...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.


Staying Active in Winter

V sledding with Daddy on their last Friday home together
I was mentally beating myself up a bit yesterday because we didn't get outside on account of the snowstorm...and didn't get outside as much as I would have liked in the past week.  There is still lots of time for winter fun, of course, but I know that both V and I would benefit from at least a walk on a bright sunny winter day like this.  It's time to let the Vitamin D do it's thing.  Yesterday we were literally inside all day, but in past weeks at least we've ventured out, even if it was to drive to a place where we spent time inside.  I'm working on getting better at this and have some hikes through the snowy woods and other outings in mind--though I'd like to be more spontaneous.

The newest "farm animal,"
Harvey the gecko
On Sunday we headed down to Illinois' Lake County to our friends' organic farm for the annual Founders' Dinner.  Not only is it a celebration of all the kind-hearted folks who put forth the funds to get their farm started over a decade ago, but coincidentally (or not) a gathering of most of our closest friends and their/our families.  We look forward to this annual event as it's often the only chance we all have to be in one room and see how the kiddos have sprouted over the last year--and the kids think it's pretty much a blast to run around together for a few hours as well.  Oh, and the food's not so bad either.  What an understatement.  Our hosts always provide the entree, which in the past has been pork from their own hogs or chickens from a nearby farm.  (Next year's they're hoping to have their own pastured lamb to tempt us!)  This year's meat procurement brought our farmer friend (actually one of Ben's best friends...and half of the reason that Ben and I met) up north to Milwaukee mainly to buy some grass-fed Piedmontese beef from another fellow farmer at the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers' Market, but also to rather spontaneously join us for dinner.  On Sunday, he turned this near-perfect ground beef into a few hulking meatloaves, complete with bacon laid carefully across the top as well as some extra mixed into the loaves.  Yum, 'nuff said.  After mingling, watching kids run wild, and a few people sequestering themselves in a room where another friend had hooked up a portable TV to watch the Packer playoff game (otherwise, there's no television in the farmhouse), we enjoyed a lovely feast, sipped wine and cider, and listened to our fearless farmers give the year-in-review for 2011.

A few of the many girls enjoying dinner (and this blondie on the L
eating lots of green salad!)

Winter Salad with Herbed Kefir Dressing

This was my contribution to the Founders' Dinner meal.  I had a hankering for a creamy "ranch" dressing the other day and came up with this "healthier" option.  The salad is a loose mixture of your choice of greens, herbs, and sprouts.  This may just be my new favorite greens mix for the season.


Green and red leaf lettuce, torn
Spinach, torn
Butterhead lettuce, torn
Radicchio, shredded
Savoy or regular green cabbage, shredded
Red, Black, and Watermelon Radishes, thinly sliced
Flat-leaf parsley, torn into bite-size pieces
Cilantro, torn into bite-size pieces
Broccoli sprouts (or other sprouts)
Baby greens (chard, mustards, spinach, kale, etc.)

(I used the slicer blade to shred the radicchio and cabbage in the food processor, but these could also be done by hand with a well-sharpened knife.)  Wash and spin dry all ingredients and toss to combine thoroughly.

Makes 2 c. and lasts for quite a while in the fridge

1 c. plain whole-milk kefir
3/4 c. mayo (or 1/2 c. mayo, 1/4 c. sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt or some combo of these three)
6 T. sliced scallions (green and white parts)
6 T. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. dried tarragon
1/2-1 t. Herbamare seasoning
2 T. arame seaweed (optional for a little more nutrition!)
Salt and pepper as needed, though the Herbamare has sea salt in it

In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients.  Alternatively, mix all in a food processor.  Funnel into a bottle or shake in a Mason jar and serve.

Lacing cards
As we said our goodbyes at the end of our lovely dinner with friends I picked a fellow craft blogger's brain about how she maintains her productivity with four young children (and a henhouse) to tend.  She modestly told me she takes her work bits and pieces at a time, but also gave me some ideas for how to bring Vera more into the crafting world with me so we can sew together.  I loved lacing cards when I was a kid, but had honestly forgotten about them until this friend refreshed my memory.  The day to use some of the random potential craft pieces I've been squirreling away for years finally came.  I always save the pieces of card stock that stabilize packaged items such as men's undershirts or sheets, etc.  For this project I cut them down to size then dove into my "bookmaking" box to find some scraps to use as images on the cards.  My yarn supply is never lacking so I also found coordinating colors to sew each card.  The only hang-up was that my hole-puncher wasn't long enough to reach every bit of border where I wanted a punch on the cards.  I did my best and Vera seems to be enjoying her new "sewing" projects thus far.

I carved out a bit more time this week to finish a garment I started last week.  I keep thinking that these outfits will be perfect "school clothes" for Vera in the fall.  This vest and skirt set is made from more flannel from my mom's stash.  With a random button from the flea market and some lining fabric begging to finally be used, it came together with very little expense (p.s. the pattern was from the thrift store and the elastic also from my mom's stash.)

Sewing school clothes for V
Cool button from the antique flea market
I also finally finished a shirt dress I'd started months and months ago, an idea I clipped from a Martha Stewart book.  I started with a tired flannel that Ben turned over to me.  I had to improvise a bit with the collar because of where the buttons fell so I chose to do a more "rustic" serged edge.  The buttons are mismatched red characters from the flea market as well.  It's a bit big on Vera right now, but will likely fit her when she's officially a primary school student.

Once Daddy's shirt, now V's dress

...with red buttons down the front
Though we haven't gotten outside much this week, we have managed to keep our hands busy inside baking and tasting new recipes.  Vera helped me with these "brownies" yesterday.

Gluten-Free Apple Butter Bars
Apple Butter Bars
Makes about 9 bars

1/2 c. butter, room temp.
1/2 c. granulated xylitol or sugar
1/2 c. apple butter (I used some Cardamom Apple Butter from this past season's larder)
1 large egg
1 c. gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. ground cinnamon
3-4 apples, peeled and diced or 1 c. dried, plumped and snipped apples (the option I used)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Cream together butter, sugar/xylitol, and apple butter in a mixing bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and combine well.  Spread into a greased 9-inch glass pan and bake about 30-35 min. or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Sprinkle with sugar/xylitol after baking if desired.  Best if served warm.

Hopefully we will get out into the snow this afternoon and perhaps enjoy some of these bars warmed up with a cup of hot cocoa when we come in.

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