by Jennifer Bal
After I texted the picture I knew it was a mistake. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. I don’t take selfies or blog. I’d never sent this woman a picture, in fact I’d only texted her a few times. I had this moment of impulse. She had never heard of romanesco.
It was a weird thing to do, but those strange green fractal florets that so perfectly spiral, she had to see it. It’s kin to cauliflower, but in another social class. When I saw her last, I’d told her how wonderful it was, so beautiful that you almost didn’t even want to eat it, like the sculpture out of some artist’s mind. Oh, but when you did eat it, it was a light buttery dream. Vegetable royalty.
I’d never heard of romanesco either until I moved to Wisconsin. I came from Phoenix where salsa is a vegetable. Someone told me to get a community farm share where I could get weekly vegetable boxes from a local farm. It sounded good to me. I got such strange things in my box each week that I had never seen nor heard of before kohlrabi, celeriac, bitter melon. I learned to cook with them. It was fun. It was exciting, inspiring and delicious. But now, five years later, I guess the thrill was fading. I was no longer happy seeing a box filled with bok choy, rutabagas, and parsnips. Maybe there was a reason I’d never heard of them. The box, in all its healthy glory had become tedious, but I still marveled over the romanesco. I wanted someone else to get excited about trying something new.
As the romanesco steamed, I fretted over the picture. Why did I do that? I was home alone. I was bored. She probably opened the picture and thought, wtf? I tried to put it out of my mind. I took the delicata squash out of the oven. It would be a sweet delicious counterpart to the romanesco. I checked my phone. Nothing.
My mouth salivated as I thought about the rich, buttery taste of the romanesco. I turned off the burner and used tongs to remove it from the pan. I put it into a bowl where I would cut off the florets. That’s when I noticed something yellow and pale and tubular floating in the water. I looked closer. It was a worm.
It looked like a mealworm, waxy, sectioned body, sad little protrusions for legs with whisker stubble at the ends, the head. I don’t know what bothered me more, not knowing that it was in there, thinking about it boiling alive, or that I was no longer hungry.
I told myself it wasn’t a big deal. I’d found worms before in my sweet corn. Some people eat worms for protein. It wouldn’t hurt anything. But I couldn’t eat the romanesco. I mostly stared at it while my husband and son ate and raved about it. The florets looked mushy and overcooked, not as vibrant green. I thought about the bloated worm, still floating in the pan on the stove. It seemed like a karmic omen. This is why my mother always told me not to brag. Was I doing that when I sent the text? Or was I simply sharing? Some time later, my friend texted me back saying how pretty the romanesco was, how it looked like a Christmas ornament. She was right. I thought about texting her back, telling her about the worm. About how much it grossed me out. Instead, I sent back a smiley face and went to bed.
Since then I’ve had the urge to text vegetable pictures. It’s been hard, but I’ve fought off the feelings. I think its best for everyone if I keep these private moments to myself.
Jennifer Bal recently gave up veggie boxes and is at work on a novel about artistry and rebellion through time in Anatolia. Her writing has appeared in Cooweescoowee, The Istanbul Literary Review, and Bosphorus Art Project Quarterly, where she was also an editor. She lives in Madison, WI.