The Weather

The regular CSA season is winding down.  Instead of talking about hibernating for the winter, or eating bugs (it’s a topic percolating in the back of my mind), I decided to share a few thoughts on this season’s weather.  Well, the climate, to be more precise.

What makes my opinion on the weather more poignant than “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” or The National Weather Service (NWS) office at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport?  I live across the creek from the Farm…and, I have a weather station in my backyard.  So, the elements I observe are very similar to those experienced on the Blandford Farm.

Since writing about numbers is pretty boring, I’m going to present them in a table and let them speak for themselves.  Following are select pieces of climate information gathered by my weather station during the 2017 CSA season:

Month Average Temp Departure from Normal High Temp Low Temp Rainfall Departure from Normal
May 56.7 -2.0 87.2 26.1 1.86 -2.12
June 68.3 -0.1 91.9 43.5 5.18 1.41
July 71.0 -1.5 90.5 50.1 1.97 -1.81
August 66.5 -4.3 87.1 43.7 2.20 -1.39
September 63.4 0.6 95.1 37.7 0.58 -3.70

A couple of notes about the numbers:

  • “Departure from Normal” is the official buzz phrase for the difference between the temperature and the average temperature observed at the NWS office at Ford International. Same is true for rainfall.  Minus numbers mean it was cooler (or drier) than normal.  The NWS calculates a “normal” value by averaging 30 years of information.  The latest “normal” I could find was from 1981 – 2010.
  • No snow fell in May (whew).
  • In general, temperatures were cooler than normal this season and drier than normal. So, if your CSA vegies look a bit smaller or weirder, the climate could be the culprit.

And just in case you’re curious about a summer in Texas, here are comparable numbers for my last full year in Dallas – 2013:

Month Average Temp Departure from Normal High Temp Low Temp Rainfall Departure from Normal
May 72.6 -0.2 92.8 38.9 4.17 -0.13
June 83.1 2.5 102.2 61.9 2.84 0.44
July 83.7 -1.3 101.7 63.8 1.73 0.03
August 87.3 2.8 104.9 65.3 0.19 -1.61
September 82.0 4.6 103.7 58.1 3.49 0.59

You’re welcome.

Why do I do this?  It’s a hobby.  I’ve always been curious about watching and measuring the weather.  When I was in high school, I had a weather station at my parents’ house.  My Dad was never fond of climbing up on the TV mast to install my wind equipment…but he wouldn’t let me do it, either.  These days I have a self-contained weather station sitting in my backyard.  It transmits weather information wirelessly into my house.  A couple of small computers display the information as well as host it on the Web.IMG_20171001_140125 (2)(modified)

Anyway, I’ve signed up for the Winter CSA.  I’ll watch how the climate effects my share vegies.  And maybe next season I really will write about eating bugs.  I’ve always been fascinated by the topic.

DG

Image_20150822_01About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

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A Better Cook

Last season, a certain CEO asked me, “Are you a better cook?”  We were picking up our CSA produce.  Jokingly, I said, “yes.”  But I started thinking about that answer.  I realize I’m a different cook.  And, perhaps, a better one.  I believe I can trace this improvement to being a CSA member.

No, I’m not trying to plug the CSA here.  The delivery of fresh produce, weekly, has forced me to change my relationship with food.  It has also forced me to plan menus differently.

How?  My cooking now revolves around the actual vegies in my CSA half-share.  They determine what I’m preparing.  My brain has shifted to figure out how I can use this lettuce, or that cucumber, or geez I have all those little tomatoes.  And tomorrow is pick-up.  It’s like I’m trying to drink from a fire hose.firehose

My previous approach was a carryover from my years in Dallas.  Cooking was focused on making as few trips to market as possible.  I used a spreadsheet and planned a week ahead.  Meals would include restaurant trips, reuse of “doggie boxes” in meals, and use of leftovers from our Grand Sunday Dinner.  I loathed going to the grocery store (and it was a Whole Foods to boot) because it was still a big box store, requiring driving on nasty Dallas-area streets, and suffering through an ocean of parking.

So the CSA has changed my habits by allowing me to focus on cooking.  Not on the logistics of acquiring food.

In addition, I pay attention and use seasonal produce.  It’s a mindfulness thing.  No longer can I pick a recipe because it “looks good” or “we haven’t eaten this for a while” and assume the ingredients are available somewhere.  I either adapt my favorite recipes, or try new ones with what’s available at the moment.

Now I feel I’m moving up to the next level of cooking:  from being an adequate house cook, to perhaps a gourmet cook (but still a long way from a prep chef).  Instead of taking a recipe to market to find ingredients, I’m presented ingredients and must find a suitable recipe – or create one.  This isn’t bad.  It’s actually kind of fun.  Now my creative juices are engaged.  My memory is tested.  But it really is moving to the next level of the culinary arts.

