Monday, June 27, 2011

Greens for Breakfast

The second share is nearly as heavy on the leafy greens as the first was, but this one includes fewer salad fixings and more substantial greens that can withstand some light cooking. The share includes leaf lettuce, kale, mizuna, pac choi, braising mix, green onions, kohlrabi or beets, broccoli (it's tiny - see why here), radishes, sorrel, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs.

The two new things that are most likely to raise questions are the pac choi and the braising mix. I will add them to the Who's Who post ASAP (Wednesday seems likely) but until then I will give you some ideas.

Baby Pac Choi
The pac choi (also spelled bok choy and various other ways) is a loosely headed Chinese cabbage with very fleshy stems. We grow a baby variety which is small when mature. Each head is about one third of the size of pac choi you might find at a grocery store. Also, we think this variety has a better flavor than most of what you find at the grocery store. While it is nice raw, pac choi is best cooked, as in this basic stir fry recipe.

The braising mix greens are also best cooked. In fact, braising mix is basically just a blend of greens that are meant to be cooked, rather than added to a salad. They can contain any number of different types of greens, but ours (at least this week) includes: mustard, purple orach, dandelion, senposai, beet greens, chard, and arugula. You might have noticed that a few of these greens showed up last week as salad greens. They are a week bigger (and tougher) now, so we are recommending that you cook them.

Purple Orach

You might also have noticed that some of the braising mix greens have really crazy names. Purple orach? Senposai? Don't worry, I'll try to explain everything when I update the Who's Who post. For now just know that purple orach is a spinach relative and senposai is another type of Chinese cabbage.

You have limitless options as far as using your braising mix. You can stir fry them as suggested above for the pac choi. You can also braise them (as their name suggests) by following a recipe such as this. Yum.

Or, you can eat them for breakfast.

Cheesy Grits and Greens

This is standard breakfast fare at our house, especially this time of year when our fridge is constantly full of greens too ugly to sell but too edible to throw into the compost pile. It is loosely based on a common Italian dish of polenta topped with braised greens. This is the speedy morning version. It also makes a great lunch or side dish at dinner. The cheese is actually optional, but it's in the name I made up for the recipe, so you might as well use it.

  • Four cups water, divided
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt
  • One cup corn meal
  • Two ounces grated cheese of your choosing (cheddar and parmesan are both good)
  • Braising greens, chopped roughly - as much as you like
  • Butter (optional)
  1. Pour three cups of water into a medium saucepan. Add the salt. Bring to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, combine the cornmeal and the remaining cup of water.
  3. When the water is boiling, whisk the cornmeal "slurry" into the boiling water until you see no lumps. Reduce the heat to medium.
  4. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the grits are soft, about ten minutes. Turn the heat to low.
  5. Stir in the grated cheese and chopped greens. You can use just a handful of greens, a half pound, or more. It really just depends on your taste.
  6. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and the greens are wilted.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in butter if you choose. Sometimes, when we are feeling especially health conscious, we stir in flax seed oil rather than butter.

Successes and Failures So Far

The week two share includes leaf lettuce, broccoli, green onions, kohlrabi or beets, mizuna, kale, sorrel, pac choi, radishes, braising mix, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. It looks like members will be enjoying fewer salads and more stir fries than they did last week.

Now that we are in the second week of things, I've decided it is time to share some successes and failures of the 2011 growing season thus far.

When I told Scott that I was going to write this post he said "You don't think we should try to convince the members we're infallible?" We've known CSA farmers who tried to go that route, to never let their members see their failings. Man were they stressed out.

Farming is unpredictable, ever changing, and involves a lot of trial and error. It's pretty much like the rest of life but with conniving deer that occasionally stop by to eat one single bite out of 47 heads of lettuce.

So, before I get going on a post describing this week's share, here are a few photos of our best and worst.

Failure: Tiny Broccoli Heads
The picture at the top looks pretty good. This is the same head with my thumb included for scale. We've always started our own broccoli transplants, but generally we get them in the ground later in the season than we did this year. We thought we got a jump on things and we'd get nice big broccoli heads early (but not this early) in the season. Turns out we made our broccoli heads "button" or grow early and small by exposing them to cold temperatures after transplant. Lesson learned. Enjoy your mini broccoli everyone!

