Next Gen House at Edible Allegheny’s Online Dish

Edible Allegheny is a local magazine that, as their tagline says, “celebrates local food, farms and cuisine – season by season.” I actually started reading the magazine several years ago, when a free copy was included in a delivery of produce I got through a program at my old job. That was around the time I was becoming a food person anyway, and the recipes and stories were inspiring and educational. I can honestly say that Edible Allegheny is responsible for Mark and I finding a ton of great restaurants and food events in the area. They are a great resource for all things local food – truly covering everything from the farm to the table.

I’m really excited to be one of the featured blogs in the Online Dish column this issue, along with two other great local sites: food blog Life and Kitchen and agricultural blog Write to Farm.

The fine avian ladies of Next Gen House even made the column header, hanging out in our compost area, as you can see from this screen shot. (And check out that pumpkin pie on the cover of the magazine to the left. If that doesn’t scream fall, I don’t know what does.)

Head over to this month’s column to read about this blog and its roots, as well as the other great local links – the website is a wealth of information and the Online Dish archives can lead you to some great local blogs as well!

I wasn’t paid or perked to promote Edible Allegheny – they are just a great magazine.

Next Gen House gets a makeover

Next Gen House is about more than eggs and chickens, though my previous design wouldn’t have made that clear. In need of a facelift, I hired my friend Jessica Wysocki Valesky, the artist behind Fox Bear Designs

I asked her to draw me a header that included our house, cat, chickens, and Star Trek. A tall and ridiculous order. Which is how the lovely header above came to be – Maggie watching over the flock outside of our house. Delta shields on canning jars. I’m dying of happiness.

Jess has an Etsy shop where she features her illustrations on various media, including prints, greeting cards, magnets and perhaps most creatively, brooches and earrings.

Particularly fitting for this blog are her illustrations of various herbs. 

I particularly love the borage (starflower) design.

Don’t they make you want to garnish a dish? Or muddle some mint for a mojito?

If you’re looking for a unique gift idea or just a print for your wall at home, check out Jess’s shop and her website.

Thanks for drawing our brood and our humble but adored abode, Jess!

I was not paid or perked to promote Fox Bear Designs. Jess is a talented small business owner here in Pittsburgh that I am proud to support! 

Real Life CSA: month 1, meat and poultry

I’ve discussed before why we subscribe to CSAs at Next Gen House, and there I mentioned that we decided to join a meat/poultry CSA this year through Clarion River Organics. We’ve always been big fans of their stands at local farmers markets and the Pittsburgh Public Market. After reading Peter Singer’s book The Way We Eat, I wanted to commit even more to sourcing meat carefully and with an eye to morality. While we haven’t purchased “regular” meat from a grocery store in almost two years, we still would purchase a lot of our meat through Whole Foods (what we didn’t get from our bulk purchases of meat from Weatherbury Farm).

While I definitely support purchasing meat at Whole Foods, with its Animal Welfare rating system and the fact that they don’t even carry meat or poultry without a minimum standard (no hormones, antibiotics, cages or gestation crates, etc.), I felt like we could do better. I wanted to get closer to the farm for all of the meat/poultry we purchase – for the welfare of the animals, the stewardship of the land, the quality, health and taste of the meat we consume, and the economic value to our community. Even if meat from Whole Foods takes into account the first three factors, I am a believer in sourcing food as locally as possible, to reduce the length of the food chain from farm to consumer and also to put my money behind sustaining these local resources.

Enter Clarion River Organics. We attended a local food conference this year on a whim, and while we were touring the vendor booths, I noticed a sign that said Meat CSAs. We learned that Clarion River offers different shares for pork, beef and chicken, as well as a combination of those if you would like multiples. We definitely wanted to get full shares for each. We get a share once a month from June through November, at one of many pick-up locations. You can find more details here.

We picked up our first share last week, and this is what we got.

Beef: steaks, ground beef, stew meat and short ribs (~ 8 lbs. total)

Pork: ground pork, handmade parsley parmesan sausage, ham steak, pork chops (~ 8 lbs. total)

Chicken: 3 whole chickens (two 4+lb. roasters, 1 2+lb. stewing chicken)

(Stewing chickens were formally laying hens – their muscle tissue is flavorful, but different from chickens raised for meat. We’re looking forward to using it for soup or stew, or braising it.)

This will last our family of two through the month until our next share, definitely. Everything is well marked and packed so as to last a long time in the freezer. I’m already planning some bolognese sauce for next week! (I’ll pass along my recipe when I make it!)

I also have to note what most impressed me about this share. When we received our update email telling us the first share was ready to be picked up, it also told us that some of the pigs were not fed entirely organic grain because they ran out at one point and had to be fed conventional grain (still non-GMO) in the winter for awhile. I appreciate so much this transparency on their part. It is the mark of a business that has nothing to hide and that engenders trust and respect between the provider and the consumer. 

