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I can remember back to a time that I just didn’t get the appeal of fennel. This course, stringy, strongly scented vegetable didn’t seem worth the trouble to cook. But now I can honestly say that it is among my very favorite vegetables. I fully realize that there are many of our CSA members who still don’t “get” fennel, and if you are among these, you simply must try Jeanne’s recipe for roast fennel and onions.

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kale-lacinato

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Kale is a type of cabbage that does not form a head from the central leaves.We grow three varieties of kale, green curly leaf or Scotch kale, Lacinato or Dinosaur kale, and Red Russian kale.  Kale is high in beta carotene, vitamin K and vitamin C and calcium.

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kohlrabiKohlrabi is an odd vegetable that I think is often bought more for appearance than for the desire to eat it. Looking like something from a science-fiction movie, they come in lovely deep purple or jade green, and the leaves come up from all over what seems to be the root.

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Lettuce Rows

Lettuce Rows

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Lettuces grow exceptionally well here at our home farm near the coast. They love the cool foggy summer weather. We grow Red Leaf, Green Leaf, Butter Lettuces, Little Gem, and Romaine varieties and offer a mix of baby salad greens in our early spring boxes.

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Think of how often a dish starts with a sauté of onions, carrots, and celery. In Italy this combination is called soffritto. In France it is cooked with butter and called mirepoix, but for general purposes I like it cooked with a light flavored olive oil or even grapeseed oil, which is neutrally flavored, so I call it by the Italian name. I like to make this in larger batches, removing some when it is still pale, or blond, then cooking the remaining amount until it is a darker shade of amber, giving it a caramelized flavor. I sometimes even let some go until it is quite dark, like tobacco, for a very deep flavor. I then freeze it in batches. I use large zip bags and flatten out the soffritto in the bags, making it easier to stack and easier to simply break off the amount I wish to use. Some people freeze it in ice trays as you might pesto. However you store it, having this in the freezer is like having a time machine. It can make having good tasting food on the table much quicker, or if you have several pans going at once it is quite helpful as well as it is easy to burn smaller amounts of onions.

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Vinaigrettes are usually thought of as oil and vinegar dressing. In actuality, vinaigrettes can be used as a sauce, especially for fish and poultry, on sandwiches, as a marinade, or even as a pasta sauce. Vinaigrettes are great poured over roasted vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, and beets, while still warm so the flavors are absorbed. This makes an excellent salad, and is, in fact, how German potato salad is made.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch of beets
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of water
1-2 tablespoons vinegar such as white balsamic or sherry

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alyssum with broccoli 3I’ve always liked sweet alyssum flowers. We planted them back in our San Francisco community garden plot before we moved out of the city to start farming, and they made a lovely delicate ground cover that attracted the most beautiful little crab spiders. The spiders are experts at camouflage, and can turn different colors depending on the color of flower they are on. The ones on the white alyssum would be white, but those on yellow flowers would be a bright yellow instead. They were welcome predators in the garden plot.

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Here a Middle East staple is given an American Southwest treatment, although the flavors really are standard for the Mid-East as well.  Look for bulghur in bulk bins instead of boxes. It is usually fresher and tends to be a slightly larger grain which I prefer.

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Simple, basic, and full of flavors. Eat this as a salad off a plate or pile it onto very hot crostini so the heat can melt the cheese a little and wilt the arugula. Use using oil with a soft bite but big fruity flavor is a good idea here so it softens the bite of the arugula and doesn’t mask the nuttiness of the favas.

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This is a riff on a classic of Italian cuisine, only it has kale in it, because, y’know, it’s kale, and besides being good for you, it tastes good raw. As long as it is fairly tender and young. I find that crumpling kale leaves seems to result in a reaction that makes the leaves sweeter, so be vigorous while prepping the kale here. This is a salad that can be done quickly, especially if you are practiced at stripping the stems out of kale with your fingers, and your favas are already done or you skip them.

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Sweet Anne March 1When we first started farming we rented an old craftsman house in downtown Watsonville and I made the daily five mile commute to the field we were leasing on the outskirts of La Selva Beach. My route passed right by a large conventional field being managed by a company that was bought out by Dole Foods. Passing by two or more times a day, I learned a lot about their practices. Specifically, I learned that they sprayed—a lot. One of the basic tenets of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is to scout your field assiduously and apply pesticides only when and where they are really needed.

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When you want the refinement and acid of sherry vinegar, but want a little sweetness too, this is the dressing.

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A riff on what seems to me a natural combination of flavors. The orange chases the beets chases the avocado chases the lettuces chases…The dressing sets everything off as well as ties all the flavors together gently.

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A bit of a fusion combing some Western technique and Japanese, and pretty much all traditional Japanese flavors.

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brassica field with alyssumAs always at this time of year, rainfall brings with it the good and the bad. The good far outweighs the bad in many ways, the most obvious being that we are still in a time of drought and the less irrigating we have to do the better. It helps in other ways as well. Most of the fields that were in over-wintering cover crops have been mowed down and tilled and are, in a way, like large, shallow compost piles. The addition of moisture can greatly speed up residue breakdown. This is especially helpful at our Lewis Road site with its sandy soils which dry out quickly. Moist soils also produce less dust making for healthier conditions when we resume working up beds next week.

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The sweet here comes from the combination of the onions, bacon fat, and the wine, and the sour from the red wine vinegar. Slow cooking is a key part of this.

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Quick and easy, the sauce is actually made with starchy pasta water and a little butter, the way they do it in Italian restaurants when not using cream, or tomatoes. See bottom for variations using meats/chili flakes/nuts.

