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Stress Test

June 27, 2012

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace; and what did that produce? …. The cuckoo clock.
– Harry Lime, The Third Man (1949)

You can see and hear Orson Wells delivering this line on YouTube. But if you’ve never seen The Third Man, I strongly suggest you avoid the temptation to click. Instead, find it on DVD, turn off your cell phone, put away your computer and watch it uninterrupted. It’s one of the best films ever, and most people have never heard of it.

Be warned, it’s in glorious black and white. And your widescreen television will be of no use, since it was shot for a different aspect ratio.

The idea is that stress and anxiety can produce things of greatness. Winemakers routinely stress their vines, depriving them of water and spacing plants so they have to compete for precious natural resources. This produces fruit with better flavor and intensity. Shows like Iron Chef work the same way.

Some of you were concerned that my CSA was causing me an undue amount of stress. On some level that’s true. But it is also one of my great joys of summer. Yes, I know it may not have sounded so joyful the other day, but there are some good reasons for that.

For the curious, a share of vegetables from Roxbury Farm costs $541 for 23 weeks of vegetables. That comes down to about $23.50 worth of gorgeous, biodynamic, local produce at the peak of season. It means amazingly fresh corn straight from the farm. We get beautiful tomatoes without having to maintain a garden. Part of the fun is the amazing variety of things that if left to my own devices I might not buy on my own.

Just yesterday I picked up a bunch of rainbow chard, a bunch of beets, a quart of snap peas, a head of cabbage, 2 summer squash, 2 zucchini, 4 cucumbers, a bunch of green onions, a head of romaine, a crown of broccoli, a bag of salad greens, a bunch of purple basil, a bunch of parsley and a bunch of cilantro.

During CSA season I don’t make it down to the farmers’ markets often, so I’m ill equipped to price it out. But I feel this is an exceedingly reasonable price for the quality and quantity of produce I’m getting.

Is it challenging? You bet. But I love it.

I love it even when it starts to stack up. I love it even when I come to the realization that there is precious little among all this glorious food that Little Miss Fussy will eat of her own free will. Sometimes I think the same thing about Mrs. Fussy too. But we are supposed to eat more vegetables, and having them around certainly helps in this regard. Plus it brings things into my life that I might not buy ordinarily.

Organic basil isn’t cheap. It’s doubtful that I would buy a big bunch of that every week during the height of the season. So it’s a huge treat to rejoice in a bountiful harvest of the stuff. I’ll make extra batches of pesto to freeze, so we can recall the joys of summer in the dead of winter.

Getting out of one’s comfort zone is also mentally stimulating. Over the winter I tend to fall into cooking ruts. By early spring I’m going crazy making the same few dishes over and over again. But being confronted with two cabbages and a family who won’t eat the stuff, I need to get creative. If the weather stays cool, I may switch my plan from slaw to slow braised Venetian style smothered cabbage.

The killer part is that I abhor waste. My kids know this. Having to throw away food in the refrigerator that has turned slimy, limp, or is past its expiration date feels like a personal failure. And that helps inspire me to be creative about ways to use up the vegetables.

It’s also led to more salads. And while I’m not crazy about salad, I’m warming up to it a bit. My beef is really with raw lettuce-based salads. But somehow adding a poached egg on top of them has helped tremendously.

Pretty much I think anything that makes me happy to live in the Capital Region is a good thing, regardless of the craziness that ensues. And I think that sums up this blog nicely. Speaking of which, post number 1,000 has to be coming up soon. Plus if you can believe it, it’s almost time for the next Fussy Little Tour.

These are stresses I put on my life voluntarily. And I’m the better for them.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2012 2:29 pm

    “Raw lettuce-based salads” certainly sounds unappealing and hopeless and it’s interesting that the most productive thing you have done is to toss a flabby warm egg on top of these crisp and presumably chilled garden delicacies. I think it is time for a salad intervention.

    Start thinking of your lettuce as a blank canvas for other ingredients. For example, you could caramelize those beets along with some walnuts and toss them with lettuce in a balsamic dressing. Or, if you have an aversion to cold things in general, try a German-style wilted salad including some crisp bacon bits… your romaine would be great for this. Or, since you seem to have just one bag of salad greens, why not just put them on sandwiches?

    Similarly, I can’t believe you are just going to cook up that cabbage instead of turning it into slaw. Cold food is good. Especially on hot summer days. Won’t you give it another chance?

  2. Third Auntie permalink
    June 27, 2012 4:19 pm

    Soooo many vegetables, so little time before they get tossed into compost! I hate waste also. Some suggestions?

    Beets – roast them and drizzle with olive oil. Candy!
    Chard – Slice stems thinly, saute in olive oil and garlic till carmelized, add the leaves, add chicken broth, simmer, add white beans. Dirzzle more olive oil to finish. Serve as a veggie dish or over pasta.
    Summer squash and zucchini – slice and grill. So sweet and nutty.
    Scallions – grill them also or make a green salsa/dressing by whirling it with the parsley and cilantro and oil. Add fresh minced ginger, salt to taste. Great with cold poached chicken or shrimp.
    Sugar snaps – add them to pesto and pasta. Sweet, salty, crunchy, yum.
    Broccoli – with oyster sauce, stir fry with or without beef.
    Cabbage – slice thinly, saute sliced fresh pork belly, toss in a few hydrated dried shrimp, add the cabbage, stir fry till it starts to wilt, add some broth and simmer till tender. The shrimp will give a sweetness to the dish.
    Romaine lettuce – stir fry with garlic till just wilted. If you are daring, add a cube or 2 of fermented bean curd at the end.

  3. June 28, 2012 8:56 am

    I, too, abhor waste, which is why Chris and I split our CSA share with a friend. It works nicely, because I can’t stand broccoli, like you am not big on salads, and though I love sweet corn it does a number on my intestines. Our CSA share-friend LOVES corn, eats salads for lunch every day, and also likes broccoli.

    There’s just no way we would get through a whole box on our own, so it helps to split with a friend. Last night we made stir fry with radishes and book choy

    • June 28, 2012 8:59 am

      I was trying to fix my auto-correct and accidentally submitted my comment! Anyway, BOK (not book) choy, spring onions, and garlic scapes. Speaking to your point, I had never tried spring onions before my CSA box, and now they are among the vegetables I look forward to most.

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