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farmers markets

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My Favorite Summer Ingredients

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I love summer because it means eating lots of fresh food. Whether it’s produce that came from the store, farmers market, CSA or berry farm, summertime produce is full of flavor and is generally super easy to prepare. If you want to get out of the kitchen, no problem — most summertime ingredients taste great either raw or grilled. Here are a few of my favorites. 

1. Berries

My family loves to go berry picking during the summer. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries: any berry, anytime, anywhere, and I’m happy. We are lucky to live in Oregon, where there is an abundance of U-pick farms. I love to eat berries plain, add them to a Greek yogurt parfait, mix them into scone batter, or enjoy them with ice cream. 

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2. Corn

Corn on the cob is such a perfect food because it’s fresh, flavorful, and fun to eat. I love corn when it’s boiled but I LOVE corn when it’s grilled. We recently grilled ours in the husk and found that it came off pretty easily after cooking, which is great because peeling away those corn “hairs” is often the one thing that makes an otherwise easy food seem like a bit of a pain to prepare. I like corn with a little bit of olive oil or butter and salt and pepper, but I also like it with no seasoning at all. Especially when it comes to sweeter corn, I think it’s just as good naked. 

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3. Tomatoes

It’s difficult to beat a garden-fresh tomato (or a handful of garden-fresh cherry tomatoes). I love them raw or in salads and I LOVE them roasted. I think roasted tomatoes make the perfect addition to pasta, sandwiches, eggs and more. 

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4. Peaches and Nectarines

I love peaches and nectarines. I think they have the perfect amount of sweetness to seem decadent enough on their own, but they’re also delicious when combined with ice cream, cobblers, or other desserts (especially if they're grilled). Blend a peach in a blender and throw it in a popsicle mold, add a layer of coconut milk, and you have yourself an amazing peaches ‘n cream pop (I learned this trick from Fit Girls Guide). 

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5. Zucchini

Zucchini is one of those foods that everyone always seems to have an abundance of in their gardens, and I for one do not complain when asked to take on some of the overfill. I love to spiralize zucchini and use either in conjunction with or as a replacement for pasta. I also love the taste of grilled zucchini. In my mind there are few things more perfect than a big platter of grilled veggies. If for whatever reason you’re getting sick of grilling things this summer, you can always slice zucchini up thin and bake in the oven for some delicious homemade zucchini chips. 

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Worth Mentioning:

watermelon, green beans, summer squash, pineapple. Yum!

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Banza Recipe #1: Creamy Avocado Pasta

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Over the next few weeks, I'm going to make six different pasta dishes — all using Banza chickpea pasta. Let me start by saying that I am in no way being paid by Banza. As previously discussed many times here, the only payment I receive from this blog comes from my generous patrons at Patreon. I do not receive ad revenue or sponsorship. All the money I receive comes from people like you who decided to donate $1-5 a week. In return they receive perks like access to patrons-only posts that go beyond what's here on the blog and have the opportunity to request blog content. If you're interested, please check out patreon.com/kristenforbes.

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Although Banza is not paying me, they did send me something nearly as good as payment: free samples of their product! I was more than happy to receive a case of six pastas from them. I again want to say, though, that I am not being paid and I do not feel obligated to say nice things about this pasta simply because it was provided to me free of charge. If I tried it and didn't like it, I would have quietly thanked them and said nothing about it on the blog. But here's the thing: I tried it and I really liked it. In part to say thanks for sending it to me but in bigger part to tell you all about something I thought was straight-up yummy, I'm going to share my experiences with Banza here.

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For my first foray into the world of chickpea pasta, I wanted to make a ridiculously simple dish to make sure I didn't confuse recipe frustration with pasta frustration. I turned to something I've made again and again over the years because I love the recipe's simplicity, flavor, and super short prep time. I've made this one so many times I consider it a classic. It's the 15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta from Oh She Glows. (By the way, I am definitely not affiliated with Oh She Glows, but I love the recipes.) This is one of those dishes that couldn't be simpler. All you need is pasta, avocado, lemon juice, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

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It turned out I had all the ingredients on hand except the basil, which I bought fresh at a Farmers Market hours before making this dish. Just to reiterate how amazingly simple this recipe is: all you do is cook the pasta and throw all the other ingredients in a food processor. That's it.

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Look how creamy that sauce turns out. So as I mentioned, I've made this recipe many times before — but always with whole wheat pasta or a few times with zucchini noodles (sorry guys, I can't bring myself to call them "zoodles" like everyone else. They are zucchini noodles. While we're at it, a best friend is a best friend and not a "bestie" and "totally" does not need to be condensed to "totes" and I think we can all manage "adorable" over "adorbs." But I digress.) My original point is this: I've made this recipe enough times to know how it's supposed to taste. If the pasta made it taste different, I would have known right away. 

