CSA Week 6: We Got the Beet

csa-week-six-title-image

As the spring quickly turns into summer, we’re getting ready to see the last of our hearty leafy greens.

I’ll miss some more than others. I really enjoy Swiss chard, but I’m kinda meh about kale. I’m still figuring out bok choi, but I think I enjoy it.

CSA Weeks 6 brought us:

  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Parsley
  • Broccoli

Strawberries are also on their way out. Our farm got hit with a fungus and being that it’s an organic farm, they don’t go dousing the fruit with fungicides. It’s part of the risk that comes with being part of a CSA. I will miss having strawberries with my breakfast. When it comes to healthy eating, breakfast is the only meal I seem to get right. I always manage to screw it up with lunch and dinner.

Strawberries, multigrain English muffin with coconut oil and a hardboiled egg with sweet chili sauce. Photo // After the Knot

Strawberries, multigrain English muffin with coconut oil and a hardboiled egg with sweet chili sauce. Photo // After the Knot

Beets are one of those root vegetables that weren’t part of my diet when I was growing up. I’m generally at a bit of a loss as to what to do with them, but I also don’t want to throw them in the garbage.

A quick scan of Pinterest gave me a couple of ideas. I decided to kill two birds with one stone by making a root vegetable medley that included both beets and turnips. I also added two sweet onions and a few potatoes. For flavor, I tossed in some sage, oregano and rosemary from my garden.

Photo // After the Knot

Photo // After the Knot

I’m trying to include two vegetable sides with each of our meals. I decided to chance things up a bit and saute the bok choi in butter and lemon juice. I don’t typically use butter, but wanted to try something a little bit different. Admittedly, half a lemon was a bit too much and the flavor was quite overpowering. Next time I’ll a quarter.

Photo // After the Knot

Photo // After the Knot

Both sides were a great complement to the flounder I picked up from Locals Seafood at the State Farmers Market. Flounder is my favorite cooked fish. I like to prepare it by battering it in egg and coating it in breadcrumbs mixed with a generous helping of parmesan cheese.

I toss it in the oven at 350 until it starts to turn golden brown or about 20 minutes. Once I see that it’s browning, I turn the heat off so it continues to get crispy, but doesn’t burn  (I have an electric oven so I’m not exactly sure how that would work with gas).

Photo: After the Knot

Photo // After the Knot

This week it looks like we’re getting some broccoli and cucumbers, which is pretty exciting. Like carrots, cucumbers are a zillion times better fresh from the garden than from the grocery store.

Hopefully, I’ll have my act together this week and I can share some yummy inspiration.

More info about In Good Heart Farm can be found here.

 

Advertisements

CSA Week 1: Bring on the Fresh Veggies

csa-week-one

To give myself a little kick in the butt to do some easy writing, I’m going to attempt to share with you how we’re using the fresh produce from our CSA share each week.

Unfortunately, I already effed that up. While I wrote the bulk of this post a few weeks ago, we’re actually on CSA Week 4 now. Part of this was just a crazy schedule the past two weeks. There was a trip to the CFA Food Policy Conference, a visit from my parents, a book to finish for my book club, and classes to become a notary public. Actually, I should be studying instead of updating this post, but whatever.

Anyway, our shares have been pretty much the same for the past few weeks so this post is still fairly relevant.

Onward….

I’m one of those stereotypical Italian cooks.  I don’t measure anything and I just throw stuff in a pot and hope it turns out OK. Because of that, don’t expect to find any recipes for anything I make. Sorry, there are so many awesome blogs that are good for that.

You also wont’ find any Pinterest-worthy photos of food on here. I really want to work on my photography skills, but I don’t have the time to take the perfect picture and Photoshop it until it’s extra perfect. Once again, other blogs are good for that.

I hope, at least, it will inspire you to do some cooking yourself and embrace your local farming economy.

For Week 1, we got:

  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Chard (we could pick between chard or spinach)
  • Kale
  • Napini
  • Scallions
  • Parsley

My CSA offers a swap box so you can swap out something you may not like for something you love. In my case, I swapped out kale, which I’m kinda meh about, for an extra bunch of carrots. Once you have a carrot fresh from the ground, you’ll never go back. They were perfect for a healthy snack at work.

I also bought a dozen eggs.

I’m really trying to be better at the food prep thing, so after dinner I got everything washed and cut so everything could be more-easily cooked during the week.

About half the eggs were also hard boiled for a quick breakfast.

 

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

I find that the easiest way to prepare vegetables is in the frying pan with a little oil and seasoning. It’s my go-to because it’s quick, easy and works for just about everything.

