Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rattle them pots and pans

A week or two ago, I discovered that the James Beard Foundation now gives an award for the best culinary web site. So I spent a little time poking around Leite's Culinaria, until I found a recipe for grilled asparagus with crab mayonnaise.

I immediately sent Alison an email, titled "What we're having for dinner as soon as possible."

And then our community supported agriculture folks were nice enough to deliver us a pound of asparagus Saturday morning. There's a moral imperative if I ever saw one. Even if it was raining too much to really grill, and I had to use the grill pan on the stove... that was still some fine eating.

CSA helps me get through this crappy cold wet spring, which only hints at becoming summer to toy with my affections. Summer has to come, because somewhere out there is tender asparagus, a rhubarb pie, a tomato worthy of its name, a peck of strawberries which holds all summer in its scent. And 3 months of free-range chickens to fry or roast or fry or grill or stew or fry. Or maybe I'll try frying one.

The community supported agriculture concept is relatively simple: you send a farmer a check in early spring, and from late spring to early fall, you get a share of whatever they harvest. If they get rained out, you get a call that says "don't come to pickup this week." If there's a bumper crop, you take home a glorious horde of greens or potatoes or berries.

I can bend your ear about how that's great for sustainable farming. CSA costs us almost exactly the same as grocery produce over 3 months, but we know more goes to the farmers. I can tell you how, if you really want to do something about gas prices, you should try eating things which haven't been on a truck for two days.

I can also tell you how it patches me in to the natural world. I used to like the summer heat because I like it hot. Now I know hot summers mean good tomatoes. (And a warm fall might mean an extra week or two of harvest.) When it rains too much or too little, I worry about the folks at Princeton Valley Farm.

Those things make me feel superior, but CSA is really all about hedonism. It's about discovering when food is at its best, and enjoying it to the hilt at the right time. I've put up with too many weak slices of mushy "tomato." I had quite literally forgotten that strawberries are not just those sweet fibrous giants which caterers put on fruit trays. I don't think I ever knew that a chicken should not "taste like chicken." Princeton Valley Farm reminds me that a little corner of the world can be too big (and move too fast) even for all of Kroger's 16-wheelers.

How can I reconcile this with 3 California lemons and a pound of crab packed in North Carolina and caught God knows where? I guess I can't, except to say that those are things which travel well and don't occur naturally in Ohio. (Why humans settled this poor seafoodless land remains a mystery to me, but that's for the anthropologists to explain.) All I can say is, it's about picking your battles. Eat local what you can, and spice and flavor with the exotics.

So live a little. See if you can get better food for the same money (and a better world while you're at it). Find a CSA farm that's near you.

Next week on Eating With Joe: the hunt for the farmer's market that opens at noon, instead of closing then. I know farmers rise with the sun, but people who stay up all night cooking and eating and drinking don't!

Grilled asparagus with crab mayonnaise is from Douglas Rodriguez's Latin Flavors on the Grill, which I have not read. The ingredients are, well, grilled asparagus, and a mix of approximately equal parts mayo and crab, with lemon juice and zest, adobo sauce, finely diced red onion and jalapenos, and cilantro. This is what crab salad dreams it could be. (Except just a little looser than crab salad usually is.)

The recipe says it serves 6 to 8 people, as an appetizer or side dish. But why have small dreams? I say a half recipe is a very dignified main course for two. The mix also goes nicely on a bed of lettuce for a light lunch.

10 Comments:

Blogger tommyspoon said...

Honestly, I've been thinking about doing this for years. But one thing keeps holding me back: the amount you receive may be too much to handle (even for two people). How much do you get for your share, Joe? Can you quantify it for me?

7:02 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

I imagine, given E's veggie-ness, y'all would do OK. However, we have had some more carnivorous friends who had trouble keeping up with the produce. Speaking from this end of the kitchen, the only thing we routinely get more of than we can handle is potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes. Occasionally lettuce will go bad on us, but that's largely our own doing (I shove it in the crisper and forget about it or something).

As far as quantifying? You get a bit less early in the season and late, more in the middle, but it roughly averages out to 2 grocery bags or so per week, unless sweet corn is in season. That takes up 2 bags on its own.

10:54 AM, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous MCMC said...

Mmmmmm.... Sweet corn.....

2:55 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

Double the quantities - I'll be there in five hours - less if you promise to use real seafood.

3:09 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Lemming,

This is just to say
We have eaten
the asparagus
which was in the icebox

and so
it's not worth it
for you to drive
five hours

Unless we get more Saturday

Forgive me
it was delicious
so green
and covered in crab

(which of course is real, even if it's processed and shipped in. Should a bushel of live blue crabs make it this far inland, you're on the speed dial.)

8:28 PM, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous swankette said...

I have been trying to figure out how to make this work for our household. Given Sweetie's food allergies, a standard share plan won't work, as we're likely to get lots of things that can't be used. There are local ones where you can pick what you want each week, but then you lose out on the adventure side of it.

9:18 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

What a lovely, lovely homage to WCW, Joe.

12:20 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Thanks, TRP.

Tom - one of the things Alison didn't mention is that much of what we get is suitable for pickling or canning. And while canning makes people nervous, anybody can make a refrigerator pickle. (I'm already planning for a batch of pickled green beans with dill and garlic.)

Matt - Back in Maryland, sweet corn tastes mostly of sugar. In Ohio, "sweet" corn tastes like, well, corn. It's very, very, very good... but is that right?

Swankette - our plan gives us an expected harvest list at the beginning of the year. We X out things we don't want and circle anything we want more of. I don't know how well that'll work for you, but it's an option to look for.

8:35 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

joe - you rae a cruel and sadistic tease, even if you do write good satire.

(faints into a languid pool of wretchedness)

The only cure for my culinary misery is an immidiate portion of said repaste. You have five hours (OK, maybe six, I do have papers to grade) in which to whip up another batch.

2:32 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Mick said...

Mmmmm. I will have to try that. Sorry to gloat, but I might have to ride my bike down to the dock and get some #1 jimmies to pick, and pick some extra for the asparagus (one of the local organic farms, Butterpot Farms, has great asparagus but you have to beat the chefs who like to buy it all).

We blonged to a CSA group for the last two years, but this summer Nancy will be traveling so much it wasn't worth it. Fortunately the same farm sells at the Farmer's Market so we can still get the food when we are in town.

Tom, it's worth it. You wil have to find ways to use so much veg, but with E around it shouldn't be hard. Just make sure they are growing a variety of things (one we joined a few years ago had more bitter greens and butternut squash than it is easy to eat). Jump on the bandwagon!

So, if y'all make it to Easton anytime this summer, shake off the hangover and get down to the market. If you need a place to stay we can always kick one of our many kids into a brother's room to free one up for the two of you!

8:09 AM, May 18, 2006  

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