...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.


Fall Food, Tricks or Treats, and Living by Lists

Pickled Brussels--a little cloudy b/c I used dry mustard--
ran out of whole mustard seeds
I'm making pickled Brussels sprouts as we speak.  First time trying my hands at this canned product...I have an idea for a winter birthday present for a friend.  Stay tuned.  Otherwise, there has been a lot of warm, hearty cooking going on around here.  I feel like I've fully transitioned into fall/winter recipes though I'm tempted to buy one last round of tomatoes (if there are still some to be had) at the farmer's market today to make one last batch of preserves.

Chicken with Tomatillo Sauce and Braised Fruit
Serves 4

I recently learned that tomatillos are more of a fall variety--they don't set fruit in super hot weather.  Hopefully you can still sniff some out at a local farmers' market; I used tomatillos from our garden, which are dwindling.  I'm desperately plucking every last tiny one off the plants as I expect a freeze very soon.  The dried apricots were my home-dried version.  I love using cheaper cuts of meats/poultry and stewing/braising them into delicious hearty meals.

2 T. vegetable oil
8 chicken drumsticks, rinsed and patted dry
Salt and pepper
Dried oregano
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 t. chipotle pepper powder
2 lbs. tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered (or halved if using very small ones)
1 cinnamon stick
1 lb. pears, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2/3 c. dried apricots
1/2 c. dried cranberries or cherries
3 green onions, chopped

Heat a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add oil and heat.  Add chicken and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried oregano.  Cook chicken until browned, about 5 min. per side.  Transfer chicken to plate.  Add onion to pot; saute 2 min.  Add garlic and chipotle powder; stir 1 min.  Stir in tomatillos and cinnamon stick; return chicken pieces to pot.  Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 35 min.  Add pears, apricots, cranberries/cherries and simmer until pears are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 min.  Transfer to serving dish; sprinkle with chopped green onions.  Serve 2 drumsticks per person along with a ladleful of the "stew" that this creates.
Ready to braise!
Dinner is served
I'm also well into winter squash mode and am marveling at all the varieties available at the farmers' market these days.  I just bought one (technically it's a "pumpkin") at the Fondy Farmers' Market last Saturday called Speckled Hound.  Never tried it, but very excited to do so.  When I see the brilliant orange-yellow-golden core of these hard-shelled fruits, I am either inspired to paint a room the same color or think about all the beta-carotene and other nutritious pigments helping my body (and my husband's and daughter's bodies) to grow, mend, and defend in this of cold seasons.

Red Kuri Squash and Shiitake Soup
Serves 4

Highly adapted from a recipe in Lucid Food by Louisa Shafia.  She used the beloved rutabaga where I used winter squash and carrots.  It's what I had on hand, but I'd love to try her variation as well.

2 c. dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. red kuri squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 c. carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 t. ground pepper
2 star anise
3 T. fish sauce
5 c. chicken or vegetable stock, divided
1/2 t.
3/4 T. dried ginger

(If using fresh shiitakes, you can skip this boiling step.)  Put dried shiitakes in a small pot, cover with water and boil 10 min. to rehydrate.  Let cool them slice and set aside (reserve 2/3 for soup and 1/3 for garnish).  Heat a stockpot then add olive oil and heat.  Add onions, garlic, squash, and carrots and saute 5 min. Add pepper, star anise, and 2 T. fish sauce and cook, stirring for 1 min.  Pour in 4 c. stock and bring to a boil.  Decrease heat and simmer, covered, until squash is tender, about 20 min.  Add 2/3 of sliced shiitake mushrooms and combine.  Puree in blender in batches and return to stockpot.  Season to taste with additional 1 T. fish sauce and salt.  Thin to desired consistency with additional 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock.  Serve hot garnished with remaining sliced shiitakes.

