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farmer’s market

Eat Local Challenge 2012

Yesterday I registered for the Gainesville area Eat Local Challenge starting May 1st.

What is the Eat Local Challenge, you say?

The basic challenge is to eat something local every day, just to get more aware of what foods are available locally (within 100 miles) and what’s in season. A surprising variety of foods are available to people in Alachua County in May, easily enough variety to make even a 100% local diet not just interesting but enjoyable, but the percentage of local foods you eat every day is up to you. Many people make personal challenges such as spending 25% of their grocery budgets at the farmer’s market, or only eating local meat. How you do the challenge is up to you. Eat Local Challenges happen all over the country, all through the year, starting with an online challenge in 2005. Stefanie Hamblen of Hogtown Homegrown and Illegal Jams started the Eat Local Challenge in Gainesville in 2007 and organizes them every year to introduce more people to the incredible Gainesville area “foodshed“.

The Eat Local Challenge is always exciting for us. We eat already eat local food every day, but the ELC month is when I go searching for new foods and new farms. The past two years I’ve focused ELC months on sourcing kitchen staples and more sustainably raised meat. This year’s ELC is special- we’re moving during the month of May! I know my life is going to be too chaotic for anything rigorous like a 100 mile diet, so for the month of May I will focus on the most local of foods… those you grow yourself.

The number one reason we chose this house was the large yard and small vegetable garden. I am diving into piles of books on permaculture design, native plants, butterfly and wildlife gardening, and perennial vegetables every evening, cramming before I start planning the new garden. But I still have two planted vegetable beds and food plants in my tiny yard now, and I want to get as much food out of them as possible. So the month of May will focus on growing your own food: building raised beds, composting, creating food guilds for our new microclimate, and planting perennials.

Come see me cook in public! Eat Local Challenge month starts with a Kickoff celebration on the 29th at Citizen’s Co-op on south Main Street. I am doing a short cooking demo, but I haven’t chosen what to cook yet. Any suggestions?

Did you say local cornmeal?

I walked over to the Downtown Farmer’s Market Wednesday afternoon to buy something yummy for dinner and scout for stocking stuffers. There is nothing like wandering around the market to spark ideas. Everything was so beautiful!

Look at all the beautiful greens! Winter is the only time many of these greens will grow here.

I love Graham Farms. He always has the best cauliflower. I bought a cauliflower larger than my head for $3.

The first thing I had to buy was yet another bag of pecans… yes, I know I already have several pounds in the freezer. But these were not just any pecans, these were specifically Elliott pecans. She had another kind of pecan for sale, but I only had eyes for the Eliotts.

Elliott pecans are usually sold in their cracked shells because they have very thin skins and a high oil content so they're fragile and harder to shell. They are also much sweeter because of the thin, almost nonexistent skin.

And then I round the corner and who do I see but Mr. Green of Greenway Farms! Gainesville Cow Pool gets all of its beef from Greenway Farms because of their rotational grazing system and overall health of their herd. He has his home-built mill running now and is milling grits and cornmeal from his own open-pollinated corn. Greenway Farms will be at the Wednesday market every other week selling oranges, cornmeal, and grits for the rest of the winter. I am always excited to find a local source for staple items like cornmeal.

I was so excited to see Greenway Farms selling cornmeal and grits at the Wednesday farmer's market. This is the kind of diversified farming our community needs and we desperately need to see even staples like cornmeal as lovingly tended food again, and not just as commodities to be bought for the lowest price.

Danhobakbap: Got an extra pumpkin?

Pumpkins everywhere! I’m always looking for new ways to cook great super-local foods, and right now Seminole pumpkins are everywhere and cheap in the aftermath of Halloween. I came across this great new pumpkin recipe on maangchi.com, my favorite Korean cooking blog. So yesterday my daughter and I went to the 441 farmer’s market and then went a little crazy at Dae Han grocery store.

Jujubes, canned chestnuts, California-grown organic sweet mixed rice, and a beautiful Seminole pumpkin

I made a few changes to the recipe, here’s my version.

Danhobakbap

3 lb Seminole pumpkin
1 c California mixed sweet rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c water
1 can of chestnuts
2 tbl raisins
8 dried jujubes, pitted

The instructions on maangchi’s site are fantastic, and I suggest you follow them closely. I didn’t, and look what happened!

I did not wrap the pumpkin in cheesecloth, and so when I tried to lift the darn steamed pumpkin out of the pot it fell apart.

With a dish this complex, I of course wanted to make a whole meal out of it. I thawed a rack of baby back ribs from the last pig and braised them all afternoon in soy sauce, raw sugar, orange peel and ginger. I love red cooking and the marinade can be saved from each batch to make a Master Sauce. After the ribs were falling off the bone, I carefully lifted them out of the braising liquid, laid them on a rack and broiled them until beautiful and caramelized.

Red cooked wild hog ribs, braised until falling apart and about to be broiled until caramelized. This technique can also be done in a crockpot!

