Drowning in Tomatoes – Or So We Thought

For the longest time, I’ve been saying that I couldn’t wait until I had enough tomatoes to make my own sauce. I got my wish this year.

Our tomatoes did awesome. We had so many that we couldn’t harvest them fast enough. We had a few plants that never got staked up and just grew along the ground. Even with all that we lost, we still had more than we could imagine. The bucket below isn’t even all of them.

About 3 gallons waiting to be turned into sauce. / Photo: After the Knot

About 3 gallons waiting to be turned into sauce. / Photo: After the Knot

We decided to dedicate a Saturday to straining and canning what we thought would be jars and jars of pureed tomatoes.

A while back, C’s grandfather gave us his Squeezo Strainer. The postmark on it said 1987 so you know it’s awesome already. Even though it was used countless times, it still looked brand new. The Squeezo helped us by peeling and pureeing the tomatoes so when we were done, we just had to boil off the excess water.

The Squeezo in action. Photo: After the Knot

The Squeezo in action. Photo: After the Knot

“We’re going to be eating tomatoes in January!” C exclaimed.

Well, not really. We didn’t realize how many tomatoes you needed to have enough to last until January. Once the excess water is boiled off, you end up with about a half of what you started with. In this case, we ended up with 2.5 quarts of pureed tomatoes that can be used to make sauce at some point in the future. Despite all that hard work for just 2.5 jars, I’m happy for the learning experience. We finally got to use our pressure canner, which I’ve avoided touching out of fear that I’d blow up my house.

That's a lot less than we thought. / After the Knot

That’s a lot less than we thought. / After the Knot

We’ve since tilled our garden, putting all of the plants back into the earth to help feed the soil. It had become so overgrown it wasn’t even manageable. The plants had started to slow production and the risk of getting bit by a snake wasn’t worth climbing through the brush. We still have our aquaponics garden with some really great looking Romas continuing to thrive, so we aren’t at a total loss. Before the summer is over, I’d like to take another crack at canning some more tomatoes for use during the winter, but if it doesn’t happen at least I can say I finally did it.

CSA Week 7: Fennel, Squash and Chard

Summer has unofficially hit North Carolina and with it came the heat and humidity that I dread all winter.

Sure, I was one of those people bitching and moaning about it being cold, but that doesn’t mean I want to be uncomfortably hot. It’s not even like we get a real break from the cold anyway. My office building is kept at arctic temperatures, which means I have my heater going while the AC is blasting just so I can keep my hands from hurting. It hurts my granola hippy heart to waste energy so needlessly.

The heat also means that leafy greens are starting to wilt or flower and we’re getting fewer of them in our CSA share. In exchange, we’re seeing more summer vegetables like squash and cucumber.

For week 7, we got:

  • cucumber
  • broccoli
  • lettuce
  • turnips
  • chard
  • fennel
  • squash

I was pretty bad with taking pictures this week so I apologize for the lack of mediocre iPhone photography you’ve come to expect from this blog.

We’re still getting quite a bit of lettuce and honestly, I won’t miss it once it’s gone. We’ve been doing a ton of salads and I’m really tired of them. I have this odd quirk where I like salads if they’re made by someone else. Salads I make myself are less than exciting and it’s easy to get sick of them after a couple of days. The turnips and cucumbers, though, have made nice additions to our salads.

 

// After the Knot

// After the Knot

 

I’m trying to add more beans to my diet and I had an idea to make a chick pea and fennel salad for lunch for the week. I’m happy to say that it was a successful experiment. Along with chick peas and fennel, I added green onions, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper. The same salad is on tap for this week, but I swapped feta for parmesan cheese.

Another experiment included fried swiss chard stalks. Every Christmas Eve my family makes cardoni. Cardoni, or cardoon as it is known in English, is a bitter perennial that looks like flattened celery. It’s boiled then battered and deep fried, and while it can be a little tough to find, it’s been a Christmas Eve staple for as long as I can remember.

 

// After the Knot

// After the Knot

 

I decided to try and make the swiss chard stalks in much the same way. I boiled them until they were tender, battered them in Italian style breadcrumbs and fried them until golden brown. A bit crunchy and a bit bitter, they came out great. Next time I’ll try baking them to cut back on the oil.

