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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

At the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

Today was one of those picture perfect moments in Southern California. After days of overcast skies and the threat of rain, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was a deep blue. A few women had on tank tops and some men were wearing cargo-shorts, but there was enough of a cool breeze that light sweatshirts were still the order of the day.

Last week the Santa Monica Farmers' Market was uncrowded--maybe people were out of town in advance of Memorial Day--but today was another story. Getting close to the farmers' tables took a lot a patience and excuse-me's.

Flowers were everywhere and as Russ Parsons described in today's Los Angeles Times, early season cherries made an appearance--Rainiers, Burlats, Black Tartarians, Queen Annes, and Brooks.

The best news was the return of the pluot. Besides the Ha Farm's Mountain Grown Fuji Apples, Scott Farm's pluots and plums (which come later in the season) are my favorite fruits. There were nectarines and peaches but they looked too green and didn't have the fullness that comes from long days of summer heat.

Jimmy Williams of Hay Ground Organic Gardening was selling potted herbs and vegetables. Amazingly he grows all of his high-quality plants in the backyard of his Hollywood home. In the past I had been tempted to buy his plants but never did because our backyard was too heavily shaded. Happily our next-door neighbor is renovating her house and she's thinned out the giant bamboo that had doomed our garden to perpetual shade. To celebrate our backyard's return to full-sun, I picked up an Italian parsley and three tomato plants: Green Zebra, Sweet Olive, and Cherokee Purple.

Walking through the market today made me very happy. Compared to the waxy displays in the supermarket produce section, the farmers' market feels alive with displays of freshly cut flowers, mounds of cherries, arugula, corn, squash, onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, carrots, beets, bok choy, spinach, lemons, oranges, apples, apricots, cantaloupe, Lily's eggs, Rockenwagner's baked goods, Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish....the list goes on and on.

Because Michelle is out of town, I didn't need much, just the pluots, a bunch of scallions, parsley, and arugula for Michael's salads. The cherries looked so beautiful I couldn't resist buying a pound. I could happily have eaten them straight out of the bag, but friends were coming for dinner and with a little extra effort the cherries would turn into an easy-to-make dessert. I ate one handful and consigned the rest to the oven.

Baked Cherries
Yield 4-6 Servings
Time 45 Minutes

1 pound cherries
1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pit the cherries and put the halves on a Silpat sheet on a roasting pan. Lightly sprinkle the cherries with raw sugar. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Cherry nectar will have accumulated inside each cherry, accented by the raw sugar's caramel flavor.

Dust with raw sugar and serve with yogurt, ice cream, or mixed with other fruits like mango or cantaloupe.

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