I’m in a new relationship and I think I’m in love. No, not with a guy – that would actually require that I not be made of Teflon for Men (seriously, no guy ever sticks, lol). No, I’m in a seriously deep relationship with the area’s farmers’ markets and I literally cannot get enough.
Oh, whatever, Poor Girl. You’ve been farmers’ market-obsessed forever.
Well, yes… this is true, but I’ve never been this involved. And that involvement is making my love for these markets even greater.
You see, my new job – program assistant for Alchemist, the agency I first wrote about a few months ago when I ended up going back on CalFresh (interesting how life comes full circle, no?) – requires that I spend a fair amount of time at one of our many Sacramento farmers’ markets at least once a week. Sometimes I work the booth that helps CalFresh customers use their benefits at the market; sometimes I actually go shopping for fresh produce for one of our other pilot programs. Either way, I am actually required to spend time in these small food meccas around town, and because of this I’m learning so many wonderful lessons.
Like how hard these farmers work. Week after week, sometimes four or five times a week, they travel for miles to get from their remote farms in the Central Valley to the urban city markets of the Capital City, loaded down with the fresh pickings of the week. Most of the time they’re ready before 7am, braving whatever weather descends upon them, their faces set with the thoughts and strategies that will make that day’s business the most successful yet.
Or the sense of community at these markets, even the behemoth Central market under the freeway downtown every Sunday. From this incredibly large, busy market, to the smaller ones peppered through the parks of the downtown grid, to the other markets out in the ‘burbs, it’s amazing to me to see such camaraderie, such true enjoyment from market patrons & vendors alike. It’s the kind of thing that’s been shoved in the back corner as part of our idealistic, Norman Rockwell-esque idea of how life used to be; but there it is, played out in real life, week after week.
It’s fun to watch them: the customers go in with their preconceived notions & lists of The Only Things To Buy, only to be startled by the unexpected sweetness of a plumcot sample, their laughter trailing in the wind as they leave with their new treasures. Little kids squeal with delight at their first strawberry, their first ripe peach, the wonder of everything new & exciting glowing from their wide, enchanted eyes.
Vendors are just as delighted to talk about their produce, jumping over language hurdles to get their point across that yes, yes, you will love this if you try it! They enjoy teaching people about their work, the products that come from a true labor of love, for farming is not easy, and to do it well means to love it well. And because they love it so, they don’t mind sharing their bounty, another remarkable act in this day & age when everyone is struggling just to keep body & soul together.
The gorgeous carrots & baby zucchini squashes I used in this simple, yet delicious recipe comes from some of those generous farmers. Sometimes, at the end of a market day, there’s leftover product that vendors are more than happy to share with market staff. There are days when I leave with a bag full of stuff I didn’t expect to have, and it’s all incredibly delicious!
Naturally, it’s a big help to them not to have to take excess produce back home with them, and I still make sure to give my business to these folks as much as I can afford to, since they also have to make a living. But it still gives me the warm fuzzies when I’m presented with baskets of cherries or bags of shelled favas by these dear, smiling workers.
I left last Saturday’s market with about 3 lbs each of baby zucchini and freshly picked carrots. As is my custom whenever presented with a bunch of new ingredients, my mind starts buzzing with possibilities. By now, I have a pretty decent recipe repertoire and knew I’d be making a couple different recipes with my new treasures. But I’m in full recipe developer for the book these days, so all I can think about is new stuff (do you know how hard it is to keep some of these new recipes hush-hush?!). I’m currently working on the first few recipes for the quinoa section, so I had plenty of cooked quinoa to use in a variety of dishes.
And baked goods.
Now, you don’t have to use quinoa for this if you don’t want to or don’t have access to it. This bread is just as delightful without it; however, I find that the quinoa really helps to keep breads & muffins super moist, so I like to throw it in there anyway. I was going for ultra moist with this recipe but wasn’t feeling the extra fat thing from butter or oil, so I added Greek yogurt instead and WOW – that was a kickass move.
I’m putting this one up there with my strawberry-banana quinoa muffins as another potential breakfast-on-the-go, especially if you make this into muffins instead of bread. It’s not quite as nutritious as the other ones as there’s more sugar, but there are two whole cups of veggies and a cupful of quinoa in this one, so while it isn’t a perfect breakfast item, it’s still a better option than a cinnamon roll or doughnut.
So there it is… my baked good version of an Ode to the Farmers’ Market. I suppose many of the recipes on my blog are sort of odes, tributes, even love letters to the beauty and bounty of these places, and this one is no exception. I’m looking forward to a summer of hard work that will be made better by the generosity and spirit of my fellow market folks, and can’t wait to bring you even more beautiful recipes that showcase just how easy it is to turn that farmers’ market run into absolute feasts. Trust me, I’ve seen what’s coming in the early summer harvest and it is A-MAZING!
Carrot & Zucchini Quinoa Bread (makes 8-10 servings; total cost per serving: $0.55)
2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground ginger
2 c brown sugar
1 c sugar
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1 c Greek yogurt
1 c grated zucchini
1 c grated carrots
1 c cooked quinoa
1/2 c raisins
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease & flour an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan and set aside. In a medium bowl combine all the dry ingredients, including the spices, and mix well. Set aside.
2. In a separate, larger bowl, beat together the eggs, sugars and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the yogurt and mix together until fully incorporated. Next, add the grated zucchini & carrots and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture about 1/2 cup at a time, folding it in gently until smooth. Lastly, add the cooked quinoa, raisins and nuts, and mix well.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 60 minutes, or until a tester that’s been inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with a cold glass of milk or some hot tea, and enjoy!