CSA Update

Creative Commons photo by Annie Y. Wang (jwannie on Flickr)

Here is an update of my CSA experience thus far.  In my quest to find better quality food for my family, I’ve decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture Farm).  While they offer vegetables, eggs, bread, flowers, and various meat, I’ve started out with a simple fruit share.  So far I’ve had 5 weeks of CSA fruit.

  • Week 1: Apricots & Apple Cider*
  • Week 2: Apricots & Cherries
  • Week 3: Apricots
  • Week 4: Pitted Pie Cherries
  • Week 5: Break (between crop harvests)
  • Week 6: Peaches

So far, I’m fairly happy with my fruit.  I drive to an old-fashioned neighborhood grocery store once a week to pick up my share (if you’ve lived in Manistique, think Barney’s).  It’s a little place in the middle of a residential area that carries various groceries and has a small butcher shop.  You bring your own bag, initial on the master list that you’re picking up your shares, and grab what you ordered from the right boxes.  You have to be careful that you grab only what you ordered, or you can mess everyone else up.  My only complaint about this so far is the location.  I’m guessing it’s great for business to have all that traffic through the little grocery on CSA days, but it’s just about the most inconvenient location for me to get to in town.  If that’s the worst of it, I’ll live.

I have been trying not to buy fruit on my regular grocery store trips, since we paid for this fresh fruit up front.  The two exceptions are bananas (I need a lot of potassium right now and I’m not willing to give those up) and I bought some fruit the week there was none from the CSA.  This has been working out fairly well.

Knowing I have a week to eat my fruit before getting more reminds me to get going and do something with it before it spoils.  Sometimes I’m not so good at that, especially if it gets pushed to the back of the fridge and out of sight.  I did end up tossing out just a few apricots that went bad and some of the cherries.  I don’t actually like cherries and the husband didn’t think they were very good.  The Colorado cherry crop has had some tough issues this year.  The cider was awesome and I can’t wait to hopefully get more this fall.  I’ve never eaten apricots very much and I had fun figuring out what I’d like to do with them.  I found this recipe for Breakfast Apricot Crisp, which is great with vanilla yogurt.  I also realized that apricots are very good in morning cereal or granola, or just for snacking.  I made some cherry pie for my husband with the last batch of cherries and he said they were much better than the canned variety.  I froze half of the pie cherries for later use.

So far, things are working out well.  Let me know if you have any questions or recipe ideas!

*”Cider is not in season!” you say. Nope, but it’s a substitute to make up for the 95% crop loss of cherries in CO this year.
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Recipe: Gumbo

Creative Commons photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

Gumbo is a true American dish.  A combination of a French roux, Choctaw file and local seafood, African okra, and Spanish bell peppers, tomatoes and onions.  The dish goes back at least as far as the 1800s in the American South.

My first knowledge of the dish came from watching the old G.I. Joe cartoon in which the character Gung-Ho would make Gumbo for his Cobra fighting pals.  I was always curious about what this dish really was.  Then I lived in Alabama for two summers, where I discovered cajun food.  At first, I had this image of cajun food being burned (blackened) and too spicy.  It was not something I was eager to try.  But I had some friends who knew better and brought me to one of the best restaurants I’ve had the pleasure to enter (Cajun or otherwise).  There I discovered what good cajun food is all about and later decided to try my hand at making my own.

When I first started experimenting with cajun food, I was annoyed because a decent amount of the recipes would not list amounts, just ingredients (especially when it came to spices).  This is because the amounts are up to the personal tastes of the chef.  So while I have listed spice amounts in the recipe below, feel free to change these and experiment with other spices.  Feel free to play with any of the ingredients to create a dish you really enjoy.

Gumbo usually has three different types of meat: seafood, poultry and pork.  I typically use shrimp, chicken and hamburger because they are easy to get.  Traditional gumbo uses sausage, not hamburger.  The preferred types are Andouille and chaurice.  Tasso is also used (cured pork shoulder).  I make the personal choice to use hamburger because I’m not a big sausage fan.  However, I do spice up the hamburger to my own tastes when browning it.  Also, while most Gumbo is more of a soup consistency, the husband and I prefer a dish that is more of a hearty stew.

