I love to go out to eat as much as the next girl. In fact, I will rarely turn down the excuse to get prettied up and go out with the girls, and I have happily ignored repeated healthy eating resolutions because there is always at least one more taco stand/burger joint/fancy eggs Benedict that I must try. But, as it turns out, I like poking around in my kitchen more (despite the fact that I still cannot make a Hollandaise that does not break).
One of the best decisions I have made to foster my kitchen creativity and confidence was subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture). Starting in Boston, and continuing in Paris, my CSA baskets have allowed me to eat seasonally, support local businesses and inspired me to cook with and enjoy new ingredients that, in many cases, I had never seen before (radis noir, anyone?).
Choosing and subscribing to a CSA in San Diego was one of the first things I did when I decided to move to town. In particular, Be Wise Ranch came highly recommended by both friends and family who had enjoyed their CSA in the past. So excited was I at the prospect that I sent my first inquires back in July, to ensure a subscription for late November. Turns out, four month notices are not so helpful when the farmers are trying to decide what to harvest and plant next week and, while their reply was kind, I remain a bit nervous that my enthusiasm may have been more than a bit frightening.
Previous social ineptness aside, I was sure to send off my trial subscription form during my first few days in town. Here’s how it works: first, I committed to a 4-box trial period, paid up front. As each delivery consists of 10-12 different fruits and vegetables, I decided to schedule my pick-ups for every other week (no matter how enthusiastic of a cook, I could not eat that much food each week). Second, my service contacted me to verify the chosen pick-up spot, which worked perfectly, as they have a location close to campus where I can swing by on my way home from the lab. Third, enjoy. Cook. Eat. Share. Last, I have decided to commit to the complete 8-box ‘cycle’, so now I pay the remaining dues and eat some more. Plus, I can feel good about myself – isn’t eating more whole food part of everyone’s New Year’s resolutions?
I never questioned that I would join a CSA upon arrival, but it barely dawned on me what a fresh produce subscription in southern California would consist of in the depth of the winter months. After four years in Paris where our winter paniers (baskets) would consist of a continuous flow of potatoes, leeks, carrots, parsnips (or the aforementioned black radish) and apples for months, I was ill prepared for the sheer bounty and colorfulness of my Californian CSA in December. We received (from the first photo, clockwise from the top) a large fennel bulb, two heads of cauliflower, a huge acorn squash, a bunch of carrots, several beets (that turned out to be appropriately seasonal, complete with red/white striped interiors), an eggplant, oranges, apples, persimmons, clementines, two types of chard (I think – any help with the smaller leafed green one on the right?), parsley and a densely packed bag of spring mix. Wow.
Then I began to cook. I was delighted to finally put my new kitchen to use. There was sausage, white bean and chard stew the first night; chard, mushroom and caramelized onion quiche the next. I invited my parents over to see my newly unpacked apartment that weekend, but really it was an excuse to have them help me eat massive amounts of salad, roasted beets and carrots with balsamic glaze and this sherry and garlic braised chicken, which you should all make. Right now. We even rounded the meal out with a delicious, easy panna cotta, topped with an clementine-caramel sauce. I roasted the cauliflower for this delicious cake, and later also devoured a roasted eggplant drizzled with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese.
I could not be more pleased with my subscription, or more enthusiastic about receiving my CSA every two weeks. Getting this variety and quantity of produce really stretches my creativity in the kitchen to the limit and ensures that, despite all of the tasty treats in town, I would rather be eating my vegetables at home.