Day 222–What’s Fresh at the Market

Even though this is the gap (or shoulder) season, we still have plenty of options at our local markets this week. While we get a box from The Produce Box each week, I still make it out to the farmer’s markets to supplement our box and see what else is available. Here in the Raleigh area of NC, peaches, blueberries, and blackberries are on their way out, but figs, field peas and beans are on their way in. And for the first time since January, I’m seeing apples at the market! Fall is surely on the way! Here is what you can expect to find in central NC this week:

  • Apples
  • Peaches (get ’em now!)
  • Blueberries (see Peaches)
  • Figs
  • Melons–watermelon, cantaloupe, sprite
  • Tomatoes
  • Green and red sweet peppers
  • Hot peppers of all kinds!
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet onions
  • Corn
  • Peas and beans–butter beans, field peas, crowder peas
  • Okra
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant–all kinds
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Basil, oregano, rosemary, mint

Happy market shopping, wherever you are!

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Day 198–Cats and Vegetables

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We have a stalker in our home. A compost stalker. That stalker of veggie peelings and shavings is Cosmo, our young cat. Despite all the cat books that stress cats as carnivores, this suburban feline apparently also likes a good salad. We are careful to make sure he does not have any onions or garlic (which can cause a life threatening anemia in cats), but the boy sure can put on a pouty face when I’m cutting up cucumber. And broccoli. And kale. And who can refuse that face?

I have a friend whose dog would beg for baby carrots, but I’ve never seen a cat actually beg for vegetables. Maybe it’s the variety or maybe he’s trying to keep his boyish figure, but I like that he wants to indulge in the fresh, local veggies we’re bringing home. The problem? Keeping him out of our little compost basket where we put our evening’s extras before taking them outside.

Now if only I could get the dog involved…

Day 156–What’s Fresh at the Market

Raspberries05 edit

Our list of market vegetables and produce is getting so long now! I can’t wait to get canning this weekend–hmmm, peach butter or cucumber pickles??? Can’t decide. Here’s a list of what is available this week in central North Carolina. Happy market shopping this weekend!

  • Strawberries (can’t believe they are still around!)
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches (white and yellow)
  • Red, new potatoes
  • Corn
  • Butter beans
  • Onions
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Swiss chard
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Basil
  • Hot peppers

And there’s more! If you live in our area and have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck–we are full up on fruits!

Day 152–What’s Fresh at the Market?

green beans

I love June! Love it, love it, love it. Summery weather, cute shoes and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to find at the local markets here in NC. Like much of the southern U.S., we are a few weeks ahead of schedule due to our unusually warm winter. For the past 2 weeks, this has meant the unusual convergence of strawberry, blueberry AND blackberry seasons! I have definitely not been taking this for granted.

So what else is available right now? Here’s a list!

  • String beans
  • New potatoes
  • Corn
  • Hothouse tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini
  • English peas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Basil
  • Strawberries (this may be our last week)
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Peaches
  • Corn
  • Broccoli

I managed to put up 13 half-pints of jam this weekend! Am looking forward to making peach butter next weekend and maybe some pickles! Oh, June, I really do love you…

Day 149–Pasta with Ham and Roasted Asparagus

We are nearing the end of our NC asparagus season. Asparagus and strawberries always seem to leave too soon! We received a beautiful bundle of local asparagus in our Produce Box this week and I’m using it to make one of our favorite dishes–pasta with ham and asparagus. You can saute the asparagus for this dish, but I love roasting it–roasting really brings out the flavor. This is a quick and easy weeknight dish. We’re using the last of our Christmas smoked ham that has been living in the freezer. I tell you, that was one wonderful gift! Instead of a  ham steak, you could use pancetta or prosciutto instead. You don’t need a lot–just enough for flavor. Here is the recipe:

Pasta with Ham and Roasted Asparagus

  • 1 smoked ham steak, diced and bone removed
  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus, rinsed of sand
  • 8 oz. fresh or dried fettucine
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated (about 1 c., but more if you like)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Put water in a stock pot and heat to boil for pasta.
  3. Trim tough ends from the asparagus. Cut asparagus spears into 2″ pieces. Put asparagus pieces in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Put asparagus in a baking dish in an even layer. Roast for 20 minutes or so, until they are soft and a little browned.
  5. Heat a skillet and cook the ham pieces until browned.
  6. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving 1 c. of pasta water for sauce.
  7. Add pasta back into pot, along with ham, asparagus pieces and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cheese and stir. Add pasta water if needed to make a light sauce.
  8. Serve with a green salad and you’ve got dinner!

Day 147–Fresh Beets with Dill

I seem to have amassed a collection of beets in my refrigerator–the result of two weeks worth of Produce Box deliveries. I really wasn’t sure what to do with them–I love them roasted, personally, but that doesn’t seem to do it for me now that the temperatures are in the high 80s and low 90s. I also need to use some of my dill before it starts flowering and going to seed. Here is a delicious, refreshing way to use up some beets and make a cold salad that will taste great with burgers or chicken off the grill. If having overcooked beets as a child is still scaring you away from them, try them again–who knows–they may become your favorite vegetable (or at least not so scary!). Tomorrow I’ll share my canned pickled beet recipe!

