A One of a Kind California Farmers’ Market

While on vacation at Packer Lake in Sierra County I learned about a farmers market that is touted as the only “on-farm” farmers market in the state of California. Locals call it the The Romano’s Farmers Market, aka Sierra Valley Farms Farmers Market . It is not large, it hosts only 10 – 12 hand-selected vendors. It typically opens the first Friday in June and continues for 15 weeks until the second Friday in September. We were in luck it was only the first Friday in September when my sister, Gwen, and I decided to leave the solitude of Packer Lake and travel over to Sierra Valley and see what all the talk was about.

The farm sits on the northern part of Sierra Valley. This valley sits at approximately 4850 feet and is surrounded by mountains ranging in elevation from 6 to 8000 feet.  The former lakebed covers 120,000 acres and receives an annual rainfall of less than twenty inches, most falling as snow. It is what I call high desert, filled with grassland, sagebrush and extensive freshwater marshes that drain into the middle fork of the Feather River. It is an important area for migratory bird species that stop over in the fall and nest there in the spring.

It was in the 80s when we arrived around 11am and the wind, which can blow pretty hard here, was gentle, a perfect vacation day. We pulled in to a dirt parking lot, found a spot, grabbed a reusable bag from the back of my car and headed off to do some serious exploring. We had heard that the farmers market is presented among unique old farm buildings; an old grainery built in 1939, now houses a produce stand and walk-in cooler and the quaint farm store, that contains the checkout stand and hand made items for sale, is part of the old chicken shed. To say the setting is quite unique is an understatement.

We wandered through looking at everything from hand made pottery to some tasty looking bakery items, from gorgeous produce to some pretty interesting pasta and olive oils from Pappardelle Pasta (a pretty large company that sells directly at farmers’ markets and a few specialty gourmet retail stores throughout the country). For not needing anything and thinking we would just take a look, we walked out with one of the biggest pineapple heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen (and now that I have eaten the softball sized wonder I can say it was one of the best I have ever tasted), a small package of Southwestern Blend (Blue Corn Ziti, Red Southwestern Chile Lumache, Green Jalapeno Fusilli and Yellow Maize Amore) that I want to use in soup this fall, Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli,  a beautiful little cantaloupe, some lovely orange peppers and a couple of bottles of cold water from the cooler in the old grainery.

As we were leaving Sean Conroy, chef at Longboards Bar & Grill, Plumas Pines Golf Resort was setting up for a cooking demonstration. They evidently have one each week, something I have seen at urban farmers markets but out here in the middle of nowhere (sorry Sierra Valley folks), it was really unexpected, but a very nice touch.

Later I read on the market’s website that they also host a \”Dinner in the Barn\”, a four course gourmet meal featuring farm-fresh produce harvested specifically for the dinner. The setting is inside a historic rustic barn overlooking the farm fields. There is a farm tour before the dinner, which is catered by Moody’s Catering in Truckee. If they have one of these during the time I’m at Packer Lake next year I’d really like to go.

If you’re ever up in this neck of the woods during the summer months, seek out this market. It is definitely worth a visit.

How Can I Tell If It’s Ripe?

You would think that a person that has gardened off and on, for fourty years or so would know just about everything there is to know about gardening and harvesting. Not so.  That’s one of the things I love about gardening. Every year it’s different. Every year I learn something new. So join an old dog like me in learning a few new tricks.

Not quite there yet.

So our gardens are doing well. The plants are healthy and they are starting to produce. That’s terrific, but how do you know when it’s time to start harvesting? Trial and error is how most of us learn this phase but there is an easier way.

This one is ripe.

One of my favorite gardening sites is Renee’s Garden. I received an email the other day with an article by guest author, Alice Formiga, it was called When the Time is Ripe: Harvesting Vegetables for Best Flavor. I immediately wrote Renee’s and asked permission to share the article with all of you. Heidi Harris their Customer Service Representative’s response “We would love you to use the article!” The active link to the article is here.

OK, so a few of you are saying to yourselves. Well I don’t garden so this article isn’t important to me. Well it is important if you buy fresh produce (and I hope you do). Just because it’s fresh doesn’t mean it was harvested at it’s peak. You the consumer have to know what you are buying. You have to know what to look for. Alice’s article will give you the tips you’ll need for choosing the veggies that will give you the best flavor.

A personal note:

Renee’s Garden is one of my favorite sources for seeds. This year I’m trying Persian Baby Cucumbers, Green Fingers, French Baby Carrots, Babette, Pole Beans, Tricolor Mix, and Old Fashioned Zinnias, Cut and Come Again. Like the other seeds I have purchased from Renee’s they all germinated well and are growing vigorously. You can read more about Renee’s Garden by visiting her website which also includes more “How to” articles, cookbooks and recipes and a nice gardener’s resources page. They also have a Facebook page.