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The process of cooking chickpea pasta was the same as cooking any other kind of pasta. While it was boiling in the pot, the chickpea pasta looked exactly like ...  any other pasta.

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We can all agree that as appearances go, this pasta is distinguishable from any other, am I right?

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Here's where I messed up slightly. After draining the pasta, I neglected to rinse it as instructed on the box. We all already know I thought the overall result was delicious (hence an entire blog post about it), but I will say that I'm going to be sure to rinse the pasta next time I use it because it had a slight gummy starchiness to it — not enough to turn me off the dish by any means, but slightly there. I don't think this was the pasta's fault, though. I think this one can be chalked up to user error. 

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Look how creamy and green the final product is. The next time I make this, I think I'll add some peas for an even brighter pop of green throughout. 

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A little fresh basil on top and voila: dinner is served. You guys, this was really good. I know it looks just like pasta, but guess what? It also tastes just like pasta. If I was serving this to someone without mentioning what it was, I don't think there's any chance in the world they'd ask if it was made from chickpeas. It simply tastes like pasta. With this creamy avocado sauce, it was perfection. 

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Let's get into what this pasta actually is (Again remember I'm not at all paid for this — just sharing the info). Banza ingredients are chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and xantham gum. Banza is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free. A 2-ounce serving contains 14 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber (as well as 30 percent of your daily iron, which is great news for someone with anemic tendencies like me). A 3.5-ounce serving (which is in line with what most Americans eat) contains 25 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, and 43 grams of net carbs (plus 50 percent of your daily iron, whoo hoo!). Average pasta per 3.5-ounce serving contains 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 71 grams of net carbs. So in the end, Banza pasta contains two times the protein, four times the fiber, and half the net carbs. This makes it a much more filling and light choice than regular pasta — and it tastes just as good.

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This would have worked perfectly well as a main dish, but we wanted to take advantage of the warm weather and do some grilling as well. We both had grilled artichokes, Mike had grilled steak, and I had grilled tofu. Combined with the avocado pasta, it ended up being an incredibly tasty and satisfying meal. I can't wait to try more recipes with my remaining five boxes of Banza. In the meantime, I'm eating the leftovers for lunch and still loving every bite. 

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It's (Almost) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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If you had asked me a few years ago for my stance on farmers markets, I would have categorized them as one of the most overrated experiences imaginable. This is how I would have described them: You fight through crowds to stand in lines to buy some weird vegetables you don't end up using, which then rot in your fridge. Oh, and that's if you don't forget to bring cash, which you always do, which means you fight through crowds and stand in lines for NOTHING because you can't buy anything anyway. Meanwhile you are guaranteed to encounter all of the following: barking dogs, big strollers you can't maneuver around, and aimless people who constantly stop right in front of you so you have to jump out of the way to avoid crashing into them. What a hoot.  

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But then I realized I was going about farmers markets all wrong. Not only was I going at the wrong time (the middle of the day on a weekend is asking for disaster), I was going in unprepared (seriously, just bring some cash and don't forget your own bags) and with the wrong attitude. Going to a farmers market is not like going to a grocery store, where you make a beeline for the aisles you need based on the list you've made ahead of time and avoid interacting with other shoppers as much as possible. Farmers markets are another experience entirely.

 

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Farmers markets are interesting because a.) you need a bit of a game plan to keep from getting trampled or completely unfocused, but b.) you don't want TOO much of a game plan or it ruins all the magic. This is what my problem used to be: I went into farmers markets with very specific expectations that could not logistically be met and then I left disappointed. Every time. This is one of those times when it's so much better to chuck expectations and just see what happens. 

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In my opinion, it zaps away the fun if you go to a farmers market with a specific list. Inevitably that one vegetable you need is either in a less-than-desirable state or completely unavailable, and then the grand idea you had for dinner that night is ruined. If instead you walk in and let yourself be surprised by what's available, you may end up creating a dish that's completely new to you.

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It's also good to have a general idea of what's in season so you're not disappointed when craving a wintertime vegetable in the middle of summer. AboutFood.com is a great resource for this because they have all kinds of lists: regional lists, state lists, seasonal lists. Since we're starting farmers market season in spring, here are some fruits and veggies that typically do well in spring: apricots, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, carrots, chard, cherries, fava beans, fennel, grapefruit, green onions, kiwis, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mint, morels, navel oranges, new potatoes, parsley, peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, spring onions, strawberries, sweet onions and turnips. 

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If your schedule prohibits you from going to farmers markets any time other than the busiest times, godspeed as you fight the crowds. If you're lucky enough to have some control over when you go, choose wisely. The best time to go: right when it's opening. This is when the selection is best and the crowd is smallest.

