Summer

market1When people ask why my husband and I live in San Diego instead of moving back to Rhode Island, I usually say, “the farmers’ markets.” I’m joking. Sort of. Really, how many other places have over 40 farmers’ markets that are open year-round? We’re lucky, and we know it.

Fortunately, farmers’ markets are located across the country. So no matter where you live, here are nine ways to make the most out of your trips to the farmers’ market.

1. Be prepared. Before you leave the house, make sure you have some sturdy, eco-friendly reusable bags and plenty of small bills (ones and fives) and quarters. Consider bringing an insulated bag for items such as farm fresh eggs or cheese.

2. Be patient. Resist the urge to purchase the first plump tomato or crisp red bell pepper you see. Always stroll through the entire market once to assess the produce and prices.

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corn.jpg Living in Southern California, we're frequently accused of being citizens of LALA land, a region of delusions where the inhabitants have lost touch with nature because there are no seasons. But there are seasons. Our winters are cold. Those of us with fireplaces use them frequently from January through March. And yet we have to admit, we don't suffer the ravages of weather that afflict other parts of the country.

If T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, we Angelinos keep track of the seasons by watching the ebb and flow of the produce in the farmers' markets. We know summer is over because the peaches and nectarines are gone. Conversely, when the first corn appears at the farmers' markets, we know that winter is definitely over.

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xmasballThere is a scene in the Nutcracker ballet where the evil Mouse king dances with his mouse-followers beneath the giant Christmas tree at midnight. When I look at our tomatoes every morning, I envision something like this having gone on the night before. There are tomatoes strewn everywhere, little bites taken out of just-ripening cherry tomatoes, and big bites taken out of bigger tomatoes. Mr. Mouse or Mr. Rat is, apparently, also joined by his close personal friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hornworm (and all their prodigy), and a flock (or several flocks) of sparrows, all of whom enjoy illicit tomato-tastings under the light of the moon. It’s not hard to imagine how fun this is—we planted our tomatoes way too close together, so the two big rows form sort of a hedge. It’s really more like a forrest, and even I can appreciate the magical wonder of that leafy canopy when I am crawling around on my hands and knees in there looking for signs of invaders. It’s like a cool fort, stocked with candy.

Today Roy bought an inflatable owl. A big one. And stuck it right on top of one of the tomato stakes.

Last night, we strung monofilament line between the bamboo stakes, and hung shiny CDs and yellow streamers from it. I also hung a few red Christmas ball ornaments around, which are supposed to lure birds into pecking at them instead of tomatoes (and thereby discourage further pecking).

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newcornNow that corn has reappeared in the farmers' markets, it's time to grill, baby, grill.

Boiled corn slathered with sweet butter and seasoned with sea salt and pepper is delicious. So too is grilled corn where olive oil replaces butter. Lightly browned, the kernels caramelize, adding sweetness and the hint of smoke.

Make extra, so the kernels can be removed and used in green salads, salsas, and--my favorite--pastas.

Tuscan or black kale is widely available in the farmers' markets in large, inexpensive bunches.

Adding in mushrooms, onions, garlic, a pat of butter and you're ready to enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner that needs little more than a simple romaine or arugula salad, a glass of wine or an ice cold beer, and you'll have a memorable meal with no more effort and time than it would take to order take out.

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friedchick.jpgTwo of my absolute favorite foods are fried chicken and potato salad. There's something so unabashedly comforting about these foods that I am not ashamed to admit they're my favorite. I love them maybe because my mom would make them every year on my birthday or because it's simple and unassuming to prepare. And who doesn't love fried chicken and potato salad? Just the word fried is enough to make anybody like it. And creamy potato salad with the traditional mayo and eggs is always a crowd pleaser. It's typical summer picnic food in an old-fashioned way. Lucky my birthday is in July.

For me summer wouldn't be complete without these two classics. But there's nothing wrong with updating mom's recipes. I take traditional fried chicken and give it a healthy modern and slightly Southern twist. Dare I say it: I like skinless fried chicken! I use chicken tenders that I bread in the usual flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs but add cornmeal for an extra crispy crust. The potato salad: I like a runny, creamy, tart, and sweet dressing. In addition to chopped eggs, I also add crumbled bacon. Eggs and bacon go hand in hand after all. And finally give it a Scandinavian twist with chopped dill, which adds brightness. It's irresistible flavor will have your friends coming back for more. Get ready summer, Here I come!

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