Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Annie at High Ground Organics

It's winter now so the offerings at our weekly Farmers' Market are not as abundant as in the summer, but Bruce and I go every Sunday rain or shine.   We call ourselves die-hards, who can't live without our regular supply of fresh eggs from Lucy, wild salmon from Pat O'Shea,  red butter lettuce from Annie at High Ground Organics  and juicy, crisp apples from Sylvia and her orchards at Prevedelli Farms. 

I've been going to farmers' markets for more than twenty-five years, but never with the regularity and dedication as I have since Bruce started thinking organic about three or four years ago.  He used to question the amount of money I spent on buying pesticide free and organic, and wondered if it made any difference.   He seemed to think the produce from grocery stores was just as good,  until he watched the documentary film, Food Inc., an unflattering look at how much of our foods are processed by the corporate machines,  how animals are inhumanely raised and slaughtered, and the positive effects that buying locally and eating organic have on our health,  our environment and ultimately our pocketbooks.  Ever since seeing this movie,  Bruce has been a regular at our Farmers' Market,  shopping there when I'm out of town and even changing a flight to return home on a Saturday rather than a Sunday, so we don't miss a week of healthy eating.  Bruce always handles the money and carries the shopping bags, while I search, squeeze,  smell and select. 

As far as I know,  Lucy, the egg lady,  has never missed a week at our Mountain View market.   She is hard at work by 2:30 on Sunday mornings.   Single handedly she loads the back of her white paneled truck with containers filled with hen and duck eggs that she picks from her coop the day before.  She balances her load with heavy crates of other seasonal products, like oranges and kiwi in the winter and ripe tomatoes and sweet cantaloupe in the summer.  She drives three hours from Clovis, a farming town near Fresno in the Central Valley,  to our market in Mountain View, which claims to be the fifth largest in California.  We arrive at 9:00 a.m. when the market opens and make a beeline for Lucy's stand where we select a half dozen or so smooth browns and whites to last us the week.   After buying eggs laid by free-range hens who scratch,  peck and feed on  real food in an open field,  I will never eat store-bought eggs again.   Lucy's eggs have bright, yellow yokes that make the best scramble. 

Bruce at the Acme stand

  A few steps 
away, Bruce gets in line for chewy ciabatta rolls at Acme Bread Company,  while I visit Toby across the aisle at Farwest Fungi.    
Toby at Farwest Fungi

Acme bakes the bread of choice for many top-rated San Francisco restaurants,  so we are fortunate they have a bakery in our back yard.   At Farwest Fungi I pick out fresh shiitakes, which I put in a brown paper bag for proper storage in my refrigerator.   Did you know that shiitakes have four to ten times the flavor of common white button mushrooms?   In addition to their robust, pungent, woodsy, meaty flavor, they provide high levels of protein, potassium, niacin and B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.  I use this delicious form of multi-vitamin in my version of  Milanese risotto, fresh egg scrambles, and my sauteed chicken breasts with mushrooms and  fontina cheese.  

Pam's Delicious Chicken Breasts with Shiitake Mushrooms 

One boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in half to serve two people
a big handful of shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
two slices of  fontina (or your favorite melting cheese), enough to cover each chicken breast

Lightly season chicken breasts with Kosher salt
Over high heat melt butter and olive oil in saute pan and cook mushrooms, set aside
In same pan heat olive oil and butter over high heat and quickly saute seasoned chicken breasts four to five minutes on a side, depending on thickness (don't overcook)
Remove cooked breasts and top each with sauteed mushrooms
Cover with fontina cheese and broil until cheese melts into mushrooms
Serve Immediately

Missison Fresh Fish

Just the right size for 2
Further on down the aisle, we buy the fish we need for the week from Pat O'Shea at Mission Fresh Fish. The salmon fillets sell quickly at
$17 a pound,  much cheaper than at Whole Foods, but if you buy a larger salmon roast for $12 a pound, they will fillet the fish at no extra charge.  

With regular practice,  we can pretty much eyeball 
the perfect size for the two of us, but if we can't find it,  Teresa or Cynthia rummage through the big ice chests in the back and locate just what we are looking for.    I love watching determined customers forage through bins filled with fish heads and scraps, and then bargain over the cost if they think the odds and ends are priced too high.  

Sylvia from Prevedelli Farms

I learn so much from the farmers when I chat them up and taste their samples like honey crisp apples,  blenheim apricots and thomcord grapes.  Sylvia who owns  Prevedelli Farms in Watsonville grows many varieties of apples and berries like olala's and raspberries from which she makes jam.  Speaking from years of experience and bubbling with enthusiasm, she explains that being present at the market is more about educating her customers and less about making money.  She has been farming in Santa Cruz County for more than 40 years and is a fixture at our Sunday market. 

At $3 a pound,  summer heirloom tomatoes are extravagant, but the season is short,  so it's well worth the money.  Slice open a reddish-purple calabash, top with some fresh burrata cheese, a sprinkle of chopped basil,  a splash of aged Balsamic,  and you will think you are eating al fresca at a trattoria in the center of an Italian city like Rome. 

A Sonoma county rancher always draws a crowd as he answers questions about what makes grass-fed beef taste better, and an artisan cheese maker explains the importance of using high quality milk from her very own herd.   

Even though the prices are considerably higher than traditional grocery stores,  I'm impressed with the number of families who  shop regularly at Farmers' Market.   Parents make it a productive, educational event with mom pushing the stroller while dad carries a tiny tot on his shoulders for maximum views.   What a wonderful way for parents to teach their little ones about how food grows and encourage them to try different things.   Today I met an attractive couple pushing a dual stroller with their twins all bundled up.    The mom told me she was completing her degree in nutrition, and it's never too early to expose your kids to healthy eating.    

To provide some entertainment for the kids, there's a person dressed up in a clown suit, making cartoon characters by twisting balloons,  and there's always a crowd around the live music, maybe some blue grass strummers, a string quartet or a solo entertainer on the harp.  Bruce and I sometimes meet our good friends Sandi and Bob at the market and sit at the picnic tables to drink coffee, catch up, and people watch together.   

One of the things I've noticed about Farmers' Market is that the majority of the shoppers are slim and athletic looking, unlike  heavier people I tend to see at Costco.    I'm not drawing any conclusions, but it's certainly my observation.   And yes, it's definitely more expensive to shop at farmers' markets, but because the food is fresher,  I find it lasts longer in the refrigerator and doesn't go to waste.   Occasionally I shop at traditional grocery stores,  but mostly to buy non-perishables like aluminum foil and paper towels.   However, my market of choice sits in a train station parking lot where I rub shoulders with the dedicated farmers who grow our food and give me the confidence that I'm eating healthy every week. 

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