...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.


Grow Your Own Sponges

Pineapple Sage Flowers
Loofah before drying
Loofah after drying
Whenever I gave someone a tour of my garden this summer and pointed out the loofah (a.k.a. luffa) squash they were surprised to learn that this variety is the origin of loofah sponges, not the sea.  This was my first year successfully growing loofah, which requires a long growing season to mature.  With the delayed first frost, I was able to coax four or five of these cucurbitae to full size.  I learned about drying them online.  My first attempt wasn't as beautiful as on that blog, but they will still make great sponges for the bath.  Next year I'd love to grow them again to pair with a homegrown herbal bath salt mix for a holiday gift.  (For the record, if you're familiar with the film Caddyshack, you know my favorite quote about loofah.)

Our Halloween passed somewhat uneventfully.  Though we did enjoy a fun late afternoon carving pumpkins and enjoying pumpkin soup and pumpkin beer at a friend's house, Vera didn't go trick-or-treating and wanted absolutely nothing to do with her gnome accessories.  She put the hat on for just a moment and I snapped a very quick photo.  I think it will fit next year so perhaps we'll try again then.  By then she should be able to talk enough that I can train her to say "Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!" like my mom taught us.

Blackberry cane wreath
I worked on cleaning up the garden a bit more on Sunday.  I raked a ton of leaves and trimmed some perennials.  This was not a good season for fruit production in our garden.  The blackberries, which were mildly productive last year, didn't produce a thing this round.  I learned from a fellow gardener and berry grower that I should have clipped them back much more during the season.  Instead, the canes grew so long that some of them wrapped around the corner of the house.  Obviously, the bushes had no energy to put into fruit.  But I made tried to make lemonade out of lemons and discovered that I could use these long--some 10 to 12-foot long--canes for decoration.  My first thought was to work them into my holiday garland, which has cost me upwards of $100 in the past.  But then I realized I could craft a wreath out of these flexible branches.  As I wound and wove I was reminded of the 4th and 5th grade Pioneer Days event held at my grade school every spring and how I learned candle dipping, basket weaving, bread baking, and scherenschnitte as well as how to make a grapevine wreath.  Who knew it would come in handy on the urban homestead.  You can strip off the leaves and just use the canes as a base for other decoration like berries, dried flowers, or some ribbon, but I chose to let them dry on the wreath for now.  This might also make a beautiful centerpiece for a party where it would remain fresh looking for the event.  At any rate, it beats the high price tag on artificial wreaths at the craft store.  For more ideas check out Milwaukee's Haute Apple Pie ladies' fall wreath.

This week I decided the contents of my fridge's bottom shelf--including our complete carrot and leek harvest--needed attention.  I recently read an article in the Summer 2010 Urban Farm Magazine about creatively storing your preserves (canned, frozen, dried, and cellared).  There were some tremendously clever ideas including behind books on shelves, under beds, and behind couches.  Those ideas don't necessarily fit our home, but I had the idea to better utilize our vestibule--the enclosed area between our front stoop/door and entryway/front "hallway."  I've killed a few plants in this area by not pulling them officially inside before the first frost.  So it must be perfect for storing root vegetables, no?  I found some cute baskets at the thrift store and layered all of my carrots between dried leaves (you could also use mulch or sand), covered them with a cloth, and hung a temporary, seasonal curtain over the north-facing window to keep the winter sun out.  I will check them periodically this winter to make sure they're storing alright.  I'm also planning to store apples there.

I've been trying to get more raw vegetables into my diet lately.  With all the squash that's available right now I though I would adapt a carrot salad recipe to use winter squash.  After marinating a bit, it's very easy to chew what we usually think of as a vegetable that can only be eaten cooked.

Grated Winter Squash Salad
Serves 4

Adapted from a recipe in Fresh From the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher

Raw Winter Squash Salad
1/2 lb. winter squash, peeled and seeded
1 1/2 T. extra virgin olive oil (can sub. half of fully with flaxseed oil)
1 T. fresh lemon juice (or sumac concentrate)
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
2 t. chopped fresh chives (optional...if available)
salt, to taste

Cut squash into slices that will fit into a food processor feed tube and shred (can also grate by hand with a box grater.)  Transfer to a bowl and stir in oil, lemon juice, garlic, chives, and salt to taste.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

I'm also working to put more clean, antibiotic-free, hormone-free meats into my diet.  I get most all of our meat from Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats, who sells at the new Indoor Winter Farmers' Market at St. Ann's Center.  I created this recipe using what I had on hand--as seasonal eaters try to do--including the winter squash puree and roasted red peppers mentioned in previous blog posts.  Choose your favorite marinade or use the one recommended below.

Skirt Steak Quesadillas with Winter Squash, Roasted Peppers, and Greens
Makes 2 9-inch quesadillas
Skirt Steak Quesadillas

2 T. chili powder
2 T. dried rosemary
1 c. sumac concentrate (or orange juice)
1 c. olive oil
1 T. smoked paprika
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 2- to 3-pound skirt steak, thinly sliced

In food processor or blender, puree all ingredients for marinade except onions.  When pureed, add onions and salt and pepper, to taste, then cover flank steak with marinade for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

1 c. winter squash/pumpkin puree
1/2 c. sauteed/steamed tatsoi or other greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, etc.)
1/2 c. roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2-1 c. shredded mozzarella or other melting cheese
4 whole grain tortillas (I prefer sprouted grains)
Butter, ghee, or grapeseed oil for cooking
Sour cream of plain yogurt

Heat a large skillet, using a slotted spoon, remove meat from marinade and saute until fully cooked.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Set aside.  Rinse and dry skillet, heat over medium-high heat and add butter or oil.  Place one tortilla in pan, spread with squash puree, top with greens, peppers, meat, and cheese.  Spread squash puree on another tortilla and place on top in pan.  Cover for a couple of minutes to help melt cheese.  When first side is lightly browned, quickly flip over and brown second side.  Cook second quesadilla.  Cut into eighths and serve with sour cream or yogurt.

I'm watching the election returns right now (I hope you all voted today.)  Remember that even if today's mid-term election didn't go as you'd hoped that you must keep voting with your dollars, particularly when it comes to food.  Tell the farmers you want clean, pesticide-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, pastured, free-range, minimally processed foods.  Support your local producers and markets.  Grow your own vegetables.  Make a statement through your food choices.  Eating is a political act!

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