To Market To Market

May 22, 2010

There is something about an outdoor market that absolutely steals my heart.

I think it all started in Italy where the outdoor markets were not only the most romantic places to buy your fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats, but also the most convenient and least expensive. I became instantly addicted to the notion of heading out with my little market basket to pick up what I needed for the day, listening to the nonni haggling prices, and returning home with things like a whole kilo of spinach to be triple-washed in my tiny kitchen, or the secrets to using this type of mushroom, or that type of herb. It was fabulous.

Some of my most colorful moments in foreign countries have taken place in the markets. In the South of France, eating whole pints of fresh raspberries for breakfast, picking up exotic spices directly from Morocco, watching the early morning catch arrive at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, smelling the drying squid and eating the street foods on offer in Bangkok. And of course, the bunches birds of paradise, orchids, and ginger that always teetered atop local daikon, ume, bananas, okra, and goya as I left the markets in Okinawa.

Its no wonder then, that Saturday mornings in the spring, summer and fall for me usually mean some kind of crazy long run, followed by coffee as I peruse the outdoor market. I’ve been lucky this season in that Saturday has arrived to find me in a few exciting new markets in the Pacific U.S. and, I am convinced, that we are lucky to have some of the most amazing markets in the country. 

My market season began in March, on Oa’hu this year. After a long run in the heat, Derek and I took to the KCC Farmer’s Market, just a stones throw from Waikiki Beach. The smell of freshly roasted Kona coffee greeted us, as well as long lines for abalone, delicious carts of tropical breakfast food items, fresh flowers, organic vegetables and handmade chocolates of local cacao from Waialua Estate’s Cacao Orchard. One thinks of beaches when they think of Hawaii, but increasingly, with more and more local producers thinking organically, these islands have become a foodie paradise. With an armload of flowers, bellies full of acai frozen yogurt, and papayas for late r we navigated the crowd of tourists and locals alike, having decided that we could handle THIS being our local market.

A few weeks later, in early April, we found ourselves on one of many frequent trips to Seattle, where Pike’s Place Market always calls to me, no matter the season. Pike’s Place is a year round market that frequently purchased ingredients from out of state, so I find that the best purchases are those hard to find specialty items. Market Spice is a favorite purveyor and I picked up some smoked paprika, harissa, and ras al hanout to ration until our next trip. Beecher’s for mac n’ cheese as well as cheese to take home. And, since halibut season has arrived already, I waddled out of the market with enough to feed us twice over (since buying it here at the actual source wasn’t going to bring us closer to perfection.)

At last, the first weeks of May arrived and the PSU Farmer’s Market opened here in Portland, bigger and better than ever. I’ve been home for these past few Saturdays, happy as a clam with the biggest, most locally supported outdoor market in the country. Flowers, fresh french press coffee, and wood-fired prepared foods — a feast of smells. Today, we came home with radishes, arugula, fennel, spring onions, shitake mushrooms, fiddleheads, and OF COURSE, fresh strawberries. Our favorite bakeries are there too and volkenbrot, as well as a few cookies for the car ride made it into our baskets. As we departed, fresh eggs and flowers. While I had my back turned, Derek picked up a few artichoke starts to plant, as well as some ground yak meat (which he claims has better reputation than bison. We shall see.)

As we munched our cookies, en route to the kitchen with our bounty, the discussion of the charm, the ease, and the true value of shopping this market was the topic of discussion. Buying good quality food is one of the simplest things that you can do to boost your health, and your quality of life. By frequenting your local farmer’s market, you’re not only reducing your carbon footprint (by not allowing your groceries to travel thousands of miles to reach you,) supporting your local economy, and truly getting into touch with the tastes and flavors of your community. Digging your roots in a little deeper to home. And, its nice to meet the purveyors, new friends that can tell you the magic of a special kind of honey, how to cook that strange new vegetable, or share little bites of something they have poured their heart and soul into.

Some say that this addictive local vibe is specific to Portland. I don’t know, but it is for sure my favorite part about this place in the world. See you next Saturday, Market!

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