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Member Highlight: Steve Dickson & Christine Unruh // Butternut Squash + Lentil Soup Recipe

September 19, 2012

I really enjoy the fact that we’re active participants in the livelihoods of local farmers. That’s our main motivation for doing this: to put our politics where our mouths are. Bringing back the local small farm is imperative to the health of our nation; and it also assists in boosting our own health. It’s a total win-win.
~ Christine Unruh

It’s time to get to know more of your fellow Urban Acres members!

Christine & Steve

Today we’re highlighting a couple – Steve Dickson and Christine Unruh from our Lake Highlands location.  Steve owns a Structural Engineering firm, D&E Structures.  Christine (Chris) is a self-proclaimed “nonprofit development geek” who is currently crafting concrete and up-cycled/multimedia wares that she shows at White Rock Market and other local craft fairs.  She also is involved with the Food Matters group at First Unitarian Church in Dallas.  Says Christine, “We’re both avid cooks and consider it to be a relaxing and rewarding hobby….plus, hey, you gotta eat!”

Steve and Christine, what inspired you to join Urban Acres?
We heard about it from a woman who attended a class called “Hungry For Change” at our church back in June. She had been getting Urban Acres co-op style produce for a few weeks and really enjoyed it. I had been wait-listed for a CSA six years ago, back when there were only two in the entire DFW area. So you could say she had me at “co-op”!

When/why did you decide to start eating real, wholesome food?
When Steve and I met four years ago, both of us were already avid cooks. We started dating by having each other over for dinner – which was easy since we lived in the same apartment complex. We were both shopping for the freshest foods we could get, which took us all over town from store to store.   However, we didn’t necessarily buy organic produce. The more we learn about GMO’s and big farming, the more willing we are to spend extra money for less toxins in our food. Plus, I’m pleased to report that organic foods do taste a whole lot better.

What’s your favorite part about the “coop-style” produce?
I really enjoy the fact that we’re active participants in the livelihoods of local farmers. That’s our main motivation for doing this: to put our politics where our mouths are. Supporting the local small farm is imperative to the health of our nation; and it also assists in boosting our own health. It’s a total win-win.

Plus, we love the challenge of trying new things – being ingredient-driven instead of recipe-driven is fun! Luckily with the internet, one can easily find a ton of great recipes for anything with a simple search query.  Some of the new things we’ve tried and now love: figs with goat cheese and almonds was a close tie with Indian sautéed okra and of course rainbow chard.  Now that they are in our lives, we’ll never buy them when not in season.

Do you grow any food at home? If so, what’s growing in your garden right now?
We recently moved to a new house this spring, which was followed by a very hot summer. It was agreed that we’ll start up our gardening efforts again this coming spring. However at our last home, Steve built two raised beds that were enormous – and we grew tomatoes, squash, basil, thyme, mint, oregano, eggplant, and various flowers. The squash and eggplant never did have any success, despite my actively pollinating them with a little Q-tip every morning. But the tomatoes and basil were terrific!

What is your favorite Fruit? Veggie? Why?
I have to say the fruits we use most are probably lemons or limes, simply because we use them so often for flavoring so many things we make – I even put lemon juice in my tossed salads because I like the subtle ‘zing’ and the way it makes the salad dressing go further so you use less.  We also love cilantro, garlic, ginger, and avocado! Sorry, can’t just pick one.

What is your favorite site to get recipes from?
We love reading Cooks Illustrated, cover to cover. Often we take it with us on road trips in order to have the time and attention. The coolest (and nerdiest) section they have every month is the one where they try to improve on an already classic recipe, either by lightening the fat, or shortening the prep time. When they are able to do both, Steve and I say, “Brilliant!” and make plans to cook that recipe. We found our favorite Chicken Pot Pie that way. We also love Cooking Light, Martha Stewart, and various cooking blogs (Steve’s favorite is The Wednesday Chef). Of course, we both have our cherished cookbooks, full of our favorites, plus our favorite cooks, such as the wonderful Madhur Jaffrey for authentic Indian cuisine.

Finally – it must be said that we’re huge fans of the show “Chopped.” Sometimes I feel like when we pick up our share, it’s like our ‘Chopped Challenge Basket”. We definitely challenge ourselves to cook and eat everything in our basket, every week.

Do you have any produce tips for other members?
We usually wait to write our grocery list until we receive our basket (or at least the email from UA telling us what’s going to be in our share). Then we cook around those items, incorporating them even into dinner party menus. It’s especially fun to spring new things on friends and family at the same time we’re trying them for the first time!  So far, so good.

What would you say to other members who are still trying to figure out this ‘coop style produce thing? Anything to inspire them?
Going “local” and “organic” are not just fancy buzzwords – they do mean a lot.

Urban Acres is especially great if you’re just starting out because you don’t have to make a giant commitment up front like a traditional CSA.  But you can still feel good knowing you’re helping local farmers. Also, it might help to view it as a culinary adventure. You can press yourself into action by paying forward just a bit – it’s like a gym membership. Oh, and they now offer really tasty eggs that boil up and peel quite easily. A nice low-cal, high-protein breakfast food!

Please share one of your current favorite “real food recipes” with us.
Here’s a recipe we just made with the butternut squash from our share.  It turned out great, and with the addition of a little yogurt and cilantro toppings, really REALLY great!  It’s from the cookbook  1 Stock, 100 Soups by Linda Doeser.

Photo: Christine Unruh

Squash & Lentil Soup


3 Tbs olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 lb 4 oz butternut squash or pumpkin, seeded, and cut into small chunks
1 1/2 cups red or yellow lentils
7 1/2 cups basic vegetable stock
3 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Creme fraiche or strained plain yogurt, to garnish


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add the onions and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until softened.  Add the cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and coriander and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  2. Stir in the butternut squash and lentils and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes, then pour in the basic veggie stock and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 50-60 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then ladle into a food processor or blender, in batches if necessary, and process to a smooth puree.
  4. Return the soup to the rinsed-out pan, stir in the lemon juice, season to taste with salt and pepper, and reheat gently.  Ladle into warmed bowls, top with a swirl of creme fraiche, and serve.
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