...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.


Uprising and Upcycling

(I'm joining some of my fellow craft bloggers in getting a bit political these days...)

Wisconsin State Capitol
Photo courtesy of Colorlines.com

Wednesday evening Vera attended her first political rally--we can't compete with Daddy Ben who was at his first rally in utero, but we're still showing her how to exercise her first amendment rights from an early age.  We joined others in our neighborhood as they chanted an held up signs at a busy intersection to show support for unions in this time of conflict and uncertainty in our state.  To be honest, I think this was my first rally as well.  There was great energy among the demonstrators; I'll definitely do this again.

This recent uprising has got me thinking even more about what will happen if the economy gets worse.  We're already seeing fuel prices increase and there's word that food prices will spike again by the fall.  Certainly, our American way of life will not get any cheaper.  As we've discussed at our monthly Transition Milwaukee hub meetings, when the peak oil crisis really hits (though it's already begun) those of us who have chosen to reskill, use alternative energy and transportation, grow our own food, etc. will have a fighting chance.  I believe we will need to create alternative micro-economies that will require bartering, trading, an alternative currency, and working together with our neighbors to meet basic needs.  There won't be a place for the rampant consumption and waste of our current culture.

This week's ponderings coincided with the arrival of an intriguing article from my sister-in-law about a family in California who produces next to nothing in terms of garbage on a weekly basis.  I was inspired by their dedication to living lightly especially when it comes to food packaging, a perpetual conundrum I face at the grocery store--buy the organic cream cheese in a plastic container, which cannot be recycled by our municipality's current system or spend a little more on a block of organic Neufchatel that comes in recyclable paperboard, though it still has that non-recyclable interior silver wrapper.  The best thing to do would be to make my own cream cheese with no packaging at all.  In fact, this is what prompted me to start making homemade almond milk.  I couldn't deal with all the non-recylable Tetra-pak containers that would quickly pile up in our garbage.  We have a long way to go in eradicating excess packaging in our house, but home food preservation has helped with that a great deal.  My next step in bettering this is to call the city and have them take away one of the two garbage bins from our garage apron.  We never have more than one bag at a time.  Since we created our household chore list last fall, I've been taking out the garbage weekly.  After reading this zero-waste article I realized that as long as there's nothing stinky in the trash I really don't need to take it out but every three weeks or so.  It's hardly ever full so I'm really just wasting a bag in frequently pitching it.  We keep our potentially smelly scraps from meat, cheese, etc. in the "nasty bag" in the freezer until we're ready to empty the waste.  Otherwise we compost, recycle, or reuse/upcycle most of our by-products.  To continue on the less-waste road, I have plans to make some cloth bread bags that I can take to a local bakery to get bread (when I don't have time to bake it at home) and I'm also tackling some odds and ends of non-recyclables I've been saving for craft projects.  There is a fine line between being a pack-rat or hoarder and saving bits and pieces for upcycling.  Here are a few of my ideas.  Stay tuned for the final products, though it may take me a year to get around to all of them (do I feel a blog challenge coming on?)
NOW: Bread bag clips
LATER: "Beads" for a bracelet?
NOW:  Beer tabs
LATER:  A chain mail clutch?
NOW:  Metal Spools:
NOW: Matchboxes
LATER: Tiny gift boxes?
NOW:  Dryer lint
LATER: Homemade paper or papier mache?
NOW: Denim
LATER: Pot holders?
NOW: Caps
LATER: ABC magnets
NOW: Canning dome lids
LATER: Memory game?

NOW:  Zip tops
LATER: Snack Bag Closures?
NOW: Mesh bags
LATER: Homemade Scrubbie or
Ballerina Finger Puppets
NOW: Pull tabs from juice, etc.
LATER:  Embellished kids' rings
Add some do-dads and make a fun ring

In keeping with the idea of using the resources at hand before driving to the store to buy something new or ordering online, I've decided not to order any new vegetable seeds this year.  I will use what I have and trade with friends and neighbors at an upcoming seed swap.  The only order I'm placing is for a new pair of Arctic Beauty kiwis.  Let's just say that one of mine did not "survive" last season, but I don't know if it's the male or female so I have to order both.

