Guide to the Farmer’s Market

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I was so bummed yesterday because I couldn’t make it to the Farmer’s Market (FM). I woke up late, decided to drive instead of walk, spent 20 minutes looking for parking (it only takes 8 minutes by foot), and then I had to give up since I had to be somewhere else. I really had my heart set on getting more Pink Cara Cara Naval Oranges and fresh, buttery croissants from Paris Bakery for a late Sunday brunch.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the simple rules one needs to follow to have the ultimate farmer’s market experience and how I have come a long way from the first time I seriously started shopping at the FM. Most people complain that they never have time to go to the Farmer’s Market. Others feel like an outsider trying to get into the FM circle, needing to learn the lingo and mannerisms. I certainly felt that way. Or, the idea that it costs much more to shop at the FM. To ease your anxiety about the FM, follow these tips and you will be a savvy FM shopper in no time!

1. Put it in your calendar. Now it’s there and you can plan around your FM hours. Make it a point to schedule time in your busy life to buy yourself fresh groceries. The only reason you wouldn’t have time to go is if you didn’t plan for it in the first place. The FM is at the same day, same location, same time, every week (unless otherwise noted). The only difference is that it’s not there 24 hours, 7 days out of the week. Sometimes, my husband and I make a date out of going to the market. Sometimes, I run to the market, quickly buy all the things I need, and zip out of there. Going to the Farmer’s Market does not need to be a day long event, as most people think.

2. BYOB, bring your own bags. Not only is it cool to carry your own bags, most marketplaces have banned plastic bags. Plastic bags do not ever degrade, are toxic, and kill wildlife. Having your bags will also ease your comfort of carrying your beautiful farmer’s market finds without crushing or damaging them on your way home.

3. Go early. Heard the saying, early birds get the worms? It’s true, you will get the best selection if you arrive early. Often times, the best, rare things are gone within the first hour of the market opening. Though, if you get there late, vendors sometimes throw in a little extra of this or that, or just give away produce as they are closing up. It’s not guaranteed, but it does happen.

Photo credit: nicksflickpicks.com

4. Carry cash. Most vendors only take cash. I usually only spend $25-40 for a full week’s worth of groceries. Carry more cash in the beginning, just to be on the safer side. Many Farmer’s Markets even accept food stamps.

5. Get to know the vendors. Farmer’s like talking about what they are selling and can offer loads of information. Unsure of what a romanesco broccoli is or how to cook purple cabbage? Ask the farmer and s/he can give you the easiest cooking methods, storing tips, and maybe even wine-pairings!  Don’t be shy. You shouldn’t feel intimidated that you don’t know what a certain fruit or vegetable is. I ask all the time and it just gets the conversation rolling. The FM really is a friendly, helpful atmosphere.  Otherwise, you can just look up recipes and tips online. Also, ask what all the labels mean. Most FM offer organic and nonorganic produce, so ask what the labels mean. A better question to ask is if they use pesticides or spray.

6. Shop around. If you are overwhelmed with all of the choices and vendors, just take a few minutes to walk around, get a feel for it, and observe. Then make your purchases. You will quickly learn which vendors have the best stuff, offers the best price, and other differentiating points.

7. Don’t go on an empty stomach. Usually, the FM is full of tempting treats like baked goods, crepes, and dumplings. Although, there is nothing really wrong with satiating your hunger with these goods, you will find that most of your money/time will be spent at prepared food stands and fruit instead of on the fresh vegetables. This is a general rule for when you are grocery shopping.

8. Be open-minded. You will find all sorts of vegetables, fruits, and other food that you might have never seen at your grocery store. That is because most small farms do not operate on monoculture agriculture. Also, don’t expect to find watermelon at the FM, even though your Safeway is selling it during the winter. The farmers can only sell what they grow (not imported), therefore their crop depends on the seasons–>weather.

9. Check-in (optional). Have your phone on you so you can check-in and let your friends and family know how super cool you are by shopping at the FM. (optional)

10. Carry a camera (optional). Vegetables make great photographic subjects and who doesn’t like looking at pretty food.

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Farmer’s Market Find: Snow or Spring?

