...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.


Winter Projects

Our mise en place for making preserved lemons
Last week was one of culinary projects.  Mid-week entertainment was a friend and I making preserved lemons at the homestead.  She spent a semester studying abroad in Morocco where she grew to love the flavor and versatility of this salty, sour ingredient.  I had made them years ago at work, but they've since floated off the menu.  I sourced some small lemons from a local oriental supermarket and we went to town cutting, filling with salt, and stuffing them into jars.  The process is truly quite simple.  There are a couple of basic recipes and a video my friend used as reference.  While they're festering for the next few months, I will be exploring recipes in which to use them.

Stuffed and ready to "marinate"
I'm already quite taken by these beauties and haven't even
experienced their flavor yet.
Thrift store jars
The pork butt/shoulder ready for grinding
Over the weekend we were in the Chicago suburbs visiting Ben's family for the first annual LeFort family sausage making event.  As I have mentioned before, we use an old manual stuffer from Ben's family's farmstead in western Pennsylvania.  His mom's been excited to get involved in the sausage making event since we resurrected the stuffer a few seasons ago.  We took the whole operation south and spent two days creating lots of preservative-free sausages with clean, quality meat, natural hog casings, a generous helping of elbow grease, and a fair share of family tales worked in.  While we grinded and stuffed, his mom verbally turned out pages from the family geneological tomes. Turns out the stuffer goes back as far as Ben's great-great grandparents.  With a patent date of 1858, his mother was guessing her great-grandparents were the original users as their farm was settled shortly thereafter outside of Oil City, PA.  She didn't recall her grandmother using the machine and knows that her mother certainly didn't make homemade sausage, but was on a perpetual search for a recipe that tasted just like a store-bought (likely a butcher or sausage shop in that time) cased meat she once enjoyed.  Using Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book, we made our standard Sweet Fennel Italian Sausage to use on our weekly homemade pizza and also prepared a triple batch of Hunter's Sausage, a highly spiced variety adding smoked bacon instead of the usual pork fat back.  Altogether we used a 16-pound pork butt, which is roughly half the size of our child.  It was a lot of grinding and stuffing, but with three sets of hands (versus the 1 1/2 sets of years past) the process went quickly and without much stress.  I hope to make this an annual celebration both for what the dear hog offers us and for the family history stuffed into each link.

The grinder attachment for my mixer makes is easy
It's an adult Play-Doh Fun Factory
Family affair
She may think it's crazy now, but hopefully seeing all of these culinary
processes will giveV a greater appreciation for food in the future
Ben mixing in all the spices and flavor
Git in there!
The hog casings--rinsed and ready to be stuffed
The old farmstead cast iron stuffer
Stuffed and making links
The art of linking
Many hands made much lighter work!
After a few years of this, I've gotten a good feel for quality stuffing
Fulfilling the dream
Italian Sausage in back, Hunter's Sausage in front--
and lots of bulk Italian for freezing for pizza
Because I don't like to see anything go to waste around the urban homestead, Vera and I spent some time Monday morning making suet feeders out of the remaining pork fat from sausage making.  I'd already frozen and thawed it more than the optimal numbers of times so I wasn't about to put the leftovers back in the freezer.  We rendered it into a beautiful pan of fat then added birdseed as we poured it into "molds."  In a conversation with my uncle that day he mentioned that it's National Bird Feeding Month so I guess it was perfect timing for this project, which had been on my winter list anyway.

Rendered pork fat for the suet feeders
Vera helping scoop birdseed into the molds, which were reused mushroom
containers.  I put kraft paper inside the containers for easier removal,
but on second thought would NOT repeat that detail
Made a few extras in silicone baking cups to unmold and give away
 as gifts--next time we'll remember to add a string for hanging
Vera will walk into childcare on Friday giving the gift of "pork fat."
After the messier projects were cleaned up we moved into Valentine's Day for which my wonderful husband prepared a simple and delicious dinner for his two sweethearts.  V and I decorated the table and we all shared a lovely meal.
The warm glow
Our candlelit Valentine's Day table
This morning it was "warm" enough to take a walk to the lakefront.  We were looking for smooth, flat, roundish rocks to use for a quickly approaching birthday party craft.  Vera took her Nature Pouch and we collected said rocks, threw a few more in the water, then explored and climbed until we got a little chilly.

A sunny winter day in Wisconsin
Stretching, climbing, exercising!

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