CSA-ccountability, Month #6 – September/October

It is really October. As so often happens, this month seems to have flown by, yet when I look at some of the foods at the beginning of this post, I can’t believe we had them only a month ago.

This also means, there’s only a month left in our CSA! Our last delivery comes mid-November! I am so torn about whether to continue into the winter CSA. But that dilemma deserves a post of its own.

So take a gander at the seasonal produce of southwest Pennsylvania, and what I have more or less attempted to do with it.

September 24th (Week #24):

  • beets: I think I managed to cook up the greens and eat them as a simple side, with some kale from the previous week. The beets themselves hung out in the fridge for a while before I finally boiled them; my hope is to put them in a batch of these delicious gluten-free red velvet cupcakes. I hope to do this very soon. Like perhaps tonight.
  • seckel pears: Are they not so cute and tiny?! We were not even sure what they were at first. As soon as I figured out that their hard skin concealed sweet pear flesh that was much riper than they felt, Naomi and I ate them as snacks all week. They were perfectly divine with the leftover curds from my second attempt at cheese.
  • garlic – I am used to buying minced garlic in a big ol’ container from the store that lasts me forever, so it took me a while to get used to the idea of having fresh garlic around. Eventually I did, and now this is used up!
  • heirloom tomatoes – don’t remember what happened to these. I think I just ate the two little yellow ones. I hope the others made it into some kind of dish. I don’t have a vague sense of guilt associated with seeing them again, so I probably didn’t have to throw them out.
  • onions – As ever, onions don’t last long around here.
  • parsley – I was determined this time not to let my herbs go bad. But I was a little dismayed when I got not one but two packets of parsley in my share! I successfully used one and a half bags; the last bit is still yellowing in the fridge, but I’m planning on putting it into some sausage before the weekend. Thankfully, flat parsley is relatively long-lived.
  • delicata squash – definitely just cut this up and roasted it with salt and pepper and cheese. They are so sweet and yummy that there’s no desperate need to do anything else to them.
  • eggplant – Are these eggplant not so cute, in all their diversity? This arrangement looks like it’s ready to be abstracted into some regional Italian flag.

These became part of my Babaganouch Rescue Plan. As you might remember from last month, I ended up with a very large batch of babaganouch that was very very not good. I posted a plea for ideas on Facebook, and got one that was perfect: just put it in moussaka! I love moussaka. By the time I got time to making it, though, half my nasty babaganouch batch was already moldy and gross. So I threw half of it out, and layered the decent remainder together with these little pretties, which had been properly sliced and salted. I used the recipe out of a big Greek cookbook we have. We just devoured it. Have I mentioned how I love moussaka?

October 1st (Week #25): I apparently remembered this week that I own a camera.

  • sweet dumpling squash: These pretty much looked like acorn squash with delicata stripes, so I treated them accordingly. I just sliced them in half, hollowed them out, gave them a little kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and a pat of butter each, and baked for about an hour at 350. (I am converted to coarse salt and fresh pepper. Mostly because now I can actually taste my salt and pepper.)
  • slicing tomatoes: turned into a strange and semi-successful plan; keep scrolling.
  • tomatillos: realized their fate as something other than salsa, for once. Specifically, a soup!
  • gold potatoes: a few of these went into said soup, documented below; the rest are still on my counter.
  • cherry belle radishes: so cute! It’s so wild to be back into the spring vegetables again, as they have one last hoorah between the summer’s blaze and the winter freeze. I let the greens go bad, not remembering I could use them until way too late, but the radishes themselves were sliced fine and roasted into delicious chips along with the turnips from the following week. More on that story later.
  • kale: became a fitted sheet for a chicken; see below.
  • carrots: went into a stock made from the same chicken; also see below.
  • sweet peppers: At the receipt of these peppers, between the CSA and our garden, we had no fewer than eight beautiful red and green bell peppers. Because I mostly grow bell peppers for my husband, I asked what he would want to do with them.

To my surprise, he went the simple route: we just made a big batch of his signature pasta, with mushrooms, onions, eggplant, and a little sausage thrown in. Along with some tomato sauce canned from the summer. Delicious, and so Jared.

Here are the sweet dumpling squash. Because, cute! But so simple. Simple roasted squash is one of the little joys of fall.

