To get to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market from where I live, you have two choices: you can take highways (the 101 to the 110 to the 10 West) or you can take streets. If you do take streets, there are probably many speedy options; streets that take you far west with minimal traffic. Of all the streets that you can take to Santa Monica, the slowest is probably Santa Monica itself–it moves at a crawl–and that’s something I learned the hard way (even though I’d be warned!) as I chose that as my primary route last Wednesday to the farmer’s market most frequented by chefs and food lovers here in L.A.
So despite leaving at 10:30 AM, I didn’t arrive at the market until 11:30 AM and then parking was a real hassle. (Wow: it’s weird to blog about driving. I’m not used to doing that.) And, I won’t lie; by the time I got out of my car and made my way down the elevator (I could only find a spot on the roof of a parking structure) I was in a cranky mood.
A cranky mood at my first California farmer’s market! I needed to snap out of it.
Sure enough, that was easy as I began to lay eyes on all of the beautiful ingredients around me:
Though it was nice to see west coast versions of ingredients I could find easily at the Union Square Farmer’s market in New York (berries, plums, etc.), I was especially interested in the ingredients that you could only find at farmer’s markets out west. It’s true that I once bought an artichoke in Union Square, but I would never say artichokes in New York are especially prevalent; here in California, they’re bountiful:
Citrus was another new thing for me at a farmer’s market:
If I didn’t know about the “no plastic bag” rule, I would’ve bought bagfuls. But I didn’t know that the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market banned plastic bags; I didn’t bring a bag of my own and they weren’t selling bags there that day, so as I bought things I had to carry them around in these strange plastic sleeves that weren’t quite bags, more like the umbrella condoms that they give you in department stores on a rainy day.
The market itself is shaped like a cross; this is the path leading west, towards the ocean:
(And the ocean really is just steps away. That creates a nice, sea-infused breeze.)
Look at these funky dates I found at a date vendor (a new concept for me):
And sprouted peanuts and something called MUNG:
I bought a handleless bagful of dried fruit from this dried fruit vendor:
I chose an assortment of dried peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots that I’ve been snacking on all week.
When I saw these padron peppers, I made a mental note to go back and buy them (they’re fantastic charred in super hot olive oil and sprinkled with salt; some are mild and some are super hot) but forgot to do that:
Look at this dragon fruit!
One day I’ll buy one and bring it home and see what I can do with it. But, again, with no plastic bags on offer, I had to be careful about how much I could carry.
At this point, my mood already lifted, something wonderful happened.
Many of you know that one of my favorite cookbooks of all time is “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” by Suzanne Goin. So who should I see as I started heading east on my final leg of the market? Chef Goin herself, signing cookbooks!
I introduced myself (she’d seen the article I’d written about Craig eating at Lucques without me) and, as we chatted, I asked her about where to go and what to buy at the market. She pointed to a stand a few steps over and said I should check out the Weiser Family farm stand: “They’re famous for their potatoes.”
So after saying goodbye, that’s precisely where I went:
I bought a bunch of those potatoes you see on the bottom left, though I don’t remember their name (it was something funny).
And so, later that afternoon, I put all of the ingredients that I bought on a platter to take these two pictures on a bench outside my front door:
You’ll see an artichoke, some corn, spring onions, little orange cherry tomatoes and the potatoes underneath them. On the other side of the platter…
You’ll see fresh figs and a peach.
When it came to how to cook everything, I decided to keep things simple. I brought a pot of water to a boil, salted it and added all of the potatoes. They cooked for 15 to 20 minutes, until a knife went in easily, and then I added about 1 1/2 cups of corn I’d cut off the husk, allowing them to cook in the same liquid for just a minute. Then I drained everything in the sink. I cut the hot potatoes in halves and quarters and added them, with the corn, to a bowl and then tossed with a dressing made with mayo, two kinds of mustard (spicy and grainy), a little honey, olive oil, salt and pepper:
I also added the whole orange cherry tomatoes and chopped parsley and freshly ground pepper.
Looks good, right?
Here’s the spread of that night’s meal:
Yes, that’s a poached artichoke in the middle but that didn’t go so well. Let’s not talk about it:
The star–and this’ll be funny to anyone who knows about the whole “figs on a plate” controversy (in which David Chang said, “Fuckin’ every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate; do something with your food”)–were, well, figs on a plate.
But I wrapped them first in prosciutto and OH. MY. WORD.:
The saltiness and meatiness of the prosciutto up against the sweetness of that fig–it may be my favorite California bite so far.
All in all, I’m glad I made my way, however slowly, to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, though I think–for the time being–I’m going to check out all the local ones next (the ones that are local to me: Hollywood, Silverlake, etc.). As much as I loved meeting Chef Goin and seeing that endless bounty of locally-grown ingredients, an hour in the car (half an hour back; I took the highway home) is just too much to turn into a weekly habit.