This past Wednesday was the last share of the season. From now until next May, my shopping and cooking habits will change drastically (not least because I will cease blogging about it!). I’ll try and frequently fail to make a weekly trip to one of Philly’s excellent markets, either Reading Terminal (which houses a butcher I like, a great bakery, and several reputable produce stands) or the Italian Market (which includes the best spice and tea shop on earth, my favorite cheese shop, loads of inexpensive vegetables of unclear origin, and flaming trash cans to keep the produce sellers warm). I enjoy shopping at these places, and I’m lucky to to live within a reasonable transit trip to each, but cold weather and late nights of work tend to encourage a shorter trip to a closer grocery store and takeout at least once a week.
I’ll miss picking up fresh veggies in my own neighborhood, for sure.
This week we got: carrots, yellow onions, bunched spinach, White Hamon sweet potatoes, gold potatoes, beets, a garlic, a butternut squash, shallots, some parsley, some mint (a surprise!), and popcorn.
Thanksgiving falls rather late in the month this year; normally our last share arrives a couple of days before the holiday, and the grower tries to provide a family-size pile of a few traditional things: there are always a bunch of shallots, pounds of sweet potatoes and gold potatoes and carrots, and green herbs for stuffing. My Thanksgiving plans vary from year to year, and although I have been known to pack sweet potatoes in my luggage and roast them in other people’s ovens, mostly I keep the roots from the last few shares in my crisper to use as needed. I’ll probably still be using CSA potatoes and onions in January–and they will be perfectly fine to use!
I cooked up a storm on Saturday, knowing that I’d want to coast on leftovers and nights out for the rest of the week in anticipation of the Thanksgiving cookathon. For breakfast, I made muffins with pureed sweet potato and walnuts and brown sugar, which were pretty good despite some dubious measurements in the recipe which I will not link to. (Two tablespoons of baking soda for a dozen muffins? No thanks.) I had a lot of errands to run in the afternoon, so I made a relatively fast lunch of my favorite grain mix (couscous, orzo, quinoa, and garbanzo beans, cooked in veggie broth for more flavor) and some sauteed sweet potatoes, spinach, and asparagus. (Okay, so asparagus are not local or in season. Wherever they came from, they were fresh and on sale.) I had picked up some thai red curry paste at my favorite spice store last weekend, so I simmered that in a pot of coconut milk, potatoes, carrots, and lentils–a nice change from the usual sorts of savory dishes one makes from carrot and potato. While that was on the back burner, I turned some long-term fridge residents into a few things I knew I’d want to use for Thanksgiving: blackberry sage compote, sage butter, chestnut puree.
My goal in blogging my weekly share was to demonstrate how I use and enjoy a CSA, primarily to make the decision less inscrutable for the curious and uninitiated, but also to share recipes and swap ideas with other cooks. Since this was our fourth year of getting a CSA, my neighbor and I already had a lot of cooking routines down: we have recipes we look forward to pulling out when certain ingredients are in season, patterns for dividing kitchen labor, and habits of minimizing waste like saving up scraps for stock. So, cooking this season affirmed a lot of things I already knew about myself (that might not be true for everyone, of course):
- I tend to favor meals with lots of different things all mixed together, but usually not as a soup: stir fry, curry, risotto, etc. These dishes suit me because I find such them easy to cook, easy to pack and carry for work lunches, interesting for the palate, and filling for the belly.
- Unless I’m having a party, I don’t go in much for homemade snacks like kale chips. If I’m going to cook, I want food. The exception is farm popcorn; I could not get enough of it this season!
- I usually have two big cooking sessions a week, during which I try use up a bunch of vegetables and prepare multiple meals at once. Sometimes more, especially with easy-to-prepare leafy greens or salad veggies; sometimes less.
- There’s no pressure to use up all the vegetables in one week, though–some of it will keep. Our grower usually includes instructions for food storage but one learns what works in one’s own kitchen.
- It helps to keep a variety of staples in stock: rice and lentils, vinegars and spices. I try to avoid an overflowing pantry but it’s worth keeping several types of flour around if it means I can make breakfast muffins on a whim when my fruit starts to go soft.
- Cooking socially makes a world of difference. If you’re trying to develop a cooking habit, have people over. It’s easier to commit to cooking when you have friends to help and/or share the spoils. Alone, I do not stand up cooking for longer than an hour; with company I don’t mind cooking for longer, which permits a greater variety or quantity of dishes.
- But I do like cooking alone–with the caveat that, since I live alone, cooking solo means that I’m not cooking for anyone else, just for me. Even if I don’t feel like doing it–too tired, too cranky– I usually feel better once I start, because it is a kind of self-care. No judgment against having red wine and popcorn for dinner, Olivia Pope style–sometimes that’s all I can manage, too! But cooking for myself is an affirmation: I deserve nourishment and enjoyment; I have a right to exist, etc.
It’s helpful to know these things about myself, to revisit them when I’m out of ideas and to challenge them when I’m feeling uninspired by the week’s bounty. In regard to the latter, I learned several new tricks that I will definitely be adding to my repertoire. Some are fast or filling: kale salad, patatas bravas. Some might be more for special occasions, like beet cake and tomato chutney. I hate–hate!–wasting food, so I was thrilled to learn a few more ways to use up plant matter I might have otherwise thrown out: pesto out of carrot or fennel leaves; stock from apple cores.
I’d love to hear from other folks who were doing farmshares this year, or even just making a dedicated effort to buy seasonal vegetables. What did you learn? What were the highs and lows? Would you do it again?