Besides some very exhausting shifts at work, the other big reason I’ve been so remiss about my blogging is because I signed up for a CSA box from Oxbow Farms. CSA stands for “community supported agriculture”. The premise lies in understanding that farming is a fairly expensive process. The cost of purchasing land, tilling, planting, irrigation, harvesting, and processing have a way of really adding up. Add to that the potential decrease in profits when a middle-man, such as a grocery store, purchases your products at a discount and then marks them up to obtain a profit of their own.
All this has driven many farmers to find alternative means to reaching direct purchasers and attempting to offset some of their overhead costs. The CSA allows people to purchase a “share” of the farm upfront. In return, the farm supplies a box of freshly harvested items once every week or two as things come into season. I’ve been pining after this opportunity since I learned about it in culinary school a few years ago, and just this year found myself able to afford it.
I chose Oxbow Farms in Carnation for a variety of reasons. 1.) They’re a sustainable, organic farm that practices fertilization in a manner safe to allow runoff into streams and rivers, and 2.) There are two pick-up locations very close to my job, so I can make the trek on the way to work . I teamed up with a classmate friend from school to share a larger box, allowing us to receive a larger variety of items and ensuring I try to utilize whatever I receive each week.
Here’s a picture from one of the first few weeks, as an example:
That week, we had napa cabbage, baby fennel, garlic scapes, kale, carrots, and several other goodies. Each week was like opening another veggie present. You never knew what might appear.
Having this pile o’ vegetables meant that I had to put my creative side to work and come up with different ways to use one (or several) of the items before they went went bad.
One week, we had several stems of beautiful rhubarb. It was green with a ruby blush towards the end of each stalk. After a long bit of research, I made a rhubarb upside down cake. The top was covered in caramelized rhubarb pieces, and the bottom had an oat crumble that gave everything a little textural contrast. It was sweet, but not too sweet. I would definitely make it again.
Another week, though I sadly didn’t take a picture, I made a quiche. Some sauteed summer squash, chiffonade rainbow chard, a little smoky bacon, and caramelized onions.
Many weeks, I’d find myself on Friday or Saturday night panicked about the quantity of veggies I had left from the last week, and knowing I needed to use a lot in a hurry if I was going to make space for the new items. This led to several asian inspired dishes.
The first was the traditional bibimbap, which I’ve mentioned making before. There is something so satisfying about a dish that combines flavors like earthy sesame oil and warm soy with bright flavors like ginger and garlic. Not to mention the care taken on the aesthetic aspects, lining each ingredient up to make a rainbow of colors. Honestly, dishes like this encourage me to not only enjoy eating vegetables, but to crave a bowl full just to admire how pretty everything is. Alexir has specifically requested it several times, which is a major compliment coming from another cook.
It also allows me to practice my egg cookery skills. I’d say they’re slowly improving.
With August bringing more hot days, I thought it high time to implement a cold dish. My mind turned to the several times I’ve visited the Monkey Bridge in Ballard. They offer trays of cold noodles served alongside a collection of bowls. Each bowl is intended as an optional addition to the salad. After the various items have been mixed in, you take a forkful (technically, you’re dining with chopsticks, but I felt awkward writing “chopstickful”) of noodles and dunk them in the accompanying sauce before landing it square in your mouth.
Not to digress, but I must say that eating in this manner has a certain attraction. Eating food that you must assemble and dunk for each bite leads to a more active participation. This decreases the opportunity for distractions and helps you focus on eating instead of talking incessantly, looking at your phone, or otherwise doing anything but engrossing yourself in the meal. I love it.
For my own interpretation, I elected to forego the tray and sides. In my house, plating is often affected by how many dishes will need to be done after.
Carrots had to be included, both because they are a staple in the salad and I haven’t had a week of the produce box without them. The final product was so full of herbs, veggies, and meat, I could barely see the noodles. I think I managed the dunk and eat method twice before saying “screw it” and dumping the sauce over the salad. I’m only human.
Today’s box brought a ton more lettuce, escarole, collard greens, and potatoes (amongst many other things). I foresee more cooking inspiration in the near future.
As a little closing treat, here’s my recipe for the vietnamese rice noodle salad.
Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad
2 large or 4 small servings
For the salad
- 1 small package rice sticks or rice vermicelli (I prefer the latter, but it you want something more chewy, go with the rice sticks), cooked and cooled
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 small cucumber, julienned
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced on the bias
- 12 leaves mint (spearmint), chiffonade
- 12 leaves holy or thai basil, chiffonade
- 1/4-1/2 cup toasted peanuts, roughly chopped.
- (Optional) Thinly sliced beef cooked in sesame oil and soy sauce
For the dressing
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3 to tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or a small dried chili, if you’re feeling adventurous)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
To make the dressing: Place all ingredients in a blender (I swear by my magic bullet, I rarely make anything large enough to necessitate a full-sized blender). Blend until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste, knowing that it will be very strong. Chill until ready to serve salads.
To assemble the salad: Divide cooked rice noodles as desired between 2-4 bowls. Depending on your preference, top with other ingredients, or serve on a separate plate. Serve cold with a small cup of dressing on the side.