Every once in a while, I take a break from the nearly daily task of restaurant hopping for this column. That means I cook at home with ingredients I buy at my weekly farmers' market in Hillcrest. San Diego is blessed with a bounty of locally grown fruits and vegetables that come directly to you via the farmer who sells at the various markets around the county. The San Diego Farm Bureau's website includes all the markets, locations and times, from Coronado and Horton Square to Scripps Ranch and Vista, and every location in between. Local farm stands and nurseries that sell at their farm directly to you are also listed (760-745-3023, www.sdfarmbureau.org).
Shopping at a farmers' market is a terrific way to get to know and support the people who grow the food we eat and to appreciate the seasonal availability of our produce. For example, locally grown strawberries, fresh fava beans and asparagus are in now, and by the time fall rolls around, you'll find winter squash, oranges and apples. Many of the farmers are practitioners of a nationwide concept known as community-supported agriculture. This allows you, the consumer, to support the farmer, who in turn delivers weekly a box of produce to you.
Many of the markets have vendors who sell more than just seasonally grown organic or pesticide-free produce. At the Sunday Hillcrest market on Normal Street in front of the Department of Motor Vehicles, you'll find everything from ceramics, cheese and chocolate to silks, flowers and jewelry. As you buy flowers or produce, the intoxicating smells wafting from the parking lot will have you salivating to order such treats as crepes, empanadas and salads. You'll find many of the vendors work markets in Ocean Beach, Chula Vista, Temecula and other weekly venues.
Wake up with an espresso or coffee from Travelers Mugg, which features the coffees of the well-known wholesaler West Coast Coffee Roaster in Chula Vista.
Mexican food is well represented with chips and salsas from La Salsa Chilena found in Ralphs, Whole Foods and other stores, or at their factory at 2977 Upas St. in North Park (www.lasalsachilena.com). Carlsbad's Floral Trade Center Restaurant owner Juanita Fukuta sells her lard-free 8-ounce tamales filled with chicken and chile, cheese and jalapenos and other tasty combinations. I bought one with chicken and chile to eat with friends at home and liked the light texture of the corn meal surrounding the filling. Close by, another stall features made-on-the-spot tortillas, carne asada tacos and burritos, and another makes healthy fajitas.
The array of Middle Eastern food from Baba Foods includes all manner of flavored hummus, triangle pastries of spinach and cheese, stuffed grape leaves and other Lebanese delicacies from its Chula Vista factory. Baba's products are also available at Costco and other farmers' markets. Nearby you'll find tasty empanadas (savory pastry dough filled with beef, chicken spinach or corn) from the Argentinean Gourmet. The Turkish Grill makes chicken or beef kabobs as sandwiches or plates.
La Creperie, located at 3773 30th St., comes to the Hillcrest market and has customers lined up for its breakfast or sweet crepes. You can customize the fillings. And had I not already eaten, I would done just that.
For dairy-fresh Gouda cheese, there's Winchester Cheese Company. Owner Jules Wesselink, with the help of his 500 Holstein cows, make Goudas in six styles: mild, medium-aged, sharp, super-aged, jalapeño and cumin-all delicious (www.winchestercheese.com).
For time-challenged cooks, Delaney's Culinary Fresh makes fresh pasta that cooks in 90 seconds. Owner Jordan Stone and her daughter dispense bottled sauces and flavored butters to use with meats, pastas and vegetables. I tasted the sun-dried tomato asiago and the olive Parmesan, both brimming with flavor, and the basil garlic fresh linguini cooks up perfectly-I ate some for breakfast. Everything is made at the Temecula plant (www.delaneysculinaryfresh.com).
Salad Style makes salads, but not your run-of-the-mill salads. Instead, owners Maryjo Testa and Scott Thomas create balanced and interesting mixes with fresh seasonal ingredients. I had a satisfying Cobb with baby spinach, maple bacon, egg, avocado and tomato with whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. If you miss them at the market, check them out at their store (807 F St., Downtown, 619-255-6731, www.saladstyle.net).
Your sweet tooth will be happy with handmade Guanni chocolate truffles from Fallbrook. These beauties come in mouthwatering flavors such as almond praline and rum in bittersweet chocolate, raspberries and cassis, passion fruit and even Peruvian hot pepper (www.guannichocolates.com).
Pop N' Mama's organic popcorn beats any of the lightly salted and sugared popcorn I've tried over the years. I think it's the organic popcorn that makes the difference.
The Peace Pie guy sells fresh fruit pies meant to be eaten raw that include, among others, apple-pear or apple-berry that looked yummy, but I didn't taste. Hillcrest's Bread & Cie, Point Loma's CJ's Bakery and Midway's Patisserie du Soleil all feature baked goods that include breads and sweets. I love the big meringues from Patisserie.
A favorite spring food of mine is the Sweet Imperial Onion that arrives in early May. Siesel's and Iowa Meat Farm celebrate their 13th annual sweet onion and BBQ festival, May 5 and 6 at Iowa Meats and May 20 and 21 at Siesel's, each day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Once you taste those sweet onions, you'll buy them by the bushel-they're as good raw as they are cooked. Iowa Meat Farms, 6041 Mission Gorge Road, Mission Valley, 619-281-5766; Siesel's, 4131 Aston St., Bay Park, 619-275-1234. Write to marcie[at]5dollarchef[dot]com and editor[at]SDcitybeat[dot]com.