Recipes for napini are pretty much non-existent. My understanding is that napini are the flower shoots from the kale plant. It’s more popular cousin is rapini, known here as broccoli rabe.

Knowing that the napini would be slightly bitter, I paired them with carrots, which are naturally sweet. I added some salt and pepper, and roobios and honey balsamic vinegar.

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

Balsamic vinegar has been my favorite thing to cook with lately.

Later in the week, I added it to the chard, which was also sauteed with garlic and scallions.

Chard, I’m finding, is kind of an underrated green. It’s really common in Italian cooking and can be substituted for spinach very easily. Personally, I like it more and the colorful stalks can be cooked with the leaves or used separately.

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

We were coming up to the end of the week and I had quite a bit of napini left so I decided to mix it with some kale (which C got at the farmers market a couple weeks ago), green onions from our aquaponics garden and sausage.

An avid pasta lover who is also overweight, I’m trying to find a compromise for the white macaroni I love so much. A gluten-free friend suggested mung bean pasta. I was skeptical, but picked up a bag a few weeks back.

I mixed the “pasta,” sausage, and vegetables and whipped up an alfredo sauce.

The result was pretty freaking amazing.

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

We’ve also started introducing fresh foods into Bailey’s diet and this includes some of our CSA vegetables. Among other things, I give her the leafy green carrot tops, kale stems and anything else that is on the edge of spoiling.

Some people might think I’m crazy for feeding my dog organic produce, but I think it’s crazy that people don’t equate food with health. If I’m eating organic produce so that I can be healthier, why wouldn’t I do it for my dog who I consider part of my family. I want her to live a long and healthy life because I honestly can’t picture mine without her. Part of that is making sure she’s eating right.

Much like last year, the first few weeks have been a little rough of a start, but with our schedules starting to settle back down to normal, I’m looking forward to making all of these new foods part of our life.

Goodbye, Grocery Store. Hello, CSA.

goodbye-grocery-store

When I tell people there are farms on Long Island, I generally get a look of disbelief. It’s like everyone thinks all of Long Island looks like Queens or Nassau County.

The East End is still home to some amazing farms and an ever expanding agri-tourism industry. My family, though, only purchase produce from the farms out east during our yearly pumpkin picking excursion. After loading my dad up with all he could carry, we swung by Lewin’s Farms for some fresh local produce. But after that, it was back to the grocery store.

Sidebar: Can we talk about pumpkin picking in Raleigh for a second? Pumpkin picking is not going to the farmers market to pick out a pumpkin from a bin. It’s not heading to some farm stand to, once again, pick out a pumpkin from a bin or a pile. That’s picking out a pumpkin NOT pumpkin picking. Pumpkin picking is trudging through a pumpkin field, moist with the guts of rotten gourds, in order to find THE pumpkin. And when you find it, it’s likely still on a vine. And then you have to work your skinny little arms to rip off the damn thing, likely falling on your ass in the process. You then put it in a pile that your mother is guarding so you can find the next pumpkin that is clearly THE pumpkin. After that, you and your siblings argue about which pumpkins are the best and you carry them all to about 20 feet before the cashier. This is when you load all the pumpkins into your dad’s arms because it’s $20 for all you can carry. THAT’S pumpkin picking. I feel sorry for all of these children that don’t know the pure joy of running through a real pumpkin field on a crisp fall day. Not my kids. Nope. My kids won’t be picking out pumpkins. They’ll be pumpkin picking. </end rant>

Phew…sorry about that.

Becoming Food Snobs

So moving to North Carolina really introduced us to the sheer awesomeness that is local produce (which is why the above situation makes me so damn ranty).

The difference is in the taste, which is significantly better, and the price for in-season produce is almost always cheaper. Why am I getting apples from Washington at the grocery store when I can get apples from Western NC at the farmers market?

For the first couple of years we did the bulk of our produce shopping at the farmers market, but last year we decided to sign up for a CSA membership with an organic farm that is literally three miles from our house. It was a great decision and a little bit of an adventure.

We do, of course, still buy some produce at the grocery store. It’s a much smaller percentage and usually consists of produce that isn’t grown locally (celery, garlic) or isn’t in season (peppers in the winter, carrots in the summer).

What’s a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and while it’s done a few different ways, the key principles are the same. We provide upfront funding for the farm, which in turn uses the money to buy what it needs for the upcoming season. At harvest time, we get a “share” of the bounty.

