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movie review: food chains

food chains resizedBefore I got really sick recently, I sat down to watch Food Chains – a documentary about labor abuses in the produce industry. I had seen a lot about this documentary online and in social media, and when it was added to Netflix, I knew I wanted to watch it.

The documentary spends a lot of time profiling the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a workers advocacy group in Immokalee, Florida – home to some of the nation’s largest tomato fields. I had learned about the CIW back when I read Barry Estabrook’s fantastic book TomatolandI’d also read about labor abuses in the produce industry from  The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebees, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan. Both of those books aren’t exclusively focused on labor abuses, but they play a huge part in understanding what goes on behind the scenes in the plant and produce side of Big Agriculture.

I think most people would balk at the idea that we have slaves in this country in 2015.  Often if we hear the term “modern slavery” we think of sex trafficking. But 150 years after slavery was legally abolished, we have slavery and indentured servitude in our fields – you know, those same fields that we sing about in “America the Beautiful.” And even those workers who aren’t slaves are working for what we’d call “slave wages,” unbelievably far below the poverty line. You don’t even have bootstraps to pull yourself up by when you work 13 hours a day in sweltering heat, being sprayed with pesticides and if you’re a woman, likely being sexually harassed, and come home with $40 for that work. Where’s the American dream in those fields?

The film goes into a lot more detail about the issues with worker rights, including why so many migrant workers have come to work in American agricultural fields from Mexico (big surprise here – we caused it). An interesting section details the disparity in the Napa Valley between the people who work in the vineyards and the people who buy the wine. That’s an area of the country I never think about when it comes to Big Agriculture, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The nation’s wealthiest have long been supported by the work of the nation’s poorest. I could go on, but you should really just watch this film.

I think Food Chains comes at a good time in this nation’s food consciousness. We’ve seen awareness of animal cruelty and the public health issues involved in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) come to the forefront in ways never seen before. More and more people are concerned about where their meat and dairy comes from and how animals are treated. Consider the rise in people eating vegan diets in an effort to not be a consumer of any animal products. I think this has led to many people considering how what they eat can have ethical implications – something that wasn’t even on the radar outside of a handful of activists a few decades ago.

All human diets contain fruits and vegetables because they are the building blocks of our health. So even a vegan diet is not without ethical implications, because being plant-based means that like all diets, it is very likely supported by workers who are enslaved, given poverty wages, harassed, sprayed with pesticides, the list goes on. I absolutely respect the desire to not harm animals or participate in cruelty toward them, but it’s also really important to consider the human cost as well. This is not a sweeping generalization of vegans, by any means. It’s just that anyone who consumes plants (basically everybody) needs to be aware that there are ethical implications present when you eat Florida tomatoes or California berries that go beyond pesticides and GMOs.

But that’s the really difficult part. Every decision that we make in our modern lives is fraught with ethical implications. It’s difficult to consider each and every one of them. I think about my mornings – whether or not the coffee I drink is fair trade, if the lunch I pack contains items that were produced by animal suffering or worker abuse or represent a public health risk, if the plastic bag that holds my pretzels will end up in a landfill, if the clothes I wear were made in a sweatshop, if my smart phone was built by children, if the diamond ring I put on is a blood diamond, whether or not my car is harming the environment with emissions. You can see how this gets easily overwhelming. I got overwhelmed writing that paragraph.

At the end of the day, you have to do the best that you can to reconcile those things. I think the key is being educated about it and being open to questioning your choices and determining which ones you can reasonably make. And that’s why films like Food Chains are so important, because they make you aware of these issues and dispel the ignorance surrounding them. So that perhaps when you go to the grocery store, you choose a store that participates in the CIW’s Fair Food Program. Or you support a local CSA and farms in your area, where you can confirm for yourself that there are no labor violations happening.

Perfect is the enemy of good. It’s better to focus on one or two ways you can make a better choice than to be overwhelmed and make none at all. You can support efforts to hold companies accountable for their own labor practices and lift your voice in support of those programs and government accountability. You can’t change everything for everyone, but you can open your mind and heart to others and look for opportunities to allow that knowledge to inform your purchases and choices.



