Friday, June 19, 2015

CSA - Week #3

I swear to all that is holy, I don't plan on doing a weekly recap of our CSA box.

Think I'm fooling? I don't even remember everything we got this week. Broccoli...radishes...beets...lettuce...potatoes...and I know I'm forgetting something. So, there. Neener. Not recapping the whole thing because I'm a total slacker.

I AM, however, loving trying the new foods. So, when I find a recipe that works for us, I share. That's what my mother always taught me to do, so here I am.

I really think I should start calling these Iron Chef CSA Challenges or some such thing because you seriously have no idea what you'll be getting and at least one ingredient is usually something you've NEVER cooked with in your life. This week, beet will be my challenge. (I've only ever had Harvard beets and pickled beets, both delicious, but never from scratch.)

Week #2's "mystery ingredient" was bok choy. I've heard of it...knew it was used in some Chinese dishes...and that was it. So, I didn't get creative or reinvent the wheel. I threw some brown rice on the stove and looked up some recipes for stir-fry. Then, as per usual, I tweaked it. Hmm. Maybe that'll be my superhero name: Recipe Tweaker. I can see the leotard now.



Stir-Fry with Chicken and Bok Choy

- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. grated ginger (ours is local hydroponic; we keep it in the freezer and slice right off the frozen piece, no need to peel!)
- several tsp. olive oil (whatever oil you like; coconut would work well, too)
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks or slices
- 2 carrots, washed & chopped
- 1/2 - 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1 head bok choy, separated: leaves chopped, white part sliced or diced

Sauce :
- 1/4-1/2 c. soy sauce (we were low)
- 1/4 c. water
- 1-2 tsp. corn starch
- 1-2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- dash+ red pepper flakes

Mix together sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat up oil in a large skillet over medium to medium high and add garlic and ginger, cooking about 1 minute (watch it!). Add chicken and cook until no longer pink. Add carrots, pepper, and white parts of bok choy and cook until crisp-tender. Add bok choy leaves and cook until wilted. Add sauce and cook until thickened.

Serve over rice or noodles. Add another dash of red pepper flakes or soy sauce if you wish. Peanuts over top are yumm-o, too.

*Seriously, use whatever vegetables you have on hand. ALMOST anything will work.*

The verdict? Hadley's not a big stir-fry person, but Dave and I liked it. I might have liked it more (like, REALLY liked it), but he's super polite. I didn't notice a hugely overpowering flavor, especially considering how much bok choy was in the dish, but a mild flavor. Will definitely make again, now that I know what to do with the thing.

Now, on to the beets. I'm envisioning reddish purple hands.

What about you guys? Try any new foods lately? Have any suggestions for a beet recipe the little man will actually tolerate? (I have some pickled beets in the cabinet I may try on him, just to see how he feels. He loves sour stuff, usually.) 

Driving

The first time I tried driving, my mother took me to the same spots she had taken my three siblings. We started in our church parking lot, which went quite well. She was so confident in my ability that she let me hit the mean streets of Mohawk. Everything was going fine until it started raining, hard, at which point I fiddled switches until I had my lights and wipers going. By the time we got home, we were getting angry beeps and shouts. My high-beams were on. (In retrospect, I've seen people do this and while people might get irritated, it seems like all these people were having a REALLY bad day, excessively freaking out.)

My mother was at the end of her rope. It wasn't a huge deal, but she angrily slammed the door and muttered throughout the kitchen that she "couldn't do this one more time; three was enough." I understood. She had already diligently taught my brothers and sister how to drive; her wits were shot. But, it still saddened me. 

But, then appeared a beacon. My normally quiet stepfather chimed in. "I can teach her to drive. I'm sure she'll do great." 

It was the first time that I found myself excited to spend time with him. For the previous two years, I had made life for Jerry a veritable hell under our roof. He was one of the kindest people I had ever met, yet the simple idea of him and his entrance into our family, I took like an immature brat. There was a lot of hurt in my heart and I thrust it all upon him in heaps of the silence treatment and corrections (I've always been the grammar police, but his intelligence has always been of a technical/mechanical ilk; thus, I attacked). 