"Put some candy in my nest!...Please."
Speaking of finding ways to warm up, we'll need some layers and bone-warming meals this weekend as the kiddos head out trick-or-treating.  Vera has never made the rounds before, nor has she willingly put on a costume.  We borrowed a handmade fleece cardinal costume from a friend.  Considering our home team's recent demise a la the St. Louis Cardinals, I hope no one takes it personally and eggs this pour child as she goes door to door.  I have to make some slight adjustments to the chin strap on the "hat" in time for a costumed play group on Thursday morning ("let's get all the mileage we can out of these costumes," thought my friend who planned the weekly gathering.)  Yesterday I put together her treat basket.  During a quick trip to Michael's last weekend--a place I no longer enjoy perusing or shopping since I've learned to find craft supplies via thrift stores--I believe I cursed in front of my child as I used my sister's famous line "let's get the hello outta here!" after making a beeline for what was on my list and then for the register.  This basket is by no means "child safe," but it's cute and that's what matters, right? Actually, I figure if we can keep her eyes on the prize for the duration of trick-or-treating, she won't be tempted to treat this basket--with all it's swallow-able pieces--like a toy.  Notice I've not allowed much room for candy.  I don't expect her to make it up one side of our street let alone down the other, but I may carry a pillowcase as backup just in case she hits the motherlode (our block has a reputation for being the Gold Coast for candy, so you never know...)  Plus, I'm not really interested in bringing a whole bunch of junk food into this house (cue the moans and groans from everyone b/c I'm the strickest mother in the world in this regard.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.)  We are actually taking along the Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF box we picked up at church; I'm hoping that gets weighted down with loot way before her basket tops off.

One last thought for the day...I've been pondering one of my long-time habits lately. Though I'm well aware that my daily productivity only happens because of the long, detailed lists laid out days in advance and revised and highlighted nightly, it never occurred to me until last week just how many lists I keep.  I have (in NO particular order) my daily to-do, rainy day to-do list, mental to-do list, craft project dream list, craft projects currently underway list, list of things to have my eyes peeled for the next time I'm at a thrift store/rummage/flea market, holiday/birthday wish list, book wish list, list of books I'd like to read (sublisted as: Food, Cookbooks, Gardening, Kids/Family, Crafts, and Leisure...with parts of each of these lists living in my Paperbackswap.com account), list of movies I'd like to see (which now manifests itself as my Netflix Queue), lists of music I'd like to listen to, a personal list on the Milwaukee Public Library website of books I'd like to check out (also cross references some of my book lists), a list of home improvement projects sublisted by dream/long-term projects and more realistic repair projects, a list of restaurants at which I'd like to dine, a list of places Ben and I would like to travel (a "bucket list" of sorts), a list (or should I say spreadsheet) of what is preserved in both my upright freezer and basement pantry, a list of items I'd like to try preserving sometime, a list of short stories I'd like to write, a list of seeds I'd like to order/things I'd like to grow one day...which leads into my garden projects list, a list of skills I'd like to learn, a list of products I'd sew and sell if I ever made it to starting my own Etsy shop, a list of holiday gift ideas for my family, a list of date night ideas, a list of blogs I'd like to keep up with...which brings me just to the tip of my bookmarks list on my laptop... Anyway, you get the idea.  I'm crazy about lists.  Sometimes I wonder if they really help me function or if they just hinder my productivity because they can cause me to be overwhelmed.  I believe it's the former.  I'm curious if any of you keep lists and if so, what kind and how do they work for you?


Rarely a Dull Moment

This past week I was feeling like my life had downshifted a bit.  The vast majority of the preserving is done, I felt caught up on other big tasks that had stared me down in previous weeks, and Vera was making a habit of daily three-hour naps.  But as I've eluded to in the past, I don't fare extremely well (so far, though I'm working on this) without having some sort of project to busy my hands.

