And Now, a Word About Farmer’s Markets (and a $21 Challenge!)

I know, I know.  I “ooh” and “aah” about my Farmer’s Market all the time, and you’re like, “Get over it, Punky.  JEEZ.”  So, I thought it would be good to show you why I’m so emotional.

"Vat ah BAAAAGEN!"  (Say it out lound like my Jewish grandfather and it'll make sense.)

"Vaht ah BAAAGEN!" (Say it out loud like my Jewish grandfather.)

I used to be just like you.  That is, if you are the kind of person who goes to the occasional farmer’s market, heads straight to the pastry table, buys a scone or an apple turnover, and then heads-out, overwhelmed by the whole experience.  I FEEL YOUR PAIN, YOUR ISOLATION, YOUR FEAR.  Punky knows, believe me.

BUT!  What I’ve discovered, is that my love of cooking grew with my trips to the farmer’s market, because the farmers themselves would tell me what to make with their produce!  How to bake a butternut squash, what a kumquat is, where you can put dried fruit, etc.  (That sounded dirty, but anyway.)  And the more I go, the more my mind opens and my IMAGINATION ignites, to the point where I’m creating flavors in my head and then seeking them out on the tables.  Sometimes I simply pick something up, a sprig of cilantro, a blood orange, an ear of corn, and just by smelling it, my gears start to turn.  (And I’m sure all the farmers appreciate my nose on their products.)

There is also, of course, the financial benefit to shopping at a farmer’s market.  This week I only had $21 on me, so I decided to see how much I could get for it.  A $21 Challenge!  The picture above shows you my bounty, going clockwise from bottom left, and with prices on the ones I remember.  (Some are by weight and I can never keep it straight):

1 bag of carrots ($1.25)
1 bunch romaine lettuce ($1)
1 green bell pepper (don’t remember – hey at least I’m honest)
6 grass-fed eggs (okay fine, people, the eggs themselves weren’t eating grass, but their mother was.  Jeez.) ($2.50)
1 sweet onion ($1)
1 beefsteak tomato
1 ripe avocado (that puppy was only 75¢ – HOLLA!)
1 basket giant juicy strawberries ($2.50)
1 large bunch basil ($1)
1 poblano pepper
2 ears sweet corn ($1.50)
1 orange bell pepper (bought with the green pepper – again don’t remember – I think $2.99/lb?)
1 head garlic (50¢)
2 jalapenos (something like 50¢)
1 baking potato (fine, no idea.)

It looks empty almost, but actually it took forever just to get enough clear space to take this picture.

It looks empty almost, but actually it took forever just to get enough clear space to take this picture.

AND!  I still had a dollar left to tip the musician who, despite missing a few front teeth, played and sang “The Waters of March” by Antonio Carlos Jobim so PERFECTLY, (the song which is also over the end credits to my favorite documentary, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian“), my groceries and I were actually moved.

Who needs teeth when you have a voice like this?!?!

Who needs teeth when you have a voice like this?!?

The other great thing about farmer’s markets is what I’m going to call the Three C’s: Community, Conversation, and Connectedness.

(Um, Punky?)


(You’re starting to sound like a Wayne Dyer special, here.)

(Sorry – I’ll get snide again in a second.  Just be patient.)

(You have one paragraph of this sappy sentimentality, and then it better be over, or we’re outta here.)

Ahem, so the Three C’s.  Life in general, and Los Angeles in particular, can be so busy, removed, and narrow, that we forget to look around us and feel part of a community.  A COMMUNITY of neighbors, but also a human community and an earth-bound community.  And I know this sounds hyperbolic, (first time I’ve ever used that word in a sentence – what a great day this is turning out to be, eh?), but there is something about talking to the vendors, saying hello each week, trying their food and having a CONVERSATION about their growing season, recipes, ripeness, even joking about how tired they are after getting up at 3am to pack the truck and head into Hollywood, it’s a great way to feel like a part of a larger community of humans, all of us doing our separate things in the world and coming together once a week in this place.  Gives me a grounding for the week ahead, or a release from the week behind.  There’s also something refreshing about the CONNECTEDNESS I feel, not only to other humans, but to the EARTH.  I mean, how many of us ever stop to think about this planet that we walk on and how it literally GROWS LIFE and FOOD out of thin air?  It’s pretty amazing.  It’s hard to get from a slice of pizza in Times Square, or a barbecued rib in Austin, or a burrito in Beverly Hills, to the fact that all food originates from the Earth.  (Especially with all the genetically engineered and modified food in the supermarkets and restaurants around the world.)  But when you go to a farmer’s market, you are making a DIRECT CONNECTION to the soil and what it produces.  I find the idea almost overwhelming in its vastness, but I also feel reassured when I think about it.  Earth produces food.  We eat food to live.  Life makes life.  It’s pretty cool.  And all you have to do is eat a strawberry to close that circuit.  Not bad, eh?

(That was lovely, Punky.)

(Thank you.)

(Are you done now?)

Which is not to say that everyone at the farmer’s market feels connected to the Earth the way I do.  Just check out this photo:

look closely at the upper righthand corner...

look closely at the upper right hand corner...

Yes folks, that building in back is one of MANY buildings in Hollywood owned by the Church of Scientology.  Oh yes, those people who think aliens live inside them?  They’re real.  But then again, what’s reality anyway?

But let’s turn away from that weirdness and look south, so you can see more farmer’s market awesomeness:

awesome awesome

awesome awesome

And of course there ARE the booths with the apple turnovers and berry tarts, and there is the latte stand in the middle of the whole shebang, and a backrub guy, and more candles for sale than you would find on Larry King’s birthday cake, (ooh, I slay myself), as well as prepared foods like vegan soul food (HELLO BBQ TOFU – SO YUMMY), tamales, gyros, roasted corn on the cob, Korean barbecue, omelets, pupusas (Mexican corn patties), and so much more.  (And of course every farmer’s market is different!)

So my punky advice is: GET OFF YOUR A$$, GRAB 20 BUCKS, AND START EXPLORING.  Click this link to find a farmer’s market near you.  And if the first few times you just buy an apple turnover, that’s okay.  Don’t feel badly.  I really think you will see your tastes and your mind growing each week.  Ask about the raw milk firehouse cheddar at the cheese lady’s stand, ask what one does with a Japanese eggplant, see how many varieties of potatoes and tomatoes and ORANGES there are, taste seventeen different kinds of honey.  The possibilities are huge.  And then head home to your punky kitchen and see what you’ve got.  Guaranteed, you’ll create something wonderful, and then you can…



2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    schinders said,

    sorry i couldn’t get up to go with you. sigh.

  2. 2

    Kirby! said,

    Ah, le farmers market. Never do i feel better about Los Angeles and myself than when I go to the farmers market. And I am also a big fan of bragging a lot about all the goodies I get in my CSA box, being all, “You can’t even fit all this loot in the photo frame!!! I am the coolest/luckiest person alive!!!!”

    And speaking of old people loving bargains, one of my favorite stories that my old roommate Erika used to tell me was about her 75-year-old German dad who would not let them buy brand-name clothing, and instead would be at the drugstore and be all, “Shoes for three dollars?! We get them.”

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