...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.


Visiting Another Urban Homestead

Our lone ear of ornamental corn--for grinding into meal
I had a beautiful experience visiting another urban homestead on Saturday. Someone posted a message on the Transition Milwaukee Yahoo Group last week about elderberries that he wasn't planning to harvest; he offered them to anyone willing to pick.  I jumped at the opportunity, thinking I'd be able to harvest enough to make some elderberry syrup to fight winter colds and flu.  Vera and I drove down to South Milwaukee yesterday to find the most amazing cottage garden/medicinal herb and flower garden/vegetable garden/urban homestead.  I was in complete awe of the beauty on this lot and three-quarters with its birds and butterflies, pawpaw and persimmon trees, goldfish pond with edible water plants (cattail, arrowhead, wild rice), willow branch fences, hazelnut trees, raised bed vegetable gardens with swale pathways, and a stone patio for taking it all in.  Owners Bryce and Debbie, fellow Transitioners who I first met on this day, warmly welcomed us; Bryce held my attention with details of his permaculture-influenced homestead developed over 30-something of experience.  He rattled off websites and latin names that I frantically tried to memorize as well as ideas for making a echinacea tincture.  When asked why I don't publicize my blog more, I respond that there are people out there doing far more than I--some for many more years than I've even been around.  This guy is one of those.  I'm kicking myself for not taking my camera, but I hope to keep the mental picture with me at least until I plan my garden next season.  After a tour I got busy clipping the clusters of dark elderberries weighing down a tall tree in the rear of the yard.  I harvested as much as I could reach, coming up with a full bushel.  There were probably two or three times as many hanging higher.  Afterwards Bryce and Debbie invited us inside; Vera played with their cat, O'Malley, while we continued our conversation and Bryce and Debbie pulled out old beat-up cookbooks and scratched down recipes (reminiscent of my grandmother's doing so for me) for making elderberry syrup and cordial with this trove of berries.  We were there probably two hours and I left with the sweet smell of the garden and pleasant thoughts of this kind couple in my head.  It reminded me of freelance stories I've written when I had no idea I was about to interview someone who'd give me a new, inspiring perspective on life.  Afterwards I'd always let out a big sigh, think about how I could use this knowledge for the best, then savor every bit of the wonderful conversation.  Hopefully we can visit the Ruddock's again in their beautiful garden.  In the meantime I've got loads of elderberries to process.

Saturday night I decided to bake a ham.  It wasn't a local ham, but one that I'd had in the freezer from Ben's Easter "bonus" last spring.  I love to prepare a ham on a weekend then eat from it all week--breakfast meat, sandwiches, split pea soup with ham, and the newly beloved ham loaf (stay tuned for this recipe later in the week).  When I think of sweet, smoked ham, the side dish that often comes to mind is corn.  I found a recipe for Country-Style Scalloped Corn in a cookbook that remains from the days I worked for my dad and "peddlers" would come around to his office--one of them selling cookbooks.  Many of the pages are falling out, but it lives on.  Below is the recipe I adapted to make it more local and a bit healthier.

Scalloped Corn, Edamame, and Kale
Serves 6

Adapted from Like Grandma Used to Make (Reader's Digest books)

1 T. butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T. flax meal
1 c. crushed crackers (I used crushed dehydrated veggies I had in the pantry--carrots, gr. beans, etc.)
3/4 c. whole milk
1/4 c. diced red pepper
1 t. dry mustard
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. ground cayenne pepper
6 oz. fresh or frozen local corn (off the cob)
6 oz. fresh of frozen edamame (or other beans--soaked and cooked)
6 oz. fresh kale, chopped in the food processor (including center vein)
6 oz. shredded cheddar
1 T. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a small saucepan, melt 1 T. butter over medium heat.  Add onion and celery, cook 5 min. or until tender.  In medium-size bowl, combine eggs, 1/2 c. crushed crackers, milk, peppers, mustard, salt, and cayenne.  Stir in onion mixture, corn, edamame, kale, and cheese.  Pour into lightly greased 1 1/2-qt. casserole.  In a small bowl, stir together remaining 1/2 c. crushed crackers and 1 T. melted butter.  Sprinkle over corn mixture.  Bake for 30-35 min. or until knife inserted comes out clean.

