...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.


Is Summer Really Winding Down?

Steamed Milk Mustache at Alterra at the Lake
Somehow the season has gotten away from us.  I know summer's not officially over until the third week of September or so, but with all the kiddos going back to school, it feels like the hot season is pret'near done.  It hit us last week that our long days outside in the garden are creeping away so this morning I decided to jump on some of the outings we haven't taken yet this summer.  Vera and I were out of the house early to catch coffee (the real thing for me and a not-to-hot steamed milk with honey for V) and a light breakfast at Alterra at the Lake, a gorgeous spot to sit on the patio on a sunny day and watch the commuters whiz down Lincoln Memorial Drive knowing you can sit back and relax (unless, of course, you have to chase an energetic two-year-old).  After getting juiced up we checked out the playground and beach at McKinley Marina then headed south to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Aside from catching up on our Mommy-Daughter "field trips," I needed to get away from the house where too many other things compete for my attention.  And I really wanted a splash of caffeine today.
Down the steps to the Art Museum
At McKinley Beach
Another recent end of summer outing for us was a festival at Pinehold Gardens, our Community-Supported Agriculture farm.  There was a delicious potluck; great conversation; lovely music by CSA members; a chef demonstration by Peter Sandroni from La Merenda (one of my fave local restaurants); a preserving demo from fellow Master Food Preserver Christina Ward; farm tours; a beekeeping presentation; and plenty of leisure time to wander the acres and admire the gorgeous flowers, hoophouse veggies, various tractors, and barnyard animals; and amazing weather to boot.  Fun times were had by Vera among others.
Closed for business, open for Leisure
Checking out the Barn
Can't wait to see what's in the hoophouse
Preserving Demo
The Chicken Coop

Women at Work
Keeping a close eye on those hens (she finally fits into this outfit I made her last summer)
Cukes for the Compost Pile
Staying cool under the solar array

V loved the tractors, of course

The days for cooking full-spectrum in the sun oven are also wending away.  Last week on one my busiest weekday when I do most of chores and cleaning, I decided to sear some grass-fed beef shortribs and throw them in the outdoor oven.  It was hands-off cooking all day and they were fall-off-the-bone tender by dinnertime.  Now that's convenient and slow food all in one.

Sun Oven Short Ribs
Since the weekend I've been crack-a-lackin' (to use a new-to-me word that keeps popping up in FB conversations with unrelated people) on preserving projects; canning, freezing, and drying like mad I've been.  With my boatload of fresh Door County apricots from the farmers' market on Saturday I made an apricot skillet cobbler, apricot honey orange blossom jam, and mucho dried apricots.  Though the dried apricots will certainly not taste or look like the sulfur-preserved store-bought variety (which I grew up loving, by the way), they will certainly work well for plumping and using in baked goods, savory meat dishes, and perhaps even as some trail food.
Luscious Fresh Apricots!
Sauteeing in Butter and Coconut Oil for a Skillet Cobbler
Prepped and Ready to Dehydrate
Freshly Dried
Dried Apricots (a jumbo jar plus a quart)
I pickled another batch of dilly beans on Saturday night after a fair amount of garden beans accumulated in my fridge.  This time I made quarts so I could preserve the length of some of those gorgeous beans.  I also used some farmers' market-purchased baby pickling cukes to make a batch of quick pickles, which I then researched to find the appropriate time to process for extended shelf life.  After reading the murder-mystery The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas earlier this summer, I was prompted to dig up the definition and origins of persian pickles (though this novel didn't mention much about canning as I had hoped when I snatched up the tattered copy from a used book stand last spring.)  I found a recipe in Ashley English's Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving... book from the library.  The key is the extensive spice mixture, which is what drew me to making them.  I love mixing lots of warm spices into a dish.

Quick Persian Pickles
Yield: 2 quarts

Once I carefully researched how long to process this in a hot water bath canner, I also added a homegrown grape leaf to each jar to keep the pickles more crisp as they marinate on the pantry shelf.  And note that if you ever run out of whole cloves, you can pick them out one by one from a pickling spice mix, though I don't recommend surmounting this task.  (This is why mise an place is so important!)