“What’s in the Fridge?” Salad.

Today is our second day of 100+ temperatures. Last week it was the 80s so we really haven’t had time to adjust to days in the 100s. Truth is, I never adjust to that kind of heat. The only good thing about hot days is the mornings. I love puttering in my garden or sometimes just enjoy sitting in my swing drinking coffee and watching the birds on their morning quest for seeds or nectar. It’s definitely my favorite time of day during the summer months.

My appetite and energy related to cooking takes a nosedive during the heat (I consider heat any temperature over 90). So today when I was hungry but didn’t want to heat up the kitchen by cooking I decided to make one of my “What’s in the fridge?” salads. I like this salad because it’s light, refreshing and uses up of all kinds of veggies. It’s also a good place to use leftover chicken or chunks of cheese. If I have leftover cooked bacon that’s a definite addition.  It’s literally what ever I have on hand in the fridge, hence the name.

Today’s mix included sliced Crimini mushrooms, shredded carrot and summer squash (from my garden), sugar snap peas, sliced at a diagonal into 1/2″ pieces, spinach, chard, radicchio leaves torn into bite size pieces  and a mix of baby lettuce leaves. I chop and shred the veggies, holding the leafy veggies and meat cheese, etc aside and place it all in a bowl. Then I toss the mix with a nice vinaigrette (I make my own using 6T olive oil, 3 T red wine vinegar, 1 t Dijon mustard and one crushed garlic clove), then add the chicken, bacon or cheese (today a very nice crumbly Gorgonzola) and toss again. I always add the leaf veggies last and toss the whole mixture just before serving. If you want to expand beyond the fridge for ingredients you might check your cupboards for croutons or toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds. They are all nice additions. Be creative and just use what you have.

Annie’s Asian Slaw is another favorite hot weather meal of mine. You can find the recipe for that one here.

The forecast says the weather should start to cool down after tomorrow. I hope so! Meanwhile, I’ll be heading to the fridge for ice cold peppermint tea and salad ingredients.

Mange-tout – Eat The Whole Thing

Sunday while at the Farmers’ Market I bought some Sugar Snap peas. The French call them mange-tout, or eat the whole thing and they area absolutely right, there’s no shelling involved. I love these crisp peas and often eat them raw like carrot sticks. In fact, I’ve had them twice this week in my lunch just that way. But when it comes to preparing them as a vegetable with my dinner I usually sauté them until just crisp-tender. Tonight I sautéed some sliced Crimini then tossed in Snap Peas than had been cut in half diagonally. When the peas were crisp-tender I added a touch of Sesame Oil and a splash of Tamari, quick, simple and delicious.

To make a one-pan meal of this add some cooked diced chicken or pork after you add the peas. You could substitute Snow peas for the recipe above if you can’t find the Sugar Snap.

Peas are a cool weather crop here in the Central Valley. May has a tendency to get much warmer than the peas like so we should be at the end of the season but it’s been cool and rainy so the peas are still happily producing and I’m still buying them and enjoying them.

Here are a couple of sites that I found while surfing around that I thought you might enjoy. The first one is from a blog called Vegetarians in Paradise. The article includes more history than you might ever want to know, but it’s interesting all the same. Included were sections on: Folklore and Oddities, Genetics, Cuisine, Growing, Nutritional benefits, Preparation and Recipes.

Next was Formula For Life, there you can find Nutritional information, Varieties, Selection, Storage, Preparation Information, Historical Information and Recipes.

Last was a very cool historical timeline of the pea (1650 – 2011) on Google. I love timelines so naturally I found this interesting. If you’re not enamored with them, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

Try some peas while they are still in season. You might find you love them too!

Slow Post For A Quick Stir-Fry

There is much talk these days about “slow food”, but this is about “slow posts”. I have been trying for over a week to get this posted. I didn’t have trouble getting to the Farmers’ Market to shop, that’s part of my Sunday routine. I bought the shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, scallions, and more green garlic so I could try a recipe I had found for Ginger Fried Rice. I made the recipe. It was delicious. I even got photos taken but what didn’t happen was finding the time to write and put the words and photos together. I’m sometimes amazed how long it takes.  Do you have weeks where it seems like you go from Monday to Friday in just one day instead of five?

