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LJWorld.com weblogs Eat Your Vegetables

Bye-Bye Bounty, week 7: Tips for avoiding CSA pickup panic

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Those of you who are subscribed to a CSA have probably had a few weeks of pickups by now. You're probably getting in the routine of having an influx of fresh, local vegetables and products at the same time each week.

I hope this means it's getting easier for you.

I know when I signed up for my first CSA share a few years ago, I had a little bit of panic with every pickup until about mid-July. By nature I'm a planner, and the idea of getting a random assortment of food each week and not knowing what it would be until I got there, just totally freaked me out.

Honestly, I do much better at the grocery store or the farmers' market, where I have a chance to really choose what I'm going to take home.

But, I love the idea of the CSA. How it forces you into trying new things. How it assures our local farmers are going to get paid. And how it puts my money where my mouth is in regards to not only supporting local businesses, but also healthy eating. I expound about salads and stir-fries a lot on this blog, but like most everyone else, I would much rather order pizza than try to figure out how to use kohlrabi before it shrivels and dies in my fridge.

So, my blog this week is dedicated to those of you who are still freaking out about what you're picking up each week.

It's a hard adjustment from going from the "once a week BIG shop" type of person to getting a load of produce in the middle of the week and having very little say in what ends up going home with you. That's enough to cause panic no matter your personality.

Therefore, I thought I'd share my favorite ways to deal with "daunting" CSA pickups. Because we all have those weeks. And if you've hit your stride, no problem at all? Hopefully you'll find a few resources here, too.

Five methods to avoid CSA panic (or waste)

The big dinner: This is probably the easiest way to ensure you'll use all your CSA veggies. The idea? Make a single meal that utilizes all the ingredients you picked up for the week.

If your CSA provides you with a choice of items (mine does — we usually have a choice between two or three greens, or maybe you can have either eggs or mushrooms, for example), then simply pick things that might go together pretty well. Like, say, snow peas, carrots and bok choy. Make a stir-fry out of that and then make a salad, side dish or dessert incorporating the rest of your items.

If you don't have a choice or none of your items seem to go together, don't worry. Take them home and check out what you have in your fridge, then go through your favorite cookbooks. I highly recommend checking out Nancy O'Connor's "Rolling Prairie Cookbook" for great ideas for foods you're bound to get in your CSA bags.

Pick a main dish that uses at least two of your ingredients and then put together the sides. Make it for dinner the next night, so you're not feeling rushed on pickup night. That way you also have time to buy any stray ingredients to make sure your "big dinner" is a success.

The semi-plan: If you're a regular meal planner, take heart, you can plan a bit. It can be tricky, but most of the time, you can gauge what you might get in your CSA by going to the Saturday Lawrence Farmers' Market in the days ahead of your pickup. If there are items that are prevalent on many of the farmers' tables, chances are they'll be among the items in the next week's CSA pickup. You can also check forms like this one to see what is normally in season in our area.

Use this recon and plan your meals as you normally would any other time of year. But be flexible, if you don't get what you planned on, you can always grab stray ingredients at the store, or use a dish you thought you'd choose down the road.

The "pick away": This is just as it sounds: chipping away at what you get in your bag, just a little at a time. For example, cucumbers and carrots make great snacks for work, snap peas are fun for kids to eat, berries make a good breakfast and so on.

If you just try to include CSA ingredients in one meal per day during the week, your crisper will be cleared out in no time.

The swap: You might have a friend who is also part of your CSA and has completely different tastebuds than you do. If that's the case and you really find some things inedible (the aforementioned kohlrabi, or, if you're my husband, beets) see if your friend might be up for swapping goodies. You can get together post-pickup and trade each other for the items you know you'll have no trouble eating in a double serving. That way, you get more of what you want, and nothing goes to waste.

The save for later: A few blogs ago, I mentioned that because of travel and social commitments, we didn't have time to work through our weekly share. I felt like a bit of a failure (I am blogging, of course, about how to use the food ... not how to let it sit in your fridge), but I was buoyed by the fact that because of the fresh-picked nature of CSA goodies, they have a much longer fridge life than most store-bought fruits and veggies.

When the farmer picks your food just hours before it ends up at your house, that means you cut out all the travel and shelf time these same items see at the grocery store. Thus, if you just can't get through this week's goods for whatever reason, don't stress.

Just make sure they're properly stored (in plastic, unwashed, in your crisper) and save your veggies for later. Or hard-boil your eggs. Freeze your berries or herbs. You really don't have to "use it or lose it" as long as you think about what you can do.

Last week, we received black raspberries, carrots, radishes, eggs and snap peas. We used the "pick away" method. The kiddo had the raspberries the second we got home (as you can see, above), the carrots, radishes and snap peas made it into random salads that weren't exactly ground-breaking and the eggs got hard-boiled and eaten for breakfast.

So, even though we didn't get a single night for a big homemade meal this past week, we were able to get through those goodies, plus items we picked up at the store and the Lawrence Farmers' Market.

This week? We got Asian cabbage, Swiss chard, carrots, potatoes, black raspberries and summer squash.

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