we might starve without a CSA

Image: Clagett Farm CSA Week 9, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

We’ve been in Little Rock and without our beloved CSA for three weeks now, and I’ve realized that after a year as a CSA member, I completely forgot how to feed us in a conventional way.

You see, I became so used to receiving a giant box of veggies each week and planning my meals accordingly, that I actually forgot how to plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for us without it.  This became apparent today when we realized we were both starving and had nothing in the house for lunch.  Before, back in our CSA days, when our fridge was always overflowing with veggies, every meal I cooked involved enough leftovers for at least two lunches.  On top of that, just to use up all the veggies before they went bad, I was always making and freezing ratatouilles, soups, and pasta sauces that could be pulled out and defrosted to make a last-minute meal.

Today, stomach growling, I peeked in the fridge and realized that while I had ingredients to make two more dinners (I shop the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and fill in with the grocery store on Sundays), the only other things I had to eat were bacon, eggs, tortillas, cheese, pita chips, and hummus.  I had completely forgotten to plan for lunch, because I got so used to having leftovers or something from the freezer!  “What are we going to EAT?” I wailed to Jon, flopping down on the guest bed near where he was using his computer.  (I tend to get swoony and dramatic when hungry.)  “We could get some lunchmeat and sandwich stuff,” he suggested.  “But that’s against the rules!”

What are the rules? Well, after seeing “Food, Inc.” we agreed upon the following:

  • We only eat meat that is sustainably and ethically raised.  This basically means “pastured” meat, or meat that comes from an animal raised in a pasture (more than “free-range”, which is basically meaningless) where it can stretch its legs, graze on grass, and, in the case of chickens, munch on bugs and worms.  This meat would preferably be local, but does not have to be.
  • In order to afford that meat, we eat vegetarian (or nearly vegetarian) for much of the week.
  • What veggies we do consume are to be local (when possible), first and foremost, and preferably organic.
  • All of our dairy is to be organic.  Eggs are to be from pastured nesting hens.
  • We avoid corn syrup, processed foods, and excessive packaging.
  • Our coffee is to be fair trade and shade grown.
  • Most of these rules go out the window outside our home.

After some discussion, we decided that 1) we might have to relax our rules while we figure out a food routine here in our new city, and 2) it was time to get ourselves to Sam’s Club.  In Charleston, we were members of Costco, but it’s basically the same thing as Sam’s.  The #1 major reason to be a member is to get big frozen bags of seafood.  Currently, we don’t have rules about seafood, though we are moving in that direction as we learn more about the environmental impact of commercial fishing and fish farming operations.  I have a general idea that wild-caught salmon is “better” than farmed salmon, but I couldn’t tell you why.  Still, fish is a staple in our diet, because it’s easier to get than pastured meat most of the time, and because I’m still not a good enough vegetarian cook not to base most of my meals around a protein source.  Other things we commonly buy at Sam’s/Costco: canned tomatoes, chicken stock, chocolate chips, pasta, pita chips, Zyrtec, Prilosec, Lactaid, parmesan cheese, feta cheese, and dog food.

So, now we’re members of Sam’s (which, I have to say, membership for a year was $40 and they gave us a $20 gift card, so, with the savings on what we bought today alone, our membership is more than paid for), and our pantry is nicely stocked.  I’m realizing I need to buy more than I think I need at the farmer’s market on Saturdays so I can make a few extra dishes and freeze them to have in a pinch later.  We’re still figuring out how to eat our values in a new city, and I’m sure we have a ways to go.  I’m also trying to figure out how the food aspect of this blog will look without the weekly rhythm of our CSA boxes, though I know I want to keep sharing stories and recipes of our adventures in more ethical eating.  If you have suggestions, let me know! Here’s hoping we won’t starve because I don’t know how to eat like a regular person anymore.

CSA tips and tricks

Image: "Clagett Farm CSA Week 18", a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

Each week, I blog about what I got in my CSA box and what I do with it.  After reading this Slate piece by an overwhelmed CSA member, I thought maybe I should also write about the tips that help me figure out how to handle my weekly deluge of fresh, local produce.