Think of your CSA membership like an investment. This does mean that there are risks involved. If a rainy summer washes out all of the tomatoes, well, then you might be out tomatoes. If strawberries are growing like gangbusters, well you better find something to do with those strawberries.

First CSA share: Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, dill, scallions and eggs.

First CSA share: Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, dill, scallions and eggs.  Photo: After the Knot

Depending on how your CSA works, you may or may not have a choice in what you receive in your share. In our case, we didn’t, although they did start experimenting with a swap option. Some use a credit system where you buy credits in the beginning of the season and use those credits to “purchase” the items for your share.

This isn’t for you if you like predictability or security. It is for you if you like supporting small family farms, eating local produce and want to be a part of a growing change in the food industry.

A Year of CSA

This first year as CSA members, we went with a “small” share, which means we got a share every other week. This helped us figure out how much we eat and also cut down on food waste. It also helped us get a sense of what we’d be receiving each season.

Adding vegetables to our diet has been hard, but the CSA gave us a push to try new things.

It’s been a challenge. Sometimes it’s been rewarding, while other times it’s been frustrating. We plan our meals with the best of intentions only to sometimes see produce end up in the trash.

As we’ve learned how to use different vegetables, like radishes, mustard greens and turnips, our food waste has started to decrease. I think cooking vegetables is so simple, that it’s almost hard to wrap your head around it.

turnip-potato

We once tossed turnips in the trash because they went bad before we could figure out how to cook them. Then we learned that whatever you can do with a potato you can do with a turnip. Learning that fact was mind blowing. Suddenly we were making mashed turnips, roasted turnips, sauteed turnips. Not only do turnips no longer get tossed in the trash, but we consider them part of our diet.

A year later we upped our membership to a regular share, meaning that we’ll get vegetables once a week instead of every two. We also have quite the garden planned for this year so we may find ourselves overwhelmed in produce. We hope to start working on our canning skills so we can preserve some our bounty.

A CSA isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, visit this page for a more-detailed look at how CSAs work and the risks that are involved. From here you can also find a CSA in your area.

Salad made with CSA lettuce, sweet potato cakes made with local potatoes, scallops and trigger fish from local fishermen.  Photo: After the Knot

Salad made with CSA lettuce, sweet potato cakes made with local potatoes, scallops and trigger fish from local fishermen. Photo: After the Knot

For great CSA recipes, head on over to Grabbing the Gusto, a blog written by a food writer who also belongs to my CSA farm.

You can also follow my Pinterest board, CSA Veggie Things, for recipes that are specific to the vegetables we often see in our share.

Extra Tidbit

Farms are a really important to the future of humanity. This Guardian opinion piece by George Monbiot sounds a bit alarmist, but he describes a real problem.

Our CSA farm is run by a husband and wife team and every month or so will put a call out to volunteers to help with planting or harvesting. If you truly want to appreciate the work that goes into your food spend a few hours in the middle of the summer digging potatoes. This alone will be life changing.

Where do you buy your produce? Are you a member of a CSA? Tell me your veggie tale in the comments.

 

Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions Post

As 2014 came to a close, I’m likely one of many people that reflected on the promised improvements they made this time last year.

For me, New Year’s resolutions have always been kind of useless. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really achieved any of the goals I set for myself. I do like considering the New Year as a blank slate, though. I think dwelling on the mistakes of your past can be destructive, but setting broad goals without any sort of infrastructure to help achieve them defeats the purpose.

What good is “lose 60 pounds” if I don’t also include the steps I’ll need to actually lose that much weight? Case in point, losing 60 pounds has been my New Year’s resolution for a good two years, but not only did I not achieve that goal each year, I put on more weight.

Finally shedding 18 pounds wasn’t due to multiple resolutions; my weight loss was due to accomplishing small goals and changes throughout the year (and yes, weight loss medication my doctor prescribed).

It was setting a goal to work out four times a week and including two vegetables with dinner (something we still struggle with). It was trying desperately to avoid eating carbs for lunch and dinner. It was signing up for three 5Ks with a goal to do them without walking. It was striving to go to yoga once a week. Those little goals had more of an impact on my success than the bold statement of “lose 60 pounds.”

So, this year I’m taking a different approach to New Year’s resolutions.

In that vein, here are some small goals to get 2015 started:

Finances

Our paltry savings were wiped out when we moved to Raleigh more than four years ago. Consistent financial insecurity has caused us to put any potential savings toward chipping away at debt (medical, credit card and student loan).

someecards.com

someecards.com

While that hasn’t changed, I decided to build up our savings again by automatically drafting $20 from each paycheck. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to transfer those accrued savings, but in my savings account is where they should stay.

