Spring has arrived, even if the weather doesn't agree here in Portland, which means that it's time for fresh cooking ideas. Al fresco dining may even be on the horizon, if only as a glimmer. In the spirit of warm weather food, we thought we'd share a quick and easy salsa recipe for you to try at your spring fiestas. We love this 5-minute version from Cook's Illustrated:

Makes about 1 cup (doubles easily)
This quick salsa can be made with either fresh or canned tomatoes, but since they aren't quite in season yet, canned tomatoes are a better choice this time of year. If you're using fresh, make sure they are sweet, ripe, in-season tomatoes. 

1/2 small jalapeño chile or 1/2 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
1/4 small red onion, peeled and root end removed
1/2 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon table salt
pinch ground black pepper
2 teaspoons lime juice from 1 lime
2 small tomatoes (about 3/4 pound), ripe, each cored and cut into eighths, or one (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

  1. Pulse all ingredients except tomatoes in food processor until minced, about five 1-second pulses, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Add tomatoes and pulse until roughly chopped, about two 1-second pulses.
  2. To Make Ahead:
    The salsa can be refrigerated, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days. Season with additional lime juice and salt before serving.
Thanks for backing our project and choosing the holiday gift option! Please fill out the form below so we can personalize and send your recipient an e-card notifying them of your gift.

Note: do not fill out form until you've made a pledge on Kickstarter.

    Holiday Gift Donation Form

I awoke this morning to a blanket of frost covering the park outside my window (save for the bright yellow leaves below the Northside tree that refuse to wither), and the faint smell of cinnamon sticks, baked oranges, and cloves, which I used to holiday-ize my home this weekend. I decided against buying a full-sized Christmas tree, which would likely not appreciate being inserted into the dangerous environment that is my apartment. Between my vegetarian-predator cat and the volatile temperature situation in the drafty, 1920's era building, it's a jungle in here. Instead, I found a full and fragrant rosemary tree in a pot, which sits on my side table decked out with dried orange slices and strung popcorn in all its mini-Christmas-glory now, but will also hopefully live a long and happy life as an addition to many a winter stew, roasted bird, bread loaf, or egg scramble. I'm feeling festive and full this holiday season, and, while I know we just had a whole other holiday dedicated to this, also very thankful.


So, we've launched a Kickstarter campaign. Have you seen it yet? I bet you have, if you follow us at all on any of the social media channels out there. We've been liking, tweeting, blogging, e-mailing, and basically shouting it from the e-rooftops in as many ways as we can muster. It's incredibly fun, incredibly exciting, and incredibly time consuming. I will likely develop a nervous tick at mention of the campaign by the end of it all. We're trying to keep it interesting and engaging without being annoying. Is it working? Or are you annoyed? Please do let me know. 

We've had the campaign running for just over a week now, and we're already almost half way to our goal. Seriously...WOW. I am floored by the outpouring of generosity and support we've received, thus far. Of course, we still have a long way to go. See, the way Kickstarter works is, if we meet or beat our goal ($10K by Jan 15), then we get funded (YAY!) and can buy a vehicle to expand our reach and meet the growing demand for accessible healthy food in the Portland Metro area. Wahoo! BUT...if we don't hit the $10K mark, even by a single dollar...we get...NOTHING. That's right. Zip. Zilch. Nada. So, when I say that every single dollar counts, I really mean that. Really.

Give the Gift of Happiness

Honestly, how can you argue with that? 

Hey Mom / Dad / husband / wife / sibling / boss / friend / cat / dog / classmate / favorite barista / secret crush! For the holidays this year, I got you the gift of happiness! 
(Joy and hugging ensue, followed by the presentation of the best-holiday-gift-ever award, to you.)

I hope you're picturing this...

In seriousness, though, we thought it would be nice to allow people to pledge to our cause in the name of someone else. Be it a loved one, group, organization, or distant relative for whom you couldn't even begin to think of an appropriate holiday gift, you can make a pledge in their name and we'll send you an e-card to present to them. Then, you can invite them to watch the project that they helped support, grow over the year and make a lasting impact on the health and happiness of others. Not bad, eh? Happiness abounds, and your holiday shopping is one step closer to complete (without leaving the comfort of your home). Something to think about...

