A Farmtastic Weekend

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It has been really cold in Richmond for the last week, and I have gladly stayed bundled up indoors at work for a few days. I broke out my fleece-lined tights for the first time this winter, and I wore scarves in my office every day. Towards the end of the week, it started to warm up (a little bit), and a peek at the forecast revealed that we were expecting a sunny, chilly weekend, followed by a few days of icy rain. Early Saturday morning, I decided to seize the day and take full advantage of the sun while it lasted. First stop: South of the James Farmers Market!

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I wrote about my history with Haas Mushrooms last week, and writing that post made me realize how much I missed visiting the market every weekend. The stark difference between the cold weather outside and my warm and toasty bed inside has prevented me from making the trek to Forest Hill Park for several weeks. However, I used to make it to the market by 7:30 every Saturday, rain or shine, so this week I decided there was no room for excuses! It was below freezing while I picked out my mushrooms this week, but they were totally worth it.

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How cool is this funny looking guy? This is a lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), also known as a sheep’s head, hedgehog, or pom pom mushroom. I picked up a mixed bag from Haas and researched this odd looking mushroom that I found in my bag when I got home. Like many mushrooms, it has remarkable anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. This type of mushroom contains 20 percent protein and is specifically well known for its unique nerve regenerative properties. One article that I found particularly interesting was this one from Paul Stamets for the Huffington Post blog: “Lion’s Mane: A Mushroom that Improves your Memory and Mood?” The healing properties of food never cease to amaze me. I am so looking forward to experimenting with cooking this cool find.

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In other weird food news, it’s Romanesco Season! I could not resist picking up this gorgeous head of romanesco from Walnut Hill Farm Produce at the market this weekend. It was so cold out there that this thing had tiny icicles hanging from its florets.

After returning home and thawing out, I packed up my car, picked up a friend, and headed west to Powhatan State Park for a hike. It was only in the thirties, but the cloudless sky provided plenty of sunshine, which made me feel a little warmer on my trek through this fairly new state park.

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This park is about a 45-minute drive from Richmond and it offers hiking and mountain biking trails, campsites, playgrounds, canoe launches, and beautiful views of the James River. Established in 2003 and still under construction, the park’s facilities are in great shape. I paid $4 to enter the park and there were very few cars in the trailhead parking lots. My friend and I only saw one other hiker and one cyclist while we were there. We took the Turkey Trail and River Trail to a few gorgeous views next to the icy river.

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As the sun started to fall closer to the horizon, we headed out of the park and drove about 15 miles to Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery for their release of the Vanilla Virginia Black Bear Russian Imperial Stout.

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The brewery is located on a beautiful farm surrounded by rolling hills. We made it there in time for the sunset, and the enormous fire pit was our favorite amenity, especially as the sun faded away and the temperature started to drop. I have wanted to visit the brewery ever since they opened but had not made it out to Goochland to check it out yet. The farm and the brewhouse were beautiful and the beer was delicious. The owners and the other beer nerds in attendance were very friendly and the whole release party had a very laid back vibe.

I think I’ll really enjoy visiting the farm again when the weather warms up in the spring. I believe their next big beer release is in March. Now that I’ve had my fill of the great outdoors, and the forecast promises icy rain for the next two days, I’ll be drinking my stout indoors, in fuzzy bear slippers, until next weekend rolls around again. Cheers!

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Hello Spring! Salad

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This time of year, when the air is thick with pollen and my cloudy sinuses make me feel like I’m in a permanent fog, there are just a few things that are enticing enough to get me out of the house and into nature. One of those things is the South of the James farmers’ market, which I visited last weekend. The market tables are covered in green, with bright pops of red, pink and orange, during the spring season. The stars of the show are the strawberries, asparagus, and fresh herbs, with fresh greens rounding out the strong ensemble. Last week, I also picked up turnips, radishes, sugar snap peas, goat cheese, and fresh pasta.

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If you get there early enough, you can get local farm fresh eggs, which are a real treat. Lately we have enjoyed eggs and greens, fried in the same skillet, for an easy weeknight meal. I prepare them by wilting the greens in olive oil and garlic, cracking a few eggs into the pan, and then covering it and simmering for 3-4 minutes. Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper top it off, with some grated Parmesan if we’re feeling extra indulgent. So quick and easy, nutrient-packed and delicious, it’s no wonder we have had this dish once a week for the last month.

