Tag Archives: fruit

CSA #5: Greens’n’Beans!

It’s been a rough week. Other than my brief trip to Jose & Tony’s on Monday, eating-wise it’s been a week of scraps, leftovers, and retreads. It hasn’t all been bad, of course – burnt out by Wednesday, I took my partner to Thai Cuisine, where yellow curry with mock duck soothed my weary soul – but until the weekend, I hadn’t really had a chance to relax, to spend time in my kitchen, to write.

It was another great week for our CSA, however. No homemade preserves in this bundle, but a few welcome surprises, such as fingerling potatoes, hot peppers, and a big stalk of fresh garlic. If I can convince my partner to plant it instead of eat it, we might be able to start that garden sooner rather than later.

On a side note, but related to produce: It seems like everyone’s personal gardens are starting to burst with product. In the upcoming weeks I’d like to feature recipes that are of use to my gardening friends, so if you’ve got more zucchinis or tomatoes or basil etc than you can handle, drop me a comment and let me know what kind of recipes you’re in need of. If you just feel like getting rid of your produce, you can make sacrificial offerings at my address. We take all forms of vegetables, fruit, and cookies.

Now for this week’s yield!


Fresh basil

Potatoes!


More Swiss chard (coupled with last week’s bunch, look for this in our featured CSA recipe this week – just at the bottom of this article)


Radishes (more white bean, radish, and pea pod salad?)


Onions (uncured, so we were warned that they would go faster than store-bought. Not a problem, we’ve already used two out of three.)

As stated above, this past week didn’t exactly afford me a lot of kitchen time, but the CSA has been a significant help in not going hungry. Thanks to two straight weeks of Swiss chard and well-timed purchase of navy beans, I made an easy dinner for our post-family July 4th evening.

Beans and Greens

Ingredients
– 1 lb Swiss chard, kale, or spinach, or green of choice (the amount can vary, but a pound is recommended)
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 1 15 oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed.
– 2 tsp garlic pepper
– 1 tsp dried basil
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

– Heat oil in medium-sized pot, then saute onions until tender. Throw in the greens (feel free to tear them into whatever size you desire), add the garlic pepper, and cook at low heat for five minutes.

– Once the greens are looking tender (but not completely soft), add the white beans and basil. Cover and cook at very low heat for up to twenty minutes.

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CSA #4 & Asian Slaw!

The third week of our CSA was the most adventurous yet, what with cauliflower, green kohlrabi, and a big bunch of bok choy. I’ll get to the eventual fate of the kohlrabi and bok choy in a minute, but first: CSA #4!

From left: kale, salad greens, brown rice.

Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli

Green onions and radishes

There was a large patch of black raspberries growing, so one of the volunteers offered to make a batch of jarred preserves for the CSAs this week. We ate our way through it most of the weekend, smearing it on whatever neutral surface we could find. I tried to convince James to eat it with a spoon, but he had to draw the line somewhere.

Whatever.

Anyway, as to the fate of the green kohlrabi and bok choy, I was a little worried about spoiling if I held onto them past this week, so I made it one of my meal-planning objectives to figure out a good way to use them. A few of you had some really great suggestions. I especially loved the idea of making a nice vegetable stock with the bok choy, but with the summertime heat and the lack of open windows in my kitchen, it was a tad too warm for anything that needed to simmer for a long while on the stove top.

I was still riding on a cold salad high from last weekend, so I decided to take it a step further and experiment with a slaw based off of the bok choy, the kohlrabi, cabbage, and a big yellow bell pepper. Because I don’t have quite the right equipment to make a really shredded slaw, mine came out a bit chunky and extra crunchy. For a finer crunch, really shave down those veggies. A microplane works nicely – and I should get one, along with a knife-sharpening kit.

Summertime Asian Slaw

Ingredients
– 1/2 pound bok choy stalks, sliced down into thin strips
– 1/2 pound green kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced or shaved
– 1/2 pound green or purple cabbage, chopped and shredded
– 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
– 1 tbsp brown sugar
– 2 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
– 1 tbsp canola oil
– 2 tsp powdered ginger

– In a large bowl, combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil. Mix until well combined.

