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?