CSAs are a Ripoff

We signed up for a CSA with rave reviews (an average of 4.5+ stars on Yelp) and got two boxes. We paid $35 for week home delivery of a box of produce.

For $35, we got:

  • Strawberries (2 pints; several moldy or mushy)
  • 4 Fuji Apples
  • 4 Baby Bok Choy
  • 4 Green Bell Peppers
  • large bunch of Red Butter Lettuce
  • large bunch of Green Curly Kale
  • 1 Romanesco
  • 1 Cheddar (yellow) Cauliflower
  • 1 bag Bloomsdale Spinach
  • 1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 bunch Pink Radishes

Hmmm…well, the quality was great, but not phenomenal. The tomatoes were delicious; savory. The lettuce was terrific, soft and blemish-free. The rest was quite good but nothing to write home about. And I believe all of it was organic.

For comparison, we went to Berkeley Bowl and got the following produce (hand-picked, so we could choose exactly what we wanted):

  • 48 squash blossoms (flor de calabaza)
  • 7 small beets (organic)
  • 1 large pomegranate
  • 4 large bunches of Swiss chard
  • 1 bunch of celery (organic)
  • 1 plantain
  • 1 medium-sized bunch of wine grapes
  • 1 small head (?) of ginger
  • 1 bunch of basil
  • 2 large yellow onions
  • 7 gorgeous heirloom peppers
  • 6 vine-ripened tomatoes
  • yellow and orange bell peppers (1 of each)
  • 1 fuyu persimmon
  • 1 hachiya persimmon
  • 1 bunch of radishes (organic)
  • 1 red prickly pear (cactus fruit)
  • 1 bunch of savory (herb; organic)
  • 1 bag of fresh fava beans (organic)
  • 5 carrots (organic)
  • 3 large watermelon radishes (organic)
  • 1 head green cabbage (organic)
  • 1 Chinese bitter melon
  • 1 kabocha squash (organic)

Now, not everything was organic, as you can see above. But the total cost of ALL of those items? $41.72. It’s easily twice as much food, and all food of our picking. What’s a little puzzling is that there is a middleman here who demands 50%, so the farmers are providing this bounty of food to BB for a bit more than $20. Aren’t CSAs supposed to be cheaper because there isn’t a middleman?

If you want to be completely fair about it, there’s the cost of gas (about 1.2 gallons for the round trip, so about $5.40) and the cost of the bridge toll ($5), so now we’re up to about $52. And there’s the cost of time, which is almost nothing, considering that my time is practically worthless at this point, I enjoy shopping there, and we have had to shop for non-produce items anyway.

Yep, we’ve cancelled our CSA service. And we’re planning on weekly trips to Berkeley Bowl instead.

Empanada Gallega (Galician Empanada) [Daring Bakers]

I loved this month’s challenge, since it was savory instead of sweet. (I’m still battling a major sweet tooth)

Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family’s favorite recipes for Empanadas! We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our Empanadas as creatively as we wished!

The suggested fillings were all carnivorous, so I googled around and found a great recipe for a vegetarian vegetable filling. The only thing missing from my version was the nutmeg; it still tasted absolutely delicious and was just spicy enough. The pastry was great, too; we even made a tiny loaf of bread with the remaining dough.

I prepped the empanada for a friend who was celebrating both her birthday and her passing of a major licensure exam in her field, so I decorated the empanada accordingly. (Pics after the jump)


Crackers [Daring Bakers]

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

This was a great challenge, especially since there was little opportunity for me to f*ck things up, and I was also able to make these two types of crackers at scale. I went with the health crackers (although I used oat bran and einkorn flour instead of wheat germ and all-purpose flour, respectively) and the cheddar, walnut, and rosemary icebox crackers (using rosemary from our backyard, and also using einkorn flour instead of all-purpose). Both came out exceptionally delicious: the icebox crackers were very rich (they’re full of butter and cheddar cheese) and the health crackers, maybe because I used oat bran, had a delightful texture similar to Nairn’s oatcakes. I would happily make both of these again, particularly the health crackers.

