Thursday, March 24, 2016

On Buying (and Loving) Locally Grown Organic Produce

So our wonderful CSA boxes. I know I've mentioned them in passing on here before, but they've yet to have an entire post revolve around them the way they deserve. Ours are delivered straight to our door from a local Monterey Bay area farm called J&P Organics and we've been receiving them about every other week since around Halloween. Who knew eating your veggies could be so much fun? 

The farmers put together the boxes for us from whatever's been harvested that week. (If you're so inclined, this same farm will also deliver eggs and/or fresh flowers with your order for a few dollars extra.) The produce boxes are different every time, but each usually contains a mixture of fruits and vegetables. Everything is always certified organic, seasonal, and super fresh. Like... we're talking fresh on a level I'm not sure I've experienced since that year in Montana when Seth and I had a vegetable garden. I'll tell you right now, there's salad... and then there's salad like the one pictured above that's made from fresh organic produce that was probably harvested mere days (if not hours) ago. You really can tell the difference, so if your area has a CSA program, I highly recommend checking it out.

These boxes have made it so much easier to eat healthier, more balanced meals. Before that, we liked fruits and vegetables well enough, but we never quite got around to adding very many to the grocery cart. We don't have a car right now for a number of reasons, so all of our fresh food usually comes from the corner grocery store which Seth walks to and from once a week and there are limits to how much he can carry back on foot. We make up the difference by ordering pantry staples and such online from places like Amazon. Once in a while, we'll place a meat order with Omaha Steaks or something, but that's about it.

A delivery service that selects and delivers fresh produce for us was exactly what we needed to round things out and make sure each of our meals included produce the way that they should. The produce is gorgeous and the box contains generous amounts. One usually feeds Seth and I amply for two weeks, so a family of four could easily eat plenty of fruits and veggies just out of the box if they ordered one every week. It's economical as well, since you're buying directly from the farmers that grow your food instead of paying retail mark-up at the grocery store. We'd never be able to afford this amount of organic produce at the grocery store, nor would it be as fresh.

It's also fun. They email me each week with what's going to be in the next box so I can decide whether I want to place an order, as well as plan meals around whatever's coming. Each week there are different things and they've all been delicious. We've had oranges, apples, grapefruit, and kiwi. Veggies have included everything from kale, chard, collard greens, and lettuce to cabbage, carrots, potatoes, yams, beets, squash, and more. A lot of those things -- like the beets and the cabbage -- we probably never would have thought to pick up at the store, so we've really been expanding our horizons as far as the types of produce we eat. We have a lot of new favorites.

It's also really fun to observe all the ways your produce changes from week to week. Like one week you'll get little baby lettuces and medium-sized oranges. Then in a future box, you'll get massive oranges and giant, full-grown lettuces, so you totally know that now you're getting the next installment of the same crop after it's "grown up". You also get to see your produce selection change with the seasons. In the winter, we got more squashes, and yams, and winter greens. Now that spring is here, we're starting to see springy things show up. Today's box was our first that had strawberries, so I was really excited -- so excited that I had to have some for lunch. They sent us some beautiful English peas that will go wonderfully with our Easter lamb on Sunday, too. 

I tend to get really excited about things that change with the seasons, so I especially like that part of this. Before CSA boxes, I'm not sure I could have told you what crops actually grow here in our actual area with any certainty or which ones are in season in the springtime, as opposed to the fall or winter. Now I totally know and I really like that. It's one more way to get in touch with the natural rhythms of the earth and synch your lifestyle choices with the seasons. Definitely something I'd recommend, especially if you're looking to eat more healthfully, go organic, or do more things to support your local economy. This lets you do all of those things, so it's a decision you can feel really good about.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Embracing Breakfast for Dinner

The more I actually experiment with different foods and explore new ways of cooking them, the more I realize that most of the foods I thought I hated were honestly just cooked horribly every time I had them. Case in point -- eggs. I still remember talking about my hatrid of eggs back when I first started this blog. I hoped that one day I'd be able to at least tolerate them so that I could actually order something other than waffles or pancakes when I visit a breakfast restaurant. (I'm really not a fan of sweet things for breakfast -- more of a Ron Swanson than a Leslie Knope.)

I'd say I reached the land of tolerance a while back, but since I've had such easy and continuous access to fresh eggs through our CSA program (thanks, Glaum Egg Ranch), I've been cooking and experimenting with eggs a whole lot more. At this point, I'd say that I've actually really developed an appreciation for them. I've also realized that the gummy, chewy texture and sulphur stench I associated with the eggs my parents and in-laws used to cook are abominations that only happen when they're overcooked. I learned how to cook them properly from Gordon Ramsay a while back so that I could make us a nice breakfast for Halloween and haven't looked back since.

I've made and fallen in love with lots of different dishes since -- scrambles and various frittatas featuring fresh produce, especially. However, I think my favorite egg dish so far is the tater tot quiche pictured above. (The good folks at Spoon University call it an "epic breakfast pizza", but this is a quiche as far as I'm concerned.) I'm never really one for following recipes to the letter or anything, but I've made this twice now and I did it almost exactly as specified behind the link there. The only thing I do differently is mix things up in regards to the cheese sometimes (depending on what's on hand) and add mix-ins to the eggs like white onion, scallion, or herbs. 

The quiche above featured eggs with sauteed white onion, spicy Spanish paprika and a few carrot greens I had in the fridge. The cheeses were a mixture of good old Velveeta for the bottom layer that goes under the eggs and Monterey Jack plus sharp Cheddar for the top. A few sausage links and a little citrus fruit on the side rounded things out for a really nice breakfast-at-dinner treat. (We've had an abundance of fresh organic oranges and grapefruits on hand lately.)

We've also become fans of classic multi-component breakfasts like the one above. The potato hash in the picture was a combination of sweet jewel yams, onion, and Irish red potatoes. The scramble had plenty of cheese, as we like our eggs rich and flavorful. And then there's our friend, fully cooked ready-make bacon for the side. I'd never be able to create such perfect slices myself!

I think I'm finally starting to "get" what people like so much about breakfast food. As is the case with vegetables and many other delicate ingredients, eggs are just not nice when they're overcooked, underseasoned, or just badly prepared in general. But when you treat them with the love and care they deserve, they become a really wonderful treat -- filling, but not overly so. Light and rich at the same time. It helps that they're appropriate for meat-free days as well. We're right in the middle of Lent and as much as we really like fish, it's nice to have an alternative protein to enjoy now and then.