Sometimes I fantasize about grocery shopping with my food heroes. I don’t mean Jamie Oliver and Marcella Hazan — though certainly I wouldn’t turn them down. I mean healthy, wholesome-minded moms like Alana and Jeanne. I have never even met these women, but based on their books and blogs, I feel certain that they’d make me see Trader Joe’s in a totally new and fresh way. (And that I wouldn’t end up with three separate white-bread products in my cart.) If I wore my Alana or Jeanne goggles before I went to the farmer’s market, I feel like I might actually come home with something outside my comfort zone, and as a result feel healthy and virtuous and heroic 24/7…just like them. (Right Alana & Jeanne?)
Well, in a way, I’ve done the next best thing: I’ve signed up for a CSA vegetable share with Stone Barns Center. Which is sort of like saying that I’ve signed up the girls for a soccer camp run by Alex Morgan. Stone Barns is an 80-acre farm in Pocantico Hills, NY that supplies Dan Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Their mission, beyond growing ridiculously delicious vegetables, is to educate the public about sustainability, and to get people cooking their own food. The people know what they are doing, and I’ll be blogging for them to help spread the word.
Based on the emails I get from you guys (Summary: Why don’t you join a CSA? Why haven’t you joined a CSA? Have you thought about joining a CSA? What the heck is wrong with you that a food lover like you hasn’t joined a CSA yet?) it sounds like a lot of you know what this means. For those of you who don’t, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and in return for a modest investment in a farm, you receive a box of fresh, in-season produce from that farm for a set amount of weeks. The price varies depending on length of the program and the amount of produce in each delivery, but it can go anywhere from $20 a week and up to $50. (The one I signed up for is about $40, which is a little more than I drop at my farmer’s market every Saturday.) I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on why the whole thing is a win-win: It’s a great way to eat local on autopilot, to support farmers, and be part of something a little bigger than the four walls of my kitchen.
But the best part about it so far? Well, by definition, it means that someone else is picking out what my vegetable adventure for the week would be. Not Alana or Jeanne, but someone who, presumably, wouldn’t come home with mostly kale and beets all spring in spite of saying to herself before every trip to the farmer’s market, Let’s see if we can come home with something other than kale and beets today. Every week will be like I’m shopping with someone new — like I’m wearing someone else’s market goggles.
I guess you could say that I am forcing myself to accept the advice that I’ve been doling out to my kids ever since they could process English: Eat more vegetables. Try something new. How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? And I’m hoping you guys are up for the adventure, too. The photo above shows the vegetables that arrived in my first batch on Thursday afternoon and what my initial visions for each one was. But that’s seeing the box through my goggles. What about you? When you put on your market goggles, what do you see?
Clockwise from top left: Seared Tofu with Sauteed Cabbage and Sriracha (recipe below; Sriracha not shown); Grilled Chicken Salad for Everyone; Something I really really like the sound of: Kohlrabi-Carrot Fritters; and shredded Portugese Kale and diced kohlrabi get ready to be turned into slaw. (Recipe follows)
RECIPE 1: Kale Slaw with Pomegranates*
Portugese kale, which was the kind I got in the box, was much more tender than the Lacinato/Tuscan I’m used to. So it needed a little texture to balance out the floppiness. Enter Kohlrabi! Crunchy and fresh, it was the perfect hit of texture.
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt to taste
1 teaspoon fish sauce (available at Asian specialty stores and better supermarkets)
lime juice from half a lime
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (crucial)
1 drop of hot sauce (or 1 tsp minced jalapeno or serrano chile)
1/3 cup neutral oil like grapeseed or vegetable oil
1/2 head of kohlrabi, peeled and diced into small pieces
handful of pomegranate seeds
kale, shredded as shown above (bottom left corner)
Whisk dressing ingredients together and toss with the remaining ingredients.
RECIPE 2: Quick-seared Tofu on Wilted Cabbage with Sriracha
I had this for lunch, so serving size here is one. Obviously, it can be doubled or quadrupled to work for your family. You know, since my recipes are so precise.
Add peanut or vegetable oil to a skillet set over medium-high heat. Dredge one playing-card size slice of extra firm tofu (about 3/4 inch thick, pressed on paper towels under a heavy pan for about 20 minutes) in a little flour that has been sprinkled with Chinese Five Spice (optional) salt, and pepper. Add tofu to the pan and fry without poking until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes. Flip and repeat. Remove from pan. Turn heat down to medium add 2 tablespoons chopped onion, shake of red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger (optional) and diced cabbage (“Minuet Napa Cabbage,” as it was called). Add a small drizzle of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. A squeeze of lime. Taste and see how you like it. (You don’t want to overwhelm these already flavorful greens with strong flavors.) Cook until just barely wilted, about 1 minute. Serve with prepared tofu, a sprinkling of sesame seeds (optional), some snipped garlic chives (or regular chives) and a drizzle of Sriracha.
I LOVE our CSA box for exactly this reason. It’s just the right amount of challenge to have to discover new uses for a new veggie. Just to be forced to mix it up a little, does wonders for our dinner repertoire. Between CSA seasons, I become lazy and our veggies become a monotonous cycle (boxed arugula, fennel, broccoli, repeat…) During CSA season the veggie part of our meals become about 100 times more exciting. Well, for me at least, I’m doubt the rest of my family gets quite so pumped about their veg.
