when it doesn’t work.

I have a passion for fresh food.  If you’ve been reading my blog, this is not news to you.  This summer I’ve been working on making dishes that are fresh, healthy, and delicious.  I believe that so many people think healthy food is too “hardcore” for them, but I so believe that we can all make healthy choices that fit in with our individual lifestyle.

This summer I’ve been experimenting some.  I’ve learned a few things.

1.  Evidently I think I’m more creative than I am.  I start out with nothing, thinking I can whip something up with no direction.  Doesn’t work.  Hardly ever.

2.  Just because you see the chefs on tv throw ingredients together and make it work, doesn’t mean you can.  And by you I mean me.

3.  I need recipes.

Last night I decided to pull all of our CSA vegetables that we had laying around that were about to go bad and make one big vegetable dinner with them.  FAIL.  A lack of a plan was my first problem, followed by lack of a recipe, and clearly no desire to eat edible food.

I started with this.

Tommy came in and saw the disaster about to take place.  This is how our conversation went.

T:  “what you making?”

L:  “i’m using all of these vegetables that are about to go bad.  it’s vegetarian night.”

T:  “oh, ok… what stuff are you going to make with them?”

L:  “i’m just going to wing it.”

T:  [long pause]  “are you putting all of it in one pot?”

L:  “no, of course i’m not putting all of it in one pot.  i want to make something good.”

Then I thought, “well, there goes my plan.”  Seriously I was going to put it all in one pot.  Good thing I didn’t because the 2 vegetables I put in the same pot didn’t turn out so good.  I mean we ate them, but it just tasted like cooked squash and cooked tomatoes.  Nothing special.  I struggle sometimes.

So here’s my thing…  when I fail at making a healthy dinner that people will eat I get discouraged and want to throw in the towel.  After all, what good does it do to make something that no one [including myself] likes and then we fill up on ice cream or cereal or something before we go to bed?  No good.
But I’m reminding myself  to allow room for grace in this process.  To allow room for mistakes and growth.  For without them, how will I learn?  So maybe last night my family didn’t eat a delicious dinner.  But tonight it was better [not perfect, or close to it, but better], and maybe tomorrow will be even better.

Here’s a quick recap of my failures, followed by a recipe that I hope you find helpful.

Failure #1

I read somewhere that someone used instant potato flakes as a breading for eggplant, and I thought I’d give it a try.  Apparently the box of instant potatoes that I just happened to have since I never use instant potatoes wasn’t so much flakes as rather large hard pieces.

Doesn’t look too bread-y, does it?  Anyway, they burned, so it’s a moot point [moo/moot, Seinfeld anyone?].

See that bowl up there in the top of the picture?  That, my friends, is failure #2.  I thought if I put squash and tomatoes in a pot in the oven for 30 minutes they would magically become one delicious dish.  Wrong.  They tasted exactly the same- like squash and like tomatoes.  Maybe if I’d had the sense to put them on a baking sheet things would have gone differently, who knows.

While last night had several failures there was also one success [well, 2 if you count mashed potatoes which are pretty hard to mess up].  Zucchini spears.  The only hope my dinner had was the presence of a Pioneer Woman recipe.  She is my hero, and when I saw her post this zucchini recipe the other day, I knew I had to try it.  You can find the recipe on her site here.  Her pictures are gorgeous, her narrative witty, and her food delicious, so if I were you I’d skip on over there now and forget this blog.

photo via 

So is anyone else with me on this?  Anybody have struggles with getting healthy dinners prepared that you actually enjoy?  Tell me I’m not alone. 

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where our produce comes from.

I’ve briefly mentioned before that we are members of a CSA for the first time this year.

This was something I’ve debated on doing for a couple of years now.  I first learned about CSAs when I was a Dietetic Intern with the University of Maryland.  One of my favorite rotations [and where my dream job would probably be] was at Food and Friends.  Food and Friends is an awesome organization who delivers food to those with life-challenging diseases in the greater Washington-DC metro area.  This is a phenomenal place, who  staffs 3 Registered Dietitians to provide nutrition counseling and make sure the nutritional needs are met for those who have special nutritional needs [cancer patients and AIDS patients, just as an example].  So many volunteers work at F & F each day, helping to prepare meals, load them up, stock grocery bags, and deliver meals all over Virginia, DC, and Maryland.  I’m in love with this place.

Upon completion of my program I so wanted a position to open up.  I knew it was a long shot, but you’ve gotta go for your dream job, right?  Well, one did, and I had my first interview in the same week that I had 2 other job interviews.  The F & F process was long [lots of applicants] and there was no guarantee I’d be selected, so when I had 2 job offers come in, I got nervous, lost sight of patience and went with the sure thing.  Was it wise or did I give up?  I’m still not sure but based on some other patterns in my life, I know patience is not my strong suit.  And I do regret missing my opportunity at F & F.  So back on track… the RD who was my preceptor left a tremendous impact on me.  I will never forget her.  She explained to me what a CSA is—the concept behind it, the good, the bad, and the beauty of it.  I fell in love with this idea.  So when the next year’s enrollment came around, I wanted to sign up, but I got nervous.  I didn’t know if we could make the pick-up each week.  I was nervous about trying new produce, and quite frankly I was concerned that I wouldn’t get all of the tomatoes that my body needs.  Yes, needs.  So I balked.  Then one week our friends asked us if we wanted to pick up their CSA while they were away on vacation.  I jumped at the opportunity, fell in love with the CSA idea all over again, and vowed that I would join.  We moved in November, so I was sad to not be able to join the same CSA we had visited—as their set-up and produce was amazing!  But during the winter we researched our CSA options here in Knoxville and have been pretty happy with what we’ve got.

Here are some questions I get pretty often about a CSA.

What is a CSA? 

