Tutorial Tuesday #3–10 Tips for Efficient Farmers Market Shopping

20130617-155642.jpg

Welcome to another Tutorial Tuesday!

Note: The photo above is from one of the many little neighborhood fresh markets in Paris. Interestingly, families in Paris don’t shop once a week or once a month–they shop several times a week and buy what is fresh. This is easier because most people walk to and from work (or the metro) and the markets are everywhere. If I could walk past a bakery and purchase fresh bread every few days, I certainly would do it!

Shifting your food shopping from the grocery store to the farmer’s market can present some challenges. You don’t always know what you’ll find at the market (especially when you’re first starting out) and you do need to have a bit more flexibility in your meal planning. Continuing the theme of how to shop efficiently and affordably while still eating local, I have 10 tips from our own family experience!

Tip One–Know your farmers, know your farmers, know your farmers.

Before starting our locavore journey, my only experience with asking produce questions was asking the “produce manager” in our local grocery store, who usually knew almost nothing about produce or cooking. So, I was pretty shy and hesitant about asking farmers information. I thought it might be rude. But you know what? Farmers LIKE answering questions and they LOVE talking about what they grow. And guess what else? Many of them cook this food themselves! Also, farmers, in my limited experience, are pretty practical folks. If you say you’re on a budget and you have xx to spend on vegetables, they can give you lots of ideas for how to stretch your dollars and feed your family. Try THAT at your local grocery store!

Tip Two–Use Social Media

You know those picture books with Farmer Brown plowing a field with oxen or riding in a horse and buggy? Well, those books need a major update. Most farmers who sell to local markets are pretty media savvy (or at least they are getting there). They probably have a Facebook page, an email newsletter and/or Twitter account. Crazy, right? I get weekly postings on what is available from local farmers and farmer’s markets in my area. That saves me a LOT of time when planning menus because I’m not guessing at what I’ll find.

Tip Three–Pre-order the Important Stuff

Related to Tip Two, I’ve found that I can easily pre-order cuts of meat, types of cheese, seafood, eggs and large amounts of produce (like strawberries for jam) and pick them up at my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s like this because they know they are bringing items to market that will be sold. And I love it because I don’t have to get to the market only to find out that no one has any chicken breasts left.

Tip Four–Allow Flexibility for the Unexpected

From menu planning/shopping system, you might think I’m a control freak. Well, that would be partially true, but I also love getting to the market and finding out that something new is available. If I’ve planned my menu right (see below), I may be able to add something unexpected into our menu. Or maybe it becomes a lunch snack. I can also make a note of it and work it in next week. The point is, don’t make yourself so controlled that you miss the beauty of the market.

One example of this is my Slightly Badass Blackberry Jam. Be open to the possibilities as long as you can use the produce!

Tip Five–Incorporate Some “Go-To” Flexible Recipes

I have plenty of recipes (roast chicken) in my culinary tool box that are pretty straightforward, simple and easy on the brain. I like to have some other, flexible, veggie-loving recipes that are always in rotation and can use almost anything in the refrigerator. These recipes are a good way to use up what’s left at the end of the week and a great way to incorporate those unexpected purchases. Here are some examples:

  • Stir-fry (one protein + chopped up veggies + onion + a whole grain)
  • Quiche/frittata (basic quiche/frittata recipe + 1 c. vegetables)
  • Pizza (one whole wheat crust + 2 c. chopped veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta (16 oz. pasta + 2-3 c. roasted veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Saladpalooza (bowl of washed greens + assortment of chopped veggies + 1 protein + dressing)
  • Soup (4 c. chicken stock + pasta/rice + 3 c. sautéed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas (2 tortillas + fat-free refried beans + 1 c. sautéed vegetables + cheese + salsa)

These are all recipes that can use unlimited combinations of vegetables, grains and protein, making the most of what is seasonal and available!

Tip Six–Shop With a List

Now that I’ve addressed flexibility, once you have your list, stick to it unless you are POSITIVE you will use it. Back away from the impulse purchases that have no relationship to your menu. If you don’t have a recipe that will accommodate, say, rutabegas, and you can’t freeze them for later (see below), then do not buy them. I mean it…scoot, scoot!

