Monday, September 15, 2014

Next Gen House has moved!

Next Gen House has a new home! 

I've moved Next Gen House (with the help of Mark and his co-worker) to its own website. Allow me to introduce: 

If I am lucky enough to have you as a follower via Feedly or your own RSS, please update with the new address. And bear with me as I get the hang of a new system. I have degrees in liberal arts, not website management.

Next Gen House is also on Facebook at Head over there, give it a like, and help me become better at Facebook. Think of it like a public service.

Don't forget about Twitter and Instagram @nextgenhouse for riveting stuff you won't see on the blog, like my sweaty face after a run or what I made for dinner. 

Thanks for reading - I'll see you at!

Friday, September 12, 2014

news from the world of big ag

Because of garden season and marathon training, there hasn't been too much on the blog in the last few months about agriculture or what's going on in the world of food. But much has happened recently that's worth mentioning.

Perdue removes antibiotics from chicken hatcheries
Perhaps the most positive Big Ag/Big Food news in awhile, Perdue Foods announced this month that they have removed antibiotics from their chicken hatcheries.

They haven't used antibiotics as a growth promoter since 2007, but this move now makes it so that 95% of their animals will not receive antibiotics in their lifetimes. The ones that do receive them to treat illness, etc. This move is important, because it addresses a large public health problem - the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. While Big Ag has a long way to go until they can manage humane animal husbandry, we can't let perfect be the enemy of good. I applaud any move toward more sustainable, healthy agricultural practices.

Tyson and Hillshire merge

Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., has won anti-trust clearance from the Justice Department to purchase Hillshire (makers of Jimmy Dean sausage, Hillshire Farms and Ball Park hot dogs) for $7.7 billion. Yes, Tyson had to divest of its small hog division, making it an independent company until a buyer comes along, in order for the merger to gain approval. It boggles my mind that the Justice Department just opens the gates wide for these kind of mergers, with no concern whatsoever for independent meat producers, which are now few and far between.

This merger now makes a mega company even bigger, which means even less chance that the company will consider more humane practices in raising their animals. (Though Tyson is notorious for subcontracting the actual raising of the animals and then purchasing them through the farmers. It's just that they don't do anything to make it viable for those farmers to raise the animals humanely if they want to make a living at all.)

Civil Eats says it best in this short piece. More reason for me to continue avoiding meat of unknown origin as much as possible and to be more careful about it when I'm out.

General Mills buys Annie's

Ever eat Annie's cheddar bunnies or mac and cheese? Well, General Mills just did, eating up Annie's for $820 million. While not nearly as big as the Tyson/Hillshire merger, this deal represents Big Food's insatiable appetite for organic and natural foods. Many independent companies over the years have been bought out by Big Food - General Mills already owns Kashi and Muir Glen. What it means for the quality of the products sold under that name or its sourcing of ingredients remains to be seen, but it's still hard to not hum "Another One Bites the Dust" under my breath.


On a different note, episodes of a new series on PBS called Food Forward are available to stream. The pilot episode won a James Beard award, and I'm going to be watching them over the next few weeks and hopefully writing about them. Check it out!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 22

A week of good, solid standards, plus an eggplant that's almost literally the size of my head. Week 22, here we go!

I'm not surprised to see apples from Kistaco Farm, since Whole Foods was also advertising the first apples of the season from Dawson's Orchards. We'll probably eat these as snacks, like we've been doing with most fruit this season. There will be time for apple crisps and apple chutneys when we're about dang sick of apples in March.

OK, let's talk about this eggplant. I mean, seriously. I actually laughed out loud when I opened my box and found this guy. I should have put something next to it to really give you an idea of how big it is, but let's just go with roughly almost my head. Mark's got baba ganoush plans for it. Probably enough baba for an army.

The sweet corn might be made into a Chipotle knock-off salsa with poblano peppers from our garden. I was going to make it last weekend with the last corn we had, but I ran out of time with tomatoes and used that corn to make the fritters for these monstrosities. (Verdict - delicious, but just a lot of burger, thus a calorie bomb. Excuse me while I go run 10 miles.)