Battemberg Cake [Daring Bakers]

This month’s challenge was not really one I’d have selected on my own. We made a Battemberg cake, which was created to commemorate the wedding between Queen Victoria (the one alive in the 20th century) and Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. It’s a pretty fussy dessert, and I’m not really a fan of any monarchy (something I’ve hoped we would move past as a species, but Europeans love them as part of their history), but the Queen of England just celebrated her jubilee anniversary and, well, it really is a challenge to make. If it didn’t push us out of our comfort zone, it wouldn’t be a challenge, right?

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

I made the coffee and walnut version with marzipan, with just a tiny change: I added my homemade walnut liqueur to the walnut batter in addition to the vanilla to give it an extra measure of walnuttiness. I also used an organic Nutella knockoff as the “glue”. Came out delicious but very rich. The cake didn’t completely cook through in the middle (I guess I poked it with a toothpick towards the edge) but I’ve never been one to complain about gooey cake.

Challah [Daring Bakers]

Got back to my religious roots – Judaism – with this month’s challenge. Challah, that braided loaf of sweet, fluffy bread, is something we bless with the “motzi” on Friday nights, before ripping into it and devouring it. The next morning, you can make great French toast out of it. (A trick we learned from one of my favorite brunch spots in Oakland, Cockadoodle Cafe, is to roll the dipped challah slices in graham cracker crumbs. It’s divine.)

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

I went the easy route, since I didn’t have much time on the Saturday morning I made my challah, and, generally, the simpler the recipe, the less likely I am to f— it up. Fortunately, Ruth provided some great recipes and several different braiding options which she presented in a video. I went with Temple David’s simple challah recipe (which, since it was taken down from Temple David’s site, I’ve reprinted below), and one of the 6-braid patterns.

The challah loaf ended up being a little oblong – I think I rolled my dough ropes out too thin. Next time, I’ll just make the ropes shorter and fatter, to end up with a short, plump loaf. The texture, however, was awesome – super fluffy and soft, delicately sweet, and slightly yellow from the egg that each loaf had in its dough.

No question that I’ll make this again. It was pretty simple to make, and tastes a lot better than the expensive loaves you buy in the markets.

Here served with homemade veggie tapenade (i.e. no anchovies), cotswold cheese, a couple of goat cheeses, and hummus, courtesy of Mollie Stone’s. A few more pics of this delicious challah after the jump.


My turn hosting the Daring Bakers challenge

This month I baked, filmed, photographed, and ate…but well before the usual first of the month start date. I had the pleasure of hosting the Daring Bakers challenge, and, as a nod to my Armenian heritage—I refuse to have Kim Kardashian be the only association people have to Armenians—I introduced participants to an easy-to-make nutmeg coffee cake and that most Armenian pastry of all, nazook. For the latter, which I had eaten since I was a kid but never actually made, I made a flight down to L.A. and filmed my aunt Aida making it. She’s the one featured in the video below (after the jump).

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

I loved all the pictures of the variations people made to both. For some reason, lots of people had difficulty with the nutmeg cake not cooking in the time I specified, and had to cook it for much longer. I’m not sure if their ingredients were cold, if the oven hadn’t completely preheated, or if my oven just runs hotter than normal. The nazook variations were awesome. I remember my aunt said you could fill it with just about anything. My cousin Vivian, her daughter, asked, “Chocolate?” to which Aida answered, “No. Not chocolate.” Some of the challenge participants were nevertheless undeterred, and baked them with chocolate anyway. They were reportedly very delicious.

Dutch Crunch Bread [Daring Bakers]

Before reading this month’s challenge, I was unaware that Dutch Crunch bread, a staple at sandwich joints in San Francisco and the area, is pretty much unknown elsewhere here in the US. It really does have Dutch origins—it’s called tijgerbrood, or tiger-bread, in the Netherlands—but elsewhere in the States it’s not a common option. I guess I never paid attention to my bread choices when getting sandwiches outside the Bay Area.

I was also unaware that the crunch was mostly the result of a rice flour slurry applied to the bread, not some sort of heavy egg wash.

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

We were required to make Dutch crunch bread, in the form of rolls or a loaf, and then make a sandwich out of it. I went the roll route. I modified the recipe provided by Sara & Erica, swapping out the milk for water (didn’t have any milk on hand, and have made bread without milk countless times). I also didn’t have any rice flour, so I pulverized some arborio rice I had on hand in my coffee grinder, and sifted it as they suggested.

