...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.


Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries...

Home-canned Sweet Cherries
We're very much enjoying our preserved local fruits this season.  When I'm not able to get my hands on local apples or seasonal citrus, I know that we still have large stores of canned peaches, plums, and sweet cherries in the basement pantry.  The cherries I preserve are always a tribute to my Gramma who canned sweet bing cherries every season.  I love eating a bowl of them with breakfast.  They are not pitted so part of the ritual is working the fruit off of the pit in your mouth then discarding the seed into a bowl.  Vera, especially, has grown to love these lightly sweetened (with xylitol) fruits this year though her serving requires a bit more maintenance as I have to pre-pit them.  Aside from enjoying the fruit, I am able to ration the remaining juice to use in smoothies.  We still have several more quarts each of cherries, plums, and peaches and I'm hoping they will carry us to this next season's local harvest.

Friday night we "went out."  It was actually a family outing to see an environmental film at our church.  Vera played in the nursery while Ben and I viewed Grown in Detroit with fellow gardeners and community activists from our church and beyond.  One can watch this film on-demand online.  I recommend it.  I thought it was inspirational on many levels not the least of which was teaching young people about growing food in the city.  Check out our organization's schedule of upcoming films through June.  I hope to see you there.

Yesterday I finally made time to start some seeds indoors.  I cut my egg cartons into strips, poked a large hole in the bottom and laid them all on an old sheet tray, added a bit of potting soil and the seeds, topped them with soil, marked them with variety and date, and gave them a little water before covering them with black fabric and stowing them in my bedroom storage closet to germinate.  One of Ben's task for this week is to set up the grow lights in the basement.  The brassicas I seeded--three kinds of kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and both purple and white kohlrabi--could sprout within days so he's on the clock.

This Saturday was one of the most wonderful days I've enjoyed in a while.  I have definitely felt less hectic and harried this winter and yesterday was another day towards that record.  Shockingly, I have actually found myself standing around, listless, a few times in recent months.  Wow!  I didn't know what to do with myself (of course, I completely ignored the Rainy Day List that's tucked away at my desk.)  I spent some time outside reading (in the sun!) while Vera played.  We took a walk, I curled up with a book, made a pot of chili, watched a movie and ate popcorn with my family, and BAKED on a whim.  It was fantastic.  Despite my maintained avoidance of white sugar, I still have quite a sweet tooth so it's not easy for me not to bake something regularly.  I made some cookies that were "wafer-thin"--to reference one of our favorite household movie quotes--though their thinness makes it tempting to allow ourselves to eat several at a time.  I stepped away from the cooling rack of a dozen or so and when I returned "someone" had eaten half of them.  I love that my husband appreciates my baking.  (I submitted this recipe to The Spunky Coconut's "Our Spunky Holiday" Easter recipe roundup.  Please check out this great gluten-free blog.)

SpunkyHolidayEaster2.jpg"Wafer Thin" Cashew Butter Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

Adapted from the Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free Cookbook by Karen Morgan.  The original recipe calls for chilling the dough for 1 hour before baking; this would give you a cookie that doesn't spread as much.  I preferred more of a thin "tuile-like" cookie.  These were thin, a little "greasy" (in a finger-lickin'-good way), and chewy once they cooled.

1 c. toasted and salted cashews
1/2 sweet rice flour
1/4 c. millet flour
1/4 c. tapioca flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1/4 t. baking soda
1 t. guar gum
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 c. coconut oil at room temp.
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. xylitol
1 T. egg replacer diluted with 1/4 c. water
2 1/4 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment or silicone baking mat.  In food processor, process cashews until finely ground.  In medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients except  sweeteners.  Stir with a whisk to blend.  In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream coconut oil, ground cashews, brown sugar, and xylitol on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in dry ingredients until blended.  Gradually beat in diluted egg replacer, scraping down sides of bowl.  Beat in vanilla.  Use a small scoop to spoon little balls of dough onto baking sheet 1 1/2-2 inches apart.  Bake 10-15 min. or until cookies are lightly browned around the edges.  Remove from oven and let cool 5 min. before transferring to cooling rack.  Let cool completely then store in an airtight container.

