...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.


The Dog Days of Summer

Vera "digging" the beach
We just returned from a Wegner family vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Hot hot hot!  Good food, good family times, lots of relaxing.  Ben and I always enjoy checking out the "local color" when we make these trips; the jaunt via rental car from the Florence, SC airport to MB provided another opportunity.  We took in all the local sites as we crept down the highly-trafficked main highway--the South's requisite slew of Waffle Houses including a local knock-off called "Mr. Waffles," Thorny's Steakhouse and Saloon ("Home of the 80 oz. Steak Challenge"), Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, and lots of little roadside stands selling sweet potatoes, pecans, and watermelons (which we managed to sample--Mmmm!)  The week consisted of beach time, pool time, personal time, and lots of home-cooked meals back at our villa.  It's enjoyable to cook on vacation because there aren't a million other duties simultaneously staring me in the face.

Jumbo picking cucumbers
Lots of cherry tomatoes
Now it's back to reality.  Upon our return we found out it hadn't rained all week, but the vegetable garden and yard were still a jungle.  I fought the mosquitoes even midday to harvest green beans and tomatoes among other veggies.  My watermelon trellis collapsed (as expected) under the weight of at least three fast-growing melons; my potted pumpkin plant succumbed to powdery mildew which is quickly taking over my summer squash and zucchini, and our grapevines have now grown into a beautiful arch over the side gate.  Wow!  The critters seem to have enjoyed our hiatus as well--the aforementioned "skeeters" were as big as chipmunks, the chipmunks as big as squirrels, and the squirrels probably all passed out under our neighbors' deck with bellies full of cherry toms and my fall cabbage seedlings (which were doing fine before I left, but have now vanished).  I had green beans as big as pickling cukes, pickling cukes sized up like zucchini, and zucchini the size of baseball bats (these will be shredded and frozen for winter quick breads.)  Pounds and pounds of vegetables rolled through the backdoor today and there's more work to do tomorrow.  Might not be what one wants to face right after a week's vacation, but the advantage is that even though the fridge was empty from last week's clean-out, I had my own grocery store in the backyard.  Tonight I made a pot of ratatouille with the majority of the veggies coming from our garden.

Serves 4-6

Adapted from 1000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles.  If you don't have the right amount of zucchini or summer squash, you can sub. some combination of either.  Also, with a recently empty fridge, I didn't have tomato paste so I subbed organic ketchup then left out the sugar.

2 T. olive oil
2 c. chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 c. diced eggplant
1 c. red bell pepper chunks
1/2 c. green bell pepper chunks
3 c. tomato wedges
2 c. sliced zucchini
1 c. sliced yellow squash
1/3 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. red wine
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. sugar
1 t. dried basil (or 2 t. fresh, chopped)
1/2 t. dried rosemary, crumbled
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. dried sage
2 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
1/8 t. pepper

In a 6-quart pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic; cook stirring until softened, about 2 min.  Add the eggplant and bell peppers; cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 min.  Add the tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, parsley, wine, tomato paste, sugar, herbs.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, uncovered, 25 min., stirring occasionally.  Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper, simmer 5 min. longer.  Serve over rice, pasta, or polenta.

Depending on our energy levels tomorrow, we may venture out to the Wisconsin State Fair.  It's been year's since I've attended, but this year I scored a free ticket and I think Vera would enjoy expanding her repertoire of farm animal sounds (so far most animals are called "moos.")  I also have a strange curiosity about this season's new Food on a Stick.  I'm still waiting to see if they can produce deep-fried cigarettes on a stick, but with the state's new smoking ban, they may have missed the boat on what could have been a very popular idea.  Anyway, I'm also excited to check out the Horticulture, Crafts, and Culinary Pavilion, no surprise.  I'm anticipating a flashback to my days as an Edgar County, Illinois Pine Grove Ag. 4-H'er and baking or crafting for the judges each summer.  Stay tuned.

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