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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.

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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.

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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?

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just a short run recap

Training with Elite this year led me to sign up for their series of three races – the Frigid 5 Miler in January, the Spring Thaw 10 Mile in February, and the Just a Short Run half marathon this past Saturday. Last year the first race I did was the Carnegie 5K the week before the Pittsburgh Half. So it was new for me to be racing in winter. And I figured that all three races would be more like training runs, since they all fall within the training schedule. The Frigid 5 was a challenging hill run, the Spring Thaw a good 10-mile long run, and I thought the JASR half marathon would be the same.

But then I PR’d.

JASR

How cute is the medal?

Here’s the reasons why this should not have been a PR for me.

I had a hot mess of a race morning. I was really busy and exhausted the night before, so I didn’t spend time laying out my race-day gear like I usually would. I woke up super early on Saturday, but I lolled around too much and ended up running around trying to find my usual head wrap (which has yet to be found, so I subbed in the blue gaiter that I’m wearing in the photo). I hurriedly fueled up with my usual pretzel roll and drank a bunch of water, but I felt like I couldn’t find anything. And then I completely forgot my gloves at home. Which leads me to the next part.

It was cold. Single digit “feels like temps.” I was really hoping this would be a run that would start to approximate the temps we will likely see on May 3, but this wasn’t it. Thankfully the turtleneck I was wearing had cups at the end of the sleeves to cover my fingers because I needed them. (I will thank Jennifer here for offering up gloves from her car that we’d pass during the race. Thank you!)

I didn’t have the greatest pre-race evening meal on Friday. Well, I take that back. It was delicious. But a little too much grease to be considered optimal for pre-race fueling. Mark and I volunteer at a fish fry on three Fridays in Lent, so we eat leftovers with the help afterwards. It’s a great fish fry – everything is homemade and the fish is hand breaded! (Bethany Evangelical Lutheran in Dormont) But it’s still a fish fry. Which meant (amazeballs) macaroni and cheese and (delicious) fish.

I was sick just last weekend. My first run back from the flu was only 6 days before this race. I had missed 10 days and 7 runs of training, and I wasn’t expecting 100% out of my lungs yet, as I had residual mucus issues during my runs in the week.

So I got to the start line, cold and with my mind on going to the Pens game after the race. I popped in my earbuds and decided to listen to an audiobook of all things, something I’ve never done while running outside. (I usually listen to podcasts on the treadmill, but outside I haven’t been running with any music or distraction.) I picked William Shatner reading Star Trek Memories of all things. I fired that up, started Map My Run, and we were off.

I am known to complain vociferously about North Park. I find it boring, most especially when all of the vegetation is brown and crusty from winter. That coupled with the construction makes it extra gross right now. I know it’s like the runners hub in the city, but blech. I prefer the city trails.

I got updates from MMR in my ear every quarter mile, and I knew I started off the first mile fast, at 10:45/mile. My long run pace has been 11:30, so I knew I should probably slow down if I was doing this as a training run. But my legs were getting stretched out and I wasn’t huffing and puffing and I was busy listening to Captain Kirk. So I just kept doing my thing and started to try to run by feel instead of pace.

And the miles ticked away with the quarter mile updates telling me every single time average pace 10:45. 10:45. After awhile, I started feeling like Map My Run was screwing up, because the distance was also a little off as well, which is always the case with races when you don’t care about the tangents. (I will never care about tangents. This isn’t math class.)

But I felt so good. So I kept listening to the book and kept going and finished the first 3.1 and the first 5 mile lake loop. I had decided to use the water stops in this race to practice starting again after stopping to drink, so I don’t have to carry my own water for Pittsburgh (unless the temps mean otherwise). That was going really well except for the fact that the water was frozen. (But way to go volunteers, for being there in that weather!)

I didn’t enjoy the fact that the construction had us running on some highly sloped surfaces. That always spells trouble for my knee and hip, since my body does not like to have one side higher than the other and was something that led to my initial IT band injury. I could feel my hip bugging me a little on those sloped sections and I was even happy to be on hills as long as the surface was level.

