The Good News!

On his way out the door of the New York Times (which is not the good news), Mark Bittman stopped off to talk to his adoring public through an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered over the weekend.  It’s worth listening to if you missed it, but even the highlights in the transcript also remind us why we will miss his voice.

His is no longer a voice in the wilderness along with Michael Pollan’s and Alice Waters’ – they have been joined by  many others across the country. I was reminded that from his perch at the NY Times, he has seen from on-high what I have also seen over the last 12 years of working with farmers’ markets, which is that we can afford to be optimistic that the balance in favor of Big Food has been altered and that more and more people are coming home, literally, to grow more of their own food, buy more locally-grown food, and make more of their own meals at home.  And that all of those personal decisions add up to a collective demand for the availability of healthier food.
Just look at these headlines gleaned from three newspapers that I read regularly over the last year:
HARD TIMES FOR SOFT DRINKS, NY Times Business section, October 3, 2015
November 25th, 2014
Even while the corporate-heavy committee that decides what is “certified organic” in this country is meeting to decide which chemicals can be used to grow those “certified organic” foods they plan to sell us, it is obvious that we are making progress against big-time odds and big-time, pervasive influences.  Mark Bittman told All Things Considered that “ I am optimistic.  Things have gotten better.  We have passed the low point. More people are paying attention. More people are eating better. More people know about eating better.  I hope that will snowball, and we’ll see that our health improves as a result, and our negative impact on the environment decreases as a result, and that we’ll see a better food system is a great thing for all of us.”
I see this everyday from ground level; I hear it from you every week; and I know Bittman has seen it playing out at much higher levels than ground zero.  So let’s revel in this fall harvest; let’s thank our farmers for dealing with the unpredictability of the weather every day in order to meet our demand for local food,  and remember that each of us is one voice added to a growing chorus for change.

Let’s Cook!

As I have repeated over the years, leaning heavily not only on my own personal experience but on the writings of Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan and a wonderful book by Jeannie Marshall, The Lost Art of Feeding Kids;  we need to talk more about cooking and do more of it in our own homes.  Many words are devoted in the press and on the web these days about the origins of the food we eat – in field and factory – and what we can do as individuals and as a nation to make our food safer and healthier.  But we are seeing less and less verbiage devoted to the art and science of cooking that food for our own consumption.   I am not even sure we are talking about cooking anymore.  And it wasn’t so long ago that we did.

I spent many hours as a young teenager in Harrisonburg, VA with my Aunt Paige who loved to cook – she just liked trying something new every day to see how it turned out and find out whether or not she liked it, if it was worth the effort, if her family would eat it (the biggest hurdle for her with two sons of her own and a local teen her family “adopted” after his father was killed in an auto accident), and most importantly, whether it was worthy of being filed in her little box of cut-out recipes.  In the beginning, most of those recipes were from McCalls and Ladies Home Journal; but later on she subscribed to Gourmet and changed my life forever.

When she knew I was coming to visit, she would cull her box of untested recipes and have a small stack ready for us to cook through over a two-week or even one-month period, and we would get to most of them before I left for home in Georgia.  And I still have some of those recipes in my little boxes of cut-outs.  We talked a lot about what we were cooking, and I know she and my mother both talked about cooking and their latest “finds” alone together, at the pool and at bridge club.  Even at family gatherings, we would talk about the food – and I am happy to say that my family still does that when the cousins get together.

We talk about food and its preparation at home – we don’t talk about the nutrients or the calories or the cost or the convenience – we talk about the food; we talk about the gorgeous ingredients that we picked from our gardens or bought at the farmers’ market or grocery store if we must and the options we had for putting it to good use.  We talk about recipes and how we tweak them to serve our own tastes and circumstances.  And we talk about enjoying the food that we have cooked.

Mark Bittman reminds us of the day – not too long ago – when all newspapers included a weekly food section or recipes every day of the week often provided by a local food writer.  (Many of my own cut-out recipes came from those newspapers.)  And Mark also mentions all those Junior League, small town social club, and church cookbooks that sat on the cookbook shelf in our own homes.  Bittman does not consider today’s flood of cookbooks or TV cooking shows to be their replacement either.  He laments that “ most cookbooks are offshoots of TV “cooking” shows, almost all of which are game shows, reality shows, or shows about celebrities” – or as I contend, shows that treat food as eye candy rather than nourishment for the body and soul, and cooking as some Olympic event rather than the creative and relaxing activity that it can be.

I will pick up this theme later, but I have a thought or two of my own:  why can’t we just cook what we love to eat and eat what we love to cook?  And share the joy of both.  That would take us back – and maybe forward at the same time.