So, we hit the road a few times. 

That summer, I signed up for driver's ed classes. The instructor had warned us not to do "too many lessons" since he'd have to fix incorrect driving methods. Unfortunately, I was stuck with a different fellow and had next to no skills aside from the occasional drive. He took to taunting me in other classes (a friend relayed to me) and cut my confidence down. Far. I learned next to nothing from the man but to fear driving and hold the wheel. I improved, much to his chagrin, but only from Jerry's efforts.

The only bright spot that summer were the rides I took with Jerry. Getting behind the wheel with him was a joy rather than a lesson in humility. We would listen to the oldies station (which we both enjoyed) and he would simply tell me to drive. He would sometimes lean back in the seat and pretend to take a nap; he was actually quite awake, keeping an eye on me, but silently reminding me that he trusted my driving. I only got us lost once, and he immediately knew what strange back road I had happened upon, getting us back on track without a single scold. We would often end up at a local ice cream joint before heading home. 

Any time we had an errand to run, I drove, learning how to park in the busiest of situations. He took me a couple of times to try 3-point and parallel parking; with him, it was easy and simple compared to the high-stress situation at summer school. When I suddenly returned knowing how to park, the instructor was palpably frustrated. It felt great.

I "passed" my class, but continued driving with Jerry. He brought me to my driving test and happened to know the gentleman overseeing the thing; distracted, the man signed off on my sheet before I had clicked my buckle. Luckily, I did fine (well, my parallel park was kind of crappy; I've since mastered it) and earned my license.

That winter, as a good-sized squall started outside, he called out to my mother that we needed to go pick up some ice cream. Why on Earth he wanted to get ice cream was beyond me, especially with an impending blizzard, but I went. He hopped in the driver's seat. After driving a block, he pulled over and told me to get out. We switched seats and headed to the next town, back tires shifting and sliding in the building slush. On the way home, the snow had become white-out conditions. I was at the front of a row of drivers, but he kept me calm. He explained that I should follow the ruts of the driver before me and how braking is an entirely different beast in the snow. Every time I'm caught in snow (which, in Central New York, is about half the year), I remember that experience. 

I have since learned countless other lessons from this man. He couldn't wait for me to get my first house and help me fix it up; turns out, he also ended up teaching my husband (who has been such an eager learner, I couldn't be prouder) about plumbing, electrical, and hundreds of other home improvement things. Now that Jerry's older, we find ourselves sad to think that he won't be as hands-on with any future home we finally hunt down.

But, beyond those practical lessons, he has become a guide. Time changes minds and hearts, and through his quietness, occasional common sense opinions, and dry but hilarious sense of humor, he has made himself an essential cog in our family. There was a time that I insisted that any child of mine wouldn't call him "Grandpa", but today I welcome the name (although Hadley actually refers to him as "Papa", which is just fine). There was a time I wanted Mom or maybe my dear grandfather to walk me down the aisle; on the special day, I instead asked Mom and Jerry, both, to be at my side. 

There was also a time that I could picture him outlasting all of us, with a youthful energy and endurance to undertake more puttering and heavy-duty outdoor tasks in a day than a man a quarter of his age. Unfortunately, while he's still as virile as any of us, he has been forced to slow down by some health complications. We are reminded that we will not always have our practical guide to turn to, and it brings me tears to think we'll lose another father. When I hear people younger than him complain about getting older and "not being around forever", I find myself angered that they don't do more with their youth while they have it. Jerry is no self-pitier, nor should anyone be.

So, with Father's Day upon us, I hope this year to salute not only the father of my children, whom I am grateful for on a daily basis, and all the fatherly figures who have touched our lives and hearts in so many ways, but specifically Jerry, who gets little credit for the huge job he has happily taken on. For those fathers who may not be related by blood, but have quietly fought their ways into our rude little hearts. For those fathers who had a choice, and regardless of the mountainous task ahead, took that choice to be someone's father and to fill the role.

