Mutiny from the Bounty

Every week.

There are few things that make me feel richer and more fortunate that putting away my groceries. I grew up *hours* from the nearest grocery store. My parents went shopping once a month (with exceptions for milk). I, meanwhile, live minutes from the nearest grocery store. And Peapod delivers. But if you looked at my pantry, you’d think I was stocking up for the quarter. So when it’s time to put produce away, I practice a form of meditative ‘fridge reorganization that bears a striking resemblance to Jenga with Carrots. (This is aided not at all by the fact my kitchen organization requires a smaller-than-average ‘fridge. This is “on the list”. Tragically, about $20k of more pressing updates [see also: furnace, windows, attic redo] are above the it “on the list”.)

Typical Monday night fridge

Since about the first of June, I’ve been signed up for Farmer Dave’s CSA. This is our fifth or sixth year as Farmer Davers, and the first year I’ve been able to stomach the thought of extending the season into the late fall share. (It’s a sign your CSA is working on changing your eating habits when you’re tempted to keep it going because broccoli.) Every week, when I get that ginormous box of farm-fresh produce, I have this mental dialogue as I put it away.

Hippy Brenda: Oh! Arugula! Let’s make lots of salads this week!
Skeptical Brenda: You’re gone for like three days this week, and Adam isn’t going to make salad. You might as well kiss this arugula goodbye.
Homesteader Brenda: I bet there are some great arugula pesto recipes out there. I could just spend the next three hours whipping up a batch of arugula pesto to see us through the winter.
Sleepy Brenda: It’s already 11 pm. Seriously?
Liberal Guilt Brenda: How can you contemplate wasting arugula? Don’t you know that most families across America lack access to affordable healthy food? There are people out there who work three jobs and just DREAM of arugula! And don’t get me started on food insecurity in Africa. You better enjoy this arugula, because you are darn lucky to have it.
Practical Brenda: Let’s compromise. We’ll wash & spin the arugula, beet tops & red lettuce together in salad mix, and cram it in the left drawer which almost still closes. Then in the off chance we can find a time for salad, at least we have the salad fixings.

Repeat for an entire crate of luscious produce.

Worse than zucchini

Of course, then there are the _other_ bits of produce. Let us take kohlrabi as an example. Kohlrabi grows amazingly well in New England. You just think about kohlrabi while looking at a patch of soil, and it starts growing. Kohlrabi is what we call “edible” which means that if you can deep fry it in butter the butter tastes good. I have yet to find a recipe improved by the addition of kohlrabi (after six years of trying) and have frankly given up. My new goal with kohlrabi is plausible deniability. My favorite technique in this regard is to put it on the counter and ignore it until it goes bad. Kohlrabi, of course, requires about three straight weeks of ignoring before I don’t feel too guilty composting it.

What you bring to parties when you have a veggie share. Everything but the carrots was seasonable farm share produce.

In truth, I think the farm share has fundamentally transformed the way my family eats. If you ask my children for their favorite vegetable, they cheerfully profess a string of vegetable-adorations. Spending week after week wracking your brain for yet another use of arugula (see also: romanesco, cabbage) you develop a much more robust repertoire of veggie heavy dishes. You serve your children (and, let’s be honest, your husband) vegetables over and over again in desperation, and on some glorious day those veggies go from despised to a favorite. (True fact: Thane loves cooked collard greens! Grey adores broccoli, even raw!) Last week, at our last pickup, I found myself thinking “yum!” at almost all the produce (there was no kohlrabi). That’s a huge improvement from my attitude toward veggies ten years ago!

Medley of root vegetables, thanks to an entire crisper teeming with root vegetables

Farmer Dave reckons he saves us something like 30 – 40% over buying the produce in a store. There are several ways in which this is a completely useless calculation. For example, I have never once seen some of my favorite veggies in a store. Romanesco? Garlic scapes? Purslane? Amazingly, Stop & Shop does not stock these delicious offerings. (Of course, they’ve also never inflicted kohlrabi on me.) But it’s very difficult to use all your weekly onslaught of produce. (Did I mention we got fresh sweet corn in NOVEMBER this year?! Craziness!) I would never, in the normal course of things, buy nearly as much produce as Farmer Dave brings me every week. And that’s a bit of the point, my friends. We eat SO MUCH MORE produce in order to be able to see the fridge light again than I normally would. And that’s great for all of us.

