...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Have a Happy New Year!

Frozen lake of yesteryear
We've not quite made it through the holidays, but the seed catalogs are already pouring into my mailbox.  I can't believe it's time to start garden planning again.  Our season was so long this year that I feel like I haven't had an appropriate break yet.  But I truly am excited to begin thinking about my plot for 2011.  I may save the catalogs for a cold, dark day in January or February when the beautiful colors and varieties of the vegetables pictured will brighten my day.

Winter fun in the snow
Last night we returned from visiting my family in east-central Illinois.  The highlight of the trip was sledding.  We crossed the icy lake where we once skated and played hockey, traversed the field where I used to walk home from school, and finally reached a nice broken-in sledding hill at my old grade school.  Everyone took a turn, even my parents.  In fact, my mom and I doubled up on the inner tube and were, as the song goes, "laughing all the way" until we skidded into the brush at the edge of the woods.  With my brother in his too-tight snow pants, me sans proper footwear sporting my mom's leather fashion boots, and Vera running around like little brother Randy from A Christmas Story in her snow suit, it couldn't have been more fun.  My mom, being the former teacher, also had a craft ready for the kids.  We made bird feeders using plastic canvas, peanut butter, and a couple different types of birdseed.  Of course, Vera's didn't look like the picture and her 6-year-old cousin was the first to point that out, but she had a blast sprinkling seeds and licking pb and bird food from the spreader.
Bird Feeder Crafts

For the Birds

We have one more party to go as we plan to entertain a few close friends and six children tomorrow night for New Year's Eve.  It's the fifth event/meal we've hosted since Thanksgiving, but it's been a pleasure.  And we're looking forward to a lively evening of eating and game playing with a chorus of children laughing and running around in the background.  Amazing how our New Year's Eves have changed in the last decade.  Today I was thinking back to the NYE house parties on the east side during college breaks, progressing in later years to condo parties and bar hopping...one year I was almost convinced to take the Polar Plunge the next morning.  And now here we are about to quietly celebrate another year with children and a few friends all around.  Honestly, I wouldn't have it an other way.

Leaving you with a favorite recipe that I've been making all season.  Raw truffles--they satisfy my sweet tooth without all the forbidden ingredients.

Makes about a dozen truffles

Adapted from my Holistic Moms Network annual cookbook.  You can take liberties with different nuts and even substitute peanut butter for the honey.

1/2 c. mixed nuts (almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, etc...or a mixture of these)
1/2 c. pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. cacao nibs
1/2 c. raisins
2 T. cocoa
1/4 t. cinnamon
Pinch salt
4 T. honey

Chop nuts in the food processor.  Add cacao nibs and process until crumb-like.  Add raisins.  Mix cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and honey in a small bowl.  Add to dry mixture in food processor then scoop and roll into small balls.  Store in fridge--they last weeks and make a handy protein snack for children of all ages.


Last Minute Ideas

Today I finished wrapping gifts, made my grocery list for Christmas dinner, and even had some time to sit down and read for leisure and write in my journal.  It's been a slow, relaxing month--the first time I remember December being so pleasant since I was a kid.

If you're still in a frenzy wrapping presents, I have a last minute idea for a special accent.  This one goes out to my dad the "Bow Man."  Tough guy that he is, he can grow a mean flower garden, antique shop till he drops, and put together fun handmade bows for the holidays.  My mom wraps, my dad adds the bows.  This idea arose as I realized I was out of the bows I was reusing from previous holidays.  Looking into my box of wrapping paper, colorful tissue, and other accoutrements I realized I could made a funky bow out of some kraft paper.  I basically cut thin strips of it, bunched them together, then used a flat thumbtack to press the whole bow into the package (a la the type of bows that have a little plastic "pokey thing" you stick into the gift...do they still make those?)  You can also curl the ends with an open pair of scissors like you would regular curling ribbon.  Try it with it heavier paper.  Et Voila!  Instant decoration (and cheap!)

Last night I finished Vera's handmade gift, a "knitted helmet" as the pattern calls it, which I think sounds too much like my child is some sort of crash tester who needs extra protection.  I call it a balaclava.  If you've knit socks before, this is even easier.  I'm hoping it will solve the problem of keeping both her head and neck covered...and it's even harder to remove than a hat that ties under the chin.  I used some scrap yarn in gray, which should go well with her pink/black winter coat.

The broccoli sprouts have also popped out this week and now I have a lovely carpet of greens.  I should be able to harvest them in a day or two.


Time to Take it Slowly...

Busy needles
The winter has been slow thus far.  I am nearing the end of a knitting project that I've fought with for at least a week until today when I realized that I was reading the pattern incorrectly.  The light went on and now I'm off and running again.  Hoping to have it done in the next day or so to wrap for Vera for the holidays.  Stay tuned.  Otherwise, still working on plans for my new dietary needs for the new year.  We're hosting my in-laws for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day and I'm excited to prepare a sort of German-themed meal for the big day--my Gramma's Beef Rouladen with Braised Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage.  Admittedly when I was a vegetarian for a few years in college, I'd secretly eat this when I came home on breaks and my mom prepared it.  Who can turn down braised beef stuffed with dill pickles and mustard?  Mmm...

We attended a holiday party in the western suburbs of Chicago this past Sunday.  I brought a vegetarian dish and promised the ladies at the party I'd share the recipe.

