The rainbow chard is layered, in a vertical composition, atop a maroon tablecloth bending in a serrated arc.Each bundle istightly wrapped with a small blue label that reads “local, organic rainbow chard.” The succession of green bouquets, punctuated by their magenta, orange and yellow stems blossom like a mermaid’s tale – amid a sea of excited buyers.An easel is set up by a local painter who renders the produce on the table as still life on the canvas. The artificial colors of the artist no match for natures palette. “Taste the rainbow” the saccharin candy slogan from my youth beckons.Oh indeed I will buy, taste, and sauté this rainbow.
What a presentation this purveyor offers up – and the rest of the stands at the Portland PSU Farmer’s market are no less graceful or abundant in their offerings.From March through December, one is bowled over by the quality, quantity, freshness and seasonality of this bustling place.As local chefs whiz by (getting there before the crowds, smart professionals as they are), families stroll, tragically hip college students cavort, and grandmas pick their one cabbage just-so, the shoppers equal the produce in diversity and beauty.This is the market of my dreams, the big reason I moved to Portland in the first place.The BF and I visited Portland for three days (deciding between it, Seattle or the Bay Area for our post-college-I’m-a-creative-type-with-questionable-skills-and-no-job-prospects-phase) and on our last day, a Saturday, we haphazardly decided to check out the market before getting on the plane back to Santa Barbara.Glory hallelujah we did – because it was a meandering and a sampling of goods that would seal the deal and inspire us to fall in love with Portland.We did just that – with this Saturday market as the consistent beat within our heart. We had a regular date with the stuff that sustained us, sensorial pleasures, interactions with dear farmers, overall fun – a barometer of sorts– to hold up all other activities against.It is a habit that we haven’t been able to kick for the 3 years we’ve lived in Portland.
This spring to early-summer season, I keep coming back to the fingerling potatoes.At this one stand, they are the size and shape of a peanut still in its shell.They are nubby, homely and “wild-scientist hairy” looking – the taste however, belies their humble appearance – because inside is the most potato-tasting potato I’ve ever eaten.The skin wrinkles like a raisin and the yellowy interior is pillow, and soft– tasting as if they’d been grown in a puddle of butter.How do they do it?I’m not sure.All I know is to buy them – every week and eat them roasted, boiled, sliced, whole, in salads – salt and pepper – I’m a connoisseur of the fingerling world.I’ll have them any way I may please, thank you very much.
The market is my open-air house of worship and I approach each weekly service with my shopping list as hymnal.
asparagus so long and thin- lithe fingers of a princess dancing across piano keys
singular rhubarb stalks large enough to crank out a full cobbler or betty
the Tart Lady’s banana cake with cream cheese frosting (so rich and moist, it fills you up for 8 hours) with her 2 dachshunds at her side, not to mention a dear mustached husband who proudly sells his wife’s palm-sized pies under a tent colored the exact shade of Pepto Bismol pink…
It’s a kaleidoscope of tastes, smells, histories, memories and futures. It’s pure Portland on a Sunny day!
And the sampling – oh the sampling – an unsung art akin to squirrels gathering nuts for the winter and stuffing them into their cheeks all along the way – sometimes I even place a precious bit of cookie in my pocket, only to discover it a few days later (still good!).There is also the certain direction in which to navigate the market –counter-clockwise, I assure you is best. —the Feng Shuiof the market. I bob and weave, duck and crane my neck for just one more nibble of that __________ * insert explosively flavorful sautéed piece of turnip with sea salt, the perfect end of earthy seed bread or jewel-toned teeny tiny strawberry.It’s lucky I played basketball as a kid, all of my movements during this ritual can also be found on the court. But rather than dribble, here I tend to drool.
The market is my Zen. It is organic on many levels and I am one with it. I love it, revel in the joy of it, converse with it, take part in the bounty, buy from my friends, laugh with them, flow with the market and then at the end of the day, I cook a great meal. Not to toot my own horn, but working with the best of the best ingredients it’s not terribly difficult.I focus on highlighting the produce to show its own intrinsic flavors instead of over-saucing them with unnecessary complexityAnd eat in style and rapt attention – perhaps the same attention and style as the person who so lovingly tucked each leaf into the next, displaying her rainbow chard as the symbol of mighty good fortune – And as I tuck into the aforementioned greenery, with just a dash of vinegar, garlic and salt – I grin ear to ear and relish in how truly lucky I am.