Friday, August 30, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 13, produce

We're at the halfway point of our CSA season now, reaching the peak weeks of the tomato explosion. Some new things this week - I'm never bored with the shares. The variety keeps it interesting.

This is the last lettuce for awhile, according to our weekly email, since there was a lull in mid-summer plantings. I will definitely enjoy it this week! The jalapeno pepper joins about 12,000 others, since our own plant was quite prolific this year. I need to figure out what to do with them so we don't lose them before it's salsa time.

I love the moment where you realize you waited all winter long for a really good, ripe tomato and now you have so many they are taking over your kitchen island. The cherry tomatoes will probably go on salad, as will some of the other tomatoes. As for the rest? Who knows!

It's nice to see a winter squash - and acorn squash is one of the best. Though I told Mark we have to just call it a fall squash because I can't deal with the idea of winter right now.

These apples are a variety called Prima - excited to try them. Perhaps a galette is in order?

Already ate up these nectarines this morning for breakfast - one of them was wounded in the journey from farm to our house, so before the spot took over, I devoured them. Remember that bruised fruit is NOT rotten fruit. Just cut out the soft spots and enjoy before the bruise turns into something worse. Often fruit gets bruised because someone drops it when picking it or it just falls from the tree on its own. These are called seconds - they are often cheaper than firsts because they are a little blemished, but it can be a great way to get more fruit for your money. Particularly if you plan on eating them right away!

It's amazing the amount of food that's thrown away in this country that was wasted simply because it didn't "look right." You should certainly throw away food that's moldy, soured, stinking or rotting (or compost it!). But don't you dare throw away a bruised peach - I'll show up at your house to rescue it! Do you know how precious a truly ripe peach is? I think you do.

Have a fantastic Labor Day weekend! Get out to a farmers market and get yourself some tomatoes and some stone fruit (nectarines, peaches, etc.) - they are perfect right now. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

reading this week

Here are some of the things I've been reading and pondering lately. Check these out! 

Nudged to the Produce Aisle By a Look in the Mirror (NY Times)
A Michael Moss piece about what behavioral scientists are doing to nudge you into the produce aisle. Would you be more likely to buy healthier foods if you saw your reflection in your shopping cart?

Waste: The Dark Side of the New Coffee Craze (East Bay Express via Mark)
Article about the single-serving coffee phenomenon and how much waste it generates (it's staggering). We use a refillable container and grind our own beans, so we rarely use the plastic pods. Especially interesting to note how insanely expensive the coffee is when you buy it in the plastic pods. (Our favorite fair trade blend is about $12/pound. Your average K-Cup cost per pound? $50. Now who's elitist?)

Pesticides Taking Toll on Farmworkers (Civil Eats)
If you agree that pesticides are not something you want to ingest, you probably agree that you shouldn't be sprayed with them either. Farmworkers deserve protection from these hazardous chemicals too.

FDA sets gluten-free labeling standards (CNN Eatocracy)
The FDA set labeling guidelines that food manufacturers will need to follow starting August 5, 2014 for products claiming to be 'gluten-free.' If only they would set some standards for "farm fresh" or "natural." 

Colbert: Monsanto's 'zombie wheat' is 'return of the walking bread' (Raw Story)
This is from June, but still funny.

Food Waste - A Story of Excess
Interesting video about the sheer amount of waste our country produces.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar

Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity was an engaging exploration of today’s social fascination with and privileging of all things domestic. So many times while reading this book, I found myself nodding my head and wanting to sit up and tell anyone near me this is so TRUE or alternatively, this is so ME. I also found myself wishing it had existed when I was in graduate school, because it would have made an interesting book to add to my resource lists for my women’s and gender studies certificate (and also a great book club pick).

Matchar discusses a whole host of topics under the umbrella of this “new domesticity” – why increasing numbers of women are leaving the workforce to stay at home (primarily with children), why attachment parenting is on the rise, the striking similarities between the far right and the far left on many of these issues, and the insecurities and fears that are producing a drive toward the domestic as a safe place. With a shaky economy, lack of trust in the safety of our food and where it comes from, disillusionment with public education and decreasing (or non-existent) benefits for workers, it’s not surprising that people have turned toward areas of their lives they can control.

