I’ve encouraged a lot of my friends to join CSAs. For those of you not familiar with them, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You basically buy a share from a farmer at the beginning of the growing season and each week you get a box of food from them. Some of my friends have joined and while most of them ended up loving being a member, it was a bit of steep learning curve for a few of them. Other friends have told me they could never join a CSA because they have no idea how they’d use all the vegetables they got.
I usually produce a fair amount of produce from my backyard garden and I buy whatever else I want from the farmers market. But I remember how daunting (exciting also!) it seemed when I first started trying to eat locally and seasonally. Then add to that the challenge of a box of CSA veggies. It’s one thing to plan a menu and go out and buy everything to make that menu. It’s another to get a box of produce and plan a menu around that box of produce.
After talking with a few friends, I got to thinking a few weeks ago that I would like to give people some very practical advice on how to use up the vegetables from a CSA share. I understand what it’s like to be busy. My husband and I own our own business, we have a 120 year old house we’re completely renovating from top to bottom, I have a fairly large garden, we have several side businesses and activities, and we own many, many cats. I do greatly enjoy cooking but I don’t have time to make fussy meals. I wanted to show how real people eat real food – CSA style.
So my husband and I decided to sign up for a CSA share a couple of weeks ago with Colvin Family Farm. Why did I choose Colvin Family Farm? Mainly because I’ve bought produce from them before and I’ve always been impressed with their offerings. They also were one of the few CSAs still accepting members and I was delighted they still had room. So we’ll be getting a full share of vegetables until mid-November. And I’ll be blogging about it each week.
Each week, I’ll post what we got in our CSA box. I’ll also make note of what I have to harvest in my garden. If there’s any vegetables left over from the previous week, I’ll make a note of that as well. If we don’t eat vegetables before they go bad, I’ll share what gets chucked into the compost bucket.
I’m going to wait to post all of this until after the week is over and here’s why: It’s really easy to make lots of lovely, healthy dinner plans and menus. Many food sites do this. It’s a lot harder to actually follow those plans. I want to actually post what we really eat – not some imagined idea of how I’d really like to eat. So if we say “Screw it!” and head to Taco Bell, I’m going to actually tell you that. Now if I end up drinking five margaritas in two hours or eating an entire pan of bacon, I won’t necessarily share those quantities. This is to help give you practical ideas on how to use up your CSA box, not to give you more evidence of what a lush I am.
I’ll be sharing recipes on a regular basis for really tasty ways to use up your CSA veggies. I won’t post exact recipes for some of the things we eat because I don’t cook a lot of the time from recipes. I throw stuff in a pot, I don’t measure and I hope for the best. I will link to blogs or recipes online if they’re available. I’ll also share the resources – websites, books, blogs, gadgets – that help me with my menu planning.
Here’s a little information about the way we eat right now. We’re on a very tight budget so we tend to stick to cheaper cuts of meat, especially beef because we only buy that from local sources. We’ve cut back a lot on the carbs in our diet for health reasons so while pizza and pasta aren’t verboten, they don’t make a lot of appearances at our table right now. We’ve also been cutting back on the amount of salt and refined sugar we eat, so if you indulge frequently in those two things, you might want to add a little more to the recipes I post.
I’m not a fan of overly complicated recipes so don’t look for me to impress you with my cooking wizardry. Every once in a while, I like to get fancy but I’m mainly interested in putting tasty, healthy food on the table without it taking hours or dirtying up every dish in my kitchen.
I’m very lucky in that neither I nor my husband require meat and potato type meals in order for a meal to feel like dinner. We’ve been known to make meals entirely based on snacks. That’s not the rule but don’t be surprised if you see that from time to time.
I don’t use processed foods for the most part. I don’t like what’s in them and what they do to my body. However, late at night (usually after drinking those five margaritas), I’ve been know to make up a pan of Rotel dip. I try to make myself feel better by throwing in some cilantro from the back yard. Make of that what you will.
Tomorrow I’ll post what happened the first week with our first CSA share. If you’re participating in a CSA – I’d love to hear what you’re doing with your vegetables. Feel free to join in in the comments or tweet about it using the #eatyourCSA hashtag on twitter.
The Clinch River is one of my favorite places in Tennessee. Sure – It's a creation of TVA and that in itself is a strike against it. But it's such a beautiful place that I find even that can't diminish my love for it.
TVA or the Tennessee Valley Authority has a very mixed heritage in our area. During the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley was a very poor area, even by Depression Era standards. TVA projects displaced over 15,000 people, covering over towns, native burial grounds and land that had been in families for years. On the other hand, TVA provided jobs to an area that was surrounded by poverty. Marcus's grandfather was an electrician at Norris Dam and a few other TVA projects. TVA reduced the devastating floods in this area but they also destroyed pristine areas when they built projects like the Tellico Dam. The creation of the Tellico Dam ruined one on of the best trout fisheries in the area when they dammed the Little Tennessee, and land that TVA acquired through eminent domain at a very low cost is now being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre to developers.
