...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.


Cleaning Out the Fridge

I love going on vacation, don't get me wrong, but there are certain tasks I always feel mildly stressed about completing before we head out of town.  One of those is cleaning out the fridge.  As I've mentioned before, we don't throw out much food in this house so on Sunday I made a list of what needed to be eaten by week's end and used that to create a menu.  I was actually doing well until today when I picked up our latest CSA box.  Fortunately my in-laws are babysitting later this week so they will likely benefit from an overflow of veggies.  What's left will go to our neighbors, friends, or get preserved.  I've been blanching and freezing green beans like crazy this week as well as preserving a few things I don't think will last till we get back in another week.  Aside from the fridge inventory, there's also cleaning before we go.  The first time I found myself cleaning the house pre-vacay I thought I'd turned into my mother.  Now I realize it's quite logical.  I was just reading a post on a blog I follow, Simple Mom, about providing post-vacation peace for your kids and family.  Now I believe that rushing around to tidy up before we leave--as hectic as it may be--will A) make us need/enjoy our vacation time more and B) make it less stressful to unwind when we return.

One of the dishes I created this week as I dumped the fridge was a Green Gazpacho.  I took so many liberties with the original recipe that I feel I can safely call this it my own.  You could even add tomatillos or green tomatoes once those become available this summer.

Green Gazpacho
Serves 4

I found this to be very refreshing on some of these hot, hot days we've been having...and it doesn't heat up the house.

2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 small hot pepper (Thai chile size), coarsely chopped w/ or w/o seeds for desired spiciness
12 romaine leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
3 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1/2-3/4 c. cilantro leaves
1/4 c. lime juice
1 1/2 c.-2 c. vegetable stock
1 t. ground cumin
3 c. buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, or milk depending on desired thickness
salt and pepper to taste
Avocado, to garnish (optional)

In a food processor, combine chopped cukes, hot peppers, lettuce, scallions, celery, and cilantro.  Process until almost smooth.  Transfer to a large pot or bowl and stir in lime juice, stock, and cumin.  Stir in buttermilk, sour cream, etc.  Season with salt and pepper, or more lime juice as needed.  Garnish with sliced avocado and additional yogurt or sour cream if you wish.


More Wild Foraging and Preserving

Wild Rose Hips
Vera and I went out this morning in search of more wild black raspberries.  The canes are mostly done bearing for the season; we came home with just a scant half cup.  In the process I found a trove of wild rose bushes that have finished blooming.  I collected just a handful of rose hips, but will likely go back soon.  When I told Ben about this find, he looked panicked.  On his (fortunately) short list of things I should never make again is Rose Hip Pie.  As an intern in East Troy in 2003, my host family gave me a bag of hand-picked, dried rose hips; I couldn't wait to use them.  I found a recipe for this unique dessert and got to work, but had no idea that rose hips had so many seeds.  We'd waited all evening to enjoy this sweet, but the first bite nearly ruined the night; it was completely inedible.  Straight into the garbage and onto the do-not-make list it went.  I used the rest of those rose hips for a winter tea because they have 200% of one's daily needs for Vitamin C; I'll likely do the same with this batch.

Queen Anne's Lace flowers
The rest of our foraging walk was pleasant--what a gorgeous Sunday by the lake!  'Tis the season for mullein, wild bergamot, jewelweed, and Queen Anne's Lace, which I've always wanted to use for jelly.  This wildflower, along with purple chicory, always reminds me of my childhood.  My mom gave me a recipe for these preserves years ago--long before I had any interest in wild foods--but it took me until today to make them.  QAL is a member of the umbelliferae family (think umbrella shaped flowers) along with carrots, parsnips, cilantro, dill, and the like so the steeped "tea" had a slight carrot-y undertone and was a yellowish color like most herbal tea.  Once I added the pectin, it turned more pinkish, a hue I found delicately attractive in the final product.

Queen Anne's Lace Jelly 
Makes 6 8-oz. jars

The original recipe says you can add pink coloring if desired, but I found that Pomona Universal Pectin naturally gave it that color.  Making herbal jellies is much simpler than fruit jellies because there's no jelly bag for straining.  You basically just pour the juice through a sieve.  

