Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Your CSA Box - You CAN Take It With You!

by Chef Andrea and Friends!

 Sous Chef Bob preparing a roadside meal
As we near the end of summer, some of you may be squeezing in some of the last vacation days before we move into fall, return to school, etc.  While it’s fun to go away, it’s the peak of CSA vegetable season and that means finding another home for your precious CSA vegetables!  The idea for this newsletter came out of conversation with one of our longtime CSA families in Madison, Carol Wilson and Bob Philbin.  Here’s what Carol had to say “Over the years we’ve learned that taking our veggies with us on our trips means several days of healthy and good eating even while on the road or in the campsite!  We have cooked with HVF veggies along the Colorado River and even carried some in our backpacks into the Havasu Canyon!”  So this week I thought we’d toss out some suggestions for ways you can incorporate your CSA vegetables into your travels throughout the season.  In addition to travel for pleasure, many of you may travel for work.  Whether your travels take you away for one day or several days, there are things you can do to incorporate your CSA vegetables into your trips.  Yes, it does take a little forethought and planning, but there are some simple suggestions we’d like to offer for you to consider and adapt to your own needs. 

You can reap some important benefits from taking your own vegetables with you.  Sometimes there is limited access to food, not to mention healthy options and/or organic options.  Traveling can be hard on a body, especially if you are traveling a long distance, are taking public transportation, or have long days of driving.  It’s important to do what you can to keep your immune system strong so you feel good and can enjoy your travels.  The fuel you put in your body is one of the most important factors, so not something to be overlooked.  You can also save money by taking your own food with you.  Roadside food, airport restaurants and snack bars, etc are not cheap and often generate a lot of unnecessary trash from the packaging.  You’ve already paid for your CSA vegetables, so take them with you and spend your money on other things you want to enjoy such as adventures once you arrive at your final destination! 

Cutting mat for preparing vegetables roadside
To get started, I want to share a few strategies Carol and Bob offered from their experiences.  “Our primary strategy is to cook up a one-pot concoction. (Chef Andrea named this Summer Farmer Skillet Dinner in a previous newsletter and this dish uses the same principles, but skips the oven part.)  Besides the veggies, you will need a good knife (or two, if you have a sous chef) and a couple of cutting mats.  A basic Coleman stove and a decent skillet will work for most things.  We bring a couple of cans of beans and some canned/bagged meat or fish to add to the skillet and we always include salt, pepper, and a seasoning mixture we make at home.  Our mixture generally includes garlic powder, Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and thyme, but make a mixture that pleases your palate. When we are leaving for a trip, we pick up our box very early at the Farmers’ Market and then make a trip around the market to add to our collection of fresh produce.  We make sure to have a variety of fruits and veggies to snack on in the car and for quick lunches.  We add in some McCluskey’s cheese curds and maybe a bakery item or two and we hit the road.  If there are any items in the HVF box that would be too difficult to cook we leave them in the swap box for a lucky someone.” 

Carol goes on to say, “Using the most perishable items first is important.  Greens don’t hold up as well in a cooler as in a refrigerator so we are sure to use them the first day or two whereas carrots, beans, cauliflower, and cabbage all last several days in the cooler.  I know that I feel better when I eat lots of organic produce and a road trip doesn’t HAVE to mean fast food.  With a little planning ahead, you CAN take your HVF vegetables with you!”


Sous Chef Bob cooking at Campsite with HVF arugula
Carol brings up several important points to make your travel adventures a success.  First, choose to take vegetables with you that are durable and will hold up under your travel conditions.  If you are able to take a cooler with you, you may have a wider variety of options.  Root vegetables, cabbage, onions, garlic and warm weather loving vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and zucchini all hold up pretty well and would even be fine for shorter periods of time out of a cooler.  You don’t want to subject them to temperatures that are too hot, but they would travel fine in the back of your car if you have a little A/C on or even in a suitcase if you’re flying!  I once took half a suitcase of carrots, sweet potatoes and black radishes home to Indiana for Christmas, upon request from my family. They would also be fine overnight at room temperature in a hotel or the like. 




If you know you aren’t going to be able to use something on your trip or eat it before you leave, the SWAP box is a great option.  Leave it at your CSA site so someone else can make use of it and save yourself the trouble of composting it when you get home.  Take a reasonable amount of food with you and not more than you think you’ll be able to eat or you may find you have to discard it along the way.  For example, when Richard and I travel for our winter get-away, we know we’re going to have a long day of air travel, but once we reach our destination we’ll have access to good, healthy food options.  We pack enough food to get us to our destination and eat our final bites before we get off the airplane.  Since we’re traveling in the winter we often take carrot sticks and slices of beauty heart radishes that we eat with nut butter or sliced cheese.  We eat the cheese early in the day and save the nut butter for later since it can withstand room temperature better.  There are some vegetables that are super-easy to take with you for snacks, etc.  Sugar snap peas, mini-sweet peppers, and boiled edamame are some great options.  Slices of kohlrabi, red radishes, cucumber slices, carrot sticks, etc are delicious on their own or you could add a little salt and/or a dip or dressing if you have that option.

