...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.


Spring Foraging

Wild Mustard
Garlic Mustard

I've been crawling around in the wild the last few days gathering edibles for preserving.  V and I went out early Saturday morning to hunt for ramps in the woods.  Two grocery bags loaded into the back of the bike trailer and we were ready to go.  Earlier this week I canned pickled ramps and froze ramp confit.  I also prepared ramp soup and still have half a bag in the fridge to use fresh this week.

Pickled Ramps
Ramp Soup with Chive Yogurt (for the dairy-eaters)

Ramp Confit
This is the first season I've attempted to preserve dandelions, which will forever remind me of my childhood--not only rubbing the bloom's pollen on my arms and legs to make them yellow and blowing the seed heads, but also of my severe lack of interest in youth sports.  As my dad will tell you, when I was assigned to play outfield on the softball team I'd be out there squatting down picking flowers (probably dandelions) as a ball was coming.  "Annie, look up, catch the ball!" my dad would yell (or something to that extent) as he retold it, yet again, during his toast at our wedding reception.  Yesterday Vera and I ran around the park picking these prolific yellow weeds--a back-breaking task.  (If you choose to use dandelions for food make sure you pick them from an area not sprayed with pesticides.)  I thought V would be helpful because she's a bit shorter and wouldn't have to bend as far to pick the blooms.  She knows her colors so when I instructed her "just pick the yellow ones" I thought she'd have no problem and even a little fun.  Instead she carried the bag for a while then ran loose across the public lawn weedy with a carpet of creeping charlie among the dandelions.  We hopped back into the stroller and combed the lakefront until I pulled up all the garlic mustard I felt I could realistically process today.  I also found some wild mustards, which I may add to a salad or throw into my garlic mustard pesto (stay tuned.)  Today I made jelly out of the dandelions.  It's very rich so I will likely use it in small doses when the time comes.

Lavender-Infused Dandelion Preserves
Makes 3-1/2 pts.

Lavender-Infused Dandelion Jelly
This jelly is as rich as honey.  If you want it to be more clear simply "infuse" your sweetener (sugar or xylitol) with lavender by adding a sprig or two of fresh lavender to a small container of sugar/xylitol and letting is sit for a month.  Remove the lavender and use the scented sweetener.

3 c. dandelion blossoms, separated from leaves and bracts
3 c. purified water
1 1/2 c. xylitol
1/2 T. dried lavender
1/4 t. vanilla extract
2 t. calcium water (comes with Pomona pectin)
1 T. lemon juice
3 t. Pomona's Universal Pectin

Boil flowers in water on medium heat for about 10 min.  In the meantime, add xylitol to food processor with vanilla and lavender, process until lavender is "dust" mixed into xylitol.  After petals have boiled, strain from liquid and return liquid to pot and add calcium water and lemon juice, bring to a boil.  In the meantime, to infused sugar, add pectin and stir to completely combine.  When dandelion "juice" is boiling, add xylitol/pectin and stir constantly for 2 min. to completely dissolve sweetener.  Return to boil then remove from heat.  Filter through small colander placed over jar-filler and fill warm, sterilized 1/2-pint jars with jelly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and cap with treated, sterilized lids.  Adjust screw bands and load into hot water bath canner.  Once canner is boiling, process jelly for 10 min.  Remove carefully and let cool at room temperature until completely cool.  Check seals.  Label and store.

Gray/"Silver" jacquard fabric
I've also had a chance to continue sewing this week.  Ben and I found some down time on Saturday afternoon while V was napping and I cut out a dress for myself and a 3T dress pattern for Vera.  I can't wait to finish the dress I'm making.  I've been in a gray and black stage for a while as I find it makes my pared-down wardrobe more versatile.  I'm continuing this personal trend with a gray jacquard fabric I found in my fabric cabinet--I believe I bought it at either an antique store or the antique flea market a couple of years ago.  With some creative pattern piece placement, I was able to s-q-u-e-e-z-e this dress out of the limited fabric I had.  We'll be attending a couple of weddings in the fall and I know at least one of them will be fairly elegant so I intend to get a couple of wears out of this outfit soon.  Just like my mom used to do--special event coming up, she'd make herself a new dress.  It feels great to sew something for myself--feels like it's been ages.

You may have heard that a temporary backyard hen ordinance has been passed in Milwaukee.  There will be a one-year trial period, which I think is a completely fair way to approach the project versus continuing to just shoot down the proposals after listening too much to the opponents.  Of course many people have contacted me wanting to know when I will have my chickens out back.  I honestly didn't see this happening so soon and therefore I've already planted my entire backyard with veggies, not leaving any room for a coop or run.  I'm interested in getting some beehives on our property first (next season) and am still running the chicken thing through my head considering my egg-free diet.  I'd likely be the one taking care of them and then not getting much out of it foodwise--of course there's the beautiful manure and the bartering possibilities.  But maybe I should wait until Vera's a little older and can help care for these critters and clean their house.  By then perhaps I'll have my dream garage rooftop garden and can give up more of my backyard growing space to some family pets.  For now I'll just live vicariously through a fellow craft blogger who keeps chickens in Madison.

I'd like to share a few snapshots of the spring garden to brighten up this dark, rainy spring day.  Can't wait to see how things bust out once the sun returns.

Espalier Apple Tree (with weight)

Other Espalier Apple Tree (w/ garlic below)
Spinach from Coldframe
Red Lima Beans


  1. saw your blog on mnn.com and love it! so inspiring!

  2. Thanks for reading. I'm glad to know people are catching in on mnn.com