"It is wafer thin."
And for some more preservation inspiration, this is my dream pantry!
Pantry 2010
My Dream Pantry (photo courtesy "Canning Across America")


Inspiration for Preservation

photo courtesy Food Mayhem
On Sunday I took a short field trip to the new Asian mega-grocery store, Pacific Produce, on south 27th St.  I went alone knowing I would want ample time to browse, explore, and pick up a few odd things on my list as well as some "novelty" items I might find.  What a store!  There was an entire aisle in this former Kohl's supermarket devoted just to noodles--rice, wheat, egg, thick, thin, and instant.  Another whole side of on aisle was all tea--loose, bagged, boxed, in metal tins and fancy jars.  As I strolled the aisles I recognized many items I once knew well in my days cooking at a Japanese restaurant.  Many other items required a bit of exploration as I turned them upside down and right side up trying to find some indication in English of what the package contained.   As I perused the fresh seafood section and saw salmon heads on ice I was again reminded of working with Izumi-san.  One day after dressing some fresh fish (probably flown over from Japan the day before) he presented me with a box of fish heads, fins, and tails.  The whole fish--especially the intestines--is prized and edible in some Oriental cuisines.  Though I held back a cringe as I received this "gift" I knew I could not turn it down--though I tried because I was flying out the following day to meet my parents.  The chef insisted that I tote the plastic box of fish parts with me and simply stow it under my seat in flight.  All I remember is that it made the base (stock) for a lovely fish stew later.  I digress.  One of the interesting items I found at the asian store was gingko nuts.  I had just come across a recipe for wild foraged gingko nut dumplings in Lucid Food, which I mentioned here.  I will try the frozen variety to see if I like them before going out to harvest my own and process these stinky fruits.  I also checked out the frozen treats and got an idea to develop a recipe for a dairy-free red bean ice cream (Japanese cuisine uses adzuki beans as well as making frozen treats from both mung and black beans.)  The biggest inspiration and excitement came from the pickled products lining one whole side of another aisle.  There was everything from pickled gooseberries and mimosa leaves to brined mustard greens, ginger, and daikon.  I can't wait to outline my preserving plans for this season and to clear out the other side of my basement pantry to accommodate my expanded larder.  As you can see, I'm officially excited to start the gardening season.

I've also been working on some homemade self-care products.  There's a lot of dental care going on in our house these days (oh, the drama!) and with that I decided to make some mouthwash to treat my "condition" about which I will spare you the details.  This mouthwash contains essential oils known for killing bacteria.  The flavor takes some getting used to but after a few uses I'm enjoying the "clove-y-ness" of it.  I think it's much better than that stinging blast of artificial mint-y-ness that some store bought products provide.
Homemade Mouthwash
Makes 2 c.

Adapted from Natural Beauty.
2 c. purified water
2 t. vodka
2 drops clove essential oil
2 drops thyme essential oil

Mix the ingredients well and store in a container at room temp.  Use several times per day.  

On a more appetizing note, I prepared a memorable soup yesterday for Monday Soup Night

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Serves 8

Adapted from The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook by Cybele Pascal.  I used our home-canned crushed tomatoes and roasted red peppers as well as a fresh yellow pepper and some julienned frozen local red peppers.

Mmm, warm soup
2 medium potatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces (skins in tact), cooked in salted water until very soft
4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1 c. roasted red peppers, sliced
Home-canned Roasted Reds
2 c. red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, minced
4 T. grapeseed oil
1/2 c. canned tomatoes, chopped
2 T. oat flour or rice flour
1 c. almond or rice milk
1 T. honey
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. ground cumin
2 T. dry white wine
salt and pepper
chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Blue corn tortilla chips for garnish (optional)

In a large pot, heat 2 T. of oil and cook the onion until soft, but not browned.  Add chopped peppers, chopped tomatoes, and stock.  Cook until peppers become soft.  In the meantime, puree the potatoes and their cooking liquid in a food processor until smooth; add to pepper pot.  When peppers are soft, turn off heat and puree in batches.  Heat remaining oil in a small skillet and add flour.  Cook for a minute or so to make a roux.  Add milk and cook for a couple of minutes until sauce thickens.  Add to pepper puree.  Combine and turn heat to medium, then stir in honey, paprika, cumin, wine, salt and pepper.  Cook and simmer about 20 min., stirring occasionally.  Serve with suggested garnishes, if desired.

Speaking of hot soup, today was the perfect cold rainy day to go out and puddle jump then warm up with some hearty food afterwards (we chose hot cocoa and homemade cookies).  The last bit of cabin fever is lingering and today we did not hesitate to get outside to fight it.  Even Mommy stepped into her rain boots; Vera and I had a great time running and splashing in the puddles along our cobblestone alley.  She was pretty soaked after it all, but the fun was worth a fresh change of clothes.  