3 lbs. pickling cucumbers
2 1/2 c. distilled white vinegar
1/4 c. granulated sugar (or granulated xylitol)
2 T. pickling or kosher salt
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 T. fennel seed
1 T. cumin seed
1 T. coriander seed
1 T. mustard seed
2 t. whole cloves
1 T. black peppercorns

Thoroughly sterilize jars.  For refrigerator pickles you can use any ceramic or glass container with lid.  Avoid metal and plastic vessels, as they can impart an off flavor.  Wash and gently scrub cukes to remove dirt.  Cut about 1/4" from each end.  Cut each cuke in half lengthwise and place in large bowl.  Combine 2 1/2 c. water with vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, spices in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring brine to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 min.  Remove from heat and cool for 15 min.  Pour brine over cukes.  Cover the bowl lightly with a cloth, allow to cool for 1 hour.  Transfer to refrigerator-bound container, cover with lid, and refrigerate.  Pickles will need at least 24 hrs. to absorb flavors of spices.  For zestiest, best-tasting results, wait for 1 week before tasting.  As refrigerator pickles, they'll keep for about four weeks.
The lovely spiced brine
Sliced and ready for soaking

Grape Leaf to maintain crispness
To hot-water-bath can:

Sterilize jars and lids according to manufacturer's directions.  Wash a place a grape leaf in each quart jar (optional, but will help maintain pickles' crunch.)  Keep jars warm as you pack pickles tightly.  Added heated brine with spices to the jars allowing 1/2-inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and place dome lids on jars.  Screw on bands until they meet resistance then back just a 1/4-turn.  Place in boiling hot water bath and process for 20 minutes.  Remove from canner, let cool, label/date, and store in a cool, dark place.

I've also finally processed many of our blackberries.  At last I have some homegrown fruit to show for my efforts!  The blackberry canes were excellent producers this year despite the fact that I have reason to believe we've been inadvertently feeding a skunk (or family of skunks) with them.  We knew these critters were living on our block because of both first- and secondhand accounts.  When I'd pick berries, the skunky scent was particularly intense around the bushes.  And my sleuthing brought me to a black and white hair pasted to a ripe berry with a slight nibble out of it over the weekend.  At least I got most of the harvest before they did.

Blackberry Maple Compote
Makes about 1 1/2 c.

Freezer Compote
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson.  

2 c. blackberries, coarsely chopped
2 T. maple syrup
2 T. maple sugar or sucanat
1 t. fresh ginger juice
1 1/2 t. lemon juice
Tiny pinch of fine-grain sea salt (for balance)

Combine one-third of the berries along with the maple syrup and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Gently simmer for 3 min.  Drain the syrup through a strainer into a bowl, pressing on the berry solids to extract as much juice as possible.  Discard solids and combine with syrup with remaining uncooked berries.  Stir in the ginger juice, lemon juice, and salt.  Taste and adjust with more lemon juice or ginger juice, if needed.  The compote will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.  Note:  I went ahead and froze it in a freezer-quality Mason jar allowing enough headspace for expansion during freezing.)

Also trying to use more of the edible flowers I've grown.  Already posted about the nasturtiums I recently preserved.  This time I was trying to get creative with borage, a cucumber-flavored purple flower.  I may be stretching the definition of "pesto," but came up with what I thought would work as a lovely addition to baked or grilled fish--at least that was my initial taste instinct as I sampled the final product.

Borage flowers
Cucumber and Borage "Pesto"
Makes about 8-1/4 oz. servings

Freeze this pesto in small portions if you wish.

2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
about 1/4 c. salt
1 clove garlic, chopped
Couple handfuls of borage leaves and flowers
2 T. pine nuts
1 T. nutritional yeast
1 T. sesame seeds

Slice cucumbers about 1/4-inch or thinner and place them in a strainer.  Sprinkle with salt and toss.  Let strainer sit over a bowl for 2-3 hours so that liquid will drain from the cukes.  Discard liquid (or save for another use...though keep in mind it's very salty!), squeeze cukes to remove additional liquid.  Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined, but still slightly coarse.  Portion and freeze or use immediately.

"Pesto" ready to freeze
I prematurely purchased a load of slicing cucumbers at the farmers' market over the weekend before I realized that the other ingredients needed for the southeastern Asian pickles I intended to preserve had not yet arrived at market.  (Shame on me for mentally hurrying the seasonality of cauliflower.)  So I was left to deal with these crisp columnars in another way--another motivator for the aforementioned recipe.  Ben brought up tabouli so I thought I'd try that for an end of weekend side dish.

Cooked Quinoa (L), Millet (R)
Multi-Grain Tabouli
Serves 6-8
2 c. water
1 c. quinoa, rinsed
1 c. millet
1 1/2 c. chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 c. chopped cucumber
1/3 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. chopped fresh mint
1/4 c. chopped scallions (green and white parts) or chopped chives
3 T. flaxseed oil (or olive oil)
2 T. fresh lemon juice
Multi-Grain Tabouli
2 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
1/4 t. pepper, or to taste

In a saucepan, bring the water to boil.  Add quinoa and millet and return to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 min., or until liquid is absorbed.  Let cool on a shallow sheet tray.  In a large bowl, toss grains, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, scallions until combined.  In a small bowl, stir together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper.  Pour over salad, toss to combine.

What else is coming down the pipe?  Just harvested my carrots the other night and am preparing to make pickled carrot spears.  Stay tuned.

Planted fewer this year, but still harvested about 8 lbs. of roots for Bugs.

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