Posts tagged ‘Farmers Market’

Almond Milk

There are generally several types of nuts and seeds that you can buy in the grocery store bulk section, including unsalted, salted, organic, non-organic, gourmet flavors and candied. Due to a law made in response to few years of harmful bacteria contaminated produce, regular raw almonds are illegal to sell in stores, which forced businesses to sell only chemical or high-heat treated almonds. This makes raw almond availability rather scarce, and now raw almonds have to be bought directly from the growers. For some odd reason, this law only pertains to almonds, seeds, grains or other nuts.

I made the strange observation earlier this year that some grocers are selling organic sprouted almonds; I am guessing that this is due to the additional processes that the nuts must go through before they are sold to stores (someone please correct me if I am wrong). Maybe no one thought to sell them this way before, or maybe there was too much speculated financial risk of the projected cost. I am not sure, but these days people are definitely willing to pay for the convenience and availability of store-bought raw almonds. Let me tell you, sprouted almonds are more expensive and have a stronger flavor; a rare few tasted as intense as alcohol-free extract. It might be possible due to their increased nutrients and flavor from sprouting that fewer almonds are needed to make nut milk with the same amount of flavor, which may also help to balance out the price. As these almonds are already prepared through sprouting, they do not have to be soaked, which saves a bit of time and labor. Personally I still like purchasing raw almonds directly from the growers at the farmers market during peak season, since I don’t mind soaking and dehydrating the nuts myself.

Please see my previous cashew milk blog entry for general directions for making non-dairy milk. I have included some suggestions for sweeteners and spices.

Plain Almond Milk
My husband and I prefer to make lots of plain unflavored milk at once, so we can use it in a wide variety of foods, from smoothies to soups. Adjust the milk proportions and flavors as you like.

Yields 6 Cups

Ingredients
2 C Prepared Almonds
6 C Filtered Water
1 Pinch Sea Salt

Directions
Process the almonds, salt and water until the nut pulp is fine and the liquid turns white; the nuts can’t be over-blended. Strain the mixture through fabric, like cheese cloth or a nut milk bag, making sure to squeeze the ground almonds within the fabric to release more liquid without letting the pulp squish through. Set the pulp aside. Store the milk in a sealed jug or jar(s) in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

Notes:
Reserve the pulp for another batch of milk, or dehydrate it into almond meal to later use.
You can also freeze the milk into cubes to melt into hot tea or coffee or make into ice cream.

Cashew Nut Milk

For those of us who have an allergy or an intolerance to milk, eating or drinking many tasty creamy delights that normal people can have can prove difficult to consume, even with allergy and digestive pills. This means, no cheese, yogurt, ice cream, milkshakes, cheesecake,…. You get the idea. As more people are discovering their own digestive intolerance and allergies, more options are becoming available in grocery stores and restaurants. At the same time, recipes for dairy alternatives are being perfected with improved colors, flavors and textures. Thank goodness there are so many food enthusiasts excited about experimenting with ingredients! For instance, I have seen all sorts of non-dairy milk and cheese alternatives in stores and online, such as various cultured and non-cultured goodies made from hazelnuts, hemp seeds, coconuts, oats, rice, sweet potatoes, etc. The process of making special milk is pretty easy and is usually much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to make your own than buy it (processed with bonus additives) from the store, even if you buy organic ingredients. Making and drinking milk alternatives is so popular, the comedy television show, “Portlandia” (which is on Netflix right now), has even featured several hilarious spoof PSAs by the “Portland Milk Advisory Board” regarding different types of milk, including zucchini milk and berry seed milk (jam).

You can make the milks as thick or as concentrated as you like, although the methods depend on the ingredients used. Also depending on the nut and how you process it, like cashew milk can turn purple and pumpkin seed milk will turn green if they have their inner skins still attached. You can also flavor or sweeten them however you like. Some nuts, like almonds are naturally sweet, so they don’t require a lot of sugar. Others, however, may need a bit of help if they have a natural bitterness, like walnuts do. I like rice milk, but it’s very low in nutrients and is not raw (none of the store-bought milks are). Sweetened rice milk is fine and dandy for horchata, but I would rather make something with more protein and less sugar (I like to dilute restaurant-style horchata by half usually or at least wait until the ice melts, so I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid candy). What I don’t want to do though is destroy the proteins in the nut milk by boiling water to concentrate it. I did read somewhere that milk concentration in a dehydrator is the preferred method to preserve the proteins and amino acids, but excess water can also be steamed off by simmering the milk in a pan over the stove, constantly stirring and frequently measuring the temperature to prevent the milk from reaching over 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

The method of making alternative milks is pretty much the same no matter what you use. From what I gather, the first step is to prepare the seed (grain, nut or otherwise) into an edible form. See my blog entry on preparing nuts and seeds. (If you are working with grains or root vegetables, you have to cook them first). Blend the nuts, seeds, etc. with water; I recommend a high speed blender, like my Vitamix. Generally you want a ratio between a one to two and a one to four parts of nuts to water. According to Sarma Melngailis in her book, “Living Raw Food,” if you do not have nuts, seeds or what-have-you to grind up with the water, you can mix the water with nut or seed butter instead; Amanda Mercer’s alternative recipe uses 1/16 or 1/48 to 1 parts ratio (for instance one tablespoon almond butter to one cup water for thick milk or one teaspoon nut butter to one cup water for thin milk). Strain the milk through a fine mesh, like cheese cloth or a special nut milk bag; I bought mine at the Santa Rosa Community Market. Some nut pulp can be blended and strained to make a couple more milk batches, depending on the desired flavor intensity and thickness.

