Monday, July 18, 2011

Mixed Plate: CSA, Where the "C" is for "Creative"

If you ever wanted to feel like an Iron Chef in your own home, sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This is a growing trend in communities that have access to a large network of independent farmers and it's a win-win situation -- as a small grower, the crops are earmarked for purchase, helping to guarantee a steady business; as a subscriber to a CSA, you get whatever's fresh and in-season, supporting local businesses and the goods are likely organic. It also means as the preparer of the household meals, you become a wily home cook, required to think on your feet over how to prepare that box full of mystery that appears on your door every week. As Chairman Kaga would shout: Allez Cuisine!!

When CSA boxes bring you strawberries... make ice cream - Photo by Wasabi Prime

We did a CSA a couple of years ago with a smaller local farm out in Carnation and I'll be honest, it was a challenge. Weather dictates what you get, and if it's cold and wet, you have your lion's share of dark leafy greens, and sometimes, we'd just get some crazy-mofo-stuff that I had no idea what to do with. This isn't a bad thing, you just learn to be resourceful, which just means some nights you make green meatloaf, with buzzed-down greens mixed with ground meat. It doesn't mean you gave up, it means you needed to clear out the crisper because the next box was due to arrive the next day.

This year, my birthday present from Mr. Wasabi was a subscription to a CSA from Full Circle Farms. Lest you think this is the bowling ball with "Homer" engraved on it ("Simpsons" anyone?), this is a nice time-saver for me in that I can skip an extra trip to the grocery store that week or if I have enough on-hand materials, I don't have to grocery shop at all for a week, and it removes some of that nebulous, "what the hell am I cooking?" pondering for the week. Granted, Full Circle Farms is not some small mom n' pop farm co-op; they're freakin' huge. You've probably bought some of their stuff at large chain grocery stores before, just under a label like Earthbound Farm Organic. This doesn't mean Full Circle is some big, bad corporate machine; quite the contrary -- they're probably one of the friendliest ways to introduce yourself into the CSA habit because thanks to their large size, you can sign up at any time (many smaller CSAs have limited signup times/slots) and you can designate what you get in your delivery box, as well as the frequency of the deliveries.

Our bi-monthly Box of Mystery, from Full Circle Farms - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Right now we're on the every other week delivery schedule of a box full of mystery. I could specify what I want, but I'm letting Providence guide my cooking habits, plus I just don't want to hassle with it -- I trust what Mother Nature thinks we should be eating right now. We have that to a certain degree at grocery stores in that they'll offer the in-season items at a good price, but then they also offer blueberries from Argentina in the middle of February, so sometimes it's better to let the Fates plan your meal.

So far, we've been blessed with lots of leafy greens and vegetables, but more fruit is appearing in the boxes. Stone fruit like peaches, nectarines and pluots are showing up in the CSA Box of Mystery. We even had a little glass jar of  fennel salt show up as a little "thanks" from Full Circle. By having a crisper drawer full of vegetables, it makes it easier to make salads, and for other cooked dishes, you feel more inclined to bump up the veggie quotient. If I had a nutritionist, I'm sure they would say they're pleased we're getting our daily intake of roughage.

When I'm cooking with CSA deliveries in mind, I do tend to stick to ingredient-swappable dishes like soups, stews and stir-frys. Another easy thing to add extra vegetables in, or just make totally vegetarian is enchiladas. I make a lazy-man's version that's more like an enchilada lasagna, where I spread the filling between layers of corn tortillas and cover with a spicy tomato sauce and cheese. At that point, you can literally chop up anything and add to the mix, so it's a good crisper drawer-cleaner. I certainly don't claim to make super-fancy things when I'm in CSA-Iron Chef mode; I'm strapped for time some weeks and need to make items that are high-yield for lunch and dinner leftovers. And sometimes it's just a good challenge to make yourself work with what you have, create the flavors and textures you're looking for with the items on-hand. I'm always more fond of being resourceful than making something complicated, and with a box full of fresh, organic eats, it makes it that much more encouraging to be creative.

The exciting, unpredictable world of CSA Cooking - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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1 comment:

  1. It looks like you got quite a bit of food in your CSA. The strawberry ice cream idea is brilliant. Thanks for the tip.


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