CSA delivery inspires stay-at-home culinary creativity

 Randomly selected farm produce expands personal kitchen and cooking skills

All recipes by Lauren J. Mapp for The San Diego Union-Tribune. This story was first published in the Union-Tribune online and in print on May 27, 2020

Lauren J. Mapp
Signing up for a CSA box was something I often thought of doing — and kept “planning to do someday” — but it took a global pandemic and a stay-at-home order to finally turn my plans into reality.

I used to think out my meals on a day-to-day basis, and I would often shop within a few hours of cooking to make sure I had the freshest ingredients. I’d take my time perusing store aisles and farmers market stands looking for foods to become the muse for that night’s dinner.

But with COVID-19 spreading throughout the community in early March, I no longer felt comfortable going to the grocery store, and my beloved farmers markets in Hillcrest and Little Italy were temporarily closed.

So now we look forward to having a CSA box delivered to our University Heights apartment every other Thursday from Sage Mountain Farm in Riverside County.

Short for community supported agriculture, CSA boxes are filled with a random selection of seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and greens, as well as other food items. Often the produce is grown organically, and meat products are grass-fed, ethically raised and free of antibiotics and synthetic hormones.

Customers don’t get to pick the items that fill those boxes, but there is usually a wide assortment of goods, including items you wouldn’t think to buy on your own.

Upon delivery, I unpack and wash each item as I take in the vibrant colors and subtle scents of each, while thinking of the various ways I can combine the contents into the week’s meals.

There are multiple options for CSA services that fit your lifestyle and schedule, while also supporting the local, sustainable food system. Here are just a few:

Wild Willow Farm

Wild Willow Farm and Education Center is a nonprofit, 5-acre farm and agriculture school located just west of San Ysidro.

Some of the courses typically taught there include a seven-week farming course and a two-day workshop on beekeeping.

Although the farm isn’t certified organic, the food is grown naturally without conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizer. The farmers make and use their own compost and grow produce from non-genetically modified seeds.

CSA boxes cost $30 each on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and subscribers receive at least a tote bag full of ingredients. They can be picked up on Wednesdays at drop sites in University Heights, Ocean Beach, Imperial Beach, Rolando or at the farm near San Ysidro.

Right now, Wild Willow Farm is unable to take new subscribers, but those interested can sign up for the waiting list online.

JR Organics Farm & CSA

The family-owned farm JR Organics Farm & CSA, located north of Escondido, was certified as organic in 1986 and is a longtime staple at farmers markets throughout Southern California.

Small CSA boxes from the farm include seven items for $28.50; large boxes of 11 items are $35 each. There is also a one-time fee of $20 to sign up, which pays for the box deposit and administration costs.

The online portal allows subscribers to customize box size and frequency on a weekly basis, if desired. Depending on your location, boxes can be delivered to your home or picked up at various drop sites across San Diego County, as well as in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties.

Recent boxes have included sugar snap peas, avocados, citrus fruits, cilantro, blueberries, lettuce, kale and cucumbers.

JR Organics also sells prepacked harvest boxes for $40 apiece that can be purchased at farmers market stands.

Sage Mountain Farm

Over the past few months, I’ve had firsthand experience as a subscriber to the small CSA box from Sage Mountain Farm in Anza.

In our past three deliveries, we’ve received farm-fresh red potatoes, purple spring onions, blood oranges, lemons, avocados, grapefruits, Cherry Belle radishes, dinosaur kale (also known as Tuscan kale), butternut squash, tatsoi (a broad-leafed green) and rainbow carrots, among other things.

We also bought a 10-pound meat CSA box once with various cuts of pork, lamb and beef. Some of the meat options are temporarily out of stock, but subscribers can tack on other farm-grown items to their orders, such as ground beef, non-GMO whole chickens, eggs, honey and jam.

The upfront cost varies, depending on the size of the box and how many deliveries you pay for in advance.

