Monday, October 29, 2007

More Market News

This came in from George Schnurer of Betty B's Ranch (You probably see him at the Scripps Ranch and La Jolla Farmers Markets. He also sells at the Santa Monica Market every other week):

"Thanks for your concern. I was very fortunate. The firefighters saved my house. I did suffer damage to my grove. I lost about 50 to 100 avocado trees and a portion of my irrigation system was melted. The wind stripped alot of leaves and fruit from the trees. My front gate also burned down.

To sumarize - I was VERY,VERY fortunate. (Many of the farms and homes in the Western part of Highland Valley were badly damaged or their homes burned down.)"

I'm still hoping to hear from other market managers and farmers. Please let me know if you have information.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Market News

This is sort of a hodgepodge of information, but I’ve been trying to learn the status of some of the farmers markets and even the farmers in the wake of the fires. I’ve managed to contact several – so, now you know what I know. As I get more information I’ll post it.

The Carlsbad Farmers Market was cancelled last Wednesday and is cancelled again tomorrow, Oct. 27, according to Christy Johnson, the market’s manager. “Not only are some of our vendors recovering, but the air quality is still too bad to spend a day out in it,” she says. She’s relatively sure that they’ll reopen Wednesday, Oct. 31.

The Hillcrest Farmers Market will be open on Sunday, according to manager David Larson ( . I’m trying to find out if he’s also opening the North Park Market on Thursday, but he didn’t respond to that question.

The Tierrasanta Farmers Market was closed on Thursday. I believe they’re reopening next Thursday.

Margo Baughman intends to open the Vista Farmers Market this Saturday.

And, I've just heard from Mike Manchor of the Rancho Bernardo Farmers market. The good news is that no one from his market lost any farms and they'll resume market at the Bernardo Winery parking lot next Friday -- only a block away from the burn area.

I’ve heard from a couple of farmers, including Paul Smit of Smit Orchards. They’re fine, he says, but tells me that Rancho Chico has been wiped out and others are severely damaged. He also says that the Ocean Beach market did open on Wednesday, drawing a surprisingly high crowd, “probably anxious to be outdoors.”

Cunningham Organic Farms in De Luz, which raises avocados, exotic citrus (meiwa, nagami, kumquats and buddha's hand citron), nine kinds of tangerines, cocktail fruit, guavas and cherimoyas, is currently picking fuyu persimmons. Gale Cunningham, who also manages the Temecula Farmers Market, says all their crops are fine. All the calls she has received from participating farmers have been with good news. She is opening the market on Saturday. She also says that they’re a very tight group and eager to help, so if any farmers do need help, let her know (

If anyone knows the status of other markets or farms/orchards, please let me know. Post a comment or drop me a line.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Firestorms Take Over San Diego

For those readers outside of San Diego, we've been hit hard with fires since Sunday afternoon. More than 500,000 people here have had to be evacuated and 1,000 homes have been destroyed.

So far, my area has been safe. However, for obvious reasons I'm not going exploring new places to food shop until the emergency is over. Schools and many businesses are closed. People are being advised to stay off the streets unless they are being evacuated and all of us are otherwise preoccupied.

People here are being asked to help their neighbors in evacuation centers with the basic necessities. The well being of pets, this time, is being addressed. There are a number of places that are taking pets but also need supplies.

Things are still perilous today and don't look like they'll be abating before tomorrow when ocean winds are expected. But, as the fires are contained and life returns to some sense of normalcy, those people who lost their homes will need help. FEMA is on its way, but, well, it is FEMA. If the Cedar Fire experience of 2004 is any indication, the Red Cross and United Way, as well as local synagogues and churches and other groups will be taking donations to give to those who need financial assistance. In fact, I think the local Red Cross is already doing this. Please give what you can.

I will be back with more foodstuff soon!


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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Today I Was Seduced by a Guava

Yes, it’s true. Well, actually, I understate it. A pile of gorgeous green guavas, none much bigger than a kiwi, conspired to woo me from my pre-guayabas ignorance. It was the heady musky fragrance of the tropics that took me down this morning at Foodland when I wandered over to the display where my friends Angela and her mom, Bertha, were bagging some fruit. I remember that when the powerful scent hit me, my mouth dropped and my eyes widened trying to figure out what I had walked into. I think I even laughed in delight. Bertha pointed to the fruit and told me they were guavas, something I'd obviously heard of and probably even drank as juice, but had never actually seen.

They were irresistible, though, and I immediately bagged half a dozen, not even caring about whether I’d like the taste. I simply had to have them. So, that sweet aroma—part jasmine, part passion fruit and a huge dollop of pineapple—trailed me home and has now taken over my kitchen. In short, guavas are to fruit what gardenias are to flowers. Intoxicating. Sure, one bite of that creamy white, pear-like sweetness sealed it for me, but, to be honest, their flavor was almost irrelevant. I got, well, olfactorily sucker punched.