Other vegetable-centric ideas that could fit into your travel adventures include fresh vegetable salsa to eat with chips or other vegetables, simple sandwiches built with a protein (cheese, meat, hummus, nutbutter, etc) and lots of sliced vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc), and hearty salads that you can make in advance such as a carrot salad with a light vinaigrette or a kale salad that will hold up ok with limited refrigeration. You’ll have to adapt your selections to your mode of travel, accommodations, cooking facilities along the way, etc. 

If you are camping and have the ability to cook, you can implement some of Carol’s suggestions or here’s an idea from another member.  “We love campfire Fajitas when we camp and it has become my ‘Signature dish’ when we go with a group of friends, and they request them specifically each year. The fajita mix is just the store bought package kind that you mix with water so nothing fancy. I chop up my peppers and onions at home and store them in a bag in the cooler. We cook them in a grill basket over our campfire so they get nice and smoky flavored. I typically cook the chicken on our camp stove (just a bit more reliable for something a bit more sensitive!), and then we combine them all together and serve. If you're lucky enough to get a jalapeño, have extra onion, and some tomatoes, you could mix up some killer pico to go with it!” 
 
Another member who had to travel a lot for work last year offered these suggestions:  “I think it’s helpful to do some advance cleaning, trimming, taking off tougher skin, etc (eg kohlrabi, can be made into a bald "ball", for use later). Some veggies are way more durable than I gave them credit for and as long as they're not in a super warm place, are a low food safety risk. I found that some of these vegetables travel well in a suit case: zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, kohlrabi, carrot, kale, shallots, some onions, smaller snack peppers, spaghetti squash, for starters.  Also, I began cooking some of my meals in my hotel room microwave. Some places like Ann Arbor, Michigan were so interesting that I just ate out every night. For other smaller towns....options were too chain restaurant heavy for me.  I never knew how SUPERB an impromptu  microwave ‘baba ghanoush’ could be--eggplant cut lengthwise, covered with slightly moistened paper towel, until softened as desired, then mushed up with spoon or fork, sprinkled with olive oil and salt/spices, or even just salt alone. I might have brought a small amount of tahini with me once.”

Carol eating Sweet Sarah cantaloupe!
With a little creativity and planning there are many ways to incorporate your CSA vegetables into your travels.  As you travel you may also find some interesting road side dining areas you may not have otherwise taken the time to stop.  You know those “Scenic Points of Interest” often marked along the roadsides?  Choose one of these to stop for a lunch break and relax and enjoy the view.  With your lunch packed in your car, you may even choose to take a different route through the mountains or take the more scenic route instead of traveling the interstate.  Do a little thinking “inside the box” and see if you too can find some ways to travel with your vegetables.  Happy Trails!

August 17, 2017: This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Edamame

Cooking with this Week's Box!

It’s hard to believe we’re already half way through August!  Summer is flying by, but look at this full box!  We’ve had some pretty cool weather over the past week, but we’re seeing the peppers start to change colors and the tomatoes are finally ripening…a little slowly, but that’s ok.  I’m sure we’ll be flooded with tomatoes before we know it! 

This week we’re excited to be picking our first crop of fresh edamame.  If you aren’t familiar with how to work with fresh edamame, take a moment to read this week’s vegetable feature which includes information about how to cook them, shell them, etc.  We’ve also included two recipes in this week’s newsletter and I’d consider either to be a good option for using your edamame this week.  If you’re looking for a hot preparation, go with the Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms & Edamame.  If you’re feeling something on the cool side, you might want to consider trying the Cold Peanut-Sesame Noodles with Cucumbers & Edamame (See Below).  

We do have quite a few cucumbers in this week’s box, so I think this is the week to try a recipe I’ve had on the back burner for awhile.  This is a Cucumber and Green Grape Gazpacho garnished with a fresh tomato salsa. This will use about half your cucumbers as well as most of your pint of small tomatoes and some or all of your jalapeno, depending upon your desire for heat.  This is a great recipe to make on a hot evening when you don’t feel like “cooking” and the leftovers will travel well for lunch the next day. 

Now that we have fresh tomatoes, it’s time to make Tabbouleh!  This is a dish that screams “SUMMER!” Fresh tomatoes, diced cucumbers and lots of fresh parsley from your herb garden all combined to make a light, refreshing salad that is quite nice on its own or you could pair it with a protein of your choosing or eat it with a pita bread spread with hummus for a light lunch.

The red curly kale in this week’s box is gorgeous!  If you’re looking for ideas for ways to use this, check out Bon Appetit’s “47 Kale Recipes That Go Beyond Salad” which includes this recipe for Spicy Kale and Ricotta Grandma Pie.  It’s basically a sheet pan pizza that looks really good!  If you’re looking for something a little more simple or want something you can take with you on the go, consider making Kale Chips with Almond Butter & Miso featured in one of our newsletters last summer.

Last week in our Facebook group a member shared this delicious recipe for Roasted Broccoli with Nacho Toppings!  I would have never considered turning broccoli into nachos, but what a great idea!  Another recipe idea that was shared in our Facebook group was for this Silky Zucchini Soup that received good reviews.  It is a super-simple recipe using just a handful of ingredients and it can be served either chilled or warm.  I think I’ll serve it with some crusty bread and a few slices of fresh tomato.

We’re likely in our last week of green beans, so go wild and try something new like Tempura Fried Green Beans with Mustard Dipping Sauce which is part of a collection of 15 Great Green Bean Recipes featured at Cooking.nytimes.com.

