...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.


To Market To Market...

Black tote for my jars in the co-op bulk section
...to buy a fat bag of vintage patterns and other odds and ends.  Yesterday was the second Elkhorn Antique Flea Market of the season.  Originally I wasn't planning to attend because I was going to sign up for a Bee Symposium at the Urban Ecology Center to log hours towards the completion of my beekeeping certificate.  But when I realized that I cannot make it to either the August or September flea markets I had to change my plans and sort of "skip class" (there will be other bee events this season.)  I was solo on this trip to the market because my partner in crime was out of town and Ben said he'd spend the day with Vera so I could have a personal day.  I could hardly sleep the night before.  It reminded me of childhood family vacations when my parents would choose to pull out of town before the crack of dawn.  We three kids would do our best to get a few winks amid all the mental stimulation of the upcoming trip.  Too bad I didn't know about melatonin capsules then...or valerian root for that matter.  This past Sunday gave me a similar excitement.  I voluntarily got up with the sun and was amazed at how quickly I can extract myself as a party of one.  Sipped my coffee and shuffled my soundtrack for the ride, which floated from Patty Griffin, Erasure, and Morrissey to Radiohead, Beth Orton, and the Commodores as I cruised a well-worn path along 43-South.  This was a trip I made maaaaany times--usually fully caffeinated then too--as I commuted nearly every weekend during my internship at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.  It was a gorgeous Sunday morning, I was alone in my car with some delicious black coffee, and had a buzz going by the time I got to the market.  The booths and vendors certainly did not disappoint.  I have learned to go with very limited cash and when it's gone, I leave.  Do not pass GO, do not stop at the ATM to collect $200.  I found a size ~7-8 linen handmade jumper for Vera to grow into, a black wooden carrier for toting my pint jars to the bulk section at the co-op (this was at the top of my list and the last thing I found!), and some cool vintage patterns--the booth owner said to me "can you afford to sew anymore?" Because she knows how expensive new patterns and fabric can be.  She doesn't know my money-saving secrets--buy both patterns and fabric secondhand, reuse, repurpose, and upcycle.  My favorite score of the day, which I found at a vintage clothing booth though it wasn't vintage itself, was a pair of red leather sling back Dansko clogs, just my size for $10!!!  (I've had such good luck finding Danskos for next to nothing).  I believe that every girl should have a pair of red shoes--I just happen to have four pairs (even thrift-shoppers have vices.)  I was out of the market and the hot sun by 11 AM and home knitting by afternoon.  I had the best time!

Berries creating condensation as they're warm from the sun
This morning we jumped right back into our week with a huge string of errands that included a trip to our CSA farm to pick strawberries.  I'm kicking myself for forgetting my camera.  Not only was Vera adorable as she sat on the sidelines gorging herself on these red jewels--mouth and hands stained pink--but cute as a button as she popped out of the hoophouse later with Farmer Sandy and a handful of freshly yanked carrots.  I wiped the dirt off of them on my jeans and she ate them immediately, making sure to save the tops for the chickens.  We  thought we'd get V to go for a ride on the tractor with Sandy, but she was a bit too timid today--tired perhaps, but maybe just not ready for the big machinery yet.  It's much less intimidating in the library books.  We also got to see Peaches the pig and a long, loud freight train go right by.  It was a great way to start the week and I'm so glad we have great farmer friends and an opportunity like this to expose Vera to the barnyard.

We wandered the South Shore Farmers' Market on Saturday where I grabbed a beautiful head of Napa cabbage to make some slaw to go with our grilled burgers that night.  I will leave you with one of my favorite slaw recipes in case you're looking for a dish to prepare on the 4th.  We're heading to the east coast this week where I hope to sample some local fare, namely "lawbsta" and a clam roll.  Happy Independence Day!

Asian Coleslaw
Makes 12 servings

Many of the ingredients can be shredded together in the food processor for a quicker preparation.  Feel free to take liberties with other vegetables.  I found this to be a great way to use a lot of what's currently in season.

