Thursday, July 31, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 16

Continuing the trend of super full CSA shares, week 16 did not disappoint. We got so much this week that I had to get out a Star Wars dry erase board and start taking inventory of what we have and how we're going to use it, especially since we're getting another load of produce from my grandparents' garden this week.

Corn and zucchini will definitely be made into this delicious looking Sweet Corn, Zucchini and Fresh Mozzarella pizza from How Sweet It Is (a local food blog - check it out!). Mark's been experimenting with making pizza dough using his sourdough starter, so we'll likely use his crust. Have I ever mentioned how amazing Mark's homemade pizza is? Honestly, with the exception of Beto's on Banksville, it's probably my favorite pizza ever. (And Beto's is only up there because of the unconscionable amounts of cheese.)

I saw these red onions and immediately thought salsa, since we are getting peppers in our own garden. They have a lovely, vibrant purple color.  

Cucumbers will be salad toppings and also refrigerator pickles this weekend. I have something like 13 cucumbers in the fridge right now, and I'm hoping they can hold on until I have 2 consecutive, uninterrupted hours to deal with them. 

Blueberries will just be eaten by the handful, because we're classy like that.

Mark wants to make fried green tomatoes with our green tomatoes, since he's never had them before. Come to think of it, I haven't either. Anyone have a good recipe? 

At first I thought these guys were some sort of pea, but upon closer inspection realized they were beans - roma beans to be exact. Penn's Corner linked to a recipe for braised roma beans that sounds delicious. I saw "red chili flakes" in the ingredient list and I was IN.

With this being the second bunch of kale in my fridge right now, it's time to use it up. We enjoyed the zuppa toscana so much a few weeks ago that I might make it again, since we also still have a little bit of Clarion River sausage left.

New this week was celery, which I thought actually was the first appetizing looking celery I've seen in, well, ever. We're not usually celery people and only eat it when it's part of a mirepoix or some larger dish, but I'm going to be honest. I am kind of tempted to make ants on a log with these, like I'm back in elementary school with a Care Bears cookbook. (Yep, we had one of those growing up. I still have it somewhere, I believe. It would make an interesting experiment to see if I can use CSA ingredients with Care Bears recipes...)

Is your fridge filled with produce right now? What do you have cooking?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Real Life CSA dinner: swiss chard tacos

I mentioned in last week's Real Life CSA post that I was thinking of making Rick Bayless' swiss chard tacos for dinner this week. I finally did - and got to use not only swiss chard from our garden, but the last of the CSA chard as well as the fresh garlic.

You could also use kale, collards or chard - or any green, really. I used chard because we had a lot, and it's my favorite.

This fresh garlic was great. I have never cooked with fresh garden garlic that hasn't been cured. It was actually easier to peel and work with than the cured stuff. I hope this comes up again in the CSA!

One of the parts of these tacos is a simple hot sauce, made by blistering cherry tomatoes in a dry skillet and then blending them in a food processor with some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I added an extra pepper, and hoo boy, was it spicy. We have some leftover, which will make a tasty hot sauce for other dishes as well. Also, observation: my stovetop REALLY needs to be cleaned.

Before you cook the chard, you cook down the garlic, onions and some red pepper flakes.

Once you add the chard, it reduces pretty quickly. I add greens in batches when I need to cook a lot, so it's easier to stir. I also kept the stems in because they are delicious and not at all chewy.

This filling, plus some hot sauce, some feta cheese (or queso fresco) and a tortilla is a delicious, easy dinner. I will be taking leftovers of it in my lunch over rice - another great way to eat Bayless taco recipes. (Try this zucchini one - it's fabulous.)

Delicious food - probably the best part of a Real Life CSA!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 15

The first word I think of when I consider this week's share is HAUL - a big share this week, with lots of the basics.

At the moment, we have beans coming out our ears. Not only do we have this produce coming in, but we have bags of produce from my family's garden that isn't quite enough for canning but is a lot for my fridge. I might make a summer salad with the extra beans, and possibly freeze the rest.

New this week is basil, which made my car pretty fragrant yesterday. Fresh basil is delish, and since mine is still only barely surviving after the great scorch of 2014, this will be a welcome addition. Of course there's a million ways to use basil, but my favorite is pasta. (Let's be honest, my favorite is always pasta.)

