...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.


In a Pickle...

It's the time of the season when I look at my preservation planning list and get a little panicked about all I still want to put up before winter.  Pickles have been on my mind lately so I paged through my copy of The Joy of Pickling this morning before heading to the farmers' market.  I recently found a recipe from another publication for Quick Persian Pickles so I put the needed ingredients on my shopping list (the pickling cukes from our garden this year fell to the powdery mildew again.)  From Joy I chose a recipe for Eggplant-Tomato Relish.  My beans are trimmed for another batch of homegrown dilly beans as well so it looks like it will be another pickling marathon this weekend, if time allows.

As of today I feel caught up on my garden.  I've picked all the vegetables that needed my immediate attention including tomatoes, pattypan squash, green and yellow beans, nasturtiums, and blackberries.  I also started harvesting our red lima beans.  So far I have about half a pint, but there are many more pods of the plants, waiting to mature and dry out.  Vera had fun opening these wit me the other day and finding the treasure of two or three beans in each pod.  She's my little bean counter.
Dried Red Lima Bean pods
So far a bowl of beans

While picking nasturtiums, I realized that the seed pods are starting to form so I will begin saving them to make "Midwest capers." With the bulk of blossoms I picked, I made a unique pesto.  The original recipe didn't call for the flowers, just the leaves, but I added them for color anyway.

Nasturtium Pesto
Makes about 12 oz.

Adapted from a recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin.  Note: this book  has a lot of great ideas for preserving, but not all of them seem to be truly shelf stable as indicated--i.e. homemade herbal oils MUST be refrigerated--so proceed with caution.

Whizzing the pesto in the Cuisinart
1/4 c. nasturtium leaves, packed
1/4 c. nasturtium flowers, packed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
6 or so nasturtium seed pods
6 T. hemp seeds (or pine nuts)
2 1/2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/3 c. flaxseed oil
1/3 c. olive oil
Salt to taste

Put nasturtium leaves and flowers, garlic, seed pods, and hemp seeds into a food processor and process until coarsely chopped.  Add the cheese and process until combined.  Gradually add the liquid ingredients until smooth.  Season with salt to taste.  Use immediately, refrigerate, or freeze in small portions.

A colorful difference in pesto
Another fun by-product of my overgrown garden besides the nasturtium seed pods is dill seeds.  I grow dill to use fresh in making pickles, but I'd honestly never thought about growing it for my own dried dill seeds.  Once the plant went to seed, I clipped the flower heads and brought them inside to air dry a bit.  Then I shook off or rubbed off the dry seeds.  My cilantro also went to see so I'm trying to same thing with it.  I'm sure this will make for some volunteer plants next season, but in the meantime I have grown my own "spices."

Homegrown spices!
Processing apricots and pickles this weekend.  Stay tuned for recipes and photos.


Bison in the Mist

(I promised my sister-in-law I'd use her creative title for this post.)  WE'RE BACK FROM YELLOWSTONE!

LeFort Cousins at Yellowstone

Right outside our car window
Female and Male posing for one last bison photo before we left the park
Yellow stone--hydrothermal bacteria gives the park its name
Bison in the Hayden Valley

We recently returned from another summer respite, this time out west.  For the second time in my life I've had the amazing opportunity to explore Yellowstone National Park, our nation's first park in the system.  What an incredible place!  I couldn't have been more wrong when I thought I'd seen it all twentysomething years ago as we drove the family van out there from east-central Illinois--my mom running the video recorder practically non-stop as we were fascinated by the bison jams, mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, and thermal features throughout the park.  (Though all of those things were something to behold, the most entertaining part of the video then was the sound of three children arguing and nitpicking in the background.)  On our 1988 trip--the same summer that memorable fires devastated acres of the park--I took in as much as my adolescent mind could as I was distracted by the looming school year when I would nervously start junior high.  I had a completely different perspective this go round, which I'm sure not only results from my later stage of life, but also the road I've chosen to travel since then--one of much greater appreciation for the Earth, its wonders and natural beauty.  Though distractions weren't completely absent from this trip.  Miles and miles and hours of riding in a car with an almost 2 1/2-year old whose regular routine was turned upside the minute our plane left the ground in Milwaukee kept my focus for a good part of the journey.  But overall, we took in an incredible number of sites in just over a week.

Cousin Quinn, Vera, and Me

We started in Bozeman, MT at the C'mon Inn.  After a huckleberry margarita (hucks are all the rage of the season out there!) and one of the best burgers of my life--a bison burger at celebrity Ted Turner's restaurant--we strolled the main street in downtown Bozeman, home of the Montana State Bobcats.  The college town feel was apparent as we walked past food co-ops, hip pubs, book stores, and other funky shops.  Ben and I agreed that we'd love to return and spend more time in this quaint town, possibly at one of the adorable bed and breakfasts just off the thoroughfare.

