...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.


Preserving Like Crazy

This time of year reminds me of the fable about the ant and grasshopper--the ant works hard all summer to store food for the cold months while the grasshopper plays and wonders why the ant toils away.  In the depths of winter the grasshopper has no food and shows up at the ants' door begging for a handout.  Obviously, times are not quite like this now, but thinking about this story gives me motivation for putting up all the local food that we do during the growing season.  Some days I wish I could be more like the grasshopper and just hang out while it's warm.  I do that, but not enough.  My backyard lounge chair lacks the permanent imprint I was hoping to achieve this summer.  But there's still time!  Though these chillier days of fall make me want to forget about tending my pots of annuals and think about cleaning up the garden for winter "hibernation," I know there are still gorgeous days ahead, hopefully an Indian summer, and lots of relaxing on cool evenings.

Our first juicy canteloupe
I should stop talking about fall and winter and savor the flavors of these last summer days.  Let's talk melons.  This was the first year I tried growing watermelons and canteloupe; there's definitely room for improvement in 2011.  My trellis idea worked, though I believe the melon plants caught the mildew that slowly destroyed most of my other cucurbitae varieties.  So far they haven't sized up that well before falling off the vine.  We did enjoy a fairly sweet watermelon last weekend while we camped, but the canteloupe have a bit to be desired.  One neat thing that I learned about canteloupe was how they ripen on the outside. At first I had these green oblong things dangling from the trellis that didn't much resemble the canteloupes I know.  I watched them day by day and realized that as they ripen the "netting" gradually creeps over the fruit from one end to the other, making them look more familiar.  I will probably freeze our remaining melons in chunks and add them to a smoothie this winter.  The texture will be there even if the sweet flavor is lacking.
Milling out the seeds and skins from the apples

Canned plums
Mild tomato salsa
This past week found me preserving like crazy.  In fact, last night as we were cleaning up after dinner, Ben commented that the kitchen felt like it had been used intensely over the last few weeks (meaning--as my star dishwasher--he'd been using a lot of extra elbow grease to clean pots, pans, and the stovetop.)  As we conceive of our dream kitchen makeover I realize I need something extremely durable as well as easy to clean.  I might as well just install a commercial kitchen.  Ours has been used and abused lately.  But now I have a large batch of canned plums, a few jars of tomato salsa, and a nice sampling of wild apple butter (which ended up being a three day process as I tried to work it in between Vera's naps.)  Still on my list for this year is applesauce--pending a good harvest of seconds from the orchard I prefer--and spicy dill carrots (using our homegrown carrots and hot peppers).  I rearranged my pantry this week so that the canned fruits, pickles, tomatoes, and jams/jellies are all grouped together.  Before Wednesday it was just a mess of jars quickly placed on the shelves downstairs.  I'm preparing to make my pantry and freezer inventory spreadsheets, which help me keep track of what remains in both locations this year.  Especially with the freezer, it can be a challenge knowing what hides in the depths that could be added to the week's menu.

While I'm discussing canning, I want to share some new lids I've been using this year thanks to a lead from a colleague and former preserving student.  You may have heard that regular canning lids contain Bisphenol-A (BPA).  Even organically produced canned vegetables can contain this potential neurotoxin in their linings.  Another plus for home canning.  Tattler brand produces BPA-free canning lids and the best part is that they're reusable.  They make it slightly trickier to identify a sealed jar, but I've had no problem adjusting.  I recommend stocking up; consider it overhead in your canning process.  So far they're only available online, but maybe if we talk them up at our local grocery or co-op they'll start carrying them.

Elderberries w/ plain yogurt, fresh pear sauce
Unidentified wild black fruits
The late summer finds me continuing my search for wild edibles.  I was out the other day surveying the brushy lakefront path where I like to forage and came upon some elderberries (which never go without one of my husband's favorite quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.")  We had just enough to add to our yogurt and granola this week.  I planted a couple of these trees/bushes in our yard this year so in the near future we'll have our own crop.  I also found some other wild blackish berries growing in tight clusters near the branches of the tree.  I took a picture and have been trying to line it up with something online to see if it's edible or not.  So far, no luck.  Anyone recognize it?

