The First Taste of Winter

Okay, I’ll admit it: I played on Sunday when there was no market. After all the animals were fed and watered and the new baby lambs counted and snuggled, I fueled up on a couple of roasted marrow bones, broke out the cross-country skis and took off across the fields. For a few hours I practiced my rhythm, got in the groove and pushed past my previous limits of the farm lane out into the big expanse of the neighboring dairy farm. Making it to the next tree row was my goal, and once I reached it, I stood there admiring the view and my accomplishment until my phone chirped the familiar sound from my weather app: snow starting in fifteen minutes.

Skiing home in the squall I recognized the dilemma of doing something fun in the harshness of inclement weather, kind of like farming and going to market. While I may be uncomfortable standing out in subfreezing conditions, I am content because of the customers who continue to support the weekly Central Farm Markets’ winter sessions. Now that winter hours have kicked in with markets starting at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m., harsh conditions are more tolerable.

But sometimes those conditions are too harsh, meaning the management of the markets uses common sense to ensure the safety of both vendors and customers by cancelling the markets. (Note: at Bethesda, when Montgomery County cancels school activities due to weather, the market must also close.)

I know there was disappointment last week, but when that second band of snow hit during my ski trek, had I gone to market I would have been cresting the mountain between Maryland and Pennsylvania along with my fellow farmers who travel that route.

We live in the mid-Atlantic, the Northeast, whatever you want to call it, but the reality is winter happens this time of year. Some years are mild and others, like this year according to the Capital Weather Gang, are going to twist us into a tangled mess of hats, scarves, gloves and insulated garments with polar vortices and nor’easters.

Since none of us have any control over the weather the best we can do is deal with it. Here are some tips about how you can make the most out of shopping at Central Farm Markets in the coming winter months.

  1. Stock up. Winter vegetables, such as squash, root vegetables and winter greens are built to last in cooler temperatures. When extended forecasts call for snow over the weekend, buy extra for the following week in case of a market closure.
  2. Stay in touch. Between the eBlast, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website, TV and radio, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to show up to an empty parking lot and complain, “I didn’t know market was cancelled!”
  3. Remember winter markets start at 10 am. Please let us get set up before helping you. And if you absolutely must have what you need, offer the exact amount in cash as the credit card machines are often the last item to be set up as their batteries wear down faster in cold weather.
  4. Don’t be mad at us. Seriously, we don’t want to miss a market, however, we also don’t want to slide down the mountain or into a ditch on the icy, snowy secondary rural roads that are not as well maintained as city streets and highways.
  5. Dress for the Weather. When markets are open in frigid temperatures, put on those extra layers, hats and gloves and ASK your farmer if you don’t see something. They may have it covered or boxed to protect from cold damage.

Soup(er) Weather

We’ve been spoiled by the temperate weather these last few weeks, but winter will be making its way back to freezing temperatures by the end of this week. Frigid weather calls for a batch of soup. Even a culinary luddite can manage a meal made from scratch instead of a can when it comes to soup.

As eaters strive for more control over the ingredients of their meals—less salt, more flavor, spicier, no additives, no BPH—the simplicity of soup can provide several meals worth of food with minimal effort and ingredients. With a little extra effort, soups can go from fantastic to phenomenal. This week’s Dishing the Dirt is dedicated to upping your soup game.

Cooking soup is something that can be done in a single pot. Soup has been made for thousands of years in everything from tightly woven baskets into which hot stones are dropped into the liquid to state-of-the-art, water-jacketed steam kettles gently simmering ingredients to perfection.

Soups are indicative of specific geographies and cultures. From the Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, Chicken Corn Soup, to Vietnamese pho, the mere mention of a steaming bowl of goodness can be a dead giveaway of one’s heritage.

The base of soup is some type of liquid, most often stock or broth. People often ask me what the difference is between the two even though the terms are interchangeable in most recipes. Broth is made of a simple ingredient (meat/bones/vegetables) simmered and reduced to unlock flavors, fats and proteins, while stock includes additional ingredients such as herbs, spices and aromatics.

