Thursday, April 30, 2009

Meal Deals

Most of the lunch counters at the Reading Terminal Market have followed the lead of other restaurants in recession-beater deals. At the RTM it’s the $7 meal deal. Some examples:

  • Dutch Eating Place – Choice of 1 buttermilk pancake with 2 farm-fresh eggs, your choice of sausage, Scrapple, bacon, or turkey bacon, and fresh squeezed orange juice OR a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with your choice of soup (chicken corn, beef vegetable, or ham bean) and fresh squeezed lemonade
  • Hershel’s East Side Deli – Any ½ sandwich with a small soup and bag of chips
  • Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties – Choice of lamb, chicken, beef, or vegetarian sandwich with 16oz soda
Click here for the details and see the full list of offerings.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Farmers' Markets Open Soon

Farmers’ markiets begin their season in early May, with Headhouse Squre opening its Sunday market May 3. Opening day will include music by local groups (including the Marc Silver Band, Cowmuddy and the Broken Banjo Band) and appearances by local cookbook doyens Aliza Green (author of Starting With Ingredients: Baking) and Tara Mataraza Desmond (co-author of Almost Meatless).

A PDF version of the schedule for The Food Trust’s 30 farmers’ markets can be found here.

Follow this link for Farm to City’s schedule of 14 sponsored and affiliated markets.

Terminal Considers Farmers' Market

There’s nothing Paul Steinke, general manager of the Reading Terminal Market, would like to add more than a genuine farmers’ market. Over the last three decades local farmers would give it a try, but most have opted instead for participating in the neighborhood and suburban farmers’ markets associated with either The Food Trust or Farm To City. Only Earl Livengood has hung on as a direct-to-public farm seller at the RTM.

Now, Steinke is talking with Ann Karlen of White Dog Community Enterprises (The Fair Food Farmstand’s parent organization) about asking many of the Farmstand’s 90 producers to participate in a once-a-week market. If enough farmers’ sign on, the market would be held from 4 to 8 p.m. one day a week, probably Thursday, on either the 12th Street sidewalk or on the sidewalk across the street next to the open air parking lot.

Steinke said he would also ask the lunch counter merchants located on the 12th street to open voluntarily during those hours. Those merchants include Bassett’s Ice Cream, Pearl’s Oyster Bar, Golden Bowl, Carmen’s Hoagies and Cheesesteaks, Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties, Delilah’s, Profi’s Creperie, Sang Kee Peking Duck, Old City Coffee, and Famous 4th Street Cookie Company.

Meanwhile, the Fair Food Farmstand is looking forward to opening at its new location along the 12th Street side of the market this summer. Their architectural plans were approved by the market’s renovation committee this week and will soon go before the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which must approve all major renovations and alternations within the market.

The date for the Fair Food Farmstand’s fund-raising party is in flux due to conflicts with other events. Right now it’s tentatively scheduled for May 21, but that could change.

In other market stall news, Old City Coffee plans to make their temporary pad on the Arch Street side permanent.

Plan Commission Honors Food Groups

Four area food-related organizations have been selected for awards of excellence by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission: the Fair Food Program of the White Dog Foundation, The Food Trust, Greensgrow, and Weaver’s Way. For Fair Food, the award comes along with a $25,000 stipend. The awards will be presented at DVRPC’s eight annual Celebration of Regional Excellence event May 14 at the Four Seasons.
Asparagus Arrives

All four of the dedicated produce vendors at the Reading Terminal Market featured asparagus today. Earl Livengood was selling his Lancaster County bunches for $4.25, while Iovine Brothers offered South Jersey’s best for $3.99. I didn’t catch the price at Fair Food’s Farmstand. Over at OK Lee’s, no local spears were available, but what appeared to be California bunches were selling for 99 cents.

At Fair Foods another featured items were hop shoots — yes, the same plant from which beer gets a good part of its flavor and aroma. There weren’t many takers, however, since a small bunch that might serve two with very small portions was selling for $8. Too dear for me. It is said they have an asparagus-like flavor and are ideal served in an au gratin with bechamel sauce. But I’ll never know, at least at that price.

I did invest in some cream cheese from from Hail’s Family Farm near Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. At $6 for eight ounces, Hail’s is expensive compared to deli or supermarket bricks, but since it’s the only cream cheese I know without vegetable gum (not necessarily a bad ingredient) but I thought I’d try it on my salt bagel with belly lox from Herschel’s tomorrow morning.