Carrots, cucumbers and lettuce will be salad elements, like usual. We also have an abundance of cucumbers, but I'm planning on making a batch of refrigerator pickles to use some of them up. 

Swiss chard is typically a side dish in our house because I adore it. Probably my favorite green and one of my favorite vegetables. But this week, since we have some in the CSA and some coming up in the garden, I am up for trying something new. Probably these Rick Bayless tacos. (We are big Rick Bayless fans in this house. His enchilada sauce is amazeballs.) That recipe can also be used for kale and collards, if you have an excess of those!

But meanwhile, enjoy the lovely colors.

Blueberries will be eaten straight, and likely right away. Berries never sit long in this house. The onions will hang out and be ingredients in various dishes. Before I started cooking, I never dreamed I'd be the type of person who always had onions and garlic in the house, ready for cooking. 

Speaking of garlic, we got a head this week of fresh garlic. Because it hasn't been cured (like the garlic you'd get in the store), it needs to be refrigerated. It doesn't store as long as cured garlic, but it stores long enough for it to be used up this week in various preparations.

Zucchini will join more zucchini from my family as well as some yellow squash for a lot of roasting - most of it in foil packets over a camp fire (!) I also found this recipe yesterday that Smitten Kitchen just posted for a zucchini and squash gratin, which looks fantastic and will likely be made next week if we continue to have an abundance of them.

Potatoes will likely be a side - maybe even par-boiled and grilled? At least with potatoes, the possibilities are endless!

What's in your CSA this week? Any good recipes to share?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

canning and preserving: green beans

Weeknight canning is a tricky thing. Primarily because canning always, 100% without fail takes longer than you think it will. You look in the Ball Blue Book and see "20 minute processing time" and think, hooray! I can do three batches in one evening!

No, you can't. At least not if you have to get up at 5 a.m. 

But you can usually handle one. So Tuesday night, we canned 9 pints of green beans.

You see, my grandparents have a large garden, and this year we're helping to process and preserve what we can (no pun intended). We aren't around to do the heavy lifting with the picking and maintenance, so we are helping on the back end, since we have the supplies and desire to can.

But the unpredictable thing about nature is that stuff is ready on its own timetable, not ours. So that's how we ended up with enough green beans that we needed to can on a weeknight.

Much of the work is cleaning and prepping the beans, which is why it's so time consuming. But we're old hat at prepping beans for canning, since we've done beans each year since we started canning in the first place.

Beans have to be pressure canned, since the acidity level of the beans isn't high enough to have botulism killed off by a boiling water bath. We do a raw pack, meaning we heat the jars and pack in raw beans and canning salt, plus boiling water. 

We can fit 9 pint jars comfortably in our canner, having decided to do pints instead of quarts so we'd have more jars to split up.

Even though the processing time is only 20 minutes for pints of beans, once that portion is done, the pressure has to come down on its own. Which is another reason that this is harder to do on a weeknight than it seems!

Man, our canner lid has water spots something fierce.

Anyway, we managed to fit in the entire process. I'm sure we'll repeat it again this summer with more beans, but this is a good first start!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

columbus marathon training update

I'm now less than 90 days out from the Columbus Marathon, so I thought I'd write a bit about my progress. 

I'm in my 12th week of training out of 24 weeks, which is a long training regimen for most people with a marathon. I stretched my training out for a variety of reasons. First, I came into the training with a recurring injury (IT band syndrome and poppy knee caps) and spent the first four weeks of my training also going to physical therapy. I decided to do a three-day a week running plan instead of running 4 days a week, because I thought it was more sustainable for me over the long haul. The longer training schedule also gives more time for pull-back weeks, where you rest your legs with less mileage in order to push upward in distance.

The last two weekends were 15 and 16 mile runs respectively - my longest runs to date. I will end up going to 20 miles and doing that three times before the taper and actual marathon. Yes, it's mentally intimidating to think that I won't ever run 26.2 until the day I get a medal around my neck for it, but I'm trusting in the wisdom of the Hal Higdon plans. Truly, if you're going to train for any running event - from a 5K to a marathon - go with Hal. He got me to my first half marathon and I'm getting increasingly confident that he'll get me to that finish line at Columbus.

Right now, I'm up to about 25 miles a week, with one hill day, one shorter, flat run and one long run. On Wednesday, I will cross 300 miles run this year so far, and more than 150 since training began. I really need to think about getting that map with push pins to show myself really how far those miles are. 