The result? Phenomenal! My rolls flattened, as usual, in the oven, but the insides were still very much moist after baking, and the crunch was so awesome. It provided a great balance to the soft ingredients that I put in our sandwich:

  • aioli with garlic, thyme and smoked paprika
  • fresh mozzarella with fresh oregano leaves
  • brown tomatoes (these Trader Joe’s “kumato” tomatoes with a dark reddish-brown color)
  • avocado

Pics after the jump.


What I wish Jeffrey Goldberg & Andrew Sullivan would understand about each other (and themselves)

There are two bloggers I’ve been reading for years: Andrew Sullivan (at least since about 2002) and Jeffrey Goldberg (for the last couple of years). I respect them both, even if I don’t agree with them all the time. Their recent spat has been a source of consternation for me, especially since it concerns a matter that almost always provokes more conflict, even among people who essentially agree on motives and high-level strategies, than harmony.

First, about Andrew Sullivan. The fact that Andrew’s a self-styled conservative, or gay, or even Catholic has little to do with his views on Israel. The fact that he’s British does. The style of criticism that he levels towards Israel is rather classically British. Despite living here for decades, Andrew’s view of the world is still very much shaped by his country of origin. Like most Brits suffering from post-colonial guilt, he’s generally preoccupied with former British colonies, in particular Israel and Iran. Why? That Israel and Iran are problems created by the British and that evade resolution is a common refrain. Most Brits I know with a sensitivity towards their colonialist past wish the Israel/Palestine problem would go away, and that Iran would act like a normal country. It’s usually expressed with impatient exasperation.

So Andrew does not hate Jews, but if he’s anything like the many Brits I have talked to about this subject, he believes the (Israeli) Jews have had it too good for too long, and that they need to stop being coddled and “get on with it.” Unsurprisingly, it tends to sound like the way an indignant parent scolds an insolent child. It should also come as no surprise that several other things that Andrew gets exercised about – American hyperreligiosity, our different taste in music, our different definition of what it means to be a conservative – are exactly those things that the English tend to whin(g)e about generally when it comes to the U.S.

So now about Jeffrey. He’s Jewish; so am I. Jews are used to hearing and expressing different opinions, even about Israel, something that’s dear to the hearts of just about every one of us (Why wouldn’t it be? Half of our fellow Jews live there). We are used to listening to, processing, agreeing with or debating others’ opinions. What we always have trouble with are double standards. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Jews holding Jews to a higher standard; part of being Jewish is holding ourselves to a higher standard (it’s part of the Covenant; we have to fulfill 606 additional commandments to be considered as righteous as a Gentile). But it always, always triggers something in us when non-Jews expect Jews to fulfill a higher standard than they hold to others, in this case, the Palestinians or Iranians. Whether it’s the reality or not, it also smells a bit of anti-Semitism, even when we consciously tell ourselves the motivation is different. The story of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Harvard President in the 1920s, trying to impose a quota on Jewish admissions, helps illustrate the mindset. Lowell said that a quota was important because Jews cheat. When someone pointed out that Christians cheat, too, Lowell retorted, don’t change the subject, we’re talking about Jews.

Compound this with the fact that Israel’s existence is constantly being questioned, not only by Islamic regimes committed to its destruction, but others in the West, and it puts Jews a bit on edge. The fact that there is no popular movement in Israel to eat up all of Palestinian territory, while a regime committed to Israel’s destruction was popularly voted in after Israel withdrew from Arab territory, suggests that Israel should not face more condemnation than the Palestinians for deep-sixing the peace process.

Jeffrey always has to straddle the tension between right-wing and left-wing Israelis in order to land the interviews with high-ranking officials that he always manages to get. If he’s solidly in one camp or the other, he’ll lose clout.

That said, I don’t think Sullivan’s double standards, and that’s exactly what they are, are motivated by anti-Semitism. It’s just the paternalistic, peevish British attitude towards their former colonies that they feel are out of line. Americans get it, too.