I have been staring at the Israeli (pearl) couscous on my pantry shelf since the last snow, waiting for inspiration to strike. A bunch of fresh dill and asparagus turned a craving for Israeli couscous into a full-fledged spring recipe idea, and I have made this easy salad a few times since. I look forward to trying it with some Bombolini pasta herb shells in place of the couscous later this week. Likewise, you could substitute whatever fresh herbs you have on hand for the dill; I think tarragon or parsley would be great. The lemon and asparagus complement each other, and the peas lend a sweetness to the dish that balances the tartness of the lemon. This refreshing salad is perfect for dining on the patio, if you can brave the pollen and get out of the house to enjoy some warm spring sunshine.

Pearl Couscous Salad with Roasted Asparagus, Peas, Lemon and Dill

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Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1-1/3 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 cups sweet peas, blanched
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 green onions (scallions), chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss asparagus with 1 Tbsp olive oil, and light salt and pepper.
  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast asparagus for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F, or until bright green and tender-crisp.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in medium pan over medium-high heat. Add couscous to pan, and toast 5 minutes, while stirring.
  4. Add 1-3/4 cups water to the pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer couscous for 10 minutes.
  5. To a large bowl, add peas, dill, and green onions.
  6. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and lemon zest. Stir thoroughly to combine.
  7. When asparagus and couscous are done cooking, add both to the large bowl and stir to combine. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve warm, or refrigerate a few hours or overnight to let flavors develop and serve chilled.
  9. Extra credit: serve with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Mmm.

SOJ Chef Demo 09.08.12

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The last time I wrote about the market, I explained all the reasons why I love rainy farmers’ market days. This week, the rain held off until late afternoon and we enjoyed a warm, sunny morning for the Market Chef Demo. We split the time with a local farmer who wanted to do their own demonstration, so we had time for just one dish. Fall flavors are starting to sneak their way into Chef Sam Baker’s food, and I am a fan.

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This week, the Chef started with the challenging combination of acorn squash, Asian pears, Reginald’s peanut butter, a handful of peppers, and fresh shrimp. It certainly felt like an episode of Chopped.

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The Chef seasoned the pears with Caribbean jerk seasoning before sauteeing them in a pan.

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The shrimp sizzled in a nearby pan.

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As usual, Chef Sam pulled it all together in one delicious dish. His peanut sauce included local peanut butter, sweet peppers, hot peppers, onion, acorn squash, salt and pepper. It may sound weird, but it was actually very tasty.

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I am of the opinion that a little fresh ground black pepper makes everything better.

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I did not taste the shrimp, but I can testify that the sauce and the pears were pretty awesome. If you could only taste Chef Sam Baker’s sauces and nothing else, you would still be impressed by the food that comes out of that demo tent.

Thank you to Barham Seafood, Crumptown Farm, Norma’s Produce, Reginald’s Homemade, Saunders Brothers Orchard, Victory Farms, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for making this week’s tasty ingredients.

Unfortunately, I will miss next week’s market on September 15th. The market is at Forest Hill Park from 8:00 AM to noon. If you go and take a photo of what Chef Sam made, please share it on my facebook page or shoot me an email at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com!

SOJ Chef Demo 08.25.12

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This past Saturday in Forest Hill Park brought a rare rainy South of the James market. The shoppers who braved the elements and showed up at the market were in for a treat.

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Rainy markets are not great for vendors. However, they are excellent for shoppers. Before I started volunteering at the Chef Demo tent, I shopped the market every weekend and I loved a rainy forecast. My favorite South of the James market was the one on the morning of Hurricane Irene, just hours before the storm hit central Virginia HARD. It poured all morning, and before the wind picked up too much, I headed out the farmers’ market and had a great time. I hesitate to say this, because I’m sure the farmers would disagree, but. . . Rainy markets are awesome! They are full of great surprises and treats for those courageous enough to enjoy them.

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This week, Chef Sam Baker started his weekly demonstration with a cool yellow watermelon salad that had a wonderfully well-rounded flavor. Featuring yellow watermelon from Walnut Hill Farm and blackberries from Agriberry, this fruit salad was just one of the treats that awaited shoppers. Some surprising ingredients in the salad included onion, red jalapeno, basil, and red wine vinegar. Market enthusiasts showed up in head-to-toe rain gear, with umbrellas and waterproof reusable bags, in search of the gems that are sometimes hard to find on fair weather market mornings.

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Kale is waning, but it was abundant at this week’s market for much longer than usual. Figs usually sell out in the first 30 minutes of the market, but they stuck around for two hours this weekend. Easier access to rare produce treasures is just another reason why rainy markets are great for shoppers.

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Because wet markets are more lightly attended, everyone there takes themselves just a little less seriously. The “let’s make the best of this” attitude prevails, and vendors and shoppers alike are a bit sillier than normal. The tents may unexpectedly dump water on your head. You may remove your jacket just minutes before the clouds open again in a spontaneous downpour.

