Peak of the Harvest San Diego Market Tour

When summer begins to wane and the autumn leaves begin their transition, the tables at the farmers markets explode with color. Whether it is San Diego or Detroit, the September harvest is a magnificent time to be in our local farmers markets which have become our community centers, weekend playgrounds and the instigators of culinary foreplay for foodies across the country.

While visiting San Diego recently, I went to five farmers markets and a community farm.  One of my favorites, the Little Italy Mercato, is the jewel of the San Diego urban markets.  Overlooking the breathtaking harbor, the five blocks of booths offer local crafts, delicious prepared foods, stunning colorful fruits & vegetables and some of the best street music in the area.  One of my favorite vendors, Sage Mountain Farm, told me the Armenian cucumbers were a big hit the day I was there while the Rose apples and prickly pear fruit were selling fast at Rancho Lindo Mexico’s booth.  As always, a parade of canine friends, sniffing for samples, create a friendly atmosphere unlike any of the other markets.

I was pleased to see that the North Park Farmers Market is finally starting to blossom, thanks in part to the addition of food trucks and certified organic farms such as Suzie’s Farm and JR Organics.  Moncai Foods, a wholesale vegan dessert company, is now there selling deliciously crafted vegan entrees and desserts.

I headed toward the Mexican border to visit the Wild Willow Community Farm near Imperial Beach.  Over the last three years this farm has grown into an amazing educational center and gathering place for the local community. Director Mel Lions told me the farm is thriving and finally able to distribute produce to the local markets.  They have a potluck and open house every third Saturday of the month–providing volunteers and the greater community an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and appreciate the gifts of the soil. It is a wonderful event which I highly recommend.

Little Italy Mercato’s Market Maestra, Catt White, gave me a tour of the new San Diego Public Market on National Avenue.  It is a two acre site where an old machine factory once stood.  Soon it will serve as an indoor/outdoor year-round marketplace.  The plan includes incubator kitchens, permanent food stalls and a home base for food trucks.  It is very ambitious, but I have no doubt Catt can achieve her goal after seeing firsthand what she has done with markets around San Diego. Wednesday and Sunday markets have already begun in this location, which I look forward to visiting the next time I’m in San Diego.

Even though it is a smaller boutique market, Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is also one of my favorites.  Each week, market master Raquel Pena transforms a shopping center parking lot into a magical place filled with beautiful music, delicious food, fruits, vegetables and artisans. I find these intimate and cozy markets a refreshing change from the crush of the crowds at some of the more popular ones. My good friend Akram Attie is front and center here in his Thyme of Essence booth.  He not only sells the freshest harvest of California olive oil and custom Zaatar spice blends, but sumptuous, out-of-this-world Manoushe & Falafel sandwiches toasted on a Mongolian-style grill.

Nicolina Alves of Terra Bella Ranch took over the vibrant La Jolla Open Aire Market last year. The word is out and it has become a destination place for anyone in or near La Jolla on any given Sunday.  There are a large variety of food stalls, a plethora of vegetable & fruit farmers and a dizzying array of crafts and artists.

The market is on the verge of adding thirty percent more space and it is only going to get better.  Of course, Terra Bella Ranch is an anchor vendor and has always been one of my favorite organic farms.  They specialize in walnuts, almonds, avocados and dried fruits.

I enjoyed visiting with Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms and tasting his giant football-shaped Uzbeki melons–sweet and succulent! Some of the best melons I’ve ever had.

The Grande Dame of San Diego markets is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, where most chefs and foodies shop.  I could not resist buying the giant figs, perfectly ripe passion fruit and the voluptuous Reed avocados from Ryan at Creekside Tropicals.

I sampled fresh harvested, dried on the palm Morocco Gold Medjool dates.  They taste like a melt-in-the-mouth caramel, addictive and delicious. I ordered a variety of heirloom beans to be shipped by Michelle Larson Sadler’s Conscious Cookery–Colorado River, Anasazi, Mortgage Lifter and Borlotti beans.

Market days are not just days to stock up on fresh and exciting ingredients.  They are a rejuvenating experience, an opportunity to reconnect with friends and awaken culinary creativity.  I used the passion fruits from Creekside Tropicals to create this recipe.

Passion-Almond Creme Brulee

Serves 4

Passion fruit

4 passion fruits

1/4 cup evaporated cane juice

Slice the passion fruits in half and scoop the fruit into a fine strainer placed over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula push the fruit against the strainer, working the juice from the seeds. Place the juice into a small sauce pan on medium-low heat.  Stir in the sugar. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it becomes a syrup-like consistency. Reserve.

