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Test Drives

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Fall. Winter. Spring. The seasons where there aren’t as many options to get local, regional, seasonal, fresh foods. The farmer’s markets, one by one, shut down in early November.

There are options out there, though. Here in Howard County, there are year round choices. Like Friends and Farms, who uses Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) foods from a New York farm to supplement those winter root veggies, and who contracts for citrus from the Southeast.

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Foods like these. Or their tomato puree. I started with Friends and Farms in January last year. Bought a four week subscription, a small basket. Now I am buying a 13 week subscription and using an individual basket to supplement my garden and my CSA.

My CSA, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, has a seven week fall extension. The individual share is only $20 a week, for fresh organic vegetables.

Like these from last week.

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Fennel, radishes, leeks, cauliflower (white and green, the green was in the swap box), romaine, green beans, sweet peppers and red beets. Seriously. Nine organic vegetables averaging $2.20 each. You can’t come close to this pricing in any natural food store.

Other options around here. Some we tried and liked. Some we haven’t. Love Dove Farms offers an eight week fall CSA. Breezy Willow, a spring option from March until May. Zahradka Farm, delivers a winter option to your doorstep from January through April.

If you ever considered one of these for the winter, check out the links on my Local Resources page.

Or, keep your local food sources alive by hitting the weekend farm stands, or the weekend markets that are year round. The Howard County farmer’s markets may be closing soon for the season, but you still can find small farms and businesses to supply you with the best vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy.

Arctic Char

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Before, during and after.

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We got arctic char today in our Friends and Farms basket. It is one of my favorite fish. A cross in taste between salmon and trout.

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It even reminds me of trout with its spotted skin.

I did a simple marinade, and a simple preparation today. To celebrate the freshness of this fish.

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Citrusy in base. With that hint of licorice from the fennel fronds. I used a tablespoon of lemon olive oil. A teaspoon of Ponzu. A tablespoon of Triple Sec. Lemon jest and juice. Salt and pepper.

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Before putting it in to bake, at 400 degrees, I added a drizzle of Asiago peppercorn dressing.

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Served with steamed green beans and goat cheese stuffed sweet peppers.

And a dynamite Chardonnay. Easily a $100 a couple at a restaurant. A fraction of that in my dining room. Easy. Quick. Absolutely satisfying in flavor.

The rest of the CSA tomorrow. But, this is a great start.

Under the Weather

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Literally and figuratively. It is dreary and rainy, and since Tuesday I have been battling one heck of a head cold. Thankfully, even though nothing tastes very good, having that stocked freezer has made it bearable. And, kept my husband fed.

I didn’t blog about my CSA and Friends&Farms pickup very much. I really did minimal work to put it all away, and went back to my soups and my tea with honey. Local honey, even. See, you can be a locavore while sick.

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Today I feel somewhat back to normal, but the weather outside is so crummy, I just still want to hibernate and make something warm and comforting.

Best advice to those who want to minimize work while feeling awful. Freeze some soups. Those turkey drumsticks from the local farm, Maple Lawn, made the basis for one dinner and two lunches this week.

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I was originally going to pull out the cauliflower leek soup I made a while back, but, for the first time in four years, I had a Mason jar crack in the freezer. Luckily, it kept intact and was easy to dispose. I am really careful about not overfilling but this one just “popped”.

While in my clean up mode to check the baskets that hold my soups, I inadvertently left one out. A chunky tomato sauce. Found it a few hours later. It was happily defrosting, so it became chili last night.

It was that pint of sauce, a couple of peppers and onions, the last of a hanger steak made early in the week before I got this cold. I had planned to do fajitas again, but this was easy. Chopped the steak into cubes. Added it to the pot, with a can of Harris Teeters organic chili beans. Spices. I make ahead a chili fixing mix of dried spices. It simmered in a pot while I watched the news and we had another freezer-provided simple meal.

