Thursday, April 26, 2012

Farm Box: April 18, 2012

River Dog Farm Box: April 18, 2012

This weeks' box had:

Asparagus -- A huge bunch, some fairly fat, other stalks pencil-thin.
Beets -- Teeny tiny red ones with super-vibrant greens
Spring Onions -- Basically, an XL version of the green onions you get at the grocery store
Braising Greens
Bok Choi -- I have to admit, I am not a huge bok choi fan. I don't hate it, but it's also not a go-to green for me. We will gladly eat several bunches of kale in a week, but bok choi has a tendency to yellow and wither before I get around to using it.
Bunch of orange carrots
A few loose yellow carrots
golden turnips

And here's what we made with it. Farm box ingredients are in bold.

Nicoise Salad (sorry for the awful cell phone pic!)
Wednesday -- Sort-of-Nicoise salad. Mixed salad greens from the farmer's market, topped with seared ahi tuna, hard boiled eggs, olives, steamed asparagus (green beans are traditional in a nicoise salad, but asparagus is what we had), and boiled potatoes. The dressing was a generous amount of dijon mustard, olive oil, a touch of white wine vinegar, green garlic, and salt/pepper.

Thursday -- Salad again, this time topping the greens with steamed asparagus, olives, and poached eggs. I had a late soccer game, and needed something super-quick. Poached eggs are often my go-to in this situation, since you can make them in 5-minutes flat and they seem much fancier than they are.

Friday -- Soba noodles with sesame sauce. I stir-fried some chicken marinated in soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and rice vinegar. Steamed some bok choi, spinach, and carrots. Boiled soba noodles. All tossed together with a sauce made of tahini, rice vinegar, soy sauce, green garlic, and sesame oil based on a recipe from Mark Bittman. garnished with a generous handful of chopped cilantro and thinly sliced spring onions.

Saturday -- Hamburgers on the grill, with grilled asparagus, carrots, and radicchio (an impulse purchase at Whole Foods). After the carrots came off the grill, I tossed them with cilantro, lime juice, and salt.

Sunday -- Chicken and Rice. This is one of our go-to meals, because you can make it in endless variations. This version used green garlic, spinach, bok choi, spring onions, and some braising greens. The sauce used green garlic, shallots, whole-grain mustard, capers, white wine, veggie broth, butter, and a bit of flour to thicken it.

Monday -- We had baked sausages, potatoes, and broccoli for dinner. Didn't use a thing from the farm box because Josh was really in the mood for broccoli and so he bought a bag from Trader Joes.

Tuesday --Roasted Veggie salad. Mixed greens from the farmer's market with a mustard-spring onion dressing. Topped with roasted beets, turnips, carrots, and garlic, blue cheese crumbles, and a couple poached eggs.

So, at the end of the week, we still have: half a bunch of cilantro, the beet greens, half a bunch of carrots, half a bag of braising greens, and one head of bok choi, Hmm . . . we didn't do so well on using up everything this week. Tonight's dinner, whatever it is, needs to use lots and lots of greens :-)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sea Kayaking: Alaska, Day 1

In honor of National Parks Week (and Earth Day), I'm finally getting around to posting about our big trip to Alaska last summer. We spent 2.5 weeks up there at the end of August and the beginning of September, doing a kayaking trip in Kenai Fjords National Park and a backpacking trip in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

Morning sky over Resurrection Bay
We started our trip with 4 days of sea-kayaking in Kenai Fjords National Park. The Kenai Fjords lie at the edge of the Kenai Peninsula, about a three hour drive south of Anchorage, and the big draw there is the glaciers -- more than 40 flow from the massive Harding Ice Field down toward the ocean. You can drive to and hike around some of the glaciers, like Exit Glacier, but the best way to see this park is to get out on the water. Most trips start from Seward, and go out through Resurrection Bay and into the smaller bays and lagoons nearby, including Aialik Bay, Cataract Cove, and Northwestern Lagoon.

Unless you're a very experienced sea kayaker, you can't rent kayaks to do your own trip. We went with an outfitter, Kayak Adventures Worldwide, and it was absolutely the right move -- the conditions in the fjords can be unpredictable and even dangerous, and it was reassuring to be with folks who knew the area inside and out. We had two guides on our trip: Dave, the company owner, and Jamie, an experienced guide he was training to lead this particular trip. Both were warm, enthusiastic, and super-knowledgeable.This company works hard to be environmentally aware, and to educate as well as lead fun trips. The night before our trip, we had an orientation meeting, in which we talked about gear and safety, got set with PFDs (hardcore life jackets), spray skirts, etc, and chatted with the guides about what we hoped to see (me: Orcas, Orcas, and did I mention orcas?! Someone went to Sea World a few times too many as an impressionable kid :-)

Aialik Glacier. Notice the bits of ice floating in the bay.
 J. had done a trip with KAW a few years ago, to Aialik Bay.  This time, we went to Northwestern Lagoon, which is farther out in the Fjords. Josh thought both trips were wonderful, but I'm glad we went to Northwestern. Since Aialik is a shorter boat trip from Seward, it's where  most kayaking and tour boat trips go. Crowded isn't quite the right word, but you're certainly not alone . Northwestern, on the other hand, is spectacularly isolated. We were out for four days and didn't see another kayaker.