Physically, it's been challenging for me, especially as we get in to the later summer, in this humid, soupy climate. For the first time since I started running in 2012, I've been slammed with the realization that I'm an asthmatic runner. Now, the asthma's no surprise. I've had it all my life, and it's amazingly well under control. But it's because of that great control that I often forget that my lungs are asthmatic and they just don't work like the lungs of someone without asthma. 

I came into this training 15 pounds heavier than when I trained for a half marathon last year, which also has something to do with it. But I am watching my heart rate closely on every run now, to avoid crashing. For me, once my heart rate approaches a certain level, there's nothing I can do to get it back down long term except for stopping altogether. So I work really hard to keep the gradual increase of the heart rate over 3+ hours of running under control instead of letting it spike up.  

Marathon training is as much a mental endeavor as a physical one. I knew going into this that my pace was going to be that of the tortoise - slow and steady. I was not in peak physical condition when I started, and I'm not now, even in the middle of it. So I fight the mental pressure to be faster - especially when I see running blogs or magazines talking about sustaining paces of 8:30 as if it's just normal. Which for some people, it is. But I am 4'11", overweight and asthmatic. So really, the fact that I'm out there each week doing it is good enough for me right now. For a girl who spent time in an oxygen tent when I was little, running a marathon is like scaling Everest, no matter the pace.

Other positives of training? One of my friends that I'm training with makes some fantastic routes. For instance, last week we ran through the following neighborhoods: Millvale, Strip District, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Shadyside, Oakland, Greenfield, South Side (Works, flats and Station Square), West End, the Point/Downtown, North Shore and North Side. That's straight up crazy. It's kind of cool to visit places on a run you've never been even in a car. After living here for almost 9 years, it's hard to find places I've never seen, so this is a good opportunity for exploration. 

It's been nice to take a slight break from a lot of races. I've only done three so far this year (a 5K and 2 half marathons). During the training I will do one more 5K (Electrodash), a 10K virtual race (Beat the Blerch) and one, possibly two, half marathons (Wine Glass Half and maybe Montour Trail). 

It's also hard to not get excited about the race itself, and I try to focus on that during the training. This is all for a reason - for that moment I see the finish line appear in the distance and know I'm yards away from probably the biggest accomplishment of my life. (Not because it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but because it is the most impossible thing I've ever attempted.) I even named my Spotify playlist "Road to Columbus" to remind myself what this is all for. Each mile is just another mile down that road. (You can search for my playlist under that name on Spotify, but it's uniquely me, thus probably not universally exciting for most people. Oh, you don't listen to Starship during your long runs?)

You can follow my progress more closely on Instagram (@nextgenhouse) under the hashtags #yearofthemarathon and #roadtocolumbus. Let the countdown begin!


Monday, July 21, 2014

saving the rail trails

There's a group based out of D.C. called the Rails to Trails Conservancy. They work on converting old rail lines to trails across the country, and also help to maintain those trails and raise interest in their use and protection.

Here in the Pittsburgh area, we're blessed with an abundance of these type of trails - Montour, Panhandle, and Three Rivers Heritage just to name a few. The Heritage trail (left) is used as a commuting route for many people. I run on that trail at least twice a week and have done so for over a year now. Mark uses the Panhandle frequently, and we both have used the Montour before. I even had my first half marathon there. Those are just three that are within the metro area. Go out a little further and they are everywhere.

Which makes it even more ironic that recently, it was Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who proposed an amendment to the Preserving America's Transit and Highways Act that would eliminate funding for the Transit Alternatives Program (TAP). TAP is the largest dedicated funding source for walking and biking infrastructure, and it would seriously jeopardize the trail system in this country that many rely on for recreation and fitness.

Thankfully, the Rails to Trails Conservancy rallied ordinary citizens as well as civic groups in PA to lobby the senator to withdraw his amendment. And he did. TAP funding is safe - for now.

This is yet another example that community activism and calling your representatives can work. (I wish I would have known about this before he withdrew the amendment or I would have added it to my list of letters to write this year!) I'd venture to guess as a Pennsylvanian, he's probably been on a converted rail trail before, for one thing or another. Many races and community events are tied to the trails - there are too few parks in the city to accommodate them and the trails help to do that. 