But back to the food we got Thursday that I now have to use. Having little appetite doesn’t help in the food department. Here’s how I am coping with it.

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Friends and Farms individual basket is definitely manageable. The onion went into the chili. The apples were baked (super simple, halve, core, season with butter, maple syrup and nutmeg, bake). The Asian pears are ripe enough for my husband to snack on. The rosemary, will become seasoning for some lamb tomorrow night. The green beans were steamed and eaten with dinner, the night we had some smoked kielbasa, steamed cabbage, beans, and the apples were dessert. The greens, of course, the lunch salads around here which make greens disappear quickly.

I didn’t photograph the chicken breasts or the pork chop or the half pound of smoked bacon and eggs. All put away too fast.

I now need to deal with the CSA surplus, because here is where I got more than we can use. Feeling rotten and eating just a cup of soup doesn’t put a dent in that haul.

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It may have been many baby veggies, but it was still quite a large quantity.

I am thinking of making hummus with some of those baby veggies as flavor. Eggplant and peppers. Besides that, cut, blanch and freeze the mixed sweet peppers. Roast those beets for salads. Shave fennel into salads.

I may have to cry “uncle” and give away a few items. I rarely get to that point, as we can make use of most of what we get. Being retired and having lunches and dinners home the majority of the week, that’s how we do it.

I do know that when the fall CSA ends just before Christmas, I will be very glad to have that stash in the freezer, to tide us over until the next season begins.

Baby Veggies

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It seems to be the week of the baby vegetable around here.

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They are cute, aren’t they? And often they cost a premium price. Interesting, though, now that I have a large garden, I figured it out. Baby veggies sometimes are those “rejects” which come about when you are thinning the plants. Like my arugula. The chard. The kale. All produced “baby” veggies when I was harvesting every other one, in order to give the others room to grow.

Now, baby eggplants? I’m wondering about those. Also, those lovely colorful peppers. When my garden didn’t get the sun it needed, I had lots of veggies that looked like them.

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How about baby fennel and baby red bok choy? Two other items this week in my CSA basket. Let’s move on to fruit.

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Kiwi berries. Look just like baby kiwis.

This week’s basket was fun to discover. I just need to think about what to do with all those peppers and eggplants. More tomorrow, after I ponder a strategy.

I do love that basket full of color and sunshine. Too bad they can’t be preserved to look that great forever. They would make a really nice centerpiece.

They Lied …

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… in a good way.

Both food sources have delivered far more than advertised. Friends and Farms individual share is more than adequate for the two of us. Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative’s half share, advertised as 4-7 items, is almost always more than that. Examples from this week’s shares.

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An individual basket costs $44 a week. This week there was swordfish and brisket, for the proteins. And, are there enough carrots in the mix? Tomatoes. Cheese. Bread. Potatoes. A couple of ears of corn (outstanding by the way). A small head of cabbage. Bosc pears.

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An almost one pound brisket that will most definitely feed my husband and me. Enough swordfish to make some very nice tacos.

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And, those lovely Italian plums. A snack we can’t stop eating. Free stone. Soft. Flavorful.

As for our other basket. We have rarely gotten 7 or less items. This week, it was ten vegetable items.

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For $19 a week, this is the bargain of the year for us. Ignore the apples. They were in the fruit share. Other than that. Green leaf and red leaf lettuce. Radishes. Golden beets. Green cabbage. Broccoli. Cauliflower. TWO butternut squash. Potatoes. And, a fennel that I picked up from the swap box. I did ditch my purple mizuna. I have more than enough greens around here, and have a couple of oranges, so I can make my fennel/orange/red onion salad.

The fruit share this week.

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Five pounds of Golden Delicious apples. And, a half pint of those addictive kiwi berries.

My chicken this week was a four pound whole heritage bird. Perfect for roasting.

With my butcher shop visit yesterday, and this haul, we are set for a week of meals. Broccoli and cauliflower joined some of that lamb from Mt. Airy tonight. A couple of oven roasted potatoes.