It’s increasingly seductive to consider leaving your 9-5 desk job and your hellish commute for a life of tomato growing and soap making, with an Etsy shop and a blog to boot. I don’t think there’s a person I know, let alone a woman, who hasn’t had some version of that daydream. Women of my generation were promised a life of fulfillment through a career and were encouraged that we could have it all if we just kept working hard – a family and home life as well as a job outside of the home. But more and more women are realizing that having it all is easier said than done – if it’s possible at all. Corporate America isn't really friendly to work-life balance in general, not just people with kids. And it’s great that more and more women are expressing themselves and connecting to online community by blogging and opening Etsy businesses, but it remains that only a tiny fraction of people can pay a mortgage and support a family on a blog or an Etsy shop.

Perhaps the most compelling idea that this book raised was a consideration of what happens when those with the most resources turn inward and focus on the individual good instead of the collective good. Historically, movements of great social change were accomplished with support from across class lines. Who is left to fight for better maternity and paternity leave policies, workplace conditions that better support work/life balance, affordable, quality daycare and access to safe, healthy foods, when those with the most resources turn away from the collective and focus only on their own home? It’s definitely an interesting question to consider.

I had no idea when I picked this book up if the author would come to the conclusion that “new domestics” are hippie wack-jobs or enlightened visionaries. And I’m glad she didn’t come to either conclusion – her final analysis and takeaway points were very carefully considered. She details many interactions with people across the entire spectrum of this movement and the book is very fair, sincere and respectful of these people and their beliefs. It certainly gave me much to think about – where do I fit in on the spectrum? 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 12, produce

Back with the CSA after a week off, and we've got two new items as well as an explosion of tomatoes. 

Celery is a new crop for Kretschmann's this year, and this is our first taste. I'm seeing ants on a log in my future. That or part of a mirepoix. Both ends of the culinary classy spectrum, there.

The potatoes and thyme look so good next to each other, they'll probably end up that way in a dish.

I am never sad to see lettuce in our CSA. Their lettuce varieties are so flavorful, and in a house that eats salads every week, we always appreciate them. So much better than salad in a bag!

Loving all of the tomatoes we got this week. I have plans for fresh salsa this weekend, with all of our hot peppers from our own garden coming in. 

If you follow me on Instagram/Twitter (@nextgenhouse), you might have seen me declare refrigerator pickles a raging success. I opened the first jar last night and I was thrilled with the results - crispy and salty and full of dill flavor. The only pickles I like are homemade, so these are a huge treat for me.

Might have to try some bread and butter pickles next. And next year? I'm going to try full canning of pickles again, now that I think I've mastered the process (pickle crisper + correct cucumbers for pickling = yum).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Julia's kitchen

We recently visited friends in Virginia, and while doing some things in D.C., we stopped in to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In particular, we wanted to see Julia Child's kitchen. I've seen it before, but it's so special, I could see it again and again and notice something new every time. This time I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was part of a larger exhibit called FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.

We didn't have much time to spend there since the museum was about to close, but I managed to make it through most of it. (Mark got mesmerized by a video of Julia Child cooking a lobster and didn't make it through the whole exhibit. I don't really blame him. She was quite the character.)

The exhibit started off by talking about how the last half of the 20th century was an incredibly transformative time for food in America - not only what we eat, but how we get our food, how we eat it, and what it means culturally.  

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a large table where people could sit and talk. There were discs of information on the table that functioned like lazy susans and were conversation starters.  

 I was really excited to come across an old copy of Mother Earth News in a display about progressive food movements. I'm a subscriber today to the same magazine!

The entire exhibit was fascinating, and also was beautifully designed. I wanted to read every caption (and dream of making it back there before the exhibit closes).

Of course the real highlight of the exhibit is Julia Child's kitchen, which is a reconstruction of her own home kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Paul Child, her husband, had the counters specially designed to accommodate her height, and created the pegboards that held her pans, complete with outlines.

I've always been a fan of Julia - I've read a lot of books on her life, as well as her own books. One year I was Julia for Halloween (albeit a 4'11" version of her). During our first visit to the Smithsonian exhibit, Mark noticed the saint hanging on the pegboard with her cookware. 

He did some research and found out it was Saint Pascal Baylon, one of the patron saints of cooks. So as a gift, he had this made for me to hang in our kitchen. (The photo is terrible and doesn't do it justice.)

If you take joy in cooking like I do or you enjoy eating foreign foods, you probably owe some of that to Julia Child's legacy. She made cooking outside of the box accessible to Americans with an infectious enthusiasm. She encouraged people to be fearless in the kitchen and try things they would never have considered. 