Dilled Beet Salad

  • 1 bunch of fresh beets, greens trimmed off leaving about 1/2″
  • 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 1/8 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  1. Cook the beets by either roasting them or boiling them until tender. Let cool and remove the skins (they should come off easily). But the remaining green tops off.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar. Set aside.
  3. Slice beets and add to vinegar mixture. Make sure all beets are coated.
  4. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
  5. Serve chilled.

 

Day 140–Farmer Spotlight–Melina’s Pasta and Pasta With Roasted Vegetables

Melina delivers homemade, frozen pasta to our farmer’s market!

Ok, this post isn’t really a “farmer”, rather a wonderful, local pasta maker who sells her homemade pasta at some of our local farmer’s markets. Melina’s pasta has quickly become a staple in our house. Dried pasta has its place, but buying fresh pasta (we purchase it frozen) has given us the not-so-subtle reminder that when it comes to all foods, fresh is best. Ellie loves this pasta and remarked right away at how flavorful it is and what a great texture it has. So maybe she didn’t eat the roasted vegetables I served with the pasta, but at least she had spinach fettucine!

The spinach fettucine has by far been our favorite so far. We have tried it with roasted vegetables (see below) and with sautéed scallops and lemon (super yum!). I think next week we might try some ravioli. If you are in Raleigh, stop by the Melina’s booth and sample some wonderful recipes she puts together with ingredients from other vendors at the market! Great way to find out how to put your market treasures together for a meal.

Here is a revised version of an earlier recipe we posted using roasted veggies tossed with pasta. The result of this experiment was light, so flavorful and a great way to use vegetables from our Produce Box! This is what we made with our seasonal vegetables, but you could use any vegetables you have handy. Definitely, don’t leave out the onion!

Melina’s Spinach Fettucine with Roasted Vegetables

  • 8 oz. frozen Melina’s spinach fettucine (1/2 bag); dried pasta works, too!
  • 2 small yellow squash, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 zucchini, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 spring sweet onions (white parts only) diced
  • 1 large tomato, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Local asiago-type cheese, grated (about 2 c.)
  • Fresh basil and oregano from our garden, chopped (dried is ok, too!)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all chopped vegetables + herbs. Drizzle with olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour vegetables onto rimmed baking sheet and distribute to make an even layer.
  4. Put sheet in pre-heated oven and roast vegetables for 30-50 minutes (this really depends on how roasted you like your vegetables–we roast ours from almost an hour).
  5. While vegetables roast, heat a stock pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil.
  6. When vegetables are about done, add salt and pasta to the boiling water and cook according to directions (fresh/frozen pasta will take only 4-5 minutes). Reserve 1 cup of pasta water for sauce.
  7. Remove vegetables from the oven and put in a large bowl. Drain pasta, reserving 1 c. of liquid and add pasta to the bowl.
  8. Add cheese and reserved pasta water to the bowl and mix well. The heat from the pasta and vegetables will melt the cheese and the pasta water will make a light sauce.
  9. Serve up to your hungry family with a hearty thanks to Melina!

Day 127–The Inside Scoop of Product Pricing at the Farmer’s Market

I came across this wonderful article on the Western Wake Farmer’s Market website. Thanks to Madison Whitley for giving me permission to reprint it here. I think it does an excellent job of describing why prices for fresh, locally grown food differs from what is charged at the grocery. For additional insight into why prices differ (and why they are worth it), watch Food, Inc. It’s available on Netflix and is really an amazing documentary.

The Inside Scoop of Product Pricing at the Farmer’s Market

by Madison Whitley and Juliann Zoetmulder

Ever wonder why farmers’ market eggs cost $4 a dozen? Are you curious about why meat and produce cost double what it costs in the grocery store? These are valid questions that are on many customers’ minds as they shop the farmers’ market. With a little explanation, you may come to find that what you get for your money is really worth it.

Comparing farm fresh eggs and industrial big-box eggs is not an apples-to-apples comparison. You have to lift the veil a bit to understand what you miss from industrial, “cheap” eggs. You may pay more for farm fresh eggs; however, you get more value for the price. In a 2007 testing project, Mother Earth News compared farm fresh eggs taken from hens raised on a pasture to the nutritional data designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for commercially produced eggs. In this test, it was found that the farm fresh eggs contain one-third less cholesterol, one-quarter less saturated fat and two times more omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, the farm fresh egg contains two-thirds more vitamin A and three times more vitamin E. Beta carotene, an immune booster, is found in seven times greater proportion than the egg off the big-box store shelf. In general, the eggs from hens that roam around a pasture are richer in nutrients than typical supermarket eggs.