When I got this week’s kale, I was back to reading Cold Antler Farm, a memoir that I have been savoring, by one of my favorite author/bloggers. It’s the sort of book I can’t read all at once, or the longing and beauty would just overwhelm me, so I read it in spurts. Anyway, something I associate with Jenna’s foodways is the super-simple crockpot chicken. I love doing a whole chicken in a crockpot; it’s such a great way to feel like I’ve cooked something Fancy while doing almost NO work. Observe:

A bed of chopped red potatoes (from a previous week’s CSA; can’t find which one),

A thick layer of kale,

With a chicken on top, cleaned and salted and peppered inside and out, but otherwise unperturbed.

In my mind, dinners like this are what would motivate me to raise meat chickens. It might seem sick to some, I don’t doubt, but there’s something comforting to me about eating meat that still kinda looks like it came from an animal. And I can be pretty sure that there was only one life taken in the meal’s making, and if I can find a good source, it was a pretty non-miserable one. I am thankful for the life of this bird, even as it feeds me, and its being more or less still bird-shaped keeps me more conscious of that thankfulness.

Plus, cooking it this way, we can eke out every last bit of nutrition available from this bird. That’s what happened with the carrots from this week. Are they not So Cute?! I want to give them little names, like Mortimer and Sebastian.

After we ate the chicken, the carrots were chopped, along with an onion, and thrown back into the crockpot with the chicken carcass. They were joined by the chicken’s giblets, the heart from the pig we bought several months ago, and a whole bag of last week’s parsley (I told you I used some of it).

I fished out the organs when the stock was done, figuring that was still good meat. I wasn’t about to miss out on all that extra nutrition, I told myself, though I was happy enough to assume that any and all virtue in the veggies had gone into the stock, and I could discard them guiltless. For the open-minded experimenters among my readership: sliced organ meat is really yummy just on a piece of toast with jam. Think turkey and cranberry sauce kind of good.

The chicken stock, in turn, went into the next meal: Chicken and Tomatillo Soup. The tomatillos from early last month made it that long with only one or two casualties, and they were rewarded for their patience with much attention. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t want to make another batch of salsa. This soup was just right.

I bought Less Awesome chicken to go into this recipe, but the stock more than made up for it. I even bought a cilantro plant at the farmer’s market so I would have some fresh for the soup. We’ll see how long I can keep it alive. I’m not usually much of one for taking pictures of my dinner, but I was rather proud of this one, so I tried.

The last food adventure from this week (I’m getting tired just remembering all this!) was what to do with the abundance of tomatoes we were accumulating again. We had a bunch from the garden, and the slicing tomatoes from this week’s CSA put me over the edge. Not really enough to can, but too many to just eat. So I got a brilliant idea: why not try making sundried tomatoes!

Never mind that I have access to neither a dehydrator nor the sun. And that my oven’s “warm” setting is like 260 degrees (I checked) – way hotter than is supposed to work for oven-dehydrating. Didn’t stop me, no-sirree!

Here’s what I discovered: with obsessive hourly checking and prodding, tomatoes can become sundried in my oven after about 7-12 hours, depending on thickness. The corollary: I really shouldn’t have started that second batch at 3 pm. It was a long night. I told myself it was practice for baby #2, but then I realized that was stupid. These are tomatoes. I need my sleep.

I would say about 2/3 of them turned out really nice. They went into bags and into the freezer. The ones that cooked past bendiness and into slightly-blackened crunchiness (still yummy but not that usable), I stuck into a jar and filled it with olive oil. In my fantasy world with made-up chemistry, the oil will soften them into pesto-ready deliciousness. In the real world, they might flavor the olive oil a little without ruining it.

October 8th (Week #26): 26 weeks? This means that we have officially been doing this for half a year! Mid-April feels more like half a lifetime ago, but this veggie adventure not so much. Time is weird.

