I think Mother Nature is playing tricks on me. For the last few weeks, there have been sporadic Spring like days sprinkled in among the Winter doldrums that have DC in its clutches. These days are nothing more than cruel, cruel teases and make me long for April and the start of the market season. While I have enjoyed finding the number of farmers markets available year round, I'm itching for robust markets filled with the bounty of Spring and Summer. With this in mind, I headed over to the Arlington Farmers Market a few Saturdays ago. Convenient for DCers without a car, the Arlington Farmers Market sits adjacent to the Arlington Courthouse metro station. I had heard it was one of the bigger farmers markets in the Virginia part of the DC metro area, so I was looking forward to a wider selection of vendors. As with most markets open during the Winter, the Arlington Farmers Market didn't have a huge selection of producers. But all of my old familiar buddies were present and I was told the market (as expected) grows during the Spring and Summer.
A lot of the same producers from Dupont Circle's Sunday market are at the Arlington Farmers Market on Saturdays, which was a pleasant surprise for me. Not only was I able to get my Greek yogurt fix from Blue Ridge Dairy, I was also able to pick up a loaf of Ten Grain Bread from Atwater's bakery. I was happy to see there wasn't a line at either booth and I was able to chat for a bit with both vendors. As promised previously on this site, Blue Ridge Dairy had adjusted their pricing on some of their products also available at Whole Foods. Not only that, I was able to speak with one of the employees about taking a tour of Blue Ridge Dairy farm sometime in the next few weeks. Considering my almost unhealthy love of cheese, the prospect of seeing the cheesemaking process made me giddier than a teenage girl on Prom night. Blue Ridge was also having a sale on their fresh mozzarella, something I couldn't resist.
Toigo Farms had a vast selection of apples, which reminded me that I was still in the grips of Winter (not that the howling cold wind wasn't enough of a reminder). Even though I was in the middle of a Winter pity party, the apples were delicious looking. I asked which variety would be good for a pie or pastry and was directed towards the Stayman apples. Again because there wasn't a line, I had the chance to talk briefly with them about their farm and farming practices. Located in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Toigo Farms uses the integrated pest management system typical of a lot of chemical adverse fruit farms in the area. Using nature's own predatory system, the integrated pest management system introduces the natural enemy of pests that threaten orchards to offset the need for pesticides. I was also told that during the Spring and Summer, Togio Farms offers plums, berries, cherries and even pears. They also grow several varieties of tomatoes, including heirloom, that they use for their own lines of pasta sauces and salsas. As lovely as the apples were (I picked up a half dozen of the stayman variety), I really wanted it to be Spring already.
I needed both eggs and meat, so I went in search of the protein portion of the market. I was happy to find two of my favorite local meat vendors, EcoFriendly Foods and Smith Meadows Farm at the market. Like at a lot of the booths that day, there wasn't a long line at either vendor. I talked briefly with one of the employees at Smith Meadows Farm about making short ribs, something I'd never done before but was curious to try. He assured me that short ribs were one of the most forgiving cuts of beef to cook and worked well with just about any flavors. He also told me about the Smith Meadows Farm farm day, scheduled for May 16th this year. The family decided to open their farm to the public for this first ever event, which will include a walking tour, catered lunch, cooking demonstrations and tours of the 1800s farm house that is now the Smithfield Bed and Breakfast. When I asked what brought about the idea for the farm day, I was told the Pritchard family wanted to let it's customers see how their foods were being raised and prepared. The family's commitment to sustainable agriculture and preservation of the land and its natural resources also led to the decision to provide this fun yet educational opportunity. The event costs $50 for individual adults ($90 per couple), $25 for children ages 6 to 18 and free for children under 5. To register for the Smith Meadows Farm Day, go to their website. As I thanked the vendor, I once again thought "Great, another reason I wished it was Spring already."
To attempt to offset my Winter blues, I decided to go home and make a quick but seasonal coffee cake highlighting the flavors of the Stayman apples I bought. Although the main recipe is from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything", I tweaked it a bit to use the apples for a lovely brunch or breakfast treat.
Apple Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake (adapted from Mark Bittman's Quick Coffee Cake)
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup almonds (or walnuts or pecans)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 medium Stayman apples (or other baking apple), diced
Make the strudel topping by combining 3 tablespoons of the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, sugar, all of the nuts and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Add 3 tablespoons of the cold butter and using your hands, meld all the ingredients together until you get a mealy type texture. Set this aside and go on to make the batter.
Sift together the remaining flour, salt, sugar and baking powder, along with the remaining cinnamon. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Once again using your hands, combine everything together until you get a coarse meal texture. Add the eggs and milk and stir until combined.
Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and then sprinkle half the streudel topping on top. Top with half of the diced apples and then pour the remaining batter over them. Top with the remaining streudel topping and apples. Bake for at least 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
NOTE: You can also make this in a springform or tube pan. If you do, you can reduce the baking time by 20 minutes.