...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.


More Summer Recipes

Today is an ozone action day according to the weather forecasters.  We were outside this morning and had trouble sitting comfortably for even a few minutes.  It was a good day to hide out in the basement and finish the latest sewing project.  I am racking up Vera's 2-year-old wardrobe; it's been so much fun to sew dresses for her.  They don't require much fabric and they typically go very quickly.  I was tempted to call this the "bubble wrap dress" because for a good portion of sewing it, Vera sat and played quietly at my feet with a sheet of large bubble wrap.  This might just get my face on the homepage of horribleparents.com (a fictional website my sister and I refer to when we do something borderline "negligent" by parenting experts standards), but Vera had a blast and worked on her fine motor skills.  The rest of the time she wanted to sit on my lap and watch the sewing machine move and hum.  She likes to push all the buttons, turn the cranks, stick her fingers way too close to the working needle, and crawl up onto the sewing table to get pins, needles, and the seam ripper.  So you can imagine how long this lasts.  I actually think it's neat that she wants to sit with me when I sew.  When she's older, hopefully sewing projects of her own, she can say that she grew up sitting up my lap while I made clothes for her.  This dress was another super thrifty project: the pattern from my mom, the pink fabric from a discarded valance, and the patterned fabric an interesting vintage pillowcase that I deconstructed.  I love the main fabric and had a challenging time figuring out what to pair with it--a solid color to pick up the pink in its leaves, another bigger print to complement the greens, or a more subdued color to bring out the overall bright shades in it.  I am happy to have settled on the pink.  One day soon I will begin another project for myself.  New patterns can be expensive so when the craft store had a deeeeep discount on patterns the other week, I stocked up.  Occasionally I treat myself.

Vera and "Peaches" the pig
"Chicken Dance"
I'm also still occupied with cooking the late summer harvest.  I canned more tomatoes this week and frozen lots more.  Here are a few new recipes I've tried.  The beet salad was my contribution to our CSA Open House this past Sunday at Pinehold Gardens.  Vera made lots of new friends--both human and animal--danced with a chicken, and went home with a million mosquito bites.  We really had a great time!

Beets and Cucumbers in Cream
Serves 4-6

Adapted from Vegetarian Delights by Barbara E. Echols.  I'd never cooked cucumbers before except for maybe in a soup.  If you drain the water from them, they hold up extremely well when sauteed.  Give them a nice brown color for a whole new dimension.

4-5 fresh medium beets, cooked and peeled, cut into cubes
2 large cucumbers, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 T. white wine vinegar
4 T. butter
black pepper
1 c. heavy (whipping) cream
2 T. sour cream or whole milk yogurt
3 T. minced fresh chives
lemon juice

Sauteed Cucumbers
Set beets aside in a bowl.  Place cucumber slices in a colander over a bowl.  Sprinkle with vinegar and salt and let stand 1 hour to drain.  Melt 2 T. butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add cucumbers and saute until lightly browned--about 4 min.  Remove cucumbers with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Reduce heat to low and add remaining butter, beets, and pepper.  Cook 4 min.  Stir in heavy cream and bring to boil.  Cook until cream is reduced to a thick sauce.  Be careful not to burn.  Add cucumbers, sour cream (or yogurt), and chives and cook 4 min.  Add lemon juice and additional pepper to taste.  Serve hot or cold.

Saturday night we used the fresh corn I bought at the farmers' market for this adapted Ecuadorian recipe.  The dairy garnishes were my addition--according to Ben, my local South American "expert," the natives would never do that.

Corn Stew
Serves 4-6

3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 large potatoes, diced
4 T. vegetable oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cubed
1 T. sweet paprika
Leaves from 1 handful fresh oregano, minced
Handful fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
3 large handfuls swiss chard, stemmed and finely shredded (can sub. spinach later in the season)
4 ears fresh corn, cut off the cob
2 c. vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
Handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish
Sour cream of whole milk yogurt, to garnish (optional)
Shredded parmesan, to garnish (optional)

Blanch carrots and potatoes in salted boiling water until soft.  Drain.  Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat and saute onion, garlic, and chili until soft.  Add tomatoes, paprika, oregano, and parsley.  Stir well. Add carrots, potatoes, and swiss chard (or spinach).  Saute, stirring constantly, until the greens wilt.  Add corn and stock.  Cover and simmer until vegetables are nice and soft.  Add salt and pepper, then lightly mash the carrots and potatoes into the sauce.  Serve garnished with chopped cilantro, sour cream, cheese accompanied with crusty bread and a salad.

