CSA Review: Our City Farm aka Villarreal Family Farm

I loved my CSA  in Madison, WI. With that farm, I bought avocados and sometimes fruit at the grocery store.  That’s it.  I was drowning in produce and was so happy about it!  The e-mails that the farm sent out always gave me a list of what I would be picking up, a story or thought, and some recipes that utilized that week’s bounty. I highly recommend Crossroads Community Farm (formerly Primrose Community Farm) to anyone in the Madison area.  Their family is adorable, the produce is great, they’re extremely professional, and the events they host are fun.

When I was preparing to move to St. Louis, one of the things I was most excited about was getting a CSA subscription. After much research and reading and comparing, I decided on Our City Farm which was formerly known as Villareal Family Farm.  Here is their website.

I was so excited! We were going to be getting a hearty box of vegetables, a dozen eggs, and a whole chicken every week. 

False. 

We do get a dozen eggs and a chicken every week (except one week, due to the extreme heat this summer and we have been promised they will be made up), but the vegetables are pathetic.  We get tons of greens and hardly anything else, even in the intense summer heat.  Each week I expect to get three to five bunches of greens, many of which are still attached to turnips, and a few other vegetables. Maybe two zucchini and an eggplant.  Or a small head of lettuce and two tomatoes. I think the first week was literally the largest and least disappointing.  By the fourth week I stopped taking photographs.  Now I am just annoyed every time I drive to get one because it’s not what I am paying for in the slightest.

I know it’s been hot, but that is nothing even close to enough to feed three to four people, as advertised.  But they are still growing greens and lettuce.  For those of you not in the gardening know, those are hard to grow when it’s hot! There are no carrots, no potatoes, no peppers, no berries, no melons, no onions, no garlic.  Only greens, more greens, turnips and turnip greens, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and some herbs.

Additionally, the farm seems to be really poorly managed.  Here’s why I say that:

  • Their website randomly went down for weeks.
  • Jeri responds to my Monday e-mails asking if I can pick up our Saturday CSA at a different time after pickup, even as late as the following Monday evening.  I assume that most people travel at least one weekend of the summer, so this shouldn’t be something unusual.  I asked her about it before signing up for the CSA and she assured me it would be no problem. 
  • The pickup location changed between sending my payment and the start of the season, which means we drive much further than I thought we would have to.
  • Jeri is frequently late to pick-ups, even at the regularly scheduled time.  
  • The produce isn’t pre-divided into shares. Jeri just picks and chooses for you when you show up.
  • And finally, the e-mails for each week (which did nothing more than remind us to come pick up our CSA) stopped abruptly after a couple weeks.

I’ll concede that I really like the eggs and the chicken, but I could definitely source those from somewhere else and not have the burden of dealing with someone who makes it difficult to pick up my purchases.

To avoid this mistake, I’d advise you look for “typical week” photos on any CSA you choose and also find a list of what crops the farm grows.  My two biggest disappointments have been the small quantities and limited variety. Gavin hates turnips and both of us can only stand so many greens, and those seem to be the two biggest crops.  Make sure the “typical week” photos or lists look like what you are expecting to get for your money.  I would not trust the reviews on Wild Harvest, since they don’t seem to be too accurate, probably because there are so few.

I will not be returning to the Our City Farm CSA next year and wanted to be sure that others were aware of what they were signing up for before paying for this.  I’ll definitely be picking another choice next year.

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Kitchen Tools: Cookware and Bakeware

1. Cookie sheets. These are great for the obvious, making cookies, but also will work for roasting vegetables or even cuts of meat.  They’re also great for reheating foods, like Gavin’s favorite, pizza.  I have a lot to say about these, so hang on.

I had some kind of like this that were Wilton and dark and had giant handles and were a terrible size. I could only fit in one on a rack even though the cooking space was pretty small. They also burned things on the bottom really quickly. And finally, they had some kind of nonstick coating that started flaking off. Mmm. Oh, and my nonstick baking mats wouldn’t really fit in them.  Their one redeeming quality was that they have lips or edges.  Without those, making anything but cookies and maybe pizza is going to result in a giant mess.

Now we got some of these Nordic Ware half sheet pans (this is what I got for my birthday — thanks Gram!) and they are so much better! They remind me of the ones I used when I worked at Potbelly and made cookies all the time (and might have sometimes snuck raw cookie dough). These sheets are bigger, I think cheaper, and so far way better.

My mom has some stainless steel ones I really like, but I just couldn’t find anything like them anywhere.  She has two little ones that fit on a rack together and one big one that can only sit by itself.  Those are great too.