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  The purpose is for community members to stand with their local farmers and support the farm by contributing financially and enjoying the produce from that farm.  CSAs can be set up differently depending on the farm, but it’s basically an informal contract where the community member says “I will get my produce from you” and the farm agrees to provide quality produce for a set amount of time.  I’ve seen CSAs go in 10 week increments; ours is 25 weeks.

Do you get to pick your produce? 

We don’t.  The way our CSA is set up, we arrive at our pick-up location and they give us a box with our weekly produce.  You get what they grow.  Our friends CSA was pretty cool in that it did allow you to choose from what they had, so if you wanted a lot of tomatoes, you could swap out your potatoes for tomatoes and that kind of thing.  So it did allow some choices.  I do wish we had that here, but I’m not complaining.

What if you get something you don’t like?

You either get creative or you waste it.  We’ve had several vegetables come in our produce box that we’ve never had before.  And quite frankly that I never cared to try.  I tried to do something with all of it since I’ve been on a “waste not want not” kick.  But did I always?  Nope.  I never tried the bok choy and wasted a whole bunch of swiss chard, among other things.

Isn’t it expensive? 

It really is a good value to us.  We pay what works out to $25 a week for our produce.  Sometimes our boxes have had what we would value at less than that, but more often they’ve had more.  This may not work for some families but for us, it’s a good use of our produce money.  If you have a whole bunch of picky eaters who only eat apples and carrots, a CSA probably isn’t for you.  But for us, we’re willing to try new things, like a variety of produce, eat A LOT of produce, and really love that our money is going to support a local farm and family who we have the pleasure of getting to know through this.

We really have gotten some beautiful produce from this farm.  I’m sold on the CSA.

I want to encourage you.  If you are nervous, like I was, about stepping outside of the box and taking this risk, to go for it.  Be creative.  Take a risk.  I think you’ll really like it.  If not, it’s only six months.

Visit the website for the farm where we get our CSA here.

Visit the incredible Food and Friends here.

*Neither Food and Friends nor the Colvin Family Farm know that I’m talking about them here.  I was not compensated for this post.  I’m just a huge fan of CSAs and Food and Friends and want you to be too.

what i did with cabbage.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, this summer we became members of a CSA for the first time.  I am going to do a post some time this week that talks a little bit about a CSA– what it is, how it works, etc.  One of the blessings and challenges is getting produce that I normally wouldn’t pick out for my family.  I like the challenge.

Cabbage has been one of those things.  I have honestly never bought cabbage at the grocery store.  I like cole slaw– some kinds– but have never cared to make it.  I’ve done a couple of things with the cabbage we got, and this one turned out really good.

I got this recipe for Cabbage Roll Casserole from the farmer’s wife at our CSA’s farm.  I think she got it from Keeper of the Home’s blog.

Here’s how I did it [concise recipe below]:

1.  Heat olive oil and add onion.  Cook until soft, tender, and slightly brown.

2.  Add minced garlic.  Cook for about 1 minute.

3.  Add ground turkey and cook until browned.

4.  Meanwhile, cook rice according to directions on box.

5.  Once rice is cooked and turkey is browned, add rice to the turkey mixture.

6.  Add beaten egg to turkey and rice mixture and stir well.

7.  In a bowl, combine tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, & tomato paste.  Stir in apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, and chili powder or cayenne.

8.  Coarsely chop about 8 cups of cabbage.  This is about 1/2 to 1/3 of a large cabbage.

9.  Spray Pam in a large casserole dish.  Use at least 9×13 but bigger is even better.

10.  Begin to add layers in dish.  Layer like this

–  cabbage


–  meat and rice mixture


–  tomato sauce


–  cabbage
–  meat and rice mixture
–  tomato sauce
[if you have any left]
–  cabbage
–  tomato sauce

11.  Cover and bake for about one hour.

Recipe

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef [I used ground turkey]

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 egg, beaten

1-2 cups cooked brown rice

1 jar of spaghetti sauce

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 T honey

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Dash of chili powder or cayenne pepper

8 cups coarsely chopped cabbage

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  Heat olive oil and add onion.  Cook until soft, tender, and slightly brown.

2.  Add minced garlic.  Cook for about 1 minute.

3.  Add ground turkey and cook until browned.

4.  Meanwhile, cook rice according to directions on box.

5.  Once rice is cooked and turkey is browned, add rice to the turkey mixture.

6.  Add beaten egg to turkey and rice mixture and stir well.

7.  In a bowl, combine tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, & tomato paste.  Stir in apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, and chili powder or cayenne.

8.  Coarsely chop about 8 cups of cabbage.  This is about 1/2 to 1/3 of a large cabbage.

9.  Spray Pam in a large casserole dish.  Use at least 9×13 but bigger is even better.

10.  Begin to add layers in dish.  Layer like this

–  cabbage
–  meat and rice mixture
–  tomato sauce
–  cabbage
–  meat and rice mixture
–  tomato sauce
[if you have any left]
–  cabbage
–  tomato sauce

11.  Cover and bake for about one hour.

–  This dish is really good with sour cream.  It’s healthier if you don’t do the sour cream, but I found the sour cream helped with the heaviness of this dish.

–  I wouldn’t ever choose this as my birthday meal, but as a way to use cabbage and have a healthy dinner for my family, it really was pretty good and easy to make.

Hope you enjoy!

we went berry picking.

Oh.my.goodness. this was so much fun!  I wasn’t sure how berry picking would go with a one year old but he had a blast!  Mostly because it involved spending time outside walking around with lots of plants to grab.  Turns out the kid is pretty awesome at picking berries.

Does he squish them?  Yeah, he does.  But he can get those berries off the bush like nobody’s business.

I could eat that little hand up!

I heart this.

The product.  So so good.