CSA straight talk: what I loved and what I didn’t

Every Thursday for the last 20 weeks (give or take) I’ve walked out of my office with a box full of straight-from-the-farm seasonal vegetables. For the first 10 weeks or so, every box was a special delight: I looked forward to the surprises I’d find in each one and meticulously planned my meals to ensure that no veg would go to waste.

Over time, though, the thrill of the box started to wear off. I got tired of spending my evenings in the kitchen trying to use every last leek. Some days were long and all I wanted to do was come home and inhale a bowl of popcorn, not stand over a pot of kale soup for an hour.

But it wasn’t just the sense of obligation I felt toward my CSA that eventually wore me down. Oh no, there were plenty of other issues that eventually got to me:

  • Variety: I got a few vegetables so many times that I started cringing when I saw them in my share. Beets and basil every other week. Kale and lettuce in every single box. In the second-to-last week I got five kinds of greens. (Lettuce, kale, collards, bok choy, and cabbage.) What am I, a rabbit?
  • High cost: I don’t normally buy organic produce (now you know my secret shame) and even if I did, I still think $20 for a box of lettuce and beets that I don’t want is too much. 
  • Free will: I eventually got pretty tired of planning my meals around what was in my share. Oh, you want roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes for dinner this week? TOUGH, I didn’t get any in my box. Now shut up and eat this lettuce.

To be fair though, there was a silver lining: I discovered a whole slew of new (to me) veggies—and, by extension, new recipes—that I might never have tried before. And while I’ll likely never subscribe to a CSA again, I’ll most certainly make these recipes as often as I can:

LEAFY GREENS

12. Spicy Collard Greens
Admission: I didn’t have much experience with collards before my CSA. But now that I have this recipe, I want to make them all the time. (Vegetable-averse Sean agrees!)
Alterations: I never steam my collards for the full hour (30 minutes, tops) but I always (always!) sautée them until they are fairly crispy. Don’t skip that step!

11. Jamaican Callaloo with Shrimp
WTF is callaloo, you ask? It’s sort of like spinach, but when you use it in this recipe, it somehow comes out tasting like butter. I can’t explain it.
Alterations: None

10. Asian Slaw with Ginger Peanut Dressing
I made this one night specifically so I could take it to work for the week, but I ended up “sampling” so much of it that I only had enough for two lunches. I couldn’t help myself. It’s dadgum delicious.
Alterations: This recipe makes A LOT of sauce, so depending on how dressed you like your greens, you could probably add more cabbage than it calls for. P.S. don’t pour the sauce on until you’re ready to serve. I poured it on all at once and had to eat a very wilty salad for the next two days.

ROOTS AND STALKS

9. Mushroom, Leek, and Fontina Frittata
This recipe is perfect if you love the flavor of onions *raises hand* and to be avoided if onions are your nemesis *raises Sean’s hand*.
Alterations: I used light sour cream and Egg Beaters for half the eggs to lighten it a smidge, and it still turned out amazing.

8. Beet Dip
Beets, man. They haunted me this season. I’d never eaten them before, I hated the first dish I made with them, I tolerated them roasted, and I enjoyed them boiled. But I kept thinking I was missing something…that there had to be a mind-blowing way to prepare beets. This was it!
Alterations: I used fresh beets (obviously) that I boiled for about two hours instead of canned.  

7. Roasted Moroccan Carrots with Chickpeas
My friend Meghan recommended this recipe to me. I LOVE adding cinnamon to savory dishes, but if you’re not super into that Middle Eastern vibe, this might not be the best choice.
Alterations: I cut my carrots too fat and too long. You probably shouldn’t do that. Try to make them baby-sized.

FROM THE VINE

6. Kinda Sorta Sours
I am no lover of cucumbers, so the best way I could figure out to make them go down easier was by turning them into something I do like: pickles.
Alterations: I couldn’t find champagne vinegar in my grocery store, so I used white wine vinegar. Tasted just fine to me.

5. Potato and Bean Enchiladas
I’d never used tomatillos before I got them (once) in my share, so I wasn’t sure what to do with them. But it’s tough to go wrong with enchiladas, amirite? I’ve been making a similar version of red enchiladas for years, and Sean (my enchilada connoisseur) said he preferred this one.
Alterations: None  

SO MUCH SQUASH

4. Butternut Squash and Turkey Chili
I got SO MUCH squash this fall. Good lord. I like squash, but I eventually had to figure out a way to make them so I wouldn’t realize I was eating squash. This chili did the trick! I ate it hot, I ate it cold, I ate so much we barely had enough leftover for lunches.
Alterations: None

3. Acorn Squash with Kale and Sausage
If there’s one dish that represents my CSA defeat, it’s this one. It tastes good, it’s relatively easy to make, and it used up all the squash and greens I kept getting very efficiently. I must’ve made it at least four times.
Alterations: I varied my sausage choice depending on what was most readily available, and I honestly preferred this with plain old original flavor (with a couple shakes of red pepper flakes added while the kale was cooking).

2. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
I made this to go with my collards one night (most Texas use of vegetables ever, I know) and it was a delight. The addition of thyme made it taste a bit fancier, and the addition of tons of cheese made Sean forget he was eating squash.
Alterations: None

1. Thai Red Curry with Butternut Squash and Chickpeas
This was—hands down—the best recipe I made. Period. It tasted exactly like red curry you get at a Thai restaurant. EXACTLY. I could eat it every single day.
Alterations: None

My first CSA share

I’m working my way through my first CSA this week, and finding out that everything I thought I knew about my eating habits was wrong, wrong, wrong. For instance: I thought I ate a lot of produce before, but now that I’m faced with a box of extremely perishable (and expensive) goodies, I feel like I have to include at least one veggie in every meal to finish them up before the next share arrives. (Honestly, there are worse dietary problems to have.)