Simple Roasted Winter Vegetables
Serves 4

Adapted from Eat Fresh, Stay Healthy by Tony Tantillo and Sam Gugino.  You can take liberties with root vegetables and substitute/add rutabaga, Brussels sprouts, leeks, etc.  

3 medium potatoed, washed but unpeeled
3 small turnips, peeled
3 medium parsnips, peeled
1 1/2 lbs. butternut squash or other winter squash, peeled and seeded
3 medium carrots, peeled
1/4 c. vegetable stock
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
8-10 small onions, peeled
1 t. dried basil
Basil pesto, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees  Cut potatoes, turnips, parsnips, and squash into 1 1/4-1 1/2-inch square chunks.  Cut carrots into 1 1/2-inch lengths.  Mix stock with 1 T. olive and half salt and pepper.  In a large mixing bowl, pour mixture over vegetables and toss.  Put potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and onions in a large roasting pan.  Roast 15 min.  Add squash and cook 30-35 min. more, stirring a few times, until nicely browned and easily pierced with a fork.  Toss with remaining oil, salt and pepper, and basil.  Serve with basil pesto if desired.


Keeping Busy

During the summer, Ben told me I should save some of my posts for the winter when there isn't much going on.  I told him there would be plenty to blog about in the colder months, especially about recipes that utilize my preserves from the season.  But I've found a few other activities to keep us entertained as well. This week I started preparing some broccoli seeds for sprouting.  As I was looking through a hand-me-down cookbook from my mom, Healthy Food for Hungry Kids, (one I remember from childhood) I came across a section on sprouting, something I'd planned to do soon anyway.  I had just purchased some broccoli seeds at the co-op for this very purpose.  I've sprouted seeds in jars before, but I thought I'd try tray sprouting, which is much easier and works best for alfalfa, buckwheat groats, lentils, or brassica seeds.  First you cover the seeds with water and let them stand at room temp. about 3 hours or until the seeds swell.  Drain the seeds.  Line a shallow tray with 3 layers of paper towels.  Top with a single layer of cheesecloth.  Arrange the seeds in a single layer over the cheesecloth.  Spray thoroughly with a fine water spray.  (Paper towels should be wet, but the seeds shouldn't stand in water.)  Prick holes in a large piece of foil and cover the tray loosely.  Store in a warm (65-75 degrees), dark place.  Uncover the tray and spray with water 4-5 times/day until seeds sprout and grow 1/4 inch.  Then spray 2-3 more times/day, keeping sprouts moist at all times.  The sprouts are usually ready to eat in 3-5 days.  At that time, remove foil and set tray in a sunny place for several hours to let the leaves turn green.  Continue spraying sprouts.  To harvest, pull them off the cheesecloth.

Unholiday Gingerbread Cookies
This week we were cooped up inside as I was very actively working on potty training Vera, which was pretty exhausting and rather boring at times--lots of sitting, reading, sitting, watching vigilantly, sitting.  To pass the time one day, we were paging through one of my photos albums from early childhood and I came across a picture of me helping my mom make Christmas cookies, which I remember being a super exciting activity.  I decided that even if I can't eat the cookies that I should still engage in mixing, rolling, cutting, and baking them with Vera.  I found a recipe for "Gingerbread Boys" in Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, one my Gramma's coveted baking books that I inherited after she passed.  Vera loved licking the beaters, something my mom used to let us do.  This recipe was eggless so I figured the damage was minor.  She also seemed to enjoy rolling out the dough and loved using the cookie cutters.  I emptied the drawer of the cutters I thought she'd find most interesting, seasonal or not.  So we ended up with lots of gingerbread butterflies, bears, hearts, and stars.  The excitement was rounded off as we watched the cutouts puff up in the oven (Vera gasps and looks at me saying "Oo-ooh!")  Tomorrow we'll decorate them and take most to a holiday gathering on Sunday.
Roll It...
...And Cut It...

As you might imagine, since my allergy diagnosis last week I've been delving into research about food allergies as well as poring over gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and other-free cookbooks from the library.  I've found some great titles that I think I'll add to my new collection.  Flying Apron's Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book looks like a perfect fit for me.  In a different book I was reading the foreword about how food allergies arise.  It mentioned that one of the first symptoms is eczema or other skin irritations.  Last year I saw a dermatologist for a regular mole check and he told me I had eczema, which I'd already sensed.  He gave me some petroleum based shampoo, which I politely handed back to him and asked if there was some more natural or homeopathic way to deal with it.  He told me that was ridiculous and basically laughed me out of the office.  I'd like to find him now and ask him if he's ever heard anything about food allergies.  This also makes me wonder about my family's history with skin problems as well as Vera's intense eczema that was attributed, by her allergist's prick test, to a dust allergy.  Interesting that since we've weaned it's really cleared up.  Once again I'm amazed at how things circle back to nutrition.

On the topic of my new eating plan, it occurred to me yesterday that I might rethink my desire to have urban hens.  If I can't eat the eggs I need to recalculate whether it's worth the work.  Of course, backyard poultry is still advantageous for producing one's one garden fertilizer as well as having insect control and pets, not to mention a very strong bartering tool--those delicious huevos.  I'll still fight for others to have this opportunity, but I need to do more thinking before making plans for our own coop.


