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.)

shallots and garlic resize

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.

lettuce resized

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.

Honey resize

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?

the great green tomato experiment: wins and losses

Well, I wasn’t expecting to be able to write a follow-up on the great green tomato experiment already. But in my most recent spot-check of the progress, I realized it was not going as expected. As stupid as it sounds, I think I was envisioning an orderly process where the green tomatoes slowly ripened one by one and I had a daily tomato out of it all the way through March.

Yeah, I have no idea why I thought it would go that way, when gardens and plants never seem to follow rule books. But here’s the first thing I found when I opened one of the containers.

tomato experiment 1


Here we have perfectly green tomatoes next to some half-ripe and some fully ripe tomatoes. Okay, this is along the lines of what I expected.

So I grabbed the fully ripe ones and set them aside. But then we get to the next “layer” and I find this.

tomato experiment 2

Hmmm. Rotting. That’s not good. And it’s green. Weird.

And just below that one, we have this.

tomato experiment 3

It looks like a sick penicillin experiment, right next to a totally green tomato! And this was one of the mild looking layers. I had perfectly good layers with some great ripe tomatoes, and some that were mold city and caused me to have to chuck the whole layer. I spared you from the grossest specimens.

So it turns out that it does matter what stage your tomatoes are in when you do this. Because some of the rock hard green globes hadn’t moved even a shade closer to ripe, as the tomatoes next to it released ethylene and mold like it was their job. Which I guess, as tomatoes, it is.

So those were the losses. A whole lot of wasted, rotten tomatoes. But there were some wins.

I managed to get a box full of good, ripe tomatoes that weren’t exposed to mold city. Because I couldn’t handle all of them, I took them to work to share. I was most impressed with the heirloom ones. They ripened perfectly and I caught almost all of them before they went past the point of no return.

tomato experiment 6

But the biggest success is that the problems that plagued the containers of full size tomatoes, were completely absent from the cherry tomatoes. Here’s the top layer of the cherry ones.

tomato experiment 4

Each layer was like this – with ripe Beam’s Yellow Pear tomatoes, plus a handful of ripe “regular ones” (I can’t remember the varietal at the moment). So I harvested out the ripe ones, leaving some that were halfway ripe to continue to help the others. And I came out with two bursting quarts, but enough left behind to keep eating them into the winter.

tomato experiment 5

I shared these too, but I’m looking forward to the rest of them slowly ripening in the makeshift root cellar. I’m not sure how well they will continue to ripen as the weather gets colder and the basement continues its temperature drop. And I don’t know if all the ones that are going to ripen are actually done. But it’s worth keeping an eye on – especially because there was no hint of mold city!

I don’t know if it was the containers that were an issue with the full size ones, or if I used tomatoes that were in too many varied states of ripeness. Either way though, even with all I lost to mold and rot, I saved a big box of tomatoes that I wouldn’t otherwise have had, and I am eating my garden’s tomatoes in November – something I never thought would be possible!





winter CSA options

Most people think of CSAs in the spring, when everyone’s ready to think about plants and fresh food, after a typically bitter cold and snowy winter comes to an end. But thanks to the careful management of crops and some planning and forethought on the part of farms, you can subscribe to a CSA in the winter too!

I like subscribing to a winter CSA for a few reasons.

