Lately Julian has been asking me when it is summer, my answers to him are complicated. How do you explain to a five year old that summer "officially" begins on the summer solstice but many folks mark the beginning of summer as Memorial day? However for me the start of summer coincides with our first summer CSA pick-up at The Intervale Community Farm. For all his incessant questioning on the meaning of summer I know that Julian feels this as well. Both Sebastian and Julian where counting down the hours to our first pick-up and telling me about all the areas of the farm they planned to explore. Our CSA is not the kind where you drive somewhere and are handed a bag or box and leave. Instead there are tables set up with produce and signs that say how much to take. Some items involve a choice, while others just require you to weigh out your share. There are also pick your own crops such as this weeks strawberries and herbs.
Our first pick-up last week was truncated and short as it was not yet school vacation and that evening I had to rush off to principal interviews at The Integrated Arts Academy. Happily the principal interviews and search committee meetings are over. I will not be running out to attend interviews where I can hear why a candidate believes "Art is a defendable value in education." or how they create "A positive school culture." The search committee met on Monday and we selected 2 candidates that we all would feel comfortable having as our interim principal. Now I am just waiting to find out which candidate the superintendent chooses. I have a favorite, so being the patient person that I am (ha!) I have been checking the district website obsessively to see if there is an update.
The end of this process means maybe I can spend a little more time in my kitchen. I feel like dinners around here lately have often consisted of finding food to fling at my children. But with the beginning of the CSA and the weekly food assignments it creates, plus the end of additional outside commitments, it is time to get creative. Creative because at this point we are not receiving the glut of produce that I know is coming. For now we have been greeted by heads of lettuce, a greens choice, garlic scapes and mesclun mix. All of these items I can use up quickly except the mesclun mix, (okay, I may or may not have problems with the lettuce as well).
The mesclun mix is a battle that in the past has gone on all summer. I have a basic character flaw that prevents me from not taking my share. After all there are signs on the mesclun bins that say, "Please weigh accurately." Obviously this is a valuable item and I should treat it with respect. However my children do not eat salads and I don't love salads enough to keep up with the mesclun all summer. So I end up using most of my mesclun mix to slowly feed my compost all summer.
However this last week I went to prepare dinner one night and found we had no vegetables left in the house except the bag of mesclun. As I stood grumpily staring at the assorted leaves I had a sudden inspiration to treat them like any of my favorite greens (spinach, chard, kale, lambs quarters...) and cook them with garlic and olive oil. I decided to play with some rhubarb as well and added some at the end of cooking. The result was good enough that Julian happily ate some, although he did complain about the rhubarb pieces as he did not like the tart lemon and artichoke flavor of them. Tonight I served it again, this time without the rhubarb. Julian took thirds. With or without the rhubarb I am happy to know I will not need to compost my mesclun mix this summer.
As for Thursdays pick-up at the farm, it was just what the boys and I needed to celebrate the first day of summer vacation. For the last several years my boys have been allowed to roam free at the farm once I walk them through the parking lot. They have special hide outs as well as elaborate projects they coordinate with their friends. While they are playing I pick up our produce and practice adult conversation skills. This week they began, with a group of friends, discovered a wonderful mud puddle and began by transporting shovels of mud to the sand box. Eventually Julian and his friend Casey decided to stay and play in the mud. Slowly their group of friends began to migrate over, one by one, where they all dug, and splashed and explored.
Now summer has begun because we have started weekly visits to our farm. Last year a fierce argument waged when Julian and Sebastian were talking about "our farm" to our neighbor Ada, whose daddy owns and runs another local farm. She insisted it was not their farm, she has a farm, but they do not. I stepped in because I know how fierce my children's attachment is to the farm. I explained that now the ICF is a co-op and so we own one share of the farm. I was not going to try to explain to her that it is theirs because they love it so much.
Sauteed Mesclun Mix with Garlic and Optional Rhubarb
This is one of those dishes that is more a technique then a prescription. The basic idea is to saute some garlic (you can use green garlic, garlic scapes, regular garlic, or even omit the garlic and use onions or shallots) in olive oil or butter, then you add the greens and stir until the greens are completely wilted. If you want to use the rhubarb just chop up a handful and add it for the last few minutes of cooking so it softens but stays firm enough that it retains its own character and 5 year olds can pick it out. Please treat this as a guide only.
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Butter or other favorite oil
1 minced clove of garlic (or 2 scapes, 1 small shallot, 1/2 a small onion, 2-3 scallions chopped)
1 lb mesclun mix (or whatever your CSA has gifted you with)
1 large or 2-3 small stalks rhubarb chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces (1/8 to 1/4 cup) optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the oil or butter. Add the garlic or onions and saute until fragrant, then add the washed and dried mesclun mix and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, mixing and wilting as you add it, if it seems dry add more oil. Once the mesclun mix is all wilted add the rhubarb and put the lid on briefly until the rhubarb is heated through and softened. Check the seasonings and serve.