Another breath of life for a 3rd generation sock

The craftiness has been limited lately as we try to savor the remaining days of summer, but I've found that one of my projects from last year is finally coming in handy.  Before Vera was born I made a bunch of leg warmers for her out of old socks that had worn out in the heel or toe.  Her slender little legs could barely keep them on last year, but on those chilly days this past week I found they were perfect for pulling on over tights under a dress.  I love them!  I got this idea from my friend Beth who blogs at At The End of This Row who found them on another website, Goosie Girls.  I just wore out the heel on yet another pair of my favorite striped socks so instead of trying to darn them, which I can now easily do on my sewing machine, I will make another pair of leg warmers for Vera.  It's a very quick and inexpensive way to add a little style to her wardrobe (though as a very biased mother I think she'd look cute dressed in a paper sack.)

I'd like to share a few recipes that we've tried this week as I work on managing the fridge contents, once again.  Soon the only veggies in the refrigerator will be all our winter storage--roots, tubers, onions, squash, etc. so I should savor the abundance we'll have for a few weeks.

Spicy Vegetable Curry
Serves 4

Adapted from One Pot.

1 medium eggplant
8 oz. kohlrabi
12 oz. potatoes
8 oz. broccoli
8 oz. button mushrooms
1 large onion
3 carrots
6 T. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 t. finely chopped fresh gingerroot
1-2 fresh green chiles, seeded and chopped
1 T. paprika
2 t. ground coriander
1 T. mild or medium curry powder
2 c. vegetable stock
1 lb. fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 T. cornstarch
2/3 c. coconut milk
2-3 T. ground almonds (almond meal)
Fresh cilantro sprigs, to garnish
Freshly cooked rice, to serve
Plain yogurt (my favorite garnish)

Cut eggplant, kohlrabi, and potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes.  Divide broccoli into small florets.  Button mushrooms can be used whole or sliced thickly.  Slice onion and carrots.  Heat butter in a large pan.  Add onion, kohlrabi, potatoes, and broccoli and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 3 min.  Add garlic, gingerroot, chiles, paprika, ground coriander, and curry powder and cook, stirring, 1 min.  Add stock, tomatoes, eggplant, and mushrooms and season with salt.  Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 min. or until tender.  Add bell pepper and carrots, cover, and cook another 5 min.
Place cornstarch and coconut milk in a bowl, mix into smooth paste, and stir into vegetable mixture.  Add ground almonds and simmer, stirring constantly for 2 min.  Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Transfer to serving plates, garnish with cilantro sprigs, and serve immediately with rice.

This next recipe is great for Eat Local Challenge week because it not only uses local vegetables, but locally produced protein.  I prefer Simple Soyman tofu, made here in Milwaukee.  We used broccoli and scallions from our garden along with locally grown mushrooms.

Stir-Fried Sesame Broccoli
Serves 4

Adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen

1 lb. firm tofu packed in water, drained
1 lb. or more broccoli
1/4 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
6 T. soy sauce
4 t. toasted sesame oil
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
5 t. light sesame or grapeseed oil
1 1/2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 scallions, including greens, sliced diagonally
2 T. mirin or 1 1/2 T. light brown sugar
1/4 c. toasted sesame seeds
12 oz. asian noodles, cooked

Set tofu in a colander, put a heavy object on top and set aside.  Blanch broccoli and green beans for about 4 min., put into ice water bath for a few minutes then drain.  Remove tofu from under weight and slice into 3/4-inch cubes.  Put in a glass pie plate and toss with 2 T. soy sauce, 2 t. toasted sesame oil. When you're ready to eat, heat a wok or wide skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 t. light sesame oil.  When hot, add tofu.  Cook, without stirring until it begins to color, after a few min.  Turn the pieces to brown on all sides.  Add any remaining marinade from pie plate to glaze tofu, season with salt and set aside.  Rinse skillet.  Heat rest of light sesame oil.  Add ginger, garlic, and scallions and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add mushrooms.  Cook 2-3 min., then add broccoli, green beans, and tofu.  Combine remaining soy sauce with mirin and pour it over vegetables.  When heated through, toss with toasted sesame seeds, drizzle with rest of the dark sesame oil, and serve over noodles.

I just found out last week that my parents will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year.  I'm so excited to cook dinner for the third year in a row.  I'm really getting the hang of brining and roasting the bird.  Speaking of which, if you want an organic heritage turkey, JenEhr Family Farm is taking orders now so they no how many birds to put on for the holiday.  They offer pickup at the West Allis Farmers' Market as well as at their farm in Sun Prairie, WI near Madison.  Order your turkey today!

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