...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.


Cheerleaders and Cherries

Yellow Wax and Romano Beans pouring out of the garden
First harvest of Sunburst Pattypan Squash
I have to send a shout out to the ladies (hopefully you know who you are) who occasionally cheer me on via my blog.  One told me lately she thought I was "wildly productive" and another said "you are on fire!" I can't tell you how much I appreciate your cheerleading!  Afterall, one reason I started blogging--besides to keep a regular "journal" of my cooking and gardening efforts--was to keep myself motivated and keep from procrastinating, knowing I have an audience that's potentially waiting to see what trick I'll perform next.  I don't feel like I'm super productive or on fire most weeks--maybe because I see all of my homesteading projects as regular steps through my days and life--but it's sure nice to know that I'm perceived as such.  Thanks ladies and keep up your own amazing work!  You inspire me and keep me going in huge ways.

Door County sweet cherries
19 quarts
On that note, I was up before the proverbial chickens so I could can the 30 lbs. (minus the handfuls Vera ate on the way home) of sweet Door County cherries I wheeled home from the farmers' market yesterday.  I knew it was going to be another sticky one out there today and didn't want to heat the place up beyond mid-morning.  Cherries are actually simple to can--compared to the cases of peaches I processed a couple of weekends ago that required blanching, peeling, and soaking in lemon water before even making it to the quart jars.  I do a cold pack with my cherries and I do not pit them, which can be more than half the battle.  I pack the washed fruit into hot sterilized jars, add the hot very very light syrup (1/4 c. sugar/xylitol to 4 c. water), release the air bubbles, wipe the rims, put on the sterilized lids and rings, and process for 25 min. for quarts.  Et voila!  It allows for plenty of time in between to do other things--read, check e-mail, or--as I did this morning--mix a batch of gluten-free pancake batter, cook some bacon, and sear a pork roast for the solar oven all before 9:30 AM.  Okay, so maybe some days I am on fire, but I don't get enough oxygen to keep it burning for long periods of time.  I will say that I'm glad I got those things done this morning because today feels much more free now.
How many cherries are in that cheek?
She's finally met her match.

Lottie's Birthday Box
We are recovering from a mess of birthday parties this weekend.  Actually, we only attended half of those for which we received invites.  I can now empathize with my brother who is allegedly buried weekend after weekend with my 8-year-old niece's friends' birthday party schedule--he says 10 each weekend in the summer though he's been known to exaggerate.  Fortunately we only had to pop over a couple of blocks for the 2-year-old celebration yesterday.  It was a gorgeous day to sit in the backyard, watch the kids play with the sand and water table, and enjoy an ice cream sundae bar.  Knowing how toys can pile up around one's home and how little Vera is interested in some of them, I decided to go a different route with our gift to her little friend.  Actually, I brought the same thing last year and the whole family enjoyed it.  I have lots of veggies available in my backyard and what kid doesn't need more vegetables (HUGE difference between need and want in this case!) so I packed up a gift box sampler from our homestead: yellow wax beans, romano beans, garlic scapes, green garlic, swiss chard, kohlrabi leaves, baby pattypan squash, mint, sage, cherries/blueberries/red currants from the market, some homemade pickles, and one of my cherry-almond muffins.  Vera and I made a homemade card that we attached to the preserves, which were covered with a fabric swatch from one of Vera's old dresses that she'd outgrown but wasn't fit to donate.  Don't know if the birthday girl gave the package a second glance, but I know her little mama and pops will enjoy it.  I'm sure she won't miss an extra toy.

Muffins and Preserves for the b-day girl

Local Fruits for Lottie

We made it home last night in time to grill outside though it was still very humid in the evening.  Black bean burgers on the grill, garden green salad with nasturtiums and homemade garlic herb dressing, and white beans with lamb's quarters was our menu.  And yes, Ben pointed out that it was beans with a side of beans.  Someone would have noticed somehow regardless.  But I was really excited to finally prepare lamb's quarters, a common weed similar in flavor to spinach, which I first learned about during my chef-internship several years ago.  It's in the same botanical family (Chenopodium) as spinach, beets, amaranth, and quinoa and is packed with easy-to-assimilate calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B2, and niacin.  One can directly substitute lamb's quarters for spinach.  I found a very simple recipe for white beans and lamb's quarters.  Hot food on a hot day is not ideal, but it was good nonetheless.

Freshly washed Lamb's Quarters

Lamb's Quarters and Navy Beans
Serves 3-4

I Eat Weeds and Beans
To prepare lamb's quarters for cooking, just remove from the thick stem, wash, and shake or spin dry. 

2 t. grapeseed oil
3 c. navy beans cooked (canned or dried/soaked/cooked)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 c. raw lamb's quarters (chopped if desired, but usually the leaves are fairly small)
Salt and Pepper

Heat a saute pan over high heat.  Add oil and heat.  Turn down to medium-high and add the garlic, saute quickly and avoid browning.  Add the lamb's quarters and toss until wilted.  Add beans and combine; cook until heated through and lamb's quarters are well-cooked, about 7-8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.  

I'm still on a quest to rotate my freezer contents for the incoming harvest.  Last week I found a gallon bag of apple butter about three shelves down.  Between the seconds of apples I bought from a local orchard, the apples our friends gave us from their lone tree, the wild apples I harvested in a city park, and the wild apples I brought home from a camping trip, last year I preserved tons of apples in the form of dried, sauce (which I froze) and apple butter (which I partially canned and partially froze once I lost steam.)  I've been incorporating the butter into baked goods, but this bag was more than I could imagine using in a dessert anytime soon.  I recently got the idea to dry it into fruit leather, which Vera loves to eat.  It took a couple of days (on and off) to dry completely, but ended with a nice tacky though safely dry texture.  And it was nice and spicy to boot!  I carefully peeled it off the dehydrator fruit leather trays--which I forgot to "grease,"  I cut it into quarters, rolled them up on some individual parchment rounds (separator sheets I'd saved from a package of GF tortillas that I'd intended to use for lining round cake pans), then stored them in a large 2-quart Mason jar.  I will definitely make more fruit butter leather this fall--pears, pumpkin, apples.  Can't wait!

Homemade Fruit Rolls
Stored in an airtight container
I stopped at a conventional grocery store after work on Friday and as I was waiting at the check-out I was bombarded with the requisite tabloids plastering the lane.  Though my eye is usually caught by the latest volume of Real Simple or Martha Stewart Living, this time I zoned in on a celebrity quote.  "I'm terrified of being poor,"--or something to that extent--said a glamorous, highly manicured, dark-maned diva who I definitely didn't recognize.  I realized this probably referred to anything even slightly below the upper upper crust .  Awww, I felt no sympathy, but instead thought "maybe it's because you've never learned to do anything for yourself."  Catty, I know, but it made me realize how fortunate I am to have the life skills to be independent even if I'm not independently wealthy.  Now that would be an interesting reality show--oh wait, I think they already did that with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richey.  Anyway, I'll keep on truckin' through my own simple life where I will sometimes be on fire, but hopefully never burn out.

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