When Bob and Lenore decided to offer EVOO as a drop-off point for the weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) vegetable baskets from R-evolution Gardens, they also thought it would be fun to do a little experiment with me, their Sales Manager, who has had zero formal culinary training. Like many a working Mom, I come home to kids screaming, “What’s for dinner?” or “When will dinner be ready?” and I have to scramble together a quick meal that consists of the holy trinity of the dinner plate: a meat, a starch and a vegetable. And many times, the produce I use is far from being local, organic or seasonal. We all know it’s healthier for our bodies, our environment and our local economy if we eat seasonal foods from within our own food shed. But knowing that and doing it are two different things. So my task this summer is to make something new each week for my family from ingredients found in my CSA basket which will by and large be entirely new to my family.
First, let me introduce you to the cast of this “reality show”:
Mamma Shanda: I’m not an adventurous eater, but my Dad is from Alabama, so I did grow up eating strange, exotic foods like collard greens, black eyed peas, ho cake and grits! And growing up in southern California, I had a healthy dose of Mexican-American food.
Daddy Rick: From a small town in the Pacific Northwest, he grew up eating a typical Middle American diet and had very little contact with ethnic cuisine or vegetables other than the standard fare like broccoli, carrots, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and, like me, yucky canned veggies.
Fiona: 12 years old and willing to try almost anything and to say something kind even if she doesn’t like it.
Jacob: 7 years old and not at all eager to try new things except under pain of punishment.
Joe: 5 years old, also reticent to try new things, and highly addicted to sugar and processed foods.
Like most American kids, mine like pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, hot dogs, simple veggies either steamed or sauteed, and a green salad made with Romaine lettuce.
Day 1: I’ve come home with so much produce that I know won’t keep long so I decide to use the baby bok choy and the arugula and arugula blossoms. Before prepping them, I corral all the kids to show them what they will shortly be consuming. They are dubious. If I were a really good Mom, I would make them stay and help, but I have to work at break neck speed because to hear them tell it, they are so hungry they are about to start eating each other! So I send them away and commence the experiment. Bob said that the bok choy would be easiest done just sliced down the center, root cut out, gently washed, then placed in a heated pan with olive oil and garlic. Well, as soon as I slice the bok choy down the center and attempt to cut out the inner root, the entire thing falls apart in my hands. Then I realize I have no garlic as I have just moved and not yet restocked the pantry. Drat. I go forward placing individual pieces in the olive oil. It comes out saturated and the greens wilted. The white stalk is hard to chew. The sea salt I finish it with makes it only somewhat edible. Dad and Joe kind of like the greens, but this is not a big hit at all. The arugula and arugula blossoms become a salad with olive oil, wild honey vinegar and sea salt. The boys both spit it out, “Blech!” Fiona just says, “Hmm, interesting.” Rick eats it without comment.
Day 2: A few days later, somewhat gun shy now, I plunge ahead. Today I’m going to attempt to use up the radish, Japanese turnip and mixed salad greens. I decide to simply cut the bulb of the turnip and radish into coins and let everyone try them fresh and plain. I do, however, saute the turnip greens and radish greens together in a bit of olive oil and finish with sea salt. The mixed salad greens I reserve for Mommy and Daddy, having tasted them and knowing full well they’ll be wasted on the kids. So we go around the table tasting off the plate of turnip and radish coins and their sauteed greens. It’s quite funny to see everyone’s faces as they pucker and wince. None of us likes the coins. And the boys declare the sauteed greens horrible. Daddy grosses everyone out by eating sauteed greens sandwiched between two turnip slices. He’s actually enjoying the variety of vegetables being introduced even if he doesn’t necessarily like all of them.
Day 3: Many days have now passed. I figure the troops will revolt if I do this to them too often. And I have evening commitments that leave no time for experimentation. A new basket has now arrived and Bob figures a pound of bacon and a head of garlic will do the trick. Tonight I will chop up the bacon, cook till crispy, throw in garlic till aromatic and throw in the greens: kale, bok choy, and chard . It smells great and I am quite optimistic (even though I was in such a hurry the bacon did not get totally crispy). But what do I get? Two yuck votes from the boys, an “it’s okay” from Fiona, and Dad and I end up eating it all. We like it. But for the kids, this experiment is not going well. Tomorrow it’s going to be steamed broccoli again. My ego can’t take this!
Day 4: At the bottom of the produce drawer is a bunch of limp spinach from the first week’s basket. Bob calls it variegated because it’s bumpy. Lenore says variegated means something else entirely (mufti-colored?). So I don’t know what this stuff is exactly but I like it better than the typical spinach you find in the grocery store. It’s much less bitter. Tonight turkey burgers are on the Bonn family menu. I decide to blanch the spinach then chop it real small and hide it in the burgers. Well, there’s no hiding the spinach, so it takes some prodding to get the kids to dig in. But I will say, I make a pretty mean turkey burger to begin with so I feel confident I may have a winner on my hands. To the ground turkey I have added a generous supply of dried herbs and spices: garlic, onion, parsley, coriander and sea salt. Plus two tablespoons of olive oil. Into that mixture goes the spinach blanched in salted water, squeezed “dry” and chopped. And voila! They WILL eat their greens, so help me. I fully expect riotous outbursts for messing with one of their favorite meals. But no such thing occurs. Instead the table is quiet as they munch away. And Jacob and Fiona ask for seconds. VICTORY!
Jacob enjoying his turkey burger (stuffed with fresh spinach)–he’s likes it! he likes it!
And now I get a break until the next basket arrives . ….
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