Essex Farm Note, week 40

Plenty of news from the farm this week, but the note is dedicated to some tips for making your kitchen run smoothly when you’re cooking exclusively (or nearly so) from the share. Some of you have been doing it for years, but we have a lot of new members who are just beginning to make that swing from grocery store to farm food. It’s a big transition, but it doesn’t have to be arduous. These ideas may sound obvious, but they are some of the habits that have survived the long haul in my kitchen, and ones I find really useful.

1. When you are cooking whole food, the week needs to have a rhythm. Mine starts on Friday, when I clean out the fridge, toss anything that has made its final showing, repurpose anything that is still delicious and move it to the front of the shelves. Then I assess what I have in the fridge, pantry and freezer. I write down what I need to refill, like flours, eggs, beans, etc. I pick up our share on Saturday. After I unpack the food I make a list of what I think I’m going to cook for a main dish each day and write it on the calendar. This is subject to change, but it gives me a fallback plan if I need it. I also write down what I’ve brought in for vegetables and post it. Sunday and Monday I try to cook more than we need so we have things prepared for the rest of the week, when our schedules get busier.

2. I have a set of 5 mesh produce bags to remind me how much to take at pickup. This one simple thing took me years to figure out. Before the mesh bags, I would just grab a handful of plastic bags of all sizes, and get so excited about the latest delicious-looking vegetable that I’d usually take way too much and then watch it rot in the fridge for a while before throwing it in the compost. Now I use the same mesh bags for vegetables every week, fill them all up, and resist the temptation to take more. While filling them, I’m already thinking about what they might become. For our family, five bags is generous, and more is just fridge clutter. Also, the bags remind me to use what I’ve got. If I get toward the end of the week and I still have a lot of vegetables in the bags, I begin focusing on them, so they get eaten. For example, this week, I used zucchini for a main course one day and added chopped kale to the meatloaf another day because I could see I had a lot of it left. I like these: Herbs, however, get washed when they come in, then stored with a piece of paper towel in an open ziplock storage bag so they stay fresh.

3. The days need to have a rhythm too. Cooking really starts the night before. Before I go to bed, I decide what I’m making for breakfast and lunch the next day. (Those are our big meals – supper takes care of itself with minimal effort.) That way, I can soak the beans or the grains, pull out meat to defrost, and if I know I’m going to have a really busy morning, I’ll even get some of the prep work done. I like to do this after the kids are in bed, so I can just turn on the radio, drink a thimbleful of port, mellow out and enjoy it.

4. When I first met Mark I used to get freaked out by what I saw as severe breakfast rigidity. He posted a chart of what he’d make in the morning each day of the week. It made me feel wildly claustrophobic, and I destroyed it. For years, “Oatmeal Thursdays” was shorthand between us for our differences in that department. Enter children, and the need to get everyone calmly fed and out the door in time for school, and without any boxed cereal. Now, guess what? I have a breakfast schedule. Pancakes every Monday, rye/wheat porridge or oatmeal on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and biscuits or muffins on Wednesdays. We wing it on Fridays and Saturdays and do waffles on Sundays. Eggs, yogurt and granola are available every day. Like I said, breakfast is a big meal at our house.

5. I always have a few things ready to eat, in the freezer and on the snack shelf, for the inevitable surprises. Whenever I make chili or soup, I make extra and freeze it. I had a cold this week and was so happy to stay in bed one morning, knowing that I had some excellent chili in the freezer that I could just pop in a pan and warm up for the girls for their lunch. Snack-wise, I always have a bag of homemade whole grain crackers in the pantry, plus a jar of homemade granola. That way the sweet-crunchy and the salty-crunchy joneses can always be satisfied, and the crackers are something to offer unexpected guests. Last year’s popcorn is also in the pantry, and I must say it pops better now than it did when we harvested it. Popcorn plus butter and salt is almost-instant gratification, and about the best snack you can ask for.

6. Make sure you keep it fun. If your counter is cluttered, your knives are dull, or you have a cruddy peeler, you’re never going to have a good time in your kitchen.

If you have other general tips about how you manage a farm-based kitchen, shoot me an email, and I’ll include them in another note. And finally, a few little announcements. Please remember that though we love them, dogs (other than our Jet!) are not allowed at the farm. Make your quarterly or monthly payments if you haven’t done so yet, and for members who pay weekly, please remember that if you miss a week’s pickup, you still need to make your weekly payment. And that is the news from the kitchen for this drippy 40th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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