Farmers Markets

Must Haves: Dolcezza gelato (and warmer weather)

Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I like desserts well enough, but aside from a few slices of pumpkin and pecan pie during the holidays, I can generally take or leave the sweets.

That said, Dolcezza makes a mean gelato.

Looking at the picture above, you may assume that even in 40 degree weather I seek out the creamy dessert. I don't, but I did for this post. I've been meaning to swing by the Penn Quarter farmers' market where Dolcezza has a booth, but didn't get around to it until the temperature crashed the other day. 

For my trouble, I came away with a half pint of Crookneck Pumpkin gelato. Honestly, I could've taken the Mexican Coffee (which was spectacular), Tahitian Vanilla Bean or Valrhona Chocolate Amargo, too, but like I said, I have a weakness for pumpkin.

9 The poor woman manning the booth also had a selection of sorbets, including Heirloom Apple Cider and Honey Tangerine. They were good (especially the apple cider that's made with locally sourced apples), but I prefer the sorbet selection during the summer months when Dolcezza rolls out flavors like Mojito, Meyer Lemon Vodka and Strawberry Tequila.

I also prefer the summer months.

If I was a brighter man, I would've swung by one of Dolcezza's stores where I would have had a larger selection and heat. But I'm not a bright man. However, I am a man with pumpkin gelato, and that counts for something.

West End Farmers Market

Broccoli at J&W On the first Sunday in June, I headed out to Alexandria to visit the West End Farmers Market.  The market is located in Ben Brenman Park, adjacent to the Cameron Station complex of condos and shops.  It struck me that a park was a fantastic place to host a farmers market and I wondered why there weren’t more park/farmers market collaborations.  As you’re driving into the park, you can immediately pick out the familiar white tents indicative of farmers markets the world over.  The background of the lush green grass that only seems to grow in state funded parks made the tents pop out all the more.  The market, in its third season, was originally conceived by Julie Bryant, a former coffee shop owner, with the assistance of Susan Birchler.  Since its inception, the market has grown to 25 vendors, ranging from fresh produce and meats to homemade chocolates and Virginia wines from North Gate Vineyards.  As I walked around, it was apparent this was a regular community gathering place, as vendors greeted customers by name and chatted about their plans for the upcoming week.  Water bowls were left out for dogs by the vendors, a welcome treat considering the warmth of the day.  And the vendors themselves were all happy to chat away about their offerings, giving serving suggestions and telling their own little stories.  A real sense of community has been created in this market and it is a shame it’s not more metro accessible.  By car, it’s a quick trip outside of DC and well worth the drive.

My first stop was J&W Valley, where the two ladies manning the table were shelling English peas.  While they had the peas for sale in the pods, they were also shelling them for their customers’ convenience.  Their easy manner and the table’s set up reminded me of the many farm stands that dot the Georgia landscape (I’m a Southern Girl, what can I say).  It was at J&W’s stand that I spotted the first broccoli of the season.  Considering my love of stir fries, I was quite happy to see the lovely green bunches.  I picked up a large container of the shelled English peas (I may be from Georgia, but the city has softened me…no shelling of peas for this girl) and about two pounds of the broccoli.  I resisted the temptation to pick up some of the spring onions and beets, opting to pace myself for once. 

Grubby Girl Lotions As I continued on, I noticed there were a number of local artisans with booths at the market.  I later learned most of the artisans only sell at West End on the first Sunday of every month.  A man was setting up his collection of paintings and sketches not far from a woman with various crafts on display at her own booth.  A cute booth accented with wooden shelves caught my eye, so I wandered over to find out more.  The shelves were peppered with glass bottles of oils and artisanal soaps, vaguely reminiscent of a Bath and Bodyworks.  The vendor, Grubby Girl, sells handcrafted bath and body products made from all natural ingredients grown on Meeting House Farm.  The farm is home to over a dozen bee hives and a garden of herbs and vegetables, all of which are used to make the Grubby Girl line of products.  The soaps are hand crafted into shapes ranging from flowers to stars and with names like “redneck” and “farm person”.  Unfortunately, no one was manning the booth when I walked by, but I remembered the name so I could look it up online later.  Their products are sold at farmers markets and specialty stores throughout Virginia. 

Fleurir Chocolates I stopped dead in my tracks when I stumbled upon Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates, mostly because I saw the word “chocolate” on their sign.  Another customer was standing at the table when I walked up, so I quietly listened as Robert Ludlow, the chef behind Fleurir’s chocolates, rattled off the various flavors in each four piece box.  The flavors include standards like caramel and 85% dark chocolate but are mostly unique combinations created by Ludlow himself.  The cheesecake flavor tastes exactly as if chunks of the dessert have been dipped into chocolate and served on a platter.  The almond amaretto starts out as a simple chocolate.  Just when you’re thinking “so where’s the almond”, the flavor of almonds hit your taste buds and then mellows into a lovely finish.  The most unique flavor combination is the Ginger Rogers, a dark chocolate infused with mint and dotted with bits of crystallized ginger.  The chocolates are all made from locally sourced ingredients and use fresh cream and butter.  Sold in boxes of four assorted flavors, the chocolates aren’t cheap ($8 a box) but they’re great for an indulgent, occasional treat. 

I had heard about Tom’s Amish Store through various local food blogs, so I was happy to see his sign at West End.  The booth is littered with homemade jars of jams and jellies, loaves of fruit breads and other goodies made from the Amish.  Tommy Tompkins, the Tom in Tom’s Amish Store, has a friendly and easy demeanor that reminded me of someone’s kindly grandfather.  When I first walked up, he was talking with a woman he obviously has known for years.  Joking back and forth, the two could have easily been mistaken for a married couple.  She asked him about the cheeses he had that week and he cut off a piece for her to try (while slyly putting in a compliment about her appearance).  He gave me an easy smile as the lady decided on which cheese she wanted.  He managed to make her not feel rushed while acknowledging me, something many vendors can’t easily do.  With a wave and a promise to get together soon, she headed off with her cheese and he turned his attention to me.  I asked him about the cheeses he had and he first showed me an 18 month aged soft cheddar.  Like all the products he sells, the cheese is crafted by the Amish and aged in a cave Tommy helped them build.  The cheese had a silky texture and a robust flavor, perfect for a picnic of cheese, a baguette and fruit.  I got a block of the cheese, surprised to find out it only cost $3.50. 

Fresh Garlic - Westmoreland Farm I had gotten so distracted by the baked goods, cheese and chocolates, I almost forgot I was there for produce.  That’s when I hit upon Westmoreland Berry Farm’s stand, the same vendor I bought my first strawberries of the season from back at the opening of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The farm, located in Oak Grove, Virginia, hosts a wide variety of “on the farm” activities, including tours, wagon rides and a “goat walk to the stars”.  The farm also allows people to come pick their own berries during their harvest months.  Known for their sweet berries, Westmoreland also sells peaches, apples, pumpkins and gourds from their orchard.  The stand wasn’t just a testament to berries though.  They also had garlic, onions and other greens.  I had already picked up a big batch of strawberries earlier in the week, but I couldn’t resist the first garlic of the season, so I picked up a bunch along with some onions (still attached to their green stalks). 

