Guest blogger: Lisa Fulmer, an artist, crafter, teacher and writer, as well as a marketing consultant and president of the Concord Art Association in the San Francisco Bay Area tells us: “I love to cook, but I’m not so thrilled with my kitchen. It’s small with very little counter space and no dishwasher. So more…
This year, it feels like summer has been a long time coming. It’s mid-June and the days are still intermittently cool. We’ve had some heat, but each time that glorious, baking sun gets going, it’s interrupted by cloud cover and a chilly breeze. In truth, this is pretty much what happens when you live in the coastal Northeast. A long, slow warm-up followed by weeks of steamy, humid days. Yet annually I conveniently forget what the prior year’s seasons delivered. And while I long for an extended stretch of languid warmth, the local produce seems very pleased with nature’s current offerings.
Yesterday marked the beginning of Siena Farm’s summer share, and it is a green week. The box was packed with arugula, mesclun, braising mix, kale, two large heads of lettuce, green garlic, oregano, and broccoli. This is more than a few good salads. I’ve challenged myself to use the greens in a different way each day for a week, and I will share the results here.
Day one, I took the easy route: greens and pasta, a pretty fail-proof combination. I had a bunch of broccoli rabe left from last week’s share. It seemed like their bite would be a perfect complement to the sweetness of the just-picked broccoli in this week’s box. As is often the case when pasta anchors the meal, I was able to complete all my prep work while the pasta water came to a boil. This always feels like a great efficiency to me, a small victory on the path to dinner.
I trimmed the rabe and the broccoli stalks, setting both aside. In a separate bowl, I collected florets and chopped greens. I also sliced two heads of green garlic, whites and greens, then added these to a generous glug of olive oil heating in a saucepan, and threw in the broccoli stalks. I cooked this mixture until the vegetables were just tender, then took right off the heat. Meanwhile, I blanched the greens and florets for a quick minute, then drained and added to the pasta bowl. A few sliced sun-dried tomatoes and their oil (cherry tomatoes would be delicious if they were in season when you cooked this), some shaved parmesan cheese, and dinner is served. Easy, fresh, and well received by my three most discerning small eaters. Everybody wins.
I recently subscribed to a new farm share box to be delivered every other week, added to our already weekly share from another farm share service. I’ll be doing a blow by blow comparison, but wanted to share my immediate thoughts.
My original box, which I pick up in a neighboring town has been mostly roots, tubers, tap roots, etc. including beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic, onions, and a smattering of lettuce, herbs and fruit. The new farm share provided lettuce, zucchini, broccoli, kale, tomatoes and mushrooms. All yummy. But when you have a family, and you get one stalk of broccoli, and one bunch of kale, what do you do? Do you combine with another cache of veggies, or mix and match what you are handed?
My son is not a fan of mushrooms, so I am saving that for another day. I tried the tomatoes – not a big fan – that will be part of my future CSA review article. Zucchini can keep for another day, so I decided to mix the kale and broccoli, and cook my favorite way – roasted in the oven.
Here’s what I came up with: cut broccoli florets into bite sized pieces, and cute up kale. Mix olive oil, juice from half of a lemon, salt and garlic together and pour over chopped vegetables, blending it all together. Place onto two cookie sheets and bake at 400 for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, zest two lemons, and combine with leftover olive oil from original mixing bowl.
Add shaved Parmesan cheese, in anticipation of cooked vegetables
After initial 15 minutes of roasting, stir veggies and make sure they are flat on the cookie sheet – you don’t want to steam the veggies; return to the oven for another 7- 10 minutes, or until they are cooked to your liking.
Combine cooked veggies with lemon zest and Parmesan cheese and enjoy!
When I was a kid, my mom would pickle beets with onions and refrigerate them in a gigantic jar. As I pushed past the dill pickles and leftover tuna casserole in search of something yummy and enticing, possibly even forbidden, boom – there it would be: a science experiment of dark red orbs entwined in stringy tentacles of onion.
As an adult, I enjoy a beet salad on occasion, but I don’t seek them out, and had never thought to actually cook them. So when for two weeks in a row, I received beets in my farm share, I knew I had to overcome my aversion, and somehow learn to embrace the beet.
Once determined to do my best, I sought advice about the best way to cook them. My Facebook friends had lots of advice – most of which was conflicting: roast then peel; peel then roast; steam them; boil them – make borscht!! I watched Martha Stewart videos, Ina Garten videos, and finally I did what felt the most natural to me. I peeled them and roasted them like all the other tubers and tap roots my family and I enjoy.
