Simpaug Farms CSA: Week Two

After just five minutes in our 95-degree kitchen, the lettuce was already starting to wilt; there’s just one photo this week.

While building our new deck was the much-talked about home improvement project for this year (mentioned obliquely in the last few posts), the more extensive (and expensive) one was replacing our HVAC system. We ordered the units last month and scheduled delivery and installation for this week… but our current central air conditioning decided to leave the party a little early – in the middle of a heatwave, no less. We awoke to an overly warm house this morning, and realized the need to relocate our open-air food storage to a climate-controlled solution in the fridge – on CSA collection day, no less!

So, Clay had the opportunity to meet Max at the Fairfield Farmers Market while I got to work in the kitchen. Luckily we received the same weight of produce this week as last, but in somewhat denser packaging – squash takes up far less room in the fridge than baskets of greens!

What’s In This Week’s Share: Week Two

Vegetables

  • Cauliflower – 8 ounces
    Storage Instructions: Wrap loosely in paper towels inside a loosely sealed plastic bag and refrigerate. Use within 2 to 3 days.
  • Collard Greens – 14 ounces
    Wrap the greens in a damp paper towel and store in a loose plastic bag in the crisper drawer for 3 to 4 days
  • Snap Peas – 16 ounces
    Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use within 5 days.
  • Green Leaf Lettuce – 10 ounces
    Line a food storage container with paper towels; separate the leaves and place them in the container, wrap loosely with paper towels, and place in the crisper drawer – check daily to discard any spoiled leaves; will keep for a week
  • Squash – 56 ounces
    Refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag for up to a week
  • Pointed cabbage – 24 ounces
    Store in the crisper drawer for up to a week
  • Fennel – one 4-oz bulb
    Store in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 10 days
  • Scallions – 5.5 ounces
    Store in a quart-sized mason jar with the white bottoms submerged. Change the water daily, and they will continue to grow.

Other

  • Eggs – one dozen

What To Make With This Week’s Share

I’ve ordered the list of produce in order of perishability, so that governs how we’ll consume it… but first I have a terrible confession: I loathe collard greens. I know, I know! My parents spent much of the last week raving about the wonderful southern cooking they experienced in Alabama and Tennessee this spring, including the fabulous stewed greens. I can get behind so much of it but collards just make me gag, no matter how they are cooked. So either Clay will eat these on his own at a time when I’m not around, or we’ll gift the beautiful bouquet of them to a friend with better taste than I have, but I can’t offer any useful recipes for them. (If you have a suggestion, please leave it in the comments!)

As for the rest…

Baked Squash Rounds
Samantha of the Five Heart Home blog has a terrific recipe for baked parmesan squash rounds. Since I can make these in our toaster oven and avoid heating up the whole house with the oven, I’ll make a big batch of these with our gooseneck squash and zucchini. They’ll make a lovely, light variation on eggplant parmesan, alongside some grilled herbed-chicken sausages and our homemade marinara sauce.

(More) Frozen Stir Fry Mix
We had a phenomenal stir-fry with last week’s veggies, so will turn the cauliflower, snap peas, and scallions into another batch of frozen stir-fry veggies, along with some onions, carrots, and bell pepper from the market. (I made two batches of rice before it got too hot this morning, so that’s already waiting for Tuesday night’s supper.)

Pulled Pork and Coleslaw
Yesterday I wrote up my method for making pork tenderloin with chard and fennel – and it was so good, I’m desperate to make it again! Clay isn’t a fan of having the exact same dish repeatedly, so our pork this week comes in the form of pulled pork sandwiches – he’s adding the fennel bulb into the crockpot of barbecued pork shoulder, and will work both last week’s cabbage and this week’s into a slaw with purple, white, and orange carrots to serve on top. We’ll make a spicy mustard sauce for the bottom of the sandwich, too, so all of the best flavors – spicy, smoky, sweet, fresh, crunch – come through in every bite.

Grilled Fish with Green Salad
The fennel bulb we received this week has a few fronds attached, so I’ll save them to garnish a grilled fillet of white fish on Friday. Fennel, lemon, and pink peppercorns will be a great topper for whatever the best catch is – and we can serve it either alongside or over the top of a traditional salad. We have a few radishes still in good shape from last week, so will have them with bits of carrot, cucumber, and grape tomato over the leaf lettuce – probably in a mini chop form, for a pleasant mouthfeel alongside the tender fish.