  1. Fresh food when it’s 0 degrees outside. Thanks to things like hydroponics and greenhouses, you often get fresh greens in winter CSA shares. You also get fresh food that’s been stored well – things like root vegetables and apples. Winter produce at the grocery store can be really anemic and sad looking, since it’s traveled from far away to get to us in our barren east coast landscape in February. So it’s nice to have the CSA box to count on every so often for a reminder that yes, things do grow in Pennsylvania.
  2. Variety. You’d think variety would be limited in winter, but you’re wrong. Yes, you’ll have some repeats. And you don’t get things like berries or tomatoes. But we got something new in each winter share last year (see posts tagged with winter to see what we got from Penn’s Corner’s winter share last year). This includes pasta, mushrooms, eggs and honey.
  3. Pantry stock-up. We received a lot of foods in our last winter share that helped to stock our pantry. Things like jams and jellies, sauerkraut and bread and butter jalapenos (my fav!), plus Bloody Mary mix! Penn’s Corner calls them “value-added” products. By value-added, they mean “they go to the trouble of processing it for you”, which anyone who cans or preserves food can appreciate. Value, indeed.
  4. Farms need to get through the winter, too. CSA stands for community supported agriculture, and it’s really that simple. Buying a winter share contributes to the financial well-being of the farms by keeping income flowing during the off-months, when the farmers markets have closed. I’d imagine there’s lots of work to be done behind the scenes when the land is frozen, and subscribing in the winter can help support that.
  5. We got cheese. I mean, come on. I don’t really think there’s much more I need to say on that one.

If you’re in the Pittsburgh metro/western PA area, I’ve compiled a list of the CSAs that I know offer winter options. If you know of more, please leave them in the comments and I’ll update the list!

Also, we subscribe to and love Penn’s Corner’s CSA and are already paid up for our winter share, so I listed them first. And they aren’t paying or perking me to say how great they are. But there are many great options in this area for CSAs, and they aren’t the only one. You can see what we got in each share over the winter on this blog, but don’t be afraid to ask the farms or groups what kinds of things you can expect in your shares, so you know you can make use of what they offer. Some of them have meat options and other add-ons as well. Keep in mind that delivery locations can change in the winter, depending on how many people are signed up and whether or not the location is covered from the elements. Make sure to check that your preferred location is available in the winter.

Penn’s Corner (December – April)

Edible Earth Farm (November – December)

Clarion River Organics (December – March, holiday options)

Blackberry Meadows (October – December)

Kretschmann’s (Winter info not on website yet, but this is the link when it’s up!)

*Update (thanks Erin M!): NWPA Growers (December – March)

So what do you think? Are you going to subscribe to a winter CSA?


An example of a winter share from last year



Real Life CSA: winter share 9

Our final winter share from Penns Corner is full of pantry goodies as well as an extra treat from Wild Purveyors – mushrooms!

It always amazes me how farms/CSA groups can manage during a winter share to still give you something new in each share, even if you have repetitions during the season. It keeps that element of mystery that I love about subscribing to a CSA – you never really know what you’re going to get! (At least until they send the email hipping you to that week’s share!)

It’s curious that I put the mushrooms and Schof Kase cheese together in the photo, because it occurs to me we’ll likely eat these in tandem. I’m seeing a mushroom cream pasta in my future. And since the Schof Kase (sheep’s milk cheese!) appears to be similar to a parmesan, I’m thinking it would be good in that dish. 

Potatoes and lettuce will be used up in the course of the week, like usual. (Who doesn’t like potatoes? They are in a close running with pasta for my favorite food.)

We’re just finishing our last jar of farmers market salsa, so this one probably won’t last very long. I also might consolidate our syrups into one large mason jar to conserve space, since we have a few little ones. That and eat more pancakes, right?

The apple cider will go in the freezer, since we’re still drinking the last one. And the tomatoes will join the others in the pantry, though they are in heavy rotation. (We eat a lot of homemade penne alla vodka in this house.)

The onion greens are pretty exciting. I actually think this is the first time we’ve ever had them from any CSA. Their positioning in this photo is giving me an idea – baked potato bar!

Also really excited about these peppers, because we like spicy foods in this house (the number of hot pepper seedlings we have going is also an indicator). Nacho bar? I’m sensing a theme here.  

So that’s it for the winter share. Overall? Couldn’t be happier with the variety and quality of produce and products we’ve had. Makes me crazy excited for the weather to keep getting better and spring to fully arrive. Our full share for the year will start in just a few weeks, so look for more Real Life CSA posts when that begins!

And if you’re not signed up for a CSA, do it! Read this post on why a CSA in the first place, and then visit some of these local groups to see if what they offer is a good fit for your family. You won’t be disappointed!