Have a Simple,Thrifty, Eco-Friendly Holiday

Holiday Food Spread
This time of year it's customary for Americans to buy lots of stuff they (and their friends/family) don't need, spend countless hours and dollars decorating their homes, and eat many more calories than they want to count.  Just the thought of it exhausts me, though that's how I grew up and how many people still choose to celebrate the season.  I believe people should celebrate as they wish, have fun, be safe, and enjoy their friends and family in the process, but I've chosen to keep it simple not only because I don't have the means to go over the top, but I also don't have the desire to get stressed.  Of course I'll buy gifts for my nieces and nephews and a couple of things for Vera and Ben, but we're keeping the decorating to a simple tabletop tree, stockings, and a few outside lights.  Where I will put my energy is into holiday entertaining.  I'm not hosting a black tie event or champagne brunch, but having people join us for good food (which, I admit, I'll excitedly spend a whole day preparing), conversation and beverages, tree-trimming and toasts.  To keep it simple (and hopefully stress-free) when preparing to host an intimate gathering I want to share my food/beverage preparation tips:

--Consider foods you can prepare ahead of time w/ minimal work that day.
--Check your supply and get creative with what's on hand--set a budget and stick to it!
--Delegate--ask your spouse, friends, or family to pick up booze or other items you need.
--Plan for leftovers--I don't mind prepping extra if it cuts the work for the following week's menu.
--Plan for kiddos--put out foods like veggies, crackers, fruit, cheese; place w/in reach.
--Leave the canapes to Martha--guests will be happy even if you ditch the fancy finger foods.
--Plan for allergies--consider your guests' dietary needs--they'll love you for it!
--Set-up a self-service bar--this frees up all hosts to greet and mingle with guests.
--Have fun!  Isn't that what it's all about?!

As I remember from Kindergarten
Our homemade "blocks"
And if you're hoping to make some gifts this year--something I always love to do--here's a super-cheap and eco-friendly idea for making kids' blocks.  Save small and medium size paperboard boxes from everything from cosmetics to spaghetti.  Wrap them with plain scrap fabric, paper or grocery bags.  For smaller children who are wont to tear and untape, reinforce the seams with packing tape (or non-toxic glue if using fabric).  Of course, they're not smash-resistant, but you'l likely put little resources into them so if one gets destroyed, no big deal. I've learned that kids don't need fancy toys with all the bells and whistles to be imaginative.  In fact, the simpler the better because they'll be more versatile and therefore last longer. These blocks remind me of the classic cardboard brick blocks we had in my kindergarten classroom--perfect for building "Girls Only" forts.

And speaking of keeping it simple, my new eating plan is going well thus far.  I've had to think way outside the box, but I'm far from starving.  I tweaked a recipe for homemade mayonnaise to be egg-free, soy-free, and dairy free.  Unfortunately I'm straying far from my local food roots here, but I still think it's a winner, though it vaguely reminds me of the avocado puree slathered on the #6 at Jimmy John's, which sustained me through most of college.

Avocado Mayonnaise
4-6 servings

This mayo will discolor a bit unless you add the Vitamin C powder, which can be purchased in bulk at Outpost Natural Foods...or you can grind up some Vitamin C tablets. This is a great mayo substitute in chicken/tuna/egg salad, as a spread on sandwiches, or as a dipping sauce for veggies. 

2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, scooped out of the skins and chopped coarsely
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 t. lemon or lime juice
1 t. vitamin C powder (to maintain color)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine garlic, salt and avocados in food processor and blend until a  paste forms.  Add oil and lemon juice through the tiny whole in the feed tube and blend until emulsified.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

This week I've created another breakfast dish; the hash last week was great, but one can only eat the same thing for so long.

Shredded Vegetable Skillet Cakes
Makes 4-6 large cakes

2 carrots
1 parsnip
1 burdock root (optional)
1 broccoli stem (once florets are removed)
1/2 c. parsley
1/4 c. raw sunflower seeds
1/4 c. water
3 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. avocado mayonnaise
3 T. flax meal
salt and pepper, to taste
ghee or coconut oil

Shred carrots, parsnips, burdock, and broccoli in a foot processor.  Remove to a large mixing bowl.  Puree parsley and sunflower seeds in food processor with water.  Add to shredded veggies.  Mix in remaining ingredients.  Heat a skillet over high and add enough ghee or coconut oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  When melted, add vegetable mixture and press down slightly into pan to cover the bottom.  Cook one side until browned, about 3-4 min.  Flip and cook the other side until browned.  Serve hot with more avocado mayo or, if you're an egg-lover, put a fried/scrambled egg on top.

Where the Worms Live
Now that the food part is out of the way, I can talk about worms.  Our seasonal pets are now cozy, warm and well-fed in the basement.  Ben set up the winter vermicomposting bin last week.  We buy our red wigglers at Joe's Bait Shop on Lincoln Ave. just across from Kosciusko Park.  I must say, it's really nice not to have to trek outside for now with the kitchen waste pail.  I just trot downstairs and make the deposit.  We keep a bin of sawdust and another of shredded newspaper nearby to add occasionally to help with carbon content and excess moisture, respectively.  We have the bin propped up on blocks inside of another bin so that the liquid doesn't accumulate at the bottom of the bin.  Our first year with this project, we noticed the worms were trying to escape b/c they were basically drowning down below. This allows the worm juice to leak off.  It can be used on houseplants or dumped outside (or saved in a covered bucket for warmer weather).


