Once school got out I had more time on my hands, which meant I went volunteering! Alemany Farm was one of the places I had read about on the AmeriCorps Alums blog when I was first moving to San Francisco, and finally I was able to go.
Alemany Farm is located on a plot of land right by the highway and next to some housing projects. The farm was brought into existence (and is maintained) exclusively by volunteers. The produce that is harvested goes to the volunteers and to the people in the neighborhood - the produce can't actually be sold because the land belongs to the city.
After a long and cold/windy afternoon of pulling weeds and pushing wheelbarrows uphill, it came to be harvest time. Veteran volunteers led us in pointing out what and how much could be harvested. Aside from getting free and fresh (literally organic) produce, the whole process really opened my eyes to the variety of vegetables that groceries stores don't sell.
For example, I was able to get multiple kinds of chard and multiple kinds of kale. Many grocery stores don't even have one kind of either. It just goes to show how mass-produced our food is (and also how us Americans only eat certain particular vegetables, if any).
I didn't go prepared with a bag or anything, so I ended up taking a planter full of vegetables home. The bounty was rather staggering, and it inspired me to cook a group dinner. In order to figure out what dishes to make with the foreignness of it all, I searched through online recipes for inspiration.
Because I had squash blossoms (pictured above) and butter lettuce, I decided to make something similar to this salad. (Note: the acorn-like things next to the squash blossoms are ground cherries, which you open up like a present and eat - they taste like citrus-y grape tomatoes).
The salad turned out to be easily my favorite dish - creamy avocado, tangy dressing, fresh lettuce, velvety squash blossoms.
Then there was bok choy inspired by this recipe. I really just did the fried shallot part (with the addition of some thinly sliced carrot, parsnip and garlic) and sprinkled it on blanched bok choy leaves. What I liked about this dish was just the look (which reminded me of a peacock) - sadly it was missing a sauce that I didn't know how to make and didn't have on hand, the kind they drizzle over Chinese broccoli at dim sum places.
Next up was purslane, which I had no idea how to use so I substituted it as the basil in pesto. I consulted this recipe just to know what pesto ingredients were, blended everything in a blender and adjusted by taste. I also threw in a couple of spinach leaves from the farm because I didn't find a place to fit them anywhere else.
I was afraid no one would like the pesto because the purslane made it spicy in this wasabi kind of way. But everyone ate it anyway!
Then there was the chards and kales, which were somewhat inspired by this and this recipe. I wasn't sure how people would take to such serious greens, so I wanted to cook them with bacon, but I did a portion without - just to taste the difference - I was curious how tasty the greens would be without the inherent tastiness of bacon grease.
The vegetarian version had fava beans instead of bacon - which I blanched with the chards and kales. I find that I have a stir-fry methodology: I blanch the hardier vegetables (so they get soft and take to the stir-fry better), then after that's done I start up the fry pan with oil and aromatics (in this case garlic, shallots, fennel seed, italian herbs, cayenne, salt and pepper), then I throw in the vegetables by degree of softness. (I figured that the softer the vegetable the less heat it can take before it wilts and/or fades in color.)
For the non-vegetarian version I omitted the oil - instead I fried up bacon and used the grease. Also I used less aromatics because they weren't needed as much. I think both dishes ended up the same in tastiness, although I could be biased because I do like vegetables a lot.
All in all a successful dinner - seven people were fed and all the produce I brought home got used up. Would love to do it again sometime, if only without the back-bending farm labor...!