CSA Week 27: Rutabagaminations

This week we got: red butter lettuce, cilantro, leeks, a big rutabaga, some red potatoes, a garlic, spinach, green peppers, chard, and mustard greens. This is my half, minus of course the bell peppers.

CSA Week 27

Very leafy! I picked up fairytale eggplants and extra potatoes at the Amish stand at the market, which was the last one open when I got back to South Philly.

A word on the rutabaga. It’s not that I dislike it; it’s more that I just cannot excited about it. We’ve put it in stews, in mash, and under a roasting chicken to fry in schmaltz–and I’ll eat it, but I cannot stop wishing it was a potato or a turnip instead. Confession: when my neighbor and I pulled the rutabaga out of our CSA bag and looked at it with sadness, I said: “Well, it’ll keep until we next roast a chicken. Or maybe we can trick our guests into eating it at the Halloween party.” “Oh, let’s make our party guests eat it!” said my neighbor, and I had to agree.
But I won’t serve party guests food I won’t eat myself, so I did some more research. Some people consider rutabaga something like a sweeter and better potato (???), so most of the recipes I found are great for people who love rutabaga  but not appetizing to me: ruin mashed potatoes by adding rutabaga! ruin shepherd’s pie by topping it with rutabaga! etc. It looked like the best route for our purposes would be to slice them into chips and bake or fry them until their rutabaganess is masked by olive oil, cayenne, and crunch.

More on party food to come. First, Wednesday, I rushed home earlier than usual to meet up friends for dinner at Noord, which lived up to every bit of the hype. My neighbor had gotten the vegetables earlier, so I picked them up from her on my way home and pretty much shoved them all in my fridge before going right back out again for a concert. Halloween is like my Christmastime, and this was going to be a week of nights out and extravagance, so on Thursday I just cooked ALL the greens–all but the lettuce!–in a big pot with onions, garlic, wine, and a little mustard. I also roasted some sweet and regular potatoes so I could portion them out as needed alongside some salads during the week. I chopped up the cilantro and froze it, doubting my ability to use more than a little as garnish during the week, and prepped some salad veggies for easy meals.

On Saturday morning I went out to stock up on staples–flour, spices, apple cider. I didn’t need too many things, since I’ve been happy with the results of the low-key party cooking I’ve been doing this summer. For perspective, you have to remember that in my less gainfully employed days I’d plan to spend at least a day and a night cooking and preparing food for a party, sometimes at my own house but often at a friend’s. For these co-hosted parties we would draw up a menu and divide up the shopping in advance, scheduling which dishes could be dealt with the night before and which could become busy work for early guests. My neighbor and I still use some of these strategies for a casual party, and it’s nice to know that we have the chops to pull off a big fancy dinner if we want to (for New Year’s Eve, say), but our friends aren’t too picky and will happily eat popcorn and pickles until they run out.Halloween spread

But I did make this sesame slaw with the black radishes and orange carrots (tasty and Halloween-appropriate), some savory quickbread but with carmelized leeks instead of scallions (so good), and the rutabaga chips which we fried in oil and then baked because they were kind of soggy (people claimed to like these). Because we had them and it’s easy, we roasted spicy butternut squash slices, seasoned potato wedges, and fairytale eggplant halves with fig balsamic vinegar. The eggplant was possibly a bit gruesome, since as promised, I was also dressed as one.

Fairytale eggplant costume

Hey, it was Halloween; implied cannabalism abounds. We also put out bread and butter, pickles, popcorn, and the fennel pesto we made last week. It seems like a lot, but really, most of the stuff was already made or easy to make. (The savory quickbread required no more time and energy than the breakfast muffins I make every week, so I am in danger of forming a serious cheesy leek bread habit.) The more time-consuming dishes are usually desserts, which was managed by my certified-baker neighbor (who made marshmallows and ginger snaps) and the copious amounts of candy brought by guests. I also made some lemon squares out of curd I’d had in the freezer for more than a year; I was happy to know that the curd was not at all transformed by its long hibernation.

