I have always admired the habitués of farmers markets. These are people who wake up early on weekends to lovingly select the perfect bouquet of radishes, the plumpest tomato, the most luxurious head of lettuce. They will spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning, tasting, chopping and basting their market spoils. They care about food quality, food sourcing and supporting their local farmers.
As someone who has purchased many a prewashed bag of prechopped kale sold in a resealable bag, I'm in awe of all of this right-thinking productivity. But, recently, I've made a discovery. A good farmers market is a haven for not just painstaking, principled chefs, but also a different kind of demographic. My demographic, in fact: The lazy foodie.
Recently, I spent a morning at the South Anchorage Farmers Market with one goal in mind: to supply my family with a full day's worth of meals with no washing, cooking or chopping required. It was easier, and more delightful, than I expected.
The market is a fun, festive scene. Local musician John Vandersloot runs a laid-back open jam session. Toddlers and their moms dance in front of the stage. Dogs on leashes sniff other dogs on leashes. Buyers chat with vendors like old friends. Shoppers chat with other shoppers like new ones.
We arrived at the market hungry and headed straight to NonEssentials for their Egg Chapatti ($9) which, according to their sign, is a "Market Favorite." This is an efficient little handful of brunchy goodness. The creamy eggs are made creamier with an abundance of perfectly ripe avocado. A sharpish cheese, some surprisingly sweet onions and a pile of grassy, fresh sprouts added brightness to the sandwich and gave us the strength to check out the market's other wares.
After listening to some music, stocking up for dinner and chatting with some friends and neighbors, we had worked up an appetite for lunch. We decided to divide, conquer and share. My daughter opted for a Buffalo Bratwurst ($8) and my husband grabbed a salmon burger from Joan's Salmon Burgers ($12).
The bratwurst was, predictably, delicious: plump, nicely grilled and with a milder, less salty flavor than the typical veal or pork variety of brat. But the salmon burger was the real standout. A moist, flavorful salmon patty is served on a whole-wheat bun with a thick blanket of snappy tzatziki and a layer of finely diced fresh vegetables including zucchini, peppers and parsley. It has all of the fun of hand-held fair food but without the guilt or the usual heartburn that typically ensues. We quibbled over the last few bites.
To end the bickering, my husband and I shared an egg salad sandwich ($8, again from NonEssentials) with cranberries and candied jalapenos. These ladies have a way with eggs. This is the perfect egg salad: creamy and savory, with bright sweet notes from the cranberries and an occasionally enlivening bite of jalapeno. This plate also came with a heaping portion of excellent classic potato salad. It's a bit messy for stand-up eating but worth the necessary handful of napkins.
After breakfast, shopping for dinner and then lunch, we were clearly ready for dessert. With two kids in tow, the choice was … not really a choice. Wild Scoops Ice Cream with their impressive list of unique and creative flavors was the clear winner. In fact, the kids almost made a meal out of making their selections. Let's just say that an embarrassing number of samples were requested (and cheerfully given).
Clover settled on malted milk and cookies (made with chocolate chip cookies from Fire Island Bakery). Her friend Meredith opted for coconut red currant (with currants from Talkeetna), and my husband decided on a pint of spruce tip ice cream to be enjoyed later ($4 per single serving and $10 per pint). I was a bit disappointed that their gin and tonic sorbet wasn't on offer because it haunts my dreams. Don't laugh. It's that good.
Charlotte, who couldn't decide between ice cream and her favorite macarons from Sweet Caribou, delightedly discovered she could kill two sugary birds with one stone by ordering the chocolate Mac sandwich, which boasts two oversized chocolate macarons sandwiching a chocolate coconut dairy-free ice cream. Wild Scoops flavors are both comforting and sophisticated — sure to please your inner-child, and, you know, any actual child you might have lying around.
Before heading out, consistent with the Severin family tradition of being unable to pass up any popcorn opportunity, we hit up Sweet & Sassy Kettle Corn in case we got hungry during the four-minute drive home. Flavors vary week to week, and we settled on a bag of traditional kettle corn ($3) and one of Cajun corn ($5). The traditional variety is perfect — not too salty, not too sweet, with a thin crackly coating of sugar that maximizes crunch. I have only one complaint about the Cajun: it's not spicy enough to prevent my otherwise picky children from putting their greedy hands into what I considered to be MY bag of popcorn. I'm still bitter.
After this high-stress day of eating, petting dogs and making life-and-death ice-cream decisions, it's no wonder that by 5 o'clock, I was ready for a glass of wine and all of the snacks that cocktail hour implies. Happily, I was well supplied. A loaf of onion-rye sourdough bread ($7) from the Rise & Shine Bakery, a variety of charcuterie from Mat Valley Meats and a jar of pickled carrot "dillies" from Joan's Jams & Jellies ($10) made the perfect cheeseless cheese platter.
Full disclosure: the owners of Rise & Shine Bakery are close friends and I've been enjoying their sourdough breads for years. Dense, crusty and flavorful, this bread is all substance and no fluff. I'm usually a slave to their fruited almond loaf (one slice, with or without butter, makes for a hearty breakfast), but on this day I opted for their onion rye, which held up beautifully to thick slices of Mat Valley's hearty elk salami, spicy Landjaeger sausages and to thin buttery slices of Prosciutto de Palmer. I love prosciutto. And I love a good pun. And a good pun about prosciutto? Well, that's just snacking gold.
The zippy, garlicky, carrot "dillies" made the perfect, palate-cleansing accompaniment. The natural sweetness of the carrots provides perfect balance to the acidic brine. And, let's face it. I'm a sucker for anything in a mason jar that comes with a handwritten label.
Dinner, we decided, would be a sampling of pastas purchased from the two separate vendors selling locally made varieties. For this, exhaustingly, I had to boil water.
We began with the "Kitchen Sink" ravioli from Alaska Pasta Co. ($10), which, helpfully, was described as "some cheese, some mushrooms, maybe some sausage … whatever we didn't use up." The pasta comes frozen but thawed in plenty of time for a late dinner (thawing is recommended).
These pockets-full of gooey, cheesy, mushroomy filling were a satisfying bowlful and, with a jar of a good-quality sauce, made a pretty impressive meal to get on the table in less than five minutes.
From La Grassa pasta, we purchased orders of fresh spinach and ricotta gnocchetti and tagliatelle infused with white wine and saffron ($5). The tagliatelle, which cooked in less than three minutes, was silky, yet firm with a gentle hint of saffron that stood up nicely to the pesto I served it with. The gnocchetti had a strong earthy flavor of spinach and a creamy, almost custardy texture. These are lovely pastas. But my favorite part about La Grassa is watching them cut the pasta to order. Right in front of you. And how charming is that? You can even pick the thickness of the strands. Call it dinner and a show.
I'd like to apologize to all of the hardworking farmers who were showcasing their beautiful produce at the market this past Saturday. I promise to come back soon and buy some actual vegetables.
But if I'm not feeling virtuous, I might show up anyway for some macarons, a jar of local honey or for another beautiful salmon burger. Because, even when I'm being a lazy person, I don't want to eat like one.
If you go:
South Anchorage Farmers Market
11111 O'Malley Centre Drive
Saturday: 9 a.m.-2 p.m.