Livengood’s also featured rhubarb ($3.95/pound) as well as this green, which turns out to be flowering turnip greens. Earl said an Asian lady who works for him urged him to sell what she regarded as a delicacy. It looks a lot like broccoli rabe (another member of the brassica family), so that’s what Earl’s sign calls it, though he’s the one who told me it’s flowering turnip greens. He also still had lovely small white turnips with pristine greens, as well as spinach, a variety of potatoes, and pussywillow stalks.

Speaking of broccoli rabe, Tommy DiNic’s had a surprise visitor late Thursday afternoon: Bobby Flay. He ordered a pork with provolone and greens, of course.

Back at Iovine’s, although the citrus season is waning there was still a nice selection, including juice oranges at 6/$1, medium navels 4/$1, and cara cara navels two for $1.49. Champagne mangoes were $1 apiece, more common mangoes two for a buck. Jimmy Iovine was ecstatic about the smoked garlic he had this week, but none was available this morning. He plans on getting some more.

Ramps remain $3.99/bunch, but Iovine’s now has fiddleheads, though they were sourced from the western U.S., and Jim thinks the Eastern ones are better. Spring garlic and onions were in evidence, too, along with flowering chives. (Even the chives in my backyard pot, overwintered, are starting to flower, and the peppermint pot is getting fuller daily.)

If you can’t wait for local strawberries, Iovine was selling two one-pound clamshels from California for $3; one-pound California clamshels of berries were selling for 99-cents at OK Lee, but they didn’t look quite as ripe. Green pepers at Iovines were 99-cents, as were frying peppers, but the colored varieties were $1.99.. Grape roma tomatoes were $1/pint, salsify $3.99/pound, tumeric roots $2.99.

Over in the fish aisles, Golden added an item I hadn’t seen before: conch meat, selling for $9.99/pound. They also had a soft shell crab special, four for $20.

The View

I never noticed it before, but last year’s rearrangement of aisles at Iovine Brothers Produce created a pleasant vista from the side: each set of shelves is progressively taller from front to back, allowing a clear view of each aisle and its contents. In addition to its aesthetic attractions, I’m sure it helps Jimmy and Vinnie Iovine keep an eye on kleptomaniacs.

The Cost of Progress

Few ever noticed it, but the background to L Halteman’s fresh produce shelves, a rustic depicting of Lancaster County farming. came down when Iovine Brothers Produce consolidated most of its prep operations last month.

The mural was no great shakes as far as art goes, and it certainly wouldn’t be added to any museum’s collection of American folk art. Still, it was a nice little touch that added to the Reading Terminal Market’s eccentricity.

On the plus side, it gives Halteman’s stall greater visibility.

Clark Park Spring

Asparagus, rhubarb and seedlings for the garden highlighted the spring offerings at Clark Park Farmers’ Market today.

New to the market was Young’s Garden, a regular at Headhouse Square and former denizen of the Reading Terminal Market. Now’s the time to start the culinary herb seedlings you can obtain from the Youngs. They’ll also be selling potted plants, flowering plants and various ornamentals throughout the season. Young’s Garden replaced another vendor of potted plants who retired.

All but a single bunch of asparagus had been sold by 11:30 a.m., the last remnant siitting alone in a cooler at Margerum’s. Plenty of nice looking hothouse lettuces at other stands as well as the normal assortment of root vegetables.

Another new addition, Honest Tom’s Tacos. The vendor, operating from a truck on the Chester Avenue side of Clark Park, was selling breakfast tacos made with ingredients obtained from market producers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The 800-Pound Gorilla of Farmers' Markets

What's undoubtedly one of the nation's premier pure farmers' market opened for its 38th season today around the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Dane County Farmers' Market on the Square limits vendors to producers of Wisconsin food and horticultural products. No arts, no crafts. No food carts. (All those vendors must be located across the street and get their permits directly from the city and are not part of the market, though they benefit from the thousands who visit every Saturday from mid-April through early Novenber.)

As one would expect, the pickings were slim so early in the season, for in Wisconsin spring arrives a couple of weeks later than it does in Lancaster County or South Jersey. Still, one could amply supply the larder from provisions available today.