At this point, you can sweeten the milk (with stevia, agave, honey or dates just to name a few); there’s a wide variety to choose from depending on what flavor profile you want. You can flavor the milk with alcohol-free extracts (vanilla or almond), spices (such as ginger, chai spices, pie spices, cinnamon or cacao nibs) or cooled infusions (like herbal tea). Adjust the richness of the milk if you like by adding oils or butters, like those of coconut.

Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is great not only for cereals and smoothies and other normal milk uses, but is also great in making desserts, sauces and cultured non-dairy cheeses. This milk has a pleasing rich creaminess from the natural oils contained in the nuts.

Yields 6 cups

Ingredients
2 C Prepared Cashews
6 C Filtered Water
1 Pinch Sea Salt

Directions
Process the nuts, salt and water until the nut meal is fine and the milk opaque; the nuts can’t be over-blended. Place the nut milk bag or filtering fabric over a large clean container, like spouted glass measuring cup. Strain the mixture through fabric into the container, making sure to carefully squeeze the pulp within the fabric to release more liquid but without letting the pulp squish through. (Cashews can grind down to a very fine meal, and silty cashew milk is an unwanted and unpleasant surprise. So be careful not to squeeze too hard.) Set the pulp aside.

Notes:
Store the milk in clean, sealed non-reactive jugs or jars in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
Reserve the pulp for another batch of milk soon, or dehydrate the almond meal to use later.
You can also freeze the milk into cubes to melt in hot tea or coffee or make into ice cream.

Red-Label Curry no Ohji-Sama

I finally made S & B’s red box of Curry no Ohji-sama with chicken and mixed vegetables. It tasted so good! This variety is a Japanese sweet curry roux mix that was originally intended for children, but I don’t see why adults shouldn’t enjoy it, too. S & B also makes a blue-box version of this curry, too, which has a different flavor (from what I can tell based on the listed ingredients). What exactly the blue-labelled box mix is supposed to taste like is still a mystery to me, but it looks good. For more information, please read the sections I wrote on both varieties here  or here.

Thankfully, both flavors are gluten-free, as they include corn starch and white sorghum as thickeners in lieu of wheat. The directions call for the addition of meat, but you can substitute it with beans, tofu, nuts, seeds or whatever protein you prefer. The package instructions also call for potatoes and carrots (two sources of carbohydrates), which I felt were not inclusive enough. I didn’t just want to use a boring brown or yellow potatoes and a red onion (the sweet yellow and white cultivars carry less sulfur), and I decided not to serve the curry with rice but to add more colorful vegetables instead. I felt as though that the more colors I included, the healthier and tastier the meal would be, so my curry was a rainbow of yellows, orange, purple, red, whites and greens.

Each box comes with two curry roux blocks, enough to either make the curry twice or cook a double batch. The bricks are sealed individually, so you can cook one and save the other for later, preserving the flavor and moisture and preventing spoilage. As soon as I pealed back the wrapper on the roux, I knew I was in for a treat from the pleasant aromas and yellow curry color of the savory spices and slight sweetness of fruits and vegetables. I could already smell the wonderfully enticing scents of cumin, coriander and turmeric, and for some reason my mind went to cinnamon as a complimentary flavor. Maybe next time I should make a cinnamon infused dessert.

Cooking the Chicken & Vegetables

As usual, I made many of alterations to the recipe, but the dish turned out quite scrumptious, much to my delight and satisfaction. My husband liked it so much, he went back for seconds. He’s a pretty picky eater, so that’s certainly saying something. Please keep in mind that this is a sweet mild curry, so you may have to adjust the flavors to more of your liking; check out Sadie’s blog entry on the blue-box curry roux for some suggestions. Surprisingly with all of the extra meat and vegetables, the curry sauce was still rather thin in consistency. I used the same cooking techniques as described in the directions and decided not to add a thickener (like corn or arrowroot starch) on the first try, since the mix already contained some. Another option is to let some of the water evaporate rather than cooking the meat and vegetables so long with the cover on. Regardless of the outcome, the meal was a success and a learning experience.