I'll leave you with another recipe.  I'm still in the mode of using what I have in the pantry and freezer.

Thai Rice Noodle Salad
Serves 4

I'm really digging into the freezer these days to use what we put up last fall.  There are lots of veggies to be had.  We love one-dish meals like this one.  You can wrap your hands around the bowl on a cold night and even eat with chopsticks if you like.

3 c. (8 oz.) gluten-free fine rice noodles (vermicelli or cellophane)
1 T. coconut oil
8 scallions or small leeks (white and light green part only), thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper (I used frozen julienned peppers), sliced
4-6 oz. frozen snow peas
1/2 c. toasted peanuts
1/4 small head green cabbage, thinly shredded
Chopped cilantro (optional), torn
Mixed baby greens (available from a local source at Outpost Natural Foods)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

1/4 c. sesame oil
1 dried chili pepper, snipped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t. ground ginger
1 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. gluten-free nam pla (fish sauce)
1 t. honey

Soak the rice noodles in boiling water for 4 min. or until soft.  Drain and rinse; pat dry.  Meanwhile, make the dressing.  Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well.  Heat a large skillet over high heat and add coconut oil.  Saute scallions/leeks, peppers about 2 min.  Add peas and toss.  Turn off heat.  Add noodles and dressing, toss to coat.  Remove to a large bowl and toss cilantro, peanuts, cabbage, and mixed baby greens.  Serve at room temperature.


Local Food in the Depths of Winter

It's the time of the year when I clean out the fridge and find local root vegetables that are slightly shriveled as they are drying out; I need to use them before I lose them.  The homegrown carrots that I
"cold stored" in our unheated front vestibule have done alright.  I learned from some farmer friends that besides the temperature, I needed to control (or at least try to add) moisture in the environment or these roots would dry out.  I kept a damp flour sack towel over the baskets of carrots, parsnips, turnips, and kohlrabi until I finally had room to transfer them to our fridge just a couple of weeks ago.  I actually needed to put them in the fridge at this point for thermal mass as I continue my quest to primarily use what I have on hand; the fridge stock dwindles.  Though I had to compost a couple handfuls of carrots, I was happy with my first attempt to extend their shelf life without refrigeration.  I've also been chipping away at the stock of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, onions, and garlic we have cold-stored on a breathable rack in our basement.  Occasionally I have to toss a potato or a small squash into the compost, but overall they've kept well.  This winter we've been eating a lot of beans--it seems almost every day I have something soaking on the kitchen counter whether it's almonds for homemade milk or a variety of dried beans.  Monday has informally become soup night at our house.  Now I have two nights--Friday homemade pizza night and Monday soup night--that I at least have an idea about when I plan my weekly menus.  It's also good to start the week with a big pot of soup because it makes great leftovers to pack for lunches and enjoy on busy weeknights.

Root Vegetable and Bean Soup
Serves 4-6

1 c. dried beans (I used mung, homegrown rattlesnake, and coba beans)
1/4 c. dried tomatoes
2 c. water
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 T. coconut oil
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small celeriac (celery root), peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground turmeric
1 t. curry powder
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. ground coriander
3 c. vegetable stock
1 c. coconut milk
2 T. lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish, optional

Soak beans and dried tomatoes overnight.  Cook until soft, do not drain.  In a large pot, saute onion in oil  until soft, about 5 min.  Add rutabaga, celery, celeriac, and continue to cook for another 4-5 min.  Add garlic and saute another min.  Combine spices in a small bowl and add to vegetable mixture.  Add beans, water, and vegetable stock.  Simmer for 15-20 min. or until vegetables are tender.  Add coconut milk, lime juice and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve and garnish with cilantro, if desired.

The winter for us also means comfort food and what could be more comforting than Chicken Pot Pie?  This is an adapted version to fit my bill.  You could use the filling with a wheat flour crust as well or just eat it over homemade biscuits.

Chicken Pot Pie
Serves 4-6

I prepared this in a muffin tin and without a bottom crust thinking it would be easy to scoop each portion onto a plate.  Next time I will use ramekins or some kind of individual, oven-proof bowls so there is no need to transfer before serving.  The presentation would be much cleaner.

