On a foggy Thursday morning in Carmel I decided that a visit to the farmers’ market was the thing. Since I was heading out camera in hand (when am I ever not?), I was really glad of the foggy skies. The softer light would make it so much easier for me to expose, avoid harsh contrast, and spend less time editing after.
I am trying to find the words to express what is going on inside me whenever I am considering going somewhere other than grocery shopping. “Do I take the camera? Maybe not… But then if I don’t something always shows up that made me wish I had it… Ok, I’ll take it, but not all the lenses, just one… or two. Is it cloudy? Is it sunny? Darn, it’s the middle of the day, the light is too strong, and images are boring and flat unless you are photographing the ocean… ” That is pretty much the constant, unconscious, pre-outing commentary inside me. I could say it is in my head, but it is so embedded in me that sometimes it feels as if it is in my stomach. Do you ever have inner debate or habits that are so much a part of you that you feel them in your stomach? Or gut, or chest, or even legs! If you are a photographer, do yours track along similar lines as mine, or are you able to keep it all nice and light?
You know, those gorgeous radishes in the image above would not have looked quite as good if they had been half in the sun and half in the shade, with patches of the image bleached out by sunlight, and others so dark that no amount of shadow-tweaking would really bring them out satisfactorily. Bored yet? Ok, moving on.
As I walked out the gate, I heard a cappuccino calling so loudly that I just had to detour to The Carmel Coffee House. The food there is nothing special, but the cappuccinos and lattes are very good, and the location is lovely. You access the courtyard through a beautiful arch (below right) off of Ocean Avenue between San Carlos and Dolores Streets. You order at the counter, and then choose whether to sit outside, or in their little inside space, which is beautifully decorated with a trompe-l’œil (below left). Taking mine to go would have been cumbersome, so I actually sat down for the whole minute it took me to drink my small cappuccino. Had there been a counter for me to stand at, I would have gone Italian style all the way.
I knew the farmers’ market would be on 6th street, though I was not sure exactly where along 6th, nor what to expect. As I approached, a woman passed me by on her way home carrying a glorious orchid plant. I remarked on its beauty and she said “I always buy my orchids from him. He’s the best!”
All right then!
The glorious bougainvillea below covers the walls of Pepe’s Vesuvio Restaurant, and looks stunning. That is where the farmers’ market begins, or ends depending on which side of the block you start on. In any case, it spans only one block, and a short one at that, between Junipero and Mission, by Devendorf Park. A small farmers’ market, but high in quality, and most of the produce I saw for sale was organic. It also had live music and picnic tables where people could hang out.
I must admit there was a part of me that, given the rather strict official and unofficial rules of what everything in Carmel should look like, had been hoping for a prettier, more styled overall presentation. You know, prettier tents, maybe some Victorian style wooden structures with more charming displays. I know those may not necessarily be practical to set up and take down, but it could be figured out. But no matter, in the end it is the quality of what is sold that counts, and this is clearly a market intended for local residents who come here to grocery shop, as I would if I lived here full time and had a full size kitchen.
And which should be the first vendor I came to? The bakery!!! See, it is not just me who finds them, they actually come looking for me. Had I not been carrying my camera gear, I would have purchased one of the pies, the strawberry-marionberry one I think, then shared it with Ann, my landlady and new friend. I was also very tempted by cherries and peaches, but you cannot hold up a camera and expect to take a photo comfortably with a heavy bag hanging from your other arm. That is actually why I have not yet shopped here in Carmel: I have been taking photos.
I am temporarily hummus-ed-out at the moment, but all that the kind man at Hummus Heaven was offering at his stall looked delicious.
Then came the first florist. There were three in total, one of them the orchid specialist.
Pepe’s Vesuvio Restaurant had a table out representing them, and the guitarist was keeping us all entertained. I was amazed at how his little doggie was so relaxed as to sleep through the music and the industriousness of the market. He, or she, may be used to it, but my boys would, at the very least, not be sleeping.
And here he is, the orchid man himself! Seeing all these orchids made me feel at home. Miss you, Hawai’i!
How many cherries have you already eaten this summer? I have eaten loads, and I forecast loads more. Now I am waiting for the white peaches to get good. I ate as many white peaches last year as I used to eat mangoes and lychees in Honolulu during the season. Which, by the way, is now and quite abundant from what I hear. Enjoy some for me if you are in the islands.
