Sunday, May 31, 2015

Arcane Dining Oddities: Poseidon's Trident? Devilish Pitchfork?

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Can you guess the purpose of this fork?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Hot on the heels of Lindaraxa's marvelous post about a mystery dining implement that she so deliciously teased her loyal readers with - and quite frankly left this author befuddled and on the edge of her seat awaiting the big reveal - comes a mystery object from my own collection.

I have toyed with the idea of publishing a post on my Poseidon's trident (or would that be a devilish pitchfork?) for a number of weeks now and Lindaraxa's tantalizing conundrum finally provided the impetus I sought to get my act in gear.  I suspect, like me, you too may enjoy a little puzzle to rattle your gray matter.

Admittedly, the task of this treasured little item delivers something far less exotic to hungry diners at table than Lindaraxa's fork.  The trident is made of sterling silver and is mounted to a faux-ivory handle by way of a decorative collar.  Aside from this minor decoration, the seven and a half inch utensil is really rather spare, which to my eye makes it all the more appealing.

I espied my mystery object laying in a glass case of an antiques shop in England about a dozen years ago. When I asked the assistant what it was that I was looking at, and she enlightened me, well, there was really only one thing for it.  I had to have it.

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Photo: Chronica Domus

Can you guess the purpose of this fork?  Remember, no cheating through the use of your search engine now!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Ramble Through The Woods and Yonder

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A family of quail carved atop a charming sign cautions drivers as they approach Wunderlich Park and the historic Folger Stable
Photo: Chronica Domus


In spite of the fact that I do not participate in any sporting activity, I do enjoy exercising in the great outdoors.  And by that I mean on Shanks' pony.  There is nothing better than a good old-fashioned invigorating ramble to rouse the spirit. Besides, if you are fortunate enough to have the use of two healthy feet and a sturdy pair of walking shoes, that is all that one requires to get moving.  No special training necessary.  No fancy equipment required. So, having found ourselves without social obligations this past Sunday, we telephoned our dear friend Gavin, an indefatigable walker, and invited him to join us on a trek through one of the Bay Area's prettiest hiking trails.  We fled south by motor for about forty-five minutes until we reached the environs of Woodside and Atherton, smack in the middle of horse country.  The area acts as home and playground to many of Silicon Valley's wealthiest captains of (tech) industry, due to its proximity to the main business hubs of San Francisco and San Jose. The serenity of the surrounding countryside is also a factor as to why the place is a magnet for its tony residents.

It was a perfect day to enjoy the spectacular trails of Wunderlich Park.  The lower than usual May temperatures afforded us the opportunity to amble along the Alambique trail without overheating. Additionally, spurts of vigorous wind rustling the tree tops also kept us cool.

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The towering Redwood trees of Alambique trail
Photo: Chronica Domus


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We encountered this spectacular view from the top of the trail, elevation 1,430 feet 
(notice the fog rolling in from the right)
Photo: Chronica Domus

At some point on our hike, we must have deviated from the woodland trail as we found ourselves walking along flower-spangled meadowlands.

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Entering the bucolic meadow
Photo: Chronica Domus


I was pleasantly surprised to see several varieties of flora in bloom this late in the season. Sadly, my botanical knowledge falls short of identifying the flowers you see in the following photographs. Perhaps one of you knowledgeable readers would care to enlighten me, thank you.

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Ah, this one I know to be an Iris
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Could this be some type of Lily?
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This one has me stumped ...
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... as does this ...
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.. and this pretty little blue one  ...
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... yup, this one too (a wild Sweet Pea perhaps?)
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Finally, one that I recognize, a Thistle ...
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... and this is Briza maxima, or Rattlesnake grass
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All in all we covered about eight pleasant miles, meandering hither and yon, until we were once again reunited with our motor.

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Goodbye pretty meadow
Photo: Chronica Domus


At this point, I'd like to add a word or two about appropriate attire if you too decide to commune with nature, as we did.  By donning comfortable walking clothes that fall within Nature's subdued color palette, you choose to walk in harmony with Nature, not against her.  The entire point of being in such splendid environs is not to draw glaring attention to yourself with your hi-tech neon athletic shoes or zippy colored sports clothing.  Please, do us all a favor and leave those for the gym workouts. Here, browns and greens and other neutrals should rule for the enjoyment of all who seek the tranquility that such open spaces provide.  Our like-minded friend Gavin and I wore our olive green-colored quilted jackets atop neutral comfy walking clothes.  One dapper gent we crossed paths with and exchanged pleasantries looked absolutely marvelous in his straw hat and togs of muted tone.  He even accessorized with a pair of binoculars hanging from his neck.  Well done, sir!

