There are few more pleasant pastimes than browsing through the Berkeley Farmers Market on a Saturday morning, even when the air is brisk and the skies are sporadically spitting down cold rain.
There's interesting architecture in eclectic chaos, highly individualistic people, and most of all wonderful foodstuffs to peruse, sample and buy.
The only caveat is you have to get there early, because the purveyors bring only so much, and when it's gone, they (almost literally) fold their tents and close up the cash box.
The first tent we visited was The Fatted Calf, a haven for meat lovers, where we snatched up the most delicious Rabbit Boudin Blanc, or as one of our party called it, Bunny Boudin; Spanish Merguez, redolent of Moroccan spices; Lamb Crespinelle, formed in a patty shape and unbelievably delicious; and a French style Fennel Sausage. Later we added a sausage stuffed Quail to the mix and that consituted our main course.
I also got fatally attracted to an artisanal baker who was displaying something called Txapati, which connected me linguistically to Indian chapatties, but these looked more like Italian ciabatti. It turned out this is a traditional Galician Basque bread (the baker casually told me he'd gone to this area to live for a while so he could learn to make the bread). He had both a plain loaf and another stuffed with rich, plump, juicy Kalamata-ish black olives. The bread looked like a ciabatta, but a bit browner, and had a dense, chewy texture. Both loaves were delicious. Unfortunately, I've forgottent the name of the baker who was selling them. Guess I'll have to go back again, eh?
We tasted through LouLou's preserves, with the memorable Blackberry-Meyer Lemon, the succulent but slightly too sweet Bing Cherry, and the intriguing and tart Grapefruit-Rhubarb impressing us the most.
Attracted by the smells of good coffee brewing, I parked myself in front of the Blue Bottle Coffee Company tent and dilated my nostrils as wide as possible. I tried to resist buying, but inevitably found myself back there again later and surrendered my money for some 'Bella Donovan' blend, in part because the coffee smelled so good, in part because the description was so damned compelling. Who says marketing doesn't work?
Of the several produce stands, we managed to score some killer shrooms, both earthy Portobellos and some really tasty Royal Trumpets (Trumpets, I think, are even better than Portobellos for grilling or pan roasting. Some garlic, some oil, some herbs, pop em on the grill for a brief time, and you've got succulent dining; the Trumpets have a firmer texture than the Portobellos, but they are not as pungent---somewhat like a Portobello in the young Crimini stage---more white shroom taste and firmer texture. Good stuff indeed.
Redwood Hills Farms also had their selection of goat cheeses on display, so we picked up a Crottin and a Bucheret. Went fine with the Txapati Basque bread, by the way.
We also couldn't resist a salad mix, already bagged up, laced with spring flower petals in colorful profusion...as attractive to the eye, it turned out, as to the mouth.
But then one of the girls reminded us she was starving to death and all this good food lying around wasn't helping, so we had to flee the market for Crepes a Go Go for a restorative crepe stuffed with either savories or Nutella. Since I firmly believe that Nutella is one of the single greatest contributions to world civilization that Europe has supplied, I splurged with a Nutella, Banana and Coconut crepe.
Then it was off to the hills of Berkeley for cooking up our goodies and finding some bottles of wine to crack open.
As I said, there are far worse ways to spend your time than the Farmers Market in Berkeley on a Saturday.