An antiquated pink Queen Anne's Lace jelly
18 large Queen Anne's Lace heads
4 c. water
1/4 c. bottled lemon juice
1 pkg. powdered pectin
3 1/2 c. + 2 T. granulated sugar (can sub. xylitol)

Bring water to boil.  Remove from heat.  Add flower heads (push them down into the water.)  Cover and steep 30 min.  Strain.  Put liquid into a 4-6 qt. pan.  Add lemon juice and pectin, stirring immediately.  Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Cook and stir until mixture comes to a rolling boil.  Boil one minute longer, then remove from heat.  Skim. Pour into sterilized jars leaving 1/4" headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rim of jar.  Put treated lids in place and secure to finger-tightness.  Process in hot water bath for 5 min.  Let cool at room temp., label, date, and store in a cool, dark place.

Black currants
Summer Squash Pickles
This past week also found me preserving summer squash pickles in a curry ginger brine and black currant juice concentrate to dilute as juice this winter.  One of my major preserving goals this year is making more juice, something on which we tend to spend a lot at the co-op.  I bought the black currants from my friends Sandy and David at Pinehold Gardens and made a gorgeous deep dark syrupy juice.  Making homemade juice is nothing more than cooking the fruit in a little bit of water to prevent burning then extracting the juice like you would to make jelly.  You add your sweetener, fill jars, and process.
Filling the jars with juice
Jars of black currant juice concentrate

Veggies for Lottie's Birthday Box
I pulled the first carrots from our garden this weekend to add to a gift box we made for Vera's little girlfriend Lottie's first birthday party.  We knew she didn't need any new toys so I thought a box of fresh garden vegetables would be fun for the whole family.  Also took more garden photos this weekend.  It's a jungle out there!
Melon Trellis--it makes a beautiful garden arch

A baby watermelon

Trellis w/ Rattlesnake Beans (to be dried)

Ants of a Luffa Squash flower

Baby Eggplant

Pineapple Sage and Thyme


Loading the Pantry

The past two days, hot as it continues to be, I've been preserving.  It's cherry and green bean time and the grand totals are cherries: 10 quarts, 9 pints; dilly beans: 2 quarts, 9 pints, 2-12 oz. jars.  Until our cherry trees really start to produce I'll be purchasing these fruits from Door County Fruit, a regional grower who sells at the South Shore Farmers' Market in our neighborhood.  Last weekend I pre-ordered a whole lug of sweet dark cherries to can just like my Gramma did in a simple syrup.  Both the cherries and dilly beans are memories in a jar for me and my family.  My Gram also made dilly beans--she was known for them.  I always joke that when we were cleaning out her house after she and my Grampa passed, no one was fighting over the fine china, but the last jar of Lucille's signature dilly beans was a point of contention.  The recipe below isn't from her files, but tastes exactly like her beans.

Dilly Beans
From the UW-Extension Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series' Homemade Pickles and Relishes
Yield: 7-8 pints

4 qts. whole green or wax beans (about 4 lbs.), trimmed
8 fresh dill heads, or 1 1/2 t. dill seed or dill weed per jar
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small dried hot pepper per jar (optional...I do not add this)
Pickling Solution:
4 c. white vinegar (5% acetic acid)
4 c. water
1/2 c. canning and pickling salt

Wash pint canning jars.  Keep hot until filled.  Wash beans thoroughly and drain.  Cut into lengths to fit pint jars.  In each hot pint jar, place dill, garlic, and pepper (if desired).  Pack beans upright, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Prepare pickling solution of vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Pour boiling hot pickling solution over beans, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Remove bubbles with a rubber spatula.  Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp cloth.  Cap jars with pretreated (sterilized) lids.  Adjust lids.  Process in boiling water canner 10 min. for pints.

I used a combination of our Provider bush beans and Rattlesnake pole beans.  I love putting the pole beans in quart jars so we can appreciate how long and beautifully these beans grow.  One good thing about these pole beans, which double as dried beans if left on the trellis, is that if you go a couple of days without harvesting, those beans become the ones that will stay on, grow large, and eventually be dried for the beans inside the pod.  The disadvantage of that is the more you pick, the more energy goes into growing new beans.  Your choice depending on how you like to use them.  One of my goals this year is to grow more dry beans.

I finished these preserves just in time to make room in the fridge for our first delivery from Pinehold Gardens, our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  Ben always says you know that it's CSA season, or at least summer, when the refrigerator is in various states of disarray on a weekly basis.  My therapy is cleaning and organizing the fridge (truly) so hopefully it won't get so out of control very soon. Tonight I made a dish using as many of these fresh new ingredients as possible.  I also added some eggplant I had leftover from a cooking class earlier this week.