I honestly don’t know how I’ve gone all these years living in Southern California without ever having been exposed to the guava before. They grow in San Diego, but I haven’t seen them in any gardens I’ve been in—at least I wasn’t aware of them.

So, I’m a late bloomer, pardon the pun. But, oh, does it really matter when you discover something wondrous once it finally happens?

Guavas, I learned today following a little bit of research, are in the myrtle family, and are native to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America. While the guavas I bought have white flesh under their thin green skin, other varieties range from pink to red on the outside and have orange-salmon flesh. All have lots of small, hard edible seeds. And, the best news is that they’re rich in vitamins A, B and C. In fact, they have more vitamin C than a typical citrus fruit, mostly found in the rind. And, guavas are rich in calcium. So, eat them whole—enjoy the flavor and improve your health. They’d also be great cut up in a fruit salad and I can imagine them poached like a pear, but are often used to make preserves and juices.

Okay, I’ve calmed down now. I didn’t just freefall for guavas at Foodland today. I actually returned there to check out more of their prepared foods. I wanted to try their nopales salad again, see how their ceviche compared with Northgate’s quality and selection and try more salsas. Of course, I had to pick up their freshly made chips and tortillas. And, couldn’t possibly walk out without their sweet bisquetes.

The result was that I effortlessly had the makings of a feast of a lunch for my friend Angela and me. All I needed to do was reheat a stack of gorditas—thick corn tortillas. I took out a couple of the $1.50 trays I bought at Daiso and placed on them containers of guacamole with jalapeños, salsa fresca, roasted tomato salsa, fish ceviche, ensalada de nopales and a small wedge of panela cheese.

No surprise that the chips—again light and crisp—and the warm gorditas didn’t disappoint. The guacamole was rich but had a residual kick that needed to be toned down with the panela. I discovered that while I liked the flavor of the roasted tomato salsa, the consistency—like a thick tomato sauce—just wasn’t what I wanted in a salsa. I prefer the chopped freshness of the salsa fresca. As for the fish ceviche, that little container didn’t stand a chance. I couldn’t identify what kind of fish was used, but its sweetness melded nicely with the tomatoes and onions, and the lime juice gave it just enough of a punch. Angela and I ate about half at lunch and I polished off the rest for dinner. Now, was it as good as Northgate? Not quite. I simply prefer Northgate, which has a wider variety of ceviches (loved the octopus) and I like their recipe better. The flavors are just that much perkier. On the other hand, Foodland has a much, much better nopales salad. The primary reason is the salty queso fresco they add that slips in another layer of flavor and texture.

On a whim, I also picked up a small container filled with chocolate flan—well, actually a layer of chocolate cake beneath a layer of flan.

That went down nicely. The sweet smooth flan was nicely complemented by the rich, chewy chocolate. Neither was too sugary and the textures came together nicely. Definitely something to return for.

Have some thoughts about Foodland Mercado or other Latin markets in San Diego? Have you met up with a guava yet? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mariscos España and Comercial Mexicana: Adventures in Rosarito, Parte Dos

As usual, my recent visit to Rosarito was all about eating and shopping. I always stop at The Convent on Juarez Blvd. to pick pieces of Talavera, the vibrantly painted pottery I collect. Since my counter-surfing Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, Ketzel, had managed to smash a treasured fruit plate this summer and I wanted to replace it, The Convent was at the top of my list. But, we also had other stops. My friend Tamara had some tchotchkes she was looking for, and I love to see what my friend Armando has in his art gallery at the Rosarito Hotel.

But, this trip, we added a new stop. My friend Paula wanted to show us Rosarito’s hot new (okay, two years old) market Comercial Mexicana. At more than three times the size of Rosarito's other Comercial Mexicana, which sits at the back of the La Quinta Plaza Shopping Center, the newer version is quite the hit among locals. Yes, it is Mexico’s version of Ralph’s or Albertsons or Vons. Sort of. Or maybe it’s like a Super Wal-Mart. After all, it is enormous, filled not just with groceries, but clothing, appliances, housewares, toys and more. The bottom line? It’s just the type of place that were it in San Diego, I’d probably be encouraging people to snub in favor of farmers markets and mom and pop stores. But, it’s in Mexico and I was a visitor and I was intrigued.

It was no surprise that from the moment I set foot in Comercial Mexicana, it reminded me of Northgate Gonzalez Market and Foodland. Walk into both of these, as with Comercial Mexicana, and the first section that catches the eye, not to mention the nose, is the bakery.