One of the highlights of Wunderlich Park is a visit to the ritzy and meticulous Folger family horse stable.

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Approaching the Folger Stable
Photo: Chronica Domus 


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A portion of the stable complex
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Designed by Arthur Brown Jr., who was also responsible for the design of San Francisco's city hall and opera house, the stable is built in the so-called "Victorian Gothic style".  Constructed in 1905 for the coffee magnate, James A. Folger II, the building is an absolute joy to visit, even if you're not of the horsey persuasion.

A vintage Folger's coffee advertisement appealing to "crotchety connoisseurs" and "affable amateurs" alike

As we were here on a Sunday afternoon, the carriage room museum was unfortunately closed preventing me from photographing it to its fullest potential for your enjoyment.  

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I last visited the museum several years ago and was impressed with the pristine carriages on display alongside artifacts and information on the local history of the area and the Folger family that owned the surrounding land.

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I managed to snap this photograph of a carriage through the museum's window
Photo: Chronica Domus


My enjoyment of the stable was buoyed by several of the exquisite equines in residence, including this beautiful fellow.

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Hello, my name is Winchester ...
Photo: Chronica Domus

And this one.


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... and I'm Chespin
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The tack and harness room was clean and orderly, much like the immaculately kept stable.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Saddles at the ready
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One could not detect even a whiff of odor to betray the fact that horses are in residence. The redwood paneling of the stable's interior was harvested from the estate grounds and stained to imitate costly mahogany.  Gas lighting and cobblestones complete the elegant look of the interior.

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The Folger stable is kept in tip-top condition
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This beautiful horse is being readied for grooming
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Happy trails
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Once we had poked around the stable and yard, it was time to head north but not before a brief pit-stop in the town of Burlingame .  Having become ravenous from all the walking and fresh air, we happily devoured a scrumptiously prepared late luncheon early dinner with a glass or two of wine, swiftly undoing all the benefits gained from our calorie-busting walk. Oops!

It had been a fulfilling day of bracing exercise set among a backdrop of spectacular scenery, reminding me once again why I so adore living where I do.

Are you the sporty type or do you, like me, prefer a ramble through woods and yonder?


Monday, May 18, 2015

Arcane Dining Oddities: The Slop Bowl

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Photo: Chronica Domus


It has been sometime since I last published a post on Arcane Dining Oddities, so today I'd like to remedy this by introducing you to the lowly slop bowl.

With such an unappetizing name, you might well be asking yourself  what, in heaven's name, is a slop bowl?  Is it, perhaps, a bowl from which to serve thin gruel? Might its purpose be to hold a dog's dinner?  A slop bowl would certainly make an exceedingly stylish kibble bowl, particularly if one were the owner of a pampered pooch.  This all sounds like fodder for one of my Relics Reimagined posts, come to think of it.

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"No, the silver slop bowl does not contain your dinner you naughty little dog!"

Made of metal or ceramic, a slop bowl's sole purpose was for the collection of dregs from the bottom of one's tea cup.  Leftover tea, along with any tea leaves, would be placed into the bowl in preparation for pouring another round of tea.  Once considered an essential piece of tea time equipage, the slop bowl, alas, is no longer to be found as part of a modern day tea service.

Its demise may have had something to do with the popularity of the dreaded tea bag, convenient in a pinch to be sure, but please loose tea, always!  The invention of strainers, held over tea cups to catch errant tea leaves as they escape from a pot's spout, has also rendered the slop bowl inessential.

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Obviously these rakish dandies have misplaced their slop bowl, along with the host's saucer - the horror of it all!


Of course none of this obsolescence matters to me as I take pleasure in using my slop bowls and have no trouble setting them to good purpose.  It only dawned on me when taking the photographs to accompany this post that I've somehow amassed an embarrassing number of these rather handy little bowls over the years.  Several of them were found with their accompanying tea or coffee pots, milk jugs, and sugar basins.  Others were purchased individually, having long become separated from their tea mates.

The examples I show from my collection mostly date from the first half of the nineteenth century, with a few that were possibly manufactured as early as the 1790's. All are of English origin and decorated with bat prints or restrained bands of color and wisps of gilding.  The bowls vary in size but most are about five inches across and three to four inches in height.

