CSA 2009, Week Nine.

This may come as a surprise to you, but sometimes I hate my CSA box.  Each week, Keith brings it home and  I scamper over to see the contents within, and while I am mostly excited, sometimes me heart sinks at the sight of such things as the overwhelmingly intimidating kohlrabi and yet another bundle of irritatingly cheerful carrots.  I lean towards the gloom and doom, friends, and there are moments when a bright orange carrot can be downright scowl-worthy, what with its incessant merry disposition and sweet sweet sunny crunch.

Bah to you, Carrot.  BAH!

CSA basilWhen I’m in a mood like this, basil is more to my liking; I need its zesty and licorice-y bite, and I positively relish the fact that such an ordinary-looking bouquet of green leaves can posses such a knockout punch of spice.

So when Keith hefted our pounds of produce on the counter this week, I was zanily* happy to see a sneaky bunch of basil sitting atop a cluster of carrots, very much looking like a conquering hero in my crazy little mind.

The rest of the box overflowed with the following:

  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi (grr)
  • Lettuce
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash
  • Tomato (a single, happy tomato, which did not turn me into more of a grouch, since we all know I love them)
  • Wax beans

'Thai Style' BeefTomatoes-and-basil are one of those holy pairings like milk-and-cookies, mac-and-cheese, fries-and-mayo… and I knew my grumpiness would be assuaged by the familiarity of the two, but not if I threw them together into something boringly predictable like a bruschetta or a Caprese salad.  That would only sour me further, like milk left out in the sun.  So instead I turned to the below recipe, which added asparagus, beef and lime to the mix.

A quick word on asparagus: I may get some grief for this, but I’ll freely admit I’m not its biggest fan.  I mostly eat it exclusively in soup form, with tons of cream, though I always am tempted to try it again.  Maybe this will be when I like it, I say to myself.  Maybe I’ve only had bad asparagus, I reason.  Each time though, I’m disappointed.  What is it about this stalky plant that causes people — most notably the French — to go mad with desire?  What am I not getting?

This, it turns out, is what I’m not getting.  This, all of you out there, is this dish for asparaphobes.

The tomato and basil aren’t that bad either.

Thai Basil Beef with Rice Noodles, from Cooking Light
Makes four  portions

8 cups water
1 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
4 ounces wide bánh pho rice stick noodles
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or a good-sized seeded tomato or two)
½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil

  1. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat.  While pan heats, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Add steak to grill pan; grill 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle steak with salt. Cut steak across grain into thin slices.
  3. While steak cooks, add asparagus to boiling water; cook 2 minutes. Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon. Add noodles to boiling water; cook 3 minutes or until done. Drain; rinse well. Cut noodles into smaller pieces; place in a medium bowl.
  4. While noodles cook, combine sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and curry paste in a large bowl. Add one-half of lime mixture to medium bowl with noodles; toss to coat. Add steak, asparagus, tomatoes, and basil to remaining lime mixture in large bowl; toss to combine. Serve steak mixture over noodles.
* Is this is a word?  No?  It should be.

Book Club Goes to Tanglewood.

TanglewoodMy book group likes connecting previous books and themes to our current reading.  Even more than that, we love a good field trip… which is how we ended up at Tanglewood for its annual celebration, Tanglewood on Parade.

Our being there wasn’t as arbitrary as it seems; last year we read three books that somehow revolved around Abraham Lincoln — The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall, Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, and Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon* — and the concert featured Lincoln Portrait, Aaron Copland‘s composition commemorating the sixteenth President.  Interspersed in the music are some quotations from Lincoln, which were read that night by Deval Patrick, while the Boston Pops played.

Fireworks, 1The evening’s finale was Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture, replete with canons, and followed by a spectacular fireworks display.  It was my first time seeing non-televised fireworks — which was quite exciting, particularly since we happened to be sitting very close to where both they and the canons had been set off.  I don’t think any of us in my book club were expecting either canons or fireworks; indeed, when the first shot banged out during the overture, more than one of us screamed in fright and surprise.

