Take me out to the market

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It’s opening day of the Oak Park Farmers Market, and I couldn’t haven been more excited to venture over and check out the latest seasonal greats. As Chicago celebrates the launch of outdoor farmers markets across the city (there are more than 30 in the city alone!) we’re thrilled to support our local farmers by including their freshest ingredients whenever possible. Being in the Midwest, this time of year can still be a bit limited – think herbs, spices, cheeses and other dairy products rather than tons of fresh produce, but they’re equally fun to explore. I’ve come to find that straight-from-the-source products always taste better, and these are a few of my favorite late-spring things:

Honey: There is a world of difference between raw, local honey and the kind you find in a plastic bear. The kind you’ll find at your farmers market will help you reap all the healing benefits of honey, which has been used medicinally for 2000 years. It’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and packed with antioxidants – and all of that “anti” is actually very positive. Flavonoids are the antioxidants which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, and they may even help prevent cellular damage in the brain. Honey’s anti-inflammatory effects can soothe coughs and help reduce allergy symptoms – always a good thing in the spring! Topically, it can help reduce dandruff and, since it’s an antibiotic, it can be used to help soothe cuts and burns. And, of course, it’s also one of the most natural sweeteners you can find.

Herbs: Fresh herbs offer a world of difference from their dried and bottled counterparts. Besides enhancing the flavor of your meals, freshly grown herbs and spices can also offer some pretty incredible health benefits. They’re antibacterial and antiviral, and many are actually a great source of B vitamins and trace minerals. I love to pick up fresh basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme – I can just bring the pots home and use them all season. They’re an easy way to add flavor to salads, soups, as a marinade for fish or chicken, or blended into a quick pesto. And there’s no excuse not to – I keep them on my kitchen windowsill for easy access!

Swiss chard: It’s not a total loss in the greens department! Leafy greens like swiss chard – also called silverbeet, spinach beet and mangold – are abundant this time of year. It’s an amazing source of vitamins and trace minerals; 1 cup cooked boasts more than 700% of your daily vitamin K, 200% of vitamin A and half your vitamin C needs. It’s also a great way to get in your daily iron, magnesium, and some B vitamins too. Use it just like you would spinach – chop it up for a salad, sautee it as a dinner side, or add it to a smoothie. The mild taste blends really well with other flavors.

Asparagus: Legendary stinky pee aside (we were all thinking it) asparagus is a spring treat. Seriously, it’s like a beacon of hope when I see local asparagus appear at the grocery store. This green (or purple or white) veggie is loaded with nutrients – a great source of fiber, folate and vitamins A, C, E and K. It also boasts antioxidants and can neutralize the cell-damaging effects of free radicals – one of the top veggies to do this.

Kale: This cruciferous superstar boasts a collection of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds. It’s packed with vitamin K, lutein and beta-carotene, and is a terrific plant-based source of protein. It’s great for juicing and smoothies, but I tend to prefer it savory style: And my go-to way to introduce people to kale? Baked into crispy, healthified chips and sprinkled with nutritional yeast for a nutty, cheesy flavor. Yum. Trust me on this. Just wash, chop and spread kale leaves on a baking sheet with non-stick spray, sprinkle with nutritional yeast or herbs of your choice, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until crispy.

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