In bisques and chowders, dairy is added to create a creamy consistency and flavor. Vegetarian or vegan versions use puréed potato, cauliflower and other light-colored starchy vegetables to achieve a similar consistency and color without dairy.

Other liquids used in soup include vegetable juice, coconut milk, beer, wine, whey, cider and plain ol’ water.

To get a better idea of how to make amazing soup, I went to the expert at Central Farm Markets, Christine Ilich, owner of Heirloom Kitchen, who cooks up seasonal vegetarian soups using ingredients from other producers at market. Christine listed several tips for making great soups:

  • Fresh seasonal ingredients provide the best flavors.
  • Use fresh herbs whenever possible and add at the very end of cooking for the strongest flavor and best color. Herbs and spices can help you use less salt and still get good flavor. If you must use dried herbs, add during cooking to bring out the flavor.
  • Use good olive oil, single-source is best.
  • Good soups come from building flavors. Start with carrots, celery, onion (and garlic, if you like). Sauté in good olive oil (with a bit of water to help soften-the water will evaporate out), then add in other veggies, stock, seasonings.
  • Season soups with salt and pepper after the mixture comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and always taste (!). Add salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and spices as needed.
  • With vegetable soups, make sure your veggies are tender but don’t overcook. You don’t want to make mush of beautiful, seasonal produce.
  • Beans and natural starches in the vegetables themselves thicken up soups. Even a few tablespoons of lentils or beans will thicken up a vegetable or meat soup nicely.
  • When prepping for soup, have all the veggies and herbs chopped and ready to go before you begin.
  • For vegetarian soups, puréed tomatoes add flavor and color, and mushrooms add a good ‘meaty’ flavor without meat.

And if you aren’t up for the challenge of making your own soup, each week Heirloom Kitchen offers a variety of freshly made, seasonal soups with ingredients sourced from Central Farm Markets growers.


Lists & Resolutions

The new year is upon us which means the R-word will make its annual appearance begging us to promise everything from the simplest of changes to the insurmountable. Humans have been making personal resolutions at the new year for over 4000 years. Records from ancient Babylon chronicled promises to the gods to be better in the following year. Now we pen them to paper and tack them to the refrigerator to get buried under take-out menus, recipes torn from magazines, and postcards from those who stuck to their goals of traveling more often.

Each year I make a list of ten things I hope to accomplish in the coming year—one for my business and the other more personal. I’ll be honest, there are items on my annual list that have been languishing away on paper for several years, yet I carry them over on January first as a reminder that I have not given up entirely.

Given that one of the top ten resolutions continues to be “eat healthier and lose weight,” inevitably some of those folks end up at the market announcing their intentions and asking if I, too, am making any. The public pronouncements of annual intentions were originally meant to encourage personal accountability, but I doubt there would be much appreciation if I were to point out the errs of another’s ways when I catch them eating ice cream for breakfast on a sweltering Sunday morning halfway into 2019.

While I may not go that far, one of my resolutions this year is to help you keep yours. In addition to showing up to market every week, I resolve to continue weekly with Dishing the Dirt to help customers make the most out of their market experience by drawing from the vast knowledge base of the Central Farm Markets family.

To help you get started on your list for the coming year, I’ve started one for everyone:

  1. Remember that Winter Market hours are 10 am to 1:30 pm for Bethesda Central and 10 am to 2 pm for Mosaic Central.
  2. Bring a reusable bag.
  3. Have lots of $1 and $5 bills instead of $20 and $50 bills when using cash.
  4. Sign up for the weekly market email and follow us on social media so in inclement weather you will be notified if the market is closed.
  5. Support the farmers who work hard to produce food and show up during winter markets.

And to sweeten the pot, don’t forget to pick up your Central Farm Markets Winter Loyalty Card at the market info tent, which rewards you for shopping during the winter months at our markets.

Happy New Year!