Four deliveries with auto-renewal cost $120 for the small produce box (includes 12 items and recommended for two three people), or $140 for a large box (includes 14 to 15 items and recommended for four to five people).

The diversity of items we’ve received have inspired me when it comes to playing around in the kitchen.

Since our visits to the grocery store have been significantly limited and we’re not going out to eat, I’ve been putting the scraps I’d normally toss out to good use in vegetable stocks and bitters for mixing cocktails.

Struggling to find ways to use some of the items in new ways? Here are some recipes primarily made with CSA-sourced produce to help you get started.

Photo by Lauren J. Mapp

Ready For Summer Salsa

4 large strawberries
1 medium orange
2 small red onions, bulbs and stems
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño
Juice of 1 lemon
1 avocado, chopped in ¼-inch cubes
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Remove and discard the stems from the strawberries and the peel from the orange before dicing both into small, ¼-inch pieces. Separate the onion bulbs from onion greens, mincing the bulbs and thinly slicing the greens. Remove the stems, seeds and veins from the jalapeño, then mince.

Add all the ingredients together and gently stir, adding salt and black pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and store in the fridge for five minutes to let the flavors meld. Serve with tortilla chips or on top of fish tacos.

Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto

For the carrots:
1 bunch, or 6 small rainbow carrots
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or pecans
Carrot tops from bunch, about 1 cup
½ cup fresh basil
¼ cup Parmesan, finely shredded
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove carrot-top greens and set aside. Slice each carrot lengthwise down the middle. Coat carrots in the tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, then arrange them on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast for 25 to 35 minutes, or until caramelized on the outside and a fork can easily pierce the flesh.

While the carrots are roasting, add the nuts and garlic into a food processor or blender, pulsing until blended together. Add carrot tops, basil, Parmesan and black pepper, then gently pulse until roughly chopped. Add the remaining olive oil and continue pulsing until blended but texture is still coarse.

When the carrots are done, serve them on a plate drizzled with pesto. Excess pesto can be used as a topping for pizzas, drizzled on roasted vegetable salads or as pasta sauce.

Za’atar-Dusted Kale Chips

Za’atar seasoning is a savory spice blend found in Middle Eastern cuisine that generally includes dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt. It is available at most major grocery stores.

1 bunch kale, washed and dried
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon za’atar seasoning

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove ribs from previously cleaned kale, then roughly chop into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Toss kale pieces in olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper and za’atar seasoning.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then arrange kale in a single layer. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until crispy, but not burnt.

Grapefruit Bitters

1 grapefruit
8 ounces 100-proof vodka
1 8-ounce mason jar

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outer skin of the grapefruit, being careful to avoid the white pith of the rind. Add the peels to an 8-oz. mason jar and fill with 100-proof vodka, fully submerging them in the liquor.

Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks and shake the jar daily. Once the bitters have a strong grapefruit aroma and bitter citrus flavor, strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Store in a jar for up to one year.

Grapefruit bitters can be used on their own in classic cocktail recipes like an Old Fashioned or Gimlet, or strategically mixed with other homemade bitters for a more complex flavor.

No-Waste Vegetable Stock

5 cups saved vegetable scraps
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme

Being stuck at home means there are plenty of opportunities to make recipes you’d normally replace with ready-to-go pantry items from the store. Making vegetable stock is one way to pass the time during the long hours of social distancing or sheltering in place.

To prepare to make stock, save the scraps of vegetables from the foods you prep in a freezer bag until there is enough to fill 5 cups. This can include the ends of celery; onion, carrot, butternut squash or turnip peels; and ribs of dinosaur kale.

Once there are 5 cups, add all trimmings into a large stock pot, along with smashed garlic cloves, bay leaves and thyme, then cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer, cooking for 30-35 minutes.

Remove from heat, then strain through a fine mesh strainer or chinois. Use immediately in soup or risotto recipes, or freeze for future use.


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