Farmers Market Challenge – Unexpected Absence

What do you do when you walk into a world of veggies only to discover there are no veggies?

That was the dilemma I faced last market day. For days I had excitedly anticipated carrots and kale, beets and squash filling my bags. We had been without the über fresh for over a month due to weather extremities; it had been far too long.

I got there early, right as the clock struck 11 a.m. I walked up and down the vender rows. I went inside the tent. I did a second run through. My eyes were surely deceiving me. The only vegetables they saw were potatoes, a beautiful buffet of potatoes, but only potatoes. That was it. Nothing more. After the second run-through, I started asking questions.

The ladies at Kiki’s Kitchen filled me in. The aforementioned weather extremities that had made market conditions too dangerous to proceed a couple weeks earlier, had also wreaked havoc on our farmers’ crops. Winter had come.

I could have walked away. I am sure some did walk away. But what is a challenge without the challenge?

This was an opportunity.

This is what farmers’ markets are all about.

They are unpredictable. They are at the whim of the weather. Nothing is guaranteed.

Except, of course, new discoveries.

Had the veggies been there: I would not have spent $12 on a bag of smoked chanterelles; I would not have stopped before the row of $10 homemade soups; I would not have indulged in that sample of award-winning honey. In my budget-minded books those were luxuries, not necessities. But had I not indulged, those new flavours would forever have been lost on me.

That would have been a shame.

Without the vegetables stealing my attention, this shopping adventure was all about splurging.

Market Loot:

Wheelhouse Seafoods: • 2 salmon burgers ($9)

Kiki’s Kitchen: • 1 jar ginger-beet soup, 2 servings ($10)

Your Wildest Foods • 1 bag of dried smoked chantrelle mushrooms, 6 servings ($12)

Honey Bee Zen • 1 500 ml jar wildflower honey ($9)

Total spent: $40

The salmon burgers and dried mushrooms were not new purchases. We had purchased the salmon in our first week of the summer challenge, and the mushrooms were purchased the first week of the winter challenge. Experienced forager Matt McAllister travels all over North America seeking his mushrooms; he had just got back from a trip to California where he had found “exotic” black trumpet mushrooms. But it was the smoky ones I was interested in. Previously I had tried his fire morels that had been foraged from areas devastated by fire. When you have had smoked mushrooms, it is real hard to go back. The smokiness is deep and dominant. I would recommend pairing them with a dish that is not already overly flavoured. We used ours in risotto and omelettes. We contemplated putting them into a stir fry, but we thought better of it figuring the mushrooms and soy sauce would be in an all out battle for flavour power.

The honey was for my four-year-old, who has been struggling the past month with a cold, turned flu, turned ear infection, turned lingering, hacking cough. As such, he’s been gobbling up our honey stores like crazy. At Honey Bee Zen, I sampled a few of the options, but it was the Harvest Moon that had me salivating for more. Turns out, plenty others too. This flavouring, which has placed first in B.C. the last four years running, was awarded third in its class at the American Beekeepers Federation’s annual Honey Show in Texas the week prior – where it was also auctioned off for $120!

I paid $9 for the same flavour and size.

The soup was all me. After a month of dealing with a sick child, my belly needed comfort, health and ease. Of the three soup vendors on site, I opted for Kiki’s Kitchen. I sampled the super greens and ginger-beet, and the ladies would have allowed me to keep going with the other flavours, but I needed to show restraint, if only for my budget. I was already blown away by the first two.

The super greens was creamy, with a definite, but not overwhelming vegetable note, and a pleasantly, surprising, heated kick at the end. Comparably, the ginger-beet was all ginger. For those who love ginger, this is your soup. Topped with a dusting of parmesan and a few slices of avocado – Oh. My. Yum. I do not know if I have ever had a pureéd soup so delicious. Lucky for me, Kiki and Paula felt they needed a boost of colour in their flavour options, which is how the ginger-beet came to be.

The quantity of my expenditures may not have filled my bags, but they sure did fill my belly.

Farmers Market Challenge: Winter Edition

Let’s talk market deals. I know I have discussed market savings in terms of longevity and quality, but I have yet to mention a word on straight up monetary savings. Farmers’ markets get a bad rap when it comes to pricing. Some not familiar with New Westminster’s bi-weekly haunt have said it’s too expensive; they can get twice as much at the supermarket than at the farmer’s market. I propose we challenge that too-oft-heard stereotype.