I also made a stir-fry of fish cakes, California lap xiong sausages, and fresh tat soi and green onions from the farmer’s market using the same sauce from this recipe, and served it all with fresh radish kimchi.

Beautiful dark green tatsoi steaming down. Tatsoi is probably my favorite of the Chinese greens, and just came back into season!

The warm, slightly sweet and soothing steamed pumpkin and sweet rice made an excellent foil for the spicy chili sauce and the sharp and sour kimchi balanced out the rich porky ribs. Even though the pumpkin fell apart, it all still tasted delicious. This was the best meal I’ve made in a while.

Delicious dinner.

The change in seasons, what’s in the basket

Watching the seasons change by observing what’s available at the farmer’s market can be exciting.

I haven’t been to the Saturday market in about a month so the change seemed so dramatic. Of course there were still the ever-present eggplants (how can anyone even look at eggplants by now?) But there were finally new things on tables! Arugula! Greens! Cheese! Pecans! Turnips! Pumpkins everywhere!

So colorful this week!

In the basket this week:

Seminole pumpkin, chevre and a dozen eggs, peppers, spicy Chinese stir-fry greens, green onions, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, persimmons, tiny cucumbers and bok choy.

I love the smooth-skinned Seminole pumpkins, they're so easy to peel and the flesh is sweet and dense.

I wish I had brought more cash with me. Next week I will buy several pounds of new-crop pecans, enough to last me a while. And honey, which I didn’t get this week. And a chicken. And some of the incredible havarti from Cypress Point Creamery. And most importantly, no eggplants.

Cool weather and a bundt cake

This past weekend marked the beginning of the cool weather for us here in Gainesville, and it was glorious. Mid-50′s to low 60′s each morning warming up to 80 each day, and not a cloud in the sky. I had to pull a sweater down from the top of the closet on my way to the farmer’s market Saturday morning.

Peppers, green papaya, garlic chives, green onions, eggplant, cucumbers, and a chicken

This is going to be a very busy week, so when the grill was going yesterday I roasted the peppers, eggplant, and a lonely leftover zucchini. Half the peppers and all of the eggplant made a batch of eggplant-walnut dip with feta cheese, and this will be my lunch for the next few days. The other half of the peppers and the zucchini will go in the chickpea salad.

Monday- Florida Crunch Salad, Green papaya salad, chickpea salad
Tuesday- dinner party! spaghetti with marinara for the kids, bucatini carbonara for the grown-ups
Wednesday- leftover salads in rice paper rolls with glass noodles, steamed dumplings
Thursday- broiled trout, baked sweet potatoes, sauteed veggies

Sweet potatoes and pumpkins are really abundant at the market right now but I’m still using up what I bought last week, so I resisted with great difficulty. I baked an excellent pumpkin bundt cake with the leftover baked pumpkin and sweet potato. I try to pack as much nutrition in cakes like this as possible since my kids eat it for breakfast and after-school snacks.

Vanilla-Cinnamon Pumpkin Bundt Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour, or multi-grain flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 c jaggery (unrefined palm sugar, can sub dark brown sugar)
1 c Florida Crystals sugar, regular or demerara
1 stick butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 1/2 c cooked pumpkin or sweet potato
1 cup sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir (I used sour cream this time)
1 tbl vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350. I will admit, I cheated because I couldn’t find one of the beaters for my mixer. I threw all of the wet ingredients and the sugar in the blender. It actually worked really well! Then I combined the dry ingredients just barely into the wet with a spatula and scraped it into a well-greased-and-floured bundt pan and baked it for an hour. Let this cake rest, covered tightly, for 24 hours if you can before slicing.

CSAs: the pros and cons

I am a hearty proponent of Community Supported Agriculture, but we don’t belong to a CSA. The other day, someone asked me why.

We tried two different CSA plans in Tennessee. Both were excellent experiences, and taught us a lot about our eating habits and seasonal production in the area. Two of the most important things were learned were that a) Not one person in our family likes collard or mustard greens, not even me, no matter how I cook them, and b) for several months out of the year, what you get in your box is collard greens, mustard greens, or collard and mustard greens. Big huge bunches of them, turning yellow and eventually being thrown away.

Frankly, I like being able to choose what we eat. I am all about eating in season, but I also recognize that forcing myself to purchase food that I know will rot in the fridge uneaten is unfair to our family, that money is better used somewhere else. Collard greens, mustard greens, okra, eggplant after the first few weeks, even watermelon… nothing is going to get my family to eat these things for weeks on end no matter how creatively I hide them. There are some things I buy every week if possible.  Sweet peppers of every color possible. Green onions. Sweet potatoes. Tomatoes. Chinese greens like tat soi and various cabbages, and of course lettuce. Fresh herbs.

If there was a CSA where I could choose what we buy, and the money would go directly to the farmers with no middle men, I would join in a second! Wait… I already have that, though. That’s called a farmer’s market.

