- by guest contributor Sarah Felder.
If there is a spot where quaint and local meet, it's tucked behind the Walgreens on Market Street in Lakewood Ranch at San Marco Plaza. Years ago when it was built, this plaza was seemingly very busy. Once the economy hit hard times, shops began to disappear and the plaza got quiet. Barbara Smith, owner of 2nd Ann Rose Designer Consignment Boutique, reached out to change that by organizing the farmer's market. In April of this year, the locally-run farmer's market opened for the first time in the cobblestone courtyard. The market is now organized and run by Melissa Enders and Vaughn DuFour. DuFour and his siblings have run a local herb farm that's had a presence at the Sarasota and Bradenton farmer's markets for the past few years. It's where I've bought my basil, spearmint, cilantro and other fresh herbs for cooking. Enders helps coordinate vendors and manages the market. The market supports the shops in the plaza by bringing in traffic on Fridays, and they also donate a portion of their booth rentals to support the Lakewood Ranch Humane Society. The market is open every Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine, and is located at 8215 Natures Way in Lakewood Ranch.
I brought my two-year-old with me to check things out. For a small market, there is a lot to see. My little one was drawn to the live music. She didn't want to see the food; she wanted to sit down right in the middle of the walk and listen to "that boy singing" --- so we did.
There are currently around 35 vendors each week right now, and there will be about 50 vendors during season in the upcoming months. We stopped and bought a glass of fresh strawberry lemonade that Leah's Lemonade made for us on the spot. We found some homemade herbal hibiscus tea from Sereniteas & Soothers that made delicious iced tea at home. We visited the Lakewood Ranch Humane Society's dogs who were hoping to find new homes. Fruitville Grove has a stand with a large selection of conventional and organic fruits and vegetables and canned goods. We brought a bunch of okra home, along with a few other vegetables.
After washing the okra, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees. I cut the pieces into slices about 1/2" thick, not including the tips and stems in the bunch. It was quite slimy so I actually towel dried it again after slicing it. I put the pieces in a bowl, drizzled about 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil (olive oil works too), 1 teaspoon of salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and mixed the okra until coated. I baked the pieces on a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes. I checked mine after 20 and decided to bake it longer. I had only eaten fried okra up until this attempt, and baked okra is really quite good. We ate ours as an afternoon snack, but I would even consider mixing it in with other lightly cooked vegetables such as yellow squash or zucchini as a side with dinner.
One of my favorite stands at the Sarasota Farmer's Market, Peperonata Pasta, is also at San Marco Plaza now on Fridays. Peperonata Pastas are homemade here in Sarasota. They're sold fresh at the Sarasota, San Marco Plaza and the Siesta Key markets, and are stocked in our local Whole Foods as well. Peperonata also makes delicious calzones, focaccia, pizza crusts, sauces and pastas. They make traditional pasta and also vegan pastas without eggs.
I purchased the fusilli and the linguini super pastas. They don't come with a red cape, but they're packed with nutritious grains such as chia, amaranth and quinoa. These pastas should be hand-separated before cooking, and the cooking time is short because they are fresh.
While the noodles were cooking, I steamed some green peas and sliced up grape tomatoes. I also cut up some fresh basil from the DuFour "Herb Guys" to mix into the pasta. Once the noodles were done and drained, I placed them in a serving bowl. I added about 1 tablespoon of Earth Balance Organic Coconut Spread and tossed. Then I added mixed in the freshly cut basil and peas, and topped it with vegetarian bacon bits and a sprig of basil for garnish.
In true mom form, I also transformed dinner into the next day's leftovers for lunch. I packed a flowered silicone cup of the same pasta at the top right. The top left container has blackberries and a strawberry. In the main compartment are an almond butter and jam sandwich, carrots and raspberries, sugar snap peas with a cucumber heart on top and a small heart container with trail mix inside packed in an Easy Lunchboxes container.