See the Change

If you think this whole "increasing healthy food access" sounds like a good idea, but can't quite grasp the way it's working for people in their every day lives, I invite you to watch this short video interview. Shaun is one of our first (and best) customers, and he is a perfect example of why we love and are passionate about what we do. This is his story, in his words:
Remember that whole "give the gift of happiness" thing? For once, I wasn't being grandiose. I really meant it. See what I mean?

Thank you.

I really mean that, too. And happy holidays.
"If we sell just one Meal Kit, I'll be happy."

This was my sentiment as we were setting up for our very first pilot test at a Portland-area affordable housing senior site. We've spent nearly 2 years doing market research, conducting surveys and focus groups, reading and writing reports, and studying our target market. We worked hard to develop strong community alliances and an experienced advisory board from which we could glean insights and pull support. We've pitched our concept to everyone from skeptical venture capitalists to grassroots not-for-profit organizations to city officials. We've taken our model through countless iterations in an attempt to create a service that is a reflection of us, of our values, and of the customers we intend to serve. Still, there comes a point of diminishing returns, when more advice and information can actually confuse or detract from our core purpose, and when we just had to get out there and DO it. So...we did.

Sample produce display
Our first pilot run was at Alberta Simmons, which is a senior housing complex on the edge of Northeast Portland. Residents here face barriers to healthy eating due to proximity and ease of transportation to traditional produce purveyors, physical disability and mobility issues, income restrictions, and even motivation to prepare new meals at home. 

We felt like we could offer them some relief to at least one of these barriers.

Residents sampling Meal Kit recipes
But, even with all of that research under our belts, we weren't quite sure what to expect: 

Will people actually come? If they do come, will they like what we have? Will they buy? Will they come back? Will they tell us the whole thing is one big waste of time?

Well, for starters, people came. 

We had advertised that we'd open at 1pm, and by 12:45, people were hovering at the doors. By 1:15, we were standing room only. And not only did we sell one Meal Kit - we sold OUT of multiple kits. Customers were happy with our prices, offered suggestions for new products to carry, and gave us feedback on everything from time of the month to visit them, to our name.

Multiple generations come to shop
We've revisited Alberta Simmons for three pilot markets now, and each time, we learn so much more. We've begun to build a rapport with the residents, some of whom we're even on a first name basis with now.

"Did you bring more sweet potatoes this week?" Sally asks us as she peruses the produce baskets. (We did, of course.)

Even Alberta Simmons herself, a community activist in her day and the building's namesake, has become a regular. 

"I already know I'm going to buy those Meal Kits today!" Ms. Simmons tells us as she enters. She'll try a free sample anyway, she says, but she already has one of us fetching her a couple different Meal Kits.

Meal Kits with free samples from Food Hero
Shaun, a building employee, has also been a repeat buyer and Meal Kit enthusiast. "I'm just trying to eat more healthily, but I'm not a cook, so these Meal Kits are just what I need," Shaun tells us. Every week he's purchased at least two kits. He also advertises for us by word-of-mouth. People come in asking for the Meal Kits Shaun told them about.

We were also lucky enough to have a Food Hero team present to demonstrate how to prepare two of our featured Meal Kits and to provide free samples for customers to taste. This partnership enhances the value of our service immensely; giving customers the educational support they've requested regarding nutrition and cooking, paired with the opportunity to put their newfound knowledge to work with corresponding Meal Kits for sale, is, so far, a match made in heaven. We're so grateful to Food Hero for their amazing work.

This experience has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. We're already becoming more efficient in our processes, we've learned great things about our product mix, and we're establishing relationships with customers. This business began with the idea that we would create a service that was built from the ground up, guided by our mission, and fine-tuned by our customers themselves. I'm happy to report that, so far, that is just what it is. The reception we've received from the community has been validating and inspiring, and we're more excited than ever to continue working with our neighbors and soon-to-be friends. 