No matter what my feelings towards TVA are, Norris Lake is here to stay. The Clinch River starts in Southwest Virgina, near Tazwell. The Clinch and Powell River meet up at Norris Lake, formed when Norris Dam was built in 1936. Norris Dam is the first dam built by TVA and at the time was constructed in a modernist style – considered quite advanced and controversial at the time. It really is an impressive sight, especially at dusk.
Because the dam is 285 feet high, it impounds a large quantity of very cold water. This cold water is the perfect temperature for trout. In the 80s, TVA constructed a weir dam that speeds the river back up about two miles from the dam – this adds oxygen to the water and makes it even more habitable for trout.
On a hot summer's night, not many things are more refreshing then walking alongside the tailwaters. Not only is it beautiful but the rushing, cold water kicks up a cool breeze, even on a hot night. During the summer, there's usually fog that begins to form as sunset approaches.
Norris State Park, Cove Creek Wildlife Management Area and Chuck Swan State Forest all preserve areas around the lake. We've seen groundhogs, hawks, osprey, deer, skunks and foxes around here.
On Friday, Marcus and I went blueberry picking at a farm nearby and stopped by the river so Marcus could fish for a bit. It was one of those days when the fishing alchemy was perfect and in the hour we were there, Marcus quickly caught several brown trout. Two were too small to keep and one was too big so they were quickly let go. Marcus asked me if we should keep the other ones to eat and I told him he could make that decision. It was a cop-out. If he decided to keep them, I wasn't responsible for their death. But even doing that made me feel bad – I could have asked him to let them go and he would have.
I'm a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to facing the cruelty of my cooking head on. Sure, we buy the majority of our meat from local, humane producers and we eat a lot less meat than the average consumer. But I don't feel guilty when I eat that meat. I don't feel like I personally caused that animal to die and it's because I'm so insulated from the process.
I think there's a lot of truth to the saying that if slaughterhouses all had glass walls, we'd be vegetarians. Most of us have insulated ourselves from the cruelty of our choices. We buy pork or beef at our grocery store, sanitized and packed in a neat little package. We don't have to see the horrific conditions those animals were raised under. We don't even have the courage to call it by it's animal name – cow meat or pig meat.
I've had people throw a fit when Marcus has mentioned that he sometimes hunts and fishes quite a bit. These people stand there in their leather shoes, holding a burger from McDonalds and tell us that hunting is cruel and have no idea of the irony of their statements. We've created a world where we don't have to see the consequences of our actions, at least when it comes to the meal on the kitchen table.
There's no getting away from the fact that creatures on this planet will die to produce the food that keeps you alive. You can be a vegan and animals will still have died to produce your food. Even humans will be harmed and possibly die to produce the food you eat. All kinds of animals die during the harvesting process. Merely using the land for the growing of food, rather than animal habitat, causes death. If you don't eat organic produce, farm workers will contract cancer because of the chemicals that are used in the farming of your food. Even if you eat organic foods, farm workers in foreign country will go hungry when the organic peaches they grow to provide for their families are turned down for not being up to standard. Even if you buy local, organic produce, you're still not blameless. An organic farmer I know lost 600 tomato plants in one night to deer. His losses were so great that he had to get a depredation permit in order to get any kind of harvest at all and to control his losses for next year.
I grow a lot of our produce in my suburban garden. Every year we fight off the birds and possums so we can harvest our tomatoes. They don't usually take enough to cause severe losses but I know the frustration of going out to the garden and finding nibbles and pecks in almost all of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes. A few weeks ago, we had a difficult choice to make. The biggest groundhog I had ever seen was in our back yard. They may be cute animals but anyone who's gardened knows that devastation they can cause in a garden in a single night. It disappeared, never to be seen again but what would we have done if it had decided to make its home nearby?
We need to strip off the marketing gloss of our dining choices and come face to face with the cruelty that comes as a result of our choices. That doesn't mean we need to go out and shoot a deer or kill a chicken ourselves, although I greatly admire people who are willing to do that. It does mean that we need to be aware that our food comes with a cost. We need to treat our food with the reverence that it deserves – we need to use it wisely. We need to appreciate the farmers that grew it and the lives that were lost in the production of it.
This life can be an amazing gift – full of beauty and wonder. But none of us can escape the fact that it can be cruel as well. In the gorgeous surroundings of the Clinch River valley, I was responsible for the death of three living creatures. The best thing I could do is to be grateful for the loss of those lives so that I could live.
Trout with Brown Butter-Caper Sauce
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 trout fillets – about 4 oz each
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons shallots (We used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden)
1 heaping tablespoon of drained capers
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
First off, if you caught your own fish, you need to clean them and fillet them.
Chop your shallots and get your capers and lemon ready. Add oil to a non-stick skillet and put over medium heat. Heat for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper both sides of fillets and add to pan.