You probably think I'm sick of tomatoes, and well, I kind of am. Just sick of looking at them all over my house, not eating them. And I can't help but admire how lovely these guys are. I made fresh vodka sauce for pasta last night with some of our fresh tomatoes, and it's given me more confidence about making sauces that usually call for canned tomatoes with fresh ones. (I'm not a recipe rule breaker, typically.) So maybe we'll have a rainbow tomato pasta this week.

The carmen peppers are sweet, so they might end up on salads. Though I wonder since these guys are pretty solid, if they might not make good stuffing peppers - like the way you stuff hot wax ones. Either way, peppers always find a home at our house, because if nothing else, you dump them on pizza. And I'm always ready for that.

It's ironic that we have zucchini this week - two beautiful ones at that - because at the Penn's Corner member event at Wigle Whiskey last week, we sampled the Penn's Corner hot pepper jelly on top of a zucchini cranberry bread and were amazed at how good the combination was. Mark remarked to someone that we needed to get more zucchini in our CSA so we could do that at home, and behold - zucchini! I see zucchini cranberry bread in our future.

Leeks are easy to use too, since they can be a good base in a ton of dishes. I'm thinking potato leek soup though, since we haven't had that in a long time and we have some potatoes hanging around.

I'm also really happy to see this argula. Being a regular salad eater, I love fresh salad greens and never get sick of seeing them in our box. I love arugula because it has a kick and you can't miss it when it shows up in a bite.

What's going on in your CSA? Stay tuned next week when I'll give you some resources for considering a winter share (even if you don't want to think about "winter" yet).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Donating produce to the food bank

After feeling pretty overwhelmed this weekend (and really the last few weeks) with our plentiful tomato harvest, I decided to quit moping about what I couldn't do, and do something I've always wanted to do. Share our garden with people who need fresh produce.

Last year, we intended to give the contents of one entire raised bed to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank through its Community Harvest Program. Well, nature got the best of us and we basically had nothing to donate because nothing did well enough.

Not this year!

These two boxes are full of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes, complete with notes about the types included, ready to go to our local food pantry yesterday. 

It was simple. I visited the GPCFB's Community Harvest page, and looked at the donation options. Because of other commitments, I couldn't get to a Saturday drop-off, and I can't make it to the actual food bank during their open hours because I'm at work the entire time and it's too far to go during lunch.

So I looked up my neighborhood's local pantry through their online tool and made a simple phone call. Within 15 minutes, I got a call back that they'd love to take them! I also contacted a friend who does a lot of work with a local women's shelter, and they are willing to take the next batch.

I don't tell you this because I'm an awesome person for donating tomatoes to a food pantry. But because if you've already preserved all you can and the alternative is for the produce to go bad, consider making a donation through Community Harvest. All it took for me was 5 minutes on the phone and a two second trip, basically across the street, to drop off the boxes. If you're not in the greater Pittsburgh area, call your local food bank. You never know what resources they'd have to help you get the produce to people who need it.

I hope next year to plan a little better when it comes to the produce donation so we can make this happen more regularly, instead of waiting until I'm about ready to rip my hair out with frustration. Maybe that dream of the Community Harvest bed will be a reality!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

losing our second chicken

I was just getting home last night, frustrated by bad traffic on my way home. As I bustled up the sidewalk from our garage, I glanced over at the chicken coop and said "hey chickadees!" like I do every day. But today, I stopped in my tracks. Sambelu, one of our Americauna hens, was laying in the run, dead. 

I ran to get Mark, but I knew there wasn't anything we could do. With no marks at all on her body, no broken neck and the fact that she was inside the run and our yard is fenced, we knew it was likely not an animal that killed her. 

Knowing that the remaining two hens were running around the yard just fine and they all ate and drank the same feed and water and garden treats, we doubted that she was poisoned in some way. We quickly did some research to try to figure out what happened. We think that she was egg-bound, where an egg was trapped in her oviduct. Sadly, this is a fatal condition if not treated right away. Either that or she had a heart attack or some sudden onset problem.

