Market Day! and Oven Lovie's Lasagna!
|Nothing says summer like tomatoes on the kitchen windowsill.|
Not sure if the organic, local and gluten free life is for you? I understand. It's not easy, just to get nutritious food prepared every day, and adding more requirements adds time to that effort. Who has the time? It takes uncommon will. It might be thought that my being unemployed would be an advantage. Except I'm sick so often, it takes a big chunk out of my life still. One of the most important changes I've made has been to focus as much as possible on locally grown and organic foods. I've tried various methods, delivery services, the expensive supermarket method, and directly contacting farmers. But the most friendly and comfortable way is still the good old local farmer's market.
Local rumor has it that the Durham Farmer's Market only accepts vendors who produce their own produce or crafts. No resellers. I haven't read the rules for vendors, but this seems to be true. I love some of the vendors at the Raleigh year round farmer's market, but the one in Durham has an authenticity I haven't seen often. It never fails to make me smile, or bring me a surprise every time I go there. And this summer I am committed to going there every weekend if I possibly can. I've been looking in at the Wednesday afternoon market as well, and have been happy every time.
There are two local gluten free bread vendors at the Durham Farmer's Market, Imagine That and Millefiori. I can't say either is cheaper than the store, but it's fresher and I think, much better tasting.
With my commitment to both gluten free and organic food, it can be tricky everywhere I shop. Sometimes people want to tell me that "unsprayed" is organic or that they use "organic methods" but haven't become certified. I do make exceptions, but only if I really can't find something organic or in the case of fish, where a wild fish may be healthier than an Organic farmed one. Mostly, if I can't find something organic, I go without. It's a strict rule, but I can feel a health difference. I've paid for supplements that have helped me less than organic food, so I consider organic to be a good investment.
The Durham Farmer's Market has more than one organic farmer and I can find amazing tomatoes, delicious eggs, and gluten free sourdough bread there. It's not my only weekend shopping destination, but it's the one I plan-ahead for. And it's the one that uses up most of my energy. It also repays that energy investment by helping my health be more steady more often.
WIC and SNAP Double BucksI also want to give the Durham Farmer's Market a shout out for a fresh food program they have. The Double Bucks program can double SNAP and WIC dollars via a grant they have, up to $10. Give them $10, and get $20 in tokens to spend. And the tokens you receive never expire. You can save them up if you want to make a bigger purchase, without worry.
If you don't need to use Double Bucks, then please consider making a donation to support it.
My Durham Farm Market Shopping List
I work on this asap! Mushrooms are highly perishable and dry out or start weeping quickly. I don't delay cooking them or heartbreak is likely. Once cooked, they will keep for several days if refrigerated, but they won't last because they're so delicious. Alternatively, intentionally dry your mushrooms and reconstitute later by soaking for a few minutes before cutting and using. Drying them in the sun causes the vitamin D content to soar. I like my mushrooms a bit on the spicy side.
I buy hot peppers visually, I'm not good at the official names. When in doubt, I buy Jalapenos because I know they get used up quickly so they are likely to be fresh. The long green ones aren't super spicy, but watch out for the little Thai ones, ouch! There are pale green ones that are medium spicy, but they're rare, sometimes called Hungarian wax peppers, they look like the number 8 when cut. I get hot peppers wherever they're organic and fresh, though I can't always find them organic. I consider hot peppers and mushrooms medicine.
|click to enlarge|
I have a memory of a hot pepper, possibly a serrano type. My family was working on preserving and preparing an entire hog for the winter. A hot pepper was on the table waiting for the grinding process and my aunt melodramatically gasped when she saw me eyeing it. My starved little body was probably in desperate need of those phytochemicals and Vitamin C. I knew it was hot. It still tempted me and she saw it. In a moment worthy of Hollywood, I snatched it and ate it in one gulp, and the next minute I was clawing at my neck and hardly able to breathe, eyes watering and crying at the top of my lungs. Of course.
I love how in retrospect such stories can be hilarious. I suppose it's because everyone survived and the drama was mostly melodrama. Since then I've thought of a way to cajole kids into eating hot peppers, a tiny amount at a time, to build up their tolerance. Even today I have a limit to how hot something can be, but it's much higher than nearly everyone I know. When I overdo it, I usually blow out air and notice how it feels like burning. It gave me an idea. You can tell kids they can learn to breathe fire like dragons. But they have to work on it a little at a time. A video of a fire eater might sell the illusion. It might be a fun way to get a child's interest, and I think it's worth the effort, since peppers are one of the foods with a big health benefit.
I can't say enough about the tomatoes from Red Hawk. I grew up in NJ where we take tomatoes very seriously, and I'm half Hungarian where tomatoes are an essential part of nearly every meal. I grew my own Jersey tomatoes when my mom was ill and we had a large organic garden. So I know a good tomato when I taste it. So to all the other tomato lovers out there, my quality test for tomatoes is, do I need to add salt to make them yummy? In the case of Red Hawk, no I don't. The flavor is intense and pungent, just the way it should be. It gave me the idea to make my own Lecso and spaghetti sauce this year and hopefully it will last throughout the winter. I've been buying 10 lbs at a time when I feel up to cooking it all down carefully. I use a different method, stay tuned for some recipes in upcoming blog posts.
Yeah, I know, you're thinking, why not use a can if I'm going to cook it anyway? Those cans are much better than cooking down "winter tomatoes" because they are picked in the summer at the peak of ripeness and packed quickly. In this case, I'm removing the middle man and cooking down my own fresh local tomatoes. The result is a brick red sauce that I don't need to doctor up, and didn't cost me $8 a jar. True, I didn't save much money, but going from $8 to $5 a jar is still a savings and no fussing needs to happen to make the sauce perfect. It's already perfect. I generally have to add salt and other amendments to store bought spaghetti sauce, no matter how gourmet it is.