Almond Creme

1 cup plain almond or soy milk

1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour or 1-1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder

Whisk all ingredients together in a double boiler on medium heat. Cook for 40 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thick.

Transfer evenly into 4 shallow ramekins (small souffle dishes).

Assembly

4 tablespoons evaporated cane juice

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice on top of each ramekin. Using a cooking torch, carefully caramelize the sugar until golden brown. Dress each ramekin with a swirl of passion fruit syrup. Serve immediately.

Note: Many of the highlighted links above will ship!

 

May Markets Shine

The celebrated markets of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County often overshadow the incredible, yet unsung, farmers markets of San Diego.  There are fifty markets in San Diego supported by more certified organic farmers than any other county in America, over 320.
At least one market is open every day of the week, supporting most of the communities in the area. This type of shopping enables us to follow in the footsteps of the great food cultures where purchasing the freshest ingredients is a daily ritual.  The choices are remarkable–a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in micro-climates ranging from sub-tropical to temperate.

Most weeks, I visit three or four markets, buying enough for a couple of days and keeping me connected with the farmers and vendors.  Some of my favorites are  Archi’s Acres, JR Organics, Sage Mountain Farm, Suzies Farm, JR Organics, Tom King Farms, Conscious Cookery and Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm.  Each market reflects the feel of its community, becoming de facto social centers.

A few years ago, shortly after I created www.thevegetarianguy.com, I began filming my culinary finds, the farmers and community members.  Over time, my blog has expanded into sharing new discoveries, tastes and recipes while applauding the efforts of local food heroes wherever I go.

My short videos provide introductions to the farmers, products and the unique atmosphere of the markets. This portal into the San Diego markets gives a taste of what is possible and shows the path to connecting the dots between food, farms and life. The following is a sampling of my recent videos.

Spring at the Little Italy Mercato

Imperial Beach, A Vegetarian Farmers Market

San Diego County Macadamia Nuts

A Recipe For Red Orach

One of my favorite amaranth varieties is red orach,  also known as garden orach, French spinach and mountain spinach.  Red orach was first documented in the New World in 1714 and Thomas Jefferson grew a green variety in his Monticello gardens.  It was discovered as far back as Mesolithic times and was commonly grown in the Mediterranean before spinach became popular;  the  red and green varieties were used to color pastas in Italy due to natural color retention. A member of the salt-bush family, the tender leaves have a light salty flavor which combines nicely with sorrel’s lemony flavor.  The over-sized leaves and colorful presence make orach a favored annual in ornamental gardens.

In San Diego, I first began seeing Red orach in the La Milpa Organica booth at the Hillcrest Farmers Market a few years ago.  Farmer Barry Logan specialized in ancient greens and heirloom vegetable varieties which made his stall the organic anchor of the market.  While La Milpa is no longer operating, the influence lives on. Suzie’s Farm is growing many of the varieties Barry used to sell and I was pleasantly surprised to see red orach a couple of weeks ago and began using it in salads, greens, tarts, pastries and, of course, stuffed dishes. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of cooking red orach, have no fear–it’s easy to work with.  If you can’t find it at your local market, request it, talk your local farmer into growing it and/or plant it in your garden as a culinary ornamental.

Stuffed Red Orach with Pomegranate Molasses

10 large red orach leaves

Filling
1/2 cup garbanzo beans, cooked
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, cooked
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix garbanzos, artichoke, green onion, sea salt and oil in a food processor and process to a coarse paste. Place a generous tablespoon of filling on the wide end of a leaf and roll into a thick cigar shape.  Repeat until all leaves are used.

Cook
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons white spring onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Place a ten-inch skillet on medium-high heat and cook the oil, crushed red pepper, onions and garlic until the onions are clear around the edges.  Placed the red orach rolls in the pan, cover and let sear for 1 minute.  Pour in the lemon juice, cover, turn down heat to low and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn the burner off and leave covered until ready to serve.

Pomegranate Molasses

2 cups fresh pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons agave syrup
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice

Place a skillet on medium heat, add all ingredients and reduce to a syrup consistency.  Allow to cool before using.  May be prepared ahead of time to use as a condiment.

Serve
Drizzle Pomegranate Molasses onto plate and place a red orach roll on top.  Serve hot.

Notes:
To simplify the cooking process and make it a quick dish, use Eden Foods organic canned garbanzo beans and organic canned artichoke hearts.

I use fresh pressed organic pomegranate juice from Lone Oak Ranch but the recipe will be fine with bottled 100% pomegranate juice.