Real Life CSA: winter share, week 7

I can’t believe that after so many years getting a CSA share that I’m still finding new items that I’ve never had before. But 7 shares into the winter, and several years into a CSA program, we got something new this week!

Real Life CSA winter 7

The produce is solid this week – good staples that I always like to receive. Carrots never stay around long in our house, since we eat a decent amount of salad and we also like them as snacks. Lettuce also goes in the salad, too. I love this hydroponic lettuce we’re getting and I’m amazed at how they can grow so much in that way. I need to visit a farm doing hydroponics sometime because it fascinates me.


I was psyched to get this applesauce, especially because it’s just regular flavor. Mark likes cinnamon in his, but I absolutely do not (even though I like cinnamon just fine in other things). So I already have some of this packed in my lunch for today! Don’t need to bake with it or find a way to eat it other than just straight up.

The potatoes will join the root cellar bunch and be stored for a bit. But I bet you can guess what I’ll do with them!

strawberry jam

Strawberry jam is not something we have a shortage of in our house, because it’s one of our favorite things to can each year. So since we have enough of our own jam, I was thinking it might be fun to make hamantaschen with this jam. Hamantaschen are those triangle pastry cookies with different fillings that are supposed to represent the hat of Haman, the bad guy of Purim whose plans to kill the Jews were foiled by Mordecai and Esther. And they’re just yummy.

Cabbage will go in the fridge for the moment, but I was thinking cabbage rolls or one of those unstuffed cabbage roll casseroles. Probably something I should go to Pinterest for, eh?

Eggs are welcome, even though we got some from the farm stand this week and even though one of our hens has been laying a little. Mark’s got them for breakfasts and I have them for baking, the very little that I’m doing of that right now.


The new item this week? Oats! I immediately thought granola when I got these, but I think instead it would be better to use them for actual oatmeal, because I’m really curious about the taste of these oats as compared to the ones I buy in bulk at the store. And what better way to taste actual oats than oatmeal?

Winter subscribers, what are you doing with your CSA share?

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Real Life CSA: winter share, week 6

I picked up my CSA share in a snow squall yesterday, so I feel like I get some extra bonus points – especially because I didn’t bring the right bag and had to walk out of the museum where I pick it up with lettuce in my arms. Keeping it real.

Here’s what we got this week!

Real Life CSA Winter 6


I think I might try drinking the apple cider warm, especially because of the frigid temperatures. Haven’t really wanted to drink it much cold this year – probably because I’ve been trained to not consume beverages that contain calories and to basically drink water all the time. But I really do like cider, so maybe I just need to revisit it.

Sweet potatoes and onions went down to the root cellar but I doubt the sweet potatoes will hang out there very long. The last time I roasted sweet potatoes, they were melt in your mouth delicious, so I can see that happening again. Have I ever mentioned that I adore roasted vegetables? Heh.

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I’m excited to have another jar of salsa, since this type in particular – Farmers Market – is really good for recipes that call for a jar of salsa. We make a crockpot recipe with black beans, corn and cream cheese that calls for a jar and this one works great. We eat a decent amount of salsa in our house because Taco Tuesday is a thing on a regular basis. So even though we can our own, it’s nice to add to the stash.

I think with the hot pepper jelly, I’ll make this pork dish again. We really liked it and it’s a great alternative to just eating it as part of an appetizer.

Lettuce will go in salads, as usual. (Even more delicious because it was carried delicately in my arms.)

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I’ve got to make another batch of granola this week, so I was happy to get some extra honey from Bedillion Honey Farm. No honey from the store can beat local honey – no matter how fancy it looks.

I am inclined to make a pasta dish with the goat cheese, but this recipe that Penn’s Corner linked to for Baked Goat Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes sounds amazeballs. And I could see myself sitting in front of the fireplace with a giant baguette, eating this.

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Not sure what my favorite roasted vegetable is – probably couldn’t pick just one. But rutabegas are up on the top. I roasted them with parsnips and blue potatoes last week and they were delicious. I usually roast with olive oil, but this recipe for brown butter roasted rutabegas looks great too.

