Stalking the Markets – Westchester, Asparagus

Right in the midst of my personal farmers market report, the LA Times runs a whole special issue on southland farmers markets with listings, recipes from the producers themselves, a feature on one farming family, and a story on the smaller markets. Great minds think alike. :)

at 87th and Truxton, Westchester

Wednesday is a big day for the markets, and on the westide, the biggest market is in Santa Monica. I decided to hit up a smaller market in Westchester. Tick tick tick, and as soon as 11:00 hit, I hit “Enter” and dashed to the printer for fear of being exposed to someone rifling through the reams of paper that were being spewed out. I snatched my google map to West 87th Street between Truxton Avenue and Sepulveda Eastway, just as a massive Powerpoint presentation hit the queue. *phew*

purple and pink potatoes

It’s an easy drive on the freeway before the lunch crowd hits the street, and the La Tijera exit is just a short hop. Just as an aside, La Tijera heading west from the 405 is very hilly – like a roller coaster. Very nausea-inducing like the drunken drive home (in the passenger seat of course) on Sunset Blvd from West Hollywood to Brentwood. I hate roller coasters. And as an aside to the aside, I saw Buggy Whip, the supremely old school restaurant that many people talk about. Now I can say I’ve seen it, but I don’t think I’d make a special trip out to Westchester to eat there. It looks 80 years old, and I don’t mean 80 years old in sweet, grandmotherly way. It’s 80 years old in a scary way.

The Westchester market is small, sandwiched between the drive thru window of a Del Taco and a huge shopping plaza. At 11:30 it’s buzzing; not with cooks looking for fresh produce for dinner, but with power-lunchers. There’s a huge red engine parked along 87th, and firemen are lined up at the stand selling grilled sausages and whole chickens. In fact, the line at the enormous, 5×5 foot grill stretches across the street-wide opening to the market and I have to shimmy in front of a properly power-suited woman on her cel phone. Every once in a while jet engine flies low overhead into LAX.

(green) plum perfect

permanent market at the market

The first thing that catches my eye is a table of little green balls. Middle eastern green plums that I’ve never seen before, but will have to wait for another time. This week, it’s all about the vegetables. As if the market’s location had been perfectly pre-planned, the end of the street has a grocery store that sells farmers market type produce every day. Lucky Westchester-ians.

kumquats with that kum-hither look

Either it was already late in the day for a farmers market, or the farmers had sent their B teams down to Westchester, taking the bulk of their crops to the larger market in Santa Monica, because many of the tables were sparse. A sweet, smiling old man sits behind a table that’s empty save for two last baskets of kumquats. As I stoop down to snap a photo, he tells me to wait and winks, “You have to taste it to know what you’re shooting.” He held out a tiny little kumquat in his hand, gnarled, darkly tanned from farm field sun and peppered with age spots. I popped it like a skittle – just as tart, a little bitter. Before I snapped the photo, he played stylist, piling a couple more kumquats in the basket, and adding a little green leaf for color. He didn’t need to. The kumquats were beautiful on their own.

merrily, merrily, marigold’s but a dream

daisy-like flowers

On either end of the market, there are non-produce farmers. On the Del Taco side (how sad that i have to use Del Taco as a point of reference) two moms are chattering away in Spanish with the flower farmer. Red and yellow marigolds and little daisy-like things that I didn’t know – did you know that marigolds are a natural insect repellent for rose bushes? The other end of the market has herbs.

a jungle of pea shoots

Farmers markets never have anything overly exotic, and the smaller markets seem to stick with familiar fruits and vegetables that home cooks use. Pea shoots looked enticing, and I absolutely love the way they are prepared in Chinese restaurants – simply sauteed with garlic. But I wasn’t ambitious enough to cook an entire Chinese meal just to have dau miao, so I would wait for my next sunday afternoon dim sum.

Asparagus is one of my favorites. I love it. Yes, okay, so I use the words “favorite” and “love” with a lot of vegetables – I gush. They were standing straight up like perfect soldiers, gorgeous green with tight little purple helmets. Even though part of my challenge is to try different vegetables, the asparagus won me. Besides, I already had it in my head to have fish for dinner, and I didn’y know how to incorporate fish with cabbage.

standing straight up like soldiers

red white and blue cabbages

Some people get their market basket in a tizzy tasket when they see pencil thin asparagus. *eh* They actually taste no different than regular asparagus, and in fact, are much more likely to fall through the grate on a grill – annoying. White asparagus, well, those just look too alien for me. I like dark green, thicker stemmed asparagus that I can bite into and taste the vegetable in all its lily-ous glory. These asparagus I have to strip down a little with a peeler because I was going to bundle and wrap with salmon.

Nothing but salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon on the salmon fillets that I wrapped around the asparagus bundles. With the seam side down in a little puddle of water for steam, they pop into the oven for a quick, tightly covered 325 degree roast. The sauce is just a simple garlic and lemon cream sauce, though I added quite a bit of hot pepper sauce to it – that’s just me and my silly tastebuds. I like heat.

With the chardonnay that I was forced to drink with it (I typically *gag* at chardonnay), I chuckled thinking about stripping the soldiers. How naughty!

Also on Wednesday in L.A. County:
Gardena – 1670 W. 162nd St, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 310.217.9537

Hollywood – 5601 Santa Monica Blvd., noon to 5:30 p.m. 323.463.3171
Huntington Park – Salt Lake City Park, Bissell Str at East Florence Ave, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 866.466.3834
Los Angeles – Saint Agnes Church, West Adams Boulevard at Vermont Avenue. 2 to 6 p.m. 323.777.1755
Northridge – Tampa Avenue south of Plummer Street, May through October, 5 to 9 p.m. 805.643.6458
Santa Monica – Arizona Avenue at 2nd Street, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 310.458.8712
Westchester – West 87th St between Truxton Ave and Sepulveda Eastway, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. 310.568.9095
Whittier – Greenleaf Ave between Philadelphia and Hadley . April through September. 5 to 9 p.m. 562.696.2662

Wednesday in Orange County:
Fullerton – Woodcrest Park, 450 W. Orangethorpe Ave., 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 714.871.5304
Rancho Santa Margarita – Dove Canyon Drive and Plano Trabuco Road, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 909.229.3329.
San Juan Capistrano – El Camino Real and Yorba Lane, May to October, 3 to 7 p.m. 858.272.7054
Tustin – El Camino Real and 3rd Street, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 714.573.0374

Wednesday in Riverside County:
Riverside – Main Street between 5th and 10th streets, May through November 2, 5 to 9 p.m. 951.715.3400
Temecula – 40820 Winchester Road at Inez Road, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 760.728.7343

Wednesday in Ventura County:
Ventura – Pacific View Mall, west lot, north of Sears, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 805.529.6266

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MEalCentric May 5, 2005 at 5:07 pm

True, you were one step a head of the LA Times. BTW, when you do try the green plums, make sure you sprinkle lightly with salt…makes a world of difference.


2 sarah May 5, 2005 at 5:14 pm

thanks! i didn’t get to try one, but when i head out to the markets again this weekend (i think i’ve become quite addicted now) i’ll look out for them for a taste.

salt on fruit – i loved putting salt on watermelon when i was little!


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