Check out episodes of "The French Chef" if you get the chance. In a world with glorified cooking shows that make everything seem glamorous and easy in the kitchen and food stylists manipulating meals to make your mouth water, it's gratifying to watch Julia drop things on the floor and make a royal mess. I especially enjoy the episode where she flops a giant fish onto her counter. 

Make it a point to see this exhibit when you're in the D.C. area!

Monday, August 19, 2013

managing thyroid disease

I was asked to write a post about my own experience with thyroid disease, since I often mention it here as something that influences my own lifestyle choices. But before I explain my own experiences and thoughts on it, I want to state two things for the record.

This is only my experience and shouldn’t be construed as advice or a judgment on someone else’s experience or the way he/she chooses to handle his/her own disease. I’m not your doctor and I’m not a licensed expert of any kind (unless you count book expert since I have a master’s degree in literature).

I do not believe that all diseases can be cured or even necessarily affected by lifestyle changes. I am not anti-medication and will always encourage people to seek actual medical advice from a legitimate, licensed professional. (And I’m NOT talking about Dr. Oz here, okay?)

About five years ago, at a routine physical with my then-PCP, I mentioned that I’d had great difficulty losing weight even though I was watching what I was eating and exercising, and that I also was experiencing severe hot flashes/night sweats and having major difficulty sleeping. I was fatigued all the time as well (falling asleep on the couch at 6 p.m. kind of fatigued). He told me that “some women just have a hard time losing weight no matter what they do” and that there wasn’t an explanation for these symptoms, but that he’d order routine blood work anyway.

Lo and behold, I had hypothyroidism. He put me on generic thyroid hormone replacement (levothyroxine) and called it a day. So I started taking it and saw no relief, which led me to my first endocrinologist.

I am now seeing my fourth endocrinologist (who is fantastic and someone I plan on seeing until either one of us isn’t in the area anymore). That will give you an indication of how difficult it’s been for me to find real relief and support.

Throughout the few years that I was seeing other endocrinologists, I was misdiagnosed as being pre-diabetic (and took Metformin unnecessarily for almost a year, which was a total nightmare) and was also given different dosages of three different meds – generic levothyroxine, Synthroid brand levothyroxine, and Armour (synthetic porcine (pig) thyroid that includes T3). I was also made to feel like my symptoms made no sense, and therefore shouldn’t exist. I was also forced into the clinical “normal” range for my TSH (level of thyroid stimulating hormone produced by the pituitary gland) regardless of whether or not that was my body’s normal and told to just deal with the symptoms.

During that time when I was receiving no support whatsoever from the medical professionals I was seeing, I started to do my own research on behavioral/lifestyle modifications that might give me some relief. I realized that I had to take my health into my own hands and wanted to feel like I was doing everything that was within my own control to get relief. It was around that same time that I started to learn more about our industrial food system and its impact on health. Things started to make sense, and I decided to make changes in my diet.

I started small by eliminating soda and then moved to artificial sweeteners all together. I began to phase out unhealthy processed foods and then eventually moved to any hyper-processed foods, even if they were supposedly “healthy.”

Why? Because having a disease that creates chaos in my body’s levels of its own hormones and chemicals means I don’t need to add to that chaos by ingesting chemicals, many of them with unknown properties. To me, that’s common sense.

Did my symptoms disappear? No. But they were lessened, and I also noticed a dramatic shift in my energy levels, no longer being dependent on caffeine and stimulants in food for energy. When I felt good, I felt really good.

Later, I took a nutrition and fitness combination class called Project Jumpstart and I began to exercise. Exercise was something I had never incorporated into my life in any meaningful way, partially because I was so utterly exhausted. (This is a big way that hypothyroidism contributes to weight gain – it doesn’t necessarily make you gain weight, but it makes your metabolism so slow that you don’t have any energy to work out.) I started with a little bit at a time, and almost two years later, I’m about to run my first half marathon and I’m in the best shape of my life. Exercise has great energy benefits as well, and I notice my body feeling sluggish when I get out of my routine.

I also take the brand name thyroid replacement hormone, Synthroid. I take the brand because it's recommended for people who need to have the exact same fillers with each dosage. When you take a generic pill, the fillers and dyes are different for each company that makes it and you don't know what your pharmacy will be carrying from month to month. So for consistency's sake, I take the brand. I have seen much better results with the Synthroid than Armour or the generic levothyroxine.

Essential to this entire thing is my new endocrinologist, who supports me keeping my TSH at a level where I have less symptoms. She also supports my own lifestyle changes with food and exercise, and helps me with other solutions for some of my symptoms, which she believed were triggered originally by my thyroid when the TSH was really high, but then continued even when the TSH came down (trouble sleeping and gastrointestinal difficulties).

