Sunday, May 27, 2012



That's how a friend described the home-made pickles we served at our Memorial Day Weekend BBQ today.

Admittedly, the cucumbers we used to make the pickles were neither from my garden nor from my CSA.  It's a little too early in the season for cucumbers.

But when shopping for pre-made cucumbers at the store, my husband and I were dismayed to find that all the pickles -- even the pickles in the refrigerator section -- had weird ingredients (flavors, colors, gums, and preservatives).

What?!  Pickles are...pickled.  You don't have to do anything to them to make them shelf stable or  to make them keep for a long time.  Why do food manufacturers put so much weird, non-food crap in PICKLES, of all things??!!

So, we had to make our own, local cucumbers or not.

1 quart mason jar with lid, or any lidded glass container
3-4 pickling cucumbers
3 cloves garlic
8 sprigs fresh dill
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
2/3 cup white vinegar
1 cup water

Quarter the cucumbers into four slices each, lengthwise, or cut into 1/4-inch chips.

Cut the garlic cloves in quarters.

In an extra mason jar or covered container, combine coriander seeds, sugar, kosher salt and vinegar. Tightly close the lid and shake vigorously until the sugar and salt dissolve.

Add 1 cup water to the mixture.

In the clean mason jar, tightly pack the sliced cucumbers, sliced garlic, and sprigs of fresh dill.

Pour the brine mixture over the cucumbers.

Tap the jar on the counter to release any air bubbles and top off the jar with extra water if any cucumbers are exposed.  [My container was large and many cucmbers were exposed.  I chose to double the brine recipe and double the water, rather than just adding water.]

Place the lid on the jar and screw on the ring until it is tight.

Leave the jar in the fridge for 24 hours before tasting.

This recipe was taken, verbatim, from Easy Garlic Dill Pickles.  The photography in the original post is lovely; I don't have anything even remotely as nice and green to share.

I do, however, have a suggestion for the step in which you put the ingredients for the brine in a jar and "shake vigorously."

Give the jar to a pre-schooler, who will close her eyes and shake it like her life depends on it.

And then give it to a toddler, who will drop it and then roll it around on the floor.

I assure you that if you use this method, all of the salt and sugar will dissolve perfectly.  :-)

I took the picture below as I put the cucumbers in the fridge, fully intending to take some lovely photos of the resultant pickles.

Almost exactly 24 hour later, I removed the pickles from the fridge; almost exactly 24 minutes after that, they were all gone.

So much for lovely photography.

But I'm not sorry.  And if you make these, you won't be either!

After all, they're magical.

CSA Week #11

More amazing greens, more beets (bleh), and incredibly cool-looking garlic scapes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Convenience Food Done Right

In general, I try to avoid eating "convenience" foods.  But I think it's possible to use convenience foods on occasion and still maintain a healthy diet.

The trick, I'm convinced, is to be very choosy about what convenience foods you will and will not eat.  In my case, I will eat something that comes out of a box or a bag, but it can't have any ingredients that I wouldn't cook with myself: It can't have natural or artificial favors, natural or artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, or chemical preservatives.  It also can't have outrageous amounts of sugar or salt.

That still leaves a wide range of minimally-processed convenience foods that I will, on occasion, eat.  These frozen gnocchi in tomato sauce from Trader Joe's are an example of such a food.

But I don't think it's healthy to stop there.  Even for "clean" convenience foods, there are rarely enough vegetables or fruits in them to make a healthy meal.  So you have to add your own.

The gnocchi pictured above cook in skillet on the stovetop in seven minutes.  That's exactly enough time to chop and rinse a bunch of swiss chard and spin it dry in the salad spinner, with a minute to spare so they can be added to the skillet with the gnocchi to wilt.

Ditto some fresh herbs: oregano, rosemary, and parsley.

In no more time than it took to make the gnocchi itself, this meal includes dark leafy greens and fresh herbs for a boost of both health and flavor.

That's convenience food done right!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Creamy Pesto Sauce (Oil Free and Vegan!)

Perhaps my best discovery in this CSA adventure so far has been pesto.  It never occurred to me in my pre-CSA days to make pesto out of anything but basil.  Actually, it never even occurred to me to make my own pesto at all (versus getting it from a jar or, worse, a “packet”).

But, since starting the CSA, I learned, quickly -- and to my repeated joy -- that any dark, leafy green mixed with water, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and nuts will make a stellar pesto.  See, for example, my recipes here, here, and here.

But, in keeping with my overall healthy eating plan, I usually try to avoid using too much oil.  The amount of oil going into my pesto recipes was, admittedly, outrageous (a cup or more!).  So, I decided to see how pesto would taste with no oil at all. 

