Monday, January 25, 2010

Farmers' Market Gluttony

This little piggy went to the Ferry Plaza market on Saturday. There, she bought a shoulder crushing amount of produce that had to be shoved down forcefully to fit into her crisper, causing carrot legs to snap off and romanesco cones to chip in the tussle. A long while had passed since she had last been to a farmers' market and a very long while since visiting this particular one, which always has spectacular produce, even in the middle of winter, so that she lunged at everything she saw like a hungry hungry hippo.

The visit came about after this little piggy-hippo had woken up abruptly at 6am on Saturday for an undetermined variety of reasons and had nothing better to do than get dressed and head to the market. Perhaps it was because of a violent bout of rain roaring against the window, or due to a disturbed mood caused by the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of an overtly corporate-controlled election process, or maybe something to do with having just read a chapter called "The Vicissitudes of Melancholy" in a book on three famous melancholics: Rainer Maria Rilke, W.G. Sebald, and Walter Benjamin, but most likely it was the consequence of a turbulent stomach full of sauerkraut + radish, potato, green salads + cheese plate with cold cuts + many mugs of beer + cheesy chanterelle spaetzle + bratwurst + chocolate cake, all chased with a shot of Underberg bitters at the Mission's delicious and delightful new German restaurant Schmidt's from the night before.

My usual farmers' market strategy so as to not get too carried away is to take out a $20 bill and stop buying when it runs out. But on Saturday I indulged to $28, which was $26 worth of produce plus $2 for Blue Bottle coffee. It seems quite extravagant for the piles of produce you see above, but breaking it down makes it feel much more reasonable.

First there was $2.50 for a charming quartet of pink lady apples from Sebastopol's Devoto Gardens that I scooped up after crossing the street to the Ferry Building while the travel photo and decorative glassware vendors and the always-impressive bucket drummer were still setting up. Then $0.50 for a bulb of garlic at Chue's Farm, run by the Moua family, who immigrated from Thailand but are originally from Laos and are now part of the large Hmong farming community in the Fresno area.

Between rich, warm sips of Blue Bottle's Three Africans, I made a leisurely reconnaissance round of the stands behind the Ferry Building, tasting fruit and cheese samples, comparing per pound prices, and inquiring about mushroom availability. At Blossom Bluff, $3 got me some blood oranges and navels.

Usually I make a beeline for Heirloom Organic's treasure trove of unusual greens and root vegetables, but Star Route waved some of its Bolinas magic in my face, and I made a $6 detour for a bunch of vivid red-purple carrots, French breakfast radishes, mesclun salad mix, and a kind of chrysanthemum green I'm particularly excited about, the Cresta di Gallo (the lower left corner of the photo above). It looks like carrot tops, and has a distinctive, just shy of bitter taste that I think will add a nice surprise to my next salad.

Having satisfied my salad needs, I gave a quick, affectionate once-over to the greens bins over at Heirloom, sampled their purple radish, and picked up a brown mysterio bag of root vegetables for $5 that turned out to contain potatoes, kohlrabi, a parsnip (hello friend!), turnips, rutabaga, and a curmudgeonly but lovable black radish.

Iacopi Farm always seems to have the best brussels sprouts, and I've experienced this much-maligned vegetable prepared in the most divine crispy, truffled, bacony style, but I always end up filling my veggie quota some other way, and this time I found their $3 bunch of dinosaur kale just too irresistible. Incidentally, there seems to be some kind of kalegeist in the air of late--or maybe it just happens every winter (a friend's recent facebook status update "High on kale" received very enthusiastic responses). Even the ladylike food blogs are loving on the coarse, dark crinkles of dino kale, aka black Tuscan kale or cavolo nero: see Orangette's new banner and the recent mouthwatering post on 101 Cookbooks on ribollita, a thick Tuscan stew starring this fine brassica.

$3 and change got me some weird splotchy carrots and salsify, which sounds like a verb that should always be punctuated with an exclamation point (as in "Just salsify it, grrrl!"), at the Tierra Vegetables stand. Tierra definitely won the weird vegetable title of the day with their twisted, creepy assortment, and my whole face was trembling with mad desire for the piles of Jerusalem artichoke, the brown, crackled burdock and salsify lying almost indistinguishable in the same box, all those leggy carrots, and the crazy crazy punterelles, described in exuberant chalk writing as "the artichoke of chicories." But alas, I had already overspent my budget and was almost out of room in my market bag, so I restrained myself to just a few carrots and one token salsify (salsify!). Look out for a post on this strange root once I figure out what the hell to do with it.

I really should have stopped there, if not for the sake of my budget, then for the fact that I couldn't possibly cook all these veggies at their peak freshness. But a man strolled past with a wheelie cart in which I happened to glimpse the bright fractals of a romanesco broccoli peeping out at me so hypnotically.

"Where did you get that romanesco?!" I shrieked at him. "Dirty Girl," he replied with a bewildered half-smile.

The problem with Dirty Girl Produce for me is that while they have some of the most delicious and beautiful vegetables around, my Ferry Building route always takes me by their stand last, so that by the time I remember them, I'm already feeling quite greedy and sheepish about my produce trawling. But I had to have this exquisite creature, which was sold to me for $3 by Aurora, who humored my musings on the sunrise glory of her name with a story of how she used to play the Sleeping Beauty song that goes "Hail to the princess Aurora!" repeatedly on her little portable record player as a child. It was a splurge, but look how beautiful!

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