In some ways the most important thing I buy from the local farmer's market is the greens. I consider greens to be their own food group and I try never to go longer than a day without a meal that centers around green leaves. The more types of green leaves, the better. They go into salads, soups, they get sauteed with garlic and ginger, and they are a side dish every day at our house. This is the biggest category of organic produce I buy. And I look for green tops to harvest from radishes, beets, and turnips whenever possible.
Processing greens can be tiresome and many people think they need a fancy salad spinner to properly dry them. A salad spinner can be handy if you're rinsing greens before making a salad. But if you're cleaning a big quantity of greens it can get in the way because of its small size.
I do better with a colander and bowl for draining. Here's how I set up my greens for all-week consumption. The goal is to get them clean, crisp, and ready to be taken directly from the fridge to the cooking pan or salad bowl, and keep them that way for nearly a week.
Certain leafy vegetables like cabbage, are particularly good at lasting a week and don't need this much fussing. I do this only with more tender leaves.
The process is simple, but you have to do it quickly, especially if the greens are a bit wilted when you get them home. this will revive them. Soak 10min, Drain 10min, Pack em up.
Harland's Farm also has eggs on most market days, and sometimes edible flowers. I'm a fan of both.
There are several meal preps I try to get done by the end of the weekend. I won't make it this weekend because my body crashed and I had a migraine. But Monday is another day. Two weeks ago, I took pictures of most of the meal preps I did. Doing this allows me to create a meal by just cooking the protein of my choice and warming up a side dish or steaming a vegetable or two.
Sometimes I get fancy and carefully roast a batch of beets from the market, but I realize they're an acquired taste. I also mash several kinds of vegetables. Doug and I honestly love mashed rutabagas, perhaps more than potatoes even. And the convenience of having a few sweet potatoes around can't be beat. Just rinse, bake and scoop out the goodness!
In my condition, none of this would be possible without the extensive contribution of my husband. This process usually uses up all our bowls and colanders, most of which are better cleaned by hand washing. At this point we have a good routine of soaking, cleaning, cleaning up. But it wasn't instant, and it took at least two months to develop that routine. I really can't be grateful enough for his help.
|Shallots and Garlic, peeled.|
Shallots are really worth it. I admit I'm suspicious that the shallots I buy are sometimes young red onions, because the shape isn't right. Their shape should be like garlic, kind of flat and oval, when they're round like that I wonder about them. The flavor can't be beat though, and I even use them as scoops for hummus or other dips.
|Shredded cabbage, sliced shallot and apple.|
Doug had told me a story about the middle ages and how they used apples, cabbage and onions together. I decided to try it and you know what? It's delicious! He doesn't like cabbage but it's a big part of my cultural food history. Mostly my family cooked cabbage as a saute and added a pinch of sugar to it. A browned combination of sugar, cabbage squares and onion is a topping for egg noodles in the Hungarian tradition of food. I've swapped the sugar for apples and the onion for shallots, and since he's avoiding it, I add spicy peppers to it, whole garlic, chopped ginger, caraway and a pinch of salt. I make this up a week in advance, but it hardly ever lasts more than a few days, it's too tasty. It becomes a side dish, or a snack during the week. Heat and eat.
|The weekly braise.|
|Pork tenderloin medallion with sauteed greens and fresh local tomatoes.|
In the past two weeks, this is hands down my favorite meal. There is an organic butcher shop in Dunn NC and they provided me with a full pork tenderloin, cut into fourths. This portion was cut into medallions and seared, then braised with (the above braising liquid) garlic and ginger for one hour. It was tender and unbelievably delicious. The greens were sauteed separately, and the tomatoes provided tang. I estimate it cost about $12, which is far less than I'd have paid in a restaurant.
At this point, a person could precook a batch of chicken, or the protein of your choice, and pack lunch containers with a side dish and a protein. Soups, when done, could be packed in thermos size portions, and reheated before being packed for the day. If you're traveling to work and you know you'll end up compromising on food quality at lunch, it's best to plan ahead.
It's also really nice when you're tired at the end of the day, to open a pack, put it on medium/low heat on the stove, cover and allow to steam heat while you change clothes after work. I've done this a few times and there are people better than me at it who have YouTube channels dedicated to meal prep. A busy person who can set aside 4-6 hours of their time once a week to make such packages, would theoretically never have to wonder what's for dinner again. It's also a good strategy for people with low energy since your expenditure of energy is concentrated in one day.
|Show of hands: who loves lasagna?|
After all this flurry of activity, it's wonderful to not have to wonder what's for dinner. I really wanted to try one of the wonderful caterers around here and I'm so glad I did. Every other Saturday, Chef Patterson makes me two lasagnas for around $30. Most of the ingredients are organic, and they're prepared in a gluten free kitchen. There's a great deal of peace of mind knowing that on the days when I have to use up all my energy, I don't have to think about what I'm eating that night for dinner.
The ones she makes for me do contain dairy, and lately I've been OK with that. Ask about alternatives if you can't have dairy. She asked me many questions about what preferences I have. She has surpassed my expectations both as a chef and for the quality of the ingredients used. Also her level of professionalism is top notch. The pick up time for Durham is 3:30PM on Saturdays so it fits right in with my market day adventure! I don't think I could accomplish so much without her help.
Update: I found a very interesting documentary video of the harsh results of international competition in the tomato market. As as result, I suggest you stick with local produce as much as possible and if you do buy canned tomatoes (or other prepackaged produce), look for a Fair Trade label. Please buy with your heart as well as your appetite.
Thanks for joining me on my market day adventures, please comment and let me know how you're doing!