And lastly, I took another stab at this savory cheesecake last night.  Ben came home and said "Cheesecake!  For dinner?!  Really?"  I attempted to make this for my bridal shower, which I insisted on catering four years ago.  Of course, frantic as I was, I didn't allow enough time for it to cool and set so it was a disaster that ended up in the freezer (trying to quick chill) then in the garbage later.  I'm glad I tried again because it really is a decadent torte.  A small slice is all you need.  This could easily be made into mini cheesecakes for hors d'oeuvres as well.

Basil Cheesecake
Serves 12

1 T. butter
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
2 1/2 c. fresh basil
1/2 c. fresh parsley
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
1 clove garlic
1 lb. ricotta cheese, room temp.
2 lbs. cream cheese, room temp.
1/2 lb. parmesan cheese, grated
5 eggs
1/2 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter bottom and sides of a 10" springform pan.  Mix bread crumbs and 1/4 c. parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle mixture into pan, turning to coat completely.  Mix basil leaves, parsley, oil, salt, and garlic in food processor until smooth paste forms, about 2 min., scraping sides occasionally.  Put ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and parmesan in a mixer bowl and mix until smooth, about 2 min.  Mix in eggs.  Remove about 1/3 of this mixture to a small bowl.  Into original 2/3 cheese mixture, fold in the basil mixture until well blended.  Pour the basil mixture into the prepared pan and carefully spread an even layer of the cheese mixture on top.  Sprinkle with pine nuts.  Set pan on a baking sheet.  Bake 1 1/2 hours.  Turn oven off and cool cheesecake about 1 hour with oven door slightly ajar.  Transfer to a rack and cool completely.  Serve at room temp. or slightly warmed.

"Hmmm, I think this one looks good."
We're hoping this heat breaks soon--perhaps this weekend.  Vera absolutely loves being outdoors.  Lately she's tried to be helpful by picking tomatoes.  Most of them are tiny and green, but I don't want to discourage her from being in the garden.  Luckily tomatoes can still ripen after picking, of course, so it's not a complete loss.


If You Bake It They Will Come

This has been a busy week--Transition Milwaukee meeting on Monday night, food preservation class on Tuesday night, but last night may have been the most fun.  Community Pie--the volunteer group I've been a part of this summer--celebrated the first culmination of our pie baking efforts.  Our goal was to involve Washington Park neighborhood youth in harvesting fruit from both public and private sources throughout the area where it would otherwise go to waste.  We spent a day in July preparing the crusts at the Washington Park Urban Ecology Center and returned last Saturday morning to help a group of enthusiastic young people make the fillings and bake the pies--strawberry/rhubarb, mulberry, blueberry, cherry/blueberry.  Last night we passed out slices of pie for donation at the Washington Park band shell and enjoyed some great blues music while hanging out with a very diverse crowd from the neighborhood.  It was a joy to see people taste mulberry pie for the first time, some even coming back for seconds.  We are planning another round of fruit collecting and pie baking to use the fall's bounty of apples and pears.

Today I harvested our first head of broccoli (my first time growing it) and our first watermelon.  I noticed this melon was splitting on the bottom so it would have ideally ripened just a bit more on the vine, but under the circumstances, I removed it, still fairly sweet.  I ate half of it straight out of the rind.  This practice always reminds me of my brother, who was a watermelon fiend as a young man.  I remember him eating the melon--with a tool we called the "baller," which I now know better to call a parisienne scoop--seeds and all as he inhaled this fruit as he did most of his meals.  I don't know if he really enjoyed the seeds or if he did it just to gross out his sisters, as brothers do.  Like when he would mix a whole batch of chocolate chip cookie dough--potentially salmonella-laced conventional eggs and all--and sit in front of the TV with the bowl and a big spoon.  That was enough to get plenty of squeals out of me and lots of comments about my brother's intelligence from our older sister.

