...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.


Using the Summer Heat to Keep Cool

The Sun Oven in the final roasting phase

I'm starting to feel a bit of fall in the air, dare I say.  After the heat we've endured this summer I think I'm nearly ready.  But I don't want to wish the summer days away so in the meantime we'll do what we can to keep cool.  The other day I slow-cooked beets in the Sun Oven most of the day.  They were tender and the skins slipped off easily.  All without heating up the house, thank goodness.  I feel like the process of getting these beets on the table begins to define where I'd like to go with our urban homestead--we grew the beets using soil enriched with homemade compost, we cooked them by the sun's energy in our yard, and the trimmings went back into our compost, which will help grow more beautiful beets next year.  My dream is a closed loop.  I prepared one of my favorite beet recipes with these sun roasted treats.

Honey Mustard Beets
Serves 8

Adapted from Fresh Start by Julie Rosso.  I love to use fresh herbs as a "salad" so add more if you'd like.  The walnuts are a nice additional, but if you plan to eat this as leftovers you may want to add the walnuts at serving time, otherwise they may get soft.

8 c. large dice roasted beets
3/4 c. finely minced fresh chives
1/2 c. finely minced flat leaf parsley
2 T. plus 2 t. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. honey
4 t. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. walnut pieces toasted, optional

In a large bowl, combine the beets, chives, and parsley.  In another bowl, combine the mustard, honey, and vinegar and stir until smooth.  Toss with the beet mixture to coat, then season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with walnuts if desired.  Enjoy immediately or set aside for 1-2 hours at room temperature to give the flavors more time to blend.

Homemade "Fish Sticks"
With this salad I prepared breaded pan-fried smelt or, what I like to call, "homemade fish sticks."  I used a three-step breading process with seasoned flour, egg (with a little water added), and homemade seasoned breadcrumbs.  When breading, remember to always dedicate one hand to handling wet and one to dry.  We rarely fry food in our house, but occasionally something begs to be pan-fried, such as these little fish.  Though they're lake fish, because they are small--therefore low on the food chain--they should be relatively low in toxins unlike many of our fish these days.  This may have been my first time enjoying smelt.  It was surprisingly delicious and not fishy at all.  Though I suppose if I breaded and deep-fried my shoe I'd also eat it.  No, really I recommend smelt.  I served them with a quick tartar sauce made from sour cream, horseradish sauce, and minced dill pickles.

Canned Whole Tomatoes
The past few days have also found me trying to manage this season's abundance of tomatoes.  It seems like we bring in one or two pounds every day.  I had given up on growing heirlooms because in our microclimate a couple blocks from the lake we never got enough consecutive warm days for ripening.  This year I planted early maturing varieties and just my luck it's been hot hot hot since June (maybe next year I'll try one or two heirloom plants again.) But the hybrids that I am carting into the house are perfect for canning whole tomatoes, making sauce, or drying.  So far I have just canned whole tomatoes, but I plan to make crushed toms also.  If you're canning tomatoes, please use a tested recipe and add acid (lemon juice) if canning them in a hot water bath canner.  Tomatoes, as is, fall on the borderline of needing to be canned under pressure versus hot water bath.  Be safe, not sorry!

Yesterday I started bringing in the carrot harvest for the year.  I planted Danvers Half Long (an heirloom variety), Tonda di Parigi (a Thumbelina variety planted between the rows of other to grow "on their shoulders"), and Merida (an overwinter storage carrot that we can mulch over and harvest through the snow).  These all grew well in my crusted soil.  Next year I will work in more compost and see if they do even better.  I have learned that it's easiest--though also messiest--to harvest carrots when the soil is wet.  Sprinkle the soil from a watering can to loosen the carrots and make them easy to pull out, in tact.  This project basically negated the shower I took yesterday morning.  Vera joined in and was a mess as well.  So far I've harvested just over 13 pounds of carrots from one raised bed and I've only tackled half of them.  I believe our garden will supply our whole winter's worth of carrots.  I usually buy about three Tipi Produce 5-pound bags of carrots throughout winter at the co-op, but this year I may not need to supplement.  I also believe that I may have grown enough onions to last through the cold months.  These are usually something I stock up on at the end of season farmers' markets and store in my basement.  I have a better storage shelf this year with more air circulation and am hoping that the onions I hung to cure in the greenhouse will now last downstairs until spring.
Cellar Storage Rack with shelves that slide out

Jar of dried lemongrass stalks
Another way we've been keeping cool this summer is with ice cream.  Ben and I are suckers for Babe's Ice Cream in our Bay View neighborhood.  As I've mentioned before we try to ride our bikes to get it.  Making ice cream at home is fairly easy if you have an ice cream maker, though it does take a bit of planning ahead mainly so that the churning insert is frozen solid before you proceed.  I love making herbal ice creams: basil, lavender, sage, thyme...I've even heard that garlic ice cream is amazing.  Below is my basic ice cream recipe.  It's another way to "preserve" herbs, though I hesitate to call it a preservation method in our house because the sweet frozen cream only lasts about three or four days tops.  I made Triple Lemon and Coriander Ice Cream with my garden's herbs and some locally grown lemongrass I dried last year.  The notes are below.

Basic Ice Cream
Steeping the herbs in half and half
Makes about 1½ qts.

3 c. half and half
5 large egg yolks
¾ c. sugar
pinch of salt
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1 t. vanilla extract
Optional 2-3 c. herbs (basil, lemon verbena, mint, thyme, etc.), stems removed

Heat half and half just to boiling. Meanwhile, separate eggs.  Whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl.  If using herbs, steep 20 minutes, covered off the heat, after heating half and half. Add hot half and half to egg mixture in a steady stream, slowly.  Rinse saucepan but do not wipe out.  Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of spoon.  Do not boil.  Strain custard and mix in heavy cream and vanilla, until well combined.  Refrigerate until well chilled.  Churn according to ice cream machine’s directions.
Triple Lemon and Coriander Ice Cream

Triple Lemon and Coriander Flavor:
2 c. fresh lemon balm leaves, bruised
2-3 stalks of fresh or dried lemongrass stalks, chopped coarsely
1 t. dehydrated lemon peel
2 t. ground coriander

In the recipe above, add the lemon balm, lemongrass, and lemon peel where it calls for herbs.  Add the coriander with the heavy cream and vanilla. 

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