So here we are left with our lovely carrots, purple majesty potatoes and French orange melons.  This week’s carrots are going to be cut up at the beginning of the week and put in a canning jar in the fridge so they are easy to see and ready to go as a quick vegetable snack for those times when you just need something to hold you over until dinner.  The gorgeous purple majesty potatoes are going to become simple roasted potatoes for Sunday brunch.  Just a little olive oil, salt and pepper is all the treatment they’ll get before going into the oven.  Just before serving I’ll toss them with some fresh, chopped herbs from the garden.  I’ll serve them with scrambled eggs, bacon and a few slices of tomato for a simple brunch that we’ll finish off with some delicious, sweet French orange melon.  Have a great week and enjoy this week of summer cooking and eating!---Chef Andrea



Vegetable Feature:  Edamame

Edamame (eh-dah-MAH-may) is a fresh soybean that has grown in popularity in the United States over the past few years, but has been a part of Japanese and Chinese cuisine for much longer.  In Asia, edamame is often sold on the stem with leaves removed, however in this country edamame is most often found in the frozen section either in the pod or shelled.  American fine- dining restaurants traditionally offer a bread course before the main event, whereas in Japan or China you would usually sit down to a plate of steamed and salted edamame. True edamame intended for fresh eating is quite different than oil-seed soybeans and tofu beans most often grown to make tofu and other processed soy products.  The edamame varieties we grow were developed specifically because they produce a sweet bean that doesn’t have a “beany” aftertaste and is the preferred variety in Japan and China for fresh eating.  Edamame seed is very expensive to purchase and for many years the varieties for fresh eating were very hard to find.  We were able to source some seed over 15 years ago, paid the high price, planted it and decided to save our own seed for the next year.  We’ve continued to reserve a portion of each year’s crop to harvest for seed to plant the next year.  Our varieties have become acclimated to our growing area and do very well for us.

Edamame resembles a small lima bean encased in a pod.  The beans are sweet and tender and best eaten lightly cooked. Unlike sugar snap peas, edamame pods are not edible and should be discarded.  Edamame is hard to shell when it’s raw.  It is easiest to cook edamame in its pod first and then remove the beans from the pod.   To cook edamame, first rinse the pods thoroughly with cold water. Bring a pot of heavily salted water (salty like the sea) to a boil.  Add the edamame pods and boil for about 3-4 minutes.  You should see the pods change to a bright green color.  Remove the edamame from the boiling water and immediately put them in ice water or run cold water over them to quickly cool them.   After the beans are cooked you can easily squeeze the pod to pop the beans out, either into a bowl or directly into your mouth!  This is a great skill to teach children so they can eat them as a snack and help you shell edamame!  Once you’ve removed them from the pods, they are ready to incorporate into a recipe or eat as a snack.

You can also roast edamame in their pods.  There’s a basic recipe on our website, but basically you toss the edamame pods with oil and seasonings of your choice.  Some of our favorites include Teriyaki and Wasabi-Roasted Edamame  Spread the seasoned edamame on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast in the oven until the bean is tender.  Serve the beans whole with their pods still on.  While you won’t eat the pod, you can use your teeth to pull the edamame out of the pod and in the process you’ll pick up the seasoning on the outside of the pod!

You can store fresh or cooked edamame for up to a week in the refrigerator, but it is best to eat them soon for the sweetest flavor and best texture.  If you are interested in preserving edamame for later use, simply follow the cooking procedure above for boiling, cool and freeze the beans either in their pods or remove them and freeze just the bean. It’s a nice treat to pull something green out of the freezer in the middle of the winter to enjoy as a snack or incorporate them into a winter stir-fry or pan of fried rice.

Children and adults alike often enjoy edamame as a simple snack, but you can also incorporate edamame into vegetable or grain salads, stir-fry, fried rice, steamed dumplings or pot stickers to name just a few suggestions.  They pair well with any combination of traditional Asian ingredients such as sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger.  They are also a nice, bright addition to brothy soups such as a miso soup.  If you follow the suggested method for boiling edamame before shelling them, the bean will already be fully cooked, so if you are adding edamame to a hot dish or recipe, do so at the end of the cooking. 



Cold Peanut-Sesame Noodles with Edamame & Cucumber

Yield:  6 servings

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

⅓ cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
3 Tbsp natural, unsweetened peanut butter or almond butter
3 Tbsp sugar or maple syrup
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp rice wine, sake or white wine
1 small clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp tahini
5 Tbsp roasted peanut oil or unrefined sunflower oil, divided
12 oz dried Chinese egg noodles or traditional spaghetti noodles
1 medium or 2 small cucumbers, halved & sliced thinly
½ to 1 whole jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
1 cup shelled edamame 
½ cup chopped cilantro
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)
Roasted, chopped peanuts or almonds, to garnish (optional)


  1. In a blender, combine the ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut or almond butter, sugar or maple syrup, vinegar, rice wine, garlic, tahini and 3 Tbsp of peanut or sunflower oil.  Blend until smooth, then transfer the sauce to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to add to the noodles.
  2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold running water until chilled.  Shake out the excess water and blot dry;  transfer the noodles to a bowl and toss with the remaining 2 Tbsp of oil.  
  3. Add the cucumbers, jalapeño, edamame and cilantro to the bowl.  Drizzle with some of the peanut-sesame sauce and toss well to coat.  Add more sauce if needed.  Allow to rest for a few minutes, then taste.  Add salt and pepper to your liking.  Serve cold or at room temperature and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and/or toasted peanuts or almonds if desired.   

