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Because Missing Out Is Never Fun!

Grand Central Market

Something smells fishy around here!

Grand Central Market
Los Angeles, CA

Open air markets like these are one of the best ways to explore what large cities have to offer.  Step inside and you’ll find raw ingredients like spices, produce and poultry as well as prepared meals from cultures around the globe.  Whether you’re looking for a quick snack, fresh-from-the-farm fruits and veggies, or a cup of steaming hot coffee, this is a premiere destination for food enthusiasts and blue collars folks alike who are looking for some cheap, delicious eats.

Because of the previous night’s doughnut run, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted for breakfast.  As soon as I walked into the market, my senses were overloaded.  I watched as expertly hand-formed flour tortillas puffed instantly when thrown onto a grill.  Apples and oranges were being unloaded onto displays as quickly as handtrucks could deliver them.   Pounds of coffee beans were being ground while baristas hustled to fulfill espresso and cappuccino orders.  Italian greetings were offered to passersby as pizza crusts were being flailed into the air; all the while, sushi chefs in stark white chef coats quietly shaped rice with bamboo mats.

I wanted all of it…and then none of it when enormous piles of ceviche sold by the pound caught my eye behind a pristine glass case.  Eureka!  BREAKFAST!

Moments later, and only a few bucks lighter, I was seated at a nearby table where thousands of individuals have likely sat during the market’s nearly century-old run.   At an unladylike pace, I shoveled ceviche tostadas into my mouth as if it were my last meal on earth.  Seafood at 9:00 in the morning?   When it’s this fresh and inexpensive, absolutely.

The Biggest Little Kitchen Store

This store is forking incredible!

The Biggest Little Kitchen Store
Jackson, CA

Don’t let the word “little” fool you – inside this culinary wonderland you’ll find cooking gadgets you didn’t even know you needed until you stepped foot inside.

An extensive collection of cast iron skillets, bakeware and dutch ovens will help you cook like Grandma.  Over half a dozen ways to grate cheese are offered here, as well as garlic slicers, peelers, presses and odor removers.  Looking for a fun way to serve eggs?  Pick up some egg rings to serve up those huevos in fun cow, pig or teddy bar shapes.  Just searching for something with a silly name?  Grab a pickle pincher to help fish those gherkins out of their jars.

The Biggest Little Kitchen Store provides a large collection of cookbooks so you will make good use of your new ravioli rolling pin and spaetzle maker.  Too lazy for that?  Then just pour some juice or yogurt into a popsicle maker, take a nap, then lick away.

Casa de Fruta

Riding in circles is fun!

Casa de Fruta
Hollister, CA

Oh, Casa.  You are, indeed, the "Best Place to Stop For a Pee Break". You are also likely a blessing to anyone driving with children; they can work off some energy on the carousel and train, the effects of which will knock them out for a good couple of hours as you continue to head down to L.A. or up to Sacramento or even further up to Portland or Seattle (to that I say, "UGH").

Casa de Fruta's roots began in the early 1900s, and it remains a family-run business which has expanded to include separate "casas" for wines and sweets as well as an on-site restaurant, fruit stand and RV park. Children can enjoy the duck pond in the playground area.  Parents can unload their bladders, then unload their wallets on an unlimited number of treats such as chocolate-covered dried fruits, hot and spicy nuts, or...mesquite flour.  Yeah, mesquite flour!

A tip for y'all: some of the snacks are displayed in open barrels and bins, so dig from the bottom.  Just sayin'...

Pippi's Longstockings

Sock it to me!
Pippi's Longstockings
Fort Bragg, CA

I never thought I'd be desperately shopping for socks during the summertime until I arrived in Fort Bragg, forgetting that beach areas can drop to nipple-protruding temperatures once the sun goes down.

Pippi's offers a colorful array of socks, tights, legwarmers and related accessories, although I was disappointed not to find any Pippi Longstocking merchandise.  I practically wore out that cassette tape each time I checked it out from my public library growing up.  Yep, I said library.  At any rate, you can't go wrong here if the goal is to keep those little piggies toasty; you'll find everything from soccer socks to fishnets to Hello Kitty knee-highs.

Stock up early on those birthday or holiday gifts.  Is it weird to stuff stockings into Christmas stockings?...

Blue Diamond Nut & Gift Shop

Grabbing cans and nuts has never been so cheap!

Blue Diamond Nut & Gift Shop
Sacramento, CA

This place is nuts...literally!

The California almond industry grew from a loose network of growers and shippers 100 years ago into a powerful cooperative responsible for producing more than 80 percent of the world's almond supply.  Almonds are currently California's largest food export.

A mecca for almond fans, this shop offers the entire line of Blue Diamond products at discounted prices.  If you're not into their iconic Smokehouse Almonds, you can choose from Nut Chips, Almond Butter, Almond Breeze or a variety of Oven Roasted Nuts (FYI - the Dark Chocolate Nuts are amazing).