Last week, San Franciscans were in a frenzy about the weather forecast. Supposedly, it has not snowed in SF in 35 years and it was supposed to snow this weekend! I, like many others, was very skeptical about this prediction. We did have a bad rainstorm, but the last few days have been really sunny. And hardly a cloud in the sky. It did snow for like a second on Twin Peaks. Anyway, you would never know it by looking at all of the things available at the market. I returned to the Fort Mason FM after a three week hiatus and was so delighted to see all of the changes in the produce.

Cara Cara Pink Naval Orange- Kens Top Notch Produce

The citrus season is going strong. I bought a bag full of Cara Cara Pink Naval Oranges and Blood Oranges from Hamadas Farm. The Cara Caras are my new favorite citrus, next to the blood oranges of course!

Leeks- Happy Boy Farms

Leeks were one my  best Farmer’s Markets finds last year. I like sauteing them will a little olive oil and add them in eggs, soups, rice dishes– in everything basically.

Mixed salad greens- Happy Boy Farms

A healthy looking mix of salad greens caught my eye and I couldn’t resist. At that moment, I could taste the crispness and freshness of the leaves. I am definitely going to add in the arugula, watermelon radish, and blood oranges with a drizzle of olive oil for a satisfying snack.

Watermelon radish- Happy Boy Farms

Don't these Romanesco Cauliflowers remind you of dinasours? -Rio de Parros Organics

Arugula with its Blossoms- Serendipity Farms

Tomatoes! Not the the greatest looking, but I could use these in a warming curry dish. - Swank Hill Farms

Truthfully, we were kind of getting tired of chard and kale. I am so glad to have stocked my fridge with Meyer lemons, turnips, mixed greens, arugula, leeks, and watermelon radish instead. I left my wallet at home and only had $27 with me, yet I came home with $6!

Meal Plan for the week*:
Monday: Vegetable pizza (Romanesco Cauliflower, Arugula, Ricotta), Lentil Stew
Tuesday: Butternut Squash + Turnip soup, mixed citrus and greens salad
Wednesday: Roasted leeks and soft-boiled eggs**, roasted watermelon radish+ mixed green salad, leftover lentil stew
Thursday: Baked romanesco, Crab cakes and blood orange salad***, Leftover squash soup
Friday: Leftovers or out with friends
Saturday: PancakesWarm Chickpea Salad with Arugula

*Most of the meals laid out here are recipes I have not published on the website yet. If you are interested, just leave a comment and I will share!
**From the cookbook, “Cooking With Italian Grandmothers” by Jessica Theroux
***From the cookbook, “Organic Marin: Recipes from Land to Table,” by Tim Porter and Farina Wong Kingsley

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Farmer’s Market Find: In Kauai

Last week I was in Kauai, one of the prettiest islands with the richest soil. Even though people told me not to expect much from the food, I couldn’t help but think about all of the tropical delicacies. I am obsessed with mangoes and papayas. Sadly, they are rather fragrant-less and tasteless by the time they get onto my local grocery store shelf. Alas, it’s still winter in Kauai, so mango season has yet to begin. Anyway, I didn’t do any research about farmer’s markets before going and just wanted to be on vacation. Though, I just couldn’t help myself…the first place we stopped at after landing was in a town called Kilauea. We heard a quite a lot about the Fish Market and we were starving, having resisted airport/airplane food. After our delicious meal, we decided to take a stroll around the town. Then I spotted it- a cotton bag full of fresh leafy greens and brightly colored food. My radar was on (it’s always on) and a few feet a head of us was a sign about a farmer’s market every Thursday at 4:30PM. We looked at our watch and it was close to 6PM. I briskly walked towards the gym parking lot full of trucks and produce. I started casually observing the food and snapping pictures. I noticed that most of the vendors had already sold their goods and were packing up. A little bewildered since it was only less than two hours into the the farmer’s market, I asked a friendly farmer (Josh). He told me that when he started that day he had a high stack of everything and that we need to get to the market early to get the best stuff. People line up. I was in disbelief and thought about how our farmer’s markets go on for 4-5 hours long, and sometimes, the farmers have to pack up what they unpacked.

