Drowning in Veggies? 5 Steps for Using a CSA Farm Share

It’s dinnertime on a Wednesday, and you’ve just been handed 10 pounds of fresh, organic, locally-grown, assorted vegetables!

You’re eager to get some of them onto your family’s plates tonight and make sure you use every bit as wisely as you can before next week—when another load of vegetables will arrive—and you never know what kind of veggies they’ll be until you get them. How will you work your way through such unpredictable abundance?

I’ve got 15 years of experience in utilizing the weekly crate of vegetables from our community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm.  I explain my approach in 5 basic steps and explain how it applied to one week’s actual food for my family, in my first post as a contributing writer for Kitchen Stewardship!  Click on the image to read the article.

CSA Overload!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Friday for more great food-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

A Really Real-Life Meal Plan

When life gets hectic, it’s tempting to quit spending time on food preparation and just live on junk from the convenience store.  The trouble with that approach is that it deprives your body of nutrients and gives it extra fat and salt to process, at just the time when you most need your body to work smoothly!

If your normal life is pretty hectic, you may be in the habit of preparing meals that use a lot of processed foods and getting take-out several times a week.  You may be thinking that you should eat better, but how are you ever going to find the time?  Start by working a few homemade meals in among your convenience foods, and work your way up from there!  (Also, check out Kitchen Stewardship’s article Real Food Is NOT Realistic! for lots of great tips.)

The first three months of this year were difficult for my family: Between the four of us, we had nine illnesses; I had surgery, was in a lot of pain, and couldn’t lift groceries or our toddler Lydia for three weeks; I had migraines more often than usual; and I was working hard to meet deadlines before my full-time job ended on March 31.  Normally, I plan the menu, and my partner Daniel cooks dinner every weeknight–but with so many distractions, I didn’t plan well; while I was unable to pick up Lydia from childcare, Daniel had to go get her every evening during cooking time; while I was unable to lift things and then while I was working overtime, I couldn’t do as much of the grocery shopping as usual.  We had to make some compromises.

What you see in this photograph is the sheet of paper that hung on our kitchen cabinet for seven weeks, from late February to mid-April.  You can see that we didn’t have a plan for every night.  You can see that we sometimes relied on restaurants or packaged foods.  But you’ll also see some nourishing, affordable, homemade meals that didn’t take all that long to make.  I’ll explain the things that I see need explanation, and I’ll be happy to do more explaining in the comments if you have questions! Recipe links are at the bottom. Read more of this post

A Real-Life Menu (early summer)

I was recently asked by a reader to share what one of my family’s meal plans really looks like. I’ve previously described how I plan the menu even though Daniel cooks our weeknight meals, how from June through November I’m planning around the vegetables we receive from our share in a local organic farm, how I write the menu a few days at a time on a sheet of scrap paper held up with magnets on our steel kitchen cabinet door, and how each of the multi-week menus I’ve posted is based on the weeks that fit on one sheet of paper…but when I write those menu posts, I write out a lot of details about what we ate and why. My actual instructions to Daniel must be much briefer, to fit 3 or 4 weeks on a page–what do they look like?

Well, here you go! Since you’re not Daniel (who isn’t a mind-reader, but after being happily unmarried for 21 years we do think along the same lines) I’ll explain the things that I see need explanation, and I’ll be happy to do more explaining in the comments if you have questions! Recipe links are at the bottom. Read more…

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (winter, with a baby)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish. That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.  Our 8-month-old daughter, Lydia, is abstaining from cow’s milk until after her first birthday, because I have some family history of dairy allergies that may have been triggered by too-early exposure to cow’s milk.  However, she’s an enthusiastic eater of just about everything we’ve let her eat!  We also have a 10-year-old son, Nicholas, whose preferences have some effect on our menu.

I highly recommend the book Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair, not so much for the specific recipes as for a laid-back, nutritious approach to feeding a baby, toddler, or preschooler.  I’ve been looking at it often to get ideas for ingredients we could set aside or prepare a little differently for Lydia, and to support my conviction that we can (again) raise a child who’s open to trying lots of interesting foods.  The Picky Eater’s 30 Family-Friendly Recipes are great inspiration, too!  Unlike Nicholas when he was little, Lydia is not keen on being fed ground-up food with a spoon but prefers to feed herself, so we’re constantly looking for soft foods that can be picked up in blobs and for foods that are firm enough to be cut in chunks but soft enough to be bitten and chewed without teeth.

