Unboxing the Farm: a week with Stone Barns' "resourcED" Grocery Box
My mini-crusade to improve my choices and shift my life toward a more ethical food trajectory has involved a multitude of little experiments, testing the waters on living in a more sustainable, ethical way by trying new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone in an effort to come to understand my habits and make small, but significant adjustments to them.
Last week I didn't have any classes to teach, and I was also a shade low on funds, so I decided to try a little experiment where I allowed myself one grocery trip at the beginning of the week, with a max spend of $20, for any missing essentials, and then just otherwise used only what I had in left the apartment. No supermarkets, no food delivery, no liquor stores, no restaurants. Just what I had.
I learned so much about my habits and cravings, and about how compelling (and easy) it is when wanting something to just pop by a store, particularly when said store is just across the street! My meals, however, were still perfectly good, healthy, and nourishing, and included the delicious and food-waste-free turnip dish I featured last week in my inaugural "Inspired Ingredients" series. And, in the process, I saved money, and probably salvaged a good amount of food, particularly produce and leftovers, that would have otherwise gone to waste. Seems I lost some weight, too!
Since I had the chance to acquire the means for this particular variation on this experiment, I decided to alter the experiment a bit this week; I joined with my fellow food-hippie friend and neighbor Natalie and grabbed two of Stone Barns' rotating "Grocery" boxes––one for me and one for Natalie––and we agreed to engage in another similar experiment where we only used what we got in the grocery box (and our pantries) to feed ourselves for the week. If we really needed something at the store, we were allowed to go once, but only spend up to $20. The other rule was we weren't allowed to waste any of it––any leftover produce had to be preserved. The cool thing was that before we agreed to do this, we had really no idea what we'd be getting in the box, just that it could include some permutation of a rotating selection of on-site-milled bread, charcuterie, cheese, fresh pasta, and, of course, veggies from the Stone Barns farm, the best goddamn veggies in the United States. They packed it up for me, promising "a few extra treats."
Here's what we each ended up with in our boxes:
- Produce: winter carrots, baby radishes, mache, red cabbage, pears, Hudson Valley apples
- Charcuterie: coppa and bologna from Blue Hill Farm
- Cheese: an alpine cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont called Alpha Tolman
- Bread: rye amazake whole wheat loaf, parsnip cake, pancake mix
- Etc.: Ricotta cavatelli, Darkibor kale pesto, potato chips dusted with dehydrated carrot seasoning, ranch dressing from Chef Omar Tate's residency, whipped lard with sherry vinegar and beet flower honey, pickled veg, two pieces of fried pheasant and hot sauce also from Omar's residency
I also ordered a dry aged New York strip from Stone Barns' cows, which we saved to celebrate the end of the week together.
Natalie and I agreed to chronicle our week and compare notes. Here's where we ended up!
Pasta and pesto. (Steve) Wow, this pesto. I was feeling rather lazy on Sunday evening, and after a series of naps and general lethargy, when the hunger pangs came calling, I knew the easiest thing to do was to cook up the pasta from the box. A few minutes in boiling salty water later, the cavatelli was ready, and I mixed the pesto in without any other accoutrements. The pesto was more flavorful that about any pesto I've had, with a delightful garlicky backbone. When Natalie came by in the evening to pick up her groceries, she tasted the pesto and was blown away. "Liquid gold" she said. Great way to start the week!
Parsnip cake. (Steve) It had been suggested on the information sheet that accompanied our boxes that their parsnip cake, which is made in a similar manner to carrot cake, be prepared as French toast. I sliced it up and ate the heel on its own (so good) and made a French toast batter with eggs, milk, and cinnamon. Meanwhile, I cut up some strawberries and cooked them over low heat in some honey. I had way more food than I could possibly have eaten on my own, so I brought three slices down to the office staff (including Natalie!) of the building for a little treat. Great suggestion by Stone Barns, and I still had a slice left for later!
Mache, carrots, radishes. (Natalie) Natalie sent me a gorgeous picture of the salad she made with the beautiful mache and sliced carrots and radishes. She added a lemon garlic vinaigrette, and also was the recipient of an extra gift from the Stone Barns staff––two thighs of fried pheasant with a habanada pepper hot sauce made for Chef Omar's residency, which she reheated in the air fryer (naturally!). Her reaction says it all!
Cheese and charcuterie. (Steve) Monday nights I arrive home after 8pm, so my will to cook is generally quite low. This evening, I decided to made a good old cheese and charcuterie plate with the Alpha Tolman alpine cheese and the coppa from Blue Hill farm. Both were great, but the coppa was just incredible. So many complex flavors in that pork fat––direct evidence of the healthy meals they eat. Alongside I added some of Stone Barns' pickled veg for acidity, and also made a little salad out of my remaining Fair Share Farms arugula and Chef Omar's ranch dressing.