And what did I find? A beet is a beautiful thing: homely and lumpy on the outside, but a virtual geode on the inside.
First step was to peel the beets with a regular peeler, then cut up into bite size chunks. Note – your hands will get stained, but it washes off easily enough!
Next I mixed with olive oil and fresh thyme from my garden and salt, and put on a cookie sheet to roast at 400 degrees. Note – next time I will use a pan with sides on it. Juices run freely, dripping into the oven.
My sister-in-law Antje sent me a recipe, which I followed and it looked delicious, but I felt like I was short on the beets and long on the sauce.
This was supposed to be a side dish for my mom’s 85th birthday, and I knew it needed more. Hands on hips, staring at the dish, I realized I had a 1/4 watermelon in the fridge. My friend Holly’s wine bar serves a killer watermelon, grape tomato salad. The light turned on, and I cut that thing up!
In the end, it was a beautiful dish with lots of taste and depth. My mom’s face lit up when she bit into her salad, and that was the best reward. The watermelon added a nice crunchy sweet to the pungent beets and salty feta. I found myself being a reluctant convert. BLP
During the last two months, I have seriously questioned the wisdom of undertaking a major home improvement project. This year, Jonathan and I both started new jobs and all three kids are in new schools. The changes have been amazing, expansive, and pushed positive growth for all of us. It’s also been exhausting. I still have moments when I feel as though I’m teetering on an edge, not quite sure whether the response or idea that I’ve offered was the appropriate one for the situation, not quite certain how to read and meet the needs of my colleagues and boss. I can only imagine for my children, who have far less practice at life, that it’s also been a challenging year (though they might struggle to articulate quite why, or how).
So why, in the midst of all this newness, as things have finally settled into steady rhythms and routines, would we turn everything inside out again? Probably for the same reason that we sought new jobs and schools: because in the long run, we’ll be happier with the landscape, and we might learn a little along the journey too.
Our current kitchen configuration is tight, outdated, and unnecessarily blocked off from our yard. We’ve stretched the boundaries of space as far as possible within the available footprint, which like many mid-century homes, reflects a time when meal preparation was a private and segregated activity. Over the past five years, we’ve fed many friends in our cramped quarters. To my knowledge, none of them has felt stifled by our lack of counter space or natural light – though more than one has been felled by a racing toddler, bouncing through the compact layout like a heated molecule on overdrive. To us, the homeowners, hosts, and food preparers, there’s a lot lacking.
We could easily continue in our house as is. But we are blessed with the opportunity to improve it. So we’ve made the perhaps completely misguided decision to go for it. There have been headaches finalizing the drawings, and even more obtaining the building permit. (City of Newton, I’ve been a taxpaying resident for five years, and lived here for decades; why can’t your municipal services better serve me?) The upside to all these early struggles? Just getting to the starting line feels like a major win.
Undoubtedly, there will be more unanticipated challenges. My patience will wane, and my culinary creativity be stretched, as we’re forced to go kitchen-less for several months. I will try not to inundate this blog with renovation updates, other than when they impact – or hopefully, inspire – my cooking.
On the other side, I’ll have better lighting to capture my kitchen creations, and I won’t have to be constantly trying to photograph in a way that hides my ugly countertops. I’m sure every item will have its space, and there will never be clutter. Most importantly, we’ll have a kitchen that can be the true center of our home, where we’ll have more space for preparing and sharing meals, where our kids can watch and participate and hopefully fall in love with cooking, just as we were lucky enough to do.
Until then, I’ve got my sense of perspective ready, and invite you to share your renovation adventures.
Thursday night, we ate dinner outside, the first time this year. This may not sound momentous, but it’s always a notable occasion for me, marking the welcome entry of our fleeting summer season. Unlike our earlier peeks at warm days, where a chill crept back in by 5pm as the sun sank lower, this day’s warmth lingered into evening. Eating outside felt like a necessity, especially for those of us grown-up family members who spent most of the day inside at work. Even with the window open next to my desk – yes, an amazing perk of our academic buildings is that the windows actually open – I was yearning to be completely enveloped by the soft spring air.
Dining location confirmed, all that remained was to choose my menu. It was Thursday, so simplicity was necessary, something that could deliver taste and nutrition in a single bowl. Grain + protein + veggies = easy satisfaction (and usually, happy kids). Pasta is always a good choice at our house, the boiling water requiring little attendance and setting a time parameter for the rest of my meal preparation. We had sausage in the fridge, ready for a quick saute. The answer to defining the rest of the equation came directly from the CSA offerings.
