Last Saturday I actually made it to the Farmer’s Market. This was my haul:
Don’t you love how I subconsciously arranged everything in ROYGBIV order? I swear it wasn’t intentional.
I figured it might be fun to turn my Farmer’s Market trips into posts about how we eat for a week on our delicious local produce.
The cukes and the yellow squash immediately became pickles, the squash joining some zucchinis we had grown to become summer squash bread and butter pickles (seriously, such a good recipe, though I skip the whole ice bath part and they still turn out just dandy), and the cukes becoming my absolute favorite, I swear they’re as good as Claussen’s, dill refrigerator pickles.
The gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and the Japanese eggplant joined some mozzarella and some home-grown basil to become a delicious margherita pizza.
The pattypan squash was sauteed in olive oil with home-grown herbs and served alongside a red lentil salad with heirloom tomatoes, and some tilapia.
And the remainder of the squash, eggplant, and tomato were turned into a sort of ratatouille which we ate with goat cheese over pearl couscous:
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.
Dell’Antonia really hits the nail on the head in her piece. Holler moves to the midwest so her husband can follow his academia dreams on $36k per year with a couple of kids in tow. She becomes a “radical homemaker” just to make ends meet on that low salary, and she discovers she sorta hates the drudgery. And Dell’Antonia points out what should be obvious to anyone who’s even heard of “The Feminine Mystique”: drudgery is not so fun when it’s mandatory, actually. (Though, I’d point out that Holler’s husband *chose* to leave a more lucrative field, and he had the privilege to choose a more lucrative field by the end of the piece, as well. Many people have no before and no after– “radical homemaking” as a way of making ends meet is just reality, period.)
Here’s the thing: if you’re reading my blog, you know I buy into a lot of the “radical homemaking” stuff. I don’t make our clothes or even my own yogurt, but I’m really committed to local, natural, homemade food. And in addition to my ethical choices about food, I straight up enjoy cooking, most of the time. But here’s a secret: the minute I start feeling like I’m the only person in my house who cares about what’s going onto our plates? The minute I start to feel like cooking our food is more my job than my choice? That’s when I start to resent my kitchen.
I think a major reason so many people roll their eyes when they read yet another essay by an upper middle class white lady who has found God in free range chicken farming and home meat curing and knitting is that so rarely do the writers recognize their own privilege. For one thing, they’re doing all this stuff for funzies, and for another, so many people are doing these things because they have to, even though they’d rather not. So here’s my revelation: yes, I think eating local, organic, homemade food is a good choice for our planet and our bodies. BUT: I realize that my choices are not for everyone. In fact, they’re not even always for me!
That said, I really have to take issue with this part of Holler’s piece:
Even baking all of my own bread sounded dreadful. For me, kneading dough was the physical manifestation of pushing and pressing all of life’s ambitions into one yeasty ball of carbs.
I’m not sure why all the anti-homemakers have to go after bread baking, but YOU NEED TO LAY OFF THE BREAD BAKING, Y’ALL. I bake my own bread. Even when I had a full-time day job, I baked my own bread. The combining of ingredients into the bowl of my stand mixer (privilege alert: I have a stand mixer, received as a wedding gift) takes all of 5 minutes, and the mixer does the work. 6-24 hours later, I preheat the oven, put the bread into a pot, and I bake it for 30 minutes. Then I take the lid off and bake it for 15 more minutes. Then I take it out of the pan. It’s hardly a soul-crushing commitment, and it’s cheaper, tastier, and healthier than most of the bread available at the store. Even I have my limits, but when there are entire cookbooks dedicated to Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Per Day, maybe you should be picking a more onerous task to target with your ire, like, I don’t know, those crazies who use washrags instead of toilet paper. (I use the crappy recycled toilet paper, but I have toilet paper, dammit.)
The bottom line: they call it “radical” for a reason. Just because you’re not willing to go whole-hog into the pioneer program doesn’t mean you can’t make a few changes that might be better for you and the planet. BUT, always, it’s worth remembering that just having the ability to choose these choices is an immense privilege, and even things others consider hobbies can be drudgery to people who have no choice. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a hunk of my soul-crushing homemade bread.