As it turns out: Still delicious.

Here was my recipe, which made use of all the dark, leafy greens I received in my most recent CSA delivery.

½ pound of whole-wheat pasta
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1 bunch beet greens, stems removed
1 bunch radish greens, stems removed
1 bunch carrot greens, stems removed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bulb of a spring onion, chopped

First, soak the cashews in water, as if making a cashew cream sauce.  Set aside.  [Soaking at least an hour is recommended to get the creamiest texture; if you don’t have a Vitamix or a bullet-style blender, it could take far longer than an hour (perhaps even overnight) to get the cashews soft enough to “cream.”] 

Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta.

Blend the beet greens, radish greens, and carrot greens together with enough water to allow them to blend.  The beet and radish greens may get closer to a puree, but the carrot greens will lend some chunkiness.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the blended greens.  Remove the blended greens from the blender, placing them in a strainer over a bowl for a few minutes to strain out the excess water (I wouldn’t press the greens; the raw greens could get “bruised”).  Set aside.

[The water that comes out is essentially green juice.  You could drink it, if you’re so inclined.  I tasted it and was not so inclined, despite liking green juice generally.  I think it was the salty beet greens that turned me off.]

Blend the cashews with water until they reach a creamy consistency.  Set aside.

Place some water in a skillet and cook the garlic and the onion.  When the onion is starting to turn translucent, add the cashew cream.  Allow to heat through.  Add the blended greens.  Stir to combine thoroughly and allow to heat through.

Serve the pesto over the whole-wheat pasta.  I topped mine with cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt (like cashew cream sauce generally, I find it does need a pinch of salt).

The bottom line: Pesto doesn’t have to use oil.  This creamy version gets all its fat from a whole food (cashews) and is just as delicious as every other pesto I’ve made!

Fancy Marketing and Hidden Veggies

Getting my kids to eat outrageously healthy things, and to establish outrageously healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives, is a key goal of my CSA veggie endeavor.

My kids have always been good about eating vegetables, in part because they often have little other choice.  But I’ve also worked hard to bring to the vegetables in my house the kind of marketing usually reserved for fast-food meals and sugary snacks.  See, for example, “Fraggle Toast” and “Shrek Shake.”  I also hide veggies when necessary.  See, for example, Cauliflower, Parsnip, and Potato Mash.

This kind of creativity has paid off.  But sometimes it’s unnecessary. 

My three-year-old LOVES to receive our CSA deliveries.  When we arrive home from school, she spots the red cooler outside our garage before we’ve even turned into the driveway.  She loves to open the cooler carefully, unzip the bag daintily, and then delight in what she finds.

“[Gasps in shock] Mama, look!  Look at all the beautiful vegetables the farmer brought for us!”

Her pure joy at receiving the CSA vegetables means that there’s no need for further marketing.  It’s like Santa Clause comes every single week.  She can hardly contain herself as we carry the vegetables upstairs to the kitchen.

This week, straight from our delivery bag, she picked her own leaf of romaine lettuce, her own leaf of Swiss chard, her own carrot, and her own radish.  She washed the vegetables herself, and then stood by while I chopped them for her (carrot greens and radish greens included!), so that she could put them in a bowl and mix them up herself.  We added olive oil and vinegar.

She ate almost the whole bowl, along with whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce, and a cup of milk. 

Who needs fancy marketing or hidden veggies?!

CSA Week #10

I am super excited about the chard and radishes!  Not so much about the romaine, beets, and carrots, though.  I'm totally over them.

Raw Beet Salad -- Just Say "No"

I must stop attempting to eat raw beets.

I have been reluctant to heat up my oven in order to roast all the beets I have been receiving.  I have also been lazy.  This means that I keep trying raw beet recipes.

But I just have to stop.  Because they're all gross.

This raw beet salad recipe is from the New York Times.  I had high hopes.

But I hated it.  So, from now on, all my beats are getting roasted and then pickled.

Rainbow Chard Pasta

This recipe is week-night easy.

Boil water and prepare 1/2 pound of whole-wheat pasta.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, put a dollop of olive oil, a clove of garlic (chopped), half an onion (chopped), and a bunch of rainbow chard (chopped, including stems).  Add about 1/2 cup of water to the skillet, if necessary to prevent burning.  Wilt the chard over medium heat.

Drain the pasta and then toss with the chard.

Top with grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.

Dinner in fifteen minutes flat!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

CSA Week #9

So many gorgeous greens this week, I couldn't even get them all in the frame!