– Throw in veggies and toss in dressing. Add the ginger one teaspoon at a time. Mix until all ingredients are evenly coated. Allow to chill for an hour.

Goodbye Food Pyramid!

This past week, the USDA announced that it would be retiring its longstanding symbol of healthy eating, the Food Pyramid, in favor of a new, more family pleasing graphic, MyPlate.

In addition to the obvious shape and structure changes, the new MyPlate emphasizes fruits and veggies over the former Pyramid’s favoring of grains. The identifiable breakdown of a balanced meal relegates protein to side dish status and pushes the dairy component off the plate entirely. While exact serving size and categorization of food items is not immediately available on the new graphic, additional information is available on the USDA MyPlate site.

Proponents of the Plate criticize the Food Pyramid as incomprehensible to the average consumer. Translating the densely packed pyramid required a food preparer to pay strong attention to serving size, as well as keeping track of servings within servings of dishes. Translating the basic dietary guidelines to serve the average family allows everyone to understand the language of healthy eating.

Indeed, the plate is simple to understand, perhaps too simple, say some critics. How can the plate support healthy eating when little information beyond colorful blocks of generalized food groups are identified on the image? Criticism of the plate includes the complaint that the plate image gives no better understanding of what is considered healthy within each food group. Nutritious eating is far more complicated than its general categories may indicate, they argue, and the plate only misleads consumers. (Fruit juice, for example, contains natural sugars that metabolize in the body at rate similar to soda pop. Yet fruit juice can be considered a part of the “fruits” food group.)

Both sides make fair points. While daily nutrition is a far more complex issue than reflected on MyPlate, the new image is a step in the right direction for the USDA. They’re not claiming that this is the be-all, end-all of healthy eating directives. They simply wanted an image that would resonate in the kitchens of average consumers. While the Food Pyramid is something learned as a child and quickly disregarded, the Plate is a fairly easy ideal to put in place for every meal.

Still, I find myself agreeing mostly with USDA critics who dismiss the image of healthy eating as a minor issue in the fight for healthy eating. Even with a revitalized healthy eating campaign, the fact remains that for many, many Americans, a nutritious diet is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of economic status.

A great quote from Hank Cardello (and quoted in an opinion piece about the Plate in the LA Times) calls for a solution to one of the biggest obstacles in bringing fresh, healthy foods to populations who need them:

Perhaps there is another way to address the food desert dilemma. Instead of prompting grocers to enter unprofitable markets, why don’t we bring the inner city residents to the grocery stores? After all, there are over 30,000 supermarkets located in nearby suburban and non-rural areas. It’s just a question of finding an easy way to transport the shoppers.

Cardello’s point is apt: What good is an image defining a healthy manner of eating when the products themselves are not available to consumers? And encouraging grocery stores to open locations in markets that are financially unstable is a fool’s errand. But is the answer as simple as busing people out of the inner city to suburban markets? Would their income level jibe with the average prices in a suburban supermarket?

What do you think about the new MyPlate? Is the new image a tremendous step forward for healthy eating or is it missing the larger issues entirely?

Good Morning, Summertime!


On a recent episode of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, the foursome discussed the start of summer, specifically: What things, whether they be booklists, food items, or the start of blockbuster movie season, get you excited for summertime?

It got me thinking about the foods that inherently mean summer to me. As one of the commentators on the podcast mentioned, being an adult can sometimes ruin the seasonal aspect of treats enjoyed as a child. I don’t have to wait till the summer reappearance of the ice cream truck to get my ice cream sandwich fix. Hell, I could have one right now, if I wanted. (Well, I’d have to go down to the corner store, but you get what I’m saying.)

Feeding yourself as a grown up means overruling a lot of your worst impulses. It’s tempting, especially when my schedule gets chaotic, to eat cereal for dinner every night. Nourishing? No. But it’s easy to make, easy to consume, doesn’t dirty a whole of pots, pans, and dishes, and what’s more, I like cereal. But no, as an adult, I have to recognize that it’s not okay just to eat cereal for dinner every night. Nor is it okay to have an ice cream sandwich for breakfast every morning. (Seriously, though, as I write this at 7:30 am, that’s starting to sound more and more appealing.)