"I like the Saturday Market," Alberta Simmons says to us, Meal Kits in hand, "but to me, this is like a special Saturday Market."

To Alberta, Shaun, Sally, the other residents of Alberta Simmons, and future customers in Portland and beyond, thanks for your support. We hope to soon become your special market. 

See you soon.

FITR's first dollar
After a beautiful Indian summer, fall has arrived in Portland, seemingly overnight. Last week, the parks were still full of sun-bathers and lawn-gamers, and then one night, the clouds snuck in under the cover of darkness and in the morning, it was autumn. For many Portlanders, fall marks the beginning of nesting season; it's time to break out the wool sweaters and socks, and instead of frolicking about the neighborhood into the well-lit late evening, movies and blankets and hearty stews are in order. This is also a brilliant season for food. I know it seems more appealing to visit the farmers market on a sunny summer morning, but I highly encourage you to brave the October rains; you'll be rewarded with overflowing tables of rainbow-colored produce, spiced apple and pear ciders, artisan breads, and the aroma of blistered pepper skins wafting from the giant roasting wheel, along with the usual market bounty. Give it a try.
FITR NoPo Event Display
As you can probably tell, we're just as excited as can be about fall at FITR. We've had an amazing and enlightening summer: new collaborations with nutrition education experts to help support our customers, partnerships with affordable housing complexes to serve as pilot locations, focus groups, promotional events, and even some local press! We've spent countless hours out talking with community members to determine how we can best tailor our service to meet YOUR needs. We've been thrilled with the excitement around our impending launch, and while we're never happy to hear about hardships, we've found that there is a true and serious need for an easier path to healthy eating right here in our communities, and we're excited to help alleviate that issue.

We had a meet-and-greet event in North Portland where we learned that people want help deciding what to make for dinner, because we know that choosing meals and shopping take up the majority of the time associated with cooking. We think our Meal Kits will do the trick!

Cully Community Potluck
We participated in Slow Food Portland's Cully Community Potluck, where we took the $5 Challenge and enjoyed an incredible meal with Cully residents and supporters of a more complete and accessible food system. 

The event challenged people to prepare healthy meals for $5 per serving to "take back the value meal" from fast food establishments. This was a resounding success, given the turnout and incredible spread!

Ecotrust Presentation
We had the opportunity to present at the Oregon Entrepreneur's Network Pub Talk, and at Ecotrust for the Portland State University School of Business Administration faculty retreat. We were even featured in an article in the Oregonian! We graduated from the Social Innovation Incubator and have left with an incredible network. AND, Amelia will be speaking at the upcoming International Conference on Business & Sustainability in November!

Now, we're going full force into preparation for our first pilots, which will be held in affordable housing complexes throughout Portland where residents face barriers to healthy eating. We are in the process of becoming SNAP-approved, and are bursting at the seams to get out there and start selling healthy food to all the many people who are asking for us! We are just overwhelmed with the incredible support we've received from the community, thus far. We're deeply grateful to all our supporters for helping us realize this important goal, and we cannot wait to begin serving Portland. 

Stay tuned!

OK, so maybe this isn't original. Maybe countless families, cooks, and rat-lovers alike have watched this heartwarming film and then tried to recreate the recipe. But I just couldn't let it go unaddressed. 

Last night I watched the film, Ratatouille. Yes, I was inspired because I made that ratatouille recipe the night before. Yes, I went to the video store, perused the children's section, and looked the cashier in the eye when I placed the cartoon-rat-bestrewn box on the counter. Yes, I was alone. And, yes, now I'm going to gush about it.

What a sweet and inspiring story! I highly recommend this to families who want to encourage cooking at home. The story not only makes cooking exciting and fun, but is also quite educational. Remy, the rat-chef-hero, is a regular Jacques Pépin, and if he doesn't get you excited about food and cooking, then I don't think we have a chance. 

I foresee an FITR community or school event with a free showing of Ratatouille and a featured meal-kit with the recipe...

