My mom is an amazing cook (and baker as well).  As a young child, I remember having packed school lunches of homemade hummus on freshly baked bread and eating hearty bean soup or chili out of a bright yellow Tupperware container.  Every Summer, my two sisters and I would prepare the garden and my mom would bring us to the hardware store or nearby nursery to pick out small flowers and packets of vegetable seeds.  The hand-pump water spigot in the yard enabled us to pick crunchy beans straight from the garden, quickly wash under the water, and pop in our mouths before running off to play in the woods some more.  We took at least once weekly trips to the food co-op where we stocked up on binned flour and spices, dried pineapple, and a range of other natural foods.  When raspberries and strawberries were ripe, we traveled to local fields to handpick and fill ice cream pails with the sweet fruit which we ate by the handfuls or drizzled on top of shortcake.  I was taught the importance of knowing where (and who) our food comes from, the joy of seeing something sprouted from a seed made into a meal, and the simple fact that something healthy tastes more amazing than manufactured food any day.

Making time to cook more and learning about food in general was one of the most important things I included on the "bucket list" I shared in my last post.  Over the years, my mom's passion for food has continued and she has built upon her knowledge  in a truly inspiring way.  Just as her mother (a mother of 12) passed on a love for cooking and baking, I also want to learn from my mother.  So, when I was home for Christmas I asked my mom if she would give me a "food challenge" every month.  I figured once a month was a small enough goal to ensure we stuck to it and I would have time to incorporate it into my busy life (a busy life I know you all share as well).  I also knew (and desired) that this food challenge wasn't going to just be running to the store and quickly throwing something together.  Knowing my mom, she would urge me to learn the origins of the food I was cooking with and its health benefits as well so there would be some research and prep time involved.

I'll share some of the past "challenges" I completed in future posts, but for now I want to share June's Food Challenge:

"Establishing a personal connection with those who grow/raise our food causes us to more fully appreciate what is on our plate.  Because the products are grown in close proximity to home, the freshness factor and reduced environmental footprint is also a huge benefit.  Slowing down during a portion of our day to stroll through a market is therapeutic.  Often, musicians perform adding to the zen factor.  Dad likes farmers markets, too.  He scans the tents for home-baked cookies, brownies, caramel rolls...and chats with the farmers.  So, markets are a social outlet, as well.  Is it quite obvious what June's lesson is?  Yes, go to a farmers market to purchase something locally produced.  For bonus points, select something in-season like rhubarb, radishes, stinging nettle, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, lovage, chives...  Become familiar with what's in-season.  Being conscious of what is available at farmers markets during various times of the year is a natural way to learn.  It's really quite amazing to think about what has been provided to us at the most perfect time.  Stinging nettle (aka "sting weed") leaves, which are harvested in the Spring when they are more tender, are beneficial for Spring allergies.  As we move into Summer, fruits like watermelon and peaches are loaded with water when our bodies require hydration.  In the Autumn and approaching Winter, produce is heavier and warming like squash and pumpkin.  Living in a large city, you have access to several farmers markets.  You took us to an amazing one when we stopped to visit a few years back that I so enjoyed. So, there you have it.  Shop at one of your crazy good farmers markets and eat your purchases in thankfulness to the farmers who grew/raised what is on your plate."  - mom

I started the challenge by researching what fruits and vegetables are in-season in Georgia.  The Spruce has an alphabetical listing by state that proved to be very helpful.  I made a short list of fruits and vegetables, then looked through a few of my cookbooks for recipe options depending on what I might end up finding at the market.  I narrowed it down to a few that sounded refreshing for Summer - Sweet Corn Soup with Black Sesame Gomasio and Chives from "At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen" by Amy Chaplin, Chilled Red Pepper Soup with Sour Cream from "Ottolenghi" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, and Chilled Cucumber and Corn Soup from "Dinner" by Melissa Clark.

The next step was to choose a farmers market.  As my mom had mentioned, we have so many great options in Atlanta.  But, I decided upon the Ponce City Farmers Market, which is every Tuesday from 4-8pm in The Shed on the BeltLine just outside of Ponce City Market.  The BeltLine, if you have not been, is one of the most amazing things in Atlanta - a walking/biking trail that utilizes former railroad corridors that will eventually connect numerous neighborhoods in the city.  The portion of the trail completed on the Eastside of Atlanta starts basically at Piedmont Park and ends at Krog Street Market, with numerous restaurants and parks to stop at along the way.  Ponce City Market, where the farmers market is housed, is an amazing thing in itself.  Envisioned by the same developers as Chelsea Market in New York City, the historic Sears, Roebuck, & Co. building now has a central food hall, shopping, flats, and rooftop mini-golf, boardwalk games, and restaurant.  Clearly now you'll understand why I threw on some shorts and planned for a night walk along the BeltLine and some perusing in PCM after the farmers market, this was turning into a real adventure.

In chatting with a few of the vendors, I learned it was still a little early for sweet corn in Georgia and I didn't spot red peppers at any of the booths after a quick loop around.  So, I landed on the Chilled Cucumber and Corn Soup.  The recipe is so simple and with just a few ingredients involved I was able to pick up most of what I needed at the market - cucumbers (and a dozen eggs) from King of Crops.

Garlic and a mix of oregano, basil, and dill from Truly Living Well.

While sweet corn wasn't in season enough to make it the star of my meal, I was able to snatch up a small ear from Gilliam's Community Garden to sprinkle on top of the soup.

Check back tomorrow for the full recipe!

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