Tomatoes and blueberries ~ Week of June 16th

Contents of Farm Fresh To You CSA box
Tomatoes are actually a seasonal item for me now, at least when it comes to cooking at home. I don’t know exactly when that happened, but the transformation is now complete. When I was a kid, I loved tomatoes so much I ate them like apples. (My best friend did, too, which was one of the wacky things we bonded over when we met in high school.) I don’t remember there ever not being tomatoes in the house. But I also remember them tasting waaaay better. Did tomatoes used to taste better? Like, 20 years ago? (Oh man, I’m old.)

So add together the realization that tomatoes are no longer the love-apples of my youth with the fact that they are a hella seasonal vegetable (yeah, fruit, whatever) and you get me, kicking the tomato habit. It’s frustrating because a LOT of cookbooks have recipes that call for winter or spring veggies but still want fresh tomatoes. What’s up with that? I just use canned tomatoes now, for that. Although some online grocery delivery service I was checking out cheerfully told me that the Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes had traveled 2240 miles to their warehouse. Yikes.

Anyways, today was the first box with tomatoes! I’ve always celebrated in the past with copious amounts of fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, and olive oil, but this time around I’ll be foregoing the mozzarella. (Why does everyone love Daiya so much, and can I borrow your taste buds, please? Just long enough to eat one deep dish pizza?)

I made summer squash and onion pancakes from a new cookbook I’m checking out, The 30-Minute Vegan by Mark Reinfeld and Jennifer Murray. They seemed like they were going to be a little dry, so I used some of my wondrous tomatoes to make tomato relish, and the combination was perfection.

This box was very fruit heavy and all the fruit was good. The day my box arrived I made fruit salad with some of the melon, blueberries, strawberries, nectarines, and plums and took it with us when we went to the waterpark (whee! summer!) and all the fruit was just fantastic, perfectly ripe. Then there were other plums and nectarines that weren’t quite ripe yet, ready to eat over the next few days. Well done, FFTY!

Here’s what was in my box this week:
Honeydew melon
Butter lettuce
Nantes carrots
Summer squash

Blueberries and beets ~ Week of June 2nd

This week was an extra jam-packed box o’ delights because Farm Fresh To You replaced the two items that had been left out of my previous box. There is so much stuff I really love to cook in this box! Cauliflower, beets, bok choy, broccoli, potatoes – it’s pretty much a total winner. The two heads of lettuce (one makes up for last time) are even welcome, rather than overwhelming, thanks to the delicious jar of Vegan Express vinaigrette I have in the fridge, ready to top any and all salad fixings.

This week’s box contained:
Honeydew melon
2 bunched of beets (1 from this week’s box, 1 replacement)
Butter lettuce
Red leaf lettuce
Baby broccoli
Klamath Pearl potatoes
Yellow peaches
Baby bok choy

Much of the box has already been spoken for on my most recent menu, thanks to the ability to look ahead at what will be arriving from the farm. Now I’ll start fantasizing about what to do with the rest!

White Corn and Baby Bok Choy ~ Week of May 19th

Fruits and veggies from this week's CSA box

Not much to say about this week’s box. It came, it was full of deliciousness! There was one strange thing, though. I usually use the FFTY newsletter to write out the box contents for these posts. But this time when I happened to compare the contents list of a “Regular” FFTY box (which is what I get) on the newsletter to the photo that I took of my box contents, two items were missing: red beets and red leaf lettuce. There was nothing extra or similar in my box that might have been substituted, just two fewer items than there were listed on the newsletter. Very odd! I wrote to them today, and I’ll see what they say. EDIT: I heard back from FFTY the first business day after I wrote to them and they told me they’ll let the packing house know to make it up to me in my next box. All’s well that ends well!

Giant onion, tiny cabbage

Fun with perspective! Is it a tiny, tiny cabbage? Or a giant, giant onion? (It's both!)

The corn was so yummy-looking that I cooked it up right away in one of my favorite dishes, How to Eat Supper‘s Edamame, Corn, and Tofu Succotash. There were a couple of corn worms in with those gorgeous plump kernels, but that seems to be par for the course with organic CSA corn. They were gently removed to a new life in the compost bucket. I didn’t have any smoked tofu, so I made my own, adapting the V’Con recipe for basic broiled tofu and adding a little liquid smoke.