I adore garlic scapes. They’re basically scallions, but for garlic. Also, they look like hydra heads.

So if you’re interested in kohlrabi, contact me and I’ll send you mine. Otherwise, if you’d like romanesco, herbs, root veggies, garlic scapes, greens and a wide variety of foods-not-found-in-stores, now is the right time to sign up for the 2015 Farm Share! I find the small vegetable share is enough, and I combine it with a fruit share. (Mmmmm fruit.) Farmer Dave has pick up locations all across Massachusetts. If you aren’t near Farmer Dave, there are CSAs available in most regions now!

Ooh look! Is that arugula?!

Meanwhile, I’m personally looking forward to a few months where the only produce in my crisper is stuff I actually bought on purpose and know how to use. We get to eat asparagus (which Farmer Dave does not yet produce) and tropical fruits! I can buy frozen veggies that are pre-cut! I know that by June I’ll be dying for some fresh local goodness, but for now… bring on the bagged spinach!


Washed purslane

One of the things I love most about a CSA is the obscure produce. Of course, there’s obligatory Kohlrabi in New England. I mean, it grows so well. Of course, the best you can hope for with kohlrabi is not to taste it, which does not inspire desire. But then there are the other non-commercial produce items, like garlic scapes and purslane.

Garlic scape time of year is over, sadly. I usually keep a bouquet of hydra-like tops for a few weeks, but even those have past. But this last week a flux of culinary ambition took me over at the same time my green box included a bunch of purslane.

“So Brenda” you ask. “What the heck is purslane?”

It’s an edible weed. I see it all the time in the cracks of sidewalks, in neglected window boxes, creeping along unwalked paths and next to un-week-wacked walls. You’ve seen it a thousand times and never noticed it, since you saw it and thought “weed”. But it’s actually a super nutritious, rather tasty green. And despite being tasty, bountiful and nutritious, it is rarely if ever commercially available.

Isn’t it funny, how rich but stilted we are? We pass by an awesome nutritional opportunity because it’s not sold to us, and buy expensive greens from California instead.

I digress.

Last time I made something from purslane, several years ago, it was a super-vegan-froo-froo soup recipe that was distinctly eh. This time, some googling showed a great Turkish recipe that looked super tasty. Having made it, I can affirm that it is, in fact, super tasty. (Although it would be even better with bacon. But everything is even better with bacon. One of my friends had dinner at my house this week and said, “I like it, but I’ve noticed every meal you’ve ever served me has had bacon in it.” This is true.)

So here is my version of the recipe, with some modifications. I was able to use farm share onions and tomatoes, in addition to the farmshare purslane. I served this dish warm – I think it would be pretty good cold, too.

Purslane with Tomato (Domatesli Semizotu)

1 bunch or 1 lb purslane (verdolaga in Spanish), washed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced or minced
2 tomatoes, grated or petite diced (or 1 can petite diced tomato)
1/4 cup precooked rice
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup hot water

-Heat olive oil on medium heat and saute onions.
-Add purslane, tomato, rice, salt, sugar, pepper. Stir for a couple of minutes.
-Pour in water.
-Cook on low covered for 15-20 minutes until rice is cooked.
-Serve warm or cold

I’m feeling both dismayed and accomplished by my farm share production this week. So far I’ve made:

*Blueberry pie – with lard crust. DELICIOUS.
*Peach cobbler. OM NOM. Also, peeling peaches for baking is one of my least favorite things, and eating baked peaches is one of my most favorite things.
*Purslane salad (purslane, onions and tomatoes)
*Spaghetti & kale (onions and kale)

I have saved for winter:
* Grated zucchini
* Green beans
* Blueberry pie filling (I had a lot of blueberries)

I also sent a cantaloupe to daycare for snack because I do not like cantaloupe.

The dismaying thing is how much remains in my crisper drawers, uneaten and unplanned. Wish me luck!

New Years Resolutions

Grey shows off his Legos on a sad Friday night
Grey shows off his Legos on a sad Friday night

First, a few words about the unfolding horror in Sandy Hook Elementary. Like so many, I know about and deeply disapprove of many of other horrors: the mass rape and killing in the Congo, the drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the ongoing scourge of inner city violence. But those all seem distant and abstract: chronic, unsolvable problems. But Sandy Hook comes very close to home.

