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Catching Up

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One of the things I put together ever since I started my blog was my weekly catalogue of What is in the CSA basket. Somehow I have been shirking my “duty” the past two weeks. Maybe it’s that time of year when we get so tired of winter, and those boring stretches of root vegetables, stews, soups and crock pot meals.

We yearn for the weather to stay nice enough to grill, for a change. For many winters we did manage to grill a few times, but the brutal cold, and the snow covering our grill for weeks, made that impossible. Until, hopefully, this week, when we want to do something, ANYTHING, out there. I have a couple of petit filets I would love to make one evening, or my favorite, kofta.

Yesterday we cleaned the grill, since the snow has finally melted all around it. Thankfully, no little critters took up residence in it this winter. Last winter a chipmunk decided the side burner was a perfect spot to store everything they could carry up there.

As for what has been coming from the CSA for two weeks, here it is.

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The highlights from Lancaster Farm Fresh were the pantry item, maple sugar and the new goat cheese. We also got some kielbasa sausages in our omnivore add on. The vegetables. Standard except for the green beans. They were a treat. I swapped radishes to get double the carrots. There has been cole slaw made more than once the past two weeks. I made root vegetables again, to take to a Slow Food dinner this week. They must have gone over well, as there was almost nothing left. I still have a bag with the collards in it. They have to get cooked soon.

A few days ago, the latest basket.

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I am calling this the year of the celery root. Never had it before a CSA share delivered it. Now, we get it two or three times a month, it seems. Yes, there are two of them. I swapped the rutabagas for the second one. I like the celery root in that roasted honey glazed medley. This week we got honey. We got chicken. We got a new cheese. Pecora. Smoky and tangy. Good with a glass of red wine.

As for the rest. Beets in a salad. Chard as a side dish last night. The shiitake mushrooms, with the other ones from Friends and Farms a week ago, became a very lovely mushroom soup for dinner.

Speaking of Friends and Farms, they were invited to present to the Slow Food Dinner group. They brought their latest basket and they talked about how they operate, and what made them the company they are today.

The basket from the 4th of March looked like this.

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The best part of this basket. The rainbow trout.

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Simply cooked. We enjoyed that dinner, for sure. The Individual Quick Frozen corn is also very good. Makes us yearn for summer.

The rib eyes would have been great to grill, but not to be, due to the weather.

As for Wednesday, the basket that I picked up hours before the slow food dinner.

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Yes, there’s chard in there. Yes, there’s a chicken. And kielbasa. And sauerkraut. And carrots. Notice those similarities.

YES, I am officially tired of winter vegetables. I want to plant that garden, and go to farmer’s markets for fresh greens.

We still are eating well, even if it is getting a bit boring these days.

Daytripping in Maryland

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Saturday morning at 10 am the free “Wonder Walk” at the Howard County Conservancy isn’t a walk at all. In the colder months the free monthly programs often are held inside, you know, just in case that foot of snow doesn’t melt out on the trails.

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The trails are still a bit messy. But, never fear, in the Nature Center Sherry Conklin and Linda Decker, two Maryland master gardeners will share with us more than 50 of their favorites – formal display gardens, arboretums, wild native places to walk and hike, and historic landscapes.

With the weather starting to change for the better, who among us doesn’t want to stop hibernating and start enjoying spring in Maryland.

You can see all the upcoming events here. You can pre-register for future events on this page. This weekend’s talk still has room and pre-registration closes Friday afternoon. Using the pre-registration email option for future free events guarantees a spot as some of our more popular ones can reach the capacity of the building. Just click on the email link to let the staff know how many people plan to attend.

Today the volunteers finally began our elementary school training to lead hikes on field trips. We were out in the snow and ice looking for signs of the various habitats, in order to lead third graders on their hikes. We found lots of things out there.

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Signs of use in one of the snags on the trail. Before the vegetation grows up in the warmth of the sun, you can get up close and personal.

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And see where the raccoons have been looking for food.

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You can even be serenaded by a very young chickadee, while you are wandering along the local trails.

Come join us Saturday and see what new places Linda and Sherry may show you. Places to put on the list for spring days ahead.

Going Whole Hog

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Sort of. Not completely. We haven’t gone for buying whole or half portions of beef or pork. We did once do half a lamb. It was more than we expected.

But, I have seen where we are now using more and more of the pork products available at our local farms. And, we are stretching our food dollars by making meals that use 3-4 ounces of meat per serving. Getting better quality meats from the farmers and butchers in the area. Yes, and paying more than that $1.99 a pound stuff out there.