AND! Remy's ratatouille recipe, I swear, is identical to the one we posted yesterday. (The top photo is his and the bottom one is mine.) He even covers the dish in parchment! He was clearly the inspiration for both Keller's and Smitten's confit byaldi recipes. The overarching theme of the movie comes from Remy's inspiration, a cookbook written by his favorite chef entitled, Anyone Can Cook! I know, I know, I'm going off about a cartoon rat movie, but honestly, we at FITR can't stress our support of this theme enough. Remy may be a gifted French chef, but I could recreate his recipe in my tiny kitchen with just a few dollars and a half-size oven. I promise, you can, too!

Try it. And let us know how it goes! We may just feature YOU next time, instead of the rat.

Well, it's finally summer still raining here in Portland, but we are moving right along as we work toward our upcoming launch. (Seriously though, what is the deal with this weather? We don't live in darkness for 9 months of the year just to be rained on in July. Right?)


The PACS COW (Commodities on Wheels)
We had some enlightening interviews with food pantry managers in North and Northeast Portland thanks to our friends and partners at the Oregon Food Bank. We learned incredible things about food access, hunger, and the creative ways both pantries and customers are solving food issues. We're so grateful to all the managers for their valuable work, and for taking the time to share their insights with us. We also spoke with Paul Cole at PACS, who let us tour their NEW mobile food pantry. Chalk another one up for innovative mobile food providers and their important missions! <shameless self promotion>

Thanks to OFB, PACS, and their volunteers for the edifying journey.

Additionally, we have two new(ish) memberships that we'd like to note: <begin bragging>
  • FoodHub - this online community connects food industry players with the partners, suppliers, retailers, and products they need to be successful. Look for us in the Buyers Marketplace!
  • Social Innovation Incubator - this small business incubator gives start-up social enterprises the support, network, and tools they need to create a thriving business AND impact social change. The SII is a Lemelson Foundation grant recipient and has been written up in Fast Company. We'll be giving our latest Elevator Pitch to the group in an upcoming event!
Finally, we've made some exciting new contacts that may be just the ticket for FITR to find its audience and serve them most appropriately. My second favorite thing about this potential opportunity is that we gained the contact by coming up in conversation at a recent Food Policy Conference! I love that people are supportive of our mission and beginning to recognize us as an important element in Portland's food system. <end bragging>


FITR is seeking our first truck. If anyone out there knows of a person, company, or city (ahem) that may be interested in donating a retired asset to our cause, or in selling us a vehicle at a reasonable (low-ish) price, please CONTACT US. We are interested in a Step Van, smallish trailer truck, or any similar vehicle.

Remember: with just one truck, we can begin serving food to our customers in need.


And, just because we are truly, deeply, maybe overly passionate about food so much that we interact with it in some way nearly every waking moment of our days, a recipe:

This is a fun one because it is HEALTHY, DELICIOUS, SEASONAL, SIMPLE, AFFORDABLE (all for under $10!), and sounds really fancy (so you can brag, too!) The recipe was adapted from Thomas Keller's flawless Confit Byaldi and Smitten Kitchen's beautifully simplified version.

Confit Byaldi (A Simple Ratatouille)
1 cup canned tomato sauce (we used Trader Joe's - $1.99)
1 small eggplant 
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Choice of grains (pasta, couscous, bread, etc.)
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese (optional)
Before it was ratatouille - $4 total
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Pour tomato sauce into bottom of a 10 inch-ish baking dish. 

On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick. (We used a mandoline for some, and a knife for the rest. Knife is just fine, and it doesn't have to be perfect.)

Atop the tomato sauce, layer the vegetable slices over each other in whatever pattern you like, until the entire surface is covered. You may have some leftovers that do not fit. These make a great omelet the next morning.

Grand finale
Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish. Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside so the veggies can steam in the oven. Again, this doesn't have to be perfect.

Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes. You'll know it's ready when the veggies are soft, but not mushy and lifeless, and the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them. 

Serve with your choice of grain - we like whole wheat pasta, couscous, polenta, or crusty bread. A scoop of goat cheese on the top is also a heavenly addition. 

