When Your CSA Feels Overwhelming

Have you seen this post? It’s called I Can’t Handle My Farm Share. A hilarious blogger I follow, shared it on social media with the quote, “I don’t know what I’m feeding my kids tomorrow, but I know Bok Choy isn’t the answer.”

Here’s the gist: frazzled, stressed, hilarious mom blogger comes clean about how she hates her CSA.

There’s too much food!

Her husband doesn’t like vegetables!

She hates Bok Choy!

And, where are the berries, damn it?!

It’s actually pretty funny.

As you may know, I love my CSA.

I. Love. It.

I look forward to it. I plan around it. I am certain that it’s the best way to enjoy farm fresh local food. It’s a tiny way that I can use my food dollars to invest in my local economy and feed my family wholesome food. It connects me with the family farm I purchase my share from. It connects me with my neighbors whose porch I visit weekly, to retrieve my box of goodies. And best of all, it practically implores me to prepare delicious healthy veggies at every meal.

It’s frigging win/win.

But, ya. I get it.

Getting your produce this way can be kind of overwhelming. It does take some getting used to. The produce in the CSA I subscribe to, isn’t washed. I have take it out of the bags it comes in and clean it myself. That can be challenging on weeknights when all of the things are going on.

And let me just tell you, the first time I took a head of lettuce out of my fridge and a bug crawled out, I thought I would die.

Literally, die.

But listen, I didn’t die. It just didn’t happen and now I wash my greens before I put them away.

And I get that it can be overwhelming to handle giant boxes of veggies week after week. But, contrary to what this post would have you believe, the kale and Bok Choy heavy boxes don’t last forever.

That’s only the first few weeks, I swear.

As the growing season progresses, the boxes get more interesting, with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and even later with apples, pumpkins and squash.

And listen, it’s worth it. I’m not going to sit here and claim my kid begs for veggies. But since I’ve started cooking with my CSA, making a point to put vegetables in front of him at every meal, my kid eats salad, tomatoes, peppers, even radishes on the regular. I can even sometimes get him to eat kale, if I fix it with bacon and top it with Parmesan cheese and nag him about it a little.

That in itself is a damn victory.

That my kid eats kale.

So, you can do this CSA thing.

You really can.

Here’s a few tips for managing your share and feeling good about it.

1. If you can, prep everything. If you’re able to, wash and prep everything, before you put it away. Now, this method only works for me, if I’m off on the first couple of days after CSA pick up. But it works, well. It gives me time to think about what my meals for the week are gonna look like. This was what my share looked like last week.

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Here’s how I prepped it: I blanched and froze the leafy beet greens and kale. I cleaned and chopped the beets and green onions for salad. I washed and dried the lettuce and put it into ziplock bags. I just tossed the rhurbarb and mint into the fridge for use later in the week. And I used the zucchini and apple cider right away. Prep took about an hour total.

And by the time I was done I already figured out we’d have braised kale and beet greens with our fried chicken on the 4th.

2. Roast and top veggies with Parmesan cheese. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare veggies for maximum flavor. This is how I get Damien to try new foods. It’s easy and really, you can almost roast anything. Too much kale? Roast it and make you some kale chips. Top them with shaved hard cheese and enjoy. It works with squash, zucchini, broccoli, eggplant, cauliflower, even tomatoes and peppers. I’m hard pressed to think of a veggie that isn’t made even more delicious by roasting. And it’s a mostly hands off process, so you can help your littles with their homework while dinner is rendering in the oven. If you prepped your produce earlier in the week, then it takes mere minutes to get into the oven.

3. Sauté greens in chicken stock and balsamic vinegar OR veggie stock and rice wine vinegar. These two easy combos always save me on hectic weeknights. This method works great on any number of veggies. When I clean my kale or collards I always save and freeze the veiny stem part, to use later for vegetable stock. So, I often have it on hand. My favorite way to prepare Bok Choy or Chinese cabbage is to sauté it in olive oil, with some garlic or green onion then simmer it in veggie stock. I add a splash of rice wine vinegar, near the end of the cooking process, to brighten up the flavor. It’s always delicious quick and easy. I love the combo of eggs and cabbage for a delicious and quick vegetarian meal.