For 10 weeks in our pantry share, availability was largely limited to what could be stored or preserved, punctuated with greens grown indoors under cover, and local treats like dried beans, bread, and honey. Now, for the first time all season, the Siena box was filled exclusively with the farm’s own fresh produce. Loaded full of lettuce, arugula, and mixed field greens, “the spring box is much lighter than the winter share,” Jonathan observed. That physical lightness is part of what I love about seasonal cooking – not just the tastes, but the textures and weight of food varies throughout the year.
In this case, my chosen ingredients, arugula and chive blossoms, countered their relative weightlessness with a peppery sharpness that added dimension, substance, and absolute freshness to the meal. Garlicky sausage, salty Parmesan cheese, and sweet cherry tomatoes provided the perfect balance. (I’ve been indulging in locally grown hydroponic tomatoes lately, after realizing how much our family missed them all winter.)
The beauty of warm weather cooking, and its supporting ingredients, is that so much can be low-cook or no-cook. After sauteing the sausage (meat gets its own summer cook category, most deliciously as “lightly charred by fire”), I cooked sliced garlic until soft, then gently warmed the halved tomatoes over moderate heat. The arugula was folded in at the end, cooked only by the residual heat of the pasta and other ingredients. The chive blossoms I added on top, a more artful finish than my typical choice of ground pepper alone. This meal, equally delicious warm or after settling to room temperature, was a winning way to welcome the shifting season.
The magic of the CSA box, similar to shopping at a farmer’s market, is that the offerings reflect exactly what’s available at the moment the produce was packed. Now that Barbara has been drawn in by the joys of the CSA, we wanted to share with you the seasonal offerings on each coast. This week, maybe I’ll stay in Boston…enticed by those delicate chive blossoms! *MDA*
For weeks I’ve been reading food blogs and cooking sites singing the praises of fresh asparagus. Try this tantalizing recipe, they urge; take advantage of this early harvest treat, with its fleeting moment in the spring sun. Sounds great, right? Only problem: up here in Massachusetts, where winter was mild but snow fell multiple times after the spring solstice, the only asparagus to be found was still making the long-haul from Mexico or California. Patiently, I’ve been waiting, peeking through the handles of my CSA box each week hoping to see those distinctive, scaly stalks.
Yesterday, I skimmed the weekly email that goes out from the farm mid-morning, announcing the treats to be found upon pick-up of my share. “We don’t grow asparagus,” I read. Dashed hopes. Frantic mental scramble. Where else could I fulfill this need to validate spring’s arrival? I read on, “but New England is famous for quality asparagus and we all love it, so we try to bring you some from a local farm each spring.” Whew. Thank you, farmer’s network. Thank you, 4Town Farm.
I eagerly unpacked the share after work, revealing these purple-tipped beauties.
This is what I love best about the farm share, and more broadly farmer’s markets and stands that supply locally grown produce. The stalks lack uniformity, some stocky and fat, others tenderly slender. The deep purple color at the tips and scales is rarely seen at a conventional market, where the asparagus is harvested days before it arrives at the store. This local product, with its rich variation, promises a new taste adventure. These asparagus reminded me of the dark purple-skinned peppers that show up at Massachusetts farmers markets mid-summer. When you cut them open, they’re a pale yellow inside, and much sweeter than traditional bell peppers.
What surprises did my asparagus hold? I knew exactly how I wanted to find out.
My kids have been working hard this week on their table manners, especially staying in their seats throughout the meal. This, I’ve discovered, is a much easier task to accomplish when the food being offered appeals to them. So tonight, we would have pasta with roasted asparagus and lemon. Simple enough for a Friday, and a preparation that would allow the asparagus to shine.
Have I mentioned that I’m on a kitchen countdown? We’re about to embark upon a substantial home renovation project, completely tearing up our existing kitchen and building a new one. The end result promises to be well-lit, with ample counter space, and appliances that will support and inspire new culinary projects. The process to get there: painful. It’s been a long slog just getting to the permitting stage (a saga for another day). Once the foundation and framing are complete and the contractor breaks through into our current space, we’ll likely be kitchen-less for at least three months. Kitchen D-day seems to be about six weeks away.
Now, every time I use the oven, I wonder what I will do without one. I plan to master the grill (previously Jonathan’s domain of expertise), and friends have generously loaned us their camping stove so we can have a burner for boiling water. Going the summer without baking, roasting, or frying anything will be difficult (especially at breakfast time), but possible. Attempting to go that long without serving pasta would invite mutiny. Another good reason for tonight’s meal, to make it while it’s still an easy choice. When you have kitchen counters, a sink, and all your utensils available, this meal takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.