We are moving this Saturday, and will be picking up our last CSA box this afternoon. We’ve arranged for friends to take over our boxes for the three weeks left in the season after we’re gone. All of this means: this might be my last CSA post for a while, because who knows how long it will take us to get our internet hooked up in our new house. Here’s what we did with last week’s goodies. We gave away a good portion of it because we wanted to be able to eat at some of our favorite Charleston restaurants one last time, but I made some goodies with what we used!
8 ears corn (gave away half)
4 slicing tomatoes
1 bag cherry tomatoes
4 bell peppers (gave away 2)
3 yellow squash
1 watermelon (ate at the beach)
2 eggplants (gave away 1)
1 bag green beans (gave away half)
3 pattypan squash
7 banana peppers (Jon ate 2 raw)
1 bag potatoes (gave away half)
I confess I forgot to write down which days we ate what, so I’ll just write up each meal.
Then I arranged the slices on top of the sauce, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, sprinkled with herbes de provence, and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. I baked the pizzas for 20 minutes each at 450. They came out delicious!
Meal 2: Ratatouille with poached eggs over couscous
After the pizza, I still had a gallon bag full of sliced squash, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. I also had half of my tomato sauce leftover. So I decided to try a baked version of ratatouille following this Smitten Kitchen recipe for Ratatouille’s ratatouille, inspired by the Pixar film. Mine wasn’t as pretty as Smitten’s, but I don’t have a mandoline for fancy slicing, so I think I did pretty well with just my knife!
I decided to serve my ratatouille over couscous with a poached egg on top. Considering I’d never poached an egg before, and considering I’m still getting over an aversion to runny yolks, I think my poached eggs came out pretty darn well! It was an absolutely delicious meal. and we still can’t decide if we liked the ratatouille pizza or the ratatouille with poached egg and couscous better!
Meal 3: Smoky corn chowder and Greek cucumber salad
I made a smoky corn chowder with the corn using this Real Simple recipe, which I’m a big fan of. I’m an even bigger fan of it now that I have an immersion blender– the first time I tried the recipe, I had to use a blender, which resulted in a molten corn chowder volcano. An immersion blender is really a must-have for creamy soups, and it’s also crucial to the tomato sauce I mentioned above.
To go with the chowder, I decided to go Greek with the cucumbers and slicing tomatoes. I chopped them into bite-size chunks and tossed them with a dressing made with the following recipe:
Whirl the following in a food processor:
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup Greek yogurt
juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
2 sprigs oregano (any herb fresh from the garden would work!)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 dashes hot sauce
The resulting salad was delicious, and the smoky cumin in the sauce went well with the smoked paprika in the soup.
Meal 4: Nicoise salad with pesto
To use up the last of the veggies, I adapted tworecipes to make a nicoise salad with a pesto dressing. I always have good pesto on hand, because my mom makes her own with home-grown pesto, and, even if I have to pack it on ice in a cooler, I always bring home a jar or two after a visit.
I boiled four eggs and let them cool. I chopped the potatoes and the green beans into bite-size pieces, then boiled the potatoes for 10 minutes, then added the green beans to the pot and boiled both together for 5 more minutes. Then I drained the potatoes and green beans and rinsed with cold water to cool. I cut the cherry tomatoes in half and tossed all the ingredients in a bowl with a can of tuna and a can of garbanzo beans (both drained) (not traditional, but I wanted to use them up before the move). Then I dressed the salad using a mixture of pesto, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Yum!
Meal 5: Pattypan scramble
One morning when I was home alone, I fried up some bacon, sauteed the pattypan squash in the drippings, and then scrambled them with eggs, mozzarella cheese (it’s what I had), oregano (it’s what I grow in my front yard), and the bacon. A yummy brunch!