We began our Yellowstone excursion at park headquarters, Mammoth Hot Springs just south of Gardiner, MT, viewed some other thermal features on the drive, and finally reached our day's destination and home base for the week, the Yellowstone Lake Hotel.  Built in 1891, it's the oldest lodging in the park and without television, radio, cell phone access, or WIFI.  Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't have checked e-mail, Facebook, blogged, or watched the nightly news.  It was wonderful.  In the evenings we'd either sit in our suite with the rest of Ben's family, play cards and enjoy a nightcap or sit in the hotel parlor and listen to the piano player tap out classic jazz and show tunes while we sipped wine and cocktails.
Yellowstone Lake Hotel from the lake cruiser
Yellowstone Lake Hotel, built in 1891
One side of the hotel parlor--beautiful morning light
Hotel Dining Room, imagine it in the 1900s
Lake Cabins
Wildflowers in front of our hotel
Vera by the lake

We began our week with a ranger-lead hike near Indian Pond and around Yellowstone Lake where we were warned to act accordingly to protect ourselves from curious (or hungry) grizzlies if we needed to step off the trail to relieve ourselves.  We felt the black, volcanic sand of the beach; saw a dozen yellow-bellied marmots living in the rock formations, learned about bison scratches on the trees; tasted wild strawberries on the trail; and saw black currants and wild--apparently hallucinogenic--mushrooms growing along the path.
Morning Hike around the lake
Lake Bluffs on our hike

Black Currants (yes, I dared to taste them...but already knew them by site)
Ranger Amy holding tiny wild strawberries (reminiscent of a favorite meal in Italy.)
Bear claw marks on a tree
Wild Mushroom, but not necessarily of the hallucinogenic type
Yellow-bellied marmot
Vera practicing her sprint in case a bear approached
Sulfur Buckwheat
Silvery Lupine
The rest of the week took us to Old Faithful Geyser, The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley--lush and inhabited by the country's largest bison herd, Grand Teton National Park, and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve (a LEED Platinum Certified facility including a bathroom with no wasteful soap dispensers or paper towels and no energy sucking hand dryers--I love it!)

Incredible toothpick-like architecture at the Old Faithful Inn
Yellowstone Tour Bus

Beautiful lanterns at Old Faithful Lodge

Thermal Features at Old Faithful site

Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from the Brink of the Lower Falls

Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Visitor Center entrance
LSRP Visitor Center hallway

LSRP Library
LEED Platinum Certified structure

I also enjoyed the Indian Art Museum at the Colter Bay Visitor Center in Grand Teton National Park.  The beadwork and weaving were most inspiring.
Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park
Bear Claw necklace at Indian Art Museum
Indian Weaving
Beaded Moccasins

Bighorn sheep horn 
Palmate Moose Antler
One of the highlights of the week for me--besides the spectacle of the Lower Falls overlooking the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone--was the Chuckwagon.  We hopped a covered wagon at the Roosevelt Corral near the Lamar Valley and followed the wagon train of several others on a leisurely ride through the hills to end up at an outdoor cookout including steaks, baked beans, corn, potato salad, coleslaw, cornbread, apple crisp, and cowboy coffee--all of which (except the gluten-laced cornbread) I'd have gladly taken seconds.  We were entertained around the campfire after our meal by some of the covered wagons' drivers, or "wranglers," who told us stories about their experiences on the range.  

Stagecoaches and Covered Wagons in the Roosevelt Corral
Covered Wagon ride to the Chuckwagon for dinner
The Hitchin' Post at the Chuckwagon
Dinner bell at the Chuckwagon

Making cowboy coffee over the campfire
Elks Bones
My cozy spot fireside got me in the mood for fall.
The morning of our second to last day in the park I slipped away early to do laundry at the Lake Lodge just a short walk from our hotel.  A chilly morning brought sunrise around 6:40.  After retreating to the cozy lodge where I found a warm fireplace, hot cup of coffee, comfy leather armchair and ottoman, and a very quiet though large room, I managed to sneak in some personal time and read a couple chapters from a novel about Yellowstone I picked up at one of the many general stores throughout the park.  I'd ripped through the rest of the books and magazines I'd expected to last me well into the last leg of flights home, so I had no choice but to pick up a book on the road.  It was an adventure novel Lake of Fire by Linda Jacobs that I was glad I got my hands on while the images of that glorious park were fresh in my mind.  I felt like I was in the book and could appreciate the terrain the folks of the early 1900s had to battle before cars entered the park.

"For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People"...benefit and enjoy we did.
Now we're back in Milwaukee, our fair city on the lake.  The garden's a jungle; I still have to wrangle my tomato plants, pick beans, clip summer squash.  All in time.  I don't want to jump back into this routine too quickly and forget all the beauty I enjoyed last week.

One last shot on our final day