 

// After the Knot

// After the Knot

 

One of my favorite things to do with zucchini is make zucchini patties. I mix shredded zucchini, bread crumbs, one egg, green onion, pressed garlic, and any fresh herbs I have growing outside including basil, sage, and oregano. I scoop out a handful, flatten into a patty and fry until golden brown. I used the same recipe for the yellow squash.

 

// After the Knot

// After the Knot

 

Strawberry season is unfortunately over, but I did get an extra week out of the strawberries from my backyard garden. I’ll miss having them for breakfast each morning. But, peach season is coming soon and I’m sure those will be just as delightful.

 

CSA Week 6: We Got the Beet

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As the spring quickly turns into summer, we’re getting ready to see the last of our hearty leafy greens.

I’ll miss some more than others. I really enjoy Swiss chard, but I’m kinda meh about kale. I’m still figuring out bok choi, but I think I enjoy it.

CSA Weeks 6 brought us:

  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Parsley
  • Broccoli

Strawberries are also on their way out. Our farm got hit with a fungus and being that it’s an organic farm, they don’t go dousing the fruit with fungicides. It’s part of the risk that comes with being part of a CSA. I will miss having strawberries with my breakfast. When it comes to healthy eating, breakfast is the only meal I seem to get right. I always manage to screw it up with lunch and dinner.

Strawberries, multigrain English muffin with coconut oil and a hardboiled egg with sweet chili sauce. Photo // After the Knot

Strawberries, multigrain English muffin with coconut oil and a hardboiled egg with sweet chili sauce. Photo // After the Knot

Beets are one of those root vegetables that weren’t part of my diet when I was growing up. I’m generally at a bit of a loss as to what to do with them, but I also don’t want to throw them in the garbage.

A quick scan of Pinterest gave me a couple of ideas. I decided to kill two birds with one stone by making a root vegetable medley that included both beets and turnips. I also added two sweet onions and a few potatoes. For flavor, I tossed in some sage, oregano and rosemary from my garden.

Photo // After the Knot

Photo // After the Knot

I’m trying to include two vegetable sides with each of our meals. I decided to chance things up a bit and saute the bok choi in butter and lemon juice. I don’t typically use butter, but wanted to try something a little bit different. Admittedly, half a lemon was a bit too much and the flavor was quite overpowering. Next time I’ll a quarter.

Photo // After the Knot

Photo // After the Knot

Both sides were a great complement to the flounder I picked up from Locals Seafood at the State Farmers Market. Flounder is my favorite cooked fish. I like to prepare it by battering it in egg and coating it in breadcrumbs mixed with a generous helping of parmesan cheese.

I toss it in the oven at 350 until it starts to turn golden brown or about 20 minutes. Once I see that it’s browning, I turn the heat off so it continues to get crispy, but doesn’t burn  (I have an electric oven so I’m not exactly sure how that would work with gas).

Photo: After the Knot

Photo // After the Knot

This week it looks like we’re getting some broccoli and cucumbers, which is pretty exciting. Like carrots, cucumbers are a zillion times better fresh from the garden than from the grocery store.

Hopefully, I’ll have my act together this week and I can share some yummy inspiration.

More info about In Good Heart Farm can be found here.

 

CSA Week 1: Bring on the Fresh Veggies

csa-week-one

To give myself a little kick in the butt to do some easy writing, I’m going to attempt to share with you how we’re using the fresh produce from our CSA share each week.

Unfortunately, I already effed that up. While I wrote the bulk of this post a few weeks ago, we’re actually on CSA Week 4 now. Part of this was just a crazy schedule the past two weeks. There was a trip to the CFA Food Policy Conference, a visit from my parents, a book to finish for my book club, and classes to become a notary public. Actually, I should be studying instead of updating this post, but whatever.

Anyway, our shares have been pretty much the same for the past few weeks so this post is still fairly relevant.

Onward….

I’m one of those stereotypical Italian cooks.  I don’t measure anything and I just throw stuff in a pot and hope it turns out OK. Because of that, don’t expect to find any recipes for anything I make. Sorry, there are so many awesome blogs that are good for that.

You also wont’ find any Pinterest-worthy photos of food on here. I really want to work on my photography skills, but I don’t have the time to take the perfect picture and Photoshop it until it’s extra perfect. Once again, other blogs are good for that.

