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Mystery Food Weeks 14 and 15: Back to School edition

9 Sep
Another double-edition of Mystery Food today. This should tell you that my fall semester of graduate school is officially in full swing. Apart from working on my e-portfolio-thesis-magic, I’m taking a course in Medieval Manuscripts. I’ve always wanted to take a course on illuminated manuscripts, because pre-printing press books (and not simply their content) were intricate, one-of-a-kind works of art. Our class will focus mostly on Western Europe during the Medieval period, but one of our assignments is to create a wiki on scribes and writing in a different part of the world. Since everyone is required to post the assignments to our class discussion board, I’ll hopefully get to learn about a lot of different places.

All work and no play would make me a very dull Neen though, so I’m really excited that football season starts today. New Orleans and Minnesota play at 8:30 tonight! This year, I am participating in two pick’em leagues and one fantasy football league. It’s the first year in the seven (wow…) I’ve been playing that I’m only in one fantasy league. The final semester of graduate school has to get some priority. The pick’em leagues are different in that one uses the point spread and the other does not. I like the added challenge of the point spread, but I’m admittedly not very good at it.

My beloved Steelers are down a starting QB, but it’s alright because my favorite player (and his million dollar hair) is back!

On to Mystery Food…

Week 14 brought a giant eggplant, tomato, sweet corn, concord grapes, beans, Asian pears, summer squash, apples, and peaches:

Week 15 continued to spoil me with zucchini, patty pan squash, sweet corn, concord grapes, beans, Asian pears, apples, peaches, small watermelon, and a tomato:
Oh, those beautiful flowers in the week 15 picture? No, they are not mystery food. I’ve been sick all week and Joe got them to cheer me up! He really is quite the catch. 😉

Ciao for now,


Mystery Food “Lucky 13” edition and Funeral For a Friend

26 Aug

First thing’s first: This week’s mystery food had a lot of my favorites!

Concord grapes, green beans, sweet corn, a tomato, peaches, zucchini and summer squash. Included in the weekly farm newsletter was a recipe for grape juice, so I may check out the farmer’s market and buy more grapes. I’d really like to try making some grape jelly from fresh grape juice. My mom and I were discussing last night how grape jelly never really tastes like grapes…so I want to find out if it does if you make it from scratch.

Also exciting on the local food front is that I picked the first watermelon of the season from my garden! The other two probably have a few more weeks to go, but here’s the goodness:

What is the second half of this blog post title referring to? I’m really not so crass that I would use an Elton John reference to make light of the actual death of a living creature. Now that your blood pressure has returned to normal, read on…
The last time I spent any significant time clothes shopping was when I went searching for items to complete my Halloween costume last year. Shoe shopping? I am clueless. When I find something that I like…it gets worn/used until it dies.
Examples: My favorite pair of sandals are four years old. I bought them before I left for England. I’d had foot surgery and had to wear shoes good support. The brown Sketchers I found (on SALE) were pretty ideal. Only now are they starting to fray a little bit around the edges. The same goes for my work shoes. Before I moved to D.C., I found the perfect pair of black mary jane flats. Every once in awhile I go over the scuffed edges with some polish and they look new to me. I am clearly tempting fate as I can see where one of the straps is about to give out and one of the soles is nearly worn through. I do this with clothes too-one of my favorite t-shirts was bought on a whim at Pac-Sun while I was shopping with my cousin Emily on vacation…we were 13 at the time. The most bizarre thing there is that it fits me better today than it did 12 years ago.

But my Travelsmith bag, with an apt model name of “MetroSafe”…it’s perfection. Joe’s parents bought it for us before our trip to Amsterdam in March of 2006. It is the best bag in the world-don’t argue with me on this, you will not win. First of all, it’s black, so you never have to worry about it clashing with clothing if that sort of thing bothers you. The adjustable shoulder strap is lined with slash-proof cable and the front panel hides a bunch of zipper pockets (with tamper proof clips!) beneath water-repellent nylon. The bag itself is only 11 inches tall and 10 inches across, and yet somehow I can fit all of the following items inside: A journal, Kindle, MP3 player, wallet-purse-organizer-thing, Blackberry, keys, my eyeglass case, a travel-size umbrella and a spill-proof travel mug that encourages my sweet, sweet affair with coffee. Simply put: this bag is magic. Mary Poppins would be impressed. And unless I’m going somewhere special or getting dressed up, it is about the only bag I ever carry.

