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Farmers' Market 

No wonder Americans are so fat. Tossing a Hot Pocket into the microwave is kinder to the lower back and the balls of the feet than boiling beets from the farmers' markets.

I learned the hard way.

My assignment was to breezily cobble together a meal at the local farmers' market, using only $10. A cinch, I thought. Supporting the local economy by filling a straw sack with berries and vegetables under sunny skies would be fulfilling and, in a way, quaint. Preparing a largely vegetarian meal would be a walk in the park.

I greenly ventured into the realm of sustainable agriculture thinking I was Alice Waters -- when, clearly, I'm the donut-box grandmother in Sixteen Candles.

Boy howdy, did I tank. Though I did end up with enough ratatouille, pepperoni-stuffed banana peppers, corn pudding, and sesame and soy-flavored broccoli not to have to cook for a week.

Failure No. 1: My Merchant/Ivory a-tisket a-tasket mission first went bust on a fiscal level. Yes, farmers' markets produce is much cheaper than supermarkets. But unless you're an Iron Chef and can craft 10 dishes out of an eggplant, you tend to buy too much. Hence, I spent about $20 at the North Side market.

Did I have to buy Erika's chocolate-and-peanut-frosted cupcakes? No. But at $2 a dozen I couldn't resist. A head of garlic was $1. A basket of tomatoes went for $3.50. Hot peppers were $2. A head of broccoli was $2.50. A stick of pepperoni sold for $2.50. I went on to buy an eggplant, onions, cherries, lettuce, a zucchini and bread. I resisted the $9 blueberry pie, so give me some credit.

Failure No. 2: Believing that preparing fresh food was easy. The slow foodists must employ personal trainers.

I've diced before, but it never caused a sweat mustache. The roasted-corn pudding nearly killed me, and the chopping necessary for ratatouille (a no-brainer among my vegetarian friends) has caused my right arm to float upward like Mussolini's.

But in my failure, I now have respect for: vegetarians who don't subsist on meat-flavored processed-soy products; raw-food nuts; macrobiotics; sous chefs; and people who make those veggie platters at Giant Eagle.

Next time, I'm grilling a pre-pressed, bought-in-bulk frozen hamburger.

Call 412-422-6523 or see www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/parks/html/farmers_market.html for info about Pittsburgh's eight farmers' markets.

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