Thinking Inside the Box

Usually by this time of year, I’m rolling in lettuce and other greens, bringing in snap peas by the bushel, and harvesting radishes left and right.

But right now, my garden is almost 100% bolted greens and sad tomatoes, planted a little too late and still straggly.

The slugs ate all my beans, most of the basil, and the nasturtiums never took off like most years. The chickens killed most of the strawberry starts. The only thing I’m really getting a decent crop of is the peas, which are still less than other years.

I blame it all on starting a business and having a toddler who can’t actually come out into the garden with me unless I want more things to get un-done than done.

Thank goodness for farmer’s markets…when I can actually get there, which this year has only been about 3 or 4 times.

So, when I got asked if I would like a CSA box courtesy of Oxbow Farms in exchange for a little shameless promotion for the farm, I jumped on it. I have been a CSA member with that farm before, in fact, and I buy their produce at the market all the time. It was a perfect fit with my schedule too, since I was able to pick the box up the day before I hosted the first “public” dinner in our summer backyard dinner series.

I had Joe pick up the box, since he works close to where the pick-up location was, at Melrose Market. He strapped the whole thing to the back of the scooter and speedily brought it home for me to inspect.

What a bounty waited in that small box for me. There are 2 different sizes of shares you can purchase, and this one I believe was one of the small shares. Some things didn’t last past the next morning, but we are still eating the lettuce, and I still have some broccoli and a bunch of chard left, with plans to finish them up this weekend.

As for the other items in the box, I knew right away to what use they would be put. A simple salad to showcase the greens and baby root vegetables that Oxbox farms excels at. When we were getting a CSA box regularly, it was so awesome to always have fresh things to cook and eat that I didn’t have to work hard to provide. It always came with recipes from the farm to help us get creative with ingredients we might not have used before. Not to mention how outstandingly fresh everything was. Then our garden became much more productive and we decided that we could do without the box for a while. With me going back to work full time, getting a box on a regular basis is looking better and better…

I’ve been dreaming of this magical pistachio dust ever since I saw it. I wanted to try making it with sunflower seeds, mostly because I really can’t ever make a recipe the way I see it written. I first made it with the pistachios as called for, then I made a batch using the sunflower seeds. It was excellent. And then I mixed the two batches to go over a huge salad. EVEN BETTER.

Spread lustily and shamelessly over a deep bed of red tinted lettuce, sweet roasted baby beets and turnips, and a few handfuls of snappy green cucumbers, it was a salad that couldn’t call for much more. A little drizzle of good olive oil and a shake or two of champagne vinegar was all it needed to become a delicate tumble of sweet and savory, crunch and silk.

This recipe is incredibly free form, which goes along with how it is to work in a garden. You just have to go with the flow sometimes and take what you can get–much like when you sign up for a CSA box, and you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and how she has treated the farm that week. And it fits in with my “French” theme from the past couple of weeks too, as it’s a salad I’m sure any frenchman would be glad to have on a warm summer evening as part of a larger meal.

Green Salad with Roasted Root Veggies
serves 8-10 as a salad course, 4-6 larger servings

1 medium-large head of good romaine type lettuce, washed well and dried
1 bunch very tiny beets
1 bunch baby turnips, or more beets if you prefer
3-4 small persian cucumbers
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
champagne vinegar

Heat your oven to 400ºF. Remove the tops from the root veggies (keep them to sauté another time, if they are very tender) leaving about 1/2″ or so of stem attached to the bulb. Scrub them all well and trim off most of the long root part of the beets. In a glass baking dish, drizzle with just a touch of olive oil and roast until tender. This could take anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour depending on the size of the veggies. You want them to be soft enough for a knife to slice into with no resistance.

While the root veggies roast, wash and dry the lettuce well. Slice each leaf down the middle, stack, then chop into bite sized pieces. Toss into a bowl and cover with a damp towel until you are ready to serve the salad.

Cut the cucumbers in half and then into slices, and keep covered in the fridge until just before tossing the salad.