Here’s what we ate for dinner for four weeks in December and January.  I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week, while Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so that we can eat as soon as I get home from work.  Lunches are usually leftovers and sandwiches.

Week One:

  • Sunday: Masoor Dal over rice and lettuce leaves left over from making the salad to go with our Christmas Stuffed Shells. Plain yogurt on top for the dairy eaters.  Lydia loves Masoor Dal as much as the rest of us!  We didn’t even tone down the spices for her.  She was wearing a large bib, and I kept pushing up her sleeves, but still she managed to mash oily, turmeric-seasoned lentils all over her clothes.  I changed her outfit and doused the stained one with Bac-Out immediately after dinner!
  • Monday: Sauteed mushrooms and kale, in lots of olive oil with lots of garlic, over whole-wheat couscous.  I mixed some nutritional yeast flakes into mine.  Lydia sampled a mushroom slice but had trouble with it–she doesn’t have any teeth yet–so her main course was leftover Masoor Dal.
  • Tuesday: Falafels made from bulk mix.  Cucumber slices.  The last of the lettuce.  Yogurt.  Lydia was happy eating just the falafels.  We make them small (easier to get them cooked all the way through without burning or crumbling) so they were an appealing size for her to pick up, hold, and gnaw on.
  • Wednesday: Japanese Udon Noodle Soup with daikon radish, sweet potato, mushrooms, and nori seaweed.  I got to cook this meal, after leaving work early on New Year’s Eve.  I made the daikon and sweet potato into strips about 1″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ and cooked them soft, but not falling apart, so that Lydia could hold and eat them.  She loved them!  Each of us older people also had a scrambled egg in our soup.
  • Thursday: We thawed out quarts of Mexican rice and black beans that I’d brought home in November, when somebody had ordered far too much food for an event at work and the leftovers were up for grabs.  The only meal cheaper than beans and rice is FREE beans and rice!  We also had avocado with this meal.  Avocado is a great baby food, and I remember Nicholas loving it, but Lydia ate only a few strips in favor of totally chowing down on the beans!  We couldn’t believe she packed such a large volume of beans into her little body!  An almost equal volume of beans was scrubbed off her highchair, face, neck, hair, arms, and floor…and the hideous black stains were completely removed from her clothing by Bac-Out!  I expected some diapers filled with masses of obvious black beans, but in fact she digested them quite fully.
  • Friday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce from the batch I’d made for the Stuffed Shells–similar to this sauce.  Lydia ate a lot of saucy spaghetti (as well as admiring the wiggly noodles and tossing them about) and 24 hours later had a diaper rash from too much citric acid.  We need to be more careful about tomatoes and other acidic foods until her digestion matures.
  • Saturday: We visited Daniel’s grandfather in Ohio for his 99th birthday!!!  We had an excellent brunch of baked oatmeal and various egg dishes at the Green Marble Coffee Shoppe, where Lydia enjoyed the fruit served on the side–it seems cantaloupe is her favorite–as well as a jar of apricot baby food.  Then we visited with Herschel at his home until late afternoon.  We got home around dinnertime and decided to go out to the New Dumpling House, the Chinese restaurant near home, for hot and sour soup (contains pork), tofu with black mushrooms, and mixed vegetables in garlic sauce.  Lydia had been asleep in the car, fell asleep again as we walked over to the restaurant, and stayed asleep in the sling carrier while I ate most of my dinner!  That was nice.  She woke up in time to enjoy some tofu.

Read more of this post

Four Weeks of Mostly Meatless Dinners (February)

I’m not using the term “pesco-vegetarian” in the title like I have for many of my other multi-week meal plans because I think “meatless” is the more common word people are searching for in Lent.  My family eats no meat at home except occasional fish–which does not count as “meat” in many fasting plans, for some reason–so our menus are ideal for Lenten fasting or any time you want to avoid eating red meat and poultry.  Recently, I have been eating meat in restaurants a bit more often than usual because I’m seven months pregnant and have developed anemia, and the iron from turkey and beef is supposed to be the most absorbable…but in general, I still prefer a low-meat diet.

This menu features two new gadgets we got for Christmas: a slow cooker and a Vidalia Chop Wizard.  We’re finding both of them to be pretty useful.  [UPDATE: Here’s why we gave up on the Chop Wizard a year later.]

Here’s what we ate for dinners in February.  Our weekday lunches are leftovers and occasional restaurant meals for the adults and a lunchbox meal (using leftovers where feasible) for third-grader Nicholas.  Weekend lunches tend to be leftovers, too; the ones that weren’t, or that made some notable use of the leftovers, are listed here.  I plan the menu, but my partner Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so they’re ready when I get home from work, while I cook on the weekends and sometimes prepare ingredients during the week.