Success: Hoophouse Kohlrabi 
This year we are experimenting with various early crops. We want to expand our early season selection so that members have more than leaves (don't get me wrong though, we LOVE our leafy greens) to munch on this time of year. The hoophouse kohlrabi has been a whopping success. Plus, they're just so pretty!

Failure: Deer Attack!
Our perimeter was breached. Again. It happens every year but this time they are going a little too far. They took one bite out of about 1/4 of our tom thumb lettuce. Why not finish off a few instead of destroying several? Our conclusion: deer are gluttonous, or simply mean hearted.

Success: Radicchio in the making
As far as we can tell, deer don't like radicchio. Take that! Plus, we have many other varieties of head lettuce on the way so we should probably be optimistic and consider our deer attack to be a setback, rather than a total failure.

There are many many more of these I could share (so many green tomatoes in the hoophouse! not so many green peppers...) but I've got to get going on the share description. At least now you all know why your getting munchkin broccoli this week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Who's Who of CSA Greens

The following photo list of greens is a work in progress. I will start with the spring/early summer greens (makes sense, seeing as it is early summer) and add later season greens as they come ready for harvest.

I hope the pictures are attractive, but I've tried to resist the urge to select only the most perfect samples of each green to photograph. That's because the greens we harvest are never entirely perfect. They grew in a field outside, exposed to sun, rain, wind, and insects. They lived good lives and it shows.

I'm going to keep the list alphabetical, rather than seasonal because some greens span the entire growing season.

Hopefully this will help members answer questions such as: "Which one's mizuna again?" and "What was that weird spicy lettuce in my share last week?"

Arugula harvest starts in the spring, takes a break in the hot summer (assuming the summer actually gets hot) and resumes in the fall. The flavor of arugula is the most complex of all the greens we grow. It tastes, sweet, spicy, nutty, bitter, and musky (for lack of a better term) all at once. Arugula tastes slightly different with each cutting. We never know which flavor will shine the brightest, but it always tastes distinctively arugula-y. It is a wonderful salad green, though some people find its raw flavor an acquired taste. If you aren't into it raw, try it cooked (arugula quiche is very good) or tuck a few leaves into a sandwich and sort
of ease into it.

Beet Thinnings
These greens are the tops of immature beets. Beet seeds are unusual because each seed is actually a cluster of fruits that produces more than one plant. This means that no matter how thinly you plant your beets you are going to have to thin out some seedlings if you want the roots to be able to mature. The results of thinning all of those beets is a brimming bucket of tender beet greens. They are yummy as both a salad or cooked green, with the same earthy, slightly salty, flavor as chard (which is the same species as the beet). We like to include them in our braising mix.

Braising Mix
This blend of cooking greens varies depending on what is available at harvest time, and its flavor will vary accordingly. Recognize it as braising mix, rather than a salad blend, by the large, relatively tough, strong flavored leaves it contains. It might include any or all of the following greens: kale, chard, beet greens, mizuna, mustard, arugula, dandelion, purple orach, senposai, turnip greens, and probably some others I haven't thought of. It can be used in any recipe calling for cooked greens. If you are not sure what to do with it, try this: Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a large frying pan with a generous pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper, chop your greens roughly, stir the greens into the olive oil until they wilt, add half a cup water and 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, cover and simmer for about twenty minutes. Do that, and your greens are braised. You can eat it as is, cook it in a quiche, serve it over rice, or mound it on top of a grilled t-bone.

We grow rainbow chard. When full sized the leaves are large like kale. The baby leaf in the picture is from a batch of braising mix. Recognize chard by the shiny leaf, brightly colored stems, and earthy beet like flavor. Chard is actually the same plant as the beet, just bred for leaf rather than root growth. It is best cooked. It can be braised, sauteed, seared, or cooked however you see fit. In the fall we love to add strips of chard to creamy squash soup right at the end of cooking. Also, please don't discard your stems! Many recipes call for discarding the stems of chard but we find that chopping them up small and cooking them for a few minutes before adding the leaves adds color, crunch, and all around goodness to the finished dish.