My New Reality

Raw Local Carrots, Kohlrabi, Black and Watermelon Radishes
I may have eluded to the fact that I've been trying to focus on gluten-free alternatives, especially when it comes to baking.  I've been seeing a nutritionist for a couple of months since hearing him speak at a monthly Holistic Moms Network meeting.  I've not been completely satisfied with my overall health, especially my digestion, for a few years now.  I've had chronic aches and pains, trouble sleeping, chronic fatigue, abdominal discomfort, trouble losing my pregnancy weight (to the point where several people asked if I was pregnant again), and a number of other ailments.  I decided it was time to act; I wanted to feel the best that I could, especially as I try to keep up with Vera, now 21 months old.  My initial thought, based on what I'd read along with some client testimonials from my nutritionist, was that I had a gluten sensitivity.  Of course, that seemed "tragic" at first, but I quickly adjusted and learned to bake with alternative flours or avoid carbs altogether when I could.  I'd found some great online resources, cookbooks, and friends experiencing the same problems.  I decided it would be no problem; after a couple of weeks observing this plan I was already sleeping well, losing weight, and not craving carbs or sweets.  Yesterday I went to get the official results of my GI test and learned, not only that I'm some sort of anomaly, but that the challenge has only just begun.  It turns out I had several other problems with my gut including allergies to dairy, soy, eggs, and, in fact, gluten.  Wow!  I was just saying two days ago, "I can handle the no-gluten thing, but what would I ever do if I had to give up cheese?"  The irony!  Having spent most of my life behind "The Cheddar Curtain," today was probably the first day of my life I haven't consumed a dairy product.  I also have to watch sugars--including fruit (and honey, of course) for just a couple of weeks.  "So what can I eat?" I asked.  All the meat I want (another initial recommendation was to increase my protein, especially in the form of meat), nuts, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, good fats, and avocado (technically a fruit).  Thank goodness I have culinary knowledge because I can imagine feeling lost and overwhelmed if I didn't know how to cook when I now have to be more creative than ever.  After a few months of staying away from these foods, I'll get retested and perhaps be able to add a little bit (minus the soy) back in, but in the meantime it's like being a vegan, but a meat-eater at the same time.   Gone are the days of rich, French-style cooking a la Julia with tons of butter and cream, but I'm willing to go straight at this and discipline myself, approaching holidays and all (thank goodness I'm cooking for a couple of the big meals.)  I've already been challenged with breakfast at which I would usually eat a bowl of plain yogurt, honey, and fruit or a plate of scrambled eggs.  Smoothies will now be supplemented with non-dairy coconut kefir; my weekly pizza "cheese" will be cooked, pureed, and highly olive oiled white beans;  and I'll quickly teach myself how to make a vegan mayo using avocado (too bad these aren't local b/c I picture myself going to the hispanic grocery once a week to buy case lots of them.)  One of the hardest things so far has been figuring out snacks when I'm so used to grabbing a piece of cheese or an apple (though the fruit ban is very temporary.) Nuts are my pals, beans are my buddies, and I suppose easy to munch veggies like celery, carrots, and radishes will also be my good friends.  One thing I will say is that if I thought I was thinking critically before about what I was eating (though more from a "where did this food come from?" perspective), now it will be even more intentional.  How cool is that?  I'm extremely optimistic and actually very excited--mostly to see how great I can feel as soon a month from now.  And my nutritionist suggests I hop on the cookbook writing circuit.  You heard it here first.

Breakfast Hash (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free, Sugar-Free)
Serves 1

2-3 small to medium potatoes (various colors and varieties), scrubbed, diced, and steamed
2 T. chopped bell or hot peppers
2 T. diced onions
3 mushrooms, sliced
2 leaves Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves chopped

Spices such as cumin, curry, etc. (optional)
Salt and pepper

1/2 avocado
2 T. raw pumpkin seeds

Heat a large skillet and add the ghee.  Saute potatoes, peppers, onions, and mushrooms until soft, 2-3 min.  Add the swiss chard and continue to saute until chard wilts.  Season with spices, if desired.  Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.  Add avocado and pumpkin seeds and enjoy while hot.

*Dairy-free b/c the milk solids have been removed.


Let it Snow!

Vera enjoys poking the pizza dough.
It's December now so it's "officially" winter.  That's according to the local weatherman because this is the beginning of the four months in which they record snowfall.  I guess I'm ready.  A couple of weeks ago I saw news hour scenes of heavy snow in Minnesota and actually, for the first time in my life, winced and covered my face.  Now that Thanksgiving has passed I suppose it's okay to see a few flakes though I'm ambivalent about the snow this year.  On one hand I'm excited to take Vera out in her sled or boots to play in the white stuff.  On the other hand I don't like to shovel (though Ben usually does more of the winter outside upkeep whereas I do the summer, right B?)  I think what makes me most hesitant is the idea of cabin fever--being cooped up inside in a small place with a youngin' who currently only focuses on one activity for about 10 minutes.  Of course, we'll
manage, but not without some challenges, I'm sure.  Time to get creative.

