The best thing about summer, for my money, is the produce. Going to the farmer’s market becomes going to the crackhouse with a serious jones: the shit I want is everywhere, it’s surrounding me, and all I can think about is how when I have a job that pays me more I will be able to spend more money feeding my addiction. To offset some of the madness that comes over me at the crackhouse, and also to fulfill the culmination of a dream I’ve had ever since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma in college – that this book changed my life and my relationship to food is possibly the bougiest thing about me, and it’s utterly mortifying, but it’s true, I’m sorry – this year my partner and I joined a CSA for the first time.
I’d been holding off on joining a CSA for a few reasons. For one, the up-front costs are significant (CSAs typically require you to pay for the whole six months (or however long) when you join). For another, many CSAs are vegetable-only, and a not insignificant portion of the money I spend on produce is spent on fruit. But this year I found a CSA with pick-up at the crackhouse I go to anyway, which has the most reasonable rate I’d come across, and it includes fruit and cider! SOLD. SOLD TO THE SLIGHTLY UNSTABLE WOMAN WAVING A PINT OF BLUEBERRIES IN THE FRONT ROW.
Here is a picture of my first CSA share, for which I drove two hours round-trip in a thunderstorm after getting home from work at 6:30 because the pick-up market was cancelled due to the aforementioned thunderstorm:
From left to right, we got: romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, onions, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, Swiss chard, beets, plums, peaches, and Kirby cucs. For $25! Even my boyfriend got excited, which he never does about ingredients. Naturally, the first thing I made was a salad.
Internet, here is my secret: I had never worked with fresh lettuce before. Somehow I got it in my head that working with fresh lettuce was a gigantic pain in the ass, so even though we eat a lot of salad, the greens have always been the kind that come prewashed in plastic containers. However, faced with some shiny new fresh lettuces, I took to the Google, became completely intimidated by the care-and-feeding-of-lettuce instructions I found, and then asked a friend, who said, “Here is the non-crazy way of doing the thing you Googled.” So for those of you who don’t know how to wash fresh lettuces, here is what you do.
1) Hold the lettuce around its waist and twist from the bottom. You can twist somewhat aggressively! The lettuce can take it! This removes the hard base and internal stem. You may need to dig out a bit more of this later; it’s fine.
2) Put the leaves in a colander and rinse them well. Move them around, shake them, get out all the dirt.
3) Pat them dry with some paper towels, just right there in the colander. Just whatever parts of them you can see. Maybe shake the colander around a little bit. It’s fine.
4) Leave them be. Let them air dry a little.
5) Come back in a little while (15 minutes?), lay out several sheets of paper towels, and place the lettuce on it more or less in one layer.
6) Place another sheet of paper towels over the top of the lettuce and roll the whole deal up.
7) Place in a plastic bag in your fridge. Boom. Lettuce preserved.
Now. Your lettuce is clean and stored in such a way as to maximize crispness. (And gentle readers, know that I did not wash my lettuce for A FULL DAY after I got it – I was exhausted after driving two hours in a thunderstorm – and it did not turn into slimy mush.) So what are you gonna do with your crisp lettuce? You are gonna make a nice big dinner salad. What you put in your salad will depend entirely on your personal preferences – my boyfriend and I like half a bell pepper, most of a cucumber (from the CSA!), two avocadoes, and grilled chicken (marinate in olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper and quick-grill it on the Foreman), and cherry/grape tomatoes for me – but what you put on your salad, now that, that I can help you with.
To create my salad dressing, I started by examining Jenny and Andy’s money-in-the-bank dressing and then went in my own direction. Here’s what I do.
Get a mason jar.
Pour in maybe an inch and a half of olive oil.
Add half as much vinegar (I tend to use white, but I have also used champagne vinegar, which is nice).
Put in a few spoonfuls of grainy mustard.
Add a generous amount of kosher salt.
Shake in some black pepper.
Shake in some garlic powder.
Strip a few stems of fresh thyme and add the leaves.
Screw the lid on tight and SHAKE VIGOROUSLY.
Now taste it. Mine usually needs more salt and more garlic powder. But here’s the best part: once you’ve dressed your salad with as much dressing as you want (and guys, I recently learned about tossing salad with your hands instead of using spoons and now I can toss salad! it’s amazing! I used to make my boyfriend do it for me because I’m such a spaz with two spoons! [insert all your many jokes about “tossing salad” here]), you can just stick the jar back in the fridge and use what’s left as the base for your next batch of salad dressing! It feels very domestic and conservation-minded.
It’s summer, you guys. Soon it will be winter, the time of the root vegetables, and you will wish you were surrounded by delicious fresh produce. Eat salad.