In this week’s box:

Valencia oranges (2)
Grapefruit (1)
Hass avocado (1)
Strawberries (1 lb)
Yellow peaches (2)
Broccoli (1 bunch)
Baby bok choy (1 lb)
Green cabbage (1)
White corn (3)
Nantes carrots (1 bunch)
Celery (1)
Yellow onions (1 lb)

Avocados and Iceberg ~ Week of May 5th

Sorry for the long radio silence, friends. I was really enjoying getting into a rhythm with fellow bloggers and with menu planning! But last week was glorious, glorious vacation from everything! Unfortunately the one thing that doesn’t feel rested and renewed is my wrists – I have sporadic yet persistent RSIs from an old job. So this is going to be a short post (because I really shouldn’t be typing at all – bad girl!) but I want to at least keep my box contents up to date!
Farm Fresh To You CSA Box Contents

So this week’s box (err… in the sense where “this week” means “two weeks ago”) was a lovely treasure-trove of spring goodies. Some really simple things, but all of them gorgeous and of the highest quality!

In my box:
Avocados (2)
Baby broccoli (1 bunch)
Strawberries (1 basket)
Celery (1 bunch)
Zucchini (4 hearty ones)
Carrots (1 bunch)
Iceberg lettuce (1 head)
New potatoes (a bagful)
Grapefruit (2)
Navel oranges (2)
Radishes (1 bunch)
Chard (a giant bunch – this was in replacement for the fava beans that came in most boxes, as I have requested “NO favas!”)

Avocados and Artichokes: Week of April 21st

My very first box since December! What a delight!

Farm Fresh to You offers many options for what kind of box you can get, and I actually went back and forth about which one to order. I had come back to CSAing determined to get FFTY’s Valley Box, which is a box full of produce that comes only from the Capay Valley, from Capay Farms (which is FFTY’s farm) and surrounding farms. That means the travel distance would have been around 90 miles for my whole box. But when I looked at the variety and quantity of the Valley Box compared to FFTY’s Regular Box, which is the same price, I just felt like I needed to go with the Regular Box. It wasn’t so much the stuff like SoCal citrus and Washington apples that I felt I couldn’t do without – it just seemed like there was way less produce in the Valley Box, total. I may be wrong about this (it’s hard comparing pounds to bunches to pieces), and if I’m not I’m sure there are good reasons why the Valley Box is so much pricier than the Regular, but unfortunately financial factors do have to play a part in all my food-related decision-making, and I needed to go with the greater quantity in this case.

I remember when I first started getting a CSA box, from Eatwell Farms, and I took the box-contents list from my first box to the very pricy organic produce market near my house to compare prices. When I added it all up, my box cost as much if not more than shopping at a store I normally would only shop at for emergencies! I haven’t done a comparison with this one, but I get the feeling FFTY is actually a pretty good deal, and I have no idea what Eatwell charges these days. But that’s not really the point. Getting a CSA isn’t about getting cheaper food – it’s not a Costco-type situation. Subscribing to a CSA is about being connected to the people who bear all the risk and do all the work of growing the food we all need to survive.

As I’ve said in the past, “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 believe in this strongly, and I wish I could throw myself completely behind my principles by ordering the Valley Box, but it’s a good step for me just to be reconnecting with community supported agriculture once more.

So, enough pontificating, what’s in the box? Well, the first thing I noticed was a change from how FFTY was packing stuff back in December (at least I don’t remember it being like this). I opened up the box and there was a giant plastic bag filled with all the wet/damp/leafy stuff:

and underneath that bag was all the dry stuff and most especially the stuff that likes to stay dry. (I’ve had sweet potatoes rot before just from sitting in water dripping from some errant greens.) This seems like a great change to me. I like to photograph my box contents, which in the past meant unpacking each item from its plastic bag, photographing it all, and then rebagging it. So having to individually bag things before I put them in the fridge isn’t a problem for me. (I have 10,000 plastic bags from all my previous CSA boxes!) I am assuming it also saves on energy somewhere – whether the giant bag takes less energy/resources to make than individual bags, or some box-packers somewhere are less likely to get carpal tunnel by packing it like this, it seems like a good move to me!