3 T. sunflower oil
1 c. chopped onion or leek
3/4 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/2 c. peeled, diced carrots
1 c. cooked, diced potatoes (leave the skins on for more nutrition)
1 c. chopped, packed greens (I used collards)
2 c. chopped chicken (used chicken thighs, cooked them w/ veg. trimmings to make my chicken stock)
3 T. gluten-free flour
1 c. chicken stock
1/3 c. almond milk
1 t. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 gluten-free 9-inch pie crust (your choice if you use 1 or 2 crusts depending on presentation)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add onions, celery, cook until softened but not browned.  Add peas, carrots, potatoes, and greens and saute for 5 min.  Add chicken and stir until warmed throughout.  Sprinkle flour on mixture and stir thoroughly.  Add stock and stir until thickened slightly. Add milk and remaining ingredients, heat and stir until thickened.  Spoon mixture into pie crust (if using bottom crust).  Place crust on top and seal edges (if using bottom crust).  Bake for 30-40 min. or until pie crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

Standard gluten-free pie crust
Makes a single crust

Adapted from Flying Apron's Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book.

1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/4 t. sea salt
1/2 c. plus 3 T. coconut oil
1-2 T. cold water

In a food processor, combine flour and salt.  Add coconut oil and pulse until it forms small pea-sized crumbs.  Add water and process until dough comes together.  (You don't have to chill this dough before using.)

And let us not forget winter desserts.  I've been excitedly developing a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free cheesecake in my head.  It's easy to create a creamy vegan cheesecake using tofu, but since that's not on my menu these days I had to look further.  I originally thought I'd end up using coconut milk and gelatin, but found a recipe that uses neither.  I just enjoyed the first slice and I must say it hit the spot and satisfied my craving.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-free)
Serves 12-16

Adapted from a recipe I found at Go Dairy Free.  The filling could easily be used for pumpkin pie as well.  

1 c. sorghum flour
1/2 c. potato starch (or arrowroot)
1/2 c. finely ground pecans
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. coconut oil (room temp.)
5 T. water
1 T. maple syrup

1/2 c. millet
2 c. water
1 c. cooked, pureed pie pumpkin (halve, remove seeds, roast at 400 degrees for 30 min., scoop, puree)
1/2 c. raw cashews
1/2 c. maple syrup or honey (I recommend doing 1/2 and 1/2)
1 T. fresh sumac concentrate (or lemon juice)
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground nutmeg

To cook the millet, rinse in a fine mesh strainer under running water for 1 min.  Place millet and 2 c. water in a small pot, cover, bring to a boil.  Turn heat to low and cook about 20 min. (or until water is absorbed).  Remove from heat.

For crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease spring-form pan or tart pan with removable bottom.  In a food processor combine flour, potato starch, pecans, cinnamon, and salt.  Add coconut oil and pulse until crumbs form.  Add water and maple syrup.  Form dough into a ball then press evenly into bottom of spring-form pan.  Bake about 15 min.  Let cool completely.

For filling, place pumpkin, cashews, maple syrup/honey, sumac/lemon juice and spices into high-powered blender (I use a vintage Vita-Mix.)  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Add cooked millet and blend again, adding a little water, if needed, scraping down the sides as needed.  Blend until very smooth.  Pour filling into cooled crust, spread around as needed.  Let cheesecake sit at room temp. for an hour then transfer to fridge until completely set, about 3 hours or overnight.  Remove from spring-form or 2-piece tart pan onto a serving plate.  Serve with homemade fruit preserves.

On cold, snowy winter days we cook cook cook.  I'm still also knitting knitting knitting.  I'm currently working ahead on two bonnets that will be gifts for a friend and neighbor who is expecting twin girls in the spring.  I'm trying to use up my stash of random yarn--I have a lot of single skeins that are perfect for quick and easy projects such as this.  The pattern is from my friend Beth at At the End of This Row.  Vera's been trying it on for me as I go along; I may just have to knit one for her after these are complete.

Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life Cover
photo courtesy of Powell's Books
I've also been reading more than usual and digging around at the library as I love to do.  I came across a beautiful cookbook, Lucid Food--Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia, that I can relate to incredibly well.  Aside from tips on composting and buying local, she describes her waste-not lifestyle and wild foraging forays, both of which sounded very familiar.  I am constantly striving for low-impact in our kitchen and this book was a reminder of why we choose to live as we do and an inspiration to continue.  And by the way, I usually don't "read" cookbooks, but this one really grabbed me.

Last night was the final class of my beekeeping course.  Now I have to complete my take-home test, mail it in to get my certificate, and attend some weekend beekeeping demonstrations and symposia once the weather warms up.  As I mentioned, I will not be keeping our own hive this year, but I have had a couple of offers to observe and help with inspections at some friends' hives.  We're all feeling a bit overwhelmed and still trying to digest what we've learned in this three-day course.  I believe it's one of those things I'll finally grasp when I actually start doing it.  Though the first season might be a bit haphazard, I usually learn best by trying things for myself.  Now I just need to get Vera on the fast track for reading and writing so she can assist me in taking notes next year when I've doing high-noon hive inspections.  Ha!        



Table for Two

Table for Two
This may have been the best Valentine's weekend ever.  Despite--or perhaps because of--our family's
conservative budget, I feel like it was the most fun I had celebrating the "day of love" in a long time.  Ben and I decided weeks ago that we would prepare dinner at home on the Saturday night before Valentine's Day.  We thought of it as "staying in for a date."  But before that we spent a rare Saturday together as a family.  It started with a leisurely breakfast of homemade (gluten-free) pancakes and local maple syrup; we warmed up with some coffee and hot tea.  Then we all bundled up and headed to Bradford Beach to check out the ice volcanoes, Daddy's idea to get us outside on such a gorgeous "warm" weekend.  We had some quiet time to read and knit while Vera napped then we all made holiday cookies together, which may have been my favorite part of the weekend.  I love seeing Ben in an apron getting his hands dirty in the kitchen.  To further stave off any lurking cabin fever we put together a jigsaw puzzle and made some stove-popped corn.  As Ben wound Vera down for bed I got dressed for our date.  I'd given Ben a heart-shaped invitation on Friday indicating that dinner would be around 8:00-ish (depending on V's bedtime).  It turned out to be more like 9 PM--thank goodness we had that late popcorn snack.  I covered the coffee table (for a change of scenery from the dining room) with a red
Ben's "Flowers" at our Valentine's table
 vintage cloth, set out wine glasses, our wedding china, and candles.  We sat almost tatami-style around the table and enjoyed a dinner of Tart Cherry and Dijon Smothered Pork Chops, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes, and Sauteed Green Beans and Red Peppers with local ingredients from our larder.  Dessert was a Salted Caramel and Chocolate Layered Shortbread.  Ben was asked to bring a bottle of wine (handpicked from our basement wine rack) and some "flowers," which turned out to be some of his gorgeous prairie photographs interspersed with family head shots placed delicately on skewers and stuck in a bud vase.  (My intention for this assignment was not only to save money on real flowers, but to stretch my husband's right brain.  His interpretation of a centerpiece was extremely creative and absolutely delightful.  We savored our meal, enjoyed dessert, and lingered over a bottle of Rhone as we reconnected and listened to my homemade "jazz" mix on the iPod.  We actually made it until 11:30 PM, which is LATE for us.  Today the family time continued and we took a snow walk through the Seminary Woods then watched a kid-friendly movie this afternoon.  It was exactly the kind of weekend I wish we had more often.  I realized that as we consciously kept it low-budget, we unexpectedly slowed down, created quality family time, and connected with nature.  It reminded me of some recent inspiration I got after reading Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende.  When we're not all racing around trying to make money in order to keep racing around to keep up with everyone, we actually enjoy life more.  We should really do this more often.

Ice Volcanoes at the Lakefront
"Look, over there!" (snow walk through the woods)

Holiday Maple Cutout Cookies
Makes 24 cookies

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam.  We embellished ours with a little sparkling sugar (or "magic sprinkles" as I call them) and dried cranberries (after they came out of the oven so the cranberries woudn't burn).  I expected these cookies to be crumbly, but they were surprisingly stable. 

