There is a Polish deli in the unlikeliest of places: Concord. This deli is impeccably clean and carries everything you could possible need for Eastern European cooking. Maybe you don't think you need a Polish deli yet, but the day may come when you decide to cook your way through a collection of Hungarian or Polish or German recipes. It happened to me.
So there you have it. 1984 Monument Boulevard in Concord. Swing by next time you feel the urge for smoked paprika sausage or frozen piroshki. Buy the perfect bread to accompany your borscht. Gorge on poppy seed rolls with your coffee. I know I'll be back.
Indian Groceries at Bottles
It's a liquor store and an Indian Market. Beer, wine, bar, alcohol, and every spice known to man. It is an odd marriage, and probably strangest for the people who come for their booze and are greeted by chanting, incense, and enormous sacks of onions.
Be that as it may, if you go through a lot of spices or do any Indian cooking, this place will thrill you. I found black salt, rose petals, ayurvedic herbs, fennel powder, bentonite clay, and even supplies to make my own lip gloss that I have always had to order online. There are exotic flavors of ice cream and other syrupy sweets, samosas both fresh and frozen, and fenugreek in every possible form: fresh, the seeds, the dried leaves, powdered. The only thing they do not offer is meat.
It doesn't look like much on the outside, but it's worth a trip. It's in El Sobrante on San Pablo Dam Road. Here is the address on their yelp page.
Not Your Average Farmer's Market
I don't believe that farmer's markets were intended to be this bizarrely over-priced, elitist monster that they have become, but when the pluots (plum-apricot hybrids) I found at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market in San Francisco were $7 a pound I knew I'd never go back. I had gone with the intention of buying produce for the week but left instead with a cup of coffee. I still get a little worked up over it.
At the Pinole farmer's market I found that the more I bought from one buyer, the more they were willing to throw things in for free and lower the prices a little bit here and there. This is pretty good, but the most exciting find for me came in the unlikeliest of places... Richmond. Their farmer's market is on Fridays from 8-5 on Barrett and 24th by the Civic Center. Richmond may not provide the prettiest of farmer's markets, but it has become my favorite.
Look at the picture above, and then go to Raley's and see how much $6 buys you.
One of my favorite growers there usually reminds me of an angry Santa, but today he was very friendly. At a little after noon he goes around and throws the produce into $1 bags. The prices are unbeatable and the quality is better than what you can buy in the supermarket. I had dismissed it at first because it isn't organic, but took notice when a friend mentioned how good the tomatoes in our sandwiches were. She was right. Then I made zucchini with sour cream recently with zucchini I bought from this farm, and made it again with supermarket zucchini. The ones from the farm were much, much better.
Another great farm sells on the far corner. They have a 45 acre farm and don't spray. Everything is picked the night before and never refrigerated. They sell all kinds of exotic vegetables and are happy to tell you what to do with it all. I have tried a few greens I don't have names for, young pumpkin, lemongrass, jujubes, peanuts, okra, and young jicama from there. I also bought what might have been sweet potato leaves.
If you need lettuce, cauliflower, or broccoli this might not be the place for you. But if you are willing to cook with what you find and experiment a little, I cannot recommend this more highly. I think it's a well kept secret.
I'm sorry I can't give you names of farms- every time I go I have two children with me and it was hard to research this while chasing them and digging around for spare change. But you should go.
Richmond Halal Market
I grew up blocks away from Indian markets and halal butcher shops in Berkeley and I was thrilled to find something similar close by in Richmond. I may not need halal meat specifically, but I do shop for lamb and goat regularly. If you are local, here is the link to the address and some pictures of the store. The picture above shows a sampling of things I bought recently. You can buy spices, meats, Turkish coffee, and Middle Eastern desserts at much better prices than you'd find elsewhere. This is where I bought the spices, rice, and lamb for maqloubeh. Whether you check out this market or a similar one in your neighborhood, here are some things you shouldn't miss.
Maybe I am the last person to know this, but there is an apple orchard in El Sobrante!! The Old Apple Orchard is right by the library at 4165 Garden Lane, within shouting distance of where I lived for six years. The orchard is nestled in against the creek on a 1/2 acre lot. They do school tours there, and on weekends you can come by and pick your own organic apples for $1/pound. They accept cash only.
Most of the trees date back from the '60s. The owner described the varieties as "vintage". I don't know if that is a synonym for "heirloom" or something else entirely, but all the apples are crisp and sweet. The trees all came from Stark Bro's Nurseries, a company that has sold plants since 1816. Apparently this is a good time to plant fruit trees. I love picking fruit, and now thanks to my enthusiastic children I have 29 pounds of apples. You can bet I'll be writing about apples a lot for the next month. Apple pie, apple jam, caramelized apples, brandied apple rings, baked apples, apple crisps, and applesauce. I'll be trying it all!
With so many apples, I was thinking about either buying an apple peeler for $20 or trying a method I saw on youtube using a vegetable peeler and a battery operated drill. I'll let you know what works.
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!