4. Even if you don’t think they’ll eat it, put veggies front of your kid. Eventually you will wear them down and they’ll try it. And of course, just because they try it, doesn’t mean they’ll love it. But, my kid knows that there’s always veggies at dinner and that he’s required to at least try the new foods in front of him. This is how I got him eating salad and tomatoes and greens, when for the longest time he would refuse. And I’m pretty sure if your kid sees you eating Bok Choy and enjoying it, he’ll eventually try it, too. And when your kid eats veggies, you feel like you’re winning at parenting. Amiright?

5. Remember it’s not all or nothing. Yes, the point is not to waste food. But you’re not in a competition with yourself to finish everything in your share and love it, every single week. Don’t like beets? You don’t have to eat them.

I’m not sure how you could dislike beets, but whatever.

You’re not winning any virtue contests by sucking it up and eating foods you don’t like. You don’t null all the benefits of subscribing to a CSA because you let some parsley or collards go bad or because you passed on the escarole for the 3rd week in row. And if your share is really too big, try splitting it with another family. Or donating some of it to the food bank. Or freeze it. But whatever you do, don’t get stressed out because you had to throw something away or because something went bad. You’re not a bad person. And doing a CSA is like anything else in life; it’s about balance. We just sort of try to balance the things we’d like to do with the things we’re able to do. And that’s it.

I really think that subscribing to a CSA is one of the best things you can do because it really gets you thinking and caring about your relationship with your food.

Happy Eating. 🍴

Accepted

I got into nursing school, you guys!

I start in September.

It’s the best news!

I’ve been working so hard on these damn prerequisites and stupid applications and entrance exams. And I’ve been crossing my fingers and holding my breath and checking the mail.

Every. Day.

Like a crazy person.

And it means that much more, now, because I wasn’t accepted into the first program I applied to.

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Oh ya, my eggplants have flowers, now too. ❤️

The best news.

My Container Garden: An Update

I’ve been dying to fill you in on my garden progress, simply because it’s going so well that I feel the overwhelming need to brag. But, things are going so well, and progressing so quickly that by the time I sit down to compose a post my photos are already a little out dated.

That’s how fast things are growing

It’s been great. The weather has done wonders for my disposition and my vegetables.

Its sunny and humid and it feels like Summer in Pittsburgh.

I love taking garden photos. Especially, since taking that photography class, I’ve gotten more confident using my DSLR. And I think my photos may be getting better, to boot. I get a swell of pride comparing these progress pics, side by side.

Gardening has made me a little full of myself.

Collards and Kale in Containers

So, ya this happened.

I bought these collards and this kale from Penn’s Corner and they have been doing A-mazing in their containers. In the beginning I kept noticing that they would be a little wilty and lifeless looking, in the afternoon blaze, even after I’d just watered them. Turns out they don’t love 12 hours in the blaring sun. So, I moved them out of the full sun of my back yard and onto my less sunny, but still pretty sunny, front porch.

I just harvested most of the collards and about half of the kale and braised them with a smoked turkey neck.

Delicious.

On our neighborhood website someone was giving away strawberry plants and we snatched those babies right up. I had no idea how to grow berries in containers, but we figured it out after a little web digging.

Ok, we totally just copied this girl.

Jess drilled some small holes on the bottom of this 5 gallon bucket and some larger 1 inch holes on the sides. We sort of stacked the soil and plants as we went.

straw2 strawberries in containers

Um, tell me again who needs a 35 dollar strawberry pot?

not this girl.

If you’ve ever had homegrown strawberries, then you know they are 100 million times sweeter and tastier than their store bought counterparts. I’ve seen them selling at the Farmer’s market but for 6 dollars a pint! I’ve splurged a few times but it’s usually an extra special treat. At that price they’re a friggin luxury.

Aren’t mine lovely?

homegrown strawberries

Hey, do you remember those carrots I planted?

