...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.


Sweet Home Chicago

"The Bridge to Nowhere"
Though I've never called Chicago my home--unless you count the few months I spent down there as a pseudo-transient when Ben and I were dating--but B hails from the environs of the big windy city.  To celebrate his parents' milestone birthdays this year (and last) we all gathered there this past weekend and ate, ate, ate, took in a show, visited, walked, walked, walked, and had a lot of fun.  A great time was had by all.  I haven't done all that much dining out since my allergy diagnosis--a great thing for my pocketbook, but it hasn't done much for my on-going desire to explore new foods, cuisines, and restaurants.  It's not easy to find an eatery with an allergy-friendly menu, especially not when there are multiple offending foods.  And having worked in restaurants for more than the past decade, I know that--especially in fine dining--a chef doesn't always look favorably upon leaving something out of a dish that he or she has spent time to imagine and lovingly prepare.  So our dining experience on Friday night at Chicago's well-known regional Mexican restaurant, Topolobampo, exceeded my expectations.  Before I could mention it, our server asked if anyone had any food allergies then spent time discussing my "special needs."  She provided a menu adapted for my restrictions and I proceeded to indulge in an intense, almost 4-hour dining experience with the rest of our party.  Whoa!  It shows that not only are people more in tune to food sensitivities these days, but they're committed making sure every diner has an equally enjoyable experience.  It's instances like this that make me wish I was a fine dining server once again.  The following days at our hotel's restaurant for breakfast and brunch I was just as easily able to pick out something suitable from the menu.  I love telling the server my concerns about dairy and eggs--as if I'm vegan--only to then order a huge plate of breakfast meats.  Don't know how I'd ever go without bacon!

In conjunction with this trip I developed a recipe for some gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free vanilla cupcakes last week.  While preparing a thank you treat for my Chicago friends who babysat for V on Saturday night, I was also working on developing a vegan cake recipe for a former employer.  I used honey though true vegans would make a substitution--I suggest agave nectar or brown rice syrup, though the latter may impart a different flavor.  Add some chocolate frosting and you have a yummy don't-even-miss-what's-not-there dessert.

Very Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes 10 cupcakes

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam.  One could sub. agave, brown rice syrup, or even maple syrup for the honey to achieve a vegan cupcake.

1 T. Ener-G egg replacer diluted w/ 4 T. water (equiv. of 2 lg. eggs)
1/4 c. grapeseed oil
1/2 c. honey
1 T. vanilla extract
1 T. lemon juice
2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare muffin tin with either silicone muffin cups, papers, or pan spray.  In a medium bowl, whisk the diluted egg replacer with oil, honey, vanilla, lemon juice.  In a separate bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, then mix into egg replacer mixture.  Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.  Bake 30 min. until tops are golden brown or a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pan about 30 min., the center will sink just a bit which is normal.  Frost as desired.

Chocolate Frosting
Makes 1 1/2 c.

I prefer coconut oil in this recipe; I love the added flavor.  But grapeseed would be perfectly suitable as well.  If you want more of a ganache-like "glaze" for the cupcakes (see photo), freeze for the lesser amount of time then whip slightly.  Any leftover frosting/"glaze" makes a wonderful "chocolate bar" once refrigerated.

I can almost see my reflection in that shiny frosting!
1 c. vegan, soy-free chocolate chips
1/2 c. coconut oil (or grapeseed oil)
2 T. honey (or agave nectar)
1 T. vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
Decorating sugar
Additional sea salt

In a medium saucepan over very low heat, melt chocolate with oil until smooth.  Stir in the honey, vanilla, and salt.  Place in the freezer 10-15 min. until cooled.  Remove and whip with a mixer until thick and fluffy, 1-2 min.  Use to frost cupcakes then sprinkle with decorating sugar and just a bit of salt to complement the sweetness.  Store in a glass container, keeps a week or so (if you don't eat the rest first!)

Brassica seedlings
I just peaked at the forecast for this week and it looks like rain rain rain!  I guess that's a sign that spring might actually be here so I won't begin to complain.  But I'm really itching to get outside and throw some seeds into the ground.  The brassicas I seeded indoors last week have germinated and are now cheerfully standing tall under my newly installed grow lights (Thanks B!)  This is my first time using these lights, though I've had them in my possession at least the last couple of seasons--it was a situation of extreme  procrastination.  I finally realized how easy they are to use; it just took a little time to hang the lights, which B placed nicely over his workbench for now.  These lights were handed down from my grandfather after he passed.  The story is that in the winter and early spring he always had them set up in the basement laundry room with tables of flower seedlings (I remember marigolds, impatiens, and ageratum.)  Of course, not being an avid gardener then, I--along with my family--thought he was a goofy old man just trying to find a pass time.  He may not have been an expert, but he knew more about starting things from seed than I did--and he tended a beautiful urban flower garden with prized roses and all.  So I'm glad to have these lights and I think about Elmer every time I turn them on.


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