Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Jackson WY farmers market

My first visit to a Wyoming farmers market was exciting. Well, you know me, I get excited about any farmers market! But it was great to be in Wyoming at last!

Located at the foot of Snow King Mountain, the Jackson Hole People's Market was already overflowing with good, fresh produce on its first day of the season.

I mean, look at these greenhouse tomatoes! It's hard to see, but those each weigh 1 1/2 pounds. And they are flavorful!

Like Montana markets, there were a lot of good greens available this early in the season.

The bacon-and-date hummus was nice. Who knew?

 I also learned there is such a thing as watermelon jelly. It tastes like really sweet watermelon.

Oh yes, and there were a few cute goats, too, who got lots of cuddling.

The artisan cheese was tasty, but I have to say the vendors selling it will have to work on their market personalities. I rarely meet anyone at a farmers market who is not thoroughly enjoying himself or herself. These two were the rare exception. Still, they have a great product so I wish them well.

There were some crafts, but I was so happy to see all the food. Fresh flowers came in nonedible but beauteous form . . .

. . . and, for the surprise of the day, edible form, too, as in iced "flower water" in the jug on the right.

The Dragon Lady Tea lady (sorry, I was so overwhelmed by the tea that I forgot to get her name!) had an amazing beverage to offer. She told me she merely steeped a handful of herb flowers in water. It's impossible to tell you how good it tasted. I detected whispers of mint, sage, chamomile . . . oh, do go to Jackson and try it for yourself. I understand she has a tea room in town, and I want to return when it is open.

She was also trying salads for the first time at the market. I have to say they were a big hit, too.

So those are a few highlights of the Jackson Hole People's Market. The market does a good job of reflecting the general personality of the town of Jackson, which, although strongly dependent on tourism, is down-to-earth, caring about its place in the environment, and generally a nice place to visit . . . and eat.

Base of Snow King Mountain,
at East Snow King Ave and S King St
June 19 - September 11
Wednesday, 4 pm - 7 pm

There's another Jackson farmers market in the Town Square on Saturday. To get information on all Wyoming farmers markets, visit Wyoming Farmers Marketing Association.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Joy of Vegan

Bonnie Goodman's smile radiates like the sun that shines down on the good vegan food she promotes.

In 2009 Bonnie organized a vegan potluck in Livingston and was not discouraged when only 4 people showed up, including her and her husband. After all, somebody showed up! Four years later, an average of 2 to 3 dozen people attend the monthly gathering at the Livingston public library.

The Live and Let Livingston Vegan Food Potluck motto is: you don't have to be vegan, but the food does. Among the 30 attendees today, there were 12 vegans. Some wandered in, curious about what vegans eat. Others were dedicated vegans or just liked to eat delicious food.

"My main intention is to show how good vegan food is," Bonnie told me, "how much healthier for our bodies and the animals."

I'd say Bonnie has succeeded in her mission.

Guests are asked to bring a vegan dish: no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, or gelatin. Or if you don't want to cook, a beverage is always welcome.

Bonnie plans out monthly themes to make things more fun. In the past, themes have included school lunch items, celery, and nutritional yeast (which yielded a lot of vegan cheese dishes). This month it was Cake vs. Pie: Get ready to Crrrrumble! [Spoiler: Pie won!]

You don't have to bring a themed dish, and sometimes that theme can be broadly interpreted. Here is a photo of Patch with his bean dip shaped into -- can you guess? -- a pi! (He also brought an amazing no-bake chocolate peanut butter pie. That recipe is in The Joy of Vegan Baking, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Try it!)

Patch, who in his daily life is a carpenter, is quite a master of amusement. When you attend the potluck, try to sit near him so you can hear some of his stories.

Other delectable potluck items included pizza, green salad, and beet burgers (pictured below), as well as taco pie, Boston cream pie, vegetable pot pie, quiche, key lime pie, chai cupcakes, chocolate pudding (made with avocado, agave, and dates), pineapple rice, cabbage salad, Indian chickpea salad . . . There was definitely a whole lot of something for everyone.

One lovely and delicious offering was a platter of strawberry-topped raw Vanilla Cakes. As shown in the photo, each dish must be accompanied by a list of ingredients or the recipe.

Quite a variety of people enjoyed the fellowship. Folks came from Livingston, Gardiner, Belgrade, and Big Timber.

And there was a wide range of ages. Here is a photo of the youngest, 19-month-old Willamina, and the oldest, 93-year-old Betty.

Each week, Bonnie plans a demonstration to begin the evening -- today it was lemon frosting made with soy margarine and Tofutti cream cheese.

Another bonus is that you can borrow cookbooks and videos from Bonnie. They are spread out around the room so you can look at them while you eat.

I highly encourage you to come to the next potluck, which will be July 14 at 4:30 pm. The theme is blueberries.

Live and Let Livingston Vegan Food Potluck
(click link to join their Facebook page)
Livingston Public Library
228 West Callender Street

Friday, June 7, 2013

Bannack ghost town

Out in the middle of sagebrush and surrounded by mountains lies the ghost town of Bannack, Montana's first territorial capital.

You gotta love a town named for food. "Bannack" comes from the Scottish word, bannock, which according to the self-tour guide book is a "cake cooked over an open fire." Natives living in the area enjoyed camas root cakes made this way and thus were called Bannock Indians by early white settlers.

In the 1860s the town was populated with about 400 men hunting down gold and about 30 "respectable" woman (a fluctuating number of other women were Hurdy Gurdy Girls [dancers] or ladies of the evening). One sheriff, who had avoided a murder charge elsewhere, organized his deputies into a gang to harass local ranchers and citizens, and he was eventually hanged for his efforts. You can imagine it was pretty lively in those days.