I'm also still tackling the loads of tomatoes coming out of the garden.  This weekend I'll be canning crushed tomatoes.  I'm oven-drying cherry tomatoes as I type.  It's been an absolutely amazing tomato year, as you may have guessed from our hot weather.  These fruits are part of the almost 100 pounds of produce I've weighed from our garden thus far.  That doesn't include all the spinach and salad mix we ate in the spring and early summer nor does it account for the rest of my carrots, turnips, rutabagas, melons, and leeks.  We may double that yield by the first freeze.

As I think I've mentioned, we're really enjoying the eggplants growing in our yard for the first time this season.  I just picked another one today and there were four more sizable ones still hanging on.  From my experience, there are never enough good eggplant recipes out there so I'd like to share one I tried this evening.  I used eggplant, garlic, green beans, and herbs all from our garden.

Spicy Eggplant and Green Bean Curry
Serves 3-4

I've adapted this recipe which was originally printed in Bon Appetit magazine.

Porcelain ginger grater--a handy tool
5 T. coconut oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. chopped, peeled fresh ginger (see note)
1 14-16 oz. eggplant, peeled, cut into 2x1/2x1/2-inch sticks
8 oz. green beans, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 T. grated lime zest
1 t. Thai green curry paste
1 c. canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 green onions, chopped (or substitute minced chives)
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
2 T. chopped fresh mint
Cooked brown rice or asian noodles

Heat 4 T. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and ginger and stir 30 seconds.  Add eggplant and green beans.  Cook until almost tender, stirring often, about 10 min.  Cover and cook until completely tender, about 3 min. longer.  Transfer vegetables to a bowl.  Add remaining T. oil, zest, and curry paste to same skillet; stir 15 seconds.  Add coconut milk; bring to a boil, whisking until smooth.  Return vegetables to skillet; toss until sauce thickens enough to coat vegetables, about 3 min.  Season with salt.  Mix in onions, cilantro, and mint.  Serve over hot brown rice or noodles.

Note:  In case you don't already know, it's very easy to peel ginger without loosing too much of the "meat" by using the edge of a spoon to scrape away just the outer skin.

Lots of fresh herbs top the finished dish


Using the Summer Heat to Keep Cool

The Sun Oven in the final roasting phase

I'm starting to feel a bit of fall in the air, dare I say.  After the heat we've endured this summer I think I'm nearly ready.  But I don't want to wish the summer days away so in the meantime we'll do what we can to keep cool.  The other day I slow-cooked beets in the Sun Oven most of the day.  They were tender and the skins slipped off easily.  All without heating up the house, thank goodness.  I feel like the process of getting these beets on the table begins to define where I'd like to go with our urban homestead--we grew the beets using soil enriched with homemade compost, we cooked them by the sun's energy in our yard, and the trimmings went back into our compost, which will help grow more beautiful beets next year.  My dream is a closed loop.  I prepared one of my favorite beet recipes with these sun roasted treats.

Honey Mustard Beets
Serves 8

Adapted from Fresh Start by Julie Rosso.  I love to use fresh herbs as a "salad" so add more if you'd like.  The walnuts are a nice additional, but if you plan to eat this as leftovers you may want to add the walnuts at serving time, otherwise they may get soft.

8 c. large dice roasted beets
3/4 c. finely minced fresh chives
1/2 c. finely minced flat leaf parsley
2 T. plus 2 t. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. honey
4 t. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. walnut pieces toasted, optional

In a large bowl, combine the beets, chives, and parsley.  In another bowl, combine the mustard, honey, and vinegar and stir until smooth.  Toss with the beet mixture to coat, then season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with walnuts if desired.  Enjoy immediately or set aside for 1-2 hours at room temperature to give the flavors more time to blend.

Homemade "Fish Sticks"
With this salad I prepared breaded pan-fried smelt or, what I like to call, "homemade fish sticks."  I used a three-step breading process with seasoned flour, egg (with a little water added), and homemade seasoned breadcrumbs.  When breading, remember to always dedicate one hand to handling wet and one to dry.  We rarely fry food in our house, but occasionally something begs to be pan-fried, such as these little fish.  Though they're lake fish, because they are small--therefore low on the food chain--they should be relatively low in toxins unlike many of our fish these days.  This may have been my first time enjoying smelt.  It was surprisingly delicious and not fishy at all.  Though I suppose if I breaded and deep-fried my shoe I'd also eat it.  No, really I recommend smelt.  I served them with a quick tartar sauce made from sour cream, horseradish sauce, and minced dill pickles.