Bread. (Steve) The Stone Barns complex creates some of the finest bread in the world, and they make it all on site from grain to loaf using their 17th century Belgian grain mill. Amazake is a Japanese fermented rice drink that has a deep recorded history, and for this bread they made a sort of amazake using local rye berries and treating them with koji, a fungus used to ferment legumes and saccharify grain, and combining with cooked emmer berries. The resulting bread is loaded with nutrients, and is nutty, dense, and just a little bit funky, and when toasted and smeared with a bit of my local-made butter I get from Fair Share, it made a perfect mid-morning snack!
Mache and radishes. (Steve) I actually squealed with joy when I saw they'd included their mache in my box. In a season when leafy greens are rare, the winter mache they grow in the greenhouses at Stone Barns is an absolutely beautiful alternative to more common leafy greens. I remember one of my favorite things I had at BHSB the first time I visited was their very simple mache salad. Tonight, I made a salad of the mache and a few thinly-sliced radishes. To dress, I made a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, and the pickling liquid from Stone Barns' pickle jar they sent. Grated a little parm over the top to round things out. Everything was just perfect.
Parsnip cake. (Natalie) Natalie texted me telling me she needed to finish some non-Stone Barns leftovers this night, but that for dessert she heated up the parsnip cake and melted some butter on the warm cake and drizzled some honey. I will say I drooled a little bit!
Carrots. (Steve) I knew early on once I saw these beautiful carrots that I wanted to make them using my Moroccan spice blend, since those smoky, aromatic middle eastern spices go so well with root veggies. Well, I happened to get my monthly shipment of spices from Spice Madam, this time featuring the spices of Tunisia. Same neighborhood, right? But new cuisine! I took the tops off, washed the carrots, and cooked them in the cast iron skillet with Tunisian tabil spice (caraway, coriander, cumin). Needing some liquid to get the carrots tender, I added chicken broth and bourbon and let them reduce in the pan, then finished with butter. When they were finished, I added a dollop of Greek yogurt flavored with spicy harissa from my Tunisian spice mix. To add a protein, I cooked up some quinoa. Divine!
But what to do with the carrot tops? The rule is that we can't waste anything, so I did some digging and found that carrot tops make an excellent replacement green for any number of herb-based condiments. Knowing I would be cooking the steak later in the week, and taking into account what I had in the pantry, I finely chopped the carrot greens and added olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon zest, salt, and lemon juice to make a carrot green gremolata for garnish with the steak.
Apples, pears, bologna, cheese. (Steve) I sliced up the apples and pears and the rest of the Alpha Tolman cheese to bring as a sharing plate for a long-awaited warm weather outdoor gathering with colleagues from Davidson, Tom and Jacque. I wanted them to get a taste of the place I'd been raving about so much all month! The apples in particular were a massive hit––so much flavor!
Steak and cabbage. (Steve and Natalie) Steak night! Stone Barns' cows are grass fed on some of the most pristine pasture you can find, and they dry aged this New York strip for 30 to 35 days, making it maybe one of the best steaks you could possibly get in the US. I did a reverse sear of the steak, bringing it to temp slowly, and finished it on the grill for a nice char. I accompanied the steak with roasted cabbage, slow roasted with the whipped lard that was provided in the box. Finally, we finished with the tangy, salty, garlicky, herbaceous carrot top gremolata I made yesterday. Delicious!
For dessert, Natalie provided her two pears, which I roasted for a while in the lard, dusted with Tunisian dessert spices, and we ate them warm with a drizzle of honey. Stupid good.
Preserving the radishes. (Steve) Friday was the "end" of the week, and we had the right to go to the store, but had to preserve anything left. I had an inkling I wouldn't finish the radishes, since there were so many and I wasn't quite sure what to do with all of them! I know, however, that I really like pickled radishes, so I took all the remaining radishes, sliced them in half, and did a flash pickle experiment with them in rice vinegar, mirin, a little soy, garlic, ginger, and a hint of wasabi. The greens were wilty earlier in the week, so I just sautéed them in a bit of oil and lemon. I am excited to have the radishes to snack on in the coming weeks!
Natalie and I had so much fun with this experiment. I have to say that over the past two weeks I have a) eaten healthier than I have in years, b) learned so much about my habits and cravings––nothing teaches you about your habits more than not having the thing you crave! c) wasted far less food than I do in a normal week, d) completely re-thought the supply/demand system of food. Not going to the supermarket whenever you need/crave something, and instead just relying on what you have, forces creativity, inventiveness, and even, dare I say it, perseverance. It teaches you to eat the way we are supposed to eat––using what we have, what is in season, what can't be wasted.
I am excited to get another one of these resourcED boxes and try this again! I highly recommend doing something similar with whatever outlets might be available to you.