Assemble a basket for gift-giving, or grab all the nut sacks you want for your own enjoyment.  That's right, I said it.

Oakdale Cheese & Specialties

The perfect picnic basket starts here!

Oakdale Cheese & Specialties
Oakdale, CA

California certainly has no shortage of cheese factories; they are everywhere.  Most follow a typical blueprint: a storefront selling cheese, baked goods and a few deli items, oftentimes with a counter lined with plastic domes covering plates of sample cubes speared with toothpicks.

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Once in a while, you find a gem.  Oakdale Cheese & Specialties is one of those gems.  The Buck family has been in the cheesemaking business for four generations, with no signs of stopping.  In fact, Walter Buck can still be found in the factory each day well before sunrise, pumping milk, cutting curds and filling molds.  That wasn't meant to sound dirty, by the way.

A variety of artisanal cheeses and spreads can be enjoyed on a few acres that seem worlds away from the nearby highway.  Pick up some meats and olives from their store, add some fruit from the produce stand, then check out the farm animals and koi ponds as you sink your teeth into some Cheesecake Brownies "to die for" (according to customers).  I'm sold!

Sun-Maid Store

Don't worry, they have the chocolate variety, too.

Sun-Maid Store
Kingsburg, CA

My Chihuahua, Manny, doesn't understand grapes.  He'll eat almost anything you give him, but grapes?  No, thank you.

I learned this little tidbit of information a few years ago when I rearranged my living room furniture and found several old grapes - now raisins - as I moved my couch.  Apparently Manny didn't understand you could bite through those little orbs.  Luckily, when he saw the raisins, he maintained his lack of interest; that's a good thing considering raisin consumption can cause renal failure in dogs. Yikes!  But I digress.

The good people at Sun-Maid have provided high-quality raisins and other dried fruit products for a century.  Often called "nature's candy" (though a thick coating of chocolate also helps), no oatmeal cookie or trail mix seems complete without them.  Little known fact: the iconic Sun-Maid Girl found on each box of raisins was actually a real girl named Lorraine, who posed with a basket of grapes for that famous image.  While the image has evolved over the years, Sun-Maid's raisins and other products have maintained the same excellence in quality for decades.

Visit the Sun-Maid Store to purchase their full selection of raisins, dried fruits and other gifts.  Watch a brief informative video, take a photo in front of a giant box of raisins, and keep any purchased treats away from your dog.  Trust me.

Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies

What's the buzz all about?  Find out for yourself!

Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies
Sacramento, CA

After my visit here, I may never buy honey from a grocery store again.

I arrived mildly curious about what it takes and costs to start up a nice little hive, and whether they sold those huge hats and veils in case I ever needed an impromptu Halloween costume as Lady Gaga.

Two steps into the store, I saw something that grabbed my attention; I immediately made a beeline (ha!) to the honey tasting bar.

Just as wines can be differentiated by the grapes and the regions from which they came, honey takes on subtle flavor notes according to the flowers visited by the bees.  At the tasting bar, you can sample honeys that taste like berries, butterscotch or oranges.  My favorite, Coastal Wildflower, is a rich, almost caramel-like flavor that you can eat from a spoon as if it were an ice cream sundae topping.  If I could, I'd bring my own buttermilk biscuits next time.

The mixed flower honeys, including Coastal Wildflower, are kept warm in large dispensers.  Bring your own container or purchase inexpensive jars and plastic squeeze bears and they'll fill them up for only a few bucks a pound.

Besides honey and beekeeping supplies, you'll find honey-based confections, soap and candle making items, and health products such as propolis and royal jelly, a substance secreted by worker bees' head glands and used in some skin care products.  Why not rub that all over your face?

Original Farmers Market

Reason #34,917 to ditch work in LA

Original Farmers Market
Los Angeles, CA

The Original Farmers Market has some of the best people-watching. Granted, there are plenty of prime locations for that activity around Los Angeles, so let me clarify by saying that this setting is a bit more...sophisticated, if you will.  You'll find shoppers with insatiable palates who appreciate the craft that goes into making homemade toffee. They know there's a world of difference between ice cream and gelato. Here, there is no one around dressed as Spiderman or Spongebob milking kids' parents over photo opportunities.

Early arrival affords you the chance to watch vendors prep their stalls and witness eager shoppers and diners jockeying for first position at these stalls.  Locals arrive with two hand carts to fill with fresh produce and other groceries.  Casual shoppers may make several trips around the market, coffee in hand, before deciding between crab benedict, crepes or huevos rancheros.

Not an early bird?  No problem.  The market will be buzzing with activity no matter what time you choose to roll your lazy ass out of bed. If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, however, leave the attitude at home unless you want to learn new curse words in any of the two dozen languages spoken by vendors and customers each day.  Puta ka!

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