I hope, at least, it will inspire you to do some cooking yourself and embrace your local farming economy.

For Week 1, we got:

  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Chard (we could pick between chard or spinach)
  • Kale
  • Napini
  • Scallions
  • Parsley

My CSA offers a swap box so you can swap out something you may not like for something you love. In my case, I swapped out kale, which I’m kinda meh about, for an extra bunch of carrots. Once you have a carrot fresh from the ground, you’ll never go back. They were perfect for a healthy snack at work.

I also bought a dozen eggs.

I’m really trying to be better at the food prep thing, so after dinner I got everything washed and cut so everything could be more-easily cooked during the week.

About half the eggs were also hard boiled for a quick breakfast.

 

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

I find that the easiest way to prepare vegetables is in the frying pan with a little oil and seasoning. It’s my go-to because it’s quick, easy and works for just about everything.

Recipes for napini are pretty much non-existent. My understanding is that napini are the flower shoots from the kale plant. It’s more popular cousin is rapini, known here as broccoli rabe.

Knowing that the napini would be slightly bitter, I paired them with carrots, which are naturally sweet. I added some salt and pepper, and roobios and honey balsamic vinegar.

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

Balsamic vinegar has been my favorite thing to cook with lately.

Later in the week, I added it to the chard, which was also sauteed with garlic and scallions.

Chard, I’m finding, is kind of an underrated green. It’s really common in Italian cooking and can be substituted for spinach very easily. Personally, I like it more and the colorful stalks can be cooked with the leaves or used separately.

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

We were coming up to the end of the week and I had quite a bit of napini left so I decided to mix it with some kale (which C got at the farmers market a couple weeks ago), green onions from our aquaponics garden and sausage.

An avid pasta lover who is also overweight, I’m trying to find a compromise for the white macaroni I love so much. A gluten-free friend suggested mung bean pasta. I was skeptical, but picked up a bag a few weeks back.

I mixed the “pasta,” sausage, and vegetables and whipped up an alfredo sauce.

The result was pretty freaking amazing.

Photo: After the Knot

Photo: After the Knot

We’ve also started introducing fresh foods into Bailey’s diet and this includes some of our CSA vegetables. Among other things, I give her the leafy green carrot tops, kale stems and anything else that is on the edge of spoiling.

Some people might think I’m crazy for feeding my dog organic produce, but I think it’s crazy that people don’t equate food with health. If I’m eating organic produce so that I can be healthier, why wouldn’t I do it for my dog who I consider part of my family. I want her to live a long and healthy life because I honestly can’t picture mine without her. Part of that is making sure she’s eating right.

Much like last year, the first few weeks have been a little rough of a start, but with our schedules starting to settle back down to normal, I’m looking forward to making all of these new foods part of our life.

Goodbye, Grocery Store. Hello, CSA.

goodbye-grocery-store

When I tell people there are farms on Long Island, I generally get a look of disbelief. It’s like everyone thinks all of Long Island looks like Queens or Nassau County.

The East End is still home to some amazing farms and an ever expanding agri-tourism industry. My family, though, only purchase produce from the farms out east during our yearly pumpkin picking excursion. After loading my dad up with all he could carry, we swung by Lewin’s Farms for some fresh local produce. But after that, it was back to the grocery store.

Sidebar: Can we talk about pumpkin picking in Raleigh for a second? Pumpkin picking is not going to the farmers market to pick out a pumpkin from a bin. It’s not heading to some farm stand to, once again, pick out a pumpkin from a bin or a pile. That’s picking out a pumpkin NOT pumpkin picking. Pumpkin picking is trudging through a pumpkin field, moist with the guts of rotten gourds, in order to find THE pumpkin. And when you find it, it’s likely still on a vine. And then you have to work your skinny little arms to rip off the damn thing, likely falling on your ass in the process. You then put it in a pile that your mother is guarding so you can find the next pumpkin that is clearly THE pumpkin. After that, you and your siblings argue about which pumpkins are the best and you carry them all to about 20 feet before the cashier. This is when you load all the pumpkins into your dad’s arms because it’s $20 for all you can carry. THAT’S pumpkin picking. I feel sorry for all of these children that don’t know the pure joy of running through a real pumpkin field on a crisp fall day. Not my kids. Nope. My kids won’t be picking out pumpkins. They’ll be pumpkin picking. </end rant>

Phew…sorry about that.