Serves 4.

Location: Crossroads Plaza, corner of SE 92nd and Foster
Hours: Sunday, 9am - 2pm
Mode of Transportation: bicycle 
Public Transit Friendliness: good - Bus: 10, 14, 71; MAX: Green Line (my route requires transfers)
Money Spent: $2.50 
Selection: small in number, but diverse in item variety
I'm completely smitten with the Lents International Farmers Market. This may be the most unique market in town, for a few reasons. It's a sweet neighborhood setting with incredibly amiable, diverse vendors. The selection is wide enough to make it a worthy shopping destination, but the venue is small enough to be intimate and approachable. And while these qualities are not completely foreign to the other Portland area markets, what really sets the Lents Market apart is its strong mission. Here's some brief history:

The market began as the Lents Community Market in 1999, which was created by Lents residents and community organizations to be a positive local meeting place. The market participated in the Oregon Health Department’s WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, which represented up to 80% of market sales, indicating that the market successfully served low-income shoppers. Beginning in the spring of 2005, Friends of Zenger Farm started hosting monthly meetings with residents interested in working to re-start the market. This group later developed into what is now the Lents Food Group, which is a community group working to improve healthy food choices in Lents. In 2006, they ran a successful pilot season. The market turned 5 this year, and is now bigger than ever with 15-20 weekly vendors selling everything from grass-fed beef to organic tamales, natural soaps to seasonal produce. "The market focuses on highlighting the diversity of the East Portland neighborhoods and is proud to provide healthy food access and education to the community." Every week the market hosts a free cooking or gardening demonstration at 10am and live music from 11am - 1pm.

Diversity among vendors, customers, and goods. The map says, "Where were you born?"
Organic pork tamale
AND...listen to this: The Lents Market also participates in the "Healthy Rewards" Program, which furthers their mission to provide a healthy shopping option for low-income residents. Every Sunday for each $1 you spend with SNAP (food stamps), the market will give you an additional $1 FREE, up to $5! This program is sponsored by the epic and ethereal New Seasons Market and the lovable, employee-ownded Bob's Red Mill - two of our local shining stars in the Portland food and responsible business scene. 

Some people may be thinking, "92nd and Foster? That's so far away! How inconvenient. I'll just go to Freddy's, or Safeway, or New Seasons, or Zupans..." and so on, and so forth. Well, guess what? This market isn't for you! Or for me, for that matter. It obviously welcomes everyone with open arms, but the Lents Market was created with neighborhood residents in mind. Lents is a neighborhood identified in Portland as an urban food desert, so the grocery store options that you and I take for granted are not available with the same ease to Lents community members. This is another reason that the Lents Market is so valuable and important. The market manager told me that the majority of their patrons are from the immediate vicinity. "One of the biggest challenges is providing goods for sale that are appropriate to the differing ethic populations within the neighborhood," she explained. It is clear that they are addressing this challenge head on, as there were Hispanic, Russian, and Vietnamese vendors present at the market, and the information provided at the entrance was printed in each respective language. 

After a relatively long bike ride and 7 days of beautiful market bounty in my possession, I decided that my visit to Lents would be purely conversational, with one exception: the tamale stand. Oh, how I love the tamale stand. You can have your choice of freshly made, organic tamales and restorative aguas frescas and horchatas for surprisingly reasonable prices here. I went straight for the watermelon agua fresca ($2.50) to start, made with nothing but watermelon and ice. My business partner joined me shortly thereafter, so his strawberry agua fresca was added to the mix. Finally, another friend purchased a pork tamale ($3.50) and horchata ($2.00), so we had a nice sampler in the end. 

Look at that pile of green!
Now, I've been mentioning my leftovers all week, and by Sunday, I had enough to go around. This is one of the difficulties of market shopping for one person. Without a very specific plan and the slightest notion of serving sizes, it becomes challenging to purchase perishables in the right quantities. My solution to this problem was to get some friends together for a market-fresh Sunday feast to use up all my produce before its biological clock conked out. This was dependent on a lot of things, not the least of which was getting people to agree to cook and eat with me, so I understand that it's not the easiest option in the world. Having two trained chefs in the mix doesn't hurt, either. Despite these details, I strongly encourage everyone to bring your loved ones together over food at least once a month. It will become a highlight in your routine, I can assure you, and trust me...the better the food, the more love there is to go around.