Somewhere into the second lake loop, I started doing some mental calculations because my average pace had stayed between 10:45 and 10:48 the entire time I was running. I realized that if MMR wasn’t entirely off, that I would have a potential to PR, even making up for the distance discrepancy. I tried not to get too excited about this, telling myself it was a casual race and I wasn’t out to PR. So back to the audiobook I went, one foot in front of the other.

Around mile 12 I took the total elapsed time and did some math and realized I was looking at a few minutes of a PR with one mile to go. So I decided to stick with it and maybe push just a little bit more once I hit the tennis courts. I figured a few seconds extra of PR couldn’t hurt. But at the same time, I really didn’t believe this was actually happening, thinking there was no way I could run a half marathon under an 11 minute mile average and I prepared myself to see a higher time on the clock as I rounded the bend. My mind decided to focus on getting to the bagels, and I just went for it.

And it turns out my calculations were right and MMR wasn’t too far off, because I finished in 2:22:49 chip time, a 10:55 average. MMR recorded 13.42 miles in  2:23:46 with a 10:43 average (was too excited to switch it off until I got to the bagels, which accounts for the extra time).

So I got to do this when I got home, because I had just taken 5 minutes and 29 seconds off my personal record.

PR board

Here’s a couple of reasons why I think this happened, now that I can wrap my brain around it.

I wasn’t nervous. At all. Treating it like a training run made it so that I had no pre-run anxiety. I had no expectations of myself and just wanted a good run. And I had one.

I have been training the right way. All the extra miles on my legs this year has really paid off in my strength and endurance. I know now how much following the right plan and committing to it really makes a difference.

I had a lot of rest recently. Perhaps the resting I had to do while sick ended up being beneficial to me. I had run 17 miles in the week leading up to JASR, but before that I had a full on break. Maybe my muscles were less fatigued from that.

A big stress is now gone. This is my first long run after finding out I got a new job, and there has been a great peace and a lift of a burden I was carrying from that decision. I don’t know how much that was a factor, but I’m somehow not surprised that I ran my fastest half marathon when I felt free for the first time in a long time.

So there you have it. I have been training for a PR this year and met my goal already, 5 weeks before the Pittsburgh Half. I’m not sure if I will adjust my goals for the Pittsburgh Half, but I think I’m just going to sit in this happiness for awhile. Or rather, run in it. May 3 isn’t that far away now.

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last week at next gen house

What a whirlwind of a week. The weather’s been all over the place and so have I, from wrapping up projects at work to meeting a brand new baby to running a half marathon to cheering the Pens on to a win at Consol Energy Center.

And one of these weekends I need to get around to taking some donations to Goodwill and getting some old books to Half Price. I’m hogging Vader’s sunny windowsills.

vader windowsill

So let’s get to it.

Last Week in Running

What an unexpected week. Last week I was celebrating getting in just four miles after being out for 10 days with the flu. And this week I’m celebrating a PR. I ran 30 miles this week, including the Just a Short Run half marathon on Saturday at North Park.

I began running hills in my own neighborhood, something I have always avoided because frankly, my house is at the bottom of one of those Pittsburgh neighborhoods that can be described as “slopes.” The kind of hills your car isn’t super excited about. But I got outside and ran several times and kicked my butt on those hills, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. Now if there was just somewhere flat to run without 400 stoplights! The Panhandle Trail is still a mud pit, since it’s not paved, so it’s not conducive to training at the moment. So this week’s 17 miles of training were a mix of inside and outside. I’ll take it.

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But the big shocker of the week was running a PR at Saturday’s race. I took 5 minutes and 29 seconds off of my previous best, coming in at 2:22:49. I’m going to recap the race tomorrow because I have a lot of thoughts about it. But it was unexpected and such a great boost, both for my training and also for my general spirits. So it was a good week in running.