Becoming Food Snobs

So moving to North Carolina really introduced us to the sheer awesomeness that is local produce (which is why the above situation makes me so damn ranty).

The difference is in the taste, which is significantly better, and the price for in-season produce is almost always cheaper. Why am I getting apples from Washington at the grocery store when I can get apples from Western NC at the farmers market?

For the first couple of years we did the bulk of our produce shopping at the farmers market, but last year we decided to sign up for a CSA membership with an organic farm that is literally three miles from our house. It was a great decision and a little bit of an adventure.

We do, of course, still buy some produce at the grocery store. It’s a much smaller percentage and usually consists of produce that isn’t grown locally (celery, garlic) or isn’t in season (peppers in the winter, carrots in the summer).

What’s a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and while it’s done a few different ways, the key principles are the same. We provide upfront funding for the farm, which in turn uses the money to buy what it needs for the upcoming season. At harvest time, we get a “share” of the bounty.

Think of your CSA membership like an investment. This does mean that there are risks involved. If a rainy summer washes out all of the tomatoes, well, then you might be out tomatoes. If strawberries are growing like gangbusters, well you better find something to do with those strawberries.

First CSA share: Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, dill, scallions and eggs.

First CSA share: Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, dill, scallions and eggs.  Photo: After the Knot

Depending on how your CSA works, you may or may not have a choice in what you receive in your share. In our case, we didn’t, although they did start experimenting with a swap option. Some use a credit system where you buy credits in the beginning of the season and use those credits to “purchase” the items for your share.

This isn’t for you if you like predictability or security. It is for you if you like supporting small family farms, eating local produce and want to be a part of a growing change in the food industry.

A Year of CSA

This first year as CSA members, we went with a “small” share, which means we got a share every other week. This helped us figure out how much we eat and also cut down on food waste. It also helped us get a sense of what we’d be receiving each season.

Adding vegetables to our diet has been hard, but the CSA gave us a push to try new things.

It’s been a challenge. Sometimes it’s been rewarding, while other times it’s been frustrating. We plan our meals with the best of intentions only to sometimes see produce end up in the trash.

As we’ve learned how to use different vegetables, like radishes, mustard greens and turnips, our food waste has started to decrease. I think cooking vegetables is so simple, that it’s almost hard to wrap your head around it.

turnip-potato

We once tossed turnips in the trash because they went bad before we could figure out how to cook them. Then we learned that whatever you can do with a potato you can do with a turnip. Learning that fact was mind blowing. Suddenly we were making mashed turnips, roasted turnips, sauteed turnips. Not only do turnips no longer get tossed in the trash, but we consider them part of our diet.

A year later we upped our membership to a regular share, meaning that we’ll get vegetables once a week instead of every two. We also have quite the garden planned for this year so we may find ourselves overwhelmed in produce. We hope to start working on our canning skills so we can preserve some our bounty.

A CSA isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, visit this page for a more-detailed look at how CSAs work and the risks that are involved. From here you can also find a CSA in your area.

Salad made with CSA lettuce, sweet potato cakes made with local potatoes, scallops and trigger fish from local fishermen.  Photo: After the Knot

Salad made with CSA lettuce, sweet potato cakes made with local potatoes, scallops and trigger fish from local fishermen. Photo: After the Knot

For great CSA recipes, head on over to Grabbing the Gusto, a blog written by a food writer who also belongs to my CSA farm.

You can also follow my Pinterest board, CSA Veggie Things, for recipes that are specific to the vegetables we often see in our share.

Extra Tidbit

Farms are a really important to the future of humanity. This Guardian opinion piece by George Monbiot sounds a bit alarmist, but he describes a real problem.

Our CSA farm is run by a husband and wife team and every month or so will put a call out to volunteers to help with planting or harvesting. If you truly want to appreciate the work that goes into your food spend a few hours in the middle of the summer digging potatoes. This alone will be life changing.

Where do you buy your produce? Are you a member of a CSA? Tell me your veggie tale in the comments.