Don’t be coy, of course you do.

Well, I thinned them, finally!

Who knew carrots took so long?

Well, there are three large, deep pots with around 10 Dragon carrots or so in each. I’m pretty excited about these.

carrot seedlings in containers

The fern like feather tops of the carrots remind me of dill or cilantro and their bright green hue is so perfect.

I am quite proud of these simply because the amount of sheer patience required not to start messing with them before they were ready. I’ve never grown carrots and I understand they can be temperamental, so I’m really trying not to bother them too much. But it is looking like they are on their way to great things.

My eggplant and peppers and tomatoes are all lined up in a pretty perfect little row.

eggplant

I am so excited for the eggplant because I’ve never successfully grown them before. All the eggplant seeds I started died from neglect. So I ended up purchasing these beauties from Penn’s Corner. They have real soft rich green colored leaves with a gorgeous purple tint. I’m feeling pretty smitten and now I’m wondering if I ought to have gotten more.

My cucumbers are growing like crazy. Cucumbers are amazing and I would totally recommend them as a great crop for a first time gardener. It’s almost like you can’t screw them up. All you have to do is put a seed in some dirt and it will grow. I have at least 8 plants, I think, maybe more. I’m gonna try to remember next year how well they grow and not to over seed.

I ended up thinning them and then giving these away and I still have a bunch.

These leaves get crazy big. And the grow all over the place.

Cucumber Seedlings

I’ve got my cucumbers two to a 5 gallon bucket. They have a pretty extensive root system and they are wild and viney. So, I’ll probably end up using a trellis to keep them supported. I’ll share more on that a little later.

And finally last but, not least. The belle of the ball, my heirloom tomatoes:

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I started all these babies from seed. So, they’re extra special.

I’m growing a lot of the same varieties I grew last year, Italian Heirloom, Gold Medal and Moonglow as well as Cherry Romas. I’m going to baby these suckers because they’re the only ones to survive from the million I started in April.

They’re ready to be potted up any day now.

This year is going to be great in the garden.

I just know it.

Vanilla Rhubarb Jam

I’ve only ever canned jam twice in my life.

Well, this is the third time.

It always seemed like too daunting a kitchen task to bother with. There’s tons of fresh homemade local jam around here. Amish jam, Jam from the farmer’s market, my husband even went to Florida and came home with some EPIC homemade Florida jam.

So ya.

I’m haven’t exactly been tripping over myself to try canning.

But, then I did it!

And, oh man!

It’s so satisfying!

It’s pretty much the ultimate domestic project. You feel like Martha friggin Stuart when you’re done.

There’s no way Martha uses Smuckers.

And after you’re all done and you pull the jars out of the water bath and the tops go pop, it’s pretty much the best feeling.

Ever.

Totally worth all the work. The effort. The sticky fingers.

Totally worth it.

The satisfaction is as sweet as the jam, itself.

Anyway, if you’re on the fence about canning. I suggest trying it. Start with jam.

It’s so easy.

It couldn’t be simpler. And the results are amazing.

Check this out.

Yesterday I made this rhubarb vanilla jam. Rhubarb, vanilla. And the secret ingredient is tea!

It wasn’t without its hiccups, though. But I guess I’m a learn-as-you-go kind of gal.

And I did learn an important lesson about canning, while making this recipe. Repeat after me: Don’t make substitutions to canning recipes.

I was out of lemon, so I substituted vinegar for lemon juice. I only bothered to look it up after I did it. And it turns out vinegar isn’t a perfect sub for lemon juice, in canning, because it has way less acid. And less acid means potentially less safe and therefore maybe not shelf stable.

And maybe not shelf stable means not shelf stable.

Anyway, lesson learned.

All that delicious jam went straight into my fridge.

I’m sure we’ll find a way to eat it all!

(Jam’ll keep in the fridge for 2-3 months.)

But. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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It just tastes so good. Sweet and slightly tart, with a smooth round vanilla finish.

Give it a try! Let me know how you enjoy it.

Recipe Adapted from Food in Jars

Makes 7 delicious 8 ounce jars.