Last Week in Eating

Back to cooking this week, but still a lot of simple meals. Sunday, Mark worked on fixing our dining room light fixture while I prepped and cooked a pasta dish (sometimes with power, sometimes without!). It’s a penne with broccoli and sun dried tomatoes that was the meal I cooked for him the first time I told him I loved him, which we now call “I love you pasta” (yeah, gag from that mushiness). I don’t make I love you pasta very often because it’s one of those great recipes that’s really prep intense, but it was perfect for a sunny Sunday evening.

Last Week in Homesteading

The winter kombucha saga continues. My SCOBY starter with the Christmas lights? Never ended up going anywhere. Don’t really know what happened, since it didn’t mold, but the tea keeps evaporating out with no SCOBY forming on the top, just a tiny sliver of one.

Enter one of my favorite clients at work, who happens to also brew her own kombucha. I found this out when we were attending a meeting where she had a bottle of what looked like GT’s. I asked her if she drank kombucha a lot, because I brewed my own. It turns out it was her own brew, just in a recycled bottle! She graciously offered to give me one of her healthy SCOBY babies. So for a day, it got to gross people out at my desk.

office kombucha

It’s now brewing in a jar at home, so fingers crossed!

Every day that we have some warm weather, I’m dreaming of seedlings and the garden. I know it will be here before we know it.

Last Week in Reading

While I’m still in my free trial of Scribd, I listened to Aisha Tyler’s book Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation, which was humorous and an easy listen. I also started a short (less than 5 hours) audiobook during my half marathon on Saturday, which is William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, about the production and behind the scenes people working on the original Star Trek series. Waiting on a few more audios from the library, so I’m not sure what will be next there.

I am still working my way through A Little Life, which is over 700 pages. So part of the reason it’s taking so long is that it’s just long page-wise, but the other is that the prose is really thick and deep. I find myself quickly immersed in it and it’s hard to pull my head out of it and re-enter the world. It’s a book of highly developed characters, which is something I’m drawn to anyway. I hope to finish it this week, but I will likely have to read something fluffy next, because this book packs an emotional wallop.

So that was last week at Next Gen House.

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank by running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 3. You can donate by using the module to the right on the blog, or visit https://www.crowdrise.com/pittscommunityfoodbank2015/fundraiser/joannastone.

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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.

 

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last two weeks at Next Gen House

Hi there. Long time no blog.

A little vagrant called Influenza B descended upon Next Gen House. Let’s say that it was a terrible house guest, taking down Mark first and then me, spanning the course of more than two weeks. If you have never had the actual flu before, consider yourself blessed. If you have, you get it when I say it feels like a train hits you and throws you over the side of a cliff. You’re down for the count and no amount of mental toughness will allow you to function. We were sick. Really sick. I think these guys even knew it, since they were supremely cuddly. That or they liked the electric blanket.

sick cat cuddles

So I missed some stuff. A CSA share (my first one to not be able to blog since I started this!) and 7 runs in my training cycle (including two longs) and 4 days of work, a birthday party, and some beautiful weather, just to name a bit.

I’m catching up, slowly but surely. Lots of things changing in the next few weeks, with one big one coming right after Easter.

I accepted a new job. Same type of work, different industry. I have a personal policy against talking about work online, since I prefer to keep that part of my life compartmentalized. But let’s say that my previous job situation was untenable. I was suffering some serious physical side effects from stress and that margin that I’m working hard for this year was elusive. The new job is a step up for me in virtually every way, and I’m proud of myself for going after something that will help to restore more balance in that whole work/life balance paradigm. I’m really excited to see what it brings.

Now then. Here’s what was going on at Next Gen House in the last two weeks.

Last (2) Weeks in Running

As I mentioned, I missed 7 training runs due to the flu. I wrote these in my training spreadsheet as “Flu. Plague. Death.” which is pretty close to how it felt. It was very hard to be off that long from running, but it took that long for the virus to get through with its sinister work and for my lungs to clear out enough to make running and an elevated heart rate something that wouldn’t choke me.

I’m  happy to say that yesterday, I was finally able to return with a run. I managed a 4 mile run with quarter mile walks on either side of that. Check out these beastly calves.

