Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Farmers Markets...yeeee haaa!

Picture from Ballston Farmers Market Blog

TWSF has come to love farmers markets. Why? The food is directly from the farm. Everything is "in-season,"  fresh, and well cared for. The food is GOOD.

While growing a little garden of our own (you should see how grown-up our little basil is!), we've come to appreciate the care put into food. It's an appreciation I had never really grasped while walking through the sterile prepackaged isles of a grocery store. At a farmer's market, you meet the mother of your tomatoes, the father of your handmade cheese, and their kid's pet chicken whose time, unfortunately, was up. The local farmers are there to discuss the finer points of their produce with you, and are happy to provide several ways to incorporate it into a great meal. They are very passionate about their products, one guy even switched on his CD player and had a musical score accompany his description of his raspberry sorbet.

During the early summer in DC, we are finding that the farmers markets are offering blackberries, blueberries, cherries, green beans, corn, peaches, and tomatoes. And of course, there will always be meat, poultry, bread, sweets, and flowers. Shopping at an open air farmers market forces you to cook seasonally, meaning using ingredients at their prime and at the time nature intended. A farmers market resembles the produce sections of the good old days, before modern international shipping techniques took seasonality out of the grocery store. You won't find an apple or squash at a DC farmers market at this time of year, you'll have to wait for fall. 

This past week, we went to the three farmers markets listed below. For those of you who live in the Arlington/District area, these farmers markets are well worth the trip.

Ballston Farmers Market

Welburn Square is at N. 9th and N. Stuart Streets (next to the Ballston metro)
Arlington, VA

Every Thursday 3:00pm- 7:00pm, May 27 - October 14

I just started visiting this farmers market on my way home from work on Thursdays, so I haven't tried much yet. Both visits I've bought these delicious muffins (blueberry for Chuck, pumpkin for me). They are $2 each which could be considered pricey, but the muffins are over-sized and 1 can last me a dessert and breakfast the next morning (not so much for Chuck, he considers them a nice snack).

Last week, I spent a total of $11 and came home with 1 large ciabatta loaf, 1 small basket of new potatoes, 1 small basket of cherry tomatoes, 3 ears of corn, and 1 muffin. I was actually pretty surprised at the small amount of money spent, because to be honest, farmers markets aren't always cheap. You pay for freshness, cleanliness, and care of the food.

This farmers market is perfect if you are looking to avoid large crowds, and are shopping for basic meats, poultry, produce, and baked goods.

Courthouse Farmers Market

Arlington County Courthouse Parking Lot, at the intersection of N. Courthouse Rd. and N. 14th St.  (next to the Courthouse metro)
Arlington, VA

Saturdays 8am-noon - Year Round

Recently, we've taken a liking to the market's blackberries. They are by far the biggest and best looking berries either of us have ever seen. Every Saturday, there is a long line of berry-goers, just waiting to get their hands on some of Westmoreland Berry Farm's blackberries, blueberries, red raspberries, and purple raspberries, just to name a few. We've also purchased a huge onion (that one was enough for a recipe that called for 2 onions), and elephant garlic. This head of garlic is huge. One clove of elephant garlic is about the size of one regular-sized head of garlic (how could we not buy one?). Since we use the ingredient in so many recipes, we figured it was a good investment. After tasting the garlic, and following up on research, we are disappointed to find that elephant garlic is no replacement for your normal grocery store garlic. The flavor is sweeter and less intense, and it is more perishable than ordinary garlic. Needless to say, we won't be purchasing that again.
Elephant Garlic vs. Ordinary Garlic

After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Chuck was curious about free-range, grass-fed, organic chickens. For those of you who enjoy your food and don't want to potentially ruin your appetite, you might reconsider reading this book (my roommate turned vegetarian after reading it). I'm still debating whether or not I want to read it, but for now, I plan to continue to be a T-Rex and not worry about all the meat I put into my body (Chuck's Note: that's what she said).

Anyways, back to the chicken purchase. This was not a large chicken, enough to roast and feed two of use for dinner, with leftover meat for homemade chicken noodle soup. Because the name of the chicken has all those fancy-shmancy words like "free-range" and "grass-fed" attached to it, this was a $20 chicken (a normal chicken this size would have been $10 or less in your local grocery store). As Chuck put it, "I felt like I was paying for the chickens kids to go to a fancy private school." I'm not sure I tasted a difference in the meat, but it is nice to know I swallowed a few less antibiotics with each bite.  

This farmers market can get pretty crowded on a Saturday morning. We recommend coming early if you want some feta from the cheese guy (he always runs out by 10 AM), and taking the time to wait in line for fresh berries from Westmoreland Berry Farm. So fight through that hangover and support local producers.
Westmoreland Blackberries

Eastern Market

225 7th Street, SE (next to the Eastern Market metro)
Washington, D.C.

Year Round

Tuesday-Friday 7am - 7pm

Saturday 7am - 6pm

Sunday 9am - 5pm
Monday Closed

TWSF loves, loves, loves Eastern Market. During the warmer weather, we typically get to the market once a week. There are large indoor and outdoor sections for food (meat, seafood, homemade pasta, pastries, ice-cream, etc.), and another area for homemade crafts and random yard sale items. TWSF has their own routine for Eastern Market. We first walk through the outdoor market to sample in-season fruits and veggies from several of the farmers, as well as chips and dips from Wisteria Gardens (recently became a fan of Indian hummus).

After our appetizers (aka samples) we head into the indoor food market where we stop for a crabcake sandwich and fries at Market Lunch. I'm not native to the area, so I may be off in saying this, but that place makes the best crabcake sandwich I've ever had. Not only is it affordable ($9 each) and made with plenty of lump crabmeat, but the bun it comes on is just perfect. I'm pretty sure the buns are homemade. Business must be good, you can expect to wait in line if you visit during peak lunch hours.

After lunch we like to take a digestive walk around the craft portion of the market. There are a lot of neat things in there. My favorite purchase was this French butter keeper made out of clay by a local artisan. You'll find antique furniture, handmade jewelry, screen printed t-shirts, you name it. Oh, and they also have snacks like donuts, funnel cake, sorbet, etc. (I heart the donuts obviously).

Surrounding this market are a bunch of cute little places that are perfect for and outdoor brunch or lunch. On the weekends it is the perfect place to people watch, but we warn you it gets crowded whenever it's sunny in DC. We definitely recommend taking the metro or biking (my new favorite activity), because parking can be a b****.

Never been to a farmers market? Not sure where you would even find one local to you? Check out the LocalHarvest website and search by zip code to find the one closest to you. If you like cooking as much as we do, make the effort to wake up and smell the produce. Happy shopping :)

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