Grilled Zucchini, Eggplant, and Bell Pepper Fattoush
Adapted from a recipe printed in Bon Appetit.  Fattoush is a Middle Eastern version of panzanella, Italian bread salad.
Serves 4-6

On the Grill (or a grill pan on the stovetop):

1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces, salted and set aside on paper towel
3 medium bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, quartered
4-5 slender zucchini and/or summer squash (about 1 lb.), trimmed, cut lengthwise in half
2 5- to 6-inch pitas, each cut horizontally into 2 disks
Grapeseed oil (for grilling)

Prepare grill (medium heat).  Brush eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and pitas on both sides with oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Grill peppers and zucchini until slightly charred and just tender, turning often, about 6 min.  Transfer vegetables to foil-lined baking sheet.  Grill bread until lightly charred and just crisp, turning often, about 3 min.  Transfer to sheet with veggies and cool.  Tear bread into 1-inch pieces.

For the Dish:
1 8-ounce cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
12 cherry tomatoes, each halved or 1 slicing tomato cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 c. pitted Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
1/2 c. (packed) fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1 4-ounce piece feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut peppers, zucchini, and eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes.  Place in a large bowl.  Add cucumber, tomatoes, green onions, olives, mint, and cilantro and toss to combine.  Add bread pieces.  Whisk 1/2 c. oil, lemon juice, and cumin in small bowl to blend.  Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.  Add dressing to salad; toss to coat.  Add feta and gently mix into salad.  Transfer salad to large bowl and serve.

We've also been trying to keep up with what's growing in our own garden.  Last night I cooked the first of our Red Russian kale to make a vegetarian entree.

Potato, Kale, and Swiss Chard Skillet Cake
Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet 
Serves 4-6

1 lb. (total) kale and swiss chard, stems removed
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, 6 of the T. melted and cooled
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 t. salt
3/4 t. pepper
2 lbs. potatoes (4 medium)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Blanch kale and swiss chard for about 1 min.  Drain, let cool, squeeze out excess moisture.  Heat 2 T. butter in skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, about 1 min.  Add greens, season, and saute, stirring until greens are tender, about 4 min.  Transfer to a bowl and wipe the skillet clean.  Thinly slice the potatoes and work quickly to prevent them from discoloring.  Generously brush bottom of skillet with melted butter and cover with 1/3 of potato slices, overlapping slightly.  Dab potatoes w/ some of melted butter. Spread half of kale over potatoes and season lightly with s&p.  Cover with half of remaining potatoes and dab with butter, then top with remaining kale.  Season.  Top w/ remaining potatoes and season.  Put foil over top of of potatoes and weight down with another skillet.  Cook over medium-high heat approx. 10 min. then place in oven and cook about 15 min. or until the top browns.  Cool slightly.  Cut and serve.

We have delicate edible flowers coming out of our garden now.  Yesterday I mentioned the calendula.  Last night I picked some borage flowers (slight cucumber flavor) to add to our salad.  They can also be candied and would be beautiful garnishing a chiffon cake.


Sunday Dinner

We hosted a very special Sunday dinner this past weekend.  We finally cracked open some pretty old bottles of wine that had moved with me three or four times.  I don't know what I'd been waiting for--probably the right opportunity to gather some appreciative wine and food-loving friends...and a point in time when I either wasn't pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or more seriously nursing.  These weren't wines I was just going to open on a Thursday night and have one glass.  This needed to be an event.  It finally happened on what seemed like the hottest Sunday of the year.  We started with a beautifully golden 2003 Oremus Mandolas Tokaji Dry that I purchased after seeing John Malkovich perform in Lost Land at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.  We began dinner with a 1995 Joullian Cabernet Sauvignon from the Carmel Valley in Monterey, which I'd carried with me since I acquired it in college as a member of the California Wine Club--I later learned the Indiana liquor laws were under appeal at the time because I otherwise would never have been able to receive wine this way (and why was I subscribing to a monthly wine club when I was a poor college student surviving on stale graham crackers and water?)  Finally we decanted an autographed bottle of 1996 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, which was a college graduation gift from a high school best friend--always thought I'd open it with him, but he no longer drinks.  So it was a little bit of history for me to go through this vintage selection and savor every sip.  They were all still very drinkable despite their ages.  I plan to record these in wine journal, which hasn't been actively used since the early naughts.

