Thursday, May 28, 2009

CSA - Week 3

I get my box every two weeks - so there is no week 2 here. Straight from week 1 to week 3. And boy is it another great mix of veggies! Here's what we picked up today: A garden herb pack (NINE real herb plants that I can add to my garden!! What a treat!), Green Garlic, Green Onion, Parsnips, Sunchokes, Spinach, Salad Mix, Spring Radish, Pea Vine, Rhubarb, Asparagus, Hon Tsai Tai.

Hon-what? Yeah, that's what I thought too! I Googled this one and found next to nothing on it, but did find out it's an Asian green. So I asked my co-worker who is from China if he's cooked this vegetable before and had any tips. Turns out he had! Here's what he said:

"I really love eating this vegetable. It's only available in certain places in China, but it's very popular in my home town! You're very lucky by asking me...Oh, here is how we cook it: add oil and some chopped fresh garlic if you like, then stir fry with some salt, add a little vinegar at the end. Hope this helps."

He couldn't believe I was getting it here in Minnesota! Don't I feel lucky now?!!

I also want to share this FABULOUS guide posted in my CSA's newsletter last week. I think I'm gonna have to print this one and post it in the kitchen somewhere. It's chock full of good advice for us first time CSA subscribers! Enjoy!

How to Approach an Unfamiliar Vegetable for the First Time
(Courtesy of the Harmony Valley Farm May 21, 2009 Newsletter)
1.Try it raw. Cut a piece off and taste it. Face your fear head-on and give it a try. Most veggies are at least edible raw, and many are quite tasty. (If any of our veggies are toxic in their raw state, we promise to warn you first.) This will give you an idea of what it tastes like, what its properties are, what flavors will complement it, and what you may want to use it for. You should try your veggies each week, since the flavor and texture will change based on the weather and the plant’s maturity. The recipe that worked so well for green garlic in its first week might not work as well two weeks later, as the plant has had more time to grow and the leaves may be quite a bit tougher.

2.Is this like any vegetable you are used to? Most veggies can be sorted roughly into the following categories: a)Garlicy or oniony b)Firm and crisp c)Firm and starchy d)Leafy and tender e)Leafy and firm/tough f)Veggies not otherwise specified

3.Cook or prepare your new veggie the way you would prepare a similar veggie. If you find a veggie that reminds you of a carrot in flavor and texture, how about using it in a dish in place of a carrot to see how it turns out? In general, here’s some simple rules of preparation for our veggie categories:
a)Many variations of onion and garlic and their relatives will show up in your box throughout the season, some with slightly different flavors. They can all be used in place of plain old garlic cloves or onions in your usual recipes; simply adjust the quantity to your liking. Strength or flavor will vary from one plant to the next, and from week to week, so be sure you are aware of the potency of your onion or garlic before using it in a recipe.
b)Firm, crisp and pleasant raw: think carrots, radishes, etc. Slice or grate and add to sandwiches or salads.
c)Firm and starchy: think potatoes, sunchokes, winter squash, etc. Moisture and slow cooking times are needed to break down starches. Try boiling, steaming, or slow roasti ng with plenty of oil.
d)Leafy and tender: salads! Some of the more strongly flavored greens you may wish to mix with milder ones. It depends on your taste.
e)Leafy and firm or tough: kales, chards, etc. Usually, remove the center rib if it is very tough, cut into bite-size pieces and steam or sauté. I also like many of the tougher greens raw, but they must be cut very small or you will spend a lot of your day chewing them.
f)Veggies not otherwise specified: okay, not everything fits neatly into five categories.

4.Get adventurous. Try a new recipe, or add your new veggie to an existing recipe. Toss it into your spaghetti sauce. Add it to your chili or chicken soup. Most times that I have used this approach, I have not been disappointed. Many times, I have been delighted.

5.Use available resources. Our website has a great archive of recipes for most of our produce, as well as previous years’ newsletters and veggie info sheets that give cooking tips. You should also try to get your hands on at least one good cookbook geared towards seasonal eating. I find that when I search “conventional” recipe sources, I end up finding lots of recipes calling for foods that are not in season at the same time and I must make lots of substitutions and adjustments. (Substitutions and adjustments are okay!) I think that willingness to try something unfamiliar and make substitutions to work with what you have are key to enjoying your CSA experience.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Composting 101

So I attended a composting workshop tonight put on by my local recycling organization, Eureka Recycling. Aside from the constant struggle to keep my 4-year-old from bursting out with loud exclamations like: "Composting? Huh?" or when they took out the book of 'creatures' that like to live in compost, "CREATURES! What creatures??!!!" or trying to ignore his rambling around the room with his matchbox car making car noises, I think it was pretty much worth the time. The whole thing took about an hour during which we got a useful 4 page handout with tips on composting, an Earth Machine compost bin for only $45, and got to hear the two instructors' experiences with composting and ask whatever burning questions we had.