On the Gourmet Olive Oil Perched at the end of the market was a truck, festooned with big chalkboards.  One chalkboard touted their meat offerings, which included ground bison!  I noticed people going in and out of the truck, which confused me until I realized the vendor was On the Gourmet.  On the Gourmet is a mobile purveyor of local meats and dairy products and gourmet chocolates, crackers and oils and vinegars (to name just a few of their offerings), offering home delivery to locations up to 20 miles of Vienna, Virginia.  I have heard about On the Gourmet from other DCFoodies writers, as well as the boards on Don Rockwell, but had never actually seen the truck myself.  When I stepped inside, I was reminded of a tiny general store, with artisanal products artfully arranged to catch the eye.  Retro bottles of soda are juxtaposed with high end products like truffle infused olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.  Boxes of Lucy’s Cookies, gluten and dairy free cookies, in varying flavors were stacked together next to a basket of “deep discount” items.  I dug through the deep discount basket, finding chocolates, cookies and crackers, among other things.  I picked out a box of olive oil and sea salt artisanal crackers (to go with my cheese, naturally) and headed out of the truck.  I could have easily stayed inside for hours, perusing their products and sampling; the truck seems designed to encourage foodies to explore its offerings.  Although I was tempted to pick up practically everything I saw, I stuck to the crackers and a few pounds of the ground bison. 

 Just before we headed out, my boyfriend Rick nicely pointed out he was starving.  A table weighed down with baked goods caught our eye, so we stopped to see what she was selling.  The vendor, Treats by Gale, had a selection of homemade scones that looked rather tempting.  Gale King, the Gale behind Treats by Gale, began selling her baked goods on a small scale before making it a full fledged business.  Her treats include chocolate chip and white chocolate cranberry walnut cookies, brownies, scones and even a Caribbean Great Cake.  The scones were only a dollar and were the perfect size for a morning snack.  Rick picked up a cinnamon apple scone and I opted for a blueberry one.  She wrapped up our scones and encouraged us to pick up her business card, saying she sold her treats online too.  We thanked her and headed home, bags filled with more than just produce.  The West End Market has managed to create a neighborhood bazaar, offering a wide range of locally grown and made products in the middle of a suburban park. 

 New produce seen around the markets:

•    Garlic bulbs
•    Raspberries
•    Blueberries
•    Broccoli

Beet, Turnip and Goat Cheese Tortellini Beet, Hakurei Turnip and Goat Cheese Tortellini

For the pasta:

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4  large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 bunch beets
1 bunch Hakurei turnips
1 container Chevre goat cheese

Cut the beet and turnip bulbs from their stalks and wash them thoroughly.  Place the beets and turnips into separate pots filled with water.  Bring the pots to a boil and continue to let them cook until the beets and turnips are tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain the beets and dice them into small pieces.  Drain the turnips and scoop out the flesh, mashing it in a bowl.  Add the beets and the goat cheese and stir until everything is mixed together thoroughly.  Cover the mixture and put it in the refrigerator until ready to fill the tortellini.

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle of it.  Crack the eggs into that well and add the olive oil.  With a fork, work the liquid ingredients until a dough forms.  Take the dough out of the bowl and place it onto a surface dusted with flour.  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and then form it into two round discs.  Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and allow the dough to sit for an hour.  Using either a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out one of the discs until it’s about as thin as a quarter.  Cut the pasta sheet into 2 inch squares.  Place 1/2 teaspoon of the beet mixture onto the center of a pasta square.  Take one corner of the pasta square and fold it over to meet the other corner, forming a triangle.  Pinch the sides of the square together, sealing the filling in.  You may need to wet the sides of the dough square a bit before sealing the tortellini.  If any filling squeezes out, simply wipe it off and make sure the tortellini is sealed.  Take your pinkie finger and wrap the pasta triangle around it, creating the tortellini shape.  Pinch the ends together to finish off the tortellini.  Place the tortellini on a plate dusted lightly with flour.  Repeat this until all the squares from both discs of dough are used. 

Once all the tortellinis are formed, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the tortellinis to the water carefully.  Cook until the tortellinis start to float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve with a simple sauce of browned butter and fresh herbs.

The West End Farmers Market is located at 4800 Brenman Park Drive in the heart of Ben Brenman Park.  The market is open on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm.

Summer Squash Tart

Small Market Offerings Sign Although farmers markets have been open in the DC area for months now, until recently most of them were still the same size as the Winter markets.  As the weather warms up, however, more and more markets have started expanding in size, offering a wider variety of produce.  One such example of this is the Bloomingdale Farmers Market.  I headed over there on opening day back in May and was a little disappointed to see only a handful of vendors and not a lot of variety.  I returned last Sunday after hearing Garner’s Produce would be selling both English peas and squash blossoms, two things I’ve been dying to get my greedy little hands on this Spring.  Because my previous attempts to get English peas were thwarted, I got up early to ensure I was at Bloomingdale right when the market bell rang.  We arrived at the market about ten minutes before opening, so I decided to roam around and take some pictures before the rush of shoppers hit.  I was quite happy to see a few more stands, giving the market a larger feel. 

While Bloomingdale isn’t as large as Dupont Circle (truthfully, few markets in the DC area are), it has grown since last season.  The market has added several new vendors this season, including Stefano’s wonderful jams and pastas at The Copper Pot.  Bloomingdale has also partnered this year with Common Good City Farm, formerly the 7th Street Garden, a non-profit urban garden that provides fresh produce to low income DC residents and an opportunity for urbanites to flex their gardening muscle (in the spirit of full disclosure, I guess I should mention I recently started volunteering for Common Good City Farm).  Not only does Common Good City Farm sell their produce, herbs and plants at Bloomingdale (with proceeds going towards their workshops and programs), they are also going to be performing cooking demonstrations throughout the market season.  I was also very happy to see that Truck Patch had also been added to the Bloomingdale line up.  This gives Bloomingdale another meat vendor (they sell a variety of beef and pork products) and another purveyor of produce (they sell a variety of greens, among other things).  Truck Patch also sells at both the Mount Pleasant and 14th & U farmers markets on Saturdays.  They have quickly become one of my favorite stops for my salad greens and grilling meats (oh yes, Drew isn’t the only one around here fond of a grill). 

Small Strawberries and Plants While it was nice to see some familiar faces from other markets, I was excited to see a vendor completely new to me – SnowBear Farm.  SnowBear Farm is located in Round Hill, Virginia and is fairly new to the DC farmers market scene.  SnowBear is a small, certified naturally grown vegetable farm that uses no pesticides or chemicals on their crops.  I hadn’t heard the term “certified naturally grown” before but learned it’s a certification very similar to being certified naturally organic by the federal government.  Because of the high costs associated with becoming certified naturally organic, more and more smaller farms are getting certification through the certified naturally grown organization.  Certified Naturally Grown holds its farmers to the same organic farming method standards as the federal government and performs the same stringent farm visits and tests to ensure all certified farms are adhering to the guidelines.  This gives smaller farms the ability to assure its customers of their farming practices without placing undue financial hardship on them.  Certified Naturally Grown is a non-profit organization that depends heavily on volunteers and donations to keep their operation running and it’s been very successful thus far.  SnowBear Farm, run by the Dunlap family, had a nice selection of different greens, spring onions, scallions and radishes to name just a few of their offerings.  They also had plantings for herbs and tomatoes, for those still thinking about a garden for the Spring. 

Small Squash Blossoms I had never been to Bloomingdale at the opening of the market, so I was surprised to hear a booming voice at 10 am sharp announcing the start of the market.  Something of a town crier, the gentleman proudly announced the addition of Truck Patch to Bloomingdale and let shoppers know of produce new to the market that week.  I should have listened more carefully, but I was dead seat on getting my peas and squash blossoms.  So I hightailed it straight over to Garner’s Produce only to find that my boyfriend had already gotten a container of the peas and squash blossoms for me.  Delighted, I turned my eye to the mound of mini Summer squashes on display at Garner’s.  I got a bag and started throwing in mini squashes, zucchinis, patty pans and whatever else I could get my hands on.  While waiting in line to pay, I saw some lovely stalks of asparagus that were begging to be bought.  I added them to our pile, thinking I could do an asparagus and pea salad for a light side dish.  At the front of the line, I was greeted with a pyramid of rainbow chard, beets and spring onions.  I was tempted to pick up a bunch of the rainbow chard, but surprisingly exercised restraint (considering I already was weighted down with vegetables, I figured I should stop myself).