  • kale (baby kale?): This sat in the fridge for over a week, and my realization of the urgent need to use it coincided with my realization that the lacto-fermented kimchi in the fridge was definitely ready to try. So I was pinning Korean recipes all over the place, and ran into this one for kimchi fried rice with greens. It was super easy, especially making the rice ahead of time in a rice cooker and washing the the greens in advance, so it only required about 15 minutes of pre-dinner cooking time. I tend to want to add more eggs and more greens than suggested in the recipe. We will be coming back to this one on weeknights, I’m sure.
  • apple cider: After our last quart went into that crazy batch of apple sauce, this quart we have been savoring slowly for ourselves. I like it best with a big dash of cinnamon, and little dashes of cloves, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, nuked warm. Mulled cider for lazy people. Lazy people with toddlers who are amused for 15 whole minutes by playing with spice tins.
  • blue potatoes: These are still in patient waiting for their turn. I may be hoarding them a little, but I am excited about a potato that looks like it might have some real nutrition in it.
  • onions: gone, baby, gone. Actually there might be one left that will go into breakfast fajita burritos over vacation this weekend.
  • red kuri squash: this is still patiently waiting too, but I am majorly drawn to this Indian curry squash idea. I have literally everything to make it on hand, with some yummy dal on the side.
  • sugar snap peas: I sat down one day with a book during naptime and ate them all. This was a good decision.
  • garlic: I think there’s one head left. It’s nice to have around. It’ll probably go into the aforementioned curry squash.
  • salad turnips: Poor dears. See below for this silly story.
  • broccoli: when I saw this crazy recipe on the CSA’s blog for broccoli stir fry with ginger and sesame, I had to have it. Then, because I had neither chicken stock nor chicken broth nor even those nasty pellets of chicken boullion, I utterly departed from the recipe I had so coveted: I added hot water and peanut butter instead, a few tablespoons, and got gado-gado stir-fry broccoli. I love gado gado anything, so I would definitely do this again. Without bothering with the sesame seeds, because who has time for that?

What follows is less a story about salad turnips – which are lovely tender white turnips that never said anything mean about your mother – and more a story about grace. It was the day of the first session of the first Bible study that I had ever started, and probably the first that I had every really led at all. (If you are in that Bible study and reading this, don’t you feel reassured?) Anyway, I was well-prepared and knew cognitively that I didn’t have anything to worry about, but I was a little worked up about it. And I had said I would bring a side vegetable for dinner.

I had these cutie-pootie salad turnips, which google told me were more like radishes in consistency, so I decided to pair them with the actual radishes I had, and make chips. Easy, right? Slice, roast, voila! Not so much.

First, I should have started them during naptime. Second, I didn’t realize they would take more than one batch. Third, my rimless baking sheets all did a terrible mean thing where they popped into a convex shape once heated, letting all the oily slices of vegetable slide off and turn into charcoal armageddon on the oven floor. Fourth, I didn’t realize this was why they kept falling off until most of the way through the second batch, when the kitchen was hopelessly full of smoke and we were already destined to be late.The side dish was rescued by risking lung damage by smoke inhalation to myself and my babies (which nothing is worth), and they were less chips than roasted veg slices, which I could have just thrown all together into a Pyrex. Then, fifth, we mis-calculated how long it would take to get to our destination, so adding lateness and traffic, we were half an hour late.

There were about five points during that afternoon, when, hunched over my mandolin with a headache and an injured finger, with my neglected toddler pleading me to read a book to her, that I could have just stopped. Said, “you know what, this isn’t working; let’s get some potato salad on the way.” Or even shown up empty handed with an apology. That would have been so completely fine. But I was tired, and stubborn, and proud. The fact that the dish was rescued and actually tasted good did not fool me. I was not deluded that it had “worked out,” or that I had not made a series of bad decisions on top of accidents and mistakes.

It was a major, if silly, lesson in accepting my limits. In the need to trust in grace. And then the Bible study went really well. Because I had to completely relax after that. Because nothing cures you of the delusion that you can get it all together than having everything fall hopelessly apart. Then I was to chill out and walk with the mercy I’d been given.