Holiday Frittata
Since we both have Wednesday off for Independence Day, I’ll make a Frittata – Alton Brown has a terrific recipe for a crookneck squash variety. I’m a big fan of “hiding” leftovers in baked egg dishes, so I’m sure that any leftover bits of sausage or stir-fry veggies are likely to find their way onto our holiday brunch plates. (Leftover frittata travels well when wrapped securely, so we’ll be able to bring a little of the holiday to work on Thursday as a packed breakfast, too.)

And that should serve us for week two!

I hope to write up a few more recipes this week – I made a to-die-for lemon tart for my mom’s birthday on Friday, and last week’s veggies lasagna worked beautifully with all of that fresh kale. I’d also love to hear what other CSA members are making with their shares. Leave a comment and let me know what you’re making this week!

How To Make Pork Tenderloin with Braised Chard and Roasted Fennel

As promised, a recipe from last week’s CSA meal-plan:

We built a deck last week. To be more accurate, my parents built a deck while we schlepped stuff around and dug holes for footings and garden beds. The point being, we expended enormous amounts of physical energy in activities outside our norm, and were pretty hungry while having zero energy for cooking.  As a solution, one of the easiest dishes I know how to make: roasted pork tenderloin. It’s tender and succulent, and difficult to overcook if you watch it carefully.

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a cast iron skillet inside.
  2. Prep your vegetables: I chose carrots and fennel cut into three-quarter-inch pieces, tossed with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh black pepper.
  3. Prep your tenderloin:
    1. Rinse it off, pat it dry, and trim away any silverskin.
    2. Slash it deeply in a few places and stuff the slashes full of minced garlic scapes.
    3. Drizzle the pork with a bit of olive oil, then massage a mixture of salt, pepper, and sweet Hungarian paprika into the meat.
  4. Pull the hot skillet from the oven; nestle the pork and veg into the pan, and pop it back in the oven for twenty-five minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees*.
  5. At the twenty-five minute mark, remove the pork to a carving board: tent it with foil and let it rest for ten minutes while the vegetables continue cooking, then slice it.

* Full disclosure: Clay swears by the instant-read meat thermometers, but I always determine doneness by color and texture. 160 is a little too shimmery and pale pink for my taste, so I generally end up slicing the pork, laying it over the top of the veg, and tossing it back into the oven for a few minutes to be really “done”.

During the twenty-five minute roasting time, prep the chard.

  1. Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. I dislike the stems so compost them, but you could chop them into small pieces and cook them, as well.
  2. Prepare a seasoning mix of salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and sliced scallions.
  3. Prepare braising liquid – a one-cup measure of chicken stock** and wine.

** I didn’t realize until most of the way through prep that my stock was frozen solid, so I strained off a bit of broth from leftover wonton soup and mixed it with an equal measure of pinot noir. It worked a treat.

Set a skillet over medium heat on the stove, and melt some bacon drippings in it. (If you don’t keep bacon drippings in your fridge, butter or olive oil will suffice but the final dish will be less flavorful.) Toss the chard and seasonings in the melted drippings; allow the leaves to wilt slightly. Add the braising liquid, lower the heat, lid the pan, and let it be for three to five minutes, until the greens are fully wilted. Remove the greens to a warm dish, then reduce the remaining liquid until it’s the consistency of a sauce; drizzle over the wilted greens.

Serve slices of pork over a small bed of wilted greens, alongside carrots and fennel. It’s an aromatic and filling plate, for sure – so much so that all four servings were eaten and the dishes were washed before I thought to take a photograph. Next time…

CSA Notes
We used all of the fennel and all of the chard from last week’s box in this dish, along with 1/5 of the garlic scapes and 1/2 of the scallions. The volume fed four adults with hearty dinner portions and no leftovers.

 

 

 

How to Make a Flavored Gin Fizz

Rhubarb-infused gin makes a lovely pink cocktail.