Red-Label Curry no Ohji-Sama with Chicken & Mixed Vegetables
Adapted from the instructions on the back of the package
As stated above, this dish already includes enough carbohydrates, so do not serve this with a white rice. If you want to serve it along side or over something, I suggest something with fiber, for instance more vegetables (broccoli or cauliflower) or a seed-like “grain” (quinoa, millet or buckwheat) as a side.

Serves 6Curry no Ohji-Sama With Chicken & Vegetables

Ingredients
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Sweet Onion, peeled, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 Head Garlic, peeled, trimmed, coarsely chopped
2 Medium Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 1″ cubes
2 Medium Carrots, trimmed, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
2 Purple Potatoes (any variety), coarsely chopped
1 – 2 Chioggia or Red Beets, trimmed, coarsely chopped
2 Stalks Celery, diagonally sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1 Broccoli Head and Stem, trimmed, coarsely chopped
2 C Baby or Dinosaur Kale, stemmed, torn into bite-size pieces
2 C Carrot Greens, stemmed, optional
1/4 – 1/2 C Enoki Mushrooms, trimmed, left long or quartered
2 1/2 C Filtered Water
1/2 pkg Red Label Curry no Ohji-Sama Roux, finely chopped
Rice Wine Vinegar, optional
Sweet Paprika, to taste, optional

Directions
Saute the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent in a large lightly oiled pan over medium heat (I used my Misto to spray on the olive oil). Mix in the carrots, beets and potatoes, stirring occasionally. Cook this mixture until the carrots are slightly soft.  Add the water, broccoli and celery. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables become tender. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the kale, greens and mushrooms. Fold in the curry roux, half at a time. Cover and return the pan to the heat. Simmer the curry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the roux is evenly distributed. Taste the dish, add more paprika (and or other spices) to taste. Serve the curry either on top of an accompanying vegetable in bowl. Be sure to ladle on some extra sauce if you like.

I served this dish along side a tossed green side salad drizzled with a tasty miso sesame dressing.

Cooking the Chicken & Vegetables

National Heirloom Exposition, Day 2

As I stated before, there were tons of exhibits to see at the exposition. It was great to see so many people, especially the school kids, come in to the expo and have such a great time. I found out some neat tidbits! People from all over the USA can participate in the festival displays by submitting their heirloom produce. In addition, all of the proceeds are donated to local school garden and food education programs.

It was pretty interesting to work at the sampling station, especially since I am not well acquainted with all of the watermelon varieties. I didn’t know know which colors to expect, so it was always a lovely surprise to behold the beauty hidden within the rinds whenever I sliced into the fruit. It was great to hear people’s responses to the melon colors, sweetness and flavors. They were as surprised as I was, many disbelieving at first that we were only serving watermelon. Interestingly, some of the tasters compared trying the melons to wine tasting, as the flavors varied in subtleties, sweetness; it helped greatly to start with the mellower flavors and work your way up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to see any of the 100 plus lectures, but I heard that many people were interested in hearing Vanda Shiva, one of the keynote speakers, an anti-GMO and environmental activist and renowned author. The Wednesday lectures I wanted to hear were “Fermentation” with Luke Regalbuto & Maggie Levinger of Wild West Ferments and “Seaweeds for Food and Health” by Heidi Herrmann of Strong Arm Farm.  Thursday’s “Herbal Kitchen” by Kami McBride from Living Awareness Institute also sounds interesting. There was a “Livestock Barn” lecture series, with topics such as “Rabbit: Another White Meat” and “How to Cut Up a Chicken”.

As I explored the expo, I got to see all sorts of fruit and vegetable displays, including competitions for giant tomatoes and pumpkins. Sadly, I found the pumpkin contest a little disappointing with generally lower weight results; the contest is nation wide The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth  with results of up to 1480 pounds this year. Chef Ray L. Duey, the culinary artist, carved fruits and vegetables into intricate and awe-inspiring displays. There was also flower show, and I got several pictures of Aztec Dahlias‘ gorgeous specimens. Betty Finch’s incredibly detailed gourd sculptures were on display in the art exhibit; certain pieces of the sculptures were molded into shape as they grew. The only large mammals this year were llamas and hogs, but there were also sheep, goats, cute kunekune pigs and adorable bunnies!