Because we never knew she had an issue until she was gone. On Sunday, she was out running around with the others like usual while we picked in the garden. She came out and ate fine with the others in the morning. But we are at work during the day and can't watch them for those hours. We made the choice to let them free range while we weren't there because they love it, it's good for them and it's a risk we're willing to take. But I wish we could have known something was wrong to try to possibly help her. 

We buried her under the chickens' favorite bush. She was one of our chickens that was featured in Edible Allegheny when Next Gen House was part of Online Dish last year. (She's the brown lady on the right.) 

We will likely get more chickens, now that we are down to two. We need to do some research on how to introduce more into an existing group, but we know that they are social, and we don't want to risk one of them being alone if the other dies. 

I love her beak open in this photo, like she's being fierce and laying down the law. Her name comes from our closest approximation of the Klingon name for chicken. So here's hoping she's in Sto'Vo'Kor, the Klingon afterlife. She had a fierce warrior face, after all.

Monday, September 8, 2014

canning and preserving: tomatoes and salsa

As you might have read, we're sort of inundated with tomatoes right now. A friend called it an infestation, and she's not far off.

We planted several different varieties from seedlings we got through Penn's Corner's Online Farm Stand. San Marzanos and Romas, plus a few heirlooms like Black Cherry, Garden Peach and Cherokee Purple. 

We've never had a really good tomato harvest since we started gardening. Last year late blight got pretty much all of them, so when we wanted to can tomatoes or salsa, we had to buy a case of ripe ones from our CSA. 

This year, the infestation.

The photo above represents a small fraction of what was LEFT after our fourth picking, and a day of canning whole, quartered tomatoes and salsa. So far, we have frozen close to 20 pounds, and made quarts of fresh sauce to freeze. We'e also given away at least 15 pounds, when we had ripe ones that needed a home before they ended up in the compost. And now I write this at a large table full of more tomatoes.

This is what we picked yesterday.

I'll talk about the giant bag of corn and the big bag of green beans hiding behind it later this week. But ALL those tomatoes came inside and now live on my dining room table.

I didn't take a ton of photos of the canning process, because I've already done larger, more in-depth posts on whole tomato canning and salsa canning. Plus, it was a long day in a hot kitchen on tired legs (after a bad half marathon on Saturday - don't even get me started, ugh).

And, I was feeling frustrated.

I always like to talk here about how there's room in your life for some DIY and homesteading activities if you have a full-time job and a city commute, like both of us do. We manage to keep a garden and do some canning and freezing, and it might seem like we're able to do a lot. But we absolutely can't do everything we want to do. Not even a fraction. There are just not enough hours in the week. 

And tomatoes don't stop ripening just to accommodate your marathon training, your 7 hours a week of commuting, or your 45 hours a week of being an office drone. They just keep coming. The relentless, delicious buggers.

Yes, I do envy people who have some arrangement that lets them do major gardening and food harvesting and preserving, whatever that may be. Not because I begrudge them the time, but because it's one of my passions. I really do love it. The long, hot day in the kitchen on my calloused feet wouldn't be so hard if I knew I could keep going in the morning instead of getting in my car at 6 a.m. and not returning until at least 5.

It's not even easy to donate to food pantries when you work full time. I missed the one weekend donation window because of my race, and the daytime drop-offs are during my work day. I have one potential place left that might be able to take some. Fingers crossed. 

It's such a great satisfaction, filling up that canning cabinet in our basement, with food that grew in our backyard, that we picked out in the sun. I love being able to get "our" tomatoes and salsa through the winter. And I know that in the dead of the winter, I'll be wistfully remembering the days of the tomato infestation and wanting a good, fresh heirloom tomato. (Maybe.) 

But for now, who wants some tomatoes? 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 21

If our pickup wasn't in public, at the Children's Museum, I would definitely have yelled GROUND CHERRIES! in an Oprah voice when I opened my box. 

Somehow, 21 weeks into the share, we're still getting new stuff. Never ceases to amaze me. This week? Ground cherries!

I should have taken a picture of these buddies outside of their husks, but they look like tiny yellow bulbs. I think they taste like a cross between a sweet cherry and a tomato. I don't see them for sale anywhere in regular grocery stores, so I'm excited to get some in the share. I will likely pick one of the recipes from this "Five Ways to Eat Ground Cherries" article that they linked to in our weekly Penn's Corner blog post. 