Last but certainly not least, at a conference a few weeks ago I met a young rural homesteader from Viroqua who is involved with the Driftless Folk School.  Their calendar of classes is now online; I hope to get over to that neck of the woods one of these summers to learn some new skills.  Check it out!


Notes on a Roadtrip

Vera sitting by the lake on a gorgeous morn.
It was refreshing to get away for a few days; Vera and I returned from downstate Illinois late yesterday afternoon.  It was almost 25 years ago that my family moved to Paris, IL after my dad took a new job.  Between driving back up to Wisconsin to visit relatives and friends during grade school and high school and driving back south to visit my family and friends these days "I reckon" (to use to their vernacular) I've made the trip up and down I-94 and I-57 more than 100 times, wearing a deep path in those roads as well as the trails from college in Indiana to Racine/Milwaukee to do the same.  Whew!  It's all gone by in a flash.  That trip, especially when I'm "solo," gives my mind plenty of time to wander.  First there are the memories of my English teacher mother steeped in Shakespeare saying "Is it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Rosenstern and Guildencrantz?" every time we'd pass the sign for Rosecrans Rd.  Then there are the mental pictures of singing along with local radio stations (especially oldies) when my mom and I would make the trip by ourselves.  There are recollections of how many different ways my dad found to get from Point A to Point B over that time, including a couple of years when he decided that hugging the eastside of the Indiana/Illinois border was the quickest route.  And of course I remember the butterflies in my stomach when we'd almost reached our destination (on either end) and I could see those I'd been waiting to visit.  Now I find it more interesting to drive the long stretches of highway in east central Illinois, look out at the vast mono-cropped fields and imagine what they looked like when there were billions of acres of virgin prairie.  My eye also catches the signs posted sequentially along the fence lines promoting gun owners' rights and corn ethanol.  And I consider how those in the small podunk towns I speed through at the southernmost part of my journey make a living.  It's most interesting to go back "home" and see how all, including myself, have changed.  Though I wouldn't want to live in a small town anymore, there are advantages--people are familiar and therefore look out for each other, you can go into any store and run into a neighbor or someone else you know, and the filling stations have diesel readily available (unlike many neighborhoods in Milwaukee) for my current car because of all the farm trucks circling the area.  My parents live on a good-sized lot on a peaceful dead end street on a manmade lake.  As I looked out the second story window of my old bedroom one morning I realized for the first time how large their front yard is--without the trees that were there when I grew up, the space appears much larger.  But as my eyes continued across the street and over the houses down the block I realized just how huge everyone's yards is.  As an urbanite, with precious square feet of planting space on my property, it always makes me think about what an enornous vegetable garden I could plant had I all that space.  The interesting thing is that I know a lot of these folks don't have big gardens, lots of children running around, or a backyard chicken coop that requires the expanse.  There are a couple of swimming pools, but mostly I think it's that people want/need the space as a buffer between them and their neighbors.  How interesting.  I've become so used to being just feet from the next house--so close we can hear conversations from houses down the block and across the alley.  And it doesn't bother us a bit.  I just realized that being so close in proximity to those dwelling next door has a lot to do with how we live as more of a tight community in such a large city, whereas those living in a small town can see each other here, there and everywhere and therefore need more space between after hours.  I understand it, but I'd still dig up the grass and plant a garden.

An old hospital cart I use to file my seeds.
On that note, I am set to start some vegetable seeds this weekend.  I attended a seed swap last Saturday and came away with all of the seeds I was looking for this season.  I passed along a couple handfuls of my own seeds as well.  The great thing about a seed swap is that when you're able to know who the seeds come from, it's like having a little bit of each person in your garden that season.  And what lovely souls we will have growing in our yard!  I saw a few fellow Transitioners and experienced gardeners and met some new, extremely enthusiastic greenhorns.  One woman I spoke to will be gardening at the Bay View Hide House community garden this year as well as on her balcony.  She's never gardened before, but due to the economy and her job situation she's going for the gusto and jumping right in.  I gave her my standard "what can you afford to lose" schpeel that I give to first time gardeners--think about how much money you can afford to spend and lose if nothing comes up.  Though it's almost a given that something will sprout.  We also discussed the fact that, despite--or perhaps because of--what's happening politically in our state, with the economy, or in our own neighborhoods we have to go at vegetable-growing even more aggressively this year.  The government can't stop us from growing our own food so if we can control nothing else, we can have power over how we feed ourselves.  We need our gardens more than ever and we need each other more than ever to share the abundance, knowledge, lore, and perhaps even a potluck.  I am especially excited for this season because it's really the first time I won't be expanding my garden beds, which means I won't be spending so much time pulling up grass and constructing raised beds but will have extra hours to plant, nurture, stake, and grow.  While I was in Paris I had a chance to sketch out my garden design for 2011 and am I psyched!