If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

~P.B. Shelley

Seasonal cycles have ruled humanity since the beginning of time. No matter how hard we try to control them, inevitably everyone must succumb to the laws of nature.  Farmers markets, by definition, work with the earthly cycles of growth and regeneration. When shopping at them, we become partners with the land, locally and regionally.  The food we procure and the interactions at the markets enhance our lives with the energies of the earth and the vitality of communing with it. There is no better time to experience this than the transition from winter to spring. 

Winter

Winter in the Midwest, where I lived most of my life before San Diego, is often brutally cold, yet hardy shoppers come to the markets to buy cold storage items such as apples, leeks, onions and potatoes.  As the farmers gear up for spring, they order seeds, tend to cold frames, greenhouses and hoop-houses in order to get a good start on the season.

In Southern California, the hallmark of the winter season is citrus.  Unique varieties such as Satsuma tangerines, Paige tangerines, Naval oranges, Mandarin oranges, Persian limes, Mexican limes, Kaffir limes and citron grace the stalls of the local markets.  Lettuces, greens, herbs and vegetables are also available in moderate quantities, depending on the location of the farms and the methods used for growing, ie, permaculture, dry farming, hoop houses, plastic covers or other warming techniques.  On rare occasions, usually once every few years, a frost will temper the harvest in the warmest areas.

Since the growing season here is year round, farmers stagger plantings in order to prolong the harvest of tender varieties into months instead of weeks.  Examples of this are arugula, spinach, tat soi, chard and many varieties of kale.  Staggered plantings of garlic, leeks and green onions do the same.  San Diego farmers have to keep their market stalls filled year round, so the approach is very different from commodity farmers who supply their harvests for commercial food production, national and international supply chains

Spring

One of the joys of living in the Midwest is the arrival of spring. The animals and humans share the phenomenon with a flurry of activity. Buds pop up from half-frozen soil, birds are feathering nests and singing, land is cleared then tilled and people are running around in short-sleeves.  It is a time of dramatic change and the collective mood is one of exuberance. I do miss this and hope to experience some of it when I travel to Michigan in late March for my next book tour.

I’ll be be hanging out at the Royal Oak Farmers Market with my farmer friend Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms who, in addition to having his greenhouse planted herbs and plants, will have green garlic shoots, spinach and leeks. 

Other Michigan spring delicacies to be discovered are morel mushrooms, fiddle-head ferns and asparagus. As spring progresses, baby lettuces, raspberries and sugar snap peas will bolster the drama of spring at the Michigan markets.

In San Diego, spring is different. To say there is no spring in Southern California is incorrect; it has its own unique version. While the markets of San Diego continue to bustle all winter, I always get excited when spring crops start showing up. The warm ever-constant sun brings people to the markets and the romantic days of mid-February to early-March find shoppers searching for the abundant sensual pleasures.

The first sweet strawberries appear at JR Organics in early February.  Depending on the Santa Ana winds and warmth of the sun, the harvest steadily increases until it peaks in May. Giant one and two pound sweetly-fragrant Chanterelle mushrooms from the mountains near San Luis Obispo are sold.

Tender lettuces, baby kale, spinach and green elephant garlic are abundant at Sage Mountain Farms. Young broccoli, radicchio and baby beets are at Suzies Farm. Siberian Kale and cilantro accompany the basil of Archi’s Acres.

Fuerte avocados, chermoyas and guavas begin in February at Korals Tropical Fruit Farm with Kumquats and a continuing plethora of citrus  in March.

Lone Oak Ranch begins to press fresh pomegranate juice. Terra Bella Ranch has the very special Livermore red walnuts, almonds and Chandler walnuts. Spring doesn’t just pop up in San Diego, it comes in like a high tide. The arrival is heralded by the bounty and festivity of the markets.

I encourage everyone to shop at the local farmers markets.  Even during the off-season months, there is much to discover. In addition, we make a community connection, life is enhanced and we are healthier for it.


In the coming months I will be working on a lot of quick and easy to prepare recipes which I plan to share with my subscribers.  So if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my blog below, or on the upper right hand corner of this page.

See you at the markets!

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Living Patio Potager

After selling Inn Season Cafe in 2002, Sara and I began to restore homes. Our passion was to breath life back into homes built in the 1920s with Arts and Crafts influences and handcrafted before the age of drywall and engineered trusses.  We appreciated styles such as Tudor Revival, Cotswold, Spanish Revival and Craftsman for the romantic concepts they added to daily life.

We restored the homes to their original luster and outfitted them with modern amenities to accommodate today’s lifestyle.

As one may imagine, the area I concentrated on was the kitchen.  I designed each one with the home chef in mind, one who supports local farmer’s markets and enjoys cooking as a form of relaxation.  For me, it was important for the kitchen to be the hub of the home–the place where raw ingredients are assembled to create nurturing meals.