The long loaves of pan and the football-shaped bolillos must have been just pulled out of the oven because their sweet, yeasty scent was in the air, pulling me over like a lasso. They were still warm with a crisp crust. What sandwiches they’d make. I turned and saw beautiful concha blancas with their powdery topping.

Paula and Tamara called me to them where they were hovering over a table piled high with sugar skulls for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, at the end of this month.

Individually wrapped in plastic, the sugar skulls are about three inches and cute as can be—for skulls. Their eyes are like sequins in green and blue and red. They have a horizontal patch of color—gold foil or blue, predominantly—which is covered by white icing swirls. According to Paula, you can get your name iced on them also.

As I walked off toward the refrigerated section, I passed by some of the prettiest cakes I’ve ever seen, including several with a whipped cream icing topped by glazed fruit.

It was late afternoon and time was short (I had to get back across the border and home to above-mentioned knucklehead puppy and her older sister), so I couldn’t linger. Instead I rushed past a large liquor section to where Tamara was eying bags of frozen maiz (corn) for pozole, a Mexican soup made with these traditional large white kernels of corn called maiz blanco or cacahuazintle.

The corn is slaked, or soaked, in a solution of cal (lime) to soften it in preparation for making the soup. The prepared corn is called Nixtamal or Nixtamalado and is then ready to go into the soup. explains the process and offers a basic pozole recipe.

The rest of the frozen food section looks very much like what you’d find in an American store, with only some products, like packages of frozen sopes dough, placing us firmly in Mexico.

Along the back of the store is where the food treasures really are. The fish counter is gorgeous, with rows of fresh rock cod, like what we saw at Elvira’s place at lunch, plus tuna, halibut, snapper and others you’d expect.

We were struck by the plump pink pulpos (octopus), nestled between piles of shrimp. Then we turned around to find the cheese counter, with its extraordinary bee-hive shaped panelas, the queso fresco and Oaxaca cheeses. The meat counter would be the envy of an American butcher, with its large cuts of beef and pork, and fresh-looking poultry.

Paula led me past visions of tripe my friend Angela’s mom would love to use to make her menudo to a table with row of trays filled with earthy brown and green concentrated moles, so thick and rich they look like pudding instead of sauces.

Now most people associate mole solely with the traditional mole poblano, which is prepared with dried chile peppers, ground nuts or seeds and Mexican chocolate. But mole is the generic name for a variety of sauces found in Mexican cuisine (think guacamole…). Mole verde is made with tomatillos. Mole pepián is made with pumpkin seeds (and, just to be confusing, its color also lends it to being called mole verde). Dark brown mole adobo is infused with cumin and oranges. (Paula and Armando use it as a marinade for turkey.) Mole cacahuate has a peanut base.

Now, are these concentrates, or the Doña Chonita packaged moles I picked up on Aisle 6 (pepián, adobo, green mole and “mole”), cheating?

Well, sure if you’re a purist. But if you’ve ever made a traditional mole or seen a recipe for one, you know that it can take hours to make and requires not just a wealth of ingredients, but several processes. If you want to have some fun, check out Bob Nemo’s “The Mole Page” and its recipes. You’ll see what I mean. This is definitely something worth making from scratch when you have the time. But, if you don’t, these prepared moles, including the seductive concentrates at Comercial Mexicana (dilute with chicken consommé), will do in a pinch and are great if you’re having company. Place pieces of chicken or turkey or pork in a heavy pan heated with oil, brown on both sides, lower the heat and add the mole. Cover and simmer until the meat is cooked through. Serve with rice and tortillas.

Right by the moles was a table spread with fruta cubierta, or crystallized fruit. Sitting in a basket at the back was the most fascinating—lime skins stuffed with coconut.

But, there were also white yams, pineapple, green watermelon, regular yams, pears and figs. You’ll find these everywhere in Mexican markets, ready to slice and eat for dessert.

Comercial Mexicana, of course, has an in-house tortilleria. Unfortunately, at this store, it’s alongside the produce department, which has displays so beautiful that my focus zeroed in on them and I just breezed by the tortillas. The peppers, for instance, were simply stunning.

They also had fresh herbs like chamomile along with squashes, tomatoes, tomatillos and the usual fare.

I came this close to filling a bag with blue corn kernels before realizing I couldn’t cross the border with them.

What I did leave with were the containers of prepared moles, as well as some cans of Herdez “chilpotle” and “5 chiles” salsas that Paula swears by.

Use them as “toppers” on eggs, sandwiches, guacamole or, of course, as dips or on fish or chicken. So far, I’ve tried the chilpotle and it’s delicious—very thick and spicy. The small cans are perfect for one or two people and should be a pantry staple.

Comercial Mexicana is located in the north central part of downtown Rosarito, right at the second Rosarito exit from the toll road.

Have some thoughts about Comercial Mexicana or other markets in Baja? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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