Farmers Market Guide – Beginner’s Edition

Hey There,

I can’t believe it’s almost August. Summer is almost over y’all. Where did the time go? I mean we were just praying for it to get warm and now it’s almost time for it to cool down again.

While we have a few more weeks left of summer I want to share with you all my love for the farmer’s market. Prior to this summer I had never been to a real farmer’s market. Crazy, I know, but growing up the farmer’s market just wasn’t a place that we went. We got most of our produce from the grocery store and every once in a while, we would stop by the Pole Green Farmer’s Market (it’s more of a farm stand) in Mechanicsville and pick up a thing or two.

This summer I really wanted to start taking advantage of the markets in the RVA area. There are so many! I started with the Lakeside Farm’s Market and then worked my way up to the South of the James Market. Honestly, I think I was a little intimidated to go to the market. I had “attempted” to go to the South of the James Market once and it was so crowded and there were so many vendors and I didn’t know where to begin. This summer I decided that I was going to give it a second try. Honestly, I’m now hooked.

I go almost every weekend and just roam and pick up things that I need for the upcoming week. The atmosphere is always so causal and relaxed and it’s really nice just to be out and about. As great as the markets are now, I know that they are going to be even better in the fall. I mean, what can be better than casually strolling through the market with good coffee on a cool crisp morning!?!?!? Ummm….nothing! I can’t wait! But until then, I’m stocking up on all of the great fresh summer produce they have to offer.

Now, if you’re new to the world of farmer’s market like I was, you may be slightly intimidate or apprehensive about going. Honestly, there is nothing to be wary of. But just to get you started, here are 10 tips that I think are helpful for any beginner market shopper.

  • Walk Around the Entire Market Before Making Your First Purchase.– Resist the urge to buy from the first vendor whose stall you stop by. Often, there are other vendors who are selling the same goods at a better price or who have better quality items. Also you want get a lay of the land and see everything that the market has to offer before you dive in head first and start buying things.
  • Don’t Be Put Off by the Higher Prices – Yes, the prices are the farmer’s market are higher than those at commercial grocery stores but the quality and variety of the produce is usually better. Also, understand that the money you spend at the market, goes directly to the farmer or vendor. Support local businesses!
  •  Don’t Be Afraid to Buy or Try “New” Produce – One of the best parts of the market is that there is such variety. Often farmers have special or rare varieties of produce that you can’t find in commercial grocery stores. Take advantage and challenge yourself to buy a new or different variety of fruit or vegetable each time you go. Just last week I bought a yellow watermelon for the first time.
  • Bring A List – Make a list of everything you hope to get from the market. Sometimes the choices at the market can be overwhelming so it’s helpful if you have a list. A list keeps you on track and helps to keep you from overbuying.
  • Bring Your Own Bags – Any type of sturdy canvas or lightweight bag is perfect for the market. You want to make sure that even when your bag is packed full with your market finds, it is still be easy to carry. Also, if you will be buying frozen goods from the market (especially during the summer months) consider bringing an insulated bag.
  • Dress Comfortably – I know that this sounds like a no-brainier but it is so important especially in the summer time. Make sure you have on shoes that you can walk in! The first time I went to the market I wore my “cute” sandals and before I could make it to half of the vendors my feet were on fire. I learned my lesson that first time and from then on I have worn sneakers or my Nike sandals.
  • Bring Water!! – It’s a good idea to carry a water bottle with you when at the market. Especially in the summer when it is blazing hot, having water can be a lifesaver. Some vendors do sell water but why pay for a bottle of water when you can bring your own.
  • Show the Non-Food Vendors Some Love – Although most people go for the food, a lot of great local businesses set up tables at the market. The farmer’s market is a great place to find one of a kind items (pottery, soaps art work, etc.) and to discover small local vendors.
  • Bring Your Appetite – Often farm’s markets will feature food trucks or local restaurants, or there will be vendors selling breakfast and lunch items. Try the food!
  • Talk To The Vendors – Strike up a conversation with the vendors whenever possible. Everyone at the market is there to sell a product so they are more than willing to tell you everything you want to know about an item.  They are the experts when it comes to what they are selling! They can be a great resource for recipes and new tricks and ways to prepare an item.  