On to the food! So in addition to all of this excitement, I visited many, many food vendors and tried my share of tasty samples. Not only were Mama Baretta and Lydia’s Organics there with gluten-free delicious goodies but there were several other companies with scrumptious bites, too. I finally tried Bloomfield Bees Honey’s liquid gold and particularly enjoyed their blackberry and orange-chocolate honeys. Byerbri and Good Faith Farms had really great olive oils with smooth and delicate flavors. Crofter’s Organic’s (the South American Super Fruit Spread was my favorite) and Lisa’s Luscious Kitchen‘s (loved every spoonful) jams and chutney’s were so delectable. The Hue De Laroque Family Farm’s and Sonomic’s vinegars were very nice, and I can just imagine using them in salads, reduction sauces and marinades. WholeVine Cookies was very impressive for it’s agricultural sustainability, charity and rich flavors; as a one of the sister companies of Jackson Family Wines (parent company for Kendall Jackson Wines), it reuses the seeds and skins left over from crushing the grapes, drying and grinding them into flours to make soft moist gluten-free cookies, like the oatmeal raisin and the peanut butter ones I tried. I was astounded by the texture and complexity of the flavors; they tasted and felt like “normal” homemade cookies but without the commonly present icky wheat aftertaste. WholeVine also had their cooking oils, seed flours and skin flours (yes, they differ in flavor) for purchase in eight grape varieties. RW Garcia demoed their “MixtBag” of yellow and blue corn chips, “English Cheddar Dippers” and “Curry Mango Dippers” (my absolute favorite), which all had delightful flavor and crunch. Real McCoy’s also gave out gluten-free and yummy samples of “Sweet & Spicy Rice Chips,” “Baked Vermont White Cheddar Rice Puffs” and “Baked Jalapeno Cheddar Rice Puffs.” My absolute favorite snacks were Saffron Road‘s crunchy roasted chickpeas in “Bombay Spice” and “Falafel” flavors. Andy’s Farm Culinary Alchemy had some of their “Phyto-Liscious Foods” out, including Carob “Chi Force Energy Bars,” “Spicy East Indian Popcorn Seasoning,” pear and peach spiced chutneys and Andy’s 60 Ingredient 4 Seasons Super Sour Kraut, which were all very tasty (especially the bars and chutneys). Amy’s Kitchen was there with samples again, this time with tomato bisque, red curry with vegetables and rice and minestrone vegetable soup. Now they make gluten-free brownies! I’m really looking forward to trying those.

Please view the gallery below for more pictures of colorful fruits and vegetables and cute animals. Enjoy!

National Heirloom Exposition, Day 1

Oh food blog, how I have missed you so! I can’t believe it’s been about a year since my last post. Much has happened in that time. My husband, friends, family and I have worked very hard to make our house more homey. There are always more and more projects to work on. Currently, we are in the midst of tackling the backyard, installing drainage, watering and electrical lines, planter boxes and a retaining wall, which all includes moving a lot of dirt around. What a workout! I am so grateful that we have so many generous people to help out. Next year, we plan on install a patio deck, but until then I hope to get some more plants in the ground. I’ve been itching to start some semblance of a garden, but we need to fill in more dirt first. I’m also trying to figure out which type of fruit tree to plant along the back fence and found some recent inspiration after visiting nurseries with some of my girl friends last weekend. So many plans are in the works. I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I am volunteering for a second year in a row at the National Heirloom Exposition, which is organized by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a great Missourian company that features only non-GMO seeds in numerous varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables but also gardening workshops. I cannot recommend this expo enough. Oh my goodness, I am having so much fun! It absolutely amazes me that such a national event is held here in Sonoma County, let alone that it was featured on Martha Stewart’s television show.

From the looks of it, 2011 was the first of many more years to come for the expo, especially as people travel from all over to attend, even from other countries. Like last year, I made a point to not only attend but also volunteer, and this year I’m scheduled to work two of the three days (about 12 hours), which means I get free admission, parking and hot lunches on both days and leftover produce at the close of the fair. How cool is that?! I saw and learned so much last year but only experienced a small portion of all of the events. The expo provides great opportunities to meet up with like-minded people and see folks from some of my favorite local farms and gourmet restaurants. This year I hope to try out some new foods.

It is absolutely amazing to see the astounding abundance of varieties of awesome organically grown heirloom fruits, vegetables and flowers. There were cultivars from all over the world that were brought in from all across the country, let alone from all over California, that I didn’t even know existed. Who knew there are red eggplants, prickly cucumbers and olive-shaped squash? Well, I do now. There are many many kinds of watermelon, for instance, with skins in various shades of green, golden, yellow and white that were solid colored, striped, splotched or spotted but had inner flesh in solid colors of pink, red, white, yellow, orange or bi-color combinations. Even the seeds varied in color and pattern. here must have been hundreds of watermelons alone, no to mention eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, pumpkins, gourds, squash, cucumbers, poultry and other exciting heirlooms. I know there are even more heirloom fruits and vegetables available, which makes me wish that there was an expo for every harvest season, since we only get to see produce that’s available at this time of year. I’d love to see different types of berries and stone fruits, but their peak seasons are over during this time of year. It would also be fantastic to see more species of heirloom flowers, too.