I love Stone Barns and dream about someday being able to live near there to join their CSA. Way to go! You will never go back!
I was a CSA member in Brooklyn for years until we moved (far) away. I miss our CSA food so dearly. It just feels like the right way to eat, to so closely support the way food should come to us, to support those who do the tough job of producing it kindly, and to truly eat with the seasons…
I was getting a CSA Box here in Seattle for a few months but I decided to quit because I missed the farmers market ritual so much…plus it was kind of a commercial CSA- yours looks amazing! Can’t wait to see what kinds of things you get from them and what uses you come up with!!
I pick up my first ever CSA this Friday! So excited and somewhat anxious about all those leafy greens waiting to wilt in my refrigerator. I hope to see loads of CSA-inspired dishes this summer – I’m going to need it!
I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful experience with the Stone Barns CSA. But your readers should be aware that not every CSA is created equal. The year my daughter was an infant, we stretched our (very tight) budget to sign up for a farm share so we could make homemade baby food. It was a decision I came to deeply regret. The weather that year was dry, and “our” farm was able to deliver weekly boxes that contained only a few turnips and mushrooms, and a single head of cabbage. We never ate so poorly in all our married life – an entire summer without tomatoes, or leafy greens, or cucumbers or squash! So I suggest 1) that it’s not a good option for those on a tight budget and 2) it’s safest to sign up for an established CSA that pools produce from many farms, both to increase variety and minimize risk.
I was just thinking about this the other day- that I bet going grocery shopping with another mom would help me get out of a dinner rut. It’s so easy to keep buying the same things, especially once you rule out a bunch of possibilities because of picky eaters. Interested to see what you come up with- and if your kids eat it.
I also had disappointing CSA experience — the price was pretty high for what I got, and part of the deal was that we were supposed to work 12 hours per season at the farm, which didn’t sound so bad, until I realized that the big harvest day was Tuesday, so I had to take time off work to do it! For me it’s a better use of money to take my dollars to the farmer’s market every week.
I hate to say it, but after years and years of thinking “I should join a CSA!” I finally did and … I think I’m going to cancel it. I actually like vegetables, but the CSA isn’t providing me with more vegetables – it’s given me three weeks of (iffy) strawberries – I’d rather buy them at the Farmer’s Market from the stand with the sweetest, and a few (end of season) oranges, and some (only OK) lettuce, and a pound of potatoes in every freaking delivery (given that I’m up to 3 pounds, I think potato salad is called for for dinner tomorrow night) and this week TWO bunches of carrots. Where’s the Romanesco? The kohlrabi? The snap peas and the cardoons and even the fennel (actually, I did get fennel one week, but it was sad fennel – the fennel growing in my garden is fatter and juicier). So it turns out I’m actually more adventurous than my CSA, and I miss the experience of going to the market, and I like to choose my own produce, and I hate being stuck with (TWO!) flavorless honeydew melons in a week when I could be eating Blenheim apricots.
Definitely not surprising that people have different experiences with CSAs, just like with any type of business. But once you find one you like, I think you will enjoy it. For me, the biggest benefits have been learning to be flexible with my menu planning and being “forced” to try new things. (“forced” because a) I signed up willingly; and b) it’s honestly quite fun and definitely got me out of my buying rut).
My current favorite thing to do with pretty much any type of leafy greens (works with kale, chard, beet greens, spinach) is this salad dressing: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/shiitake-edamame-salad-with-white-miso-vinaigrette-10000001534874/
I haven’t even made the whole salad yet (although it sounds great), but I have made the dressing 4 times and used it on all different combinations of produce. It makes me *love* salad, and I am not really known as a person who *loves* salad. The only change I make is to leave out the honey.
Enjoy your new vegetable adventures!
@Sarah & Kate: Would like to clarify that this does not mean I will be forgoing our beloved farm market ritual. This SB CSA is vegetables only. I’ll still have to go to my farm market to pick up my favorite sausages, fish from the fish guy, breakfast pizzas from the pizza truck, apricots from the nice lady in back right part of the lot — you get what I’m saying…? Not giving that up, just experimenting with one piece of the experience.
The other issue with CSAs is the guilty panic I feel at the end of the week with another brimming bag o’ fresh produce to pick up and leftover baby turnips, fennel and swiss chard to get through in one night! A good problem to have though 😉
For Queens/Long Island people, the Golden Earthworm Farm’s CSA is a good one (it’s the one we’re members of). You get a full box of veggies every week for about $25/week. It can be tricky to get through all of the veggies, but you figure it out eventually. You have to eat the most perishable stuff first, other things can last for weeks. Sometimes blanching and freezing is the solution.
You’ll love it. We’re on year four of our CSA. We’ve had good years and not so good years, but all good and challenging in all the best ways. Enjoy!
