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?

Monday, August 18, 2014

canning and preserving: freezing peppers

This weekend, our backyard harvest was so big that I had to face facts - the peppers were not going to fit in the fridge. So it was time to get to chopping.

I had sweet bell, poblano, hot wax and jalapeno peppers, so I started with the sweet and worked my way up to hot. I cut them into wide pieces - 4 for the larger peppers, and 2 for the small hot peppers.

After pulling out the seeds and pith, I laid them out, skin side up on a cookie sheet with foil.

After a few minutes under the broiler, the skins start to blister and blacken.

I didn't do a great job of capturing the next step on video because my hands were covered in skins, but once the peppers come out of the oven, you can peel off the blistered skin to reveal the roasted pepper flesh underneath. 

I will note that I did use gloves while cutting the hot wax and jalapeno peppers, though they must have had Scoville units off the charts, because I have major hot pepper fingers today. I've had pepper in my eyes before, or on a finger or two, but nothing like this. I am not sure if the peppers being really hot made some of the gloves' protection break down, but all 10 of my fingers - not just the tips - are suffering. Remember that hot peppers can vary in their strength - it's not just habaneros that will burn you. 

*Edit* I did some research and apparently capsaicin can burn through latex gloves, which is why I got hot pepper hands. The safer kinds of gloves are nitrile or rubber dish gloves, though thinking of peeling the skins off of pepper pieces wearing rubber dish gloves is just not at all appealing. 

I laid them on another cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it, making sure that they didn't touch each other, if possible.

Next, the tray goes in the freezer until the pieces are individually frozen. It's the same technique that you use when you want to freeze berries or tomatoes individually, instead of having them be frozen in one massive block. This allows you to pick out individual peppers when you need them, instead of having to defrost the entire batch at once.

After they were completely frozen, I put them in Ziploc freezer bags, marked with the type of pepper.

Now when I need them, I can take a piece out and basically rinse it under hot water to "wake it back up."

This is a great way to preserve peppers, since they are now roasted and ready for sandwiches or other recipes that call for roasted peppers. You can do as many or as few as you have, too, so it doesn't require you to have the right quantity as many canning recipes do.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 18

Another haul this week, with some of my favorites - and nature's sugar everywhere.

We're holding our own right now, keeping up with the produce coming in and trying to incorporate it into as many meals as possible, and preserve it when necessary. 

It's easy to get frustrated when you're dealing with an onslaught of produce, but I try to remind myself that it won't be too long before the ground is frozen and I'm both grateful for the time spent canning and longing for the spring to come again.

I love getting garlic and onions in the CSA, since they always taste so good and store well. Though to be honest, they don't last long in our house anyway because we cook so much and they are staple ingredients in most dishes.

This watermelon and the nectarines will just be eaten straight up. Typically in the summers I like to make things with fruit - like berry muffins and stone fruit crisps and jams. But this year, I've just wanted to eat it plain. I don't want to mask the flavors with extra sugar and grains. 

I'm thinking maybe a bolognese sauce of some type with the celery this time. I've been wanting some hearty red sauce for pasta and bolognese is one of my favorites. I saw parsley and thought I'll use up some previous weeks' red potatoes and do a standard boiled parsley potatoes side dish.

This kohlrabi looks awesome, and I love the colors and shapes. I get a kick out of the endless variety of nature, if you hadn't noticed. I think Kohlrabi would also be an awesome band name. Someone get on that. As for these two, I think we'll likely roast them.

Cucumbers will probably go on salads - we've certainly seen enough of them around our house this year. Same goes for green beans. I'm on green bean overload at the moment, but hopefully these will stay fine for a few more days so I can develop a desire to eat them again. 

Last but not least are these sun gold tomatoes, which I lovingly refer to as crack. I impulse bought them at my last Penn's Corner Farm Stand pickup, and am excited to get this pint. (Plus I ordered two more from the farm stand. Gotta feed the habit.) They are so sweet - they taste like candy. I eat them like candy, too. Makes me realize how much more fulfilling it is to satisfy a sweet tooth with nature's sugar instead of a candy bar. 

What's in your CSA this week? What are you cooking? Do tell!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

book review: the third plate by dan barber

I first encountered Dan Barber when I watched the TED Talks Chew on This collection through Netflix. He's the co-owner and executive chef of Blue Hill restaurant and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, but his talk was something of a precursor to this book.

Now, I've read a lot of food books. A ton of books on food systems highlighting the problems with our current one and people's visions for the future. So while I expected the book to be well written, since Dan Barber's TED Talk was, I didn't expect it to really say anything new.

Well, I was wrong.