If you are a frequent market shopper or if you are planning to visit your first farmer’s market, let me know all about your experience. I’d love to know what your favorite market in the RVA area is.

Until Next Time!

Samantha J.

Lakeside Farmer’s Market Haul
South of the James Market Haul
South of the James Market Haul

Carrot Coconut Soup

Hey There,

My summer diet has been all about incorporating as many fresh local ingredients as possible. Every weekend I visit a local farmer’s make, pick up whatever looks good, bring it home and attempt to make something different out of it (more on that in a later post). This weekend’s “experiment” was a delicious Carrot Coconut Soup packed full of ginger and lemongrass.

I know that it’s blazing hot outside and soup is the last thing on most people’s mind (especially during this heat wave we’re going through in RVA) but this turned out to be a tasty and light summer meal and it’s perfect for a weekday lunch. The coconut milk does a great job of lightening up the favor and a adding a touch of basil would brighten up the flavors even more.

What I like most about this recipe is that it’s easy to make and easy to adapt. If you’re been following me for a while, you know that I’m all about changing up simple recipes and just going with the flow of things (hence the unstructured recipes and vague directions). I want you guys to use these recipes as a launching pad to experiment and make these recipes your own. This soup can be easily changed to be a cozy fall or winter soup just by adding warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, harissa, or any middle eastern or north African spice and swapping out the coconut milk for heavy cream.

As always the “recipe” for this soup is below. If you decide to make this dish, let me know how you decide to make it your own.

Until next time!!!

Ingredients:

12-15 whole carrots Onion Power Garlic Powder

White Pepper Ground Ginger Salt

Olive Oil 8in Fresh Ginger Fresh Lemongrass

3-4 Dried Chilies 3-8 cups of water/broth (vegetable or chicken)

1 can of coconut milk

Directions:

  1. Toss carrots in olive oil and season with spices.
  2. Cut 4in of fresh ginger into medium sized slices
  3. Roast carrots and ginger on a baking sheet at 375 degrees or 20-30 minutes or until tender.
  4. While the carrots and roasting, dice two and a half pieces of lemongrass into thin slices along with the remaining 4in piece of ginger. In a medium sauce pot, combine ginger, lemongrass and broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  5. Dice softened carrots and ginger into small pieces and blend along with water/broth (strained). Gradually add the liquid to the carrots one cup at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
  6. Once blended and smooth, transfer soup to a large stock pot and add in one can of coconut milk. Stir to combine.
  7. Add in dried chilies and bring to a simmer. Add additional spices as desired
  8. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat and serve. Garnish with additional spices, shaved ginger and basil.
  10. Enjoy.

“Pasta” Salad

Hey There!,

I hope y’all are staying cool! This week has been beyond hot here in RVA and I have been doing everything I can to stay cool. The heat in the daytime is unbearable but honestly I don’t mind it so much at night. Hot muggy nights are literally one of my most favorite parts of summer. I love riding through the city at night (especially down Broad Street), blasting music with all of the windows down. The city light, all of the people out and about….I just absolutely love it.

Another favorite part of summer is the food…of course. One of my favorite summer dishes is pasta salad. Pasta salad is the quintessential summer dish. Everybody makes it a little differently but it is a summer mainstay. No cookout or summer gathering is complete without it. Since I am trying to eat healthier and cut back on the carbs, I decided to make this summer favorite with spiraled vegetable noodles instead of with the traditional noodles. Not only are vegetable noodles better for you but they are just so much fun to make. You can make them out of almost any vegetable and they are just so good.

Anyway, I made this pasta salad with vegetable noodles, broccoli, onions Italian dressing and a ton of salad supreme. Now, this is not a “fancy” dish but it is a classic.

Everyone has their own special pasta salad recipe but consider opting for vegetable noodles instead of traditional noodles.

Until, next time……stay cool!

Summer Berry Smash

Summer is in full swing and I can honestly say that I am LOVING it. This year I’ve challenged myself to get out and do more things and enjoy the city. So far I’ve made good on that promise. I’ve been out and about at the farmer’s market, the museum and at the movies. I’ve tried several of the restaurants on my list and I’ve become a coffee shop regular. I’ve found several new local shops that I am going to stop by this weekend and I’ve been loving all of the festivals and pop-up markets around the city. I can honestly say that I’ve been having a great time.

