...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.


It's Alive!

The front is all cleaned up and ready to enjoy (and my lettuces are coming up in the raised bed)
Sunny and above 50 degrees today!  Despite the fierce wind blowing off the lake we managed to get outside and work, work, work for a few hours.  Vera somehow senses the timing of this annual yard cleanup because she once again went into torpor mode and pushed a three hour nap.  Amazing!  In the meantime my main focus was to transfer the winter compost to the outside summer bin and give the winter bin and all worm tea catch trays a thorough sudsing and rinse.  Ben's main project was to rake all the leaves from the front hill.  As he worked he uncovered many native plants, pale and gasping for sunlight, and was pleasantly shocked at how much perennial growth was well underway and pleased with how little mulch he raked away in the process (yay, we won't have to buy any this season!)  I also bird-proofed my strawberries by pinning down some fine netting--formerly bulk-size onion bags, threw some more seeds in the ground, did some shrub pruning and otherwise manicured both back and front yards--it's refreshing to work on the details after a larger back-breaking task.  Ben repaired our sunniest raised bed where it had warped and split open late last season after he admittedly constructed this final bed in haste last spring.  It was an afternoon of hard work that deserved a beer and glass of wine as we stood on the front sidewalk surveying our work.  Though I love to expand our growing space each year, so far it has felt amazing not to have any large projects in the queue.  This time last year Ben was pounding together four of the aforementioned raised beds, I was toting and shoveling multiple cubic yards of topsoil and mulch, and hauling field stones from the brickyard to build another bed.  Whew! This year I will work with the beds I have and see how I can expand my vertical growing space otherwise.  But don't think I'm not thinking down the road to expansion next season.

After an honest day's work we decided to fire up the grill for the first time this season though we most certainly aren't the first on the block to heat up the coals.  Our southern side neighbor has been grilling for at least a month now.  In fact, I think he made their Easter ham on the grill last weekend because I was subjected to the absolutely mouth-watering aroma of what I assumed was some sort of sweet, smoked pork for at least two hours.  (Cue the Homer Simpson drool sound effect.)  We kept it simple this evening with our homemade brats and potato salad.  I love potato salad and could eat it year round warm or cold, but have had to adapt my recipes to exclude mayonnaise or dairy-based dressings.  Tonight I may have found another winner--creamy yet sans cream.  If I haven't said it already, this is the time of year when eating locally can get really tough--last season's supply is just about gone, but it's a bit too early to have much sustenance from outdoors.  Fortunately, I still have potatoes on my cellar rack, blanched green beans in the freezer, and other odds and ends I can use to make a decent side dish.

"Creamy" Potato and Green Bean Salad
Serves 4-6

I used blanched frozen green beans, but one could certainly save this recipe for later in the season and use fresh blanched beans.  I froze 1/4 c. chunks of cauliflower puree last fall to deceptively mix into some of Vera's foods without altering the color/flavor too much to let her know it had veggies.  This puree was one key--along with slightly overcooking the potatoes--to making a creamy salad.  It's slightly sweet from the apple juice concentrate, but well balanced with saltiness and piquancy from the seasonings.  

4 c. potatoes, washed, skins in tact, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 lb. blanched green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 large onion or one small onion
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 c. fresh parsley, stems removed (and reserved for stock)
1/2 c. cauliflower puree
1/4 c. olive oil
1 t. apple juice concentrate
2 T. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 t. fish sauce (or soy sauce if you use it)
1/2 t. dry dill (or 1 t. fresh dill)
1/2 t. celery seed
Dash paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potato chunks in well-salted water until just beyond done (as mentioned, extra cooking time will add to the creaminess.)  Drain and spread on a sheet pan to cool more quickly.  Thaw green beans if frozen and blot on paper or cloth towel.  In the meantime, combine remaining ingredients in food processor and puree until smooth.  When potatoes are cool, add to a mixing bowl along with green beans.  Add dressing from processor and combine.  Adjust seasoning as needed.

To back up a bit, we kick-started our day of planned work with a vegan "lumberjack" breakfast--my favorite gluten-free pancake recipe and a quick fruit "sauce."  We try to make pancakes at least once per weekend.  When we do I'm always thankful that we don't have to work as hard as Jack in one of Vera's favorite books Pancakes, Pancakes!  Though it's not a bad idea for her to consider where each of the ingredients came from, I'm not going to make her milk the cow, winnow the wheat, churn the butter, and collect the eggs beforehand--at least not yet as the homestead is still in its infancy (wink.)  Ben is always amazed at how quickly I can whip up some pancake batter, but I tell him that if you have everything on hand and especially if you make them nearly every weekend, it becomes a snap.

Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Vegan Pancakes
Makes 6-8 pancakes

Though the name of this recipe may make it sound like "well what in the world IS in it?" I promise these have an excellent fluffy texture and can be jazzed up with different fruits, nuts, even granola.

This morning we added vegan/GF choc. chips to the batter
1 c. brown rice flour
3 T. tapioca flour
1/3 c. potato starch
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. xanthan gum
1 T. egg replacer
1/4 c. water
3 T. olive or grapeseed oil
1 c. almond or rice milk (or whatever kind of milk you prefer)
Dash of cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, cloves, or whatever "warm" spices you wish
1/4-1/2 c. granola, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, nuts (optional)--if you add one of these options, increase the milk content for the right consistency

In a bowl, mix together rice flour, tapioca, potato starch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum.  Stir in egg replacer, water, oil, milk and spices until well-blended and few lumps remain.  Stir in optional fillings.  Heat a large, well-oiled skillet or griddle over medium-high heat.  Spoon batter onto skillet and cook until bubbles begin to form.  Flip, and continue cooking until golden brown on bottom.  Serve immediately with condiments of your choice.

Quick Fruit Topping for Pancakes
Makes 2-3 c.

2-3 c. of fresh or home-canned or fresh fruits such as peaches, bananas, plums, apples, etc.
2 T. maple syrup
Dash salt
Dash ground ginger (optional)

Combine all ingredients and let sit until ready to use.

Of course I can't let this household go too many days without having something sweet on hand.  No matter what kind of limited diet I'm on, I have to get my fix.  This weekend I decided to make some cupcakes just for fun and was very happy with the results.  I've reminded Ben that we are "adapting our expectations of sweetness" lately, but I believe these treats satisfied his equally intense sweet tooth regardless.

Chocolate Glazed Coconut Macaroon Cupcakes
Makes 1 dozen

These cupcakes didn't caramelize one bit during baking.  Their snow white appearance along with their delightful chewiness and slightly more dense texture (compared with cupcakes made with regular flour) reminds me of coconut macaroons.

3/4 c. sorghum flour
1/3 c. plus 1 1/2 t. cornstarch
1/3 c. plus 1 1/2 t. tapioca flour
1 c. granulated xylitol
1 1/2 t. guar gum
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. (plus a dash) salt
1/2 c. coconut oil, room temp.
2 T. egg replacer diluted in 5 T. water
1/2 c. coconut "buttermilk" (1 1/2 t. white vinegar in a meas. cup, topped off to 1/2 c. w/ coconut milk)
2 T. coconut water (or coconut juice)
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 T. almond extract
1 c. shredded, unsweetened coconut
Chocolate Glaze (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line standard muffin tin with silicone or paper liners, or grease and use without liners.  In stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, combine all dry ingredients and mix on low to blend.  Add coconut oil and beat on low until lumps are no longer visible.  Add diluted egg replacer and beat for 30 seconds.  Add coconut "buttermilk," coconut water/juice, and extracts and gradually increase speed to high to prevent splashing.  Mix for 1 1/2 min. or until smooth.  Scrape down bowl as necessary.  Fold in shredded coconut.  Using ice cream scoop or spoon, fill each prepared cup with batter.  Bake 20 min. or until cakes are set--test center for doneness because color will not be an indicator.  Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes then transfer to cooling rack.  Let cool completely.  Glaze with Chocolate Glaze, sprinkle with a hint of sea salt and let rest so glaze can set.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Glaze
Ready for the savoring (or gobbling)
Makes 1 1/2 c.

This is the same recipe I used for the Very Vanilla Cupcakes I posted in early April though I call it a "glaze" here instead of frosting.  After some thought, I find this name more fitting.
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
Additional sea salt, for decorating

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.  Spoon a very small amount of frosting over the top of each cake and spread gently so it doesn't go over the edge.  Carefully add more as needed.  (Alternatively, dip the cupcake tops in the glaze.)  Sprinkle with  just a bit of salt to complement the sweetness.  Store in a glass container, keeps a week or so.

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