Monday, January 14, 2008

To market, to market...

I never liked mornings as a teenager. On weekends, I'd surface near lunchtime, when the heat of a hot day had already kicked in, or the clouds on a coolish day had blown up and obscured the early morning sun that had held promise of a fine day.

Now I love early mornings. The sky seems washed clean, brighter and more fresh. All days promise well in the morning, even if they go off track later on. It's a time of quiet, as the city has not yet awoken and launched into the bustle of the day. Busy city laneways, like Degraves St, where you can barely move for the milling throng at lunchtime, are quiet havens. The smell of coffee and freshly baking muffins drifts around the laneway, as you dodge the baker and milkman making the day's deliveries. Many times I've enjoyed an early morning walk or run in brilliant sunshine, only to find it obscured by grey clouds within an hour or two, or the calm peace disturbed by squally winds that blow up later on.

One of my favourite places in Melbourne is the Queen Victoria Market. We're lucky to have such a treasure in Melbourne at all, let alone easily accessible in our CBD. Many's the time I've battled big crowds at the market on a mid-morning Saturday. Now I prefer to go in the early morning, arriving about 6.30am, when there are fewer people around. The market is pleasantly populated, with enough people to make you feel part of a communal activity, but not so crowded that you're dodging overloaded trolleys, big three-wheeled prams and meandering tourists while trying to check out what's fresh and best to buy.

First stop is the deli hall, where a compulsory purchase is the spinach and pinenut dip. Adam and I both adore this dip and it won't last long in our fridge. Other assorted deli items make their way into my little red jeep trolley: olives, pancetta, different types of cheese, Turkish bread, Polish sausages, dolmades, smoked salmon and big blocks of fresh Warrnambool butter. Then it's onto the meat and fish hall, where I'll wander the stalls to see what's on offer. I always stock up on fresh fish and seafood here, as I think the fish from this market is the freshest and cheapest in Melbourne. I often buy red meat and chicken here too but, as I'm blessed with a wonderful local butcher, I don't buy as much here as I could.

Last stop is the fruit and vegetable sheds. There's so much on offer that I spend a lot of time wandering up and down the various sheds before purchasing. Today, there's fire-engine red tomatoes from Murray Bridge that look particularly good. A plump eggplant will make smoky baba ghanoush, while a bunch of crisp asparagus will be delicious blanched and tossed in a salad with blue cheese and walnuts. Mounds of plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots look enticing. There's some leftover eggwhites in my fridge that will make little meringues that can be topped with whipped cream and a chopped assortment of these fruits.

By 7.30, my shopping is all done and it's time for coffee and breakfast and to plan for the rest of the weekend. There seems so many more hours in the day when you're an early riser!

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