And for teaching me how to check my oil, I thank him. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Our Summer Vacation - Where and Why

So, it took us awhile to land on a vacation option that the whole family could enjoy. We were originally discussing one option, but the more I researched, the more our minds changed. Today, I'm here to share our thought process...and, of course, where we'll be going!

Our goals were to take a few days to enjoy being a family in a fun, relaxed setting. (The "relaxed" part is relative; it's more that we'd take a slow pace.) If it could be a relatively short drive (like, 4-5 hours or less), all the better. We didn't want to try to fit a million things in and overbook, which we learned about last year (we did well, I think, but I did fit a lot in and still missed some stuff! Here's one post and a second recapping our 2014 summer trip.)

We originally considered another trip to Mass., as well as other New England trips (namely, Maine). The more that I looked and realized a) the travel time would be nuts, and b) most of the stuff we'd be doing could be done locally, we turned our attention elsewhere: Pennsylvania.

My MIL had suggested Sesame Place to us awhile back and we put it in the back of our brains...way back. Hadley's not a HUGE Sesame Street fan, but he'll watch it if it's on and we've also raised him watching the OLD episodes, so he knows Bob, Maria, David, etc just as well as he knows Abby, Elmo and Zoe. Then, his grandparents took him to see Sesame Street Live locally and meet Elmo, and he had a great time. After deciding to shift from the Maine trip, I started looking at the website and realized that he's the PERFECT age to visit.


Here are our reasons for making a completely kidcentric vacation choice:

- The place is PERFECT for a three-year-old. He's never been on rides and has a major aversion to getting his face wet, but the rides here seem like he can handle them and will probably love them, and the variety of water areas (gentle, wild, etc) are great to test out his fears. (He loves splashing and playing in water, so there's a splash pad area that he should love no matter what.)

- It's a special time, being pregnant and knowing that it's our last summer with an only child. Yes, I have dubbed it "The Summer of Hadley" and I am totally cool with that.

- It's not too far away. Bam.

- There are options to use local hotels that are family friendly and have a shuttle to get to the joint; the fact that we're going for an extended weekend and won't have to pay for parking (since there are tons of extra costs with this option) adds up. ***Since I'm preggers, I may be able to get half off my ticket when I get there since I can only do a few of the rides and the gentle water areas; fingers crossed!***
 
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I usually try to fit in some history, a fun kiddo activity (usually museum-based), animals, and so forth into a vacation. This summer, however, we've got this all covered with the other cheaper activities we have planned throughout the season.

Stay tuned for a blog post about how we'll be hitting all these marks, and inexpensively

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

CSA Week #2

Last week, I talked about our first CSA box. In some ways, it was a success; in other ways, we dropped the ball. It was an awesome learning experience.

Since it's so early in the season, most of our take involved lettuces. We didn't tend to and prep the produce quickly enough, so some of it went bad. I put the chives and lovage into some water, but the lovage turned quickly and I wasn't able to use it. Lesson #1: Fresh produce goes rotten quicker than even the fresh grocery store produce. I kind of knew it already, but naively lost track of time.

It doesn't mean that we didn't use lots of the lettuce, the chives, radishes (still looking for some more recipes for those), green onions and Swiss chard.

So, I thought I'd share a recipe that came out pretty darn well. I based it on this recipe, but made slight variations.


Sauteed Swiss Chard with Parmesan and Lemon

2 Tbsp. bacon drippings
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard (separate ribs/stems and chop; chop leaves separately)
splash white wine
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. grated parmesan (or more)
salt to taste (optional)

Heat bacon drippings and butter in saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook about one minute. Add chard's ribs/stems and white wine; cook about 5 minutes. Add rest of leaves and cook until wilted. Add lemon juice and sprinkle with parmesan.

Would be great with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes or crumbled bacon. 



This week's box includes: more salad (not nearly as much), including "head lettuce", frisee, arugula, and spinach; broccoli, broccoli raab, salad turnips, bok choi, and spearmint.

Things are getting interesting now! The ones I'm most excited about figuring out will be bok choi (I assume I'll be making stir-fry at some point), salad turnips and spearmint.