Take for instance, the last winter market:

As we all know, I have a $40 budget that I try to balance to a tee. In doing so, I am not shy about letting vendors know what my budget is, what my plans for the week are, and what I can guiltlessly spend on their product.

I first walked up to Kevin at Bose Farms. To be honest, Kevin has thrown me for a loop every market since the summer. His prices are dirt cheap compared to grocery stores, and to a few of the other venders in the circuit. By all accounts, he does not fit the aforementioned stereotype. On top of that, his listed prices are often not the prices you’re going to pay when you get up to the cash box. All prices, whether carrots, Brussels sprouts, squash, or potatoes, are listed per pound. As I contemplated the spaghetti squash, Kevin sidled up next to me, and whispered the price he’d charge was actually nearly half of the $2 a pound listed. That, alone, had me grabbing for the football-sized veggie. When he put it on the scale, he grimaced. At $2 a pound it would have cost $8, at $1.25 a pound, it would have cost $5. For me, that was a total score, but for Kevin, he could not consciously charge me $5 for something that cost way less to produce. Off came yet another dollar.

I also picked up a bunch of carrots ($1.40), a bag of Brussels sprouts ($2.50), and a bulky bag of kale ($1.50). I’m not the best at math, but my calculator says that should have totalled $5.40. Kevin’s price: $4!

He excused it by saying he’s not organic: that his prices are still more than what it costs to produce; and finally, that he’s kind of goofy like that.

I’m hard pressed to name a supermarket that has a consumer-based conscious like that.

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Bose Farms wasn’t the only one handing out deals. Just like you and I, these farmers aren’t fans of loose change. It’s easy to lose, it weighs down the cash box, they want nothing to do with it. So most that charge per pound, including Ossome Acres and Sweet Earth Organics, will round DOWN to the nearest quarter. You may balk thinking it’s just nickels and dimes, but hold on a sec, nickels and dimes add up to quarters and dollars. Over time, it is a significant savings.

Again, when was the last time a grocery store did that for you? In fact, since the removal of the penny, most times, they round up!

Shrimp and Chard quinoa, a go-to market-fresh favourite

Given the chillier weather, I figured soup was very much in order. I hopped over to the Tasty & Nourishing soup table. So. Many. Flavours. There was roasted red pepper and tomato soup, cauliflower soup, vegetable soup, cream of kale and leek soup, broccoli and cream of parsnip soup, green pea and quinoa dumpling soup, green bean and mushroom soup, bean and chorizo soup, split pea soup, and chicken paprikash soup. They all sounded so good; I had a hard time choosing. I narrowed it down to the split pea and the green pea and dumpling soup. I love split pea, but was intrigued by the dumplings. Instead of suggesting I buy both, Adrianna, the company’s founder, suggested I buy the dumpling soup and take a sample of the split pea. When she said sample, I thought I’d get a small yogurt cup size, nope I got a full bowl and a halfs worth!!!

I can assure you I have never got a sample size this significant from a grocery store.

Nothing quite like a cup of hot soup on a snowy-cold day

And finally, we’ve got our bite-sized samples. This is not a monetary savings, no, and many grocery stores have cookie samples, yes, but how many of us know exactly what is going into those cookies, and how many little fingers have been all over those cookies? I don’t, and frankly, I haven’t touched one since I was about eight years old. But the market samples, usually handed out on toothpicks or passed over via tongs, it’s pretty safe to say are hazard free. The makers and bakers are there telling you exactly what’s in them, what their origins are, how they were made, and when they were last baked. I got a taste of pure organic apple sauce, a bite of a turmeric muffin, an offering of beef jerky, a savoury pakora, a slice of scone, and a full-sized, melt-in-your-mouth, sweet, sweet choquette from Baguette and Co.

“In Canada, you eat popcorn with movies; in France, we eat chouquettes,” laughed Bernard of Baguette and Co.

Singing fa-la-la-la-la with German apple strudel

MARKET LOOT:

Bose and Farms

Carrots

Brussels sprouts

Kale

Spaghetti squash

                                        Total: $8

Outwest Local Beef

Beets

                                        Total: $3.50

Ossome Acres

Chard x 2 ($5)

100g pea shoots ($4)

                                        Total: $9

Healthier Choice

German streudel ($3.50)

Schrippen bun ($0.60)

                                        Total: $4.10

Baguette & Co.