Fruit-flavored cocktails are all the rage, but there are two hurdles for the home bartender to surpass in making them:

  • Infusing fruit into a sugar syrup is easy, but in trying to balance the fruit flavor against the alcohol you run the risk of oversweetening the cocktail.
  • Flavored alcohols are pricy, and it’s hard to use up a whole bottle if you’re mixing for just one or two people at a time.

An excellent work-around for both issues is to flavor your own at home, in small batches. It’s an excellent way to eke out the last bit of use from overripe fruit, too!

Earlier this month I made rhubarb gin from the last of my home grown rhubarb.

  1. Wash and dry the stalks, and trim them into ½ inch pieces.
  2. Place the cut rhubarb in a glass jar, and cover with gin. (We stock Tanqueray London Dry at home.)
  3. Lid the jar and tuck into the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks.

On Saturday, I strained the solids from the liquids and we were left with a lovely pink liquor. We mixed it with a bit of lemon juice and a dash of vanilla syrup, and topped off the glass with ginger soda for an easy, flavorful, and not-too-sweet Rhubarb-Ginger Gin Fizz.

Have you ever made your own flavored alcohol?

Simpaug Farms CSA: Week One

Three-quarters of today’s haul. 

It’s my favorite day of the summer: open season at our CSA! Earlier this morning I collected the contents of our crate – three cloth sacks full of gorgeous greens, with dirt still on the radishes – and then spent the afternoon cleaning and trimming and drying and storing all of it. Because I’m a crazy person, and that’s what the first day of the season is all about.

My plan is to catalog what we receive each week, and to note our plans for cooking, eating, and preserving it. So, let’s get started.

What’s In This Week’s Share: Week One

Vegetables

  • Broccoli – 16 ounces
    Storage Instructions: Mist the unwashed heads, wrap loosely in paper towels, and refrigerate. Use within 2 to 3 days.
  • Snap Peas – 16 ounces
    Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use within 5 days.
  • Spicy mixed salad greens – 8 ounces
    Store loosely in a plastic bag in the fridge; use within 5 days
  • Rainbow Chard – 8 ounces
    Store in an air-tight plastic bag with as much air removed as possible, for up to five days
  • Red Leaf Lettuce – 10 ounces
    Line a food storage container with paper towels; separate the leaves and place them in the container, wrap loosely with paper towels, and place in the crisper drawer – check daily to discard any spoiled leaves; will keep for a week
  • Squash – 32 ounces
    Refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag for up to a week
  • Pointed cabbage – 24 ounces
    Store in the crisper drawer for up to a week
  • Kale – 10 ounces
    Wrap in paper towels, store in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator
  • Fennel – one 3.5-oz bulb
    Store in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 10 days
  • French Radishes – 7 ounces
    Top and Tail the radishes, place them in a mason jar of cold water, and store them in the fridge. Change the water daily.
  • Scallions – 5.5 ounces
    Store in a quart-sized mason jar with the white bottoms submerged. Change the water daily, and they will continue to grow.
  • Garlic Scapes – 10
    I store them loose in the crisper drawer and trim the cut ends weekly; they keep for months

Other

  • Eggs – one dozen

What To Make With This Week’s Share

I’ve ordered the list of produce in order of perishability, so that governs how we’ll consume it.

Frozen Stir Fry Mix
This is a super-busy week for Clay, and my parents are in town for the week to work on a big house project. We won’t have a lot of time for big cooking projects, so I’m taking a short-cut and creating two family-sized packages of stir fry vegetables to freeze for easy weeknight dinners for July. They will include:

  • Broccoli
  • Snap Peas
  • Onions and Carrots from the pantry

When it’s time to make the stir-fry, we’ll add in a fresh bell pepper and all of our seasonings, and serve it over rice or noodles.

Chopped and ready for a Mandarin Chicken stir-fry

Salad
I bought a bag of the farm’s spicy mixed greens last week, and we made a splendid salad. We’ll repeat that pattern this week, with the

  • Spicy Mix
  • French Radishes (roasted with carrots then sliced into coins)
  • Yellow Squash (peeled into slender ribbons)
  • Green Pepper and Grape Tomatoes from the market

We’ll mix the fresh veggies with a big batch of creamy Green Goddess dressing made with our homemade yogurt, fresh lemon, and the GG salad mix from Penzey’s. It should yield four servings as a meal or eight as a side.