Recipe adapted from one originally featured in Food and Wine magazine, May 2012.




Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms & Edamame

By Andrea Yoder                                                             
Yield:  4 servings

2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp minced, fresh ginger
4 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup Arborio rice
⅓ cup white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, warmed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste (optional)
Lemon zest, from one lemon
1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup shelled fresh edamame

  1. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a 4 quart sauce pan over medium heat.  Add onions, garlic and ginger.  Saute until softened.  Add the remaining Tbsp of butter to the pan along with the shiitake mushrooms, 1 tsp salt and freshly ground black and white pepper (if using).  Saute just until the mushrooms start to soften.  
  2. Add the rice to the pan and stir continuously for about 30 seconds, just long enough to slightly parch the rice kernels.  Add the white wine to the pan and allow the wine to reduce by half.
  3. You will add the warm broth in 3-4 additions.  Once the wine is reduced by half, add about 1 cup of broth to the pan.  Stir periodically until nearly all the liquid is absorbed, then add another 1 cup portion of broth to the pan.  Do this three times.  After the third addition, taste the rice to see if it is still starchy or if it is al dente.  You want it to still have a little bite to it, but it needs to be fully cooked.  If the rice needs a little more cooking time, add a little more broth and cook just a tad longer.  You want enough liquid remaining in the mixture to keep the rice creamy.
  4. Once the rice is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the edamame, lemon zest and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice.  Taste the risotto and adjust the seasoning by adding more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice to your liking.  Serve immediately.

This dish is delicious served on its own, but would also pair nicely with fish or seafood.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 10, 2017: This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Cucumbers

Cooking with this Week's Box!

Welcome back for another week of cooking and eating out of the CSA Box.  This week I’m in the mood for simple food.  Simple in the sense of basic cooking methods, classic preparations, simple seasonings, and basically just stepping back and letting the vegetables stand on their own.  None of this week’s suggestions are complicated or intricate.  Some recipes may require time to marinate meat or bake something, so you’ll have to plan ahead a bit, but nothing is hard or time consuming. 

Lets start with this week’s featured vegetable, cucumbers!  This week I vote for the Vietnamese Cucumber Salad featured below.  This recipe consists of a bowl full of sliced cucumbers and onions tossed with fresh herbs, chopped peanuts, garlic and minced jalapeno dressed with a simple 5-ingredient dressing.  It would be excellent served with Vietnamese Pork Chops.  The pork chops are marinated for about 20 minutes before cooking, so marinate the chops first before you make the cucumber salad. 

The next recipe I’d like to suggest is Sauteed Sirloin Tips with Bell Peppers & Onions served with Potato Gratin. For this meal, you will need to plan ahead and marinate the sirloin tips overnight.  I would suggest putting this entire meal together the night before or better yet, if you are a weekend prepper, prep this meal on Saturday or Sunday.  Marinate the steak and make the potato gratin…even bake it off, cool it to room temp and refrigerate it.  When you get home from work the next evening, all you have to do is reheat the gratin and cook the sirloin tips along with the green bell and Italian frying peppers. 

Roasted chicken is such a simple dish.  Don’t let a whole bird intimidate you.  All you have to do is season it and put it in the oven to bake.  If you need a recipe to guide you, look in any basic cookbook or choose your favorite one on-line.  I like to put a layer of vegetables in the bottom of my roasting pan when I roast a chicken.  The vegetables cook in the juices running off of the chicken, making them so delicious.  Plus, an added benefit is that the vegetables prevent any splattering of juice and fat in your oven!  So this week I’m going to roast carrots and zucchini under the chicken.  The zucchini won’t need as long to cook, so I’ll add the zucchini to the pan about half way through the cooking time for the chicken.  By the time the chicken is cooked, the vegetables should be tender and golden.  Remove the chicken from the pan to rest for about 10 minutes.  Add a big handful of chopped fresh herbs from your garden to the vegetables and your dinner of Roasted Chicken with Roasted Carrots and Zucchini is ready!  One of the great things about a whole roasted chicken is how many meals you can get out of it!  Use the chicken carcass to make a delicious broth to use as the base for a simple Chicken and Noodle Soup.  Before you go to work in the morning, put the carcass in your crockpot along with some onions, garlic and some dried sage and parsley.  Let it simmer on the lowest setting all day.  When you get home in the evening you’ll be met by the aroma of homemade chicken broth!  Strain the vegetables and bones out of the broth and then reheat the broth in a pan on the stove.  Add some chopped onion, garlic and any leftover roasted vegetables and chicken you have remaining from the night before.  Bring the broth to a simmer and then add some noodles of your choosing.  Simmer the broth just until the noodles are cooked, then add a big handful of chopped fresh herbs to the pan and dinner is ready! 