Root vegetables from storage or the ground were plentiful. Like the giant kohlrabi displayed here by Diane Westra of Mammoth Produce of Randolph, Wisconsin. Smaller, less woody though by no means diminutive samples were also for sale by Diane and her husband Ed, along with some great looking small cabbages. The Westras concentrate on brassicas throughout the year, including broccoli and cauliflower. They also do eggplants and peppers in seson. And no, they didn't name their farm for the size of their vegetables. In 1989 they uncovered woolly mammoth bones while digging an irrigation pond.

Potatoes were much in evidence, and no where more so than at Butter Mountain Farm where John Aue was selling about half a dozen varieties for $1.50-$3.00 a pound. John became entranced with potato cultivars in graduate school. He's been selling potatoes and only potatoes from his Richland Center farm at the market since 1993.

Harmony Valley Farms of Viroqua featured other root vegetables at its colorful stand. Today, among other items, you could purchase two varieties of Jerusalem artichokes, red cipolline onions, shallots, horseradish, beautifully firm black radishes, and parsnips. They also featured pristine bunches of ramps for $3 apiece, or three for $8. (At least one other stand had wild garlic.). Harmony Valley is no small enterprise, with a staff of 10-30 workers supplying 800 shares in its CSA. They raise 60 varieties of fruits and vegetables on the farm's 100 acres, and also sell Angus beef in partnership with a neighbor.

Winter and eary spring greens accented by spinach could be found at a number of stands, including "frost-sweetened spinach" at Snug Haven.

Popcorn populated Krinke's stall. The Reeseville farm featured Calico, Black, White Hullless, Yellow Hybrid, Baby Rice and Red Baby Rice kernels in packages, and also sold some by the cob. To accompany the popcorn you cook one of their rabbits or poultry. (The duck was $2.89/pound). Krinke's has been selling at the market for 31 years.

Sorrel and French breakfast radishes were available at Jen Ehr Family Farm's stand. The sorrel was $3/bunch, the radishes $2.50. The Sun Prairie farm sells a full range of fruit, vegetables, herbs and poultry in season.

Plenty of plant vendors, bakers, mushroom growers, maple syrup harvesters, beekeepers and, since this is Wisconsin, cheesemakers sold their goods, though only about two-thirds of the available slots were filled so early in the season. (There's a three-year waiting list for vendors to earn a space at the market.)

I was particularly intrigued by the many varieties of coleus offered by Domann's Plants of Beaver Dam, a greenhouse operation specializing in bedding plants and herbs. One of the many cheese vendors was offering samples of a baked cubed cheese fresh from the warming plate. They also bragged about having the "squeekiest" cheese curds at the market, cheese curds being to Wisconsin what pretzels are to Pennsylvania. Cow, sheep and goat cheeses were in abundance at more than half a dozen dairy stands, though I didn't spy any raw milk.

Although this was the first outdoor market of the season, the Dane County Farmers' Market operates year-round indoors at Monona Terrace in early winter and from January until mid-April at a local senior center. On one Saturday in mid-summer, when an art fair occupies the capitol square, they move the market to an outdoor facility near Monona Terrace, a convention complex designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

A few more of photos from today's visit can be found at my Dane County Farmers' Market Photo Gallery.
Rozin and Oprah Visit the Market

Oprah (the website) visited the Reading Terminal Market with Paul Rozin, a 44-year veteran psychology professor at the Univwersaity of Pennsylvania. The purpose was for Rozin to expound on the psychology of the pleasure of eating, in between tastes of crusty nut-raisin loaf, spanakopita, and Bassetts' ice cream.

As the article's author, Michelle Staley writes:
Oddly, the foodstuff that thrust Rozin into that landscape had more to do with pain than pleasure: It was hot chili peppers. In the early 1970s, Rozin's then wife, cookbook author Elisabeth Rozin (they divorced in 1991), was writing The Flavor-Principle Cookbook. In it she reported on how various cultures use hot peppers as a central flavoring element. But why, Paul Rozin wondered, did it ever even occur to people to eat chilies—substances that cause pain when first encountered?
Find out why here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Iovine Consolidates Prep Area

The prep areas at Iovine Brothers Produce has been consolidated at the Reading Terminal Market. Jimmy and Vinnie Iovine moved their small office out by the freight elevator, tore down walls and actually created a bit more shelf space for their bag specials in the process. It's reassuring to customers to see all the prep before their eyes.