2. Non-nonstick pots and pans.  This is kind of a big category, but I think one 6-quart pot and some kind of pan that has the potential to stick are really important.  One smaller pot is nice to have for making sauces or hardboiling a couple eggs, but is less important than having a big pot. I didn’t actually have a nonstick skillet when I lived in Madison and got by just fine with this set of affordable stainless steel pots and pans (that I still use and love) and the next item on my list.

3. Cast iron skillet. This can totally replace a nonstick pan if you treat it well (although nonstick is so nice to have for certain things!).  It works for eggs, bacon, pancakes, on and on.  This is also something that can be found in good condition at yard sales or second-hand stores.  People get freaked out about cleaning it but it’s not so bad.  The other secret is to really avoid getting it wet unless you have to.

4. A 9×13″ dish.  We have an aluminum cake pan and a glass Pyrex baking dish, and I think the glass one is way more versatile. It’s what I use when I make brownies andcasseroles.  This could be substituted for an 8×8″ baking dish if you live alone or hate leftovers.  We have both. 

Our Pyrex also has lids, which makes putting the leftovers in the fridge much easier.  Or saving that pan of brownies for later.

5. One nonstick pan.  You’ll want this sometimes for making pancakes or scrambled eggs or something.  Not totally necessary if you know how to use your cast iron and regular pans, but definitely a nice thing to have on a busy morning.

Honestly anything after this is bonus, in my opinion.  We have a lot more than this, like cupcake pans, round cake pans, loaf pans, a roasting pan that gets much abuse and Gavin hates washing, two Le Creuset dutch ovens (again, thanks to Gram for hauling those out of her basement), and a cast iron griddle/grill pan.  But if you don’t do a lot of baking, the above five things will get you pretty far.

What do you guys think? Is this enough cookware and bakeware for the basic kitchen?

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Kitchen Hack: Make Homemade Mayonnaise with an Immersion Blender

I’ve never made homemade mayonnaise before, even though I love mayonnaise.  Finding this hack where you can make homemade mayonnaise in an immersion blender piqued my interest, especially because you just dump everything into the mixing cup or a one-quart widemouth jar, let it rest, and then let the vortex created by the blender do its thing.

I wanted to try this out with a more whole-foods style mayonnaise than the recipe that Serious Eats used.  So I decided to try out this real foods recipe for mayonnaise.

I used:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

This failed. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t carefully pour the oil on top of the rest of the things and then mix it in, but my mayonnaise broke and I had to start over with another egg yolk and some mustard, then drizzle in my broken and gross “mayonnaise” like you would normally drizzle in the oil.  Using the immersion blender was still great, but this method just didn’t work for me.

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Cheater Macaroni and Cheese

I talked up my super-easy macaroni and cheese method while trying a new (and pretty meh) method of cooking the noodles in milk.  I’m going to share the cheater magic with you.

Things you need:

  • Noodles. Elbows are nice, spaghetti is fun, rotini is a nice twist on the original. Whatever you have and like to eat.
  • Cheese. Sharp or extra-sharp, please. Others need not apply unless you don’t like the taste of cheese.  If that’s you, why are you eating this?
  • Cream. Buy non ultra-pasteurized if you can.
  • Salt. I use kosher salt.
  • Pepper. If little black specks in your macaroni and cheese freak you out, just don’t use it. They don’t bother me and I like it, so I use it.

Cook some noodles.  If you want to super-cheat, use the cooking-noodles-faster hack previously featured on KH.  I usually do this when I make macaroni and cheese.  Don’t forget to salt the water!

Drain the noodles. Self-explanatory. I have pots and pans that allow you to strain through the lid.  Slightly more precarious, one less thing to wash.  Toss-up. If you use a strainer, put the noodles back in the pan.

Add your cream ASAP.  That pan is still hot and if you don’t add some liquid before the water burns off, those noodles will burn onto the bottom.  Ask me how I know.  Add some salt and pepper.

It should look like slightly runny macaroni and cheese.  The concern is adding too much, but even that can be remedied by just letting it cook down.

Let the cream get hot, then stir in your grated cheese.  If you’re cool, you grate your own cheese.  If you’re even cooler, you already did it for the week.  If you’re amazingly cool, you store your grated cheese in a mason jar.  Add more cream if necessary.  I usually think it’s necessary and if it looks like I’ll need a lot, I sometimes add milk.  Then it’s not quite as good though.

Check for saltiness and add more if necessary.  I honestly like it with some salt sprinkled over the top at the end for salty-surprise bites, but do whatever you like.

And now you know how to make my favorite of all time bachelorette/eating-alone/there-is-nothing-in-the-house dish.  Add some garlic and parmesan instead of the cheddar and enjoy some alfredo.  To add vegetables, heat up (or heck, even cook) some vegetables before you add the noodles back to the pan and continue with your desired cheese.  Try it lots of ways and you’ll not only perfect cheater macaroni and cheese, you’ll be able to make swanky macaroni and cheese too.

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