This kale is already in small pieces, so I'm thinking of experimenting with mixing it in to salad greens. I usually find it too bitter, but this might be a new way for me to eat it. 

Speaking of salad. I must have been rough packing my tote bag with my share because one of the ripe heirloom tomatoes split open on the way home. No worries, because we needed tomato for salads we were making anyway, so we just used that one. And we have a bit of a tomato situation going on in our house right now anyway.  

Onions will go in storage with our others to be used in any given recipe. I do like having a stock of them at all times, so this just adds to it. Yellow beans will probably be a side dish of some kind, though we might end up with a veggie side dish buffet some night to use up a stockpile of extra items. Actually, that's not a bad idea. Why don't we do more buffets for regular dinners?

I'm happy to get some sweet peppers, because right now we have an abundance of hot. Though I've never seen such tiny sweet peppers. Typically, if a pepper isn't a traditional bell pepper, I wear gloves initially until I can taste it because I've been burned way too much by hot peppers masquerading as sweet to take chances.

The sun sugar tomatoes will probably be a snack, since I don't have enough to bother preserving and they taste so great anyway. They taste like summer, and that's fading fast. (Though not the weather - where is this heat and humidity coming from? Give me back my 55 degree running mornings!)

And last but not least, we have these carrots. For salad toppings and crunchy pizza side dishes, most likely. But I love that they come with the tops. Makes me feel like Bugs Bunny.

I've also got to mention the fun member party that Penn's Corner threw in cooperation with Wigle Whiskey last evening at Wigle's Barrel House/Whiskey Garden on Spring Garden Ave. in the North Side. Pittsburgh, if you haven't been there yet, get yourself there stat. 

We got to sample the cocktail from Wigle's September cocktail share. They have their own CSA - community supported alcohol - and one of the share options is to get all the fixings for a month's worth of cocktails. The Florodora had a fun name and was delish.

The one with the raspberry and lime below is the Florodora. The other one is Mark's, which had a cute name, but was white whiskey, lemon and earl grey tea, which is his jam. We also got to sample an experimental whiskey that's part of their experimental share.

We also had catering from Sweet Peaches using Penn's Corner ingredients. On the left is short ribs braised in smoked tomato sauce, and on the right is pork and beef kielbasa with kraut. Mark and I both had the "where have you been all my life" feeling while eating this stuff. 

I was thrilled to discover Sweet Peaches does not just catering, but BRUNCH in their Allentown location. (The Pittsburgh neighborhood, not Allentown, Pa.) Going to be checking that out for sure. Sweet Peaches also made some tasting items using other Penn's Corner products - the value-added ones that they can and process. We had rhubarb squares and a delicious zucchini cranberry bread with hot pepper jelly on it. Mark tried an egg salad made with dilly beans that he said was phenomenal as well. All in all, our stomachs were very happy. 

We even got to sign up for our winter share, since we've decided to stick with Penn's Corner. I know it's hard to think about December right now, but there's more info here. We have nothing but great things to say about our CSA, if you haven't noticed, so definitely give it some consideration!   

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

garden update: early september

Really, this post should be subtitled "The Tomato Jungle" because that's pretty much what we have going on right now. It's kind of a hot mess in our backyard right now.

But let's start with a few things that aren't tomatoes. After the great chard harvest of 2014, the plants are rebounding and we're getting another batch. I hope this lasts into the fall.

It seems like our bell pepper plant is slowing down, but this poblano one? It has exploded with tiny peppers, just recently. Where the heck were all these guys in August?

Storms have collapsed some of our corn stalks, but we were able to salvage the ears of corn from them so really this just looks worse than it is.

Now if I can just get the broken stalks out of there so it stops looking so much like a scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Beans need a final pick, but I haven't been able to get to them because of this situation.

Those pictures are from two different pickings, within 4 days of each other. Our tomato plants have been heavy with green tomatoes for more than a month, and recently they finally decided to start to ripen. Like gangbusters.

I pick some of them slightly early, as soon as they turn a little bit red, because of this situation.