There’s also the “spread the wealth” part of it. I spend an average on $40 at the farmer’s market every week, double the amount of an average CSA plan. I buy a little here, a little there. A few things I buy from the same farmers every week they’re available, either because that farmer is the only one who produces that item, or because I think his product is superior or he has an exceptional price. There are also a few farmers I buy something from every week because I just think they’re nice, or funny, or friendly.

If you don’t have time to peruse the farmer’s market, or enjoy the challenge of finding new recipes for a few veggies that’s you’ll see week after week and a few that you may never have eaten before, or you want to support a specific farm, then CSAs are the way to go. CSAs are also usually a big price break for organic produce specifically, you’ll get much more for your money in an organic CSA box than paying the premium prices in a grocery store. If you prefer to choose what you eat each week, spread the wealth around to many farmers, and enjoy wandering around the market, then farmer’s markets might be the way to go.

Isn’t it great to have these choices?

Farmer’s Market Report… dead of winter

It’s the first week in February and today I bought:

2 different kinds of lettuce
a huge pile of purple baby onions
kohlrabi
cavolo greens
a big bag of oranges and lemons
sweet potatoes
and… best of all…
two pineapples!

One of the most friendly producers there, a young couple from Trinidad, is thinking about starting a CSA this spring. I really like them as people, but I don’t often buy from their stall because they don’t grow the kinds of things we eat the most of. Even if they did, I don’t know that I would want to join another CSA. I enjoy having choice at the farmer’s market, that’s why we often hit two farmer’s markets a week. I wonder if I could sell the CSA at work, where most of the women there like the idea of buying local produce but rarely follow through. Being able to pick up a box once a week, especially since the Wednesday market is exactly 2 blocks from the school, may pursuade them… again if they grow what people want to buy.

Greens, greens, greens!

We didn’t make it to the farmer’s market until 10am this morning… much later than usual. I was happy to find many stalls still open, if seriously depleted. There was not a persimmon to be found! The citrus season is just beginning but there was a boy there with a few buckets of oranges. We bought everything he had left for $4. The amount and variety of greens was just staggering. We bought:

2 bunches of cavolo greens, a huge head of red lettuce,a huge flat head of some sort of unidentified sturdy cream and green ruffled green, fresh parsley, bunches of tiny baby bok choy, tiny baby turnips for roasting, a pound of freshly shelled pecans grown right here in Alachua county, a full basket of oranges, white radishes, sweet potatoes and a jar of the homemade plum jam that I am addicted to.

The cavolo greens are a new thing for us. If you see them make sure to give them a try. They are thick and sturdy like collard greens but not as bitter. We have been sauteeing them with a slice of chopped bacon and a couple cloves of garlic.

Then we went to Wards and bought even more produce: fresh garlic, a few tomatoes, fresh ginger, arugula (which they had at the fm but we forgot), chard, mushrooms, white sweet potatoes because they looked interesting, carrots and cucumbers. We also bought pears at Wal-Mart… they are at least American-grown, and they were $1 per pound.

I am sometimes amazed at the amount of fresh produce we consume. We have always eaten way more fresh fruits and vegetables than the “normal American family” but now that we have cut back our consumption of starches the volume of vegetables has gone way up. Last night we had a typical dinner for us, a meat and three vegetable sides; roasted brussel sprouts, a large green salad and sauteed greens.  Fresh vegetables are bulkier and less calorie-dense than starches, but much more nutrient-dense… the way we should be eating. The only drawback is the expense.

Farmer’s Market, greens!

Went to the 441 market by myself this morning. It was ridiculously cold this morning, I didn’t know how many farmers to expect. Surprisingly there were the same ten farmers that seem to be there year-round. I always try to buy a little bit from each table, but I definitely have my favorites. Farmer John is usually the first guy to get money, he always has the most interesting varieties of greens and lettuces. The poor girl doing the Flour Pot Bakery booth was already packing up to go, she said she was just too cold.

I bought:

red velvet lettuce, baby spinach, Italian “cavolo” greens, some Chinese green that looks like tatsoi but with green stems, a giant head of bok choy, a small bunch of baby swiss chard, several pounds of dark-skinned sweet potatoes and persimmons, 2 giant bunches of green onions, 2 green peppers, 2 small daikon and kohlrabi, and the only cucumber left.

Dinners this week will include: fried rice with lots of veggies, greens with oyster sauce, and dumplings. Black beans and rice. Lentils and greens with Florida shrimp. A giant salad with red velvet lettuce and spinach. Tonight I’m making onion pakoras with chutney as I have been craving them lately, with palak paneer and trying my hand at homemade naan.

Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market this Saturday was sparse. Very few farmers are there every week now, though the vegetables available are not much different than what was there a few months ago. We bought summer squash, zucchini, green and red peppers, limes, red lettuce, bronze leaf lettuce, two different kinds of Chinese greens, green onions, sweet potatoes, more persimmons and a baby loquat tree. And another loaf of challah because I cannot resist.

I am not looking the gift horse in the mouth or anything, but where are my root vegetables? There was not a beet nor a carrot in sight. Turnips, yes… but turnips with greens are available year-round. No apples or pears. Only persimmons, persimmons, persimmons.