Shiitake mushrooms are, in my opinion, simply the best. I love the flavor and the texture finding them even meatier than a Portabella. I guess the edge the Portabella has is its size. I’ve never seen a Shiitake that comes even close to the Portabella in size and I’ve never tasted a Portabella that comes close in flavor to the Shiitake.

Also known, as Chinese black mushroom and black forest mushroom, shiitake are the second most cultivated mushroom in the world. They also have an ancient history being recorded in Japan back to AD 199 and in China there are written records of them during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1127). During the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), they were prized not only as a food but also as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion and weakness, and to boost life energy and prevent premature aging. Today they are still touted for their curative properties and extracts from the mushroom and sometimes the whole dried mushroom, are used in herbal remedies.

Prior to 1972 it was thought by the USDA that the species was invasive so cultivation was not allowed in the United States. In 1982, Gary F. Leatham published an academic paper based on his research on the budding and growth of the Japan Islands variety; the work helped make commercial cultivation possible in United States.

Today,  mushrooms have become popular in many other countries as well. Russia produces and also consumes large amounts of them, mostly sold pickled, something I have never tried. There is a global industry in  production, with local farms in most western countries in addition to large-scale importation from China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere.  A lot of the imported mushrooms come to us dried. They have a very rich flavor but I prefer the texture of the fresh ones.

The fried rice recipe I made was a variation on one I found on epicurious.com.

Ginger Fried Rice with Shiittake Mushrooms and Asparagus

Makes 6 side-dish servings

2 tablespoons plus 1-teaspoon vegetable oil

2 large eggs, beaten with 2-tablespoons water

1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger (I recently read that you can freeze ginger root and just grate it into a recipe and that’s what I did this time and it works great. You don’t even need to fool around with peeling it)

3 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately

3 green garlic, white part and tender light green parts sliced thinly  (optional)

½ lb asparagus cut on the diagonal into 1” pieces

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

½ lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced (you could substitute dried shiitake that have been soaked and drained, or you could try crimini but the flavor and texture of either of these will be very different than the shiitake. I definitely wouldn’t recommend using the white mushrooms.)

3 cups cold cooked white rice (I use a short grain white which tends to stick together more than the long grain but it worked just fine.)

½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Toasted sesame seeds (not sure how many I added probably a tablespoon or two)

Heat a wok or a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot. Then add ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and swirl around wok/pan. Add half of egg mixture and swirl pan to coat bottom with a thin layer about 5 inches in diameter. When egg crêpe is set, about 45 seconds, transfer with a wide metal spatula to a plate to cool. Make another egg crêpe with remaining egg mixture. Roll each crêpe into a cylinder, and cut crosswise into ¼ inch-wide strips, then unroll. (This was so simple to do and I loved the way it looked and tasted. If you don’t want to make the crêpes, scramble the egg and water mixture)

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add ginger, white part of scallions, garlic and salt and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes and s and stir-fry until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Crumble rice into wok add asparagus pieces and stir –fry until rice is lightly browned and asparagus is still crisp tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add scallion greens, egg strips, and sesame oil, tossing to combine.

I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute broccoli for the asparagus. Just keep the pieces cut into sizes that will cook uniformly, or steam the broccoli separately then add at the end with the scallion greens and egg strips. I think I would also like to try this with bok choy as the vegetable. This is an easy meal to prepare, as with most stir-fries the longest time will be spent in preparation.

If you give this one a try let me know how you liked it and what substitutions you made.

Spring Garlic

You can see the cloves starting to form on this one.

Sunday I got to the Farmers’ Market later than usual, it was already packed with people but choices were still good. The first thing I wanted to do was find the egg guy and trade in my used cartons. It seems like the only time I remember that I’m going to take them back is when I am at the market buying more eggs. Very happy with myself for finally remembering. Egg cartons returned and a fresh dozen in my basket I was off to see what looked good as far as vegetables go. I bought a nice bunch of chard, a green that I much prefer to kale or mustard greens, some beautiful, thin asparagus, some very nice baby spinach, more Fuji apples, tangerines and the subject of this weeks post, green or Spring garlic.

Garlic is a species in the onion family and green garlic is simply immature garlic, which has been pulled to thin the crop. Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives are close relatives. Since I love all garlic’s cousins I guess it isn’t any surprise I love garlic. I love it in its mature form and delight every spring when I can get it in its immature form.

Green garlic is much milder than mature garlic. To use it trim off the root ends and any tough part of the green leaves. Chop or slice the white, light green and the first few inches of the dark green leaves (using only the leaves that are tender).

I read that the sticky juice within the cloves of mature garlic is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in China and that garlic has been around for about 6,000 years and is native to Central Asia. I also read that it was highly prized in early Egypt where it was even used as currency.