In every house, I created a potager, a kitchen garden full of perennial & re-seeding herbs, culinary and medicinal plants. Mostly, I planted items not easily found at the local farmer’s markets or plants that are best harvested just before serving.  They included: French tarragon, thyme, oregano, sage, mint and fennel, tender greens like sorrel, arugula, varieties of kale and lettuces, and medicinal plants like chamomile, peppermint and lemon-balm.  Time and again, people would be very excited about the gardens and the vision of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The potager goes hand-in-hand with farmer’s markets, victory gardens and the entire concept of local food.  Kitchen gardens were a part of our history as much as the local farmer’s market.  When I saw Dennis Stowell at the San Diego’s Little Italy Mercato promoting the concept of the Patio Potager, I was enthused.  The garden boxes, available on a subscription basis, enable one to pick lettuce, herbs and other vegetables at home just before using them.

No matter where one lives, a large home or a small apartment, they can take advantage of the Patio Potager concept, which can be described as a living CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)– a parallel concept to the one I used in my restoration gardens.

After the box is harvested, it is exchanged for a freshly planted one.  Dennis follows the planting cycles so every week there is something new to enjoy and harvest. Few culinary experiences can surpass eating fresh picked vegetables.

If his idea takes seed, it could be a marvelous solution for all the wannabee urban gardeners with limited land, small verandas and busy schedules.

A little piece of the farm comes to you.







Raw Food – Living Markets

In 1981, I visited a 300 acre organic farm in Southern Michigan which housed the Creative Health Institute.  It was there that I was exposed to the early years of Live Foods as directed by the late matriarch of the movement, Ann Wigmore.  The farm grew the grains which became the sprouts in the food; full of life-enhancing enzymes, it was both energizing and healing.  The Creative Health Institute was, and continues to be, a remarkable healing center where life-giving practices are embraced.

Raw or live foods are rooted in traditions which date back to our human origins.  Before refrigeration, fermentation and enzymatic growth in food was widespread in the cuisines of world, including Roman garum sauce, Chinese soy products, Japanese pickles, Korean kimtchie, Indian dosas, Thai fish sauces and Indonesian tempeh. Sometimes cooked, sometimes raw, these foods contributed significantly to the diets of the cultures they came from. The modern raw food diet originally drew inspiration from the proto-Christian Essenes most commonly known as the sect of John the Baptist, a desert-dwelling Judaic group who used the sun to dry their sprouted manna bread.

Raw living foods help stimulate the immune system and facilitate the flow of chi energy throughout the body.  There are countless people who claim it clears the mind, balances the body and heals many illnesses.

The most common endorsement I hear is that the raw foods increases energy in daily living.  Whether one embraces the diet entirely or includes a percentage of raw food, the benefits are real.

There are probably more raw-foodies per capita in Southern California than any other part of the country.  No doubt the weather and year round availability of local fresh foods plays a significant roll.  The sensual pleasures of the palate are plentiful with thoughtfully prepared raw cuisine.  I have seen many raw food chefs to be very good with presentation and flavor.

The farmer’s markets in San Diego feature a number of live food vendors.

Here are some of them:

GreenFix Smoothie Company

Peace Pies

Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm

Macadamia-Sunflower Hummus is a versatile recipe suitable to serve with any cuisine.  Serve it as a dip or use it as a spread in a sandwich or on a cracker.  The Basil Leaf Rolls are just one of many dishes I have used the hummus with.

Macadamia-Sunflower Hummus

1 cup raw macadamia nuts

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

2 cups water for soaking

1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup water

Place the nuts, seeds and soaking water in a container for 2 to 8 hours. Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  Serve cold or room temperature.

Basil Leaf Rolls

10 large lettuce-leaf basil leaves
5 tablespoons Macadamia-Sunflower Hummus
1 San Marzano Roma tomato sliced into thin 1/4 inch wide strips

Rinse basil leaves and spin-dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with a clean cloth.  Spread 1/2 tablespoon hummus evenly on each leaf.  Place a tomato slice on one end of the leaf and roll it “roulade-style.”  Repeat with each leaf. Slice into 1/2 inch wide rolls.  Serve right away.