The plants are so big they are collapsing over their too-small cages (that was our big fail with these things this year) and falling out to where the chickens can reach them. So I try to grab them as soon as they go slightly red, to bring them inside to ripen, outside of the reach of the tomato hungry ladies in the backyard.

Some of the stalks are breaking and dying off, which is probably due to their weight. Not pretty or garden blog worthy, surely, but I can't complain about how much these plants have produced.

Though seriously, we have to do better with caging and trellising next year. This one is just begging to be set free.

So far, we've been freezing tomatoes to keep up with them. I'll do a post on that at some point, too, but from just a fraction of the tomatoes in that first photo of the on our island, I got 15 pounds of frozen tomatoes, ready for sauce and chili.

I hope to can at least a batch of them this year, if not two, and possibly do some salsa as well, depending on how the peppers look. We've done more freezing than canning this year, which is weird, but at the same time, we've had less available weekend time due to triathlon and marathon training.

We've been able to preserve most of the tomatoes from the garden thus far. I just hope I can keep up as we get the final deluge!

How's your garden doing? Are you still harvesting or ready for fall? 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 20

Here we are, 5 months into our 32-week Farmers Friend share, and we're still getting new items. At the moment, our kitchen island is being overrun by ripe tomatoes from our own garden, so you can see those peeking into the hurried shot I took last night, but here's what we're looking at this week.

Still happy to be getting any peaches at all this year, after our hard winter in this area wiped out most farms' crops. I still haven't baked or made anything special with any fruit we've had this year. Somehow it's just too good to eat on its own.

I was happy to find a bag of salsa mix this week that had tomatillos in it. (The jalapenos came bundled with the tomatillos, but I separated them since I will likely not use them together.) These will likely be made into more simmer sauce, like our first batch of tomatillos, since that was so successful. Since these aren't readily available all year, and when they are out of season, they are expensive, I want to take the time to have that same delicious meal a second time this summer.

We still haven't roasted the last kohlrabi we got, so this lovely new purple bunch will probably give us the impetus to do it this week. I guess for some reason I look at root vegetables like a fall and winter thing, so it's hard for me to face that that season is actually approaching.

I'm not sure what we'll end up doing with corn this week, since our own corn is just about ready to pick too. I've wanted to make a copycat Chipotle corn salsa since I saw a recipe in a magazine a million years ago, so perhaps that will happen with the jalapenos from this week's share.

Savoy cabbage makes me think either an Asian dish, or a mango slaw that we typically make as an accompaniment with rice and sea bass (baramundi). I also like that this head is a good size, but it's not the size of two soccer balls put together. I get overwhelmed when we have huge heads of cabbage that need to be made into more than one meal. Maybe I can only think of one recipe at a time? 

Sun sugar tomatoes will be a lunchtime snack again. I can't bear to cook with them, they're so sweet and delicious. As for the juliette tomatoes, we will likely preserve them in some way - whether that be frozen or made into fresh sauce to either eat or freeze. We are trying to stem the tide of the onslaught of tomatoes right now and hope to can some whole tomatoes still this summer, but these little ones are great to freeze if you can't eat them in time. Their skins pop right off after a dip in boiling water and a shock in some ice water!

Arugula will be either mixed in with salad greens or put in a pasta salad that I often make for picnics that is delicious. Though I can't remember the last time I went to a picnic, so to say that seems misleading. Wait, I take it back. I had a fake picnic with my niece last night. When we asked her what goes great at a picnic, she said, matter of factly, "Bobo." Which is me. So I'm great at picnics, even without the pasta salad! I digress.

Last but not least this week, is my favorite new item - baby eggplant. We don't eat eggplant very often, so I will probably need to look up the best way to use these little guys. But at the very least, they look like they'd make nice little medallions for ratatouille or eggplant parmesan (with fresh tomato sauce, heh).

What's in your CSA this week? Those of you who are first-time CSA subscribers, are you liking your peak of season items?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

columbus marathon training update - 20 miles and an ugly cry

As of today, there are 55 days left until the Columbus Marathon. I am in week 17 of my extended 24 week training plan, I believe. To be honest, these are the dog days of training, and it's only because of my type A, meticulous spreadsheet habit that I even have any idea what's going on right now.