Before attending the workshop I knew you needed to include browns/dry (leaves, paper, etc), greens/wet (this would basically be the food waste), water and you better stir the pile once in a while if you don't want it to stink. But I was really nervous about how many leaves I need to try to scrounge up at the end of May to get this compost thing started. I mean, I did put a few in my garden beds last fall, but they are scarce now people! And the thing is, they were really hesitant to tell us exactly how much of the good ol' brown stuff we should put into our bins starting out. The rule of thumb we got was: try it out. If it's not working try to add some more browns, or stir the pile, or make sure it's got some moisture. Hmmm. I actually really like rules. I like to know how things work - exactly not approximately. So while this should have felt like a reassuring thing to me it was not. I'll try to be an easy-going-trial-and-error type with this composting thing but in all honesty that's asking an awful lot of this city girl!

In a nutshell, here's what I learned tonight about composting:
1. It's not a precise science (no matter how much I want it to be). It's more of a 'try it out and see what works with your pile' kinda thing.
2. It's not supposed to be smelly. If it stinks something's wrong.
3. In the city of St Paul, you must put your compost bin at least 5ft from your property line. I don't get that one at all. My neighbors can have their farm smelling dog kennel right on our property line, but my sweet smelling compost must allow for some space. This messes with my idea of where I was going to put the bin. Hmmm....
4. OK for compost: fruit scraps, veggie scraps, coffee grounds & filter, paper towels & napkins, pizza boxes (if not too greasy), cardboard egg cartons, egg shells, tea bags, rice/pasta/bread (without a lot of fat), dryer lint, hair, yard stuff except for nasty weeds & weed seeds that you don't want to grow in your compost or later in your garden when you use the compost. Am I missing any? Oh and when in doubt, try it out. You'll know whether it's composting or not.
5. Not OK for compost: meats, oils or fats (includes mayo and peanut butter), bones, cat litter, dairy products, sauces, and the weed thing I kinda mentioned above. I should point out that the reasoning behind most of these 'not OK' items is that they attract animals to your compost bin. The last thing you want is a rabbit den or bunch of baby snakes in your bin the next time you go to stir it up!
6. I should not stress about the proper way to compost. Have I said this enough yet? It's OK to stir it a lot, stir it a little, whatever. Most important thing: if it stinks change something about what you're doing. Add more browns, more moisture or stir the dang thing.

Next on my list is some way to teach my 4-year-old what goes in the garbage vs. what goes in the compost container. I found a couple of graphics (gotta love Google Images) - what do you think of this one (courtesy of Shropshire Master Composters)? It's not entirely complete but I think it'll be helpful to him to see this on the garbage can lid for a while as a reminder. Personally, I love the graphic on the Earth Machine Website under How to Compost. Maybe I'll put that one up as a reminder to myself for a while too!

Lastly, I simply must share this great document recently published by Eureka Recycling: Recycling, Composting and Greenhouse Gas Reductions in Minnesota. Did you know that "A typical household in the Twin Cities area throws away over 10 pounds of household compostable material every week?" Ten POUNDS! Shocking! This is enough to get me started with composting despite it's lack of conformity to my perfectionist tendencies. And apparently if we recycled and composted everything that we should be, only 22% of what Minnesotans are currently throwing in the trash would remain there. So let's get on it shall we?!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Two Small Victories

Today I dropped off my bike at the repair shop for a tune up and a few minor repairs. Believe it or not it hasn't been ridden in over four years! It's definitely in need of a bit of TLC. In a couple of days I'll be able to pick it up and take it for a spin - let's hope I remember how! Hopefully in the next couple weeks I'll be up for doing my first commute to work via bike!

Another not so minor victory today - I used up the last of my CSA share! Well, sort of. I did have one small bit of sorrel that went bad. I was going to use it in a quiche with my tiny bit of remaining ramps. Instead I used the last few stalks of my asparagus with the ramps and a bit of chives. I must say it is excellent!

Here's the recipe I tailored myself following some guidance from my How to Cook Everything cookbook. (I LOVE that book!)

Asparagus and Ramp Quiche

1 frozen pie crust (I use Pillsbury)
6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream (or 2 c any combination cream, milk and/or half and half)
5-6 stalks of asparagus, coarsely chopped
3 ramps, white part finely chopped, stalk and leaves chopped
1-2 cups of cheese, shredded (I hear goat cheese is excellent. I used part sheep cheese, part cranberry cheddar because that's what I had on hand. Really this is rare! I am normally a plain cheddar and/or mozz kinda gal but we recently took a trip to Wisconsin and stopped off at a wonderful cheese shop on the way home!)
1-2 T of vegetable oil
4-6 chives, with bud, finely chopped

Cook white part of ramps in 1-2 T oil over medium-high heat until they start to brown. Lower heat to medium and add remaining parts of the ramps, and asparagus. When asparagus starts to soften, add chives and cook for 1 additional minute. Put vegetable mixture on a plate to cool.

Unroll pie shell into a deep dish pie plate. (If you do not have a deep dish pie plate as I didn't, you will have some extra filling that you can bake without a crust in another small baking dish if you like. ) Poke the pie shell with a fork all over and pre-bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until just starting to brown. Remove from oven and lower temp to 325 degrees.

While pie shell is cooking, mix eggs in a medium bowl. Heat cream in small sauce pan just until barely warmed, add to eggs. Add cheese, and the cooled vegetable mixture.