Here’s a little dish I prepared tonight using some of my fresh Spring garlic, left over baked Japanese sweet potatoes (Satsumaimo), a little butter and baby spinach.

First I thinly sliced the garlic, then placed it in a fly pan with a little butter and let the garlic gently cook until it had browned and was a little crispy. This isn’t something you would want to do with clove garlic as the taste of the garlic would be bitter. That doesn’t happen with the young version.  I then added the cooked garlic and butter to the Japanese sweet potatoes that had been peeled and mashed with a fork. Once this was done I made some little patties from the mixture then added them back into the frypan with just a touch of butter and gently fried the patties until they were crispy and browned, then turned them and did the same to the other side. When they were browned on both sides I removed them added the spinach and a splash of chicken stock (you can use water) added a lid and cooked the spinach until it had just wilted. That’s it, another one-pan yummy treat. Perfect for a spring evening.

You can find a recipe for green garlic and baby Bok Choy from one of my March 2010 posts here if you’d like another idea on how I’ve used it. It’s also excellent in any egg dish, think cheese and bacon omelet with spring garlic. If you can find Spring or green garlic at your Farmers’ Market or market, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Spring Musings

I follow a considerable number of blogs, many of them on food, others on nature; its mysteries and wonder. To me they are all related for they all have one thing in common, earth and all that it has to offer, nutritionally and visually. But the earth like anything else can throw me a curve now and then offering up trying scenarios.

This weekend has been rainy and windy, encouraging me to deny my urge to get outside and instead stay inside and finish my income taxes and some other chores I have been procrastinating about. Thankfully, I completed those yesterday.

Those chores done, I have one more glorious day to myself. This morning my itch to get outside hasn’t lessened. It is the first day of Spring but unfortunately it is still very wet and very windy, so to ease the itch I donned my raincoat and headed out to take myself to breakfast, then over to the Farmers’ Market, which considering the weather was surprisingly well attended by both vendors and customers although I noticed a considerable lack of “easy-ups” because of the wind. We are lucky that our market is situated under an elevated part of the freeway so there is some shelter from the elements. Not the most beautiful location but definitely functional. This morning I bought Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, a small sized acorn squash, shitake mushrooms, Fuji apples and Purple Haze carrots, the subject of today’s post.

If you have never seen Purple Haze carrots you are missing a truly beautiful vegetable. Their wine colored skins encase bright orange cores that retain their color when lightly cooked or used raw. They are not only beautiful to look at they are heavenly to eat having and earthy sweet taste and crisp texture.

When I researched them I found several interesting facts:

1. Purple carrot varieties are actually one of the first originally cultivated varieties among all carrot colors. They can trace their origins back to the 10th century in what is modern day Afghanistan.

2.  Carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world, second only to the potato. In my book they are above the potato.

3.  The hybrid variety, Purple Haze, was named after the 1967 song of the same name by Jimi Hendrix.

Now as far as facts go the last fact was definitely the most interesting fact that I dug up. If you, like me, are curious about what the connection might be you can read more about the song and its inspiration here. I’m still not sure I get the “why” of it but I definitely think it interesting.

I did several things with this bunch of carrots; I shredded some and mixed them with equal amounts of shredded Fuji apple, roasted walnuts and just a hint of mayonnaise for a salad and the balance of them I used in a recipe for a coconut carrot muffin another nice way to eat your veggies!

Coconut Carrot Muffin and a cup of hot ginger tea

Coconut Carrot Muffins with Mascarpone and Toasted Walnuts

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (½ cup for muffins, ½ cup for topping)

1 cup oat flour (you can use whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ lb carrots, washed and shredded

½ cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 325°. Oil muffin pan (I used a Texas sized pan that makes 6).

Roast walnuts on baking sheet until just browned. Set aside to cool. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until mixed. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Mix in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Stir in the carrots, walnuts and coconut. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until springy and golden. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

After the muffins were cooled I just barely warmed some Mascarpone cheese, then liberally topped each muffin and sprinkled them with chopped toasted walnuts. It’s best to serve these immediately after adding the topping. The muffins, without topping, will store for several days if kept in an airtight container.

As I sit here typing I keep thinking about getting outside. There seems to be a storm inside as well as outside, one minute I’m ready to put on some rain garb and join mother nature and her blustery wet weather. I could fill the bird feeders and check on the section of fence that blew down last night, make sure there’s not more.  The next minute I decide to stay inside for a little longer, hoping for a break in the action, I enjoy my hot ginger tea and muffin.