Small Bovre So I had squash blossoms but I had no idea what I was going to do with them.  I had recently watched a certain celebrity chef on the Food Network stuff them and deep fry them but I didn’t like the stuffing she used.  While looking over the cheeses at Keswick, it hit me that one of them would probably work in the squash blossoms.  Since I wasn’t sure which one to use, I asked Sandy Miller which cheese she would recommend for the squash blossoms.  She immediately pointed out the herbes de provence Bovre cheese, a soft cheese, similar to a goat cheese, infused with (as the name suggests) fresh herbs.  She told me the cheese would work well stuffed into the blossoms and lightly fried.  I ended up talking a bit with Sandy and that’s when I learned she used to be a food writer for the L.A. Times (can we say “Stephanie’s dream job”) and a chef in California.  Frustrated with having to hunt down quality produce and meats, she decided to take up farming herself.  The result is the Painted Hand Farm, which raises veal and goat in a humane fashion.  Sandy mans both the Keswick stand and her own Painted Hand Farm stand, which sells a variety of veal and goat products, along with free range eggs.  Before bidding Sandy adieu, I picked up a half pound of Keswick’s lovely whole milk ricotta. 

Small Radishes Just as I was about to leave the market, I ran into Robin Shuster, the Bloomingdale market manager.  She was quite excited to tell me about the new market ATM program at Bloomingdale.  Located right at the entrance of the market, the ATM program allows shoppers to swipe their ATM cards and receive a $5 wooden token that can be used at any time during the market season.  Although a small fee is assessed, that fee is used to help fund the Bloomingdale farmers market EBT program (a program that makes fresh, quality produce available to all DC residents, regardless of their income level).  So instead of the ATM fee going to the bank, it goes to help bring nutritious meal options to those who may otherwise not be able to afford it.  I had read about the program in the Washington Post, but didn’t realize it was being implemented at Bloomingdale as well.  Weighed down with produce and information, I headed home to tackle the Summer squash tart I was mulling over all week.

New produce seen around the markets:

•    Hakurei Turnips
•    Bok Choi
•    Cherries (first seen on Thursday at Penn Quarter)
•    Green tomatoes (I’m from the South, so I had to mention them)

In case you’re wondering what Hakurei turnips are, don’t fret!  I will have more information about them next week and a recipe to boot (unless my fanciful recipe idea is a huge failure). 

Small Summer Squash Tart Summer Squash Tart

3 cups Summer squash (feel free to mix in different varieties), sliced
1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 pound whole milk ricotta
2 tablespoons Bovre (or a similar herbed soft cheese)
1 eg
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water for an egg wash

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a removable bottom round tart pan.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the squash and salt and pepper it to your liking.  Sauté the squash until soft, about 7 to 10 minutes.  Remove the squash from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Roll out the puff pastry until it’s the width of a pie crust shell.  Place it over the tart pan and mold it to the bottom and sides of the pan.  Trim off the excess puff pastry.  Brush the pastry with the egg wash and set it aside.

In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, Bovre, egg and parmesan cheese.  Depending on the flavor of the herbed soft cheese you use, you can either add salt and pepper to taste or not.  Because the Bovre is such a flavorful cheese, I did not add any additional salt and pepper.  Evenly spread this mixture over the puff pastry.  Top the cheese mixture with the squash, evenly placing the vegetables over the cheese.  Place the pastry pan on a larger baking sheet and bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing up the tart and serving it.

The Bloomingdale Farmers Market is located on 1st and R Street NW in DC and is held on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm.

Crystal City Farmers Market

Crystal City Sign Arlington County welcomed its sixth farmers market on Tuesday with the addition of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The new market, located steps from the Crystal City metro station, is the brainchild of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership established in April 2006 to provide a “higher level of service to visitors, workers and residents in Crystal City”.  Last year Crystal City BID began a Community Supported Agriculture program with Great Country Farms for residents and employees of Crystal City.  The overwhelming success of this program highlighted the demand for fresh produce, meats and dairy within Crystal City, leading to the creation of its first farmers market.  My friend James, a resident of Crystal City, first told me of the new market back in April, so I was looking forward to opening day.  To add to my excitement, I saw on their website that both Red Apron and Meat Crafters (two vendors I’ve been dying to try) were participating in the new market.  As I reviewed the expected list of vendors on their site, I was impressed that a brand new market was able to get such a diverse list of vendors.  The list included four bread/pastry vendors (including one of my favorites, Atwater’s Bakery), four meat producers (with everything from pork to lamb) and a wealth of fruit and vegetable farms.  Even more interesting, I noticed a loose leaf tea vendor (and we all know by now how much I love my loose teas) and a seller of salsas and pico de gallos made from locally grown ingredients (for a full list of vendors, go to the Crystal City Farmers Market website).  To say I was excited would be an understatement (and let’s not point out how sad it may seem that I get this excited about farmers markets).  So on Tuesday, I headed over to Crystal City with my reusable shopping bag in tow.

Togio Farms Tomatoes When I got off the metro, I was a little disoriented, as I’m not familiar with Crystal City.  I took a guess and walked down the hill, hoping I was going in the right direction.  When I saw the white tents on Crystal Drive, I figured I had either stumbled upon the farmers market or some sort of tent revival.  The market stretches from 18th to 20th street, lining both sides of the sidewalk with vendors.  The first vendor I saw was a familiar one, Toigo Orchards.  Sprawled out along the table were an intricate mass of tomatoes still clinging to their bright green vines.  These were the first vibrant tomatoes I’ve seen this Spring at any farmers markets.  I had promised myself I would try my hand at making and canning my own tomato sauces this year, so they were quite tempting.  But I opted to wait until tomato season was in full swing before making my own sauces.  Togio also had their collection of tomato sauces and apple products prominently displayed next to the tomato shrine.  People were lining up for the sample of apples out and animatedly asking about the various products for sale on the tables.  I usually pick up a jar of their tomato sauce but since I still had some of Chef Stefano’s smoky bacon and Parmesan pasta sauce from The Copper Pot, I decided to move along to the other vendors.

Tea Company Teas Jars of loose teas populated the next table, signaling that I’d found the new loose tea vendor TeaCo.  Myra Ceasar, one of the people behind TeaCo, was explaining the various blends to an eager young lady, unlocking the jars for her to smell.  She had the black teas separated from the other teas, allowing customers to see the various lines offered.  Myra admitted she’d brought a limited supply of teas since it was their first time at the new market.  As with many loose tea purveyors, TeaCo offers a variety of  blends of tea leaves that fall into one of six categories:  black teas, green/white teas, oolong teas, herbal teas, rooibos teas and medicinal herb teas.  They work with tea growers around the world in an attempt to get high quality leaves for their tea.  While she had the more familiar blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, she also had some unique blends that caught my eye.  The Persian Rose blend was already in a cute glass jar container, perched at the front of the table.  The blend has a strong, earthy aroma, mixing the smells of rose with a hint of cardamom and bergamot.  I love a good rose tea and I also love cardamom, so I was anxious to see how the two would work together in one cup.  Myra offered other blends to smell, each having its own signature fragrance.  I asked about the coconut creme blend listed on the sign.  Myra laughed and said unfortunately, she hadn’t brought that blend to market.  However, several people had already asked her about that very blend.  She said she would probably bring more varieties of tea next week, including the coconut creme.  She mentioned that they also sell their teas at Eastern Market during the weekends, bringing a larger selection of their blends to that market.  I bought the jar of Persian Rose and thanked her for bringing loose teas to more markets in the DC area.