A buyer just left money after taking a bunch of carrots for himself. There is so much trust between the consumer and farmer.

This funky looking fruit, breadnut, is hardly eaten by the people.

Brown avocados and leftover citrus.

Waipa (Hanalei) Market

After a lazy lunch of deli, vegetarian sandwiches on the beach, we started driving back to our hotel. Then I spotted a sign and started tapping on the window out of excitement, asking Satish to stop. There was a farmer’s market about to start! So we were directed by a coordinator into an organized parking lot and I just saw hordes of people walking towards an imaginary rope. This rope kept them from the farmers. It was about 20 minutes before the market officially started and there had to have been at least 100 people waiting. There was even a tented waiting area (it was really hot and sunny). I was so blown away. It was just amazing. Before the market opened, the market manager gave a small speech on the market’s purpose. As soon as the market opened, people rushed to their favorite vendors making quick transactions and moving onto the next. I had the pleasure of just enjoying the market. I didn’t bother to talk to any of the farmers; they were too busy. Though the frenzy died down after 20 minutes and half of the shoppers left. I did see Josh and chatted with him for a couple of minutes. He had an amazing selection of fresh peanuts and jeweled-colored carrots.

Every Tuesday at 2PM

Look at this gorgeous color of the organic Oyster Mushrooms! -Kauai Fungi

I love fresh pineapples, but cannot stand canned or imported pineapple. The taste really turns me off. -Alena Farms (Waipake)

The island grows and harvest it's own chocolate. Dark chocolate contains many flavonoids.

 

Satish actually found this mango being sold at the market. It weight about 3lbs and was absolutely juicy good. It made for a fabulous breakfast the next morning.

We walked out with  a slice of macadamia nut-coconut pie, large mango, tender coconut, and a chocolate bar. I am waiting to share the chocolate with my two, chocolate-loving girlfriends.

 

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The Farmers Market Find: The Good Food Awards

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There was an extra bounce in my step on Friday, because for the first time in months I felt the strong rays of the sun invigorating every cell of my being. The air even smelled like Spring was right around the corner and I couldn’t help but rejoice. I am not much of a Winter person and am really done with the below 50 degree temperatures.   It felt like spring and I couldn’t help but advise everyone to go out and enjoy it.  Waking up at 7AM on a Saturday morning is not as bad when the sun is out and the birds are chirping.  I made my way over to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market early to avoid the good weather crowd and freely sample and talk to the winners of the Good Food Awards. I can’t even express the thrill I got when I was face to face with real food crafters from around the country selling tasty and sustainable food. Each winner was sampling and selling their prize winning food, much to a foodie’s contentment.

 

It truly seemed like a Spring's morning.

Leeks are one of my staple vegetables that I always try to keep in my fridge. They are versatile and make almost any dish flavorful. -Capay Organic

Do you know anything about Chickweed? - Marin Root Farms

Since I am getting into eating more legumes and whole grains, I bought heirloom garbanzo beans and crimson popping corn from Rancho Gordo.

These baby beets were so cute and irresistable. -Marin Root Farms

I was introduced to Black Trumpet mushrooms last weekend at brunch at Gather in Berkeley.

I bought Calendula to brighten up our living room a bit more.

The Good Food Award Winners:

 

Noble Coffee's Kenyan Kiaora was really, really silky and smooth. It was perfect.

The preserves were too tempting to not buy any of the jars. Though, I should restraint.

Xocolatl de David's Salted Caramel stood out the most. They are from Portland, OR.

I bought brine for the first time. I would love recipes! Pictured: Joe Mclure

No surprise that Cow Girl's Creamery's Red Hawk won!