Fresh Olives
A couple of weeks ago I made an impulse buy on a trip to Glorioso's prior to our weekly music class.  They had fresh olives for sale!  (You know you're a food geek when...)  These lovely green fruits came with a short set of instructions on how to brine olives.  I've never tried it, nor had I thought I would when I got out of bed that day, but I'm going for it.  So far I'm still in the soaking stage after having pricked them all.  This will leech out some of the bitterness, which I tasted by the way.  I love bitter flavors, but WHOOOO! it was BIT-TER!  We'll see where this whole experiment goes.  An elderly gentleman who had apparently gotten just as excited about this project at one point in his life shared some discouraging words with me as I bagged and weighed my olives.  Oh well, if it doesn't work, I'll consider it a step in the learning process.  And if it does work, then I'm that much more of a food dork.

I've been enjoying the transition to fall foods lately.  Our meals have gradually faded from tomatoes and sweet corn into winter squash, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and cauliflower.  This past week I put a twist on red cabbage.  I was happy with the results and thrilled to find another way to incorporate more bacon into my diet.
Mmm, bacon crust...

Braised Cabbage Cobbler (Gluten-Free)
Serves 6-8

2 T. butter or bacon fat
4 c. shredded red or green cabbage
1/2 c. sliced onions
2 c. chopped, peeled tart apples
1/4 c. water
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. cider vinegar
1/8 t. ground cloves
1/8 t. salt, or to taste
1/8 t. pepper

Cobbler Batter:
1/2 lb. bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs
3 shallots, coarsely chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 c. milk (of your choosing)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour (or regular wheat flour is you're tolerant)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a pie plate with butter or olive oil and place in the oven to heat.

For the cabbage:  In a 3-quart saucepan, melt butter/bacon fat over medium-high heat.  Add cabbage and onions; cook, stirring, until wilted, about 3 min.  Add apples; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 min.  Add water, brown sugar, vinegar, cloves, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, about 4 min.  Set aside.

For cobbler batter: In a food processor add bacon, eggs, shallots, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Pulse a few times to chop.  Add milk and flour and mix into a smooth batter.  Remove dish from oven.  Pour half the batter into the plate.  With a slotted spoon, pile the cabbage on top and press down slightly.  Pour remaining batter on top of cabbage and bake for 45-50 min. or until golden brown on top.  Let cool slightly and serve (I added a dollop of sour cream on top because I didn't think there was enough fat from the bacon and bacon fat. :) )

In other project news, I taught two urban homesteading classes this past week and had a great time learning from my students, as is usually the case.  Tuesday night we made herbal oils and vinegars in the beautiful jars I found on Monday's field trip to American Science and Surplus.  I made a couple of samples at home with what was available in my garden.  I may not have grown the gorgeous fennel bulbs I dreamed of as I sowed the seeds earlier this season, but the fronds are still great for tossing into salads as well as dropping into a bottle of vinegar.  I also plucked the remaining nasturtium flowers from my overgrown bed, whizzed them in the food processor then sealed them in a tiny jar with extra-virgin olive oil.  (Note:  If you're making your own herbal oils, you MUST keep them refrigerated.  Store-bought herbal oils are commercially processed allowing them to be shelf stable, but I DO NOT recommend trying that at home!  It's the perfect environment for bacterial spores to grow like crazy if left at room. temp.)

Nasturtium Oil
Fennel Vinegar and Nasturtium Oil
Last night I taught another round of Preserving Wild Edibles where we grabbed the last of the staghorn sumac living lakeside and turned it into a sparkling red jelly.  After first making the concentrated "juice" that we'd need to transform this wild thing into a spread, we added a bit of sugar and sipped a local beverage "Sumac-ade."  Tangy like lemonade maybe, but much more astringent.  I wonder if it holds the same beneficial phenolic compounds as wine in all its tannic-ness.  After processing our jelly, we were discussing what other wild edibles are still hanging around on these cold days.  That lead to a conversation about putting the garden to sleep.  I personally haven't taken any steps to turn my raised beds over for the season.  I'm still harvesting turnips, kale, chard, herbs, kohlrabi, dried beans, beets, squash, tomatillos, green tomatoes, sunchokes, etc.  We heard one comment about some people having already ripped out any annuals that may still linger and cutting back the remaining perennials.  Tossing everything to the curb for city pick-up, many folks have called in quits by now in their gardens almost as if to say, "I'm done for the year, let's move on, let's roll out the holiday decorations," which is the last  thing I want to think about at this point.  I will continue to appreciate the green left on the urban homestead and I may just miss (as usual) the city's last leaf/yard waste collection in mid-November.  We'll have to haul our cuttings to the farm for composting, but I'm willing to do so if it means I can enjoy all that our garden has provided this year for just a little bit longer.