Bannack is now a ghost town preserved as a state park in southern Montana. It's basically a half-mile-long street, with original buildings lined up to give you the idea of how things were back when it was a wild and crazy place.

Gold miners who first arrived lived in tiny shacks with roofs made from saplings and covered with dirt. When it rained or snowed, the dirt turned to mud and dribbled into the interior. Wood stoves provide a lot of heat, but these cabins were so poorly constructed, they barely got above freezing inside.

The photo below shows the jail, which reportedly wasn't used much because everyone preferred to be out panning for gold and not watching prisoners. If you look very closely, you'll see grass growing on the roof as was typical in the early days of the town.

Living conditions hadn't improved much by the time the territorial governor and his family arrived in 1863. The governor's wife sent a lot of letters to friends and family in Ohio describing the primitive conditions.

Still, one doctor managed to create a nice home for his family. You can peek in the window and see a bit of the kitchen.

And down the street is what looks like a comfortable neighborhood.

Eventually a school was built, which at times so overflowed with students that some grades had to study in other buildings. It closed in the 1950s.

While food was expensive because of the difficulties of getting it to the town, there usually was plenty of it. At the Hotel Meade, there was even fine dining available, with white linens and nice china and silverware.

As profits from gold mining declined, so did the town. The post office was closed in 1938, and most folks had moved away by the 1940s. In 1947, the work of preservation began, and, as you can see today, it became an educational state park well worth visiting.

Speaking of profits, in the ranger station at the entrance, among the post cards and t-shirts, you can purchase jerky made in Columbus, Mont., especially to support Montana state parks and the National Park Service. The grass-fed beef comes from the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, another place I highly recommend visiting.

To experience all that Bannack has to offer, the best time to be there is during Bannack Days, when re-enacters roam the streets. Check the Bannack State Park website for details.

But if you like ghost towns, any time, summer or winter, is the best time to wander the streets and explore the interiors of buildings and wonder . . . what was life like 150 years ago?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sheridan farmers market

Sheridan is located on Montana Highway 287 about 20 miles north of Nevada City and Virginia City. Sheridan is a small town, population 600, but this spunky market has a lot to offer.

This was the first day of the market's second season, and already there were beautiful salad greens ready to take home, plus a mouthwatering selection of baked goods.

I think the most promising of all are the cupcakes, which cost a mere dollar. I can testify that you get a lot of eating pleasure for your money.

Pictured here are the chocolate cupcakes, with a deep, rich flavor and studded with small pieces of real bacon. This is my first time tasting the popular chocolate-bacon combination, and I must say it works!

This time of year you can also find plant starts.

There are some crafts, such as children's toys and handmade knives. Later in the season there will be more produce, jams and jellies, cheese, lamb, and beef. A lot to look forward to!

Nearby Virginia City is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2013, and there are a lot of activities to enjoy. Check out the Virginia City website for more details. If you are interested in Wild West history, this is the place to be this year.

Be sure to set aside a Thursday afternoon in your holiday schedule to visit the Sheridan farmers market.

Sheridan Farmers Market
Main Street Park, corner of Hwy 287 & Mill Street
June 6 - August 29 (except July 4)
Thursday, 4 pm - 6 pm

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Nature's bounty: asparagus

It's the end of asparagus season here in south-central Montana, but you can still get your money's worth. Just keep an eye out for telltale fronds by the roadside.

But lucky me, I just drove a couple of miles to a friend's ranch, and we took off in her "mule" to hunt wild asparagus that is a little easier to wrangle than that stuff by the road.

We walked a lot because neighbors had already been through and picked the obvious plants, but there was still plenty to gather. I came home with 2 pounds plus another 2 pounds from my friend Christy, who said she was getting sick of asparagus. Go figure.

In some ways, it's easier to find asparagus at the end of the season than at the beginning because all you have to do is look for tall brown fronds. Somewhere beneath those dead branches is the root stock and new spears may be emerging even now.

Green bushy fronds are easy to spot, too, and pretty.

In any case, you might find only one spear, but it could be a beaut.

By the way, thick spears are supposed to be tastier than thin ones. I usually nibble on the tiny ones as I go and they taste fine to me.

Pretty soon, I had enough for at least one meal, maybe two, and most likely I'll have enough to make soup and freeze it for later. Here's a photo of my 2 pounds.

It was a nice day for walking and gathering. Much more fun than going to the store.

I searched online to get some more information and found Alton Brown's Good Eats episode, "The Age of Asparagus," where I learned you should store asparagus straight up in a glass container with about 1 inch of water in the bottom.


Excuse while I chuckle heartily. Everyone I know who gathers wild asparagus either eats it immediately, or tucks it away in the bottom of the refrigerator in the plastic bag they gathered it into. In my experience, it should be okay like that for a week.

And Alton has some scientific theories about how much to trim off the bottom before cooking. Well, if you have wild asparagus, you just use whatever looks edible, which is most of it.

But I did learn from Alton that asparagus tastes best cooked and that nutmeg has a taste component in it that magnifies taste components in asparagus, so be sure to always add a pinch of nutmeg.

Asparagus has all sorts of good nutrients in it, but I was most impressed to find it is chock-full of folate, which helps your body keep a healthy heart and avoid cancer.

Roasted Asparagus

Easy! Place asparagus spears on a sheet of foil on a pan. Drizzle olive oil over all. Place in a 500-degree oven for 5 minutes. Take out and turn asparagus over. Return to oven for another 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and a dash of nutmeg.