I find it interesting to see McDonald’s and COSTCO both touting their changes. Where once I thought our local farmers and small organic markets were going to suffer, now I notice quite a large turning away from factory farmed, overly processed meats.

Quite an increase in CSA and Friends and Farms members. An increase in farmer’s markets. An interest in my web pages with links to local sources. All of this is a good thing. Besides lowering our exposure to antibiotic and hormone laden meats, we are decreasing our carbon footprint when we buy locally. We are keeping our local farmers and small butchers in business.

Remember when you could go into any grocery store and have a butcher wait on you, to get you the cuts of meat you wanted, in the quantities you wanted? So many of the stores today have removed that position.

I am grateful we have good butchers in the area. Boarmans. Treuths. Wagners.

We also have good farms selling meat. Copper Penny. Maple Lawn. TLV Tree Farm. Breezy Willow. Carroll Farm. England Acres. Clark’s Elioak. Wagon Wheel.

I did this post over a year ago. Since then, I have expanded the database to add more farms. But, I still love picking up very fresh items from these farms.

I have also learned to use those lesser used items. Ham Hocks. Bacon ends. Lamb shanks. Turkey drumsticks. Pork lard. Heck, I even ventured into the world of making my own scrapple.

I could do better the next time I do scrapple. I need to increase the pork part of it, and decrease the cornmeal.

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It was a wee bit pale. Not as dark and crispy as the scrapple of my youth.

As for those other goodies. I have made countless soups using the ham hocks, smoked mostly. That pork lard from Carroll Farm. It’s been used instead of butter in cooking. Most of it was put in small containers and frozen for later use. I will be trying a Pennsylvania Dutch biscuit recipe this week with it.

Bacon ends. The most economical way to have bacon around for flavoring.

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I have found bacon ends many places. Ask at any of the local farms if they have them. A good bargain. Freeze them. Take out as much as you might need to make excellent greens, soups, frittatas, spinach salads. Lots of possibilities.

Moving 100% away from grocery stores. Using less per meal. Using locally produced items. It can be done, and it really isn’t difficult at all in Howard County.

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But, I admit, I’m not quite ready to do Pig’s Feet – Toe On, or Pig’s Tail. Wayne Nell. You do have some interesting items there.

The Long Hard Winter

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Today, while making dinner I noticed the deer hanging at the edge of our yard, out by the field. Three of them in all.

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These two, an older and younger doe, were trying to find something in the berry bushes and the trash trees along the property line.

This one, who came later,

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hobbled off towards the evergreens.

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Yes, this one was crippled, and limping. Eating the white pines. Not their favorite food, but just about all that is out there these days. They are coming right up to the house at night.

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The bottom half of this tree is pretty much devastated by them. They have also eaten every piece of young growth on the azaleas.

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With all the snow on the ground, they are desperate to find food. This has been a harsh cold winter.

I have found rabbit scat beneath the bird feeders. That eagle has been hovering around here, looking for something to eat. The hawks are having a hard time, as the fields covered in snow make it impossible to find animals on the ground.

I don’t know the solution to this situation. Only a prolonged period of warming, that will uncover the ground vegetation, can solve the deer and rabbit food source scarcity.

We need the weather to change. It isn’t just the people around here hating winter. I think the animals are fed up with it too.

The “New” Farm in Town

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Or, at least the newest farmstand. Opened in October. Providing beef, pork and poultry. In small and large quantities.

Carroll Farm to Table. Off Frederick Rd. past Kiwanis-Wallas park. Owned by descendants of Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

We first heard about them being there in our fall Friends and Farms newsletter. You could purchase whole or half Berkshire heritage pork. Also in the works was a potential for chicken to come to us sometime in 2015.

We finally got to the farmstand when they were open a few Saturdays ago. At least my husband got there. The stand is open Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays. He asked for a price sheet, and as he was really interested in some of the cuts of Angus beef, they talked a bit and gave him a free sample of their pork lard.

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Which found its way into tonight’s dinner.

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A wee bit of lard mixed with the cider and chicken stock to flavor the cabbage and kale and apples under the kielbasa links.

I am fascinated with trying some traditional recipes from a Christmas present from my mom.

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She gave me a couple of Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks that she’s had for decades. I am interested in trying the pastry recipes that call for lard.

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Now that we all know lard is better for us than vegetable oils, it should be fun to test the taste difference.