  • The goal is not to love every item, but to find a way to eat every item. That might sound a little strange, but hear me out.  I don’t like turnips. I don’t really like rutabagas.  If I were just shopping the Farmer’s Market or grocery store, I’d probably never eat a turnip, a rutabaga, or even greens like collards or kale.  However, part of the appeal of the CSA experience is trying new things, and I consider it my mission to find at least one way I can eat every item without hating it.  The author mentions her struggle with turnips. I share that struggle.  I’ve hidden them in chowders, put them into risottos, and even snuck them into pot pies.  For me, they need to be part of an ensemble of other veggies that hide their turnipy flavor.  The same is true for mustard greens.  I don’t really like them by themselves, but I’ve discovered that, covered in cheese in a frittata, they’re pretty tasty!
  • The internet is your friend. Not sure what to do with collard greens? Get thee to Epicurious.  Sites like Epicurious, The Kitchn, and AllRecipes are the keys to CSA success.  You just type in “collard greens” into the search bar, and tons of recipes will pop up.  Read the reviews on the recipes, and don’t be afraid to experiment and substitute. A recipe calls for celery and you don’t have any? Maybe you can add in a little celery seed for flavor, or substitute a similar watery, crunchy veggie in its place.  You don’t have the herb they call for? Try substituting something you do have!  And don’t be afraid to Google for substitutions either– it’s how I learned I can make my own buttermilk if needed for a recipe by simply adding vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk!
  • Make a plan of attack. It helps to make time on the day you usually pick up your CSA box to plan and do prep work for the week’s worth of meals. On the day you get your CSA box, lay everything out.  Figure out which things are most perishable, and plan to eat those first. Estimate what you can reasonably eat in one week, and make plans to give away or preserve (via freezing, pickling, or canning) what you can’t.  Don’t feel bad about giving away your produce if you know you can’t eat it! You may help win new subscribers for your CSA program that way!  Use the aforementioned recipe websites to find recipes for each meal, then head to the grocery store to get things you might need to fill in. Look at any recipes that might take longer than an hour and see if you can do any prep work ahead of time to ensure faster meals later.
  • Learn to pickle. Seriously. Pickles are a great way to preserve your produce, and they’re a great thing to give away to help lighten your load. You can pickle cucumbers, squash, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans… anything.  I’m a big fan of spicy refrigerator dill pickles and summer squash bread and butter pickles (doesn’t have to be used with squash).  You don’t have to spend all day boiling them in jars, either– just keep them in their brine in the fridge for a few weeks.  They’ll get pickle-ier as time goes on, but they won’t go bad. You don’t even need jars! I make my personal-use pickles in large re-used yogurt tubs. Updated to add: Don’t stress if you can’t find pickling salt. My research has shown that kosher salt will work just fine, it just might result in cloudier brine and less-green cukes. They will still taste great.
  • Make friends with your freezer! Another great way to save veggies for a later day is to make up a big batch of soup, pasta sauce, or ratatouille and freeze it flat in a ziplock bag for a later day.  We ate frozen soups and sauces all winter long.  I even froze shredded zucchini to use in zucchini bread after the season was over.
  • Have some stand-bys. Every week, I eat at least one stir-fry made with any variety of veggies, using a simple sauce that uses any and all of the following: soy sauce, honey, lemon/lime juice, sesame oil, sriracha, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes.  Another good standby is a frittata using a variety of veggies.  Another is to saute veggies with garlic and herbs and serve them over pasta with parmesan or feta cheese.  These meals will carry you through when you just can’t be bothered to try something new and fun with your produce.
  • Have fun. Don’t let yourself feel too guilty about greens wilting in your fridge. Some days, you just aren’t feeling it, and that’s fine. I’m little miss CSA, and I still eat popcorn for dinner on occasion.  If possible, try to give away your excess produce to someone who will eat it, but don’t beat yourself up if something goes bad before you use it.  Compost it if possible!

Are you a CSA member? Do you have any tips to share? Questions you’d like me to answer?

CSA: Charleston — I will not be defeated by fruits and veggies!

I was a very busy beaver on Tuesday when I picked up our latest CSA box from Pinckney’s Produce at the Glass Onion.  I had yoga class after work, then stopped by to pick up the box, then zipped home to lay everything out and see what I got. Here’s the bounty:

It included:

  • 3 heads lettuce
  • 2 bunches mustard greens
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • beets
  • turnips with greens
  • radishes
  • strawberries

The sheer volume of produce seemed greater than our first few boxes, and I was slightly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to eat it all. Again, I can’t freeze any of it for later, because we’re moving at the end of the season. This week was an Iron Chef challenge for sure! Continue reading “CSA: Charleston — I will not be defeated by fruits and veggies!”

followup on “saving slow food for retirement?”

Yesterday I responded to a DoubleX piece that called home cooking a waste of time and which suggested that people like me should be spending all our time on our careers instead of in our kitchens.  Today, another writer at DoubleX tackled the issue.  While Meredith Simons at least allows that for some, cooking can be as enjoyable a hobby as curling up with a good book (I happen to love both cooking and good books), she still misses the point. Continue reading “followup on “saving slow food for retirement?””

save slow food for retirement?

I’ve blogged a LOT about my forays into the slow food movement.  From giving up most of the meat I had been eating to  joining a CSA and all the adventures that entailed to starting to bake my own bread, the way I eat has changed a lot in the past year.  Apparently, according to a DoubleX writer, I’ve been wasting my time.  Margaret Wheeler Johnson writes, responding to the New York Times’ recent followups to their hugely successful No Knead Bread recipe:

The truth is that unless you are a chef by profession or truly love cooking, spending a minimum of seven hours a week in the kitchen—and that’s just making dinner—is not the best use of an ambitious youngish person’s time. Wouldn’t the energy we expend making the meatloaf our mothers never did, or feeling guilty that we don’t, be better spent connecting with peers, putting in extra hours at work, or pursuing personal projects? If you want an Amy’s loaf, get it from Amy’s. Otherwise buy a sleeve of Nature’s Own, and leave the no-need bread for retirement.

Continue reading “save slow food for retirement?”