Saturday, November 14, 2009

How We Eat.

It's think it's been a while since I sang the praises of our CSA, Johnson's Backyard Garden. Sometimes I take for granted how well we eat. Not that I'm not completely aware of how much joy I get from cooking and eating, but I forget that it didn't used to be as easy as it is now that we get a box of perfect produce every week, around which I base all our meals.

This week we got a bunch of small white Japanese salad turnips (I think they call them). They're best eaten raw -- they have a sort of radishy but sweeter and milder taste. I sliced them and threw them in a salad of mizuma, arugula, and various cut lettuces, with my standard vinaigrette (lemon, red wine vinegar, a little garlic, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard, and olive oil). I also threw in some shredded cabbage that was still crispy and fresh from last week's box, and a big handful of grated parmesan.

A few days ago I stewed some okra with tomatoes (we have a second tomato season in November, which, because I grew up in Indiana where waiting for the August tomatoes was practically a religion in my family, always seems like some kind of miracle to me), garlic, a chopped serrano pepper and a couple bigger sweet red chilies. We get tons of chilies of all kinds. Really almost too many -- they're supplemented by more jalapeƱos and serranos from M's garden in the yard, which is still producing on plants that went in last spring. I roast some of them, and peel and freeze them. Others I just throw right in the freezer raw.

We've also been getting a lot of okra, and the okra in M's garden also did very well this year, so I've learned how to make okra pickles (they're easy). We haven't had fried okra in a while, but that's a nice summer treat, too.

Tonight I stir-fried the greens from the turnips (they're very tender, so they really only need to be cooked till they wilt and turn bright green -- they're delicious, with a mild peppery flavor), a few kohlrabi bulbs peeled and sliced, a handful of raw peanuts toasted in the cooking oil, garlic and ginger, and we ate it over brown rice with tamari.

We've also been getting a handful of green beans the last few weeks, which I blanch and shock and freeze to use in various ways later: thawed and sliced in salads, or I might throw some in a minestrone I'm planning for later this week.

And kale. The season of winter greens is starting. By January, we'll be getting piles and piles of mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, lettuce, and kale. I usually blanch and freeze all the greens on the day we get them -- then they're ready to use in just about anything later, and we can have greens all year round. Once it gets a little cooler -- if it ever gets a little cooler, it was 83 today -- I'll start making big pots of Southern-style greens cooked until they're very soft with lots of garlic, and instead of the traditional ham hock I use chipotle to get that smokiness which complements greens so well. And hopefully by the time it gets cooler and I'm making those big pots of greens, our oven will be fixed so I can make some cornbread to go with.

We buy very little produce outside of what we get from our CSA. I usually need more onions than they grow, though this year we got a lot more onions than last year. And garlic. And we buy fresh ginger and lemons. That's about it. Oh, we buy some canned tomatoes. We get a lot of tomatoes from the CSA, so many that I seeded and froze a bunch this year to use for sauce. But it takes a shitload of tomatoes to make one quart of tomato sauce, so we end up buying a few cans to supplement, if I make soup or chili or pasta sauce.

One of my favorite things about belonging to the farm is that I don't have to make a lot of decisions about what to buy and cook. We don't have to keep track of what's in season, what's local, what's fresh. We cook and eat what they harvest every week.


Karen Morrill-bryan said...

Trying again--

I have had the chance to do a csa for years, but always find the thought of a box of vegetables that I didn't pick out a bit daunting. Your post makes it seem doable. I actually might try it. Thank you.

Steven said...

Karen, I've found that freezing is key. Even if you freeze something and end up using it 5 days later, it's still going to taste fresher if it was in the freezer for 5 days than if it was in the fridge for 5 days. And if you end up not using it that week, it'll keep for months in the freezer.

And the trick is giving yourself an hour or two in the kitchen every week when you get your veggies home, to prep everything for storage. Some things need to be washed and dried and put in plastic bags in the fridge right away, like lettuce, peppers, squash. Other things need to be blanched and frozen (like greens, or green beans).

If you don't take care of everything as soon as you get it home, you have a fridge full of veggies that just get rattier every day, and you end up throwing half of it out because you couldn't use everything fast enough.

It also helps that we have a year-round growing season here.