Red potatoes, bacon, onions, mustard greens
Market-Fresh Sunday Feast

Pan-fried French red potatoes with sautéed bacon, red onions, and mustard greens
Creamed rainbow chard
Fresh rigatoni with zucchini, yellow tomato, shiitake mushrooms, and Sardinian sausage
Sauteed baby spring onions
Frisée salad with raw hazelnuts, Albion strawberries, and honey-strawberry-mint vinaigrette

*Note - other than my own market leftovers, the honey, strawberries, and rigatoni came from one friend's PSU market stash, and the baby spring onions from another's Lents market loot.

I wont include recipes for everything in this entry, partially because a lot of it was shoot-from-the-hip concoctions, and partially because it would get unpleasantly long. If you happen to read this and are curious about one of the dishes, feel free to email me and I'll send you a makeshift recipe.

This was a lot of fun. It was a perfect way to celebrate the talents and livelihoods of our local farmers, butchers, creamers, beekeepers, artisans, and friends. It was healthy and delicious and decadent and cooperative. Everyone had a part in the offering, preparation, and enjoyment of the meal. I can't recommend this enough, in whatever context makes sense to you in your life. Food is a powerful tool that can communicate essentially whatever your heart desires; think about this the next time you buy, sell, prepare, offer, or consume a food of any kind. I guarantee you, it will make a difference.

It seems that my original quest to buy everything for a complete meal at the farmers market was a bit naive, and I would guess that farmers and purveyors would agree that this is not the purpose of the market. The farmers market is not meant to replace your other shopping venues, but is an integral part of a healthy local food environment. Supporting local fare is of the utmost importance to our food systems, but this doesn't mean you have to break the bank or limit yourself to ONLY this option. 

Most of us, either inherently or overtly, believe in the need for food access, community health, and a thriving local economy. There are many different players in this game, all of whom play an important role by serving a specific need. Different markets serve different customers, so I encourage you to explore them until you find your market. Find your Raymond Kuenzi or your perfect park setting or your favorite tamale combination. 

And, if you've gleaned nothing else from this week long musing, consider this: food is a pleasure, so take time to enjoy it, and do what you can to help others know the same pleasure. A noteworthy posture is this, "So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." 

Location: Portland State University in the South Park Blocks between SW Hall & SW Montgomery
Hours: Saturday, 8:30am - 2pm
Mode of Transportation: carpool 
Public Transit Friendliness: (refer to Shemanski Park Market entry)
Money Spent: $7.50 
Selection: One of the best in the country. Seriously.
Ah, the Saturday PSU Farmers Market: the fusion of technicolor table displays, aromatic fried, grilled, baked, and sandwiched goods, and aperitive samples galore. The culinary amalgam of the ages. The sensory holy trinity. The produce section, butcher, and food court in one. Terra pax and so forth.

The joy brought on by two pints of Albion strawberries, captured.
I love the PSU Market. I love it so much that it took me an extra day to recover from the rapture and write this post. But honestly, who doesn't love it? It has been named one of the Top 10 Farmers Markets in the country, and rightfully so. There is nearly nothing you can't find, save for the innards of the supermarket that, as Michael Pollan would say, are merely semi-edibles unrecognizable to your grandmother. I can barely begin to list the cornucopia of goods available for sale, ranging from the traditional produce tables (overflowing) to the less obvious freshly spun wool, beeswax candles, duck eggs, ground yak, gluten-free breads, vegan "cheeze", pickles, pates, and terrines. Remember what I said about feeling overwhelmed at a previous market because I went without a plan? Well, let's just say I took two-and-a-half circles around this newly expanded market before making a single purchase. Luckily, my friend, who also happens to be an accomplished chef, accompanied me on the outing, so I had some guidance. (And a ride!) Many of the vendors who I've come to recognize from my week of market visits were present here. I saw Raymond Kuenzi, complete with hat, smile, and stories. Olympic Provisions, who has encouraged customers to "meat here" at every single market I visited, showed up, slicing countless sticks of salami for sampling. Tails & Trotters was back with its indulgent rillettes. And the strawberries... Oh. The strawberries. 

