parsley seedling

Real Life CSA: spring, week 7

This week got away from me blog-wise, but the CSA is one constant. And as I write this, there’s ramp chimmichurri waiting to go on venison steaks and collard greens in a stock pot for dinner. Courtesy of the CSA. So let’s get to it!

RealLifeCSA Week7

The apple cider puts us over the limit for how much cider we can allow in the house at once, so we’re gifting this to a happy home. It should be stated for the record that this is great cider. We just don’t drink enough of it to keep up. So share it is! The apple butter might meet the same fate, since we already have one in the pantry. I’m going to consider it CSA outreach.

Lettuce is going in the salad rotation, like usual. Always happy for that!

Also going in the salad rotation are these delicious green onions. Frankly, it’s the CSA green onions that have made us start adding them to salads again. So flavorful and fresh compared to the neon green ones that we have to settle for when green onions aren’t in season.

green onions


Oats will make a good addition to the pantry. We manage to go through a decent amount of them in the house since I eat homemade granola every day for breakfast and Mark eats oats sometimes too. Maybe with these I’ll make some muffins or cookies.

collard greens

These collard greens were delicious. Already ate them, about 20 minutes ago for dinner. Mark boiled them down and then sauteed them with sliced garlic in bacon grease. Yeah, read that sentence again and go get yourself some collards.

Last but not least is this fun parsley seedling, which will make it out into a pot on the porch with the other herbs.

parsley seedling

I’ll be back next week with some garden updates, more CSA and adventures in homemade yogurt!

In the meantime, what’s in your CSA?


Real Life CSA: spring, week 6

Two things you need to do this week:

1. Sign up for a summer CSA. It’s not too late. This post will help. Or this one.
2. Go to Penn’s Corner’s blog and look at the pictures of the goats at River View Dairy. You will thank me. The little one that got out of his pen? He slays me with his cuteness. SLAYS ME.

Moving on. This week’s share!

real life csa week 6

I decided to bite the bullet and use the rhubarb in a strawberry rhubarb pie, my grandma’s recipe. My best friend knows me too well and pulled a “I want your grandma’s strawberry rhubarb pie for my birthday dessert” because she knew I wouldn’t say no to her and I’d need to make it. So there you have it. Hoodwinked into being brave.

We’ve been eating a lot of green onions on salad lately and these ones will probably accompany the lettuce in the same preparation. But in our house, salad days are like holy days of obligation. So that’s a good thing.

Our chickens have been laying like champs so we’re pretty well stocked on eggs. Might share some of our chickens’ eggs with people and save these for ourselves!

Kale I’m not so sure about this week. I don’t really have any good brainstorms for it, but I am wondering about attempting to cook it down and leech the bitterness out. I haven’t done that in a long time because the last time I did it, I didn’t cook it long enough and it was chewy yuck. But perhaps this is the year for re-attempting previous epic fails in the kitchen.

At the same time, there’s this recipe for potato, scallion and kale cakes that was on the CSA blog and is from Smitten Kitchen. Hmmmm.

Last but not least, the halloumi.


The CSA blog tells us that halloumi is a great grilling cheese because its high melting point means it won’t turn into slop under heat. We’re planning on grilling on Memorial Day, and I think that would be a great opportunity to try. Will definitely report back on the success of that!

So how about you. Any good Memorial Day food plans?


how a garden grows: planting the plants

So last we left the garden, the beds were ready but empty.

Not anymore.

Last year we started from seed, and had a spectacular fail where we lost everything because we brought them outside too soon. So in 2014 we ended up buying seedlings through Penn’s Corner, which they get from several area farms and Grow Pittsburgh. They did so well that we decided to do the same this year, and not go right back to trying to start from seed. Perhaps in a year where spring doesn’t include influenza and job changes, we’ll give that a whirl again.

Anyhow, here’s the breakdown of the plants we planted.


