Good Eats and Community: My Market Ritual | Civil Eats

Good Eats and Community: My Market Ritual

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Just about every Saturday I enjoy a post farmers’ market brunch with two couples, three dogs and a two-year old boy. We gather at Sean and Rachel’s Bernal Heights home after each of us has finished shopping at the Alemany Farmers’ Market— a fixture in San Francisco since 1943 — share in our extra fruits, veg and herbs then create a meal with our odds and ends. These Saturdays bring a special tenor to what would otherwise be a single gal’s weekly errand.

To save on parking hassles and gas, I usually catch a ride to the market with Judit and Ben and their two-year old son Finn. This week little Finn responded to my “Hello Finn” with an excited “We’re going to the market” and a smile. He’s just started speaking in sentences and it was such a pleasure to hear him bring up where we were headed without any prompting from his parents.

Once we all arrive, we split up and have our own market adventures with occasional waves from various stalls and quick phone calls with announcements like “don’t get any spinach, I got a ton.” I am bound to run into other friends and we stop to talk about what they bought, what they’re making and which vendors have the best produce. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the marketing when there are so many friendly faces. The experience brings an incredible sense of community and powerfully re-connects many people after a long work week.

It doesn’t take us too long to complete our individual shopping and we always seem to find each other just as we’ve all finished. Sean and Rachel, who live a few blocks up Bernal hill from the market, put their bags into Ben and Judit’s car and walk back home. We’ll meet them there and get help unloading Finn and the food.

With the winter market in full operation last Saturday, there were heaps of citrus, kiwi, winter greens, root vegetables and a surprise oyster vendor from Tomales Bay. “I’m so excited by oysters. I learned to shuck them last week.” Ben said after we asked the man selling Kumoto oysters how fresh they were. (His answer, “Fresh today!”)

In reference to a bright yellow pomelo, Judit said “its too big for just the three of us.” She couldn’t wait to cut it open for our brunch.  Rachel replied, “I got a huge thing of mustard greens to split!” And, indeed it was far too much for two people and we all took a bit of it; me for the weekly Sunday soup I make to sup on when I need a quick healthy meal.

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Once we get to Sean and Rachel’s pad, we unpack our bags and talk about what we bought and have to share. We talk food and preparation methods. We indulge in the joy of the wait, the anticipation of fresh bread, vegetables and fruits and often a glass of wine or Champagne.  We set the table piecemeal and watch our feast unfold. While we chop spring onions, shuck oysters and make coffee, Finn explores the house, the dogs hover for scraps and we catch up.

This week we went overboard on our feast. We celebrated gathering for the first time in 2009 with a beautiful table of 24 Kumoto oysters, strawberry radishes, sliced carrots, pomelo, Petaluma garlic cheddar goat cheese, fresh croissants, bagels and Oregon herb bread, spring onions, Fuji apples, a smoked ahi tuna spread, coffee and a sweet Lambrusco. With some cilantro, carrots and fresh bread for us each to split up and take home later.

Each time we gather is different and I’m always delighted by the conversations we have once we’re seated — how they grow and evolve as we eat slowly. I feel alive and awake and it’s easy to imagine I’m on a European holiday waxing poetic about the world. This week I learned about the Center for Land Use Interpretation, a LA-based research organization that as Sean described “provides solid information about how humans have changed the landscape.” He and Rachel went on a landfill tour with them, which I found facinating. We talk current events and politics, and delve deeply into the flavors we experience.

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The oysters were like butter; the apples sweet and juicy.  Finn watched us closely as we conducted an impromptu side-by-side tasting of carrots from two different farms. It was organic versus “no spray.” The no spray crisp, dense, earthy and delicate and the organic winning with a sweeter flavor that was considerably less bitter. At $1.50 more per bunch, we agreed that they were an expensive indulgence and the flavor was worth the extra cost.  We enjoy sharing “little bites of heaven” – our own flavor combinations created from the components on the table. The tuna spread acted as the perfect base for experimentation. I created a simple bite of tuna on a croissant with spring onions to share with the gang; Judit gushed over “this bread, with the spread plus pomelo” and gave us each a bite-sized taste. Ben chimed in with “I’m gonna try yours and raise you an onion!”

We sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” over and over with Finn and I couldn’t help but remark on the type of memories these Saturdays create for him. He’s a sponge observing healthy eating and the play of good friends being fully present with each other.

I know I’m very fortunate in this world. I live in San Francisco where we have clear blue skies and warm days in January. I have access to an abundant market that I can afford, and choose to spend more time cooking than not. I love my Saturday ritual. It’s simple, vital and contributes generously to my life and I am always grateful for it. And, it’s about more than the food I buy. It’s about the conversations and time I share with my friends. It’s about how we get to explore each other’s tastes and preferences. It’s about community and being present in the moment. It’s about coming to the table together on a regular basis.

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Jen Dalton is the editor of the Local Eats series, which features how cities all over the United States are rebuilding local food systems from the ground up and conducts interviews for our Faces & Visions of the Food Movement series.  Jen co-produces Kitchen Table Talks, a local food forum in San Francisco and heads up Kitchen Table Consulting which provides strategy and communications services to promote and support sustainable businesses, local economies and good food. Jen is also serves as the Cheese Chair of the Good Food Awards and was the Programs Director for Slow Food Nation '08. Read more >

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  1. Love the article Jen! I, too, love the Alemany Market; it's my happy place. Here's to being the lucky recipient of the greens and the rest of the deliciousness that was your Sunday soup. Let's do it again soon.
  2. Mabel
    Great article, Jen. I really miss going to the Civic Center Farmer's Market. It's much smaller, but also much closer to our old place.

    Nice seeing you over the holidays! Talk soon.
  3. Kristin Laursen
    so that's what youwere typing this morning!
    I'm so bummed that I always have to work on saturdays. But it's a great market- when I've had the chance to go.
    I too enjoy all of your market goodies!
  4. I've just moved to SFO from Boulder and this makes me nostalgic for the abundant and year-round farmer's markets back in the Bay. Alemany was closest to my house but somehow I never could resist the allure of Ferry Building, where I used to volunteer with CUESA. I hope this doesn't make me elitist....just appreciative of a beautiful view!

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