Sumac Jelly


Preparing to Hibernate

Green Roof Tour at Milwaukee Central Public Library
I'm finally feeling a definite slow down in my seasonal schedule.  Classes are thinning out, the garden is winding down, and my preserving list is just about complete.  I have two urban homesteading classes this week (see my schedule for my details).  I planted garlic for next year and I squeaked in a couple batches of pear preserves last week (Pear and Lavender Jam as well as Brandied Pears).

Vera and I also made time for an outing last week.  For some time I'd been wanting to take a Green Roof Tour at the Central Public Library.  We choreographed the nap just right last Monday and arrived just in time.  I suppose I was expecting a garden up on top of the building.  Though that amount of greenery wasn't present, there was an impressive solar array as well as a diversity of sedum and grasses that help keep the roof cooler, retain enough moisture for the plants to grow, and provide a percentage of the library's electrical energy.  And what a view!  After this tour we popped over the Milwaukee Public Museum where Mondays are free for Milwaukee Country residents.  Add parking and this whole afternoon hanging downtown cost us less than $4.  You sure can't get that in Chicago!

Observation Deck on Green Roof
Looking northwest to the Courthouse
Various sedum growing on the Green Roof
Underwater display at public museum
So many amazing butterflies!

Wooly Mammoth bones at MPM
Hooray for the new couple!
...Though much fun still abounds in the windy city where we spent part of this past weekend gathering with friends at a wedding in the western suburbs.  The Christian Orthodox ceremony combined with huge reception featuring delicious dishes of Iraqi and Slavic family recipes (awesome pickled herring and to-die-for bacon-wrapped dates), traditional dancing, an Arabic band, and plenty of ululating provided us with a priceless cultural experience.  It was one of the best weddings ever and a great time with close friends.

Now we start preparing for Halloween, which means what for us?  I don't really decorate in or around the house though we do have our token pumpkins on the front porch and Vera and I just picked up some suctioning spider webs today on a trip to American Science & Surplus (we keep saying this would be a fun place for date night.)  So getting ready for the holiday this year simply means altering a borrowed homemade costume, going to the neighborhood Pumpkin Pavilion, making sure we have enough candy for the droves of costumed kiddos that will hit our block for trick or treating, and hopefully drinking a hot spiked beverage or two (though I should take a break between that and the aforementioned wedding.  Ugh!)  I don't start ramping up the holiday preparations until I plan my Thanksgiving meal, but I have a couple weeks before that is "due."  Sounds like I finally have a little down time to sit and relax, do some knitting, and--believe it or not--work on some handmade Christmas gifts. 


Indian Summer

Pickled Garlic Scapes

I am loving this Indian Summer we've had all weekend though I haven't spent nearly enough time outdoors.  Such is the nature of this time of the season when I'm indoors trying to preserve the remainder of the harvest.  Today we're planning to take a break from it all and head to a pumpkin farm; it's Vera's third autumn and he have yet to take this fall field trip.

This past week/weekend I put up Pickled Garlic Scapes, Curried Winter Squash and Apple Chutney, Midwest Capers, Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes, more Salsa Verde, and more tomatoes for our farmer friends.
Pickled Garlic Scapes
Spice Mixture for Winter Squash Chutney
Curried Winter Squash and Apple Chutney
Midwest Capers from above
Capers are Done!
Preparing the jars for Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes
I also tried some new recipes last week including one with fresh fennel, a vegetable I enjoy in moderation though I'll admit I'm not much good at growing it.