This video is a little cheesy, but it explains what a roux is, along with the difference in colors and flavors.

The recipe I use is a variation of this Louisiana Shrimp and Eggs Gumbo recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped or can of diced tomatoes w/green chiles
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (options: crawfish or crab)
  • 1 lb hamburger or sausage
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup okra
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • Consider other seasonings to meet your tastes (hot sauce, red pepper, Cajun spice, mustard, paprika, sage, cumin, parsley, etc.)
  • 3 cups cooked rice (I prefer brown/white mix)

Directions

  1. Prep all the veggies & meat.  Chop all the veggies and add to one big bowl. Brown the hamburger and grill or saute the chicken (add spices to both to meet your tastes).  I typically leave the shrimp in the fridge until it’s time to add it.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy pan/stock pot. Stir in flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly, until roux is dark brown; be careful not to burn.
  3. Add onion and garlic, and cook until slightly wilted.
  4. Whisk in water.
  5. Add all the spices (bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, cajun spice and more to your taste).
  6. Stir in veggies (celery, green onions, tomato, green and red peppers, & okra).  Simmer for 1 hour.  Be sure to stir on occasion.
  7. Add shrimp, hamburger/sausage, & chicken; simmer 15 to 20 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  8. Serve gumbo over rice.

Optional Additions to offer at the table: Shredded cheese, hot sauce, Cajun spice such as Tony Chachere’s, dipping style chips

I couldn’t resist adding this clip……

What’s your favorite Gumbo recipe?  What ingredients do you prefer to use?

My CSA Adventure

Creative Commons photo by Peter Roome (lakewentworth on Flickr)

I try to always be on the lookout for “real food.”  As a result, I decided to join a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA farm.  In a nutshell, a CSA farm is a partnership between “a farm and a community of supporters that provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food.”  Or put another way, a group of people commit to buy and pay for a local farm’s crops in advance, kind of like a subscription.  You can read more about CSA’s here.  Every week you pick up your assortment of food you’ve ordered from the CSA at a designated location.  I’ve decided to start with a small share of fruit this year and try it out.  So every Tuesday I’ll have fresh fruit for my family.  Our CSA is actually located in Colorado, where they have more water and a better growing season than in Wyoming.

Why have I decided to go this route?  Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Quality – Moving from Michigan’s fruit belt to the plains of Wyoming has been an interesting food experience for me. While the quality of beef is fantastic, the produce is shall we say…less than desirable. (Pretty sure I was just spoiled most of my life, but still!)  The farmer’s market season is pretty short in my town and the grocery store produce (in my own opinion) is not only of poor quality, but pricy to boot.  Who wants to pay a lot of money for crappy hot-house berries with no taste?  Certainly not me, if I have an alternative.
  2. Creativity – One of the fun things about CSAs is that what you get every week can change according to what is ready to be harvested.  This has two benefits for me. 1. I’ll hopefully start eating things I wouldn’t normally think about (I can get stuck in a “food rut”). 2. I love cooking and this gives me the chance to explore new recipes and play around with new ideas.  And I hope eating seasonal food will keep me more excited about cooking dinner after a long day.
  3. “Real Food” – I like to eat food with ingredients I can pronounce.  Also, if your food is going to contain sugar, it might as well be real sugar (not chemical substitutes).  Real fruit has the bonus of natural fiber to help your body process sugar more effectively.  These two things put a lot of canned fruit off my list (plus it tastes funky. See #1 above.)
  4. Supporting the Local Economy – I believe it is important to support local businesses and my community.  This is just another way to do that.
  5. Eating Local – There are many reasons to eat locally grown food rather than something shipped in from another hemisphere.  Here are a few of those reasons.

I will post an update later on to let you know how my CSA experience is going and if I think it panned out the way I thought it would.  In the meantime, what questions or thoughts do you have?  Have you belonged to a CSA?  What were the pros and cons for you?  What other ways do you have to procure quality fresh produce? What are your ideas for cooking peaches, pears and apples? (Because I know I’ll have a lot!)