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Pizza and salad left over from the previous night, when we had friends over for dinner.  They brought a “salad bar” (greens, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and beets in separate containers) and we bought the pizza at Mineo’s.  I made Italian salad dressing–I don’t really have a recipe, but my method goes something like this: In a glass jar, put 2 parts olive oil and 1 part apple cider vinegar; sprinkle in plenty of sea salt, black pepper, dried minced onion, and granulated garlic and smaller amounts of dried red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried parsley; close jar tightly and shake it; taste it and adjust as needed; set jar inside a shallow dish to protect the tablecloth from oily drips.  This dressing can be stored at room temperature for a couple weeks.
    • Dinner: Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens.  I used frozen kale for the greens and heated up leftover rice for my carbohydrate and leftover whole-wheat couscous for the guys.  Now we had a second jar of homemade salad dressing, a different flavor; I put them side by side in a small oval dish. Read more…

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (summer)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish. That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.

Here’s what we ate for dinner for four weeks in July and August. Normally I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week, while Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners. However, in the third week shown here, Daniel was out of town, so I had to do all the cooking. It was difficult because I was picking up our eight-year-old Nicholas from his day camp near my office at 6:00 each weeknight, and then it took us a while to get home, and he’s supposed to be in bed by 8:30, and some nights we had to fit in an errand…. We ate in restaurants more often than normal, and I did some food prep at night, and it all worked out, but I certainly am glad to have Daniel home again!!

We buy a share in a local organic farm every summer and get a crate of fresh produce delivered to our neighborhood every Wednesday, so many of our meals are structured around the veggies we got from the farm.

Week One:

  • Sunday: Tangy Honey Apricot Tofu, Salty String Beans made with green beans from the farm, and rice.
  • Monday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce from the batch I made the previous week–similar to this marinara sauce with maximum basil, except that I didn’t use any bell pepper in this one.
  • Tuesday: Bean Burritos including green onion from the farm.
  • Wednesday: Out to dinner at the Dumpling House, our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. We had the steamed vegetable dumplings, Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, and tofu with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
  • Thursday: Big salad of lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and tomato, all from the farm. We tried this Five-Ingredient Salad Dressing and liked it a lot! This was a very hot day, and none of us was feeling hungry enough to need some protein or bread as we normally would with a salad meal.
  • Friday: Nicholas wanted the few potatoes we’d gotten from the farm to be served baked, with garlic butter. Daniel baked them in the microwave. He also sauteed zucchini, green onion, and herbs, all from the farm, in olive oil. He and I ate the veggies on our potatoes, but Nicholas wouldn’t even taste them.
  • Saturday: I thawed the last of these Nutshroom Burgers that I’d made a couple weeks earlier, and Nicholas grilled them while I made a batch of coleslaw out of a cabbage from the farm. We kept a little bit of coleslaw for our lunches and donated the rest for volunteers from our church to serve at a homeless shelter. I’ve done this a few times because of my limited tolerance for cabbage–if I eat too much of it in a short time, my stomach gets upset–and because I’ve been told that the homeless men of Pittsburgh really like coleslaw!

Read more…

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (early spring)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish.  That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.

Here’s what we ate for dinner (plus weekend lunches) for four weeks in March and April, including Easter, trying to make the most of seasonal produce sales (mushrooms, sweet potatoes, string beans, kale) and leftovers from my church’s Easter receptions and Daniel’s family Passover seder.  I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week; Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners.