I was lucky enough to get a list of the week's take before heading to the grocery store tonight, so my meal plan includes a beef gyro type thing. I'm hoping the tzatziki I make will be improved by the mint. Plus, I'd like to try fresh mint tea. *fingers crossed*

I had never heard of salad turnips before, either, but have found that they can be eaten raw and are on the sweet side. So, we'll be using them in salads, and I may finally make some homemade hummus to try dippin'.

Now, to use up these radishes... 

Friday, June 5, 2015

First CSA - "Lovage" It

As a sick little boy slumbered for his nap upstairs, I anxiously awaited Dave with the arrival of our first CSA share. What would that little box contain? The farm had sent an email stating the bounty of seedlings they had recently planted, but given the recent cold snaps in the weather, I was doubtful we'd have much to show for it this first week.

Winston was immediately interested in the overflowing, larger-than-expected waxy box. Of course, it smelled like "outside"; his favorite smell. (He loves us when we spend the day outside doing yard work and gets upset when we shower. Strange to us, normal to him.)

The first time through this box was a little of an emotional rollercoaster for this pregnant lady. I noticed a few flower buds and grew excited, "Flowers?? Or, no...wait!" Yup, I knew what it was: chives. They were bundled with a small handful of an unfamiliar herb. It looked like parsley with huge leaves, but upon smelling I knew it couldn't be. Celery? What herb smells like celery?


Upon further inspection, we found lettuce of all sorts, which admittedly sank my heart a bit. This pregnancy, I have had zero appetite for salads (or much of anything that's super healthy, honestly), so I thought, "Dave'll be having lots and lots of salads...or I'd better find an awesome new dressing or vinaigrette recipe to make them palatable." Keeping positive, this is my plan.



Aside from the overabundance of salad greens, we got 5-6 potatoes, a bunch of radishes, some scallions, and some Swiss chard (another "never cooked with that" item). Overall, I'm super happy with the take, and was surprised at just how much we got, all things considered.

So, this week I'll be on the lookout for a recipe that the family will actually endure for Swiss chard and a dressing that will help ME endure all the salad in our futures (I had a warm bacon one years ago that I may need to revisit).

As far as the "mystery herb" is concerned, I've already done my research (Mother Earth News gave the best information). Raise your hand if you've ever heard of "lovage". Needless to say, I never had before. It was apparently a very popular herb, up there with parsley and dill, until just a few generations ago. Funny how an ingredient can be well-known for literally centuries only to lose popularity and become practically unknown in modernity. It definitely says something for the narrowing of our collective taste buds. Hmph.


So, anyway, the facts. Lovage has traditionally had both culinary and medicinal uses, dating back to...well, nobody knows where or when specifically it first originated, but it's said that the Romans first brought it to England, where it was grown at medieval monasteries. (It could very well have started its life in Asia, for all we know.) It was used to treat rheumatism, and was even brought by the American colonists to consume in tea form in order to ward off the inevitable aches and pains of the New World.

Smelling strongly of celery, it can actually be used any place that celery generally is. However, it is much stronger in flavor, so should be about halved. (Note to self.)

That said, we're keeping it, along with the chives and their pretty buds, in a bit of water until I can track down some more ingredients. If it's not too warm over the weekend, a chicken soup would take care of it nicely, as would stuffing (in June? Really, Dellecese?). The leaves also add a bit of celery flavor to salads, so I may have to remember to use them when we're making our inevitable salads feasts.

Grumble.

Any suggestions for making a food (salads, in general) that has seemed completely disgusting and inedible to a pregnant lady more appetizing? I've eaten maaaaaybe one a week. Tops. And it hasn't been fun. (My husband, who could absolutely live on them, looks at me strangely and, I'm guessing, doesn't get it.)

I'm thinking BLTs (I don't eat tomatoes, but I'm down with this...maybe with avocado, yay healthy fat!), using it as a lettuce wrap (Had may be down for this...not sure it'll help me at all), or just shoot the moon and do taco dip piled high with lettuce. Maybe. Any other ideas??