Penns Corner Farm Alliance
Clarion River Organics
Edible Earth Farm

Edible Allegheny/PASA 2014 CSA Guide

If you’re not from the western Pennsylvania region, check out Local Harvest to see what’s available near you.


Real Life CSA: winter share 8

This is our next to the last share for the winter. Which is only awesome in that it means spring is coming. Spring!

I am camera-less at the moment, waiting for my new body to arrive. (Nice part of having a DSLR is that you can replace just the body when it dies instead of the lenses too. Bad part? $$$ Allow me to complain for a bit that things don’t last as long as they did “back in the day.” You’d think a $500 camera would last for more than 2 years.) So that’s why there’s a phone photo of the stash this week that is less than stellar. Onward!

This share illustrates nicely one of the cool parts about a CSA. In the dead of winter, there’s often a lack of fresh produce beyond what can be stored long-term, like the apples, carrots and garlic you see above. (The lettuce is grown hydroponically, so is fresh but not a traditional outdoor crop.) So it’s nice that the CSA plans for that by diversifying what you receive when fresh vegetables and fruits are not bountiful – cheese, eggs, pasta and canned or dry goods are awesome additions.

We’ve liked all of the Penns Corner canned goods we’ve had so far. That tomatillo salsa is particularly flavorful, and it’s nice because I rarely get my hands on enough tomatillos to make my own salsa from them. The fresh pastas are great – we throw them in the freezer when we receive the bag and they still taste fresh when we cook them.

I have never even heard of Bauernhof cheese, so I’m sure that will be an interesting adventure. Which illustrates yet another benefit of CSAs – that you try things you would never pick up in the store, not knowing what they are. I can also take honey off my shopping list for the week, now that I have some to use in my homemade granola.

Can’t wait to see what’s in the final share!


Real Life CSA: winter share 7

We’re on share 7 of 9 for the winter CSA, and there’s still something new to get excited about each week. This week? Fermented cabbage!

I am loving the canned goods/pantry in this CSA. It takes the “use it up!” urgency out of all of the items. Plus, these are things we’d eat anyway. The honey puffed spelt is like a snack, it’s so delicious. 

Watermelon radishes are ones I haven’t really found great uses for, but this week’s CSA blog had a recipe for watermelon radish chips. And anything that sounds like a snack I can salt sounds good to me. Might give those a whirl. 

Onions are one of those pantry staples that no one lists in their favorite items of produce, but they are the backbone of tons of recipes, and we use a LOT of them at Next Gen House. Always happy to get a few solid onions in the share.

Lettuce will spruce up this week’s salads, and potatoes will likely be a side dish. I’m thinking balsamic roasted. We will also need to check out this cheese and see what it’s best suited for.

We also got a free issue of Edible Allegheny magazine in this share. I am a subscriber, so I will pass this copy on to someone else, but it’s a great magazine if you’re interested in local food. (I was even featured in it, way back when!)  

Two more winter shares left. That means spring is on the way, right? Right?

root cellar progress

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two weeks in the basement, working on cleaning out the space to be used more efficiently. The primary goal is to create a space for a root cellar. (See creating a root cellar in a city basement for more details on the “roots” of this project.)

Mark ordered me a hygrometer, which reads temperature and humidity, so when it arrived I knew I needed to get moving on the basement project so I could put it to use.

Here’s an idea of what the basement looked like before. (Yikes.)

See how far back that goes? This area has the previous owner’s cabinets (filled with leftover paint and tiles) plus all the garbage you see on the floor, tubs of canning jars, Christmas decorations, a canning cabinet, shelf for alcohol, and piles of pet and garden stuff. And the top of those cabinets? That’s been my “root cellar.” Yeah.

Laundry side. Not as bad, but with a giant pile of cleaning stuff on the floor that hasn’t moved in about a year.

This is the other side, from the far wall. On the left we have more patio cushions, and piles of junk lined up on the entire wall. The other side is Mark’s “workshop.” Which let’s be honest, wasn’t anything like a workshop. To my right in this photo is our chest freezer. To the left is this – the other work surfaces Mark has.

