...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.


The Remains of the (Holi)Day

After the fall of Mr. Pumpkin

I called a local business this morning to ask a date-related question and the receptionist was lost and confused because she already had her calendar open to November.  With all the hubbub around Halloween this past weekend, it was easy to forget that today is still October, Halloween in fact.  Because of the way this scary holiday fell on the weekly schedule, it made for an extended celebration.  And who's not for extended holiday celebrations, especially when that holiday is creepy, scary, and has certain food associations--and I don't just mean candy.  We kicked it into Halloween mode last Thursday as we strolled to a friends' house a block away for the regular Thursday playgroup.  All the kiddos were doing a trial run of their creative costumes and even some of the parents were decked out (I missed the memo and just went as a "mommy" or as Vera excitedly said, "you're going as a mummy!?!")  Of course Vera stuffed her gob with lots of less-than-wholesome food at the playgroup...and subsequently missed lunch because she cashed out for an early nap.  But I guess sometimes that's what the holidays are about.  There's always the next meal and the next day to try for something better.

Saturday night was Trick-or-Treat in our neighborhood; it's always the Saturday before Halloween. City of Milwaukee general trick-or-treating is always the following Sunday, but during daylight hours.  As I think I've mentioned, our corner of the neighborhood--and maybe even just a few square blocks around us--is candy central.  Earlier discussions with neighbors turned up confessions of them spending hundreds of dollars on candy or other novelties to pass out.  We limited ourselves to two large variety bags...and a package of pretzel snack packs I bought on impulse last week for fear of running out.  Even with that load, I knew we'd have to close the blinds and sit in the dark the rest of the night listening to kids ringing the bell and pounding on the door long after our supply ran dry.  We took Vera out for the first half of Trick-or-Treat.  She gladly put on her costume and tuned up her call of "Trick or TWEET," before we hit the sidewalks.  After half a block or so she really got the hang of it and was bounding several feet ahead of us and strong-arming the bigger kids up to the porches for treats.  We turned in after Ben and I realized we hadn't had dinner, but only a few coffee mugs full of "road sodas."  Vera was excited to hand out candy back at our place; she loved seeing the kids' costumes as they approached.  We knew we were running out fast so Ben grabbed most of the goods that Vera had collected and added them to the pot of sweets dwindling on our stoop.  That quickly solved the conundrum of how to avoid having Vera (and ourselves) want to eat all that terrible candy.  We did save a couple handfuls for her and thanked her for sharing her candy (knowingly or not) with the other kids.  The best costumes we saw that night were a friend of ours dressed as a "Union Thug" a la Tupac, Hamid Karzai, Flo from Progressive, our neighbor who wore his dog's shark costume as a headwarmer, and a tall, lanky teenage girl in a leather trench coat who, when she stepped up to our porch and Ben asked "so what are you?," opened her coat revealing a sword and other various weapons and said "a trained assassin" so casually it was like we'd simply asked her the time of day.

Our Little Cardinal
A beautiful evening for a walk
On a mission!
Craziness on our street.  Or as Ben likes to call it "Occupy Wentworth."

