Sunday, August 06, 2006

Seen and heard @ the Palo Alto Farmers' Market

It’s a cliché, but it really does make a difference to see the faces of the people who produce the foods that you eat. I want the kids to know that farmers aren’t just Old MacDonald. They are young and old, male and female, families with young children and grandparents. There’s little satisfaction in buying shrink-wrapped veggies at the grocery store, much more in choosing from heaps and baskets of colorful fruit and knowing that it’s come straight from the field.

The Four Finger String Band was here again: folk music, a woman playing violin and men playing banjo, bass and guitar. I tend to think of the banjo as an older-man’s instrument, perhaps because my father used to play, so it tickled me to see a young barefoot tattooed guy picking away like mad. A market staffer buying the musicians drinks at the Mexican food stand commented, “The fish guy says he sells more fish when they’re here. (The band members) want to know if they can put that on their Web site: `Our music sells more fish!’”

What went home in my market bag? I bought late apricots from a grandma (she was talking about her grandsons with another customer) who advised me to leave them out on the counter for a few days to ripen. I picked out a small cantaloupe at another stand; “We have bigger ones,” the farmer pointed out, wanting to make sure that I felt I got my money’s worth. Also a seeded sourdough baguette, peaches, grapes, and strawberries. We’re going to have shortcake tonight. Maybe for dinner.

A glimpse of a woman walking by reminded me so much of my late maternal grandmother that it was like a poke in the stomach. I don’t know why she affected me so. She didn’t really look that much like H. It was something about her unaffected smile, and her summer gardener’s tan.

There’s a German bakery stand that sells poppy-seed and nut rolls (not quite as good as the ones Grandma used to make) and bienenstich, or "bee-sting cake," a custard-filled yeast bread topped with honey and almonds.

The stall where I bought bread (they must have two dozen varieties, at least) also makes a spiral sweet roll filled with raisins, dried cranberries and/or chocolate chips that they call an escargot. Cute and delicious; E’s favorite thing in the market. C is partial to the blueberry-cream cheese Danish.

Ah, the crepe stand. Two blocks away from the market, a woman passing by looked at the buckwheat crepe I carried on a paper plate and sighed, “Those are SO good.”

When B and I lived in Paris on Rue Mouffetard, a market street, there was a sidewalk crepe seller just steps from our door. That summer I overdosed on crepes filled with Nutella; I haven’t been able to eat the stuff since. (This was in 1995.) But I’ll take a lovely crepe beurre-sucre any day. Just hot thin pancake, sweet butter and sugar. This morning, since I hadn’t had breakfast, I indulged in a crepe filled with crabmeat, avocado, sliced asparagus, cheese, and a light lemon sauce.

I also bought a cup of hot Oaxacan Mexican chocolate, not too sweet, all foamy milk chocolate and cinnamon. The stand sold three types of agua fresca: fresh cantaloupe, blueberry-blackberry, and horchata, a mixture of rice, almond and cinnamon. I wanted to try them all, but chocolate won out.

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