The other night I served steamed turnips for dinner. No, I was not doing an "Ode to Wartime Rations" themed dinner, although that's what it tasted like. It was yet another failed attempt to identify a vegetable in the box I get every week from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. I love beets, which is what I thought the bright pink bundle of veggies was when I pulled it out of the box; I like to cook them in their own little tinfoil puptents along with some garlic and rosemary, then sprinkle them with feta. But it turns out, steamed turnips prepared that way taste of abandoned towns, fallen heroes, and baby shoes never worn.
Last fall, as part of the unusual spasm of luck we experienced at our final elementary school fundraising auction, I was the winning bidder for four weeks of delivery from a CSA. The only stipulation was that the deliveries had to start by December 1.
I know I’m blessed to live somewhere where December is even considered a growing season, but here’s what’s growing at the farm 50 miles from Oakland: root vegetables. And nothing down to earth like potatoes or carrots, either.
Every week when I open the box onto the kitchen table, the first thing I do is grab for the one-page newsletter inside that includes recipes and lists the contents for the week. I study it like an Ikea instruction sheet, trying to correlate the Part A listed on the sheet with the Part A in the box. Usually I can pick out parsnips, though last week I called Golden Carrots parsnips all week long and they never thought to correct me. Leeks are easy enough, and the bag of grapefruit-sized oranges that are bartered with another nearby CSA don’t cause me any confusion.
Thanks to an earlier blog post that yielded a rash of kale recipes, I’m actually thrilled when I see a bag of it: I make kale chips, stir it into pasta, sauté it with garlic and onion. As Jay-Z might say, I’ve got 99 problems, but kale ain’t one.
But I give you the Romanesco. It looks like a geometry book made sweet love to a head of broccoli and gave birth to this vegetable, all fractals and angles. How on earth am I going to cook something that looks like it belongs in a modern art museum?
At the other end of the scale there’s the celeriac. I lived in Germany, where it’s much more common in grocery stores and on the menu, but let’s just be honest: it’s a stupendously ugly potato. It looks like what happens when there’s too much inbreeding in the Mr. Potatohead family tree. I’m not sure whether I should cook it or use it as a weapon against muggers.
How about the watermelon daikon radish? How about two of them, each as big as a fist? I shredded one of them, per the instruction sheet that came in the box, and tossed the shreds with a little white vinegar – a gorgeous spot of hot pink in the middle of the dining room table that night. A few tablespoons on each plate was about all anyone needed, so I stored the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Turns out watermelon daikon radishes laugh at the concept of “airtight” thus resulting in two days of people walking into the kitchen and immediately saying, “Whoa, what stinks?” We ran the dishwasher, cleaned out its filter, ran the sink disposal, emptied the trash, emptied the compost bin, checked shoes for dog poop, threw out yogurt that hadn’t yet expired. FINALLY on Day 3 I opened up the leftover watermelon daikon and the stench hurled me backwards into the living room.
So the remaining daikon radish is up for grabs if anyone wants it.
Lest you think I’m complaining, it’s actually kind of a gas to get the box every week and know that we have to consume every scrap of it within the next seven days. When my month long trial ended, I immediately signed up to be a regular customer. I’m doing things to Mei Qing Choi (that’s a smaller version of bok choy, in case you didn’t know, which I certainly didn’t) that I didn’t even think were possible. I’ve seriously contemplated trading my morning toast for some braised green garlic (which is not the same thing as a green onion, not that I know anyone who has made that mistake. More than once.) Anything that gets us eating this many vegetables has to be a good thing.
I just look forward to the warmer harvest days ahead when I hope to identify at least 25% of the box’s content by sight.