Last weekend was a big one for fitness at Next Gen House. Not only did Mark become a triathlete, but I had my first 20 mile run. The illusive 20 miles that everyone says is where the "wall" resides. I had always thought I'd run into walls running before, and I had somehow managed to Kool-Aid man through them and push. 

But I think those previous walls were only piles of rocks to step over, because for the first time this weekend, I ran straight into a concrete wall that knocked me over and made me ugly cry for the first time in the two years I've considered myself a runner. 

So that's what a wall feels like.

I actually considered waiting to write my next training update until after I completed another 20(+) miler, you know, to make it seem easier than it actually is. But that's not real. It doesn't let you know how hard this is. Sometimes I like to think that if something is possible, it's not really hard. I am admitting to myself that this marathon is an Everest for me. 

The run was from the North Side to the Waterfront and back. It was just a dream last year - it seemed like the impossible journey - so many miles. But we did it. First 10 miles were great. Miles 10-12 sucked all available energy out of me, and from that point on it was, well, awful. I was fighting tears for 12-14, desperately trying to talk myself out of a panic that would make my asthmatic lungs clench up. At 15, I asked my friend to please talk to me, if she had any available breath, because I couldn't pull my mind out of its self-destruct sequence. (And to her eternal credit she did.) The voice that says "I can't breathe, I can't do this, I have come so far and am about to fail, 26.2 is impossible, I am a joke."

For the last few successful long runs, I've been doing a 60 second walk break at each 2 mile increment. It's done wonders for my heart rate. On this run, by mile 16 I had to go down to one-mile increments, and I finished 18 and 19 by walking at half-mile increments. 

When my GPS read 20, I slowed to a staggering walk and started weeping. Not just a few tears, but that ugly cry with noises that you didn't know you could make. I don't even really know why I was crying in particular. It was a huge release, probably of tension I had been holding in for, literally, hours. Probably days. Probably this whole training cycle.

I read a lot of articles and essays about bad runs - like the ones that make you physically drained or pukey. But I rarely hear about people who just weep when they are done with a bad run.

But after a few days have passed, I am ready to rise up and get those shoes back on and hit the miles this week. I actually have two step-back weeks in a row, each 13 miles, one with the Montour Half Marathon, which was my first half marathon ever last year. I have two more 20(+) milers to get that confidence back that I was flying on after a really good 18 miler. 

After all, one does not simply stroll up Everest (or Mordor). I've finally realized that it's okay that this is really hard for me - the hardest thing physically I've ever done, and probably with the exception of grieving, the hardest mentally as well. While I watch a lot of really inspirational runners chasing their 8:30 or 9:30 averages for the Columbus Marathon, I'm chasing a 13:00 average. Yes, a lot slower, but it also means that I'm giving the run the best I can do for 4+ hours. I'll be happy to finish Columbus in 6 hours - to finish at all. And that's okay. 

This summer, I've run farther than I've ever run before, all over my beautiful, wonderful city. I'm wearing out shoes and burning through rolls of K-tape. I'm pushing my body and my mind and I know it will be worth it if I stick with it. The hard things always are.

Monday, August 25, 2014

a triathlete lives at Next Gen House

The better half of Next Gen House is now a triathlete. You know I'm not talking about me.

Saturday morning, earlier than the crack of dawn, we headed up to Erie for Mark to participate in his first triathlon - the Presque Isle Triathlon at Presque Isle State Park.

It's a sprint tri - you swim 0.35 miles, bike 13 miles and run 3.5 miles. This particular tri draws everyone from elite Ironman competitors to first time triathletes, and from what we gathered it was very well organized and ran like a well-oiled machine.

You know who else was a well-oiled machine? This guy.

He did awesome, and beat the time he was aiming for by more than 15 minutes. That's just crazy.

I enjoyed cheering so much, particularly because I'm usually competing in most of the events I've ever gone to like this. So it was great to look people in the eye, especially during the run portion where they weren't going by in a blur and were tired, and cheer and clap and encourage. 

