Saturday, April 5, 2008

Farmer's Market is Back!

In the past I have scoffed at people who camp out overnight to acquire premier access to things they want. Star Wars movies, $10 flat screen TV’s at Best Buy the day after Thanksgiving, Playoff tickets, the last batch of flu shots in the midst of an influenza epidemic—you won't find me endlessly languishing in line for anything so insignificant. Being slightly ADD, I can’t think of anything worth waiting for in line for more than 10 minutes, besides of course, a spot at a communal table at Toro Bravo ( or a pain au chocolate at the worshipful Tartine Bakery in San Francisco (

But today was opening day of Portland's downtown Farmer's Market and I'll admit, I did seriously consider camping out in the South Park blocks last night so I could be the first one to burst past the Farmer’s Market info booth and into the market at the first chime of the 8:30 am opening bell, nimbly bypassing the fleece 'n Polartec bundled masses and their amiable, stray-crumb-gobbling dogs and red-cheeked-baby-stuffed strollers and scads of unwieldy but righteously borne wicker baskets and cloth shopping bags. It's been a long three and a half months since the last vendor managed to pack up and head home for winter last December, despite me sobbing and clinging to their sodden Levi's-clad legs.

My friend Jimm and I braved the chilly early morning drizzle and met outside Ken's Artisan Bakery (, intending to fortify ourselves for the journey downtown with hot Stumptown coffee (, except that the line was way too long. It was clearly going to exceed 10 minutes, and you know how I feel about that. Fortunately, if there's anything in abundance in Portland besides chilly early morning drizzle, it's coffee, so we simply skipped over to Coffeehouse Northwest ( on W. Burnside and 19th, where a friendly barista made us two gorgeous Stumptown Americanos--I wish I could paint my apartment the heavenly coffee hue of my foam-- and I couldn't resist buying a Nuvrei ( ham and cheese croissant even though I'd planned to get breakfast at the market. Nuvrei makes an incredible ham and cheese croissant--the flaky pastry encircling layers of thinly sliced ham slathered with creamy bechamel sauce, and topped with a savory sprinkling of swiss cheese baked golden and crispy.

As we approached the market, I noted guiltily that despite our (sort of) early start, about 4 million people had somehow managed to arrive before us. We gamely joined the throngs circling slowly through the market, then paused for a sesame seed wood-fired bagel from Tastebud Farm ( Dense and slightly chewy with a few charred spots adding character, it was delicious. Of course, I've noticed that anything that comes out of wood-fired oven tends to be delicious. You could probably greatly enhance something perfectly awful, like a Twinkie or Egg McMuffin or Dick Cheney, by plunging it into a wood-fired oven for a spell. I have never tried this, it's just a theory.

I stopped for a few fat spring leeks and a bunch of slightly spotty bright green arugula at the Spring Hill Farm booth, then we mosied past Dave's Killer Bread (, where Dave and his bulging biceps were jovially overseeing the cluster of people clamoring for his flavorful--and flavorfully marketed--bread. "He's not really a killer," Jimm informed me. "What?" I stammered. "He was just in jail for drugs," he said. "What a letdown," I said. I guess I hadn't read the label on my bread that closely before.

At the Groundwork Organics booth(, I bagged a bunch of tiny carrots that will be perfect for roasting, and overheard one of the staff telling another customer that strawberries are imminent, and by the beginning of May, "weather depending, we should be swimming in them," something to look forward to indeed. A bunch of Gathering Together Farm's ( black kale and a bag of huge copper-skinned shallots later, it was time to head for the food carts, where I made a beeline for Salvador Molly's Yucatan Chicken tamale (, steamed in banana leaves and served with liberal dollops of sour cream and salsa, most of which ended up on my white scarf as it somehow fell into my tamale carton while we watched singer Ali Marcus warble "Puff the Magic Dragon."

Jimm got a bowl of steel cut organic oatmeal from Zuppa (, thick and hot and studded with tangy dried cranberries and plump golden raisins, served until 11 am alongside Zuppa's assortment of homemade soups.

Apparently, Jimm was quite fond of his hot organic oatmeal from the Zuppa booth.

We continued to slowly browse the variety of booths (92 of them turned out for opening day!) filled with spring's first bounty of produce, free range meats and eggs, artisan cheeses and chocolates and breads and pastries. I mournfully eyed Monica(aka The Tart Lady)'s Market Gourmet booth, too full to stuff in my usual brownie. I suppose that will have to be my first stop next Saturday.

Just a note, visit the Farmer's Market website if you get a chance (, it's full of lovely pictures and fun little plant graphics and information aplenty about vendors, entertainment, upcoming festivals, special events, and series such as the much-anticipated (at least by me) Chefs in the Market, which kicks off May 3 at 10 am with none other than Park Kitchen's lauded Scott Dolich ( Leather Storrs of Rocket ( on E. Burnside will be there May 17...I must meet him...I hope he didn't notice that we called the "RX" portion of his menu "upscale carnie food." ( Oh, and John Gorham of our beloved Toro Bravo will be there May 24! In addition to all these critical details, the website also has cool quotes like "it’s easy to feel grateful for radishes," which I might make my new mantra.

I for one feel grateful that downtown Farmer's Market has awoken from its winter slumber. Hearing talk of fresh market strawberries almost makes me believe there's an end in sight to this deplorable Faux-Spring.


Portland Farmer's Market @ PSU * South Park Blocks between SW Harrison & Montgomery* * Saturdays, Apr. 5 - Dec. 20 * 8:30 am - 2 pm * yes, wood-fired bagels and tamales and hot organic oatmeal, yes, lots of dogs and strollers and little old ladies bumping you with their gingham-lined wicker baskets, yes, awesome ambiance and some of the finest fresh produce/other edible stuff ever to be had

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