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Leftover Mexican Pizza.
    • Dinner: I made this Thai soup using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, tofu instead of shrimp, kale instead of spinach, and regular orange sweet potatoes.  It was pretty good.  I liked it better than the guys did, so I had the leftovers for lunch Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday!  When I bring soup as my lunch for work, I put it in a reused salsa jar, which seals well and can be microwaved–I just need to use my napkin as a potholder when I pick it up because the jar gets hot.
  • Monday: Whole-wheat spaghetti, sauce from a jar (Classico makes many varieties that have no added sugar, soy, or corn) with extra tomatoes (left over from a bag of frozen diced tomatoes that I’d thawed to make the Mexican Pizza), and sauteed mushrooms.
  • Tuesday: Tangy Honey-Apricot Tofu, Salty String Beans, and rice.  It’s unusual for us to have tofu twice in one week, but this time we did.  This is one of our favorite meals.  Daniel cooked extra rice to use the next day.
  • Wednesday: Fried Rice with carrots, mushrooms, and cashews.
  • Thursday: Spinach sauteed with garlic and olive oil and chopped pecans, over baked potatoes.  The spinach was frozen; I put it in the refrigerator to thaw the night before.
  • Friday: Bean Burritos.
  • Saturday:
    • Lunch: We attended the memorial service for a friend who had been an enthusiastic participant in our church’s many food-serving events, so of course the service was followed by a reception with sandwiches, fruit, orzo salad, and other goodies!
    • Dinner: I had the idea of trying to make a different flavor of baked lentils, using a lentil recipe as a guide for the ratio of liquid to lentils and using a tetrazzini recipe as a guide to flavoring.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work out so well.  The lentils absorbed all the water and didn’t burn, but they also didn’t cook completely, and they sank to the bottom while all the tasty stuff went to the top, so we had crunchy bland lentils with a yummy topping–and the guys liked it all right, but I was very upset!  I think that eating undercooked lentils may have a physiological effect that makes me anxious and depressed, because I have reacted like this before to lentil experiments that went wrong. 😦

Read more…

Four Weeks of Mostly Vegetarian Dinners (winter)

I’ve posted several accounts of our family meals that are all-vegetarian or include a little fish.  That’s the way we eat normally, and it’s the way we ate during most of this four-week period, but this was one of the rare times when we purchased some chicken to eat at home and ordered some in a restaurant, as well as eating quite a bit of ham at a party.  You see, we aren’t strict vegetarians.  We believe that eating meat infrequently is better for our health and the environment, but we like to be flexible.  Sometimes it’s more polite to eat some meat than to make a fuss about what we’re served as guests.  Sometimes we’re away from home and need to eat in a restaurant with limited options.  Sometimes one of us feels a craving for a particular meat, and because of our generally healthy metabolisms we believe that our food cravings are a sign of genuine physical needs.  Sometimes we eat meat just because it tastes good–as is the case with the incidents here!  Moderation in all things. This four-week menu is still mostly vegetarian.  I plan our menu for dinner every night and lunch on days when there’s no school.  Daniel cooks on weeknights, and I cook on weekends and days off, because he works from home whereas I don’t get home from work until just before dinnertime. Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Leftover Apricot Lentil Soup, cheese, and crackers.
    • Dinner: Salmon Tetrazzini made with canned salmon, whole-wheat pasta, and frozen peas.  Side dish of canned pineapple.  Tetrazzini is just about the only recipe for which I can be bothered to make a white sauce, a task I find annoying but worthwhile for this deliciousness!  My tetrazzini recipe came from a magazine years ago, probably Redbook; it called for turkey, but at various times I’ve made it with salmon, tuna, tofu, or vegetables in place of the turkey.
  • Monday (New Year’s Eve):

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (late autumn)

Menu Plan MondayHearth & Soul Blog HopFrugal Days, Sustainable WaysEat, Make, GrowFood on Fridays

Here is what we made for dinner (and a few lunches) the past four weeks, using many vegetables and mushrooms from our community-supported agriculture share in a farm here in Pennsylvania.  I hope it gives you some new ideas for meals based around the local foods of the season!

I plan our menu a few days ahead, based mainly on what we already have in the house from the farm and from stocking up at sales.

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and apples.
    • Dinner: Seven-year-old Nicholas and I ate pizza at his friend’s birthday party.  Daniel had leftovers.
  • Monday: We celebrated an excellent parent-teacher conference with dinner at Curry on Murray, a newish Thai restaurant in our neighborhood.  Everything was delicious!  It’s a bit more expensive than we’d like, so this will be a special occasion restaurant for us.
  • Tuesday: Honey-Apricot Tofu, Salty String Beans, and rice.  This is one of Nicholas’s favorite meals lately.
  • Wednesday: Daniel made a Brown Rice Salad for the church potluck; I planned it thinking he would use onion, red pepper, and carrot from the farm.  However, when he cut open the red pepper he found that it was moldy!  He called me at work, and I picked up another pepper at the grocery store on my way home, and he diced it and mixed it into the salad which had been marinating all afternoon. Read more…

Three Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners for Early Autumn

Hearth and Soul Blog HopFrugal Days, Sustainable WaysFood on Fridays

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish.  That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.  Here is what we made for dinner (and a few lunches) the past three weeks, using many vegetables and mushrooms from our community-supported agriculture share in a farm here in Pennsylvania.  I hope it gives you some new ideas for meals based around the local foods of the season!