In spite of the amazing fireworks and canons, my personal favorite piece of the night was Tributes: For Seiji, which was written as a gift for Seiji Ozawa by John Williams to honor Ozawa’s twenty-fifth years as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Ozawa held this position for four more years after that).  I thought it was brilliantly moving.**

Picnic, Thigh + WineAnother thing about the night that I found brilliant were other people’s ability to glamorize something as prosaic as a picnic.  Apparently it’s something of an established practice to pack a picnic to Tanglewood, especially if you’ve lawn tickets to a concert.  Our book club decided to follow tradition, toting in a mushroom tortellini salad with marscapone, corn on the cob with feta-mint butter, black bean and corn salad, mixed berries with brandy syrup, a berry buckle and several bottles of wine.  We blindly set up our spread by the pale light of the distant stage, observing as we did several of our neighbors’ citronella-scented candelabras, cut-crystal wineglasses and tables adorned with flower arrangements.  Honestly, such accoutrements were the norm.  We stood out (sat out?) by having mismatched blankets and no chairs — though our hurried discussion of this past month’s book might have also had something to do with it.

Lost City RadioWe had read Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón; it’s the story of insurrection in an unidentified South American country, and how lives are changed as a result.  The main character hosts the nation’s most popular radio show; each week, Norma reads an ever-expanding list of missing people.  As a result, listeners are reunited with their loved ones, though, ironically, Norma still searches desperately for her own missing person: her husband.

The aspect of the novel that I thought the most interesting was something quite small — the fascistic government that emerges after the war renames all populated areas with numbers.  The larger the city, the smaller the number.  To speak a city’s name rather than its number is highly punishable.  I found this tiny little detail fascinating.

In general, it seemed we had mixed feelings on Lost City Radio, but I can’t say for certain, as we were more focused on the evening’s music than on the book.  Please don’t blame either the novel or book club for that.  Not much could compete with canons, fireworks and the symphony — not even our appetites.  Which is really saying something.

* This is a little geeky of me to admit, but I kinda love how these three authors all have double Ls in their surnames.
** I should mention, I think, that I was raised almost entirely on classical music, and my love of it might also be interpreted as a little geeky.

Another More-Travely Mix CD.

Okay, here’s part two of Darlington‘s two-disc mix CD.

Places, Specific

  1. Roma” by Pizzicato Five
  2. Piazza, New York Catcher” by Belle + Sebastian
  3. Surf Wax America” by Weezer
  4. Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel
  5. Young Americans” by David Bowie *
  6. “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks
  7. London Calling” by The Clash
  8. The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” by The Magnetic Fields
  9. Mass Pike” by The Get Up Kids
  10. Look Inside America” by Blur
  11. Alabama” by Neil Young
  12. Haiti” by Arcade Fire
  13. California (All the Way)” by Luna
  14. Amazon” by M.I.A.
  15. “Theme from Tokyo” by Bis
  16. Downey, CA” by Saint Etienne
  17. Blame it on the Tetons” by Modest Mouse
  18. Colorado” by Grizzly Bear
  19. Columbia” by Oasis
* Technically not a place, I know, as opposed to people from a place, but I like this song a lot.

CSA 2009, Week Eight.

When I was younger, I had subscriptions to the sorts of magazines that had personality tests for everything — “What Kind of Girlfriend Are You?”, “Are You a Pushover?”, etc. — but my favorites by far were the ones whose purpose was to determine the best perfume for me.  I never ended up with the right scents (I loathe patchouli) but the results never bothered me because I’ve always known what my favorite fragrance is: tomatoes on the vine.

TomatoesThey smell so amazing, don’t they, tomatoes and their plants?  Spicy and peppery, they just typify summer to me, and their presence in my kitchen is something I look forward to all year.  Of course, the summer of 2009 is going to be one of fresh, local tomato shortages, a direct result of the late blight.