Tip Seven–Make Use of What You Have

Americans throw away an obsene amount of food each year. Sometimes it happens that I get a huge amount of one vegetable in our Produce Box and it’s more than we can eat right away. Or maybe we have a last-minute change of plans and we don’t end up eating all our meals. In this case, the freezer is your best friend. Rather than throw away chicken because we didn’t make a big dinner, I can roast or bake it while we’re finishing up homework, take it off the bone and freeze it for later. Or, like last week when I received WAY more spring onions that we needed, I chopped them up, bagged them in freezer bags in 1 cup servings and froze them for later. Greens, like collards, mustard greens, kale and turnip greens, can also be cooked and frozen to eat later. Don’t waste that produce!

Tip Eight–Stock Up and Put It Up

Eating locally does not mean surviving on nothing but sweet potatoes and collard greens all winter. You can enjoy local peaches in February, delicious local corn in December and turnips in July. You just have to plan ahead. We’re new at this, but it’s already become a very enjoyable part of our farmer’s market trips. Food preservation is one of the oldest culinary skills around and guess what? It’s fun! You have three options when preserving your precious bounty–canning, freezing and drying. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, stock up (prices are also lowest at this time) and save those wonderful flavors for later. You will save money and get high quality, delicious food all year-long!

Tip Nine–Ask. And Then Ask Again!

The local food network in my area (and I’m willing to bet in yours, too) is a close-knit community of farmers, chefs, bakers, cheese makers, etc. If you want something and can’t find it, ask around. I was amazed at what I learned once I started asking. Somehow in my mind, I thought that our local food producers would be highly secretive and competitive. While there may be some competition going on out there, the people I have found are pretty straight up. If I want something they don’t have, they don’t try to sell me something else. They tell me who has it. Sometimes they’ll actually walk me down to the other vendor and help me out. Crazy. And lovely.

Tip Ten–Realize That Sometimes You’ll Blow It

I’m human. And I love seafood. So when fresh seafood starts coming to our local market in the early spring, I go a little crazy. And going a little crazy usually means I blow my budget. Maybe even by a lot. I think this spring we had an entire week of nothing but seafood. At the end of the day, though, it’s like a fun celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of lighter foods on our menu. As long as it’s not a usual occurrence, we’re ok. We make up for it over the next few weeks and we calm down our purchases. So stay on budget, but don’t let an occasional celebration ruin your joy.

What are your tips and strategies?? I’d love to hear them!

What would you like to see in next week’s tutorial?

Tutorial Tuesday #1–Where is My Farmer’s Market?

20130606-194421.jpg

This post is the first in what I hope will be a series of tutorials on shopping at the farmer’s market. Maybe you want to buy a bit more from the market or maybe you want to completely makeover your shopping experience. Regardless, a little information never hurt, right?

Making the shift from grocery store shopping to farmer’s market shopping can be a bit scary and uncertain. Will I be able to find what I need? What price is a fair price? What if I can’t find a particular vegetable? Do I have to pay in cash? What if I come up with a menu and can’t find my ingredients?

And most importantly, where can I find farmer’s markets closest to me?

In the past five years, farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants have increased at an amazing rate. But if you don’t know where they are, their existence really doesn’t help you, does it? Finding the quality resources close to you is the first step in shifting your shopping habits toward eating locally.

Here are three easy steps to find out where your local markets are and decide which markets you want to visit.

1. Visit your Dept. of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension websites.

Typically, state departments of agriculture and county cooperative extension agencies are keenly interested in promoting farmer’s markets and local food products. Start by visiting your state’s website. You should be able to find the following information:

  • A seasonal listing of crops grown in your state;
  • A harvest schedule for such crops;
  • Lists of pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms;
  • Lists of farmer’s markets;
  • Names of fruits and vegetables you can grow in your area;
  • Recipes using local produce.

2. Find a market near you.

Visit the Local Harvest website HERE. Local Harvest is a wonderful organization, and their interactive farmer’s market map can help you find resources in your area. They also have a terrific electronic newsletter and a blog you can follow!