I always feel for the vendors selling fish or meat, as they cannot display their goods for obvious reasons. Not that one impulse-purchases at a farmers’ market – correct that, I almost did with the pie – but in the case of fish and meat, I find it is a more intentional purchase.
Aren’t these sunflowers just glorious? Sonia, I thought of you when I took these photos. 🙂
The farmers of Faurot Ranch had the nicest vegetable display: simple and clean, but well arranged. The selection was smaller, but really excellent, and all organic. I was so tempted by the baby fennels I had recipes dancing in my head on sight.
I stopped by for a chat, and learned from Paul a little bit about the organic certification process. He explained how they were now certified – so a sign should be up very soon – and how they had also started farming a field which had been left uncultivated for fifteen years. This meant that, even if it had not been organically farmed before, the soil had had a chance to rest and regenerate. It was an interesting conversation. I admired their vegetables and suggested that their selection should be interesting to local chefs who were serious about their food. Paul confirmed that they were already working with chefs, and intended to pursue this connection further.
I then met Paul’s father, Rod. I now cannot recall how the conversation turned that way, but Rod told me that he had been in the Navy at the very end of WWII. I felt instant love, admiration and respect for this kind looking man I had never met before. I feel very strongly, in a positive way, about the generation that fought in WWII. I think they were (are, for those few who are still with us) a wave of outstanding humans beings. I know that things are not black and white and way more complicated than that, but essentially they saved humanity from a monstrous darkness. Not that it isn’t still putting up a fight… Rod and I talked about Pearl Harbor a little and the ceremonies that take place there every year, then I asked him and Paul if I could take a photo of them together. Here they are in the image below.
Since there is always something lovely to discover in Carmel, as I left the market I decided to take the long way home, and found myself walking along Ocean Avenue on the side opposite than I normally do. That is when my eyes were caught by this bakery window below. At first I thought I had turned myself around, but then realized I had simply stumbled upon a bakery I had not heard of before, not even in my google map perusals. That was pretty incredible in itself, but especially so when I found out that Cafe Carmel has been around for a loooong time.
I took a few photos, missing a little boy with his nose right up against the window by a second, then walked inside.
I thought I might as well order another small latte, which is my first test in this kind of place. I did that even though I saw the espresso machine on the back counter was one with buttons. This is usually not a good sign because it means that the servers/baristas are not really trained to make good espresso and related drinks, and leave the results up to the machine. I do not know if it was a one-off, but it was surprisingly good. Nothing to compare to the ones from Crisp in Sonoma, or Ritual Roasters in Napa, and the one from the morning at The Carmel Coffee House was certainly preferable. But it was a repeatable experience all the same, were I to walk that way.
Then I set about choosing something to go from the bakery selection.
As you can see, everything is rather large in size. My preference is for smaller sizes so I can pick two or three different goodies instead of just one large one, but as long as the quality is good… to each his own! I almost went for a slice of that apple and pear cake you see above, but I could not see the inside, so I finally settled for one of the massive eclairs, which I took to go. At home I cut it in two, and enjoyed it over two days. Overflowing with thick vanilla custard, it was fresh and very good. The puppies agreed, as I let them try a lick of custard each after they turned up the begging heat.
A few days later I stopped in again and picked up one of their Linzer cookies, also to go. I had not had Linzer cake in years, it belongs with childhood memories in fact, and had never tasted it in cookie form, so I was curious. It turned out to be two tender Linzer-style cookies filled with a good amount of raspberry jam (there was also an apricot option). It was almost like a mini cake, as I could easily cut it, which I did, in two again. Like its predecessor, the Hagrid-sized eclair, it was fresh and very good. Unless I am dunking them in tea, I like my cookies tender. How about you?
From what I can tell, given that I have only tried a couple of things, this is a good, no-fuss, grandma-style bakery. Though it could be turned up a notch, the quality is there, as is the freshness, at least in the baked goods, and it is certainly worth a stop. I have not had lunch at Cafe Carmel, so I have not tried any of their savory offerings. The idea of pizza or pasta here does not jiggle my taste buds, but a sandwich or salad might be good. I will keep you posted if I do try more. FYI: Cafe Carmel is located on the north side of Ocean Avenue (the right if you are looking towards the ocean) between Mission and San Carlos.
More to come.
Other chapters in The Carmel Journals you might enjoy:
And just beyond Carmel: