Apples and oranges

Sorry for my absence the last couple of days. I was covering events for work and didn’t have a spare second to sit down and put some thoughts together. But my thoughts have been gathered and off I go.

I like apples. And today, as I was working on some pieces for work at home, I got a hankerin,’ as we say in these parts, for an apple. A nice, crisp, tart Granny Smith apple. I wrote for a while and did some other things but my hankerin’ didn’t ease up. So off to my local grocery (HyVee in my case since it’s very close) and they had Granny Smith apples. I bagged up five and brought ’em on home. Along with dry cat food and vanilla yogurt. I sometimes think my purchases scream “crazy cat lady” but as long as I had my apples and the cats won’t need to wake me at 4 a.m. due to their self-perceived near-starvation conditions, I’m good.

Back to my apples. It’s going to be the first day of July tomorrow. Around here, that’s nowhere close to apple season. I’m not sure it’s anywhere near apple season anywhere, actually. And yet, my supermarket was able to satisfy my Granny Smith craving tonight.

Apple season around here is usually mid to late September moving into October. It’s a thing, families trek out to pick-your-own pumpkin and apple farms that feature corn mazes and all kinds of attractions. It’s a fall fun family thing to do and more and more of these pick-your-own farms have popped up. I think it’s a great thing. Any time you can get people out of suburbia and into the countryside, there are collateral benefits for agriculture of all types. People see fields, they may even see a combine running or a tractor pulling gravity wagons down a road. This time of year, they don’t mind it. It’s usually the weekend and it adds to the whole atmosphere part of a day in the country. But I digress. Anyway, that’s when apples get picked around here is in the fall. So if I wanted to truly eat seasonally for my area, I would have had to wait another 90 days or more to enjoy a local Granny Smith.

I didn’t. I’m not big on waiting. And to my benefit and to the benefit of millions of other eaters, we have developed a food system in this country that allows us to go to the store and purchase Granny Smith apples in the Midwest in June. Or in December or January. People in North Dakota and Montana can go to the store in March and buy oranges for their kids to enjoy. We’ve also developed a food system in this country that allows for produce to be shipped great distances and to remain fresh for an extended period of time. With all due respect to local and organic apple growers, if you’ve ever had a worm appear as you were cutting an apple apart – or have one suddenly grow an impressive mane of mold or rot overnight, you can appreciate the advanced preservation techniques we’ve developed for fruit and vegetables.

I did join the CSA to have fresh fruits and vegetables. But I’m not able to grow or source all the fresh fruits and vegetables I need when I need them. Sometimes I just want to chop up a tomato and toss it on a green salad in December, then dive into a hot bowl of soup. I can go to my supermarket and buy lettuce and buy tomatoes, admittedly not as fresh as they would be out of my garden but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make to have a green salad in December in the Midwest.

Are we dependent on a food system that lets us have what fruit and veg we want when we want it and for those products to stay fresh until we can eat them all? Probably. But I would say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By having those products available, we have the means to make our diets healthier, even if the fruit and vegetables isn’t strictly “local.”

My mom used to say “it takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round” and it takes all kinds of food systems to feed different appetites. Some may prefer to eat seasonally. For those, the advent and growing use of the hoophouse, a sort of portable, less-expensive greenhouse, is extending the growing season throughout the Midwest. Restaurant demand for locally-sourced produce is also helping that cause along. Restaurants want to be able to serve green salads with chopped tomatoes all year long. Their desire to source those ingredients locally is helping growers of that produce find ways to grow even in the depths of a Midwest winter.

As for me, I’ll enjoy my produce from my CSA box (going to get another box tomorrow night so stay tuned; I also will need to think quick about using up a few items from last week’s box) when it’s available. My CSA bounty will last into September or October and I want to try my hand at freezing a few things to add to soups and stews and maybe try freezing some pesto and some herbs for use in the winter. But even as I add those to the soup pot, I’ll still look with anticipation on my grown-in-California lettuce and tomato salad as the snow swirls outside my window. And I’ll settle down to that hot soup, to that crisp salad – and a pile of seed catalogs and dreams of spring.

 

It’s all in the wrist (not really!)

So tonight, I decided to really buckle down and cook with some of this week’s CSA ingredients.

A friend sent me a recipe for zucchini fritters. The recipe she sent was more like an appetizer-style thing, which was fine, but I wanted to find something more like the shredded zucchini cakes I remember my mom making. So I looked and sure enough, found a simple (it has to be simple, I’m just not a 15-step cookery kind of a person) recipe. I only needed a few other ingredients so I picked those up after work. Lo and behold – and I know I’ll regret saying this later – I only had one zucchini left!! But it was big enough so I grated that up in a colander in the sink. Added some salt and then squeezed the living daylights out of it to get the water out. Grated some Parm and added some chopped onion, a farm-fresh egg and some flour and also some chopped dill from my own container garden. Heated up some oil and I had some pretty tasty little morsels.

Cooking with these CSA ingredients and with fresh food, especially if you’ve never done it before, is totally learn-as-you-go. I think people can feel intimidated by those cooking shows, where there are tons of behind-the-scenes people prepping ingredients and food stylists to make sure the dishes don’t look like like, well, something you and I would cook!

But I think we shouldn’t let that scare us away or let the fact that others we know may brag about their outstanding cooking abilities. Each of us is an individual and we all have different skills and gifts – and we have different abilities. My little zucchini fritters probably weren’t the most photogenic but they were tasty and I made them myself so that makes today’s CSA food experiment a success in my book!

Equip’t

I have A LOT of coffee cups. Tons. I inadvertently started collecting coffee cups years ago as souvenirs of places I’ve been. Also, I like coffee – no, I LOVE coffee. Love. It. It is one of the food items that gives me joy, not just in the a.m., when it also gives me a reason to actually move about and be human and go to work and stuff but also in the p.m. when it’s just plain good. But I have an enormous collection of coffee cups, which dominate my kitchen supplies.

Aside from my coffee cups, I had only basic kitchen equipment when I moved into my new house in March and when I joined the CSA in early June. Cutlery, basic utensils that my late mother outfitted me with when I got my first apartment – assuring me that yes, someday you’ll need to use a spatula AND a slotted spoon AND a whisk!! She was right (of course and duh!!) I did use them occasionally. I also have plates and bowls and proper beer and rocks glasses as well as ginormous plastic get-your-80-ounces-of-water-all-at-once glasses. A couple of frying pans of different sizes and a ginormous and extremely heavy Dutch oven that I bought when I thought it would be neat to try to learn to make feijoada after seeing a “No Reservations” episode in Brazil round out my kitchen collection.

Since I’ve joined the CSA, additions to my kitchen collection and my need to learn how these things operate has increased exponentially. Not all this food can or should be eaten raw and I realized at once that I was going to need to cook some of it and not only cook some of it but cook it in pans or by processes involving kitchen items that I did not own.

For instance, I recently purchased a full-sheet (whatever that means, my bed is a queen-size) aluminum cookie sheet and a half-sheet aluminum cookie sheet AND a wire rack for roasting and drying. Actually, that’s going to be for the fish and meats to accompany my new veg dishes, I’m all about the high-protein and low-carb eating style.

I also have added a giant plastic cutting board and a spiff new set of ultra-sharp knives in four different sizes to my cooking wardrobe. (Don’t ask how many pairs of shoes joined my household in the same time period, I guarantee – it was more than four!).
My additions also include a food processor that has yet to make it out of the box (hey, it was an idea about chilled summer soups that sounded good at the time. It may make a comeback).

I don’t want to ramble on too much further but this new food exploration is not only interesting but it has cost a little bit to get things going. I can see how it can become overwhelming for someone, say a single mom with kids and a small kitchen (read – apartment?) and a very limited income, maybe with no access either financially or transportationally (is that even a word¬† – you know what I mean, no public trans. Hey, out here, it’s Shank’s mare to get anywhere if you don’t own a car). Now it’s true, you don’t need ALL the bells and whistles but you’re at least going to need some basic equipment AND a place to cook AND the money to pay for the gas or electricity to do the cooking.