Baguette

                                        Total: $3

Tasty & Nourishing

Green pea and quinoa dumpling soup (600mL)

                                        Total: $6.75

Jam Shack Preservery

Raspberry lemonade jam (125mL)

                                          Total: $5

Before purchasing the preservative-free Schrippen bun I was 75 cents short of my $40 budget. I was determined to break even, and searched high and low for something 75 cents on the dot. But unfortunately, it was either 60 cents for the bun, or a $1.25 for a pretzel – nothing in between. I opted for the bun, which left me 15 cents under budget. That was not acceptable. Instead of stuffing it into my pocket, it went into the guitar case of the local entertainer Jen Hiltz.

Now, you would think after all those samples, I would have been way too full for a proper lunch back home. And I was decently full, but the thing is, the bun was preservative-free, and even though the woman behind the Healthier Choice counter told me it would last fine in the fridge, I just could not take my chances. And so, another great market adventure, made all the better with the surprise savings, was closed with a proper-good market fresh sandwich.

Needed talented mouth-widening skills for this one.

Yum. Yum.

Farmers Market Challenge: Week Ten

Last week I had my heart set on pierogies, I even started this post before the purchase, only to discover the Old Country Pierogi stall was nowhere to be found.

This week, the pierogi table was back and the flavours were aplenty.

fmpierogies
So many flavours, so hard to choose.

I’ve been doing this challenge for 10 weeks, and have become a face known to several of the vendors – mostly of the veggie ilk. I love my veg! But farmers’ markets aren’t just produce. There’s meats, baked goods, prepared foods, beverages, even high-end crafts.

It’s those vendors that have mostly eluded my attention.

It was time to go out of my comfort zone – pierogi style!

To be honest, pierogies aren’t that new to me. Coming from a family with a Russian background, pierogies and borscht were prominent features on the weekly menus. But as I grew older, and more health conscious, I started sneering more at the unhealthy components of those crescent-shaped dumplings than longing for their taste.

Can you blame me? My history of them involved smothering them in sour cream and butter!

But, after walking past the Old Country Pierogi table several times over the last few weeks, I started to wonder, are they really that unhealthy? Could I find a balance between their yummy goodness and my desires for being on the up and up with good nutrition?

I was determined to find out.

I had initially wanted a more risqué flavour, like the spinach and feta, but with a four-year-old in mind, we ended up with the potato and cheese. We boiled and baked them instead of sautéing in a vat of oil. The first two bites I took were as is, no topping.

They were dry.

Too dry.

And so, with a salivating mouth, and no other options coming to mind, melted butter was poured on top.

D’oh.

In hindsight, a dollop of salsa, or balsamic vinegar, or whipped avocado would have been great healthy toppings.

The $9 bag contained 12 HUGE pierogies. Did I mention they were huge? They were huge! I thought I would have five; I was full by the last bite of the fourth. My son had two, exclaiming their yumminess with every bite, and my husband had six.

Besides the butter, they were a hit.

This week’s loot:

Old Country Pierogi:

  • 12 cheese and potato pierogies: $9

Zaklan Heritage Farm:

  • 1 head of lettuce: $3
  • 1 bunch dandelion stems: $3
  • 1 garlic bulb: $1.70
  • 1 bunch cilantro: $2
  • 4 roma tomatoes: $2.50

Ripple Creek Organics:

  • 2 cucumbers: $2.50

Harvest Direct Farms:

  • 4 jumbo Jonagold apples: $5

Fresh Quality Produce:

  • 1 zucchini: $1
  • 2 corn: $1

Bread Affair:

  • 1 baguette: $4

Muy Rico:

  • 1 pico de gallo: $5

Total spent was $39.70, leaving 30 cents extra for next week.

Bruschetta made from this week’s market tomatoes, garlic, and baguette.
Bruschetta made from this week’s market tomatoes, garlic, and baguette.

Also new to us this week was the discovery of dandelion greens.

As soon as I saw the dandelion greens mixed in with the mustard greens under the Zaklan tent, I was intrigued. (Odd factoid about me, I am one of the few in this world that love dandelions as a flower; they’re the only flowers I don’t kill!) Owner Gemma McNeil suggested we mix them with an anchovie-based dressing, but I’m not one for caesar salads, so I mixed them with the other greens and drizzled lemon on top.

The taste was strong and bitter. I tried them again the next day with an apple-cider, oil-based vinegar dressing that was much more effective in tempering the bitter. But overall, my husband’s assessment was perfect: they’re nowhere near as good as mustard greens.

You win some, you lose some.

The challenges series.