7 c. shredded Napa cabbage (I used the food processor)
1 c. fermented or fresh red cabbage
1 c. shredded radish leaves
1/2 c. finely diced spring onions
1/2 c. finely chopped chives
1 c. loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 c. fresh snap peas, sliced on a diagonal
1-2 medium carrots, shredded
3 T. sesame seeds
3/4 c. olive oil/flaxseed oil
3 T. rice wine or coconut vinegar 
1 T. salt/soy sauce/ or nam pla (fish sauce)
1/2 t. dark sesame oil
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1/4 c. sunflower seeds/peanuts/sliced almonds

Combine first 9 ingredients (Napa through sesame seeds) in a large bowl.  Combine remaining ingredients except sunflower seeds/almonds.  Whisk.  Add oil mixture to cabbage mixture; toss well to combine.  Sprinkle with seeds/nuts.  Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving.  (Once the slaw "marinates" for a while, the volume really decreases, but it's still enough for several servings--you just may not need a huge bowl.)


Simple Gifts

Baby Carston's vest

'Tis the season for births.  So many friends or family members have had babies in the last couple of months or are expecting this summer.  I count a half dozen born since spring and at least a couple more on the way.  I wish I had time and resources to give them all handmade gifts.  I don't mind shopping from someone's registry if it's something they feel they truly need, but I would much rather give something homemade (or at least handed down).  I simply lack the time to do so.  So if you've received a handmade baby gift from me in the last few years, consider yourself lucky.  :)  My cousin was one of those who recently gave birth (to her second child--a boy) so I couldn't pass up the chance to make him something.  I don't knit as frequently in the summer, but since the weather's been cool, I don't mind having a pile of yarn on my lap.  I love knitting baby gifts because they go quickly and I can often use ends of skeins to complete them.  Months ago I was poking around online trying to find free knit project patterns I could make for Vera and found an adorable pattern for a toddler vest.  Many people say it's not as much fun to dress boys as it is girls.  There could be some truth in that, but I think this will make any little guy look pretty darn cute.  As I've knit sweaters before I've learned that I'd much rather follow a pattern with raglan versus set-in sleeves--I heard my grandmother (my knitting guru) utter this phrase once and didn't understand her preference until recently.  I'm still not great at knitting seams so this was the perfect project to avoid all that.  It's knit in the round without any extensive finishing to do.  It was so easy and adorable that I immediately started making one for Vera, who was my model for baby Carston's version and almost wouldn't take it off.  I needed a knitting confidence boost after some projects I really struggled with over the winter.

Vera's potential toddler vest--bright yellow-orange from my stash

On a "fashion" note, I was on the rummage trail today and scooped up a "Fashion Plates" toy that I remembered from childhood.  Though we were certainly not haute couture and name brand as kids as we were clothed via hand-me-downs, rummages, and handmade outfits my sister and I certainly had an interest in fashion.  We'd spend hours "designing" our own outfits with the "Fashion Plates" before I became familiar with any other meaning for that phrase.  And we also experimented with a similar toy--whose name I cannot find with any internet search--similar to "Fashion Plates" only with fabric scraps, which my mom was easily able to provide via her sewing hobby.  My sister and I would also--as I believe I've mentioned before--draw our own catalogs (with prices, descriptions, sizes, and all) and I'd spend hours cutting out patterns of Barbie clothes faster than my mom could sew them together.  I'm still not high fashion nor do I see myself as a trendsetter, but I think this early exposure to design helped me develop my unique styles--vintage, thrift, simple, and sometimes funky.

Favorite toy circa 1983
I can't wait to play!
This desire to make things from scratch and draw things by hand is woven into my daily life.  I feel like I'm finally at a point where I can--as my blog description says--create something every day whether it's in the kitchen, in the garden, or in my basement craft corner.  This past week I made Play Dough with Vera.  She had so much fun sharing her friend's Play-Doh on our camping trip that I thought we'd try to make our own.  She chose green out of the few food colorings I was able to dig out of my cake decorating tackle box.  At first I was leery about the recipe actually coming together, but sure enough it did and Voila! we have play dough.  It keeps her entertained for a while as she rolls, cuts, and shapes it and makes for a fun Daddy toy as well.  Now if I can just make sure it stays out of the living room carpet (still finding bits from an adult game of "Cranium" on New Year's Eve.)