Arugula Plants Displays of colorful hanging baskets of flowers dotted the Four Seasons Nursery tent.  Although I’m not one to buy plants (mostly because I am the equivalent of the plant Grim Reaper), the vibrant colors drew my eye to the stand.  The gentleman manning the tent was giving an older lady advice about low maintenance, but pretty plants for her condo.  Apparently she also had problems keeping plants alive for very long.  Four Seasons also had several herb plantings, including bushy basils and arugula plants that looked ready to eat.  But Four Seasons wasn’t the only stand with plants and flowers.  Beautiful orchids (one of my favorite flowers, mind you) lined the Orchid Station while LynnVale Studios had an assortment of different flowers in rich, lively tones.  Even though it wasn’t all that sunny, the array of flowers at the market certainly reminded us of Spring’s arrival.  Considering my long metro ride home, I opted against getting any plants or flowers from the market that day.

I was pleased to see one of my new favorite vendors Cherry Glen Goat Cheese at the market.  However, I was a little disappointed to find Cherry Glen was the only cheese or dairy vendor at Crystal City.  I was consoled, however, by the fact that Cherry Glen had samples of their goat cheeses out to try.  I still had a bit of the Monocacy Gold left from my purchases at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, so I didn’t pick up any more.  But I did learn they also offer fresh ricotta cheese. 

Bigg Riggs Ramp Vinegar As I continued along, I caught sight of the sign for Bigg Riggs Farms, a vendor I have read about numerous times from my fellow DC Foodies writer, Ramona Padovano.  I had never seen them at other markets I frequent, so I was curious to see what they had to offer.  One side of their tent was a table filled with salad greens fresh picked that day.  The mixes were voluminous, spilling out of their baskets and onto the table.  It looked like an explosion at a salad bar with green and deep purple leaves everywhere.  Before buying a bag of them, I looked around the rest of the tent and saw an interesting glass bottle sitting atop wooden crates.  Upon closer inspection, I found a ramp suspended in clear liquid, labeled ramp vinegar.  I have seen my fair share of ramps this season at the markets, but this was the first time I saw a ramp product at the market.  Although I was tempted to buy a bottle, my lack of affection for vinegars in general kept me from doing so.  Bigg Riggs also had a nice selection of jams, sauces, apple butters and hot pepper jellies for sale, all stacked strategically around the tent.   I bought a heaping bag of the salad greens and promised myself I’d get the ramp vinaigrette if it was available next time.

Atwater’s familiar display case of breads was a welcome sight, but so were the other bread vendors at the market.  Great Harvest Bread Company was giving out samples of their bread, so James (my frequent farmers market companion) decided to try their cheddar garlic bread.  Unlike some vendors who only give small samples, the man standing guard at Great Harvest cut off a healthy chunk of the bread for James to taste.  As we both sampled the hunk, we were told all the bread was made from fresh ingredients using no preservatives.  The taste of garlic permeated every inch of the bread, but the addition of molasses kept it from overpowering it.  James bought a loaf of their jalapeno cheddar bread while I mulled over the selection of cookies.  In the end, I decided not to get any because a lovely container of strawberries caught my eye. 

Westmoreland Strawberries The strawberries in question lined the front table at Westmoreland Produce.  Their sign promised fresh produce free of any pesticides or chemicals, but I didn’t see any other information about the farm.  The table was fairly crowded with people looking over their selection of salad greens, spring onions, strawberries and container plants and flowers.  The strawberries were a bright red and plump – in other words, irresistible.  A large container of strawberries was only $5, so I snapped up some with the intent to make a shortcake with them.  As I was paying for the strawberries, I chatted briefly with one of the ladies at the stand.  She said they were surprised at the turnout for the new market but happy to be busy.  And they were busy – as I finished paying, she ran off to help another lady looking at the various plants available. 

I will be honest; I was really scanning the market for the Red Apron sign.  I glanced here and there at the other vendors, but my eyes were always on the hunt for the red sign marking Nathan Anda’s charcuterie.  His hot dogs and cured meats have set the DC foodie community buzzing, with entire threads posted about them on and other DC centric food blogs.  While his meats are currently available for sale at Planet Wine in Alexandria, I don’t make it out to the less than metro friendly Alexandria that often.  So you can only imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see the elusive meat vendor at Crystal City.  Market manager Sara Abramson informed me logistical issues kept Red Apron and Meat Crafters from joining the market on its opening day.  The next day at Penn Quarter I finally met up with Nathan and his hot dogs and learned red tape with Arlington County was holding up their start at the Crystal City Farmers Market.  They do, however, hope to have everything resolved shortly and to start selling at Crystal City soon. 

Strawberry Shortcake 2 Strawberry Shortcake with Black Pepper Biscuits

For the biscuits:
2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
1 egg and a teaspoon of water, for the egg wash

For the strawberries:
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons quality, aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer in the freezer.
In a bowl, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours to allow the berries to marinate. 
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and baking soda. In a food processor, combine the sifted dry ingredients and the butter, evenly distributing the cubes of butter amongst the flour mixture. Pulse the ingredients repeatedly until they form a dry crumble consistency. Slowly pour the buttermilk into the food processor and resume pulsing until a soft, wet dough is formed. Gently scrape out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and then roll it out to 1 inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter, cut eight circles and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Whisk together the egg and water and brush the wash over each biscuit.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. 

While the biscuits are cooling, take out the whisk and bowl for the stand mixer.  Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl and whip on medium speed until soft peaks are formed and no liquid remains.  Be careful not to overwhip, as this will cause the cream to curdle and become a mess.
Allow the biscuits to cool to room temperature.  Split one of the biscuits in half and place a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto the cream.  Place the biscuit top slightly askew of the cream and berries.  If you’d like, top the biscuit with some more cream and a bit more of the berries (this is totally optional and depends on your level of decadence).  Repeat this procedure for the remaining biscuits and serve.

The Crystal City Farmers Market is located on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Street from 3 pm to 7 pm every Tuesday. 

Farmer's Market Menu: Juniper Smoked Chops with Young Garlic and Asparagus

Image055 This is not a Stephanie Willis post, but I understand any confusion.

Until recently, I lived on Capitol Hill. Eastern Market and its array of butchers, bakers and produce stalls was a mere five minute walk. I've always enjoyed Stephanie's write ups of area farmers' markets, but it was academic. Check out the Tacoma Park market! You have to see the vendors at the Falls Church market! Yes, yes, Ms. Willis, but why should I wade through the masses at the Dupont Circle market when I have everything I need in my proverbial backyard?
Well, I've moved. While Eastern Market still isn't too much of a hike, it's no longer a pleasant stroll away. All of the sudden, Stephanie's farmer's market posts have a new found importance. And to no surprise, Stephanie has covered my new local farmer's market, FARMFRESH's H Street market.

Shopping at farmer's markets is a no brainer for grilling. The meat and veg is (or should be) as fresh as possible, the quality is higher and you can often find things Safeway and Harris Teeter just don't carry. And when you're cooking hot and fast on a grill, you want high quality products because there's not much Image017 between you and the natural flavor of the product - or at least there shouldn't be (i.e., go easy on the marinades).