And the space. In my apartment of seven years, I had a true galley kitchen. Now I own a spacious, beautiful, airy and light eat-in kitchen that’s huge and has tons of storage and space and counter space. Compared to my kitchen now, my galley kitchen was about the size of one single cupboard in the new place.

But lots of people live in space-limited circumstances and especially when it comes to kitchen and cooking and prep space. Even if they want to join a CSA or obtain fresh foods at farmers markets using the FMNP coupons, they might not have the space to properly store and refrigerate fresh veggies and fruits and/or the space to prepare them.

If people are going to promote the growth of fresh food and local food in areas and to populations who might not have easy access to stuff like spiffy plastic cutting boards, four sizes of sharp knives and neato-bandito new food processors – or even counter space or ovens, that is something worth considering.

It’s the Berries!

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It's the Berries!

These came in this week’s box. Strawberries, wonderfully fresh and, hey, because strawberries are something I like to eat without thinking (or, frankly, taking time to scrub and wash and inspect), local and grown on a farm that I know. That makes a difference with me sometimes (not always and not for all foods – a different topic for another time) but for now, strawberries. Eating them whole. If there are survivors, I’ll decide what to do with them later …

Rad Idea!

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Rad Idea!

So I LOVE radishes raw with a sprinkle of salt. They’re like candy for me!! But the larger the radish, unforch, the more peppery they can be. So I found a recipe for oven-roasted radishes, just scrub and trim radishes, slice them lengthwise, then toss in olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, coarse salt and pepper. I roasted these with the beets, 400 degree oven for about half an hour but I checked them often. They’re amazing, no peppery taste at all, more like a roasted turnip?

Can’t Beet That!

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Can't Beet That!

Here are my first roasted beets and they turned out great – although they took WAYYY longer than the recipe said they would! Scrubbed ’em good, wrapped ’em in foil (no oil) and roasted them at 400 degrees for about an hour and 20 minutes. Fork tender!

First bites …

While I’m not new to the world of blogging, I am new to the world of CSA – community supported agriculture. And to cooking. So I thought I might not be the only one venturing into the world of subscribing to a local farm and paying a family to raise my produce. I met this family through my job and I was impressed by a couple of things. The first thing was that they let their story and their produce sell itself. No bashing “Big Ag,” no whining about pesticides and herbicides, no need to slam any other styles of food production. They have a healthy CSA membership and they sell at a local farmers market. They don’t need more and they don’t want more. They and their story just impressed me. So I decided to sign up and give this CSA thing a try. I got in on the second week of the subscription. I picked up my box on Monday night and I was shocked – and overwhelmed. The last time I saw that much produce concentrated in one place was when my dad had about an acre of garden at a friend’s mother’s place in my hometown.

But back to my box. That first box, now about three weeks ago. My first box was radishes, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, asparagus eggs, strawberries and garlic scapes. I’d never tried garlic scapes but the farm wife of my CSA gave me some ideas. I added them to the 3-minute Chinese noodle packs and they were awesome, gave some freshness, spice and crunch to the dish!

I guess I’m kind of a weird vegetable eater. My dad and my grandfather before him were devoted and prolific gardeners. They could grow anything anywhere and they did. My grandfather fed a family of six kids and my grandma on his gardening during the Great Depression and some very hard times. My dad had a good job but his relaxation was gardening and I’ve been eating vegetables of each and every kind since I was able to chew solid food. My mom cooked them, we ate them, no questions asked. That’s how I got to love radishes with salt, beets served any way, tomatoes fresh from the garden and canned in chili and soups, slices of fresh raw kohlrabi with a sprinkle of salt, shared with my dad. But I just love all kinds of vegetables.

My mom was a gifted cook and baker. Me? Not so much. My specialty is heating up a Healthy Choice and then adorning it with some olives and feta from the local grocery. Or microwave popcorn.

But when I got that first box, I realized, as I unpacked the box and my mind whirled with – what am I going to DO with all of this??? – thoughts, I realized I would definitely need to make some plans. But what plans, I had no idea.