Rustic Fennel Tart with Mushrooms (GF)
Serves 6-8

There is room for flexibility in this recipe.  I used my home-canned pickled green peppers, which are sweet/sour, but one could also use a variety of fresh red, yellow, and green bell peppers.

Fresh out of the oven!
1 c. amaranth flour
1 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 t. xanthan gum
3/4 t. salt
1/2 c. cold water (or more if necessary)
1/4 c. olive oil

2 T. olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved
1 c. sliced mushrooms
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 2 c.)
2 large leeks, white and green part halved lengthwise then thinly sliced (about 2 c.)
1/2 c. pickled green bell peppers
1/2 t. dried rosemary
1/2 t. dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat oil in over medium heat in large skillet or dutch oven.  Add fennel, mushrooms, onions, leeks.  Cover and cook for 20-25 min., stirring occasionally, until vegetables have browned a bit.  Uncover, add pickled peppers and herbs, and cook another 5-7 min. more until vegetables are very soft.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  In the meantime, combine flours, xanthan gum, and salt in a mixing bowl or a food processor.  Whisk in water and oil (or w/ food processor, add slowly through feed tube with machine running) until the dough comes together.  Add more or less oil/water as necessary.  The dough should be slightly sticky.  On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round and carefully transfer to a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Mound the vegetables in the middle of the dough then fold the edges up over the filling.  (You don't have to completely cover the vegetables, just contain them.  Brush the edges of the dough with milk then sprinkle Parmesan cheese all over the tart (on dough and filling).  Bake for 25-30 min. until the dough is a nice golden brown.  Let cool slightly before cutting.  Serve with a green salad or fresh sliced apples or pears.


Food Prep.

I'm still coming down from the weekend's whirlwind of events, many of which required food preparation on our part.  There have been so many outdoor weekend activities from which to choose lately.  It's like everyone's trying to squeeze things in before the cold weather really sets in, which could be any day now.  Saturday morning I began the process of making 200 4-oz. jars of Blueberry Spice Jam for a friend's November wedding favors.  We sourced 60 lbs. of Michigan blueberries, which she froze a month ago, then hauled them over here along with her fiance's brew kettle so I had a large enough vessel to cook them all down.  The canning process took me a couple of days.  What an experience!  I am thrilled to do this for my dear friend, but it makes me realize I don't want to start my own jam company any time soon.  I now have HUGE respect for Rachel Saunders at Blue Chair Fruit who makes all of her large batch jams without pectin.  Skill, science-smarts beyond what I've currently acquired, patience, consistency...she's got it all!

Mixing required scooping it all into a huge bin!
Jar with LUH label
Last weekend was also our first [hopefully] annual block party.  We've lived in our house over six years and still didn't know everyone on the block.  There are so many great couples, singles, and children living just houses away.  I can't wait to see more of them and hopefully get the kiddos together more often.  The Milwaukee Fire Dept. brought over one of their ladder trucks and gave the kids and adults alike a thrill as they anchored the truck and put up the ladder.  The kids got toy fire hats and the party officially kicked off.  There was face and hair painting, chalk drawing on the street, a commingled pile of toys for everyone's enjoyment, music, camaraderie, plenty of junk food as well as delicious dishes from all the neighbors.  The couple two doors from us entertain frequently in their home so they didn't hesitate to snake an extension cord from their porch to plug in a chafing dish full of made-from-scratch Mexican specialties.  The kids had a blast, the adults bonded, and the firepit sizzled well after dark.  I can't wait until next year.

MFD at the block party
Amazed at the actual size of that rig!
Our Block (LUH on far R with wild, overgrown front yard)
This week is about preserving more tomatoes for our farmers friends, gathering the remaining red beets from the garden to roast and pickle, and grabbing any other local preservable vegetables I can get my hands on.  I have my last official preservation class this evening then my schedule is dedicated to Urban Homesteading and Vegetarian cooking classes from now until spring.  My teaching schedule slows down come November and I'm really looking forward to my three-month "vacation" when I plan to spend time sewing, knitting, reading, cooking hearty meals, and enjoying what we've put up this season.