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The cress and quickles have a sharp quality the acts as a foil to the richness of the fish, and the sweetness of the quickles adds extra depth to the flavors. Crunch from the pine nuts and the creaminess they possess rounds everything out and talks with the butter used on the fish to link the two together.

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eagle closeupOne of the perks of farming where we do is that we live in a birder’s paradise. Our home farm is on a hill perched above Harkins Slough, a freshwater wetland that is host to copious waterfowl. We regularly see great blue herons, egrets, terns, ducks, geese, coots, grebes, white pelicans, marsh wrens, kingfishers, and night herons. Add to these the hawks, kites, owls, falcons, grackles, swallows, phoebes, meadowlarks, hummingbirds, and songbirds that populate the uplands, and we could spend all our days just watching birds.

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Good as an appetizer using diagonal slices of baguette, or use larger slices topped with the salad and a fried egg with a runny yolk or two for breakfast or a light lunch.

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This is more of a condiment than a salad dressing, and has salsa verde as its inspiration. Try it on toasts with arugula, avocado, and radishes, or on grilled chicken, or eggs.

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The root of this dish would be a stir-fry with daikon and mei-quin, but the flavors are more European. This would qualify as a California “fusion” dish. This dish is quite simple, but the looks are elegant with the cool jade and pale reddish pink.

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This dressing was concocted for the Arugula, Radish, and Strawberry salad originally, so calls for good quality ingredients as well as a neutral flavored oil such as grapeseed.

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Early crop strawberries have a tart edge while still being sweet. This creates an interplay with nutty spicy arugula, and the sharpness of the radish is first mitigated by a short ice-water bath, and then the sweetness of the berries.

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My main task as president of the Central Coast Chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers (a position that sounds way more important than it actually is), is to help organize two meetings each year. Last night was our “Spring” meeting at the Grange hall in nearby Aromas, and it went really well. Part of the function of the local chapters is to connect with other growers and educate ourselves about problems and issues affecting us here in our region.

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This variation of rémoulade uses juice from grilled lemons, and adds some sharper mustard to add a smoky quality while adding to the zip. The marjoram adds a sweet freshness that counters the earthy qualities of celeriac and asparagus and brings out the sweetness of these vegetables.

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Grilling a lemon just adds a certain je ne sais quoi to lemons where juice is going to be used. There is a certain smoky char that is faint but there, and the juice seems sweeter. This dressing was made for a salad with grilled zucchini and tomatoes and mint, so the bit of sweetness acts as a foil to the acid in the tomatoes and the slight bitterness of the squash.

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It seems I’ll try grilling anything at least once. This worked! As in a restaurant with a beef steak, the celeriac is started on the grill and finished in the oven. The asparagus acts as a garnish, and you can go with a few different dressings for your “sauce”.

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alyssum greenhouseWe recently received a question about what “organic pesticides” we apply to our crops. Certain microbial, botanical, or mineral substances are approved for pest control in organic agriculture and we occasionally use one to address a specific situation on the farm. However, we rarely use even these organic pest control products. We manage our farmland with the intent to create a balanced system with natural pest and disease control provided by natural predators, crop rotation, and the ability of healthy plants to withstand some pest pressure.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 small clove garlic, peeled

½ teaspoon minced/pulverized shallot

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pinch of fresh thyme leaves, minced, or a smallish pinch of dried thyme leaves

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The mushrooms are sautéed until crisp and contrast with the onions and beets. The mushrooms strike a high note that contrasts with the earthy and sweet beet and sweet and funky onion. All of these together harmonize into a thoroughly enjoyable dish.

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By French lentils I refer to the ones that used to be grown in Puy, France and were known as Lentille de Puy, but are now grown all over. I still think the Puy lentils are better, but the others are still excellent. This lentil holds its shape and has a nice meaty texture and flavor. The fennel and onions are cooked with the lentils and separately so you have two textures and the flavors differ as well.

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steve tractorThis week we shift from our winter schedule to start weekly deliveries again. We’ve been planting like crazy in the dry times and enjoying the last down times of the season when the rain keeps us out of the fields. Thank you for letting us grow your vegetables again this year!

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“…of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matt. 6:28-29)

What? Why am I quoting this piece of scripture in a food column you ask? Well, like leeks, onions, and garlic, asparagus is in the lily family, and for many this member of the family is THE harbinger of spring. For many of us that think with our bellies, asparagus is as beautiful as any lily, or more so. With its distinct flavor and fairly short season, asparagus is a divine treat and sure sign that winter is past.

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This salad has plenty of crunch along with lots of flavor thanks to the quickled leeks, arugula, and dressing. You could add beets and/or a cheese like feta along with some pistachios maybe, but don’t add too many extras or the salad will become confusing to the palate and the flavors will be muddied.

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This dressing will have plenty of garlic flavor without the heat raw garlic can lend to things. Garlic chives are a flat bladed chive which pack plenty of garlic flavor. Use this dressing with sturdy lettuces and bold flavors.

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SIGN UP FOR CSA PROGRAM

When you join our CSA, you sign up with the farm to receive a share of the harvest during our 36 week season from mid-March to mid-November. In return, you get a weekly box of organic vegetables and fruit (and optional flowers) delivered straight from our farm to a pick-up site in your neighborhood.

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View our CSA Members Page

This is where you can go to find out what's coming in your box each week, find recipes, identify your vegetables with pictures, and view or print the current and past newsletters. Check here for the information you need to use your box to the fullest.

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