The Fascinating World of Farmers’ Markets

This past week I took the day off and wandered down to the amazing Union Square Greenmarket – a large farmers’ market that offers seasonal and regional fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and baked goods from 140 vendors. This market is humongous and full of produce, and I love that I get to see what familiar foods are SUPPOSED to look like, as opposed to the uniformed, shiny, waxy looking produce that you see in supermarkets. The stuff you find at the farmers’ market is the real deal, truly dirt candy, that you can buy and eat in the way that nature intended. However, I’ll admit, the market is also brimming with foods that I have never seen before, and that I may not know what it is or how to eat it. That being said, it’s still really fun to go in and explore the different stalls and learn about different fruits and vegetables that I don’t get to see every day.

Look at that BUTTernut squash (I bought this at a farmers’ market almost a year ago and still find this hysterical)

So, the farmers’ market can be really great, and even though I love food and like to think I’m an adventurous eater, I tend to get very overwhelmed when I browse through the seemingly endless maze of stalls. These are my personal tips for navigating a large farmers’ market, and how to experience it in the best possible way:

1) Go in with a plan

If I go to the farmers’ market without a list, there is a 100% chance I will end up with a million things that I will never actually eat or cook, and will just sit in my refrigerator slowly rotting. Go in with a recipe or a shopping list and only buy a reasonable amount of each food (i.e. 1 bulb of garlic, 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, 1 carton of berries, 1 loaf of bread, etc. etc., etc.) so that it doesn’t spoil and you don’t waste your money. I find that the foods at the farmers’ market spoil a lot more quickly than they do when bought from the supermarket.

2) But don’t be afraid to browse

Farmers’ markets are a great way to kill some time. Look at the flowers, the weird looking plants, the freshly baked goods and jams, and wander the rows and rows of fresh produce. It’s visually pleasing and mentally relaxing.

3) Try something new

Don’t be afraid to try a vegetable, fruit, or herb that you’ve never tried before. I went with a coworker once and she bought kohlrabi – a vegetable that I have never heard of before and was too afraid to buy. We make many regrettable choices in life, and not buying that exotic kohlrabi is one of mine (am I a food geek? Yes, this last sentence absolutely proves that I am).

4) And stick to your staples.

I always buy the same produce at the grocery store: onions, carrots, celery, spinach, grape tomatoes, a few apples, bananas, and garlic. All of these are common staples at the farmers’ market, and are offered in different varieties and strains to help me switch up my daily flavors. Think orange and yellow tomatoes, different varieties of lettuce, colorful purple carrots, etc.  They’re also sold at a much cheaper price than at the supermarket. The food at the farmers’ market is likely better than organic foods and are a fraction of the price.

5) Touch everything (ew). 

Make sure what you’re buying is in good condition and ripe (or not yet ripe, depending on the food). Don’t be afraid to really feel what your food is supposed to feel like in its most natural state.

6) Wash everything (ok, good). 

I mean, just reread number 5. This one should be self-explanatory.

7) Talk to the vendors

There’s no better way to learn about about the food you eat than to talk to the source directly. Sometimes I feel that living in the middle of the city where takeout rules what’s for dinner and there’s not a tree in sight makes me feel detached from nature and wholesome foods. Interacting with who is tending to your food and getting to know more about where your food comes from gives you a deeper appreciation for what you’re eating, which in my opinion makes the whole cooking and eating experience all the richer.

So, this past weekend when I went to the market, I went in with a recipe in mind: this Butternut Squash Gruyere soup from one of my favorite food blogs: How Sweet Eats. I can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it was to buy all of the ingredients (except for the butter, oil, spices, cheese, and chicken stock) from local farmers. I even think it made the soup taste more velvety, wholesome, and nourishing. So go online or to pinterest and find a recipe that looks good and go. OR, take one of your go-to dinner recipes and switch it up by buying the ingredients locally, see how the flavors change or if it makes you feel any differently!

To find a local farmers’ market near your area in the US, click here.

Check out the recipe for the soup HERE.

Note: I excluded the coconut milk to cut back the calories and used only about 2 oz of cheese as opposed to 6 oz because I honestly did not want to sit there and grate 6 oz of cheese (so time consuming!). The soup still came out absolutely wonderfully and the chickpeas on top added an awesome spicy crunch. This soup also tastes amazing when topped with walnuts and gorgonzola. Enjoy!!

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Brace Yourself, the Pumpkins are Coming

Linus from Charlie Brown was on to something when he sat around for hours on Halloween waiting for the Great Pumpkin. In fact, his obsession with the pumpkin has made me think that he was quite the trendsetter. Seeing that we are well into my favorite season of Fall, I’ve noticed that everyone has officially gone off their rocker, and pumpkin is cropping up in everything. EVERYTHING. So far I’ve seen the likes of pumpkin spiced lattes (of course), lip gloss, yogurt, Pringles, even hummus.

But, I deplore you to stay away from these pumpkin-themed foods (yes, even the latte). For the most part, the flavor in these products comes from chemicals and artificial flavoring, and are not the real deal.

Enter one of my favorite supermarket buys in the fall and winter months: a can of pumpkin puree. A brand that I trust is Libby’s and the ingredients list reads: PUMPKIN. And that’s it. To compare, the ingredients in Pumpkin Spice flavoring syrup used in Starbucks reads as: “SUGAR, CONDENSED NONFAT MILK, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, ANNATO (FOR COLOR), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, CARAMEL COLOR, SALT, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE),” and can be found here.

Real pumpkin offers so many health benefits, and all of these pumpkin-flavored imitators offer none of them. That’s why I choose to skip the imposters and buy the pumpkin puree, which is versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes. Like applesauce and other fruit purees, pumpkin can substitute butter and oil in baking recipes to provide that wonderful fall flavor while upping the nutrient value. Click here to learn how to substitute butter and oil with pumpkin in your favorite baking recipes.

More importantly, the bright orange color, as seen in the sweet potato, is enough to tell you that the pumpkin is bursting with nutrients. Pumpkins are a great source of potassium and magnesium, which help to lower blood pressure; vitamin C, to boost immunity and to fight those winter colds; and fiber, which not only keeps you super full but also improves GI health, lowers blood cholesterol, and prevents blood sugar spikes. Not to mention there is only 1g of sugar and 0g of fat in a 1/2 cup serving of pumpkin puree, so it’s truly good for your waistline (unlike the Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup mentioned above, which is seriously just pure sugar and empty calories).

My favorite, and probably also the easiest, way to eat pumpkin is in a smoothie. This recipe is great for breakfast, after a workout, or even dessert, and, it’s made even better when topped with this yogurt dip that I’m now obsessed with made by Something Swanky (find her original recipe and post here). 

Pumpkin Spiced Cinnamon Shake

Servings: 1, Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 0 minutes.

Ingredients

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 banana, frozen

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1 scoop vanilla whey protein

1 T honey

1/2 tsp pumpkin spice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and mix until silky smooth. Best when eaten with a spoon and/or slurped with a straw (depending on the thickness and your mood on that given day).

Demolished.

Nutrition Information (for shake only, excluding the yogurt dip): Calories: 309, Total Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 45g, Total Carb: 55g, Dietary Fiber: 8g, Protein: 22g. *

*This recipe meets 158% of your Daily Value (DV) of Vitamin A, 19% DV of potassium, 20% DV of Vitamin C, 38% DV of Calcium, and 14% of Iron, woo!

How do you like to cook with pumpkin? Have you seen any other bizarre foods that have been pumpkin spice-ified? Sound off in the comments!