One of my favorite slop bowls is the one shown in the photograph below.  I am partial to its delicate grisaille toned vignettes, known as bat prints, a popular form of decoration employed by Josiah Spode and his contemporaries, during the early nineteenth century.  I date the bowl to around 1805 and I feel most fortunate to have it in my collection, together with a number of tea cups and saucers showing similar landscape prints.  I cannot tell you how delicious and flavorful tea tastes when sipped from one of these delicate bone china cups, an altogether different experience from the thicker-walled tea cups or mugs of today.  

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An English Regency era slop bowl manufactured by Spode in 1805
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A view of the other side showing a charming scene of two ramblers traversing an idyllic landscape
Photo: Chronica Domus


The much squatter bowl seen below exhibits yet another bat print, this time showing what appears to be a church-like building set among trees and hills.  I am uncertain as to which of the British ceramic factories made this bowl, but if I were to guess, I'd say New Hall.

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A detailed view of my New Hall(?) slop bowl
Photo: Chronica Domus


Several years ago, on a summer's walk through the town of St. Albans, located in Hertfordshire, I spied the bowl seen below, through the shop window of an antiques dealer.

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A Barr Flight slop bowl circa 1792 to 1807 appearing a little more vivid in color than in the flesh
Photo: Chronica Domus


I instantly fell in love with the burnt orange ground and delicate gilt foliate decoration. To my dismay, the shop was closed.  It was, after all, a Sunday afternoon, a time when not much is open for business in the smaller towns of England. I telephoned the shop the following morning inquiring about the bowl and was informed by the very knowledgeable and chatty owner that it formed part of a tea service of half a dozen cups and saucers, a sugar basin, milk jug, and a teapot stand. Sadly, the teapot had most likely met a gruesome death at some point in its history. My heart raced as I sheepishly asked the price for all sixteen pieces.  I almost fainted upon hearing it. Really, it was very reasonable for such things.  In a fit of extravagance (it wasn't as though I actually needed yet more tea wares), I committed to purchasing the lot and asked my very nice father if he could drive me back to St. Albans from my parents' house in London to pick up my loot.  If any one knows where a teapot of this design lurks, I'd love to hear from you.

A rarity in my collection is a slop bowl that posed quite a mystery for Geoffrey Godden, one of the most distinguished experts in the field of nineteenth century English ceramics.

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The mystery orange and gilt slop bowl now in my collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


The indefatigable Mr. Godden has written numerous books on the subject and as you can imagine, has assembled many pieces for his reference collection.  Every now and then, Mr. Godden releases a number of those pieces for sale at auction.  I happened to take rather a fancy to the bowl in the preceding photograph, adoring its spare orange and gilt decoration.  I ended up as the successful bidder on both the bowl and a plate of the same design.

I was delighted to have discovered a paper label attached to the underside of the bowl. It reads "GODDEN REFERENCE COLLECTION rare pattern book class?", with pattern number "116" written in gilt paint.

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The provenance of the mystery slop bowl has stumped even the experts
Photo: Chronica Domus


I am certainly no expert in these matters, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I do see a resemblance in form to the orange colored Barr Flight bowl I show earlier in this post.  I love a good mystery and wonder if Mr. Godden also considered this fact in his examination of the unidentified slop bowl.

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Notice how the shape of this slop bowl closely resembles that of the Barr Flight example
Photo: Chronica Domus 


Another star of my collection is one that Reggie Darling would instantly recognize, being that he too is a fan of this classically inspired motif and a fellow ceramics collector.  He wrote a wonderful post several years ago about his urn saucer which is adorned with the same exquisite classical urn found on my slop bowl.  I located this elegant example in England, along with two companion pieces, and it takes my breath away each time I lay eyes on it.  It is sublime.

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A Factory Z Thomas Wolfe slop bowl circa 1800
Photo: Chronica Domus


In researching this post, I discovered that this particular pattern was a mystery piece for a number of years and fell into the "Factory Z" category of British ceramics, a catch-all place for unidentified patterns.  Following extensive research, the ceramic experts have since identified the decoration as "Pattern Number 24", manufactured by Thomas Wolfe at The Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, England.

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A Davenport black basalt slop bowl circa 1800 to 1810
Photo: Chronica Domus


Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of my black basalt bent, so it will come as no surprise that a basalt slop bowl forms part of my collection.  This one was made by Davenport and is adorned with a graphic engine-turned decoration that would not look so out of place in today's modern world. Michelin tire treads spring to mind, wouldn't you agree?

