New Here? Read The Story behind the Box

Monday, February 28, 2011

The vegetables are haunting me

All my life, my father ate a salad every single evening before his dinner. And every single evening, that salad consisted of iceberg lettuce, about half of a green onion, and a couple of slivers of red cabbage, topped with blue cheese dressing and cracker crumbs. (My mom was too frugal to buy actual croutons. But that's a story for a whole new blog.)

So anyway, as far as I could ever see, red cabbage gets used up a microscopic amount at a time. One small cabbage can take care of salads for several months. In my box last week, there was a red cabbage about the size of my head. (Heretofore referred to as HRC, or Huge Red Cabbage). So I did what any normal person would do if she were presented with an HRC. I put it away in the refrigerator and pretended it wasn't there.

After a few days of that HRC haunting my dreams, I had to do something about it. So I did the next thing any normal person would do. I started whining to my friends.

After I told a few people that there was an HRC occupying far more than it's fair share of crisper drawer, haunting my dreams, and taunting me every time I opened the fridge, my domestically-gifted friend Jacque had a solution. Or half a solution. She has a recipe, she told me, for red cabbage. It only requires red cabbage and a couple of other things that are in every pantry in America.

I was dreading the final result, imagining it would taste a lot like sauerkraut. I don't hate sauerkraut, but I like it in moderation. As in, a tablespoon or so once a year on a German sausage.

But it was GOOD! Light, sweet, mild! I cooked some bratwursts, half of my HRC, and roasted potatoes for dinner. The consensus?  The adults liked the cabbage. My youngest son (and most adventurous eater) liked it too. He ate all of the small serving I gave him, but turned down my offer for seconds. My other two kids? Cried, whined, complained, moaned and groaned. I insisted that they at least try it. They did. About a milligram each. They said they didn't hate it, but since all I said was that they had to TRY it, they weren't willing to eat an actual human-sized bite. Let alone a respectable serving.

The only problem? There is still a sizable bowl of the cooked cabbage left over. And since the recipe only called for one small head of cabbage, I only used half of my HRC. So, I still have that other half of a red cabbage sitting in the fridge. And in my nightmares.

Here is the recipe, just in case anyone out there ever reads my little blog, or cares to try cooking any of the things I have cooked:

Sauteed Red Cabbage

1 small head red cabbage
1 tbls olive oil
3-4 tbls red wine vinegar
coarse salt and pepper
1 tbls light brown sugar
Halve, core, and thinly slice cabbage.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add cabbage and vinegar; season with salt and pepper.  Cook, tossing frequently, until cabbage is crisp-tender, about 15 minutes (add a splash of water if pan becomes too dry.)  Add tbls sugar; toss until dissolved, about 30 second.  Season again with salt and pepper to taste.

potato fail

As I was reaching into the fridge for a string cheese to pack into a lunchbox this morning, a potato fell off a high shelf and hit me on the head. No joke.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My box this week

So, I got the new box yesterday. This was my 13th box, and I have to say, I feel no less anxiety the thirteenth box than I did with the first box. However, once I started digging into it, I felt a little bit better. There was nothing I didn't recognize, and nothing that I don't like. For that matter, there was nothing green and bitter, either. Maybe we are starting to see the summertime light at the end of the long winter tunnel.

It's just that there is so much of it all. This week, we got a HUGE cauliflower, a little bit of broccoli, about 8 potatoes, a couple dozen brussels sprouts, a few onions, about 12 carrots, some green garlic, a bunch of kiwis, and a ton of oranges, tangerines, mandarin oranges, and tangelos. Don't ask me which are which.

Sounds pretty good, right? It is, except that I have onions and potatoes left over from last week, the week before, and the week before that. And last week I did my best to use up a bunch of potatoes just because I was experiencing potato stress. As of this exact moment, I have 24 LARGE potatoes mocking me. And I am sure I will get more next week. What am I ever going to do with all those potatoes???

