Farmers Markets and Fishmongers
This is the first post by my dearest friend and newest contributor, Melissa Rofer. She is from and lives in the same area we are from in California. She is a beautiful writer and and an even more spectacular person… I couldn’t be happier to bring her on board, where she’ll be sharing her life and adventures with a toddler in the Bay Area. Momma’s gone COASTAL!
A few tips from a Farmers Market Junkie
Although parts of me still wish I was born in Victorian England or on a spaceship in the twenty-fourth century, overall I feel lucky to be a parent at this time and this place in the world. Bypassing obvious reasons such as sanitation and not worrying about interstellar conflict, one of the perks of living in the twenty-first century Bay Area is the wealth of farmers markets (I know, there were SO many ways I could have gone there).
Either I was totally clueless (which is possible) or this many farmers markets did not exist when I was growing up. While I was in college in Northern California I would romp about the market – but I was always a few dollars short of buying more than a handful of tasty veggies for me and my rabbit. Years later in Santa Cruz I would meet my mom for lunch and weekly grocery shopping at the rollicking market/drum circle off of the main drag downtown…But now? There are a dozen markets at my fingertips on a weekly basis.
There are three markets that I regularly partake in and a handful more that I will visit every other month or so. (Granted, this was all on hiatus for at least half a year when I was too pregnant and bloated to navigate the stalls and then too terrified with my newborn and her floppy head to venture into the fray.)
About four blocks in downtown – this is a medium sized market with at least two or three of each type of veggie, fruit, and bakery stand – mostly organic. There is a fishmonger, a happy animal meat stand (aka: pasture raised, grass fed), and a stand that I do not ever get close to as they sell for food what I keep as a pet. Several stands sell fresh eggs, there are cheese makers, and providers of hummus, salsa, spices, etc. They have at least a half a dozen different types of prepared foods. Oh, and a whole block of crafts and art. During the summer it gets a bit crowded, especially after 10:30. Before then, or on drizzly days, it has the perfect combination of meandering folks, intense shoppers, and families wrangling their kids.
Kid Perks: There is a great little toy shop downtown called Toys Toys Toys that gives away free balloons and always has a happy staff.
Also, a few blocks after the market, past the train tracks, is a pretty decent park – although not super great for toddlers, but what park is?
Near there is Tiny Tots – a cloth diaper service/boutique with cute clothes for maternity/nursing and babes and, a great reason to make the trip, a fun playroom for little ones.
Equates to a city block in the parking lot of the post office downtown – this is a small and highly trafficked market. I go here when I don’t need much from the market but have other errands to run in Los Gatos: picking up coffee beans from The Great Bear Coffee, checking out the sale racks at Gap and Gymboree, or picking up a prescription from Pharmaca (the Whole Foods version of a drug store).
Kid Perks: Usually the clown “Mister Twister” is here and, despite his clown get-up and my perpetual fear of the movie “IT”, I found him quite pleasant. Recently I got my daughter her first balloon animal. While too young to fully appreciate it (she would have been as equally amused if I had given her a squash with a face drawn on it) I can imagine someday this friendly balloon guy will come in handy.
Near the market is a lovely flower shop called Bunches and they have a duck. The duck’s name is Pete and she, yes she, is fantastic. You cannot touch her but if the gregarious owner is there he will take her out on the sidewalk and feed her mealworms. My toddler found this to be endlessly fascinating.
Also, in the summer the fountains in the post office park are a great place for kids to run and get thoroughly soaked.
Pet Bonus: No dogs are allowed within the stalls, like most markets, but the park is a popular gathering place for pooches.
Some Wednesdays I still like to meet my mom at the Santa Cruz market (or on Tuesdays in the summer we meet at the market in Felton – on Highway 9 in the mountains – this is a mellow smallish market – and in the center they have a great kids’ table with coloring and crafts). I don’t actually make it over to Santa Cruz as much as I would like; more often than not my mom brings the market to me, which makes me a very happy woman.
But when we do go we have a wonderful time – this market has a delightful variety of produce, baked goods, and other odds and ends (crafts, clothes, soap, and candles). Their prepared food section is varied and totally mouth-watering. There is a new ice cream place downtown that has a stand here – they have unique flavors such as “stout” or “earl grey.” It isn’t sweet enough for my husband, but I think it’s divine.
Kid Perks: This is where Mister Twister started and I believe still makes an appearance. I haven’t noticed any other specific kid things, although there is a toy shop right next to it that I have eyed, and the people watching is so awesome in Santa Cruz – what kid doesn’t like to stare at hippies swirling in a drum circle?
One of my favorite things to pick up is fresh fish. (Especially because I can then tell people I have “been to the fishmonger” – which makes me feel like I am in Hamlet and then I wait to have a debate about the euphemisms involved – no one ever takes me up on it.) They have beautiful pieces of salmon that are usually pricier than I can stomach, so I get the rock cod or halibut. We have been making baked battered fish that is a cross between the fried version one gets in fish and chips and boxed fish sticks. It’s a pretty easy and quick weeknight meal.
1. Soak the fish in beer for at least fifteen minutes (yes, please pour yourself a glass of the rest)
2. Remove fish from the beer and cut it up into about 2” pieces (I use kitchen scissors for this)
3. Coat the pieces in a batter made of (per 1 lb. of fish)
1 TB oil
1 TB cornstartch
1 TB flour
1 dash of beer
4. Dip into ground cornflakes (I have been buying these but want to grind my own cornflakes)
5. Place pieces onto a baking sheet (I place parchment down first for easy cleanup)
6. Cook at about 375° for about thirty minutes (I adjust this depending on the cooking requirements for the frozen fries I make at the same time – the recipe is pretty forgiving as far as measurements and cooking time/temp)
This recipe was inspired by some comments I found at Chowhound here.