Friday, August 22, 2008

Farmers Market = Food

We moved to Temecula from rural Connecticut a year and a half ago in the middle of winter. Despite the promise of sun, I was not happy about the move.

We've moved a lot (How much, you ask? Since graduating from college in 1989 I've lived in 10 states, averaging one move every two years for nearly the past two decades. My older daughter had lived in five separate states from conception to her 4th birthday.) So I've developed some strategies to adjust more rapidly (if not more gracefully) to being frequently uprooted and transplanted.

The first thing I go is hunt down the local farmers market. It's full of food, generally friendly people, and--often--links to other community activities. And nothing gives you thumbnail insight into a community faster than its farmers market: is it full of farmers? or craft vendors? how many food vendors are there? how many ethnic food vendors? how big? how small? how expensive or reasonable? how many small dogs being carried in small fancy purses carefully selected to coordinate with their owner's wardrobe?

Two of these indices told me volumes about my new home when I moved here to Temecula. At my old, New England farmers market, there was one "food vendor," and it was the United Methodist Women selling baked goods. In Temecula, I could get gyros, tamales, crepes, tacos, empanadas, kabobs, nut brittle, kettle corn... I haven't even scratched the surface.

This is the stand for RED, an East African restaurant in San Diego. They sell sambusas--little three-cornered deep-fried pastries filled with your choice of beef, chicken, potato, spinach, lentil, or coconut and cream cheese. Sambusas are my favorite dirty little secret on Saturday morning. They also sell a delicious herbal tea, and plates of curry and whatnot. Which are probably delicious, but I've never made it past the sambusas and a tea.

This is the Turkish Grill, wicked siren--the smell will draw you in, but you must not let the line scare you off. The food is good, good, good. You can get chicken or beef, on a plate or in a pita sandwich. Get the sandwich, and get it with everything, but watch out--those onions are scorching. Do not, under any circumstances, forget the baklava, which is made with pistachios, butter, and sugar--not, the proprietor emphatically informed me, honey, which is how the Greeks do it. I love honey, but it's hard to argue with this baklava.

Really hard. Impossible. In fact, I no longer even try.

I used to work in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and I ate my way through that city--it's teeming with excellent street food. So I am skeptical when I see an establishment which does not appear to be a hepatitis outbreak waiting to happen and yet still promises "street food." Well. Check out this place--get the fish tacos. With everything. Definitely the Park Place/Boardwalk of street food, but you won't resent the frou-frou aspect. They have excellent service, a creative menu, and the food is noteworthy.

So the Temecula Farmers Market wins big on the variety and quality of food vendors. On the other hand, my old farmers market had approximately ZERO small dogs in purses/strollers/designer jogging suits. Let's just say the difference was striking.

I shop at the farmers market every single week. It is literally where I "shop"--I buy nearly all of my produce there. There are many websites dedicated to eating and buying locally, and I can't get into all the reasons why it's a good idea right here, but as an overview:

  1. The stuff you get is really, really fresh. Strawberries were picked that day, not earlier that week. Food retains greater nutritional value--and tastes better--when it's fresh.

  2. You become attuned to the seasons. You no longer really want Guatemalan watermelons in January when you can eat your fill of the truly sweet, fresh, juicy ones all summer long. You will find New Zealand apples sort of, well, silly once you taste Anza-grown Fuji's. Trust me on this.

  3. Way more resounding than the vote we cast on November's ballot--though by all means, do vote--are the dozens of votes we cast on a daily basis with our dollars. If you want change, start by spending your money as if it mattered, because it does. When you buy locally--from a farmer or a local restaurant owner or a local store--your money stays local. Those people live in your community, their kids attend your schools, they pay property and sales taxes and live here. Just to hazard a guess, the owner of Hooters does not.

  4. Worried about homeland security? Or the economy? I am. Security rests on three things: air, water, and food. Even shelter takes a backseat. Locally-based, decentralized food systems are much harder to tamper with, and much more resilient in the face of contamination. Remember the recent salmonella outbreak? I continued to buy tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro from my local farmers, confident that none of them were the source of the outbreak.

  5. You, too, could be eating this for lunch:

Fresh figs, local honey (Grapefruit and Wildflower, from Chrystal's Pure Honey, see below), brie (I confess, it's Saint Andre triple-cream brie from France--but we do have the Winchester Cheese Company, which makes exquisite aged goudas), and herbs (lavender and rosemary).

An underripe fig tastes like spongy grass. A perfectly ripe fig is one of the more revelatory experiences in the fruit world. But ripe figs are so fragile, they will never make it to the commercial market. So to eat this, you have to go to the farmers market.

Now, all that gustatory bliss is lovely, but what about the actual produce--what about the groceries? (Remember, all offerings are seasonal.)

Meet Adam:

Adam farms in Bonsall and is one of the most amicable people you'll meet. He sells all manner of greens, herbs, super-sweet carrots, summer squash, tomatoes, cut flowers... real garden variety.

Chrystal and Mac are the honey pushers. They'll get you hooked, like they hooked me. They sell varietal honey, including a regional desert wildflower (this year's harvest was particularly delicious, and different from last's... You'll be surprised how much variation you'll be able to discern from locally grown foods). You'll also find cherry, avocado, several citrus varieties, black button sage ("The honey for tea," Mac assured me, and he's right.)... The list is long and my memory inadequate. My personal favorite is grapefruit--you can't beat it on fresh cornbread.

