CSA All the Way

Hi there! It’s been a very busy summer, I feel like I blinked and it was over. For this summer, I decided to do something a little different from my typical weekly food shops and signed up for a CSA.

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you pay a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season to a farm, and in return, you get a “share” of their produce every week. After researching the different CSAs available in my area, I decided to go with a partial share from the Turtle Bay CSA. The vegetables are grown by Free Bird Farm in upstate New York (which also services other CSA’s throughout New York City). Every week from around mid-June to mid-November, the CSA has a vegetable pickup where they hand out the week’s vegetables. In return, you must volunteer at least once at a vegetable pickup to help things run smoothly. Additionally, if you want to pay a little extra, you can purchase an egg share, a butter share, a maple syrup/honey share, a poultry share, ground beef share, and/or a fruit share. Click here to learn more about what a CSA is, how it works, and where to find one near you in NYC.

You don’t have a say in what vegetables are given out each week, and a lot of what the farm produces depends on the weather and the rain conditions of the season. For instance, this summer has been dryer than previous summers, and therefore the vegetables we received this year were a lot different than last year’s produce. Additionally, the farmers of Free Bird Farm send out a weekly newsletter that share a little bit about life on the farm, the work that goes into growing a successful crop, a detailed list of what vegetables are being offered that week, and different recipes incorporating those vegetables.

The vegetables I’ve received so far have been varied and interesting, but we still have received a lot of the familiar vegetables that I’m used to eating. So far we’ve gotten a lot of garden tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, red potatoes, cabbages, and beets. Some of the weirder vegetables of this season include kohlrabi, fennel, japanese radishes, and tongue of fire shell beans. There has also been a lot of salad greens, red lettuces, and kale. I have been loving it so far, because the CSA has been getting me out of my comfort zone of buying the same vegetables over and over, and has been pushing me to discover new recipes that I typically wouldn’t try. Of course, when I have no idea what to do with a vegetable, which will occasionally happen, I can rely on cubing it and roasting it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and eat it as a side dish throughout the week, and that works just fine (usually my standard temperature and time for vegetable roasting is 350 degrees for 30 minutes – stirring the vegetables at the 15-minutes mark).

I also find that the fresh herbs and vegetables that I’m used to eating, like the tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce, taste so good and stay fresh for way longer. This may be likely due to the reduced transit time from the farm to my kitchen. Also, the vegetables you get are actually in season, and are therefore at the peak of freshness and their highest nutritional quality.

Some tips if you’re thinking about joining a CSA next season:

  • Start a Pinterest page that’s dedicated to the vegetables you get from the CSA to keep everything in one place. My CSA Pinterest board has been a lifesaver.
  • Save the greens of everything. Radish greens, turnip greens, and especially beet greens are delicious when sauteed with oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and onions, and although it may seem like too many greens when you pick up your vegetables, they usually cook way down. This is an easy way to reduce waste and to give your meals a big nutritional boost.
  • If you really don’t like something, you can swap it for something else at your pickup location. I try not to do this because I want to try everything, but if we get something that I know I just won’t eat and would prefer to have more of another vegetable, then I will swap it.
  • Kind of along the lines of the above point, if you don’t think you will like something, be open to trying it. I honestly did not think I liked kale or beets before this summer. Now, after researching different ways to cook them, I love them. I’ve made countless kale-based smoothies, beet chips, and beet hummus. I don’t even dream of swapping these super-foods out.
  • WASH EVERYTHING. INVEST IN A GOOD SALAD SPINNER. The farm does a pretty good job with hosing everything down before handing out the vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find the occasional critter or dirt in your pickup. Gross, yes, but remember these vegetables are fresh from the farm and it’s as natural as you can get.
  • Talk to other people when you’re at the pickup to get ideas for how they cook and eat their veggies.
  • Enjoy it! This CSA season has about a month left and I honestly am so sad. But I’m going to keep looking for the more out-of-the-box veggies at the supermarket over the winter.

If you want more of an idea for what type of vegetables, fruit and other food items that can come in a CSA, check out the Turtle Bay CSA website (link above in text). Also, check out my friend and fellow dietitian Rachel Greenspan’s amazing instagram. She belongs to a CSA that uses Free Bird Farm as well, and makes amazing and beautiful dishes. The link can be found here: wholegreens.

