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 jalape├▒o, 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!

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