Friend and reader Ryan asked us try his home-brewed beer and give an honest opinion. We already had to be in his town for another engagement, so we made a mini event for the day. Before getting to Ryan’s, and before it closed, we stopped by the Martinez Farmers’ Market to see what unique items we’d find.
We met Angela, owner and baker of Simply Heaven Mini Pies. As a pastry chef by training, Zach feels very confident in endorsing these little delights. Two different sizes (mini and mini mini) come with a variety of fruit fillings, making it easy to mix and match flavors without committing to a whole regular-size pie. The crust was flaky and buttery, and Zach the supertaster could tell that “it’s natural and made with 100% care.” The fruit within was exceptionally fresh and clearly in season; there was no excess of sweetness due to sugar compensating for tart, not-quite-ripe filling. We did not get any, but we did see that sugar-free and gluten-free pies were available, as well.
An affable young man at the Bistro Blends tent coaxed us to try the oils and vinegars. As we sampled through them with tiny cubes of bread, all tasted sumptuous so it was hard to narrow it down for a purchase, but we ended up taking home a bottle of blackberry balsamic vinegar. The balsamic acidity was very well balanced by the deep berry flavor, giving the vinegar a robust edge that would be a great ingredient in a marinade, among other things. Besides oils and vinegars, we also tried dijon honey truffle mustard. The truffle flavor was intense but not overwhelming, with a base of a mild mustard flavor. Besides sandwiches, we’re looking forward to using it in cole slaw or potato salad as a special additive.
August popped a grape and a hunk of broncha cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company, and was sold. Broncha is made with a blend of goat and cow milk and aged it for 2-4 months. August liked this cheese a lot because, to her, it was kind of like Parmesan with a light blue cheese quality. We know it has to be good shaved over a salad or paired with fruit like we tried it today, but sometime it would be fun to do a ranch tour at Achadinha to learn more about their processes and specialties.
Honey produced within 50 miles of where you live and work can help sustain your immune system against plant allergies, so it was neat to find honey that’s from Concord, Pleasant Hill, and Oakley. MarElla Honey B’s offers local honey and so much more, from beekeeping classes to swarm and colony removal. Setting up a few hives on our hillside is something we’ve considered, since it would help our neighborhood’s vegetation as well as support the bee population that is strangely dwindling across the globe, so we’re genuinely interested in looking into the beekeeping classes.
After strolling downtown Martinez we met Ryan at his home. He has a garage converted with all kinds of equipment to work on clone recipes as well as crafting his own. Today we tried his original “Black Hops Down,” an IPA that he calculates ranks at 6.5% ABV. Being that it wasn’t bottled but from a tap, Ryan did a great job at finding the rate to trickle in external CO2 so that the light carbonation perked up the rich flavors. The combination of hops in his brew made it taste like a roasted chocolate with a strong hop finish, dark but not dismal. On first sniff and sip, August said that if it were available she’d buy it, while Zach who typically avoids IPAs felt that it was a hoppy beer he could actually enjoy. Thank you, Ryan, for inviting us out to try your tasty creation!
It was a relaxed day of walking, drinking, and conversing, a nice way for August to spend her last hours before going back to school tomorrow. Goodbye, Summer, we’ll see you again in ten months!
After yesterday’s lunch, we walked half a block to find the Old Oakland Farmers’ Market where, while August got her nails done, Zach went shopping for dinner groceries. He picked up some beautiful asparagus, garlic, and apples, but by the time he started, many of the produce stands had already closed. This did not deter him, however, and so he bought a couple of other things he wasn’t expecting to find.
Patatas Spanish Tortilla doesn’t have a webpage yet, so you’ll have to track them down on Fridays at this farmers’ market, and follow them from there. Zach got this tapa-sized tortilla as a surprise for August to see how it compares to the authentic tortillas she is used to after having lived in Spain. Tortillas are naturally gluten-free and typically dairy-free, but Patatas is proud to offer organic eggs in their fresh, locally made tortillas. Great for a small lunch, as a main dish with a salad for dinner, or sliced up for finger food with a caña or a vino tinto, it’s an accurate taste of Spain.
Oaktown Jerk, “Oakland’s finest artisan beef jerky,” is definitely that. Star anise may be the first ingredient in the title of this flavor, but the licorice-like taste was very, very mild. This jerky was sweet on first chew but slowly developed a spicy afterbite, and locally sourced habanero pepper is to blame for the heat. The primary ingredients, including the meat, are all locally sourced. Eight flavors and five different packaging sizes make for great gifts that sport local pride.
Farmers’ markets are a blast. There you can find the freshest, most sustainable ingredients and products crafted by people who care. It would seem that there is a farmers’ market on any day of the week here in the Bay Area, and if the Old Oakland Farmers’ Market is any indication of quality and variety, we’re looking forward to finding the rest of them.