Pour quiche mixture into the pre-baked pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until set. Enjoy!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

CSA - Week 1

Well, I did it. This city girl finally got her rear in gear and joined a CSA. I was a little nervous about how I would manage to use up all the fresh veggies coming my way. Would I find the time to find recipes and make the home cooked meals it required? Would I even like them? My partner, gotta love her, informed me very clearly that she "would not eat half of the vegetables they give you." Hmm.

The thing is some CSAs allow you to sign up for less frequent deliveries if you think you cannot keep up with a once a week delivery. Or some people choose to go in on it with a friend and split them. Luckily for us I found Harmony Valley Farm which has many glorious options! So, I signed us up for veggies every other week. And fruit every other week (opposite the veggies). And cheese once a month. Before you start to think I went a little overboard for a first-timer, let me point out that I did miraculously manage to hold myself back from also ordering the coffee share. If you knew anything about me and coffee you'd know that's a true feat! And, also a feat, a week since getting our first veggie box my partner has eaten more than half the veggies they gave us. In fact, she's eaten exactly what I have, except for the black radish chips (more on those later).

All in all, this has been a glorious week of amazingly good, nutritious, veggie filled recipes! I'm completely thrilled with the whole experience so far (aside from the larger than normal mounds of dirty dishes!) Over the next few days I'll try to post some of the recipes we've tried. But for starters I'll share the absolutely scrumptious dinner we had tonight:

Beef and Black Radish Stew (Khuplama)
This was the best thing I've made in a long time! It cooks for a while, but it was so easy. And I got to use up one more of those radishes. The only think I did differently from the recipe is to skip the cayenne and cilantro and added some chili powder. Do you know radish is one of those things that my partner swore she would not eat? And she had no idea it was in here!

Potato, Parsnip and Ramp Pie
Great side dish. I adapted the recipe quite a bit to fit what I had on hand so I'll re-type it here the way I did it. In hind sight I think it could have used a couple cloves of garlic too. Here's what I did:
1 lb potatos & parsnips, peeled & cut into 1-inch cubes
1 c cheddar, grated
1/2 c half & half
3 eggs
salt & pepper
One pre-made pie crust (I use Pillsbury frozen pie crusts)
3 ramps, chopped - use all parts of the ramps

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the potatoes & parsnips. Let boil for 15 minutes until tender. Drain. Return the potatoes & parsnips to the pot, add the cheese & mash. Stir half & half & eggs together then stir into mash. Salt & pepper generously. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Lay the pie crust in a 9" pie plate. Pour the mashed mixture on top of the crust and spread out. Trim any excess pie crust. Sprinkle ramps on top of the mash.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the mash has set & the edges are golden brown. Let sit a few minutes before serving.

4 servings.


I am a city girl at heart. I love my car, hair products, nice clothes, nail polish, central air, convenient foods and convenient life. I do not come naturally to all-things-green! But secretly I'm a Wanna-Be-Granola-Girl. There. I said it. Cat's out of the bag. So short of quitting my job and moving to a hobby farm to live the kind of sustainable life that I haven't a clue about, what's a city girl to do?

Well, I'll tell you! For starters here's what's on my plate for the next few months:

1. Join a CSA. For you other not-yet-so-green-city-dwellers that's short for Community Supported Agriculture. You sign up with a local farm to have farm fresh goodies delivered to a spot near you, usually weekly. I joined Harmony Valley Farm and will get organic veggies every other week, organic fruit on the opposite weeks, and once-a-month organic cheese. Yummy! (I think!?) Last week we got our first box of goodies and I have to confess I had never even heard of some of the items it contained: Parsnips, Chives, Salad Greens, Sorrel, Arugula, Ramps, Sunchokes, Black Radishes, Spinach, and Asparagus. Our cheese share contained organic cheddar, mozzarella and blue cheese.

2. Start composting - I'm attending my first how-to workshop next week hosted by our local recycling center. I'll bring home my first compost bin (deeply discounted through the recycling center) and let ya know how it goes!

3. Beef up my gardening skills to grow more of my own food. Sure I've done the usual tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, but I'm a pretty new gardener and not that adventurous. I'm just starting to put in my first "square foot gardens" and hope that this method is really as easy as it sounds! I've bought tomatoes, chives, leeks, onions, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, several varieties of lettuce, and several herbs to plant.

4. Bike Commuting. I'm not sure how many miles it is from my home in Saint Paul to downtown Minneaoplis where I work, but within the next few weeks I'll start bike commuting. My four-year-old's preschool is close to home so I don't anticipate any logistics problems. And the exercise will be amazingly good for me! I've got a biker friend who will help me get outfitted and plan my route.

5. Cloth Diapering, the ultimate adventure for a city-girl-gone-mommy!! My partner and I are expecting identical twin boys at the end of the summer and are already signed up for the one and only cloth diaper service in town. Just thinking of the cost of disposables for two makes me more than willing to give cloth a try. I'll be sure to keep you posted on this one when we get there!

Is that enough for ya? It is for me, for now at least! Check back for more posts as I embark on my green adventures. Next up will be recipes from my CSA adventure!