The big bargain this week at Iovine's was the peppers. Organic suntan peppers were two pounds for a buck, while red bell peppers were a buck a pound. But the biggest bargain to me were the frying peppers: three pounds for a buck. I bought 95-cents worth and roasted them in the oven in some olive oil. I've since been eating them in pasta and atop pizza. Tonight I'll sauté some onions and garlic, add the peppers and top hot dogs with the veggies.

Other deals I spied Saturday: juice oranges 6/$1, navels 5/$1, small red potatoes 69-cents/pound, white seedless grapes $1 for a one-pound clamshell. The various lettuces, however, seemed dear at $2.49-$2.99/head.

Earl's Return

Earl Livengood was back at the Reading Terminal Market Saturday, with a much wider array of products for sale than I would expect this early in the spring. And next week, Earl whispers, he might even have a small quantity of asparagus!

Saturday he offered four varieties of potato, spinach, turnips with tiny tubers and beautiful greens, dandelion greens, and another green which even Earl couldn't identify; he said he found it growing in his lettuce patch, and it tasted good. Pussywillows were also available.

Is It Summer Yet?

You might have thought so looking at John Yi's fish case, for there amid the regular denizens were soft shell crabs, at a pricey $5.99 apiece. The shad roe sets were $6.99.

Fair Food Funding

With $168,000 of its $215,000 goal funded, the Fair Food Farmstand is forging ahead on plans to move to the former Rick's Steaks space along the RTM's 12th Street side. To fill the funding gap the Farmstand will hold an after-hours party at the market on May 7, featuring a couple of bands as well as some of the Farmstand's farmers. Admission will be $20, but they'll welcome additional donations.

Sarah Cain co-manager of the Farmstand, has a sideline thanks to her recipe for Vrapple, an oink-less "scrapple" of her own invention. Since the Vrapple won second place at the market's Scrapplefest competition a few weeks ago, orders have jumped considerably, says Sarah.
Garbanzo Bean Flour

I love garbanzo beans (a.k.a. ceci or chickpeas) so when I saw a recipe recently using garbanzo bean flour I sought out the product, which you can buy at Jonathan's Best at the Reading Terminal Market, as well as other emporiums. (Usually it's Bob's Red Mill brand.) The inspiration was Tortillitas with Shrimp from Mark Bittman's "Minimalist" in the New York Times.

It was delicious and will join the regular rotation in my kitchen. The bean flour is mostly found in South Asian cookery, frequently as a deep-fried batter for veggies (asparagus comes up often in recipe searches). But its role as a thin pancake carrying savory ingredients is a workhorse use of this pseudo-grain. The tortillitas can be made 50-50 with all-purpose flour, which are sturdier than the lacey all-garbanzo flour versions.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Secretary Comes to Market

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited the Reading Terminal Market today to announce a $20 billion increase in food stamp funding thanks to the economic stimulus program. It means an extra $80 a month for a family of four participating inn the program in Philadelphia. Congressman Chakah Fattah joined Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, for a lunch at the Market's kitchen, a tour of the market, and the announcement.

Iovine Brothers produce set up the display in center court (which did not include any imported produce, unless you consider California a foreign country). Standing behind the secretary in the photo is Jimmy Iovine.

Although commonly referred to as the food stamp program, it's now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to USDA, the RTM is the largest redeemer of the benefit program in Pennsylvania. The 15 participating merchants accepted $1.1 million through SNAP last year.
An excuse

Outside of yesterday's two-sentence ramps post, I realize I hadn't added any content since late February. Yes, I was away for a week in Norway (when I write about that I'll add a link), but that doesn't account for all the missing missives.

When I saw the ramps, I realized why it's been so long between posts: there wasn't much to write about during the winter produce doldrums. How many times can I report the price of citrus fruit?

Now, however, things are beginning to change. Easter and Passover have prompted meat and fish vendors to strut their stuff, the local farmers' markets will open in a month (Headhouse May 3, Fairmount May 7), and, just like the blooming of daffodils and blossoming of pear trees, we are predictably pleased with the end of winter and green onslaught of spring.

