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Archive for the ‘Farmers’ Market Challenge’ Category

During my latest trip to Headhouse’s Sunday market, I felt the presence of all four seasons around me.  Spring was in the air on this 70 degree morning…

Summer was still holding on through some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes…

Winter even made an early appearance in the form of chestnuts…

But, alas, Fall stole the show.  There were bright orange pumpkins…

and baskets of peppers…

cartons of apples…

and homemade apple butter (my favorite!)

boxes of pears filled with varieties I’ve never seen before (this Asian pear is now my new obsession)…

and containers of heirloom lima beans…

Despite all of the delicious foods above, I zeroed in on this gorgeous Sicilian eggplant.  I recently tried this variety for the first time and found out that, unlike regular eggplant, the Sicilian type does not need to be salted before cooking (a step that once led to me wasting three perfect eggplants and has kept me from attempting any eggplant recipe since).  The Japanese variety does not need to be salted either, but they’re often too small to create the traditional eggplant recipes, like lasagna, rollatini or parmesan.  So once I spotted these, my squash fixation subsided for a moment and I began picturing Italian comfort food.  (Fun fact – Eggplant is actually a fruit, specifically a berry.  Who knew??)

I decided right there in the middle of the market that it was about time I attempted to make a lasagna, something I’ve never made before because I’ve always equated with being heavy and unhealthy.  I did a quick search and came across this recipe.  Whole wheat pasta?  Part-skim ricotta?  Layers of tomatoes, basil and eggplant?  Done and done :)  I added the tomatoes and basil leaves to my bag from the market, and stopped at the grocery store on my way home to pick up the remaining ingredients.

Here is sliced eggplant, before roasting.  Instead of using a grill, I simply roasted the eggplant on the stove – about 3 minutes on each side until it softened and browned a bit.

Layering was the best part, although I had to refer to the recipe more times than I’d like to admit to remember the order – one layer of sauce on the bottom, then pasta, sauce, cheese, basil, tomatoes, eggplant.  Anddd repeat.  Easy enough, right?  Clearly my first lasagna made me nervous :)

Here it is, mid-layer #1…

I also made an easy caprese salad with some of those colorful heirloom tomatoes pictured above, and some store bought pesto and mozzarella cheese.

And finally, the lasagna!  Unfortunately I made an amateur cooking mistake and failed to convert the 180 degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit.  My Chem I teacher is frowning at me somewhere and my perfectly timed plan of going for a run and coming back to a house smelling of basil, cheese and tomatoes was ruined.  After an extremely slow 45 minutes at 35o degrees Fahrenheit, it was finally (finally!) finished.  It is not a good idea to delay dinner for a girl in her 8th week of marathon training.  Lesson learned.

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I’m now 90% convinced pull-back weeks in marathon training are necessary.  The other 10% will come if I can successfully complete 16 miles on Friday.  My confidence in the pull-back week comes from the fact that my past three runs have been some of my fastest yet.  Here’s the recap:

Friday, 5 miles:  9:20 pace
Sunday, 6 miles:  9:02 pace

And as for Tuesday’s 6 mile tempo, I averaged 8:34 for the 4 tempo miles -

Mile 1:  warm-up
Mile 2:  8:35
Mile 3:  8:30
Mile 4:  8:36
Mile 5:  8:35
Mile 6:  cool-down

Other than an 8k I did last spring where I paced 8:25, I haven’t run that fast for 4 miles straight…ever.  Hence my newfound love for the pull-back week :)  Clearly my legs needed some time to recover after 14 miles.  Now that I’ve gotten my speedwork in for the week, and I haven’t had a long run in over 10 days, I’m itching for a long and relaxing 16 miles on Friday.  Now I just need to come up with a game plan on how to fuel for this one!

For 14, I simply took in 2 gels since that’s what’s always worked for me for my halfs – although I remember wishing I had some sort of electrolyte replacement (which is probably completely mental, but isn’t almost everything about running??).  Right now I am planning on bringing 3 gels and two Nuun tablets to try in my water.  I’ve never tried these before, but I’ve read about them in a few different places and the guy at the running store raved about them (selling through enthusiasm gets me every time).  Nuun tablets are simply an electrolyte replacement (as opposed to a sports drink like Gatorade which has sugar/carbs).  They dissolve easily in water, which is perfect for my run on Friday since I’ll be carrying my water bottle and have access to fountains every few miles.  If these work, they might even be my solution for race day.  According to the website, one Nuun tablet has:

active ingredients level (mg)
Sodium (carbonates) 360.0
Potassium (bicarbonate) 100.0
Calcium (carbonate) 12.5
Magnesium (sulfate) 25.0
Vitamin C 37.5
Vitamin B2 500mcg

Pretty good stats!  It’s hard to believe I’m at 16 miles already.  I have no time goal in mind for this run.  If I feel strong during my last few miles, I’ll be happy.

