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Embracing the Unexpected: Discovering New Culinary Delights in Your CSA Basket

June 26, 2024

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Embracing the Unexpected: Discovering New Culinary Delights in Your CSA Basket

Postcards from the Road: The Camels of Lancaster

I landed at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, back from a week of work in Montreal to discuss the idea of a French-language The Nature of Cities with local partners. The next day, the President of the French Republic announced a strict confinement of the entire population, except for those deemed essential workers.

Returning to my Parisian apartment, a stone’s throw from the Moulin Rouge, I kissed my wife and children goodbye as we committed to at least a month of lockdown. As the days passed, I realized I couldn’t observe a single pollinating insect – my main hobby through the Suivi Photographique des Insectes Pollinisateurs (SPIPOLL) citizen science program. I missed that connection to nature dearly.

From my first-floor window, I could only see the sky through the reflections in the upper floors. Thanks to ornithologist Maxime Zucca’s daily Twitter updates describing a Parisian bird I could observe and listen to from home, I was at least able to watch and learn. Only the crows visited, nesting in the tall trees of the nearby Montmartre cemetery – the only green spaces still accessible in my neighborhood.

Twice a week, I ventured out to buy vegetables and bread, getting some fresh air. But not a single flower bloomed on the sidewalk, the feet of the large plane trees on Avenue de Clichy dry and compact. On my typical Haussmann-style street, there wasn’t even a tree-lined boulevard. A mere 100 meters away, the City of Paris had installed a few flower boxes to deter motorcyclists from parking on the pavement – the only greenery in sight.

The Importance of Urban Nature

The confinement made me intimately feel what I’ve long known and said – the presence of nature in the city is not a decoration, it’s a vital need for the urban dweller. What’s to be done? Remove at least one of the two rows of car parking – an unnecessary and polluting occupation of public space – and replace it with a grassy area planted with bushes and small trees. The City of Paris has started creating these “green streets” experimentally, but it needs to be massively generalized.

This would not only limit the urban heat island effect caused by paving materials and the canyon-like shape of streets, but also devote part of the roadway to bicycles alone. It’s time to radically rethink how we design and use urban spaces, prioritizing nature, active transportation, and community resilience.

Discovering the Unexpected in Lancaster

As I reflected on my Parisian experience, I recalled a recent trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania – a surprising and delightful discovery. I had previously associated the area with Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine and the ways of the Amish, with its scrapple, apple butter, shoofly pie, and chow chow. But Lancaster turned out to be an enormous foodie town, with a vibrant arts and culture scene.

During my whirlwind 25-day stay, my friend Paul and I had wonderful meals at places like Citronnelle, Aussie and the Fox, and Commonwealth on Queen, showcasing the city’s commitment to locally-sourced, truly delicious food. Paul, a fabulous cook himself, even prepared a memorable dinner at home featuring kale simmered with a ham hock, a pork tenderloin stuffed with blue cheese and mushrooms, and phyllo shells filled with a cream cheese and cherry concoction.

We also visited two very different markets – Roots Country Market and Auction, home of the oldest single-family-run country market in Lancaster County, and the historic Lancaster Central Market, the oldest farmers market in the country. At Roots, we were immersed in the authentic sights, sounds, and smells of Pennsylvania Dutch food culture – sausages, bologna, pickled items, potato chips, pretzels, shoofly pies, and more.

But the real surprise was learning about the Amish farmers who were raising dairy and beef cows, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and even camels! It turned out that Miller’s Organic Farm was shipping camel milk, yogurt, kefir, and soap all over the United States, as one of only about a half dozen camel dairies in America. Camels in Lancaster – who would have thought?

Embracing the Unexpected

This experience underscored for me the importance of embracing the unexpected, both in our personal lives and in how we design and plan our urban environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to slow down, observe our surroundings more closely, and appreciate the natural world in new ways.

Just as I was delighted to discover the vibrant food scene and the unexpected presence of camels in Lancaster, the enforced stillness of the pandemic has revealed the healing power of urban nature. Around the world, people are marveling at cleaner air, the return of wildlife to city streets, and the solace found in local parks and green spaces.