I knew after reading the intro that this book was going to be different, and I was not disappointed. The Third Plate has the audacity to challenge the farm-to-table movement - one I personally hold dear - and question what it means to support farms and sustainable agriculture. By "third plate," Dan Barber is alluding to his vision of where cuisine is going for the future. (He came up with the idea as a response to a reporter who asked him where the future of cuisine was going.) The first plate is a traditional American meal of a large, corn-fed steak and baby carrots. The second plate is a farm-to-table plate of a grass-fed steak with heirloom, organic carrots. But the third plate is a carrot steak, with a side of beef seconds (the more obscure cuts).

What in the world is he talking about?

He realized that as a chef cooking in the farm-to-table philosophy of cuisine, he was still cherry picking what he wanted for ingredients - ones that were often expensive to produce and not the best for soil management and long-term sustainability. Our food culture dictates that farmers grow what will sell - not what is better for the land. And it extends to livestock - we throw away many usable and edible parts of animals that we raise for food, all in a quest for more boneless, skinless chicken breasts and beef tenderloins. 

Through four sections organized around soil, land, sea and seed, Barber profiles various farmers, fishermen, bakers, seed managers and more in an attempt to explain what is missing from our current food culture and how we can get on a path toward a more sustainable future.

Barber argues that what we need is a food system organized around the whole system of agriculture - and most perhaps most difficult for us to wrap our heads around - is that we can't always get what we want. He calls on chefs to start cooking with other types of foods that are the most important for soil management - certain grains and vegetables that return nutrients to the soil. In essence, chefs need to create the market demand for the items that the farmers need to maintain their land to sustain its health. The idea is that once the chefs start a trend, it can morph into our home kitchens. Which, if you think about it, makes sense - think about what chefs have done for pork belly and brussels sprouts.

This book has fascinating new ideas and a comfortable writing style - definitely for the person who feels like they've already heard it all when it comes to food systems and sustainability. You'll also get a healthy dose of information about international cuisines and agriculture (including the story of some of the world's only foie gras that is not from force-fed animals). It's optimistic, but logical and realistic, which was a tone I really found refreshing. Gives me hope that there are visionaries who are really getting to the heart of what needs to happen to ensure sustainable agriculture. 

And it really makes me want to try a carrot steak... 

the real threat of antibiotic resistance

It's been awhile since I wrote about the kinds of food issues that get me hot under the collar, for lack of a better phrase. My time for reading up on current issues is severely limited in the summer, for a lot of reasons, but primarily the amount of time spent dealing with vegetables and also running like it's a part time job in marathon training.

But at the end of July, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned two rulings in cases which had directed the FDA to stop the routine use of certain antibiotics in healthy animals unless drug manufacturers proved the safety of such use. (Source, Majority Opinion, Dissenting Opinion)  

This means that even though the FDA admits that the use of antibiotics in healthy animals to promote growth and weight gain contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans, they can't do anything to stop producers and commercial livestock companies from using subtherapeutic drugs for healthy animals. They issue voluntary guidelines, which are about as effective as me calling Cargill's customer service department and asking them to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals.

Here's the facts.  

  • 2 million people in the U.S. alone are infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria each year
  • 23,000 people in the U.S. DIE from these infections each year, in addition to the many who die from illnesses complicated by antibiotic resistant infections
  • Leading health organizations from across the nation and the world - leading organizations and not just wacky health food hippies - have spoken out against the use of antibiotics in livestock. To name a few - the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, American Academy of Pediatrics. 
    • The Director General of the WHO: “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill. A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. The problem arises when drugs used for food production are medically important for human health, as evidence shows that pathogens that have developed resistance to drugs in animals can be transmitted to humans.”

This isn't fringe science. There's no real debate in the scientific community that this is a major public health problem. We are running out of antibiotics that are effective in treating many serious infections, and it will change the face of modern medicine if we can no longer stop common infections.   

But our own government organizations - the ones that are tasked with protecting the health of Americans - won't stand up to industry and force them to reduce and eventually eliminate their reliance on subtherapeutic antibiotics. None of us want to revisit the world of our ancestors, where a scratch could easily kill you.

So what do you do? Beyond making public comments when they are open and supporting legislation that would push for stricter regulations?

Stop eating meat that comes from animals raised with antibiotics. 

I realize that I'm blessed to be able to buy meat from local farmers who do not use subtherapeutic antibiotics in their feed. But I can tell you right now that if tomorrow, my sources were no longer there, I'd give up meat altogether.

More and more suppliers are producing meat that's antibiotic free, and prices are coming down as demand begins to grow. If you do one thing to change your diet to support health as well as a better food supply - do this. Save antibiotics for when you have a real infection - and not just when you're having dinner.    