Saturday we used Trick-or-Treating as bribery to promote good behavior all day (I don't like having to do that!) but Sunday it was pumpkin carving that sweetened the deal.  Ben lead the project, while I documented, as usual.  We didn't invest in a fancy "carving kit," but made the best of our grill kit's large, backwoodsman style steak knives, an ice cream scoop, and a couple grapefruits spoons.  Vera mostly watched and hesitated to get her hands into the pumpkin, but once I picked all the seeds out of the flesh, she had a blast squooshing around in them.  I oiled, salted, and roasted them at 400F for 20 min. or so and salvaged what I could of the flesh to make pumpkin soup tonight.  We just read Pumpkin Circle from the library last week (and again after breakfast this morning), which was enhanced and better understood by Vera after the carving process last night.  Next year I'd love to grow our own pumpkins so V can see the whole process.  Kids Pumpkin Projects is a great book that closes the loop on growing pumpkins and provides lots of craft and culinary ideas to boot.
Vera's and Daddy's pumpkins.  Mommy didn't have one to carve because
she chose a variety more suitable for straight-up cooking and EATING!
Daddy the Pumpkin Artist
"How do you like me now?"
Mooshing and Squooshing around in the seeds
Rinse, Oil, Salt, Roast, and Savor
Now that Halloween is over--and the city workers are pulling overtime to get the leaves and yard waste cleared from the curbsides--people are definitely thinking more about closing their gardens.  We did some very mild clean-up this weekend though it didn't involve yanking any plants from the garden yet. In fact, I was just bringing in more tomatoes today.  We biked to the library this morning and along the way I noticed some discarded tomato plants in someone's gutter with red and green cherries still hanging on (no, I did not stop to glean though the thought crossed my mind.)  It makes me think about the starving people in our world.  As much as many people say that there's not enough food available to feed our growing population on Earth (which is probably true to some extent), I believe there are also challenges with distribution systems and HUGE problems with wasted food, especially in our own nation.  While some see green tomatoes as garbage or at least compost, I see them as perfectly edible.  I have just about wrung every last usable fruit--no matter how small--off of both tomato and tomatillo plant this season.  We've made pickled green tomatoes, green tomato pie filling, and today was my fourth round of making salsa verde.  I may only get 2-3 half-pints out of this batch.  I'm not sure if it's worth firing up the canning kettle for that so I may just freeze it.  But any additional tomato "sauces" I can extract from my garden, the better.  We can never seem to preserve enough tomatoes, which we use regularly in our Friday pizza sauce as well as numerous pots of Sunday chili and other soups throughout the winter.  The salsa makes a perfect alternative base for the latter; we're not big chips and dip folks, but when salsa is added to meat and beans, it adds the perfect level of spice.

Just this morning my cousin's wife contacted me about a bag of apples she received from a friend.  She was curious about the procedure for freezing them--one can simply peel, core and slice before bagging, but I suggest holding the sliced apples in a bowl of water with a fair amount of lemon juice to prevent browning before they go into the freezer.  If you've already made your applesauce, apple butter, and dried apples for the season and are still looking another outlet for all these sweet, crunchy fall fruits besides pies and cobblers, I came up with another idea today.  Gelatin-ize them!  While working at Sanford in my early days as a permanent resident of Milwaukee, our pastry chef made a variety of mignardise, my favorite being the caramel cashews and the "jellies" (gelatinized mini fruit treats rolled in sugar).  Remembering those sweets was today's inspiration, but I also had a little help from a recipe clipped from a Family Circle magazine circa 1985 that I recently found it in my recipe files.  The recipe indicates that--as families were pressed in the "home economics" realm then just as we are now--it "makes 64 jellies at 64-cents per dozen."  I can't promise that you can make these on the same budget, but they're likely much more affordable than a similar jelly you'd find prettily wrapped, but loaded with preservatives at any upscale grocery or gourmet store.

Apple Ginger Jellies
Makes 64 jellies (though not necessarily at 64-cents per dozen)

Ready for storage
I used homemade applesauce for these.  They're versatile because they can be kid-friendly--what kid doesn't love "jell-o"--or quite adult depending on the amount of spice.  Vera declared them a little too spicy for her taste so perhaps halve the ginger for kiddos.  On that note, they would most certainly make a great "digestif" because of the tummy-soothing properties of ginger.  I used xylitol in place of granulated sugar to lower the glycemic index, but feel free to interchange the two ingredients.

3 c. unsweetened applesauce
4 t. dried ginger
1 1/2 c. granulated xylitol (or sugar)
1/8 t. salt
1 T. lemon juice
3 T. (or 3 packets, which are 1 T. each) bulk unflavored gelatin
1/3 c. granulated xylitol or sugar, for coating

Coat an 8-inch square glass baking dish with oil or nonstick cooking spray.  Reserve 1/2 c. applesauce.  Combine remaining applesauce, ginger, xylitol, and salt in a large skillet or Dutch oven.  Bring to boiling, cook, uncovered about 10-15 min., stirring frequently as mixture thickens to prevent sticking.  Stir lemon juice into remaining applesauce then add the gelatin.  Stir gelatin mixture into hot applesauce mixture in pot, whisking to combine.  Cook another 5 min. or so, stirring.  Mixture should be fairly thick.  Pour into prepared pan, spreading level.  Cool at room temp. then chill completely for 1-2 hours.  Cut into 64 squares.  Place xylitol/sugar in a shallow bowl; toss jellies in sugar to coat.  Layer between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap in airtight containers.  Store, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely apple jellies! My grandmother used to make those.