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Do not be afraid to improvise. I know so many people who think the only way to cook is by using a recipe. This is not true! Some of the best meals are the ones thrown together last-minute using whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. Here's an easy way to think about building a balanced meal. First, include a healthy complex carb. This could be brown rice, couscous, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, a tortilla or a gluten-free grain. Then, include a healthy protein. This could be chicken, fish, tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame, eggs, whatever. Make sure to include a healthy fat. This could be a dressing made with olive oil, peanut butter, hummus, cheese, nuts, or avocado. Then go to town on fresh vegetables and fruits. These can be raw, roasted, grilled, baked — however you want them. Once you fill all these categories, you have a complete, balanced meal. It's that easy. Tortilla + chicken strips + cheese + grilled veggies = balanced meal. Whole wheat pasta + shrimp or edamame + pesto made with nuts and olive oil + roasted veggies  = balanced meal. Whole wheat toast + eggs + avocado + berries = balanced meal. 

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Another way to approach a farmers market is to use the expertise of the people who work there. Nobody's going to give you a blank look if you ask for suggestions for how to prepare a certain vegetable. Many vendors will be able to suggest either general cooking approaches or specific recipes. These people are experts. Trust them when they say something will taste good.

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Another tip to remember: it's not just about the produce. Farmers markets are a great place to discover local brands of hummus, dips, nuts, cheeses and more. You're also likely to find some amazing lemonade, coffee, baked goods, and ready-to-go food cart meals for lunch or dinner. And don't forget the flowers. Compare the prices of supermarket flowers versus farmers market flowers and in most cases, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the farmers market.

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Sample the products. Even when I wasn't on Team Farmers Market, I had to admit there are few things in life better than a free sample. Sample away, but don't be a jerk about it. If you like something enough to want to sneak another sample, buy it. Don't be that person who lurks around and pretends it's the first bite of cheese you've had all day when really it's your fifth. 

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Let yourself be inspired. I think there is something so fun about going in with the idea that somewhere in that market, you will find all the ingredients you need to make your next meal. You have no idea what those ingredients are, but you'll know them when you see them. This is intuitive eating at its best: letting the fresh smells, bright colors, and crisp textures guide your choices. We've all had those days when we open our packed lunch and think, "This doesn't even sound good anymore." Today is not going to be one of those days. Today you will literally go from farm(ers market) to table, leaving you no time to change your mind about what you want. 

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Aim for simplicity. The best farmers markets meals, in my opinion, are the most thrown together. Cook up some veggies, toss them in pasta with sauce and a little cheese, and call it a day. Make a big salad. Make a simple sandwich. It goes back to my earlier advice of just combining a complex carb with a lean protein with a healthy fat with as many veggies and fruits as you want. That's truly all there is to it. You don't need a lot of steps. You don't need heavy preparation. You just need a few simple, fresh ingredients. 

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Bringing your own cloth bags will save a lot of hassle. If you purchase more than one item, you'll want a place to carry things. Carrying seven different plastic bags from vendors is not fun. Bring your own bags. 

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If you're not a person who loves crowds, farmers markets can understandably be an uncomfortable experience. I'm definitely not a fan of crowds, but I've managed to do a little damage control by avoiding peak times, staying several paces behind people so I don't get frustrated when they stop suddenly, and scouting out the quiet corners and unoccupied benches that always exist at famers markets. There is no such thing as a private farmers market, unless maybe you go in the middle of a freak snowstorm when everyone else has stayed in. You're going to encounter other people, and likely lots of them. Prepare yourself for this fact ahead of time (and prepare yourself for the fact that you'll likely need to park at least several blocks away). Don't let yourself be surprised that so many other people are interested in doing the same thing you're doing on a beautiful sunny day. 

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For me, it was all about switching my mindset. Yes, there will be crowds and noise and chaos. Yes, you will wait in line and the person in front of you will get into a never-ending conversation with the vendor about kale. Yes, you'll get sweaty and slimy and have to walk ten blocks to get to your car. But guess what else will happen? You'll get out in the sunshine. You'll see beautiful, fresh produce. You'll talk to someone who has an idea for cooking asparagus you've never heard before. You'll sample someone's homemade pesto and it will rock your world. You'll witness human kindness. You'll order a sandwich or take home a cupcake and for weeks afterward, you'll tell anyone who will listen it was the best sandwich or cupcake you've had in years. You'll see families, partners, and friends enjoying each other's company. You'll eat a strawberry on the exact day when it's the freshest it could possibly be. You'll go home with a bag filled with fresh food and make a dinner that's so much better than any of the other meals you've made recently. You'll get hooked and discover why farmers market season is the most wonderful time of the year.

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