2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 c. grapeseed oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 T. vanilla extract

Daddy and Vera Rolling and Cutting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with silicone mats.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Place the dough in the freezer for 1 hour.  Roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thickness between 2 sheets of parchment.  If the dough is sticky, dust with almond flour.  Remove the top piece of parchment and cut out the cookies with a holiday cookie cutter, dipping it in cold water after cutting each cookie to prevent sticking.  Transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each cookie.  Bake for 7-10 min., until lightly golden.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 1 hour, then serve. 

Cherry Dijon Smothered Pork Chops
Serves 2

Adapted from The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook by Cybele Pascal.  I used home-preserved tart cherry jam and boneless pastured pork chops.

1/2 c. cherry fruit-only jam
1/4 c. Dijon mustard
1 T. grapeseed oil (more if chops are extremely lean)
2 boneless pork chops, about 8 oz. each--patted dry and seasoned with salt and pepper
salt and pepper
2 t. balsamic vinegar

Combine cherry jam and Dijon mustard.  Put oil in a saute pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Add chops and quickly brown on both sides (about 3 min. per side).  Reduce heat to low, spoon jam/mustard mixture over chops.  Cover and cook at a slow simmer about 20 min.  Remove chops to warm plate, and cover with tented foil.  Bring heat up to high, add balsamic, and stir. Cook at a steady fast simmer, stirring continuously, to reduce sauce to thicker consistency.  When it's thickened to consistency of nice rich gravy, pout it over the chops and serve.

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Layered Shortbread
Makes 9-12 squares

These are very rich!  I adapted a couple of recipes to fit my dietary bill--one was from the February/March 2011 issue of ReadyMade magazine, the other from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam.  I drew some additional conclusions after preparing it (see *notes.)

Gooey Layered Shortbread!

2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 grapeseed oil
5 T. maple syrup
1 T. vanilla sugar

Salted Caramel:
1 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. coconut milk
6 T. coconut oil
1 t. crushed sea salt

Chocolate Topping:
10 oz. dairy-free chocolate

For the Shortbread: 
In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, and pecans.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla sugar.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Press the dough into a disk, cover and place it in the freezer for an hour or until firm.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish.  Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan and prick all over with a fork.  Bake for 10-12 min. or until lightly golden.  Let cool slightly then prepare the caramel.

Put the sugar and coconut milk in a heavy-bottom saucepan set over low heat.  Heat gently, stirring with a wooden spoon as it comes to a boil.  Once it is boiling, add the coconut oil and stir.  Bring the caramel back to a boil and let it bubble gently for 5 min., stirring occasionally.  Take the caramel off the heat, add the salt, and stir vigorously to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed in.  Then, working quickly, pour the caramel over the shortbread.  Put the pan in the fridge for at least 1 hour to cool.  (*Notes:  Next time I would use raw granulated sugar.  I found that the caramelization process of "white" sugar is essential to   knowing how long to cook this caramel.  With brown sugar, it's hard to know how "dark" it is, but with white as it caramelizes, it becomes the proper consistency to stand up firmly on top of the shortbread.)

Once caramel has set, melt the chocolate in a double boiler and pour on top of the caramel, spreading evenly with a spatula.  Allow to set before lifting shortbread out of the pan and cutting into squares with a hot knife.  These squares will keep stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days (if they don't get eaten first.)