Canned Whole Tomatoes
The past few days have also found me trying to manage this season's abundance of tomatoes.  It seems like we bring in one or two pounds every day.  I had given up on growing heirlooms because in our microclimate a couple blocks from the lake we never got enough consecutive warm days for ripening.  This year I planted early maturing varieties and just my luck it's been hot hot hot since June (maybe next year I'll try one or two heirloom plants again.) But the hybrids that I am carting into the house are perfect for canning whole tomatoes, making sauce, or drying.  So far I have just canned whole tomatoes, but I plan to make crushed toms also.  If you're canning tomatoes, please use a tested recipe and add acid (lemon juice) if canning them in a hot water bath canner.  Tomatoes, as is, fall on the borderline of needing to be canned under pressure versus hot water bath.  Be safe, not sorry!

Yesterday I started bringing in the carrot harvest for the year.  I planted Danvers Half Long (an heirloom variety), Tonda di Parigi (a Thumbelina variety planted between the rows of other to grow "on their shoulders"), and Merida (an overwinter storage carrot that we can mulch over and harvest through the snow).  These all grew well in my crusted soil.  Next year I will work in more compost and see if they do even better.  I have learned that it's easiest--though also messiest--to harvest carrots when the soil is wet.  Sprinkle the soil from a watering can to loosen the carrots and make them easy to pull out, in tact.  This project basically negated the shower I took yesterday morning.  Vera joined in and was a mess as well.  So far I've harvested just over 13 pounds of carrots from one raised bed and I've only tackled half of them.  I believe our garden will supply our whole winter's worth of carrots.  I usually buy about three Tipi Produce 5-pound bags of carrots throughout winter at the co-op, but this year I may not need to supplement.  I also believe that I may have grown enough onions to last through the cold months.  These are usually something I stock up on at the end of season farmers' markets and store in my basement.  I have a better storage shelf this year with more air circulation and am hoping that the onions I hung to cure in the greenhouse will now last downstairs until spring.
Cellar Storage Rack with shelves that slide out

Jar of dried lemongrass stalks
Another way we've been keeping cool this summer is with ice cream.  Ben and I are suckers for Babe's Ice Cream in our Bay View neighborhood.  As I've mentioned before we try to ride our bikes to get it.  Making ice cream at home is fairly easy if you have an ice cream maker, though it does take a bit of planning ahead mainly so that the churning insert is frozen solid before you proceed.  I love making herbal ice creams: basil, lavender, sage, thyme...I've even heard that garlic ice cream is amazing.  Below is my basic ice cream recipe.  It's another way to "preserve" herbs, though I hesitate to call it a preservation method in our house because the sweet frozen cream only lasts about three or four days tops.  I made Triple Lemon and Coriander Ice Cream with my garden's herbs and some locally grown lemongrass I dried last year.  The notes are below.

Basic Ice Cream
Steeping the herbs in half and half
Makes about 1½ qts.

3 c. half and half
5 large egg yolks
¾ c. sugar
pinch of salt
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1 t. vanilla extract
Optional 2-3 c. herbs (basil, lemon verbena, mint, thyme, etc.), stems removed

Heat half and half just to boiling. Meanwhile, separate eggs.  Whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl.  If using herbs, steep 20 minutes, covered off the heat, after heating half and half. Add hot half and half to egg mixture in a steady stream, slowly.  Rinse saucepan but do not wipe out.  Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of spoon.  Do not boil.  Strain custard and mix in heavy cream and vanilla, until well combined.  Refrigerate until well chilled.  Churn according to ice cream machine’s directions.
Triple Lemon and Coriander Ice Cream

Triple Lemon and Coriander Flavor:
2 c. fresh lemon balm leaves, bruised
2-3 stalks of fresh or dried lemongrass stalks, chopped coarsely
1 t. dehydrated lemon peel
2 t. ground coriander

In the recipe above, add the lemon balm, lemongrass, and lemon peel where it calls for herbs.  Add the coriander with the heavy cream and vanilla. 