I am sure that you all have heard about the whole concept of hiding vegetables in your kids' food so they will eat them without even knowing it. In principle, I am opposed. I think that my kids should know what they are eating. I'm going with the concept that if they see that the vegetables are not malicious, and if they try them enough times, eventually they will like some of them. At least that is what all my parenting magazines tell me.

Side note here... I realize that when I say "you all," that there is no real you. And certainly not enough to address you ALL. Maybe some day someone will read my little blog? Probably not. There are plenty of food blogs written by people who actually know how to cook. Why read about someone who can only tell you what not to do? At any rate, I have to have an imaginary you, or I don't know how to write.

Okay, back to refusing to hide the veggies. A couple of nights ago I had to run from the first grade Presidents' Day choral presentation, to piano lessons, to the dentist.  I threw together a pot of chili for dinner. It was pretty healthy, it could sit there ready until dinner time, and they all like it. But as I stirred the pot, I realized that I wasn't using up any of the godforsaken produce that is spilling out of my fridge, filling my countertop, and overflowing from my fruit basket. Have I mentioned that I have some extra potatoes? It occurred to me that if I had some carrot or squash puree ready to go, I could stir it in, use up some vegetables, make it that little bit healthier, and no one would mind. For that matter, I could shred or chop some veggies to go in the chili too. But remember how I was running around all afternoon? I had no time to shred carrots or anything else.

So, when I got this new box, with tons of carrots, I decided to throw out my principles. I went ahead and pureed and froze the carrots (as well as a few that were still in my fridge from last week). I haven't tried hiding the carrots in anything yet, but I'll let you know what happens when I do! The best part, though, is the fact that those carrots went from box to freezer without overfilling my crisper drawers. No carrot stress this week... those babies aren't going to rot on my watch. I may just be able to fit the rest of it in the fridge yet.

In case you (You? There I go again... wanted to know how to do it, here is how I pureed my carrots:

1. Scrub the carrots (you can peel them if you like, but I figure there is no reason to throw away part of a perfectly good carrot), and cut them into chunks about an inch long.
2. Steam the carrot chunks either on the stovetop or microwave until they give a little when you press on them (about 10 minutes). Put the steamed carrot chunks and a bit of the water you used for steaming (about a 1/4 cup or so) into your food processor, and blend until they are a smooth, pasty consistency.
3. You're done! This all took me about 30 minutes or so.
4. To freeze it, I put the puree into a muffin tin. With about 15 carrots, I had enough to fill 12 muffin cups just to the top. I froze the muffin tin for a couple of hours, until the carrots were pretty hard. Then, I dipped the tin into warm water to loosen the cute little orange hockey pucks. I popped them out, put them in a freezer bag, and now I can pull out one or two carrot pucks to throw into spaghetti sauce, chili, etc.

I didn't think about it at the time, but in the future I might measure the carrot puree and freeze it in exact cup or half-cup amounts, so that I can know how much to defrost for particular recipes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Parsnip Muffins

One of the first "odd" vegetables I remember getting was parsnips. 2 pounds of parsnips that week.

I am sure that I have heard of parsnips before, but I certainly had no image in my mind of what a parsnip really was.

In case you wonder, a parsnip is sort of like a white carrot. It looks pretty much like a carrot (only white) and it tastes pretty carroty. Except much stronger. I think gamey is a term reserved for meat (like buffalo is supposed to be like beef only more gamey). I think a parsnip is like a carrot, only more gamey.

With our weekly delivery of produce, we get a little newsletter. This one told me that parsnips can be eaten raw or cooked. They are often mashed into potatoes, and used in soups and salads.

Raw? I thought? And like a carrot? So I tried one. I scrubbed it and bit into it. Not bad. I sat down and at just about all of it... until I couldn't stand another bite. Just too strong.

Well, it occurred to me that if it was like a carrot in so many ways, maybe I could make carrot muffins out of it. I was about to get out my carrot cake recipe, when my next thought was to google a recipe for parsnip muffins. I found a GREAT one!  It calls for plain yogurt, which makes the muffins light and fluffy. I made the mistake of putting one extra parsnip in, more than was called for, though. (After all, I had two damn pounds of the suckers to use up!) The muffins ended up a little too parsnip-y (although my opinion is tainted by already being tired of parsnips in the first place).