Herbs (containers):

Rosemary – $3.82
Chives (zombie chives from last year) – $0
Thyme – $4.17
Oregano – $4.17
Spearmint – $3.82
Cilantro – $3.82
Rosemary – $3.82
Dill (from seeds we had) – $0

Total Herbs: $23.62

rhubarb plant

strawberry hanging basket

Miscellaneous Plants

Rhubarb* – $13.90
Strawberry (hanging basket) – $13.90

Total Miscellaneous Plants: $27.80
* The rhubarb won’t produce until next year, but we just love it so much we wanted to give it a shot. Need to do some more research on taking care of rhubarb, since this is a new thing for us.

peppers and basil


Peppers, Basil & Broccoli (raised beds)

Basil (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Broccoli* (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Hot banana peppers (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Jalapeno pepper (one 4-pack) – $3.47
King of the North sweet pepper – $3.82

Total Peppers, Basil & Broccoli: $17.70
*Trying broccoli again even though we haven’t had success in the past. Because we just love broccoli. Also, the cages are in the pepper and basil bed because we have been too lazy to remove them after the evening we had to cover all the plants because of the threat of frost. Thanks, southwest PA weather.

tomato patch

Tomatoes* (Mounds/Patch)

Earliana (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
San Marzano (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Italian Sweet Beefsteak (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Roma (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Sun Gold Cherry – $3.82
White Cherry – $3.82
Cosmonaut Volkov – $3.82

Total tomatoes: $42.02

*All of the ridiculous logs in the main photo are there because they held down covers for the plants during the great frost threat. And again, too lazy to remove until we are definitely out of frost territory. I’ll choose to look at it as rustic instead of a hot mess. All of the plants are staked and caged.

Let’s just take a short time out for a little bit of a geek freak-out. Yeah, there’s a tomato in our patch this year called Cosmonaut Volkov. I can’t really explain the depth of my excitement about the name of this plant. Check him out. Grow little Cosmonaut, grow!


The final two beds are empty looking right now, so I didn’t include photos. But one has corn planted, and the other one will soon have green beans.

Corn and Green Beans

Corn – $0 (seeds we had at home)
Green Beans – Cost TBD (*haven’t purchased the seeds yet, will add the cost to a later post)

Total: $0*

flowers 2015


Pansy (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Antigua yellow marigolds (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Antigua orange marigolds (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Crackerjack marigold – $3.82
Dwarf sunflower – $3.82

Total flowers: $18.05

So that’s what the garden is shaping up to have this year. Everything looks to have survived the “frost,” with the exception of the pansies, though they might rebound.

Total cost of plants: $129.19

OK. So you are probably looking at that total and thinking, what the crap, Joanna. Lowe’s has plants for like 69 cents a piece. How can you have a small urban backyard that has a few raised beds and containers and spend $130 on plants?

A few reasons. We don’t just buy random plants at Lowe’s that will produce food for us to eat. Yes, plants at Lowe’s are better than no garden at all, but I like knowing that my plants are either organic or have been grown with natural methods, limiting the amount of pesticides that our plants have been exposed to. I don’t want vegetables that have been exposed to RoundUp or any number of other nasty sprays. We don’t use them in our gardens and we don’t want them in our plants.

Buying our seedlings locally gives us a higher measure of trust in the quality of the plant and where it’s coming from. It also means we’re supporting the same farms that grow food for us, our CSA organization and a local non-profit that gets more people gardening and gets more fresh food into the diets of Pittsburghers. And that’s something we get behind. Lowe’s doesn’t need our money.

Technically seeds are cheaper than seedlings, but we also spent money powering our grow lights last year and buying the starter soils and building the contraption that held them. So that differential seems like a wash. We also know that last year’s seedlings from these farms produced a redonk amount of vegetables, which is why I’m keeping track this year of expenses versus the value of the food we receive. I am confident we will get a return on our investment.

And in the meantime, I get to do what I’m doing right now – sitting on my back deck in front of my pots of herbs and flowers, relaxing in a funky green Adirondack chair, watching the sun set over Carnegie, watching the garden grow.

Total garden cost to date: $265.93

How a garden grows series
Raised bed and container prep



Real Life CSA: spring, week 5

One of my favorite CSA items of the whole year came this week – rhubarb!

real life csa spring week 5

I am happy for lettuce again this week, the unsung regular hero of the CSA. Long gone are the days of bagged salad mixes in our house. We probably have the CSA to thank for that.

The black beans will go in the pantry, though we’ll probably have to work through another bag this week since we’re getting a stockpile. Last time I made them to go with sofritas – perhaps I’ll do the same thing again. Can’t get enough sofritas.

These chives were so fragrant when I opened the bag. Because I’m a salty snack person, I had daydreams of sour cream and chives chips and then switched right into daydreams of a baked potato bar. Maybe that’s a meal idea this week…upgraded baked potato bar…


Dilly beans will go in the pantry for the nonce since we also have another jar of those. I need to just make it a habit to take them as snacks in lunches or eat them as a side with sandwiches because they are really good – they’re just one of those awkward things I forget about until I have two jars. Going to eat some this week!

