Food News

Half-Baked: The Farmers' Markets Are Coming!

Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.

Photo by Patty Canedo

October is my own personal Christmas. Vendors unfurl their pop-up tents, hang tattered signs that have been hibernating, and rally to the same side streets every weekend -- until March. Every year, I wake up extra early on the weekends to comb through lush local products. From Jupiter to Miami, I spend the season (actually all year long) combing them all.

What can I say? I get a tingle from stacked crates and boxes overflowing with fresh-picked produce. I smirk when there's warm dirt still clinging to the bounty -- it makes things that much more beautiful. With

the reusable bags' seams stretched to capacity, my remarks are always the same, "This place is food nirvana."

Mondays' ritual includes a Google search for the coming weekends' venture. A week of excitement propels me out of bed so early on Saturdays that even the dogs groan at me. Soon, with green bags and shopping list in hand, we are on the road. 

A new (to me) market is like anything else -- when it's the one, you just know. Alas, there was no spark. But we overshot Hollywood for Hallandale Beach, made many illegal u-turns, and had a knockdown-dragout with the GPS, so I faked it for his sake.  

We slow-strolled through aisles of hand-made jewelry, loose teas, gourmet sauces, fine chocolates, cheap clothes, fresh breads, and pet boutiques with a produce stand fixed at the four corners of the giant structure. After an hour, we refueled with an assortment of empanadas. He decided it was still early enough to visit to my nirvana. Yes!

"There's just nothing like your nirvana," he said, which released me of the any guilt from driving up and down 95. Still early October, so we easily found a parking space! I instantly felt the tingle.

I walked into fans humming, refrigerator units buzzing, the crashing of carts, old ladies shouting to deaf husbands -- who could find peace here? The trick is to stick to the route. 

To drown out the pointy elbow jabs and Achilles'-heel collisions, I steer right -- toward the bakery. Looky loos slowly stroll by with an "Oh my God" or "Wow." But this is no place to window-shop. The flour-covered girl grabbed into the tightly packed baskets of loaves, plucking my pillowly delight. 

"Anything else I can get for you?" Well, since she mentioned it. Quickly I'm snapped out of my ordering trance by a hand on the small of my back. Back on the path, our noses are tantalized stepping into the wide cheese section. We played a quick game of "remember this" from our time working with artisan cheeses. We move back on the path because the alta cacas behind us were getting impatient.

Finally, moving onto the main reason we took the long voyage -- the veggies. Rows of packed boxes of fresh, vibrant colors. List discarded, I go to "work" and even the man faded from my thought.

Every piece picked goes across my nose before in my cart. I close my eyes to breathe in the fresh aroma. I stare at the varied tomatoes huddled together, envisioning a simple soup and home-made pizza with fresh sauce. The cluster of peppers arranged in a delicate, multicolored pile cry out to be lightly sautéed and roasted. Ah, the pungent scent of the mighty onion. Nothing worth making can begin without its aide. Since I like to keep my options open, I greedily take a little bit of this and a lot of that.

Up and down the aisles, I slowly daze. I still don't know where my fascination with lemons comes from, but I heard them call to me from two aisles over. Perhaps it's the beeming yellow or the light spritz of fragrance you get as you zest one or the crisp sound of the knife piercing its skin. Next thing I knew, there were half a dozen in my cart.

Joy of joy, I spot the herbs. Could I be the only woman in the world foolish enough to think a bunch of fresh herbs is more beautiful than roses? I didn't even have to bring the basil to my nose; my sense danced as I approach the table. Small pure white flowers budding from its beautiful, healthy stems, giving off a wofting sweet licorice smell. Then carefully place the delicate bunch in the bag with the roots poking out.

Hubby plays to his tastes in the meat sections. We reunite to discuss some mise en place necessities. I appease my personal belief that my fridge is bare without olives by picking up a dry herb, pitted mix, followed by a quick beeline for the mushrooms to offset the haul of meat my carnivore has gathered. 

Oysters, portabellas, shiitake, buttons, oh my! Their earthy flavor and hearty texture all appeal to me, but my heart belongs to the cremini. I quickly grab a box and dash to my man, already in line (hinting I've overstayed his patience). As I wipe a little dirt from a light-brown, velvety-soft cap, I decide -- I better get two boxes.

With bags stuffed and stretched, I leave feeling I've robbed someone. We carefully secure my treasures and head for home. My trips to food nirvana definitely reignite my pilot light.

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Patty Canedo