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You may be distracted by the bright colors on a vendor’s table and fail to see the gigantic puddle in front of you as you step right into it. No big deal. You’ll dry out later. This market is about having fun, not keeping up appearances. When you realize you look like a drowned rat and your fingers are quickly starting to resemble prunes, you can duck into a vendor’s tent, dry off, warm up, strike up a conversation and learn something.

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With more one-on-one time with vendors, shoppers have the opportunity to learn a lot more than they would at busier markets. Chef Sam talked visitors through his personal favorite recipe for butternut squash soup and fielded questions like “what should I  make with this eggplant?” I shared my favorite ways to prepare okra and what fall foods I am looking forward to the most.

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Butternut squash is one of them. I prepared my first local butternut squash dish of the season last week, and Chef Sam used this Veg of the Week to add a sweet, nutty heartiness to his turkey soup this weekend. Rainy Saturday mornings in late August allow you to take advantage of both summer and fall produce to create a bright summery soup that warms you to your core.

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Chef Sam’s soup was just one of those special things that shoppers looked forward to while they moved from stall to stall. Some people stayed at the market a little longer than usual just to have a taste. The soup simmered two and a half hours before it was served. The Chef would have liked to let it simmer another few hours, but a big thunderstorm was rolling in so we served it as early as we could. The hearty soup featured turkey from Empress Farm, along with mushrooms, butternut squash, onion, kale, green beans, potatoes, jalapeno and fresh basil. After a bowl of this soup, market patrons could not possibly have regretted their decisions to suit up and head to the market that morning.

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Maybe next time rain is in the forecast, you should add a visit to the farmers’ market to the agenda. Besides helping to support local farmers when they need it the most, you can manage to have a great time too. From a great selection of prime produce to more interaction with your farmer to fun free samples, the rainy market experience is a rewarding one.

Or, you know, stay at home. More figs for me.

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Thank you to Agriberry, Empress Farm, Haas mushrooms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s tasty ingredients.

Farmers’ Market 08.18.12 and Food Truck Court

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When Saturday’s South of the James Market rolled around, Chef Sam Baker was unfortunately sick and unable to do the cooking demonstrations for the day. While Sam rested at home, I got the rare opportunity to explore the market on my own this week! At first I was bummed that we wouldn’t be doing a demo, but I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot while perusing the market without an agenda. I think Kyle appreciated the company while shopping this week too.

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Peppers and tomatoes were everywhere this week, with tons of zucchini and squash too. The humidity dropped in the morning and it was a cool, breezy walk to the market around 7:30 AM. I wore a long sleeved chambray shirt with shorts and it seriously felt like fall was around the corner. My suspicions were confirmed by a tub of butternut squash at the Walnut Hill Farms produce stand. I am so excited that my favorite season is coming soon! And with my favorite season comes our wedding in. . . two months!

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We ran into a bunch of friends at the market. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time. I ended up really enjoying the break, but I am looking forward to starting the cooking demonstrations again next week. Here is a rundown of our loot, pictured above:

  • Basil from Victory Farms (big plans for this…)
  • Tomatoes from Walnut Hill Farm
  • Bell peppers from Norma’s Produce
  • Jalapenos from Victory Farms
  • Eggplant from Walnut Hill Farm
  • Poblano peppers from Norma’s Produce
  • Okra from Pleitez Produce
  • Zucchini from Pleitez Produce
  • Butternut squash from Walnut Hill Farm
  • Onions from Pleitez Produce

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In case you were wondering, this week’s produce photo shoot took place at Forest Hill Lake, a gorgeous place for taking pictures of your vegetables, among other things. We are so fortunate to have this right in our backyard.

Speaking of backyards, we visited our old neighborhood on Friday night to check out the food truck court at the Virginia Historical Society. It was Kyle’s first time to the food truck court and he loved every bite!

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It was an eating marathon for us. I was so happy that we showed up with appetites because there was a lot of great food to be had.

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One of the highlights was this delicious plate of tacos from Rooster Cart. We had both had their sandwiches before but had never tried the tacos. They were incredible. We shed a sad tear in memory of our beloved Café Gutenberg and a happy tear for the future of the Rooster Cart.

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Another highlight was our first King of Pops experience. I told Kyle all about how I had been meaning to try them but never got over there during the farmers’ market. Kyle was skeptical of how amazing a simple popsicle could be, but he agreed to give it a try. I was really surprised when we approached the cart and Kyle greeted Paul from King of Pops like an old friend.