One of my favorite ways to prepare cauliflower is to simply roast it.  My next meal suggestion could be prepared any night of the week, but it might be a nice fit for “Friday night Fish Fry.”   Turn your cauliflower into Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower and serve it with  Panko Crusted Fish Sticks with Herb DipThe fish sticks are actually baked, which I think is easier and leaves you with less mess to clean up.  Plus, you have the oven heated up to roast the cauliflower, so you might as well bake the fish in there too!  My strategy for preparing this meal is to make the sauce and put it in the fridge while the oven is preheating.  Then prep the cauliflower and get it in the oven to start roasting.   While it’s roasting, prepare the fish sticks.  The cauliflower will take 30-45 minutes to roast and then you put the cheese on and bake it another 10 minutes.  The fish will only take 12-15 minutes to bake, so put the fish in the oven when it’s time to add the cheese to the cauliflower and that should bring everything into the home stretch at about the same time! 

The tomatoes and green beans this week are going to form the base for this simple Penne with Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans & Feta. Eat it as is or add some Italian sausage or some leftover roasted chicken to the dish if you’d like.

And lastly, I am on a kick with including broccoli in my Sunday brunch egg dishes!  This week I’m going to make this Broccoli and Mushroom Egg Bake  and serve it with Honey Skillet Cornbread. The catch is the cornbread will include the fresh corn in this week’s box.  Just cut it off the cob with a paring knife and include it in the cornbread.  There’s one catch to this plan, the cooking times for these two dishes are different.  One is at 350°F and the other is at 400°F….compromise at 375°F and I think you’ll be just fine.  If there are two of you in the kitchen, each of you tackle one of the dishes and you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and the morning paper for half an hour while your breakfast/brunch bakes.  Bread takes 20 minutes and the eggs take 30-35 minutes.  Best to let the bread rest a bit, so even if they go in the oven at the same time, it will all work together in harmony.  Serve this meal with fresh slices of SWEET SARAH CANTALOUPE!!!

Well, that brings us to the bottom of yet another CSA box.  We’ve all been anticipating tomato season, and I suspect next week’s box will include a sizeable bag of tomatoes.  So, get those tomato  recipes ready!—Chef Andrea  


Vegetable Feature:  Cucumbers

 

“Why Cucumbers? (Doesn’t everyone know about cucumbers?)”  This is the opening line to the chapter about cucumbers in Elizabeth Schneider’s book, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.  Cucumbers are a fairly mild-flavored vegetable with a high water content, but they are more than just crispy.  In this country we may be most familiar with the American green slicer variety, but this is just one of many different types of cucumbers grown around the world.  They do have characteristics that vary from variety to variety including appearance as well as flavor.  For example, there are long Asian cucumbers that are long and sometimes kind of curled.  There are also Armenian cucumbers that are described as  “serpentine fruit” because of their long, narrow, curled shape.  A few years ago we grew an Indian cucumber called Poona Kheera.  It was a small, stout cucumber that was bright golden in color when young and then the skin became russeted when fully matured.  We grow several different varieties of green slicer cucumbers, and in recent years we’ve taken a liking to a variety called Silver Slicer.  This variety was bred by Cornell University and is distinctly identified by its pale yellow skin and crisp, white flesh.  We like it because it yields well, holds up well after picking without getting soft, has tender skin that doesn’t get bitter and it has an excellent fruity flavor.  It is a little smaller than a traditional green slicer, which is also an advantage because it has a smaller seed cavity.

Transplanting cucumbers
Cucumbers may be grown in a variety of growing systems.  Some are grown in hoop houses or hydroponic systems with trellises to tame the vines and keep the fruit and plants upright.  We choose to grow our cucumbers in the old fashioned way…in the dirt outside in the fields.  We do have a unique strategy though.  We start all of our cucumbers in the greenhouse as a transplant.  They grow very quickly once the seed germinates, so we only have about three weeks from when the seeds are planted to get the field ready!  We plant our cucumbers on raised beds covered with a reflective silver plastic that has drip irrigation lines running underneath it.  We do this for several reasons.  First, the reflective plastic helps deter pests such as cucumber beetles which can wreak havoc on the plants by chewing the leaves and scarring the fruit.  The plastic mulch also provides some heat gain which helps encourage growth in this heat-loving crop.  We plant an early crop that we put in the field as soon as possible in the spring and then do a second planting to get us through the latter part of summer.  We typically cover the first planting with a row cover draped over wire hoops.  This protects the plants from any chilly nights and also helps trap more heat to help the plants get established and take off.  Once the plants are producing fruit, you can almost predict the volume of a harvest by the temperature.  Ok, not quite, but they are very responsive to changes in temperature and if you have a really warm week you can really see some phenomenal growth and be surprised with harvests that literally double and sometimes triple seemingly overnight!

Cucumbers are a simple food that may be eaten raw or cooked.  I have to admit I don’t have a lot of experience eating cucumbers cooked, other than a canned pickle.  While cucumbers are most often eaten raw in salads, sliced onto sandwiches, eaten with dip or simply salted, they can also be cooked.  I’ve seen recipes, such as the one featured in this week’s newsletter, for stir-fried cucumbers, but they can also be used in soup, braised, lightly sautéed or wilted.

If you find yourself with more cucumbers than you can eat in a given week, you can always turn back to the good old pickling method.  Refrigerator pickles are a quick and easy way to preserve cucumbers that won’t require canning or any special equipment.  While I, admittedly, most often consume cucumbers in the form of a simple creamy cucumber salad or simply sliced and salted, don’t limit yourself!  Branch out and try a cucumber stir-fry or make a cucumber soup—chilled or hot.  You can even make some delicious, refreshing cucumber drinks!   