With no recipe in mind, I headed out to the H St. market in search of inspiration. What I came away with was smoked pork chops. Smoked Tamworth pork chops, in fact. David Ober from Cedarbrook Farm is the  H St. market's pork guy. His white board product menu is a Gray's Anatomy of the pig. Ober's smoked pork chops - a cross between ham and pork loin - was the item that stopped me. I've certainly had my fair share of ham (the smoked meat of the back leg), but smoked loin (the tender meat from the back of the pig) was a new one for me.

The H St. market might be one of the smallest markets I've visited in a while, but the few vendors that showed up brought quality products. To go with the chops, I grabbed bunches of fresh asImage014paragus, young garlic and arugula flowers, the pale green and purple ends of our president's favorite leafy vegetable.

Before heading out, I made a final stop at Robb Duncan's Dolcezza Gelato. With flavors like mojito, strawberry tequila and Meyer lemon vodka, I wasn't sure if Duncan was going to card me, but I'd happily submit to a blood test for a sample of his desserts.

Image059 As long as I'm trying new things, I picked up one of the latest offerings from Brooklyn Brewery: Local 2. Like its predecessor, Local 1, the beer is a Belgian style strong ale sold in a large 750 ml bottle. Unlike its processor, Local 2 is brewed with honey and orange peel, creating a gently sweet ale that works great with the pork (and the juniper crust I added).
Last weekend was the first market of the season. Next weekend, the vendors' ranks grow with the addition of an Amish butcher. I'll be interested to see what he brings - provided I'm not checking out another Stephanie Willis recommendation.

Juniper Smoked Chops with Young Garlic and Asparagus
(makes two servings)

Image030 2 smoked pork chops
1 bunch asparagus (about 12 pieces)
1 bunch young garlic (about 8 stalks)
1 bunch arugula flowers
2 tbs. juniper berries
2 tsp. black pepper corns
2 tsp. tarragon leaves
1/2 lemon
Olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, crush the juniper berries and peppercorns. Dice the tarragon and mix in the with juniper and peppercorns. Rub the mixture into the meat of the chops, making sure to cover both sides. (Note, I did not add any salt to the chops. The smoked pork was already salted and didn't need any more.)

Drizzle the asparagus and garlic with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Because the chops are smoked, they're basically cooked. So you only need to put them on the grill long enough to form a crust on the exterior.

Image035 When the grill is ready, place the chops directly over the hottest spot and the vegetables off to the side. After three minutes, turn the chops and move them to a cooler spot. Turn the garlic and asparagus, and move to the hot spot to char. Cook for another three minutes and pull everything off the grill. Trim most of the green off the garlic, which is edible, but on the tough side.

Plate the chops and grilled vegetables, and finish with fresh lemon juice and spicy arugula flowers overtop.

14th and U Farmers Market

Market Sign Mount Pleasant Farmers Market wasn’t the only market opening the weekend of May 2nd. The market at 14th & U Streets also had its opening day and I was determined to check it out. After hitting up the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, Brian and I hopped on the bus and traveled down 14th Street curious to see what we’d find. In its second year, the market has grown at an alarming rate. From it’s beginnings as a sidewalk market standing only in front of the Reeves Center on 14th Street, the market now wraps around to U Street. Like the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, 14th and U is a producers only market with local vendors selling locally grown and produced goods.

Orchard Fresh Apple Jam Market manager Robin Shuster (who also manages the Bloomingdale Farmers Market) has listened to her customers’ pleas for a fresh pasta vendor, welcoming Stefano Frigerio’s newest venture, The Copper Pot. Stefano, the former executive chef at Mio Restaurant in DC, produces fresh pastas, jams, sauces and vinegars (the vinegars, however, are not sold at the market but will be available soon via The Copper Pot website) all from locally grown fruits and vegetables. On his first day at the 14th and U Street Farmers Market, the reputation of Stefano’s quality products led to him selling out faster than he anticipated. Brian and I tried a sample of his strawberry and vanilla bean jam…only to learn he’d sadly sold out of it. The jam had a strong strawberry flavor without being overtly sweet. The undercurrent of vanilla added a depth to the jam that was unexpected but complimentary. I was quite disappointed to learn I couldn’t buy a jar of my own, but Stefano assured us he would have much more inventory next Saturday.  

Pumpernickel Raisin Loaves Robin also had the tough job of replacing one of 14th and U’s favorite vendors Breadline with a new bread maker. I will confess that I have never tried Breadline’s breads, so I am not able to compare them to the new bread vendor, Panorama. But hands down, Panorama turned out to be the best surprise of the day for me. Why? Because they sell SLICED fresh bread. As much as I love getting fresh bread from the farmers market, I hate having to slice it up. So when I went over to the Panorama stand, my eyes immediately went to the loaf of deli rye, neatly sliced and wrapped in a plastic bag. I clapped my hands excitedly and asked for a loaf. While waiting for my change, I accepted a sample of their multi-grain roll. Topped with sunflower seeds and other grains, the roll was crusty on the outside but soft on the inside. Tempted to get a few for that night’s dinner, I decided to wait and see if I liked the rye before buying anything else from Panorama. I shouldn’t have worried…the loaf didn’t last a week in my house. And it was the perfect bread for a grown up grilled cheese sandwich made with Keswick’s Vermeer cheese (another 14th and U Street vendor) and arugula from the Truck Patch stand.

I was also happy to see one of my favorite Penn Quarter market vendors, Dolcezza Gelato and Sorbetto. Dolcezza uses fresh cream and milk from Perrydell Farms in York, Pennsylvania for their gelatos and a host of herbs, fruits and honeys from farms all around the Mid-Atlantic region. Their dedication to quality ingredients is evident with just one bite of their gelatos and sorbets. I regularly pick up a half pint of one of their flavors every Thursday as a weekend treat, so I was pleased to know I could also pick up more on the weekends (trust me a half pint doesn’t go far when you’re sharing). More and more fruit and vegetables were on display as the Spring crops make their way to the market. Mountain View Farm even had stinging nettles for the adventurous cooks. I was tempted to pick up some, but admitted to myself I would need to research how to cook them further before plunking down the money for them. Over at the Truck Patch Farm stand, silver tubs of mesclun mix, kale and arugula were interspersed with coolers of their fresh pork and beef products. I picked up a slab of their bacon, along with some of their mesclun mix with the intent of making a bacon centered salad dressing for the salad.

Lovely Mint As with the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, asparagus was in abundance all around 14th and U. I have been itching to try an asparagus and mint risotto recipe I saw in Food and Wine magazine, so I picked up extra asparagus from Kuhn and McCleaf, along with a half gallon of their apple cider (which is my new favorite morning drink…liquid apples in a cup people!!!). For the mint, I headed over to Garner’s stand, which is filled with herb and vegetable plantings, as well as lettuce mixes, asparagus, spring onions and colorful chards. I overheard the mention of strawberries at the market the next weekend, so I made a mental note to come back for my favorite berries. With rhubarb still in season, I knew I wanted to make the strawberry rhubarb pie that was such a hit at a neighborhood brunch last year.  So this past Saturday, I returned to the 14th and U Street market for the first strawberries of the season!  With rhubarb from Kuhn and McCleaf and Garner's strawberries, I made the perfect Spring dessert.

Finished Pie 3Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Pie Filling
6 stalks rhubarb, diced into cubes
4 cups strawberries, sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Egg wash for the pie crust
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Place the fruits into a mixing bowl and sprinkle with both sugars. With either a spoon or your hand, toss the fruits around to evenly coat them with the sugars. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla and continue to toss. Add the cornstarch and stir until the mixture thickens and a bit of a glaze is created. 