We got out of Dodge for a pre-blizzard day-trip already this week.  On Wednesday we headed down to Chicago to visit a girl friend I've known since grade school and her two young children.  We spent the day hanging out with the kids and catching up after not having seen each other in about three years.  She's a fellow nutrition major so we always have some sort of food conversation.  This time we talked about the challenges of getting our kids to eat veggies (especially green ones) and the joys of Community Support Agriculture.  She's motivated to expand her vegetable garden next year, which is a fantastic opportunity to have even a postage stamp size yard right in Chicago.  I realized how amazing it is to have friends who have known me so long.  I am lucky to have maintained several of those relationships and do my best to keep in touch.  Sounds like the beginning of an ongoing resolution for the New Year.

So, in case you're still nursing some Thanksgiving turkey, I have a couple more recipes.  Today was day seven--by restaurant sanitation standards, the last day I could hang on to my turkey.  It was time to use it or lose it.  We're just about turkeyed out after this week so I trimmed a bit more dark meat off the bone and threw the rest (two legs and a large breast) into a freezer bag.  It's the turkey that never ends!  Earlier this week I made an Asian-inspired turkey salad, which I served over a local spinach salad.  I was lucky enough to find mint and cilantro still surviving in the garden.

Spicy Thai-Style Turkey Salad
Serves 4-6

Mix the first five ingredients and use it as a marinade for chicken breasts as well; serve on baguettes with the fresh herbs.

Turkey Salad over Spinach
2 hot chilies, seeded and minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. soy sauce
2 t. sesame oil
1/2 c. homemade mayonnaise (see recipe below or sub. store-bought)
3 c. chopped turkey (or chicken)
1/2 c. chopped curried pickled vegetables (I used homemade pickled summer squash), optional
1 T. dried basil leaves
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves

Whisk chilies, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and mayo in a medium bowl.  Add turkey.  In a food processor, chop the herbs thoroughly then fold into turkey mixture.  Serve on a sandwich or salad.

Easy Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 c.

Recipe from my 2010 Holistic Moms Network Cookbook.  I like this mayo recipe because it uses both the egg yolks and white.  

1 organic egg, room temp.
2 T. red wine vinegar, room temp.
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 t. dry mustard
3/4 c. neutral oil (I recommend grapeseed, sunflower, or olive oil...you could also add a little flax oil)

Place raw egg, wine vinegar, salt, and dry mustard in food processor (or blender at low speed) and add 1 T. of oil.  Blend and then add remainder of oil in a slow steady stream until thick.  Refrigerate.


In keeping with our regular Friday-homemade-pizza-night we used a little more turkey for this week's pie.  I finally found a gluten-free crust recipe I can enjoy in the Gluten Free Girl and the Chef Cookbook.    It doubles as a gluten-free cracker recipe.  I pulled Vera up to the counter in her "tower" and she had fun "helping" roll out the dough.  (It looked more like throwing flour around and eating the dough to me, but she had a great time.)

Napa Cabbage and Sunchoke Pizza
Makes one 12-inch pizza

We used sunchokes from our garden and our first harvest of Napa Cabbage, which I saved from the freeze.  Though sunchokes have a very earthy flavor, this "sauce" turns out to be slightly "sweet."

1 lb. sunchokes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper
2 T. ghee
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. Savoy or Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 c. diced turkey
1/2 lb. prepared pizza dough
Flour for dusting
1 c. shredded cheese--Swiss, mozzarella, your choice
3 T. freshly grated pecorino cheese
1 T. chopped thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.  Preheat a pizza stone for 45 min. or generously oil a large baking sheet.  Boil sunchokes in milk over moderate heat until tender, about 15 min.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a food processor.  Add 1/4 c. milk and puree.  Return puree to pan and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until reduced to 1/2 c., about 3 min.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a large, deep skillet, heat ghee.  Add onion, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 min.  Add cabbage, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 min.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roll out pizza dough and slide onto pizza stone.  Dock.  Prebake until slightly golden, about 5 min.  Remove crust from oven and spread the sunchoke puree over the round, leaving 1/2-inch border.  Add cabbage/onion mixture, mushrooms, turkey, cheese.  Bake about 10 min. or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and sprinkle pecorino and thyme on top.  Serve hot.


The Results Are In!

2009 Veggies
Just a day or two before Thanksgiving we had a freeze, which finally put an end to our garden.  I harvested and weighed what I salvaged from the frost; the final yield has been tallied.  I've estimated that we have about 250 square feet of food growing space (with probably that much more used for native flowers and other perennials).  I rounded down all the weights and didn't think to start measuring anything until after my spring harvest of many salad greens, spinach, radishes.  So the official grand total is 227.39 pounds--almost one pound per square foot--including bumper crops of 15 lbs. green beans, 22+ lbs. carrots and 61+ lbs. tomatoes.  I've been trying to find information online about how what a good per square foot yield is on an intensively planted plot like ours, but have had no luck.  (Please share any leads you might have.)  I suppose the goal for next year is to top this; I'm already getting ideas for how to expand the growing space.