And, as much as Sullivan seems to think Goldberg is falling into the AIPAC/right-wing gambit of accusing all opponents of being self-hating Jews or anti-Semites, Jeffrey really hasn’t done that. Maybe calling Andrew a scapegoat of Jews wasn’t the best choice of words, although I understand that’s what holding Israel to a higher standard invokes. Even Goldberg’s disagreement with Peter Beinart’s call for “Zionist BDS” against West Bank settlement goods was reasoned and calm. He didn’t accuse Peter of being a self-hating Jew, he didn’t try to silence him, and, in fact, probably brought Zion Square a bit of publicity (which is a good thing; Beinart’s views deserve a fair hearing). Saying you disagree with someone and that an idea they’re proposing is a bad one is not akin to silencing them.

So I plan on continuing to read both Goldberg and Sullivan, and hope they can manage to kiss and make up.

Update: Heh.

Quickbreads [Daring Bakers]

This month’s challenge was similar to the last, in that the basic recipe wasn’t terribly difficult, but there were plenty of ways to customize and experiment with the recipe to come up with something novel. I didn’t have a ton of extra time in the kitchen this month, so I focused on trying to achieve one quickbread recipe that did the trick from the very beginning, and I was fortunate that I was able to do that.

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

Since I’m trying to avoid sweet foods in my 2012 weight loss challenge, I went savory with this challenge, and made a ricotta and green onion muffin. I used this recipe as a starting point, but made the following alterations:

  • Halved the recipe to make 12 mini muffins instead of a dozen full-sized muffins.
  • Used einkorn flour instead of whole-wheat flour.
  • Omitted the sugar.
  • Added 1 tsp each of ground cumin and garlic powder.
  • Instead of a 1/4 tsp of salt, I used 1/4 tsp of sea salt and 1/4 tsp of no-salt salt (potassium chloride)
  • Substituted soured milk (milk with vinegar) for the buttermilk, which I didn’t have on hand.

The result? Really, really delicious. The aroma was amazing as it baked (since I was used my mini-muffin tin, I was actually able to do so in my toaster oven). They looked gorgeous, and tasted divine. Probably the best part, though, was the texture: light, fluffy, and moist. Even tossing them in the microwave for 10 seconds a pop warmed them up without sacrificing the texture.

Pics after the jump.


Szymborska’s “Nic Dwa Razy” (Nothing Twice)

Nic dwa razy sie nie zdarza
i nie zdarzy. Z tej przyczyny zrodzilismy sie bez wprawy
i pomrzemy bez rutyny.

Nothing happens twice
and nothing will.  For this reason, we were born without training
and we will die without a routine. 

Chocbysmy uczniami byli najtepszymi w szkole swiata
nie bedziemy repetowac
zadnej zimy ani lata.

Even if we were the dumbest students in the school of the world
we won’t need to repeat
any winter nor any summer.

Zaden dzien sie nie powtorzy, nie ma dwoch podobnych nocy, dwoch tych samych pocalunkow,
dwoch jednakich spojrzen w oczy.

No day will ever repeat, there aren’t any two similar nights, no two of the same kisses,
no two identical gazes into the eyes. 

Wczoraj, kiedy twoje imie
ktos wymowil przy mnie glosno, tak mi bylo, jakby roza
przez otwarte wpadla okno.

Yesterday, when your name
was spoken next to me aloud, it was for me as if a rose
fell in through an open window. 

Dzis, kiedy jestesmy razem, odwrocilam twarz ku scianie. Roza? Jak wyglada roza?
Czy to kwiat? A moze kamien?
Czemu ty sie, zla godzino,
z niepotrzebnym mieszasz lekiem? Jestes – a wiec musisz minac. Miniesz – a wiec to jest piekne.

Today, when we’re together, I turned my face towards the wall. Rose? What does a rose look like?
Is it a flower? Or maybe a stone?
Why do you, evil hour,
get confused with an unnecessary anxiety? You do – so then you must pass. You will pass – so then it’s beautiful.

Usmiechnieci, wpolobjeci sprobujemy szukac zgody,
choc roznimy sie od siebie
jak dwie krople czystej wody.

Smiling, half-embracing, we’ll try to find agreement,
although we’ll differ from each other
like two drops of clear water. 

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