Seeds, seeds...
...and more seeds.


Seasonal Comforts

photo courtesy of Snapping Beauty

I saw a cluster of daffodils poking their necks a few inches out of the ground last Saturday.  I couldn't believe it!  With the additional snow days we've had lately I was beginning to think spring was at least a couple of months away.  Next week I will begin starting my garden seeds and stagger them every week or so until I can plant outside.  This Saturday is "Seed Dating," a city-wide Seed Exchange where I'm planning to pass along some seeds I have from last year that I either have too many of or that didn't work out in my garden space.  And I'm hoping to supplement the stock I already have with a couple new varieties for this season.  Soon I will also begin sketching my garden design.  Though my three-month "winter break" has flown, I believe I'm ready to get growing again.  Everywhere I walk in our neighborhood I see things that make me think of summer.  I can almost smell backyard barbecue wafting through the air.  I'm looking forward to picnics and concerts in the park, rummage sales, farmers' markets, going barefoot around the house and yard, my bi-weekly morning therapy of hanging laundry outside, and spontaneous bike rides to the ice cream parlor (sorbet for me, please.)

My favorite chili
Next week Vera and I are taking a road trip to see Grammy and Papa in my hometown in east central Illinois.  To break up the trip we're stopping in Chicago to see a couple friends and their newborns--well, one was born in July, but it's the first chance I've had to visit.  When Vera was born so many wonderful people brought us meals for weeks and weeks postpartum.  I'm still paying it forward so today I cooked a pot of my favorite chili to deliver on Sunday.  I adapted the recipe and partially subbed a pint of my preserved green tomatoes where the recipe called for tomatoes.  

The pantry is slowly emptying out.  We still have plenty of canned fruits, juices, pickles, and tons of jams and jellies.  But I'm already getting excited about what I'm going to preserve this summer and considering moving my fabric stash out of the other side of the basement pantry to accommodate my 2011 goals.  Soon I'll be in the thick of gardening and preserving and wondering how the weather suddenly got so hot.  One of the items still plentiful in the pantry is canned plums.  I've been using them mostly in smoothies, but last night I baked them into something sweet for a potluck.

Oat Crisp Bars with Preserved Plums
About 12 bars

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

Final Crisp--not too sweet
5 c. gluten-free oats, divided
1/4 c. brown rice syrup
1/2 c. sorghum syrup, divided
1 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar)
3 1/2 c. preserved plums (pulsed briefly in a food processor)
1/4 c. potato starch

Place 2 c. oats in a food processor and pulse until oats resemble fine oat bran.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, combine reserved "oat flour," the remaining 3 c. oats, brown rice syrup, 1/4 c. sorghum syrup, olive oil, salt, and vanilla until thoroughly combined, about 3 min.  Firmly press two-thirds of the dough onto a 9- by 12-inch baking sheet. Bake until light brown, about 15 min.  While the dough is baking, combine the plums, potato starch, remaining 1/4 c. sorghum syrup in medium-size bowl.  Evenly spread plum mixture over baked oat crust.  Crumble the remaining one-third of the dough over the plums, pressing it down firmly.  Bake until golden crust forms, about 40 min.



My New Love

Drying almond meal to grind into "flour"
Can I tell you that I'm in LOVE with almond meal ("if you love it so much, then why don't you marry it?" the childhood taunt rings through my head)?  And as a friend pointed out today, there are so many wonderful ingredients in this world that we wouldn't find under normal circumstances.  So thank goodness for my need to go gluten-free; I might not have discovered this alternative, low-carb flour otherwise.  When I first started using it I made crackers and a pizza crust and found them to be very delicate and too sweet, respectively.  So I had low expectations for almond flour.  It wasn't until the last month or so since I've been trying to use more of what I have on hand that I was forced to refer to my almond flour cookbook in order to do some baking without going out to buy ingredients.  The Holiday Maple Cutout Cookies were my first success with this new flour and it's only gotten better since then.  Monday I hosted a meeting for Community Pie, a local volunteer organization to which I belong.  I wanted to provide coffee and muffins though I knew I was dealing with a few different permutations of limited diets as our group includes a vegan (consumes no animal products...but she allows honey) as well as someone with Crohn's (can't have grains, any sugar--except honey, no baking powder), and myself (no gluten, eggs, dairy, etc.)  So what could I make that would suit the majority?  Though it took some thinking, I managed to adapt this muffin recipe to fit everyone's needs.