AH, radishes. The vegetable I mildly enjoy and never really get around to effectively using. This week! This week! Going to pickle them, I think.

That’s it for this share. Stay warm and roast something!

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Real Life CSA: winter share, week 5

Since this is our fifth share, we’re now 10 weeks into the winter share. Which feels like a long time, but winter itself feels even longer. At the moment, I feel like it’s never going to get warm again. But it’s okay. Want to know why? Three words.

Honey. Puffed. Corn.

Let’s get to it.

Real Life CSA Winter Share 5

This is one probably my favorite share we’ve received so far this winter, because it has multiple squee worthy items. Let’s start with the fact that the farm eggs are very welcome, due to our own chickens not laying (much). We have purchased them from the online farm stand before, but it’s nice to get more in our share.

The ivory lace cheese is Havarti-style. I think the last time we had this kind we used it in paninis or grilled cheese. So perhaps that’s in our dinner future.

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These chopped tomatoes are one of my favorite of the Penn’s Corner value-added items (their canned goods). I think especially when we get to February and winter is being brutal, there’s nothing more delicious than good tomatoes, and this is the closest we can get to fresh ones. That’s why the focus of our canning and freezing every year is tomatoes – because it’s the number one thing we use in cooking. Most of my best pasta sauces (vodka and amatriciana, primarily) have chopped tomatoes as a base. So this will hang out in the pantry for probably less than a week.

Blue potatoes and red onions will go with our basement root cellar stash, which has been great. Though seeing the red onions makes me want to make salsa and fajitas. And the blue potatoes I especially love for their color. And they might be delicious roasted with these babies:

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Parsnips. Love them. Had never eaten these things until I got them in a CSA share years ago and I was missing out. I think roasted, they are like candy. Yeah, that solidifies it. Roasted blue potatoes and parsnips coming up this week.

We’ve already got some polenta from Weatherbury in the pantry, so adding some more means we need to make some polenta this week, too. Penn’s Corner gave us this recipe link for Spoon Bread, so that might work. As would this polenta with roasted mushrooms.

Lettuce will go in salad, like usual. It was cool to get two different kinds this week, too. Can’t say no to fresh greens. And the apples? I am STILL eating an apple every day in my lunch and have not grown tired of this. But I was about out of my farm stand stash, so this is another well timed share.

Last but not least. My great CSA love. The honey puffed corn.

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I just love this stuff. I would pretty much forsake any other snack items (including popcorn, which if you know me, that’s crazy town) for the rest of my life if I could have a steady stream of honey puffed corn from Clarion River Organics. This is not even hyperbole. I’ve been watching for it in the online farm stand every week. It’s really hard to share. I’m pretty sure Mark rarely gets any of this stuff, which might qualify me as a bad wife. But sorry not sorry.

So what are you eating and making lately? Favorite food item to get you through the winter?

Real Life CSA: winter share, week 4

Super late with this, since this stuff has been in my house for almost a week now. But late is the name of the game right now, so here we go!

We’re into the fourth share of our winter CSA, and I love that we got two packages of fresh greens when we’re still in the dead of winter.

Real Life CSA - Winter share 4


The lettuce is already gone, of course, eaten in salads like usual. We also ate these delicious pea shoots in the same salad. I love these things and need more of them in my life.

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We haven’t had green cabbage in awhile, so I’m thinking either cabbage rolls or haluski. Let’s be honest, probably haluski, since there is nothing I love more than butter, noodles and other stuff mixed together.

Onions are added to our root cellar stash. I love the onions we get in the CSA and that I get from the Farm Stand, primarily because they taste delicious but also because they don’t make my eyes burninate like the onions from the store do. I wonder why that is, but I’m a little too lazy to Google it right now.

We have taco night frequently enough that I think I should make a batch of slow cooker refried beans from these Weatherbury black beans.

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The maple syrup is added to our pantry stash, though I’m thinking we should make something with a maple glaze. Like pork or carrots. Maybe?