Play Dough

You can also add scents using essential oils.  Not edible.  Can be used over and over again.  Keeps 3 months unrefrigerated.

1 c. flour
1 c. water
3 T. oil
1/2 c. salt
2 t. cream of tartar
food coloring (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a pan.  Cook over medium heat until mixture pulls away from sides of pan and becomes doughy in consistency.  Knead until cool.

Before cheese was added
Last night I savored my first cheese pizza in several months.  I've been feeling so-so as I've added dairy and egg back to my diet.  Still trying to pinpoint what and how much is okay for now.  We're way out of tomato sauce until late summer/fall so I used some frozen eggplant/garlic puree I had on hand.  Added black olives, dried/soaked/sliced shiitake mushrooms, white beans, ramp/sorrel pesto, chopped radish greens.  I still had my separate gluten-free pizza, but it was heaven to add cheese.  I also like to top my hot-out-of-the-oven 'za with fresh arugula, which is plentiful in our garden right now.

The garden has busted out over the last couple of weeks with all the rain so I thought I'd give you a little tour.  The last photo is taken from an upstairs window as an attempt to show the whole picture, which didn't exactly happen.  Hopefully you can get a sense of our space and what's growing.  This is why green is my favorite color!

Carrots, Parsnips, Salsify, Parsley
Crazy Radish and Turnip Bed
Thriving Garlic
V's path between chard and cilantro/dill
Rainbow Chard and Red Russian Kale
Nasturtiums border the tomato bed
Pole Bean Teepee, Winter Squash, Cukes in back in pot
Pole Beans and Rudbeckia
Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole Beans
Looking towards the front of the house/street
Looking towards the backyard
The big picture--with my lovely clover-infested "lawn"
Weakling pea shoots in the foreground with beets in between
Original raised bed: kohlrabi, pattypans, spinach, tatsoi, bush beans, scallions, etc., herbs along edge
From staircase 1 1/2 story window ("living fence" on R with grapevines)


Early Summer Report

Our weekend camping trip was fairly successful; we had phenomenal weather up until pack-up time, of course.  Vera enjoyed the beach and running around with the other kiddos and the adults had fun cooking outdoors and chatting around the campfire with S'mores.  Good thing I had a satisfying weekend because it helped lift my spirits upon re-entry as I found all the potential cherries stripped from both my trees, the remaining red currants nabbed by some clever critter, and a couple of my fledgling corn stalks gnawed down to the ground.  Now I'm keeping an extremely close eye on my strawberries, which remain mostly safe under some onion bag "netting" and my thriving gooseberry bush, which is filled with unripe berries.  At least I can probably count on the wild grape vine this year for an above average harvest.  So far there are dozens of little clusters of pre-grapes--or as Vera likes to call them "baby grapes and mommy grapes."  Otherwise the garden is flourishing. Especially with the steady amount of rain we've had this spring--perhaps too much for some of you, but we're managing alright: the pole beans are climbing, the cucumbers are bushing out, the Swiss Chard is growing like a weed, the cilantro and dill are doubling in size by the day, and the radish leaves are busting out of the raised bed (w/o many radishes thus far, but I'm utilizing all the greens--practically every night they go into some dish for dinner.)