Have you had enough turkey yet?  We ended up with an almost 20-pound bird.  The only drawback, I've found, of ordering a local turkey is that it can be more difficult to get the exact size you want.  I bargained for a <15 lbs. tom and got a much meatier one.  I have the "Turkey" folder pulled out of my recipe file (why yes, I do have a file dedicated just to this bird; it's a sub-category under "Poultry" in the ordered box of clippings about which my husband constantly teases me.)  We polished off the tetrazzini in no time so tonight I prepared a Mexican Lasagna with my own twists.  When people ask me if I learned to cook from my mother I hesitate because my mom was more of the casserole generation.  Don't get me wrong, she made mostly from-scratch dinners every night, rarely used the microwave for food preparation, and raised a very healthy family, but she and I happen to have different styles of cooking.  Let me put it this way, at the Thanksgiving dinner table, as I was picking through our deck of Earth Dinner cards and came upon the question "What foods are staples in your pantry/fridge?" my mom admitted to relying on Cream of Mushroom Soup.  On that note, I dedicate this casserole recipe to her; she's the ace of this domain.  I love you Muzz!

South-of-the-Border Lasagna
Serves 8-12

1 lb. leftover turkey, chopped in a food processor (can sub. ground turkey)
16 oz. homemade salsa
3 dried hot peppers, cut into small pieces
2 t. chili powder
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. black pepper
1/2 t. granulated garlic
1 large egg, whisked
2 c. ricotta cheese
1 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
14 sprouted corn tortillas
2 c. cooked beans (mung, black, pinto, etc.) pureed w/ enough liquid to make spreadable
2 c. fresh frozen corn kernels
4 green onion, chopped (optional, to garnish)
Sour cream/plain whole milk yogurt (optional, to garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat a large skillet and add turkey, salsa, chilies, and seasonings.  Cook a few minutes so flavors can meld; set aside.  In a small bowl, combine egg, ricotta, and 1/4 c. mozzarella.  Grease sides and bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole dish.  Cover bottom of pan with 4 tortillas.  Layer in the following order: corn, 1/2 of meat mixture, 4 tortillas, bean puree, remaining meat, 4 tortillas, then cheese mixture, remaining shredded cheese.  Bake about 45 minutes or until bubble and golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool slightly before cutting and serving.  Garnish with green onions, and sour cream/yogurt.  Can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated before baking.

Our Front Door
Now that Thanksgiving has passed we've started to think about December holidays: Winter Solstice, Christmas, New Year's Eve.  Ben and I each did our part in stringing white LED lights on the front of the house.  I knew I wanted to use more of my reserved blackberry canes somehow in the garland; I wasn't prepared to shell out upwards of $100 on greenery this year so I used my resources and homegrown decoration.  My original idea was to outline the front doorway with the twisting canes, but since they'd been wound up in the garage for the past month, they wanted nothing to do with bending my way. I decided to work with them.  The design evolved to an over-the-door cluster of vines and lights--very organic and eclectic; I love it.  I also repeated from last year the lights in the window boxes twisting through my pea trellis twigs.  With some icicle lights on the front roofline, that's all the outdoor decorating we'll do.  The inside we'll keep simple as well--a small tree with lights and heirloom ornaments, the small keepsake creche Ben bought in Chile, and maybe a string of homemade garland in a doorway.  I aim to focus on the joys and peacefulness of the season instead of bogging myself down with setup and cleanup, not to mention the expense...oh, and off-season storage, of a lot of decorations.  'Tis the season for keeping it simple.

Window boxes 
Cluster of Blackberry Canes with White Lights


Using the Leftovers

Table Decor: Mini Squash, Persimmons, Locust Bean Pods, Horsetail and Isanti Dogwood Twigs
We enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing holiday yesterday and all went as I'd imagined.  I took an early morning walk with Vera while Ben finished a few housekeeping details.  Watched the Macy's Parade, leisurely cooked, visited with my folks, and sat down to a warm feast mid-afternoon.  We all took a brisk walk after dinner then enjoyed dessert and coffee.  In the evening we played games until we couldn't keep our eyes open.  Now we deal with the leftovers.  If you hosted Thanksgiving I'm going to assume you're dealing with extra turkey as well.  If you don't already have plans for it, here's my favorite recipe for post-Turkey Day.  I tried to make it a bit healthier this year by adding more veggies, using half and half instead of heavy cream, and subbing gluten-free flour and pasta.

Turkey Tetrazzini
Serves 8

One can easily substitute wheat pasta and all-purpose flour for the gluten-free varieties in this recipe.

6 oz. gluten-free spinach spaghetti (cooked)
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/4 c. brandy or sherry
1 c. half and half
2 2/3 c. chicken or turkey broth
3 c. cooked turkey, cut into bit-size pieces
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c. chopped green peppers (I used home frozen)
1 c. chopped Swiss chard, stems removed
1 c. grated Parmesan (or cheese of your choice)

1 t. kosher salt, or to taste
pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Place cooked spaghetti in the bottom of a baking dish.  In large pot, melt butter; add flour and whisk for a minute.  Add liquor, half and half, and broth, whisk.  Add cheese and whisk until melted.  Stir in remaining ingredients and season to taste.  Pour tetrazzini mixture over pasta and bake 30 min.  Serve hot.