After all those meals, you need dessert: Key Lime Coconut Cake
I’m not kidding about my Smitten Kitchen fangirldom. I went looking for a recipe to use up some coconut before the move, and I found this Key Lime Coconut Cake recipe. Whaddaya know? I had limes too! I was so excited about this cake, only to be devastated when It got half stuck in the pan and crumbled into a big mess. I tried again, this time buttering and flouring the pan instead of following the instructions to butter it and place parchment paper in the bottom, and this time it came out great. A great summer cake. I have a feeling I’ll be experimenting with the recipe, maybe trying to turn it into cupcakes or a layer cake.
And there you have another week of fresh local eats!
Bonus: restaurant reviews
When not eating delicious food at home, we ate out a lot! One night we ate at FIG, one of our favorite Charleston restaurants (seriously, a must-visit if you come here). Another night, we rounded up a whole gang of friends in search of a seafood feast. We had planned to hit up our favorite, Bowen’s Island, a true experience and a must-visit if you’re in Charleston for oyster season (any month that has an “R” in it), but Bowen’s was closed for a private party. So we ended up trying the Sand Castle, a seafood joint on Folly that we’d never visited before. I was sold when I saw that they had fried softshell crab and $3.25 pinot grigio, and Jon got a seafood feast which featured fried flounder, shrimp, oysters, and deviled crab. Saturday we hit up Red’s Ice House with a bunch of friends. Red’s has miles of deck space overlooking Shem Creek, and my one goal was a giant pina colada, a goal I achieved. We also spotted a guy paddle boarding with his DOG on board, and were amazed at the dog’s steady, calm pose aboard the surfboard. Just another great night in Charleston! I’m going to miss this place!
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?
Another delicious week with our Pinckney’s Produce CSA! This week was like an explosion of summer goodies. Here’s what we got:
8 ears of corn (gave 4 to the neighbors)
9 yellow squash
4 pattypan squash
6 banana peppers
1 bag green beans (gave 1/3 to the neighbors)
1 bag broccoli
1 small bag of cherry tomatoes
3 sweet onions
On Tuesday, I picked up our box. For dinner, I made a stir fry with the broccoli and 2 of the pattypan squash, which I served over brown rice. I also made refrigerator dill pickles with the cucumbers and bread and butter pickles with the yellow squash, half of the zucchini, and the banana peppers. One reason I make so many pickles is that people love them, and they’re a nice thing to give away. If we had a smaller box for our two-person family, I wouldn’t give so much food away, but as it is, we just can’t eat it all, and we can’t freeze it because we’re moving in two weeks. My boss in particular loves pickles, and I give him a jar of each variety each week. He’s kind enough to return the jars for a refill the next week!
On Wednesday, I adapted Rachael Ray’s Green Minestrone recipe for dinner, using up half of the green beans, and half of the remaining zucchini. I made a few changes, using a couple of slices of bacon instead of pancetta, omitting the spinach (though if I’d had greens this week, those would have worked well), and omitting the celery (I tossed in a little celery seed to get the flavor). I didn’t have a lot of parmigiano reggiano on hand, so I tossed a couple hunks of parmesan cheese rind into the pot while I was simmering the soup to get the flavor. I always freeze my parmesan rinds to use in flavoring soups– they’re the secret ingredient to a good chicken soup!
Thursday night, I tried a recipe that a fellow CSA member recommended on the Pinckney’s Produce Facebook page. I had seen the recipe in my Real Simple magazine, but the fellow member jogged my memory. It was a zucchini and orzo salad with feta cheese. I added the cherry tomatoes and served it alongside grilled tilapia, which I sprinkled with a little lemon juice and dill to mimic the flavors of the pasta dish. Yum! We had a feeling it would be a very tasty stand-alone pasta salad with the addition of some tuna, so that’s what I did with the leftovers.
Friday was a quintessentially Charleston night. It has nothing to do with our CSA, but food is involved, so I thought I’d mention it here. We went out to a friend’s family’s Isle of Palms beach house for a shrimp boil. This was the view:
And this was the food:
So good! We stuffed ourselves on spicy shrimp, sausage, potatoes with garlic, onion, corn, and carrot (a BRILLIANT addition to the mix), we danced around, we took a walk on the beach in the dark, and we swam in the ocean, which felt divine. It was a great night with friends that reminded me just how much I’m going to miss this place.