Fitness

The past year, I’ve focused mainly on cardio because I only have time to do one workout each day and the dog can’t lift weights. This year, I want to do at least two days of strength training per week.

I’m not giving up running (or “running”), though. As I’ve written about before, now that I’ve reached my distance goal, I’ll be working on speed to bring down my mile time. Like last year, I’ll sign up for a few races to keep me focused and motivated.

earthporm.com

earthporm.com

I want to continue going to yoga at least once a week, kicking it up to two when it works with my weekend schedule. At the very least, I plan on incorporating yoga into my strength training routine. Sun salutations are like yoga burpees, I assure you.

(They look easy, but do 10 rounds and tell me how your arms feel the next day)

Food

We’ve been half-assing an attempt to include more produce into our diet for a while now. Most of it goes in the compost pile unused and rotten. This year, on top of wasting less, I want to start thinking about our meals a little differently.

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

We generally focus on protein and build dinner around that.

Example: We have chicken. What can we make with chicken? Chicken cutlets. OK. What else are we having with it?

Instead, I’d like to focus on a particular vegetable and build the dinner around it, even if it’s still the side dish.

Example: We have spinach. What can we make with spinach? Sautéed spinach. OK. What else are we having with it?

I have no idea if this mental change will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Dog Training

My dog is freaking awesome, but she’s far from perfect. Her recall only works in my yard and she gets so excited when she sees people or dogs that are obviously her new best friend, she lunges and barks until her harness gets twisted and people stare at me with their judgey eyes. This is Bailey’s terrifying way of saying, “I love you and I’m so happy to see you.”

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I'll never see her again. / After the Knot

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I’ll never see her again. / After the Knot

We’ve already started learning a new cue, “touch,” to help bring her focus back on me. We’re also working on “focus” to keep her attention there. This year we’ll continue working on these cues, along with practicing recall in the front yard, outside the boundaries of our fence.

 

And that’s it. I’m leaving it at that.

I’d like to get more organized, learn how to sew, learn a new crochet stitch, read more books, go hiking more regularly, go kayaking, and paint the hallways in my house. And if I do all that, awesome. But if I don’t, it’ll be OK.

Here’s to 2015, a blank slate.

A First and Last Valentine’s Day

In my adult life, I was really never into Valentine’s Day. In my teenage life I longed to be that girl who carried around flowers and a teddy bear. My junior and senior year, I became that girl and it was awesome.

As I got older, however,  I began to care less and less about the holiday. As a serial monogamist I think I was only actually single for one Valentine’s Day since I was 16 (not bad for the ugly chick with buck teeth/braces glasses, frizzy hair and a face full of pimples. Junior high was NOT good to me). But, until Chuck most of my relationships were long distance at one point or another, which forced me to spend many Valentine’s Days with friends not really alone, but not really together.

Chuck and I have always had low-key Valentine’s Days. Our first one was spent watching a hockey game, while eating steak and Chinese fried rice. That night he told me he loved me, which was awesome because I was TOTALLY fighting the urge to tell him I loved him. Last year we attempted to make dinner in my kitchen, which resulted in me setting a pot on fire and my mother having to put it out. Romantic, eh?

This year, I didn’t want candy or flowers, but I did want to do something. I wasn’t really sure why. So, we did something. We went out for lunch at Carolina Ale House on Sunday. It was nice and our burgers were good, but it didn’t hit the Valentine’s Day spot.

Lobster tails, lobster stuffed salmon, rice pilaf, white wine and garlic bread. Not bad if I do say so myself.

On my lunch yesterday, I ran over to Harris Teeter in an attempt to find something to special to make for dinner. The good man behind the seafood counter assured me that making stuffed salmon and lobster tails was easy. I believed him and got two lobster stuffed salmon fillets and two lobster tails. I picked up some garlic bread and a giant cookie cake and anxiously awaited 6:00. I knew that Chuck and I would be getting home at the same time, but I wanted at least part of this dinner to be a surprise so while chatting with him online, I reinforced our original dinner plan of Tuscan bean soup and the gym.

We pulled up to the apartment at the same time and I showed him my dinner surprise. He was pretty excited about it, I have to say.

The Harris Teeter seafood guy was right. Stuffed salmon and lobster tails was pretty easy to make. Our dinner was done within a half hour of when we got home.

While cooking it dawned on me why I wanted to do something this year. It was our first Valentine’s Day in our own place and our last as an unmarried couple. Having our own place meant that we didn’t have my mother putting out fires or his parents banging on the bedroom door to wish us a good night. We could light candles and drink a whole bottle of wine and we would be alone.