Countdown to Turkey Time

I started cooking yesterday afternoon.  I'm trying to manage not only my oven space (different dishes need to be baked at different temps., of course), but also to get part of the mess out of the way so I can relax a little with my family tomorrow.  The biggest challenge has been coordinating space in the fridge for the bulk of ingredients from a Thanksgiving CSA share I picked up last week, the last of our garden harvest (which I frantically harvested yesterday after the overnight freeze), and the staged and finished dishes for Thursday's meal.  I find this thrilling!  I just realized I should have posted my Thanksgiving menu and recipes earlier than today in case someone was still looking for ideas, but since many of these dishes aren't exactly traditional, one could prepare them for any feast especially other upcoming holiday meals.  I am happy to say that most of the ingredients are from local producers and our own garden.  My parents are bringing wine from a winery they recently visited near their home in east-central Illinois.  A feast we will have as we give thanks for the many fortunes and much happiness we've had this past year.

Brined and Roasted American Heritage Bronze Turkey
Turkey Gravy
Cornbread Stuffing with Fruit and Polenta Bread
Classic Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Brined Brussels Sprouts with Lemony Mushroom Melange
Gluten-Free Sesame Bean Buns
Jellied Cranberry Salad with Spiced Apples and Pecans
Maple Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Gluten-Free Quinoa Walnut Crust

Shelled Acorns
My first acorn experiment is complete.  I patiently took these nuts from tree to meal/flour in about two days.  The initial attempt was a bit tedious, but I feel if I repeated it, I'd get my cracking technique down pat, which would save loads of time.  With some minor changes and adaptations, I referred to the instructions in The Urban Homestead book I referenced in a previous post.  This guide suggested that one soak the acorns first--which I did--then discard the ones that float.  On the contrary, I learned that the ones that float were the good and all that sank were rotten.  Then I got out the Vise-Grip and cracked away.  Of course Ben always walks into the kitchen at the most appropriate time.  He said, "this looks like the 'Black Walnut Experiment,'" referring to another urban adventure we had at our apartment downtown.  A co-worker had given me a grocery sack full of black walnuts after I excitedly inquired about them to make nocino (pronounced "no-CHEE-no"), a bitter black walnut liqueur I'd tasted on a culinary tour outside of Bologna.  This intensely flavored alcohol is made from nuts traditionally collected between June 24-25 because of the magical powers of the dew on that specific eve.   Well, these nuts sat there from June 24 to approximately December 24 before I finally got around to cracking them open.  In the cold, we set up some tarps on our tiny balcony and went to town with hammers, tweezers, and toothpicks doing our best to draw out as many nut meats as possible.  Most flew off the balcony with every whack of the hammer, much to the delight of the squirrels waiting below.  We ended up with a 1/2-pint of nuts, but it wasn't for naught as I'm determined to find some lesson in all of my urban homesteading trials.  I developed a much greater appreciation for small-scale (and I mean very small scale (like the elderly man who sells hand-shelled hickory nuts at the Dane County Farmers' Market) nut processors.  Now you can imagine the hesitation of Ben's expression when he saw I was at it again with these acorns.  After cracking them all I put them in my classic Osterizer, covering the nuts with water.  I soon realized this machine wouldn't cut it so I transferred them to the hand-be-down vintage Vita-Mix from my mother-in-law and that made quick work of these nuts.  The VM never fails!  I was left with acorn "mash."  Acorns contain lots of tannins (very bitter, astringent components also found in red wine) that must be soaked out before the nuts can be consumed.  Older wild foraging guides call for boiling the mash several times and dumping the water.  This takes a lot of energy so my guidebook suggested soaking in a bowl of water instead.  I tied the mash in a piece of scrim (you can use cheesecloth) and filled the bowl with water.  When the water became dark and cloudy I dumped it and filled it again.  I repeated this step for about 24 hours (leaving it to sit overnight) and finally the astringency was gone.  I spread the mash on a silicone baking mat on a cookie sheet and dried it at a low oven temp.  Then I whizzed it in the spice grinder to make a dark, sweet-nutty smelling meal/flour.  It can be added or partially substituted in savory baking recipes.  
Never Fails!

Soaking out the Tannins
Dried Mash

Final Ground Acorn Meal

On that note, I used some of my sunchoke flour yesterday to make cornbread for our Thanksgiving cornbread stuffing.  I indicated my substitutions in the recipe below so you could make it without these odd flours.

Polenta Cornbread
Serves 6

Use in place of your favorite cornbread or take it a step further, turning it into cornbread stuffing.

Sunchokes add a lovely earthy, nutty flavor to this bread.
5 large eggs, whisked
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 lb. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c. finely sliced scallions
1 1/2 t. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/4 c. APF, 1/2 c. sunchoke flour, 1/4 c. wild rice flour)
1 1/2 c. fine grind polenta
2 T. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
1 c. grated Asiago cheese (or other cheese of your choosing)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly butter 9x13-inch baking dish.  In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, butter, scallions, salt.  Set aside.  In large bowl, combine flour(s), polenta, baking powder, baking soda, cheese.  Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until there no large lumps.  Do not overwork.  Spread batter in baking dish.  Bake 30-35 min. or until golden brown and a skewer inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on rack.  

