Precious Cargo

Farmers Market Santa MonicaPeople think it’s weird that I’ll go to California with empty suitcases and fill them up with produce to take home, but I don’t see why. I mean, I’m already going there, I love visiting farmers markets when I travel, and it’s torture to leave those markets empty handed.

So if we visit the Bay Area or LA, and we’re renting a car, we bring empty suitcases. (If’ we’re staying in SF and using transit, we don’t do this because it’s easier to travel light). It’s been a few years since we’ve filled up two full suitcases, but the Seattle farmers markets are just getting warmed up for the season, and we were twitching for more variety. Plus, Cali’s local produce is different than Seattle’s (citrus, avocados and such). One of our favorites is the Santa Monica downtown farmers market. I’ve heard the Wednesday market is extra amazing, drawing chefs from all over the LA area, but the Saturday market is really good, too.

Last time we came home with two suitcases filled with fruit and vegetable goodies from the awesome¬†farmers market at the College of San Mateo, security didn’t bat an eye. This time, we loaded up at the Santa Monica market and our suitcases got flagged. The TSA agent who came over to do the hand inspection opened Jeff’s suitcase first, which contained a 25-pound bag of juice oranges and a raincoat he bought on clearance at Banana Republic.

“What, did you guys rob an orange tree?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Your farmers markets are much more interesting than what we’ve got going on in Seattle right now…and we eat a lot of produce.” I assured him that the Seattle markets get better and better as the season goes on (got to stick up for my home city).

My suitcase was more varied: grapefruit, lemons, pistachios, two cauliflower, a huge cabbage, summer squash, fingerling potatoes and some raw milk white cheddar. That lead to an animated conversation about the best LA-area farmers markets, the merits of backyard avocado trees, and delicious varieties of pear-shaped squash, all while the TSA agent swabbed the inside of the suitcases to test for explosives residue. Do people really hide bombs in produce? Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

My tote bag containing stone fruit (peaches, plums, apricots), purslane and fava beans didn’t get a second look. And we ate like kings the week after our trip, in part because I spent most of a day washing and prepping and cooking (I was NOT going to let one bit of my precious produce go to waste). One of my favorite concoctions was a potato-purslane salad with a lemon-mustard-olive oil vinaigrette. I’ll share the recipe on Wednesday!

P.S. The book Brassicas has some delicious recipes for making the most of one of the healthiest vegetable families around (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and so on). I’ve only made a few of them so far, but most of the recipes are easy.