Spring is definitely in the air. All around the city, ebullient-looking couples are holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes. People talk about summer vacation as though it is just around the weekend. Even the air feels sprightly.
The world is alive again.
And for me, one of the best signs of this exuberant time happened yesterday morning: the University District Farmers’ Market opened for business at nine am.
All winter long, when I drove by in the rain, I looked forlornly at the empty parking lot on 50th Street. Winter is necessary, I know. How else could everything grow without the dormant time? I try to live every moment fully, not longing for something else. However, when I saw that empty parking lot, I’d have a little pang of sadness. It’s not springtime yet. Summer is a fading memory. There is no farmers’ market to attend.
Seattle has spectacular farmers’ markets. All throughout the spring and summer, dahlias bloom in plastic buckets in profusion. Greens lie on wooden tables, pungent and just pulled from the earth. Fresh goat cheese awaits us. Every Sunday afternoon in summer, I stroll through the Ballard farmers’ market, an entire city street blocked off, the sun shining through red and yellow banners, music playing. Moving slowly, I look at every stall, ask questions of every farmer, sample all the foods I can eat. The farmers’ market is a social occasion for me. I introduce friends to the joys of local and organic, as we stroll around with cups of coffee or glasses of fresh cider. I make new friends every week, over the beauties of broccoli or the joys of juicy raspberries. And I learn the stories of some of these farmers, stories of making goat cheese every week east of the mountains or growing arugula near the city. I love buying produce from the same hands that have pulled it from the ground.
I learned how to eat well from the farmers’ markets of Seattle. I have always been an enthusiastic cook, but I didn’t really start to explore until I had to stop eating gluten. When first faced with a life without wheat, rye, or barley, I was not daunted. Strangely, I feel lucky that I had been so violently ill for months on end. When I cut out the gluten, I felt better within three days. As soon as found my strength, I was greeted with spring sunshine and a world of possibilities. I started wandering through the farmers’ markets and buying anything that called to me, any fresh food that did not contain gluten. In the past, I might have simply bought the vegetables I knew I liked, the easiest fruits to eat whole, and gone home with one bag. But with my blossoming health, I began opening to new foods. Chinese spinach. Kale. Beets. Slow-roasted tomatoes. Every week, a new vegetable seemed to show up on every stall, and I was convinced to buy it, whether or not I knew how to cook it. I learned and learned and ate and learned. As my health began to feel as strong as July sunshine, I realized that I would never go back. I was alive.
Knowing this, you might understand why it was I wanted to skip into the University District farmers’ market on Saturday morning. The first day of the market being open after months of dormancy, ready for business at 9 am? My dear friend Dorothy and I were there at 9:04, our senses open and our wallets ready.
And we’re off. Baby leeks. Vivid tulips. First lactation goat cheese. Chervil. Strawberries. Women with babies. Men in Tevas. Families ready to eat. The breeze was still cold on our faces, the sky was overcast and grey, and summer is too far away to even begin to hope. But the farmers’ markets are open now.
Three cheers for spring and the farmers’ markets of Seattle.
HALIBUT CHEEKS WITH SORREL AND BASIL
My favorite way to cook, now, is to simply wander through the farmers’ market, find the surprise of something sitting on a stall that I wouldn’t have thought of cooking that morning, then make up something when I go home. Yesterday, I found sorrel, lovely lemony herb that I haven’t cooked with much before.
And at University Seafood Market, just down the street from the farmers’ market — fresh halibut cheeks. Rich and meaty, clean and slightly sweet, halibut cheeks are a decadent treat. Pair them with any fresh herbs, really, for a gorgeous spring supper.
Eight halibut cheeks
One bunch fresh sorrel, minced fine
One bunch fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade style
One tablespoon olive oil
One tablespoon butter
One teaspoon sea salt
One teaspoon cracked black pepper
One tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Put the olive oil in a sautee pan already heated to high. Set the cheeks into the hot oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Cook on high heat for three minutes, or until the halibut cheeks begin to smell aromatic. Turn the halibut over, and strew the sorrel and basil onto the top. Add a pinch more salt and pepper.
After three minutes or so, or when the fish is crispy brown, remove the halibut cheeks from the heat. Sprinkle the lemon juice on the fish and eat. (Do not add lemon juice to halibut until just before eating. If you put it on the fish before cooking, you will break down the fish’s natural proteins and make the fish taste stringy.)
For extra decadence, smear a little first-lactation, basil goat cheese on one side of the fish before removing from the heat. You won’t believe how good this tastes.