Monthly Archives: May 2011

Farm Fresh and Local

The arrival of spring has brought the start of the Community Supported Agriculture Co-op that Amanda and I joined with two other couples.  If you do not know what that is, I will briefly explain.  Farmers and consumers get together, the consumers pay a fee to join and in return the farmers commit to supply a weekly share of what they produce.  That was all I knew when I signed up and my curiosity was enough to commit.  So for a little over $20 every three weeks I will get an unknown quantity and variety of local produce, sounds way better than the $50 sack of disappointment I regularly get at Giant Eagle.

For more useful information you can go here: http://www.nwpagrowers.com/

Most people’s reaction to me doing this have fallen into two categories.  Both negative.  The first is: “That’s expensive. I don’t spend twenty dollars a week on vegetables.”  The second is “What are you going to do when you get, like, 20 pounds of cabbage?.  What if you don’t know what to do with what you get or you don’t like it?”  I guess there has been a third category when I talk excitedly about my mystery vegetable shipment and I get nothing in response from a reluctant listener and the conversation ends or the subject is changed.  Not everyone has been pessimistic but I feel that my overall perception of negativity is justified when it seems like there is only about ten local subscribers to the CSA.  Why are more people not doing this?

I’m not going to discuss the first category of naysayery because I have no idea where to start.  Either you are not eating enough fresh vegetables or you are getting some pretty sweet deals because where I shop, veggies are expensive.  The second category is actually the main reason why I signed up with the CSA so I will be focusing on that. I would much rather have my menu and recipes driven by what is available to me rather than what my current desire is.  Rather than saying “I am hungry for X, I must go get A, B, and C”, I want to say “I have A, B, and C.  What can I do with it?”  That is how classic French cooking styles even came about.  They took what meager scraps were available to them and rendered them edible.  OK, my situation is a little different than making the most out of anything that you can get your hands on but I feel the spirit is the same.

So, what do you do when your share is full of things that you never heard of?  Well, in addition to the food there is an added benefit of community when you join a CSA.  There is a newsletter with helpful tips and actual people with intimate knowledge of what you are getting from week to week.  Or, you can set out on your own, use your own knowledge or turn to Google.

Among other things, included in my first share was a bag of arugula, a bag of spelt flour, and fresh oregano.  I immediately knew what I was going to make.  Jamie Oliver’s “Scrummy Warm Arugula Salad” and spelt flour pizza.  The salad I have been making for years since the recipe was published in Happy Days With the Naked Chef but I rarely find arugula and make it with other greens.  For the pizza, quick Google search turned up this recipe for Spelt Pizza Dough and I was all set.

The salad in its simplest form is  fried bacon and caramelized onions tossed, while still warm, with greens, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese.  The arugula adds a nice peppery bite to go with the sweeter savory flavors of the other ingredients that is lost if you just settle with leaf lettuce or romaine.   To top the pizza, some on-hand vegetables were stir fried and placed over store bought cheese and a simple homemade sauce.  All told, a quick and easy meal and a new pizza crust recipe which Amanda proclaimed to be the best she ever had.  I’d say that’s a good start, I am excited to see what’s next!

Advertisements

Self-Proclaimed Amateur Chef/Writer Takes a Break to Be a Self-Proclaimed Amateur Designer/Carpenter.

I’m back.   After an unannounced furlough from writing I am back.

Two things occurred to cause me to stop writing for a bit, well, one thing occurred, but it had two consequences, and the thing did not so much “occur” as much as it got repeatedly struck by unwieldy hammer blows by me.

But any good story should start at the beginning, and this story begins with my buddy Jake crawling around between the first and second floor of my house trying to address a frozen pipe situation.  While up there he noticed some empty space between the walls of the first floor.  Jake has experience with this and has a good story about finding a stash of forgotten unmentionable “things” in walled-in empty space in a house he and his wife were renting from her father.   On the ground level I was able to determine that the little hallway between the kitchen and music room had an indeterminate amount of space walled off on each side.  So, in order to get a better idea of what I was looking at, I sensibly grabbed a hammer and started putting holes in the walls.

The two holes that I started with. Both showed a small gap and another wall. A disappointment, but I pushed on.

What I was looking at was two months of consumed free time and a mess that made my kitchen an undesirable place to make a bowl of cereal in, never mind actual cooking.  So, my little project resulted in me having no time to write and nothing worth writing about.  Well. that’s not entirely true, I have a slight backlog of things to write about, including the project.

As I cleared out the walls and opened up the space on both sides I realized that what I was hoping for was true.  On one side I had enough room to make a built in bookshelf and on the other I had enough room for all of my brewing equipment and a wine rack.  (What I was really really hoping to find though was something stashed away in the wall like my friend Jake, but no luck.  For a better account of Jake’s story, go off to http://www.koskersidlewild.blogspot.com/ and ask his wife about it.)

The first step in my project was the removal of all the lath and plaster to create one opening and the removal dry wall to create the other.  This created an inconceivably heavy amount of dusty mess.  However, I did not want to spend any money on the project and I reused as much of the material as I could.  The old lath made a suitable lining of the inside of the brewing space.  The old plaster, on the other hand, was only good for lining the inside of a dozen garbage bags that I took to the curb.

After the removal of all of the wall, I began to reuse the old lath to line the opening that I created by nailing it to the studs that form the bathroom wall.

I am not a carpenter.  I am reminded of this every time I try to attach more than two pieces of wood into a symmetrical shape.  So, with this in mind, I tried to keep the project as rustic and rough cut that I could.  The majority of the wood that I used for the shelves and molding were from old doors and door frames at my parents house.  So, I had plenty of material to screw up on and use until I got it right, and in the end, I always had the excuse that it was made out of RECYCLED HOLLOW CORE DOORS!

But seriously, it was fun and I think it turned out well.

After the hole was lined I used the doors to make the shelves for the fermenters and bottles and everything was trimmed in with either door frames or, well, trim.

The book shelf is made up the solid ends of the doors cut to fight into the space and supported by pieces of door frame.

What was once empty, wasted space is now functional.  The whole experience was also a metaphor for what I strive for in cooking.  I had to use what was available to me to create something functional.  There was some trial and error and doubt but in the end I am quite proud of what I ended up with.  I am glad its done though.  Now, back to the food.