I’m proud to be a customer of theirs, not only because of the quality of their products but because of the way they run their business. We are very blessed in our area to have trusted options to choose from for sourcing ethically raised, nutritious meats.

Thanks, Clarion River (@ClarRvrOrganics)! Can’t wait for next month!

from grain to booze: touring Wigle Whiskey

To celebrate her 30th birthday, my best friend chose to visit Wigle Whiskey, the first whiskey distillery in Pittsburgh since Prohibition. I’ll admit, I thought it would be fun to go, but I am not really a liquor drinker. I’m usually much more happy with a beer or a glass of wine in my hand. But apparently I was drinking the wrong whiskey – because Wigle blew me away.

As soon as you check in for the tour, you get a cocktail. Mine had pomegranate and ginger beer in it – delicious and probably the best cocktail I’ve had in years, at the very least. 

The space is cleverly designed and matches the fantastic graphic design. Check out this awesome light fixture – whiskey bottles!

The tour was entertaining and engaging. The owner started at the very beginning, with the grains that eventually become the whiskey and gin. As he explained the process, he’d also tell the story of the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s in western Pennsylvania. The distillery is named after Philip Wigle, a hero of the rebellion who was convicted of treason for his part in the rebellion, but was later pardoned by President Washington.

Mark and I were excited about how all of the grains used are organic and from local suppliers, including the farm where we purchase our beef. During the tour we followed the grain through a grinder and a masher, and learned that technically you make beer before you make whiskey, since the grains are fermented.

The still itself was impressive. In addition to the whiskey, the owner explained how their ginever (the predecessor to modern gins) is made (from a mash of barley and rye) and a mix of botanicals. Wigle sells white whiskey which is unaged, as well as whiskey aged in barrels, and ginever. 

After the tour, we got a tasting of each type. 

Each person also got a sheet with tasting notes and suggestions about how to  taste spirits in general. Many of the principles were the same as wine tastings. We also had water and ice at our tables to add oxygen to the spirit and open up other flavors.

I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the tastings. I will still never be a whiskey on the rocks type of girl, but it was great to really taste the difference between an aged and an unaged whiskey. I also found that Wigle’s whiskey left a pleasant aftertaste. 

We also tasted their ginever, which was a far cry from the pine tree car air freshener tasting traditional gin I’ve had. You could really taste the botanicals (though none of us were really good at guessing which ones were in the blend!).

We came home with a bottle, and I’m excited to say I will be enjoying cocktails this summer. Pittsburghers definitely need to get out there for a tour and tasting. A great way to support a local business and have a refreshing drink this summer!

Farm to Table Pittsburgh

Mark and I spent Friday at the Farm to Table Pittsburgh conference. Though we found that we were familiar with most, if not all, of the ideas and vendors presented there, we were very happy to support the conference with our tickets in hopes that each year it will continue to grow and get larger. 

We went to two different presentations in the morning. First, we saw Nigel Tudor from Weatherbury Farm (where we get our beef) talk about the benefits of grass-fed beef. Though we already eat only grass-fed beef and know and appreciate its benefits, I learned a few new things.

The mother cows will give birth to calves in mid-May, and that is the time of year when their nutrition requirements are at their peak. Perhaps not coincidentally, mid-May is also the peak time of the pasture growth. Whatever pasture the cows cannot keep up with is mechanically grazed at the farm and stored for winter. The cows on the farm are rotationally grazed so as not to over-graze certain parts and to allow the pasture itself to thrive, including all of the cows’ favorite types of grass.

The average American eats around 66.5 pounds of beef per year. If someone switched to grass-fed beef only, and made no other dietary changes, within that year he/she would see a savings of 17,733 calories, or about 6 pounds a year.

Did you know that cows can self-medicate? They know which types of grass to eat when they have specific ailments, like an upset stomach(s). That’s why having a variety of grasses in the pasture is important and monocultures don’t work. Pastures with a high level of organic matter are also less prone to flooding, since organic matter holds 8 times its weight in water.

The second presentation was on fermented foods by Scott Grzybek of Zukay Live Foods. I’ve been interested in fermentation since I first had kombucha, and I attended a class at Mother Earth News Fair last year on making your own. The presentation we saw Friday focused mostly on the basics of fermenting and the benefits of good bacteria. The more raw foods I consume, the better my digestive health, so I didn’t need any convincing. 

Probably the best thing we learned was that you can’t use city water to start your ferments because of its chlorine content, which kills off bacteria. Mark realized it was probably why his sourdough starter wasn’t really going anywhere, so we’re excited to try it again with spring water. 

I realized that I’ve been holding back on trying a few new things, like making my own sauerkraut and brewing kombucha at home, because I was afraid to mess up. If anything, this Farm to Table conference gave me the confidence to just go for it and try it. What have I got to lose?

In my link roundup on Friday, I will post links to some of the great businesses we found at the conference and also share a recipe we picked up.