Enjoying the Summer Harvest

One of the many dragonflies that have "landed" in Milwaukee.
Ingredients for Cherry Lemonade
Today we had a visit from my cousin (and her family) from Roanoke, Virginia.  It was a mid-afternoon get together so I wanted to prepare some light refreshments.  I love the cooler weather we've been having because it's much more comfortable for spontaneous baking.  I prepared some simple Cherry Lemonade Spritzers with about 2 oz. cherry "syrup" poured off of my canned sweet cherries, 6 oz. lemonade (purchased or freshly squeezed), and 3-4 oz. of sparkling water.  You can adjust the recipe to your tastes; this is just a starting point.  I also cut up some juicy sweet Door County peaches I picked up at the farmers' market over the weekend and baked fruit crumble bars.  These bars could be made with any local fruits you may dry this season--cherries, cranberries, apricots, peaches, apples, etc.  I had raisins, dried Wisconsin cranberries, apricots, and dates on hand and used 1 c. of each.  I also used Wisconsin-milled Oly's oats.

Fruit Crumble Bars
Makes about 1 dozen large bars

Adapted from Afternoon Delights by McNair and Moore.

4 c. dried fruit
1/2 c. xylitol (or granulated sugar)
butter wrapper for greasing
3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
3/4 t. salt
3/4 t. baking soda
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

In a saucepan, combine dried fruit, xylitol, and 2 c. water.  Place over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until fruit is plumped and tender and liquid is absorbed; cooking time will vary with type and dryness of fruit.  Remove from heat, spread on a sheet tray or plate to cool for a few minutes, then transfer fruit to a food processor and pulse a few times to puree coarsely.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan with butter wrapper.  Set aside.  In a bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda.  Stir to mix well.  Add butter and mix until well blended and crumbly.  Remove 2 c. of oat mixture and set aside.  Distribute remaining oat mixture in prepared pan and press gently to form even layer.  Spoon pureed fruit over layer and spread evenly.  Distribute reserved 2 c. oat mixture evenly over fruit and press gently to form top crust.  Bake about 30 min. or until surface is lightly browned.  Remove and cool on a wire rack then cut into 12 equal bars.  These can be stored at room temp. for up to 2 days.

I've also been trying to creatively use all the eggplants coming out of our garden.  This is one of the new vegetables I'm growing this year that I've really enjoyed so far.  It seems like every season I fall in love with a different vegetable--even ones that may seem ordinary--and have fun creating new recipes.  This one was adapted from a friend of mine.  The eggplant slices, filling, and tomato sauce can be prepared a day ahead, which came in handy for us during this busy week.

Rolled Stuffed Eggplant

Just out of the oven!
Serves 4-6

2 medium to large eggplants, peeled
1 beaten egg
½ c. milk
2 t. cooking oil plus more for cooking
1/8 t. salt
½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
½ c. ricotta cheese
2 T. chopped basil
Pepper to taste
Fresh tomato sauce (see recipe that follows)

Cut eggplant lengthwise into about 10 1/4-inch slices.  Place in a single layer on a sheet tray, sprinkle with salt and cover the layer with paper towel; repeat with remaining eggplant and let sit about 30 min. For batter combine egg, milk and 2 t. oil.  Add flour and salt; beat until smooth.  Dip eggplant slices into batter and cook on both sides in a small amount of hot oil until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.  Combine Parmesan, ricotta, parsley, and pepper.  Place 1 T. of cheese mixture in the center of each eggplant slice; roll up jelly-roll style.  Place seam side down in baking dish (or hold with a toothpick if you feel more comfortable).  Bake in 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or until heated through; broil on high another 3 minutes.  Serve eggplant rolls with warm tomato sauce and additional Parmesan if desired.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

This recipe is very flexible; the amounts are up to you depending how thick and seasoned you like it.  You can also add any end pieces of eggplant not suitable for rolling; dice these medium.

Fresh tomatoes, cored and diced large
Fresh or dried basil and oregano
Fresh or granulated garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything but salt and pepper in a saucepan and cook down to your desired thickness.  Season to taste.

Although this is still the height of the summer season, I am planning for fall preserving and storage.  This week I harvested dried beans from my rattlesnake bean trellis.  This is the first year I've let them fully dry on the vine.  So far I have one pint, but there are many more beans still on the trellis.  One goal for next year is to add more bean trellises.  It's nice knowing that if it really came down to it I could grow my own protein and perhaps get all the nutrients I need from my own small parcel.  I also picked sage, air-dried it for at least a week on a sheet tray then ground it up in my spice grinder (coffee grinder dedicated to grinding herbs and spices) and laid it out to dry further.  If you save sage this way, be sure to fully dry it after grinding.  Last year I stored it immediately after and it molded, but I nearly put it into a Thanksgiving dish because the mold was not visible (same color as the sage); it was the smell that gave it away almost too late.
Homegrown "rubbed" sage
Over the weekend I was busy canning two cases of dilly beans for friend and former co-worker, David Swanson of Braise.  In the summer, preserving is like a natural, weekly activity for me--like doing laundry.  Pretty soon I'm going to need a production kitchen.  