Thanks to these suppliers we are getting the most bang for the buck when it comes to good food.

Real Value

This week’s CSA share.

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As I looked at the selection, I decided it was time to do another comparison of the value of this half share. It cost me $19 a week for the summer, and again this fall, the same, since we signed up early for both seasons.

Most weeks I know this half share would have cost me more in the organic aisles of the local grocery stores. Here, proof again that it is true.

I used Wegmans on line shopping tool, for our local store. They have some of the best prices in the area for organic. The smaller stores, like Roots and MOMs can be even more expensive.

We had nine items this week. I did swap the red kale for some potatoes. I used the cost of the kale in my comparison because that is what we were sent.

Most expensive to buy. Organic cauliflower and broccoli. $4.49 for cauliflower. $3.49 for broccoli. Spaghetti squash (theirs wasn’t organic) $1.49/lb. Mine weighs almost two pounds.

Organic red kale was $2.69 each. Red leaf lettuce $2.29 each. Butterhead lettuce, not organic, $1.99. Hot peppers, not organic, $3.99 a pound. I had almost a pound of them. The only radishes at Wegmans on line were regular. Not the French Breakfast radishes we got. They were $1.99 a bunch. Organic baby beets, $2.99 a bunch.

All told. A smidge less than $27 to buy.

As for our fruit share this week.

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Seven organic honey crisp apples. At Wegmans these go for $3.49 a pound. Mine weighed slightly over 3 pounds. The kiwiberries. Who knows what they cost. They are rarely seen around here. Conservatively $4, maybe $5, if you can find them. Value, somewhere between $14 and $15. My fruit share costs $10 a week. Really worth it for those fruit varieties that are extremely hard to find without possibilities of pesticides.

This week I didn’t photograph my chicken share. It was boneless skinless chicken breast, and a couple of whole chicken legs. So, I will leave us with the photograph of a recent dinner with the Lancaster Farm Fresh chicken.

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The chicken breasts are usually parboiled first. I then make them into whatever suits my taste over the next few days. Maybe Caesar salad. Maybe chicken salad sandwiches. This time, I used some white wine, olive oil, some mixed herbs and quickly heated them in a moderate oven. The wine keeps them moist.

I also made some mushroom gravy using the Whole Foods brand of condensed mushroom soup. I now know that I prefer the Pacific brand, as this was a little thinner. I added some of the cremini mushrooms too. Spooned over the chicken. Served with some brown Jasmine rice.

And, those great zucchini fritters I have made many times. That Smitten Kitchen recipe is now a staple in my recipe file.

Red Veggie Week

When I opened my newsletter from Lancaster Farm Fresh, four of the eight items had the word “RED” in them.

I am a firm believer in eating by color. I even have the book from Williams Sonoma that tells us how great those rainbow of color veggies and fruit are for us.

According to the book, here is what red veggies bring to us.

“Red fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants for protection and healing. Promote heart health. Promote urinary tract health. Help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Improve memory function.”

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Here is what we got this week. That black futsu squash (which happens to be orange at the moment). That Italian style chicory. Bok Choy. Onions. And the four “red” items.

Red radishes. Red bell peppers. Red romaine. Red potatoes.

I include the potatoes because I will parboil them and use them in potato salad, including their skin. With organic veggies, I don’t mind using the skin.

Besides the vegetables this week, my fruit share included these items.

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Honey crisp apples. Asian pears, KIWIBERRIES! Again. We really like these berries. A great snack.

This was a cheese week too.

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Three cheeses. Once a month. Every month is different. We have had no repeats in five deliveries. A smoked gouda. A sheep’s milk ash cheese. And, a lavender goat cheese.

We also got 2.5 pounds of chicken wings and a couple of skinless chicken breasts in our chicken share.

This basket, with our Friends and Farms basket, means no trips to the grocery store again. Unless we run out of toilet paper.

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