And oh, how I have abused it. On multiple occasions I’ve had to run it through the washer/dryer because I a.) accidentally left the open/close button pressed down on my coffee mug, causing coffee to slosh out, b.) crushed a small packet of jelly that I stashed in one of the pockets when I bought a bagel, or c.) had an ink pen explode inside of it. The clip for the strap also broke after I snagged it on the Metro for the umpteenth time, but was easily repaired with a new one from the fabric store. The bag has been dragged through the Netherlands, England, Boston, Pittsburgh, DC and a hundred destinations in between. It has been thrown in the car, smashed in between luggage in the trunk, stuffed in an airplane overhead bin, and cramped into Metro trains sardine-packed full of tourists. It has donned buttons celebrating Steelers Super Bowl and Penguins Stanley Cup victories and stickers promoting political candidates and important causes. Yes, the Travelsmith bag is an item of beauty and awe.

Despite its incredible durability, the nearing end of its lifespan looms over me like a dark cloud. The cables in the strap have worn through the fabric lining and the jelly explosion seems to have caused irremovable stickiness on the inside of one of the pockets. Alas, it is probably time for retirement. It is time that I must allow my dear friend to go to bag-heaven. Goodnight, sweet prince.

Of course, I say this now, but it will be weeks before I actually acquire the necessary motivation to look for a new handbag.

Oh Travelsmith bag…I wish I knew how to quit you!

Ciao for now,

Mystery Food Week 12 and the County Fair

19 Aug

Remember how I mentioned being inundated with peaches last week? (I know, woe is me…) Here is one of the county fair entries that came out of the bounty. All-fruit peach preserves. Nothing but peaches, lemon juice, white grape juice, and some pectin. I love the color so much.

The other entry was a peach apple cider butter. It came out with just enough spice, and the hard cider I used added a tang on the finish. Yum. Right now they’re in the gym of the Thomas Jefferson Community Center waiting for the Arlington County Fair judges to taste them.

As I said to one of my colleagues, “I am fully prepared to be schooled by somebody’s grandma.” By the time I got to the gym yesterday, there were lines of jars filled with preserves, jellies, fruits, vegetables, and honey of every color in the rainbow. It was a pretty impressive display–I won’t lie, I felt a little bit intimidated. But hey, if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you can succeed. And so I left my jars among the others and tucked the claim checks away in my wallet. Regardless of what happens, I’m really proud of the food I made and hope that the tasters enjoy it.

There weren’t many people at the fair due to a gray, drizzly sky, but I wandered around for a little bit. The food stands alone showed what a diverse place Arlington is. How many county fairs do you know of that have pad thai and stir-fry next to the deep-fried oreos and funnel cake? I hope to go back during the weekend if we get some nice weather.

Not too much else is going on here at the moment. I have a short breather and then the fall semester starts up next week. Right now I’m just enjoying having some time to bake cookies and play with the goodies from Mystery Food Week 12:

I received summer squash, peppers, an apple, a tomato, sweet corn, peaches, a cucumber, green beans, and a dill plant. A fun variety this week. I might try to poach some of the peaches in wine…

As for my own garden, I discovered a hidden treasure. The massive amounts of leaves and vines on the watermelon plant were concealing a melon that was growing in the corner! It’s about the size of a medicine ball and I never even saw it under all of the foliage. What a delicious surprise. The peppers are also still coming in full force. I see pickling in my future…

Hope you are all enjoying the waning days of summer. Be blissful.

Ciao for now,

Mystery Food Weeks 10 and 11: Double Delicious edition

11 Aug

We had a bad storm in Arlington last week and this happened behind our house:

So I didn’t have Internet access from home until this morning. But I still had some wonderful things delivered to my doorstep by the folks from Great Country Farms. Here are week 10’s gifts:

Beans, corn, a melon, a tomato, onions, doughnut peaches and freestone peaches.

And week 11…

Eggplant, corn, peaches, nectarines, onions, tomatoes, and a potted nasturtium.

I’d love to stick around and chat, but in addition to all of that fresh goodness, Joe’s parents brought me peaches from the eastern shore. Time to make some jam (for possible county fair entries)!

Ciao for now,


Mystery Food Week 9: Heatwave edition

29 Jul

Another very fruit-filled box this week!

Here we have a tomato, melon, doughnut peaches, freestone peaches, green beans, and summer squash. I made a great little dish out of the tomato, green beans and squash sauteed with hot peppers, garlic, and onions. Topped a bowl of it with a slice of provolone and let it melt. One of the best vegetarian meals I’ve had in awhile. Nice and simple too for these dog days of summer.

It hit triple digits here over the weekend and of course our air conditioning decided to die. Fortunately, it was after I finished baking an assortment of 6 dozen cookies for co-workers (mine and Joe’s) because, well, who doesn’t like homemade baked good surprises? Here’s the sampler plate…I had leftover chocolate ganache in a ziploc bag and decided to do a little art project.

