When we moved to California, my husband B and I decided to embrace all that is California-y. Meaning, we promised each other we’d try to take advantage of things we didn’t necessarily have access to back home in Chicago. One of these golden opportunities was joining a weekly organic fruit/vegetable co-op. I know, I know… they have these practically everywhere, but this is CALIFORNIA PRODUCE, people! It has magical powers! 😉
So anyway, for around $20 a week, we pick up a crate of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from a parking lot down the street from our house on Saturday mornings. Luscious, off-the-vine goodness right at our fingertips! We fantasized about all the amazing organic purees we’d make for The Bear (our daughter). The soups, casseroles and homemade jams. The always-accessible bowls of fruit we’d pluck from in the morning instead of grabbing a scone at Starbucks. It was going to be wonderful, and we were going to be thin, clear-skinned, organic vegetable consumers. Our daughter would never know what jarred applesauce tastes like.
Five months later… I’m canceling our subscription.
In the beginning, I found it thrilling to look up recipes for cabbage, kale, chive flowers, apriums, chocolate mint… There was the homemade chamomile-lavender tea, the lamb’s quarter soup, the apricot tart. Your mouth’s watering, right? So was mine! But sometimes, a lady just wants to steam some broccoli, cut up a banana, and give them to her toddler to eat while she checks her text messages! More than once in the past few months I’ve Googled things like “what to do with two pounds of red onions.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my veggies. I love to cook and so does B. I believe strongly in the importance of buying organic produce and dairy even though it’s more expensive and we’re not rich (for a list of the so-called “dirty dozen,” click here – add dairy to that list, too). But, we had to break up with our co-op.
Week after week, we’d be struggling to keep up with the pounds of produce sitting in our fridge. My husband works long hours, my daughter eats at 5, and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open long enough to make ricotta-stuffed collard greens with homemade heirloom tomato sauce. So, we’d end up having a surplus, which made us feel terrible, considering all of the hungry folks out there who don’t have the luxury of complaining about their organic produce co-op. We started skipping weeks, donating our box to local shelters. And, last week, we decided to cut the cord for good.
This is not to say I wouldn’t recommend a co-op to others (here is a list of some popular ones across the country), especially if you have a big family, but I did feel like we ended up wasting a lot of the beautiful, exotic local produce we were getting in our box every week because we either didn’t have time to cook it, or didn’t know how to cook it, and ended up spending even more money going to the grocery store or market to buy additional produce we felt we were missing.
So, briefly stated, this mommy is going to make a point of buying only what she needs and using the money we’re now saving to treat ourselves every once in a while to something a little more exotic.
In honor of my six-month relationship with our co-op, I’ll leave you two very simple but tasty recipes I developed that were necessitated by ignorance, but now a favorite in my cooking repertoire.
SUPER-SIMPLE CREAMLESS LAMB’S QUARTER SOUP
1 bunch of Lamb’s Quarter (it’s a mild, wild spinach that you can find at farmer’s markets or specialty supermarkets), cleaned and dried. The stems are edible. You can definitely substitute fresh spinach for the Lamb’s Quarter… they’re very similar in taste.
5 small red, fingerling or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
1 quart of sodium-free organic vegetable broth
Kosher Salt and black pepper, to taste
Grated organic Parmesan cheese, to taste
Optional: Sherry, to taste
Boil the potatoes, onion and garlic in the vegetable broth until soft but not mushy. Add the lamb’s quarter and cook until just tender. Do NOT drain. Add the entire mixture to a food processor or Vitamix and blend until creamy and lump-free. Add salt, pepper and sherry to taste. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and a sprig of Lamb’s quarter. Admire green color. Serve with crusty bread and butter.
This one is also super-easy. Discovered when I got a bunch of both in my basket and hadn’t a clue what to do with them, other than make potpourri or put them in a vase on my kitchen table. The tea is delicious and I swear it helps me sleep better!
1 small bunch chamomile, washed (you can do this by swishing the chamomile in a bowl of salt water, then rinsing with fresh water)
1 small bunch lavender, washed (you can wash the lavender the same way you washed the chamomile, just be careful that you’re gentle with the swishing so that the flowers don’t fall off)
Optional: peppermint oil
Lots of sunlight or time
Zest one large fresh lemon and set aside. Line baking sheets with aluminum foil (if you’re anti-aluminum, you can also use dish towels or paper towel). Arrange the lemon zest and flowers (keeping each separate from one another) in a single layer across the trays, allowing proper air flow to each stem.
Find a clean, sunny, bug-free place outside and let the flowers dry on the trays for 6-8 hours in full sunlight. If you don’t have access to an outdoor area or total sunlight, you can hang the flowers upside down in a dark, dry cool place, ala your prom corsage. This method takes a few days but with the same effect.
I sun-dried my chamomile on my back patio:
And air-dried the lavender in my very-messy pantry using string and wire ties (very high-tech):
When the stems are completely dry and brittle, de-flower them (haha). Save only the leaves and flowers from the chamomile, and the flowers from the lavender. For the tea, I mix a 3-2-1 ratio of chamomile to lavender to lemon. Steep in boiled water for 10 minutes, strain and enjoy! The tea is also delicious with a tiny drop of peppermint oil added to the pot.
FYI, you can also blend the dried flowers and zest in a food processor to max out their mileage, but you’ll have to purchase and fill empty tea bags because the powdered mixture slips right through a tea strainer. The other, processor-free method is much prettier because who doesn’t like to look at flowers in their tea cup? 🙂