Monday, February 11, 2008

In Which I Wax Poetic About Lemons

Yesterday morning, I went to the San Rafael Civic Center Farmer's Market. Though I love this market, I haven't gone more than a few times in the past several months, because it took about 45 minutes to get there from my old apartment. Yesterday, though, I realized that it's actually only 20 or 25 from my new place. This is thrilling, as it's the most amazing farmer's market I've ever been to. Whatever image you may have in your head of a farmer's market, this one probably blows it out of the water. It certainly did for me.

Before I moved to California, I frequented the tiny Bethesda, MD farmer's market near my office, for fresh lettuce and raspberries and peaches in the summer, Winesap apples and glossy green acorn squash in the fall. Sometimes, I went to the slightly larger weekend farmer's market in Rockville, in the parking lot of the Montgomery County Courthouse. Both were good for the basics at the height of summer, and I enjoyed going, but they weren't anything spectacular. And both shut down as the last of the October leaves fell, once pumpkin season was over.

The San Rafael market, though, is open year round, and has nearly 200 vendors at its peak, including places to get locally raised meat and fish, 13 bakeries, artists peddling their wares, and a lot more. It's a little overwhelming, in fact. I always find that I have to do a full "window shopping" loop before I can even think about what to buy. And even after that loop, I still always seem to end up with too much, my arms overfull of everything I was unable to resist. This week, I resisted more than usual, as I was on my way to go hiking and didn't want to leave too much in the car. I did end up with a fabulous loaf of whole wheat walnut bread, which we ate halfway through our hike, with a sun-dried tomato spread and goat brie that also came from the market. I also got this absolutely lovely kale -- it was minty green and lilac, very frilly. I don't even know the name of the particular variety, actually, and I was afraid that it would look prettier than it tasted. But it turned out to be delicious when I steamed some to eat with my dinner tonight.

The picture at the top of the page is some more of my bounty from the market this week -- Lovely blood oranges and lemons. I have been on a citrus kick lately, actually, since it's so delicious this time of year, and it's easily available from local growers, to boot. In fact, most folks I know have friends who have backyard trees just overflowing with lemons and oranges they can't make use of. (I need to make me some of those friends!). I am particularly enamored this year with blood oranges, which have a delightful fruit-punchy flavor and lovely rusty peels. And I'm also pretty in love with Meyer lemons. I'd never even heard of a Meyer lemon before I moved to California, but they're like ordinary lemons in Technicolor. Their skins are brighter, more orange-y, and they are just like little globes of sunshine. They're a touch sweeter than regular lemons, and a bit softer and juicier. I guess the best way I can describe them is as a cross between a lemon and an orange, but that doesn't quite do them justice. (BTW, those are not Meyer's in the picture above -- I used all the Meyers to make lemon curd, which I have been eating by the spoonful for days!)

Here's a pic of the lemon curd:

Lemon curd is a custardy fruit spread made with lots of butter, eggs, lemon juice and zest. You have to cook it over very low heat, with constant stirring, to keep the eggs from scrambling, but it's worth the effort. It's actually a bit more of a pale yellow in person, and you can't really see the lovely orangey slivers of zest in it in this pic, but you get the idea. In addition to being pretty damn good right out of the jar, this stuff is heaven spooned on top of Strauss Organic Vanilla ice cream.

And last night, I made what might be the best meal I've ever made. An organic chicken stuffed with garlic and a bunch of lemon and orange halves, with salt, fresh rosemary and butter rubbed under its skin. I tossed some tiny red and purple and yellow potatoes from the farmers market with a bit of olive oil and more fresh rosemary, then dropped them in the pan around the chicken. Basted the whole mess with a little more butter and extra juice squeezed right from the orange as it roasted. The potatoes carmelized beautifully, and the chicken turned deep golden brown, with perfectly crispy skin and a nice, juicy inside. SO. GOOD. I served it with simple steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon and a decent glass of pinot noir and I was in foodie heaven.

Jeez, now I've gone and made myself hungry! I'm off to raid the fridge for leftover chicken and lemon curd.


Molly said...

I used to always go to that farmers market when I was younger with my family. This entry makes me miss it a lot.

ChrisC said...

Oooh, I'm jealous. I would have LOVED going there as a kid! Last weekend they had an easter egg hunt and the kids looked like they were having a BLAST!