We have a backup of apple cider right now, but I used some to make granola this week. Maybe we need to just start doing daily shots of apple cider to move through it more quickly. Part of our problem using it up quickly is that we just drink a lot of water. We’re a water drinking house and we never think to pour a glass of cider when we go to the fridge. Maybe I need to cut the apple cider with some sparkling water and make myself a non-alcoholic morning cocktail.

For this apple butter, I might research some baked goods you can make with it. I keep thinking that might be a way to eat it that isn’t slathering it on toast, which we aren’t really likely to do. Either that or cooked down into a glaze. I’m apparently into glazes this week!

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The ginger hangs out in the fridge until the next time we make an Asian dish, so while I don’t have a specific use for it right now, I am sure to pretty soon.

As for the beets, the opposite is true, so they were donated like usual. There’s another chance for beets somewhere in my future, but it’s not right now.

So what fresh food are you eating when it’s a frozen tundra outside?

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Real Life CSA: winter share, week 3

For some reason, I can’t get it through my head that the winter shares are larger because they are every two weeks. Because I go to pick up my share and think “my goodness! the bounty!” (Yeah, I’ve been watching a lot of BBC/Masterpiece Theater productions of Bronte novels lately.)

So here’s what we got in the third share. (The first one that feels like a winter share, due to the fact that we’re experiencing our first hardcore winter weather.)

Lots of awesome staples!

Real Life CSA Winter share 3
The lettuce will go in salads, like usual. I made thumbprint cookies the last time we had rhubarb jam, but I don’t know if I’ll do that again or just eat this with bread. Or maybe ice cream.  Even in frigid temperatures, I’m thinking about ice cream.

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I was really excited that we got this tomatillo salsa, because we don’t usually have it hanging around long. I love it on taco nights, but it also makes a great “dressing” for taco salads – the only type of dressing I like on salads at all. Really flavorful and not super spicy.

The potatoes, squash and shallots will go in our basement stores. Not super exciting, I know. But it’s super exciting to have this stuff on hand when we need it. And when it comes to potatoes, I need them in my life on a regular basis.

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I’ve been loving the apples this season. It’s January and I’m still not sick of eating them just as they are. So far, my apple a day HAS kept the doctor away. Two plagues have swept through my life and I have yet to catch them. I know this wasn’t entirely due to the apples, but that whole healthy foods thing can’t hurt.

I don’t remember how this Temptation cheese tastes. (Do I need to keep a cheese log?) We will likely taste it and then decide how to use it.

Carrots will go in our fridge stash, but we go through them fast between salads, soups, stews, pizza night snacks and broth making. Love them.

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I’m glad we got some eggs this time too. Our chickens haven’t been laying since the fall, so we’ve needed to purchase eggs for the first time since we got our little flock. Always good to get farm ones!

Watermelon radishes. Well, let’s be honest. I forgot about pickling the last ones we had and they ended up in the compost. (Sad trombone.) Going to try to get it done for these ones!

What are you getting in your winter CSAs?

Real Life CSA: winter share, week 2

We’re in the second week of the winter share, and I’m kind of amazed that we got something that I’ve never received before in years of being a CSA subscriber and have not to my recollection ever eaten in my life. Penn’s Corner wins again for variety!

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Can I tell you how awesome it is to see SO MUCH GREEN in this winter share? A third of the items this share are greens. (Disregard all the citrus hanging out on the kitchen island behind the share. I have no time to clear the island before I take photos. I’m not that classy.)

It’s such a myth that all winter CSA shares in climates where plants die/go to sleep from November – April are all turnips and onions. I love turnips and onions and would always welcome them in a CSA share, but it’s so great to get fresh greens mid-December.

Speaking of the greens, check out this spinach.

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This might make it into salads, joining the bibb lettuce, but I kind of feel like I might like it wilted in pasta or on a pizza. Maybe I’m wanting carbs because I’m ready to hibernate for the winter?

The sweet potatoes will go with our root cellar stash. and the beets will go out the door to Mark’s beet-loving colleague. If you don’t like it share it!