Now onto some eats :)  When I was in Philly today, I made a quick stop at the Schuylkill River farmers’ market.  I didn’t have my camera on me, but you can see a recap of that market here.  Due to limited cash funds on me, I couldn’t go crazy buying everything I saw (probably a good thing!), so I kept it simple and bought some berries and fresh figs (!!)

I believe the first time I was introduced to fresh figs was at a restaurant out in California’s wine country.  I fell in love instantly.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to try them in a recipe on my own!  Aren’t they gorgeous?

I decided to roast another acorn squash and create a “lazy girl’s fig and squash pizza.”  After realizing I had about 10 minutes to cook before heading to class, I threw a handful of spinach, a few slices of roasted squash and two spoonfuls of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese onto a whole wheat wrap and baked it in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.

And then I topped it with sliced fresh figs.  This pizza had only five ingredients and was delicious.  The salty cheese complimented the sweet squash and figs perfectly.  Now I just need to figure out how to incorporate the leftover figs into my breakfast!

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Perfect

Looking at the forecast on Wednesday for Friday and seeing this is nothing short of perfect.  I don’t think weather gets much better than this for a 12 mile training run.  Layers might even be needed.  And a post-run bowl of hot oatmeal.  With nutmeg and cinnamon.  As you can probably tell, I’m very ready for Fall :)

Now if I can just successfully get through drinks with friends tomorrow night with just one beer (carbo loading, right?), I’ll be a happy runner.

Tomorrow is my Biochem final…so I’m finally finished with summer classes!  I’m celebrating with a long overdue trip to the farmers’ market on Fairmount (22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue).  If any Philly bloggers are in the area, I’d love some company! I’ll be there right at 3pm when it opens.  Let me know :)

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The Good:

  • getting my 8 mile ‘long run’ out of the way before the weekend
  • running with a friend in Philly along the river (I’ll join you any other time before 9am!)
  • leaving time for an hour of tennis tomorrow morning due to doing my long run today :)
  • finally learning that running in the summer heat does not work (see ‘bad’ below)

The Bad:

  • running the day after weight lifting for the first time in months
  • 1pm, 95 degree temperatures, humidity and no clouds
  • having to stop and walk multiple times due to heat
  • realizing this probably shouldn’t count as my long run for the week due to the walking
  • deciding that a 6 mile run will make up for that this weekend

The Delicious:

  • Goat Cheese and Beet “Caprese” Salad

  • Summer Veggie Pasta Primavera

This was such an easy dinner to throw together!  Here’s how you can do it, too:

Beet and Goat Cheese “Caprese” Salad

- heat the oven to 400
- place the beets on tin foil and drizzle a TBSP of olive oil on top, them wrap them up in the foil tightly (all together)
- heat them in the oven for about 45 mins (this depends on size – check halfway through to see where they are – but be sure to wrap the foil tightly after)
- for the “caprese” look, I used sliced goat cheese that I bought from Trader Joe’s and then cut out circles using the rim of a champagne glass (any type of goat cheese will work, though!)
- for the dressing, I combine 2T balsamic vinegar, 2T olive oil and 1T honey and drizzled it on top

As for the Summer Veggie Pasta Primavera, I looked to Giada for guidance.  I followed her recipe here, but used some of my recent summer veggie buys, including yellow squash and corn.  I also used fusilli instead of farfalle pasta.  I didn’t have any carrots on hand, but I’m sure they only only would have added to it.

What’s your favorite pasta dinner to throw together during the week?

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While training for my half in May, I fell completely off the wagon with strength training.  Plans were to jump back on over the summer, but a demanding Anatomy and Physiology class got in the way.  And then there was vacation.  And then post-vacation blues.  And now?  No more excuses. It’s marathon training season and I need to get back on track.

In all honesty – I really don’t enjoy strength training.  I’d rather run for 2 hours than spend 30 minutes lifting weights.  But not only is it a necessary cross training component during marathon training, but it’s necessary in life to keep bones strong, avoid injuries and prevent problems related to aging like osteoporosis (I know – strange to think about in your 20′s – but better to develop these habits now, right?).  Running.com has a great article about the reasons to strength train.  In short, it says that with strength training you’ll…

  • become a more efficient runner,
  • burn more calories,
  • increase your endurance and reduce fatigue,
  • reduce your risk for injuries, and
  • run faster.