Ingredients

10 cups of chopped rhubarb (2 pounds of stalks)
5 cups sugar
1 cup black tea
2 tsp of vanilla extract
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
1 packet of Sure Jell and 3 TBSP of Ball powdered pectin

Instructions

Sterilize your jars in a large pot of boiling water.

In a 5-quart, non-reactive pot, bring the rhubarb, sugar and tea to a boil.
Add the vanilla extract, lemon and salt to the pot and let it bubble gently for about 30 minutes, stirring often.

After 30 minutes have elapsed, and the firm stalks of the rhubarb have broken down, add the pectin, stir to combine and let cook for a 10 more minutes.

I mashed the rhubarb stalks with a potato masher to break them down, further. Follow this step for a less chunky more jelly-like jam.

At this point, dip a spoon in the jam and see how it coats the back of the spoon. If you get a nice, smooth sheet your jam is done.

Pour into your waiting hot jars.

And process in a hot water bath for ten minutes.

Remove from water and let cool.

Try not to eat an entire jar in one sitting!

Or do it. Whatever.
Enjoy!

Ramps Are All the Rage

I love me some ramps.

Love.

Seriously.

Love.

Three years ago I had no idea that they existed or what they were.

And now, I nearly wet myself with anticipation leading up to their annual arrival.

I know.

What is that?

I had checked Penn’s Corner online Farm Stand no less than 15 times in last two weeks waiting for them to turn up.

I have no idea what it is.

What inspires this frenzy, exactly?

I mean, they are delicious.

Like, really flipping good.

They’re this almost sweet, mild garlicky flavored, wild onion.

But, it’s more than that.

Part of the magic of ramps is that, they start becoming available right as spring kicks off. They’re one of the first fresh local veggies to show up in the farmers markets. And after a long harrowing Pittsburgh winter, they are a thing of beauty.

They’re like a delicious beacon of hope of veggies to come. They’re a Spring gift for our poor winter-weary palates.

And we have been waiting so damn long!

Or maybe it’s the principle of scarcity.

We humans tend to assign a higher value to those things that are harder to find.

Ramps are tasty, don’t get me wrong.

But they’re oh so elusive, too.

They’re in season for about 3 days.

OK, 6 weeks.

and then POOF! They’re gone.

Just like that they disappear.

You have to be quick!

You have to cram as many ramp recipes as possible, in the short time they’re here.

In order to fully enjoy them, you pretty much need to binge.

Built in permission to be a raging glutton.

And, I do gluttony well.

Whatever their lure – or because of it- ramps appear to have a bit of sustainability problem. Apparently all this ramp fever may be taxing the wild population.

Such a shame.

And, yet I can’t bring myself to stop shoving as many in my pie hole as humanly possible.

Maybe I ought to try growing my own

Anyway, in the honor of the coveted, trendy, difficult to find, complicated and delicious as all hell ramp, here are some recipes interested in extending their too short season well into summer.

(I had such great success pickling them, that I will be further contributing to their sustainability dilemma, next week when I purchase 2 more pounds.)

Happy eating!

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Tom Colicchio’s Pickled Ramps

Ramp Compound Butter

Ramp Pesto

ART 144 Digital Photography

So, this semester I took a digital photography class. I’ve been wanting take a photo class for fun, for a while.

It was an interesting experience. I did it completely online. So, there wasn’t a lot of instruction or feedback from the teacher. Since I was in it for the LOLs, I wasn’t too disappointed about the lack of direction.

But since it’s my third year at community college, I guess I’m kind of used to slack ass instructors and I wasn’t surprised.

The best thing about taking this course is that it really got me comfortable with going out on foot, with my camera. I really had to actively look at my surroundings and engage with my environment. I loved it.

Going out and exploring made me feel closer to my city. ❤️

So, here are the photos I submitted for each assignment. I’m not the best photographer in the world but, I feel I improved as I went along.

In the beginning I didn’t have a great monitor so editing was a challenge. But toward the end I got to playing with layers in Photoshop.

Anyway, check out my work.