I spotted this sign, the best one of the day. I bet it made whoever John is smile.

The weather held out and it wasn't more than two hours after the tri was over that the sun came out and started baking everyone, so thankfully he didn't have to do this in full sun. The conditions were ideal, except for maybe a stronger current than anticipated in the bay where they were swimming. 

All in all, it was a great event to spectate at and so fun to watch people give it their all. 

I was so proud of Mark, my heart almost burst out of my chest. I know how it feels to be dedicated to a training regimen and to be in the dog days of it toward the end where you're not sure the event will ever come and you're just plain tired. He stuck with it through the humidity this summer, in the rain and the heat and just completely knocked it out of the park this weekend. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 19

Another haul this week, with tons of staples, a for real baby carrot and my current vegetable arch nemesis.

Beets are going to a good home, since they are the one vegetable whose train we cannot get on. But at least we know people who like them, so they don't go to waste and we get to share. 

The potatoes will hang out in our basement with other potatoes, as we're still eating up previous stashes. Thankfully potatoes have a relatively long storage life in the right conditions.

The carrots will be eaten in salad and probably raw with pizza. (Mark likes to eat carrots as a side with pizza. We go with it.) This tiny actual for real baby carrot is my favorite thing this week. Look how stinking cute that thing is. 

I was thinking of making a corn and poblano chowder with this corn, though it's also tempting to just eat it on the cob since after all, it's still summer.

After the weekend of swiss chard harvesting, we don't have any ready to eat in our garden, so this lovely, delicate chard will probably be a side dish.

Peaches will be eaten straight up. I love how peaches straight from a farm still have their perfect peach smell. I swear grocery store peaches usually have no smell at all, or they smell so sickly sweet you know they're two seconds from rot. 

And as for the lovely tomatoes, I'm thinking fresh salsa, also incorporating the red onion and my arch nemesis: hot peppers.

It took more than 2 days and a super sweaty krav maga class for all of the pepper oil to leech out of my hands after Sunday's pepper freezing adventure. So I kept these in the bag and need to get to the store to get some sort of hazmat suit to deal with them. (OK, probably nitrile or plastic dish gloves, but humor me.)

But I do want to make crockpot chalupas this week (the idea brought on by a Taco Bell craving, and since you won't get me within 10 feet of a Taco Bell, I satisfy the craving at home). So a fresh salsa might go nicely with that.

We also have about 7 very large red tomatoes from our own garden (one of which you can see peeking out in the camera frame in the first photo). Mark will likely make those into fresh tomato sauce.

Lots going on here at the end of summer - how about you? What are you making? How are you keeping up on your shares?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

something that's not about vegetables or gardens

I started this blog about 18 months ago to have an outlet to write about the things I'm passionate about - the things that I wish filled my days instead of only just whatever free time I can manage to devote to it. So most of the time, it's gardens and urban farming, CSAs and food justice. Backyard chickens and canning jars - the stuff that's in my profile.

But I've tried this week to think about what the next thing was I should write about. And every time I try to find the words, I keep coming back to Ferguson. It's a hurdle my mind can't leap over right now. I don't want to hide behind "but I just write about vegetables."

So if you're here for vegetables and gardens, check in with me Thursday. Today I just need to write something else.

I watch as people across the country film themselves dumping ice on their heads to "raise awareness" for ALS, learning really only about what people look like when they dump a bucket of ice water on their heads. Yes, yes, they've raised some money for research, and it's a horrendous disease and a good cause. But while the nation distracts itself with a viral video craze, Ferguson is self-destructing. 

Maybe we can't bear to look at what's happening in Ferguson because it shines too much of a spotlight on our own fear and ignorance. It's easy to support things like research for diseases. It's much harder to look at the photos and videos of what's happening in Ferguson and have to face the fact that racism is a cancer that has had a grip on America since before it was America. Where are the ice bucket videos for that disease?

How many more black men and women must die at the hands of militant law enforcement officers who shoot first and ask questions later? Do you remember the story of Renisha McBride, who was shot and killed for walking up onto someone's porch? If I walked onto a neighbor's porch, someone would assume I was bringing zucchini or asking if they'd move their car. Surely in a country founded on the principles of freedom and justice for all, the freedom to walk up to a door, unarmed and knock, should be upheld.