So yeah, salad turnips are good…

October 15th (Week #27):

  • green carmen peppers: These are funny shaped bell peppers as far as I can tell; completely mild. Jared put these into a yummy side dish for a fabulous pork loin dinner he made the other night: a simple black bean, corn, and pepper salad. Vinegar is involved.
  • bosc pears: These we have mostly eaten with lunches, but a couple went into a bit of prettyness you’ll see below.
  • red lettuce: Also involved in the prettiness.
  • chèvre: Also involved in the prettiness. (Interested yet?)
  • French breakfast radishes: Dear me, I had forgotten about these. I know I forgot to separate the greens again, so those are probably a loss. I have been roasting a lot lately, so I will probably roast the pretty radishes when I have something else in the oven, for the sake of efficiency.
  • collard greens: One time, years and years ago, I made collard greens, during a time when I could not find a ham hock to save my life. Or maybe I was vegetarian then; I don’t even know. Anyway, during that time, I found I could cook collards with liquid smoke. So we still have that stupid bottle of liquid smoke, with no knowledge of what to make with it other than collard greens. Thus, despite having a ham hock in my freezer right now, we made that same old collard green recipe we always make, with liquid smoke. They’re pretty good, but we might need to alter our pattern here.
  • sweet potatoes: I am so excited these are here, and I am ignoring them for now.
  • delicata squash: Also being ignored at the moment, but I have pinned about fifteen creative delicata squash recipes by now. Still, I will most likely roast these with salt and pepper and butter, and be more than happy.
  • leeks: This time around I realized, that despite my professed love of leeks, I don’t tend to make things with leeks that just let the leeks be… leek-y. So, on the hunt for a simple side dish, I found this recipe for steamed leeks with mustard-shallot vinegarette.

It’s way simpler than it looks, with everything being make-ahead, so it fit my life just right. I even had a shallot from CSA weeks ago. Yet with a bit more of that parsley that I’m desperately trying to use up, it looks almost fancy.

The straight-up steamed leeks were quite tasty in themselves, but having them in those 2″ long strips made them a little stringy. And having them cold was a little weird. And the dressing was so strong that it tended to overpower the easygoing sweetness of the leeks. So an easy and clever recipe, but one I will depart from in future. I want to experiment with warm steamed leeks, in smaller pieces, maybe with some kind of vinegar reduction. Or, you know, someone else who knows what they’re doing could go do that and tell me how it works out.

Oh, the mystery of having fresh local lettuce in October! We are going out of town in a few days, and I realized suddenly on Monday night that this lettuce would have to be eaten that night if it was going to be enjoyed. With no time or desire to go to the store, I looked around. My recipe for instantly-fabulous salad is lettuce + something sweet + something crunchy + salad-appropriate cheese. I had pears for the something sweet; those bosc pears are a delight. (Naomi “helped” make this salad, mostly by standing on a chair and eating half my pear chunks. No complaint here.)

I had the chevre, but my last attempt to add chevre to a salad was messy and weird. It’s the right flavor, but not crumbly enough. Then I remembered back to a nearly-forgotten restaurant outing when I had first gotten a salad with a goat cheese medallion on it. That just sounded too ridiculously complex gourmet for a last-minute side dish idea, so I looked around pinterest without much hope. Then I found this recipe for really simple, gluten-free, baked goat cheese medallions. Being coated in almonds, they’d satisfy the crunchy requirement too. And I had all the things called for! (Okay, I used GF all-purpose flour instead of almond meal, but it’s the exact same idea.)

After the Turnip Disaster of 2014 the week before, I knew I had to be open-minded about this not working out. But when Naomi was my cheerful little helper, it turned into a fairly fun and manageable project.

Funny story: Naomi had been helping by carrying things from the cupboard over to a chair by the table, where I was doing my mixing. When I got the egg out for that layer, she really wanted to help carry the egg. I was a little concerned, as she’d watched me crack many an egg at this point. We had a little chat about how she’d have to be very careful, and she seemed to understand. So she very carefully carried the one egg over to the chair… and then carefully tried to smash it to smithereens on the chair.

It was permitted to be really funny, in that moment, by the fact that she did not actually succeed in breaking the shell. Good grief I love that kid.

I am new to this whole food-photography thing, so the finished salad (with a bit of balsamic vinegarette, of course) you see here… well, you’ll just have to trust me that it tasted really good.

And the goat cheese medallions? I made enough for us each to have one per meal, explaining it to Naomi as a “cheese cookie.” She ate it too fast for me to get a picture of her eating it. So this is the look on her face that says “mo’ teez tootie?” which she also said with words.

Mercifully, and ever-so-weirdly, she also loved the leeks.

So I leave you with a picture of a toddler slurping down slimy cold leek strips, and the lessons learned from this month of veggie-experimentation. Only one more installment of this particular saga! I can’t wait for more deep-fall squash…

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