Today, as planned, we had a couple of friends and their toddler up from Chicago to share Sunday brunch.  We've been trying to host Sunday dinners at least every 6-8 weeks around here, but due to work schedules for Monday (not to mention sleeping schedules for children), we decided to make an earlier time.  I was thrilled because I'd always wanted to host brunch--so many great recipes to try, but never enough weekend breakfasts together for the opportunity.  We planned the food, our friends brought the Bloody Mary fixin's (complete with my homemade dilly beans and pickles, and local cheese whips), which we enjoyed towards the beginning of brunch, of course, so as not to hinder those driving later in the evening.  I was determined not to buy anything for the brunch so I thought hard about what we could make using in-house ingredients.  Turns out I bought a couple small melons and some fall raspberries at the South Shore Farmers' Market on Saturday, but otherwise we eeked out a well-rounded meal without making a grocery trip:

Beet/Carrot Juice
Balsamic Tossed Baby Mustard Greens w/ LUH Cherry Tomatoes
Fruit Salad w/ Grapes, and Local Melon and Raspberries
Baked Ham
Savory Corn and Squash Pancakes w/ Homemade Salsa, Whole Milk Yogurt Garnish
Fresh Squeezed LUH Beet and Carrot Juice
Lemon and Lemon Balm Cupcakes w/ Lemon Glaze

In case you're interested, here are a couple of recipes for the aforementioned dishes.

Savory Corn and Squash Pancakes
Makes 8-10 large pancakes

Adapted from a recipe from "Taste the Season" at the Fondy Farmers' Market

3 large eggs
Our Sunday Brunch plates
1 T. flax meal
4 c. grated summer squash
1 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels (cut from 2 ears)
1/4 c. chopped green onions, tops included
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c. brown rice flour
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. salt
High-heat oil for pan-frying (I prefer grapeseed oil)
Tomato Salsa
Whole Milk Yogurt (or sour cream) 

In a large bowl, beat eggs.  Beat in squash, corn, green onion, bell pepper, cheeses, flour, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Heat 2 T. grapeseed oil in a large skillet or on a flat-top grill over medium-high heat.  For small cakes, spoon 2 T. squash mixture per cake into hot oil and flatten to uniform thickness.  For large cakes, use 4 T. of squash mixture per cake.  Do not crowd skillet.  Leave about 1" between cakes.  Cook until edges turn golden brown, turn and cook other side until golden brown, about 3 min. total cooking time per cake.  Transfer to paper towel lined plate.  Place in warm oven and continue cooking remaining cakes.  Serve with salsa and yogurt (sour cream) garnish.

Lemon and Lemon Balm Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

I've tried to turn these into fairly "healthy" cupcakes.  The whole wheat flour gives them a denser texture than traditional fluffy cupcakes, but the sweet glaze makes you forget the difference.

1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
2 eggs, room temp.
1 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c. finely chopped fresh lemon balm
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. xylitol
1 1/2 t. all-natural lemon extract
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2/3 c. milk (soy, almond, cow's, etc.)
1 t. dried lemon peel
3 T. lemon juice
Silicone baking cups
1 recipe lemon glaze


1 c. powdered sugar
Lemon Juice--enough for spreading consistency

Line muffin cups with silicone or paper baking cups, or grease thoroughly and bake without cups.  In medium bowl, combine pastry flour, lemon balm, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high for 30 sec.  Add xylitol, lemon extract, vanilla.  Beat on medium-high 2 min. until light and fluffy, scraping bowl.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture; beat on low after each just until combined.  Stir in lemon peel and lemon juice.  Spoon batter into prepared cups. Bake 22-25 min., until wooden skewer inserted comes out clean.  Cook in muffin cups on rack 5 min.  Remove from pan; cool completely.  Spoon Lemon Glaze over cupcakes in a criss-cross pattern.  

I made a point of not writing a to-do list for today (though Ben received one while I was out this morning.)  It felt great.  Felt like a Sunday should--after brunch we took a leisurely walk along the lakefront with our guests, shared dessert (then they left), cleaned up, watched some football (even if I don't care about football), then chose to write a blog entry tonight.  I also worked on editing and uploading photos of my sewing projects (for me this time, not Vera).  If you get a chance, check them out scattered on my Photo Gallery page.  These are from the past few years.  I love using thrifted fabric and patterns (most of which I scored from since-closed antique store off I-57 in Kankakee, IL--used to be on the way to my folks' house "down south.")  I've also had fun repurposing some discarded T-shirts.  Upcycling is fun!

1 comment:

  1. I wish you would have brought your camera! Their garden/yard sounds wonderful!

    I hadn't heard of elderberry syrup, until I read this post: http://heartlandrenaissance.com/2010/09/wild-black-elderberry-syrup/