A BOWL OF CHERRIES

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Sierra Produce is an unlikely place. Nestled between a Bank of America and Papa Johns, it has a radically plain storefront, green awnings, and not more than five or six parking spaces. The store itself has an anachronistic feel: stacked wooden crates holding white corn; huge baskets of chestnuts; an old produce cart laden with cascading watercress, baby kale, curly endive, and black beets; hen of the woods mushrooms in cardboard boxes; peaches of every kind ripening in the afternoon light near the register, where an older Japanese man greets long-time customers and a radio coos a piano sonata. Sierra Produce and Finer Foods is its full name — not “Fine” (proud, definitive) but “Finer” (it’s relative, as you’ll see for yourself).

I grew up here in Arcadia, but this is all new to me. I had no interest in cooking as a child. I paid no attention to the markets, not even extraordinary ones a few minutes walk away. Now that I’m back from the East Coast, (I haven’t unpacked yet because I’m staying with my parents for awhile until I find my own place), I feel like a completely different person. Instead of loitering at the local In-n-Out Burger, my erstwhile pastime, I’m lingering at this quirky grocery inspecting Rainier cherries (I want the very best bag). They’re so beautiful I imagine being rich enough to bring little paper bags full of them to neglected people all over the world.

Tonight all I really want to eat is a bowl of cherries. Alas, I’m cooking for family now, not just an audience. I turn instinctively to my comfort food — the dishes I most like to share. A kale salad with raw and crispy bits, paired with fresh peaches and “cream” (yogurt). A “side” of curry fried chicken. Then those cherries.

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RAW & CRISPY KALE with PEACHES, TOASTED ALMONDS & YOGURT

for 4 servings:
2 bunches of Lacinato kale, stems removed & shredded
2 large (white) peaches, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup of sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons champagne or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper

Set half of the kale and all of the peaches in the refrigerator to chill. Combine the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper — then chill for 10-15 minutes. Drizzle the other half of the kale with a little olive oil and bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven until crispy. When ready to serve, mix the raw kale, crispy kale, and toasted almonds in a large bowl. Add the yogurt dressing several spoonfuls at a time and toss to coat evenly. Plate the salad and top with several peach slices.

CURRY FRIED CHICKEN

for about 4 dinner servings of chicken:
8-12 boneless skinless (Jidori) chicken thighs
about 1/3 cup of your favorite curry paste
2 cups of buttermilk or whole milk
3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
canola oil for frying

In a large bowl, mix the chicken with the curry paste. Cover the chicken and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour the buttermilk/milk into a separate bowl. Prepare a wire rack or paper towel-lined platter for draining the fried chicken. Heat about 3 inches of oil in a large, heavy cast iron pot on medium-high flame. Press the chicken into the flour mixture, then into the buttermilk/milk, and again into the flour mixture. Shake off excess flour. Fry the chicken in the oil in batches, being careful not to overcrowd. Turn them over once in the oil. When the chicken is deep golden brown, remove them and drain on a wire rack. Season with salt and serve immediately.

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