The Buzz

Some top bar hives are hung from trees to avoid ants.
Top Bar Hive
On Monday night I began my series of beekeeping classes at the Urban Ecology Center.  Three sessions of Beekeeping Basics will get me a certificate to get me on my way to keeping bees at our urban homestead.  The class is taught by Beepods owners Charlie and Jesse who promote top bar hives, a horizontal and much more ergonomically correct method of keeping bees that has been around in some way shape or form for thousands of years, versus the "modern" vertically challenging Langstroth hives.  So far we've learned about who is in the hive and what those busy critters are doing.  There's more to come on setting up our hives, caring for the bees, and extracting the wonderful honey.  I may not know
Langstroth Hive
much about beekeeping yet, but one thing I have decided is that although I'm taking these courses this season, I plan to wait until next year to set up my hive and order bees.  I constantly struggle with my voracious appetite to learn more about everything on Earth--especially in the food, garden, and crafting realms--while striving to S L O W down in the process.  No small feat.  I'm hoping to focus on my fruit and vegetable growing again this year, perhaps adding a few more trellises for vertical growing, while cultivating Vera's curiosity for digging and picking as well.  She MIGHT  be able to have a small plot of her own this year to throw some seeds in the ground and watch them grow into plants.

Valentine's for Daddy
"Antique" craft ideas
Besides thinking about bees this week, I've been thinking about my two sweethearts and Valentine's Day.  Cabin fever has definitely set in so I'm constantly trying to rack my brain to think of new activities to keep me and Vera stimulated.  This week we made valentines for daddy.  Well, mommy may have dominated this craft session--parenthood for me is a constant process of learning to abandon the perfectionist of my past.  I should have let Vera go a little crazier with the glue sticks and paper, but like I said, it's a "process" for me.  I found this craft idea on a vintage ring of craft/activity cards I remember from childhood.  In fact, the copyright date is 1978, the year of my birth.  Thumbing through the cards brought back memories of projects and songs we loved as kids.  I thank my mom for parting with this piece of nostalgia.  I've also been knitting a fair amount these days.  I have a large project going--a knit dress for Vera--that has kept me quite involved though as I'm close to finishing I feel my attention span waning.  So I've started a couple other small projects to pick up easily in between sections of the dress.  I found these amazing spools of fiber at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore months ago as I was poking around, likely looking for odds and ends to convert into garden equipment.  I don't know what kind of fiber this is, but it's very strong and has some interesting specks of color intertwined
though it's mostly a purplish gray.  As I was winding it into a ball the other day I noticed splashes of turquoise and pink.  I am using it to make a market bag for use this summer at the Farmers' Market.  I'm also working my way through a big jar of random sock yarn that's been adding up.  Vera is, no doubt, growing quickly and socks are a guaranteed need in the future so I figure I will make as many pairs as I can with my stash of fingerweight yarn.
What is it?
Interesting Spool

I'm always looking for inspiration and finding it in the endless number of craft blogs on the web.  Lately I've been checking out Let's Go Fly a KiteBetween the LinesMade by Rae, and Maker Mama.  The public library is also an eden for me; our breakfast table constantly has a stack of borrowed books I'm in the process of paging through or marking with scrap paper.  Ah!  Is there a book out there about how to find more time?  Probably, but I have yet to open it.  I stumbled upon a delicious book on a craft blog the other day. Alabama Studio Style by Natalie Chanin is like nothing I've seen before.  There's definitely a Martha Stewart quality to the setup of her displays and photos, but with more of a wabi-sabi style.  And of course I love that she upcycles materials into new, beautiful, and functional goods.  This book uses knit T-shirts for many of its projects from embellishing sundresses and weaving a chair seat to making a decorative topper for gifting your homemade preserves. This is why I find the internet so fascinating--from the moment in my freshman year of college that I discovered its capabilities and said, "you mean, I can look up ANYTHING?!"--if you can dream it, you can look it up.  Stumbling upon these virtual goodies and cross-referencing others on various blogs is exciting to me, as well as thinking up a strange recipe then punching my piece meal idea into a search engine to see if anyone else has already thought of it and can give me a lead.  The internet is my oyster.  **But let us not forget to continue making personal connections with our friends and neighbors to share real conversation, actual cups of tea, and tangible final craft projects.


