around sheepishly, holding this huge bread, which suddenly stood out like an 8-inch dildo or something, everyone looking at me with confusion and sympathy, but nobody wanting to help. The bread had been tainted with rage. No one wanted to even touch the thing.
I tried to give it back to Albemarle Baking, but she couldn’t resell it. Before I could wander off to find some pigeons, a guy offered to take it off my hands. I told him what happened. He laughed, broke off a big piece, chewed, and exclaimed, “THIS is the BEST BREAD I’ve EVER had…..I’d even spend FIVE dollars for it,” which made everyone laugh, breaking the tension. Then an even nicer gentleman offered to fill my glass and Hubby’s with wine. All better now. Yay.
The festival continued as well as our waiting. Hubby gave up being patient and cut in line to buy a bottle of white. Eventually, we struck up a conversation with a guy who had just arrived, so of course we filled him in on the bread drama. More laughter. He offered us a $5 oyster ticket for a glass of wine which seemed perfectly reasonable. Got to talking and it turns out he was Chris Arseneault of Seafood at West Main – here to taste-test the oysters. Were they good enough to sell? Emphatic nods of “YES YES YES” from me and Hubby. More wine, more talk, more laughter. Gushing from our end on how great his sashimi is (it really is, I just ordered some for us tonight), and knowledge on his end about what makes a great oyster. For instance, did you know a thicker shell is a sign of a healthy oyster? The fact they’re clean (not covered in barnacles) also makes them better? I’ve been to Urbanna too many times to count and never knew that.
So the day turned out well after all. We got our oysters, had more wine. The day was nigh on perfect, much like the oysters. They tasted of the sea – a clean, briny taste that paired perfectly with the dry crisp green flavors in the wine. I felt like Hemingway in “A Moveable Feast” when he pairs the two in a Paris bistro for the first time. There’s just no other way to eat them, is there?
More wine, more oysters, more conversation. Talked with a woman who worked in an ice cream truck in Brooklyn. She’d hitched a ride down to the festival to help shuck. Of course she was standing around drinking wine, not shucking. Lot of ’em were doing that, in fact. Drinkin’ when they probably shoulda been shuckin’. But it didn’t seem to matter much. It was a nice day. No hurry. No worries. We finished off two platters of succulent raw oysters, ate some mediocre oyster stew, then ran to Blue Mountain Brewery for a brat pizza and beer because frankly, 12 oysters does not a meal make. Yeah, we’d eaten an entire femur-sized baguette between us, but still. Can’t journey “up on Afton Mountain” and NOT get a brat pizza. It’s a downright sin.
So the day turned out well after all. Which just goes to show you, sometimes all it takes to diffuse a bread bomb is some wine, and maybe a few gems from the sea. Just wish ol’ Crayola had stuck around to learn that. That’s okay, I’m sure the Boar’s Head serves FINE rolls…