View from the water taxi, heading into Cataract Cove
Our trip began with a water taxi ride out to Northwestern lagoon. Getting out to the lagoon took about 4 hours o, but that was with stops to look at wildlife (Humpbacks! Puffins! Otters!) and drop off other kayakers in a different location.The boat captain knew so much about the area, and was sure to point out all the sights. We even slowed down at one point to allow Dall's Porpoises to frolic in the wake of the boat, while we laid flat out on the ramp at the back of the boat, mere inches from where they surfaced out of the the water. Dall's Porpoises are a type of porpoise that looks a lot like a miniature orca, and apparently they love playing around slow-moving boats. Unfortunately, the little guys moved so fast I wasn't able to get a good picture of them.

Kayaks pulled up on the beach in Northwestern Lagoon
The water taxi dropped us off at a beach where we would camp for the first two nights of our trip. In the shadow of several glaciers, our camp was stunningly beautiful.  Perhaps the most gorgeous place I've ever camped, though there are some places in the high Sierra that give this site a run for it's money.

Campsite on Northwestern Lagoon
All night, we could hear the crack and thunder of glaciers giving way and tumbling down toward the water. Usually, by the time we looked, we couldn't even see the slide that had made the sound, though. Out in the bay, seals glided by, occasionally popping their heads up to check us out. We called them the spy seals, and as soon as we spotted them, they'd quickly slip back under the water.

Walking across moraine to the foot of a glacier.
  On the first afternoon, after being dropped off by the water taxi, we did a short paddle out to the end of the lagoon, where we could hike to the foot of a glacier. For those of you not up on the geology, a glacier forms when the melting of snow and ice (called ablation) is less than the accumulation over a long period of time (centuries, even). Glaciers are made up of densely impacted ice, which gives them their often turquoise color -- that's the only spectrum of light that can get through the ice.

 Glaciers are not stationary objects. They move, due to the slope of the surface and the pressure of snow and ice above. Sometimes from a distance a glacier will look almost like a river -- you can actually see the pattern of the flow. In addition, glaciers retreat over time, or grow smaller, a process that is rapidly accelerating in the modern world, thanks to global warming. As glaciers move, they pick up gravel and huge boulders from the earth beneath them. This gravel is left in the wake of glaciers as they retreat, in the form a moraine -- gravel and boulders. That's what we're walking across in the photo above.

Nose of the glacier, up close
Although from a distance it had looked like the edge of the ice came right down to the moraine, once we were close, we could see that it was, instead, a high cliff.  Notice the hiker to the left side of the frame, for scale.
After our short exploration, we came back to camp, made dinner, and had a relaxing first evening. This was the view from our first campsite at twilight. Even in late August, and fairly far south in Alaska, darkness comes late, and twilight seems to linger forever.This picture was taken at probably10:30pm.

 The following day, we paddled out into the lagoon and got up close and personal with some calving glaciers. More on that soon!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Farm Box: 4/11/12

This week's box had:

Fennel  I love fresh fennel. The subtle anise taste is just lovely in so many dishes, and it pairs perfectly with leeks.

Asparagus. Nice fat stalks -- perfect for grilling!

Tangerines. I love that we get citrus fruit in the box all winter, but honestly, I'm always getting tired of it by this point in the year. Bring on the strawberries!

Green Garlic. I love green garlic, but whew! It makes my car REEK just in the 5 minutes it takes me to get it home from our farm box pick-up location. 

Leeks. These were ridiculously huge leeks, bigger around than my wrist.  Too big, actually. I think they're better when they're smaller and more tender.

Carrots. Tried something new with the carrots this week -- grilling. I peeled them, and cut the ends off, then rubbed them with a bit of olive oil and salt. Grilled for 15-20 minutes, then tossed with lemon juice and a bit of chopped up fennel fronds. SO good!

Savoy Spinach. 

Lettuce. This lettuce was delicious -- so sweet!  It made for wonderful side salads for lunch most of last week. 

We're starting to get into the real spring crops now, which I always look forward to. I can't wait for the English peas, which are my all-time favorite!  And here's what we did with all this lovely produce:

Wednesday: Baked sausages and potatoes, with our homemade sauerkraut, made from cabbages we got in early winter farm boxes. Since it takes a few weeks to ferment, we make big batches all at once -- 10 or more lbs of cabbage, and then it keeps forever in the fridge.