When it comes to preparing what I find in my shares, I have two rules: 1) If it’s a veggie I’ve eaten before, any preparation will do, but 2) if I’ve never worked with it, I want to use it in a new recipe that really highlights its flavor. With that in mind, here’s the breakdown of what I got in my first week, and how I decided to make meals out of it:

CSA1

1. Basil: I rarely buy fresh herbs—I tend to forget about them until they’ve pooled into sludge at the bottom of the crisper. And, true to form, the basil was the last thing I dealt with because it slipped my mind. But I have everything I need to turn it into pesto, which virtually guarantees that it’ll be consumed. Or at least put in the freezer to be re-discovered later.

2. Red Russian kale: Yes, kale chips are delicious, but I’ve made them so many times before that I didn’t want to go down that route again. So I took the road less traveled: Spicy Kale and Quinoa Black Bean Salad that’s perfect for lunches.

3. Salad greens: Forget highlighting this ubiquitous veggie—I used this ubiquitous veggie to highlight the New-England-flavored balsamic vinegars (blueberry, cranberry, maple, and apple) I picked up on Cape Cod. Greens + avocado + pecans + sweet vinaigrette = a quick and tasty meal.

4. Callaloo: Like you, I’d never heard of callaloo before it showed up in my share. It’s a leafy green (similar to large spinach) that’s popular in the Caribbean, so I decided to play off its island heritage by using the callaloo a traditional recipe: Jamaican Callaloo with Shrimp. And it was divine! When cooked, the callaloo had a buttery-sweet flavor that was just awesome with the thyme and shrimp. More please thank you!

5. Beets: I’d had a nibble of beet once or twice in my life, but I’d never committed to cooking them before—probably because they taste like dirt. Therefore, I considered beets an untried food and sought out a recipe that would highlight and also maybe mask their earthy flavor. Enter Beet Risotto with Greens, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts. I had leftover arborio rice in my pantry, I liked that I could use both the roots and the leaves in the recipe, and I figured if things really started to go off the rails, the cheese would fix it. NOPE. Sean took one bite of the dirt risotto and switched to corn dogs. I finished mine AND grudgingly took his leftovers for lunch the next day, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to finding beets in my box again. (If you have any not-terrible beet recipes, send them my way. I need all the help I can get!)

6. Tomato: This guy was right at home in both my callaloo and my quinoa salad.

7. Cucumber: I don’t really enjoy the flavor of raw cucumber. But I DO enjoy the flavor of pickles, so when Alton Brown’s Kinda Sorta Sours recipe popped up on my Facebook feed, I knew just what to do with that pesky cuke. The pickles have only been marinating in the fridge for a few days, but already the flavor is right on point—and blessedly, not very cuke-like.

My kitchen is open for the season

It’s tough to talk about New England without mentioning it’s many regionalisms. Things really are “wicked” up here — “wicked expensive,” “wicked nice,” “wicked small.” And you’d be remiss to spend an autumn in the Northeast without going “leaf peeping.” But apparently (although, admittedly, not surprisingly), language up here becomes even more specialized when the weather gets cold: I’ve recently been introduced to everything from “winter food” (meaning “comfort food,” essentially) to “neck warmers.” But the new phrases that have been the most relevant to my life so far are “closed for the season” and “winter weight.”

This part of the country basically shuts down in November, and rightly so — snow and ice don’t exactly have the same appeal as lighthouses and leaves. But that means that pretty much all the New England adventures we’ve got planned — spending a weekend on the Cape, camping in Maine, hiking in the Berkshires — are on hold until April. It feels like there’s not much for us to do now but hunker down and ride it out.

And eat. Look, I added some fluff during winters in Texas, but I blame that almost entirely on Christmas cookies and eggnog. “Holiday weight” and “winter weight” are two different things. It rains in the winter here — a lot. And a biting wind blows all the time. And it gets dark at 4:00PM. You know what I don’t like to do when it’s dark and rainy and chilly outside? Walk to and from work, or run after I get home. Do you know what I like to do instead? Watch The Pioneer Woman on Netflix while slam-nomming Velveeta shells and cheese and Duncan Hines cake.

But hark! I think I may have come up with a solution to both of these wintry dilemmas: This month, while Sean is free from the clutches of grad school, we’re going to devote our ample spare time to trying out new recipes together.

Until the end of January, we’re going to avoid meals that we’ve eaten 100 times before and stay away from packaged shortcuts and dinners out. Hopefully this approach will add some pep to these dim days and help us be more mindful (and excited!) about what we’re eating.

ON THE MENU THIS WEEK
Poblano corn pudding: Cornmeal + Mexican flavors + Cooking Light. There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about that. On paper, it’s vaguely reminiscent of my favorite dressing of all time (similar here). Hopefully it lives up to expectations in my mouth.

Moroccan meatballs with brown rice: Three days worth of food from a slow cooker? YUP! Let’s to that.

Zucchini pasta with bolognese sauce: Sean’s been asking for this spaghetti vegetable slicer for months. Christmas was kind to him, and now we’re looking forward to seeing what it can do.