Last Wednesday evening, Don and I were invited out to Biver Farms for the weekly CSA dinner. That’s me with Keith Biver just before things got started. People who are enrolled in Biver’s CSA program get a big bag of fresh produce each week, a selection of what is ripe and ready on the certified organic farm just outside Edwardsville, IL. They can pick their bag up most any evening after Wednesday, but most CSA members sure try to make the informal “dinner night”. As Frank Biver puts it: “We sometimes have quite a wing-ding out here.”
And they do. Everyone shows up with something they have made (or, if they were super busy, purchased) to share at dinner, and Rosie Biver is the “hostess with the mostess,” serving a few cocktails and her own really yummy creations. Don was all over her stuffed jalapeños with cream and cheddar cheese and…wait for it…BACON wrap. I swear, people think my poor meat-eater husband never gets any protein. Well I saw him down three of these while we were there.
Rosie will be publishing a little cookbook for her CSA members, so everyone can try out everyone else’s dishes. She offers recipes and tips on using whatever is in the weekly bag, so folks actually use everything they get—even okra (But that’s another Green Gal story still under construction.)
For my contribution, I decided to bring a little autumn to the table with a casserole of potatoes and butternut squash. What is special about this dish is the sauce—a sage cream and cheese sauce that marries tangy and savory with caramelized sweetness. I did a test-run the week before on my friend and always-willing guinea pig, Deb. I made the dish with French fillet green beans and carrots. I’m considering a version with sweet potatoes. Will keep you posted on that. For now, I’ve given you my two “tested” recipes—one sauce and two vegetable combinations.
- One cup chopped shallots
- Two tablespoons unsalted butter
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- Either one pound carrots, washed, timed and cut in sticks, and one pound French fillet green beans, trimmed but left whole OR one small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and thin sliced, and four to five medium white potatoes, scrubbed and cut into thin slices.
- Two to three large cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- One-half cup sour cream
- One-half cup quality goat cheese
- Two tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Two teaspoons minced fresh sage leaves
- The zest and juice of one medium lemon
- One-half cup grated smoked Gouda or preferred cheese.
- Freshly ground black pepper and coarse sea salt to taste
- One-half pound bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional, unless you are Don)
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees
- If you are making a carrot and green bean casserole, blanch the vegetables by immersing them in boiling water for three minutes then removing them to a large bowl of ice water for another three minutes. Drain.
- If you are making a butternut squash and potato casserole, you can skip blanching, but the slices for each vegetable should be uniform and fairy thin.
- In a large skillet, sauté the shallots in the butter and oil with a sprinkle of salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the shallots caramelize.
- Meanwhile make the sage cream by combining the garlic, sour cream, goat cheese, Dijon, sage, zest and lemon juice in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the caramelized shallots and the prepared vegetables into the sage cream sauce. Toss to coat well.
- Transfer the vegetable and sauce mixture to a well-oiled or buttered 13 x 9 casserole dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 50 minutes (Green beans and carrots may take slightly less time.), until the vegetables are tender and the sauce is bubbly.
- Remove the foil and sprinkle with grated cheese. Return uncovered to the oven for 10 minutes, until the cheese topping is melted and starting to brown.
- Place the casserole on a trivet at the table to serve. Offer your bacon crumbles on the side, if you value your vegetarian friends.
Yes, the food was amazing at the CSA dinner last week. But, I’m sure you know what really made that evening special, right? Of course it was the people, the setting on the farm overlooking the pond, the ducks in the yard and the tiny kittens who tormented them in the most adorable way, the sharing of food, the RESPECT for the food. I felt so very connected to each person and to the meal that was shared by those who owned the land, who grew the food, who prepared the dishes and broke bread at the same table. Well I just get a little misty-eyed over the thought of all that. Life, like good food, can be so rich.
Papa’s Pasture: The Feel-Good Bacon Story
Yeah, I did say “feel good” about bacon. Before I am vegetarian, I am local and green in my causes. Blaine Bilyeu, the owner of Papa’s Pasture, the farm she inherited from her dad, couldn’t be more beautifully green in everything she does. I share with you her “principles” that guide activity on her farm and provide quality food for her local communities. But be sure to visit her Facebook page for photo-proof of a farm run well:
Papa’s Pasture Guiding Principles
- Transparency: Anyone is allowed to visit the farm anytime. We have no locked doors.
- Grass Based: The livestock are moved frequently which heals the land and offers nutritional superiority.
- Honoring Individuality: The animals and plants are provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness.
- Community: We do not ship food. Through this choice we seek to empower the local economy, and food system.
- Soil Health: Reestablishing the health of our soils will afford us the opportunity to provide the most healthy, nutrient dense foods. Through reclaiming our soil’s health we hope to reclaim what has been lost of our own.
Again, just a little misty-eyed here, and feeling very lucky to have such good neighbors and abundant food. Really makes you pause a moment in gratitude. Always a good thing.
Why CSAs are important
About this time last year, I wrote a post on the history and importance of U.S. Community Supported Agriculture programs. In a nutshell, CSAs help family farms stay in business, encourage and support sustainable and organic farming, and build community strength. Impressive. So maybe next spring it will be your turn to sit down at a CSA dinner with your special dish to share. Your weekly bag or box will make you more creative in the kitchen than you ever thought possible; you’ll make a big bunch of new friends; and you’ll directly support the people who grow your food. A CSA subscription makes a great Christmas gift for someone who loves a cooking challenge! (Did I say Christmas? Naw….you must be dreaming….of a white….nope, not going there.)
Why organic farming is important
If I have encouraged you to become a weekly shopper at your local farmer’s market, I’m thrilled. You won’t find fresher, more tasty food anywhere, I swear. But once your market closes—and most do by mid to late October in the Midwest, you’ll have the challenge of keeping up with your healthy, whole-food diet with only your local grocery stores to help you. And that can be quite the challenge.
Typically, even if you don’t spend all your dollars at Whole Foods Market or some other upscale marketer of organic and natural foods, you’ll still spend a lot more money to get quality food—USDA certified organic, Fair Trade and non-GMO. And if you go really green and support your independent local health food store (that place where “it” all began) you could spend a considerable amount of your food budget just getting the basics on your shopping list. Is it worth it?
Many would say yes, for all kinds of reasons: your health, the health of the environment, the stability of your community and the sustainability of the planet. You have probably guessed by now that I’m in that green camp. But I know it is not easy or even economically feasible for all families (or me, for that matter) to go 100 percent organic. Accessibility, cost and label confusion are only three factors of many that can derail your best plans.
The researchers and writers at Delicious Living Magazine (one of my favorite resources) have just published a great article on The Price of Good Food. Take a peek. I think it will give you some hope about the strength of the organic industry and its future affordability.
About a year ago, Delicious Living writers tackled that hard issue of Why Organic Matters and explored the less obvious good reasons to spend a little more.
One resource they mention is the Environmental Working Group—a resource I’ve mentioned on this blog several times, too. The EWG is another wonderful information source that can both clarify confusing information and help the average consumer weigh choices based on health concerns and budget.
We’re not alone. All we have to do is reach across the table.
Stay tuned: next week I will be sharing an apple cobbler recipe straight from Rosie’s table. Bet you can’t guess the main ingredient. If you said apples, you’d be… wrong!