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Mushrooms from Wild Purveyors always make me squeee. They are always so delicious and fresh – probably because they’re sourced in the wild, locally. They also offer a lot of other stuff, but the mushrooms are stellar. Maybe we’ll make marsala with these. (We have a running joke about cooking chicken marsala for Mark’s roommate when we were dating. He was amazed that we basically destroyed the kitchen with dishes and mess, and then cooked him this amazing meal – the best marsala he said he ever had. I kind of feel like we should invite his former roommate and his wife over for dinner to share these.) If we don’t make them as an ingredient in another dish, I might just make them like the Penn’s Corner blog suggests – roasted with garlic and butter. Yes, please.

The goat cheese this round is flavored with dill and garlic, so Mark suggested we eat it on crackers, maybe as an appetizer. If I ate omelets, it sounds like something that would go well in those too.  Or maybe mixed in mashed potatoes.

Fuji apples are Mark’s favorite kind, so he will likely be excited to eat these in lunches. I have not yet grown tired with apples as a snack at work, so these will be great for me too. I always throw around the idea of baking with them, and then I just want to eat them plain.

I’ve been wanting zuppa toscana for awhile, so I will likely use the kale in that. The cold weather not only makes me want carbs, but soups. Ones with cream and potatoes and kale and sausage, apparently. Ginger appears in a lot of the Asian dishes we make, so I’m sure we’ll use it for something along those lines. Maybe a noodle dish or a stir fry.

And finally we come to the new vegetable – the one I can’t ever remember eating or receiving before. The sunchoke, or Jerusalem artichoke.

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The Penn’s Corner blog says these have the texture of a water chestnut, which is fantastic for me because I am that weirdo who always loved water chestnuts as the best part of that frozen bag o’ stir fry mix. No idea why.

Going to do some research on these babies and figure out how I want to make them for my first tasting. Any ideas?

That was the last share for 2014 – two weeks off for the holidays, so the next share is January 7.  Thankfully we have quite the root cellar going on right now with all manner of veggies to keep us busy!




Real Life CSA: winter share, week 1

Our winter share from Penn’s Corner started this week, after a one week break following the regular season. That break was good because it allowed us to get caught up on some of the leftovers from previous shares.

Real Life CSA Winter - Week 1

We found out this week that one of our friends loves dilly beans. We had no idea, so we will likely gift this jar to her, considering we already have some in the pantry.

The celeriac will join some celeriac we already have, though that will likely give me the impetus to cook it. (Often I like to wait until we have a little more of something to cook it. Especially with the hairy mandrakes.)

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The garlic and shallots have joined the root cellar stash, along with the potatoes and kuri squash. We use potatoes, onions and garlic on a pretty regular basis, so I never have any worries storing them. Now that we have two kuri squash, I think roasted squash for dinner might be in order this week. Even though it was dethroned by delicata as my favorite squash this year, it’s still delish.

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One of the things I love about our Penn’s Corner share in the winter is getting fresh hydroponic lettuce. I had someone ask me about the winter share and say “so you probably just get onions and turnips, right?” and I was happily able to correct the misconception (and direct them here to actually see what you get!). Having fresh lettuce when it’s 20 degrees out is something I take particular joy in. Probably because I love salads. That lettuce above? Last night’s dinner. Gone.

Carrots are also something that we eat all the time, whether in salad or as part of the base of a dish. Still meaning to make cider glazed carrots one of these days. This might be a good week for cider glazed everything, since we still have cider in the fridge from a previous share. Might freeze this particular one, but keep working toward chipping away at it.

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One of my favorite parts of the winter CSA is getting local honey. I use honey regularly in my homemade granola, but it’s also nice to have on hand for baking or for tea. And local honey tastes so much better than generic honey from the grocery store. I treasure these little bears when we get them, that’s for sure.

Also this week, we bought some onions and eggs from the Penn’s Corner Online Farm Stand. Our onion supply was dwindling in the basement, and knowing that we need to keep a regular stock there, I decided to grab them from Penn’s Corner instead of the store. Same goes for eggs. Our remaining chickens haven’t laid in awhile – due to a combination of molting, lack of daylight/season change and simply age. So we’re out of eggs for the first time in a long time. Thankfully we can get good eggs that are reasonably priced from the farm stand. I need to take advantage of this every two weeks when it pops up, especially because now it will coincide with the winter share pickups since they are every other week.