After settling in from our weekend away, I presented Ben with his Father's Day gift.  He wanted a "chimney" for his charcoal grill.  He was using a successful technique he learned while living in Chile--twist long pieces of newspaper into "ropes" and wrap them around an empty beer bottle.  Set it in the middle of the grill bottom and mound up the charcoal around it, remove the bottle, light the paper, et voila.  This method worked extremely well and I remain very impressed by and excited about it, but Ben wanted something faster.  We just returned a gas grill/smoker that was on loan from my parents so, of course, he got used to the ease of heat-up.  We didn't have room for both grills in our yard and we both like the idea of using a charcoal grill so the other had to go.  As Father's Day approached he dropped some hints as to what tools and equipment might make his life easier.  The grill chimney was at the top of his list.  Trying to stick to my most-of-the-time D.I.Y., plan I thought I'd find a schematic online and replicate the function (though not the aesthetics) of the chimney he'd eyed at our local co-op.  This was the best tutorial I could find.  So one day last week during V's naptime I crept down to the basement, located Ben's drill, tin snips, a couple of wire hangers, and I was off (wearing a dress even).  I brought home a #5 can from work though I could have (and maybe should have based on the volume of the finished product) used a #10 can, but I'll try that for my next attempt.  It took some searching and experimenting to find the right drill bit for the project, but it all came together in the end without any tears, cuts (though that might have made it more sentimental), or need for safety goggles (though they were within arms reach if needed.)  I think Ben was impressed by my efforts, but we'll see how it works once we get some more charcoal for the weekend.

I went to see my doctor last week for a regular physical and we discussed my food allergy situation.  As my nutritionist had hinted, the gluten intolerance was likely what caused me not to process dairy, egg, and soy very well either and suggested that I might get retested this summer to see if those other offenders had been put in check.  My doctor advised me to forgo the retesting and just gradually try to add these foods back, but still stay gluten-free, of course.  It's like I'm an infant as I tried a little dairy last week, and have sampled a small amount of eggs this week to see if anything causes a reaction.  So far I am doing okay.  I think I will stick to organic and fermented soy products if any because highly processed, genetically modified soy is in so many foods (though so many of those foods we do not buy), plus the fermented products are good for my digestion.  We'll see what happens.  I do like the idea of being able to have a little cheese on our weekly pizza or a bit of feta or goat cheese on a summer salad.  And of course, ICE CREAM would be really wonderful to taste again.  If this doesn't work out, I know I can always go back to gluten-free, vegan (baking anyway), but for a little while I'll put that card back in my bag of tricks.  So expect to see a change in my recipes again soon.

Even though I'm not eating gluten I still enjoy baking wheat breads for my family.  And I've actually had some great success lately.  I seen to do well with the food processor breads (preparing the dough in the food processor), which purist bread bakers might look down upon, but at least it's still from scratch ingredients.  These are both from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger, my favorite bread baking book that I own.  Admittedly, I tasted a little end piece to see if it was fit to serve to the rest of the crew, but that was it.  I don't think any more would be worth the upset later.

Sour Cream Braid
Four Seed Whole Wheat Bread


Last Minute Craft

Vera's Nature Pouch
I should be cleaning the house right now as I do every Thursday afternoon--or at least packing for the camping trip--but I took a detour to my sewing machine to whip up something for Vera.  On our walk in the woods last weekend she was especially interested in picking up rocks and I noticed that she was a bit frustrated when she couldn't hold all of them in her hands to carry them back to the stroller.  The idea for a "nature pouch" was born.  With our camping trip coming up this weekend, I thought I'd made some kind of small satchel for her to use for whatever treasures she might find on the trail on Saturday.  It took me 15-20 minutes to make and, once again, cost me nearly nothing--the already-made burlap bag was from a sample of Jamaican coffee our neighbors brought home from a recent vacation, the ribbon was part of a Freecycle score, the free-handed leaf cut-out was from a few inches of twill fabric I recently cut off a pair of pants I was hemming, and the thread was what my machine held as I finish my "party dress."  Et voila!  I did a basic backstitch to applique the leaf and finished the edges with a little Fray Check.  I hope she likes it and fills it with nature's goodies for many camping seasons (and other outdoor forays) to come.


Nothing Goes to Waste

Radish Greens
The balance of rain and warm weather has been good to our garden.  Especially the radishes, which are absolutely flourishing right now.  This time of the season I'm typically inundated with lettuces, but because the lettuce I planted this year in the front yard raised is very slooooowly creeping taller, I haven't had such a back log of salads.  The greens we have harvested have been supplemented with radish greens, herbs, and edible flowers.  I'm trying to stay on top of the radish greens which are particularly prolific so I've been chopping and mixing them into just about every fresh dish I prepare.

