...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.


Quality Time

Hometown Parade

My extended weekend jaunt south to my hometown was fantastic!  Saw lots of familiar faces, caught up with old friends, and bonded with my parents.  Amtrak is the best and we managed to slide through Union Station in Chicago without drama.  Thank goodness Vera is still light enough to ride in a Mei Tai while I pack-mule the rest of our luggage from train to train.  The Honeybee Festival had a bit to be desired, though I DID get my hands on a sleeve of locally made honey sticks--one of Vera's favorite snacks.  She oohed and aahed at all the tractors in the parade (coincidentally most of them were made in Wisconsin) and we also headed out to the county fairgrounds where we strolled around the "pioneer village," checked out the craft pavilion, and watched Vera ride the "Honeybee Express," a series of modified metal drums hitched to a Cub Cadet.  She loved it!

For some reason this made me crack up!
Native American beading at the pioneer village
Weaving with Beads

Though many things and people haven't changed a bit in the last 15 years I've been gone, there are also some new developments.  My parents have always been crafty and big d.i.y.ers, but their roles have taken a twist.  My dad, who is on the verge of being completely retired, has taken up building random garden art and baking the latest cake he spies in my mom's subscription of Taste of Home magazine.  I walked into the kitchen Friday morning and he was busy with the beaters whipping up a pecan upside-down coffee cake.  It was gorgeous!  He's always enjoyed cooking--he's famous for his lasagna and also makes a mean chili--but now he's jumping in feet first and baking from scratch.  I couldn't be more proud!  And my mom--aside from planting a garden the past two years--has been dedicated to taking piano lessons from the organist at my old church.  I can only hope to be as ambitious and have such a zest for life as these two when I'm in my 60s.  I guess they have to find something to keep them out of each other's hair as they will be home together more when my dad's through working.

Papa Doc the Domestic Divo

D's Pecan Upside-Down Cake

Original Garden Art
Used Windows, Scrap Wood, Old Paint, and a Rusty License Plate
for Character.  Now THAT'S upcycling!
Back at the homestead, things are cranking full steam again this week.  A friend and I made another visit to Brightonwoods Orchard today.  We wanted to give the kiddos time to play together--especially in that cool treehouse--and we hoped we'd get a chance to catch up ourselves.  The day trip ended with us nearly getting kicked out of Aeppeltreow Winery, also located at the orchard.  The kiddos were all over the place and--despite the owner's experience and understanding with rascally youngin's--we sensed we needed to leave before someone broke it and had to buy it.  But not before tasting some of their delicious sparkling apple and pear wines, dessert wines, and distilled spirits.

Trees so full of fruit you wonder how people in the world go hungry!
Taking some color-combo cues from nature
Making a run for it after escaping from the tasting room
My stovetop at any given time summer-fall--Busy!
And, of course, I walked out of there with another bag of apple seconds, which I'm cooking down right now into more sauce as well as green tomato apple pie filling for canning.  I made this pie filling according to the recipe a couple of seasons ago and really enjoyed it as the base for a dessert crisp.  I'm always looking for new and different ways to preserve the end of season green tomatoes.  There are still plenty of them on the vine.

I also purchased a pie pumpkin at the orchard with hopes of cooking it up for dinner.  I'd prepared soup the night before so I thought I'd try something new.  Immediately a lasagna popped into my head and I found a recipe soon after I got home.

Pumpkin and Swiss Chard Lasagna (Gluten-Free)
Serves 8-12

Cheesy Goodness!
Elbow noodles could also be substituted for the lasagna noodles to turn this into a sort of mac 'n cheese or, as I like to call it, "mac-asagna."  Also, consider adding homemade pumpkin puree to your favorite homemade mac 'n cheese recipe.

2 T. grapeseed oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch Swiss chard, washed, stemmed, and roughly chopped
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dried sage
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
2 c. homemade pumpkin puree*
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 c. shredded or chopped mozzarella + few T. for top
1/2 c. Parmesan
3/4 c. cream or milk
12 gluten-free lasagna noodles (or regular lasagna noodles, if you like), pre-cooked

Heat a large skillet, add oil and heat over moderately low heat.  Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 min.  Increase heat to medium-high and add chard, garlic, 1 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper, 1/2 t. sage, and 1/4 t. nutmeg.  Cook, stirring a bit, until the chard is heated through, and no liquid remains in the pan, about 4 min.  Preheat oven to 400F.  In a medium bowl, mix together 2/3 of pumpkin puree, ricotta, mozzarella (minus 4 T. for top), Parmesan, and remaining 1/2 t. pepper, 1/2 t. sage, 1/4 t. nutmeg, and salt to taste.  In a 9x13-inch baking dish, spray or grease bottom to prevent sticking.  Lay 3 noodles in dish then spread 1/3 of pumpkin-cheese mixture over noodles.  Spread 1/3 of Swiss chard mixture over pumpkin.  Repeat this noodle-pumpkin-chard layering two more times, and to with final layer of noodles.  Combine remaining pumpkin puree and 3/4 c. cream or milk.  Pour evenly over top of lasagna, sprinkle with extra mozzarella.  Cover with foil an bake 40 min.  Remove foil and bake another 10 min. until golden on top.  Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.
*To bake and puree your own pumpkin: cut, seed, and slice (with skin) into 3-4 inch pieces, toss in oil, season if desired and roast at 450 degrees until tender (30-50 min, depending on thickness of slices).  Let cool a bit, remove from skin and cut into 1-inch chunks.  Puree in a food processor until smooth (with a little water of stock as needed).  Use immediately, refrigerate, or freeze.

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