With all of those amazing reasons, I knew it had to be part of my training schedule.  So tonight I took Body Pump at my gym.  It’s a 60-minute circuit class that covers all the weight lifting basics (squats, lunges, presses, curls, etc…).  Let’s just say I have a lot of room for improvement.  It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after a 4 month routine of taking this 1-2 times a week!

Post-gym I came home to create a protein rich dinner…Vegetarian Tacos!  I went out for a Mexican dinner in Philly last night for a not-so-healthy-but-totally-amazing dinner at Lolita…but that only left me wanting more.   With local tomatoes and leftover corn from my farmers market trip last week on hand, I knew I had the start to a delicious and healthy meal.

I used this recipe from Epicurious as a guide but changed the ingredients a bit.  For my tacos, I used the following:

2 T olive oil
2 cloves chopped garlic

1 container mushrooms, chopped
2 chopped red bell peppers
1.5 cups roasted corn
1 can kidney beans
1 medium onion, chopped
2 T cumin
2 T chili powder
1 T oregano
two handfuls of spinach
soft corn tortillas
sea salt to taste

Items for toppings included:

1 large chopped avocado
1 large chopped tomato
0% Greek Yogurt (as a sub for sour cream)
Hot salsa :)

This was enough for 3 people, plus leftovers.  They were delicious!

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(Quick note – If you donate before August 1st, your donation will be matched by the Phillies’ Brad and Lindsay Lidge – scroll to the bottom for details.)

So why did I pledge to raise money for The Food Trust for running the Philadelphia Marathon? I explained briefly here, but let me expand…

This past Tuesday I got to see The Food Trust’s commitment “to expanding access to nutritious, local foods through Philadelphia’s neighborhoods” first hand. The corner of Broad and Ritner is now the home to local fruits, vegetables, meats and fresh baked goods every Tuesday from 2-7pm. Since it was only a quick 5 minute drive from Center City, I ventured into South Philly for the grand opening ceremony. It wasn’t even 3pm yet when I arrived and the market was already packed with locals excited to explore their new market and buy all the fresh produce on display. It was amazing to see how many people came out – and even more amazing to see what The Food Trust is capable of.

The Broad and Ritner market came to be from a collaboration between the Fels Community Center/Caring People Alliance (which is where the market is located), the Philadelphia Department of Health, and of course, The Food Trust. These organizations saw a need for fresh food in an area that lacks this basic necessity. I saw this need first hand while I was driving on and around Broad to find a place to park. I passed more than three fast food restaurants plus a few basic corner stores. There wasn’t a grocery store in sight. My contact at The Food Trust confirmed this problem.

Now, local residents not only have access to fresh food, but also to The Food Trust’s educational resources – including a staff member on site handing out pamphlets with recipe ideas and instructions on how to use/store the ingredients. Broad and Ritner is also part of The Food Trust’s new “Philly Food Bucks” program – which rewards customers with $2 in Philly Food Bucks coupons for every $5 they spend in SNAP/food stamp benefits at participating markets.

Out of the ten largest cities in the US, Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate due to poverty and lack of access to fresh food. Mayer Nutter approached this problem by creating a “soda tax” this past Spring and Philly chain restaurants are now required to display calories on menus. These actions are certainly a great start, but the market at Broad and Ritner is a perfect example of how to fight these statistics head on. Fortunately for the rest of the country, Philadelphia is not the only area that will benefit from The Food Trust’s work. Their Fresh Food Financing Initiative “has become a model for communities nationwide committed to combating obesity and improving food access.” Clearly they’re doing something right!

So to answer my original question – Why the Food Trust? They make things happen – the opening of this market proves that. I strongly believe in their mission to make healthy, real food and nutrition education available to everyone and know that they are capable of getting there. I’m far from being an expert (2+ years of school, an internship and an RD exam are standing in my way ;) ), but I truly believe that many diseases that our country faces today are reversible and preventable through food.

I know it’s short notice, but if you donate before August 1st, the Phillies’ Brad and Lindsay Lidge will match every donation. To donate, just click here and type my name – Melissa Levine – in the “Is this an honorary or memorial gift?” area.

Marathon training officially starts Monday. I have my schedule and cannot wait to share it!

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I went to Headhouse on Sunday for one reason only – to get the brie melt from the Renaissance Sausage Truck. (You can read about my last trip to Headhouse here.)  If there is ever a time for melted brie, it’s the morning after running 17 miles :)  I thought I was coming for brie and strawberry rhubarb, but was disappointed to find that they were using peaches instead.

However, I soon discovered that the peaches were picked fresh from the market that morning from this gorgeous selection.

And honestly – melted brie never disappoints.  This was the sandwich…and it was amazing.

