Check out the box.
What? Not attractive? Why are you dissing my box? What has my box ever done to you?
I guess I should explain. This was the first box of the year from my organic CSA several weeks ago. I would never have joined a CSA were it not for food blogs. While I’d heard about CSAs, it’s food blogs that persuaded me that joining one would be worth my time. The trouble is that nobody warned me that joining a CSA would start an emotional relationship. I’d read about “eating local,” “getting to know your farmers,” and “knowing where your food comes from.” That much I understood.
But I wish someone had mentioned that “when it doesn’t rain for two straight weeks you stay awake at night worrying about your farmers,” “sometimes the future of your farmers’ two daughters nags at you,” “you’re overcome with urges to bake your farmers cookies were it not for your concern that maybe they eat only organic flour, which you don’t use yet though you’ve been thinking about it, maybe you should ask if they mind non-organic flour but then you’d tip them off to the fact that you plan to bake them something and they’ll protest because they seem like nice people and maybe they don’t let their kids eat sweets anyway,” and “when it finally rains you stare out the window, breath a thankful sigh of relief, and wonder if maybe they wouldn’t prefer cake instead.”
Really, this meeting farmers face-to-face to pick up a box every week is stressful. It’s not even about what’s in my box; I knew when I signed up that I’d deal with possible low yields from drought and strange weather. My stress is about the future of CSAs. As they become more popular and easy to find, I worry that people may sign up without understanding that a CSA is a gamble if you look solely at quantity. There’s no insurance policy here. It’s an investment, half of which pays off by keeping your money close by and supporting a better food system. The delicious food is the other half. So the stress is worthwhile.
Each week has been challenging. I tasted French sorrel for the first time and found that it tastes so sour that I didn’t put acid in the vinaigrette I used to dress it. Thinly sliced radish super-hot from the dry weather tastes fabulous in roast beef sandwiches. A gratin of mixed greens has become my new favorite greens dish. Garlic scape and chive dip keeps vampires away for days. Right now I have a tight head of cabbage and squeaky stalks of broccoli waiting for my knife and inspiration.
I can’t wait to see what comes next. Maybe it will be something I can turn into cookies. On second thought, the investment in a CSA is only 1/3 eating local and 1/3 delicious food. The other 1/3 is the fun of it. It’s a like a mini-birthday every Wednesday as we stand in line for our present. The gift wrap could use some work, but in the end, we all know that it’s the thought that counts.
What follows is a series of confessions that, against my better judgment, I’ve decided to reveal here out of excitement. Students with hot plates, take notes.
Unwise confession #1: Once or twice a year, I buy chain restaurant pizza. That’s only because this chain named after a miniature toga-clad murdered Roman emperor has pepperoni pizza ready to go for five dollars. It comes in handy when you haven’t met your sodium and saturated fat needs for the week. The flavor isn’t great, but it does the trick when you want hot salty meat and can’t stomach the idea of coming home just to braise those radishes you’ve been saving. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never gone home after a long day and thought, “Boy, I could really go for some braised radishes.”
Unwise confession #2: I crave reheated pizza more than fresh. It makes me feel young and carefree because I relive my college days when my diet was just that—reheated or cold pizza. Please don’t leave my blog. I’m going to braise organic radishes soon.
Unwise confession #3: I fried a cold pizza. Somewhere I’d picked up a tip that if you heat a pizza in a skillet, the crust crunches up and the pizza tastes better than if you heated it in the oven. That’s only partly true. The problem is that the cheese never melts, leaving you with a hot-crusted cold-topped pizza that you have to stick under the broiler to finish, which is more work than leftover five dollar dead emperor toga chain pizza is worth. But I wanted that crunchy crust, so I put a couple slices of pizza in a skillet over low heat. When the crust was done, I did something dangerous, even crazy: I flipped it over. It was a non-stick pan. How bad could it be?
I watched and waited for that sticky bubbling mess that you see in poorly constructed grilled cheese sandwiches. The fat rendered out of the pepperoni and fried the meat to a crisp. To my surprise, the fat helped brown the cheese and keep it intact. When I spotted cheese oozing out the sides, I flipped the pizza over again. The crust soaked up all the rendered pepperoni fat and browned into an even crunchier crust. I didn’t need batter or a deep fryer either!
Unwise confession #4: I bit into a warm layer of dough and cheese sandwiched between two hot layers of crispity crunchity pepperoni fat. It was great. I want to buy a pizza and let it go cold just so I can do it again and again.
But I’m not due for another chain pizza until maybe November. So until then, hello radishes!
We started so well. Before I met you, I’d heard all about you. There’s even a book that uses you in the title. Famous chefs put you in everything. You party with foie gras and white truffles even though you cost only a fraction of what they do. The English call you rocket—what’s more exciting than a rocket? My inability to find you around here made you alluring, rare, valuable. Sometimes you showed up in the herb section at $3 for a little box, but I wouldn’t buy you then because I knew you weren’t an herb so much as a lettuce. I’ll never forget the day I finally bought your seeds and planted you in my window. You peeped through the soil and promised me a celebrated gourmet experience. I also remembered a weird smell that I attributed to the plastic pot I planted you in.
The day I harvested you, I dressed you in lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, a grind of black pepper, and sea salt. The first taste burned my mouth. They call you peppery for a reason! But there was that weird smell again. I shook it off. They say you have to try a food at least 10 times before you can decide if you really like it. So I put you in every salad I ate last summer. One vendor at the farmer’s market started selling you in huge bags for only $2. I ate you every day for weeks. Now you’re so popular around here that you appear in spring salad mixes, are sold at my health food store, and once, I even tasted you in a cheap buffet salad at one of those all-you-can-eat places that my mother drags me to.
Well, it’s been a year now and I can’t ignore it anymore. You have a, uh…a BO problem. It’s not a good BO problem either, like the kind you smell in fish sauce or Stilton; it’s a bad BO problem, like the kind you smell in marathon feet and hairy bananas. Multiple washings don’t help. Cooking does, but frankly, you don’t hold up well then. Spinach and kale satisfy my need for cooked greens much better.
I don’t despise you, arugula, we’ve been through too much together for hate. But I can’t say I like you much either. If you pop up here and there, I can live with that, but I won’t look for you anymore. The thrill is gone.