What’s for dinner?

One of my husband’s colleagues gave him a promotion for a free week of Blue Apron. I’d read about Blue Apron before (primarily on the very awesome Amalah’s blog) and I figured the week of a new job was a great week to maybe have some low-stress meals to cook (plus, since my lunches come with my employment, I don’t need as many leftovers), so we kicked it off this week.

Beautifully curated dinners!

BTW, tragically I’m waaaaay to small to be sponsored by anyone, so this post is entirely unsponsored. It’s really sad when you’re willing to sell your artistic soul, but there are no takers!

If you’re not familiar with the concept, Blue Apron works like this –
1) On Friday you get a box full of super fresh, bizarre ingredients. (You know, cactus leaves. Tomatillos.) It’s absolutely everything you need to make the meals for the number of people you’ve ordered for. (Well, I think they expect you to have salt and olive oil…)
2) You stick it in your fridge.
3) For dinner, you pull out the gorgeous, full color recipe with detailed instructions and the corresponding ingredients and put them together. This may involve turning a radish into matchsticks, but perservere.
4) Twenty to thirty minutes later, you have a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal in an innovative and very trendy recipe.

I personally think it’s a brilliant idea. The meals are pricey for homecooked meals. I think they’re about $10 a meal a person, which is a lot. But if you’re replacing eating OUT with this, you could save a lot of money. The instructions demystify some of the cooking. And the ingredients are fresh and high quality.

I was actually thinking it would be extra brilliant for people of means in food deserts. For example, my parents live in the boondocks, a 20 mile drive from the nearest grocery store. For the nearest grocery store with an ample produce department, it’s nearly 40 minutes drive. What if they got a box every week of healthy, simple, fresh meals? Then I remembered my dad hates vegetables. Oh well.

Honestly, I was kind of excited about the whole thing. Adam and I love eating! And cooking! And eating what we cook! The first meal came out pretty well. Over our Pork and Tomatilla Pozole with hominy, avocado & radishes we talked about how such a great idea might fit into our lives.

After much cogitation, I realized it doesn’t.

Here’s what a typical week looks like in our house. (Because I have no memory – that’s why I write everything out – this might happen to bear a small coincidental resemblance to this week.)

Friday: Eat the delicious Blue Apron dinner we made for two, since through some amazing coincidence both children are elsewhere at dinner time.
Saturday: Go to dinner with about 8 of our best friends while all of our children were at a YMCA kids night that I won in an auction in the winter. AWESOME.
Sunday: Brother is here. Make world famous chili and cornbread since Blue Apron order only serves two grownups.
Monday: Sacrosanct to library/pizza night. Adam is at aikido anyway, and children unlikely to appreciate “Pulled Chicken Mole Quesadillas
Tuesday: Soccer practice, followed by Adam at trustees meeting focused on manse planning. Dinner was Subway (eat fresh!)
Wednesday: Gaming night. Due to need to watch two (2) Deadliest Catch episodes (having missed one while in New York), I was tragically unable to prep ahead of time on Tuesday. Therefore the 10 people (6 adults, 4 kids) at the gaming table will have an unusually simple meal of buttermilk pancakes and bacon. Mmmmm bacon.
Thursday: Maybe second Blue Apron meal?
Friday: Who knows. Grey is likely to campaign for sushi. The question is how much willpower remains…

On any given week, I may serve neighbors, gamers, visitors, children. The food needs to create enough leftovers for lunches for three people for the entire week. (Not usually a problem.) And I reserve the right to at any moment say, “Hey, why don’t you come over for dinner? There’s plenty.” And mean it.

So how DO I actually accommodate our crazy cooking plans? It’s complicated, but falls into the following parts:

Plenty of food in the pantry!

A pantry that will weather the biggest storm
You could tell me that tomorrow I was hosting 40 people for dinner, and I can’t go to the grocery store. Oh, and one of them is vegan, a second is gluten intolerant, and a third really likes top quality steak. And I could make enough (different) food for all of them to walk away regretting their thirds. The way I do this is with a vast pantry, a stand alone freezer, a farm share, and a dry good cabinet packet with pasta and beans. (I’d make Pav Bhaji for the vegan with a big pot of Basmati rice, which would coincidentally work just fine for the vegan too. Then I’d make a big pot of chili, and figure out how the heck to cook the frozen steaks from my meat share.) This philosophy paid off handsomely this winter when, despite incessant storms and consistently closed roads, I had something to bring to each potluck.

Unfortunately, Grey has figured out that what gets put on the list gets purchased. See also: prime rib.

The internet is amazing
I now do 90% of my grocery shopping on Peapod. We have a running list of things that belong in the pantry that have been used (in order to restock). When I go to “shop”, I also list out three to four recipes I plan on making that week, and any special ingredients those recipes require in addition to the pantry restocking and stuff I need every time (like bread, eggs & milk). The next day, some tired looking dude shows up at my house with a box truck and brings in all the stuff I asked for. It’s like magic. I’ve just actually hit “VIP” status with Peapod, which I think translates to “Do you even remember where the store is”. I regret nothing. (Except that my favorite tortilla chips are not available online. WOE!)

The cat-heads veggie is the rarest and most delicious of them all!

Farmer Dave is my farmer
Probably the killing blow to the Blue Apron concept is the fact that in a few short weeks I’ll be swimming in arugula. And tomatillos. No one tell Dave about cactus leaves, since I’m still figuring out what to do with purslane. The producelanche works just fine with my Peapod/menu planning technique, especially when I time it right and do my order the night I get the produce in so I know what bizarre ingredients I need to find recipes for, like kohlrabi. (Just kidding. I never actually use the kohlrabi.) But you really don’t need a box of carefully curated veggie when you get a crate of garlic scapes the same day. And I actually prefer the garlic scapes, thanks.

So to sum up, if you currently eat out a ton and/or live in a food desert and want to be a foodie, consider Blue Apron. If you want to eat more vegetables (because you are afraid that if you don’t you may never find the back of your ‘fridge again) you should join a CSA like Farmer Dave’s. If you love eating but don’t need to spend 90 minutes a week with your friendly grocery baggers, online groceries are amazing.

Finally, you should come to dinner sometime. There’s plenty.

This is what happens when you invite a farmshare friend over. I still have romanesco in my freezer with no plan…

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!