The ironic part about getting rhubarb is that it overshadows two other things I am particularly excited about this week – bok choy and more ramps. The extra ramps will give me even more opportunity to practice some ramp recipes. I have heard that southern cornbread with ramps is delicious, so I might find a recipe for that and use my Weatherbury cornmeal (also from the CSA!).

As for the bok choy, it’s one of my favorite greens for stir fry and I have a good recipe for just stir fried bok choy on its own, so that might make an appearance this week for dinner. I bet you could kimchi bok choy too…

And last but not least, my great love.


We love rhubarb so much we’re even going to try growing it (more on that later). I love how being a CSA subscriber helps you start to understand the seasons for particular fruits and vegetables and gets you excited for when your favorites show up. I knew it would be coming in the spring share. I’m hoping to make another batch of the rhubarb simple syrup that Mark made last year and that I used to flavor kombucha. Plus there’s always the goal of making my grandma’s strawberry rhubarb pie, something I’ve wanted to do every year but have been nervous to do because I don’t think I can make a pie like she could. Probably should use this opportunity to give it the old college try, though, right?

What’s your favorite rhubarb recipe? Anything else exciting in your CSA?

how a garden grows: raised bed and container prep

We spent the better part of the day Saturday getting our raised beds and containers prepped for the growing season, which for us starts this week with the arrival of our seedlings.

So here’s what the gardens and yard looked like before we started. You can see we were cultivating quite the variety of weeds.

weed garden

And these containers? So sad that the watering can just gave up and dropped. The zombie chives were somehow undead, and flowered.

sad containers

So the first order of business was to weed the beds. Which took several hours. Because these weeds were fierce and big with strong roots. And you can’t just pull the tops off, you have to dig in deep and get the whole thing.

Which is probably why people do this a lot earlier in the season. Lesson learned. Remind me in 2016 that I need to get out and weed those beds early.

Side note – apocalypse films and novels never really do justice to just how much weeds will take over the planet when society collapses. I am now convinced.

After the beds were weeded and Mark had mowed the lawn, we were ready for the delivery of our soil and mulch. We’ve been going to Federouch Landscape Supply for the last few years and we have always been really happy with them. This year, our delivery guy was especially nice.


We get one cubic yard of black mulch and another cubic yard of a 50/50 mix of topsoil and mushroom compost. So here’s where we start to keep track of costs. And where you realize how much it costs to NOT have a truck.

2015 Garden Costs
1 cubic yard 50/50 mix: $34.34
1 cubic yard black mulch: $35.35
Delivery fee: $60

Soil and mulch total: $136.74

We could rent a truck from Home Depot or try to borrow a vehicle from someone, but with Federouch having the product we want (not a lot of places carry the compost we want), we just consider it part of the costs of the garden.

And then while I finished weeding, Mark hauled the loads of mulch and soil mix in our one wheelbarrow from our back alley where it was dumped (since we have no driveway) into the yard. We spread it in the beds – soil mix in the pots and raised beds and mulch in the flower beds lining the garage.

Once it was all spread, we put up the fencing around the raised beds to keep the chickens out. And we had this.

prepped beds 3


prepped beds 2

prepped beds 1

I also am happy to have the mulched areas cleaned up, notwithstanding the pollen that fell from the trees all over it to make it not look as perfectly black from the mulch.


Plus, I have learned not to worry about the edges of the mulching. As soon as I care about straight lines, the chickens go dust bathe in it and do this.

egg in mulch

We do have a lovely flowering bush behind the compost. No idea what this is. Can you tell what an expert green thumb I am?

pink flowering bush

We also have a wild strawberry plant behind the compost area, but the chickens get to any and all berries there are before we even know they grew. But it’s fun anyway.

wild straberries

And then there’s this gooseberry bush, which managed to hang on last year and is going like gangbusters. Gotta figure out if we need to stake this guy.

gooseberry bush

So that’s the backyard, prepped and ready for seedlings.


Real Life CSA: Spring, Week 4

I’ve got plants and food on the brain since we just ordered our seedlings and will be spending this weekend sweltering outside, getting the yard put together and preparing the garden beds for the seedings we will pick up next week. Lots of interesting ones this year, and I’m also going to keep track of the garden expenses, so that we can determine at the end of the season if growing our own saved us money in the long term or not. I am 100% ready for my backyard oasis again.

