The last box ~ Pumpkins & Grapes: Week of October 1st

Well, this is it, my friends. One full year has gone by since I began my CSA experiment. Today I picked up my last box, and a beautiful box it was. I still believe very much in the CSA model, and I hope that this isn’t the end of community supported agriculture in my life. But for now, this box, this farm, this system, isn’t working with my life. It was a hard summer from the box – fruit that was underripe or mushy and tasteless, watery tomatoes that rotted in a day, and Duck and I found ourselves groaning every week when it was time to go pick up our box, instead of being eager to see what new treats were in store. I know more of the vegetables and fruits that I love will be coming now that it’s fall, so the decision to stop getting a box wasn’t based on summer’s disappointments, but the disaffection I was feeling towards the box after this summer certainly made it easier to just not renew my subscription when it ran out this week.

A lot has changed in my life since last October. I don’t live alone anymore, for one thing, and a lot of the time and energy I once spent cooking new and wonderful things to use up unfamiliar or unloved ingredients goes instead towards building a home together and just being with the person I love. I’ve also gotten much, much more tired. I’ve mentioned on here in the past that I have chronic fatigue syndrome, and my energy level in the last few months has declined so greatly that I’ve had weeks where I barely get out of bed. This means more take-out, more cans of soup, and more Duck cooking. He’s a wonderful cook but the challenges and constraints of a CSA aren’t a pleasure for him the way they were for me, so it makes more sense to have him pick his own choice of ingredients from the farmer’s market.

I feel sad, and I feel guilty. Getting a CSA box and fully committing myself to this project gave me a taste of some things I value deeply: community, sustainability, drastically reduced waste and fuel consumption, a chance to honor more directly the great service of the folks who grow my food. It seems crazy to cut myself off from these benefits, just because it’s inconvenient or not as shiny and exciting as it used to be. On the other hand, I also deeply value taking care of myself, which means being realistic about my time and energy, and also preparing food that feels nourishing and energizing. Right now that seems to be leaning more towards the Japanese spectrum of cuisine (I feel a new project coming on!) so I want to respect that and see where it takes me.

Last week I took Duck to the Oakland Airport and on my way home I stopped at Berkeley Bowl. I spent a couple of hours in there, roaming the aisles and luxuriating in the produce section, buying daikon and lotus root and tender Japanese cucumbers. None of this was organic, and I have no idea where it was from or who grew it or how it got from farm to my cart. But I felt excited about cooking again for the first time in a while. I guess what I’m trying to articulate is that there’s a balance between all these factors and values and pleasures, and I am feeling my way along it, bit by bit. And I may swerve to one side or another as I go, but if I don’t let myself play on all sides of the line I won’t really find a grounded place to stand. I’ll just be rigidly holding myself in the spot I’ve intellectually decided is the “right” one.

I listen to these radio cooking programs and I’m aghast when people casually discuss eating imported Italian tomatoes or meat, cheese and eggs that must have been factory farmed, or talk about coffee without holding a bottom line of fair trade. I don’t understand how their passion for food can just totally trump their concerns for the environment and the welfare of people and animals. But on the other hand if I have to deal with another five bunches of turnips I swear I will throw up or shove them straight into the compost, because food without passion is just a grinding slouch towards bare sustenance. So I will keep walking the line, experimenting to find the balance, paying attention to this relationship I have with food, one of the most tender and passionate relationships I know, and seeing where it wants to take me.

Below are the contents of my final box. Because I’ve been so tired the past couple months I have many recipes I still want to try to post about, so I may be catching up on the backlog from previous boxes in the days to come. There’s another project brewing as well, though whether that will live here or in its own blog I have yet to decide. For all of you who joined me on my CSA adventure – I have loved getting to know you and sharing ideas with you, and I hope we can continue to share recipes, techniques, and philosophical musings for a long time to come!

Red bell peppers (I left these at the site for someone else)
Pumpkin (a small lovely one)
Romaine lettuce
Cherry tomatoes
Green tomatoes
Roma tomatoes
Crimson seedless grapes
Baby leeks

Lemon Verbena and Plums: Week of August 27th

This is going to be my last box for a while. I have one box left of the 13-box block I paid for back in the spring, and I’m putting it on hold for a month while I try to assess whether or not the Eatwell CSA is still the right thing for me. You can read more about my thought process around this, as well as many interesting comments from other Eatwell subscribers and former subscribers, at my earlier post, here.

So this is my last box for a while, and my last of summer, really. My next box will be in October and I imagine things will look a little different by then.

Cherry tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes
Roma tomatoes
Lemon Verbena

Tomatillos and Chard: Week of August 20th

My post last week about wondering why my box doesn’t have the allure it used to received more comments and emails than any other post I’ve written. It seems I am not the only Eatwell subscriber to be feeling like the boxes have been of diminishing quality. This week was another routine box of tomatoes, potatoes and zucchini, with the nice additions of chard and tomatillos. I have an idea of how hard it is to farm in a way that tries to keep variety in the boxes each week, so I don’t begrudge Eatwell the long summer of repetition. But I have to acknowledge that my box is neither exciting not particularly useful right now.

