...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.


Bike to Work

Today I rode my bicycle to Sheridan's where I work one day each week making pastries.  This was the first year I officially participated in Milwaukee's Bike to Work Week.  I only live three miles from my place of employment so I should have been doing this regularly for the past three summers; it took me that long to mentally map out the flattest route.  When we were first opening the restaurant in the summer of 2007 I rode to work a couple of days when I didn't necessarily have to be there on time or early.  That just about did me in.  Since then, the summers have found me motor scootering to work instead of pedaling.  But I made it in just under 30 minutes this morning and that was with severely underinflated tires.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm way out of bicycling shape, especially when it comes to climbing those hills.  My body is a far cry from when I was obsessively fit in high school and would bike to the gym at 5 AM every morning before school for strength training then have either tennis, gymnastics, cheerleading, or track practice after school.  I'd bike to the Illinois/Indiana state line on the weekends or ride 15 miles to the next town "just to see if I could" (I quote an elderly man written up in our local hometown paper who walked to the next town for this reason...often a slow news day in rural east central Illinois).  It was no wonder I had eight-pack abs and all the energy in the world.  These days I still "exercise," but in different ways.  I garden, chase Vera, do yoga once or twice a week, and walk most of my errands around our neighborhood.  My exercise is part of my daily routine.  Now that I've successfully biked to work I think I could do this every week, weather permitting.  And we finally got the bike trailer hooked up today so Vera and I should be able to travel even farther without jumping in the car.  Honestly, I really get tired of schlepping her around in the car sometimes.  We took the bus a couple of times this week and I realized that, if nothing else--thought there are MANY good reasons to take public transport--it's a great opportunity to do a lot of reading.  And for a busy mom, that is precious time.

This time of the gardening season we are up to our necks in lettuce.  I always say I'm going to seed less of it, but that never happens.  We eat huge salads every night--in fact, we've graduated from each having an individual salad bowl to me tossing a much larger salad in a community bowl so we can go back for seconds--yet we barely make a dent in this leafy bounty.  So we have to get creative.  Last night I made lettuce wraps.  We didn't latch on to this idea when the Atkins Diet was popular years ago, but we do it now partly out of necessity and partly because they're really good--crunchy and fresh tasting.

Lemon Pepper Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps
Makes 6 wraps

I used locally pastured chicken on the bone and boiled it with some vegetable scraps--carrot peels, celery leaves, onion and garlic skins--so that I make a chicken stock the same time I'm cooking my meat for the salad.  Removing the lettuce's vein is something I learned while working at a Japanese restaurant and making cabbage rolls.  Just trim the bulkiest part of the back of the vein, you don't have to completely cut it out.

2/3 c. mayonnaise (homemade if you can make it)
6 T. finely chopped celery
6 T. finely chopped spring onions
2 t. dried lemon peel
1 t. dried Herbs de Provence
1/4 c. lemon juice
4 c. cooked, finely chopped chicken breast
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
12 large lettuce leaves (romaine, butterhead, etc.), vein removed
Other looseleaf lettuce for filling, optional

In a medium bowl, stir together mayonnaise, onion, celery, lemon peel, herbs, and lemon juice.  Add chopped chicken, stir to coat; set aside.  (If the mixture seems dry, add more lemon juice or a bit of chicken stock.)  Lay out two lettuce leaves per wrap with ends opposite.  Lay other delicate pieces of looseleaf lettuce on top of the larger leaves.  Scoop some chicken salad onto one end of each set of leaves, tuck in the ends and roll up tightly.  Secure with toothpicks and plate with the seam down.  You can enjoy these just like this or with a delicious dipping sauce of your choice.

Tonight we tried grilling our weekly homemade pizza.  We recently acquired a larger charcoal grill from a dear friend and our pizza stone fits inside of it.  Ben got some pizza grilling advice from a co-worker so we thought we'd give it a shot.  It took us months to perfect our homemade pizza in the oven so I'm sure this version will take us all summer.  So far it was pretty good, though the bottom was a slightly charred.  But I threw some roasted beets on it along with fresh spinach, our homemade sauce and sausage and our standard mushroom, black olive, cheese.  Delicious if I do say so myself.  And it was the perfect night to keep the cooking heat outside since it was so blasted hot.

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