How is it even possible that we are in week 4 of this spring share? I know I’m a full year subscriber, so things run together, but yikes.

Here’s what the share looked like for week 4. (I was having photo edit problems, so you just get one this week.)

real life csa week 4 spring

I am pretty happy to see the applesauce, since we very quickly ate through our last jar. I think most store applesauce is tasteless and I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. But this stuff reminds me the most of my grandma’s applesauce, which was in a class of its own, so I will take it.

Potatoes go in the root cellar, though I have a feeling they will be eaten this week. Me and potatoes go together like me and potatoes.

We enjoyed eating the radishes on salad last week and we’ll probably do that again. I think these small ones have a milder flavor than the larger ones, so I’ve been enjoying them more than usual.

Kale might become chips, since I have no desire to make soup now that it’s like 85 degrees out. The maple syrup we will likely share with friends, because our family is fully supplied with maple syrup from my grandpa and we have literal mason jars full of it. So we’ll spread the love around there.


This feta cheese is one of my favorite cheeses that we get in the CSA. It has great texture and flavor and stays nice and moist since it’s packed in liquid.

And last, but not least, the ramps. I want to meet the foragers that get themselves out there in the spring to find all these bunches. I found this list of ramp recipes and will probably end up making one of these this weekend. The chimichurri ramps bread or the biscuits look heavenly, but I’m fascinated by the idea of making kimchi from the ramp greens. We’ll see.

ramps resized

Real Life CSA: Spring, Week 3

One of the items I’ve been waiting for in the spring share arrived this week – ramps! That and the fact that I’m wearing shorts right now means it’s for real and truly spring!

springcsa week 3

So I know that each week I casually gloss over the lettuce, but can I tell you how nice it is to have fresh lettuce every single week? We eat salads regularly, and I just love having this staple. I know it’s not guaranteed every week, but it’s always welcome. So time out for the lettuce, the unsung hero of the CSA.

With that said, the real stars of the show this week are the ramps. If I recall correctly, I had two shots last year at using ramps and only one of my attempts turned out edible. So this year I vow to make a good pasta with ramps.

ramps resized

See? This week’s Oprah voice vegetable!

The cornmeal is always welcome. Mark uses cornmeal on the bottom of homemade pizzas, to help it come off the pizza peel easier. (And actually, I really like the grit it puts at the bottom of the crust.) I really need to make cornbread one of these days with the Weatherbury cornmeal. Or maybe corn muffins. Who doesn’t love portable quick breads?

Goat cheese goes in the stash, since we still have some of the last one we got. Probably need to make a pasta with that soon, too. Pasta on the brain, all the time over here. Sorry not sorry.

radishes resized

I like radishes in moderation, and these little tiny babies are perfect for radish moderation. They are the perfect size for salad toppings.

Tomatillo salsa is another one of my favorite repeats. When you aren’t slathering it all over your Taco Tuesday tacos, you can use it as a simmer sauce for chicken or probably tofu, though that I haven’t tried.

Then there’s the apple cider, another love hate thing I’ve got going on. Love the taste, but don’t drink too much of it because I drink primarily water. So we kind of have a stockpile going on again. Perhaps I need to have a party and find a recipe for punch that includes apple cider. Or have people over and just put some booze in it? Hmmmmm.

So how about you? Enjoying the flavors of spring in your CSA? Got any good ramp pasta recipes for me to try to not butcher?

pea shoots

Real Life CSA: Spring, Week 2

Staples this week, which I appreciate just as much as the more obscure stuff. Some weeks, there’s a great comfort in knowing exactly what to do with the stuff when it shows up.

reallifecsa week 2

Honey will go in the pantry for granola. You can’t beat this honey – it’s my favorite, hands down. Bedillion Honey Farm, people. GET SUM.

Spinach will be a salad green addition, unless we decide to put it on pizza which we are wont to do. Because spinach and feta = pizza synergy.

These are a sure sign of spring! Been waiting for these little guys.

pea shoots

I really like pea shoots in salad and how they really do taste like peas but have the texture of greens. Love that.

Onions, in the basement for later. But likely they’ll be used up soon since we go through onions and garlic like crazy around here. That and potatoes because I’ve never seen a potato that I didn’t want to eat. (Ok, potatoes with mayo on them can leave me alone. So basically most potatoes are my favorite favorite, but not all.)