In preparing food for Sunday I had one thing in mind--not heating up the kitchen.  I made a one pot meal, sort of a rustic soup, with chicken we slow-cooked in the sun oven all day.  I also roasted some of our garden beets outside and grated them into a simple salad.  Our friends brought appetizers and dessert and we called in a meal.  We spoiled ourselves and dined inside, but finished with dessert al fresco--I love dining in our vegetable garden.

Grated Beet and Carrot Salad
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Janet Fletcher's Fresh From the Farmers' Market

3/4 lb. roasted or raw beets, peeled
1/2 lb. carrots, peeled
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 t. red wine vinegar
2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Grate the beets and carrots (I used the grater plate on my food processor) and put into a mixing bowl.  Combine the remaining ingredients and whisk until combined.  Toss with the beets and carrots.  Season to taste.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Orange Chicken with Summer Vegetables
Serves 8
Adapted from One Pot

1 whole roasting chicken, seasoned and cooked, shredded (can sub. 2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken)
2 T. grapeseed oil
2 onions, cut into wedges
4 celery stalks, sliced in 1-inch pieces
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/3 c. orange juice
2 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. honey
2 T. orange zest
2 bell peppers (any color), seeded and chopped coarsely
1 lb. zucchini or yellow summer squash, cut into half moons
4 ears corn, shucked and cut into 4 pieces each (a cleaver makes these easier to cut)
2 oranges, peeled and cut into segments ("supremes")
2 T. chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Set the cooked chicken aside.  Heat the oil in a large stockpot and cook the onion and celery over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 min., or until softened.  Add the flour and stir constantly for 2 min., then remove from the heat.  Gradually stir in the juice, stock, soy sauce, and honey followed by the orange rind, then return to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring.  Add the peppers, zucchini, corn, and simmer another 10 min.  Add the shredded chicken and orange supremes and heat about 5 more min.  Serve in bowls garnished with parsley.

The week before the dinner party we had some work done on our basement stairwell.  We found out that it was covered in lead paint and was an urgent project because our our 16-month-old daughter's health.  This wasn't a project we were able to do ourselves because of the safety regulations, but we had our trusty carpenter take care of it.  I missed taking the real before pictures of the gross green chipping paint and rusty nails that we'd hang our coats on.  Now it's a clean, bright area with new shoe cubbies where we can hang all the coats, bags, and other "chilch" (as Ben calls it) that we drag in the back door, as well as our shoes.  It's all part of our plan to make the most of our small space.

I'm also harvesting calendula flowers now.  I'd love to use them to die silk or wool one day, but for now I will dry them for herbal tea.  Calendula has many medicinal properties; it's good for diaper rash, cut and scrapes, as well as bug bites.  The flowers also make a beautiful arrangement.


Berry Picking Round 2 1/2

Today Vera and I went out for another round of picking wild black raspberries and mulberries.  We tried earlier this week when there were loads of berries, but the mosquitoes were too horribly thick.  I could feel them biting me every time I stepped into the thicket and I just couldn't bear it.  Today I saw a lot of berries that had dried on the canes (too bad), but I just couldn't handle it before.  This afternoon there was a wonderful lake breeze and not a mosquito in site.  I often mentally write my blog entries when I'm out in the "field."  Today I was thinking about what gardening has taught me about life.  I can relate wild foraging in the same way.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Wild Berry Picking:

  • Seize the day--go out and get it while you can because tomorrow the best might be gone.
  • Stop and taste the berries--take time to notice the sweet little things in life.
  • Check things out from every angle--it pays to examine all points of view before making a decision.
  • Choose your battles--it's not always worth sacrificing life and limb for what seems like the best at the moment.
  • Enjoy the scenery--it's good to focus on the details, but don't let the rest of the world pass you by in the process. 
And don't forget to share with your friends.  Vera enjoyed eating the berries right off the vine today.  In fact, letting her sample them was what got us through the foray.  She was antsy and hungry so this was a good pacifier.  And it's a good thing I have LIRIO.  My co-worker, Hortencia, from my first pastry job gave me this alkaline soap that she must have found at some obscure hispanic grocery.  I haven't seen it anywhere since, but it's amazing at getting out any berry or beet stain.

