Since I’ve been in the city, I’ve haven’t found a farmer’s market that works for me. The ferry market plaza, initially a revelation of gustatory bliss now smacks of tourist trappings and high prices. Besides, getting there on a Saturday is a bitch. The civic center market is more of a culture shocking experience than I can handle on a regular basis. It reminds me of the first time I tried to get dim sum in Chinatown, where it wasn’t your place in line but the conviction with which you stepped up to the counter that got you service. The civic center market has that same feeling but with the added charm of the smell of bum pee. This leaves the Alemany Market which I haven’t yet visited, mostly because it feels counterintuitive to have to drive my car so far to get sustainable, local produce.
So, inspired by my friend over at spare change, I looked into a CSA program I could get into. The biggest Community Supported Agriculture group seems to be Organic Express, which delivers a box of assorted produce to your door. Convenient, yes, but since I’m never home, it doesn’t work for me. I found something even better. With Eating with the Seasons I get to pick up my produce really close to where I work. Becky sends me an email, I get to choose the items I want. 8 items for $20. Then come Wednesday, I drop by a little house in Menlo Park, and there on the porch is a grocery bag with my name on it, filled to the brim with the local, organic produce I’ve asked for. If I’ve opted for grass-fed beef or farm-fresh eggs, they’re in the cooler nearby.
There’s quite a bit of pressure with a CSA. $20 gets you a lot of produce. A lot of produce that’s been raised well and picked at the right time and it’s there, perfect, and begging for you to enjoy it. And I open my fridge to see this cornucopia, this summer bounty and I just don’t know what to do with it. I want to give it the credit it’s due. I pore over current magazines, convinced they’ll give me some guidance on what to do with what’s in season. I turn to cookbooks, my recipe binder, think about going simple, make lists. I’m paralyzed with indecision. Overwhelmed. Finally last night, a full five days after I picked up the goods, I roll up my sleeves and get cooking. Here’s what I got and what I did:
1 pound of green beans: washed, rinsed and snacked on raw while cooking. Mr. Kitty got a hold of one and batted it around for an hour. The rest were blanched and tossed with a fresh gremolata of parsley, garlic and lemon zest. I’ve made better things before.
1 bunch spinach: found its way into a stir fry of draper farms chicken breast, garlic and ginger, served over couscous for a nice lunch.
Corn: boiled straight, cut off the cob and mixed with red peppers (from the box) for a side slaw. Simple and really, really good.
Red Pepper: one in the salad above, one cut into matchsticks and drizzled with a damn good balsamic, two have yet to meet their fate.
Yukon gold potatoes: In my family, mashed potatoes had always held a place of reverence. Sunny’s Mashed Potatoes were the stuff of legend and as such, I always thought there was something tricky to them. About three months ago, I dispelled this myth by making my own. Oh. My. God. So easy. So good. So nothing to ‘em. Half the potatoes were boiled then mashed with Strauss Valley organic cream and butter. The other half were roasted alongside a shallot. I thought to eat them as is, but then inspiration struck and I gave the whole lot the mashed treatment. Roasted Yukons, then mashed in a bowl with a splash of cream and a pat of butter with a shallot in there for good measure. So damn good. Proud of this one.
A pint of strawberries were cut up and mixed in with the last of some Bi-Rite creamery mint chip ice cream. This is one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life.
There’s still some broccoli that’s fated to be paired with the grass-fed beef I’m getting in my next order. I’m going to give it the Chinese Takeout Food treatment and have it the next day for lunch.
Last in the box were some apricots which just didn’t do it for me. Fresh apricots rarely do. The mealy texture upstages any good flavor. I thought about relegating them to a quick bread, but summer, even in San Francisco, isn’t too conducive to baking. I feel bad about throwing them away, but glad that I made the most of my first CSA box.
It’s a nice way to keep in touch with the season, especially since the San Francisco weather can keep you cut off from what time of year it is. For the last few weeks, I’ve been longing for a real summer, with nights still warmed by the heat of the day, for a car a little too hot when you first get in it, but something still comforting about the sauna-like heat, if just for a second. I’ve missed the smell of a sun-baked sidewalk freshly washed with water from a garden hose, the sound of ice cream trucks and invitations to backyard BBQs. But even though it doesn’t feel so much like summer, with my new produce source, I can at least cook like it is.
Next week I’ve requested spinach, basil, shallots, onion, cucumber, lemons, strawberries, and plums. Recipe ideas welcome.