This summer I’ll be heading west to the farm every other week as part of a CSA (community supported agriculture) program at Stearns Farm, in Framingham, MA. Unlike the CSA boxes that end up on your doorstep, Stearns is a bit more hands on, and requires both regular work hours, and picking a good portion of your produce each pickup. It’s a way for me to avoid the supermarkets, eat in season, and (selfishly) farm without the larger commitment.
:: Storing and prep ::
On CSA pickup day I try to clean my fridge and re-organize in advance so I’ll have space for my produce when I return.
When heading to the farm, I bring large cooler bags, and a few assorted sizes of Ziplocks. I also bring a pair of scissors to cut herbs and certain vegetal leaves. I bring a sharpie to label my produce with a name and date picked.
If produce can stay on the counters in a shady part of my kitchen, I’ll leave them out. If I have no space, I’ll freeze leafy vegetables like spinach and chard to put in smoothies.
So, what’s on the table?
:: June 19th produce at Stearns Farm CSA ::
To pick: 1 quart snow peas, 1 quart snap peas, 10 stalks of swiss chard, 2 quarts of strawberries, and glean spinach which was going to seed. Herbs: sage, marjoram, garlic chives, and mint.
Pre-picked: 1 lb. zucchini, a large head of escarole (or a kohlrabi), a huge bok choy, mustard greens, scallions, and three heads of lettuce.
:: Quick Meal Possibilities ::
When dealing with my CSA vegetables, I like to have an arsenal of easy no-recipe meal ideas that use a lot of vegetables. Many of my go to meals are here. I also make a lot of stir fries, serve quick cooked vegetables with ground meat, mix vegetables with eggs, eat large salads, and break out my spiralizer to make vegetable noodles.
My cookbook collection certainly helps with ideas – I have a good selection of vegetable based cookbooks which are organized by vegetable type. I also make good use of my Eat Your Books subscription.
My Walden Meat share (pictured below) also helps me plan – I try to defrost a few meats in the fridge every week, and then build meals based on what I’ve pulled out to cook.
Just a few of my meals this week – not all of these are exclusively with farm produce, but I prioritize what needs to be eaten quickly (lettuces), as well as any existing leftovers in the fridge.
- fresh herb and scallion frittata
- single serving strawberry crumbles
- salad with Turkish köfte, peppers and avocado
- peanut soba noodles with scallions, snap peas, and chicken
- salad with snap peas and cabbage, and cumin spiced chopped beef
- potato and cauliflower jalfrezi with hard boiled eggs
- chicken tikka masala with garlic sautéed spinach
- goulash with ground beef, red lentils, tomato, and cauliflower
- farm lettuce salad with fennel, pepper, roasted broccoli, vadouvan sausage
I’ll try to drop in notes over the course of the season so you can see what I’ll be doing with my produce. In the meantime, I’ve been sharing most of my meals here on Instagram lately. Take a look!
On Sunday, we went on a quick excursion to Perkins School for the Blind. The small, beautiful campus is located in Watertown, Massachusetts, right behind an aging mall, and near the banks of the Charles river. The school, founded in the early 1800’s, is where Helen Keller was educated, and for generations has provided truly excellent education for blind students, as well as those with not just blindness but significant disabilities. It’s quite a special place.
The current campus was built at the turn of the 20th century, and although has expanded, still maintains much of it’s old New England charm. Grand brick buildings are surrounded by stately trees, a pond, and paths you can wander down – it’s a lovely place to visit. I had heard through the grapevine of Instagram, that a tree on the southwest side of the lake was full of little persimmons that were ripe and ready to go, and that the birds and squirrels were feasting – if I wanted to partake, I should come quick with a basket and a hockey stick. I didn’t even realize that persimmons grew at this latitude – so I went with a bag, and a tall man to shake the trees, just to see what little bounty we could harvest.
By the time we arrived, the tree was nearly decimated – there was no fruit left on the ground, and I managed to come away with just a small handful of these little orange orbs that were ready enough to gently shake off the tree. Some of them seemed ripe enough to try, and I popped a few, before getting a dud of a third one – still far too astringent, which is to say, not bitter or sour, but containing so much tannin that your mouth immediately dries up, and the sensation is not particularly pleasant.
I was hoping to have enough to make a little jam, to top some steel cut oats that I had made in the morning. Instead, I opted for milk and a dollop of chestnut paste, and the handful of fruit will go in a bowl to sit, perhaps until I’m foolish enough to try another one.
While we were growing up, my dear friend Julia hated tomatoes. This was always completely perplexing to me, as there is nothing in my mind as perfect or as wonderful as a tomato. Who could possibly hate such a thing? Sweet, just slightly tangy, with multiple textures as you bite through a fresh one. And don’t get me started about sun warmed tomatoes fresh off the vine. My mother always kept them in her garden, and I remember fondly summer afternoons at my CSA picking them off the vine and eating them almost as fast as I picked them.