Finally.

And since we’re getting married it’s very likely that we’ll only have one or two more quiet Valentine’s Days before we have to share it with someone other than our cats.

I didn’t stress out about my messy apartment and we didn’t worry about not going to the gym. We just curled up on the couch and watched TV with the cat.

It was definitely a night to be cherished.

Like Mom Used to Make

About a month ago, my entire Saturday (or Sunday, I can’t really remember) was consumed with domestic duties. I woke up fairly early, cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed the apartment, made our bed, made a pot of sauce, followed by some pesto sauce then prepared dinner.

I was the epitome of the stereotypical Italian housewife. And I liked it.

My kitchen gets dirty because I’ve been really using it since Chuck and I moved in together. Our lack of disposable income forces us to stay in and cook at home, but I actually enjoy cooking a nice meal for the two of us. There’s a sense of pride I feel when I can prepare something that tastes delicious.

For example, since the weather began to get cold, I started making my mother’s chicken soup. Now, I was a spoiled kid. I never ate a can of Progresso until I got to college. I didn’t even know you could buy chicken stock. I thought everyone made their own chicken soup. When I was home in October my mom showed me how she makes her chicken soup and gave me the recipe that she typed up (check it out. I shared it below). The next weekend I set off to it.

Every time I make it I am overjoyed that I prepared something as well as my mother. It makes me excited and happy to know that I can now make chicken soup for my children just like my mom made for me. Words couldn’t express how happy I was when Chuck was anxiously awaiting the fresh pot to be finished simmering so he could have a bowl of my soup. It’s the same way I would anxiously await my mother’s soup to be ready.

More than anything, food is a way of keeping tradition and the people you love alive. I’m not sure how he did it, but a recent batch of Chuck’s sauce tasted just like my grandmother’s. No one ever knew her recipe. As I dug into that bowl of pasta, at my gradmother’s old table, I felt like she was there with me.

As our culture becomes increasingly busy and stressful, the concept of the family dinner is more important than ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to sacrifice.

A recent batch of homemade chicken soup. I promise you, it's way better than anything you get in a can.

Mom’s Chicken Soup

This recipe makes about five double servings of chicken soup. I separate  the stock into five  5-quart containers, which I then freeze until we’re ready to have it. The whole pot costs about $5 to make (if not less, I’d have to really sit down and do the math to tell you and I’m terrible with math) and you get 5 dinners out of it. And like most Italian women, I don’t really have exact measurements so I’ll do my best.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken – The bones are key since that’s where the flavor is, but you don’t need a whole chicken unless you’re cooking for an army. I started out with just getting a package of drumsticks (about $2.50 for 4 drumsticks), but at BJ’s they had 24 chicken thighs for $9. There were four small thighs to each individual freezer package. Even if you don’t buy in bulk, I’d recommend the thighs since you get more meat for the soup.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 pieces of garlic
  • Fresh parsley – about 1/3 cup worth
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 potato
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt (honestly, I couldn’t tell you how much. About a handful maybe?)
  • A few whole pepper corns

Prepare the chicken by washing with warm water and dousing with lemon juice. This disinfects the chicken. Peel the skin off the  chicken and remove as much fat as possible. The fat will rise to the top of the pot and will congeal when it’s cold or frozen.

Place the chicken in a large stock pot. If you have one of the pots with the inside screen then that would be key because it will be easier to separate the meat and veggies from the stock. If you don’t, but want a clean, clear broth, put the chicken and veggies in a cheese cloth.

In a food processor, finely chop the carrot, celery, garlic, tomato, parsley and onion. Place into the pot with the chicken. In the past my mom used to toss this stuff in whole, but found that the soup was much more flavorful when it was finely chopped.

Cut the potato into small pieces. Toss into the pot.

Add the bay leaf and pepper corns.

Fill the pot with water and place on the stove on high. Bring to a boil. Add the salt (I heard this tip on the radio last week).

When the soup begins to boil, lower the temperature and let simmer for an hour and a half.

When it is done simmering, I turn off the heat and let it cool a bit before I begin fishing out the chicken onto a plate. I use two forks to separate the chicken from the bone, which is done really easily, but I like to shred it at the same time and make sure no fatty pieces or small bones make it back into the pot.

I use a slotted spoon to scoop out the chicken and veggies and try to evenly distribute it into 4 or 5 containers. I then use a ladle to scoop the broth into the containers and let cool, half covered on the counter before putting them into the freezer.

Enjoy!

Soup and salad is one of our staples.