Lunchbox Makeover

Tips for packing healthy and fun school lunches

Pick colorful foods. This is one of the simplest ways to make your child’s lunch more fun and inviting. Not only is a colorful lunch fun, it’s also nutritious when the color is from natural, unprocessed foods like strawberries, carrots, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Use whole grain bread instead of white bread. When buying bread, make sure that “whole wheat” is listed as the first ingredient. If the first ingredient is listed as “unbleached wheat flour” or “wheat flour” the bread or product is not whole grain.

Limit potato, corn, tortilla, or other chips. Do your best to limit chips in lunches and at all meals, save chips for the occasional weekend treat. Vegetables and fruits should be the main side dishes in your child’s lunch.

Make lunches fun with shapes. Shapes can make a boring, healthy sandwich fun and less daunting to kids. Use cookie cutters to make different shapes out of sandwiches. Even cutting sandwiches into simple triangles, circles and squares can jazz up a lunch and use holiday cookie cutters for the Halloween and Christmas season. Cookie cutters can be used for fruits and cheeses as well.

Use inexpensive staples. Packing healthy lunches can get expensive. You can cut costs by using whole grain pastas, breads and wraps to create meals and pairing them with fruit spreads, un-processed nut butters and parmesan and pesto for the pasta. Brown rice and beans is another inexpensive kid-friendly staple. Healthy eating doesn’t need to drain your wallet.

Sneak in those vegetables for picky eater. We all know that kids can be picky eaters and can put up a fight over eating their veggies. Our solution is to sneak vegetables onto sandwiches like lettuce, tomato, cucumber, zucchini or roasted peppers.

Make your own Lunchables. Store bought, pre-packaged lunchables are loaded with processed fats and sugars, steer clear of these when you can. Instead, buy whole wheat crackers, organic meats and cheeses and make your own lunchables for the kids.

If your kids like juice, pack only 100% fruit juices. Check the labels of any juice or juice boxes you buy for your children. All fruit drinks are required to list the percent of juice on the label. Make sure its 100% fruit juice, otherwise it is sure to be loaded with sugars and additives.

Make your own baked goods. Sweets and baked goods are fine in moderation and a special treat for little ones. It’s best to make your own baked goods, instead of buying pre-made or boxed baked goods. This allows you to control the amount of sugars and leave the preservatives behind, making sweet treats more wholesome and healthful.

Get your kids to help in the kitchen. Most of us don’t realize how much kids enjoy helping cook, bake and make their own lunches. This gets them excited about eating their lunches when they help prepare them. The kitchen is a great place to start having discussion about healthy eating and cooking. You may be surprised by how your kids react positively to helping out in the kitchen.


The Rodney Richardson Trio

The Rodney Richardson Trio will join us at the market this Sunday with the mellow sounds of really good jazz.  Enjoy the music of the Duke and other jazz greats including Rodney’s own compositions. The weather will be outstanding – warm and dry – so bring  a lawn chair and enjoy two hours of free entertainment.  You would be paying big bucks to see these guys at Blues Alley or the Bohemian Gardens in DC; but not at your friendly neighborhood farmers’ market.

Celebrate Your Farmer!

Smart Markets wishes you a very happy holiday and hopes you enjoy the best that this country has to offer this weekend.  I am inspired on this 4th of July to share why we are in this business of providing farmers and local food entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their products directly to customers like you.

It is not a mystery why small farmers cannot make a living selling wholesale – the economies of scale just do not work for them.  We believe that it is very important to save the small farms that still exist in our area and to help young people who want to farm be able to do it.  We also take seriously the opportunity the markets offer for small, family-owned and operated food businesses to be nurtured under our low-overhead, supportive guidance. Even though we always hate to see them go, we are always excited to see our vendors move on to bigger and more permanent opportunities or use the markets to establish a sound foundation for their storefronts.

We have also seen so many farmers grow along with us – and we are grateful to them for their commitment to you.  They notice what you like and want to see in the markets, and they go out and plant something new just for you. They buy or lease more land; they plant more trees, they sow new seed varieties; and they are willing to do this because they trust that you will continue to support them.

If you have not noticed in previous years,  you will soon learn that we take every chance we get to remind you that each patriotic holiday underscores our commitment.  These guys represent our path to healthier eating at home and away from home too.  For those of us who need to rely, if only occasionally, on the cooking of strangers,  how great is it to have your neighbors cooking up their national dishes or developing their own distinctive cuisine for us to enjoy!  Helping these cooks to move on to restaurants and storefronts of their own is the best way to reduce the prevalence and influence of fast food in our neighborhoods. And that will happen one day thanks to you and your patriotic support of these hard workers who feed you so well.