There are many studies that support the fact that black people are disproportionately targeted by the justice system and law enforcement. Better and more qualified voices than mine have spoken those words. Lots of data, lots of facts. 

But beyond the hard numbers, we know in our hearts that if Michael Brown had been a white woman like me, he would still be alive. He died in a street in Missouri that could be any street. Mine, for instance. Yours. 

There are so many things to say. About freedom of the press and freedom to gather in peaceful protect. About the militarization of police and the danger of focusing on a handful of looters. It's easy to feel like I shouldn't have a voice in this because I'm white and would honestly answer no, if asked if I was racist. 

But that just won't do. If you're an American and a human, you should have something to say about this. Some examining to do. I'm not convinced that any one of us has the right to say "I'm not racist" because racist assumptions are ingrained in our culture so deeply that we don't even realize we're part of them and that we perpetuate them. 

I work in a predominantly black neighborhood and I've heard many people make jokes about the surroundings - you know, "those" people always hanging out in the park. With the unspoken wink. Why have I let those comments have a voice and kept my own silent? Just using the phrase "those people" means we've crossed the line. And that's just one example. We let so much go by us without saying a word.

We can tweet about Ferguson and pass around links to the news, and that's a good thing. We need to be reading and understanding what's going on and thinking about the concept of systemic racism and how we got to this place. We need to hold our leaders accountable. We need to support the journalists there and press for the truth - not cable news spin. After all, knowledge dispels ignorance.

Think about how your words contribute to a larger dialogue in this country. When you hear someone making office cooler commentary, turn inward and reach for your empathy. Don't hide behind your skin color - find your voice in those moments and speak. For the people in Ferguson and for all of us. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

canning and preserving: freezing swiss chard

Our garden's swiss chard has thrived so much this year that it actually got away from us. We eat a lot of vegetables, but two people can only eat so much in a given week. We hadn't picked any chard in probably three weeks, and in that time the plants got huge, to the point where they were starting to be attacked by pests. 

I decided to harvest it all, in the hopes that we'll get another round later. But this is what I picked from the 5 or 6 plants we have. (OK, plus the peppers, few tomatoes and bag of green beans.) Knowing that you can obviously buy frozen spinach, I decided to try something new and freeze greens at home.

After I took out some chard to make tacos, this is what was left. I separated the leaves and the stems for ease of chopping. Those are decent sized bowls, too.

And then I chopped and I chopped and I chopped.

While I was chopping, I was bringing a large pot of water to boil. Once it was up to temp, I would take batches of leaves and stems and blanch them for about 3 minutes.

Blanching is a quick dunk in boiling water - you can do it with beans and tomatoes, too. It kills the enzymes that make vegetables decay, so they will stop "going bad" in the freezer and retain their color and flavor. I hear you can buy blanchers that are strainer type things that go inside the pots for ease of removal. That would probably be helpful if you're blanching greens like I was, because man those stems and leaves were hard to fish out.

Once they were out, they were dunked straight into a bowl of ice cold water, to bring down the temperature and abruptly stop the blanching process.

Then it was time to squeeze. The soggy chard hung out in a colander until I added another batch and then another, and so on.

After all of the chard was blanched, rinsed and cooled, I picked up handfuls at a time and squeezed as much moisture out as possible. Each ball was placed on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, for the freezer. 

After about 4 hours, the balls were solid and frosty.

Just like the peppers, the swiss chard balls went in a Ziploc bag, with the date as well as a reminder that each ball is about a serving.

Now they'll be ready to defrost and saute when we need them. I'm not sure how well other greens freeze, like collards or kale. But I know that for the recipes and side dishes where we need chard, the frozen balls will be sufficient. 

Theoretically you could remove the stems and only freeze the leaves. I've seen recipes for pickled chard stems, but since I'm not interested in pickling every single vegetable on the planet, and because I love the stems of chard just as much as the leaves, I included them. I just chopped off the most fibrous portions from the bottom and threw them in the compost.

What's going gangbusters in your garden right now? Any preservation plans?