Radishes in a jar if fresh, cold water.

Pork Tenderloin with Braised Chard and Roasted Fennel
When I think about pork sausage I smell fennel and rich earthy greens, so we’ll create a whole meal around those flavors. We’ll use:

  • A pork tenderloin from the freezer
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Scallions
  • Fennel
  • Garlic Scapes

I’ll chop up one of the scapes and stuff it into deep slashes in the pork, to impart a lovely garlicky flavor during the roasting process. We’ll quarter the fennel bulb and roast it in the same pan with the pork, and braise the chard with a few of the scallions and another of the garlic scapes.

Fennel Bulbs remind me of woven carpets.

Vegetable Lasagna
I made a fabulous vegetable lasagna for Easter that I’d like to reprise – one-third of a box of lasagna noodles in a loaf pan makes a solid meal for four with leftovers. We’ll use:

  • Kale, chopped very finely
  • Scallions, chopped
  • One Garlic Scape, puréed
  • Two Zucchini, sliced into very thin coins
  • Shredded Chicken, Basil Pesto, Tomato Sauce, and a variety of cheeses from our freezer/fridge/pantry.

Coleslaw
Clay’s favorite summer condiment is coleslaw, so he’ll use ingredients from our pantry and a couple of carrots to turn the Pointed Cabbage into his favorite treat. (Then he’ll probably make pulled pork to go along with it.)

Breakfast BLTs
To power us all through a week of construction work at the house, I’m counting on bottomless pots of coffee and tea, and a hearty breakfast to start each day. We’ll make bacon and egg sandwiches on fresh bread, spread with a tomato pesto and topped with the red leaf lettuce for crunch.

And that should take us through the week. Stay tuned for how it goes!

How a CSA Serves Us

 

radishes

Simpaug Farms radishes – June 17, 2018

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about how we’ve evolved in our cooking and shopping habits since combining our kitchens, and how we save money at the supermarket in order to have more to spend on delicious little splurges. But there’s one other major way that we both save money on food and splurge for the very best: our membership in a CSA.

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a brilliant business model for small farms to support the communities that exist in the areas surrounding the farmland. There’s been risk involved with farming since the first farmer planted the first seed, but CSA removes some of the risks from farming by allowing the people who eat the food to purchase it before it’s grown. (I did say it was brilliant!)

Our local farm is Simpaug Farms in Suffield, Connecticut. Nestled on 250 acres – that’s a bit less than half of a square mile – the folks who run the farm use sustainable practices that preserve the land the generations to come, they produce fruits and vegetables free from synthetic pesticides, and they raise animals without hormones or antibiotics. They plant a broad array of fruits and vegetables that come into peak ripeness throughout the season, ensuring both variety and abundance for members.

We joined the Simpaug Farms CSA back in April, by filling out a form online and making a payment of $800. In return, starting on June 19 and running for the next 20 weeks, we will collect a crate of 10 to 14 different fruits and vegetables, and a carton of a dozen eggs. That works to roughly $35 per week for produce and $5 per week for eggs – all of it local, natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and chosen just for us at the peak of fresh deliciousness. (For comparison, at the grocery store yesterday we spent $26 for half that volume of fruits and vegetables from at least several hundred miles away, and $5.99 for a dozen similarly raised eggs.)

This is clearly a wonderful partnership for me and Clay, but it’s just as wonderful for the farm. I met Megan and Max, who run the business-side of Simpaug Farms, at the Fairfield Farmer’s Market this morning. Max’s answer to my question “So how does having the CSA help the farm?“ is excerpted below.

The biggest form of help from the CSA is being able to plan better. Today, which is just a day at the Farmer’s Market, started at 5am. We drove from the office in Ridgefield to the farm in Suffield, collected all of the produce from yesterday’s harvest, drove to Fairfield and set up the market, are working here to sell everything we can (and hoping we guessed right on what to bring), and later we’ll drive back to the farm to drop off anything we don’t sell so it can be put to use.