Composition (rule of thirds):

Composition

Taken at Heth’s Field in Morningside.

Theme (Pittsburgh):

Theme

Taken by RedFin Blues along the Allegheny River.

Pattern:

Pattern

Taken at Immaculate Conception Church in Bloomfield.

Macro: (I got a 100% on this photo!)

Macro Photo

Taken at Phipps Conservatory during the Spring Flower Show.

Special Technique:

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Taken at Niagara Falls Summer 2013

Pano:

vanswolpano

Taken at the Highland Park Reservoir

You’ll have to click and expand this panoramic photo for the full effect. I used the Photomerge feature in PS Elements 12. It is such a cool feature that let’s you merge a bunch of shots together. I think this was originally 6 different photos shot in portrait orientation.

Anyway, this has been such a fun and rewarding experience I can’t wait to take another class.

Phipps Conservatory Spring Flower Show

Phipps is like a dream in Spring. The whole place smells like sweet Hyacinths and Carnations and Lilies and the lighting is just hazy and bright and perfect.

Damien and I popped in briefly a few weeks ago so I could get some shots for an assignment in my digital photography class.

I submitted the third photo down, for a macro assignment.

And I got 100%!

Out of 100%!

Pretty awesome, huh?

If you’ve got the chance, you should stop by and check it out. I’ve been during the winter months, and it’s pretty lovely. But the spring flowers, just blew me away.

And did I mention it smells amazing?

It’s so lovely, there.

Even Damien loved it.

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(How completely juvenile would it be to point out how much like reproductive organs some of these flowers look?)

Never mind. Forget I said that.

Three Years of Pittsburgh + Blogging

So it’s been three years since I started this blog. Three years since we packed up and moved here to Pittsburgh. This blog was originally intended to be a place to share pictures with my family back home in Florida. It started out as a kind of chronicle of our relocation to Pittsburgh. And it’s turned into something else.

It’s still my love letter to Pittsburgh.

But, it’s also become a very public journal to share personal stories and traumas and anxieties, a place to share my increasingly addicting and expensive as all hell gardening hobby, a parenting diary, a scrap book, a soapbox and recipe log, too.

I love how it’s morphed and changed into whatever it is, now.

I love this space.

I recognize that I’m just navel gazing, here. And maybe, just maybe I take myself too seriously, sometimes.

I will go back and forth feeling like blogging is kind of dumb and sort of trite, or whatever.

And it kind of is.

I’ll feel like who really who cares about how I feel about this thing or that thing anydamnway?

But you know what I always come back to?

The fact that I’m awesome and I know you really do care what I think?

Sharing is awesome.

It really is.

It’s fucking awesome.

And it’s worth it. It’s worth putting myself out there and looking kind of dumb sometimes.

But it’s pretty terrifying.

My most cathartic and most read posts usually leave me with a vulnerability hangover. I will write exactly how I feel and I often end up regretting it in someway.

Like, I will wonder did I say too much?

Whose feelings will I hurt?

Do I want to say all that?

Because you can’t take it back, once it’s out there.

But its usually always worth it.

And really, just living life and having feelings about stuff can leave you susceptible to judgey douche bags. Just telling the story of your own life, according to you, can end up hurting people’s feelings.

It doesn’t mean I should keep my mouth shut, though.

The major thing I’ve learned doing this blog is that sharing is so awesome because somewhere out there someone understands. And they’ll be so grateful you shared and then they’ll tell you so.

And that is fucking awesome.

This three years of blogging coincides with 3 years since we showed up here vulnerable and ready, with our heavy suitcase in hand, to offer our lives up to Pittsburgh.

I’m so glad we did.

And relocating here is just the manifestation of me and Jesse having this weird awkward dream of something different and better and then going for it, even if no one really got it, at the time.

We just kind of went for it.

We got really lucky.

It seemed nuts.

We had no idea what we were doing.

We hurt people’s feeling because we were leaving them for this unknown thing.

We could have failed so spectacularly hard.

In spite of that, we couldn’t resist loudly proclaiming our intentions and expectations of being successful and making our life, here.

