Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cute Vegetables and Familiar Faces at the South Berkeley Farmers' Market

Moving from San Francisco to the Oakland-Berkeley borderlands (with an interlude in Rio de Janeiro) has brought a few challenges of acclimation, like getting lost in Oakland every other time I try to find the Grand Lake movie theater or a frozen yogurt place close to the Oakland Museum. But my food procurement routine has presented some reassuring continuities. I continue to find a wide selection of produce and bulk foods at Berkeley Bowl, my Rainbow Grocery substitute, while the South Berkeley Farmers' Market presents some old favorites (Dirty Girl, Blossom Bluff, Blue Bottle coffee) alongside some new friends. Full Belly and Riverdog are two farms I've known about for a long time but that don't make their way into San Francisco, so I'm excited to start sampling their produce on a regular basis. Riverdog seemed to have an especially broad selection of cute vegetables last Tuesday, including some of those pictured above. 

L-R, they are Armenian cucumber, an albino eggplant, a summer squash that looks as though it were hand-dipped in grassy hues, tiny radicchio, Chinese (or Japanese) eggplant, a fist-sized cauliflower, stripey eggplant (not sure what variety), French breakfast radishes right out of a children's picture book or the Chez Panisse Vegetables book, and pale lemon cucumbers, which turned out to be surprisingly sweet for cucumbers. They are mainly from Riverdog Farm, with a couple cuties from Dirty Girl.

I got a reminder + $2 coupon in the mail letting me know that the farmers' market had relocated 10 blocks closer to Oakland from its old location (for my personal convenience, of course), and though a few people have grumbled about the move, most of the vendors seem happy with the larger space.

I've been going to the Tuesday afternoon market, which starts at 2pm. This is exciting because I usually can't wake up in time to get the best of the market on Saturday and Sunday mornings, plus getting there at the start of the market also offers sightings of local foodie movers and shakers. As I strolled along with a Weird Veg special agent chef, he pointed out Charlie Hallowell, chef/owner of the most delicious Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service (where I just ate a delicious nettle pizza on Saturday night), as well as Russell Moore, chef/owner of the much-lauded Camino going about their food shopping. Both are part of the ex-Chez Panisse, local-vegetable-loving mafia, which has been spreading its influence over Berkeley and Oakland for years (Oliveto is another restaurant with Chez Panisse ties that comes to mind, as well as the San Francisco restaurants Quince and its spin-off Cotogna. I wish someone would compile a list of this mafia and their restaurants, or send me a link to where one already exists).

As I hovered over some Riverdog lemon cucumbers, a broad-shouldered, salt-and-pepper mustachioed man passed by me and I had a feeling of déjà-vu that threatened to linger as an unbearably unscratchable itch. Where had I seen him before? "Pal's Take Away," my agent said in a low voice at my side. Ahhhh, yes, one of the masterminds behind my favorite secret sandwich shop in the Mission, where I used to live in San Francisco. Suddenly, it didn't seem that I had moved so far away.