I enjoy trying out different recipes and rarely cook the same thing twice. Luckily for me, I married someone who loves to try new foods.  Lucky for him, I am a pretty good cook.  It also doesn’t hurt that after a week of traveling and eating out at restaurant chains that he is ready for a home cooked meal. I believe one of the most important keys to a successful recipe is the quality of the ingredients. If the ingredients taste delicious and fresh on their own, then I have a much better chance of creating a winning dish.  Recently, PJ and I decided to take part in a food purchasing system called a CSA that will guarantee even more fresh ingredients. “CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer or food producer. Our CSA is run by a non-profit organization called Fair Shares ( www.fairshares.org ) which establishes and maintains relationships with food producers from Missouri and Illinois.  Food producers of meat, produce, dairy, bread, pasta, mushrooms, nuts, coffee, grains and flour all participate. Each week, we receive a newsletter from Fair Shares about what will be in our “grocery bag” depending upon what is available from these producers.  Because the produce is seasonal, we will never see see foods like pineapples and kiwi, and will only see foods that can be grown during that particular growing season here in the St. Louis area. Last week, I picked up my first bag from our CSA ( www.fairshares.org ) which was filled with two different types of lettuce, spinach, mint, eggs, goat cheese (this didn’t last long), homemade peanut butter, grass-fed flank steak, blackberry jelly, black bean soup, and a variety of wild mushrooms.  Many CSA’s will focus on offering only produce, but we are lucky that our CSA offers many other grocery staples as well. To make the most of this experience, I have set some personal goals. Goal #1 : Minimize waste and try to use EVERYTHING. To accomplish this goal, the produce needs to be prepped and ready to eat, recipe ideas need to be thought of ahead of time, and projections of how much we can feasibly eat are made and then the rest is frozen. One of our items last week was mint, and I turned it into a mint pesto that we have been enjoying on crackers. See recipe below.

Mint pesto

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped jalapeño chile
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (packed) fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For mint pesto: Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth. Add mint leaves and lemon juice; process until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Gradually add oil and process until mint pesto is smooth and creamy. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate).

Goal #2: Don’t be a neophob (neophobia: afraid of trying new foods). This week in my grocery bag I am supposed to get sunflower shoots.  Sunflower seeds, I have tried, but not the shoots.  A helpful feature of the Fair Share website is it’s recipe page which provides insight on ways to incorporate novel foods. Goal #3: Share! Share my harvest with others. The best part of eating is sharing the experience with others, and I will share any new interesting recipes as well!  Fair Share also “shares” by donating extra produce to farmers’ markets, food pantries, and offers subsidized shares to families in need. If participating in a CSA sounds like something you might be interested in, Fresh Gatherings Cafe (our cafe in run by the Nutrition and Dietetics Department) is starting a CSA as well.  Although only in week 2, I can whole heartily say that participating in a CSA has been nothing but rewarding.  A reward to our local farmers, a reward to our St. Louis economy, and fresh, delicious foods to reward my traveling husband.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.