So here we are, spring on our plates, at the precipice of a home transition, eating with the windows open, letting in a warm breeze. The asparagus was rich and sweet, retaining a depth of flavor that tasted of earth. It’s been a long wait. New England, we’ve arrived.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy asparagus? Let us know.
I just completed my first year at college… as part of the administration. Commencement was Saturday, immediately preceded by two days of governance meetings that I was responsible for organizing. There was a lot of eating, most of it good, some extraordinary, but none homemade. Saturday night was the first time in five nights that I ate dinner at home. I missed being in the kitchen, but cooking myself would’ve been a foolish attempt. I could barely keep enough focus to successfully use my chopsticks to eat the sushi takeout that Jonathan thoughtfully picked up. (Working four straight nights and being on call all day is exhausting. Being the parent responsible for running the house during that time is heroic.)
Sunday morning, feeling a bit more energetic and having some brain space to dedicate to my home life again, I investigated the latest farm share bounty. The ratio of spring to storage crops continues to shift, helped along by a gloriously warm and sunny week. More carrots, yes, but also sorrel, baby greens (including mustard greens, kale, and tatsoi), and breakfast radishes from Siena’s fields. Other produce freshly-grown included Swiss chard and Oakleaf lettuce from nearby farms that stretch the season by using hoophouses. Enough to imprint spring across our week’s meals.
Yesterday I eased back in with something simple. Abby had a morning birthday party, so she came home with a belly full of pizza and cake. Lucas and Olivia were happy to polish off a box of mac n’ cheese (with the requisite carrots and edamame that we add for extra nutrition, and to make ourselves feel better). With only two adults to feed, I could be a little bolder in my ingredient choices. In particular, I could use more greens.
We had a Nashoba Brook ciabatta loaf in our CSA this week, just about to get stale. A light browning in the toaster made those slices an ideal base for a grown-up lunch. I spread on shallot jam (another spring pantry CSA treat) and added a few pieces of nice hard cheese (I had Parrano, a Parmesan-like young gouda, in the fridge, but any aged cheese with a little bite would work). This I topped off with a quick vegetable sauté – garlic, carrots, and several large handfuls of Siena’s baby greens. It was the perfect spring lunch for two hard-working parents.
If you’ve been reading this blog, or eating dinner at my house recently, you know that I like to prepare healthy, often vegetable-centric, meals for our family to eat together. I enjoy the creation process, coaxing an even more delicious (usually) finished product out of the thoughtful combination of ingredients. And I feel like a good parent, teaching my kids to love a wide range of fresh foods. But as with many things, it’s pretty easy to find myself teetering between dedication to reasonable high expectations (of myself and for my family) and captive to them to a fault.
Friday night I had the best intentions of leaving early. I would spend some time catching up with the kids, then prepare homemade carrot mac n’ cheese. Our house is beginning to feel a bit like Rabbit’s den in Too Many Carrots, and this seemed like a good way to make a delicious dent in our beta-carotene stash. Only problem? I didn’t leave early. Work, as it often does, presented me with some unexpected Friday afternoon obligations. So I came rushing home, 30 minutes later than I’d hoped, mind racing the whole way to try and figure out whether I could still make my dinner plan work.
I did, sort of. I put two pots of water to boil right away and set to peeling and grating carrots. (I really need to buy a grater attachment for my Cuisinart!) As I cooked, the kids voiced their displeasure. They were ready for food, eager for my attention after a day apart, and didn’t want to wait for either. I powered through, putting a tasty (and pretty healthy) meal on the table. About 45 minutes later than we usually eat. Best parenting choice? Maybe not.
Preparing meals like this, with fresh, seasonally-available ingredients, is one of my greatest joys. It can also be a major demand on my time, especially after a long work day. As much as I’m loving the farm share, and the push it gives me to feed my family well, sometimes the better choice is to take the night off.
Two nights earlier, I had done just that. Another rainy, chilly day and thankfully T-ball was cancelled. (I love watching my kids play, but not when it’s 45 degrees and wet.) Finding myself with an unexpected evening at home in the kitchen, I could’ve gone right to the produce drawer to pull something together. Instead, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And let the kids watch a movie (which NEVER happens mid-week). It was glorious. I had time to sit, to talk with Jonathan, to pack the next day’s lunches at an hour when I wasn’t completely exhausted. And because I had time to get through most of my evening obligations early, I could actually get to sleep at a reasonable hour, which makes me a better mom the next day.