The green beans are absolutely bursting in our small patch.  Just today I harvested a total of 2 1/4 lbs. of both bush beans and pole beans.  Next week I plan to make time for dilly beans.


Frolicking in the South Shore

This weekend is the South Shore Frolics, a big festival "down by the lake" in Bay View.  My parents have fond memories of attending the frolics to "watch the submarine races," which I embarrassingly just realized a couple of years ago were not what they sound like.  When I said to Ben "I wonder why they don't have the submarine races anymore," his narrowed eyes and crooked smile were enough to say "your parents were doing something else."  Whoops, how naive I can be.  Anyway, because of the Frolics, our Saturday farmers' market was suspended for the weekend so we thought we'd check out a different neighborhood market.  We hopped on our bikes with Vera in the trailer and headed to the central city to see what was happening at the Fondy Farmers' Market where Fond du Lac Ave. intersects with North Ave. at approximately 21st St.  They were having a health fair along with the displays of gorgeous vegetables.  It was great to see some new faces--and familiar ones as well.  As we were riding to the market I realized again just how awesome it is to bike from place to place instead of hopping in my car all the time.  A fellow Transition Milwaukee friend pointed out recently that when she bikes she's much more aware of the streets she's covering and feels more a part of the neighborhood.  This is absolutely true.  Though one must be more attentive while biking, since it's still the minority mode of transport, I feel it is truly possible to see things differently--notice buildings, people, other scenery, and  of course every bump in the rode--on a bicycle.  

After a day of biking, we were tired and capped off the evening with homemade tacos--an idea Ben got while roaming the market.  I must say I think it's very cute when he makes a dinner suggestion.  Soft shell corn tacos are his favorite since he lived in Chicago's Noble Square neighborhood and had many a late night meal at La Pasadita where it's rumored that many well-known chefs head after closing time.  We were able to use all local ingredients except the tortillas and spices.  Mmmm, no one can eat just three!

La Pasadita Tacos
Keep in mind that this is simply our version of these infamous tacos--or Ben's recollection at best.  You can imagine that one only finds himself at this joint after imbibing a bit so some of the details are foggy.  At any rate, this is how we make them and they're go-od.  

Corn tortillas
Ground beef (though Ben's says one thing's for sure, L.P. uses fajita meat)
White onions, diced fine
Shredded cheese (a la carte at L.P.)
Cilantro, chopped
Sour cream (this may not have been part of the original plate)
Hot Sauce

Brown the meat and season to taste.  I use ground cumin, chili powder, ground coriander, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Add the onions and saute slightly (Ben claims these may or may not have been raw...your choice.)  Transfer meat to a bowl.  Use the same pan to slightly warm the tortillas, in batches, immediately before serving.  Set up an assembly station and let everyone make their own taco.  Enjoy!

I took several pictures of the vegetable garden today.  It's changed so much recently!  My Rattlesnake beans are really taking over the trellis.  I love how the vines sort of just reach up to the sky at the top. The tomatoes are going crazy as are the carrots.  The kohlrabi are really sizing up, the potted okra is taking off, and my leeks are finally starting to look like something.  Looks like we'll also have lots of hot peppers this year for drying.

The green beans continue to produce; they really live up to their variety name--Provider.  I have harvested three pounds already this week just from my small plot.  I'm trying to keep better track of my garden yields this year.  I haven't weighed every bit of lettuce and mesclun mix, but I'm working to seriously get weights on the bulkier items.  I use my Gramma's old spring scale, the only item I admittedly coveted from her estate.  It's a relic with some interesting information on top about all the things you can weigh.  Check out the label!

There have been a few household projects dangling over my head lately.  This weekend I've slowly chipped away at a couple items on my rainy day list.  One of those was making some cafe curtains for the dining room window where the morning sun really blinds Vera as she eats breakfast.  I haven't spent much time making window dressings for this place since we moved in over four years ago.  It came with some wonderful roman shades upstairs and we have blinds in the living room.  I guess I threw together a quick no-sew swag for the kitchen, but nothing really time consuming.  This project wasn't much different (as you might agree.) I deliberated over what type of curtains I wanted for the longest time.  Last week I found in my fabric stash some floor length tab-top curtains from either Ben's or my old bachelor/bachelorette pad (when I saw that we had the exact same taste in curtains and learned that he'd stepped foot in Pier 1 to pick his out, I knew it was destiny.)  I measured, hemmed, and hung them tonight.  Not a major change, but I think it adds a nice warmth to the dining room.  They'll be drawn in the AM, but I can enjoy how they frame the window and built-in by night.