These trails are really important, especially in a city center like ours where there wouldn't be many places to run, walk and bike outside of traffic. While we do often mix up our routes with combinations of trails and city on the weekends, it's nice to have dedicated places to go where no matter what's going on traffic-wise, you can just GO. It encourages people to walk, run and bike when they know they can do it safely. 

And while any scenery gets boring when you're running 16 miles, our trails are quite lovely, too. Not a lot of areas of the country where you can mix city scapes, riverfronts and forested areas. The trails conserve and expose people to nature, as well, serving as an oasis from the urban sprawl.

To find rails to trails near you, visit Trail Link, a service of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. It's also a handy tool if you're on vacation or camping and need to find a place to fit that run in! But if you live in Pittsburgh and haven't made use of the trails, do it. Start with the riverfront near the stadiums and you'll get hooked on the view. (And if you see a short brunette huffing and puffing by you in the early morning, that's me. Say hi and offer me water. :) ) 

Photos from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Panhandle Trail in Pittsburgh and the W&OD Trail in Virginia.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 14

Once strawberry season has passed us by, the next best thing is blueberry season. And guess what we got this week? A pint!

The berries are from Dawson's Orchard, which also has a stall at our farmer's market. We get peaches from them every year, but sadly they lost their crop this season because of the harsh winter we had. I'm glad they still have blueberries! 

These will likely get eaten straight up - they're that good. Don't get me wrong, I love fruit IN things, like blueberry pancakes or cobblers. But sometimes I just love fruit for itself.

Cucumbers will be salad toppings this week, and might even be a snack, since I find cold, crisp cucumbers to be really refreshing. The onions go in everything - we never have a problem using them up, since they are the base of a lot of recipes.

This cheese. I have no idea what it will taste like, but it's called Temptation, so I'm assuming once we open it, we won't want to stop eating?

Parsley will likely end up in some dish - I often keep the fresh herbs in the fridge to pull from before I take from my outdoor pots (which is a good thing considering some of my herbs croaked).

I made a delicious version of zuppa toscana this week from last week's kale, thanks to recipe from my friend T who discovered the recipe after getting kale in her own CSA. It was so delicious and it made great leftovers. I'm pretty sure I was the envy of my office with the smell coming out of the microwave. That will definitely be put on the rotation.

As for this week, perhaps another soup - possibly the one that SOLE for the Soul left in the comments last week - miso soup with tofu and kale.

I'm no stranger to wax beans because my grandparents grow them and we typically can from their crop every year. But these little guys will make a good side dish this week.

What's in your CSA? Any recipes to share?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

a day in West Virginia

It's kind of absurd that for as close as we live to West Virginia, we rarely visit. It's true - often it takes me longer to get to work than it does to get to West Virginia. But we spent last Saturday there and it lives up to its motto - Wild and Wonderful.

We have a Stone tradition of taking our birthdays off of work and spending the day just the two of us, doing whatever activities the birthday person wants to do. But because we were just on vacation, we opted to celebrate Mark's birthday with our outing on a weekend. And he couldn't decide what he wanted to do, so he asked me to surprise him.

Our first stop was Cabela's in Tridelphia/Wheeling. 

Mark's wanted to visit this hunting and fishing paradise store for ages, and we've passed it a few times on the way to Oglebay or to Lake Cumberland and he's looked longingly out the window. So we finally went. Hoo boy.

Behold, Taxidermy Mountain.

Oh wait, there's more.

Yeah, it was a veritable museum. I'll admit, there was definitely some cool merchandise and plenty that would interest Mark as someone who likes to hunt and fish and be outdoors.

Though this was taking it a bit too far. Under Armour pink camo running tank? Yeah, no.

From Cabela's it was on to Moundsville to tour the former West Virginia Penitentiary. 

This place looked like a fortress, and that's basically what it was until it closed in 1995. Our tour guide was a former guard and he wasn't too convinced about the stories of it being haunted. For me, there wasn't anything more creepy than the fact that this place actually housed human beings less than 20 years ago.

It's a tour worth taking for the interesting (and creepy) history of the place, though I wouldn't go so far as to do what the ghost hunter shows do and stay overnight in the place (which apparently the general public can do too). I'll spare you more photos of rusty toilets and peeling paint, but let's just say it was easy to see where WV tax dollars did NOT go.

We followed up the tour with a picnic in the shade at Grand Vue Park nearby.