And now here we are. Three years later.

(We are so lucky.)

Carrots, Tomatoes and Happiness – A Garden Update

Remember when I said I’d be obsessively posting about the garden?

Well here I am! Obsessively posting, here.

So, today the sun was shining, it felt like spring and I walked out on my patio to discover my carrots had finally sprouted!

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It was like a hug for the soul to walk out, barefoot, into the warm sunshine and see the tiny rows of green leaves sprouting out through the lush black soil.

It seemed like they took forever!

And I was starting to think I’d done something wrong. I’ve read that carrots can be kind of temperamental. So I just figured maybe I’d try out this technique where you sprout the seeds before you plant them.

Anyway, I’m just so happy with how things are growing.

Gardening just makes me so happy.

My tomato seedlings are chugging along pretty great, too.

I got my seeds from Seed Savers, again. I’m a customer of their’s for life, now. I love their tradition of saving and passing on endangered heirlooms. And keeping gardening accessible for beginners like me.

I’m growing all the same heirloom tomato varieties as last year, Gold Medal, Moon Glow, Italian Heirloom, Dester, Lemon Drop and Red Velvet. As well as a new variety called Cherry Roma.

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I’ve transplanted tons of tomato seedlings into biodegradable pots because they’ve been growing so well that lots of them have outgrown the seed starting kit. They’ve taken over my kitchen.

Starting to feel like déjà vu.

Sadly, the cucumbers and lettuce I started haven’t done as well as my tomatoes.

The cukes just grow so quickly!

I didn’t have enough room or light to keep them satisfied. They got all leggy and weird. It isn’t quite warm enough for them to go outside, yet. And they grew so tall and then just turned white and died. And my lettuce sprouted, but it never really went anywhere. It got kind of stunted and didn’t really progress.

I’m also growing some Prickly Caterpillar and some Rosa Bianca eggplant, as well.

Here’s what my little setup looks like.

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Pretty sweet, huh?

My husband made me that rolling kitchen island turned indoor gardening table for my birthday.

I’m so lucky.

It’s looking like I’m gonna need a couple more plant lights if things keep going so good. And I can’t freaking wait to start hardening off my seedlings and get them transplanted into 5 gallon buckets.

Gardening gives me so much joy because there is always so much satisfaction watching things grow and so much delicious anticipation waiting for the next flower or fruit to pop up.

I love it all!

Happy Growing.

A Moment for Franklin Regional High School

This morning, the day after the tragic stabbings of some 20 plus kids at Franklin Regional High School here in the Pittsburgh area, I can not stop thinking the same thing over and over.

These types of awful incidents really rattle my core, because practically everyday I hand my kid over to a teacher at a school and I just suspend myself in this state of belief that he’s perfectly safe. And no one can hurt him and he’s protected.

And then I just go about my day.

In the hours after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I, like tons of other people, sat glued to my iPad scouring Facebook and news sites for updates. I was stunned and heartbroken for the families and for those poor children and for innocence and childhood, in general. I was surprised and a little appalled at how quickly we turned this tragedy political and how just like that, the conversation turned to gun control.

Not just the media, but my friends and family, too.

I felt equally as sick when Wayne LaPeirre, Executive Vice President of the NRA released his statement, a week later.

I guess I know that everything ultimately turns to politics and that schools aren’t really any safer than anywhere else. Even though we all want to believe so hard. We pretend. But our schools are really just a product of our society and so, I guess politics do matter. And I really can’t get over how schools are just tiny little ecosystems that mirror our own larger, completely fucked up world, where people use violence to work out their problems and safety has just as much to do with luck, as anything else.

I’m sitting here, now. After just walking my kid to school, looking to all of you, out there to help me make some sense out of how close to home this feels, to me. And the only thing I can think, over and over is I’m so glad that kid didn’t have a gun.

I am so glad that kid didn’t have a gun.

My heart goes out to the families directly effected by this mess. I can only begin to imagine how helpless and devastated they must feel. I will carry them in my thoughts, today.