Cinnamon Apple Muffins
Makes 10 muffins

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook  by Elana Amsterdam.  They were fluffy and delicious way beyond my expectations.  

2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 c. acorn meal (or other nut meal)
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. flaxmeal diluted with 2 T. water
1/4 c. grapeseed oil
1/2 c. raw honey
1 T. vanilla extract
2 medium apples, cored and finely diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. and prepare a muffin pan with either oil, paper liners, or silicone liners (which I prefer b/c they're reusable and make for easy cleanup.)  In a food processor, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, acorn meal, cinnamon, flaxmeal, and water.  Pulse to combine.  In a small bowl, combine oil, honey, and vanilla.  Add to processor and pulse until combined.  Transfer to a bowl and mix in apples by hand.  Portion into muffin cups and bake for 30-35 min.  Let cool and enjoy (I like to serve with homemade apple butter.)

My second success with almond flour were some chocolate chip cookies.  It was Oscar night, one of my guilty pleasures for the year, and Ben requested--in a sweet, quiet voice--"do you think you could make some chocolate chip cookies?"  Certainly.  So I whipped up a batch of regular CCC for him and then made a special batch for myself, which turned out to be a great idea b/c I do not want to share ANY of these.

Tropical Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 10-12 medium cookies

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.  Because of limited ingredients I used 1/4 c. coconut oil and 1/4 c. safflower oil.  With the cashews and coconut, these taste like they contain expensive macadamia nuts.  I could eat them all day, though Vera didn't like them (probably the nuts).  Good, more for me!  
Take a photo before they're gone!

2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 c. melted coconut oil, melted over very low heat
1/2 c. raw honey
1 T. vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar)
1/2 c. vegan, soy-free chocolate chip cookies (I recommend Enjoy Life brand)
1/2 c. cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda.  In a medium bowl, combine the coconut oil, honey, and vanilla.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Fold in the chocolate, cashews, and coconut.  Scoop the dough by 1/4 c. portions onto the cookie sheets and press down slightly. Bake 7-12 min. (smaller cookies will bake more quickly), until lightly golden.  (I like to slightly underbake all my cookies so that when they cool they are still soft.)  Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.  Do your best to share with family and friends.

I have found a reasonably priced bulk almond flour online, but have also been making a little of my own at home from the by-product of my weekly almond milk making.  After I pour off the milk, I'm left with a wet almondy paste that includes the skins b/c I don't use blanched almonds for this process.  I saved up all of this paste in the freezer then when I accumulated a reasonable amount I spread it onto the fruit leather trays of my dehydrator and dried it for the good part of a day.  When it was thoroughly desiccated I ground it further in a spice grinder and added it to the commercial blanched almond flour I keep in the fridge.  The homemade flour is a bit drier, finer, and contains almond skin particles, but when combined with the blanched variety it makes a fine complement.  Plus it gets me a little further without having to order more and creates no waste from the almond milk making process.

This week was fairly prolific in terms of developing new recipes--again, it's my menu planning ahead that really helps.  Sunday night before the big awards show we enjoyed a hearty winter meal using some of our homemade sausage and more of the cellared winter squash that are keeping well in the basement.

Sausage and Herb Polenta with Winter Squash
Serves 6

4 c. cold water, divided
1 c. stone ground polenta (I subbed as much as 1/4 c. local blue cornmeal)
2 t. salt (or more to taste)
1 T. dried oregano
2 t. dried basil
2 T. ghee

2 T. grapeseed oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage
2 c. peeled, cubed, steamed winter squash
1 T. ghee
salt and pepper, to taste
2 T. white balsamic vinegar

For Polenta:
In  medium saucepan, bring 3 c. cold water to a boil.  In a small bowl, mix cornmeal, salt, herbs, and remaining 1 c. cold water.  Add cornmeal mix to boiling water, lower heat to low or until mixture stays at moderate boil.  Stir occasionally for 15-20 min.  Polenta will thicken and begin to leave the sides of the pan.  Stir in ghee, additional seasoning and place on a round dish making a well in the center for the sausage.  Keep warm.