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I am modifying my training schedule for the upcoming week in light of the fact that I had no miles for 10 days at all. But I have a half marathon on Saturday that I’m still planning on running, even if I can’t really race it. Going to see what this week brings and how the running feels and then adjust my goals for Just a Short Run accordingly. Thankfully there is still time to recover my fitness in this training cycle, before the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

Last (2) Weeks in Eating and Homesteading

Two weeks of illness have brought mostly simple meals to this house, since it’s not exciting to cook something when you have to take nausea pills just to swallow it and you can’t taste it anyway. Also, virtually no homesteading type activities whatsoever (which is why I lumped them together). But with the weather breaking, I am itching to get out in our muddy yard to clean it up and get ready for spring. It will be garden season before we know it!

Last (2) Weeks in Reading

Sadly, I was so sick that during most of my illness I wasn’t reading much. Feeling so sick that I can’t even hold a book and read a paragraph is rare for me, and a small form of torture. (Not reading or running? Crazy making.)

But I finished To Kill a Mockingbird and now understand what all the fuss was about. Wow.  Finished the audio version of What If? as well, which was a fantastic audio listen with Wil Wheaton as a narrator. Listened to the entirety of a book called Missing Microbes which I might review here on the blog, since it has a lot to do with antibiotic resistance.

I also read a fair amount of graphic novels and comic trades, five total, including Captain Marvel and Rat Queens (which is SO GREAT). You can see in the photo below those two, which are part of my library holds pickup the other day. I also started the other book in the photo, A Little Life, after reading about it virtually everywhere. And somehow, I was first in line for one of the hold copies when it was released! Yay me!

library holds

So how are you? Running some miles? Reading some books?

 

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McDonald’s and Costco – making good chicken decisions?

It’s hard for me to ever find anything good to say about McDonald’s.

I’ll qualify that by saying that I worked there for almost 5 years, during the end of high school and through college. I have a lot of pride for the work that I did there with my other ‘crewmates’ – we worked very hard for very little money. And compared to any other work environment I’ve been in my whole life, the sense of teamwork was the strongest. In a job that is often truly disgusting (oh the tales of what you find in the bathrooms and Play Place) and often exposes you to the worst of humanity’s selfishness and rudeness, it was an important and formative experience in my life to work there.

There was a time when I could spot a Golden Arches a mile away, like a homing beacon, calling me to those familiar smells and beeps of machines. And the fries? Don’t even get me started on my love for their fries.

But I haven’t stepped foot in a McDonald’s in more than three years. Or any other similar fast food restaurant. I have previously written about why I gave up fast food, but in a nutshell, it’s because I can’t find anything redeeming about the food or the sourcing of it, and I won’t buy even water there so that I don’t support their horrible labor practices and predatory marketing. (While I loved my fellow co-workers, we were routinely cheated of overtime and labor laws were ignored, all while we were making virtually nothing.) So let’s say I haven’t had anything positive to say about the company, well, ever.

But last week, McDonald’s announced that it will move away from using chickens raised with human antibiotics as well as milk that’s free of rBST (an artificial growth hormone). And a few days later, Costco, a company I look much more favorably upon, announced something similar.

Let’s start with the positives. I am never going to fault a company for moving away from using antibiotics to promote growth in their animals. Animals should never be raised in conditions where infection rates are so high that they need them to promote growth in the first place. So there’s the animal welfare side, but more importantly with this particular issue, public health is at stake. The CDC has repeatedly said that overuse of antibiotics is a major public health threat, and thousands of people die each year from antibiotic resistant infections. We are closer than we think to a situation where common antibiotics are no longer effective, so that a simple cut could be life threatening.

This is a good decision for public health, personal health and animal welfare. I was happy when Purdue announced it was moving to be antibiotic free in its hatcheries as well as later for growth. It means that they have to improve conditions for their birds to prevent disease from killing off the flocks – and they are a huge chicken producer in this country.

But.

