We were waiting for Jah.
Not Jah, the deity, but Jah the farmer, a.k.a. dreadlocked farmer Matt Bruckler 3d, who was supposed to deliver our first box of organic vegetables from his farm, Jah's Creation, in Egg Harbor Township.
But it was late at night, and Jah had still not arrived. On opposite ends of our town, my friend Joan and I waited, and then once the boxes had arrived, close to midnight on that hectic first week, we wondered.
What would we do with all that kale?
And so it began, our adventures with the half-bushel box of organic vegetables that Bruckler - a fourth-generation farmer on that land on Spruce Avenue - would personally drop off to us every week, from May through October.
This was my first experience with community-supported agriculture, or CSA, where members typically pay from $500 to $800 a season, up front, or, in my case, in two installments of $360, for a 26-week share of a local farm's harvest. The farmer benefits by getting the money at the start of the season when he needs it most and a guaranteed customer base. Members benefit by getting a box of just-picked local produce each week.
I've loved it, even with the added challenge of not having a working kitchen for some of the time because mine was under construction. So far, it has been a lot of kale, a lot of greens, a lot of different choys, a lot of lettuce, plus a wild card each week that is Matt's signature: some kind of exotic vegetable or variety of choy that probably would never manage to land on your dinner plate otherwise. I had bought vegetables from Jah's Creation last summer at the Margate Farmers Market, so I knew some of the stuff in the box would be exotic.
This last week, it was the baby golden beets. I didn't even know what these were until I cut into one, and it was so young and so tender and such a pretty yellow that we just cut the beets into slices and added them directly to our red leaf lettuce salad, also from the box. It was fantastic. Another Jah specialty is sweet bunching onions (scallions); I just kept adding them to various sandwiches. And who knew there were so many choys besides bok? Hello, Baby Mei Qing Choy and your cousin Tat Choy.
I love getting the vegetables directly from the farmer, usually now around mid-afternoon on Fridays, from a farm just a few miles from my house, no middleman, no corporation, no processing other than Bruckler's washing, sorting, and boxing his crops.
This is good for me, good for my family, good for Jah's Creation (Bruckler sold 60 CSA shares at a pricey $720 for 26 weeks, or just over $27 a week), and good for the planet, a point driven home last week as I sat through the first 15 minutes of Food Inc. before decamping to the somewhat more appetizing The Hangover, at a theater in the same town as Bruckler's farm.
It has also been good in a neighborly sense. Getting the same box of organic vegetables has resulted in a camaraderie among friends, with our friend Debra Rosman, a food writer, offering guidance with recipes tailored to the box. Bruckler also offers a weekly recipe.
A few weeks back, in addition to a bottle of wine, I brought my head of cabbage and my fennel bulbs to Joan's house for dinner, and we combined our matching vegetables to make a delicious fennel and cabbage slaw (from a recipe found by Debbie that called for red cabbage, but our green cabbage worked just fine).
I love starting with the ingredients and cooking from them, rather than starting with a recipe and going out for the ingredients. Our salads have become very inventive. It's been a little hard to keep up with everything in the box, but very little has not been used.
Last week, still lacking a stove, I gathered up a bunch of Bruckler's choys and other greens and we just threw them on the grill (in a grid pan) with some maple wasabi sauce. Yum.
But back to the kale. Bruckler had sent a recipe for Caribbean Kale and Black Eye Pea Soup that seemed too complicated and required too many other ingredients.
A little Internet searching landed me unexpectedly with Martha Stewart. Her Kale and White Bean Soup was a winner, especially doctored with garlic and a shallot, which I had on hand. I also made it the next week (it was May, and cool, so soup seemed logical). But the kale has kept on coming. Matt offered a recipe for Kale Chips, and Debbie sent over a simple recipe for sweet and spicy dressing - sugar, rice vinegar, oil, water, hot chili sauce, and soy sauce - that she combined with the kale, choy, Swiss chard, and scallions that came in last week's box, an excellent way to deal with the box in toto. (Most of the greens also do just fine in a simple stir-fry of oil, garlic and tamari.) And anticipating the tomatoes, peppers and radishes that will be coming, and the local corn, Debbie offered a favored recipe for garden gazpacho.
We will surely be waiting for Jah to deliver.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 or 2 large fennel bulbs, finely chopped
3 cups of cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, scraped and shredded
1/2 cup Vidalia or other sweet onion, sliced very thin
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive or canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Mix the chopped fennel, shredded cabbage, shredded carrot and sliced onion in a large bowl.
2. Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and pepper.
3. Drizzle over the cole slaw and mix well.
Per serving (based on 8): 30 calories, 1 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 1 grams fat, no cholesterol, 171 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber
Makes 4 servings
1 pound kale, stems (and veins, if desired) removed and leaves washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cans cannellini beans, (14.5 ounces each), drained and rinsed
4 cups water
2 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium canned broth
Salt and pepper
4 thick slices country bread
Grated Parmesan cheese, (optional)
1. Cut or tear the kale into 1/2-inch strips.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add about half the beans, and lightly mash with a fork to thicken the broth. Add water and stock, and bring to a boil.
4. Stir in kale, remaining beans (leave these whole), 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer until kale is tender, about 20 minutes.
5. Toast bread. Ladle soup into bowls, top with toast, and drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.
Per serving: 349 calories, 25 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 2 grams fat, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 120 milligrams sodium, 15 grams dietary fiber
Makes about 4 servings
3 or 4 large kale leaves, with stem removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
A few pinches of kosher salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk together vinegar, oil, and salt and toss with kale leaves.
3. Place in a single layer on baking sheet and place in oven.
4. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, flipping halfway through until crispy. Do not overcook or allow to become completely brown or it will taste bitter.
Per serving: 18 calories, 1 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams sugar, trace fat, no milligrams cholesterol, 136 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiberEndText