Thursday April 17, 2014; 10:05 pm EDT
I’m Learning to Cook, One Box at a Time
Driving down Solomon’s Island Road, I looked out the window with new appreciation. The traffic of Annapolis behind me, I spent the 20-minute drive pondering the crops that flourished along my route and wondering which of them would be in my box. “Is that corn? I wonder if I’ll get corn.” “Maybe that’s lettuce? I wonder if I’ll get lettuce.”
Oh, the mysteries of belonging to Community Supported Agriculture.
For eight weeks I’d waited for this first pickup. Now, at Sizer Farmstead, I followed farmer Shawn Sizer through neatly lined rows. He stopped over the bushes I’d recognized from my drive.
“Would you like some romaine lettuce?” he asked. “I didn’t put it in all the baskets.” When I nodded, relishing in my correct guess, he took what looked like a travel-sized hatchet out of his pocket and whacked at the root. “Here you go,” he said, handing me the plant straight from the ground.
Can’t get much fresher than that.
Kale, spicy lettuce, romaine lettuce, snap peas, strawberries, zucchini and radishes made up my first box. How would I incorporate each into a meal? Was there a website in which I could enter the ingredients I had on hand and find recipes that fit the bill?
Luckily, there is just such a website, searchable by ingredients. I found a vegetable stir-fry over pasta that welcomed nearly all of mine.
But as I put the gigantic box of fresh goods on my kitchen counter, anxiety set in. A newcomer to both farm-fresh produce and cooking, I couldn’t remember which green was which. What were those onion-like vegetables under the gigantic bag of radishes. The things were round and white on the bottom, with tall greens stemming upward. Onions? Or some kind of shallot?
I didn’t know what a shallot was, but I’d heard of it and didn’t want to rule anything out prematurely. How I wished Google had a reverse search application so you could take a picture and search it, without typing in a name. Maybe they were white onions?
However, Googling onion with long stem and round white vegetable with green stalk didn’t identify my mystery vegetable. But after the first chop into it, my eyes welled up with tears and I knew it was definitely an onion of some kind. How different could the kinds be? Surely this one would do well in my stir-fry.
Adding a red and yellow pepper to my fresh kale, peas, zucchini, onions and radishes, I started chopping. Until I got to the peas. In the pods.
Were these snow peas that you eat in the pod or snap peas? I had to make what I call an executive guess. Judging by the toughness of the pod, I decided these would be the kind of peas I needed to extract. After prying open my first pod and sliding my finger down the center to detach all the peas, I felt a sense of accomplishment.
I threw all the ingredients in a sauté pan, along with some garlic, basil from a plant on my windowsill and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. In another pot, the pasta was boiling and next to my glass of wine were fresh strawberries. In minutes, all of the vegetables were tender and the pasta was al dente. I combined the two in a large mixing bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper and voila! My first home cooked, farm-fresh meal.
One taste confirmed my hope: vegetables straight from the farm are worlds apart from their grocery counterparts. I have more vegetables from my half-share, more than my refrigerator would like to accommodate. I am on my way to learning to cook while enjoying a healthier, tastier diet.
Amy Russell wrote about joining a Community Supported Agriculture farm in Bay Weekly’s March 18 edition: www.bayweekly.com/year10/issue_11/lead_1.html.