Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The BEST Bazaar

Sunday morning in Baltimore. It's hot and it's humid. Steamy air pants at the windows waiting to ravage the AC the moment I open the door. Stay inside, stay cool, my lazy bones coax me. A tempting offer, yet I can't accept. No matter how hot out it is, Sunday morning hosts one of my favorite outdoor events in Baltimore - The Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar. So embrace the heat and get outside! It's summer after all! 
The Farmers' Market & Bazaar is located under the Jones Falls Expressway. Yes, it's kind of strange to shop for your dinner underneath a roaring highway, but it's totally awesome too! Walk under the highway Monday through Saturday, and you'll find an empty wasteland of trashcans and dust. Walk under the highway on a Sunday, and you'll find a bustling, vibrant, and thriving market. Funky murals mask concrete beams and bright banners hang from lampposts. White tents and street performers give a party atmosphere. The ceiling made by the highway overhead keeps the space cool and prevents plants, produce, and people from wilting in the sun. I call the market, "Repurposed Urban Space At Its Best."
Feeling, smelling, eating, looking, walking,  talking - the market swarms with Baltimoreans. Young children swivel hula hoops while Moms and Dad watch, gratefully sipping their tall coffees. A bearded craftsman displays wooden cutting boards while the adjacent farmer slices up samples of peaches. A couple with dreadlocks piled high on their heads stop and listen to the old man playing a tune on his PVC trombone.  A crowd gathers around a Native American dancing demonstration, transfixed by the booming drums and fiery feathers. A mother laughs with customers while her baby sleeps in the back of a truck, surrounded by flowers. Other Baltimoreans come strictly to shop. They stride through the market at rapid speed, hunting for the freshest basil,

stripiest heirloom tomatoes, flakiest pastries, and hardiest seedlings. Stocking up on fresh produce for the week or winter, plants for the garden, or dinner tonight;  the shoppers make their rounds. "Cash only" quickly changes hands and soon cloth bags and bicycle baskets bulge with Maryland bounty.
Even if you don't like to cook, you can still come to the market to EAT. Food stands dot the market, and the smells wafting from their boilers, fryers, juicers, woks, and skillets coat  the entire premises. It's hard to resist. Even if it is only nine A.M., people tuck into spicy sausage sandwiches and stir frys like there's no tomorrow.  Made-to-order omelets are sprinkled with peppers, sausage, and mozzarella and sizzle on a cast iron skillet. Mounds of wheat grass, carrots, mangoes, and apples are turned into juice, and fried beer-battered mushrooms are topped with hot sauce and cheese, then served on a bed of micro greens.

I buy a small hot  bag of freshly made doughnuts and douse them with powdered sugar. "Would you like a napkin" asks the doughnut maker. Definitely! I reply,  my hands already coated with white. Some people eat at tiny plastic tables and others camp out on the ground. But no matter where they sit or what they eat, people chow on this market food with true pleasure and enjoyment. The blatant disregard for time and decorum is awesome. Want to eat dinner for breakfast? Dessert for breakfast? At the market you can, and you should!
As I peruse the market, my first stop is always at a small bakery booth for a perfect taste of France. A fresh, golden, crusty, chewy, sleeved-in-paper baguette, and I'm in heaven.

Armed with my baguette, my other purchases depend entirely on what is seasonal and what looks the freshest. I love shopping this way, without a list and without a plan. I never know what the different stands will offer each week and this makes cooking much more creative and exciting. Market shopping is such a great excuse to let myself get caught up in the colors and textures of so much local produce, and then come up with a plan for it later in my kitchen.
This week I score dark leafy kale, giant portobello mushrooms, strawberries, leeks, chives, red potatoes, cilantro, and apples. On the walk home, I start concocting meals in my head. Grilled portobellos with chives? Baguette with kale and a fried egg on top? Endless possibilities, all from the Farmers' Market & Bazaar! I can't wait to get to my kitchen.

Think I'll walk a little faster.


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