Since the word “better” is so subjective, I will adopt the meaning:  “showing some tangible change or improvement.”  With that definition, yes, I’m better.  Being a CSA member has inspired me to be flexible, creative, and to value the quality of freshness.  And so my answer to Jason was correct.  Yes, I am a better cook.  And like so many things in life, I can’t go back.  Although I would like someone to tone down the fire hose.

DG

Image_20150822_01About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

A Briefer Guide to U-Pick Beans

What can you say about string beans?  …yup, I thought so.  (Now I’ll hear from various “beannies” on the Web, accusing me of having a “tomato-centric” worldview.  But I digress.)

As a companion to talking about U-Pick Cherry Tomatoes, I thought I’d give a brief guide to the U-Pick string beans.  I’m basing this on my observations, plus photos and write-ups from Johnny Selected Seed’s web site.  If I’ve gotten these wrong, I expect Aaron, Liz, or Mark will set me straight.

Common

Name

Picture/

Details

Dragon’s Tongue

03175_01_dragonstoungeAn alternate name for this variety is “Dragon Langerie”.  Go figure.

  • Unique flashy heirloom.
  • 6-6- 1/2″ flat pods are pale yellow with purple streaks.
  • They are tender and sweet and good in salads or cooked.
  • Purple disappears upon cooking.

Jade

00016g_01_jadeWhat we think of as “green beans” are the Jade variety.

  • Long attractive pods.
  • Jade’s 6-7″, slender, deep green pods are exceptionally tender and delicious.
  • Large, upright plants keep beans clean and straight.

Royal Burgundy

02944g_01_royalburgThe “purple beans” are the Royal Burgandy variety.

  • The brilliant purple, 5″ pods are eye-catching at market
  • Easy to spot when harvesting
  • Add stunning color to salads when used raw.
  • The pods do turn green when cooked.

A tiny blue damselfly in the U-Pick beans.Just to remind you that you are not alone when U-Pick, I observed a damselfly competing for beans.  Rather pretty.

DG

Source for bean photos and details:  Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Source for damselfly:  the author

Updated:  8/8/2017.  Liz set me straight about the varieties.

About thImage_20150822_01e author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

Brief Guide to U-Pick Cherry Tomatoes

We’re experimenting with something new this year.  We’ve prepared some aids In hopes of helping you enjoy the U-Pick portion of your CSA (half) share.  These aids come in two forms:  a brief guide to the different cherry tomato varieties, and signage in the patches showing where each variety is located.   The guide appears below.  You can print it, or pull it up on your smartphone when you want.  This same information for each cherry tomato variety will appear on signs throughout the patch near the individual vines.

Common

Name

Picture/

Details

 

Apero

 apero
 
  • Exceptionally flavorful
  • High-yielding cross between a grape and cherry (tomato)
  • Oval fruits with very sweet, rich flavor

Source & Photo:  J

 

Aunt

Molly’s

(Ground

Cherry

Tomato)

 AuntMollyGroundCherry 2
 
  • Ground Cherry Tomato
  • Sweet and zesty
  • Some compare the flavor to pineapple

Source:  F, Photo: F & G1

 

Black

Cherry

 blackcherry
 
  • Dusky color and complex flavor typical of the best black tomatoes
  • Somewhat late for a cherry tomato, fruit ripens slowly and individually until frost, but worth the wait.
  • Examine each plant closely at picking time: the dark-hued cherries are easy to lose in the foliage.
  • Best flavor if left to ripen on the vine till nice and dark.
  • Sweet and robust.

Source:  F & J, Photo:  J

 

Esterina

 esterina
 
  • Massive yields on big clusters.
  • Flavor is very sweet, but well-balanced with a tangy kick. Smooth, even texture adds to their exceptional snacking quality.

Source:  F & J, Photo:  J

 

Fargo

Yellow

Pear

 FargoYellowPear 2
 
  • Pear-shaped cherry tomato.
  • Each plant produces about three dozen sweet tasty 1 oz fruits.
  • The meaty morsels are crack resistant.

Source:  F, Photo:  F & G2

 

Five

Star

Grape

 fivestargrape
 
  • Grape tomato
  • Excellent, sweet flavor
  • Firm, meaty texture with few seeds and little juice.