Set the filling aside and roll out the pie crust dough. Place it into a pie pan, trimming the excess off the sides to ensure an even crust. Whisk together the egg and water and brush the egg wash on the entire pie crust. Pour the filling into the pie crust and place in the oven for 45-55 minutes. The crust should be golden and the filling should start to gel. This may require you rotating the pie halfway during the baking cycle.  Allow the pie to cool and then place it in the refrigerator for at least two hours to allow the filling to fully set.

The 14th and U Street Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm and is located at the corner of (where else) 14th and U Street NW in Washington, DC.

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market Opening Day

Market sign  I recently moved to the Columbia Heights neighborhood, so I was itching to explore the markets in the area.  You can just imagine my gleeful joy to find out there was not one but TWO farmers markets within a short distance of my new digs that I've never visited.  And as luck would have it, both markets had their opening days this past weekend.  So on Saturday morning, my foodie friend Brian and I ventured out in the rainy weather to check out opening day at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market.  Located in Lamont Park, the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is a producer only market in its sixth year.  Growing from a very small neighborhood market, the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market welcomes four new vendors this year:  Atwater's Bread, Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company, Painted Hand Farm (a veal and goat meat vendor) and Groff's Content Farm (a purveyor of lamb, beef, pork and some poultry upon order). 

Bike Clinic Before joining up with Brian, I quietly walked around the outside of the market taking pictures and observing.  This was definitely a neighborhood market.  People were catching up with friends, talking about the latest news in Mount Pleasant and chatting amicably with the vendors.  Unlike some other markets in the DC area, there was no rushing around or vendors hurrying up customers to get to the next person.  Market coordinators were on hand to answer questions and point out new vendors.  I also noticed a bunch of people with bikes on the bandstand in the park.  Curious, I learned the market was now offering a free bike clinic to its customers.  The clinic not only provides bike repairs, it also provides tips to keep your bike running smoothly in the city.  

Italian Heirloom Tomato Plants My first stop was at a familiar favorite, Keswick Creamery.  As usual, Keswick had a variety of their cheeses available to sample.  Their vermeer variety is one of my favorite cheeses, not only because of its flavor but also because it melts smoothly. I picked up a small block of the vermeer and moved along down the market.  There were several vendors with plantings for the garden, including both herbs and tomato plants.  I have been toying with the idea of creating my own container garden of herbs on my new balcony, so I have been price comparing herb plantings at the various markets.  Tree and Leaf Farm, Audia's Farm and Richfield Farm had herb, flower and vegetable starts available at prices ranging from $3 per herb plant to $6 for a four pack of tomato plants.  At Audia's Farm, I overheard Kathy Audia giving suggestions on the best mix of herbs to use for container gardens.  My ears perked up because of my own container garden aspirations.  I tucked away Kathy's tips and decided I would come back to her for advice when I was ready to start my own herb garden. 

Lovely Asparagus We moved along noticing the abundance of asparagus around the market.  The mini heat wave a few weeks ago apparently were a boon for the asparagus crop, bringing forth a huge amount of one of my favorite vegetables.  Both Truck Patch Farm and Richfield Farm had buckets full of asparagus, both green and purple.  Every year I practically gorge myself on asparagus when it's in season, so I happily picked up several bunches from Truck Patch.  Truck Patch also had free range eggs at $5 a dozen.  I noticed the eggs were in commercial containers, so I asked if the eggs were their own.  I was assured the eggs were in fact from their own farm, but to save costs and reduce waste, they used commercial containers recycled from consumers and other farms.  I was also told in the next few weeks, I could bring my own containers for eggs.  The idea of reusing my egg containers appealed to me greatly, so I made a mental note to bring my own next time. 

Rhubarb for Sale! I also picked up some of the first rhubarb of the season from Richfield Farm.  The rhubarb was vibrantly red and sturdy, unlike the rhubarb I have seen lately in the grocery stores.  I normally only use rhubarb in conjunction with strawberries, but I have been dying to try my hand at a rhubarb pie.  With that in mind, I asked the young lady at the Richfield Farm stand how much I would need to make a pie.  She admitted she wasn't that much of a baker, but ventured a guess that I would need two bunches to make a nice pie.  Richfield also had spinach and scallions, as well as some lovely hanging baskets of flowers.  The baskets were bursting with color and I was tempted to pick up one or two for my balcony.  But considering my less than stellar history of taking care of flowers, I opted against it. 

Atwater's Bread! I was quite happy to see that Atwater's, one of my favorite vendors, was now available within walking distance.  Although it was their first day at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, there was still a good variety of their breads and baked goods.  Brian picked up a large loaf of their Country White with the intent to toast it with some of the cheese he picked up at Keswick.  As usual, I picked up my morning treat of Atwater's Fruit and Nut granola (I often enjoy it with Blue Ridge Dairy's Greek Yogurt lightly sweetened with local honey).  I also asked about pizza dough, having read in the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market newsletter that Atwater's offered it.  My intent was to make a delicious pizza of asparagus, apple-wood smoked mozzarella and ramps.  But I was told there was a misunderstanding; Atwater's didn't sell pizza dough.  Apparently the previous bread vendor at Mount Pleasant sold pizza dough and that assumption carried over to Atwater's.  I guess my disappointment was visable, as the young lady at the counter apologized for the mix up. I quickly had to restructure my meal plan in my head but was still happy to see that Atwater's was expanding to other markets in the DC area.

Cherry Glen Sign  Before leaving the market, Brian and I stopped by another new vendor, Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company.  Using the goat milk from their Cherry Glen Goat Farm, Diane Kirsch & Wayne Cullen create artisanal goat cheeses of numerous varieties.  When we approached the table, David Rifkin, a Cherry Glen Goat Cheese seller, happily began talking to us about the difference between goat cheeses bought in the store and what Cherry Glen offers.   According to David, goat cheese has a limited shelf life and often times the cheeses available in the store are at the end of their cycle.  Because of this, store bought goat cheese has a much tangier flavor and more grainy texture than a fresher, carefully crafted goat cheese.  I sampled the Monocacy Gold variety and fell in love.  Unlike the goat cheese I have bought from grocery stores, this cheese had a smooth quality with an almost nutty aftertaste.  There was a richness in the depth of its flavor, without the sharp tang I often associated with goat cheese.  I could have easily spread this cheese on a loaf of bread topped with balsamic vinegar infused caramelized onions.  When David said they were running a special on the Monocacy Gold ($4 each), I happily snapped up two packages of it.  I knew immediately I was going to make a tart using the Monocacy Gold and carmelized onions. 

I wanted to add some ramps to the tart, but couldn't find any at the market.  Ramps, also known as wild leeks, have a short season at the beginning of the Spring.  A treasure among foodies, ramps are one of my favorite crops to experiment with during their season.  I had been looking for them since the beginning of April to no avail.  I was told New Morning Farm was selling them at Dupont Circle on Sundays, so I figured I'd need to make a trip there on Sunday to get the ramps for my tart. 

My shopping bag was loaded down, but I still had plenty of cash in my wallet.  Surprisingly, the prices at Mount Pleasant are much more reasonable than most of the markets in the area.  Although the market isn't as big as Dupont or the Falls Church Farmers Markets, I was able to get everything I needed for the week with a little extra green leftover.  I headed home with my purchases...only to make room for a trip to the 14th and U Street Farmers Market, also opening on the same day.  More, however, on that trip next time.

