Sunday, April 11, 2010

Market Inspirations--Beginnings

I made my first trip of the season to the farmer's market yesterday morning. I look forward to that first trip every year—my own personal "kick off" of the season. It is a quiet kick off. There aren't many people coming yet....there aren't many farmers there yet. For the most part, the stalls that are occupied are filled with plants. As usual, I'm behind in my garden, so I'm not really ready for plants yet. But I want to be there for the beginnings of the local harvest.

I think the thing that drives me to visit the market so early in the season is the same thing that gets me out of bed at the crack of dawn every Saturday from April through October (I think my friends think I'm a little nuts about this). During the height of the season, arriving early means that I get to see everything the farmers have to offer before it has been picked over, sold out or wilted by the heat of the day (not to mention not having to navigate the crowds...). Starting my visits in early April means I won't miss the first crops to come in for the year.

There are three long central aisles at the Kansas City River Market where the farmers set up their stalls. Yesterday the third was completely empty and the second only about half occupied. As I have mentioned, I didn't expect there to be much in the way of produce at the market...hopefully some lettuce and some spring onions. As I approached the first aisle I noticed a grower that usually sets up on the third aisle. They had a table spread with rows of containers of strawberries. The sign said homegrown, but I thought "No way. It's too early." and passed by to start down the first aisle. I figured I could stop and examine the strawberries more carefully on my way out.

Half way down the aisle one of my favorite growers, Nature's Choice, had their usual stall set up. They always have lots of plants in the spring (really nice herb plants and later on tomato plants, among other things), but they also usually have lettuce this time of year. I wasn't disappointed. They have a mix of hearty salad lettuces that I like, so I purchased a bag of that.

I finished my walk down the first aisle and came back up the second. I didn't see any spring onions. But that's OK. I know they are coming. Asparagus is just around the corner as well.

As I headed out of the market, I stopped at the table of strawberries. I decided to purchase a pint. They looked homegrown--they were deep red and small. As I reached to pick up the pint I wanted, my thumb touched one of the berries. I could feel by how tender they were that they were local berries. Wow! What an unexpected find for the second week in April! I purchased a second pint.

When I got home, I had some of these first-of-the-season strawberries for breakfast. They made me inexplicably happy. I could have eaten strawberries all day. Instead, I went out and wandered through my garden to see what was new and then spent some time doing some much needed work there.

We had salad for dinner—a variation on the baked goat cheese salad made famous by Alice Waters. Nature's Choice salad mix is substantial enough to handle some warm roasted vegetables. A mustardy vinaigrette (1 t. Dijon, 2 t. Sherry vinegar and 3 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and some toasted walnuts and Niçoise olives pulled it all together.

To make the baked goat cheese salad: pour some olive oil in a shallow dish. Dip the rounds of goat cheese in the oil, turning to coat. If time allows, add a sprig of thyme and some cracked black pepper to the oil. You could also add a bruised clove of garlic. Allow the goat cheese rounds to marinate in the oil for a day:

 Dip the marinated goat cheese rounds in some toasted breadcrumbs, turning to coat and pressing lightly to help the breadcrumbs adhere. Place the rounds on a lightly oiled baking sheet. When you are ready to serve the salad, place the goat cheese in a 400° oven. Bake the goat cheese rounds until the cheese is soft and lightly bubbling (about 6 minutes). While the cheese is baking, toss the lettuces with the warm roasted vegetables, walnuts and olives with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens. Divide the salad among individual serving plates. Place the goat cheese next to the salad and serve with a crusty bread.

My last bite of food of for the day was the same as the first. Strawberries. Only instead of having them with my yogurt, I had them with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Sugared strawberries, lightly mashed and served over vanilla ice cream is one of my favorite childhood desserts. It brings to mind warm June nights and family dinners at my Grandmother's house. My favorite part is still the pale pink liquid at the bottom of the dish created by the intermingling of the juicy berries and the melting ice cream:

One of the things that I would like to do with this blog is keep a written record of what I find each week at the farmers' market as the season progresses. I have for years kept a spiral journal of spur of the moment meals born of the food of the moment. Here, on my blog, I hope to share those things I am inspired to make by the ever changing palate of the Midwestern growing season. Hopefully this will in turn inspire and encourage you as you open your CSA box or return from the market with your finds.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

Ok, you're killin' me here. The Lawrence Farmers Marker started yesterday, too, and I skipped it, but for good reason, I suppose. That's all I wanted was the fresh salad mix, too. ;( Sigh, next week!
Kevin thinks I'm wacky, too, because I get up EARLY every Saturday morning to get there first at the Farmers Market.
Can't wait to see what else you find throughout the spring and summer.