About those fish vendors . . . there are still people who make their own gefilte fish for Passover, so John Yi at the Reading Terminal Market has stocked whole carp, yellow perch and whitefish (the fresh, unsmoked variety). The carp (no need for a filled bathtub; it's no longer alive) sells for $2.99, the other fish for $7.99. (Then again, you can buy gefilte fish ready-made at Hershel's Deli.) Another spring fish is much in evidence: buck shad for $2.99, roe shad for $3.99, as well as roe sets (sorry, didn't write down the price). Artic char, a trout-salmon relative, was $12.99 for filets; the sign said it was wild, but most of the char sold in this country is farm-raised, though in a very sustainable and eco-friendly closed-system way.

Over at Iovine Brothers, although it's not yet local asparagus has been prominently displayed. The white variety, $1.49, comes from Peru; the green, $1.99, is unattributed but probably hails from either Mexico or California.

For the second day in a row, the sign at Iovine's said they had ramps, but none were to be found in late morning. Vinnie and Charlie (between setting up for this afternoon's visit by U.S. Ag Sec Tom Vilsack swear they have them, they just weren't out yet. By the time Vilsack made his tour in mid-afternoon, they were there.

Bargain alert: Hass avocados are two for a buck at Iovine's. Red and green bell peppers, 99 cents a pound. California strawberries, two one-pound clamshells for $3. Chilean green seedless grapes, $1 for a one-pound clamshell. Small navel oranges, 5/$1. I didn't check today, but yesterday Argentine Bartlett pears were 89 cents a pound. Very large mangos were selling for a buck apiece.

Given the economy, a lot of vendors selling hard goods (like at least one home design store I Philadelphia) are cutting back on inventory, which is expensive to carry. When I walked by Downtown Cheese yesterday, I thought Jack was doing the same. But no fear, it must have just been during a lull in restocking. The cases were full today.

Pretzels and Candies

During my interregnum from posting, the pretzel store reopened as Miller's Twists across the aisle from the original location. Fisher's, which sold off the pretzel and ice cream part of its business to Roger Miller, has since expanded its candy operation to the former pretzel-ice cream-counter area and added fudge as a product. Photo shows sign at Miller's Twists being installed.

The contiguous spaces formerly occupied by Dutch Country Meats and Everyday Gourmet remain vacant, although the market has deals for both a butcher, S&B Meats, and a prepared foods vendor, Barb & Suzy's Kitchen, two related businessest. Today, proprietor Moses Smucker was at the stall going over architectural plans. He bopes to open in June. The Kitchen part of the businesses will feature sausage sandwiches and batter-fried veggies, he said.

Cheesesteaks galore

There's no dearth of cheesesteaks at the RTM, with both Spataro's and Carmine's selling them. Now add a third vendor: By George, which fires up the grill Monday.

Sunday Success

The RTM has had to shoo people out the door at 4 p.m. on Sundays. So why fight it? The market has extended its Sunday hours to 5 p.m. It opens at 9 a.m. No Amish vendors on Sunday, some of the lunch operations don't participate, as well as some food vendors.

Parking Rates Rise

It's no surprise that the discount parking offered by the Reading Terminal Market has increased its price to match the city's meter rate increase. What is surprising is that it took so long. the new rates at the Parkway garage supposedly went into effect April 1 ($4 for two hours), but I was charged the old $3 rate when I stopped by the market at midday.

Fair Food Progress

The Fair Food Farmstand remains optimistic they can open at its new 12th street side location by the end of spring. They don't want to miss the big growing season.

Maple Daze

You better like all things maple if you wander into the Reading Terminal Market on Saturday, April 18. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day, the RTM will celebrate the new vintage of Pennsylvania maple syrup with Maple Daze. You can learn how maple syrup is made, watch a maple sugar-making demonstration, and sample maple baked goods, maple fudge, Bassetts maple ice cream, maple bacon, maple sugar cookies, maple trivia, and more.

St. Pat's Day Redux

It my look a bit like St. Patrick's Day in and around the Convention Center, because about 10,000 are attending the World Irish Dancing Championships April 5-12. Market merchants have been asked to offer Irish-themed specials or spruce up their stalls in a Celtic fashion.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ramping up for Spring

The first sign of spring was the appearance of shad, even before the vernal equinox. This week it's the real thing: ramps at Iovine Brothers, $3.99/bunch.