This was actually dinner last night. Tonight W had his two cousins over for their first! sleepover! ever! And I doubt a vegetable curry would have gone over well. They played trains, and Mouse Trap, and played with bubble wrap, and we biked to the store for a movie and then went to the ice cream shop for some MacKays. We had pillow fights and popcorn, and grilled a plain old steak, straight-up, for dinner with new potatoes, carrots and peas from the CSA box. Sounds downright wholesome, don’t it?
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about when I refer to my CSA box, I’d love to tell you about it – I’m hoping that soon CSA will be as common a household term as Costco or superstore.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture – it’s a great arrangement that allows consumers (eaters) to connect more directly with (and more directly support) the source of their food. In a CSA relationship, the eater supports the farmer directly by buying a share of his or her crop at the beginning of the growing season. This guarantees a market for the farmers’ produce while covering the expense of planting early on, when it’s most needed. Members typically buy half shares (enough for 2-3 people) or whole shares (enough for a family of 4-5). It’s a direct way of sustainably supporting the existence of a small family farm, and getting to personally know who’s growing your food.
Over the course of the summer and fall (or the length of the growing season), CSA members typically receive weekly boxes of produce containing a share of the crop – most often fresh produce but often eggs, dairy and meat as well – dropped off and picked up at a prearranged location. For us, every Thursday between 5 and 7 we pop by the parking lot at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association, conveniently located across from Riley park (that has a wading pool!) and pick up our share – ours is a full share, and it about fills two shopping crates. It has become the highlight of the boys’ week to come and each pick one item from each box – white potatoes, purple potatoes, pink potatoes, summer squash (yellow zucchini and pattypan), tomatoes, onions, green onions, chard, lettuces, radishes, peas, and their favourite carrots, which they eat in the car on the way home.
Some CSAs send out weekly newsletters with photos and updates on the current crop. There is also often the option to go help out on your CSA farm – a great experience for anyone who wants to learn hands-on gardening skills or would like their kids to see exactly where their food is coming from. John, the owner (with his dad) of the farm we support, was telling me yesterday how thrilled he is with this new arrangement (in his twenties, he’s part of a new generation of Alberta farmer taking over the family farm – something not enough of the next generation are willing to do these days). This is his first year running a CSA. He says it’s far more efficient than the farmers’ markets as he knows exactly what’s being picked up and doesn’t have to guess at quantities nor haul the remainder home after a disappointing turnout (bad weather can affect weekly markets). Of course there isn’t any overhead either when all you’re doing is pulling into an empty parking lot once a week.
Our CSA is Eagle Creek Farms, in Bowden. But there are others in the Calgary area – Thompson Small Farm in Carbon, Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farm in Carstairs and Oxyoke Farms, in Linden. Of course they’re all booked up for this season, but it doesn’t hurt to connect now and perhaps even put your name on the list for next year. I know John has had a ton of interest for next spring already. For more information and a full list of Alberta CSAs, visit www.csaalberta.com.
Right – the curry. It was a ploy to get rid of the last of last week’s boxes before (or in this case immediately after) picking up this week’s. I chopped sweet onions, garlic scapes, a pepper (not from the box yet), yellow zucchini and chard, and at the last minute tossed in the remains of some flaked fish I used for a fish taco photo yesterday afternoon. Really – all you need to do to make a pretty smashing curry is saute whatever veg you like with a good glob of grated ginger and garlic, a spoonful of curry paste and a can of coconut milk poured in once the veg are soft and starting to turn golden on the edges – this means there are browned bits in the bottom of the pan, too, and the coconut milk will help you get them all up. If you want to add a spoonful of chutney – mango or otherwise – go for it.
Big ol’ Curry
If you really need a recipe, here you go. Curry is a great cupboard cleaner – curries are great with potatoes (plain or sweet), zucchini, spinach, onions, lentils, beans, peppers, kale, chard, cauliflower… and bottled curry paste and canned coconut milk make the sauce easy. If you’re using light coconut milk and want to boost the coconut flavor even further without adding extra fat, add a teaspoon of coconut extract. Serve over steamed rice.
canola or olive oil, for cooking
2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1-3 cups chopped fresh veg – any kind you like
2-3 tsp. curry paste
1/2 tsp. ground cumin or cumin seed (optional)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 14 oz (398 mL) can coconut milk, regular or light
A couple handfuls fresh spinach, chard or kale, chopped (remove the stems)
chopped peanuts or torn cilantro, to sprinkle on top (optional)
In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in a drizzle of oil for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
Add any firm veg you’re using, such as potatoes or cauliflower, and cook them for a few minutes, until they soften and start to turn golden on the edges. Add the remaining vegetables along with the curry paste, cumin, salt and coconut milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir in the chutney, if you’re using it, and cook for about 5 more minutes, until the sauce thickens and the vegetables are tender. (How long you cook it all will depend on the veg you use and how big the pieces are.)
Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and cook for a minute, just until it wilts. Serve immediately over rice with chopped peanuts and/or cilantro sprinkled on top.