So in my bag, and under that in my box were:

Braeburn apples (2)
Strawberries (1 lb)
Grapefruit (1)
Eureka lemon (1) (one half of this was rotten. too bad!)
Minneola tangelos (2)
Red radishes (1 bunch)
Chard (1 bunch)
Hass avocados (2)
Celery (1 bunch)
Romaine lettuce (1 huge head)
Zucchini (1 lb)
Broccoli (1 large bunch)
Bunched carrots (1 bunch)
Artichokes (2)
Garnet sweet potatoes (5 small)

Collard Greens and Butternut Squash ~ Week of December 16th

Braised Collard Greens and Beet Greens with Tomato, Red Onion, and Tempeh Bacon

This week in our Small Mixed box from Farm Fresh to You:

Satsuma mandarins (1.5 lb)
Pink Lady apples (1.5 lb)
Savoy cabbage (3 lb)
Collard greens (1 bunch)
Butternut squash (2 lb)
Salad mix (0.5 lb)
Leeks (1 lb)

I was a huge fan of collard greens in college. I used to boil them for a long, long time until they were super tender and then eat them with lemon juice and hot pepper flakes. I never ate collards growing up or had any other exposure to them, rather I knew about the idea of collard greens, as this slow-cooked Southern food that you cooked forever with a ham hock or something. So I just cooked my (vegetarian) version of this idea. After a trip to New Orleans I brought back a ton of Zatarain’s boxed mixes for Red Beans & Rice, Dirty Rice, and Jamabalaya. I would throw in cut-up veggie sausage and cook my collards and make these feasts that recreated a cuisine I had basically never eaten. (It’s impossible to actually eat this food in New Orleans if you’re vegetarian.)

I don’t boil greens for hours anymore. I try to give them a little more love and let their flavors stay bright and their nutrients stay in their leaves and not leach out into the cooking water. But collards can be tough, and they do need some attention to make them shine. I usually improvise a recipe based on a collard green technique from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison that has delicious Southern flavor (or what I imagine to be Southern flavor in my head) while still keeping the greens bright and lively. She recommends a brown butter sauce to replace the bacon flavor, but since we don’t eat butter I use tempeh bacon, and then I’ll throw in whatever other veggies seem like they’ll be happy in there, too.

Braised Collards, Veggie-Southern-style

2 bunches collards, long stems and tough ribs removed
1 onion (red or yellow), diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
5 strips tempeh bacon*, cut into small pieces
1 T. olive oil

Plunge the greens into a large pot of boiling salted water, cook them for 10 minutes and then remove to a bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet (I use a wok) over medium heat. Add onion and pepper flakes, stirring occasionally until the onion is beginning to soften. Add the garlic and tempeh bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly colored and the tempeh lightly browned. Add the greens, their reserved cooking water, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook for 30 minutes and taste again for salt. They can use a lot, but the tempeh bacon should bring a lot of flavor.

Variations: You could add tomatoes, peanuts, bell peppers, cubes of cooked yam… the sky is the limit! In the photo above, I used one of bunch collards, one of beet greens, and added tomatoes.

*The brand of tempeh bacon I use – Lightlife – is flavored with a soy sauce that contains wheat, so it is NOT gluten-free. You can make your own tempeh bacon from Veganomicon. I recommend making a big batch of thin slices and then freezing it to thaw as needed.

Savoy Cabbage and Bartlett Pears ~ Week of December 9th

It has been really cold here. Really cold. And it’s not just me being a thin-blooded California wimp, either. It snowed in the Berkeley Hills a couple of days ago. Snow!

I know, I know. “Boo hoo, cry me a river,” you’re probably shivering at me from the middle of a Minnesota winter. We are spoiled here – even when it’s winter, it’s summer. Or something like that.

Nothing exemplifies a Bay Area winter meal more than what we had for dinner tonight: California Minestrone and Salade Nicoise. Lots of tummy warming goodness from the soup and stick-to-your-ribs heartiness from the potatoes in the salad, but the crazy thing is that it’s December and every single element of these two veggie-intensive meals came straight out of our CSA box. (Except for a couple things in the salad: olives – left over from Thanksgiving – and tomatoes – doubtlessly hothouse.)

I’ve been wanting to make California Minestrone ever since the weather started getting nippy. The recipe is from the fantastic cookbook Spa Food by Edward J. Safdie, chef of the venerable Sonoma Mission Inn. The plating and food design are entirely 80s (the cookbook was published in 1985) but the recipes for healthy, satisfying, sophisticated food featuring California flavors are timeless. I grew up eating from this cookbook (my mom and I have made nearly every recipe in it) and this soup in particular invokes for me both the chill and the bounty of a Bay Area winter.

I was lacking only a leek and some cabbage to make the soup (I often skip the green beans and spinach for my winter version), and when I opened our box today, there they were. Here’s the complete record of what came in today’s size “small” box:

Satsuma Mandarins (2 lb)
Bartlett Pears (1.5 lb)
Savoy Cabbage (2 lb)
Collard Greens (1 bunch)
Baby Bok Choy (1.5 lb)
Broccoli (1 lb)
Red Onions (0.5 lb)
Leeks (1 lb)
Yellow Onion (0.5 lb)

California Minestrone (from Spa Food by Edward J. Safdie)
This is a light but filling soup that can be made with a variety of vegetables, but I think the leek, carrot, cabbage, and tomatoes (I used canned whole tomatoes) are essential for giving it sweetness, acid, and depth. Serve it with a crusty loaf of rustic bread if you eat bread and with a hearty sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top if you eat dairy.

