Last week, I took some time to visit with friends and family in San Diego. It was such a treat to leave cold and rainy Chicago for sunny and (sort of) warm SD. Only problem is that I always kind of space out while packing. I think BEACH BEACH BEACH and completely forget that it gets a bit chilly. I never pack appropriately. What a dope.
I have a real thing for farmers markets and seek them out whenever I travel. My mother once commented on my endless market photos from a France trip … “Wow. You went to A LOT of markets.” I hadn’t noticed but she was right. Is 5 markets on a 2 week trip too many? Nah. I really get a kick out of them and learn a lot about the city/town/village/corner too. And there’s always good food, such a bonus. In San Diego, I thought my Mom would like the farmstand at Chino Farms so we took a little trip just north to Rancho Santa Fe. The folks here grow some amazing stuff. Just beautiful. Which is why they supply some of the best restaurants in the country.
Though it’s a bit early in the season (at least for this Midwest gal), Chino Farms had lovely displays of things that I crave after a particularly miserable winter … most of all COLOR!
There was a zillion kinds of lettuce and greens, colorful onions (purple scallions!), little teeny radishes in various hues, multi colored carrots, funky turnips, pattypan squashes, beautiful small artichokes and the tiniest cutest brussel sprouts that I literally swooned over. Really. It was embarrassing. Just gorgeous gorgeous stuff. And those strawberries. Whoo whee.
So here’s the thing … years of grocery store abominations have convinced me that I don’t really care for strawberries. I mean, think about it. When was the last time you had a heart stoppingly good strawberry? I think we’ve all become accustomed to pale, flavorless blobs and might have forgotten what a real berry tastes like. I’ve just become sort of indifferent. Then a few years ago, I bought a basket at this farmstand on my way to LA to visit friends. It was supposed to be a gift but the little beauties proceeded to perfume my entire rental car with an overwhelming powerful scent. I was becoming distracted and a hazard to everyone on the road so I actually pulled over, grabbed the basket from the trunk and ran back to the driver’s seat, barely containing my drool. What a sight I must have been. I then proceeded to eat one after the other after the other amazed at the full, almost floral flavor and the deep deep red color all the way through to the core. And then the basket was empty. Ooops. So then I started in on the thumbelina carrots but that’s another story.
Even though I get really good strawberries here every summer, there was something about these Chino beauties that rather haunted my memories. They’d become the new standard by which I judged all berries. Mythical I suppose and completely unfair. So this trip, I of course bought WAAAAAY too many. Did they live up to my memories? Hell, no. Does anything ever? I think I’d built these things up in my mind and nothing could reach that bar, not even the actual berry that set the tone. But these were huge, ruby red, absolutely gorgeous and absolutely heart wrenchingly delicious just the same. Oh the mind works in mysterious ways.
As expected I ate a lot plain, right out of the basket. They were too good to eat any other way and I certainly didn’t want to cook them. But one morning, I sliced a generous bunch up with a little greek yogurt and a little honey, went out onto the terrace and watched the waves roll in. And then I checked the weather and saw it was cold in rainy in Chicago. Ha!
If you’re ever in the area, please check out Chino Farms. Its a quick drive from downtown San Diego and the folks there are just lovely. Plus every time I’ve visited, there’s a chef or two buying for his/her restaurant which is always a good sign.
Chino Farms farmstand (858) 756-3184; 6123 Calzada del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92082; Tues-Sat 1-3; Sun 10-1; closed Mondays