There is so much going on, it’s impossible to see everything. The California Rare Fruit Growers also sponsor an exhibit with tastings in the main hall (I keep forgetting to preregister), which is interesting, since some of the inner flesh colors and patters are so different from normal store-bought fruit. There are tons of free samples to try from several other farmers and vendors all over the expo, too, but there’s also a little farmers market for people to actually buy heirloom produce and seeds to take home. Some farmers also enter their finest produce in competitions based on appearance, flavor, size and weight. The pumpkin size contest is incredible with some of the entries weighing in at over 1000 pounds. They’re humongous! Not only are there displays of tables after tables of vegetables and fruits but a whole section of the fairgrounds is dedicated to heirloom animals. I hope they have more mammals this year, like rabbits. Wednesday is kids’ day with elementary classes coming from all over Sonoma County to learn sustainable gardening and farming; in addition, many of the schools are represented in a special exhibit by their gardening projects, displaying photos, schematics and diagrams.

During all three days, there are several educational agriculture lectures given by speakers from near and far. There are topics concerning sustainable agriculture, growing certain species of fruit, interactions of edible plants and weeds, hydration systems, soil, etc.  In addition, I think there are two screens showing back-to-back food-related documentary films all day, likewise on a variety of subjects. I hope I can fit some interesting lectures and movies into my schedule this year, as last year I wanted to hear the blueberry and agroecology lectures but was working at those times. There is also a small art exhibit in the main hall with agriculture-themed paintings, sculptures, embroidery, pressed flowers, and the like. The expo is like visiting a gourmet food fest, health food fair, sustainable gardening and farming fair, art and garden show, county fair, workshop series, movie marathon, agricultural fair, interactive science museum, farmers market and concert series all in one!

The fair always seems better than I anticipate, and it gets larger and gains greater attendance by visitors and vendors each year. I imagine it would probably attract an even more people if it wasn’t held in the middle of the week.  Last year, I went a little photo crazy; I must have taken pictures of most everything, which made me feel a bit like a tourist. I know this year I’m going to take pictures, too, but hopefully even better ones. I also hope I’m not doubling up on subjects that I took pictures of already. There’s so much to see. There are a bunch of pictures in the gallery below from last year, but these aren’t even a third of the collection so far. I do hope to post more after my second day. I’m having such a great time, I know I want to volunteer again next year.

Beetings Will Continue Until Health Improves!

I’m just joking and being punny. Beets are a nutritious root vegetable that is entirely edible (greens and roots), like carrots, and are used in many different cuisines. You can eat them raw in salads or juiced, roasted, steamed, as chips (dehydrated or baked), pickled or canned, in soups, and more. You can always try an Eastern European dish of brightly hued hot or chilled borscht, which can also include sour cream, onions, potatoes, cabbage, sorrel, tomatoes, or carrots, depending on where the recipe is from. There are also many varieties of beets that best prepared in various ways. Some have tough or tender greens, while others have have rather sweet or bitter roots. Tender greens and sweet beetroots can be eaten raw, but tough greens and bitter roots are best cooked so to ease digestion and improve flavor. Which ever beet variety you choose, make sure to rinse and scrub them all over with a vegetable brush to get rid of dirt hidden in crevices and bring out the natural color. Here’s a helpful website that has more ideas and factoids mostly regarding red beets.

Beets have practical uses, too. You may have noticed their deep or bright colors caused buy flavinoids (anti-oxidants), especially while cutting them up. Watch out! The darker cultivars will stain anything and everything. Many people choose to wear gloves when working with them. Whether you do or do not enjoy eating beetroots or their greens, you can use them to dye paper, yarn and fabric. Just make sure to perform a sample test run, since the colors may not turn out as you expect.

Red beets range in size and color, from pink to dark, dark red and are of your most commonly found varieties in grocery stores. They are generally juicy, tender, sweet and vividly colored. There are lots of heirloom and hybrid cultivars to choose from that are a bit different, some of which have tasty greens. For the kind that are best cooked, here are some methods to prepare them. Red beets are high in nutrients and are very good for you.

Chioggia beets are a nice visual treat of a beet that come in red, purple or pink with white rings in a series of circles that form a bulls eye target when they are sliced horizontally; it you cut them vertically in half, the flesh appears striped with alternating striations. These beetroots have a sweet overall flavor but very sharp bitter aftertaste when eaten raw; their alkalinity made my throat kind of itchy and irritated. I drank lots of water and had to consume something slightly acidic to get rid of the sensation and taste. The other option is to thinly slice the beets and marinate them in either vinegar or citrus juice, like in this recipe. Needless to say, these beetroots are best eaten cooked or marinated. Baby candy cane beets are similar in pattern with bright red and white radiating circles but are smaller, can be eaten raw and are the sweetest type of beet.

Golden beets have a mild and sweet flavor with another full collection of nutrients. They also have a bulls eye pattern but in orange and yellow when sliced horizontally. Since golden beets are a bit rough skinned, it’s best to peel them first. One of the great things about golden beets is that when you peel them, you don’t have to wear gloves or worry about your hands staining. I have yet to try them, but I hear they taste fantastic oven-roasted, especially whole. There are several cultivars to choose from, such as Burpee goldens, yellow Detroits and yellow Mangels.