Up to the Ears in Zucchini

I have heard stories of zucchini plants being so prolific that gardeners in rural areas leave the abundance in neighbors' mailboxes or unlocked cars on the road.  I have not had that problem this year because my zucchini plants have a serious case of powdery mildew which is quickly destroying them.  But our CSA has had another bumper crop of summer squash; I've come up with a few recipes to tackle the load.  This stuffed squash recipe also works on the grill as we found out tonight--not wanting to heat up the house anymore than necessary on this of many hot days.  We used our homemade bulk Italian sausage, but you could easily leave out the meat.

Stuffed Yellow Squash
Serves 4

Adapted from 1000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles (yes, I am one to adapt a veggie recipe to include a substantial amount of meat!)

2 large yellow squash (about 12 oz. each)
8 oz. pork sausage, cooked, reserve the grease or use 2 t. vegetable oil
1/2 c. chopped red or green bell peppers
1/4 c. chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced or 2 garlic scapes, chopped
1/3 c. fresh corn kernels (if cut off the cob, save the cob for making soup stock)
1/4 c. plain bread crumbs
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
2 T. fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees or heat up grill.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the centers, leaving shells 1/2-inch thick.  Chop the scooped-out flesh.  In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add chopped squash, peppers, onions, garlic; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 min.  Stir in the corn, bread crumbs, herbs, salt and pepper.  Spoon 1/4 of the filling into each half squash.  Wrap each half in foil.  Place on baking sheet and bake 20 min.--or grill for the same amount of time--until squash shells are tender.

Traditional Bread and Butter Pickles
Today I was able to sneak in a couple small batches of preserves while Vera played.  I canned bread and butter pickles and blueberry juice.  I am so excited that all the cucumbers I've pickled this season have been right from our own garden.  I also got my hands on a case of Michigan blueberries (I temporarily gave up growing my own a couple years ago when I realized I couldn't achieve the delicate soil pH required for these berries) so continued my quest to can our own juices.  At the co-op on Monday I was looking at the ingredient lists on the brands of juices I usually buy.  Even with organic juices you will see "natural flavor" listed on the labels, albeit last.  According to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation natural flavors are still man-made additives and not much more healthful than artificial flavors despite what most people think.  I'm finding that making my own juice is the only way to avoid even the most innocuous sounding additive.  After extracting the juice from the blueberries, I had a colander full of what I like to call "mush" that looked almost like blueberry pie filling.  I probably could have made this into jam, but decided to follow my instinct and freeze it for using in pies, cobblers, or maybe bread pudding this winter.
Blueberry "Mush"
Pint of Blueberry Juice
Now is the time of the season when our compost starts getting very full outside.  I was taking out the kitchen compost tonight before dinner and realized that nothing makes me feel like an "urban farm girl" more than running outside in my vintage apron, dumping the waste into the turner, and taking a couple hard pulls on the barrel before heading back inside to finish cooking.  As I've mentioned in the past, our compost should ideally be in two separate bins outside so that part of it has a fair chance to completely break down, especially so that it's ready to spread in the fall, which I have yet to manage before it snows.  We've found that a compost activator is necessary and has, in fact, sped up the process.


Gimme a B-L-T!

We wait all year for homegrown tomatoes so we can make a simple BLT sandwich.  To me, that's a piece of heaven.  I usually throw caution to the wind and buy white bread for this, but today I was trying to use what I had in-house so we went with the standard whole-grain.  With locally produced thick-sliced bacon, tomatoes from our yard, and local Bibb lettuce it was fine, but I jazzed it up some homemade cilantro mayo made with local eggs, and some avocado slices--obviously not locally grown, but a current staple in our house as they're good brain-food for Vera.  Add a side of fresh, juicy seasonal canteloupe and that's a meal for me.