This has to be one of the best cheeses I've ever had! Cellars at Jasper Hill – Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Greensboro, VT.

Unique spotting:
-Pea tendrils and snow peas- Spring vegetables
-Watermelon radish- radish are generally Spring vegetables
-Chickweed- never seen or heard of these before!
-Wild watercress- I didn’t know this variety existed.
-Sugar cane- native to warmer, tropical climates. The ones I found are grown in a green house in Fresno. I bought one shoot to surprise Satish. Coincidentally, Saturday was a huge festival in Southern India, celebrating the sugar cane harvest.

I also bought a ton of vegetables, herbs, and fruit: broccoli, spinach, potatoes,  carrots, tomatoes, Natural raisins, Italian oregano, marjoram , Delicata squash, onions, garlic, Meyer lemons, and blood oranges. Let’s see what I cook up this week!

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A Meatless, Unprocessed Christmas (With Pumpkin Soup Recipe)

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Satish and I drove down to LA last Wednesday to spend the Christmas holiday with his sister and family. I had planned to make the Christmas Eve dinner as I really want to create tradition for Satish and I.  This entire  meal was going to be vegetarian, since my sister-in-law is a vegetarian and with all respect doesn’t like meat cooked in her kitchen. Therefore, I had packed up all of my key spices, herbs, oils, and favorite kitchen tools. I almost packed up my most versatile pan, zester, and spatula, but decided I could live without them. (Later, I learned I can’t live without the zester.) It’s tough cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I had plans to visit a farmer’s market in LA for the main ingredients.  LA has at least 120 farmer’s markets happening during the week, so there is hardly no excuse to not go.  I curiously went to the Westwood farmer’s market on Thursday, with high hopes of finding all of the ingredients I needed for the Christmas Eve dinner.  I was disappointed to find that it was a sparse market, but I still bought kale and parsley. Later, I met my dear friend for tea and hot soup. She suggested we stroll through the farmer’s market nearby, but time seemed to slip by at the Jewish bakery as we sipped our tea, flirted with the rows of baked goods, laughed, cried, shared, and reminisced. By the time we were ready to leave the bakery, it was dark and I needed to rush back to avoid being stuck in traffic. Of course, I didn’t listen to our GPS, made a couple of wrong turns, and missed the closest 10W onramp. Awhile ago, I stopped getting upset with myself for making wrong turns and getting lost and started enjoying the new route I created. Due to the wrong turns, I happened to drive by the La Cienega Farmers Market. Since, I was crawling in the local traffic, I got to look into the farmers market held at the parking lot of the La Cienega Plaza Shopping Center. It was beautiful. The sun was already gone, Christmas lights were bright, food trucks, fresh flowers, all amidst red break lights. Peering, I saw berries, popcorn, chestnuts, citrus, and greens. I was surprised by the berries…maybe it’s the mild, spring like weather in SoCal. I was tempted to pull into the driveway and finish shopping for the ingredients needed to make the next day’s dinner. Though, I knew that every minute I waited to get onto the highway would be to risk being stuck in major LA traffic. I sighed and kept driving.  The next morning, I woke up early and rushed to the nearest Whole Foods in hopes of avoiding the last minute mad dash for groceries. I had a simple grocery list: pumpkin, Delicata squash, arugula, eggplant, spinach, ricotta, feta, and Parmesan. The Whole Foods in Santa Monica has a very tiny fresh produce section so I drove to the one in Brentwood. Surprisingly, most of the Whole Foods in West LA are much smaller in general. I nearly had a panic attack when I couldn’t find half of the fresh ingredients that I needed. The problem was solved easily by asking the grocers, who went into the back to get what I needed. (I had not made a back-up dinner menu)…

After getting a great latte at Caffe Luxxe (which was recommended to me on twitter), I was ready to start cooking. The menu was simple but I wanted to give myself ample time and not rush to finish during the end. The starter was a rather easy pumpkin soup spiced with cumin and cinnamon. I had an incredible pumpkin soup at Garibaldi’s earlier this week, which was the main inspiration. I had even made it on Tuesday, using my beloved Fairy Tale Pumpkin. Next on the menu was the Squash and Pomegranate Salad, Kale and Quinoa, and Garlic + Bread (inspired by Little Star Pizza). The main course was a variation of my vegetable rich lasagna. My niece helped me make the pistachio cookies that I made for 18 Reasons’ cookie swap, which would be dessert along with rich, hot chocolate.