The Dutch blankoma or albino beets, are also a bit different. These beets are also non-staining, so no gloves are necessary. Blankoma beets have a mild flavor and a potato-like texture. Lightly steam them to bring out their delicate sweetness that is easy to mask if you aren’t careful in adding the right amount of seasoning. Just add a little extra flavor from spices and herbs at a time; it’s also best to start simple, maybe with some salt and pepper. Keep a close watch over them as they cook to prevent them from overcooking and turning gray, which can also diminish the natural flavor. Here’s some more information about them, including how to prepare them.

Rohnert Park Friday Night Farmers Market

The summer Downtown Rohnert Park farmers market is every Friday 5:00 to 8:00 pm between June 15 and August 31 (sorry I didn’t mention it earlier). It’s actually pretty big, taking up quite a significant amount of parking lot and side park area of the Sonoma County Library, where I have found some great volumes, including cookbooks, for dirt cheap. Like most farmers markets, it’s a mixture of fresh-cut flowers, fresh produce, local food and health products (vinegars, dips, jams, homemade soaps), crafts (bags, jewelry, scarves, wreathes, birdhouses), hot prepared food and live entertainment, dubbed Party on the Plaza. Not only do they have live bands performing, there are also face painting, bounce house, an inflated slide, a little petting zoo and pony rides for kids. Then there are the other cuddly critters brought by the local ASPCA. After all, who doesn’t like adorable kitties, puppies and bunnies?

The major aspect of the farmers market that did shock me was the sheer number of booths devoted direct sales companies, like Mary Kay, Pampered Chef and Tastefully Simple. Since these businesses are not farm, artisan, craftsman, food, teaching or community based, their presence felt weird to me. I mean I understand promoting your own little business to get new clients and customers, but I don’t think those types of businesses belonged there, not when there are already other actually local gourmet, kitchen tool and spice and herb businesses. For instance, I have seen Kim Cook-Fallon’s booth, Cook’s Spices many of the Santa Rosa and Downtown Windsor farmers markets; the other shop to which I’m referring to is, of course, Savory Spice in Downtown Santa Rosa run by Pat and Cheryl, both of whom I have seen at the Wednesday Night Market with some of the gals from Sur la Table, promoting workshops and cooking classes that they sometimes co-host.

Dahlia 2009.1

At the Rohnert Park market, I was always excited to visit the O’Brien family’s Aztec Dahlias booth, who’s flowers are always a joy to see.  I actually discovered their farm location in Petaluma, which is along my normal route in and out of town. All of their flowers are gorgeous and inspiring. I hope I can visit them sometime soon, plop down on a patch of ground surrounded by a myriad of dahlias in all vivid colors and sizes and just draw, carefully picking out various mediums and colors from my rather extensive collection of colored pencils, crayons and felt tip pens. I expect it will be quite different from the last time I drew dahlias for my dad last summer; those flowers were merely based on pictures I found online. Drawing them up close and in person will be much better.

nana mae's organic

Nana Mae’s was also at this farmers market, which was a nice surprise. They don’t just sell apples. Not only were they selling their apple sauce, apple juice and apples, they also had various stone fruits, which I had never seen before. They had normal plums and plum-cherries, which were so cute, juicy, sweet, and delicious, I once bought two pounds of the little guys. Believe it or not, I ate them all before they went bad, but it was a bit challenging with their different stages of ripening. They also grown black berries, pears, prunes, pluots, lemons, quince and other fruits (I’m sure). They also work with other California farms to make specialty items, like their Spiced Date Apple Sauce (The dates actually come from Flying Disc Farms, from whom I prefer to buy my dates. Remember, I talked about them after I visited them at the Ferry Building farmers market) and Apple Mostarda (made with apples, raisins, figs, white wine, rosemary, cinnamon, coriander, and ginger in cooperation with the Girl & the Fig Restaurant)

Debbie (the head baker) was at the Mama Barretta booth! Yea! On separate trips this summer to the Rohnert Park market, I bought Debbie’s anise and almond biscotti, cinnamon raisin bread, multiseed bread, amaretti cookies and a carrot muffin. Can you tell I’m a fan? Their baked goods are so tasty and comforting. I really miss their chocolate and spice flavored pezzi, which are little raw almond truffle balls made with coconut; unfortunately, they didn’t have them at the markets I attended. Just so you know, their breads can be a bit hard, crumbly and hard to slice, but I discovered a neat trick! You can cut off a hunk to either steam in the oven of microwave with the help of a damp towel, making the bread amazingly soft, easier to slice and less crumby, like it was just freshly baked. I don’t go through bread that quickly, so usually I freeze half to save for later.