Once the root veggies are done, let them cool just a bit, then cut any larger roots into small bite sized pieces. Add these pieces, along with the cucumber, to the lettuce and drizzle a couple of tsp each of olive oil and vinegar over it all, starting with just a little, tossing, and tasting before adding more. There should be no liquid in the bottom of the bowl, just enough to barely cover the leaves and vegetables. Add some salt and pepper and toss again. Cover the whole thing in a light blanket of pistachio dust and serve, passing more dust if need be.

Optionally, you can leave the salad undressed and unadorned and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days to be dressed and eaten as needed.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary box from Oxbow Farms in exchange for this post, but all the words, photographs and opinions are my own.

Walking on Eggshells

Here at our house, we keep 8 chickens. I know I’ve mentioned them before. They’re pretty lovely girls all individually, though they do have some quirks.

Right now we are struggling with integration blues. The oldest three hens–Effie, Andromeda, and Mambo–have all been giving the newest 5 quite a hard time. I know it’s normal but it’s distressing nonetheless. Mostly it’s just Andromeda and Effie, and mostly they just chase Shadowfax around and pull out the occasional feather.

Effie, right after meeting the News for the first time. She crowed. For. Ever.
The Original Shadowfax

A little backstory on Shadowfax: Our first Shadowfax was a cockerel, someday to become a beautiful rooster and boss all the other chickens around. But living in Seattle, we couldn’t let a rooster hang around, so we traded him for a slightly older bird–a 100% hen version of the same variety, Ameraucana. Isaac and Aaron decided she should still be named Shadowfax, and I went along with it because I was very sad to lose our original. He was so pretty. The new version is all white, and while she is pretty too (and already laying cute little eggs the color of mint ice cream) white isn’t the most exciting thing in the flock.

The New Shadowfax

For the most part, the birds all “get along” by ignoring each other. I’ve slowly pulled out all the obstacles to integration. First the “News”, as we call them, lived inside and only visited the outside world a couple of times. Then we moved them into a newly built coop with a run that was completely separated from the “Olds” so they could see/hear/smell each other but not have physical access to each other and each other’s stuff. For a while I let them free-range at different times of day. Then we started to let them out into the yard at the same time, but with a bit of chicken wire splitting the yard in two. Then I needed the chicken wire to protect the garden from the girls, so I took it down and let them all be “integrated” but still having separate living quarters in the run/coop area. Now all barriers are down and they have to share a feeder and water.

Poor things. A few weeks ago, when Shadowfax started laying, she knew just where to go–into the Olds’ coop, because that’s obviously where you go if you want to lay an egg. It didn’t matter to her that there were nesting boxes built especially for the News, which I showed her several times. I even put in a fake egg. She laid in there a couple of times. Then she started laying in the Olds’ coop and just puts up with the abuse.

That’s when the troubles began, because the Olds started to get much more territorial.

The evidence.

They chase her around and pin her down, and then she chases the other News around to try and assert her place above them. I know they’ll get the whole thing figured out eventually. Probably around the time the rest of the News start laying . The funny thing is, the Olds really stir up the most trouble when I have to go out into the backyard for whatever reason. The News just try to stay out of the range of the Olds’ beaks, hudled in their own little tight group, trying not to invoke the Wrath of Effie.

I know I need to cut off access to the Olds’ coop. Our plan is to get rid of it entirely. But, I hesitate. It could go either way I suppose. It could put the Olds in the their place, since they would be forced to live in the News’ coop. Or it could end in a bloodbath.

While they are working all that out, I quietly take the eggs and leave treats in their place. The eggs are delicious too–bright yellow-orange yolks with flavor so amazing you can hardly believe it.

I’m guessing everybody knows how to scramble an egg. But do yourself a favor, if you’ve never done it before. Go to your local co-op, or farmer’s market. Splurge on 6 or 12 of the eggs fresh from a local farm. Go home, and poach or fry a couple, so that the yolk is just thickening up. Make a piece of toast from your favorite crusty bread, and eat it. Sop up all the drippy yolk with another piece of toast. (Whatever you do don’t boil them, because you’ll never get an egg that fresh to peel properly. I usually let them sit in the fridge for a week if I know I want to boil some.)

You might never go back to store-bought, and that’s a happy thing.