So… we pick and choose. We compromise. We get our vegetables in but eat cookies when we want to. Or we deny ourselves until specified times to indulge. But seasonal restrictions don’t really come into play. We might not eat ice cream sandwiches every day, but it’s not because it’s not summertime. It’s because we’re trying to make the better choice.

What about other stereotypical summer foods? Well, as soon as my friends started getting settled, they started buying grills, which meant that grilling also became less a summertime occupation and more of a “as long as the weather is decent” option.

Stuff that is generally only available in abundance on seasonal terms, like fruit, is still fairly restricted to specified seasons. You won’t find me eating much strawberries in the winter, but in the summertime, it’s rare to have less than a pound in my fridge. I generally eat more fruit in the summertime because the season yields some of my favorite crops. And right toward the end of August, when apple season is just getting started, I tend to eat more fruit than anything else.

But really, if there is a single item that most reminds me of summer, most makes me feel the oncoming summer season, it’s got to be lemonade. Despite how much I drink it in the summertime, I never find myself desiring it outside the months of May-August, but during the warmest months, I am in constant craving for the stuff. Cold, crisp, tart, refreshing, lemonade is my summertime drink. That first sip, sometime mid-May, always makes me feel like the summer is just moments away. That first sip reminds me of all the lukewarm, watered-down lemonade that I drank as a kid, at daycare or summer camp or served by well-meaning friends’ moms. It reminds me of infinite stretches of open days and nothing much to do but try to fill in the long gaps of time with stuff to do. It reminds me of the transition between the novelty adoration of the warm weather and then, usually around late July, getting really worn out on the heat and just wishing it would stop.

So my meandering has brought me to a general question: What foods do you still consider “summertime” foods? What food item most brings out a childlike summertime excitement?

Good Morning, Apricot Coffee Cake!

I used to make a killer sour cream coffee cake. The original basis came from AllRecipes.com, but as I returned again and again to the dish, I put my own tweaks on it. I toyed around with extra flavors, zests, extracts, fresh and frozen fruits. I got the cooking time just right. I knew when to use icing and when to use a crumb topping, and I knew exactly how much to use.

And they always came out perfect. Soft, but substantial, sweet but not overpowering, absolutely great for either breakfast or dessert. Provided there were any leftovers, they even stored well and could keep for up to three days if packed properly. I ran through every idea I had and the best turnouts- chocolate chips and cocoa powder, cardamom and orange zest, cream cheese and blueberry preserves – more than made up for the few failures. I never got tired of making them and no one seemed to be tired of eating them.

Then I moved.

The new apartment had a rented stove that was about fifteen years older than the one I had during my coffee cake renaissance. When I cooked my first coffee cake in my new kitchen, I was shocked by the way it had turned out. Where was the fluffy, moist cake? Why was the crumb topping so dry and flavorless? Why was everything so flat? And how did it get burned?!?

I was dispirited. Even my failed experiments had never been this bad. This was barely edible (in fact, after bravely eating a piece, most of the remains did find their way into the trash). I tried to learn from my potential mistakes: I must have been careless about the amounts of flour, baking powder, and sugar. It must have baked too long. I must not have greased the pan enough.

So I tried again. But even with the tweaking of cooking time, the careful attentiveness to ingredients and prep, and a watchful eye while the cake sat in the oven, it still failed. It wasn’t the horror show that the prior failure had been, but it was still a failure. I had to face facts.

The magic was gone.

So, flash forward to the present. Since my coffee cake heartbreak, I have made a total of zero coffee cakes. Like any jilted lover, I moved onto other culinary distractions. I had brief flings with cupcakes, dabbled casually with muffins, and settled into a nice routine with the dependable and delightful cookie, a relationship that satisfies me to this day. But sometimes, when I’m craving something that I can’t quite name, I know what I’m actually yearning for.