Cumin Scented Pumpkin Soup

1 medium Sugar or Fairy Tale pumpkin (4-6 lbs)
olive oil for coating pumpkin
4 large garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons cumin, fresh grounded
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/2 stick of unsalted butter or 1/3 cup olive oil
6 cups water, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Creme Fraiche (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Cut pumpkin in half, discard the stem, seeds and stringy pulp.  Rub oil over the pumpkin, coating well. Place the pumpkin cut side down on the prepared pan. Tuck 2 garlic cloves under the cavity of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin until it is very tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, remove the peel. Cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces so it’s easier to puree.

2. In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the cinnamon sticks. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add in the cumin and ground cinnamon. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.

3. Puree the pumpkin in batches by adding in 1 cup of the pumpkin pieces  with a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add water to reach a consistency of your liking.

4. Put the pot back on the stove-top and heat on medium. Once the soup is heated thoroughly, add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the Creme Fraiche. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

Pumpkin Soup garnished with Sage

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Farmer’s Market Find: Rose Germanium and Hot Chocolate

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I really had no desire to get out of bed early on Saturday morning. It was raining, cold, and dark. Though, I really wanted to get Recchiuti’s hot chocolate, farm fresh eggs, and a few other things that I would need for a holiday brunch potluck.  I am so glad I went to the Ferry Plaza Market because:

A little mistletoe action by the doorway to get the party started.

I have a good Aloe Vera story, but will save it for later. I was surprised to see it being sold at the Farmer's Market. It's grown locally but is native to dry, warm weather.

I bought this beautiful Acme bread to complete a cheese platter.

Rose Germanium. It's really special and good for tea and baths.-Eatwell Farms

Inside the Ferry Building

Pineapple Mint and Edible Flowers, a sweet holiday gift from Heirloom Organics.

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate Recipe

Ingredients Serves 2.
1/4 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups whole, organic milk
2 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla
8 ounces semi-sweet cacao chocolate*, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Add water and cinnamon sticks to a stainless steel pot and place over medium heat. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add the milk and vanilla.
2. When milk mixture is hot, add the chopped chocolate and salt. Stir constantly with a whisk or blend with an immersion blender until the chocolate is incorporated with the milk.
3. When mixture is starting to simmer, take off heat and serve.

*For the best results, use fairly traded, minimally processed chocolate. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.

Happy Holidays!

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Farmers Market Find: Crabs

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I really love everything about the holidays.  From Halloween to Diwali, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas, it’s all about the pretty, shiny things. Well, it’s not just about the pretty, shiny things, but the decorating makes the holidays really fun.  So does the food. The farmers markets are bursting with late Autumn and early winter produce and seafood. It’s crab season and everyone is planning their meals around crabs! I don’t think I am ready to bring crab home, but I am definitely planning dinners out before crab season is over.  I would love crabtastic recommendations in SF!

Australian Spinach almost feels like Kifer Leaves

Moss Christmas trees and decorations!

Authors of The Wild Table cookbook, Connie Green and Sarah Patterson Scott

Natural, compostable decorations and accent pieces.

