Scoot Over Farmer’s Market!

Our two-year old loves to smell all the flowers at the Saratoga Farmer's Market!

Our two-year old loves to smell all the flowers at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market!

Every Saturday morning our family goes to the farmer’s market. We roll out of bed, munch on a light breakfast, gather our reusable bags and empty glass bottles, and head to the market, our eyes still gritty with sleep. It’s our family tradition. Our girls eagerly anticipate going to the market each week. They delight in choosing the fruits and vegetables for the week and later timidly ask for their special weekly treat from Miss Linda, one of our favorite vendors. Their excitement over seeing their favorite vegetables appear throughout the different seasons, like tomatoes or strawberries, explodes from their little bodies as they excitedly beg to eat “just one” cherry tomato, sweet pea or strawberry before we have even left our favorite farmer’s stand. In the summer, we typically get our items and settle down in a warm sunny spot to enjoy our weekly treats and maybe snitch a few veggies from what is supposed to be our weekly (not Saturday morning) supply of CSA veggies. We love our Saturday morning tradition. It works for our family. But, we know it’s not something that works for everyone.

We have shared at length about being a part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Essentially, we pay for our year’s supply of veggies (occasionally we get a few fruits too) in advance. This helps us because we do not have to budget for veggies each week and we get a discounted rate by buying everything in advance. It also helps our farm because they get a large sum of money from numerous CSA members, which they can then use to buy larger items for the farm and better budget/plan out their year. Most of the CSA’s around this area are designed to get picked up at a farmer’s market. There are several different markets in the Albany region. At the Saratoga Farmer’s Market, where we go, there are three or four farmers that offer a CSA option. As wonderful as it is to get veggies at a cheaper rate, it can be difficult for some to get to the market to get those veggies, especially when the market is only once or twice a week.

Thankfully, there are other options available to people who want to get fresh fruits and veggies that are non-GMO and locally grown. Often, especially in the summer time, farms have farm stands where they sell their crops. Additionally, some of the farms that offer CSA’s will let you pick up shares at their farm or at an alternate location. Often, just a quick email or phone call is all it takes to set it up.

Other services are cropping up around the country that deliver fresh crops directly from the farmer to you or to a set location that is not a farmer’s market. One such service is available here in the Albany region. It’s called, “Field Goods.” (Click here to access their website) Field Goods takes fresh crops from a variety of small local farms and distribute it as shares (small, standard and family-sized)  throughout our community. In addition to the usual fruit/veggie CSA, they also offer a bread and herb/allium CSA. They deliver year-round to numerous locations throughout the Albany region, including many apartment/housing complexes and work places. For a list of all their delivery locations, click here. This is a great option for those who may not live near a farmer’s market or are unable to attend their market when it is open. A friend of ours is a member of Field Goods and has her fruits/veggie CSA delivered right to her workplace!

Finally, Local Harvest is a wonderful resource for putting people in touch with their local farmers. It has a terrific search option that allows you to search for CSAs, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, farms, and even meat markets that grow/sell sustainably grown food in your area. There are even some farms that allow you to purchase items online at Local Harvest and have them delivered right to your home!

So, if, for whatever reason, farmer’s markets are not an option for you and/or you are unsure of where to get wholesome, local foods, take heart! There are lots of other options out there and, if your area farmers are anything like the ones I know, they’d be more than willing to work with you on the best way to get their delicious food to your door.

Aside

Hidden Ingredient Frustration Sparks Homemade Cheese Cracker Endeavor!

“I have a market stand over here,” I overheard my two-year old daughter telling her sister the other day.  “This is my family over here,” she proudly announced, still talking about her market stand. Our girls (ages one and two) love going to the farmer’s market each week. We always look forward to discovering what our CSA farm has available each week. This week our fun new food to try was Bok Choy (otherwise known as Chinese cabbage). I have found myself relying more and more on our CSA for items other than our evening vegetables. We have our CSA fruits, veggies and herbs for breakfast, snacks, and lunch too.

I recently discovered our favorite on-the-go snack, Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies, has MSG in it. The MSG in the tasty bunnies is not labeled as MSG on the package, instead it is hidden under the “yeast extract” ingredient label. Yeast extract contains MSG (see here for more information regarding Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies ingredient labeling). I admit I am a huge supporter of buying organic fruits and veggies. However, there are lots of organic foods available that are terrible for you. Junk food is still junk food, even if it is labeled “organic”. Food prepared in certain ways (even with quality ingredients) is still not good for you.

All that being said, Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies were the one item that we thought was relatively safe. After all, the crackers are baked using only ten, non-GMO ingredients. On the surface, all the ingredients seemed wholesome. When I discovered MSG was hiding in our girls’ favorite out-and-about snack, I was overwhelmed. It was the only store-bought/processed snack that was on our “approved” list for our family. After I got over my initial shock and frustration, I realized we would have to do a better job figuring out wholesome snacks for our family.

We already make so much from scratch and the thought of making one more thing was a bit overwhelming. However, continuing to give our girls MSG was simply not an option. I started to think about quick and easy snacks for ourselves and started to look at our CSA stand with fresh eyes. Suddenly, the cucumbers I would typically turn into pickles or put in a salad became the perfect snack for our girls. The more I looked around the stand (and the rest of the market), the more I noticed an abundance of snack ideas. Our girls are still a bit young to munch on the stereotypical carrots and celery sticks snack (choking hazard), but they certainly love fresh raspberries and cherry tomatoes. After unloading our market goodies from the car the other Saturday, I walked into the kitchen and found both girls munching on raw cabbage leaves! How is that for an impromptu, easy snack?

For days when I know I am going to be out and about and need a snack for the girls, I have figured out how to pack some of the fresh fruits and veggies so they do not get squished, mashed or destroyed in by the girls and their antics in the car. I have also been making my own cheese crackers using a recipe our babysitter shared with us. I had always been intimidated to make crackers in the past, but the Annie’s MSG fiasco gave me just enough indignation to motivate me attempt to make crackers, which, it turns out, are not so hard to make after all. Plus, guess what key ingredient of homemade cheese crackers we can buy at our local farmer’s market? Cheddar cheese! Hooray!

I usually mix up a batch of the dough and then store it in smaller batches in the freezer. Typically, I take the recipe below and divide the dough into thirds. I realized one-third of the dough equals about one cookie sheet full of crackers. This is enough to last our family several days. So, I use one-third of the dough on the day I made it and then pop the other two, one-third increments of dough in the freezer and then pull out as needed. The frozen dough takes a bit of time to thaw so I usually pull it out of the freezer the night or morning before I want to use it. Then, it is ready to use by the afternoon. This recipe is cheaper than buying Annie’s crackers, tastier to eat and very easy to make! Plus, you can customize it with all sorts of spices and other ingredients to make your own delicious variety of crackers!

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup flour (we use whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons of cold water

Pulse everything except water in a food processor until dough resembles coarse sand. Add in water, one tablespoon at a time until mixed well. Remove dough from processor and divide into three flatten balls. Cover each ball with plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for twenty minutes (or put whatever you are not planning to use in the next few days in the freezer). Roll out dough as thinly as possible on parchment paper (crackers will puff up while baking if the dough is not rolled thin enough). If dough starts to stick to the rolling-pin before it is thin enough, simply put the rolled-out dough in the fridge on the parchment paper for a few minutes till it firms up a bit. Then, pull it out and continue to roll it out to desired level of thinness (1/8″ is the goal). Use a pizza cutter (or whatever else you would like to use) to cut dough into desired shapes. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes or until crispy.

Enjoy!