I walked around the market a bit fawning over the beautiful fruits and vegetables.  I only had $15 on me, which I spent on some garlic, parsley and onions for a recipe I have in mind for later in the week.   Oh and sugar plums simply because they’re adorable and have the best name.

Here are some photos of the amazing items available this time of year.  Grocery shopping in a regular supermarket will never live up to this…

I also had the opportunity to speak with the owner of Talula’s Table – which I am going to TODAY.  I‘m pretty sure I’ve never been so excited for a meal in my entire life. Expect a full recap later this week.

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At 6:30 this morning I took off for an easy 6 mile run around my neighborhood.  The weather was absolutely perfect and it was clear other people thought so, too.  Throughout my run, I passed a man who must have been 70+ years old, a group of about eight 50+ men and women running together, two young women speed walking and a few bikers.  It was more people than I’ve ever seen on that same route and it was so nice to get a smile and wave as I passed each person.

For some crazy unknown reason, my body decided to wake up at 4:45am this morning.  I decided to be “productive” and flip through a new cookbook I just bought – Clean Food by Terry Walters.  I first saw this book recommended by Ashley at The Edible Perspective, who raved about its simple recipes and fresh approach to using ingredients.  Clean Food is “a seasonal guide to eating close to the source” so the recipes are separated by season, which is perfect for my Farmers’ Market Challenge this summer!

*Quick note – This is a vegan cookbook.  I am not vegan or vegetarian, but I tend to gravitate towards these types of cookbooks because I love that the focus is on unique ways to use fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.  I love discovering new ingredients, cooking methods and seasonings.  Plus, every dish I’ve made from a vegan cookbook has come out amazing.  I also own Eat, Drink and Be Vegan and Veganomicon.

As I read through the introduction, the author offered the following descriptions and advice:

  • “Clean food” is defined as food that is naturally grown and minimally processed.
  • The more processed fruits and vegetables are, the less nutritional value they hold.
  • Balanced nutrition can be easy with real foods.
  • We have a choice in the foods we eat.  And so the more informed we are, the better choices we’ll make.
  • Find the “clean foods” that you like and experiment with ways to use them.  There is no need to force down broccoli if it’s not appealing to you.  Eating should always be an enjoyable experience.
  • Eat colorfully.
  • Start slowly.  Small changes add up to big changes over time.

Every one of those points couldn’t be more true. I appreciate that she adds at the end that its best to start slowly and that small changes are significant.  I think it’s easy for people to become intimidated at the idea of giving up certain types of foods in their diet.  But there is no need for a complete diet makeover overnight.  I’m a big believer in starting to make changes by adding foods to your diet instead of removing.  So for instance, if a standard dinner is pasta with tomato sauce, add a fresh component to it – like roasted vegetables or cooked beans.  Experimenting with different foods and ways of cooking them will make using fresh ingredients less intimidating over time.  Trying new foods is just another reason reason to check out your local farmers’ market.

So at 5am this morning, I was inspired by this book to start cooking.  What, you ask?  Why, cookies, of course!  Anyone who has ever baked knows there’s something relaxing about combining ingredients using just the right measurements to create something delicious.  I created the Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Instead of using eggs (not vegan), the recipe called for two ripe bananas to hold the ingredients together.  Also in the mix was maple syrup, oatmeal, unsweetened coconut flakes, canola oil and whole wheat flour.  I added cinnamon and used raisins instead of chocolate chips.  The result was more of a cross between a muffin and a cookie – light, sweet and chewy.  It was delicious!

I’ve already had two today and I think another one is calling my name now…

I can’t wait for my next visit to a farmers’ market to create some more of these amazing recipes.

Question:  What’s your favorite cookbook and why?  I’m always looking for new ones to add to my collection!

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With my legs still a little weak from Saturday’s halfas in, it feels like I did 100 squats – I figured I’d touch on a question I’ve received a few times from friends and family.  Basically, they say to me “your meals look great, but I’m still not sold on the local thing.”  Well let me explain…

This past week, Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for Shaved Asparagus Pizza. The recipe looks amazing in general, but my immediate thoughts were “Asparagus!!  It’s in season!!” I actually surprised myself with this reaction…as I’ve never thought of food in seasonal terms before.  But ever since I started my Farmers’ Market Challenge this summer, I’ve noticed that the recipes I gravitate towards revolve more around what’s fresh at the markets rather than what I buy out of habit at the grocery store.  I imagine this will continue as the produce changes throughout the summer.  I’m already excited for the corn in July and watermelon in August.  Check out this great seasonality chart below to see when foods are at their peak freshness.