Anyone sign up for a winter CSA? What have you received so far?

Real Life CSA: Week 32

This is it! The final Farmers Friend share of the season from Penn’s Corner. Somehow I can’t believe that every Wednesday I’ve walked over to pick up our CSA on my lunch break for 32 WEEKS. That’s a lot of weeks. And a lot of vegetables. The winter share will start soon enough (and give us time to get caught up on the stuff we have stocked up from previous shares). But in the meantime, here’s what we got to round out the season.

Real Life CSA Week 32

The hot pepper jelly will go in our pantry stock, though like I mentioned when I first talked about the Pantry/Freezer Clean Out Challenge, we have a few jars of this stocked up and don’t go through it super quickly, even though it’s delicious. Might gift a few of the jars because it’s good enough to share.

The onion will also join a bunch of its siblings in our root cellar. It’s been so nice to have a stockpile of flavorful onions for cooking.

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These sweet potatoes will join the onions for awhile, but I would assume they will get roasted or mashed at some point as a side dish. We all know I love a good roasted vegetable.

The last bag of apples we had, we ate up as snacks. But I keep thinking I need to bake something or stuff them in a squash or something. I figure I’ll start baking with them and doing other things with them when I’m sick of eating them as snacks, which usually happens once we’re into the dead of winter for awhile.

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I saw this and immediately thought of a recipe I saw from How Sweet Eats this week for roasted garlic and goat cheese mashed potatoes. Yes yes and yes, please.

As for the watermelon radishes, I’m going to try and actually get these ones quick-pickled, like I have intended to do all season. Will likely use this recipe that was linked up on the Penn’s Corner blog.

Collard greens will join another one and get cooked down, possibly into the braised greens tacos I made this summer with chard.

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When you see red cabbage, what do you think? I think this.

randy cabbage

Yep, it’s hard to see from the photo, but Randy eats stewed red cabbage like a piggy in A Christmas Story. I have a good recipe for stewed red cabbage that I was planning on making, but when I was looking for that photo, I came across a recipe called Ralphie’s Mom’s Braised Red Cabbage. Might need to give that a shot.

So how did your CSA go this season?

Real Life CSA: week 31

We’re down to the next to the last share for the main season. (This was the share for November 12, which I’m just now posting due to life.)

Real Life CSA Week 31

Somehow a lot of the items feel like fall, but it most definitely feels like winter out there.

Let’s start with the beets. You know those will go to a beet-friendly home or the beet-friendly compost pile. Carrots will get used up in all the regular ways – salads, mirepoix base, etc.

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I have another butternut squash in the root cellar, so I think I’ll combine the two and make some winter squash chowder with a recipe from one of my America’s Test Kitchen Light & Healthy Cookbooks. I love those cookbooks because they have lighter food without using stupid diet ingredients or such disgusting abominations as fat free cheese.

I’ll add the potatoes to the root cellar to hang out with previous weeks’ haul. I’m hesitant to freeze the apple cider since we already have some frozen and I don’t want to contribute to my pantry/freezer problem. So I’m going to try to use it up fresh, perhaps with a glaze of some kind. (Carrots? Pork chops? Hmmm.)

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Isn’t kale a cool looking vegetable up close? I have taken to just throwing kale into any dish I’m making that would be fine with added greens. The lasagna soup with kale added in was a delicious success. Whatever’s not used in the winter squash chowder will hang out for the next dish that could use some wilted greens.

I’m thinking that we should use these leeks on a pizza, maybe with mushrooms. I love potato leek soup, but I don’t want that to be the only dish we make with leeks.

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Last but not least, we have mandrakes. I mean, celeriac. This time, the greens didn’t come with them, which was actually helpful since I have zero room in my fridge right now for the space the greens take up. These will likely get roasted up with some other root vegetables.

After I shave them, that is.