This week was the first for deliveries from Lancaster Farm Fresh, the CSA I signed up for this year. I am about to embark on a whole new life come this Thursday and I needed a kick in the pants to inspire my food choices. Often, when I go to the grocery store, I feel overwhelmed. There is so much variety and choice and my brain shuts down. What do I buy? What do I make? Can't I just eat ice cream forever? I tend to end up overbuying and overspending with much of what I purchased going to waste.
I've been contemplating joining a CSA for several years now as my neighbor is a site host (pick-up/drop off point for the food) and you can't get more convenient that walking up the street. A CSA share is expensive but I felt it couldn't be any more damaging to my wallet than Whole Foods. So I gathered up my nerve and signed up for a share of fruit and eggs and a half share of veggies. The total cost ran me about $700 for 25 deliveries of vegetables, 22 deliveries of fruit, and 12 deliveries of eggs. Everything is local (from about 25 family farms in Lancaster County, PA) and organic and will supplement what I am growing myself in my own modest garden.
Look at all that green! It's hard to tell from this photograph, but you're looking at white Easter Egg radishes, Red French Breakfast radishes, Red scallions, spinach, green leaf lettuce, and bok choy. When I first peeked into the box, I felt a bit overwhelmed - "What am I going to do with all of this!?" Then I remembered that I had quite a few resources hiding in my bookshelf. Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables and Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets among them. I admit to being a cookbook collector. I buy them because they are pretty or because I adore Jamie Oliver or because I want to be the kind of person that eats quinoa 5 days a week. I rarely take the time to crack them open and learn what they have to offer.
I bought Chez Panisse Vegetables because I wanted a sort of bible about preparing a wide variety of produce. I mean, what exactly are radishes good for besides a salad garnish. I love Alice Waters' simple style - her well-written and timeless recipes feature food that is clean and delicious. There are no fancy herbs and spices to hunt for because she relies on the flavors inherent in each ingredient. She also does a wonderful job of teaching you the basics. Trust me, you're not going to figure out how to prepare that artichoke on your own. The illustrations in her books are also lovely. Local Flavors was an impulse purchase via Amazon after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as many of Deborah Madison's recipes were Kingsolver favorites. Madison tells beautiful stories about our nation's farmers' markets, what we stand to gain from them, and what we risk if we lose them. It's the perfect companion for the timid farmers' market shopper as she gives great tips on how to navigate the stalls and purchase just what you need. She advocates for grabbing radishes by the bunch, adding a pinch of salt, and taking a big bite. And so I did. I stood at my counter, chopped off the green tops, ran them under some cool water, spilled some salt into my hand, dipped and bit. Marvelous! Crunchy, sweet and spicy all at once. I devoured three more before adding them to the salad I was preparing with the scallions, spinach, and lettuce.
Tonight, per Madison's advice, I wilted two heads of spinach in a frying pan with nothing but the water that clung to the leaves after washing and a bit of coarse grey sea salt. They wilted into a soft, dark green puddle that I garnished with lemon and served under a turkey burger for dinner. See? It really is that easy to prepare fresh, tasty food quickly. Now I'm down to two heads of spinach, the Easter Egg radishes and bok choy. I'm thinking the bok choy will go into homemade miso soup tomorrow with carrots and tofu.
As of this Thursday, I will be having surgery to place a laparascopic gastric band (a form of bariatric surgery that does not involve rerouting the intestines). It is a decision that was difficult and two-years in the making. At 27, I just can't stand to attempt Weight Watchers again or take another diet pill or obssess about the latest fad diet. I've been overweight all of my life and this procedure offers me the best tool for success. So does learning a new way of cooking and eating. Giving up processed foods can be scary as it means giving up convenience. Joining a CSA is a challenge - a challenge to try new things, to incorporate more fresh and nutritious foods into my life every day (not just a few times per week), to become more familiar with what I put into my body. Being a more self-aware person is just another step in becoming more conscious of the world I live in and how my own choices affect other individuals and communities. When I support a CSA, I support myself and my own committment to wellness and entire web of people I am now connected to.