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most this summer is trying some local restaurants. Local restaurants are honestly the best. The food is so much better than large chain restaurants and the menus are always unique.  This summer I’ve particularly enjoyed trying different cocktails at different restaurants. I’m not at drinker AT ALL and I can barely make it through one drink without starting to see double (okay, I’m being dramatic but you get the point) but I just love a good summer cocktail. Since I’m not a drinker, I do like to opt for floral and somewhat fruity drinks or drinks with mild flavors. Last weekend I had several good drinks at Bar Solita (okay, I only had two drinks) and the perfect mojito at Havana 59. After having those drinks I was inspired to come up with a concoction of my own.

Now, since I am not a drinker this recipe doesn’t call for much alcohol at all, however you should feel free to increase the amount of alcohol until your heart is content (just don’t overdo it!). Also, I don’t like super sweet drinks so I opted for flavored sparkling water as opposed to sugary ginger ale or Sprite but you can use whatever you like.

Again, with all of my recipes, they are only meant to be a guide. Always feel free to substitute, add or remove items. Cooking should be less about following directions and more about experimenting and making something you actually want to eat.

Until we chat again, keep enjoying your summer and let me know wich restaurants in RVA have the best cocktails. I am going to add them to my list.

Berry Smash

  • 1 pkg Blackberries                   – 10-20 Basil leaves         – 1 pkg Strawberries                       – 1 Mango
  • 1 Lime                                          – 1 Lemon                           – Mango Nectar                                – Rum
  • Pineapple

Directions:

Dice strawberries and mango and place in a large mason jar. Add in the blackberries, mango pit, quartered lemon and lime and torn basil leaves.

Add in mango nectar and rum (to taste). Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to assemble, scoop out desired amount of fruit. Muddle and add in some of the rum and mango nectar mixture. Top with sparking flavored water, ginger ale, ginger beer, or Sprite.

Garnish with a grilled pineapple wedge, strawberry and basil leaves and serve.

*If you want the drinks to be super cold, dice an extra mango into bite sized pieces and freeze. Use these frozen mango pieces as “ice” instead of traditional ice to keep the drinks cold.

Go To Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce

Hey There,

If you follow me on IG then you know that I have been on a health kick. Also, like I mentioned in my site introduction, this summer I am all about eating fresh foods and getting back to basics.  Overall, I want to be healthier and feel lighter and cleaner. One way that I have been doing that is by opting to cook at home more and by skipping as many store-bought ingredients as possible. Recently, I have been making my own tomato sauce. If you have ever read the nutritional label on a tomato sauce jar than you would know that is LOADED with salt and sugar, neither of which are good for you. By making your own sauce, you can control what goes into it and how much of each ingredient is incorporated. Also, when you make your own sauce there is no limit to how you can customize it. You can literally make whatever kind of sauce you want to make.

For today’s recipe, I kept it super simple and just made a chunky vegetable sauce. I had a ton of squash, zucchini and onions left over so I just diced them up and threw them into the sauce. I then seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, crushed red pepper, a spoonful of duck fat, a touch of olive oil, Italian seasoning and few other spices/seasonings. The sauce was perfect and tangy. If you don’t like tangy, you can always add in a dash of sugar. It’s your sauce, add whatever you want.

I ended up using this sauce in my Spaghetti, Spaghetti Squash Recipe which really isn’t a recipe at all. I simply cook a spaghetti squash, add a little ground beef (ground chicken or turkey can be subbed) and top with homemade tomato sauce. If you want to make this dish vegan, skip the ground meat and remove the duck fat in the sauce, easy substitutions!

This sauce will definitely be a staple in my kitchen and I can’t wait to play around with the flavor combos. I don’t think I will ever use jar sauce again.

Until we chat again!

Samantha J.

Basic Recipe:

  • 1 36oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup of diced yellow squash
  • ½ cup of diced zucchini
  • ½ cup of diced red onion
  • 1 tbs. of diced garlic
  • 1 ½ tbs. duck fat (optional)
  • 1 tbs. of olive oil
  • Seasoning To Taste: Salt, Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper, Italian Seasoning, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Sugar etc.