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I find slop bowls are not only a pleasure to look at, they are also very useful items to employ for entertaining. I've used mine to hold dips and spreads when serving hors d'oeuvres, and for lashings of whipped cream when serving dessert at the conclusion of a dinner party.  They make excellent receptacles for nuts at cocktail hour, and I've even pressed my basalt bowl into service for hyacinth forcing.

I hope you've enjoyed this introduction to the obsolete and arcane slop bowl, and would consider seeking one or two of these serviceable bowls for use in your own home.  You might very well find them mislabeled as sugar basins, which were typically much narrower and taller and often designed with handles and a lid, but now you know better.

Monday, May 11, 2015

To Market, To Market

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My hefty old-fashioned market basket filled to the brim with our household's weekly fresh produce sourced from the farmers' market
Photo: Chronica Domus


If you wish to find me bright and early on any given Saturday, I am more than likely trolling the stalls of one of the excellent farmers' markets of our fair city.  Unlike the old nursery rhyme, however, I will not be going to market to procure a pig.  Instead, I happily stock up on my household's weekly fruits, vegetables, bakery goods, and assorted tasty comestibles.  This is a most agreeable pursuit given that the food over which our local farmers have labored hard to bring to market is among the freshest and tastiest to be found anywhere in the country.  Not only that, it is all so handsomely and tastefully displayed. If you are anything like me, it can all become a little problematic. This is because the vast array of goodies on offer all looks to be so terribly enticing. It really is a chore to resist over-purchasing.  Perhaps I should have titled this post "This Little Piggy Goes To Market".

I'd like to take you on a tour of my favorite market, found at The Ferry Plaza, which operates year round each Saturday morning, and to a lesser extent on Tuesdays and Thursdays, come rain or shine.

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Approaching the The Ferry Building, home of the city's swankiest farmers' market
Photo: Chronica Domus


Located along San Francisco's picturesque waterfront by the historic Ferry Building (just look for the landmark clock tower at the bottom of Market Street and you've arrived), the area is abuzz with activity by 9 a.m.  This is a popular spot for the city's many joggers who jostle with shoppers along The Embarcadero making their way to the market.  Some of the first to arrive are the local restaurant chefs.  They haul their fresh bounty away on carts at an hour I could not even contemplate rolling out of bed on a weekend morning.  No matter, as in this case the early bird does not necessarily catch the worm.  There is still an abundance of vegetables, fruits, dried goods, prepared foods, dairy, meat, and fish to fill one's baskets to overflowing when my good friend Jeannette and I make our appearance by 10 o'clock.

The farmers set up their stands along both the street side and the bay side of the Ferry Building.  As we approach the first of these stands, Jeannette and I are stopped in our tracks by this visually stimulating array of root vegetables.  We decide to buy several bunches of carrots and radishes between us.

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A festive display of root vegetables
Photo: Chronica Domus


Next, we walk by a flower vendor and "ooh" and "ahh" at the tulips amassed in buckets.  Somehow, we manage to resist their siren call and continue on our mission, hot-footing it to the bakery inside.

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Spring blooms in all their glory
Photo: Chronica Domus


The Ferry Building is a foodie's paradise and is spilling over with shop upon shop of the finest goods the area's food purveyors have to offer.  There are butchers, ice cream makers, a cheese shop, confectioners, patisseries and bakeries, fishmongers, olive oil vendors, and even a specialist mushroom seller, among other things.  If you are in need of refreshment or sustenance, you'll be spoilt for choice with the selection of cafés and restaurants to indulge your taste buds.

Once inside the building, Jeannette and I make a beeline for Acme Bakery.  We pick up our freshly baked loaves of spelt bread (available only on Saturdays), and our walnut levain loaves.  Acme Bakery makes some of the best bread in the city and suppies several of the better restaurants in town with their tasty goods.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Take your pick - they are all scrumptious!
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The Ferry Building itself is a beautiful structure made airy by the light entering from above.  It has gone through an extensive rejuvenation since the ungainly elevated freeway that partially spanned the waterfront was demolished following the earthquake of 1989.  Today, the building has evolved into a food hall and renovated so that many of the original features, such as the ironwork seen in the photograph below, are visible.

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Looking up within within The Ferry Building
Photo: Chronica Domus


One of my favorite shops to peruse is Far West Fungi, a specialist seller of mushrooms. It is a beautiful emporium of mycology with fun displays set up to educate hapless shoppers like myself who've not a clue how these woodsy treasures are grown and harvested.