Saturday Jon was on call and I was home alone, so I ate leftovers and watched World Cup.
Sunday brunch was a scramble I made with the rest of the pattypan squash, eggs, fontina cheese, bacon, and fresh basil. Delicious!
For dinner on Sunday, I made a potato, green bean, and corn salad, which has a tangy mustard vinaigrette (I added red pepper flakes and the sweet onions). We had a dinner made of side dishes by eating the salad with the leftover pasta salad from Thursday, and some of the squash pickles.
Monday we ate a little bit of leftovers and a whole lot of popcorn for dinner.
Overall: a delicious week! We ate almost everything, and we’re looking forward to two more weeks of goodies before we move. I’ve already arranged for a coworker to take over our share for the remainder of the season.
I believe we’re now halfway through our CSA season with the wonderful Pinckney’s Produce, but I could be wrong. Anyway, here’s what we got this week:
1 bunch kale
1 bunch chard
1 cabbage (gave away to a coworker)
10 yellow crookneck squash
3 sweet onions
3 bell peppers
5 banana peppers
6 pattypan squash
12 pickling cucumbers
1 large bag green beans (gave half away to a coworker)
And here’s what we did with it all:
Tuesday I focused on making pickles with the squash, zucchini, peppers, and cucumbers. I did refrigerator dills with the cukes and bread and butter pickles with the rest. I’ve been taking jars of the pickles to friends and coworkers and everyone loves them.
Otherwise, we ate leftover corn on the cob, grilled squash salad, and grilled cabbage coleslaw from last week with some blackened salmon for dinner.
Wednesday I fried some bacon in a skillet, poured off most of the grease, and sauteed the chard with some garlic and red pepper flakes. I served this with the crumbled bacon and some parmesan cheese over orzo. Not bad for a random no-recipe meal!
Thursday I was feeling crummy and Jon was feeling crummy, likely because some germy kid at his work gave him a cold, which he kindly shared with me. The hazards of pediatrics! Anyway, I was feeling like some comfort food, so I made fried rice with the bell peppers, 2 pattypan squash, and an onion. I made a ton so I had leftovers for lunch on Friday as well. Fried rice, like frittatas, is just one of those meals where I throw in a bunch of veggies I need to use up and it always turns out great.
Friday night, I was home alone, but that didn’t stop me from making myself an awesome dinner. I made two delicious quiches with the kale and some leeks I bought at the store, following the Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a Leek and Swiss Chard Tart. I’m really not sure what the difference is between a quiche and a tart, but basically this was a quiche. I used pre-made puff pastry for my crust, and I subbed in herbes de provence, because I couldn’t find my dried thyme. It came out so delicious, and it fed us for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday as well. Definitely try this recipe if you have some greens around!
Saturday I went with one old standby and tried one new thing. The old standby is my usual green bean recipe: sautee green beans with garlic and onions with ginger and soy sauce. Jon loves them, I love them, can’t go wrong. The new thing was using the rest of the squash and zucchini in a potato and summer squash gratin with goat cheese. It probably would have been a lot less time consuming if I had had a mandolin for slicing the veggies crazy thin, but my one and only Wusthof knife worked out pretty well, even if it did seem to take an eternity. No matter what, all the slicing was worth it for a dish that tasted so good! Mine had a few more layers than the original recipe called for, but I just kept layering. I added more milk and more cheese to make up for the fact that my gratin was larger. This is another recipe I highly recommend.
Sunday we had a party to go to, so I didn’t do any cooking.
Monday we were feeling lazy and wanting to watch Battlestar Galactica (we’re nerds) and drink margaritas. I had a bit of kale left in the fridge, so I cut it up and sauteed it until wilted, and then I used it in place of spinach in a spinach and artichoke dip recipe. Turns out, any green will do in spinach and artichoke dip. My theory: with enough cheese, you could basically use grass clippings and no one would care.
So, another week down, and besides what I gave away to a coworker, we ate it all! I’m pretty proud!