Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sunset Valley Farmers Market

It's a beautiful time of year at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market. It's a veritable summer fruit and vegetable explosion - everywhere, tomatoes, eggplant, summer squash, huge herb bundles, delicate flower bouquets, the beginnings of beans, some glossy potatoes, juicy peaches, bundles upon bundles of peppers, huge melons (and not just on the customers, either)...

This is one of the best farmers markets in America. I've been lucky enough to live in LA and get to shop at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, which was a delight. It's situated just off the beach, so you get a balmy breeze and fresh ocean air, and hosts some of the most interesting shoppers I've ever seen - rollerbladers, bicycle riders, posh rich hippies in their floppy hats, struggling Valley artists who haul over and down the 405 and 10 and battle obscene traffic to get there and back, just for the ambiance and bounty. I've also lived in San Francisco, and it has what I might argue is the best farmers market I've ever been to in the States (I haven't been to any on the East Coast, though). But San Francisco... on the wharf, on the bay, in the cool, the sheer size of it is breathtaking. But here in Austin, even without a sea breeze, even in the stifiling heat of a summer with a record number of days over 100 degrees, the market is so full it's pleasant no matter what.

I went early early this week, which I usually don't do (usually I'm working, or just too lazy to go at 9 on the button). I actually got there *before* the thing opened! And everythign they say about a farmers market is true. I love to meet the farmers, ask them what's good, ask them how they prepare things I've never heard of or seen before but am dying to try. I love to know my food came from someone, somewhere close by, worked by people who have families and who really care about what they produce. It's good for the farmers, it's good for the community, it's good for the environment... there's nothing new in knowing this. Maybe the realest delight, for me, is thinking about how beautiful and fresh the food is, and wondering... how am I going to cook it? How can I use this so it's as good as it can possibly be?

I never worried about getting salmonella from my tomatoes, which is wonderful, because if I had had to give up tomatoes during the peak of their season... well, I wouldn't have been happy. I can eat a tomato out of hand, just like an apple. This table? My dream.

I also love all the dogs at the farmers market! I can just imagine these dogs on their farms, running around, maybe among some of those cool heirloom chickens in the yard, up and down the aisles. I am in love in particular with the farm puppy, so brave to meet this big city doberman with his tiny tail wagging and no obvious fear. He was at the stand where I bough collard greens and felt so southern (well... not that I'm southern... or ever could be... but it woudl at least taste southern), and bought them from a great old man and his two, oh, must be grand-daughters who were about twelve... my parents weren't farmers but my mom's dad was, and all the family I have through him still farm in Ontario, and it can be like touching that, a bit, at the market.

I really can't imagine why everyone doesn't get as much produce as possible at the market. It tastes so much better! I guess I've been spoiled by living in places where farms are so close by and so bountiful. The tomatoes alone (oh, the tomatoes!)... and the fresh cheese... and the eggs from chickens who you can visit and see that they're really free-range and not just technically 'free-range'... it's so hard to go back to the grocery store.

This week, I got: a basket of 6 huge tomatoes, a HUGE basket of about a million jalapenio peppers, a red onion and a white, a bowl of red potatoes, two adorable yellow peppers, three ruby-red beets. And from Kirsten, extra of her chives and basil, because the bundles she got were too much for one person to use! I shall update with what I made later.

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