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A beautiful and educational display for mushroom lovers to enjoy
Photo: Chronica Domus


Fantastical mushrooms in varied shapes, sizes, and colors entice the home cook into filling her brown paper bags with toothsome Morels, Porcinis, and Black Trumpets.

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Huge Porcini mushrooms begging to be taken home and cooked
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A painterly palette of mushrooms
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Back outside, we are greeted by a familiar spring-time Bay Area sight, Rapeseed, or yellow mustard flowers as they are commonly called.  These grow with abandon in the fields of wine country and one clever seller thought it a good idea to bring bowls full of it to the townies. Don't you think they look jolly?

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Rapeseed flowers, a familiar sight in the countryside during spring
Photo: Chronica Domus


Mother taught me that eating one's greens is good for the body so, naturally, I never fail to pick up bunches of rainbow chard, kale, and other seasonal greens to pop into my wicker basket.  There is a strong emphasis at The Ferry Plaza market on organic and pesticide-free produce, and these leafy greens fit that bill.  I spied some perfect little heads of cauliflower so a pair of those came home with me as well.  Sinful Cauliflower Cheese would be playing a role in our Sunday luncheon no doubt.

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A mountain of leafy greens to make mother happy
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The season's first artichokes
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Savory, sorrel, and garlic chives - fresh herbs not commonly seen outside of such an extensive farmers' market
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The city's swankiest market not only attracts the finest produce around, but it is also a fun place to people watch.  Locals and tourists alike wander the stalls, buying whatever looks tempting, or just sitting by the water's edge feasting upon portable treats or sipping from their coffee cups, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling market. One stylish shopper hauled her loot away in a smart wicker basket on wheels. It rather reminded me of those little old ladies from my youth that utilized similar contraptions for their daily round of the greengrocer, butcher, and baker.

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A stylish way to haul one's goods home from the market
Photo: Chronica Domus


I needed some eggs so I brought a colorful dozen of these home with me.  How could I have resisted, could you?

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Beautifully colored eggs in shades of green and blue laid by Araucana chickens
Photo: Chronica Domus


The eggs are not only visually appealing on the outside, but once cracked, a brilliant orange yolk reveals itself, quite unrelated to the anemic yellow of supermarket purchased eggs.  Their decadently rich flavor is superior too.  Farm fresh eggs truly are one of life's little luxuries and well worth the extra expense of supporting our local farmers. The vendor with which I had spoken had traveled through the wee hours of the morning to set up his stand in time for the day's market.

Finally, Jeannette and I had lunch on our minds so we swung by The Pasta Shop's stand and picked up one of their delicious fresh pasta concoctions.  My daughter adores the taste of their nettle flavored pappardelle, so into the basket went a tub, to be prepared quickly upon my arrival home, accompanied by some of the vegetables I had just purchased.

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A selection of fresh pasta ready to be taken home
Photo: Chronica Domus


One needs to navigate the treacherous waters of the farmers' market very carefully if one is working up an appetite for an at-home luncheon later in the day.  You see, it is so very easy to feast upon the seemingly endless samples on offer at every turn around here.  The market is a minefield of taste explosions if one partakes in the generous sampling of dips, jams, spreads, breads, fruits, and raw vegetables.  As we were about to depart, Jeannette and I broke down and headed for the irresistible organic syrups, jams, and preserves on offer by June Taylor.  We became like bears around a honeypot, along with the gaggle of other shoppers, as we tried our favorite flavors.  As long-time readers of this blog well know, the last thing I need to bring home is another jar of marmalade but let me tell you, Jane's Meyer Lemon marmie is sublime.

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Eeny, meeny, miny, moe ...  
Photo: Chronica Domus


With our baskets bursting with goodness, and our taste buds tickled, it was time to make our way home and plot our menus in order to make use of everything we had purchased during our foray at the market. We always leave The Ferry Plaza so full of satisfaction and gratitude, not only in that we have the great privilege of providing our families with nutritious and impeccably fresh locally grown produce and prepared foods, but also that we make a vital connection with the farmers and artisans that bring us their goods.  I'm pleased to be able to play a small part in supporting our hard-working farmers and food purveyors.  I think above all else, this is what truly makes this market so very special.

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The Ferry Building's clock tower 
Photo: Chronica Domus


The next time you find yourself in San Francisco, please do make a point of visiting The Ferry Plaza farmers' market.  It truly is a gastronomic marvel and a wonderful place to while away a few hours and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, discover something fresh for dinner, or to take home as a souvenir of our city, if you are here from afar.

Do you frequent a local farmers' market and if so, what are some favored food items that go home with you?

 Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.
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