With the CSA, we know in advance how many people will collect their shares from each location, so know just how much to pack and deliver. But when CSA members purchase shares early in the season, we can plan just how much of a crop to plant because we can adjust for our market. Since the biggest costs in farming come early in the season with seeds and equipment, it’s really helpful to have the capital for that up front, too.

There are still shares available for the Simpaug Farms CSA, and the first pickups for the season start on June 19. Join us in supporting a fabulous small farm, and in eating well all season!

P.S. If you want to get to know a little more about the farm and the CSA, their pinterest boards are full of recipes and tips for preparing fresh summer vegetables, and their YouTube channel has some good videos, too.

How We Shop for (and Save Money on) Groceries

Back in January, he referenced the various rebate and shopping list apps I use to save us money on groceries in a post about cheesecake, with a request that I write up the list. Five months later, here we are.

First of all, a note on how we cook and shop. We don’t “meal plan” in the way that most budget- and time-conscious publications suggest. Instead, we keep our kitchen/larder/pantry well-stocked with dry goods that have naturally lengthy shelf lives and use them along with fresh produce, meats, and dairy to compile meals. When consuming the food we’ve brought into the house, we use the ripest (and likeliest to spoil) ingredients first, much like farmers harvesting their most delicate crops.

Since most of our dry goods have a long shelf-life, and since we aren’t so picky that failing to have a beloved treat on hand is a catastrophe, we rarely “run out” of an item we like to have on hand without warning. As a result, we have the luxury of buying groceries when we want to – meaning when we can get the best value for our money. My process is designed around that premise.

First, make note of what we need.

Running low on olive oil? Looking to try a recipe requiring a new ingredient? Add it to the list.

We share a login for the Buy Me A Pie shopping list app, so that we can both see the list of what we need at home when we’re on the go. It syncs in real time, which is a huge plus.

Second, review what’s available on sale.

We receive grocery stores circulars for our favorite shops in the mail on Thursday, so page through them to look for sale prices for anything on our “need” list, and also to look for what’s fresh and available this week. Is the best fish counter offering wild-caught salmon filets? Add them to the list for Saturday’s supper. Is his favorite pastrami on special at the deli? We could use a pound for sandwiches during the work week. We add items we like from the circulars into the grocery list app.

Third, review what’s available for rebate.

We use four different apps that offer rebates for purchasing specific items from specific stores. Just like with the circulars, I flip through the offers in each app to find…

  1. Is something on our need/wish list available for rebate? If so, claim the rebate in-app.
  2. Is something we would ordinarily buy and have room to stock available for a rebate? If so, claim the rebate in-app and add the item to the grocery list.
  3. If we are in need of rounding out fresh food supplies for the week (produce, meat, dairy) are there items in those departments that are appealing? If so, claim the rebates in-app and add the items to the grocery list.

Fourth, shop.

We head to the market(s), collecting the items on the list as we go, using apps to verify product selections as necessary. We check out as per usual, but take extra care to ensure receipts are legible and tucking them safely away.

Fifth, claim rebates and rewards.

After unloading groceries the from the car, it’s time to claim the rebates.

Each app works a little differently, but in general I open each app and use it to take a photo of the receipt, and then scan barcodes on the items I’m claiming to verify the products purchased.

In each case, unless otherwise explicitly stated, a rebate available in multiple apps can be claimed in each app and rebates apply even when paired with an in-store sale or manufacturer’s coupon – provided that the receipt shows some amount paid for the item in question.

List of Rebate Apps

These are the apps that I use.