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: We had a parish lunch at church.  The cooking crew had made pancetta, an Italian bread salad kind of thing with plenty of fresh local vegetables and crumbled cheese.  It was delicious except for the celery, which I could pick out.  (I detest celery.  It astounds me that some people claim it has no flavor; to me it’s strong and repulsive!)  There was such an abundance of the stuff that a lot of people took home leftovers in reused yogurt buckets; I got two buckets and had it for lunch at work the next two days.
    • Dinner: Spaghetti with my latest batch of marinara sauce, which includes apple, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, basil, and kale from the farm.  After dinner, I packed up two jars of sauce for the refrigerator and a plastic quart bucket for the freezer, so all references to spaghetti sauce in this menu refer to this sauce.
  • Monday:
    • Lunch: Our seven-year-old Nicholas had a day off school for Rosh Hashanah, so I planned a lunch menu for him and his father Daniel to eat while I was at work.  They had mac&cheez from a box, cantaloupe, and grapes.  I don’t like that powdered cheese stuff anymore, but I remember loving mac&cheez when I was little, so I’d agreed to Nick’s request to buy a multi-pack at Costco.  We won’t be doing that again for a while because he hasn’t been interested enough in the stuff to eat it before it reaches its use-by date, which is fast approaching with one more box on the shelf!
    • Dinner: Masoor Dal (Indian-style red lentils with carrots), rice, and lettuce.  Some of the carrots were from the farm, but we haven’t gotten many carrots from them so far this year, so we have some from the supermarket as well.

    Read more…

Three Weeks of Vegetarian Dinners for Late Spring

Hearth & Soul HopFood on Fridays

I’ve previously posted four September/October weeks and four January/February weeks of my family’s pesco-vegetarian menu, including a few seafood meals among the vegetarian ones.  In these three weeks in May and June, we did not include any seafood in the meals we made at home, so this meal plan is vegetarian.  However, we ate in restaurants a little more often than usual during these three weeks, and I’ll admit that we did eat seafood in some of them and even a little chicken.  To make up for the missing dinners, I’ve included our lunch menus for the weekend days.  Weekday lunches are mostly leftovers and frozen meals for the adults and mostly PBJ sandwiches for the seven-year-old who still prefers them to any other lunchbox main course!  Why only three weeks this time?  Well, I write our menu on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of scrap paper, and this time only three weeks fit on a sheet instead of four! Read more…

Four MORE Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (winter)

Food on Fridays CarnivalMenu Plan MondayHearth & Soul Blog Hop

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish.  That’s my family’s policy when we’re at home.  Four weeks of our dinner menus made a popular post, so I’m posting another four weeks.  I hope these are helpful to other people who want to eat less meat but aren’t sure what to eat instead!

We made these meals in January and February.  This winter, we bought a winter farm share in addition to the summer one, so every two weeks we have been getting a crate of produce that was either stored through the winter or grown in a greenhouse.  We also got a mushroom share, which gives us a small paper bag of mushrooms from an affiliated farm, delivered along with our veggie crate. Read more…

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (early autumn)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish.  That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.

Last week I explained my family’s approach to menu planning, which is that I write the menu and do the weekend cooking, while Daniel cooks weeknight dinners following my instructions.  Here is our menu from one sheet of paper=four recent weeks.  I hope it gives you some new ideas! Read more…

Two Weeks of Meatless Menus for Late Winter

It’s Lent, which means that a lot of omnivores are keeping meatless Fridays, and some have given up meat for the whole six weeks.  Daniel and I used to eat a lot more meat than we do now, and giving up meat for Lent in 2002 was one of the biggest steps in our journey.  Since then, we’ve found more and more meatless foods to enjoy!

If you’re accustomed to having meat in every meal, it can be difficult to figure out what else you might eat, so we’re sharing two weeks of our family menu to give you some ideas!   Read more…

Speedy Sushi and menu planning with a six-year-old

Our lives go so much more smoothly when I write up a menu for what we’ll have for dinner in the next few days!  I have a full-time job outside the home; Daniel is unemployed right now, so he picks up Nicholas from kindergarten, and they can start dinner before I get home . . . but if they decide what to make on the spur of the moment, we end up eating a lot of easy-to-make, not-so-great, incomplete meals, and we don’t use up perishable ingredients.  Menu planning is something that just doesn’t come easily to Daniel, but he’s happy to follow a plan I wrote! Read more…