...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.


Playing with My New Toy

How to Make Fruit Leather
 Fruit Leather (photo: courtesy of SimplyRecipes.com)
Though it was far from the childhood Christmas bonanza of toys and was mostly without "schrapnel," as my parents called the pieces and strips of wrapping paper littering the living room and tree skirt, we managed to exchange a few holiday gifts and I even got a new "toy," a Nesco Dehydrator and Jerky Maker.  I had a very simple dehydrator before that basically plugged in and heated up; it was without a fan or any temperature settings.  My neighbor was glad to take it off my hands and I believe she might be using it for drying flowers or other crafty things.  Though I act like a Luddite most of the time, when it comes to drying local foods, I decided I wanted something a bit more high tech.--a more efficient substitute for my oven in dehydrating fruits and vegetables...that is, until I build my solar dehydrator (stay tuned.)  This brand was recommended by a local orchardist who offered me a sample of dried apple at a recent winter farmers' market.  They were much better than the ones I'd dried this fall and received greater acceptance from Vera.  So this past week, after all the holiday parties were under our belts (literally and figuratively) I took my new toy out of the box and "played" with it a little.  Actually, I just skimmed the user's manual.  (You may know that technical verbage and I don't mix.  I even had Ben read the breast pump manual and show me how to use it, but that's another story...)  So I searched the booklet for as many pictures and charts as I could find to explain how to use this new piece of equipment and avoided the mildly confusing lexicon like the plague.  I'll probably just end up winging it--reading as I go.  Meaning, I'll have the product all prepped and ready and then I'll fumble with figuring out how to operate the thing.  But really, it looks pretty simple.  I can't wait to try some dried fruit leather this winter.  That will take me right back to the old days of carob and protein drinks from my children when my parents sold health food, picked up eggs from a local farm, and ne'er a Fruit Roll-up or grain of white rice crossed our threshold.  Funny how things come full-circle.

Speaking of "health foods," my new reality is taking shape.  I think I've checked out just about every gluten-free, sugar-free, egg- and casein-free cookbook I can request to be held at our local library branch.  I've combed the internet for the best deals on bulk alternative flours and picked up others at Outpost Natural Foods.  I've tested a lot of new recipes on friends and family--whether they realized it or not.  So far I only found one piece of  "Heaven" discarded on the communal cookie tray at my parents' house (I blame it on one of the youngin's without such a developed palate, right?)  Now I'm attempting to serve a gluten-free, alternatively sweetened, dairy-free dessert to my husband's co-workers at the annual holiday party tomorrow.  Really, I just wanted to guarantee there would be at least one dessert I could eat (and so I wouldn't be tempted--in desperation--by other desserts likely to contain Jell-O, Cool-Whip, and pretzels.

Sweet Potato Spice Cake (Gluten-Free, Egg-Free and Dairy-Free)

Adapted from a recipe I found at Benevolent Kitchen.  Unleash your creative juices to jazz this up.

1 1/2 c. buckwheat flour
Mmm, Drippy Frosting...
1 1/2 c. tapioca flour (or white rice flour...or a combo)
1 1/4 c. xylitol
1 T. baking soda
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
3/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
3 c. steamed/pureed sweet potatoes or winter squash
1 c. white wine (or water)
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. cider vinegar
2 t. gluten-free vanilla extract (Frontier or Flavorganics)

3 c. organic powdered sugar
1/2 c. almond milk or orange juice
Orange liqueur (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, etc...if gluten-free, avoid grain based alcohols)
Shredded coconut (optional)
Toasted pecan pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease two 9-inch baking pans and line with parchment rounds. Sift together flours, xylitol, baking soda, spices, salt and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer or a mixing bowl combine sweet potato puree, wine, oil, vinegar, vanilla and mix well to form a smooth batter.  Pour into prepared pans and bake about 1 hour or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean.  Allow cakes to cool in pans until they are easily handled; remove cakes and place on wire racks to cool completely.  For glaze, sift powdered sugar into mixer bowl, add almond milk or juice and mix until desired consistency is reached.  I prefer it to be viscous enough to drip down the sides, but still be opaque.  To assemble:  Cut slightly domed portion off of one cake round and brush with orange liqueur.  Spread or pour glaze over this layer and sprinkle with coconut or pecans (optional).  Place second layer on top of first and repeat trimming, brushing, glazing, and sprinkling.  Let set.  Enjoy with dairy-free coconut "ice cream."  

Tonight we got back on track with our weekly Friday night pizza.  It was my first attempt at enjoying a pizza without my beloved cheese.  I prepared a super creamy bean puree and spread it on top of the sauce.  I thought it was delicious, though Ben--who wasn't even subjected to my latest substitute and still enjoyed mozzarella on his portion--said "it's getting further and further from a pizza."  I negotiated an idea for personal pizzas in future weeks when he can have his old gluten-filled crust back along with whatever forbidden toppings he wants.  It's a deal!  And Vera can just choose from either.  She's neutral on this issue because she tends to just munch the crusts anyhow.

Creamy Bean Puree
Makes 3 c.

Use whatever variety of white or yellow beans (cannellini, coba, etc.) you desire.  I prefer fava beans because I enjoy their "umami" quality.  

2 c. dried white(ish) beans, soaked overnight and cooked until very soft
Olive oil
Nutritional yeast (optional), to give a more savory flavor

Half and Half Pizza with Gluten-Free Crust
Put cooked beans, olive oil, nutritional yeast, and salt in food processor and process until very smooth.  Add more olive oil until you reach the desired consistency--I like it to be slightly on the "thin" side, meaning not lumpy and VERY spreadable.  Spread on pizza, crackers, fruit, veggies, etc.  Freeze extra in small portions.

As of this past week, I began a new season of continuing education.  Though I wasn't particularly thrilled with all of my required coursss in college, I have always enjoyed reading, attending lectures and workshops, and learning new things.  I can somewhat regularly be found enrolled in a continuing education course whether it's through the Milwaukee Recreation Department or at one of our many local colleges or community centers.  I guess I'm a lifelong learner.  On Monday I attended a "Beesentation" at the Urban Ecology Center, taught by the owners of Beepods, two energetic guys I worked with at Growing Power years ago.  They engaged us for two hours with an intriguing slideshow about the lives of honeybees.  What incredible creatures!  They must be the smartest critters on Earth!  I'm in the process of evaluating our property to see if a hive could fit within the setbacks required by the city for keeping bees.  And I'm hoping to get the approval of my neighbors as well--one of them might be reading this post (there's free honey in it for you!)  At any rate, I'm thrilled to be learning about this ancient art and hope to be practicing beekeeping myself by spring.
Top-bar beehives modeled after nature (photo: courtesy of Beepods.com)

1 comment:

  1. Don't know why I've never thought to put bean puree on pizza... sounds good to me! Happy New Year to you, and enjoy the dehydrator!