This is a pivotal moment to rethink how we build and live in our cities. Rather than seeking a return to “normal,” we have an opportunity to create a new normal – one that prioritizes sustainability, resilience, and our connection to the natural world. By embracing the unexpected and allowing ourselves to be delighted and surprised, we can chart a course towards healthier, more vibrant urban communities.

At Thornapple CSA, we believe that cultivating a sense of wonder and discovery is key to building a thriving local food system. Each week, our members are treated to the unexpected – a variety of freshly harvested produce, herbs, and flowers that reflect the rhythms of the season and the creativity of our farmers.

Rather than a predictable, uniform experience, a CSA basket invites you to step outside your comfort zone, experiment with new ingredients, and find delight in the natural world’s abundance. It’s a journey of culinary exploration that mirrors the larger transition we must make as a society – from passive consumers to engaged participants in the web of life.

Discovering the Unexpected in Your CSA Basket

So what kinds of unexpected delights might you find in your Thornapple CSA basket? Here are just a few examples:

Ingredient Description
Garlic Chives These versatile alliums have a subtle garlic flavor and can be used in a variety of savory dishes, from omelets to stir-fries. Their delicate white blossoms are also edible and add a lovely pop of color to salads.
Napa Cabbage Also known as Chinese cabbage, this crunchy, leafy green is a staple in Asian cuisine. Its mild, almost sweet flavor makes it perfect for raw preparations like slaws and salads, or lightly cooked in stir-fries and braises.
Tatsoi This nutrient-dense, dark green leafy vegetable has a subtle, slightly peppery taste. Tatsoi is delicious both raw in salads and lightly sautéed, and it’s packed with vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron.
Mizuna With its delicate, frilly leaves and mild, slightly peppery flavor, mizuna is a versatile green that can be used raw in salads, added to stir-fries, or even pickled. It provides a lovely contrast to heartier greens.
Kohlrabi This unusual-looking brassica has a mild, sweet, and slightly crunchy flavor. The bulb-like stem can be peeled and eaten raw, roasted, or added to slaws and salads, while the greens are also edible and delicious sautéed.

The beauty of a CSA is that it introduces you to the full abundance of the season, allowing you to discover new favorite ingredients and culinary inspirations. Rather than sticking to the same old produce standbys, embrace the unexpected and allow your CSA basket to be a gateway to a more diverse, delicious, and delightful relationship with food.

Leveraging Connections for Culinary Exploration

Of course, confronting so many novel ingredients can also feel daunting. That’s where the power of community and connection comes in. As a Thornapple CSA member, you’ll have access to a wealth of resources to help you make the most of your basket, including:

  • Weekly recipe ideas and preparation tips from our farmers and culinary team
  • Opportunities to connect with other members and share recipes, tips, and kitchen discoveries
  • Access to cooking classes, food preservation workshops, and other educational programming
  • A supportive network of fellow food lovers eager to experiment and learn together

By tapping into this community of fellow adventurous eaters, you’ll be empowered to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. Who knows – you might just discover your next culinary obsession, like the unsuspecting camel milk aficionados of Lancaster.

Embracing the Journey of Discovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to slow down and pay closer attention to the world around us. In doing so, we’ve been reminded of the importance of urban nature, the resilience of local food systems, and the joy of discovering the unexpected.

As you open your Thornapple CSA basket each week, embrace that same spirit of wonder and curiosity. Allow yourself to be delighted by unfamiliar produce, inspired by creative recipes, and nourished by the natural abundance of the season. It’s a journey of culinary exploration that mirrors the larger transformation we must undertake as individuals and as a society.

By cultivating a mindset of openness and flexibility, we can not only survive, but thrive – even in the face of uncertainty. So let’s make a pact: the next time you encounter an unexpected ingredient in your CSA basket, don’t relegate it to the compost bin. Instead, let it be a catalyst for discovery, a chance to learn, grow, and find delight in the world around us.

After all, isn’t that what community-supported agriculture is all about?

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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