A little cooking, creativity, cocktails and random errata....
Monday, May 11, 2009
Farmer's Market Fun
One of my favorite Saturday morning activities is to go to one of the many farmer's markets in the City. This time, I went with a friend to the Alemany market, which is one of the largest markets, and fortunately, one of the most inexpensive. It is also the most ethnic and that is one of the reasons that I enjoy it so much. The variety of the produce is matched by the variety of people shopping.
It was a beautiful day: sunny, warm and windy. The tricky part about this market is finding parking, I'm sure glad I don't live on Bernal Heights, it's a darling neighborhood but those narrow streets and kamakazi drivers! But I digress, onward to the shopping.....
As with every time I shop at a farmer's market I learn so much about what is in season and the varieties of the produce amaze me. Have you ever had a radish fruit? These are the greens and the fruit that the root plant produces:
They do taste like radishes, but a kinder gentler radish.
I cruised by the flower stall but had to pause to admire the amazing colors.
First things first, not to get distracted by pretty pretties, we headed to the back where the bread vendors stake out their space. I had an idea of making bruchetta for dinner to accompany a ribeye I had marinating with bourbon and some herbs at home. The good bread always sells out early and I wanted some nice strong artisan bread, but some nibbling was in order. After munching on the excellent foccacia, we discovered a lovely young gal selling Afghani bolani, a filled bread which the vendor described as The Afghanistan quesadilla. Somehow she managed to provide generous samples of the delicious bolani while distributing change and selecting the nicest packages of her products for the hordes of customers crowding her stall. We munched on spinach and herb filled bolani topped with a cilantro-pesto style sauce and a dab of sundried tomato spread, and a mildly curried lentil bolani topped with an eggplant spread, and a pumpkin filled bolani topped with a spicy chile sauce. Delicious! It was good thing I didn't have breakfast. We both took home packages of the spinach and herb bolani and the cilantro sauce, which is like a walnut pesto but with a pleasant vinegary tang. Since we purchased four items between the two of us, the vendor gifted us with an additional package of the lentil filled bolani, what a great treat. When I got home I heated up half the spinach and half of the lentil breads and had an extremely satisfying lunch.
Next, time for coffee. There were several options for coffee and we found a stall with a wonderful French espresso machine and treated ourselves to a latte for my friend and a long-pull espresso for myself. A bit of heaven on a sunny day.
But back to the quest at hand - bread! My favorite bread stall only sells commercially, and at this market, and they are quite a charismatic bunch of guys. Check out these huge loafs:
They are rather dwarfed by their holder, this gentleman is a fine example of the tall, burly male species, so the 30" round loaf and the 50" amoeba shaped loaf don't really look that large while in hand, but trust me, they are huge loafs! A lot of loafing around going on here... We purchased a quarter of the round loaf, a warm crusty and moist whole wheat sourdough loaf, absolutely delicious with a smear of salty goat butter.
Now onto the veggies. My friend was making a stir fry for dinner that night, and I, frankly speaking, was shopping for whatever looked good to fill my larder for the next week (or two!). We found amazing bunches of ruby beets with fresh, springy greens. As I selected my favorite beet bouquet, several shoppers nearby were listening in as I described how I like to roast them in the oven with whole garlic and olive oil, then peel them for salads or general purposes. Another day I will post my favorite salad of beet greens with roasted sliced beets in an orange balsamic vinagrette.
The mushroom stall was next door, and I bought beautiful King boletus and a basket of "ugly shitake" babies for a creamy saute with the bunch of fresh leeks I found. They didn't have morels this time but did have yellow oyster mushrooms, what a riotous color of lemony yellow! They taste just the same as regular oyster mushrooms so if you are preparing something showy then they would be an ideal choice, but not for a meritage of mushrooms as I have planned for myself. But this bad boy was quite a sight:
We found beautiful squashes and squash blossoms which had me dreaming of a frittata of slivered blossoms and green garlic. My friend had never seen green garlic before so we both loaded up on heavy bunches of tiny lobed baby garlic heads. They are special because not only can you use the fragrant greens but the garlic cloves themselves have not yet formed the paper shells so you can just chop the bulb proper and it has a milder sweet flavor. This particular stall had a lot of mutant squash (Run for your lives!!!):
This time of year the potato crop is in, and I picked up a baggie of baby Russian banana fingerling potatoes which are super sweet and creamy. Loads of Japanese sweet potatoes abounded, they are narrow and long with white flesh, but we were on a hunt for garnet sweet potatoes for roasting in their jackets with just salt and butter and maybe some garam masala. I love finding veggies that look like other things, doesn't this look like a swan?
There can be no rational explanation other than the genesis of Mothra and Godzilla to explain this sweet potato, it completely curled itself into a spiral. It looks like something non-edible which we won't elaborate on here because I am a lady after all.
More swag for my shoppping basket, baby grape tomatoes that just popped in my mouth, still warm from the sun. We found skinny spears of organic asparagus for $2.50 a bunch! I almost fell to the floor. One stall had tiny infant carrots that looked like little wrinkled fingers but so sweet I ate most of them on the way to the car. And let's not forget the herbs - the air was fragrant with wafts of basil, mint, and the standard repertoire of thymes, dill, rosemary, parsley and cilantro, not to mention the more exotic Asian basils, lemon grass and other things that I don't know the names of and the farmers don't speak English enough to tell me. Next time I'll learn what they are called - the samples I tasted were delicious.
Of course, most of the entertainment at the farmer's market is not the comestibles but the people there. Opportunities for people watching abound. I did meet the city's smallest Giant's fan, meet Yoshi:
I also enjoyed meeting Princess Aishia, who sells the most amazing handmade shae butter and baskets from her home in Ghana. She has to be one of the most lovely women I have ever met, she emanates a glow of warmth and peace. The selection of market and storage baskets was amazing, their colors and design were unlike any I have seen (although I admit most of my basket experience is from Cost Plus and/or native Indian exhibits in museums). Can you say covet?? Considering they last a lifetime the large basket at 25" x 18" with a hand wrapped leather handle for $65 seems a bargain. Aishia explained that in Ghana baskets are used in the home for almost every use you can imagine but they also play an important part in hospitality. Each guest is given a basket upon their arrival in their hosts home for them to treasure and to remember their friends for the rest of their lives. What a lovely sentiment!
The aged musician playing steel drums in one section had a good crowd of teens getting their groove on, but what caught my attention was an airy strain of Red River Valley played by - are you ready - a saw and bow! I had forgotten this old custom of playing the saw like it was a violin, something from our more innocent past, and here was a very sweet lady playing for a crowd of enraptured toddlers.
Apparently each saw has its own voice, and the larger the saw, the deeper its sound. How fascinating. She knew all the old folk standards so I sang along for a little while and wished I remembered more of the words. Where is my songbook anyway? Somewhere in the closet I suppose, I must mount an expedition soon!
At this point, I realized my market bag was full to the bursting point and I hadn't even purchased flowers yet and had several steep hills to mount before attaining the refuge of my friends car, so sadly I put away my wallet and hoisted my booty homewards. All in all I spent $25 and had a lovely and entertaining morning, and, best of all, a great bounty of the freshest food awaits my eager consumption. And, I helped directly support the wonderful farmers and ranchers that live nearby and that makes me feel even more appreciative of the food on my plate.