So take a little time this week to mosey through the market and see what you can come up with to celebrate your local farmer and friendly chef throughout the holiday weekend.   I hope you will stop by the Smart Markets tent first and pick up some recipes and follow where they lead.

Peaches and Cream!

Don’t bust a gut jumping up and down – you will need it to enjoy and digest the peaches – served with Trickling Springs Whipping Cream if you know what’s good for you!  I do and somewhere I have a recipe for a great shortcake biscuit designed to be eaten with peaches.  I will start looking for it tonight and will have the recipe tomorrow if I find it – which will only add to our other great peach recipes that I have added to over the years.  This week we will hand out the Two Easy Peaches recipes and I will give you a little background here.

The Fresh Peach Cake dates back to the late 60’s when I was living at home in Winston-Salem, NC, going to Wake Forest University and working at Sears in the evenings.  This recipe was published in the local paper as part of Beth Tartan’s food column.  That was a pseudonym but many people in town knew who she was, and I think she wrote that column for at least 30 years.  I have lots of her recipes – still in the original newsprint – and I still make quite a few of them; many I know by heart now.  I remember making the cake for my fellow workers in the Credit Department of Sears where it was such a big hit that I have been inspired to make it for lots of people and numerous events over the years.

The Peach Dessert recipe is from the Third Edition of the Joys of Jello cookbook – probably also from the early 60’s.  I remember making this one at home when we still lived in Atlanta – so I have been making this great little dessert for a few decades too – at least five.  It’s probably the only thing I make with Jello now.  I can only hope that with this pedigree going for them, you will want to try both of these recipes yourself.

But don’t overlook the cherries – the sour cherries will not be around long – and the blueberries, raspberries and black raspberries.  You know the black raspberries are my favorites, and when I was catering I would await their appearance with visions of black raspberry mousse and other desserts dancing in my head.  Not all of them made it to my customers either.

I have already written about my Grandfather (known as Daddy Jo) coming in with the black raspberries from the little farm stand in downtown Harrisonburg, VA and going straight for the stove to cook up a sauce out of them.  Still wearing his hat.

But it was my favorite uncle Jimmy, one of his sons, who built the “better” black raspberry garden in Syria, VA when he was living there.  He built a square wood-frame “room” in a meadow with walls and ceiling of chicken wire, and it had a regular door as the entrance so you could walk right in.  The black raspberries grew up the sides and over the top, and you could go in there and just gorge yourself until someone came looking for you.  My mother and I spent what seemed like hours in there at one family reunion, and we may very well have been pretty sick afterwards.  But I am sure it was worth it – and I am sure my mother agreed.

Well that’s it for memory lane this week – you will just have to come and shop and make your own memories – and share your own recipes and pictures on our Facebook pages.  I hope you have as much fun enjoying the bounty of summer as I did growing up – wherever we lived, summer was filled with food from someone’s garden – even if it wasn’t ours.

Eat Local for Thanksgiving — It’s Easy!

Celery Root SaladThanksgiving is the easiest and best time of year to “eat local,” for the simple reason that the Native Americans and the Pilgrims were “locavores” back when “fresh and local” were not marketing terms, but just the way it was. This means that most of what you find on a traditional Thanksgiving menu has its roots in local, seasonal foods.

A New “Tradition”

Yet too often we feel obliged to follow more recent traditions. We fill a Thanksgiving menu with an industrially raised turkey that’s been injected with saline to make it seem juicy, or Jell-O salad with canned fruit cocktail, or green bean casserole with canned mushroom soup, or sweet potatoes from a can, baked with butter and brown sugar with marshmallows on top. That’s what my Grandma made anyway.

True Thanksgiving Tradition

There’s nothing wrong with family traditions, but it’s easy and fun to give those old favorites new life with fresh, locally raised foods. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to choose from autumn’s bountiful cornucopia of locally grown foods from salad greens to root vegetables.

And there’s even more to be thankful for, because local foods, when grown without synthetic chemicals, enhance our personal health, the health of our farmers, their farms, and our communities. And the virtuous circle expands as local organic foods benefit the soil, air, and water upon which life depends.

Giving Thanks for Healthy Food

There is just no better way to express gratitude for good food, local farmers, and their active stewardship of the land than to buy one or more local items for the big meal on the day we join together and give thanks.