One knows that it must be unbearably hot outside when, aside from a lone box of Italian ice, the grocery store is entirely sold out of popsicles and sorbet. Thus was my experience on Tuesday evening. There was still an array of ice cream on the shelf, but I wasn’t really in the mood. I wanted something refreshing, cool, and fruity.Well, if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself sometimes. I’m seriously disappointed that I couldn’t get a good picture of the final dish, because it was absolutely out of this world.

Peach-Basil Sorbet (with vanilla whipped cream and double-berry preserves)

for the sorbet:
-5 to 6 ripe medium sized peaches, diced. (You can peel them if you want…I never do.)
-Handful of basil leaves, torn.
-1 tbsp. lemon juice
-3 tbsp. sucanat or sugar
-1/2 cup water
-Pinch of salt

for the cream:
-Whipping cream
-Sugar, to taste (I used about a tbsp.)
-1 tsp. vanilla extract

for the topping:
 -Blackberry/blueberry preserves

Combine the sugar, water, salt, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.
-Add the basil leaves and boil for 10 minutes or until slightly syrupy.
-Combine the peaches and basil syrup in a blender and process until smooth.
-Churn in an electric ice cream maker for about 20 minutes and then transfer to a freezer safe container and chill.
-Whip the cream, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks are formed.
-To serve, place a scoop of the sorbet on a plate, top with a spoonful of preserves and a spoonful of the whipped cream. Garnish with more torn basil if desired.

It is a really wonderful summer dessert with all of those components, but that’s only if you can keep yourself from eating the sorbet straight out of the freezer. It’s a challenge.

Enjoy the week and stay cool!

Ciao for now,

Mystery Food Week 8: Summer Ragout edition

22 Jul

Before we get down to the joy of Mystery Food, I want to express my joy and thanks to all of the family and friends-that-are-like-family in Pittsburgh who made the July Birthday Extravaganza so wonderful. I enjoyed it this much:

(Special thanks to Rendezvous for letting me make a guest appearance!)

Onto the tasty things…Mystery Food week 8 was summer in a box. It was perfect: 

I received yellow peaches, doughnut peaches, apples, summer squash, zucchini, apricots, sweet corn, and a basil plant.

Between all of the squash, fresh herbs popping up in my garden, and a can of amazing San Marzano tomatoes (thanks dad!) I started thinking, “Ragout, ragout, ragouuuuuut.”

Let’s talk about stew/ragout/ragu. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Stew? Neen, really? It’s been in the 90s in Arlington for the last few weeks and you’re thinking about warm, fuzzy-sweater-cozy stew?” And while I’ll confess that what I’m about to present is a hot meal, I’ll argue to the end of the world that there is no better time to have it than in summer. The squash is perfectly sweet and tender, complemented by warm notes from bacon and cayenne pepper, all brought together in a sea of tomato-basil goodness. All it requires is some chopping and one pot. So without further ado, here’s…

Neen’s Summer Ragout

-One summer squash, diced.
-One zucchini, diced.
-6 or 7 Roma tomatoes, chopped or one can of San Marzano tomatoes.
-2 ears worth of sweet corn kernels.
-2 spring onions (or one medium white/yellow onion).
-3 small cloves garlic, minced.
-1 slice thick-cut bacon.
-1-2tbsp. grape seed or olive oil.
-A few splashes of white wine (optional).
-A few strips of dried cayenne pepper, diced (or cayenne powder to taste).
-Handful of basil leaves, torn.
-5 or 6 sprigs of lemon thyme leaves.
-Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
-Grated parmesan cheese, to garnish.

-Place the slice of bacon in the pot over medium heat until it is cooked through and the fat has rendered out.
-Remove the bacon and dice it.
-Add the onions and garlic to the pot, add a little bit of oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low.
-Cook until the aromatics are golden-brown. Add the diced bacon.
-Move the pot off of the heat and add a few splashes of wine, then return the pan to the heat and turn it up to medium.
-Add the zucchini and summer squash and sauté gently for about 7-8 minutes.
-Add the tomatoes, corn, cayenne, herbs, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
-Put the lid on the pot, reduce the heat so that the ragout is simmering gently. Cook for 1 hour, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so, and cook until the squash is soft, but not mushy. Remember to taste and adjust your  seasonings along the way!
-Garnish with a bit more basil and some parmesan cheese if you like. Voila!

I ate mine as it was, but ragout certainly goes well over pasta, brown rice, or quinoa. Ground turkey breast, browned and put into the pot when the tomatoes are added is another nice way to make a heartier meal. It also freezes/reheats nicely—always a bonus.

Finally, remember that watermelon plant that I mentioned was taking over my garden like a kudzu vine? It’s been covered in little yellow flowers with no signs of fruit. This morning, I found this:

Cutest. Watermelon. Ever.

There are four of them, each about the size of a kidney bean at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get one or two that ripen fully.

Ciao for now!