The Big Game

Gluten-free focaccia with Celtic and Hawaiian sea salts

We said we weren't going to entertain for a while.  But who can resist hosting a Superbowl Party, especially when our home team is battling it out for the NFL title?  Truth be told, I've never been a professional football enthusiast.  Frankly, I never got my head around how the game works, despite my junior high gym teacher's best efforts to spend a whole quarter giving us pages of notes and details about the sport and actually letting us head out to the field with flagged belts.  (I think she just really wanted the girls to gain some knowledge of the sport at that point.)  American football for me is like Euchre--I've tried a million times to learn, but I just can't fully grasp it, though I do understand a few rules and plays, unlike with the card game.  But I love football season, if only for the food aspect of it.  There have been many Superbowl parties where I stuffed myself beyond walking capabilities, including once as a child when I gorged myself on cocktail weenies until I got sick (to this day, I can't stomach one.)  My favorite Superbowl food memories are of parties at the house of a chef with whom I once worked.  We'd all hang out to watch the game then somehow pull ourselves away mid-game for a sit-down multi-course meal at which it wasn't unheard of to be served an entree of Veal Osso Buco and finish dessert with French-pressed coffee.  These days the football parties feature more casual fare like chili, chips, and dips, but I still like to add a gourmet twist to the offerings.  We're keeping it fairly quiet tomorrow evening with just a couple friends and their kids, but will feast just as well.

Artichoke Pate with Homemade Gluten-Free Herb Crackers
Homemade Pickle Platter
Chips and Salsa
Raw Veggies
Bison Chili with Beans
Homemade Gluten-Free Sea Salt Focaccia
Green and White Vegetable Lasagna
Gluten-Free Apricot Date Coconut Bars

vintage pattern
T-shirt bag
This week has allowed me a little more time to be crafty.  I whipped up a quick pair of yellow pants for Vera to wear with a green striped shirt for the game Sunday.  I also got in a summer mood and made a pair of tailored shorts for Vera from a vintage pattern I found at the flea market last year.  And every now and I then I find time to chip away at my mending pile.  I zipped over some holey seams, patched others, and turned an old T-shirt into a grocery tote.  The shirt was a memento from my chef internship at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute so I didn't want to just toss it, though it was definitely on its way to the rag pile, in fact I may have rescued it from the bottom of the pile.  Here is a tutorial of how to upcycle T-shirts into bags much fancier than mine.

And once we finally finished all the leftover soups after my cooking class last week, I was back to cooking a new meal almost every night this week.  Tuesday brought us pasta with a slowly-cooked sauce.  Anything "Bolognese" reminds me of my week in Bologna, Italy and the surrounding region.  Ahhh!

White Bean and Country Italian Sausage Bolognese
Makes enough to serve with 1 lb. pasta

For a vegetarian version, sub. winter squash in place of sausage.

Sauteeing the blended mirepoix
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
handful fresh Italian parsley
2 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage (chicken, pork, turkey are all fine)
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 c. white beans (soaked overnight then cooked until very tender)
1 qt. tomato puree
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1 t. xylitol (or sugar)
Mmm, a warm, hearty sauce.
1 c. vegetable, chicken, or beef stock
salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, chopped onion, carrot, celery, and parsley until fairly fine.  Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium stockpot and add the chopped mixture.  Cook about 5 min.  Add oregano and sausage and cook another 5 min., stirring occasionally, until meat begins to brown.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered over low heat for 30-40 min., stirring occasionally or until sauce reduces to desired thickness.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and serve with gluten-free noodles or any other pasta of your choice.

I've been trying to use my resources this week and see how long I can go without a major grocery store trip; I feel like we have so much food in this house we should be ashamed of ourselves.  I'm thinking of it as a mid-season freezer and fridge inventory/clean out.  So instead of buying cereal, which I rarely eat anyway, I pulled out the econo-size bag of organic oats stored in the basement pantry and made granola.

Carrot-Raisin-Ginger Granola
Makes about 1 qt.

1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. xylitol
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. dehydrated carrots (like Just Organic carrot bits)
1/4 t. vanilla extract
1 T. ground cinnamon
2 t. ground ginger
4 c. rolled oats
1 c. dark raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine oil, sugar, xylitol, water, and carrot bits in a large stockpot on the stovetop.  Heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add vanilla extract and spices. Then stir in oats and mix until coated.  Pour onto a sheet trained lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat.  Bake for a total or 20 min., tossing every 5 min.  Remove from oven and add raisins and toss to combine.  Let cool and store in a glass jar or other storage container.