As I mentioned before, my kitchen has begun to fill up with leftovers after a whole week of market research, so I, again, attempted to purchase only what I knew I could eat, and with a recipe in mind. I was inspired by a suggestion from my mom, who has been enjoying her own local farmers market in Louisville, Kentucky. Her recipe called for sausage and chard, so I at least had a mission. I went back to Tails & Trotters for Italian sausage, based on their great products and reasonable prices, but yet again, their diverse selection swayed me. Instead of the traditional Italian, I went with their Sardinian sausage links ($7), which are similar to Italian, but with warmer, more African-style spices. (And, finished with hazelnuts, as is their M.O.) I also grabbed a gorgeous bunch of rainbow chard ($2.50) from a neighboring stand. I think rainbow chard is the most beautiful of all the greens. I really do.

Thanks, Mom!
Mom's Polenta with Sardinian Sausage and Swiss Chard

8 oz. Sardinian sausage, casings removed (can substitute traditional Italian)
I small onion, minced
1/2 bunch of Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated, stems chopped and leaves torn into 1" pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (optional - consider the heat of your sausage)
1/2 cup drained canned diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup juice reserved
1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup coarse-ground cornmeal polenta (do not substitute instant polenta)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 450F. Heat oil in an ovensafe dish or skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Stir in onion, chard stems, and 1/4 tsp salt, and cook until vegetables are softened (about 5 minutes). Stir in the garlic, thyme, and pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Stir in the tomatoes with the reserved juice and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in chard leaves and cook until bright green and slightly wilted (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.

Wipe out skillet, but do not wash, and return to medium-high heat. Prepare polenta in skillet, according to package instructions*. (Remember, do not use instant grits/polenta.) When polenta is soft and smooth and well seasoned to your tastes, smooth it into an even layer, spoon sausage mixture over the top, and top with grated Asiago cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 2 filling servings.

*Note - more flavorful polenta can be prepared using milk, cream, or chicken stock instead of only water.



The PSU Farmers Market is a market for the ages. In a way, it's the supermarket of farmers markets. It's the Super Farmers Market. Though this may come with some negative connotations, I can assure you that you don't lose a bit of quality or charm by shopping at this market. It's a fabulous place to visit on a Saturday morning whether you're entertaining guests from out of town or simply looking for something fresh to cook for dinner.

By accepting various forms of payment including Oregon Trail Cards (SNAP) and WIC benefits, this market opens its doors to a wide variety of patrons and encourages a healthy local food system, and in turn, healthy lifestyles for all. How can you argue with that?

Location: SE 20th & Salmon — in the parking lot of Hinson Baptist Church
Hours: Thursday, 3pm - 7pm
Mode of Transportation: foot
Public Transit Friendliness: limited - the 15 bus stops about 4 blocks away, but there is no MAX access
Money Spent: $9
Selection: good - there is a meat selection!
Highland Oak Farm Jerky Sample
I'm fortunate enough to live within easy walking distance of a farmers market, and an afternoon one, at that! The Buckman Market has been open since May 5th, but it continues to grow with each passing week. According to the trend, this week, the market pleasantly surprised me with even more new vendors. I particularly love this market because, as Caroline rightfully noted, it offers options in each food group. Vendors like Highland Oak Farm satisfy all your barbecuing needs with their selections of meats, including natural beef hot dogs and hamburger patties. To round out the balanced meal, other stalls offered cheeses, breads, fruits, and vegetables. 