In this week’s box:

Cherry tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes
Shady Lady tomatoes
Zucchini (2 large ones)
White nectarines (1 large, 2 medium)
(There were supposed to be Gypsy sweet peppers – actual ones this time – but I traded them into our trade box for more basil)

Roma Tomatoes and Yellow Finn Potatoes: Week of August 13th

Maybe it’s just that summer’s not my favorite season, produce-wise. Maybe my lifestyle has changed more than I can perceive, now that two cooking styles are comingling in one kitchen. Whatever the reason, Duck and I are talking about not renewing our box.

CSA montage created using Montage-a-google and the keywords “CSA box”

The past few months have been monotonous, and not in a good way. (Good monotony, of course, goes: kale. kale. kale.) I don’t like tomatoes all that much, unless they are truly stunning. The tomatoes from Eatwell have not been. I find the heirlooms watery and tasteless, and they rot within two days. (I know they are picked at the peak of ripeness, and if I liked them in general, I would be glad to do what I had to to not let them spoil – either eat them straight away or preserve them. But since they don’t taste like much, I generally don’t muster the energy until it’s too late.) The Shady Ladies have been tasty, and a few have been very good. The Romas we had in this week’s box are just awful, but then, Romas generally are. (Last night, on The Splendid Table, Lynne Rosetto Kasper called Romas “the eunuchs of the tomato world.”) The cherry tomatoes have been pretty good, and this week we got a huge batch, which is nice for snacking.

The other two things we’ve seen a lot of have been potatoes and zucchini. The potatoes have been wonderful – small, tender, and gorgeously pink, in the case of the Huckleberries, or creamy yellow, in this week’s Yellow Finns. The zucchini has been fine. It lasts a long time in the fridge, isn’t too watery when cooked. But you know, it’s zucchini. It doesn’t have a lot going on.

And now to the fruit. Earlier this summer we were getting apricots and cherries and then plums and pluots. The apricots were okay, the cherries were quite good. The plums and pluots were inedible. Tasteless, mealy – after one bite the whole batch would go in the compost. Now we’re getting peaches and nectarines. These have been good, but the peaches invariably arrive bruised, and the quantity is so small (maybe two nectarines and a peach, say) that we have to go to the farmer’s market right away anyways.

I love the concept that is community supported agriculture, the idea of giving reliable financial support to the necessary and extremely valued people who grow our food. I think Eatwell is a very good farm – their growing practices seem responsible, their manager-worker relationships seem respectful and fair. (Although I don’t think I want to eat eggs anymore that come from chickens who are killed after two years. I have found other, albeit less convenient, places to source eggs from chickens who live more natural lifespans.) And the whole point of CSA-style relationships between farmers and consumers is that farmers can experiment and learn and go through disasters and medfly quarantines, and still know they’ll have an income, even if the plums are mealy or the tomatoes are quarantined.

Because this is the bottom-line reality of our food system: If no one took the risks to grow the food, there would be nothing to eat. Organic and sustainable and ethical and biodynamic and all that may seem like a luxury (which they aren’t really, in the long run), but food itself is not. The burden of producing a necessary commodity under variable and uncertain circumstances (no widget factories to make our fruits and veggies) should not have to be entirely assumed by the producer. I really believe this. I am, in fact, quite passionate about it.

But I’m just not enjoying my box very much these days. For many months it was a special treat every time it arrived. I couldn’t wait to unpack it, photograph it, lovingly store away my food and start planning recipes and menus. Now I feel cranky at having to go pick it up, and tired at the idea of stuffing everything into a fridge already overflowing with radishes and turnips. When I go to cook, I reach for my farmer’s market vegetables, and I have to make an active effort to use box items.

Also, honestly, I’m sure part of this has to do with personality, which I wish were irrelevant, but is in fact highly influential. If I had had some super awesome interactions with the people of Eatwell farm, instead of a kind of awkward and off-putting one, I would probably feel much more personally invested and that would weigh in heavily on the side of continuing this relationship. On the Eatwell side of things, their CSA is completely full with a waiting list, and they just won “Best of the Bay” for CSAs, so my dropping out won’t change things for them. It’s just a question of whether or not I want to still have this in my life.

Enough musing for now. Let’s get to the purported point of this post. Here’s what came in our box this week:

Roma tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes
Summer squash
Yellow Finn potatoes

(We were supposed to get plums according to the newsletter – I didn’t see any, but perhaps Duck tasted one and deposited them in the compost?)

Gypsy Peppers and Shady Ladies: Week of August 6th

It has once again been a long while since I’ve picked up a box. While I was in New York I was anxious about missing out on summer bounty by not being home for my July boxes. But for me, summer bounty means an abundance of summer fruits, which isn’t really the focus of the Eatwell box. I don’t actually care much for tomatoes, and, while I’m not at the freak-out stage some people get to during zucchini season, I feel entirely neutral towards summer squash, which has been a weekly staple all summer.

