New Years resolutions are fleeting things, good intentions that fall by the wayside after a short lived practice. The trick here is to make them easily achievable, something you can live with and of course, fun. This year I vowed to do several things (in no particular order).
- Eat more vegetables
- Visit more Farmers Markets
- Explore more unfamiliar ingredients.
They all dovetail quite nicely and I get the added benefit of learning more about the seasonality foods (since the markets only tend to sell what is in season). The way I planned on doing this was to go to our local Farmers Market every weekend and buy what’s in season for the rest of the week. This almost guarantees I’ll end up buying something I’ve never seen or never tried to cook.
To get things off to a rousing start, last Saturday – the first Saturday of the new year – my wife and our niece decided we would go to the Berkeley Farmers Market. I was hesitant at first, mostly because I wanted to ease into this idea with a – how shall I put this – more “conservative” group of farmers. Heading into a “Nuclear Free Zone” to buy the weeks provisions was somewhat unsettling to me. I figured the only thing that these people were interested in smoking was not a pork product. They would point their accusing fingers at me and mutter about the fact I just made 10 pounds of bacon, or that they heard I was trying to find beef ribs. I swallowed my trepidation and set off for the market.
Parking was a challenge, but I managed to find a spot about a block away. Reusable tote bags in hand (when in Rome) we made our way to the corner of Center street and MLK drive. The first person I passed on the way there had an Indian Sari on and a bright yellow Rastafarian knit cap. Her knotted dreadlocks spilled out from under the cap. She eyed me suspiciously but I kept my courage up.
We arrived at a row of white tented stalls, maybe 2 blocks long. I was surprised at how small it was. The first stall had fresh fish. My interest was piqued. They were knowledgeable and let me see, touch and smell everything. It was all wonderful and briny, freshly caught and put on ice. I bought 2 Petrale sole filets. I would poach these in white wine, shallots and butter later.
The next tent was “True Grass Farms” (http://truegrassfarms.com/). Meat! beautiful meat! Free ranging pork! Like vegetables, meat is also seasonal. And winter time is for Pork (spring for lamb and summer for beef, while fish is year round). I saw a gorgeous 3 bone Pork Rib Roast and bought it. The pigs, I found out, were a cross between Black and Tamworth hogs. These folks were wonderful, not at all what I would have expected from an organic rancher. They truly cared about meat as much as I did. In fact she tried to upsell me on a whole pigs head – I could have made jowl bacon. Imagine lugging a pig head through the streets of Berkeley! I would cut the roast from the bones, stud it with garlic and rosemary and sprinkle it with thyme and parsley. I’d tie it in a roll with butchers twine and put it on a rotisserie over wood smoke.
Note I haven’t hit any vegetables yet. The next stall was seasonal fresh mushrooms and some tiny Japanese sweet potatoes (Satsuma Imo). I got some of the sweet potatoes, some crimini mushrooms and some winter chanterelles. I had never seen winter chanterelles before. This would qualify for unfamiliar ingredients. The sweet potatoes would get baked at 400 for 40 minutes, cooled peeled and sliced. Then I’d saute the slices in butter and dusted with salt to be served with the fish later. They were fantastic and sweet – like candy. I would chop the mushrooms and mix them with some of my homemade bacon in sort of a hash.
Next up was apples. I wanted these for the pork roast. They had some small green varietals that looked like they would be perfect sauteed with a little sugar and butter and calvados brandy.
I worked my way down the other side, tasting and smelling, talking to everyone that would listen. I learned so much. I bought a beautiful loaf of bread from the Phoenix baking company (http://phoenixpasta.com/). The cheese guy next door was using it as a Palate cleanser between cheese tasting – so I thought it was a great collaboration. I bought a goat, cow and sheep cheese from him. Cheese is also seasonal, and it’s worth learning what’s in season. I would create a small cheese plate with the bread and some quince paste later as a desert.
When we finished, I was surprised, satisfied and rather proud of myself. A weeks worth of food, knowledge and adventure all crammed into a small 2 block farmers market. And I didn’t even see a protest sign. With a willing mind and open mouth, I can’t wait until next Saturday to try a local market for the next weeks provisions.