Mark and I had never actually had a picnic before in all the years we've been together, so this was a nice change of pace. But man was it hot. After the picnic we tried geocaching for awhile but mostly managed to traipse through a lot of weeds and get frustrated. Good thing we'll get to learn more about geocaching at the Venture Outdoors membership event on Sunday.

Due to the heat making us wilt, we skipped the zip line and mini golf they have at the park and headed back home to watch the original Planet of the Apes and eat pizza.

We'll definitely be making more day trips to West Virginia - and can't wait to go back to Grand Vue Park in the fall, with proper hiking gear and another picnic lunch!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

make it yourself: baked garlic croutons

I've mentioned in my CSA posts before that we eat salads on the regular. At least once a week we have salad night - and typically it's one of Mark's prep/cook nights. But last night he was otherwise occupied with 5 million errands, so I hopped in. I knew we needed more croutons and had him give me a quick phone tutorial on how he makes our homemade ones.

Making your own croutons is actually super easy. They were actually finished by the time I had all of the other vegetables prepped! Here's the basics of how Mark makes ours. (See the end of the post for an actual recipe.)

This week I used some leftover sourdough bread that Mark had made. When we have loaves of bread, we put the leftover slices we might not use in the freezer right away before they mold or get super hard. Sometimes we have enough for croutons right away, other times we stock pile until we have a few more slices.

Microwave the bread for a bit to make it easy to cube.

Cube it up and throw it on a baking sheet to toast for 10-15 minutes.

When the bread is toasted, toss it in melted butter, garlic powder and salt. (Though really you could use other seasonings if you were interested.)

Return to the cookie sheet and bake for another 15-20 minutes, stirring at 5 minute intervals. After you're done baking, let them cool and then chow down!

Croutons are super simple to make and help you waste less bread. We are typically a sourdough house, but you could make the croutons out of other types of bread, or mix and match. They also can save you money, since just a few slices of bread makes enough croutons for at least 6 servings (and I admittedly go heavy-handed on the croutons since they're so delicious).

Make it Yourself: Baked garlic croutons
Makes 4-6 servings

~6 slices of bread (can be frozen or just stale) 
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
Garlic powder and salt to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • If bread is frozen, microwave for 15 seconds to soften enough to cut easily.
  • Cube bread into desired pieces. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake until bread is toasted, 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove and toss in a large mixing bowl with melted butter and garlic powder and salt to taste. (Go ahead and taste them - they might be a bit chewy at this stage, but you'll know if you got the seasoning right.)
  • Return to baking sheet and bake for another 15-20 minutes, stirring at 5 minute intervals until crunchy and golden brown.
  • Let them cool and eat them by the handful. I mean, put them on a salad, like a classy, civilized person.
Note: This is a recipe that isn't an exact science. You might like to use more or less butter depending on how much bread you have or what type it is. This is more about the method than the specifics.

Monday, July 14, 2014

garden update: mid-July

This is the time of year where the garden seems to explode overnight and all of the sudden it's time to pick something. Like this, our first tomato of the season.

We've got a million green tomatoes and tiny peppers not far from ripening, too. 

Look at these tiny bell peppers. They look like peppers for a dollhouse kitchen.

Hot peppers are coming along nicely too. Just need a few more tomatoes ready to make some fresh salsa.

If the size of these tomato plants is any indicator, we should have a good harvest this year.

One thing we've already been able to harvest is swiss chard. We usually just eat the chard on its own, sauteed in garlic and chicken broth. It's one of my favorite vegetables, so I typically don't have to find ways to eat it or use it up! 

Cucumber plants are also going gangbusters, and Mark's been waging the war of attrition against cucumber beetles by smooshing them when he is out attending to the chickens.

The sweet corn was just about knee-high by the Fourth of July, and it's looking strong. It rebounded nicely from a nasty storm we had awhile ago where it looked like the stalks were keeled over.

The beans have also taken over their bed. At my last garden update, we were noticing the gaps where the chickens had disrupted the seeds when they got into the bed and messed around. But here you can barely see the gaps - it looks like solid beans from border to border! 

I don't have good photos of my herbs, because actually several of them died. They didn't get watered while I was on vacation and we had several scorcher days in a row (an accidental oversight, but still that's what killed them). I think I've been able to salvage the basil, rosemary and chives at the very least. Working on bringing the dill back to life, as well as the sunflowers. Hopefully by my next garden post, I'll have good news to report on that front!

How's your garden doing? Any harvests yet?