We live in the UK where csas are quite rare, but we’re lucky to have one nearby that we joined when it started up 2 years ago. At first we got just salad leaves but now the growing cycle is established we get a lovely box every week. It has definitely changed the way I approach meals: before I used to look through recipe books for inspiration; now I look at the veg to figure out what to make with it. Summer courgettes & winter parsnips were tough, but on the whole it’s been a really positive experience that I would recommend. So good luck with your csa adventure! http://Www.community-harvest-whetstone.org.uk
Thanks for the links – Alana’s blog is quite inspirational.
As for the veg box, sometimes I find that a limited choice fosters creativity. The other day, having only a few stalks of broccoli in my fridge, and not wanting to trek to the supermarket, I gathered together some pantry staples that I wouldn’t ordinarily have thought of combining, and made this:
It was simple and delicious.
I am part of a CSA and we are getting tons of radishes. We don’t really care for radishes, but I am determined to find a way to use them so they don’t go to waste. Any ideas?? Help me please.
You can pickle your radishes.
I also like the taste of roasting them in a mix of root veggies.
I’ve always wanted to join a CSA – the only downside is that I also love shopping at the market too. Then it’d be WAY too much food. Do you still shop at the market in addition to your CSA box?
PS: kohlrabi fritters are the bomb. I made them last week and they were so light and delicious! Gotta try them!
And now I have a BIG smile on my face. Also, jealous of your kohlrabi, which isn’t ready here yet! Here’s my favorite: http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2010/06/kohlrabi-fries/
I love this post! We too, have signed up for a CSA basket for the first time this year and I’m desperately hoping it pulls me out of my vegetable rut. I will walk right by certain veggies in the market, simply because I am not in the habit of making them. I look forward to following your CSA posts for more inspiration! Thanks!
@Francie re radishes I’ve been enjoying “pickled” radishes…actually pickled lots of stuff, but radishes, onions, cucumbers, fennel are my favorites – separate or together.
In a mason jar, add vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar), sugar (or Agave), salt – some mustard seed if you’d like.
The ratios are something like:
6 T vinegar
2 tsp sweetener
1/2 tsp salt
but experiment to see what your fam enjoys. I usually make a large jar so dbl or tripple the above. Slice whatever very thin, put in the jar, stir occasionally. I don’t believe anything bad can “grow” with the vinegar and everything gets tangy sweet and crisp.
Good on a sandwich, top of a salad, top of some spicy meat or with salmon or ??
One recipe for the radishes–
braise them! I always disliked radishes–too sharp and bitter, but then found a recipe from Orangette that called for braising them gently. Such a different beast! They get all sweet and turn everything a lovely shade of pink. Never would have thought it was the same vegetable.
My favorite thing for kohlrabi is to substitute it for green papaya in a thai salad. The mellow crunch is just the thing to play against the sweet/salt/spicy nature of thai spices.
Looking forward to more inspiration! I’ve already made 3 of the 4 finalists in your recent tofu post and all were winners.
Oh, I just love Alana’s blog and her cookbook. You inspire me to make dinner, she inspires me to try to make things from scratch!
I have been getting a CSA box here in California for about 15 years, the farm that supplies them now produces them year round, and it has helped me in my meal planning .I am happy to have found your website, in the beginning it was much harder to go online and find recipes for things like kohlrabi and daikon, but now it is much easier, I will look forward to seeing some new veggie recipes from you!
I am truly grateful for all the radish ideas: pickling, braising, roasting…I roasted a few last night as a side for dinner and they were super. Thank you ALL so much!
I should probably also add that I live in Los Angeles, where the markets are truly stellar and the CSAs are few and far between, for some reason.
First off, I’m a new mom, and hence a new blog reader, and I’ve spent many happy hours catching up on what I’ve missed on DALS while nursing my baby the last 3-plus months (thank you, iPod). My husband got me your book for Mother’s Day and it’s my goal to get through it before my daughter’s first birthday (not much free time for offline reading these days, I’m afraid).
I’m so excited to read about your CSA box adventures. We did one about a year ago (I blogged about it here: http://www.thedesertabode.com/2012/04/20/12-weeks-of-veggies/) and it totally changed the way we ate. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Love the “What do you see?” approach to produce shopping. Too often I end up with end-of-the-week produce I haven’t used yet and must come up with panic-driven meals to use it up. Better to plan ahead — as in most (but not all) of life!
QUESTION: Andy’s Chicken Salad Sandwich (with bacon!) recipe calls for “3 halved large chicken breasts.” Does this mean 3 whole breasts, halved, or just 3 halves?
Thanks for your inspiration and good sense approach to feeding a family, and to LIFE!
Good luck with your CSA – I’m sure it will be wonderful coming from Stone Barns. I have to say that our CSA experience wasn’t that great… we had so so produce (the weather wasn’t great) and either too much of something or not enough for the whole family. I ended up having to go to the store just as often and really missed picking up my veggies and fruits at the farmer’s market. I guess for a type A person who likes control!
I won’t deny we have the best case scenario… We have been members of the same CSA for 10 years. In our original neighborhood, the weekly delivery cam in a box. Then we moved and since we were essentially the only CSA at their other market, we get to choose roughly what goes in our box- so it we are maxed on 10 lbs of potatoes we can sub in with a few apples.. Love supporting our farmers 😉