This intensely bitter green looks exactly like the dandelion leaves that are growing in your yard, except that it has a dark red mid-rib. That being said, cultivated dandelion greens are not actually dandelion at all. This dandelion is a chicory. The one we grow is called Italiko Rosso Chicory, which I have to admit does sound much more gourmet than dandelion. This year we grew only a small patch of dandelion, for adding to our braising mix. We like its bitter bite and tender texture. For now, cook it up with the rest of the braising mix. Next year we might grow enough to include it as a salad green as well.

Sorry, I couldn't resist a bit of fanciness with the kale photo. One of the most striking things about kale is the silver cast it takes on under water. That's what you see in this picture. Kale harvest starts early and continues through the entire CSA season, though we don't necessarily harvest it every week. We grow a few different varieties of kale, some with purple stems, some with ruffled leaf margins. Though it might look different from week to week, kale is always recognizable as a large dark grey green relatively tough leaf. The flavor is of a slightly sweet and spicy (clove spice, not jalapeno spice) cabbage. It is best cooked, we like to chop it up and toss it into all sorts of dishes (spaghetti sauce, scrambled eggs, soup...) towards the end of cooking.

Head Lettuce
Lettuce prefers cool weather so it is generally an early and late season green. We are experimenting with several different varieties of head lettuce this year, along with our favorite leaf lettuces, to try to provide members with as many weeks of lettuce as possible. The one in this photo is called Tom Thumb, because of its small size. I imagine most of you will have no trouble recognizing the lettuce in your share, just keep in mind that it might look a little different from week to week.

Leaf Lettuce
This combination of two varieties of leaf lettuce (tango - the green, and merlot - the red) is our go to lettuce. It grows well for us, isn't unpredictable like head lettuce can be, stands up to all but the driest heat, and the deer don't covet it the way they do the head lettuce. You will see it more than once throughout the CSA season. Happy salad!

Mizuna grows quickly and holds well in the field all season long. When we cut it, it grows back for us. It is a mild green that is equally good cooked or raw. All of these things mean it is a CSA staple. Growers love it, but members have trouble remembering what it is called and figuring out what to do the it. If you are at a loss here is my suggestion: Chop the mizuna up small (half inch or so), boil some pasta in well salted water, heat a generous portion of good olive oil in a frying pan, add some minced garlic to the olive oil and stir till it's golden, coat the pasta with the garlic/oil then stir in the mizuna. Now that you have enjoyed your first mizuna meal, experiment from there. Remember, it's the spiky green.

Many of the greens we grow are mustards of one sort or another, but this one is the standard. Mustard grows quickly in the early season, then keeps on growing quickly until it flowers and its leaves become inedibly tough. We include it in our shares as long as it is tasty. Sweet, spicy (this time I mean like jalapenos) and delicate, mustard is good in salad and delicious cooked but it does cook down a lot. It is heavenly atop a grilled burger.

Purple Orach
It feels a little silly to call this intensely purple leaf a green, but I guess it would be even worse to call it a purple. Its flavor is slightly astringent, like strong spinach. It is, in fact, a relative of spinach that's often grown as a late season spinach "replacement" by gardeners who wish it was spinach season all year long (don't we all...). We're experimenting with orach this year, and only have a small trial patch so expect to see it in mixes such as the braising mix. It's tender enough to use as a salad green but, so far, we like its flavor best cooked. Please let us know how you like it. 

Baby Pac Choi
Pac choi (or bok choy) is probably the most familiar of the Asian greens we grow. We favor a baby variety called shuko, which is quite a bit smaller than most varieties of pac choi. It makes a delicious stir fry and is tender enough to enjoy raw. If you're not sure which one is the pac choi, look for paddle shaped leaves that are mostly fleshy stems. If its new to you, remember, this green is really all about the stems so don't discard any part of it.

Radicchio is impressively bitter. Its bitterness by far out bites the other bitter greens we grow. You may, then, wonder I would suggest that you add it to a salad. It's a matter of balance. A big bowl of plain radicchio is not all that appetizing, even to those of us who appreciate bitter. A simple salad of radicchio with a pinch of sea salt, a drizzling of good balsamic vinegar, and maybe some freshly grated pepper and Parmesan cheese is, on the other hand, appetizing to pretty much everyone who eats salad. It goes well in any salad that includes powerful flavors, such as blue cheese, berries, or sorrel. Radicchio is also often braised (see the braising mix above for the technique). Braised radicchio combined with garlic and Parmesan cheese is wonderful served over pasta.

