Monday, May 14, 2012

Pike Place Market Magic

I got this print from the Museum of History and Industry. Not sure of the year, but it was clearly taken just prior to Pearl Jam striking it big. If you blur your eyes you can see Eddie Vedder on the left,  just past the horse, in a dress. Vedder's in the dress, not the horse.

Jess Thomson, in her new book Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle's Famous Market, writes that many of us refer to the market as the "soul of Seattle".  I would add that it's also our heartbeat, larder and muse.  It defines us, shows us where we've been and how we might want to be in the future.

A lot has been written about our historic market. Here are some things you might already know:

1. The market attracts an incredibly diverse stew of people from all walks of life -- it's filled year-round with locals and tourists and it's home to a senior center, a daycare, a medical clinic and a food bank.
 2. You can buy anything and everything at the market except for maybe a vacuum cleaner or a trapeze costume (oh, actually, I bet the Pink Door would probably sell you one, so scratch that).
3. You can be entertained on every block by buskers of every stripe.
4. Fish are thrown here.
5. The original Starbucks is here.
6. People meet up with each other at Rachel the Pig, a huge bronze piggy bank which raises over $10,000 each year for the Market Foundation.  At any point in the day there is a bottleneck at Rachel the pig -- and yet, people always seem to find each other.
7. Deep in the bowels of the market, just a short walk down an alley, you'll find the Gum Wall, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people have chewed, spit and stuck their gum to the wall. I'd like to say there is some profound mystical or spiritual reason for this homage to Hepatitis A, but no -- it's just a bunch of nasty gum stuck to a wall.
8. The Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continually running public farmer's markets in the U.S.
9. We almost lost it in the 60's to development until Victor Steinbrueck, a UW prof, reinvigorated our city's love for its historic market through his group "Friends of the Market".  His group helped force a vote in Seattle and our city responded resoundingly that the Market should be kept. When the news hit, people poured out onto the streets to celebrate and children erected statues in Steinbrueck's image made out of geoducks and apples.  That last bit isn't true.
10. The year I was born, 1970, Pike Place Market was designated as a Historic District and in 2010, we celebrated its 100th birthday.

Here is something you might not know about Pike Place Market:

1. You will find magic here. Especially if you are open to it. I don't mean magic in a woo-woo way or even in a hocus-pocus way (though you can be sure to find that here too) I mean 'magic' insomuch as if you walk through the market with an open mind and a desire to experience all that it has to offer, you will be richly rewarded. I have, every time I have come here.   Sometimes the magic comes in the form of powdered donuts at the Daily Dozen and the snap of the bag as they open it up with panache; other days the magic comes in a produce vendor taking extra time with me to share his passion for a fava bean or a hedgehog mushroom or the perfect local strawberry.

Sometimes, the magic just has to be heard.                


I moved to Seattle in part because I fell in love with Pike Place Market.  One day -perhaps some day soon - I want to spend an entire day there, taking photos, eating at places I've never tried, wandering from stall to stall, getting lost, finding little treasures, striking up conversations with random folk and shopping for my dinner just like thousands of people before me,  for over a hundred years.

We're all about full disclosure here on the Internets these days -- so for FULL DISCLOSURE, I'd like you to know that I know the author of the book pictured above, Jess Thomson.  I have a great deal of respect for her abilities as a writer.

I look up to her. I'm taller so I have to duck. It's a little awkward.

I also got this book for free because that is one of the rare perks you have as a food writer.  Now getting a free book does not mean I am under any obligation to write a thing about it, positive or negative.  I choose to only write about the books I like, so I skim them in bookstores or online and then if I like what I see, I may ask for a review copy. Now that we have that taken care of, let's discuss this book and how it sparked in me a wave of nostalgia for a place that is still very much alive -- there should be a word to describe that.

I loved this book right away -- because I love Jess' writing, for one, and also my buddy Clare Barboza (known to her friends as Fisty B, or more recently as Fisty Clamboza) took all the pretty photos - but most importantly because I love the Market and this book is a celebration of the magic I was just talking about. Pay attention.

I had a day off today so I grabbed the book and April and I made a morning of it.  We had lunch at Steelhead Diner and flipped through the pages and picked a few recipes to make for dinner and then I followed Jess' lead and sought out the ingredients vendor-treasure-hunt style.  I bought bacon from Bavarian Meats and chatted with the produce guys at Frank's, who insisted I take pictures of their hands to show what "real produce guy's hands look like."  And then we gathered up all our bags of food and jumped on the light rail home, so that I could cook and read and drink wine and shoot photos and write and eat and drink wine.  Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all.

Strong and dirty.

Cracked and dry.

Waiter, there are flies all over my plate!

We picked two recipes to try out. I was instantly drawn to the Spring frittata recipe because the asparagus, morels and ramps looked incredible at the Market and it was obvious that this was THE day to make this recipe.

I'm still fairly new at this food photography thing and I remembered to take a shot of the finished frittata after we had snarfed down half of it.  Dee-lish.
We also tried out the Smoky Bacon and Kale Gratin,  because, duh, why wouldn't we? We ooze kale in these parts and I don't know any Jews who have self-control in the face of bacon.

Prep for Smoky Bacon and Kale Gratin

Both dishes were solid hits.  April gave a huge thumbs up to the gratin, which had no chance of being anything less than stellar after a quick glance at the ingredients --- bacon, parmesan, kale, stock, butter and cream, hello. I loved both, but preferred the lightness of the frittata and the nod to such spring delights as morels, asparagus, peas and ramps.  The recipes in Jess' book are simple in design and execution but full of complex flavors -- and right there is some Pike Place Market Magic at work.  What I love even more than the recipes is that she seems to have captured the "soul of Seattle" between the pages of a book - no easy feat, that, and one that will help locals and tourists, alike, celebrate our market for what I hope is a hundred more years.

A final word on tourists and Pike Place Market:

At least 75%* of tourists call it Pikes Place Market, which is wrong and makes Rachel the Pike Place Market mascot cry piggy tears of sadness. Why would you want to make Rachel the pig cry? There is nothing wrong with being a tourist, just try to show extra respect for our market by not giving it a gratuitous 's'.

It doesn't need anything added to it.

It's perfectly magical, just as it is.

* I made this number up.


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