I found lots of great fresh produce at the farmers market. As far as stone fruit, the white and yellow peaches, white and yellow nectarines, plums and plum hybrids captivated my attention the most. It’s was great to try all of the samples and see all of the different varieties. I bought several pounds of those, too, and they were scrumptious! I use to love peaches the most, but right now nectarines are my favorite. I found several juicy and lovely kinds of heirloom tomatoes; I particularly enjoyed the multicolored yellow and bright golden ones in my salads and sandwiches. I was also fortunate to find that the Ortiz Brothers’ booth was selling cilantro and Italian sweet basil, which I like mixing in with my salad greens to bring in more flavor, and depending on the other flavors, sometimes I like to add these herbs to my sandwiches and lettuce wraps.

Pluots

Pluots (Photo credit: oceanaris)

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you about this great local farmers market until after it was over for the year. The downtown location also provides a great meetup location for me to see some of my friends, who I went to school with. Besides with my old farmers market haunts so far away now, the Rohnert Park farmers market makes me feel like I’m not missing out on as much by living all the way down in Petaluma. Michele Anna Jordan of the Press Democrat also wrote a review in the “Eat This Now” section, which goes into more detail about some of the merchants at the farmers market in case you are interested.

Patty Pan Squash

Petit pan (patty pan) squash

Patty pan squash, also called scallop squash and patisson, are cute little white, light yellow or green round squat variety of scallop summer squash that kind of remind me of flowers, since the edges look like petals. Here are a few methods of preparing the squash. You can also bake them after scooping out the centers and stuffing them, like in this recipe or this one. These squash are really healthy for you. They are low in calories, and high in fiber and vitamin C and have lots of folate, vitamins B6 and A, magnesium and potassium. I also read that patty pans are great for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as preventing certain cancers. Just like with many foods, make sure you don’t indulge in patty pans too often, since they contain a significant amount of oxalates, which can accumulate in you body and interfere with calcium absorption. For additional  information about scallop squash and their health benefits, please visit Live Strong’s webpage.

When I got home from the Cotati farmers market recently, I started planning what to make with all of my new veggies. I set some things aside for salads or other particular dishes, but there were some I wanted to cook with right away. The recipe that I listed below is a guide of sorts; you don’t have to use all of the spices if you don’t want to. I just created the dish as I went along, making rough measurements by sight and taste. If you are afraid of cooking without specific amounts, start by smelling and tasting the seasonings together to figure out scrumptious combinations; choose which spices and herbs you think will work best for what you are aiming to create. Just start in small increments. Sometimes I like to put a little bit of spices and herbs in mini prep bowls or the spice containers’ lids, carefully tapping or sprinkling in a bit at a time.

Mixed Late Summer Vegetable Saute with Seeds
Serves 4

Ingredients
5 T Chopped or Minced Garlic
1 Sweet Yellow Onion, coarsely chopped
4 Patty Pan Squash, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
4 Purple Potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 C Collard Greens, stemmed, torn into bite-size pieces
1 C Russian Red or Green Curly Kale, stemmed, torn into bite-size pieces
1 Bunch Carrot Greens, coarsely chopped, optional
1 Large Carrot, cut into bite-size pieces
2 Large Stalks Celery, diagonally sliced
1 Head Broccoli, coarsely chopped
1 – 2 C Green String Beans, trimmed, broken into bite-size pieces
1 Scallion, green parts only, cut into 2″ lengths
Cumin Seeds, ground
Himalayan Sea Salt, ground
OR Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt, optional
Smoked Hickory Flavoring (infused barley flour)
Fresh or Dried Thyme, stemmed, ground
Fresh or Dried Sage, stemmed, ground
Fresh or Dried Marjoram, stemmed, ground
Mixed Peppercorns, ground
1 C Filtered Water, as needed
Italian Seasoning, optional
Herbs de Provence Seasoning, optional
Poultry Seasoning, optional
Raw Hemp Seeds, sprouted, dehydrated
Raw Pumpkin Seeds, sprouted, dehydrated
Raw Sunflower Seeds, sprouted, dehydrated

Directions
In a large lightly oiled pan, saute the onions and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the onions become translucent (or caramelized, depending on your flavor preference), add the tubers; cook until the carrots become slightly tender. Add in the water to steam the vegetables.* Lower the temperature to a simmer. Mix in the squash, broccoli, beans, celery and spices. Cook with the cover on until the broccoli stems start to soften. Add the fresh herbs and greens, stirring occasionally. Cook until the carrots and broccoli stems are tender and the greens have wilted. Remove the pan from the heat completely. Transfer the seasoned vegetables to a large bowl. Stir the them together with a large spoon to cool and get rid of excess water (keep an eye on the general moisture to prevent the vegetables from drying out too much) until the vegetables are cool enough to pick up with your fingers. Fold in the seeds. Serve and enjoy.

*If you are using dried herbs, they need to be rehydrated. Let them sit in a cup of water for 20 minutes; this also infuses flavor into the water. Use this water to steam the vegetables by carefully straining it out into the pan, using a fork to prevent the herbs from going in to early. Add the rehydrated herbs when you mix in the fresh ones.