Even if the science does not “wow” you, look at the deep orange color of the farm fresh egg and taste its creaminess compared to an industrial egg. It tastes better and is more nutrient dense. For $2 extra dollars per dozen, you get exponentially more health and taste benefits. That’s sixteen cents more per egg or thirty-three cents more for your 2 egg breakfast that will sustain your body much longer than an industrial egg.

Despite these known benefits, customers are still hesitant to purchase their weekly grocery list at the farmers’ market because prices cannot compete with the low prices found at the grocery store. So why is the food at the farmers’ market more expensive? In actuality, it is the cheapest and healthiest food available. Sustainable agriculture does not rely on government subsidies from the Farm Bill and it does not have the huge environmental costs (transportation, for example) that industrial agriculture incurs. Finally, sustainable agriculture is not laden with chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, and GMO’s. On the flip side, think about what we would be adding to our future health care bill by eating cheap meat, for instance.

Grass-fed beef has a number of compelling health benefits and since America is eating more meat than ever, we need to pay attention. According to a 2009 study by the USDA and Clemson University in South Carolina, grass-fed beef, often sold at farmers’ markets, is lower in total fat, saturated fat and calories compared to commercially produced beef. Grass-fed beef has higher amounts of total omega-3 fatty acids and a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed beef also has higher vitamin A and E (alpha-tocopherol), higher levels of antioxidants, 7 times more beta-carotene, higher amounts of B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, and higher amounts of minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. The research also indicates higher levels of CLA (cis-9-trans-11), a potential cancer fighter, in grass-fed beef and higher amounts of vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA). Don’t forget that animals raised on small family farms are often treated more humanely than animals in commercial production facilities.

The nutrient density of products found at the farmers’ market is much higher, producing a much healthier product, which means that you don’t have to eat as much to get the same health benefits. So next time you are at the farmers’ market, don’t think about how expensive the products are and how much money you could save at the grocery store. Think about the quality of product you are getting, how many more nutrients are present in the food and what you are getting for you money.

As someone who has a monthly budget for food, I suggest purchasing the items that are at the front-and-center of your meal at the farmers’ market. You can always supplement your grocery list with items at the big-box grocery store. You will notice a difference in the taste and quality of your food, but not in your wallet. I promise.

Day 126–Starting Week 18–Budget and Menu

Our weather this spring is just plain ol’ wonky. Last weekend was in the upper 50s and by Tuesday it was over 90. So things are a little confused when it comes to crops. The chilly weather slowed things down and then the hot, dry weather pushed some greens to bolt. Still, we have a lot to choose from and starting this week we will even have blueberries! Spending was on budget this week at $99.78, thank goodness, although we do have two fewer meals this week. Ellie and I will be heading out with our girl scout troop to a Hunger Games campout (no actual fighting to the death allowed, of course) so we’ll be eating around the campfire instead of at home. Tom will be fishing, so no one will be home eating! Our weeks are getting so busy and juggling eating our precious veggies is getting to be a challenge. I’m thankful that our Produce Box gives us the option of skipping a week, although we haven’t had to do that yet.

Budget

  • Locals Seafood (scallops, flounder): $40.00
  • The Produce Box (blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, bok choi, onion, carrots, tomato): $23.00
  • Melina’s pasta (spinach fettucine): $6.00
  • Trader Joes (soy milk, frozen mango, peanut butter, lemons, baby zucchini): $26.78
  • Water Oaks Farm (eggs): $4.00

Here is what we’re having this week!

Menu

  • Sunday–Spinach fettucine with scallops and fresh peas, salad
  • Monday–Cornmeal dusted grouper, stir fried kale, baby zucchini
  • Tuesday–Egg salad sandwiches, carrots
  • Wednesday–Scrambled egg tortillas
  • Thursday–Spicy peanut vegetable stir fry over whole wheat cous cous
  • Friday–camping
  • Saturday–camping

Day 111–What’s Fresh At the Market?

Although I know that not everyone reading this blog is from North Carolina, I’ve had a couple of requests to share information about what is currently available at the farmer’s markets. Since I’m there anyway, I’m glad to do that!

I just returned from the farmer’s market on my lunch break and that place is hopping, I tell you! During the winter, I had no problem driving up and finding a prime parking spot. Today, I had to circle around to the back of the market to find any available spots. Lots of good eats today! Ready? Here goes:

  • Strawberries
  • Asparagus (green and purple)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fresh spring peas (shelled)
  • Onions
  • Lettuce–red leaf, green leaf, butter
  • Greens–mustard, kale, swiss chard, spinach
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes (hothouse)–mostly “Trust” variety
  • Cucumbers (hothouse)
  • Parsnips
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Honey
  • Herbs
  • Bedding plants
  • Garden plants (vegetable and herb plants)

In addition to some fresh asparagus, I scored a fresh roasting chicken from my friends at Rainbow Farm. Yay! Can’t wait for Sunday supper!

Our weather here is not supposed to be great this weekend (but we do need the rain badly). Still, I’m hoping to get out and do some strawberry picking with my family so we can make more jam! Have a great weekend at your farmer’s markets and get those fresh veggies!