Source:  J, Photo:   J

 

Indigo

Cherry

Drops

 indigocherrydrops
 
  • Striking dark-blue pigment over red flesh

Source: J, Photo:  J

 

Purple

Bumble

Bee

 purplebumble
 
  • Purple, round cherry tomato with metallic green striping
  • Excellent sweet flavor

Source:  J, Photo:  J

 

Sun

Gold

 

sungold

 
  • A perfect combination of deep sweetness with a hint of acid tartness
  • Intense fruity flavor.
  • Exceptionally sweet.

Source:  F & J, Photo:  J

 

Sunpeach

 

sunpeach

 
  • Delicious, pink cherry tomato
  • Sister variety to Sun Gold, but not as tangy and acidic
  • Very sweet with excellent flavor

Source:  J, Photo:  J

 

Sunrise

Bumble

Bee

 sunrisebumble
 
  • Yellow, round cherry tomato with red stripes and pink interior marbling
  • Excellent sweet and tangy flavor

Source:  J, Photo:  J

 

A little background on the information in this guide and on the signs.  The Common Name is how the variety is listed in the seed catalogs (and on web sites).  The Details are distilled from the description for each variety.  The Photos are downloaded from the seed company web sites.  We are using this information to help educate about the cherry tomatoes.  We are grateful to the following companies for the photos and source details (they’re footnoted after each variety using these letters):

F – Fedco Seeds:  www.fedcoseeds.com
G1 – Google search, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:  www.rareseeds.com
G2 – Google search, Seattle Seed Company:  www.seattleseed.com
J – Johnny’s Selected Seeds:  www.johnnyseeds.com

DG

About thImage_20150822_01e author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

The Zen of U-Pick

Consider the quiet solitude of threading through the vines, choosing succulent cherry tomatoes.  Moment to moment, we focus on the different colored fruits,  they almost mesmerize us as we fill our baskets.  There’s a Zen-like, meditative quality to it.  We’ve forgotten the stress of the day or our trip to the farm.  We don’t even realize there are several others doing the same thing among the vines.  It’s that rare time when we leave reality and lose ourselves.

Indigo Cherry Drops on the vine

Indigo Cherry Drops on the vine

This, of course, changes as the season progresses.  Near the end of the season, we wonder if we’ve become part of a B-grade movie, where the vines will slither up and devour us (like Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors”).  Or maybe a collection of mosquitos will gang up and take one of us hostage (I’m imagining a high-pitched squeaky Jimmy Cagney imitation, “no spray or the kid gets it, see?!?”). Then again, maybe spending too much time among the vines triggers such thoughts.

Welcome to U-Pick.  That’s shorthand for “you pick”.  Meaning you (or me) pick the small, numerous cherry tomatoes or string beans.  There are so many and they’re so intertwined in their greenery that it’s more effective if you or I pick the veggie.

Whether you consider U-Pick as meditation or a visit to Hell on Earth, you really want to take the time each week to make the trek into the field.  You see, U-Pick is a very valuable portion of your CSA (half) share.

I’m at home with spreadsheets.  Since I’ve been a CSA member, I’ve kept a spreadsheet measuring each week’s half-share (for me), and then calculating its value.  I published my results in 2015.  I failed to publish for 2016 because I finished the tally late in the season.  Looking back, here’s something I learned in 2016:  I received about $429 of produce for my $300 half-share investment.  Of that $429, $66 was for all the U-Pick cherry tomatoes.  My U-Pick tomatoes were about 15% of my CSA half-share harvest.

(Note:  My numbers are based on buying equivalent produce at my local Meijer’s.  $66 is based on the cost of buying NatureSweet Cherubs.  Retail Price:  $3.99 for a 10oz container.  These were the closest I could find matching the size and variety of cherry tomatoes in the CSA U-Pick.  I also calculate price on a “per ounce” basis where possible.  As always, your mileage may vary.)

So as we’re about to enter the U-Pick part of CSA season, be sure to take the opportunity to fill your pint or quart baskets with tomatoes and beans.  It’s worth your time (besides, you paid for it).  And who knows?  Maybe you’ll discover aliens hiding in that mass of vines hoping you’ll take them to an old Steve Reeves movie.

DG

About thImage_20150822_01e author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Blandford Farm CSA season begins this week.  Since all seasons have an “opener”, I thought I might borrow from sports to celebrate ours.

I suppose I should choose baseball metaphors since this is baseball season, but I’ve never been much for the sport.  It’s far too slow for me.  When I lived in Dallas, a friend invited me to a game of the Frisco Roughriders (the farm team for the Texas Rangers).  I was bored to tears, and the beer was awful, too.

I’m a hockey person.  Although the season doesn’t start until the Fall, I can always dream.  Let’s see if I can re-imagine some hockey terms with a CSA meaning.  Following is my attempt:

Blue line – The imaginary line you cross when you come to the farm, ready to pick up your CSA share, and realize you left all your bags in the car (or at home).