We did a pretty good job of demolishing the spread, but I had enough roasted vegetables left for a lovely, hearty hangover breakfast Sunday morning along with scrambled eggs and the greens I made earlier in the week.

I still had one more leek and a taste for cheesy leek things, so on Monday I carmelized the leek in butter and mixed it, the remaining cooked greens, and the remaining fennel pesto into the greenest pasta ever. For the rest of the week, I coasted on leftovers and salads (the latter made with a generous helping of radish-carrot slaw, since it was not a big hit at the party table).


I have one final word about rutabagas, love or loathe them. When I was a kid, I attended some kind of poetry workshop at the Brooks art museum in Memphis, where I grew up. It was a great program: we roamed around the museum during a Saturday morning, each choosing an artwork or artifact to inspire a poem which we worked on during the afternoon. The workshop was led by the supremely warm and benevolent presence of Naomi Shihab Nye, who at one point took out a guitar and sang us a song that began like this: “I’ve got a song and it’s for you/ rutabaga rutabaga rutabaga-roo.”  My mom, who was attending as a chaperone, bought her cassette, and for months we listened to it on the way to and from the elementary school where she taught and I attended. I may not care for the root, but I cherish the memory.

Naomi Nye has also written about onions, olives, and numerous other poems in which food or drink is slowly simmering in the background or pressed into the hands of guests. I suppose that in many ways, she is the unofficial muse of this blog.

6 responses to “CSA Week 27: Rutabagaminations

  1. Hey! HEY!!! I remember Naomi Nye! Somewhere, I still have one of her autographed books floating around my shoebox of Very Old Things. I was at that workshop, but I don’t remember that song. I do remember the poem that won, because it was one sentence long.

    • Aaaah you were there! I’m so glad we can share that memory. I remember the rutabaga song because my mom will still sing it if you remind her. : ) I actually don’t remember the winning poem at all. I think I remember the second-place poem: it was about this jagged red wall art and also about anger, and it was written a very quiet girl I think called Allison. And I think my poem won third. It was about a bronze belt buckle shaped like a tiger.

      This is making me very nostalgic for Brooks; I should try to visit next time I’m in town.

  2. I think the first place poem was something like, “The war is gone, but the spirit is there.” It stuck with me because I felt like, sigh, could that be any more trite? (In retrospect, that was a bratty way to feel. And my poem was terrible, even for a preteen.)
    The Brooks museum is a very comforting place to me! It’s surprisingly nice for Memphis, especially since more and more of the city seems to disappear every time I visit. I think there’s the Brooks, the Pink Palace, and Pancho’s cheese dip, and those last two are actually a little gross.

    • Eh, what is being a preteen about if not brattiness? I’m sure I had similar feelings. I was used to winning prizes and attention for poems, so I am sure I had some VERY uncharitable feelings for the first and second place poems that I have sense repressed.

      This conversation caused me to request a visit to Brooks when I’m visiting Memphis over the holiday. I can’t wait! I want to go to the Pink Palace too, but that might wait until my little nephew is a bit older and can enjoy it more. I am a little sad that I will now be too big to properly guide my arms through that thing that simulates the wing flaps of a bird. Or to fit through that teeny tiny Piggly Wiggly simulation. I wonder what these things will look like through adult eyes!

      • Oh, the last time I went to the Pink Palace, I totally did the bird-arm thing!!! It’s a little short, but it’s still do-able. But that little… I don’t know what you call it; a surround-experience 80s-style slideshow about insects? (Is this ringing any bells?) It was broken. And the mecha-triceratops is out of commission permanently. I wonder if Audrey would like the museum more now that she’s self-aware!

        • Oh, so sad about the triceratops! I remember feeling a little too old for it when it was installed, but it’s my favorite dinosaur and I still felt a little thrill watching it move all the same. I remember the bug show, but I can’t imagine that would have held up all these years either.

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