In particular, she recommended a sleep therapy workbook that has really re-trained my brain to know how to sleep and rest properly, and I continue to use it to control my insomnia. It's essential to find a doctor that listens to you and your needs, trusts that what you tell them about your symtpoms and your body is true, and wants to commit to helping you feel well, even if it means they spend 30 more minutes with you. 

My plan of attack for thyroid disease now consists of the following:

- Seeing my endocrinologist regularly and getting regular bloodwork to keep a close eye on my TSH
- Eliminating processed foods and hormones in meats as much as possible
- Reducing exposure to chemicals in household products that have been clinically shown to be endocrine disruptors
- Guarding my sleep and following the behavioral modifications to keep the insomnia under control

I hope that gives some insight as to how I manage my own disease. Leave any questions in the comments - it's always good to share experiences!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Real Life CSA: meat, month 3

We're on our third month of our meat CSA with Clarion River Organics and our freezer is officially full! Thankfully some of the items we got this month won't last long.

Let's start with our chickens - two roasters and one stewing chicken. (That's water on the island, not chicken goo. No worries.)

The beef share has some interesting additions this month. Four pounds of ground beef, beef liver, beef cubes for stew, flank steak and round steak. When I pulled it out of the box I was a little taken aback by the dark color of the liver. I can't recall ever having beef liver before, so this should be a new experience for me!

The pork share didn't disappoint either. Two packages of sweet Italian sausage, plus a gorgeous BONELESS HAM and some PORK SPARE RIBS. Capitals for emphasis, obviously. I mean, those are our favorite uses for pork, next to bacon of course. 

Also, we are traveling this weekend and will not be able to pick up our produce CSA for week 11, so we opted to donate it to the food pantry. That's a great part of the CSA set-up - they never let things go to waste!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

garden update: early august

There's a lot happening in our backyard right now (and a lot that's NOT happening, but we'll get to that in a moment). First, we have some new wildflowers from the crazy seed mix I tried this year that had come free in the mail with some donation request. I wish I could identify these. I'd like to sound more intelligent when I describe them, since "tiny! blue!" isn't cutting it.

Purple basil is doing really well in its container. I put some of this in an arrabbiata sauce the other night and it was delicious! It's also pretty to look at, with its different shades of purple.

We've got lots of peppers coming in. Hopefully they will hang in there until it's time for salsa canning!

Another great success is the amount of dragon beans we're getting. Enough to have lubieh for dinner this week and more on the way!

Perhaps the most exciting thing that took off this year was the one single sweet corn plant. Check out those ears!

And here's where it turns meh. Our squash/melon area got huge and overgrown, but hasn't produced much, and it seems like some of it is succumbing to powdery mildew and some vine rot. But we've got one melon going, at least.

Finally, we have this insane forest of tomatoes.

It seems like every plant we have is just LOADED with tomatoes, but not a single one has ripened yet. So if they do decide to just have at it and turn red, we're going to be up to our eyeballs in all sorts of varieties. I've read that a lot of people are having trouble in our area getting their tomatoes to ripen. Perhaps it's the weather we've had this season. But either way, I'm hoping they start turning red soon. Otherwise we'll have to pick them all green and start layering them in boxes with newspaper like Mark's 78-year-old aunt has suggested we do.

Also going on in our backyard? This monstrosity.

The large tree you can see in the background next to the garage had some low hanging branches that were damaging our fence and blocking the pathway to the alley, so one day when I came home from a run, I walked into the backyard and saw this. Mark had cut them down, but as yet we haven't had time to cut it all down. So it sits. Scenic, right?

Even the chickens are all, "get this crap off our lawn."

At least when it comes to landscaping, there's one bright spot. In the spring, our front yard was looking good. We had lots of blooming flowers and it looked nice from the road. Then in June, it looked like this.

And I meant to get to it. I really did. And then we got to August and it was so bad it had extended onto the sidewalk and we looked like we had abandoned our home and let the weeds rule the premises. Our cat Maggie couldn't even see out the bay window to the street. Those prickly weeds even had giant fluffy heads - and they were taller me. No joke. I was starting to think our neighbors were just really patient souls for not reporting us to the borough. 

Then on Sunday, I came home from grocery shopping to find Mark had worked a miracle and let himself get stabbed by jaggers for hours to give us this.