Caprese salad with lettuce greens, fresh basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella.
Easter Egg Radishes!
Easter egg radish, sweet potato, and kohlrabi, pre-veggie roast
Fresh corn veloute soup
Another crazy roast of kohlrabi, fennel, and golden beets.
Hi! Me volunteering at the veggie pickup – weighing out red potatoes and studying a kohlrabi – which honestly looks like an alien.
My first attempt at making spaghetti squash! Only got one of these things so far, wish we had more.
An example of the beet hummus I made for the Pretty Little Liars finale – felt the rich red color and “A” was appropriate. Recipe can be found on my Pinterest CSA board and it is AmAzing (see what I did there?).
An example of just taking all the greens and throwing it in a pan with some chicken, this dinner is basically a hodge-podge of all the different greens, purple cabbage, and easy.
Bacon and escarole soup. First time I ever had escarole, now a big fan (bacon does that with a lot of foods, doesn’t it?). 
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The Best Part of the Salad

I will say that my absolute favorite food category is pizza, but salad is a VERY close second. I love a good crunchy fresh salad. They can be big, small, varied in taste and textures, customizable, cheap to make, seasonal, and colorful, and therefore nutritious. Eat the rainbow, taste the rainbow, am I right? But if you were to ask me what my favorite part of a salad is, I would have to tell the truth and say the croutons. I don’t use them all of the time because I find that if I buy a package of croutons, I WILL eat the entire bag within 3 days. This is not a good thing. One serving of the store-bought variety is typically only 5-7 croutons, and who actually has the willpower or control to stick with that? I’m also getting on this kick of eating a little cleaner and steering away from heavily processed foods. A salad can be topped with other nutritious crunchies like nuts and seeds, but sometimes they just don’t satisfy like a crouton.

That’s why I sometimes just NEED to make these golden squares of wonder. Homemade croutons are super fast and easy to make, and the best part is you have 100% control over how you season them and how much oil you use. I feel like they elevate my salads to a higher level, like something I would get at a restaurant. They also incorporate stale bread. So if you’re like me, and occasionally like to buy baguettes or fresh loaves at the bakery, and you have a hard time finishing them before they go completely stale, then this recipe is for you.

Homemade Croutons

Servings: 2, Total time: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/6 of a stale baguette, or freshly baked loaf of bread OR 4 slices of whole wheat or white bread
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • season to taste with: salt, pepper, thyme, dried parsley, oregano, garlic powder

Instructions:

  1. Dice the bread with a serrated knife into desired size.
  2. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whichever other herbs and flavors of your liking in a bowl.
  3. Heat a small pan over medium low heat, do not add any extra oil so as to toast the bread more easily. Place the croutons in the pan and toss around until they reach the desired degree of toastiness. I personally prefer nice and crunchy on the outside, but still a little soft on the inside.

My version may not be as diet-friendly as the store-bought version, but in my opinion it tastes WAY better, and will likely always prefer these to any store-bought alternative. What’s your favorite salad topper??

The Fascinating World of Farmers’ Markets

This past week I took the day off and wandered down to the amazing Union Square Greenmarket – a large farmers’ market that offers seasonal and regional fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and baked goods from 140 vendors. This market is humongous and full of produce, and I love that I get to see what familiar foods are SUPPOSED to look like, as opposed to the uniformed, shiny, waxy looking produce that you see in supermarkets. The stuff you find at the farmers’ market is the real deal, truly dirt candy, that you can buy and eat in the way that nature intended. However, I’ll admit, the market is also brimming with foods that I have never seen before, and that I may not know what it is or how to eat it. That being said, it’s still really fun to go in and explore the different stalls and learn about different fruits and vegetables that I don’t get to see every day.

Look at that BUTTernut squash (I bought this at a farmers’ market almost a year ago and still find this hysterical)

So, the farmers’ market can be really great, and even though I love food and like to think I’m an adventurous eater, I tend to get very overwhelmed when I browse through the seemingly endless maze of stalls. These are my personal tips for navigating a large farmers’ market, and how to experience it in the best possible way:

1) Go in with a plan

If I go to the farmers’ market without a list, there is a 100% chance I will end up with a million things that I will never actually eat or cook, and will just sit in my refrigerator slowly rotting. Go in with a recipe or a shopping list and only buy a reasonable amount of each food (i.e. 1 bulb of garlic, 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, 1 carton of berries, 1 loaf of bread, etc. etc., etc.) so that it doesn’t spoil and you don’t waste your money. I find that the foods at the farmers’ market spoil a lot more quickly than they do when bought from the supermarket.

2) But don’t be afraid to browse

Farmers’ markets are a great way to kill some time. Look at the flowers, the weird looking plants, the freshly baked goods and jams, and wander the rows and rows of fresh produce. It’s visually pleasing and mentally relaxing.

3) Try something new

Don’t be afraid to try a vegetable, fruit, or herb that you’ve never tried before. I went with a coworker once and she bought kohlrabi – a vegetable that I have never heard of before and was too afraid to buy. We make many regrettable choices in life, and not buying that exotic kohlrabi is one of mine (am I a food geek? Yes, this last sentence absolutely proves that I am).

4) And stick to your staples.

I always buy the same produce at the grocery store: onions, carrots, celery, spinach, grape tomatoes, a few apples, bananas, and garlic. All of these are common staples at the farmers’ market, and are offered in different varieties and strains to help me switch up my daily flavors. Think orange and yellow tomatoes, different varieties of lettuce, colorful purple carrots, etc.  They’re also sold at a much cheaper price than at the supermarket. The food at the farmers’ market is likely better than organic foods and are a fraction of the price.

5) Touch everything (ew). 