My son is a first grader, seven years old. He was sitting in his first grade class on Friday morning with his first grade teacher and his young classmates. The kids who died were exactly like him. The same age. The same safe, suburban setting. Loving parents. Capable teachers. No enemies. The only difference between Grey and, say, Benjamin, is that Grey is still here and looking forward to Christmas. (Grey knows about the shooting, of course. His response was, “But mom, they didn’t even get to open their Christmas presents!”) There was absolutely nothing those parents or teachers could have done to prevent this from happening to their children – and there is nothing I can do to ensure it never happens to mine.

I am so, so, so sorry for the families that lost their loved ones. I hope that we can have sensible discussions about what weaponry should be available to civilians. I hope that we can improve access to mental health care, and support families raising mentally ill children more effectively. I hope we change our news coverage to de-glorify the commiters of these atrocities. I hope that this helps us work towards the safety and innocence of all children everywhere, including in war-torn Congo, “collateral damage” in our war on terror, and in our neglected communities. I can see myself in the weeping of those parents in Connecticut. I need to see myself in Syria, too.

Finally, we all are reminded that life is fragile, precious and never to be taken for granted.

So I shake myself off and make dinner. And as I’m making dinner, I contemplate my Most Successful New Years Resolution Ever. Two or three years ago – I forget now – I resolved to serve a vegetable with every meal. I also resolved to not be too picky about what the vegetable was. One brilliant piece of parenting advice I got when I was younger was that if I want my kids to eat vegetables I should not skimp on the cheesy sauce, ranch dressing, salt and butter. Trade the nutrition (and habit) for the calories. I can gradually reduce the sauces as the kids get accustomed to the taste of the veggies, but they’ll keep the habit of the vegetables for the rest of their life. I think, within reason, this is true.

And more or less every meal I’ve cooked since that resolution took effect, I’ve had a vegetable on the table. Grey now professes to like broccoli, carrots, corn, tomatoes, asparagus and brussel sprouts. He’ll eat the first four even when not asked to. Thane has been a harder sell. The kids are REQUIRED to eat one polite bite of the evening’s vegetables, and he’s slowly being overcome by repetition. And importantly, I’m eating a lot more vegetables too. When it’s right there on the table, I’ll have a serving or three.

A key to continuing this resolution has been ease. I have seasonal methods of making sure it happens:

We are part of a farm share, and during the summer my ‘fridge is full to overloaded with turnips, carrots, greens, peas, beans, squash and purslane. You start planning your meals for maximum produce consumption as you stare at the veggie crisper that ate Stoneham. Sheer abundance has required us to try veggies we’d never tried before (we’ve come to adore radishes, and discovered that brussel sprouts are excellent). It’s also dramatically reduced the cost of attempting to feed your kids veggies. I mean, produce can be expensive. Would you really buy a five or seven dollar bag of produce that you don’t think your kids will eat, especially if it only looks so/so fresh? Maybe not. But when that obscure produce is in your fridge and is going to go to waste unless you do something, you’ll prepare it and not care so much if your kids only have a bite or two – or even if none of you like it.

Blurry carrot eating kids. Grey picked out the veggie for this meal.


A magic bullet for veggie consumption
A magic bullet for veggie consumption

By the time the farm share season is over, I am _done_ being innovative. I do not want to try to think of recipes that require kale. I want something super easy. It turns out that – for once – marketers have heard my plea! There are massive selections of steam-in-bag veggies available in the supermarket. Many of these veggies are nutritionally excellent: frozen veggies and canned ones can actually be better than fresh ones in the Supermarket, because they can be less durable varieties and are packaged closer to prime. And you cannot beat the ease of use on these: buy, put in freezer, remove from freezer, nuke for 5 minutes, serve. You can get unseasoned and seasoned ones. And each bag of vegetables costs somewhere between one and two dollars: a pretty cheap slug of produce compared to fresh prices. Convenient, tasty and cheap TOTALLY works for me, and has made it pretty easy for me to keep up with my old resolutions.

So, how about you? How do you get your veggies? What prevents you from getting veggies? What’s your most successful New Year’s resolution ever?