Carrots that are multi-colored are simply the best. I LOVE how they look. And how they taste, too. On salads, as per usual. This week they will add to all the colors!

We’re just about out of the Braeburn apples from last week, so the Idareds come at a good time. Moar fruit! We also have quite the stash of eggs going on since the ladies are doing their part. Thankfully these guys last forever because they are so fresh, so we don’t have to rush to eat them.

microgreens resized

Real Life CSA: Spring, Week 1

First week of the spring CSA share from Penn’s Corner! (We technically subscribe to the Farmers Friend share, which cycles through spring, summer and fall. But for purposes of cataloging, I’m listing these shares as spring.) I’m excited to get into the variety that comes with spring, lots of new greens in particular. Eagerly anticipating rhubarb and ramps, but in the meantime, here’s what we got this week!

Real Life CSA Week 1 Spring

First, let’s talk about the non-edible Edible Allegheny magazine. I’m a fan of this magazine and often look to it for news on restaurant openings and food events in the city. It’s a great resource guide for all things local food (and I was even featured in it once!). Subscribe or grab yourself a copy at the grocery store. It was fun to have this show up in our share!

I haven’t had kale in awhile, so when I pulled it out of the bag that Mark brought home, I actually squeed a bit and said “Kale! Zuppa Toscana this week!” So that’s what I’m making with that. Probably my favorite recipe with kale.

Mushrooms have already been claimed for Friday night pizza. When you have someone in your life who makes sourdough pizza crust as good as Mark’s, then you will understand why we have pizza every Friday we can.

microgreens resized

I love microgreens in spring. Anything tiny like that is kind of irresistible. I imagine these will be mixed with lettuce for salad next week (because we also have Salad Mondays in our house). I also can’t wait for some pea shoots, because those are sweet and delicious too.

Penn’s Corner tells me that the Buttercup cheese is perfect to put on a baked potato and I think that’s a good idea. Considering we also got potatoes. See how beautifully this CSA thing comes together? Maybe I’ll bake some and encrust them in one of my fancy Steel City Salts. You know, and then fill them with cheese?

braeburn apples resized

I was unreasonably happy to see this bag of Braeburn apples. I got spoiled on these local apples all winter, and then we didn’t have them for awhile. And I can’t swallow those huge, waxy, tasteless apples from the grocery store. I’d rather eat dried fruit or canned pineapple than eat a waxy apple. So I am thrilled to have these apples to take in my lunch every day.

Has anyone started their spring CSA yet? What are you getting? And what are you waiting for?

onions resized

Real Life CSA: winter share, week 9

Final winter share, though it feels like forever since I wrote about one or got one, since the winter shares are every other week and I missed the last one due to the plague. This week I nearly missed it too, but a friend was able to pick it up for me just in time. This is the last winter share, so the spring one will start up in a bit (which means there’s still time to sign up!).

Here’s what we got!

real life csa winter share 9

Lots of good staples this week, but that’s the hallmark of the winter share. Chopped tomatoes will go in the pantry, but won’t likely last long. We usually cook with canned or frozen tomatoes at least once a week, and we’re out of our home canned ones and so these are always welcome. I almost always use them to make pasta sauce.

The eggs will be added to our stash. As soon as we stocked up last time, we ended up getting more in the CSA and then our own chickens started laying again. So we have plenty.

onions resized

I love these little onions. Root cellar stash, but again, onions are items we go through constantly since they are basically the foundation of most cooking. I believe these cipollini ones are supposed to be great for roasting because they are naturally sweet. (But don’t quote me on that.) Perhaps part of some roasted vegetable medley?

Apple cider will go in my granola, for sure. I was also thinking some kind of crock pot pork would benefit from the apple cider. Maybe pulled pork for sandwiches? We’ll see.

tomatillo salsa resized

This is my favorite salsa that Penn’s Corner makes. We use it straight up on taco night (and it makes a great “dressing” for taco salad the next day), but it would probably also make a great simmer sauce. Can’t wait until we get fresh tomatillos again this summer!

Hydroponic lettuce – 2 heads this week – will be for salads, like usual. The black beans will go in the pantry, but I think it’s probably time for us to make something with our dry beans. Maybe homemade refried ones for said taco night?

This Meadowbelle cheese looks to be a hard one – I’ll need to taste it but perhaps either eaten in small pieces or grated over pasta. Every time I see a cheese that looks like this, I want to grate it over pasta. Can’t help it.


That’s it for winter. Are you ready for spring?