Onions hanging to cure in the greenhouse

Today I fought the mosquitoes--already thick at 7:30 AM--to plant some new garden seeds.  One of the challenges of growing throughout the season--my rural farmer friends nod in agreement--is succession planting.  Once something is picked or completely pulled, one plants the next crop in its place so there is always something to harvest.  This is especially important if you're trying to utilize a small plot of land such as our urban lot.  In this case, I'd harvested my onions and hung them to cure in the greenhouse so I tilled the soil (with Vera's help, as you can see) and in their place I planted fall beets and rutabaga.  And in the raised bed that was late to be installed I replanted napa cabbage, turnips, and cilantro.  My cabbages were sizing up nicely before our trip, but when I got back they'd been eaten to shreds by bugs.  I'll have to protect these better.


Are You Going to Wisconsin State Fair? Parsley, Sage...

"Daddy, Daddy, can I get a chicken?!"

Polish Chicken
Buff Brahma Chicken
"Really, do you have to?"
Ben and Vera made their inaugural visits to the Wisconsin State Fair on Sunday afternoon.  It was fun for all; I can't believe I hadn't attended in several years.  It was a scene, as you might expect--kids on leashes, lots of "state fair hair," and the aroma of grease floating on the breeze--but we managed to see everything we wanted.  We checked out the livestock barns where Vera had a nice close look at what could be her only pet some day--chickens!  I was obsessed with the beautiful coloring and feathers on many of these birds.  She also checked out the ducks, geese, "bunnies," sheep, "moos," and horses.  While passing through the horse barn I actually ran into someone from my hometown--another Paris-ite (that's Paris, IL)--who was there showing his family's Clydesdales.  He let us "behind the scenes" to get a special look at one of them.  Vera was a bit spooked by such a huge animal.  State Fair foodwise I did not buy a cream puff, I did not sample any chocolate covered bacon, I did not try anything that came "on a stick," and I most certainly did not taste the cheesburger served on a Krispy Kreme doughnut.  Ugh!  The mere thought!!!  After watching a horse pull, and getting a few laughs out of the crazy products they're selling at the Expo Center, we capped it off with a stroll through the Horticulture, Crafts, and Culinary Pavilion.  I have hope!  There are still many many talented artisans out there handknitting, baking from scratch, and canning gorgeous preserves.  I would love to go back and spend a couple of hours examining the details of all these projects.  Impressive!  We also managed to sniff out some local food at the Wisconsin Products Pavilion--Ben tried a local bison burrito, Vera munched on a local apple and honey stick, while I savored a lamb gyro from my friends at Pinn-oak Ridge Farm in Delavan, WI.  Sure beats the Colossal Corn Dogs they were offering on the midway.
Whoa Horsey!
Wall of plants
I took a photo of this interesting wall of plants at the fairgrounds.  These aren't necessarily all vining, but they've been planted in such a way that they grow to look like they're climbing.  I wonder if I could incorporate this into our yard next year.  Maybe with some kind of veggies?

Black Raspberry Jam
Today it was truly back to reality after our vacation.  Everyone went back to "work."  I managed to squeak out a small batch of wild black raspberry jam while Vera napped.  With what I foraged I had 6 cups of berries--enough for 3 1/2 half-pints.  A couple for us to try and at least one for Ben to take on his annual Fall Classic canoe trip with his buddies where he always make a point of exploiting my homemaker skills with his assigned food items.  That's okay, I know they'll enjoy it.

I came up with an interesting raw salad today based on what's pouring out of the garden and our CSA farm right now.  This is a sort of slaw that could be made with kohlrabi or green cabbage.

Kohlrabi and Rhubarb Slaw
Serves 8

One could also add oil to the dressing mixture.  Sliced apples can be substituted for rhubarb.

3 small kohlrabi, peeled
2 green onions, chopped
3 salad turnips
1 stalk celery
3 stalks rhubarb, trimmed
2 T. lemon juice
3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the kohlrabi and turnips into chunks that can fit through the shoot of a food processor fitted with a shredder blade.  Shred the kohlrabi and turnips and put into a large mixing bowl.  Change to a slicer plate and add the rhubarb and celery; add to the mixing bowl.   Combine the lemon juice, parsley, vinegar and whisk until blended.  Pour over kohlrabi mixture.  Add nuts, toss and season to taste.