Buy the honey in the quart jars for the best price. Bring the jar back and you'll get $1 off your next purchase, and there will be a next purchase, because once you get started on Chrystal's Pure Honey, you're pretty much doomed.

This is Gilberto (right) and his cousin (I believe) Edward. Gilberto's father, Joaquin, mans their stand at the Wednesday market, and it was Joaquin who was the first person in Temecula to be really, really nice to me. He offered my daughter a galleta and saved me a basket of flores de calabacitas, and we've been regulars ever since. Gilberto mans the Saturday stand, and look out, because despite his youth he is a formidable entrepreneur and can sell anything to anyone. This time of year, stop by for the melons and enormous bell peppers. In the spring, don't miss their strawberries ("sweet as the first kiss," the sign claims) and asparagus. Kisses aside, their carrots might even be sweeter.

The Cunninghams are the market managers, and they sell the passion fruit that Suzanne (my mostly market companion) uses for her famous passion fruit cosmopolitans. They also sell the only kumquats worth eating (Meiwa, I think), an enormous array of citrus, avocados, fresh juices, winter squash, cherimoya (one of my favorite local fruits--too fragile to ship), figs, potatoes, honey, macadamia nuts... The list goes on.

And if you'd like to grow your own herbs, don't miss him. As soon as I find his business card, I'll tell you who he is. But I've bought his herbs--some gorgeous sages and scented geraniums in particular--and his seedlings do beautifully.

There's so much more to see at the market--These are a few of my favorite vendors, but not even all of them (there's a guy right now who sells fresh sugar cane! and prickly pears! and a woman who introduced me to limas dulces--sweet lime, who sells nopales... and the plant guy! and the woman with the best nut brittle you've ever tasted!) For every vendor I've mentioned here, there are literally dozens more. Plus there are all the people who sell things I don't necessarily buy, but you might--funky clothes, carved wooden bowls, jewelry, hand-turned pens, yard art, paintings, soaps...

So go to the market. If you don't like crowds, get there early.

  • Saturdays in Old Town Temecula (behind Sweet Lumpy's BBQ and across from the fire station) from 8:00-12:30
  • Wednesdays in the Promenade parking lot by Macy's and Penney's from 9:00-1:00
  • Sundays in the Canyon Lake Town Center from 10AM-1PM


monica said...

The sambusas are one of my faves. So are the crepes but you have to get it when the woman is making them. She's much better and faster than the man. :)

I love the honey stall and was sad when he stopped selling at the market. So glad he's there regularly.

I thought dogs weren't allowed at the market?? There is a really good dog treat stall there (well, my dogs think the treats are good--I've never tried them.) My dogs LOVE the banana biscotti the best.

I really miss the farmer's market. It's good to live in a community that has a thriving one.

monica said...

OH and the Vienese bakery stall-- they have awesome pretzel rolls!! Really good with ham.

Okay, I'm making myself hungry now.

Suze said...

The Turkish Grill is my favorite. It's owned by Shabon (I hope I spelled his name correctly). He happens to be a former student of my Mom's from many years ago. He and his daughter are their every Saturday (at least as long as I've been going). You must, and I mean must, try the chicken wraps. I like it with all the fixings! You're given a fork if you want to eat as you shop or, wrap it to go - seriously yum-o! Go, run, don't walk!

Suze said...

The Turkish Grill is my favorite. It's owned by Shabon (I hope I spelled his name correctly). He happens to be a former student of my Mom's from many years ago. He and his daughter are their every Saturday (at least as long as I've been going). You must, and I mean must, try the chicken wraps. I like it with all the fixings! You're given a fork if you want to eat as you shop or, wrap it to go - seriously yum-o!

dwija said...

Turkish Grill- I must tell you about Tommy pretending to be Jordanian and fooling a couple of old Turkish ladies. Hah!

The part about the figs: totally awesome, especially the idea of a "revelatory fruit experience". You're so good like that, Erica :)

Erica said...

Eh, there's a big sign that says "No Dogs," but there are dozens of dogs there every weekend. In reality, they're rarely a problem, and the big ones don't bother me at all. But I have a prejudice (there, I said it) against purse-dogs... Even though, and I do understand this, a little dog in a purse is way less likely to be able to knock me down and steal my sambusas... :-)

Juliet said...

Hi Dwija - I just discovered your blog and am looking forward to reading back through it all:-) Just wanted to say hi - I blog about life in Temecula too (such a small world and I am always surprised to find others blogging about life here besides me - there are a few of us now that I have discovered....) Welcome to town!

Amy said...

Hi -- Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations! Today I bought green and purple figs from the Cunninghams, the best smoked Gouda from Winchester, fresh pasta from Jordan (try her stuff if you haven't, it's wonderful), a ginger-scented geranium from the sweet plant guy, and even got a free (!) tiny watermelon from one vendor who wasn't sure if it was "sweet enough" or not. Of course it is! This market is everything I love about Temecula. Thanks so much for pointing out so many good recommendations. It can be a little overwhelming some times.