Sunday, September 25, 2011

A year of eating seasonally

The conversation usually starts something like this:

Lisa: What do you want for dinner?
Linda: [After a quick mental note that “I don’t know” usually results in disappointed glares] Ummm…what do we have to cook with?
Lisa: The usual. The same kind of stuff we harvested for the CSA. Cheese. Eggs. Lentils. Rice.
Linda: Well, I could make lentils and rice with feta. That’s one of my favorites.
Lisa: Why don’t we have soufflĂ©, braised greens, and some roasted potatoes.
Linda: Sure, that sounds good. I’ll make the potatoes.

What’s behind all of this, of course, is the difference between the way an average cook, used to shopping in a grocery store for what she fixes, a wide array of options available to her on the shelves of the store, anything to feed whatever craving may strike, and a trained chef, who has the creative ability to see a fabulous meal in the oddest combination of ingredients, function when it comes to meal prep. Unless I plan ahead and know exactly what I’ll be fixing and can assure that we have the ingredients on hand, I’m stumped, driven only by a craving that can’t be satisfied, or so I think, and unable to see a simple, healthy meal in the beautiful food growing in the garden. I want to get over that stuckness and expand my cooking skills enough to have a much wider repertoire of dishes I know how to prepare so that I can more fully participate in meal preparation at our house and more fully live into the values I claim and which drove my desire to be closer to the source of my food.

I live on a farm, with a farmy chef for a partner who raises all (and, believe me, I mean all…well, almost all, until she figures out how to raise crab in the ponds out here) of her favorite foods. I have an abundance of good, healthy food at my disposal and all too often I’m struck with culinary dumbness. I have no idea what to fix for dinner and after 15 or 20 minutes of mulling it over, by which time I’m usually starving, I’m ready to go out for cheap Mexican in the next town over, food made tolerable only by the immediate gratification of chips and the slightly spicy ketchup with passes for salsa and the dulling of the margarita consumed before the food arrives. That’s a habit I want to break. I have much better use for that $25.

We are a farm that operates largely from a CSA model. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. The idea behind the CSA is to have a community of consumers who wish to support local, small farmers and have access to good healthy fresh food on a regular basis. CSA members pay a fee at the beginning of planning and planting for a coming season. In exchange, they receive a weekly share of the harvest. Being a CSA member requires a person to be willing to cook 4 or 5 nights a week, to try new things and be open to whatever is available seasonally, and to understand the highs and lows of farming, such as the effects of extreme heat on the egg production of laying hens or the rampant infestation of squash bugs on the zucchini and squash harvest.

I have asked Lisa and Kathleen to harvest an extra CSA share each week beginning next week. That food will serve as the basis for my meal planning for the week. I plan to do this for a year. So, in effect, it will be a year of eating seasonally. I know that the CSA share does not cover all meals for an entire week and so there will be room for the occasional out of season, not local indulgence, but the discipline of cooking with a CSA share should help me focus on learning better to prepare meals using the bounty of the farm, and thus, to better live into the values that led me to a life of farming to begin with. I’ll share the experience here, including pictures and recipes, what worked, what didn’t, solicit ideas, and provide a space for our CSA members to exchange ideas as they seek to be as creative with their shares as well.

So, stay tuned for my new culinary adventure. You might find some interesting recipes. You might learn a lot about what NOT to do. I suspect you’re pretty much guaranteed an occasional laugh, and who knows, maybe someone else out there will be inspired to live much closer to the source of their food.