Senposai is also an Asian mustard green. The varieties are truly endless. This one is mild and sturdy, but still tender. To me it is a cross between kale and pac choi. The leaves are large and look somewhat like kale, but they are tender like pac choi and don't have kale's strong cabbage flavor. This is the first year we have grown this particular green and so far we have included it in the braising mix - it is fantastic cooked - but it will likely show up as a bunched green as well later in the season. Use it in a stir fry or a salad. It will serve you well cooked or raw.

This is probably the most uncommon green we grow, which is surprising because it is by far the easiest. We planted a patch years ago and have been harvesting it ever since. It starts growing in the spring, almost as soon as the snow melts, and, as long as we keep picking it, produces all summer long. Sorrel is bright green, sometimes with a touch of hot pink, and brightly flavored. It is tart. Kids tend to gobble it up raw but I prefer to temper its flavor by cooking it. Sauteed in a bit of olive oil, it sort of melts into a thick sauce which is the world's most perfect omelet filling, especially when paired with goat cheese.

Spinach, like lettuce, probably needs no explanation. It is an early green that simply does not grow well once summer has gotten underway. We celebrate its brief appearance in the beginning of the season with a much appreciated salad, then await its return the following year.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese, and Sorrel

The first distribution of 2011 is upon us!

The share includes head lettuce, kohlrabi, radishes, kale, arugula, mizuna, spinach, mustard, parsley, sorrel, sprouts, and one of the following fresh cut herbs: oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, or garlic scapes.

The first share in 2011

We are excited about this share, which contains veggies from our old garden, our new expanded field, and the hoophouse. This is a very busy time for us, as we are still transplanting some of the tender crops, like melon and eggplant, into the ground even as we begin to harvest. Pairing the hectic time of year with the fact that this is the first season neither of us has an off farm job to ensure a steady pay check means the stress level at our house is high these days. We're ready for the sigh of relief that's sure to come with the successful completion of the first week of distribution.

Bring it on!

As usual, the early season share is heavy on the greens. That's to be expected because the leafy stuff is shorter season than the roots and fruits that come later in the summer (except of course for radishes, which are inexplicably fast growers).

Members faced with a CSA bag brimming with greens are probably going to wonder just what to do with them. Do not fret, I have suggestions.

Start with the obvious, a salad. The lettuce, spinach, arugula, sorrel (if you're not into the mac and cheese recipe below), mustard, sprouts, parsley, kohlrabi (peeled and sliced thinly), and radishes (greens too)  all work well in salad.

The other easy solution to a bounty of greens is a stir fry. The mustard, sprouts, kohlrabi (again peeled and chopped), mizuna, radishes (don't forget those greens!) and kale are all good stir fried. Chop them up with some garlic, ginger, and dried chilies. Cook them briefly in peanut or vegetable oil and serve with rice and soy sauce. Add mushrooms or chicken if you need more substance - remember greens cook down a lot!

If you are in the mood for some more elaborate recipes, keep reading.

The first is a recipe I came up with the other day when we had a lot of sorrel to use up. Sorrel is a perennial green that starts producing even before the grass gets green. If it isn't picked frequently it sends out a flower stalk and the leaves start getting tough. In early May it is a coveted treat, but by mid-June we start forget to pick it and we end up harvesting a ton at once to make sure it is still tender when the CSA starts. If you aren't sure which one is sorrel, taste your greens until you find the sour one. That is the sorrel.

