Day 110–Our First Produce Box of the Year!

The Produce Box is here! The Produce Box is here!

Pulling into my driveway last night, I saw an unfamiliar car behind me. The car pulled into my drive and stopped. Someone looking for directions? Someone complaining about my lack of green grass in the yard? Nope. It was my Produce Box Neighborhood Organizer delivering my first Produce Box of the growing season! Life is good.

I’ve blogged about The Produce Box before (HERE), but this is the first box we have received since last fall, so it merits some additional blog time! The Produce Box sources all its vegetables and farm products (cheese, bread, honey, jam) from North Carolina farms, packages them into CSA-type boxes and delivers them to the house. Members also contribute a small fee (I think it was $3 this year) to provide small grants to local farmers to help address issues on their farms (some of this year’s grants included purchasing seed starting supplies, purchasing refrigeration units, educational opportunities, etc).

Because The Produce Box works with several farms, they do offer a greater variety of vegetables than a traditional CSA, which also reduces the risk of not receiving anything if one farmer has a crop fail. Members can pick among several boxes each week, including an organic box and a small box for folks who can’t consume all the veggies in the standard box. And I have to say it, I love having my vegetables delivered. One thing I can cross of my list. But you know, meeting with and talking to farmers has been a real joy for me, so even though I get my produce box delivered, I’ll still be heading out to the farmer’s markets to pick up anything not in my box as well as cheese, pasta, meat, eggs, etc.

What did we get in our first box? Due to a late season frost last week, this week’s box is smaller than usual, but still a very welcome sight! We received two packages of strawberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, a HUGE head of lettuce, greenhouse cucumbers, and carrots so fresh they still have the dirt on ’em. Yum. Just in time for saladpalooza night!

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Day 82–Saladpalooza

Our inaugural saladpalooza ingredients!

Spring is salad time! Spring greens are so fresh and tasty here–the lettuce is still sweet and not in danger of bolting, carrots are in and broccoli is still coming in from the winter gardens.

My family loves a salad bar–it’s nice to have choices and build a salad just the way you want it. But restaurant salad bars tend to use bagged lettuce and pre-cut vegetables shipped halfway across the country. And don’t even ask where those eggs on the salad bar come from. So, I wondered to myself, how can we make a better salad bar concept at home?

Enter Saladpalooza! Why “palooza”? No reason except it sounded good to me at the time. It’s all in the marketing, right??

Saladpalooza night featured our farmers market finds, all cleaned, chopped and ready for salad-building.

We had:

  • Organic Red leaf lettuce from Ben’s Produce
  • Broccoli from the state farmers market
  • Organic mushrooms (leftovers)
  • Hothouse tomatoes and cucumber from the state farmers market
  • Organic carrots from Coon Rock Farm
  • Avocado
  • Organic spring onions from Heaven On Earth Organics
  • Hard boiled eggs from Water Oaks Farm
  • Leftover grated cheese
  • Homemade ranch dressing from Creative Noshing’s recipe

    Spring is the time when fresh lettuce shines! This red leaf was sweet, crunchy and delicious!

Similar to our pizza challenge, everyone gets to choose what goes on their salad and no one gets pestered to eat something they don’t like. When there are only good choices, it doesn’t matter who chooses what! And the mini-salad bar uses up small amounts of leftover vegetables, making it a good “clean up” meal.

I’d love to say Ellie ate loads of vegetables, but in truth, she didn’t eat with us last night, so that is still untested territory. Tom and I declared it a delicious success and will be trying it again soon!

Try a saladpalooza night this spring and see if it’s a hit with your family. As for us, this is all that was left!

Day 73–National Chicken Noodle Soup Day

A homemade chicken noodle soup with bread

In honor of the March 13 holiday, National Chicken Noodle Soup Day, I will be making a nice pot of soup for my family. Nothing uses a bounty of fresh, local vegetables like soup (well, a good stir fry will use some veggies, too, but it’s not stir fry day). Did you know that a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup has only 8% chicken? I don’t know about you, but I like more than that in my soup, so I’ll be making my own.

The first component to good chicken soup is having homemade chicken stock. I love making my own chicken stock because it makes use of something (the chicken carcass) that would otherwise be tossed away and turns it into something that is far superior to anything you can buy in a can or box at the grocery. I also love making stock because I can do it while I do a half-dozen other things like cleaning, doing laundry or (my favorite) watching football. Football is sadly over for another six months, but I’ll be spring cleaning the house and working on some volunteer projects instead. If you finish a roast chicken, but don’t have time to make stock, wrap up the chicken bones and freeze them until you are ready. It’s totally worth it.

Making soup is a forgiving process. With few exceptions, you can make substitutions and use whatever you have on hand and it will be good. My favorite soup to make is an Italian Ribolita–I’ll post that recipe at some point–because it uses up a lot of leftover fresh vegetables and is incredibly satisfying in the fall and winter. But today is chicken noodle soup day, so let’s get started…

Chicken Stock

  • 1 chicken carcass or leftover chicken bones
  • 1 organic onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves organic garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife
  • 2-3 organic celery stalks or leftover tops, cleaned and cut into large pieces
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. Put all ingredients into a large stock pot and fill pot with water to cover all.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Skim any foam off the surface and reduce heat to low.
  4. Simmer on stove for 1-2 hours.
  5. Take pot from heat and allow to cool about 30 minutes.
  6. Strain contents of pot through a colander into another large pot or bowl. Discard chicken bones and vegetables.
  7. Cover strained stock and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
  8. Skim fat from the top and either use or store in freezer.
  9. You can freeze this stock for up to 6 months.