Finished Tart Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion and Ramp Tart

2 bunches of ramps, green leaves chopped
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces goat cheese, slice
1 package puff pastry (I use Dufour Puff Pastry), thawed

For the egg wash:  one egg and a tablespoon of water whisked together

Preheat oven to 375 and fit two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the onions and stir consistently to prevent the onions from sticking to the pan.  Continue to cook the onions until they begin to brown and soften, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Add the chopped green leaves of the ramps (reserve the stalk of the ramps for later use) to the onions and continue cooking until the ramps begin to wilt.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Roll out the puff pastry until it's a large rectangle and is 1/4 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the pastry into six rectangles.  Place one to three small slices of the goat cheese (depending on how cheesy you like your tarts to be) in the center of each rectangle.  Using a tablespoon, top the cheese with the cooled caramelized onion and ramp mixture.  Fold the ends of the pastry over the mixture and then fold the sides over.  Place the tart on the baking sheet and repeat the steps until you have made all the tarts.  Brush each tart with the egg wash and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Allow to cool before serving.

The Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm at Lamont Park (between Park and Lamont Streets). 

Opening Day at Penn Quarter!

PQ Farmers Market Sign Although it was a cloudy day with a slight chill in the air, nothing was going to dampen my spirits last Thursday.  With my reusable bag in my hand, I headed over to Penn Quarter on a late lunch break to herald opening day of the Penn Quarter Farmers Market!  Located on 8th Street between D and E Street, the Penn Quarter farmers market is a popular stop after work for the K Street set.  It's also a welcome place for Penn Quarter residents to pick up fresh produce, meat and dairy.  So it was no surprise that the market was bustling when my co-worker James and I got to the market around 4.  It's still fairly early in the season, so there was not a huge selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, but Black Rock Orchard had an ample amount of apples and apple products (including cider).  Strategically placed in front of the Black Rock Orchard stand was a lovely bucket full of blossoms that I mistakenly thought were cherry blossoms (who could blame me with it being prime cherry blossom time in DC).  But James, ever the fan of reading signs, pointed out that they were apricot blossoms.  Although I was very tempted to pick up a few sprigs, I knew they'd wither away due to neglect.  We continued down the market in search of the new lamb vendor, Springfield Farm of Kent County. 

As we wandered around the market, I kept an eye out for the Chef at Market demonstration scheduled for opening day.  Rob Weland, the chef at neighboring restaurant Poste, was to begin around 4 pm but there was no demonstration booth set up.  However, the amazing smell of cooking crab cakes more than made up for the absentee chef.  Looking around, I quickly found the source of the aromas making my stomach grumble angrily:  Chris' Marketplace.  Chris Hoge's dedication to using the freshest seafood in his cooking is evident the minute you taste one of his crab cakes.  Although I have read up on Chris' crab cakes and ingredients, I have never been able to actually speak with him.  This isn't because he doesn't appear friendly or willing to chat.'s simply because the lines around his makeshift kitchen are always long.  By the time I get up to the front and place my order, the person behind me is already breathing down my neck to move along. Opening day was no exception, so I continued on.

Divine Chocolate We continued along and stumbled upon a booth festooned with gold wrapped chocolate eggs.  Two women were manning it and offered James and I a chance to win one of them.  Not one to turn down free chocolate, we happily accepted the challenge.  It seemed simple enough:  answer a few questions correctly and you win a chocolate egg (either milk or dark chocolate).  The very first question identified the company and it's mission.  Divine Chocolate is a fair trade chocolate company co-owned by a collective of farmers in Ghana.  From drinking chocolates to baking chocolates, Divine's product line covers the cocoa gamut.  Although not a usual Penn Quarter vendor, Divine shares in the ideals of buying locally and responsibly.  Luckily, James and I answered enough questions right to win two chocolate eggs.  Before we left the booth, we picked up information about Divine and where to buy their products in the DC area. 

Brioche! Still in search of the Chef at Market demonstration, we headed down 8th Street and ran into the crowd surrounding the Ovens at Quail Creek Farm.  Their breads and pastries are hands down some of my favorite in DC, especially their lovely loaves of brioche.  Sliced thick and dipped into a custard of egg, cream and vanilla, their brioche make a wonderful french toast for a lazy weekend breakfast.  James picked up a loaf of sourdough bread with the intent to use it for a weekend breakfast sandwich.  Although I was tempted to pick up a loaf of brioche (did I mention it smelled amazing?), I knew my weekend plans of packing didn't mix well with a big, carb heavy breakfast.  I promised myself I would celebrate my (hopefully) successful move with a decadent vanilla bean french toast in the coming weekends. 

Tulips and Flowers A lovely flourish of green brought a glimmer of Spring to this otherwise cloudy day as we passed Endless Summer Harvest's mix of lettuce and arugula. The DC area masters of hydroponic farming, Endless Summer Harvest brings a taste of Spring and Summer all year round to DC residents.  Hydroponic farming employs the use of large greenhouses and a nutrient rich source of water to grow plants out of season.  Endless Summer Harvest concentrates mostly on greens and herbs and I routinely get a bunch of their arugula or basil for pesto.  And believe you me, during the sparse Winter months it was wonderful to whip up a batch of pesto for a quick lunch.  Another sign of Spring evident on opening day?  A wealth of tulips, fresh herbs and other colorful flowers lining tables all around the market.  Reds, yellows, whites and oranges dotted the otherwise gray backdrop of opening day and filled their immediate area with a light fragrance.  I was once again tempted to buy a bouquet of yellow tulips but decided it was best to wait until the move. 

Blue Ridge Sign Askew It was good to see all the old familiar faces:  Blue Ridge Dairy, Cibola Farms, Dolcezza Artisanal Gelatos and Everona Dairy.  But I was on the hunt to find Springfield Farm of Kent County, the new lamb vendor.  James and I walked around the market twice in search of both Springfield Farm and the Chef at Market demonstration.  However, we were unable to find either one.  I was also unable to find the other new vendor, Red Apron Butchery, only seeing the usual Cibola Farms meat vendor. However, it is only the beginning of the market season, so I keep hope alive there will be two more meat vendors at Penn Quarter in the near future. 

Before leaving the market, I spoke briefly with Liz Falk, FreshFarm's DC market manager, and found out Rob was running a little late for the Chef at Market demonstration.  As much as I wanted to stay to watch Rob cook, I had to get back to work.  James and I headed back with plans to hit up the market again next week.  And although I didn't buy anything (it's a bit hard to cook when the contents of your kitchen sits in boxes on the floor), I was thrilled to have my Penn Quarter market back for the season!

The Penn Quarter Farmers Market is open on Thursdays from 3 pm to 7 pm.

Beef and Mushroom Stew

Wide Market ShotLast Saturday I made my way to the Arlington Farmers Market, intent on finding some indication that Spring was around the corner.  However, the chill in the air and the sparse amount of produce were a huge reminder that although Spring may have arrived on the calendars, it's still not evident in DC.  There were the now familiar bins of tubers (sweet, Yukon and new), the onions (both yellow and red) and of course the many, many apples that are staples of Winter.  This, I thought to myself, was not turning out to be a successful Spring rejuvenation market trip.  I resigned myself to this fact and instead decided to make a good hearty beef roast (and hopefully for the last time this season) for the upcoming (and what turned out to be rainy) week. 

Crimini Mushrooms My first stop was the Mother Earth Organic Mushroom stand, where there was a sea of criminis, portabellas, shiitakes and white button mushrooms all competing for my attention.  I will freely admit I adore mushrooms:  their earthy taste, their woodsy smell and their almost meaty texture.  I shamelessly add mushrooms to dishes that usually don't call for them (I even made a mushroom gelato once before...we won't discuss the end result).  But I knew the flavors of crimini mushrooms would complement the beef for my roast, so I picked up a container.  While I was at the stand, I asked when morels would start showing up at the market and I was told within the next few weeks.  The lady at the stand laughed and said I was the tenth person that had asked her about morels this morning.  "I think we're all just anxiously awaiting the Spring crops," I said.  Her response? "Forget the crops, I want the Spring weather.  You try standing out in the cold for four and five hours at a time!"  I laughed and thanked her for my mushrooms and kept going. 