3. Visit your markets online.

Before you pack your car full of recyclable shopping bags and head out to shop, check out your farmer’s markets online. It is disappointing to find a craft fair with two vegetable stands when you really want to do all your grocery shopping. You should find at least the following information on the websites:

  • Description of the market (mission statement) and upcoming special events
  • Directions
  • Hours of operation
  • List of vendors
  • Types of payment allowed (cash only, cash or debit, token system, SNAP)
  • General policies (parking, whether dogs are allowed)

Many farmer’s markets now have Facebook pages, email newsletters and Twitter feeds. If so, sign up! You will likely receive advance information about what is for sale at the market and any special events in the future.

Next post–Questions to ask farmers!

Week 23 Budget and Menu

We have had a wonderful spring and early summer so far. The constant rains have tapered off and now we actually have some sun and warm weather. The farmer’s markets are filling up again with all kinds of delicious fruits and vegetables–I just wish I could slow down time a bit so I could really take it all in! Our budget is back in line with our $100 or less goal at $90.20. The pulled pork is actually from last week (Mae Farm in Louisburg sells fabulous frozen, smoked pork barbecue made with their amazing pork!)–we never had a chance to defrost it, so we’re moving it on over to this week! As usual, we are “paying ourselves back” for our canned and frozen foods from last summer.

With Tom and Ellie both playing softball, and me ramping up my running (toward a 1/2 marathon, maybe?) we’ve had a lot to cheer on this spring. We are heading toward home plate now, with the last of this season’s games and tournaments, plus end-of-grade testing (hate.it) and all the special events that the end of school entails. This means dinners need to be quick, portable, nutritious and light. The “quick” and “portable” aspects are the most difficult for me, but it’s a nice challenge to have.

All you soccer/baseball/soccer moms and dads out there–what to you like to serve on game nights?

Budget [$90.20]

  • The Produce Box (organic green beans, double blueberries, sweet onions, yellow squash, zucchini, potatoes, organic beets): $26.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (herbed goat cheese and goat cheese spread): $9.75
  • Mae Farm (sausages): $10.00
  • Homestead Harvest Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • Wild Onion Farm (broccoli, sugar snap peas): $3.o0
  • Trader Joes (puff pastry, shredded pepper jack, frozen fruit, soy milk, yogurt, whole wheat flour): $27.45
  • Mitchell Family Pantry (sticky fig jam, blackberry jam, raspberry jam): $9.00

Menu

  • Wednesday–Roasted vegetable, fig and goat cheese tart, salad
  • Thursday–Game day! Pulled Mae Farm pork sandwiches, fruit salad
  • Friday–Pulled pork, sweet potato and caramelized onion quesadillas
  • Saturday–Game day! Salads on the run!
  • Sunday–Mae Farm grilled sausages with blackberry ketchup, potato salad, green beans
  • Monday–Game night! Pasta salad with local roasted veggies and goat cheese
  • Tuesday–leftover pasta salad

Week 1 Budget and Menu

20130101-190823.jpg

Welcome to 2013! How are you feeling this morning? Energized and excited about the new year? Worried about the fiscal cliff? Hung over? I, for one, can’t figure out where last year went–it was a blur of activity, but it was a lot of fun.

If you are new to this blog, I’ll explain that each week I will post our seasonal menu and our food budget for the week (our goal is under $100). This budget includes food, but not other household goods like laundry detergent or paper towels. Along the way, I’ll also post recipes and information about what is season at the markets here in central North Carolina, new food research or food issues that come up, etc.

Ready? Here goes Week 1!

Budget [Total $69.52]

  • Coon Rock Farm (collard greens cabbage, Italian sausage): $12.00
  • Fickle Creek Farm (eggs): $4.50
  • Locals Seafood (shrimp): $10.00
  • Other farmers market (sweet potatoes, broccoli, onions): $7.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, coconut oil, olive oil, cannellini beans, Ezekiel bread, noodles): $36.02

What are we eating for $69.52? Here is our menu for Week !!

