I love the pop of an heirloom cherry tomato in my mouth, the pucker of my tongue if the tomato is a bit sour, the pleasure when the seeds taste sweet. Summers, for me, are largely defined by vibrant colors and flavors. Residing as a single woman in high-rise apartment in Shenzhen, China with my two cats, and a tiny kitchen, I also live for the more expansive kitchen at my parents’ home in Minnesota.
I take great liberties during my 6-week stay with them (mid-June through July), cooking breakfasts and dinners frequently for whoever is around — not to mention the commencement of Auntie Jamie’s Little Sobrinas’ School of Cooking each summer, where I gather some number of my four older nieces to bake new and healthy recipes.
In my quest to feed many bellies with healthy foods, and to be mindful of the health of our planet, I bought into a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, this summer. Each Monday, I drove to a designated home near my parents’ house, and picked up a box of fresh produce, delivered from a local farm. Over the course of my stay in Minnesota, I learned valuable approaches to working with the produce.
What produce gets delivered in a CSA?
Your produce will depend on the time of the season, but also be subject to change based on the climate and weather. My CSA, the Brown Family Farm, articulated that there would be early-season (such as strawberries and kohlrabi), mid-season (such as beets and carrots), and late season foods (such as various squashes and broccoli).
To my chagrin, the late spring pushed back the first delivery several weeks as the produce was just not ready. If this happens, your CSA will likely deliver later into the fall to make up for the missed food earlier in the season. (My family will still enjoy the fruits of the farm now that I am back in China.)
How do I make the best of my box?
I fell into a couple of useful routines in order to make sure that the produce was utilized and did not go to waste. I made a habit of spending about an hour each Monday as soon as I had the box home cleaning the produce, and often even cutting some of it up so it was ready for easy consumption.
Back in China, I had been in the habit of shopping and then quickly shoving all of my vegetables, often greens, into the refrigerator. When I would get home from work or the gym later in the week, I often found that I was too tired to mess with so much prep, or that the produce had started to get slimy as it had sat in its thin plastic produce bag.
Dedicating time to prep up front made making meals during the week much less dreadful this summer. Also, a great preservation and environmental hack: rinse any herbs right away, then place them, with a slightly damp paper towel, into a sustainable beeswax wrap, rather than a plastic baggie. I love the food wraps, and many other products, from Etee, a company that began when the owner got tripped up in plastic garbage while kayaking. Food wraps from Etee, or many other companies, can be used between 120-150 times!
Whipping up good eats
Buying into a CSA will likely mean cooking with some unfamiliar foods, or with familiar foods, but an abundance of them. Keeping in mind the carbon footprint that food waste leaves behind, I was determined to make a plan as soon as I brought home the box of produce. New-to-you produce provides an opportunity to see how savvy Siri is with finding recipes, or create a friend and family challenge: who can make the best dish with bok choy, or spaghetti squash or icicle radishes?!
Radishes did come in my CSA in abundance, and while I like them, and have eaten them in salads, there were so many. To my delight, I found a recipe that was a game-changer for this vitamin packed red powerhouse: Baked and roasted radishes. While prepping my herbs right away increased their fridge life, I still often find that I throw out thyme and tarragon. Enter Green Goddess dressing, one of my summer obsessions fit for all seasons. This herbaceous dressing can also be a dip. Put it on salads, but also dip your chicken, crudite or chips in it.
I love having fun with food, from cooking classes in Thailand and Cambodia to Stillwater, Minnesota. Buying in to the CSA this summer reminded me of how much delight I can get from my own kitchen, while also supporting local farmers and sustainable, environmentally-minded practices. While I do not have access to a CSA in China, I am frequenting my little local storefront, where the owner, Lora, has connected with a local organic farm. With her help, I’ve already got my stash of Green Goddess dressing … and it’s lunchtime in Asia.