Farmers Market Challenge: Winter Edition

It's funny how Winter Market Season always seems to coincide with Rainy Season.
It’s funny how Winter Market Season always seems to coincide with Rainy Season.

We’re back!

Just like your favourite TV show, the Farmer’s Market Challenge has been renewed for another season.

Except this is the winter market, which should make for some bold new adventures in comfort cooking in the months ahead.

While the summer market at Tipperary Park is all about tender salad greens, crisp red peppers, sweet, juicy berries and hanging out with your neighbours under the shade trees, the winter market is root vegetables and ducking out of the rain.

Oh yes, the rain.

If there’s moisture falling from the leaden sky, it must be time for winter marketing. Nothing a little Gore-Tex can’t handle.

The renewal of the Market Challenge was a bit unexpected. In fact, it was just happenstance that brought us to the market in the first place. So we were a bit unprepared; no meal plan, no list, no recipes that required specific ingredients, no shopping strategy.

Instead we relied on instinct.

A quick scouting mission up and down Belmont Street revealed the return of some summertime favourites like Ossome Acres and Wild West Coast Seafoods. And there’s some new vendors, like Sweet Earth Farms.

Salad greens, our weekly staple during the summer Market Challenge, were sparse. But Ripple Creek came through with a hefty bag of super mixed greens and a handsome bunch of leafy, purple-veined Russian kale. Add a bag of organic arugula and a head of organic butter lettuce from Sweet Earth Farms, as well as some tender pea shoots from Ossome, and we were confident the flavour would return to our nightly dinner salads.

Stocking our salad spinner was the easy part.

But this is supposed to be a Market Challenge, which means breaking from comfortable routines, learning new things, taking our marketing in surprising new directions.

Fresh pine mushrooms foraged from a hemlock forest in the eastern Fraser Valley by Matt McAllister of Your Wildest Foods.
Fresh pine mushrooms foraged from a hemlock forest in the eastern Fraser Valley by Matt McAllister of Your Wildest Foods.

Enter Your Wildest Foods. Or as we came to call him every time we passed by his stall during the summer market, “Mushroom Guy.” Then, we had every intention to sample his wares. But frankly, we had no idea how to use his array of exotic dried mushrooms. And, they were expensive.

But this time, in the spirit of renewed adventure, we stopped. Next to the usual pouches of dried funghi, Matt McAllister (aka “Mushroom Guy”) had heaped baskets full of fresh, bulbous chanterelles, porcini and pine ’shrooms, all of which he’d foraged himself in the forests of the eastern Fraser Valley.

The season was slow to start, said McAllister, but was now proving bountiful.

Picking wild mushrooms is slow, careful laborious work; hence their hefty price.

But the payoff is pungent, earthy funghi that can be used in so many ways.

McAllister recommended the pine mushrooms, perfect for light grilling to bring out their full smokey flavour, basted lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with some dried rosemary.

Our’s ended up in three dishes: a topping on grilled pizza; a garnish on a garden salad; and mixed into spaghettini with olive oil and parmesan. All were boosted to new, flavourful heights.

This week’s haul:

Ripple Creek Farm: Kale $3; salad greens super mix $7

Ossome Acres: pea shoots $4; rainbow chard $3

Your Wildest Foods: three pine mushrooms $13

Sweet Earth Organics: arugula $4; butter lettuce $3.50

Samaya Delights: tumeric anise muffin $2 (a treat for our very patient son; he loved it)

Vegan Eats in Sapperton & Downtown

People who love to eat are always the best people. – Julia Child

Downtown

Wild Rice

Every person with dietary restrictions appreciates a well-labelled menu. Wild Rice has you covered plus they have what is arguably the best patio in the city. There’s even a scrumptious vegan dessert – a real rarity! From curried steam buns to a tofu kung pao, egg-free ceasar salad to butter not-chicken, you’ll have enough choices that you won’t mind when your eating partner snafoos something off your plate.

El Santo

A great option, especially if it’s not just veggie-sauruses in the crowd. They only have a couple vegan-friendly choices, but they’re well worth trying. Watch the guacamole trio – there’s a hidden bacon ingredient!

Sushi

20160305_192151 (1)How many sushi restaurants can you crowd into a small area? The area surrounding New West skytrain station may hold the world record. I’m partial to Hi Sushi, just across the street on Carnarvon. Their veggie bento is a great deal and the owners are cute enough to put in your pocket.

River Market

It’s not exactly a vegan-mecca, but there are a couple options such as a the chili at Re-Up without the cream on top (yes, they tried it with meat at one point, but as of this writing, it is meat-free). You can also get a delicious tea latte with soy milk at Great Wall Tea Co, grab a whole loaf of warm, soft, bread from Pamola Bakery – pickup some vegan cheese at Donald’s to have yourself a picnic – and try one or more of the sorbets at Tre Galli. Usually they have a whole case of choices and I betcha you’d never guess they’re dairy-free.

Spud Shack

Did you know Spud Shack’s gravy is vegan? And it’s delicious to boot. They have a good number of choices including a scrumptious chili poutine and you can slather vegan chipotle may on just about anything. Their homemade veggie burger can be made vegan – just ask!

Sapperton

Thai New West

papaya salad (1)There’s really only one place to eat in Sapperton if you’re vegan (also recommended for carnivores, omnivores, celiacs, and every single person who appreciates beautiful food). [Editor’s Note: Greens and Beans deli has some good vegan sandwiches, too]. Thai New West is an underappreciated gem, hidden next to an archery shop on East Columbia. They import and blend their own spice mixes and have a specially modified kitchen to make traditional curries. Let them know that you’re vegan and get everything without the fish sauce. Are you a noodle aficionado? Try their pad thai. Interested in a spicy papaya salad? Treat yourself to a beautifully plated piece of artwork. Do you prefer a red, yellow, or green curry? You’ll probably need to come back to try all three. Their lunch specials are a great deal and their black rice pudding is much more delicious than it looks. If you hadn’t heard of Thai New West… you’re welcome.