Make sure what you’re buying is in good condition and ripe (or not yet ripe, depending on the food). Don’t be afraid to really feel what your food is supposed to feel like in its most natural state.

6) Wash everything (ok, good). 

I mean, just reread number 5. This one should be self-explanatory.

7) Talk to the vendors

There’s no better way to learn about about the food you eat than to talk to the source directly. Sometimes I feel that living in the middle of the city where takeout rules what’s for dinner and there’s not a tree in sight makes me feel detached from nature and wholesome foods. Interacting with who is tending to your food and getting to know more about where your food comes from gives you a deeper appreciation for what you’re eating, which in my opinion makes the whole cooking and eating experience all the richer.

So, this past weekend when I went to the market, I went in with a recipe in mind: this Butternut Squash Gruyere soup from one of my favorite food blogs: How Sweet Eats. I can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it was to buy all of the ingredients (except for the butter, oil, spices, cheese, and chicken stock) from local farmers. I even think it made the soup taste more velvety, wholesome, and nourishing. So go online or to pinterest and find a recipe that looks good and go. OR, take one of your go-to dinner recipes and switch it up by buying the ingredients locally, see how the flavors change or if it makes you feel any differently!

To find a local farmers’ market near your area in the US, click here.

Check out the recipe for the soup HERE.

Note: I excluded the coconut milk to cut back the calories and used only about 2 oz of cheese as opposed to 6 oz because I honestly did not want to sit there and grate 6 oz of cheese (so time consuming!). The soup still came out absolutely wonderfully and the chickpeas on top added an awesome spicy crunch. This soup also tastes amazing when topped with walnuts and gorgonzola. Enjoy!!

Vegetties

Who out there isn’t a sucker for a good impulse buy? On my most recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, or as I like to call it, the Abyss (meaning I can get lost for hours in there thinking that I need things that I definitely do not need), I was feeling accomplished with myself as I was waiting in the checkout line. Everything in my basket was on my original list, and I didn’t stray from that list at all. That is, until I laid eyes on this funny-looking and oddly-named contraption called The Vegetti. At an attractive price of only $14.99, the Veggetti promised to “turn veggies into healthy spaghetti instantly!” I was intrigued.

The cashier saw me eyeing it and said, “I bought that and I LOVE IT! I’m on a no-carb diet and am obsessed with pasta and that thing has literally saved my life.” Well, first, I had to do a little internal eye-roll because any vegetable that you put through the Vegetti is going to be made of carbohydrates – complex carbohydrates that would be healthier than the carbohydrates in pasta (think – more fiber!), but carbohydrates nonetheless. However, the cashier seemed really excited, which made me really excited, so I overlooked her error and bought it.

Well, tonight was my first experience with the Veggetti, and I must say I was impressed. It has two openings that lets you pick between thin strands or thick strands, is very lightweight, and easy to handle. I Veggettied a zucchini through the thin side and a yellow squash through the thick side and ended up with really cool-looking noodles that were full of fiber, not to mention they were also completely gluten free. Don’t get me wrong though, because I seriously LOVE gluten. However, for anyone who suffers from Celiac’s disease, a gluten intolerance, or who loves pasta but doesn’t want to overdo it with the calories (cough cough me), then these Veggetti noodles make for a wonderful alternative.

Zucchini

The package comes with a little booklet that has cleaning instructions and a few recipes. It seems as though you can cook the vegetable noodles in the same way that you would cook freshly-made pasta. Pretty cool! My only criticism is that it can be hard to clean, as food particles can get stuck in the blades and those babies are SHARP. However, the pieces of food eventually broke free using a cleaning brush and the Veggetti is dishwasher safe, so that may solve the problem.

So, what did I make for dinner tonight? I honestly just threw together all the frozen vegetables I had in my freezer (corn, broccoli, and mushrooms) into a pan with some olive oil, and let them defrost and cook. Then I added garlic, a cooked chicken thigh, and both the zucchini and yellow squash noodles. I then cooked for about 5-6 minutes until the noodles were tender and topped with parmesan cheese. One zucchini and one yellow squash yielded  A TON of noodles so I even have leftovers for tomorrow. This dinner was nothing super fancy but it was easy, filled with veggies, satisfying, and tasted delicious. I must say I’m excited to keep trying new dishes using vegetable pasta instead of regular pasta; my absolute FAVORITE dish in the world is fettucine alfredo with broccoli, garlic, and spinach, so I think I’ll make that next time with zucchini noodles rather than real fettuccine.

Pro tip: cut the noodles after you’re done Veggetti-ing (this word doesn’t get old) in order to “create shorter, easy to manage strands,” according to the booklet that comes in the packaging.

dinner

You can read other people’s reviews and buy the Veggetti (at a cheaper price than I did – that’s the beauty of doing your research rather than succumbing to the impulse buy) at Amazon here: Buy the Veggetti! 

What’s your favorite impulse buy? Do you have a good dish that incorporates spiralized veggies? Share in the comments!