Macaroni and Cheese and Sorrel

Homemade macaroni and cheese is so simple, I don't understand why anyone would make it from a box. You can get fancier than this by making a more traditional bechamel with a roux and adding some different spices, but this easy version is yummy as is. It was a hit with the one year old as well as the elders.
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic (or more to taste), crushed or minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 ounces sorrel, cut into thin strips (chiffonade) 
  • One 14 ounce box of pasta: macaroni, shells, penne, or similar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 ounces cheddar or colby cheese, cut into small cubes
  1. In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. 
  2. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute.
  3. Add the sorrel, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sorrel "melts" and becomes a greyish green sauce. This will take about five minutes.
  4. In the meantime, get a pan of water boiling for the pasta, following the directions on the pasta package to cook the pasta.
  5. Set the cooked sorrel aside.
  6. Put the cold milk into a medium saucepan, add the cornstarch, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper, and stir until combined. Do not heat the milk until the cornstarch is mixed in or your sauce will be lumpy.
  7. Put the pan of milk over medium/high heat and stir (I like to use a heat proof rubber spatula) until the sauce begins to steam.
  8. When the sauce is steaming hot, stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until the sauce just starts to boil.
  9. Turn the heat to low and stir in the cooked sorrel.
  10. Combine the sauce with the hot cooked pasta and serve.
If you still need more ideas, these recipes all look good to me but I haven't tried any of them. They should give you a place to start if you are still wondering how to use up your share.

Arugula: One of my favorite things is arugula with a simple blood orange juice and olive oil dressing, so this looks pretty great to me.

Kohlrabi: The internet is full of kohlrabi recipes. Check out: A Collection of Recipes and this Kohlrabi Stew recipe. If you want to try a recipe that calls for more kohlrabi than is included in your share, stretch it with some broccoli and/or potatoes.

Kale: Pretty soon the kale is going to take off and we are going to have more of it than we know what to do with. When that happens, I will make this salad first thing. 

Mizuna: This Whole Foods recipe looks like a great stir fry. I don't think there is a full pound of mizuna in the share, but you could combine it with the kale to make a substantial meal.

As soon as my camera is ready for the task, I plan to create a post that offers a who's who of greens in case you are wondering which is which. Hopefully that will come soon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Attack of the Flea Beetles

Flea Beetle on Rainbow Kale
Tiny hopping beetles in shades of metallic green or decorated with orange flame stripes, they would be cute. Would be, were it not for their evil streak.

I know that they are just doing what comes naturally to them (See the holes in that kale leaf. That is the nature of the flea beetle.) but I still choose to think ill of them.

As pesticide free farmers we are faced with an annual dilemma when it comes to the flea beetles. Flea beetles eat small holes in brassica plants, also known as crucifers or members of the cabbage family.

Because brassicas tend to do well in cool, short season climates like the Upper Peninsula, we grow about 15 different crops that flea beetles like to dine on.  As long as the plant being fed on is established the flea beetles don't really hurt it, they just cause cosmetic damage.

Like this:

Or this:

Seedlings are a different story. Hungry flea beetles can munch a radish seedling into oblivion if given the opportunity. 

So here is our dilemma. What do we do about this insatiable insect? 

We have a few tricks up our sleeves. Garlic oil sort of kind of helps a little. Row cover (see the photo below) helps even more by literally hiding the tasty brassicas from the beetles.  

Kale, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower in the foreground.
Two rows of mustard and radish seedlings hiding under row cover in the center.
Peas and Favas in the back.

So, we use row covers when we direct seed brassicas, to protect the seedlings. Sometimes we apply garlic oil to the row covers if the beetles find their way under. I'm not convinced that the garlic oil does anything but make us feel better though.

Our seedlings almost always survive with this treatment, but not unscathed. Our mustard and radish greens are always a bit holey.

And what about the kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels? They are just left in the open to fend for themselves against the flea beetles.

We start those crops in the greenhouse, then transplant them into the field. By the time we plant them they are too big to hide under row cover, and they would have to come out sooner or later even if we could cover them at first.

There is a chemical option for treating the flea beetles. It's even allowed under many organic certification programs. Pyrethrin. It comes from flowers (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium) that look like oxeye daisies. It has been used for 100 years and is generally considered the safest insecticide to use on vegetables. Organic growers use it. It's probably okay, right? is a neurotoxin to all insects, not just flea beetles. It is also toxic to fish. It can cause symptoms such as drooling, seizures, and death in humans (granted, only if consumed in large quantities - in small quantities it is completely non-toxic to mammals). 

Every year when the flea beetles attack we say to ourselves "We could use pyrethrin. It would work." And we decide not to.

We don't want to spray poisons on our food. We just don't. So the co-ops don't pay us as much for our arugula, our farmers market customers baulk at the holes in our kale, and we worry that the CSA members won't understand. That's the price we pay for our decision. We think it is the right one.