  • iBotta (that’s my referral link; if you use it to sign up and collect your first rebate within 7 days of doing so, we both earn bonus rewards). Ibotta has the broadest selection of items at the broadest selection of stores, and not just for groceries. The company pays all rebates in a cash transfer via PayPal or Venmo. 
  • Checkout 51. The rebates available are for items and brands found in most large supermarkets. There is a small selection of rebates available, but it changes every week on Thursday. The company pays all rebates by check mailed to the address on file with your account. 
  • SavingStar – Like Checkout51, SavingStar offers a small selection of rebates on items found in most supermarkets, but from a wide selection of stores. If a store offers a loyalty program, you link the app to your loyalty account, activate rebates within the app, and then swipe your loyalty card as normal at the check-out – rebates are then automatically applied to your Saving Star account. The company pays all rebates in a cash transfer via PayPal. 
  • Fetch (My referral code is D5BPU , and using it gives us both a 2,000 point bonus after you submit your first receipt.) Unlike the other apps, Fetch only accepts receipts from supermarkets and grocery stores, but there is a “scanning bonus” – you earn 25 points for every receipt you scan from a major chain retailer even if there are no rebates earned. While the other apps are product specific in their rebates, Fetch is brand specific – you earn a percentage of the purchase price for every item tied to a participating brand. Fetch rewards are accrued in points rather than cash, and are paid out in electronic gift cards. 

So, how do you save money on groceries? I’d love to know your methods – and please let me know if you try any of mine!

P.S. Apart from apps that offer specific rebates for specific items, there are also apps that pay you for snapping photos of your receipts. ReceiptHog pays out in cash via PayPal, and ReceiptPal pays out via electronic gift card.

The Triangle Dilemma

1P_WC_MainBG_Transition_Moment_07_00011There’s an adage in business that goes something like “You can have it fast, you can have it cheap, or you can have it good–but you can’t have all three.”

The drive-through window is usually cheap and fast, but seldom really good.
A sit-down restaurant might be good and (relatively fast), but it’s usually not fast.
Cooking at home is almost always good, and more often than not cheaper than a restaurant, but hardly ever fast.

This triangle—cheap, fast, and good, in varying combinations—has been the dilemma of our spring. Really, it wasn’t a triangle; perhaps it was a pyramid. Really, it was a Pyramid.

This Pyramid.

I’ve loved this game since I was a kid, and, after many years, lots of conversations, the faith of friends, and quite a few prayers, I was invited to join the staff of The $100,000 Pyramid for the season that’s about to start airing. It was the most fun I’ve ever had working, and I was grateful for every moment.

This isn’t a story in which I geek out about working on the best word game ever to air on TV, though; it’s a story about what happens when the opportunity of a lifetime comes along when I’d already cobbled together lots of freelance jobs that equalled a full-time job: lots of church things, lots of theatre things, lots of teaching things, and enough juggling to make a circus act say “Whew!” (But that’s another game show.)

For most of the last 12 weeks the routine of our days was: get up before 6AM, feed the cat, pack breakfasts and lunches, drive to the train station, commute two hours one way, work a pretty-full day, leave one job and commute an hour to one or another of the cobbled-together gigs (and then sometime commute to another one), and meet for a train home arriving sometime between 9 and 10PM. Weekends, too. On a good day, we’d put something in a slow-cooker. On a less good day, we had some more-or-less convenient food in the freezer that could be augmented with relatively healthy side dishes that we’d batch-cooked or that took very little time to prepare. But since, to be perfectly honest, sometimes the 20 minutes it takes to steam a pot of rice and bake some chicken was just more than we had the emotional fortitude to endure.

There was a lot of take-out. There were many sandwiches. It wasn’t a total disaster. It wasn’t bacon-double-cheeseburgers and super-sized fries from morning ’til night. There were salads. There were vegetables. There were bowls of really good oatmeal.  The choices just weren’t as healthy as we might have hoped.

And at work there were meals from the bountiful tables of Craft Services—catering companies who support the crew and staff during the long days in the TV studio with generous portions, plentiful desserts, and meals tasty enough that you don’t mind seeing no sunlight for 12 hours at a time.

I’m not complaining. I’m saying I have three hopes.

  1. That you’ll tune in every Sunday night starting June 10—and tell your friends and family to do the same—so that we become a big fat hit and ABC has no reason not to renew us.
  2. That I’m offered a chance to return to the staff on that still-hypothetical next season, and perhaps on another show between now and then.
  3. That the pick-up order and the re-staffing happen before I start the cobbling-together for the fall and winter, such that I don’t have to juggle quite so much and have a little time to breathe and cook such that any new trousers I order between now and then purchased because I want them, not because the old ones don’t fit.

But this time, I hope not to have to choose only two. 1P_WC_MainBG_Transition_Moment_07_00011