I’m certainly not suggesting that people should (or that I would) stop cooking. Pushing myself to try new ingredients, to focus on what’s seasonal and local, has made cooking fun for me again. It’s encouraged me to experiment, broaden my culinary horizons, and increased my connection to the local environment – the food and its producers. But as in everything, balance is the key. Make delicious, fresh food. Share your love for cooking with your family. But remember that usually the shortcuts (like using boxed mac n’ cheese) will only matter to you. And sometimes, when you really need a break, make the kids PB&J for dinner – then order Chinese takeout.
Special thanks to my friend John, who thought this story would resonate with other busy people (especially, but certainly not exclusively, parents).
Author’s note: I am a huge believer in the idea that we eat with our eyes just as much as through taste, touch, and smell. (I’d say all our senses, but really, when was the last time you heard your food?) So when I made a delicious spring salad and forgot to take a picture of it, I hesitated to write this post. How could I communicate the beauty of spring’s first delicate radishes, the emotional impact of a bright green dressing made from freshly harvested, over-wintered sorrel, if I couldn’t show you?
I’m invoking my 9th grade (5th grade?) English teacher in an effort to paint a picture through words alone. Sort of like watching a cooking show on TV – you think it’s good, but how can you know for sure with some of the critical sensory inputs missing? You be the judge. *MDA*
Despite a relatively mild winter, especially compared with last year’s 100+ inch snow bombardment, spring has arrived at a slow crawl this year. We’ve had a few scattered days of glorious warmth, the kind that inspire an extra long lunch break and have New Englanders seeking every excuse to linger outside. Overall, though, these teases of warmth punctuated a chilly April, and May has opened with April’s showers, the mercury stuck in the drippy 50s.
Despite the cool, wet weather – or perhaps because of it – the landscape this week reveals a new seasonal chapter. Not quite warm yet, but no more frost warning mornings. The trees are everywhere tinged with that lovely, hopeful light green, interspersed with pink and white blossoms. The sidewalks are strewn with fallen blossoms – spring snow! my youngest daughter exclaims. To me, it’s the promise of new growth washing over the landscape. My farm share box graciously followed suit. More carrots? Yes. But also vibrant green chives, sorrel, and spring’s first bunch of radishes. I knew I had to make a salad.
I turned right to one of my favorite sources for vegetarian recipes: the Flour, Too cookbook. Flour Bakery, run by recent James Beard winning chef Joanne Chang, definitely serves meat – and transportative baked goods – but for me, their vegetable recipes truly shine. Using Joanne’s recipe for Summer Three-Bean and Potato Salad as a departure point, I dove into my CSA box to bring the recipe back into springtime.
Our spring Siena share is called a pantry share. Bridging from the last of the winter storage crops into spring growth (which is always late up here in Massachusetts) might leave the boxes a little bare. Instead of skipping a season, Siena’s approach illuminates the true meaning of community agriculture: the pantry share highlights the efforts of multiple local producers. Since March, in addition to Siena’s own pickled, preserved, and stored veggies, we’ve also enjoyed CT honey, RI hoophouse-grown kale, and bread baked using a Concord grape-based starter (from Concord, MA).
This week I found myself with the last of Verrill Farm’s’ fall-dug fingerling potatoes. Gently boiled and diced, they formed a hearty base for my salad. Next in, Baer’s yellow-eyed peas, slow-cooked in vegetable broth. Baer’s Beans grows mostly heirloom varieties, many of which have been cultivated in the Northeast since colonial days. The yellow-eyed peas tasted like the child of a black-eyed pea and a cannellini bean – toothsome and mild. I added in some green beans because I love them, and I figured the salad needed some fresh beans, even it meant bending my seasonal produce rules. Petite French radishes added a gentle bite and a kick of color, and provided the surest sign yet that the spring growing season has arrived.
I added the ingredients to a deep wooden bowl, each layer enhancing the complex diversity of the whole. The salad felt representative of the interconnected local farming system that had brought each element into my CSA box. Finally, I dressed the salad, replacing the herb vinaigrette called for with a simple sorrel and chive puree. After trimming the sorrel stems, I tossed the whole bunch into my Cuisinart, added a few teaspoons of water, a couple inches of chives, olive oil, salt and pepper. The resulting mixture, bright green and grassy, pulled everything together, the sorrel’s earthy scents issuing forth a clarion call: spring is here.