...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.


As the Holidays Approach

Ben's Red Leaf
My favorite holiday is less than a week away.  I love Thanksgiving.  It's the one holiday I celebrate that is rooted in gathering around the table and sharing a feast.  This will be my third year cooking this celebratory meal in our own home and I must say I'm once again enjoying the menu planning and thoughts of a relaxing Thanksgiving morning.  I love to rise early and go for a nature walk then settle in and watch the Macy's Parade.  My parents are joining us this year from east-central Illinois and will likely arrive midday.  I'm planning to start cooking a day or two in advance to lighten the load the day of so I can spend time with my guests.  But, really, isn't it about spending the day in the kitchen?  My mom always pitches in while the men relax, watch football, and enjoy hors d'oeuvres and warm beverages.  After dinner we'll likely play cards or a board game.  Mmm, I can almost smell that turkey roasting already.  Speaking of turkeys, I've been trying to explain to Vera that tomorrow we're going to pick up our bird--that there will be a turkey riding in the car with us.  I even joked about reinstalling her infant carseat so the Tom could ride alongside her.  She stared blankly as she probably can't imagine seeing a turkey outside of her story books--feathered or not--let alone riding alongside one in the backseat.  This should be interesting.  We're getting another delicious heritage turkey from JenEhr Family Farm in Sun Prairie near Madison.  I ordered it on Sept. 1 and have been dreaming of the juicy meat since then.  This is our 4th year getting a bird from Kay and Paul and we've never been disappointed.  On that note, it feels like pre-vacation madness around here because I'm trying to empty the fridge to make room for this character for the next few days until I start brining it on Wednesday.  Then is sits outside in the cold in a 5-gallon bucket overnight until showtime on Thursday.

Holiday feasts always remind me of my Gramma Lucille, a Caledonia farm girl who made her living as a cook.  She would use the outdoors as an extended fridge/freezer to accommodate all the food that one guessed would be fed to an army the following day.  She also had a thing about turkey.  Her favorite part--and stop reading if I've already told this story--was the neck.  Until I worked at a Japanese restaurant where the natives shared how they delicately fry up the turkey neck and nibble off all the meat, I never understood how anyone could savor what appeared to be a twisted length of cartilage.  But my Gram loved it and, in fact, one year had a fit because she lost the neck during the rinsing/stuffing/trussing/roasting process.  It was one of the few times she let people into her kitchen as she cooked--my dad helped her dig through the trash until they finally uncovered it.  She proceeded to rinse it off and cook it up like nothing had happened.  Whew!  The drama!  We won't be preparing any turkey neck on Thursday, but I may use the giblets for stuffing (against my will...I didn't want stuffing this year, but a certain loving member of this household insisted...Vera can say "turkey" (well, it sounds more like "hockey") but she can't yet request her favorite holiday side dish so you can guess who it was.)  Long story short, tomorrow I clean the fridge in preparation for the big feast.

Bucket 'o Acorns
While we're on the topic of seasonal foods, I'll tell you about my next urban homesteading experiment.  According to Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead, foraging is a big part of sustaining the urban homestead.  As you know, I love to forage and have continued this activity into the fall.  Yesterday I was out there with the squirrels gathering nuts for the winter.  It felt almost as goofy as that sounds.  I took Vera's little red pail on our walk and stopped in the park under some huge oaks and in no time picked up a bucketful of acorns.  There were so many that even if the squirrels had descended upon them as they did Veruca Salt in Tim Burton's Charlie and Chocolate Factory, they still couldn't have grabbed them all.  Coyne and Knutzen, as well as more famous foragers like Euell Gibbons, have found ways to make flour out of acorns.  I've always wanted to try it.  I know it involves boiling the acorns a few times to get the bitterness out.  Stay tuned for the results.  I may have found another source for super local flour.

Before:  Holey Socks!
This week I also found time to catch up on some odd craft projects.  There was a pile of holey socks on my mending stack so I turned them into more legwarmers for Vera.  Everywhere she's gone in the "murmormers" she already has, we've gotten so many compliments on their cuteness, mostly from middle age women wondering where they can get a pair their size.  The legwarmers are so simple to whip up.  They can also be worn on the arms under/over a shirt.  There's a link to the original pattern on my first post for this project.
After:  Cute Toddler Legwarmers!

Yesterday Vera and I showed up at City Hall at 4 PM to join fellow Milwaukeeans, proud progressive Wisconsinites, and recently disappointed voters in singing "This Land is Your Land" on the ground floor.  Ben said it was Vera's first act of "civil disobedience" (as if there might be others), but really it was a chance for all of us who felt our voices were not heard in the mid-term election to make some noise, spread the word, and hopefully pass the spirit to others that we must use our voices, make ourselves be heard, and stand up for what we believe in no matter who's running the show in Madison or Washington.  I will post the YouTube link when I get it.

After that uplifting event we crossed the street to catch our first ever City/County Christmas Tree Lighting at Red Arrow Park.  Vera was most interested in looking at (thought not getting close enough to touch) the police horses while I enjoyed the carolers, Salvation Army band, and of course, people-watching.  I just may be in the holiday mood now.

I would like to leave you with a warm, hearty fall recipe.  It's such a treat to harvest cilantro from our garden this time of year.  The row cover I laid down a few weeks ago is doing its job to keep this crop toasty and growing strong.  The original recipe called for turnips instead of the potatoes and squash.

Chicken Curry with Whole Spices, Potatoes, and Winter Squash
Serves 6

1 4-lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skinned
2 whole chicken legs, cut into drumsticks and thighs, skinned
1 small acorn squash, seeded and coarsely cubed
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/4 t. salt, divided
1 t. cayenne pepper, divided
3/4 t. turmeric, divided
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 large garlic cloves
2 1-inch long pieces fresh ginger, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 T. coconut oil, divided
14 whole green cardamom pods, husks removed
9 whole cloves
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 t. coriander seeds
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1 small hot pepper, stemmed, halved
3 medium tomatoes, cubed (I used frozen)
2 T. tomato paste
1/4 c. plain whole-milk yogurt
1 c. water
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
2 T. lemon juice

Toss all chicken, squash, potatoes, 1/4 t. salt, 1/4 t. cayenne, and 1/2 t. turmeric in a large bowl to coat.  Pulse onion, garlic, ginger in food processor.  Stir 2 T. oil, and next 5 ingredients in heavy large pot over medium-high heat 1 min.  Add remaining 1 t. salt, mixture from processor, and chile.  Saute until mixture begins to brown at edges of pot, about 10 min.  Discard cinnamon stick and chile halves.  Mix in remaining 3/4 t. cayenne and 1/4 t. turmeric, then tomatoes and tomato paste; simmer 5 min.  Puree sauce in blender or food processor until smooth. (Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover chicken and sauce separately and refridge.)  Heat remaining 1 T. oil in large wide pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken, squash, and potatoes.  Saute until chicken is no longer pink outside, about 4 min.  Slowly mix in yogurt, then 1 c. water and onion-tomato sauce; bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pot, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, about 40 min.  Uncover and simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 min.  Mix in cilantro, lemon juice; season to taste with salt.  Transfer to serving platter.

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