Millet Salad with Dried Apricots
Makes about 8 side-dish servings

I made this salad last week from one that originally called for wheat berries, which are not in my current eating plan.  You could substitute any grain--quinoa, couscous--even beans.  

2 c. cooked millet (see cooking hint below)
2 c. cooked garbanzo beans (soak 1 c. in water overnight then cook until tender)
1/2 c. packed radish leaves, chopped
1/2 c. dried apricots, snipped
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. chopped green onions (or ramps if they're still around)
3 T. flaxseed oil
1 T. lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients (except oil, lemon juice, and seasoning) and mix well.  In a small bowl, whisk flaxseed oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Pour over millet mixture and stir to coat.  Add seasoning, if desired.  Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

Cooking Millet:
1 T. oil
1 c. millet
2 c. boiling water

Heat the oil in a 1 1/2 qt. saucepan.  Add the millet; cook, stirring, until some grains have browned.  Add the boiling water.  Cover and simmer 30 min. or until liquid is absorbed.  Let stand 5 min.

Asparagus Ready to Grill
Rhubarb Plum Crisp
Last weekend we had a houseguest, which always gives us an opportunity to explore what's going on around town.  Our neighborhood farmers' market won't start until this coming weekend so we hit one of the downtown farmers' markets to pick up some seasonal goodies for an impromptu dinner.  This may come as a surprise to you but I don't often go to the market seeking out dinner ingredients.  I mean, I usually have a recipe in mind so I shop to plug veggies into the menu plan.  But last Saturday I had no clue what I was going to make for dinner--other than some type of burger.  I bought lettuce, asparagus, and rhubarb and let them take the lead once we got home.  The lettuce didn't make the cut for Saturday night, but it's been the center of our salad bowl all week.  The asparagus was lightly tossed in oil and seasoned with salt and pepper; we grilled it along with our burgers.  The rhubarb went into a gluten-free vegan crisp along with some canned plums from my 2010 larder.  We rounded out the menu with a potato and raw beet salad with mustard vinaigrette and called it supper.  It was all very simple, which is what I'd like to practice more this summer.  After our market jaunt we strolled Brady St. and popped into the newly moved Glorioso's, which was most recently squeezed into a tiny store on the opposite side of this historic street.  Let me tell you, I was in heaven--gluten-free, dairy/egg-free or not.  The first thought that crossed my mind was that I needed to put a return trip on my next staycation itinerary; it would be fun to revisit and linger without anyone's naps or snack breaks to distract me.  Knowing I'd have more fun exploring when I came back, I didn't purchase much though I couldn't pass up the lovely meats in the
deli case.  I bought a little salami and some finocchina (fennel) sausage.  I'd forgotten how lovely these dried, cured Italian meats can be.  They were a perfect addition to a pre-dinner nosh plate next to the requisite cheese curds that we picked up at the farmers' market to let our Chicagoland guest have a sample.
Delicious Italian Meats!
Potato and Raw Beet Salad w/ Mustard Vin.
This weekend holds our first family camping trip of the season.  We're hoping it won't be too buggy or cold/rainy at the state park.  Though I'd tough it out with the weather ANY day if we didn't have to battle the buggies.  And last year we strung a rope on some stakes across our site to keep Vera from running into the road.  We basically told her "do not cross this line" and she easily complied.  This year will certainly be a challenge as I know she's grown more intelligent to figure out that she's not going to get zapped or something if she steps over.  We are camping with other kids, including one who is a bit older and--rumor has it--right at the tattling age.  I'm counting on him to rat all the others out if they disobey.  At any rate, it should be fun and we're hoping for some beach time on Saturday.  We'll be treating the dads (we're camping with two other families) to Father's Day Brunch around the campfire (or more likely the camp stove) on Sunday.  I spent a good amount of time today making Ben's Father's Day gift.  I will have pics and feedback next week.  Can't reveal anything yet because he occasionally reads this blog.  Till then.