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Summer Surfing at the Markets

 

Friday at the Mission Hills Market
My home is in Mission Hills, a gorgeous area of San Diego founded by early 20th Century visionaries in the Arts and Crafts tradition with charming historic homes, parks full of spectacular foliage and a strong community presence.  I was thrilled when a farmers market sprang up in the middle of the tiny downtown several Fridays ago.  There are a number of good vendors in the one city block which comprises the market.  This Friday market kicks off my weekends with fresh, organic ingredients.
I have been buying sweet and plump blueberries at Smit Orchards stall for the last few weeks.   Their radiant blues and purples have been a colorful addition to morning oatmeal, smoothies, cobblers and pies.
Pepper season heated up in the last month.  The Padron Peppers from Suzie’s Farm have been an exciting side dish when I saute them a skillet with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt.  Robin, the owner, described how the peppers start off mild and become hotter as the vines get older.  He plants them at intervals to make sure he’s able to harvest the sweet young peppers at their prime.
When Suzies Farm has the historic Italian Jimmy Nardello peppers, buy them! I prepared them the same way as the Padrones.  They have a sweet flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Tender baby-beet greens from Maggie’s Farm went into my summer squash with coconut curry dish.  They also had a variety of heirloom potatoes which I used for a roasted potato chole and baby romaine heads which I cut in half, browned in a skillet and served as an antipasti plate garnish.
Saturday at the Little Italy Mercato
Saturday mornings are in full swing at the Mercato in the heart of Little Italy.  Each market is defined by the neighborhood it is in and this three block market has an Old World Italian flavor with modern urban chic.
Justin Noble of Sage Mountain Farm grows starship zucchini, a type of patti pan squash which I steamed and served with a lemon-dijon sauce.  He also grows Armenian cucumbers which are not really cucumbers, but a member of the melon family. They are a refreshing and crunchy addition to salads along with heirloom tomatoes, which are starting to flood the markets.
The founder of La Milpa Organica, Oasis Benson,  moved north and entered the organic olive business.  Good Faith Farm sells two kinds of raw, organic olives– Sevillanos and Kalamata–along with their delicious olive oil, which is so fresh it must be refrigerated.  These delicious olives are cured with first quality ingredients (brown rice vinegar) and are probably the healthiest olives one will ever encounter.
There are several musicians throughout the market.  Santiago Orozco and his band Todo Mundo often play in the amphitheater at the top, east end of the market.  The upbeat Latin rhythms and positive message of his music enhance the festive atmosphere.

Sunday at Hillcrest Farmers Market
Mariella Balbi of Guanni Chocolates is located in the center of the Hillcrest Market and always greets me with her beautiful smile.  Her vegan Wari Bars made from 100% Peruvian Criollo cacao are a chocolate lover’s delight.
La Milpa Organica is the gold standard of market stalls in San Diego.  This week I purchased amaranth, Swiss chard and magenta spreen lamb’s quarters to make tarts, pies, tortes and simple seared greens with garlic, hot red pepper and coarse sea salt.
Karen at Archis Acres picked out a giant head of red leaf lettuce for me.  I made lettuce wraps filled with Haas avocados, Cherokee red tomatoes and pepita, cilantro and lime pesto.
At Michelle Larson-Sadler’s booth, the Conscious Cookery, I found organic Anasazi beans grown in the Four-Corners area and smoked New Mexican chipotle and pasilla chiles.  These ingredients will become a mole.
Phil of Sage Mountain Farm had Italian torpedo onions, cherry tomatoes, hard-neck garlic and fresh basil with the root–the perfect ingredients for a fresh heirloom tomato, basil, red onion and rubbed garlic crostini.
Matt of Lone Oak Ranch supplied me with some of his very best white and yellow nectarines, white and yellow peaches and candy-like pluots which I am using for grilled fruit salsas this week.
If you have been keeping up with my blog, you will have noticed me waxing poetic about red walnuts from Terra Bella Ranch.  The season is over, but Jeff and Nicolina’s excellent Chandler walnuts are still available, as well as their beautiful dried apricots, raw almonds and sun-dried tomatoes, all of which I use regularly.  I toast the walnuts and almonds for approximately 12 minutes at 325 F degrees and keep them available for snacks, salads and garnish.  Because of the healthy volatile oils in nuts, they can become rancid.  I store untoasted nuts in the freezer.
The small Poblano chiles from Sage Mountain Farm are delightful.  I cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds and fill them with a corn tamal-style filling or a thick and creamy walnut filling, reminiscent of an Oaxacan walnut sauce which Frida Kahlo used to make at her Blue House.  Next I put them onto a chili roasting rack which goes directly on the grill.  I can never make enough of these!
I found Palestinian sweet limes, sweet cocktail grapefruit and Reed avocados at the Rancho Mexico Lindo Farm booth.  She also had red, pink and green prickley pear fruit, which are considered a health tonic.
San Diego farmer’s markets are a treasure trove of exciting, fresh and organic ingredients.   Markets like this can be found across the country in every community.