Early Summer Treats

Ben looked into our fridge yesterday and said, "it must be preserving season."  When the bounty of summer hits, most weekends find us with a refrigerator bursting with bulk vegetables for canning and freezing.  I don't advise cramming too many preserving projects into one weekend, but I had a lot of produce fall into my lap recently so I had to process it quickly since I wasn't able to accommodate it all in a cooler.  As I mentioned in the last post I was working on a case of red beets.  Ben also brought home a case and a half of peaches from famed David Mas Masumoto's Family Farm in California.   I tried out our "new" food dehydrator (a request fulfilled via Milwaukee Freecycle) to dry some sliced peaches and also made peach jam.  Today I tried a new recipe for pickled beets and shredded some roasted bed to freeze for chocolate beet cake in the winter.  Aside from those case lots, a huge bowl of tart cherries landed in our hands Friday night--a friend's parents live across the alley and they always travel abroad at peak cherry season; the last two year's we've reaped the benefits of their travels--so I made cherry jam.  Whew!  With the weather in the 90s today, it wasn't ideal for heating up the kitchen with the hot water bath canner, but I don't have the luxury of a summer kitchen (yet) so I did my best to process quickly, but safely.

And when it rains, it pours.  Today I picked the first green beans from our small patch of Provider variety.  From an approximately 2 1/2'x4' section of beans last year we harvested close to 25 lbs.  This year's soil allowance is nearly the same.  I already picked 1/2 lb. of beans and they're JUST getting started.  I'll be pickling dilly beans much earlier this year.  This past week was also the beginning of wild foraging for mulberries and black raspberries.  I have found one particularly productive mulberry tree along the lakefront as well as many black raspberry bushes, which are just beginning to ripen.  I usually pick what I can, then freeze them until I get a sizable amount to make a batch of jam or to freeze a bag for winter muffins, cakes, and cobblers.

The weather we've been having this season may finally be good for tomatoes on our side of town.  Just when I decided to give up on the heirlooms and grow quicker-to-mature varieties because of the lack of hot days in past years, we may actually get enough warm weather this season.  Such is life.  I'll enjoy whatever we get.  Our melons are loving the heat as well.  I'm growing watermelon for the first time and it's 1/3 of the way up one trellis already.  I placed "pig panel" arches along our original raised bed and have cantaloupe, watermelon, pickling cukes, luffa squash, and lemon cukes growing on them.  My plan is for these trellises to create a shaded area underneath so I can still grow lettuce and mesclun mix throughout the summer.  This was an idea I got from a supplementary Better Homes and Gardens magazine called Garden Ideas and Outdoor Living, circa 1987--very "vintage" designs and adverstisments for Ortho Malathion 50 Insect Spray (it's amazing what we still didn't know just 25 years ago.)

Not only are the cultivated fruits and vegetables coming along, but the wild foods continue to thrive as well.  Tonight I made a salad with purslane, commonly seen as a weed, but actually a tasty, anti-oxidant and omega-3 fatty-acid-rich vegetable.  It grows well in the cracks between our pavers plus there's a great crop in my tomato bed this year.  I've always wanted to eat it instead of just composting it with other weeds.  As a succulent, it added a unique texture and fresh flavor to this salad.

Potato Salad with Purslane, Snap Peas, and Green Beans
Serves 8

I grabbed some of the last good snap peas from the farmers' market on Saturday and paired them with new potatoes and the first green beans from our garden.  With grilled salmon, this salad was a nice substitute for separate starch and salad.

2 lbs. new potatoes (gently washed so as not to lose the beautiful red skin)
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 T. red wine vinegar
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. snap peas, trimmed
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and blanched
1/4 lb. purslane, torn
1 medium white or red onion, halved and shaved
1/4 c. fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Fill a medium saucepan with salted water, add potatoes and bring to a boil.  Cook until a knife inserted comes out easily.  Lift from pan with a slotted spoon and use the same water to blanch the green beans.  Let potatoes cool.  In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, and pepper flakes; season with salt.  In a mixing bowl, quarter the potatoes.  Add the peas, beans, purslane, onion, and herbs.  Toss well with dressing and season to taste.  Serve with grilled fish or chicken.