Beets (with lovely greens), radishes (with lovely greens), rainbow chard (lovely greens in and of themselves), romaine lettuce (ditto), herbs, and mushrooms.  [I ended up giving the mushrooms to my in-laws because they can better appreciate them.]

Macerated Wood Straberries

I loved reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.  But I have to admit that I skimmed with some degree of boredom over his chapters about foraging. 

I don’t eat mushrooms (I don’t like them), so I couldn’t empathize with the foragers’ joy upon discovering morels.  “You stumbled upon some fungus!  Better you than me!”

But, more than anything, I just didn’t think that foraging applied to me. 

First, I’m entirely too practical.  I couldn’t imagine spending all day looking for something I might never find.  Second, I live in a suburbia.  No one forages in suburbia.  Aside from some honeysuckles along the edges of my elementary school yard (whose nectar I used to enjoy during recess) I have never, ever foraged for anything.  I didn’t think there was anything to find.  “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” convinced me that it was possible to forage in fertile, hippy places like California.  But I didn’t assume it was possible in Maryland, where I live.


I was out playing with my kids in our backyard last weekend.  Playing in the grass with a one-year-old and a three-year-old is perhaps the most relaxing and wonderful activity in all of humanity.  It’s a license for a grown adult to lay down, roll around, smell the earth, enjoy the breeze, and listen to the rustling of trees overhead.  [When we’re stuck at work in our cubicles on a beautiful day, isn’t that all we’re dreaming of?]

It was during such a frolic that I noticed something unusual just a few feet away from where we were playing, in a spot where the grass gives way to trees.  Is that a…strawberry?

Once I saw one, I saw dozens – a whole patch of wild strawberries – so many, in fact, that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t ever noticed them before.  My three-year-old went nuts.  “Dada,” she called, “WE FOUND STRAWBERRIES!”

As an inexperienced forager, I knew I needed to confirm the edibility of the berries before I just dove in.  Especially with the girls.  So, I went inside and consulted the wisdom of the Internet.

I learned (from various sites, as I looked for confirmation from multiple sources) that what I had found were “wood strawberries.”  I learned that I should not expect them to taste as sweet as a cultivated strawberry, or to be as big.  I learned that they’re entirely edible and, in fact, that there are no poisonous berries that resemble strawberries at all.  So, the Internet told me, if you have wood strawberries, go ahead and eat them before the birds do.  But don’t expect them to be particularly tasty.

I grabbed baskets for the girls and off we went to forage.  I have never been so excited.  Hyper-local wild strawberries!  Michael Pollan, I get it now!

The girls had a blast filling their baskets with the easy-to-pick berries.  My little one is only fourteen months old, but she immediately knew what to do.  [I would say that we must be born with a hunter/gatherer instinct, but she also knows how to swipe the screen of an iPhone; I suspect that is more nurture than nature.]

Most of the strawberries never made it into the baskets – we ate them right off the plants.  In truth, they were not as sweet as cultivated strawberries.  But they were still good.  Of the ones that made it into the baskets, most never made it into the house.

But a few did. 

And because they didn’t have much sweetness of their own, I decided to macerate them to add a touch of sugar and bring out the natural sweetness and juices of the berries.

Handful of wild/wood strawberries
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon of fresh lemon zest (grate the outside of a lemon)
½ cup of non-fat Greek yogurt

Put the strawberries, honey, and balsamic vinegar in a bowl and stir them, mashing the strawberries slightly.  Allow them to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours. 

Serve the macerated strawberries over yogurt with a sprinkle of lemon zest. 

You will enjoy them, for sure, because, as I discovered, there is an odd sense when eating foraged food that it was put there, by nature, just for you.  I’m pretty sure, if I had paid a little more attention, that’s what Michael Pollan was trying to tell me all along.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mixed Greens Salad

So much of what I have been eating in the past few weeks has been salad.  It's hard to blog about salad.

But I think I do a disservice to the world of CSA eating not to blog about it.  Eating salad is critical to making the best use of CSA veggies.  It's also critical to your health.  If you have any doubts about the necessity of eating outrageously huge quantities of dark leafy greens -- and eating them every day -- I refer you to "Eat to Live" by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Tonight's salad started out pretty standard: romaine lettuce, carrots, and radishes.  But then I got weird and added carrot greens and radish greens, as well.  They're very good for you and they're actually delicious!  I serve my "mixed greens" salad with chipotle-infused olive oil and a splash of white vinegar.

My picky husband ate his whole salad, weird greens and all, without complaint.  Greens are great!

CSA Week #8

This week's veggies: carrots, spring onions, radishes (yay! my husband loves these!), red cabbage, bok choy, romaine, and herbs.

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