Monday, August 11, 2014

garden update: early August

Really the subtitle of this post should be "all the green tomatoes" because primarily, that's what we've got going on in our garden right now.

Yep. And there's more.

These ones look almost like pears or peppers.

This is just a tiny snapshot of the tomatoes we have going on right now. You can imagine the scope of the tomato issue when I show you that this is what the tomato beds look like right now.

Yeah... It's kind of a jungle. We don't win awards in this house for aesthetics, that's for sure. But in just a few weeks we will likely be up to our eyeballs canning tomatoes and making salsa. I'm not complaining because they taste pretty great. The few that have ripened so far were made into the first batch of fresh tomato sauce (which we freeze) and it filled the house with the best smell - like the best of summer.

Beyond the tomatoes, the beans have been producing like mad. This was not even all of what I picked the other night. I had about another two bags of that size.

So the netting we have to keep the chickens out is still askew from me ripping it apart to get in there and pick. I was racing a thunderstorm that night so I was moving as fast as possible. Again, not winning any awards for aesthetics.

None of our cucumber plants made it, but we have had so many cucumbers from our CSA and my grandparents' garden that I'm honestly kind of happy we don't have any more.

One really cool thing though, is this bed of sweet corn. 

It's so tall - and we're seeing some silk. Here come the ears!

It will be pretty awesome to have a few ears of corn from our own backyard. Crazy to think just a couple months ago these were just seeds. 

The chard is also still doing well. Big huge leaves and vibrantly colored stalks.

Last but not least we have peppers. Lots of those coming, of different types. Hopefully right around the time for salsa.

Late August is the peak time for us for gardening and canning, so I'm trying to stay ahead of the game with what veggies we're eating and preserving with a little white board on our fridge. 

How's your garden doing?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Real Life CSA: week 17

Lots of new stuff this week - more and more flavors of summer are showing up, and our kitchen is overflowing!

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. The variety we get with our Penn's Corner CSA has been fantastic. It hasn't allowed me to be sick of any one item, and it really gives us variety in our meals. I know people who eat the same things all the time - like literally the same lunch every day of their lives - and that is just not me. At all. Thankfully this CSA doesn't let you get in a rut with your cooking.

I've also started this week just making up some vegetable side dishes to have as snacks or extras to accompany my lunches at work. You don't have to make a fancy dish to get those veggies in. I bought a pint of golden cherry tomatoes from the Penn's Corner Farm Stand when I picked up my order of Crack (bread and butter jalapenos and honey puffed corn from Clarion River Organics). I ate half the tomatoes as a post-krav maga workout dinner and the other half pint as a snack the next day. Best impulse buy ever (so thanks, Penn's Corner lady who suggested them). 

So let's get to the goods.

When I saw the tomatillos, my first thought was salsa. But because we get such great tomatillo salsa through the winter from the Penn's Corner value added products, I thought I'd look up something else. So we will likely make a tomatillo simmer sauce from Marisa McClellan's Preserving By the Pint cookbook, which is for small-batch canning. Perfect for CSA amounts of vegetables. (Also, I met her at the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange's Rhubarb Social and she's lovely. Check out her other cookbooks if you're interested in canning, or her great website, Food in Jars.)

Lettuce will be the tried and true salad base for this week. Green peppers will likely go on salad, but since we have an abundance of peppers in our house right now from our own garden, my grandparents' garden and the CSA, I might have to figure out another option for those.

These peaches are a welcome treat, since peaches in western PA mostly didn't survive the winter. These peaches were obtained from a farm in West Virginia through the CSA, so I am grateful for them, fuzz and all. Speaking of which - do you eat the fuzz on peaches? I am a lover of the fuzz, but Mark hates it. 

We're going to try something new and make jalapeno poppers - complete with oozy cheese and probably bacon - with this bag of giant ones. We typically don't make junk food out of our vegetables, but there's a first time for everything right?

As for the baby beets, they will be finding a new home, because they are pretty much the only vegetables we just don't dig. Thankfully we know people who love them, so they don't go to waste.

The potatoes will be a side of some sort. I've been craving roasted potatoes with crisp skin for a bit, so I need to make that happen.

Last but not least, these leeks. Which are already gone. I made Mark Bittman's recipe for Chicken Not Pie from the Runners World cookbook last night for dinner. Great recipe to use up whatever vegetables you have around and the leeks really give it good flavor. I threw in some corn that we had and almost dumped green beans in too, but the pan was getting a little crowded. Pro tip if you make the recipe - add more seasoning than it calls for. A pinch of thyme isn't enough by far.

What's going on with your CSA? What are you making?