I am also interested in trying the brisket, and the filets, from their stand. It is hard to find brisket from the local farms. Not that many of them around, when you are only processing a small number of cattle at a time. I always had to cross my fingers and hope to find one from the local farmers.

Happy to see a “new” farm in our vicinity. Particularly one that specializes in meats that we usually have to go much farther to find.

Shared Risk

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In Community Supported Agriculture, known otherwise as CSAs, there was always this message given, that by buying into a CSA as a shareholder you were sharing the risk with the farmer who grew the crops. In good years, you got more. In lean years, you may suffer a bit, but you were always a part of the “family” that made it possible for the farmer to prosper.

Decades ago, the model was fairly simple. One farmer. Enough shareholders to buy most if not all of the produce and fruit that was planted and harvested from that farm. As CSAs grew, some of the farmers partnered with others who raised animals, adding dairy or meat into the packages.

These days, more and more regional and seasonal partnerships are available. Mitigating that risk. Making it easier to get the value, and reducing the risks on the suppliers and the customers.

This winter has been brutal around here. I am amazed that we are getting as much fresh produce from both of our sources. One, the winter CSA, has written in their newsletter that we may be seeing more regional produce as they have to reach farther from the cooperative to meet the needs of the very large community that Lancaster Farm Fresh serves.

Last week, we got this in our Omnivore share.

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Our meat item was boneless skinless chicken breasts. Cheese was a lovely smoked gouda. Pantry item, a jar of applesauce. We had six vegetables in the box. Lots of carrots. Sweet potatoes. Spinach, turnips, russet potatoes and cremini mushrooms.

I made mushroom soup. I made honey glazed roasted root vegetables. I made chicken salad. All in all, we dined well during our bout of bad weather, without having to stand in long lines at the grocery stores.

Friends and Farms, a “mutant” from the traditional CSA, partners with regional food suppliers to give us baskets year round. Lots of seasonal foods, but also, some Quick frozen vegetables that a farm in New York prepares and provides during the dead of winter.

Last week, our small share included these items.

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Pickles. Frozen green beans. Eggs. Bread. Cider was my substitute because we don’t get milk. I realized I had those “essential” pre-storm items here. You know. Bread and milk, if I had wanted the milk.

Sweet potatoes here, too. A different variety than those from Lancaster. I really enjoy the sweet potatoes because they are so easy to use in many ways. In soups. Stews. Chili. Like you can make using the jalapenos we got.

We had cabbage and pork butt. Perfect partners. Red onions. Hydroponic lettuce from Baywater Greens in Salisbury MD. Getting fresh greens in the winter is such a surprise, and really appreciated. Bacon this week. Chicken thighs, too. And, apples.

I did not need to buy much of anything at the store. I picked up a few yogurts from the refrigerated case at the warehouse. I get my butter there, too. You could have picked up beans or rice while there. The pantry shelves help us round out our baskets and make meal planning easier.

There are still traditional one farm CSAs out there, but the newer models really start to look like a full farmer’s market has shown up and given you your groceries.

Tomorrow is my next pick up. We did pretty well getting through our two baskets. We have also been lucky with the weather. It may be raining like crazy tomorrow. Between our ice events, and now predicting snow again Thursday, I am happy to use what we will get this week. Again, without having to brave the crowds in the stores.

Just hope we don’t get too much snow.

The Pre-Storm Frenzy

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Backyard bird version.

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Reminds me of the local grocery stores around here at the start of any snow event. Last minute frantic behavior. The flakes had just begun when the birds (and a few squirrels) descended upon the feeders and the ground by the bird bath.

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This was somewhat tame as it did get pretty intense up on the major feeder.

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I could almost imagine the parallels to the competition to get that last loaf of bread or gallon of milk.

It’s not like I don’t have food out there constantly. They just get so intense when a storm comes.

And, this one.

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Similar to the behavior of hovering for that choice parking spot in the store lot?

I have to admit, the birds that live here in our woods provide us with much entertainment. They know this is a source of food and water, year round. Today they were out there while I was rinsing dishes, and I had to go get the camera to record them.

I do hope this is the end of our winter storms. Enough is enough. And I’m glad we pruned the dead wood out of the tops of our shade trees. If we get a quarter inch of ice, like predicted, there will be branches breaking all around us. Crossing our fingers that Friday’s maintenance prevents any significant damage.

Stay warm and safe out there. We are almost into spring.

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