I was tempted by the coffee cake recipes in Sarah Kramer’s books, as well as the sure-to-be delicious recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking, but I was always afraid to attempt them. For one, I didn’t want to come back to coffee cake baking after such a long absence just to fail once more. In addition, I had never tried a vegan coffee cake recipe, so I was worried about botching not only my comeback cake, but my first attempt at a vegan one at that.

Sunday, however, after a week that was rich in both pain and healing (a story that I will come back to another time), I was looking for a distraction and picked up my recently purchased copy of Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Mokowitz. Thumbing through the recipes, I was about to try out the tomato-rosemary scones when one last courtesy flip through the pages landed me on her recipe for “East Coast Coffee Cake.” And I thought, well, why the hell not?

For my first time back to coffee cakes, I stayed fairly true to Isa’s recipe, tweaking just a few ingredients to match my own tastes. Her basic recipe does include fruit preserves, but she includes handy directions on including any number of ingredients. The recipe turned out to be a cinch to make, and while the results weren’t perfect, they were far from the disasters of my last coffee cake attempts. I’m not sure we’ll ever be as close as we once were, but it looks like me and coffee cake are on the redemption road to a casual friendship.

Apricot Coffee Cake

Ingredients

For the topping
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1/4 cup veg oil

For the cake
– 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup veg oil
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp baking pwoder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup apricot jam

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 square pan. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and set aside to allow for curdling.

– For the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the oil by tablespoons, mixing it into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Keep mixing until you’ve got a mixture of large and small crumbs. Set aside.

– For the cake, mix together the milk-vinegar mixture, sugar, vegetable oil, and extracts. Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth.

– Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the 1/2 cup of apricot jam over the batter, then swirl it with a knife or fork. Sprinkle topping over the batter and lightly pat down.

– Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, add powdered sugar if desired, then slice and serve!

Good Morning, Community Supported Agriculture!

Thanks to testimonies from friends and from several local blogs (but especially Yum Yum), I have decided to quit sitting the fence and subscribe to a CSA.

From gfgastronaut.wordpress.com

Community supported agriculture, or CSA, has its roots in early 1960s Switzerland, Germany and Japan, when local consumers became concerned about the potential fiscal and health related problems that imported agriculture posed to their communities. For a set number of weeks, consumers purchase a subscription to a local farm entitling them to a weekly share of the crops. There is inherent shared risk and reward in the system, meaning that consumers get whatever the farm grows seasonally (and their share reflects the season’s yield). While contemporary versions of the system have expanded to include specific item ala carte ordering, mostly it works the same way: you subscribe and receive a share, usually vegetables and fruit, sometimes dairy and meat and occasionally even sundry items (apple butter, preserves, cider).

The main drawback of the system is the risk the consumer takes – a thin harvest means little to distribute as shares – but the benefits of the system are immense. Firstly, community supported agriculture does exactly that: supports agriculture in the community. By buying shares of the harvest, consumers are allowing farms to continue to exist, to thrive, to grow. Local farms can continue to feed and educate their communities. Everybody benefits.

From postgazette.com

In addition, CSA subscribers are given an increased intimacy with the food they eat. Knowing not only where the food has come from but how it was grown and when can lead to a powerful bond between grower, buyer, and the food between them. As a CSA participant, you are getting from a local source, which cuts down on the amount of travel, therefore, short of growing it yourself, you’re getting some of the freshest possible produce.

Western Pennsylvania boasts many local farms, which means a lot of choices when it comes to CSAs. That’s where I need some help. Anyone who has a subscription, which program/farm do you subscribe to? One of my friends, Kait, had a summer box with Isidore Foods, a company that pulls from several farms in Lawrence, Butler, and other counties to offer year-round CSA subscriptions. Because they have drop-off points right down the road from me in Mt. Lebanon, it makes sense to go with Isidore, but what are some other good options?

For reference:

From the Fork and the Road

Slow Food Pittsburgh has a good, concise guide to choosing a CSA.
– A good discussion thread on Chowhound regarding local CSA options.
– Nice overview on CSAs at Local Harvest.
– Comprehensive list of local farms from Grow Pittsburgh
– Isidore sponsored Eat Local Pittsburgh