Cotati Thursday Night Farmers Market

Since I moved to Petaluma, it is not as easy to drive to the Santa Rosa farmers markets anymore. The move has “forced” me to drive less and visit more local markets closer to my house (darn  😉 ) and on the way to and from work and errands, which is actually much better for my wallet and the environment. Earlier this summer, I tried out the Petaluma Wednesday evening farmers market but was rather disappointed when I discovered that it was only half a block long and consisted of mostly artisans and hot-food venders. Don’t get me wrong. I like those types of merchant booths just fine, but when I go to the farmers market, I’m there to buy fresh ingredients. I have visited the much better  Saturday morning Petaluma farmers market but not since last year. Sometimes, I just want to sleep in and not go anywhere on my weekend mornings. Instead this summer, I bought my fruit and vegetables at the evening farmers markets in Cotati on Thursdays and Rohnert Park on Fridays.

The Cotati farmers market is small but surprisingly satisfying. I usually find most everything I need, buying the remaining produce at Oliver’s Market, about five minutes away from the farmers market in La Plaza Park. There’s a nice big lawn and a playground for children to entertain themselves, next to which an inflatable bounce house and slide rental company sets up. (What a great way for them to advertise!) There is also live music played by a featured bands at the gazebo, so you can eat dinner, let your kids go play and listen to the bands while you sit out on the lawn after you get your groceries. The hot food vendors occupy about a third of the booths, produce another third, leaving the remaining booths to arts, crafts, potted plants and the inflatable rentals. I was quite impressed.

I purchased red leaf lettuce, collard greens, chioggia beets, red beets, tomatillos, red Russian kale, patty pan squash, green string beans, purple majesty potatoes, Italian sweet basil and broccoli from a cheerful and helpful woman at the French Garden Farm’s organic produce tent; it really was a one-stop shop. I was glad to see French Garden there, since I was so accustomed to seeing their booth at the downtown Santa Rosa Wednesday Night Market. She also had some great looking bunches of carrots, beautiful mixed salads with edible flowers, and various microgreens (sprouts); I may have to buy carrots and sunflower seed sprouts the next time I attend the Cotati farmers market. The farm has a “cloud store” or online store, where you can shop and pay for produce and then either arrange to pick up your order or have it delivered. French Garden also has a restaurant in Sebastopol, where they also set up their own biweekly little farm stand on Sundays and Wednesdays in the parking lot .

Pedro of Ortiz Brothers Farms was really nice and was very generous with all sorts of free samples; I bought two baskets of his delicious strawberries and got a free pint of boysenberries! How awesome is that! In the past, I bought kale, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, carrots and other produce from Maria Ortiz, at the “original” Santa Rosa farmers markets at the Veterans’ Memorial Building (before they moved to the Wells Fargo Center) on Wednesdays and Saturdays when I lived in southern Santa Rosa. It is absolutely terrific to see this family farm selling their produce at so many different places; I even read that they drive down to the San Rafael for the Thursday night summer farmers markets. When you do get to visit the Ortiz Brothers booth, I hope you get to see the handmade seasonal wreathes that Maria and her family make year round out of fruit, herbs, oak, bay, branches, leaves, flowers, seed pods and all sorts of neat things.

I’m sorry the last day of the Cotati farmers market was yesterday; it’s only open during the summer on Thursday nights from 4:30 to 7:30 pm between June 7 and September 20, so please visit it next year.  The farmers, artisans and other vendors have all sorts of neat items to look at, like the interesting fantasy and steampunk themed jewelry and hip bags. There are also lots of great small local business to check out in the downtown area. You simply never know what little wonders you might find. For further information, read Michele Anna Jordan’s review in the Press Democrat’s Eat This Now section.

Local East Bay Tofu Companies

Bitter Sweet’s blog post about The Bridge Tofu factory reminds me of the organic tofu beanery in Berkeley, called Tofu Yu LLC, which has a catering and a store front with a deli counter that displays all sorts of tofu and tofu dishes. I keep meaning to visit. They also sell their products at several Bay Area farmers markets and organic grocery stores (visit their blog for a complete list and recipes), including the Santa Rosa Community Market and many Whole Foods.

In addition, there’s an organic tofu factory in Oakland, called Hodo Soy Beanery, where you can take a tour once a month for $12. Occasionally Hodo soy also has work shops, such as how to make tofu blocks. They sell their tofu at some Bay Area and LA area farmers markets, too, including at the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market, and at Whole Foods. Make sure you check out their recipe section of their website as well as their blog.


It’s difficult for me to pick which beanery to visit, so maybe I’ll go see both of them! That way I can get a tour and see the deli, not to mention taste the different flavors and kinds of tofu dishes that the two companies have to offer. Earlier this year, I also noticed that there was a whole festival surrounding soy and tofu at the Japantown Peace Plaza in June, which I unfortunately missed, but I think I’ll try to attend it next year. It looks like it was really fun, with two taiko groups, a dessert competition, a lion dance troup and many other stage performance.