Spicy Stir-Fried Cucumbers with Shredded Chicken


Yield:  4 servings

12 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast, pounded ⅛ inch thick and very thinly sliced crosswise
5 garlic cloves, smashed, divided
1 Tbsp finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger, divided
1 tsp baking soda
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
12 dried red chiles, such as chiles de arbol—10 left whole, 2 stemmed and crumbled
1 pound cucumbers, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 serrano chile (substitute jalapeño), thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Lemon wedges and steamed rice, for serving
  1. In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with half of the garlic and ginger and the baking soda;  season with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, stir the vinegar with the sugar and ¼ cup of water.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of the oil until shimmering.  Add the chicken and stir-fry over moderately high heat until the chicken is almost cooked through, 2 minutes; transfer the chicken to a plate.  Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of the oil to the skillet along with the whole and crumbled dried chiles, cucumbers, vinegar mixture and the remaining garlic and ginger;  season with salt and pepper.  Stir-fry over moderate heat until the cucumbers are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated, 3 minutes.  
  3. Add the chicken and serrano/jalapeño and stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through, 1 minute.  Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper.  Serve with lemon wedges and rice.

This recipe was featured in Food & Wine, October 2013.


Vietnamese Cucumber Salad


2 pounds cucumbers
1 large jalapeño, seeds and veins removed if desired, thinly sliced
3 scallions, finely sliced (substitute 1 medium onion, thinly sliced)
1 garlic clove, finely grated or pounded with a pinch of salt
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
16 large mint leaves, coarsely chopped
½ cup toasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
¼ cup neutral-tasting oil (eg. sunflower oil)
4 to 5 Tbsp lime juice
4 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
  1. Using either a Japanese mandolin or a sharp knife, thinly slice the cucumbers into coins, discarding the ends.  
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, jalapeño, onions, garlic, cilantro, mint, and peanuts.  
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, 4 Tbsp lime juice, the vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and a small pinch of salt.  
  4. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and toss to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more lime juice as needed.  Serve immediately.

This recipe is from Samin Nosrat’s book, Salt Fat Acid Heat.  It was featured in an article on the alexandracooks.com blog.

Attitude!

By Farmer Richard

This week we are continuing our on-going conversation about “the future of our food,” a discussion that  came to the forefront in our newsletters as a result of the buyout of Whole Foods Market by Amazon. The last article in this series was entitled, “How’s the Weather” and was published two weeks ago.  That article served as our first-hand account of our experiences with erratic weather patterns and being the person “downstream” from members of the community who are making poor choices on their land that impact others.  In our case erosion from a neighboring property washed down into our valley causing our drainage systems to back up resulting in crop losses and a big mess to clean up.  I concluded my last article with -“What’s next?  We keep talking.  Brainstorming.  We need solutions to these issues, we need changes to policy, we need to figure out the course our future will take.  We’re back to the ‘future of our food.’  I once again, encourage you to be part of these conversations so we, as a community, can proactively decide our future.  There are many things that could be done!  But, they take money, direction, leadership, ‘political will,’ regulation, incentives and education.  Firstly we need understanding, cooperation and the right attitude.”

This week I’d like to revisit that concept of “having the right attitude.”  Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting many farms in Europe over a month stay, both organic farmers and conventional farmers in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, England and France.  I learned so much and made many friends on that trip, but what struck me and made a lasting impression on me was their ATTITUDE!  The farmers had a positive acceptance of government regulations meant for the common good of the community.The consumers also had a desire to maintain and support their local, small farm economy.  The farmers were producing local food that had its own unique terroir, and within the communities the farmers were thriving and everyone was well fed.  For example, the Swiss value the small goat farms that dot the Swiss Alps, each making their own cheese to bring to the village to sell.  They, as a society, made the decision many years ago to preserve those small farms and they do so with government subsidies and regulation. 


I remember a conversation I had with a conventional hydroponic pepper and eggplant grower in Holland.  He was forced by regulation to install a recycling system for his greenhouse fertilizer solution before the water could be discharged into the canal.  He didn’t like being regulated, but all his neighbors shared the same situation and they decided to share in the investment for the technology to reverse an old practice that had led to fish death in the canals.  Because they all had to make the change, and the consumers wanted and supported the change, his attitude was that it was the “right thing to do.” Even though it cost him some money and effort, he had the support of other farmers and the consumers to do what was best for the big picture.  Plus, he acknowledged his previous practices were causing harm to the ecosystem and he too wanted to see the herons return to the canals with the fish.  It’s the right thing to do! 

In the recent Growing for Market publication (June/July 2017), there was an article written by a former vegetable grower and current student at Michigan State University pursuing a Master’s degree with a focus on organic weed control.  His name is Sam Hitchcock Tilton.  Earlier this year he, along with several other individuals from the Midwest, had the opportunity to travel to Europe to learn more about weed control methods.  However, despite all he learned about weed control, the thing that “stands out most brightly are the people that I met and the agricultural systems they are a part of....Just as the soil contains its own myriad characters and relationships, water vapor, bacteria, and worms, that all play interconnected roles to create fertility, so too I found the world of European vegetable growing to be peopled by many levels and relationships.  The entity with the biggest effect on all the others….was always the governments.  In each country the government played a large role in determining how farming is practiced.”  Sam also experienced that similar European attitude I experienced over thirty years ago!    Sam goes on to state “Whereas here we prize individual freedom and often put it before proper stewardship of our shared resources, in the European countries I visited the opposite seemed to be true—communal resources like water, soil, and the social fabric of rural communities are protected, often to the detriment of individual freedom.”