It’s with great sadness that I can’t grow my own tomatoes here on the third floor. Julia, at least, has since found pleasure in tomatoes, so at least I don’t have to worry about that.
Over the past few months I’ve been eating tomatoes almost every day, taking full advantage of these summer beauties before the season is completely over, and we are forced once again to give them up for the winter. Before the summer ends, I implore you to head out and try my newest tomato obsession – Dry Farmed Early Girl tomatoes.
Now, the Early Girl tomato is… gasp! a hybrid tomato!
While I do believe that choosing an heirloom vegetable over hybridized versions is important for continuing on longlasting varietals, I don’t exclude choosing hybrid tomatoes that are sustainably farmed. Early girl tomatoes are just too good to pass up, and are perfectly suited for dry farming – a technique that requires less water for farming. After transplanting, the tomato is no longer watered, which causes the roots to grow larger to attract more moisture, and in consequence, the tomato ends up with a more concentrated tomato-ey flavor. In this neck of the woods, Dirty Girl Produce happens to be championing the dry farming of early girls, and I’m so happy to support them.
After reading about these for weeks – and finally picked up some of my own at farmers market. Oh my goodness. How have I lived without them? These beauties I picked up from Dirty Girl Produce – I’ve been getting them at the farmers market, and when I needed a midweek fix I was so excited to see them at the new Whole Foods in my neighborhood.
I think I’m also smitten because Joe Schirmer, who owns Dirty Girl, is on this years reader’s choice “Farmers Under 40“, alongside Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Novella made us all giggle incessantly when she came to visit Omnivore Books for a signing last month. I’m a big fan!
Just a few things I’ve been doing with these tasty tomatoes:
:: Sliced up for breakfast with a cube of cheddar, some turkey bacon and Turkish tea.
:: Oven- Roasted – with some olive oil and rosemary and thyme (see above). I don’t have an after photo, because, ahem, I forgot and then ate them all. I’m going to do another few batches soon and preserve some in olive oil, and puree some for the freezer.
:: “Just tomato” soup: Blended raw with basil and a little bit of chicken broth, and heated up over the stove, seasoned with salt and pepper and a swirl of peppery olive oil.
:: The Lazy Salad – Sliced up tomatoes, tossed with frisee and Whole Foods marinated gigante beans from the antipasto section.
Say hello my new little herb garden! Rosemary, Cilantro, Parsley, Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, oh my! I live in a third floor apartment, so its current home is on my washing machine, although I try to move them during the day to where the sun is (when I’m not lazy) . So far they have been doing really well, and if I manage not to kill them, I’ll start adding some more to my collection. Having fresh herbs on hand not only brings greenery into this little apartment, but makes a world of difference in my cooking. Everything tastes about 15 times better, I swear.
An affair, of sorts. For the past several months I’ve been frequenting my local farmers market in Noe Valley, just a fifteen minute walk from my house. I can’t adequately express how wonderful it is having fresh produce just a few minutes away, and at prices that are considerably cheaper than the supermarket. Saturday, (feeling a little bit unfaithful to my neighborhood market) I decided to make the five minute drive to Alemany Farmers Market, to “assess the competition”.
Man, oh man. Not only was the market cheaper, but it had so many more options! I have found my farmers market. Entering the farmers market, I spent a dollar on an amuse bouche from one of the local vendors, a lemon poppyseed muffin and a dixie cup full of hot chai.
Keeping to a relatively small budget of $25, my purchases included, Eggman Family alfalfa honey ($2.75) , two big bunches of asparagus ($4), a bunch of fragrant thai basil ($1), about 10 ripe tomatoes ($3.00), with a jalapeno added for good measure (free), three large daikon ($1), four red bell peppers ($2), a couple of pounds of carrots ($1.20), and some brown mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms from Far West Fungi ($5.00).
The most I spent at any vendor was $4.50, on a pound and a half of Kokuho Rose brown rice from Koda farms, which, although it was harvested last fall (California has one legal harvest season), is probably fresher than most of the rice found on the market here. I’m looking forward to trying it.
Had I wanted, I could have taken a few extra dollars for lunch, as the lines for the Taco stand, Pan-O-Rama bakery, and the Hummus guy were all bustling full of excited people in the know. Well, there is always next week… and the week after that… and the one after that.. Alemany, I’m sold.
The one flaw of Alemany are the lines for parking and exiting the parking lot. With no immediate place to go after my shopping, I found that this became a non-issue as I rolled down the windows, listened to some country music, and proceeded to wait patiently eating a fresh carrot. Ah, the life!
And here, for good measure, is a picture of my newest housemate, a little Echeveria (Hens and Chicks) succulent to brighten up the day! I got him at Trader Joe’s.