I love the idea of a farmers’ market. Really, I do.
The idea that I can drop in and get a bunch of vegetables I will whip up into fabulously healthy meals that will wow my husband and delight my son.
Somehow, it just doesn’t end up that way.
I usually plan my meals on Sunday and go to the grocery store in the afternoon, at night, or even on Monday if it just can’t happen before. I also find that I enjoy getting a slow start on Saturday and am eternally grateful that my husband often takes early morning kid duty so I can sleep in.
The family trips we have made to farmers’ markets in the past seem to be marked by kid tantrums, my wondering around aimlessly, buying a few random things and leaving feeling like we have missed an opportunity to buy locally grown, often organic food and to teach my son valuable lessons about where his food comes from.
I’m hoping to change this dynamic. One of the nice things about living in Austin is that farmers can grow and harvest food year-round. So that means that on weekends when it’s nice out and still “winter” here, I am determined to be better about visiting the local farmers’ markets.
The market that is most convenient to me is the Downtown Farmers’ Market, which takes place Saturdays from 9-1 in Republic Square. The Sustainable Food Center sponsors the Market Downtown, along with the Market at Sunset Valley (also 9-1 on Saturdays) and the Market at the Triangle on Wednesday afternoons. Another market I want to check out is the HOPE Farmers’ Market at Pine Station on Sundays from 11-3.
At the downtown market during the summer, we once happened upon a cute kids’ activity. Children were given circle-shaped slices of yellow watermelon, which was topped with yogurt and a little honey and mint for a “cupcake”. My son gobbled it up in no time. When I reached out to Susan Leibrock, the Community Relations Director at the Sustainable Food Center, I learned that kids’ activities take place each week under the brightly-colored SFC tent:
- The first Saturday of the month, Maureen Haskell of Be Groovy, Be Green leads kid-friendly storytimes songs and games about being eco-aware.
- The 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month, The Little Kitchen leads a kids’ cooking activity emphasizing seasonally and using ingredients purchased on site at our market.
- The third (and when applicable, fifth) Saturdays Little Sprouts takes place, which is an interactive year of activities based on a passport model whereby kids perform an eco-friendly activity, learn a sustainability-related task or play an educational game about local food or gardening, and then get to choose a sticker to add to their passport as a way to log what they’re accomplishing each month.
Susan is always looking for volunteers to lead the activities, so if that’s something that sounds like fun, feel free to contact her. There is really no excuse for not planning a fun family outing in between these activities, fun live music and baked goods for my child!
I should note that since I had last been, the parking garage where we always used to park is now $3, but there is surface parking (which seemed to be full most of my trip) just south of the market, it’s free to park in the City Hall lot and metered parking is free until 11am and then $1 per hour after that. After circling once, I found a spot just across the street.
After a little research, I realized there are plenty of tools to avoid the aimless wandering that previously characterized my market trips. The Sustainable Food Center’s website has a list of what’s in season, recipes and links to vendors’ websites. I also checked out the beautiful website for Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which has a photo of each week’s CSA box to give you an idea of what will be at the market, plus
recipes, storage tips and cooking advice for each of the vegetables.
When I realized bok choy and cabbage would likely be at the Market, I thought about a recipe that I often make at home and for families with a new baby. Not only is it hearty, fast to prepare and healthy, but it also can be prepared vegetarian if you hold the chicken, vegan if you also nix the feta cheese and is gluten-free (and can be nut-free minus the almonds).
I found the recipe from Amber, who posted it on her blog and who is the author of a low-carb cookbook. She adapted it from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. I’ve made some notes in parentheses.
Tunisian Vegetable Chicken Stew
1 1/2 C thinly sliced onions (one large onion)
2 T olive oil
3 C thinly sliced cabbage (Farmers Market cabbages are perfect as they aren’t as huge as the ones at the grocery store)
2 C thinly sliced bok choy (you can either use a medium-sized bunch or a few bunches of baby bok choy)
Dash of salt
1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 28-oz can undrained chopped tomatoes
1 16-oz can cooked chick peas/garbanzo beans
3 C shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie is easy and tasty, but any chicken will do – I shredded two cooked chicken breasts)
1/3 C raisins or currants (I used golden raisins)
1 T fresh lemon juice
Grated feta cheese
Toasted slivered almonds (optional)
In a large skillet, sauté the onions in the olive oil for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the cabbage and bok choy, sprinkle with salt, and continue to sauté for at least 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper, coriander, turmeric and cinnamon to the skillet and sauté for another minute or so. Stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas, chicken, and optional currants or raisins, and simmer, covered for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste. Top with feta and toasted almonds.
Are you a regular at the Farmers’ Market? Do you plan for the market or just pick up food and decide what to do with it when you get home? What is your favorite source for recipes for farmers’ market goodies?
Written by: Nicole Basham