When the edges of the fillet start to turn white, flip. This will take 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. After flipping, cook for another 1 1/2 or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Remove fillets from pan, put on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
Add butter to skillet. Watch carefully because in a non-stick skillet it's hard to see when it begins to brown. It usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes for us.
When it's beginning to turn brown, add shallots and sautee for two minutes until they begin to soften.
Then add lemon juice and capers, cook for another minute.
Pour sauce over fish and serve.
For a printable recipe, click here!
This meal is part of my One Local Summer meal for this week. Admittedly, capers aren't local but I'm hoping that next year, I'll have pickled nasturtium buds to use as a substitute. The butter was made from Cruze Farm milk and we used some of the caper juice to sub in for the lemon. Instead of shallots, we used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden. We served this fish with roasted Dragon Langerie, Masai and Purple Trionfo Violetto beans from our garden. Dessert was a blueberry cornmeal cake made with local blueberries and local cornmeal.
The idea of eating locally being difficult this time of year makes me laugh, especially when I would really have to work to eat a mainly non-local diet. It's been pretty hot here so most of our meals have been of the non-cooked variety – like salads or sandwiches. We've had a lot of watermelon and feta salads, scads of BLTs, and I made mayonnaise with local eggs that was so good we made a meal of steamed vegetables just dipped in it. If you had ever told me that I would enjoy a meal that consisted mainly of mayo, I probably would have laughed at you. But homemade mayonnaise with a little garlic added is heaven.
When I do cook, I try to cook something that will last us for several meals. This week, I made a huge pork roast with meat from River Ridge Farms. I served it with tortillas made with homemade lard rendered from local pork fat and two types of salsa – both from my garden. We have a bumper crop of tomatillos this year so I made a roasted tomatillo salsa with local onions and garlic and added hot peppers and cilantro from our garden. The other salsa was a grilled tomato salsa with a bunch of heirloom tomatoes from our garden.
The only thing I haven't been able to escape from is canning. Nothing heats up an un-air conditioned kitchen quicker than canning. I don't really have a choice though because this is the time of year that everything is ripe. I made several pints of plum jam and took some frozen sour cherries and made black forest jam and cherry chutney. I made a deal with a local farmer and he gives me his "ugly" tomatoes and I can them and give him half. Cracked tomatoes won't keep so yesterday I spent several hours canning them in a 91 degree kitchen. I also got my hands of some elderberries and made some gorgeous elderberry jelly.
I'm not going to lie. There are times I wonder why the hell I do this stuff? When I'm standing over a boiling water canner, it seems so much easier to just buy canned tomatoes or jam. But come winter, there is such a feeling of satisfaction in knowing exactly where my food is coming from. I also like remembering the farmers I bought from in the summer during a time when it seems like winter will never end. Those little jars remind me that summer abundance will come again, no matter how dark or dreary the days seem.
This week has been a very hectic week so I'm going to just give a quick re-cap now and post recipes later this week.
We've eaten tons of tomato salads. Red peppers are finally getting ripe and we've been stuffing ourselves with them. We've had a painful experience(because of our own stupidity) with peppers from our garden that have been dubbed the Russian Roulette pepper. Every morning begins with local eggs and local peaches. And we were able to do one of our favorite summer meals with almost all local ingredients. The only non-local ingredients were the flour for the cornbread and some salt.
Here's our official local meal for this week:
Shelly beans sauteed with local bacon, onions, garlic and simmered in local chicken broth.
Sauteed collard greens flavored with local bacon, local hot peppers and local sweet red peppers
Cornbread made with local buttermilk, local cornmeal, local butter and local lard and cracklins.
I don't think we've had a meal this week that hasn't included some kind of local produce. When the bulk of your grocery bill is spent at the farmer's market, it's difficult to get too esoteric with your cooking. Sure, I made muhammara that included pomegranate molasses. But that same dish contained leftover bread from a local baker, roasted peppers from my garden and tomato paste canned last year. However, I think my favorite meals this week have been the two or three where the majority of the ingredients traveled less than 50 feet.
Salt boiled new potatoes dressed with a little butter made from Cruze farm milk. Nothing tastes better than the sweet mealiness of new potatoes that 20 minutes earlier were lurking in the dirt of your garden bed. Sliced Burgundy Traveler tomatoes dressed with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil glisten on the plate. And I've recently discovered a new passion – roasted green beans. I type that with some trepidation because I don't want anyone to think that I'm a freaky health nut that would turn down peach cobbler to nibble on some kale. However, I think I could eat my weight in roasted green beans. The olive oil caramelizes them and turns them into a crispy snack food with the slightest hint of vegetable flavor. I would eat these as a snack, at 2am in the morning when I was drunk and have lost whatever compunction I might have about gorging on high calorie snack chips. That's how much I like them. Peach Brown Butter Bars have become a favorite new discovery and I've made them several times. But my favorite meals are simple meals like we had last night. Eating local is a wonderful thing. Eating out of your back yard? Even better.