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Apparently Kyle and Paul go to the same Wing Chun Kung Fu studio. So if you’re thinking about messing with the King of Pops, I suggest that you think twice. Not only is he a magnificent popsicle maker; he is also a deadly weapon in disguise.

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I had a little sore throat and these popsicles were the perfect cure. Kyle had the tangerine basil, and I had the (wildly popular) chocolate sea salt. All I can say is WOW. Of course I tried both because Kyle and I are gross in that we swap spit and share popsicles and such. I wanted to try every flavor. I asked to help create flavors. I almost demanded a front row seat during R&D for the fall flavor creation process. It’s safe to say we are now believers.

I hope you had an equally life-transforming and wonderful weekend! If not, make it a delicious week!

Check out Richmond food truck courts here: FoodTruckCourt.com

… and Richmond farmers’ markets here: RVA Markets

Farmers’ Market 8.4.12

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If you haven’t been to the farmers’ market lately, do yourself a favor and go this weekend! It is the absolute best time of year to go. Every table is completely packed with summery goodness. Peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, eggplant, melons, peaches… the list goes on. This is the time of year that we accidentally buy too much produce and scratch our heads over what to do with it all. It is the time of year for canning tomato sauce and freezing berries for later use in winter months. Kyle celebrates by buying a quart of jalapeños right when I start to get low. He brought home an eggplant this week that we ate for three days. Personally I believe this is the real season of excess – the very best kind.

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So many vegetables!

This week’s haul:

  • Rainbow chard
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow squash
  • Poblano peppers
  • Sweet peppers (not pictured)
  • Eggplant
  • Jalapeños
  • Okra
  • Tomatoes
  • And from my friend Melissa, 5 gorgeous peaches (not pictured)

This weekend at the farmers’ market may be steamy, sticky and crowded. It may require you to roll out of bed a little early. But it will absolutely be worth it.

SOJ Chef Demo 07.21.12

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This Saturday at the South of the James market, little pops of flavor and color were everywhere.

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Chef Sam Baker used the bountiful produce at the market this week to create small bites of local flavor, including some familiar combinations as well as some fresh ideas.

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The Chef started out with a creative sauce to get people thinking about how to combine the flavors of the season into a cohesive dish. The sweetness of the simmering peach and sweet pepper reduction drew a small crowd early on.

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This sauce is made with fresh diced Drumheller’s Orchard peaches, sweet peppers, red wine vinegar and raw honey from Alfredo’s Beehive. The peach and sweet pepper reduction was served over herb seared tuna from Barham Seafood and a slice of Norma’s yellow watermelon with lemon basil.

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Pan seared zephyr squash provided a vegetable accompaniment that felt grilled, but without the hassle.

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Present at all of the market stalls this week were tomatoes, in every size, shape and color. These tomatoes from the Village Garden are called banana legs tomatoes.

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There were so many different varieties of tomatoes at the market that I decided to make them the Veg of the Week. I was excited to share some facts about tomatoes, and absolutely thrilled to use tomato-shaped bullet points on my white board. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

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After a brief downpour around 10:00, we started up the small plates again with a melon caprese salad. Pictured here is a summery dish of sliced tomatoes, sliced seasonal melon, and Goats R Us pineapple walnut chevre, topped with fresh lemon basil and the peach sweet pepper reduction.

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Tomatoes were certainly abundant, but the Drumheller’s Orchard white and yellow peaches were the true stars of the show this week.  In addition to the fresh sweet and tart peaches, the catches of the day from Barham Seafood were prominent. It was very cool to see their soft-shell crabs change color in the pan.

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Soft-shell crabs are loved by many, but I’m not personally sold on them. Which is fine since I do not eat seafood anyway. But I can appreciate a nice plating, and the next dish offered a visually intriguing small plate. I could tell from the looks on market goers’ faces when they tasted this one that it was a hit.

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Chef Sam served the soft-shell crab, seasoned with cumin and black pepper, over a sliced heirloom tomato, and topped with a slice of pan seared peach, a dollop of pineapple walnut chevre, and some Empress Farm FROG jam. In case you didn’t know, FROG jam contains Fig, Raspberry, Orange and Ginger.

While it rained on and off for the whole market this past weekend, several shoppers stopped by the Chef Demo Tent for free samples and cooking tips. Like the scattered thunderstorms we had that day, the small plates featured in this week’s demo were seasonal, interesting, and sometimes completely unpredictable.

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Thank you to Amy’s Garden, Barham Seafood, Cabbage Hill Farm, Drumheller’s Orchard, Empress Farm, Goats R Us, Norma’s Produce, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.