And there’s always a but, right?

I’m wary of a statement or press release that doesn’t specifically call out the antibiotics that will not be used and instead uses terms like “antibiotics that are important to human medicine.” What does that mean? Who decides which ones are important to human medicine? A doctor who is on their payroll? You know the press release was very carefully crafted, particularly when discussing the milk issue (because law requires that anyone making a claim about rBST-free milk state that no difference has been found between milk with or without).

I really think that both Costco and McDonald’s know that the public is becoming more conscious of these issues. And this is a money-driven decision, especially for McDonald’s who is seeing its sales drop significantly. But that’s exactly why I’m wary of these decisions. All too often, labels end up like marketing terms (see “natural”) and they don’t have teeth behind them. I’m interested to see how both companies market this information on packaging and in advertising. Costco already sells a lot of organic and natural foods, so I’m glad to see them moving in that direction with meat. But how will both companies work with suppliers to really change the game?

For-profit companies will always have the bottom line as their first priority. Public health is a secondary concern – and one that can work to their advantage when it comes to public opinion and beliefs about health. (Was the McLean really a health food? I mean, seriously?)

So will these decisions cause me to start eating at McDonald’s or buy meat at Costco? No.

But I am happy to see them take a baby step in the right direction. Gives me something to keep my eye on. And when a mountain gets moved, it only takes one baby step to get the whole thing started.

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last week at Next Gen House

The worse the winter, the more glorious the spring. And by spring, I mean temperatures over 32 degrees. We saw 40s this weekend and it felt so much like spring that I almost brushed the snow off my lawn chairs to sit outside with a book. Spring fever is a very real thing.

But here’s what happened last week – with one less hour to work with!

Last Week in Running

dinoI had 28 on the schedule this week, but ended up running 29 when my the core of my group decided to do 12 on Saturday. Even though the long run was kind of a slog, with difficult ice packed terrain, we kept an average pace of 11:41. I looked back in my records, and I haven’t had a run of that length at a pace that fast since 2013. And knowing how rough the terrain was and how it was still pretty cold, this run was the boost I needed to get through the next few higher mileage weeks. I am definitely improving this year and am finding my groove.

Higher temps this week will bring more outdoor runs (and hopefully the melting of the ice!), which I’m looking forward to. On Saturday we ran through the South Side a bit, and took a detour to see the Mister Rogers dinosaur – which was actually created by one of the mentors in my pace group!. Didn’t hurt to see something Mister Rogers in the last mile of a long run, since I can’t help but smile and geek out a little.

On to 34 miles this week, the highest mileage week so far. Need to continue the yoga to keep my muscles happy!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eatingbone marrow butter

On Sunday night, we made a tomato cream sauce for pasta with shrimp. We went to the Strip to buy the shrimp specifically at Marty’s Market, since I won’t eat shrimp sourced anywhere else. While we were at Marty’s, we were perusing the gold mine of house-produced items, and the owner offered us a sample of bone marrow butter on a piece of crostini. It was so amazing, we bought a container to take home. It’s like the richest butter you could imagine, so a little dab will do you. And the pasta turned out yummy too.

We also made some of my frozen swiss chard from our garden and it seemed to cook up just fine, so with excess greens this summer I will try to do the same thing to preserve them.

I made a batch of pretzel rolls on Sunday which ended up being twice the size I expected. The yeast was crazy active, I guess. That and the recipe was probably wrong about portions. Either way, they are more suited for sandwiches than anything else, but they are my preferred pre-run fuel. So now the freezer is stocked for the next month!

One of the evenings last week we had plans that were cancelled for bad weather, so we had to wing it for dinner. I had a very long day at work and wanted comfort food, which for me always involves potatoes. So I came home and roasted up some of the potatoes we got this week in the CSA with some garlic and parmesan, and used some of the Steel City Salt Company Peruvian Pink salt that Mark had given me for Christmas. Delicious! I can’t wait to try the smoked salt.

sea salt potatoes

Last Week in Homesteading

Kombucha is going strong, with a SCOBY forming with no mold for the first time all winter. Christmas lights are working!