Jump, Jump, Jump!
Just in time for more Thanksgiving meal preparations today, an early holiday delivery arrived from Grammy and Papa for Vera yesterday.  I call it "Mommy's Little Helper."  You may have seen these towers.  They are meant for kids to be able to reach the countertop to observe or help prepare meals.  Vera's always asking to go "up and down," which in this case mean's "up" when I'm cooking.  She's curious about what I'm chopping, mixing, and sauteeing.  Now she can stand beside me--in her little apron--and view her own personal cooking show every day.  So far she's just used this piece of equipment as a jungle gym under my supervision, of course.  Oh my, the hysteria (or "high-steria" as my Boston-bred father-in-law would say)!  But that will no doubt wear off and hopefully she'll want to help me "cook."  Apparently it can double as a puppet theatre.  I'm expecting to see some Tony Award-Nominated sock puppets shows before she leaves home.  In the meantime maybe I can get her learning about cooking early on. 


Recycled Knits

Recycled Short-Sleeved Sweater with Vintage Buttons
Flea Market Vintage Buttons

Recycled Hat for Vera

It's a great afternoon to post as I sit by the window watching the rain come down on this "warm" November day.  I guess it's good for my garden that never ends.  It's also a great day to curl up with some knitting needles.  I finished a project last night that I'd been working on since last spring (or was it winter?)  As I've mentioned, I don't knit much in the summer because I'm hiding in the cool basement sewing during that season.  So I had a long pause with what I believe is the first garment I've made for myself that's worthy of wearing.  I'm not counting the very first knitting project I ever started/completed--a striped poncho--which had a lot to be desired in terms of shape and quality.  I've made plenty of accessories--hats, scarves, socks--and plenty of baby knits, but not many full size pieces for myself.  I've been very excited about short-sleeved sweaters lately because I love layering clothes in the winter.  Some might find the color obnoxious, but I happen to love green--especially chartreuse (ironic b/c it's the color my mom detests most since her mother dyed her First Communion dress that shade.) This sweater is actually an afghan reincarnated (sorry, I don't have a "BEFORE" photo.)  On a thrifting trip a couple of years ago I was looking at yarn and an older women stocking the shelves  struck up a conversation and gave me the idea to purchase a sweater or other garment for its yarn (even if I didn't care for the piece itself), disassemble it and reknit it into something I enjoyed.  I first tried this with a hat I made for Vera; originally it was an adult size "tam," but I unraveled it and whipped it into a cute flap hat for winter.  My next endeavor was much more grand and I'll be honest--half of this afghan is still in tact in my knitting hutch.  I made the mistake of washing the blanket before unraveling, which made it much harder to untangle, especially because it had an intricate leaf pattern.  On that note, if you choose to try recycling yarn, 1) don't wash the garment first--unravel, knit new, then clean the final piece (depending on the type of yarn and washing instructions...SAVE THE CARE LABEL), 2) choose a garment with a simple stockinette or garter stitch; it's much more difficult to unravel a cable knit or other intricate pattern, 3) look for items that are machine seamed--it's much easier to rip apart the seams, though hand seamed isn't extremely difficult, 4) if you have a small child, ask them to help you unravel--this is one time that this temptation for a child comes in handy.  At any rate, recycling knits is a great way to get many skeins of yarn without the hefty price tag (this blue, long-sleeved cropped sweater was just a couple bucks and I rendered five skeins from it.)  As a homesteader, I'm always trying to be economical.  I found that disassembling these garments also gave me a greater appreciation for the quality of handknit items as well as another lesson in how garments are constructed.  I have a couple more sweaters to tear out--I have more time than money for ripping/knitting these days--then I plan to knit some cute dresses for Vera (there are many great free patterns online!)
Sweater to Disassemble

5 Skeins to Recycle

More Sweaters to Unravel
Link to us:

While I'm mentioning crafts, I have to tell you about one of my favorite annual events that's coming up next weekend.  Art vs. Craft is happening Saturday, Nov. 27.  On Friday after Thanksgiving I'll be observing national "Buy Nothing Day" as usual, but on Sat. I'll be checking out the highly talented and artsy/crafty folks at this event.  Please check it out! And if you give gifts for the holidays, consider buying local or handmade with intention.

This week begins the big preparation for Turkey Day.  We picked up our tom at the West Allis Farmers' Market on Saturday.  Vera got to ride with it in the wagon, but seemed let down by all the build up to "picking up the turkey" only to have this plastic-wrapped mass plopped next to her and a 1/2 bushel of winter squash in the old Radio Flyer.  I'm sure she'll change her mind at mealtime when she's licking juice off her little fingers.  I have to make a trip to the store on Wednesday for just a few last items, but otherwise I'm armed with roasting pan, mixer, butcher twine, and apron to put a feast on the table Thursday afternoon.  And about that store visit--I usually don't shop at mainstream supermarkets, but there's something that draws me to them before a big holiday meal.  I love to sense the hustle and bustle as everyone seeks out their ingredients, chooses their turkeys, considers their gravy options, and loads up on booze to make the big day a success.  Maybe it's some odd memory from childhood or later of going to the store with my mom before the holidays.  I don't know, but I'm looking forward to this foray.

Thanksgiving will truly be a celebration of the harvest for us this year.  Aside from the few greens, herbs, and roots still bearing the cold, the garden is officially closed for the season.  We placed the coldframe on Sunday and I'll plant my spinach and lettuce mix in it this week for early spring harvest.  Then we can sit down on Thursday and give thanks for all our homestead has provided this past year.