The treasure chest does not contain treasure. 

And last but not least, the shower space.

Two Saturdays, 8 lawn and leaf bags of garbage, 4 boxes of flattened cardboard, and a giant yard sale pile later, we have this. I’m calling it Stage 2.

(Sadly this second round of photos was taken with my phone with low light at 5 a.m., because my Canon seems to have bit the dust. While I try to bring it back to life, my phone must suffice.)

The speck on the floor is one of Stormy’s toys. You can see things are stacked, there’s no garbage on the floor, and the cabinets are gone.

More cat toys. And a laundry organizer, so that towels and yard clothes don’t have to go in piles on the floor.

Probably the biggest change is on “Mark’s side” in his work area. We repurposed the cabinets and moved them over to his side so he has another work surface, and got some utility shelving to house a lot of his tools and pieces that previously lived on the floor. (And I sorted through all the mounds of this and that which had accumulated for years.)

He’s still working on the other side, but you can see that it’s definitely a huge step up from before. (Can you find Stormy? He was my sidekick.)

Last but not least, the hygrometer is set up, and some styrofoam coolers are waiting in the shower. (Probably one of the most bizarre phrases I have ever typed.)

So cold, and so enlightening. The humidity is way too low for most vegetables to keep well. You’d think that wouldn’t be true, but in the absence of mold, veggies at 26% humidity would shrivel up. 

I’ve got more work to do on the root cellar part, and a few other general basement things, like a kitchen reorganization, but this is huge progress. Makes me feel like I’ll be ready for my makeshift root cellar this year after all!

Real Life CSA: winter share 6

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have read that I was pretty excited about one item in particular – Bloody Mary mix. Well, it has arrived.

Ironically, I’m not even really a Bloody Mary fan. I have only had one in my life, and it was on a golf course at a work event. So probably some cheap tomato juice and bottom shelf vodka. But ever since having brunch at Meat & Potatoes and seeing their Bloody Mary bar, I have wanted to try one. A good one. Somehow I don’t think Clarion River Organics will disappoint.

So after that rapture, let’s get to the other goodies.

Pea shoots are a great addition to salads, so they will spruce up the lettuce and other greens. Carrots are always a great addition to salads too, but we also use them for making stock and as sides. Garlic never goes to waste in this house.

Mutsu apples are also called Crispin apples – they will be snacks, most likely. Cabbage might make it in some soup or haluski – maybe with the recipe provided by Penn’s Corner

We’ve also really enjoyed the other products outside of the realm of regular produce. The tomatillo salsa that we got a few shares ago was ah-mazing, so I’m pretty psyched to try this farmer’s market version.

Another fun addition this week was the popcorn. I am my grandfather’s granddaughter, and enjoy salty popcorn above most other snack foods. I especially like it cooked in coconut oil – Mark’s specialty. 

We officially signed up for Penn’s Corner’s full spring/summer/fall CSA, too. We have loved being customers of Kretschmann’s for several years, so we didn’t switch for any other reasons than convenience of pick-up location and the desire to try other farms and their offerings. 

creating a root cellar in a city basement

Our basement has been a source of aggravation for me for awhile now. It’s not finished, has a very low ceiling and a cement floor, and somehow, a full bathroom. It also contains a boat load of junk, enough cardboard to function as a shipping company, our laundry machines, chest freezer and other various house necessities, like the furnace and hot water.

We also try to store food down there – not just our canning preserves and a few shelves of alcohol – but produce like squash, onions and garlic. Since we have lived in this house, we’ve just put the produce downstairs, thinking it was a cool, dark place and that it would just miraculously function as a root cellar, preserving the veggies for a long time.

Well, it hasn’t done that. We lose a decent amount of produce to the compost pile – squishy squash and soft, moldy onions. Something isn’t right down there when it comes to the storage of veggies. So I made two goals:

1. Finish the simplifying project I started last fall by finally doing a complete overhaul of the basement’s contents as well as a new layout that optimizes the space and gives us room for food storage, laundry, general storage and a work area for Mark. 