While cooking dinner last night, I heard the chickens start making a racket, but it sounded like what one of them does when she wants to announce that she’s laid, so I didn’t think much of it. Mark looked out the window a minute later and a hawk was perched on our compost pile while the chickens were cowering under one of the big bushes along our garage. He went outside to scare the hawk away and the chickens finally got brave enough to leave the bush and go home to roost an hour or so later.

I know we can’t avoid predators like hawks – it’s the circle of life and all that. It’s the price we pay for letting the chickens run around outside like they want to. But I am glad we did not have to deal with losing a chicken last night, that’s for sure. Stupid federally protected hawks!

Last Week in Reading

To be honest, every week that I get to read is a good week in reading.

I finished a few trade volumes of some new comics, including one called Marvels that takes place in the Marvel universe but from the point of view of the New Yorkers that all of the sudden are supposed to believe that seeing the Human Torch is just normal. I also went through a bunch of first issues that I got for my birthday to determine which ones I’d like to keep reading – which ended up being all but one, of course.

I decided to bail on the audio version of Man in the High Castle since the narrator was just not holding my interest and I was wasting time having to go back to repeat sections. I’m going to finish that one in print, but for now my audiobook is What If? by Randall Monroe, the creator of XKCD. I’m listening to it on Scribd and it’s narrated by Wil Wheaton, which is the perfect pairing of narrator and book.

I’m reading a book on fermenting called Fermented Vegetables: From Arugula Kimchi to Zucchini Curry, a Complete Guide to Fermenting More Than 80 Herbs and Vegetables for an online book club.

I also started To Kill a Mockingbird this week on Kindle. It wasn’t part of my curriculum in high school, and I think by the time I got to college and grad school, people already assumed that every American student read it. So I managed to get a master’s in English without reading it. Because I’m fascinated by Harper Lee and the news that a new book of hers is coming out this year, I decided it was time to read it. So I pushed it forward on my list and I understood within a few pages why this book is what it is in our culture. If I was reading it in print, I’d be scribbling all over it.

to kill a mockingbird

I know the Kindle has a highlight feature and places to enter notes and whatnot, but it’s definitely not the same as being able to scribble notes in your own writing. I wonder if someday people will archive authors’ Kindle marginalia. Would it still be called marginalia?

Deep thoughts for a Monday.

oatmeal

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.

applesauce

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.

oatmeal

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?

kombucha lights

last week at next gen house

Now that we’ve turned the corner into March, I’m ready for more mild weather. I know that long winters can contribute to more gratitude for the spring. But more and more it feels like we have two seasons here in Pittsburgh: cold mess and hot mess.

While we wait, here’s what happened last week at Next Gen House.

Last Week in Running

brooks ghost 725 on the schedule this week, including the 10-mile Spring Thaw race on Saturday. That’s the lowest mileage I will run until the week of the race, since my training amps up for these last 8 weeks. Tuesday I had a really great outdoor fartlek run – and I was really glad my schedule allowed me to get out to the group workout with Elite. I am really craving running outside more and I’m thinking I need to make more of an effort to run outside my office directly after work while there is still daylight, instead of waiting until I get home. I think I might try to do that for my Wednesday run this week.

I will probably recap the race itself this week, but I ended up treating it like a long run instead of a race, which is something I only decided moments before we started. I got to meet Jennifer from Running on Lentils and we ran together! (Also, she is a lovely person and you should be reading her blog. She’s one of the official Pittsburgh Marathon bloggers this year!)

I also got new shoes this week (the Brooks Ghost 7 – pictured at left!) and took them for a spin on the treadmill on Sunday. They don’t feel quite right yet, but I need to put my insoles in and give them a go outside before I make any judgments. I have to remember that brand new shoes don’t feel quite the same as ones with 350 miles on them!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eating

We made several good meals this week, including a great slow cooker goulash, but the highlight of the week (and probably the month of February if I’m honest) was the Knockoff Chipotle Sofritas. Sofritas are Chipotle’s new vegan option – a marinated spicy tofu. I haven’t had it at Chipotle yet, but Mark did, and he really liked it. His co-worker mentioned this knockoff recipe was delicious, and actually tasted even better since the sauce is thicker and not as runny as Chipotle’s (since the tofu soaks in its sauce there like the other meat options do). I even got to use some of my frozen roasted poblano peppers from our garden.

