...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.


Have a Simple,Thrifty, Eco-Friendly Holiday

Holiday Food Spread
This time of year it's customary for Americans to buy lots of stuff they (and their friends/family) don't need, spend countless hours and dollars decorating their homes, and eat many more calories than they want to count.  Just the thought of it exhausts me, though that's how I grew up and how many people still choose to celebrate the season.  I believe people should celebrate as they wish, have fun, be safe, and enjoy their friends and family in the process, but I've chosen to keep it simple not only because I don't have the means to go over the top, but I also don't have the desire to get stressed.  Of course I'll buy gifts for my nieces and nephews and a couple of things for Vera and Ben, but we're keeping the decorating to a simple tabletop tree, stockings, and a few outside lights.  Where I will put my energy is into holiday entertaining.  I'm not hosting a black tie event or champagne brunch, but having people join us for good food (which, I admit, I'll excitedly spend a whole day preparing), conversation and beverages, tree-trimming and toasts.  To keep it simple (and hopefully stress-free) when preparing to host an intimate gathering I want to share my food/beverage preparation tips:

--Consider foods you can prepare ahead of time w/ minimal work that day.
--Check your supply and get creative with what's on hand--set a budget and stick to it!
--Delegate--ask your spouse, friends, or family to pick up booze or other items you need.
--Plan for leftovers--I don't mind prepping extra if it cuts the work for the following week's menu.
--Plan for kiddos--put out foods like veggies, crackers, fruit, cheese; place w/in reach.
--Leave the canapes to Martha--guests will be happy even if you ditch the fancy finger foods.
--Plan for allergies--consider your guests' dietary needs--they'll love you for it!
--Set-up a self-service bar--this frees up all hosts to greet and mingle with guests.
--Have fun!  Isn't that what it's all about?!

As I remember from Kindergarten
Our homemade "blocks"
And if you're hoping to make some gifts this year--something I always love to do--here's a super-cheap and eco-friendly idea for making kids' blocks.  Save small and medium size paperboard boxes from everything from cosmetics to spaghetti.  Wrap them with plain scrap fabric, paper or grocery bags.  For smaller children who are wont to tear and untape, reinforce the seams with packing tape (or non-toxic glue if using fabric).  Of course, they're not smash-resistant, but you'l likely put little resources into them so if one gets destroyed, no big deal. I've learned that kids don't need fancy toys with all the bells and whistles to be imaginative.  In fact, the simpler the better because they'll be more versatile and therefore last longer. These blocks remind me of the classic cardboard brick blocks we had in my kindergarten classroom--perfect for building "Girls Only" forts.

And speaking of keeping it simple, my new eating plan is going well thus far.  I've had to think way outside the box, but I'm far from starving.  I tweaked a recipe for homemade mayonnaise to be egg-free, soy-free, and dairy free.  Unfortunately I'm straying far from my local food roots here, but I still think it's a winner, though it vaguely reminds me of the avocado puree slathered on the #6 at Jimmy John's, which sustained me through most of college.

Avocado Mayonnaise
4-6 servings

This mayo will discolor a bit unless you add the Vitamin C powder, which can be purchased in bulk at Outpost Natural Foods...or you can grind up some Vitamin C tablets. This is a great mayo substitute in chicken/tuna/egg salad, as a spread on sandwiches, or as a dipping sauce for veggies. 

2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, scooped out of the skins and chopped coarsely
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 t. lemon or lime juice
1 t. vitamin C powder (to maintain color)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine garlic, salt and avocados in food processor and blend until a  paste forms.  Add oil and lemon juice through the tiny whole in the feed tube and blend until emulsified.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

This week I've created another breakfast dish; the hash last week was great, but one can only eat the same thing for so long.

Shredded Vegetable Skillet Cakes
Makes 4-6 large cakes

2 carrots
1 parsnip
1 burdock root (optional)
1 broccoli stem (once florets are removed)
1/2 c. parsley
1/4 c. raw sunflower seeds
1/4 c. water
3 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. avocado mayonnaise
3 T. flax meal
salt and pepper, to taste
ghee or coconut oil

Shred carrots, parsnips, burdock, and broccoli in a foot processor.  Remove to a large mixing bowl.  Puree parsley and sunflower seeds in food processor with water.  Add to shredded veggies.  Mix in remaining ingredients.  Heat a skillet over high and add enough ghee or coconut oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  When melted, add vegetable mixture and press down slightly into pan to cover the bottom.  Cook one side until browned, about 3-4 min.  Flip and cook the other side until browned.  Serve hot with more avocado mayo or, if you're an egg-lover, put a fried/scrambled egg on top.

Where the Worms Live
Now that the food part is out of the way, I can talk about worms.  Our seasonal pets are now cozy, warm and well-fed in the basement.  Ben set up the winter vermicomposting bin last week.  We buy our red wigglers at Joe's Bait Shop on Lincoln Ave. just across from Kosciusko Park.  I must say, it's really nice not to have to trek outside for now with the kitchen waste pail.  I just trot downstairs and make the deposit.  We keep a bin of sawdust and another of shredded newspaper nearby to add occasionally to help with carbon content and excess moisture, respectively.  We have the bin propped up on blocks inside of another bin so that the liquid doesn't accumulate at the bottom of the bin.  Our first year with this project, we noticed the worms were trying to escape b/c they were basically drowning down below. This allows the worm juice to leak off.  It can be used on houseplants or dumped outside (or saved in a covered bucket for warmer weather).

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