Completely aggressive and destructive, the blight has almost totally annihilated The Food Project‘s potato and tomato crop — though, apparently, the Colorado Potato Beetle had already taken out a lot of the plants out in Lincoln.  We’ve been promised green tomatoes in the near future, and while I am excited to receive some sort of tomato, and even though I keep on thinking about gift horses and mouths, I kind of just want a proper red tomato.  I don’t think stamping my foot is going to get me far, so I’ll just settle for what was in our box this week:

  • Asian eggplant
  • Collard greens
  • Dill
  • Green beans
  • Green garlic
  • New potatoes
  • Salad mix
  • Spicy salad mix with arugula and mizuna
  • Tomatoes

These three tomatoes, dewy with condensation from the humidity in the air, were like treasure to me — which is why I ate them over the sink, raw, their juices running down my chin and wrists.  If I could have, I would’ve figured out a way to savor them more, especially considering these will most likely be the final burst of tomato-y-ness I’ll experience for a while…  which is why I took a snapshot.  You know what they say: pictures last longer.

A Sort Of Travely Mix CD.

Another thematic mix CD…

I mailed this one to Darlington, who moved to London this past February.  I thought my choices seemed fitting — the songs’ connecting thread was commonplace locations like a car or a certain room in an undisclosed house, and my friend was in the middle of new places that would soon become familiar and everyday.  I also sent along a mix relating to specific places; I’ll write about that one in a little bit.

As always, let me know if you want a copy.

Places, General

  1. “The Village Green Preservation Society” by The Kinks
  2. Eau d’ Bedroom Dancing” by Le Tigre
  3. Monkey Gone to Heaven” by The Pixies
  4. East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” by Billie Holiday
  5. Top of the World” by The Carpenters
  6. Car” by Built to Spill
  7. Sukie in the Graveyard” by Belle + Sebastian
  8. Strolling Down the Highway” by Nick Drake
  9. “Black Mountain” by Isobel Campbell + Mark Lanegan
  10. Get Out of the City” by Ivy
  11. Island in the Sun” by Weezer
  12. My Side of the City” by Beulah
  13. Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” by Arcade Fire
  14. Heaven” by Bettie Serveert
  15. Brick House” by The Commodores
  16. “Daddy’s Car” by The Cardigans
  17. Once Around the Block” by Badly Drawn Boy
  18. Lost in the Supermarket” by The Clash
  19. This House is Not For Sale” by Ryan Adams
  20. In the Garage” by Weezer
  21. 3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse
  22. Rock the House” by Gorillaz
  23. The Village” by New Order

CSA 2009, Week Seven.

I’ve always had incredibly vivid dreams, so much so that when I wake up, it takes me a second to figure out what exactly is going on and where I am.  Sometimes I dream about the places I’ve been, sometimes I dream about things I’ve made up, and sometimes I dream about things that are just flat-out strange.*

Still, imagine my surprise when last night I dreamed about loading the dishwasher.  It was very Rachel Getting Married, minus the competition.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my dishwasher and I actually do enjoy loading it in the most efficient way possible — a little obsessive quirk of mine, I guess — but it literally made me sit up in bed and wonder just why I was dreaming about something so ridiculous, especially when I could be dreaming about something so luscious… like my CSA box.

This week, Keith brought home the following:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Tomatoes

Parsley PestoReally, shouldn’t I have had visions of carrots dancing through my head, rather than dirty dishes and soap foam?  If not my carrot bunch, then perhaps my bundle of parsley, that often overlooked but lovely herb.

Parsley is most commonly used as a garnish, or as something to chop and sprinkle over a dish at the last minute, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I really wanted to showcase these little green leaves and their crisp, fresh flavor, so I thought a pesto would be the way to go.

Traditionally pesto is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan, but I didn’t want to merely substitute parsley for basil.  Basil is so strong an herb that it can easily run alongside all those additional flavors, but parsley is much milder.  I knew I wanted to keep the garlic in there (unfortunately negating parsley’s ability to give a diner nice breath), and clearly the olive oil needed to stay in the mix, but didn’t think cheese was necessary — something I never thought I’d say.  I decided to toss in a handful of slivered almonds for a little heft, as well as a squirt of lemon juice for additional brightness.  Because I knew I wasn’t going to eat my pesto straightaway, I spooned it all into a labeled freezer bag; later in the year, on a particularly gloomy day, I’ll mix it into a potato salad or spoon it over some tortellini to remind me of summer.