It. Was. So. Good. I could have eaten it every day that week and was sad that I only made enough for four servings. (I used two packages of tofu and doubled the sauce in the recipe and it was perfect.) We ate it over homemade lime cilantro rice and black beans. Mark made his homemade guacamole and we were in heaven.

Don’t be afraid of cooking tofu, either. I had a meltdown about halfway through because I felt like I wasn’t frying it correctly. (It’s lightly fried, not deep fried.) But it turned out perfectly and I had nothing to be scared of. Just be fearless, like Julia Child says. Have the courage of your convictions.

collage sofritas

Last Week in Reading

I finished the third book in the Silo trilogy, Dust, as well as Bad Feminist on audio. Really liked both, but they were both heavy in subject matter, so I’m catching up on a bunch of comics this week in both trades and single issues. I also started Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick on Scribd, which imagines an alternate future where Germany and Japan won WWII and occupied the U.S. So I guess I didn’t get that far away from heavy subject matter. But I found that book after watching the Amazon original pilot that is based off of the novel. The book is fine so far, but the narrator is not so great, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it on audio. It’s crazy how narrators can make or break an audiobook for me. I guess I’m just picky!

Last Week in Homesteading

I am giving kombucha one last winter try, after many unsuccessful attempts. (I’m just not willing to keep my house at 70 degrees in the winter to sustain a SCOBY. No way.) I now have it in the warmest room of the house with all heating vents in the room open, and I tried the suggestion of wrapping Christmas lights around the jar. Which seems to be keeping it at a nice temperature. (Only after I first put LED lights around it because I am an idiot. LED lights don’t get warm.)

kombucha lights

I also had to use a thin gaiter that Mark had to cover the top until I can get cheesecloth (which we both thought was in the house, but we can’t find it anywhere). It seems to be working so far! Fingers crossed that I get some SCOBY and no blue fuzz!

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National CSA Sign Up Day is Feb. 28!

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of community supported agriculture (CSA). I wrote a full post about it two years ago , and the same reasons I loved it then hold true today. Every week I write about what we receive in our share and give some thoughts as to how we’re going to use the items that week and how it fits into our life. Being a member of a CSA allows me to give monetary support where my mouth is – if you want local farms to thrive and for alternative food systems to industrial agriculture to flourish, buying a CSA share is a great way to do that. I like knowing that my CSA is not just good for me – with its high quality fruits, vegetables and other food products – but that it’s good for my community and good for my neighbors.

National CSA Sign-Up Day is tomorrow – February 28. Why in the dead of winter? Because this is the time that farms are making the plans and investments they need for the upcoming grow season. This is the time we show our support, so that we reap the benefits when the sun actually comes back. (I believe in farmers because they believe winter will end, even when I don’t!)

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Right now, we’re members of Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance and we also purchase items through their farm stand, most of those items being from Clarion River Organics, which also provides a CSA. You can see what we get in our shares (and all shares dating back to the beginning of this blog) by clicking on “Real Life CSA” at the top of the blog.

Here are some local CSAs to consider:

Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance (giving a $10 discount for sign-ups for National CSA Sign-Up Day)

Clarion River Organics (all organic)

Edible Earth Farm (all organic)

Also check out the 2014 PASA CSA Guide from Edible Allegheny. 2015 isn’t released yet, but you can find info on the farms and check up on them yourself.

For people outside of western PA, check out Local Harvest. (There are more than 6,000 CSAs nationwide!)

CSAs are good for your health and good for the community – as well as the future of both. Consider what share size is right for you and where a pickup location is convenient and give it a try this year!