(Body) Checking – Physically bumping into another member while picking up your share.  Of course it was unintentional…

Goal – We got all our vegies for the week.  Made it home.  And our family EATS them.  You SCORE!

Goalie – The role your kids or significant other play when you get your vegies home.  “We’re not letting that stuff into our house or our mouths.”  Ptui

High sticking – Don’t carry that crate above your head because you’ll tip and trip and … we warned you.

Icing – You showed up before paying for your CSA share.  Naughty naughty

Penalty Box – What U-picks feel like in the heat of summer, the tangle of vines, and the bite of bugs.

Period – Divisions of the CSA season.  First period:  the vegie selection is light because things are still growing.  Second period:  The summer weeks when you have tomatoes and zucchini coming out of your ears.  Third period:  Ahhh, the root vegies have arrived.

Puck – What your potatoes become if you leave them in the basement too long.

Referee – The role Aaron plays when not out in the field or greenhouse.

Scrum (normally a Rugby term but Hockey players seem to practice it) – We’re all gathered around that one basket trying to guess what’s inside.  We can’t quite figure it out, not sure how many we get, and Aaron is away at the moment.

This cup is for the Blandford Farm team. (Yes, it's the real Stanley Cup.)

This cup is for the Blandford Farm team. (Yes, it’s the real Stanley Cup.)

Stanley Cup – This really should be awarded to Aaron, Liz, Mark, and their team.  Their work, sweat, and persistence gave us healthy vegies throughout the season.  I’ll bet Lord Stanley of Preston was a carnivore.

And finally, a tip of the hat to the late Frank Deford, NPR’s sports commentator.  He gave me the idea that sports can intersect other areas of our lives.  Dunno if he did a commentary on CSAs, though.

 

Image_20150822_01

About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

Food as Medicine

The first Blandford Farm CSA pickup is about a month away.  Yet I’m already plotting the use of my half-share.  You see, this year, I’m focusing on using food as medicine.  But I needed a little push.

I must confess, I haven’t had a primary care physician since my early college years.  I procrastinated as long as I could until my health insurance provider basically said, “ya gotta get one.”  So I did.  And I went through a couple of initial “meet and greet” exams, complete with blood tests.  The results were troubling, but not tragic.

It's a brave new world, Peaches!

It’s a brave new world, Peaches!

When I lived in Dallas, I was afraid I would die while driving on Central Expressway or the Dallas North Tollway.  When I moved to Grand Rapids, that fear faded in my rearview mirror…so to speak.  But I’ve learned my latest risk of mortality comes from the inside.  My blood tests tattled:  I have hyperlipidemia and hypertension.  In layman’s terms:  high cholesterol and high blood pressure, respectively.

I made a face when the nurses and my primary doctor suggested medications.  I preferred to use non-pharmaceutical means of treatment.  Amazingly, they gave me the benefit of the doubt.  Suggested course of action:  more exercise, lose a few pounds, and adjust my diet.  Since I never smoked, that’s one vice I can’t lose.  And I’ve come to enjoy the benefits of Beer City USA.  Surprisingly, my doctor didn’t see that as an issue.  That left exercise and diet.

I now practice yoga or exercise on a dusty Nordic Track in the basement, each day.  And adjusting my diet?  Well, that’s where the CSA comes in.

A story on npr.org earlier in the year caught my eye:  Food As Medicine: It’s Not Just A Fringe Idea Anymore.  A couple of the referenced studies (here and here) suggest that one can reverse the effects of high cholesterol by eating more fruits and vegies.  When my doctor quizzed me about my diet, I was already practicing many of the changes she could recommend.  So, she suggested Dr. Andrew Weil’s web site for advice on other nutritional avenues to manage my cholesterol and blood pressure.  A quick search on the site for “diet high cholesterol” produced a list of useful articles.

This nudges me (and my household) toward a more vegetarian diet.  Since I’m the primary cook, this will be a shared experience.  But I don’t mind the change, and my wife is always clamoring for more vegies.  In fact, I ordered a book from Amazon today, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.  I wanted to recreate some dishes served by my friend “BF#”.  And I definitely must make full use of this year’s CSA bounty.

I know I’m not the first person to alter their diet in response to a health issue.  For some, they like how they feel after the changes.  As a data-driven guy, my blood chemistry numbers are the benchmark for success.  And so, I have a date with a blood-sucker in September.  With luck, my primary doctor will continue to give me the benefit of the doubt in October.  I guess that sort of tracks this year’s CSA season, doesn’t it?

Image_20150822_01About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.