2. Figure out what the heck is stopping us from being able to use the basement for storage of whole vegetables and rectify it. (Is it the produce? It is something I’m doing? Is it the temperature or humidity or light?)

I ordered a book from the library called Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel, which seems to be the go-to text in the world of root cellaring and homesteading. It’s comprehensive enough that I’ll probably purchase a copy myself.

It covers everything from digging an actual classic root cellar into a hillside to modifying small spaces and awkward city basements. I am considering the option of turning our unused basement shower into a makeshift root cellar/cold storage for produce. (For the record, I would not remove any of the functionality of the shower for any future owners of this house, since I’m banking on the dream of having land of our own some day.) There are other options, such as building cold boxes to surround basement windows and using the steps between the basement and the dorothy doors out to the yard. Once I see what kind of space we’re working with when the extraneous crap gets removed, we’ll know better what option works for us.

I also realized that I need a hygrometer as well as a thermometer to determine what the humidity levels are in the areas where I’m going to store produce. Since the authors correctly point out that produce is always changing and undergoing its biological processes, heading toward rot and decay, it’s important to make sure the environment around the vegetables does everything to retard that process that it can.

I’ll probably also use this book as a guide for exactly how to store what type of vegetable or fruit. I think one of my big mistakes is grouping everything together, when each item has an optimal storage method, etc. I will also look into using those white styrofoam picnic coolers to create sand boxes, essentially, for some of the foods. Might be kind of fun to go down to the basement in the dead of winter with a little sand shovel and go digging for a turnip.

Have you ever experimented with cold storage of produce or root cellaring? If you’ve got any tips, share them in the comments. I can use all the help I can get!

backyard chickens in winter

If you live anywhere that sees the change of seasons, you’ve been having a rough winter. (Come to think of it, some people have had a rough winter who never see snow. I still feel bad for people in Atlanta sleeping in CVS.)

When we’ve had the polar vortex days and the heavy snow fall and the ice storms, a lot of people ask “how are the chickens handling the snow?” 

Well, in short, just fine.

(One of the black australorps, the laying champions of the world.) 

We went through a period in the late fall/early winter where molting and the reduction of the daylight hours made all four stop laying – we got only a few eggs over that time. This seemed to be happening to a lot of people this year.

Thankfully, one of our black australorps is a laying champion and she started up again, even during the short winter days. Both black australorps are back at it, and just recently we got our first green egg in months, from one of the americaunas.

As far as water, we use a heater system that Mark rigged up, which uses one of those holiday cookie tins with a light kit attached to the side. The light bulb warms the tin and keeps the water from freezing. We just use Chinese takeout containers for their water in the winter since they are easily refillable and seem to help the water stay in liquid form. 

However, they do like to knock it around from time to time, and one day this winter found me in my dress clothes on the way to work, crawling into the coop to recover it. 

Way to stick your face in her butt just as I snapped the photo, lady.

As far as snow, they aren’t big fans. We try to keep areas of the backyard shoveled so they can walk around a bit without being up to their beaks in snow. We usually have a path from the coop to the deck, where they like to hide for a wind break and to be close to the house, which gives off some warmth. Their feet are sensitive to cold, so they prefer to stay out of the snow, but I’ve seen tracks around, so I know they aren’t completely averse. 

Now ice? That’s another story. The ice storm we had recently had them going nuts, clucking away and making all kinds of noises because they were irritated that they couldn’t walk well. I had to bring hot water outside to de-ice their coop (and took a spill myself) to even get the door open, so when they realized that they couldn’t step outside and get any traction, they made an unholy racket.  

In the cold, they huddled together a lot and hung out under the deck to get a wind break. We give them extra scratch when it’s going to be a very cold night so they have food to be digesting while they roost. 

They’ll be happier when they can poop all over the yard and get back on top of the compost pile, but they’re doing fine. I think I’m more sick of the winter than they are. But who isn’t?