Farmer Richard standing in our field of cover crops!
Across Europe you find many examples of cultures that spend public tax dollars to preserve a food system that they deem important.  It is not about who has the most money to bid for a property or have the upper hand.  In fact, in Sam’s article he explains that renting and owning farmland in Europe is regulated by the government, so they decide who can rent land to farm.  While this may seem unfair, it actually works in the favor of both the farmer and the community as a whole.  In an example he uses in his article, Sam tells the story of a Dutch farmer he spoke with.  This farmer explained that “the Dutch government regulates long-term agricultural leases in order to encourage stability for those farmers who rent their entire farm, whereas if you are renting some fields for a few seasons it is your business…I was told that in the Netherlands his long term lease means that (he) can stay on his farm until he is 65, and that kicking him off before then would be a hard process.”  Additionally, this Dutch farmer also seemed happy when he explained to Sam how closely some farming practices are regulated.  For example, to prevent erosion and nutrient leaching no sandy fields are allowed to lie bare over the winter, they must all have a cover crop otherwise the grower is fined.  (The farmer) didn’t seem to mind this as he thought it was just good farming that protected the water and soil of his country.”

 Additionally, in Europe governments pay incentives to new farmers and organic farmers and insist they have a farming degree and gain appropriate experience.  They encourage education and support their up and coming farmers by setting them up for success.  On the flip side, the consumers are also willing to support their local farmers.  It’s not just about the farmers’ attitudes, the consumers are an important piece of this puzzle as well.

When we consider the attitudes I experienced as did Sam, it is clear that we have a very different attitude in this country!  For several years there has been an “incentive” from USDA to pay farmers to have a buffer strip between field and waterways.  The purpose of the buffer strip is to prevent erosion and filter out much of the fertilizer and chemicals running off of conventional corn and soybean fields so they do not pollute our waterways. What a great idea!  Farmers can be paid extra to plant that buffer to pollinator, bird and wildlife habitat!  Another great idea!  But very few, only the “do the right thing” farmers, are taking advantage of this incentive. 

Portion of our tool room,
organized with Dutch influence.
As I discussed in a previous article, the prevailing attitude in this country is more self-centered and often lacks consideration for the impact personal choices will have on shared resources and the greater community.  Attitude, culture, money and politics, they all go together.  I admire the European cultures.  When I visited my Dutch relatives, I loved their appreciation of good, local food and their attention to details.  Every tool was hung in its place, every outbuilding, even old thatched roof sheds had not one missing pane of glass in the whole country!  They are civilized and take pride in their work as well as their community.  Certainly they have similar challenges to ours, there are pressures from multi-nationals, etc, but they are a democracy and the majority has managed to hold on to their culture.  On the other hand, we have little culture to “hang-on” to!  I would not call Velveeta and Spam a cultural agricultural heritage we should defend!  Unfortunately any cultural heritage that we had, the self-sufficient homesteads that tamed the prairies, and then lost to the “dust bowl,” are gone.  The work ethic of the farm families, the community “threshing bees,” the cooperation among neighboring farmers, mostly gone! 

But there are some positive examples of attitude in this country as well.  Take our neighboring state of Minnesota as an example.  They have made it a regulation to put in buffer strips with cash incentives for farmers.  Despite the fact that the major farm organization who also sells ag chemicals and has massive lobbyists says, “You cannot tell us how to farm ‘our’ land,” Minnesota seems to have decided it’s “the right thing to do” and made it a law.

The USDA has a program called SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) that is part of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The purpose of this program is to help advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities by providing education grants as well as conducting research and conducting outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.  In their recent Summer 2017 newsletter they featured several different grant recipients that have gone on to produce positive results in their community. In one example, a grant was used to help connect Michigan beef producers, local processors, distributors, and retailers in the Traverse City area in order to meet the Traverse city’s goal to source 20% of their food within a 100-mile radius by 2020.  As a result of this funding, beef producers have been trained in pasture-based grazing systems for raising beef cattle and they are seeing positive results in both the quality of the products they are producing as well as improving their land and quality of life.”
Our Red Angus Cattle enjoying time grazing in their paddock!
The further we go in these discussions, the complexity of our tangled food system and our understanding of it starts to unravel.  The individual attitudes of farmers, consumers, politicians, biotech advocates, etc are shaping our food system now and into the future.  In my next article, I’d like to explore more of the issues pertaining to this concept of “Feeding the World.”  I”ll share some of my own thoughts as well as those posed by Food First, a non-profit organization that researches, defends and develops policy related to food issues including food justice, food sovereignty , and food democracy.  In one of their recent newsletters they posed this question:  “Can we feed the world without destroying it?”  In closing, I continue to encourage you to consider your place in shaping our food system for the future and welcome your thoughts and input into this conversation.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Onions: "A Healthy Basic"

By:  Farmer Richard

Onions being unloaded for
drying in the greenhouse.