NOTE: I don’t add salt to my stock because I’m never sure how I will use it. You can add it if you like, but I prefer to add salt to the finished dish.

Chicken Noodle Soup

This is my basic chicken soup recipe, but by all means feel free to add, substitute or eliminate as you wish. I tend to like my soup very thick, so you can add more stock, water, wine or whatever makes you happy so you have the right consistency for you.

  • 12 cups of homemade chicken stock
  • 2-3 cups of cooked chicken (usually whatever I have left over), cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 4 organic carrots, peeled and cut into roughly 1/4″ slices
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh organic peas
  • 1 organic onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 organic celery stalks, cleaned and sliced thin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz. pasta (fettuccine noodles broken into pieces, orzo or any pasta you like)
  1. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil at medium/high heat.
  2. Add vegetables and cook until slightly tender, about 5 minutes or so.
  3. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add chicken and chicken stock, stir well and simmer.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Simmer on medium/low heat for about 1 hour.
  7. Add pasta and cook another 10-15 minutes until pasta is done.
  8. Serve with a salad or with a good bread.
  9. Soup can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Happy chicken noodle soup day!

Day 45–Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Ricotta cheese.

In case you missed it, Monday was national Eat Italian Food Day. I have no idea why this isn’t an entire month–I know I could do it. In spite of the Americanized version of Italian food, which tends to be very heavy on the cheese and meat, most Italian food in Italy is locally-based, impossibly fresh and creatively resourceful. I know this because I once tried to eat my way across Tuscany (I am an expert–don’t try this at home).

So in honor of Meatless Monday and Eat Italian Food Day, we celebrated with a vegetarian pasta dish that is delicious, healthy and easy to make. This recipe is actually based on a dish made by The Cake Boss (go figure!) and its simple beauty comes from using whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables are available. Roasting the vegetables brings out their natural flavor and sweetness without any additives other than olive oil and salt. That is truly Italian cooking!

You can vary this dish throughout the seasons by using what is ripe and delicious at the time. You can also vary the pasta you use. I like orecchiete (little ears) pasta because it holds the sauce well. As a mom, I think this is one of those healthy, versatile recipes that could be a regular (and by changing it up, maybe no one will notice I am basically recycling the same dish). Score!

  • 1 lb. fresh pasta (we used orecchiete pasta)
  • 1 organic onion
  • 2 organic tomatoes
  • 2 c. organic broccoli florets
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3″ planks
  • 2 c. cubed organic butternut squash
  • 2 handfuls of kale (from our garden!) or other greens–arugula is good, too!
  • About 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (we used Hillsborough Cheese Co. garlic and chive ricotta)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
  2. Put a stock pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
  3. Cut all vegetables except kale into bite sized chunks and toss with olive oil and a little kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Chop kale into little bite sized pieces and reserve.
  5. Put all vegetables except kale in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Add kale to pan during last 5 minutes.
  6. While vegetables roast, add pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente. When pasta is done, reserve 1 c. pasta water for sauce and drain pasta.
  7. In a large bowl, add cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, kale, ricotta and pasta water and mix together. The cheese should melt and make a light sauce. The pasta water is essential and will thicken the sauce and help it stick to the pasta.
  8. Serve with pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan or whatever makes you happy!

Buon appetito!

Day 30–Western Wake Farmers Market

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Madison Whitley is the friendly of the Western Wake Farmer's Market

Any of us can get into a pattern of behavior, especially when it comes to shopping for groceries. So we are trying to extend our reach a bit and try other farmers markets and suppliers of local food. This week we had a great time at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market in Morrisville. A fun and totally friendly experience! Just a 15 minute drive from our house, the Western Wake Farmer’s Market has a terrific supply of locally produced cheeses, pasta, vegetables, seafood, and meat. Smaller than the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, this market focuses on high quality, mostly organic produce and no growth hormone, antibiotic free meat. The winter hours are Saturdays 10-12 and the market is located in the Carpenter Village shopping center parking lot.

Family Friendly Mom Power

We were greeted enthusiastically by Market Manager Madison Whitley, who quickly gave us information about the market and answered my many questions about vendors and how the Market works. The Market was actually founded by a group of moms who wanted the western part of our county to have the same access to fresh produce that others have from the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. Never underestimate the power of a group of moms! Everyone at the market was friendly, engaging and more than willing to answer my questions from The Sustainable Table question lists.

Improving Food Access

The WWFM, which was started by a group of dedicated moms, shares a concern that low income families in our county do not have adequate access to quality fresh produce (or in some cases, any fresh produce). The Market takes monetary donations, which it uses to purchase produce from the market vendors. Market vendors also make donations of produce themselves. The Market works with the Interfaith Food Shuttle, which picks up donations and distributes them to food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. This system allows them to contribute fresh produce without having to develop a new (and costly) distribution plan. In the last growing season, they donated more than 3,000 pounds of produce! LOVE this!

The Shopping

Ok, so this is a winter market, but the selection was still very good, with about 15 vendors. According to Madison, the summer market (starting in April) more than doubles the number of vendors. We purchased NC shrimp, locally roasted coffee, organic carrots and tatsoi, and two kinds of cheese (we’ll be back for more!).

So, if you’ve been wanting to try something new, seek out a new farmer’s market or co-op store that you haven’t visited before. You may be pleasantly surprised and, if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll have a new favorite as well!

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