Raymond Kuenzi's Strawberries
My personal favorite vendor at the Buckman Market won me over not just with his ambrosial strawberries, but also with his welcoming nature. Raymond Kuenzi, of Raymond Kuenzi Farm in Silverton, OR, warmly greets passersby with fresh juice and berry samples, and his ever-present hat and smile. He sells organic strawberries, freshly made fruit juices, lettuce starts, bird feed, and today, green garlic, in a small bucket. 

"I chopped up some of the leaves from the garlic stalk, fried them up with some mushrooms, and made it into an omelet. It was so good, I told my wife, 'well, I'm just going to take some of this garlic with me to sell it'," Raymond told me, pointing to his garlic in a bucket. Upon learning that I don't have a garden space in my apartment building, he suggested to me that I buy a few acres of land, raise crops, and then teach my children to farm. He may have just been trying to sell me a lettuce start, but I'll tell you, I was tempted...

These stories and conversations are what make a farmers market unique. Sure, Raymond wants to sell his goods, but he also clearly has a passion for his lifestyle and wants to share that with others. For that reason, even if I can't possibly fit another strawberry into my kitchen (or stomach), or if my farm that I decided to buy on his suggestion couldn't squeeze in a single extra lettuce start, I always at least stop by to chat with Raymond.

Since my kitchen is beginning to fill up with leftovers (I'm cooking for one, you know), I took it slightly easy with the purchases today. The Tails & Trotters stall lured me in with their pork rillette samples. Tails & Trotters is a Food Alliance certified farm that feeds their pigs a diverse diet finished with Oregon hazelnuts. Their story is quite interesting, and I recommend you give them a look. While I had something else in mind when I stopped by their stall, I was hungry enough to be swayed by their spaghetti carbonara recipe and excited enough at the sight of this hard-to-find product, so I went with an impulse purchase: 1/2 lb. of guanciale. Guanciale is an unsmoked Italian bacon made from the pig's jowl. Traditional carbonara recipes tend to suggest guanciale because of its preferable flavor and higher fat content. So, I left the market with the guanciale ($6), and, just because they looked and tasted so lovely, a bag of sweet cherries ($3).

I've never made carbonara with guanciale, but it has been on my to-do list (I'm wild, I know), so at long last, here it is, thanks to an inspiring recipe and product line from Tails & Trotters:

Tails & Trotters Spaghetti Carbonara

Time: 30 min

1 lb. spaghetti
1/2 lb. guanciale, cut into 1" X 1/2" lardons
3 large eggs
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 T Italian parsley, chopped
Salt, to taste
chopped cherries (optional)*

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to your taste. Bring a large skillet to medium heat and add guanciale. Cook to a very light gold, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside. Put eggs in a large serving bowl and whisk lightly. Whisk in cheese and pepper. When the pasta is cooked, drain, but leave a little water clinging to the noodles. Add the hot noodles to the bowl with the eggs and cheese, and toss well until noodles are coated. Reheat guanciale (if necessary), add to pasta with parsley, and toss again.

Be careful not to overcook the guanciale - a lesser done lardon will have far more flavor, and overcooked lardons can become hard nuggets when they cool. 

*Note: I was feeling experimental, so I chopped some of the cherries and threw them in the fry pan with the pork fat after I removed the guanciale, then tossed them with the spaghetti. They didn't change the dish much, but every now and then you would get a hint of porcine-coated cherry sweetness in a bite. I quite liked it. 

There's not much more I can say about the Buckman Market that hasn't already been said, other than this: a friend of mine recently asked me how the farmers market challenge was going, and which market was my favorite. While I rambled on about the delightful nuances of each individual market, I found myself continuously coming back to the Buckman Market as my preferred shopping venue. It may be because I can walk to it, or maybe it has something to do with the combination of Raymond Kuenzi's country charm and Tails & Trotters' exotic jowl cuts; in any case, the Buckman Market is a place to which I'll continue to return, as long as they are willing to have me.


    Help Yourself

    Welcome. "Help Yourself" is our blog and invitation to you to step right up and help yourself to our learning process, insights, errors, and anecdotes. We also hope this will be a theme as we work with community members toward healthy diets and healthier lifestyles. Thanks for reading!


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