This week has been a big week for us.  In addition to our regular weekly tasks, we’ve been trying to get all of our onions pulled, dried and safely stored in the greenhouse.  We have been blessed with several days of dry weather which allowed us to start our harvest last week.  We brought some onions in on Saturday, then pulled more and left them to dry on top of the bed in the field before we brought them into the greenhouse on Tuesday for the final drying, cleaning, etc.  But now we’re faced with chances of rain the rest of the week.  Yes, there is an anticipation as well as some apprehension and nervousness that goes along with the excitement of every onion harvest.  I sleep at night because I’m simply tired, but I won’t sleep soundly until all the onions are harvested and safely under cover.  Two-thirds of this year’s crop are harvested and so far, they look great!



Onions are an important crop on our farm.  They aren’t one of our big dollar crops, in fact they are probably one of the most labor intensive crops to handle with a higher overall cost of production.  However, we firmly believe that daily consumption of plants in the onion/garlic family is one key to good health and they are a staple ingredient that we, and many other families, include in our daily meals.  Thus, we plan to include an onion and/or garlic selection of some sort in every CSA box over the course of our thirty week season.

Wild Ramps
With the above goals in mind, we start the season with ramps, wild-harvested from our woods.  Ramps are followed or accompanied by several perennial selections including chives and our overwintered Egyptian walking onions and potato onions.  These selections give us a jump start on the season while we are hustling to grow onions from seed to cover the remainder of the year and get us through the winter until the next spring when we start again with the perennial crops.  The beauty of onions is that they are “in season” every season of the year!


Whether red, white or yellow onions, there are a wide variety of choices to select from and we consider the genetics of a seed to be very important.    We look for varieties that have disease resistant tops that will survive long enough to produce a full sized onion.  The sweet Spanish onions you’ve been receiving in your boxes the past few weeks are an early season variety that is very mild when eaten raw and super sweet when cooked because of their higher levels of sugars.  They have a thinner outer skin and will store for just 3-6 months at most.  In contrast, there are different varieties grown to produce an onion that has the ability to hold in long-term storage for 9-12 months.  These varieties are usually “tear jerkers” and are much stronger and more pungent.  They still have natural sugars that come out when cooked, but the chemical makeup of the onion and lower sugar concentrations are what help keep the onion in good quality during long storage.  We don’t need to store onions for 9-12 months, so in recent years we have opted to grow more shorter season sweet onions that grow faster and are more mild.  We believe there are health benefits from eating raw or just lightly cooked onions and garlic, so for several different reasons we consider onions in this class to be a good fit for us. 
Potato onions popping up in the spring!!
Onions are a challenge to grow in that they grow slow and their tops are poor competitors against weeds.  Also, they are vulnerable to the tiny onion thrip, a natural pest enemy which sucks on onion tops deep in the center and leaves holes for disease spores to enter the onion as they kill the top and hence stop the onion development.  Commercial, conventional onions are all treated with systemic insecticide, a neonicotinoid which has its own severe problems.

Onions respond well to regular watering, but can quickly suffer from too much water.  Twenty-five years ago, when we grew onions on bare ground, we would harvest good looking onions to dry in the greenhouse, only to find later that many had “soft rot” in the center or a soft layer somewhere in the rings.  Our investigations led us to understand that the bad layer was the result of an earlier wet weather event in the field.  The neck rot was due to damage caused by the thrips that created an entry point into the onion for the bacteria that causes soft rot.

So we decided we needed a new strategy.  We transitioned to a system of transplanting 4 rows of onions on a raised bed, covered with plastic mulch that has a shiny, reflective surface that almost totally keeps thrips away by disorienting them!  The raised bed drains off excess water quickly, but the buried drip tape under the bed allows us to water and feed onions at their roots.


Onions starting out in the greenhouse.
Waiting for the day they can be in the field!
Before the storms blew through a few weeks ago, we had nice sized onions and shallots in the field.  The high winds blew the tops down, which was the start of the dry down process.  The size of an onion is determined by how thick or thin we seed them in the greenhouse.  Single onions can easily reach 1# each!  Too big for most meals, leaving you with a partially used onion in the refrigerator to be forgotten.  In my “humble cook” opinion, I think it is better to have more modest sized onions that can be used in one meal yet not so small that you have to peel several at a time. We pay close attention to the quality of the seed and try to adjust our seeding rate accordingly to get the size onions we’re looking for.


Field of Onions!
Once the onion transplants are big enough, we transplant them into their plastic mulch covered beds.  They go to the field as early in April as the weather allows and it takes us most of 3 days with a crew of 7 to transplant two acres.  Over the course of their season, they receive more water and fish fertilizer than most other crops.  The entire system is an expensive production system with the late February greenhouse planting, the reflective mulch to deter the thrips, hand harvest, and then the many hours of topping and cleaning them by hand.  We have a mechanical onion topper, but we have chosen to hand top and clean because it produces a more “pristine” onion without mechanical topping damage.  This is all very labor intensive and we know we cannot compete with the price of onions grown in the dry western states with more mechanized systems.  We only grow onions for our CSA members and local customers, with only a small percentage of shallots and cipollini onions for our retail partners.  We hope you appreciate the extra effort we put forth to make this all come together and I encourage you to please eat onions daily for flavor and health! 
Onions on the plastic mulch drying a
little before heading to the greenhouse
for more drying time!