So what is local?  Local food carries a few different meanings.  It can be food grown in your backyard, your town, your state or even your country.  The term locavore was developed a few years ago as the local food movement began to take momentum.  According to Wikipedia, a locavore is “someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles.”  To put that into perspective – most of the food we eat travels more than 1,800 miles to get to our groceries stores.

Local food usually goes hand in hand with sustainable agriculture.  According to Sustainable Table,  “Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.”  I’m not sure I want to know the flip side to that, but I do know that it’s something I want to support.

Now that we have a few definitions out of the way, I’ll go into reasons why I personally enjoy farmers’ markets.

  • Farmers markets are an experience. Who doesn’t love spending the day outside people watching??  Farmers’ markets provide a perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon.  And then the fresh food you buy can be used to BBQ with friends and family that evening :)
  • You eat what’s in season, at its freshest point. As I mentioned above, farmers’ markets sell what’s in season.  We all know how delicious strawberries are in the summer and how fun it is when pumpkin comes back into the mix in the fall.  It makes the changing seasons interesting and exciting.
  • Farmers’ markets = real food = fresh recipes = healthy family. Enough said.
  • Baked goods.  Entenmann’s, Dunkin Donuts, Chips a Hoy don’t hold a candle to these treats.  The baked goods at markets are handmade with about 5 ingredients and sold to you from the baker him/herself.  You can’t get much fresher or more delicious than that.
  • Farmers take pride in what they sell. You’ll notice from my few recaps so far that most stands are set up beautifully (check out Headhouse, Union Sqaure, Broad & South and Schuylkill River Park).  You can tell that the farmers are proud of what they produce and are excited to talk to you about it.
  • The ability to speak with the farmers. Ask questions!  You can find out if your meat is grass fed, your asparagus is organic or your eggs from free range chickens.  You can also get ideas on how to use the product, how to store it and how long it will last.
  • Feel good about your purchases. There is something special to me about using ingredients from a farmers’ market.  Maybe it’s because it takes a little extra time to go to the market, or maybe it’s because I know I’m supporting my community.  Either way, I feel good about the meals I create with my finds.
  • And finally….free samples!

We are a country of people who like our wine from California, our leather from Italy and cigars from Cuba.  Shouldn’t we care about where our food comes from, as well? Now I’m not encouraging you to suddenly start the “100-Mile Diet,” but instead, simply become interested and informed about the food you buy.  And enjoy a day outside! I will certainly continue to shop at my favorite grocery stores (how could I ever give up Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s?!) but I love that this challenge is making me think outside the box.  My goal is to be more conscious about where my food comes from…and enjoy every bite along the way.

I know there must be plenty of reasons I missed…I’d love to hear why you love going to a farmers’ market!

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My infatuation with farm fresh eggs stemmed from reading various other blogs who praised their bright yellow yolk, fluffy texture and better taste.  It deepened when I read that they actually hold more nutrients, including more vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and beta-carotene.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the chickens are grass fed…or because they’re local, so the amount of time from farm to table is decreased.  Whatever the reason, I was excited to start cooking…

So I decided to take my new eggs – possibly my most exciting farmers’ market purchase to date – and create a Farm Fresh Frittata.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion*
  • 4 large button mushrooms*
  • 6 eggs*
  • 2 T skim milk
  • 1 large tomato*
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 1/2 t sea salt and oregano
  • 4 T feta

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.
  2. In a medium pan, cook the onions using non-stick olive oil spray until brown.
  3. In the meantime, whisk the eggs, skim milk, oregano and salt.  Put this aside.
  4. Add mushrooms to the pan and cook through (about 1 minute).
  5. Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
  6. Grease a 9” casserole dish with non-stick spray.
  7. Spoon the veggie mixture evenly into the casserole dish.
  8. Pour the egg mixture into the dish so it covers the veggies.
  9. Distribute the feta cheese and chopped tomatoes on top.
  10. Bake at 350 F for approx 20 minutes, or until the eggs are solid.
  11. Salt to taste.

The feta baked perfectly into the top layer and the eggs lived up to all my expectations.  They came out light, fresh and delicious.  One third of the recipe has only 260 calories, but carries 20 grams of protein.  No wonder I’m so full!  I don’t usually gravitate towards eggs for dinner, but I think this might start a trend for me!

*These items were purchased yesterday at the farmers’ markets.

Lighten it up:  In general, I tend to use the yolk when cooking for myself at home, but order egg whites in restaurants since it’s hard to know how much oil/butter/cheese is used.  If you want to lighten this up, simply sub 3 of the full eggs for 6 egg whites.

I have half a dozen eggs left in the carton.  Any suggestions on what I should make next?

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