About two years ago, like the sweet little Holly Hobby I was, I got a bee – no, make that a veritable mad hornet – in my bonnet to shop a different farmers’ market every day for a week. I have no idea why I went completely, utterly bonkers, but I suspect it had something to do with my wanting to give myself an excuse to give my boss an excuse to fire me from a job that was causing my creative soul to die a withering, painful, wholly metrics-driven death. Either that, or perhaps I just thought that my stalking the markets and providing what one might call a Market Report would be a lovely service to to the three, yes three (!) people who actually read this blog at that time.
That was two years ago, and girl, how the times, they have a’changed. Now my blog audience has more than doubled to…seven readers! And maybe slightly less impressive, of course, is that I still visit the farmers’ markets at least once a month, though the challenge of going to one other than Santa Monica on Wednesdays was hurled into the gutter once the convenience of its occurring less than a block from my office took effect. I also gave up on buying something hot! fresh! now! each time and teaching myself to cook a cherimoya or chayote or other some such nonsense. Mostly, I buy fresh flowers for my dining table, where I eat one of various forms of take-out, order-in, or cold cereal after a work day so long that it couldn’t possibly be okay with the HR department.
I do miss the luxury of visiting the market once a week. The leisurely lifestyle that it reflects, now long since over for me, is one thing, but really, I miss what the market itself represents; it is a heavenly reminder of why we choose to live in Hell-ay.
Why do we hack, cough, and wheeze through smog layered so thickly you can see the polluted striations? We do because the particles are what make for a cocktail-fueled Penthouse view of a stunning sunset over the ocean and behind the mountains. Why do we allow ourselves to live like anonymous neighbors with hordes of homeless people who beg for change on Rodeo Drive? We allow it for the very weather that lets them, and us, enjoy “outdoor living” year round. Why do we hatefully endure a tangle of roadways that tightens into an enormous auto-knot for no other reason than say, the time of day? We do because the freeways allow you to trek a hundred global communities in a single local commute. Why do we put up with car-smashing celebrity sightings that weigh down every teenage waif with satellite dishes for sunglasses, silicone for body parts, and undersized animals as accessories inside oversized handbags? That one, I don’t know.
For all the wretched things that make Los Angeles so miserably LA, still we are absolutely, positively, spoiled fresh with farmers’ markets. California is blessed with a landscape that gives us local access to farmlands. The climate makes it possible not only for farmers to grow produce year round, but we have only to brave 55 degrees and perhaps some morning marine layer in November to gather fresh produce for Thanksgiving dinner. We may only be able to get Mexican mangoes from those slightly suspicious “mobile” markets outposted at the entrance to the 405, but we can eat carnitas and galbee and gyros and kebab like we have a passport Venice-henna tattooed on our perfectly botoxed foreheads.
Though the Westwood Farmers’ Market seems to have lost many food stands when it moved from student- and Med Center-traffic heavy Westwood Village, thankfully, there is still a handful of vendors that must make enough profit from those who dare to venture across Sepulveda and thrash through the “botanical gardens” deep in the bowels of VA. It’s unfortunate that the Market was forced to move in order to accommodate the financial interests of developers in the area, and that it had to move to a slightly less convenient location, but it was to my advantage. Technically, the Market on the northern grounds of the VA is within walking distance of my house, though I don’t do it now that I have a day job that takes me to an office in Santa Monica.
No longer in an immediately urban setting, the Westwood market is quieter and gives off an almost serene, natural vibe for which the only appropriate thing to do is “stroll.” The produce stands are set up along the sides of a foliage-lined gravel path that turns down into a garden area. The food vendors are located here with picnic tables under the shade of trees. We ordered tamales from the tamales vendor and roast chicken from another, sat down among strangers and lunched while listening to an unknown band cover the Eagles.
When it comes to tamales, I don’t stray too far from tradition, so even with offerings of pineapple or other exotic fillings, we ordered chicken. The tamales were good, though they would have been better with a ratio that is lighter on the corn. I didn’t mind that the filling was slightly dry, since the entire thing was drowning in a puddle of red sauce. I fall all over myself for chicken that’s roasted on a spit, less for the chicken or for whatever flavor comes from the oven, and more for the skin. I peeled the skin — dark, crisp, and covered with flecks of salt, spice, and herb — from every piece, dipped it in hot sauce, and enjoyed it like Amelie’s neighbor enjoys the oyster.
When I go back to the Westwood Farmers’ Market for lunch, which won’t be anytime soon since I am always working on Thursday afternoon, I’m driving.
The market’s new location in the VA, unlike Westwood Village, has convenient parking.
Hey, this is LA.