A new addition this week was Gypsy sweet peppers. I can’t eat bell peppers anymore, but that’s because their skins don’t agree with my stomach, and the reading I’ve been doing about Gypsy peppers seems to say they have thinner and more tender skins than their bell cousins. This gave me hope until I did an image search for Gypsy peppers, which turn out to be long and slim. Mine are large and squat and dark green and, frankly, they look like bell peppers. So we’ll see what happens… Only time (and digestion) will tell.

In this week’s box of summer bounty:

Heirloom tomatoes (3 medium)
Cherry tomatoes (a large strawberry-basket full)
Shady Lady tomatoes (4 small)
Cantaloupe (a good-sized one)
Zucchini (1 large green, 1 small yellow)
Nectarines (2 small ones)
Peach (1 large one, unfortunately mostly mushed)
Onions (3 lovely white ones)
Albion strawberries (1 pint basket)
Peppers of some sort (Gypsy? Bell?)
Basil (a large healthy bunch)

Corn and Basil: Week of July 16th

I picked up this box right before leaving for New York. No time to photograph it! I wonder how much of it will still be here when I get back…

Plums (disgusting in texture and absent of flavor)
Albion strawberries
Heirloom tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes (1 basket with both)
Corn (4 ears)
Green cabbage
Red onions

Cherry Tomatoes and Pluots: Week of July 9th

It was very exciting to get our first tomatoes in this week’s box. Our newsletter again said each box would contain either summer squash or cucumbers, and, having some time on our hands, I will admit that Duck and I looked through several boxes to see if we could find the cucumbers. Having already been the recipients of the summer squash box for several weeks running, I really wanted those cucumbers! But they were nowhere to be found. Will I soon join those traditional summertime legions of folks with their ever more creative uses for zucchini?

Here’s what was in this in this week’s box:

Cherry tomatoes
Turnips, and turnip greens
Rainbow chard
Lemon verbena

Tomatillos and Huckleberry Potatoes: Week of July 2nd

Another box went unphotographed – car accident business is sucking up all my spare time and is not having a good effect on morale, besides. But I do want to record what came in this box, which was a very “brand-name” box – many of the goodies were identified in my newsletter by variety.

Albion strawberries (these are the sweetest and tastiest of the Eatwell varieties)
Huckleberry potatoes (these have red skin and pink flesh)
Summer squash (2 zucchini and one yellow zucchini)
Tomatillos (a nice big bag – hopefully I won’t char them to death this time)
Plums (very green/orange/pink and dusky)
Slo-bolt arugula
Easter Egg radishes
Green chard
Green cabbage
Carrots (so lovely and tender – I had actually been missing carrots!)
Italian basil

Zucchini and Baby Red Onions: Week of June 25th


At last a new box!

This one really deserved to be photographed, by sheer virtue of being the first box in a month, but I was too tired and all the little veggies were lucky they even made it into the fridge.

It was a handsome box, though, and really well-balanced. A person could truly get all their needs met by such a box, and a have a bag of lettuce for the lettuce graveyard, besides!

In this week’s box:

Small red potatoes
Turnips, with greens
Stir-fry mix
Zucchini (3 medium-sized ones)
Baby red onions (it says “Green onions” on my newsletter, so I am confused. These were very small, red, with long, floppy tops on them)
Apricots (a whole strawberry-basket of tiny ones)
Cherries (the yellow and red Ranier kind)

On another note, I made my first failed scrap stock. It smelled SO good when it was cooking, mostly due to the great smell of the sauteed yam peels. But when I strained and tasted it, it was impossibly bitter. I am not quite sure why. There was a tiny amount of radicchio trim, but too little to be the culprit, I think. There were also a few lemon peels. Partway through making the stock I remembered that you generally simmer fruit peels several times in water you discard in order to make them less bitter, and that by boiling them in my stock I was making my stock that discard-water. Perhaps I pulled them out too late?

At any rate, I have tried to be fearless with my stock experiments and always open to a negative outcome. It still comes as a shock and a disappointment, however, to have to throw all that beautiful (but inedible) stock away.

Apricot and Hyssop: Week of May 28th

A bonanza of fruit in this week’s box. I suspect there will be more and more as we head into summer. Finally the strawberries were perfect. Absolutely, deliciously perfect. The cherries are pretty damn good, too. And the apricot – just a touch on the mealy side, and bummer to have just a single one, but still exciting to have variety in the fruit salad!

In this week’s box:

Stir-fry mix
Kale (a HUGE gorgeous bunch)
Sweet potatoes (4 little guys)
Cherries (almost 2 whole strawberry-baskets full)
Apricot (one large one)
Hyssop (a savory herb used in Herbes de Provence)
Strawberries (YUM!)