Parsley Pesto
Makes a bit less than one cup, which is plenty for a pound of pasta or potatoes

2 packed cups parsley leaves
1 small clove of garlic
¼ to ½ cup of olive oil, depending on the texture you desire
¼ cup slivered almonds
juice of half a lemon
salt

Blitz the parsley, garlic, almonds and pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender, dribbling the olive oil slowly through the feed tube.  You will need to stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula or spoon, but continue processing until you’ve used up all the oil.  Gradually add in the lemon juice and mix until completely combined.

* I can’t even get into it.  Trust me.

CSA 2009, Weeks Five + Six.

If this past month was any indication of what the summer has in store for me, I’m doomed.  No, I don’t mean Boston’s wonky June weather; I mean my inability to get around to using my CSA vegetables as soon as possible because I’ve been too damn busy. First a chunk of my family arrives in town, insisting on taking us out for multiple meals and monopolizing my time; then Marcella comes to visit for a week of shopping, rainstorms and restaurant explorations.  When’s a girl supposed to find time to put her produce to use during all of that?

CSA 5So, as with weeks two and three of my CSA, I’m combining weeks five and six into one post.  I did manage to take a photograph of week five’s haul, as I normally do, but I’ve decided the time has come yet again for me to instead snap shots of items on their own.  The boxes’ contents haven’t yet gotten so huge that they can’t all squish together into the frame, but I’ve gotten so eager to get everything out and washed and sorted that I honestly forget most of the time, and then have to toss the vegetables back together at the last minute for their line-up, which leaves me feeling stressed for neglecting to remember in the first place.

Here’s the list of five and six’s harvest:

  • Baby beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots (both weeks)
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Garlic scapes
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Napa cabbage
  • New potatoes
  • Red giant mustard greens
  • Salad mix with arugula
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash

CSA 6These lovely little potatoes were part of week six’s booty; it’s never a challenge to figure out what to do with a potato, isn’t it?  You can jazz up a mash by turning it into colcannon, bake thin slices of potato onto a cheesy pizza, comfort yourself with a bowl of soup.  Then, of course, here’s countless frittatas to make and frites to fry, and there’s nothing easier than sticking a foil-wrapped one into the oven to bake. The potato is really an incredibly versatile ingredient.

Warm Potato Salad with(out) Crème FraîcheLast night, I decided to boil the potatoes and make a warm salad to go alongside the lamb chops I was planning to broil for our dinner.  These little guys were so tender and delicate that some of their skins had rubbed off when I washed them clean of dirt and grit, so I knew that I could just toss them as is into a pot of water to boil.

Like I said, the potato — charming and lovable as it is — is easy.  Almost no thought at all is required when it comes to preparing a few.  The rest of my vegetables were another story.

Frozen vegetable stockI found myself wondering, Would it be chickening out a bit to turn most of what I received into stock, rather than figuring out what to do with my highly-intimidating kohlrabi? After debating with my self for a good while, I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with throwing some of my more complicated produce into my stockpot with several cups of water, some seasoning and some herbs.  (For a more detailed and specific recipe, look at this.)  You always need vegetable stock, I reasoned, not to mention store-bought is basically salted vegetable-esque water…  which is why I now have something like eighteen cups of stock in Ziploc bags stacked in my fridge.

Maybe it was cheating, making stock.  Then again, it’ll be a while before my flavorful frozen supply runs out, so I’m happy.

Warm Potato Salad with(out) Crème Fraîche, from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice  Waters
Makes six portions

1 ½ pounds new potatoes (Alice says to use Bintje)
2 shallots
¾ cup cream (I used milk; it was what I had on hand)
salt and pepper
½ cup crème fraîche (which I omitted, since I didn’t have any on hand, and replaced with Greek yogurt, which is far healthier anyway)
sherry vinegar

  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins until tender; drain.  When they are cool enough to handle, cut them into ¼-inch slices.
  2. Peel and dice the shallots fine, and put them in a small pan with the cream.  Season with salt and pepper and warm gently; the trick here is to slowly soften the shallots without reducing the cream.  When the shallots have softened, then take them off the heat and stir in the crème fraîche.
  3. When you are ready to serve the salad, put the potatoes in the cream mixture, add a splash or two of sherry vinegar to taste, and warm again gently.  Correct the seasoning and serve garnished with freshly ground black pepper.