The final result: I liked the muffins (but I also try not to eat many carbs, so I only ate one or 2 of 2 dozen), my kids refused to eat them. Then, they went bad and we threw the rest away. Was it a success? I have to say it was a very tentative success. The final result was a tasty, light, fluffy muffin. But, we threw away a lot of food.

In case you are interested, here is the recipe. Good luck and enjoy!

The Story

One day, while I was gone for the weekend, my husband sent me a text message, letting me know that we were subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Box.  And at that exact moment, my stress began.

Now don't get me wrong, I fully understand that if vegetables create a blip on my stress radar, I clearly have an easy-peasy life.  I am not stressed by divorce, cancer, unemployment, losing my house, or any of the million other "big things" that are out there worrying you.

But, there it is. Every week, we pick up a huge box of vegetable and fruit. And every week, as the primary dinner cook, lunch-box packer, and breakfast server, I am somehow supposed to figure out what to do with all those vegetables. Some are easy (apples, carrots, broccoli). Others? Not so easy. I had never even heard of a daikon radish before this, I had to google bok choy to make sure that was indeed what I was staring at, and I was sure I was going to hate brussels sprouts (mostly because I had never tried them. But everyone says they're gross. Everyone. At least everyone in comic strips, cartoons, and the 1950s.)

I feel like I am throwing my husband under the bus here.  Let me back up a little bit. He didn't just force this on me out of nowhere. It was actually almost my idea, and we had mused about it for a little while before he signed us up. I was just still thinking, "Yeah, sure... someday." And he was thinking, "Perfect. Let's do it."

Years ago, before we had kids, we lived near a small community co-op farm, and subscribed to their weekly produce box. Unfortunately, that didn't go so well. The fact that all the produce came from one farm meant that we got what they could grow in one small location. We got gobs of kale and swiss chard (???) and little bits of what I considered the good stuff (strawberries, carrots, peaches, potatoes). The fact that we had no idea what to do with all the greens, the fact that we often forgot to go pick up our produce, and the fact that there were only two of us trying to eat it all was a recipe for disaster. It just didn't work for us.

Let's summarize the next bit here. In the next 15 or so years, we moved to a new city, and bought a house. A baby was born, and I did all the right things... breastfed, spooned out of cute little jars of pure vegetables and fruit (skipping over the mixes that had added sugar, or were labeled "dessert"). A couple years later, the next baby came. Back to breastfeeding, back to jars of fruits and veggies. But now, child #1 was in preschool, and so much fun! We went on outings to parks, museums, to ride the train or ride the ponies, to gardens, to children's museums. I lugged the diaper bag, the snacks, the changes of clothes, the toys, the stroller. And then we ran through a drive through so I could have some lunch. And the preschooler got a couple of my fries with her organic-peanut-butter-on-whole-wheat-sandwich. Then pretty soon, she got her own fast food meal. And when baby #3 was breastfeeding, the two older kids got happy meals. On our outings, on our way home from preschool, and on nights when I was too worn out to cook. In other words, often. Well, as the kids grew up and the schedule got busier, eating healthily was something on the back of my mind. I did some good things... like shopping at the farmers' market, buying organic, and limiting sugar. It was expensive, though. We would spend $50-75 dollars a pop at the farmer's market. And we still weren't really eating much in the way of veggies.  A small portion at dinner, every couple of nights or so. A small portion that the kids didn't really even eat.

Then, one morning, I happened to drive past a CSA Box pick-up site. I saw the delivery truck and signs directing people to AHOrganics to pick up their weekly box.  I went home, checked out the website (the selection looks good! The price is great!) And then... and here was the fateful moment... I mentioned it to my husband.

"We should do that," he says.
"Yeah..." I reply....

A few weeks later, while I was gone for the weekend, my husband sent me a text message...