Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday CSA pickup - 7/31/2011

True to form, it's tiny. I will never spend this kind of money on this farm again. They better kick it into HIGH gear at some point during this season to make up for the lack this early on.

So, the box contains a bag of 10 small to medium sized carrots, 3 relatively decent sized leeks, a tiny zucchini, a medium sized yellow squash, 2 medium sized bulbs of garlic, 8-9 small onions, a small container of mixed salad greens (maybe enough for the 3 of us to have salad, plus a fourth or fifth) and a tiny (read: barely enough for 3 of us to have salad) head of lettuce.

Now, this particular CSA has a pickup at Whole Foods; and their box contains (every week) a locally produced packaged product. The value of the product ranges, but is probably averaging $6/week. Frankly, I'd rather have produce. I'm not sure if the product is funded by my CSA share cost or if it's a promotion from Whole Foods. Either way, it's usually very useless to me. I tend to think it's Whole Foods contribution because once or twice they have remembered that my household is dairy free and given me something non-dairy in exchange (usually also a locally produced item) which is NICE, but I'm still not even feeding my family for more than 1-1/2 to 2 days on this box... at best.

The big goals for this week are to use the cooked beets and turnips; and make up kohlrabi and squash empanadas. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday CSA pickup - 7/29/2011

First, let me just say that we never saw the 9 acre property. It was under contract when our agent called to make the appointment. :(

Anyway... we belong to two CSA farms this year and neither of them is the one we belonged to last year. Last year's CSA didn't have spots in the pickup point closest to where we live. Last year, we joined before we moved to IL and picked a pickup point closest to where we were SUPPOSED to live... and that fell apart. :/ I seriously could not drive 30 mins one way to pick up veggies again.

So we joined two. First of all, one share isn't enough for us. But if I buy a share from each of two CSAs, I get to try two CSAs out during one season. So far, one is by far outpacing the other. And that would be the cheaper one. >:(

We have one pickup on Friday night and one on Sunday morning. Tonight's pickup included about 4 VERY large beets with greens, two small (like tiny) zucchini, a small head of cabbage, 6 medium sized carrots, a nice sized bunch of chard, a bunch of scallions, two mildly hot peppers, a big cucumber, a bunch of basil, 9 very small (but not cherry-small) tomatoes, one relatively large slicing tomato, a small bag of new potatoes, and so help me I can't remember what else.

In the fridge, I have the nearly 9 prior beets that were roasted, peeled and cut up. I should've frozen them, but we'll eat them tomorrow. Same for the Hakurei turnips (they were boiled and cut up. I also have a bunch of snap peas that I'm not sure are still any good and a ton of kohlrabi that I need to find something to do with. I'm all over these kohlrabi & squash empanadas and freezing the extras for a quick, microwavable lunch option since I have a package of gluten-free pie crust mix in the cabinet. :D I tossed the no-less-than-6 bulbs of fennel since they were getting soft, although I DID find an awesome site with lots of do-able fennel recipes. I also have two very small jalapenos left. Hmmm... maybe some 10-pepper chutney is in order?

I'm also STILL sitting on at least 6 lbs. of organic cherries that were bought on sale that need to be pitted and frozen. :( As for Sunday's CSA pickup: I'm not really worried about it. That's been really light. Like "Seriously? I'm paying close to $800 for the season and you have YET to fill a box???" light. >:( But then, this CSA pickup seemed a little light this week, too. We were supposed to be able to go out and pick our own green beans but the deluge of rain (countless flash flood warnings this week) made the fields too wet. :(

Monday, July 11, 2011

CSA 102: How to make a CSA work for your family

The question posed was whether or not it was cheaper to join a CSA to get organic produce. The answers ranged from "absolutely" to "absolutely not" and as we dug deeper into the topic, it became clear that working with a CSA and making it an economical option was an acquired skill. I don't think many of us really looked at it that way even though all of our advice for the original poster (and "absolutely not" posters) pointed directly to that statement. Go figure.

But it is. So here's what you should know (and do) to make the most of using a CSA (or a co-op for that matter--since the challenges are similar; but I will use the term “CSA” here).

Your first year, it would be ideal if you could find a CSA with pickups that are 1) very close to your home; and 2) on a Friday evening or Saturday (preferably morning).This not only makes it very convenient for you (which means you’re less likely to just skip a pickup) but it also means you’re picking up your food at a time when generally, you have time available to give some thought to what you received and how to use it without being rushed.Worst case, you have the time to store it properly so it doesn’t spoil.