Thursday: Ate a burrito on my way home from my whitewater kayak rolling class.Not exactly healthy or useful for using up farm box stuff, but it was 9:30 at night and I was starving!

Friday: Ate out at our favorite neighborhood place, Sidebar. If you're in the Oakland area, go there! We usually sit at the bar and share a huge bowl of mussels, a chopped salad, and a couple glasses of wine. They also make a stunningly good burger, with house-made pickled cukes and onions.

Saturday: Grilled tri-tip, with grilled asparagus (made with the same recipe I posted last week), grilled carrots, and potatoes. For the potatoes, I cut them into large chunks, then boil them till they're just starting to get tender. Then, I toss with chili powder, harissa, olive oil, and salt and we finish them on the grill.If you don't pre-cook them, they take forever on the grill!

Sunday: Spring green risotto. Made with shitake mushrooms from the farmer's market, fennel, leeks, and spinach. I meant to add green garlic, too, but I forgot. Usually, we use our homemade chicken stock for risotto. This time, we were out, so I used mushroom flavored Better than Bullion. I can't recommend that particular flavor, though -- it's SO salty.

Monday: Meatloaf patties made with leftover tri-tip whirred in the food processor with bread crumbs and a bunch of other stuff that I don't know -- J. made them! On the side -- mashed potatoes and our homemade sauerkraut, again.

Tuesday: Fried rice. I had a bunch of odds-and-ends I wanted to use up, and fried rice is a really good way to do that. This version had leeks, green garlic, spinach, leftover baked tofu, and carrots.

We did good on the farm box this week -- all that carried over was a stalk of green garlic.  Much better than we did all winter, when I really struggled to use up winter squash, turnips, and parsnips!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Farm Box: April 4, 2012

Trying to get back to doing regular farm box updates. We've been doing the CSA for almost 16 months now, and it's been a huge success, for the most part (although almost all of our winter squashes moulded before we could use them).

Here's what was in this week's box, along with my plans for using it up:

Mixed Tangerines / mandarins. I cannot get enough of the Murcott tangerines -- that's the little shiny one on top of the stack. They're teeny tiny -- I can fit 2 or three of them in the palm of my hand easily -- and SO sweet. Almost like candy. Abundant citrus is one of the things I love about living in California. This week there were just a couple murcotts. I think the rest are another variety.

Green Onions.  These will end up used here and there throughout the week -- in scrambled eggs, sauces, as garnish for soups and baked potatoes, etc.

Parsley -- Planning to make Chimichurri sauce tonight, since I have cilantro left over from last week's box. We'll eat it on simple grilled chicken, served with wheatberries and grilled asparagus.

Carrots -- Our farm has the BEST carrots! This will probably become either carrot-miso soup, using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen or Carrot-Miso-Ginger salad dressing, like you get at Japanese restaurants. I absolutely ADORED that stuff as a kid, when we went to the local Benihana-type Japanese steakhouse for special occasions. It's perfect on light greens, like butter lettuce, and I also really like it on chicken. And, if I'm being honest, I'll also happily eat it right out of the bowl with a spoon :-)

Asparagus -- Last week's asparagus became today's lunch. I tossed it with olive oil and salt, roasted it at 400 for maybe 30 minutes to cook it. Then, served it on toast for lunch --  rub toast with a cut clove of garlic, lay the asparagus on top, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some cheese (Trader Joe's Cheddar-Asiago in this case, but Parm or goat cheese would also work well).

This week, we'll do it on the grill, following this recipe.  I am NOT a mayonnaise fan, but the mayo mostly cooks off on the grill, leaving behind a tangy, smoky flavor. You do need to make sure you use smoked paprika and not the normal stuff, which is sort of blah. I find smoked paprika in little metal tins in the spice aisle at Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl. The brand is Chiqulin. It's actually cheaper in local stores than at that link, though. More like 2.99 or so.  We don't bother to peel the asparagus, just cut off the tough ends. Farm fresh asparagus usually isn't tough enough to bother.

I don't get as excited about asparagus as lots of folks do, but these two recipes keep me pretty happy. We also often use it in risotto (cut into small pieces and toss it in at the very end so it stays semi-crisp and bright green)

Mei Qing Choi. This is basically baby bok choi. Good stir-fried with oyster sauce, although I'll confess that this is not my favorite green. It often goes a bit yellow before we get around to eating it.

Leeks. I recently learned that you can freeze leeks, which has changed my cooking world. I just pre-slice and wash them, then spin them dry in the salad spinner. Toss 'em in a big ziploc and lay them flat to freeze. Then, you can just grab a handful whenever you need, without all the fuss. We got a LOT of leeks this winter, so I was getting really behind on using them up until I learned this trick!  Also, one of this week's leeks is literally as big around as my wrist!

Honestly, I thought this week's farm box was a bit light, compared to what we usually get. And I was sad there wasn't spinach or other cooking greens, since we can easily go through three bunches of those a week.