1 T. unsalted butter or Earth Balance
1/2 an onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 leek (white part only), washed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 carrot, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 garlic clove, minced
3-4 canned plum tomatoes, drained or 2 unpeeled tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6 cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped
6 oz. fresh green beans, ends trimmed and cut on a slant into 1/2 inch pieces
2 quarts stock (I used our latest batch of scrap stock)
10 spinach leaves, washed, drained, and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Salt or vegetable seasoning to taste
1 t. pesto (I usually use more like 1-3 T. vegan pesto, which is often pretty mild)
1/4 C. grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese

In a 4-quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, and green beans, and saute over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

Add the spinach and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the pesto. Taste the finished soup and adjust the seasonings.

Serve in large heated soup bowls and sprinkle with 1 T. grated cheese over each portion.

If you follow the recipe exactly, this will make 4 servings, at 150 calories per serving.

Satsumas and kale ~ Week of December 2nd

Sauteed radicchio with thyme fritatta

We missed out on a box last week – just spaced out and forgot to cancel it before we left for Duck’s dad’s house Tuesday night to start the big Thanksgiving prep. Luckily we remembered before we left and Duck ran down the street to ask our neighbor if he would pick it up off our porch the next morning. Duck said he was thrilled – he wanted to make a salad, but didn’t have any salad veggies in the house. We saw him when we got back from Thanksgiving weekend and he raved about the delicious apples and persimmons. Has community supported agriculture made itself another convert? I hope so!

Now that our box newsletter doesn’t come with a list of what’s in our box (grumble, grumble, this is the most useless CSA newsletter ever… but it does make sense now that FFTY offers about 20 different types of box each week) I need to get the list off the FFTY website if I’m not quick enough to write it all down before we put it away. This means I have the info for where each item comes from (which is of course an awesome aspect of getting a CSA) and I thought that might be interesting to record as well. (FFTY does have an option among their many boxes to get a “Valley Box” with only produce from the Capay Valley. I am leaning towards switching to this one after seeing how far some of this produce has traveled. No apples, and we do love our apples, but the Valley Box gets Meyer lemons!)

I need to stop reading the description of what’s in the regular-sized box. They are getting radicchio this week which is only my favorite thing in the entire world. Now I just feel deprived! Here’s what’s in our small box:

Satsuma Mandarin Oranges (Capay Farms – the FFTY farm, 90 miles)
Rome Beauty Apple (Washington, 900 miles)
Napa Cabbage (Capay, 90 miles)
Green Kale (Capay, 90 miles)
Baby mixed lettuce (Capay, 90 miles)
Yellow Onion (Fresno, 190 miles)
Nantes carrots (Capay, 90 miles)

Lettuce and Tomatoes ~ Week of October 7th

Kind of a boring box this week. We’ve been getting the small size, and this week the regular size box looks like it got all the fun stuff! It’s good to have the basics, though, and we’re always running out of onions. We’re taking a month off from our CSA box to try more intensive menu planning and see how that works for us, so this is our final box for a few weeks.

Here’s what we got this week in our “small” box:

Valenica oranges (1.5lb)
Gala apples (1.5 lb)
Arugula (1 bunch) (instead of the peppers we ask them not to include)
Slicing tomatoes (1.5lb)
Romaine lettuce (1 head)
Italian parsley (1 bunch)
Yellow onions (2 lb)
Russet potatoes (2 lb)

Green beans and butter lettuce ~ Week of September 30th

We switched to the smaller CSA box because we’ve been doing a lot more meal planning, which usually means planning in advance of getting our box and trying to make menus that fit together based on more than just what comes in the box. This has been working out well – we get to maintain our connection to and support of the farm, and we have some veggies and fruit coming in even on those weeks when we don’t make it to the store in time. The only problem is that the newsletter tells us the contents of both the small and the regular size boxes, and it always seems like the regular box is having more fun!

Here’s what we got this week. This was a size “small” box. As usual everything was of excellent quality:

Gala apples (2 lb)
Red grapes (1.5 lb)
Red chard (1 bunch) (instead of the peppers we ask them to leave out)
Broccoli (1 crown)
Green beans (1 lb)
Butter lettuce (1 head)
Heirloom tomatoes (1.5 lb)