For Sausage:
Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the onion and celery over medium heat until tender, a couple of minutes.  Add sausage and cook thoroughly.  Add steamed squash and ghee and mix to combine.  Place in the center of the polenta on serving plate.  Drizzle the balsamic over the top.  Serve immediately.

And this week's Monday Soup Night feature:

Winter Squash and White Bean Soup
Serves 8

5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. grapeseed oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 c. pickled ramps, chopped (or just use more onion, or sub. leeks)
1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock (plus more to for desired consistency)
2 lbs. peeled, cubed winter squash (or leftover squash puree, carrots, sweet potatoes, whatever you have)
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried thyme
2 fresh sage leaves
2 c. dried, soaked, cooked white beans, drained
1/4 dry sherry
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
salt, to taste
1/4 c. coconut milk

Heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Saute garlic, onion, ramps until tender.  Add stock and squash.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and add herbs.  Simmer over medium-low heat until the squash is tender, about 20-30 min.  Add half the white beans to the squash mixture.  In batches puree the soup mixture in a blender until smooth.  Return to the soup pot and add the remaining beans, sherry, additional stock, and coconut milk.  Heat through.  Season to taste.

I've continued on my mission to make homemade granola weekly and I think I've finally found my go-to recipe, which is a surprise since I don't have too many go-to recipes--I like to experiment too much.  Again, using what I have on hand, I subbed duck fat (gasp!) for the butter.  I've had a pint of rendered duck fat in my basement freezer for a couple of years and pulled it out last week to find that it had preserved beautifully.  I shan't tell any of my restaurant co-workers about this because they'll curse me for not making duck confit or something more elegant--though I still have plenty of the fat left that I could do so.  I fear the "beating" would be worse than when I described to them how I use pork shoulder to make my annual batch of sausage.  They just about attacked and told me I shouldn't waste such a lovely cut on sausagemaking, but instead use pork scraps (which I don't happen to have laying around at any given time.)  Such is life.  I decided that I wanted to put something really great into my granola and I did.

Gourmet Granola
Makes 8 c.

Adapted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (who I'm sure never intended for this recipe to be adapted as such.)

3 1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. sesame or chia seeds
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. chopped raw cashews (or almonds)
1/2 c. chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. duck fat (or butter, or coconut oil)
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. sorghum syrup
1 T. peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, seeds, cashews, pecans, cinnamon, and salt; mix well.  In a small pan melt "fat," add maple syrup, sorghum, and nut butter and stir to blend. Remove from heat and add extracts.  Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients, using a spatula to fold and evenly coat the dry mixture with the wet.  Spread on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat and bake until golden and dry (about 30-45 min.), turning every 15-20 min. so that it toasts evenly.  Store in an airtight jar.

The political conversations have continued this week and I've developed some new ideas about the future of education.  There was a conversation about homeschooling developing on Facebook and someone asked that if that's the route we choose, how do we teach our kids trigonometry, calculus, foreign languages.  A day or so later I finally had a chance to read the TIME magazine article about Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, and her strict and controversial parenting method. She mentioned the need to help her daughters compete in the face of globalization, especially as the Chinese are quickly gaining on us in terms of education and economy.  Both of those ideas--teaching homeschooled children all the "important" school subjects and pushing our children to achieve achieve achieve got me thinking (or rethinking b/c I feel like my brain has touched this topic before).  First, I believe that the global economy as it stands (higher production, increased use of natural resources, growing human consumption...all in the face of a peak oil crisis) is not sustainable.  Why does the focus have to be on seeing who can be the biggest, smartest, fastest, strongest? What about teaching our children to work with their hands so they can provide for and nourish themselves and their families in different ways (or teach them other "survival skills" and lost arts)?  What about teaching them to be moral, contributing citizens in society?  What about teaching them about conservation especially when it comes to fuel, water, and land?  I have moved The Race to Nowhere up my Netflix queue within the last week because I want to hear more on this topic that's come to mind.  This is just me philosophizing.  I'd love to hear your ideas as well.

image courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation
Coincidentally, we attended the Milwaukee Premiere of Green Fire last night at the IMAX Theatre.  Even before visiting the new Platinum LEED Certified Aldo Leopold Center in Baraboo and reading A Sand County Almanac, Ben and I were inspired by this contemporary conservationist.  After visiting the family shack I was even more inspired by how much happiness this family of seven found with so few resources and by how incredibly involved and in love they all were with nature.  Of course, there's so much more to the story than that, but it would be a whole different post.  I do recommend checking out the film, the book of essays, the center, and the shack if you ever get the chance.  This man was truly ahead of his time.