And it’s easy–just tweak your favorite family recipes to create locally produced variations on Thanksgiving classics. Here are a few ideas:

  • Cole slaw can become a light Brussels sprouts salad
  • Mashed potatoes go glam as local potatoes roasted with leeks, parsnips, and rutabaga
  • Sweet potato gratin can be transformed into a sophisticated cardoon gratin
  • Classic raw celery and carrots become a classy celery root remoulade (recipe below)
  • Dinner rolls from a can become buttery sage biscuits
  • Pecan pie turns into local hickory nut or black walnut pound cake

And we all know pumpkin pie is better with local pumpkins, so get yourself a few from a local farmer.

You’ll have the tastiest Thanksgiving ever, and you’ll help keep local, sustainable farms thriving now, and for many Thanksgivings to come. Thank you!

Celery Root in Mustard Sauce (Remoulade)


2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 cup heavy cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound celery root (about 2 medium-sized roots)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, cream, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  2. Quarter the celery root and peel it. Grate coarsely. Immediately add the celery root to the mustard sauce and toss to coat. Season to taste. Serve as a first course or side salad.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit

Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Tips for Brussels Sprouts

SPumpkin SoupThe forerunners of the modern Brussels sprouts were wild cabbage-like plants with small green buds growing along the stems. They were already being cultivated in ancient Rome, but they are named after Brussels because that’s where they became popular in the 13th century.

Don’t Overcook!

Brussels sprouts may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of holiday fare, but they have had an honored place in Britain for centuries, alongside the roast goose or game. Perhaps it was the British tendency to cook vegetables to death that have given Brussels sprouts a raw deal. The solution, naturally, is to eat them raw, or very lightly sautéed.

Best Fresh off the Stalk

First, make sure you have the freshest sprouts possible. If you can get a freshly harvested whole stalk, with the sprouts still attached, all the better. At a local farmers market you may see these Dr. Seuss-like plants 3 to 4 feet tall, with the elegant, miniature cabbages spiraling up the stalk. Sprouts will keep well this way, and you can break the buds off the stalk as needed.

For a raw Brussels sprout salad, shave the sprouts whisper-thin, and then toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Or get more festive by mixing and matching with toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or hazlenuts), fruit (dried cranberries, fresh apples, or pears), and even cheese (shaved Parmesan, cheddar, or fresh ricotta for a creamy, slaw-like salad).

Healthy and Tasty

Brussels sprouts, like all of the cabbage family, are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and folate. They also contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, both of which are believed to block the growth of cancer cells.

But the best reason to eat them is that they taste terrific. Even former sprouts-phobes may not recognize what they are eating when you serve them this Brussels sprout leaves sautéed in butter.


Brussels Sprout Leaves Sauteed in Butter


¾ lb Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
¼ cup chopped shallot (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or thyme (optional)
salt and pepper


Cut about ¼ inch off the stem end of each sprout, then begin peeling leaves. When you get to the point where it’s difficult to peel farther, trim off another ¼ inch and continue removing leaves. Repeat until you have a bowl full of fluffy leaves.

Place a frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add butter, shallots, sprout leaves, and an herb of your choice. Stir until sprout leaves are bright green and slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit

Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Watch “The Story of Solutions”

I am not writing about candy this week, though it would be a good week to rail against our overconsumption of sugar. A Washington Post article about the weight issues of the new middle class in Mexico that can now afford to drink and eat sugar in even higher quantities than we do in the U.S. did come up with a great line about us overeaters in the U.S., calling us “lumpen gringos.” I was tempted to take that little phrase and fly with it, but it is perfect just as it is.

What I am doing today is encouraging you to watch [a 10-minute video]( from the people who have put together a project called The Story of Stuff. I don’t like watching videos on the computer; it’s hard to get past the feeling that I have better uses for my time. But this one – along with my favorite, [Jamie Oliver’s TED award acceptance speech]( – is good because it is inspiring. And we could all use a little inspiration.

The Story of Solutions is the title of this video, and it is marvelously mind-bending and provocative without being complicated or difficult to grasp. The basic premise is that we need to begin to look for solutions that change the game – the game that seems to promote more as the goal. The video encourages us to look at new goals as well as new methods of reaching those goals.

What if the goal were better rather than more? How could that change how we solve the process of getting there? When considering the problem of accumulating plastic waste, we are encouraged to think more about preventing it instead of just figuring out how to dispose of it. And my favorite part is the ultimate and underlying goal of building a society that works together to solve these problems. This is how we ultimately build the power to change the game, and everyone can participate in this endeavor.

Watch it – you will be glad you did.