Lovely Rosemary I continued down the parking lot, in search of other ingredients for my roast.  I happened along a small stand with no sign on it.  Curious, I walked over to see what they were selling and was pleasantly surprised to find a small selection of herbs.  A young couple was operating the stand, while trying to stay warm with giant cups of coffee.  I asked them about their farming methods and was told during the Winter months, they grow their herbs in a greenhouse using a chemical free method.  Although not certified organic, they strictly adhere to organic farming practices but have yet to take the steps to become certified.  I picked up a sleeve of rosemary and the herb's lush aroma instantly hit my nose.  I happily paid for the rosemary, caught up in the haze of sniffing the fragrant leaves.  So much so, I forgot to ask the vendor's names. 

I figured I needed some vegetables to round out the beef roast, so I headed over to the Potomac Vegetable Farms stand to root through the bins.  As I was selecting my onions, an older couple came up to the potato bin beside me.  "So how many potatoes will we need," the older woman asked as she picked through the pile.  "Well, I think we'll need at least three pounds to make a decent potato salad," he responded, shaking his head.  "I'm still not sure why they're insisting on having a cook out; it's too cold to be standing outside cooking meat."  I laughed quietly to myself and the lady turned to me and said "It's his kin and he's asking why they're crazy enough to be eating outside when it's cold."  That pretty much sums up all of DC's mood right now: ready for Spring, even if Mother Nature isn't.  I got two large onions and four parsnips for the stew, adament that I would not be using potatoes for yet another week. 

My final stop for the day was, of course, for beef at Eco Friendly Foods.  In case you haven't been to Eco Friendly Foods lately, I feel it is my civic duty to inform you they now sells bacon...and it's delicious.  The bacon is straight from their humanely raised pigs and cured at a neighboring farm (the curing method involves only salt, brown sugar and water and absolutely no nitrates).  The difference between store bought bacon and Eco Friendly Foods' bacon is astounding to say the least.  Not only does the bacon cook up crispier than store bought, the flavors are uncluttered and pure pork goodness.  The hint of brown sugar adds a smoky depth to the bacon without leaving a sweet taste in your mouth.  It's quite frankly a bacon lover's dream.  I happily snapped up a package of their bacon along with a lovely chuck roast for my beef roast.

Finished Dish Mushroom and Beef Roast
3 to 4 pound boneless chuck roast
2 cups beef stock or broth
1 cup dry red wine
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon hone
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
3 teaspoons allspice
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
3 medium sized parsnips, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, sliced
1 small container crimini mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sprinkle the chuck roast with salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the beef, allowing it to brown on each side before removing it from the pot.  Add the onions and carrots, allowing them to cook for about four minutes.  Make sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot and stir them into the onions.  Add the wine and allow it to come to a boil.  Add the beef stock, tomato paste, vinegar and honey and allow the liquids to boil together for about 30 seconds.  Add the mushrooms and the spices and then return the beef to the pot.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil and then remove it from the heat.  Cover with the lid and place the Dutch oven in the stove.  Roast the beef for 3 hours, turning it halfway through the cooking time. 

Interview with Liz Falk of FreshFarm Markets

Flowers at the MarketYou all know I've been longing for Spring in a major way. So much so, I started looking around for information on the opening dates for farmers markets in the area.  I was excited to see that one of my favorite markets, the Penn Quarter Farmers Market, was opening on April 2nd and also curious to see if any new vendors would be added.  With this in mind, I reached out to Liz Falk, FRESHFARM’s DC Program Manager, to discuss what consumers can expect at the markets this season and about the history, mission and goals of the organization. 

Fans of farmers markets in the DC area are well aware of FRESHFARM Markets, the nonprofit responsible for the markets at Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter, H Street, Foggy Bottom and many others.  The original purpose behind FRESHFARM Markets was “to help support the small and medium sized farmers in the Chesapeake region by creating urban marketplaces for them to sell their products”, Liz said. The concept began as an idea presented to the American Farmland Trust board members and Bernadine “Bernie” Prince, then a development director at the organization, helped bring it to fruition.  Their first market opened in Dupont Circle in 1997 and there are now eight markets spanning the Chesapeake Bay region. 

Basil for Sale! When asked about how farmers are selected for the markets, Liz informed me there is an application process to become a FRESHFARM vendor. In order to be considered, applicants must be in the Chesapeake Bay region and grow the food they sell (as opposed to purchasing goods from another merchant and then selling it at the farmers market).  If a potential vendor wants to sell finished goods (for example, breads, pies or preserves), a certain percentage of the finished product must be made from local farm products.  In addition, a representative from the farm must be on hand during market hours.  There is a strict “no hormones or antibiotics” rule for all meat and dairy products and beef should come from grass fed cows.  Although organic farming practices are encouraged, they are not required for farmers who sell at FRESHFARM markets.  However, most of the farmers use organic methods (but opt not to go through the sometimes costly and convoluted certification process) or alternative, non-chemical pest management processes. 

The application is not the only part of the process, however.  Liz stressed that “once a [farmer or producer] applies to sell at one of our markets, we conduct farm visits to ensure they are in fact growing what they sell” and meet the requirements set forth by the market.  These visits also allow FRESHFARM to get to know the farmers and producers better and their farming and manufacturing process.  These visits (which occur at least once every two years -  even after a producer is accepted at a market) creates accountability for the producers and provides assurances to market shoppers that they are, in fact, buying directly from the farm.   

Radishes for Sale! In keeping with FRESHFARM’s goal of making local, fresh produce available to all regardless of socioeconomic status, FRESHFARM markets have several local programs aimed at lower income families and individuals.  According to Liz, both the EBT and WIC programs allow those who are not financially stable access to quality produce.  At both the H Street and Silver Spring markets, EBT/Food Stamp recipients can use their benefits to shop for food items from participating vendors at the market.  Senior citizens who are enrolled in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and those enrolled in WIC can also use their benefits to shop at participating vendors as well (there are restrictions on when these benefits can be used).  While participation in these programs is voluntary for farmers at the markets, Liz has been working in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health nutrition program to get more to participate. 

FRESHFARM also participates in school programs to educate children about farming, gardening and cooking nutritious, healthy meals.  Called FoodPrints, the program allows FRESHFARM to work in conjunction with area schools to create a curriculum aimed at teaching school aged children about the joys and benefits of locally grown foods.  This school year FRESHFARM has been working with Watkins Elementary school, located in Southeast DC.  The curriculums include teaching the students about gardening and farming techniques, as well as actual hands on experience creating and maintaining a garden on school grounds. 

Veggies at Farm Stand The most exciting part of my conversation with Liz was discussing the upcoming market season.  When asked what FRESHFARM had in store for this year, Liz said Penn Quarter will have a new organic farmer, as well as a lamb vendor!  “We are looking into expanding some of our markets, to support more farmers and provide customers with more selection,” Liz said.  Although she couldn’t provide too many details about specific expansion plans, Liz did say FRESHFARM was working on projects that may result in larger markets and/or a more diverse group of producers. In addition, the popular Chef at Market program will be back in full force at the various markets, along with cooking demonstrations and “ask the gardener” sessions at the H Street market.  And the biggest event this year at FRESHFARM is their annual Farm Land feast.  Planning for the event, which includes a four course meal prepared by some of DC’s top chefs, began a month ago and is usually their biggest fundraiser.  As I thanked Liz for speaking with me, I thought to myself, “Great, now I really can’t wait for April!” 

For the opening dates of the FRESHFARM markets, visit their website.