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Spring Farmer's Markets in Sonoma County

Posted May 25 2009 10:32pm
This weekend I went to 2 farmer's markets: one in Santa Rosa on Saturday, the other in Sebastopol on Sunday. I don't often do this but on Saturday I led a group of 4 through the market to buy ingredients for their private cooking class. I was happy to do this, which turned to thrilled when J. one of the tour group said that he's lived in the area for 40 years but had never been to the market. That's a symphony to my ears.

It was luckily a slow market day due to overcast weather, which made it easier to peruse the stalls and traverse the aisles. We have reached spring abundance and I was able to get everything on my list and more. (I did this by showing up about a half hour before our 9 am meeting just to be on the safe side and snagging some locally grown organic strawberries and asparagus.) I didn't have garlic scapes (the curly part of green garlic that will eventually form a flower), baby artichokes or squash blossoms on the list but we had those. And in addition to a bunch of spring kale (a different variety than the regular curly-type), we were also able to get broccoli rabe for our greens sauteed with garlic. The Spring Surprise Saute had a great mix of spring onions, leeks, asparagus, sugar snap peas and a variety of summer squash, which just appeared in the past week. I would have added cilantro to the mix but didn't want to get into who loves and who hates cilantro.

The menu for the day included Creamy Asparagus Soup (which in my book is Creamy Spinach Soup but I say that you can use the formula for almost any vegetable and asparagus is a favorite), Salad with Balsamic Strawberry Dressing (this is a take off of my Sweet Summer Super Salad), Marinated and Baked Tempeh, Quinoa Pilaf with Mushrooms, and the previously mentioned Greens with Garlic and Spring Surprise Saute. I had so much fun leading the group through the cooking. Miraculously, as we were finishing up the dishes and plating, the sun came out and the group headed outside for an amazing lunch. J. loved the tempeh which was a big surprise and S. loved the quinoa, as she'd never had it before.

Taking a group to the market meant that I couldn't really shop for myself so yesterday I went to Sebastopol ready for my weekly vegetable foray. When I saw the Laguna Vegetable stand with their amazingly sweet carrots, I knew that it was going to be an amazing day there. They also had sugar snap peas and young white Tokyo turnips, with great looking tops which I had the young man remove immediately and put into the bag. BIG TIP HERE: You want to remove the tops of all root vegetables right away as they breathe through the tops. Both roots and leaves will stay fresher this way. Everything else looked great, too, but I was moving on.

I stopped to speak to Paul of Paul's Smoked Salmon for a bit. He's a great guy and we have some good laughs together even about serious subjects such as his mother's recent passing. I love people who have a sense of humor, and he's one of them.

As I walked through the market, I got to say hello to people I know and chat with people that I've never met. It's a warm and friendly place. I guess that it's because everyone is happy to be outside, even if it's not sunny, buying produce, flowers and local goods. This is a huge departure from what it must feel like to buy vegetables at the local supermarket, which I try to avoid.

I ended up buying beautiful long beets (about which they didn't know the variety) but didn't want the greens and asked them to give them to pass them along to someone who wants them. I hadn't even left the stand when a woman walked up and asked how much for beet greens. She was handed the bag of my greens. FREE. Now, that is sheer joy, in my book.

I had more than one conversation with a farmer about stores that carry local produce and the small degree to which it really happens. I said that we need to rethink the system and figure out something that works better for all. (I still love my idea of teaching gardening and cooking to all, for FREE. If you know of any companies who might want to throw money at this, just let me know.) Regional food supplies are a good way to start changing things. Maybe each neighborhood has a community garden or group of growers or who knows what?

Dan Kahane (of Graton Greens, or at least that's what I think that his farm is called) and I were about talking about the motto, "reduce, reuse and recycle", and how we might want to add rethink. I told him that means that we have to get more people thinking in the first place. I know you are, and hope that you will work on continuing the conversation with those that you know. Each one of us has the ability to influence change.

I am now going to cook something for a block party this afternoon. Still wondering which of these vegetables I want to use: beets, asparagus, turnips, English peas, sugar snap peas, torpedo onions, garlic scapes, green garlic, summer squash, red romaine lettuce, salad mix and cilantro. I also have organic strawberries, cherries, peaches and nectarines. It may just turn out to be Spring Surprise Salad today. Only time will tell.
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