We will probably have to battle those horrid jagger weeds (that's my scientific name for them) again, but I vow this time to keep up with it before we become the condemned house on our block. Sheesh. And also it's my turn to deal with it next because he already served his time in the front landscaping trenches. (Thanks, Mark. Again.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

cleveland's west side market

We spent Saturday in Cleveland visiting family and friends, and made it to the West Side Market, the city's oldest publicly owned market. It started back in 1840 and in 1912 was housed in its yellow market building, where it still exists and thrives today.

We got some produce from the long line of produce vendors that line the arcade. In particular, I was excited to get a melon from Rooted Cleveland, a "seasonally and sustainably-oriented produce stand...providing local and organically minded specialty produce." The market is great in its variety of produce and its affordability, but much of it comes from far away. I am really happy to see a vendor specializing in truly local and seasonal produce there, and I hope they thrive. We'll definitely be back to visit their stand next time. (They even sold rhubarb pie kits with all the ingredients you'd need to make a pie!)

We ended up with some salad greens, as well as the aforementioned melon and some other fruit.

My photos aren't the greatest - it was a cloudy day and I was using my cell phone inside the market. And also holding bags of fruit. Lots of meat places with many cuts and specialty items. I hope that over time the market gets more vendors using locally raised meats and grass-fed items.

We didn't think ahead enough to bring a cooler, or else I definitely would have come home with some cheese. (made in the Cleve!)

Earlier in the day we had eaten lunch at Noodlecat, a ramen restaurant and one of our favorite restaurants in Cleveland. (Home of the most amazing brussels sprouts dish that you could ever dream of. Thanks to Noodlecat for making them for us at lunch even though they are on the dinner menu!) We discovered that they also have a stall at the West Side Market!

We also came home with some papardelle from Ohio City Pasta. It's hard not to put your hands all over the case and press your nose up to it, the pasta looks so good. They also have tons of homemade ravioli that were tempting too.

Mark and I also gave into our favorites - Campbell's Sweets Factory White Cheddar Dichotomy Popcorn for me, and a cupcake from Grandma Campbell's for him.

After the Market, Mark met some friends and I met his sister for dinner, and because both of the places we had originally intended to go had crazy long waits, we both ended up at the same place without knowing it until we arrived: Market Garden Brewery and Distillery. This is a shot of the back of the restaurant - where you can see the stills.

Saw this community chalk wall on one side of the restaurant. Before I die, I want to... (I'm going to go with live on a space farm for mine. A girl can dream.)

Food was good, but the beer sampler was the best. I got to choose 6 of their own beers to taste. I was really happy to be able to fill 6 without having a stout or an IPA in the list. I loved them all, but the All-American Lager was my favorite (far right). Had I had some forethought, I would have taken a growler or a growlerette home. I just love craft beers, especially having them at the same place where they are brewed. 

We also drove by several urban farms yesterday that have popped up in Cleveland within the last year or two, which is really great. I'd like to check out the Ohio City Farm Stand next time we're there - it was purple!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 10, produce

Ever have one of those weeks where you spend 10 stressful hours at work every day with 2 hours in the car commuting and you're so frazzled that when you get home you are barely able to form complete sentences let alone try to formulate thoughts to write? That's been this week for me. I should be able to fit in a few Borg regeneration cycles this weekend and hopefully be back in full next week, but for now, here's a bright spot - the CSA!

The most exciting thing to discover was the rhubarb. The season is over, so either they had it stored for a great late summer surprise, or it's a miracle. Either way, I am thrilled.

The cukes will probably join those from our garden in more refrigerator pickles - maybe this time bread and butter. Lettuce and tomato in salads and sandwiches.

Eggplant will make it into moussaka or perhaps a ratatouille bake with couscous that my friend makes that's always a hit.

Potatoes will probably be a side (Mark made some great parmesan mashed ones this week) and the onions will be an ingredient in any given recipe.

Also exciting is that our garden is starting to produce, finally. Our kitchen island is getting filled with cukes and peppers. I just love the Boothby's Blonde cukes, and they are all the more sweet because of how Mark saved the plants from the cucumber beetles (by winning the war of attrition and physically removing them from the plants each morning).

Best from our garden this week, though, were these amazing dragon beans. They are beautiful in color (and hello, have DRAGON in the name) and we have enough to actually make a side and not just a few hanging out randomly. This is pretty exciting, since last year the dragon beans didn't really take off.

So tell me. What are you getting in your CSAs? In your own garden?