Do you plan meals around the farmers' market?
As I've been wandering the Studio City farmers' market, I've noticed a lot more people walking around with a LOT more produce. Talking to the various vendors, there appears to have been an uptick in purchases, especially from the vegetable farmers.
It used to be that I would see people with just a couple of bags -- maybe some peaches, maybe figs, but almost always fruit.
I personally go to the market, wander up and down at least once, then take out a pen and paper and start writing down what I'm going to cook for the week, so that I can make maximum use of the produce available to me at the market -- I don't like Trader Joe's produce and the Vons across the street is just depressing.
For example, I decided to try the fishmonger (marking the first time in over seven years I have bought fish anywhere except Fish King), and that turned into scampi (which required garlic, lemons and shallots) and salmon with pesto (which required asparagus).
Then I bought lettuce, tuna, potatoes, green beans, olives and eggs for a "niçoise" salad (purists, keep it to yourselves). There was some great-looking chard that I wanted to gratiner, so I decided roast pork would work with that.
Do other people do this? Or do you go to the farmers' market for things that are unavailable or much, much worse quality at the standard megamart and buy your other produce elsewhere?
I do that all the time.
Sometimes I go to the market with a particular dish in mind. More often than not I change my mind depending on what I find there.
Other times I'm just buying produce with no particular plans to cook that night and get inspired by what I see. Last week I was almost done shopping when I saw some basil and realized that I'd seen all the ingredients for soupe au pistou at various stands, so I looped back around and got the rest of them.
We get almost all of our produce from the farmers market and our CSA box. My local grocery store (Berkeley Bowl) has way better produce than the average supermarket, but the quality rarely compares.
I've been thinking of moving to Eastern Europe for a bit to work and do some research, and the one thing that's really holding me back is the thought of life without good farmers' markets and Berkeley Bowl. I pity those who've never had the thrill of navigating the produce section at rush hour at the Bowl; it's truly an experience.
I don't tend to do that, but more because my farmer's market is on Sunday, and by then I've already got things (more or less) planned out. I go to pick up produce mostly, though sometimes I go spec. for my favorite raw feta or a bouquet of flowers.
Here in Portland I go to the farmers' market twice weekly. I always plan my dishes around what looks fresh and particularly yummy, never coming with a list. What inspires me might be matsutake shrooms, a fall raspberry, dungeness crab, artisan cheese I'm tasting for the first time, nectarine, type of heirloom tomato/apple/asian pear new to me, the fall hazelnut (we say filbert!) harvest just came in, or some surprising new variety that I never would have thought to place on a list or think of a dish without first seeing it at the market. That's the mystery & excitement that always brings me back!
When I go to the farmers market I always see what looks good and what may inspire me. I totally reverse engineer things from the OP. I think it's the best way to go. That way you don't get married to an idea and end up purchasing a less that great ingredient.