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Farmer’s Market Find: Brussels Sprouts

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I debated going to the market today, since I have a fridge full of leftovers from Thanksgiving. Satish and I both want to keep our meals fairly light this week since we are still digesting our Thanksgiving dinner. I doubted the market would have been busy like last week, so opted on going and enjoying the quietness. There were less farmers today too; perhaps they were gone for rest of the season or just today. I bought a lot of Brussels sprouts. I never was a fan of Brussels sprouts or at least I thought I wasn’t. I actually never even encountered Brussels sprouts until my early 20’s, but I knew I didn’t like them because the kids on TV always hated them. So like broccoli, I thought it was another gross vegetable that no kid on the planet would want to eat. Then I saw just how cute they were at the farmer’s market a couple of years ago and started to cook with them. They are sooo good! I can’t understand why Brussels sprouts have such a bad rap. Anyway, they are super easy and quick to cook too. My favorite way to eat them is cutting them in half, cooking them on a skillet for 5 minutes, then tossing them with lemon juice, olive oil,  pecans, salt and pepper. I like to add shaved Parmesan cheese or dried cranberries when craving a heavier meal.  Cooking Brussels sprouts involve minimal patience and culinary skill. Brussels sprouts are related to the cabbage family and are best when in season. Try picking them in the same size so they cook at the same time. Smaller ones that are tightly closed are best. At the farmer’s markets and some grocery stores, you can buy them with their stalks still intact. This will keep them fresher longer, but storing loose Brussels sprouts in an air tight container will work too.

Brussels Sprouts on their stalk

Weekly Dinner Menu
Sunday: Stuffed Peppers (turkey and gravy), Arugula Salad (pomegranates, goat cheese, pine nuts)
Monday: Squash and Pistachio Quinoa, Kale Salad
Tuesday: Mixed Lentil Pilaf, Brussels Sprouts Salad, Roasted Beets and Persimmons
Wednesday: Turkey Tartine with Cranberry Sauce
Thursday: Sip, Snack and Shop on Chestnut Street
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Dinner at a friend’s place

How was your Thanksgiving?

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Farmer’s Market Find: Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch

We arrived at Long Meadow Ranch a little bit earlier than our late-lunch reservation at Farmstead Restaurant, so we could partake in their wine  and olive oil tasting and build up our appetite. Immediately my eyes caught vegetables and fruit … Continue reading

Farmer’s Market Finds: Autumn!

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Autumn is pretty much here, must get out of denial! The summer (5 days) is over and today, I turned on the heater in my apartment. It was that cold in the Marina. A dear friend and newbie to farmer’s markets joined me this morning. We had so much catching up to do, while we picked out our weekly groceries. I also ran into a Club Dine In! member, which is always exciting.The last week or so, I was preparing to say goodbye to the Fort Mason FM, as the season is drawing to a close. However, through a tweet, I found out that this market will be open year round!

Sun flowers!

I have been stuck in a rut, making the same dishes out of summer squashes and summer tomatoes, and I was ready for a slight change in the market. The fog and cold weather got me thinking about Fall soups and curries (even though, I rarely want Indian food).  I filled my reusable, cloth grocery bags with Asian-Pears, butternut squash, tiny pumpkins, yellow chard, a variety of peppers, heirloom tomatoes (I really can’t get enough), spinach, summer squashes, dried herbs, and fresh mint. I have to admit, I just buy produce at the FM without a clue as to what I am going to do with them. Then I come home and look through my collection of cookbooks and fellow food blogs to see what I can make. This is not the best plan of action. The key to eating well and staying away from processed foods is planning!

I had to stock up on dried herbs, the holidays are right around the corner and Hollie's Homegrown wont be back until November.

My first introduction to Bronz Fennel- Hollie's Homegrown

I was surprised to see a return of spring vegetables, such as sugar snap peas and pea tendrils. The advantage of living in California is that most of the produce is available most of the year. I think pea tendrils are just beautiful, but I don’t know how to use them properly. I would love any suggestions!

Sugar snap peas and carrots- Happy Boy Farms

Pea Greens- the weather has been more like spring as we transition from Summer to Fall. -Serendipity Farms

Juicy beets! Red velvet cake was originally made with red beets, now it's mostly food coloring. -Happy Boy Farms

Olives for Home Curing- my friend popped one in her mouth and let's just say it was a bitter experience!


It’s also time to start decorating the apartment with pumpkins, reddish colored candles, and pretty fall things.

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