If they offer a half-share, start with that; but realize that you may not get enough of any one thing to make a meal out of. This is okay if you’re willing to work to combine vegetables to get enough to suit your needs. Or use it as a “sampler” with no expectation of it fulfilling your needs in terms of a meal as opposed to using it to learn about the vegetables themselves. I’m not sure this is a great option because it becomes to easy to put off using it if it’s not going to be part of a meal. Better yet, see if they offer a bi-weekly pickup. If it’s only weekly, see if you can partner up with another family and alternate pickup weeks.

Get a good vegetable book. It doesn’t need to be a cookbook. A good vegetable growing book with pictures will be just as useful to you as a vegetarian cookbook. You need to identify what you have! Often, a cookbook won’t show you a picture of the vegetable in its whole, harvested form. That’s not going to help the newbie produce eater. Make sure it includes pictures of kohlrabi, multiple types of squash, bok or pak choi, kale, spinach, and different types of greens (I’ve yet to see one with komatsuna, but that would be a great book). Leaf through it and get to know the vegetables whether you have them or not—because at some point, you’ll run into them. Actually, there's an AWESOME book called "The Visual Food Lover's Guide" (which includes information on how to buy, prepare and store over 1,000 types of food--very awesome)

You CAN get yourself a vegetarian cookbook if you’d like, but there are recipes abound on the internet. That being said, if you’re not one who has time to sit down at the computer on the weekend, a vegetarian cookbook is the thing to have. Maybe two or three if you’re not an internet person. Sometimes, the vegetarian cookbooks are more likely to give you recipes for the less common vegetables because vegetarians don’t have meats to fill their plates and are therefore sometimes more inclined to stretch their boundaries outward from the more commonly eaten veggies. One I like (that uses all the “different” veggies) is “From Asparagus to Zucchini

Take a look at what you’ve received, and then take some time planning out how to use it. The first year, this could take quite a bit of time. But each subsequent year, it gets MUCH, MUCH easier. The majority of foods you get will not change drastically and you will now have the prior year’s recipes to fall back on (and build upon for the following years). If you get your food on Friday night or Saturday morning and it literally takes you a few hours over the course of the rest of the weekend to figure it out—this doesn’t mean you’re failing or this can’t work for you. It means you’re learning something you didn’t know before and it will take a few rounds of this to become fluent in “using fresh produce you don’t recognize at first glance yet”. There’s a difference. And there IS a learning curve. You won’t be fluent the first year. It’s like learning a new language. You’ll be functional at the end of the first year. But each year that you take it on, you’ll get better and better.

Having a plan to use your food is critical. This is critical to your food not going to waste. It is also likely to be the most time consuming part of your weekly experience in the beginning.

Have a stash of “go to” recipes that can use pretty much any vegetable. Are you opposed to eating stew in the summer? Hope not! What about frittata or quiche? Stir-fry? Soup? I have a recipe that I use for pretty much any leafy green: heat some olive oil in a large pot with a lid, add some garlic (minced, sliced—whatever) and let it brown for a minute, then add my washed, cut greens and coat them with the oil. Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat. In about five minutes, the greens are “wilted” (still a bright green, but really soft). I make just about everything like that—including collards.

Get yourself some Debbie Meyer Green Bags... and USE them. This has saved me many times because without question, my food has lasted significantly longer. The trick is to use a paper towel to wipe out any built up condensation inside the bag to prevent the water and cool air itself to cause spoilage. Read the instructions: they say NOT to clean your food before putting it in the bags!

If you're not accustomed to working with fresh produce to begin with, you may have an extra challenge. Working with fresh produce isn't the same as frozen or canned. If nothing else, the frozen/canned kind is at minimum already cleaned and chopped up. That alone is a time eater most people don't account for. And it may annoy you. Now, you might think that it’s a good idea to just clean and chop the food when you get it—on the weekend (when you have time), but the reality is that if you wash your food and put it in the fridge, it will spoil faster because of the water left on it. Lettuce might be easy to get around on this point because you can wash it, spin it (yeah, salad spinners actually DO have a purpose in life) and then put it in a bag lined with dry paper towels and leave the bag open in the fridge. But other things are not so easy. I think if you sit and plan what you’re going to eat this week and know that it will be eaten in the week, you could go through and cut up the things that are likely to take the most time. For me, this is stuff like kale and chard—because I remove the stem/vein and chop it into smaller pieces. Normally, I do this right after I wash it and right before I’m going to use it. But as I think about it, you could cut it all up, put it in the fridge, and wash it just before use.

Last, but not least: if you can’t figure out how to use it, figure out how to preserve it. Most things can be washed, cut up, and either frozen or cooked a bit before freezing. A good site for how to preserve countless food items is the National Center for Home Food Preservation (which will also tell you when something isn't suitable for freezing, and why).

This should make your first year manageable, and encourage you to take on a second year--knowing they will get easier as they come!