Thursday 24-July-2003

Sometime in March as I was walking down Mass. Ave. to get coffee, I noticed a flyer on a light pole advertising shares in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. It attracted my attention because the farm involved (Parker Farm in Waltham MA) said it provided produce to some of my favorite local restaurants, like Evoo and East Coast Grill. For a $250 payment, the deal was that we could pick up an assortment of varying produce in Somerville once a week from late May through late October, depending on the weather and growing season.

In theory I prefer to grow, cook and eat fresh veggies; in practice I haven't had time to do much gardening (had one container tomato plant last year) and have become loath to spend lots of money buying food that spoils before I get time to cook it. This seemed like a good opportunity to change that: produce fresh from the ground wouldn't spoil as quickly, having things in the house already would mean I wouldn't have to find time to shop, and new arrivals every week would hopefully encourage me to do something with them rather than feel guilty about paying to fill up the compost bin! Joann agreed, so we bought a half share.

Since we had a pretty wet, cold Spring, the deliveries did not start until June, and began with mostly greens: baby lettuce, spinach, arugula, other things I hadn't seen before. It turned out that even a half share was enormous for two people! We composted a lot in the first few weeks (to keep the refrigerator usable, we had agreed that anything unused by pickup time Sunday evening would go out, unless one of us had a specific plan for it). Then I started asking around to find someone else who might like some, and now each week I pass part of the delivery on to some friends, who in turn pass on what they can't use or don't know what to do with! (Fava beans?!?)

For the last few weeks we've been getting a steady supply of carrots and beets, which are fairly easy for me to process: I run them through my juicer and freeze the juice in an ice cube tray, keeping it available to toss into the blender for protein shakes or smoothies later. I try to wash and bag separately some of the lettuce immediately, so it is ready for impromptu salads. The rest I usually stir-fry.

I discovered another issue that had been unconsciously keeping me from cooking more often: I was avoiding my wok! It was a basic carbon-steel model I bought around 1980. While to look at it seemed fine, using it had become a pain because over the years and moves I had lost the ring that went over a stove burner to balance the rounded bottom. Since the handles were metal, I always risked burning myself if I didn't remember to grab a potholder before attempting to keep the wok from rolling off the burner!

Realizing this was another case of misplaced thriftiness (inner Depression-era parental voice saying "you can't throw it out - it's perfectly good!"), last week I went to Bed & Bath (which despite its name also sells kitchen goods), and was pleased to find that they still sold the formerly-popular Joyce Chen models. These have flat bottoms, a pot-like handle on one side and a traditional U-handle on the other that both have wooden grips. I splurged on a non-stick model, since I had a 20%-off coupon (still well-trained by thrifty parents!). I am really happy with it, and stir-fried up every bit of remaining produce to have for lunch the rest of the week.

Betty's Basic Stir-Fry

  • Assess what veggies you have this week, plus use an onion and a couple of garlic cloves.

  • Spray the wok with canola oil. Don't heat until you have the onions chopped and ready to add, else the oil will start smoking!

  • Wash and slice/chop everything, organizing into several piles based on how long they need to cook. If you don't have a lot of space, wash everything and then chop the first bits, add to the wok, then chop the next.

  • This is the order in which I I usually cook things:
    • Sliced onions and garlic always first
    • Anything else I want to brown a bit via wok contact, or that is fairly sturdy and needs to cook longest: broccoli, carrots, fennel/anise, peppers, summer squash, celery, etc.
    • Leafy items that will cook by steam. If you don't dry them afer washing, there will be enough water clinging to their leaves, plus the water expressed from cooking the earlier veggies, to steam them.

  • Add the veggies in the order above, stirring well and letting each set cook for a couple minutes before adding the next. After adding the leafy greens, stir and then cover the wok. Check and stir after about 3 minutes, replace cover and recheck periodically until the leaves have turned brighter green and have wilted a bit.

  • Finally, I stir in some seasoning sauce - my current favorite is Trader Joe's Wasabi Teriyaki Sauce.


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