Menu

  • Tuesday–Collard greens, hoppin’ john, corn bread
  • Wednesday–Shrimp pad thai w/local shrimp, veggies and peanuts
  • Thursday–Homemade pizza night w/farmer’s market ingredients
  • Friday–Stuffed sweet potatoes and leftovers
  • Saturday–Leftover ribollita soup

New Year Collards and Hoppin’ John

20130510-110504.jpg

Happy New Year from SOLE Food Kitchen!

One of the true miracles of nature here in North Carolina is that even when there is frost on the ground (and even snow), we still have delicious and highly nutritious greens–collards, mustard, turnip, kale to sustain us. While we haven’t seen any snow yet, the greens are plentiful in our garden and at the local farmers markets, and they will be the stars of our New Years Day feast! It is customary here in the southeastern US to eat a combination of blackeye peas and rice (hoppin’ john) and greens to bring about prosperity for the new year. The field peas represent coins and the greens represent folding money for the New Year. I don’t know if it works, but I can say it is a delicious way to begin a fresh year with lots of possibilities. Add some homemade corn bread and you have a simple meal that is delicious, satisfying and reasonably healthy.

I add tomato and roasted jalapeno to my blackeye peas. While these aren’t seasonal, we have both tucked away in our freezer from our summer crop, so we can still enjoy them in the middle of winter! Still, the typical version of hoppin’ john uses a ham hock to season the beans. This is tasty, but I usually feel like we’re getting our share of pork in the greens, so we go light on the beans!

I am partial to making my greens with pork–in our case, jowl bacon–from Mae Farm in Louisburg, North Carolina (www.maefarmmeats.com). Their pasture-raised, humanely raised hogs produce some of the most amazing meat we have ever had. We’re hooked. But you can also make these as a vegan dish by replacing the bacon with olive oil and some garlic. Cooking greens is not hard–it takes time because the leaves are quite thick, but the investment of time is well worth it in the end!

Southern Collard Greens (serves 4-6)

  • 1 large bunch collard greens
  • 4-6 thick slices smoked bacon or side meat
  • 4-6 cups water
  1. Begin the process by washing your greens. Unless you bought them from the grocery in a pre-washed bag, they need to be cleaned or you will be eating grit along with your greens (this is not good eating). Fill a clean sink with cold water and soak the greens in the water, swishing them around a bit. Remove greens from the cold bath and drain the water. Do this two more times or until you see no sand in the sink.
  2. On a cutting board, fold each leaf in half and cut the thick stem out. Save stems for compost. Stack the collard leaves as you go until you have stemmed all the leaves.
  3. Take 2-3 leaves at a time and roll them into a thick roll. Cut the roll into thin strips (this will leave you with ribbons of greens). Set greens aside.
  4. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat. Cut bacon into chunks and add to the pot. Cook until most of the fat has been rendered from the pork (about 10 minutes).
  5. Add greens to the pot and toss to coat with the bacon fat. Add 2 cups of water. Cover pot and simmer, stirring often, for about an hour.
  6. After an hour, check the greens and the water, adding more if needed. Do not let the greens scorch. Continue simmering for at least another hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
  7. Greens are ready when they are tender and well seasoned with the pork.
  8. Serve with vinegar and hot sauce, if you like.

Hoppin’ John (serves 6-8)

  • 16 oz dried blackeye peas
  • 4 c. water or homemade chicken stock
  • 2 cups cooked, organic rice
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  1. Put peas in a large pot with water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute. Cover and remove from heat. Let pot sit for 1 hour. Drain peas.
  2. Add peas and 4 c. water or chicken stock to the pot and return to medium heat. Add ham hock or other pork product at this time. Simmer peas for about an hour. Watch to make sure liquid does not dry out. If it does, add more water or stock as needed.
  3. Add tomato and pepper and continue simmering for about 30 minutes more. Let most of the liquid evaporate. This should be the consistency of a thick chili, not a soup.
  4. Add rice, stir and serve.

20130101-155754.jpg

20130101-155838.jpg

20130101-155913.jpg

20130101-155939.jpg<;

20130101-155939.jpg

%d bloggers like this: