...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 Beauty of Spring

Time for Trout Lilies
I decided to commemorate Earth Day by myself.  Well, without another human companion, that is.  I had the opportunity to enjoy a few hours alone on Saturday morning (actually a day early) as Ben took Vera out.  As much as I wanted to get involved in a river cleanup or some other organized Earth Day activity, I thought long and hard about how much I needed some peace, quiet, and a chance to re-connect with myself.

I started my day with some freshly juiced green stuff, which I've been doing a lot lately especially after hearing Daniel Vitalis' theories about nutrition via the film Hungry For Change.  With my juicer now front and center in our new pantry, I have easier access to this mode of daily revitalization.

My typical green juice these days: spinach, celery, cukes, cilantro/parsley,
green apples, and lime.  So fresh and clean tasting.  Can't wait for even
fresher green stuff from the garden!
Fresh Green Juice!
I also enjoyed my favorite breakfast: gluten-free bagel, cream cheese, avocado slices, and a big handful of local sprouts.  Pure yum!

My favorite breakfast!
I grabbed my husband's SLR camera, jumped on my bike and made the short trip to the nearby woods where I checked out the spring flora.

"Who's woods these are I think I know..."
Shelf fungi

Yellow Violets

White Trillium

Then I jaunted just a hair more southward to the thrift store, where I had time to peruse at my leisure, which I never have time to do.  It's usually a quick trip with Vera which ends up in too many impulse buys.  I had a few things on my list, but didn't expect to find yet another pair of Dansko shoes around my size (I've had such great luck finding secondhand Danskos, which are so comfy for me). I'm always searching for a good solid pair of shoes to wear in winter with tights, leggings, legwarmers, and the like.  Though it's off-season, I snatched them up.  They needed a new little piece of elastic at each buckle, but for $4 I had no problem taking them to my cobbler for this quick fix.  They are just a hair on the big side, but with layers of tights and warm wool socks, they will be perfect.  And all the more reason for me to get to knitting some awesome clog socks for next season.

Secondhand Danskos.  With a little repair, they're all shiny and new!
But I'm NOT really thinking about next winter already.  In fact, I'm savoring the gorgeous days of early spring we've been having and appreciating the few rainy days in between that will water and help our seeds grow.  The snap peas are about an inch out of the ground already, we have lots of radish and spinach mustard sprouts, as well as a tiny now-visible row of mesclun mix.  Baby beet greens and swiss chard have already reached our kitchen since they overwintered and came up early and strong this year.
I've been on a huge cooking kick lately and have lots of recipes to share.

Sugar Ann Snap Peas emerging in the bed V and I seeded.
French Breakfast radish sprouts
Operation eat down the fridge and pantry are still in effect.  I have a good amount of local roots in my crisper so decided to work those into a recent meal on the grill.

Red and Chioggia (candy-striped) beets
Grilled Beets
Serves 2-3

One of our farmer friends is always exploring new ways to prepare beets.  He inspired this super simply side dish that really brings out the sweetness of the beets.  You don't have to peel the beets, but since mine had grown some fine hairs from storage, I decided to go at them with the peeler.  We decided that these would be on the menu on our next camping trip.

5-6 medium beets, peeled (or just scrubbed)
2 T. butter or olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat grill for high heat.  Place beets on foil and drizzle with oil or cut up pieces of butter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Wrap foil over beets securely.  Place packet on grill grate.  Cook 30 min. or until beets are very tender (it's hard to "overcook" them.)  Cool about 5 min. before serving.

Season, oiled, and ready for the grill!
On the topic of beets, I had a bag of frozen grated beets in the basement freezer.  I just taught a Veggie Burger From Scratch class last week at the Urban Ecology Center so I was in the mood/mode to make some of my own.  This is one of my favorite veggie burger recipes because it has so many wonderful supplemental ingredients.  I realize the ingredient list is long, but worth every item.

Beet This Burger
Makes about 8 patties

Pattied up and ready to freeze or bake/grill
If you don't have a food processor, all of the veggies could be minced or finely diced instead.

1 c. grated beets (raw)
1 c. uncooked quick or regular oats
1/2 c. walnuts
1/4 c. almonds
2 T. sesame seeds (as you might see, I used black sesame seeds here, but white are fine)
1 T. chia seeds
1/4 c. green peppers, coarsely chopped (I used our homemade pickled peppers)
1/4 c. celery, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. cooked quinoa, oats, or other grains (great way to use leftovers!)
1 t. dried basil
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. dried sage
1/4 t. dry mustard
2 T. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 T. nutritional yeast

Place beets, raw oats, nuts, seeds, peppers, celery, and onion in food processor fitted with S-blade.  Pulse or mix until fairly well chopped, w/o any big chunks.  Put in large mixing bowl.  Add cooked grains, herbs, spices, fish sauce and nutritional yeast and combine thoroughly.  On lined baking sheet (I use a silicone baking mat), place metal ring/cookie cutter/tuna can with ends removed and press scoopfuls of burger mixture into each ring.  Remove ring and repeat with remaining burger mixture.  Even if you're cooking immediately, it helps to freeze these slightly to firm them up.  Cook covered in toaster oven for about 20 min. (can uncover and add cheese for last few min. of baking) or oven bake, or cook on foil on the grill.  To freeze, once solid pack into freezer bags or containers, seal, label, and date.

Filled with nutritious goodness!
Looking like store-bought, but so much healthier!
Metal rings I used to shape the burgers
I also found some ground chicken in our freezer and put myself in the mood to make "Spaghetti and Meatballs" one night last week.  Here's my interpretation.

Lemon-Infused Chicken Meatballs with Spinach Pesto Pasta
Serves 4-6

Once again, if you don't have a food processor, just finely chop/mince indicated ingredients for both meatballs and pesto by hand.  This was another great way to incorporate some of the incredibly flavored preserved lemons with which I've fallen so deeply in love.  I used an aged goat Parmesan that I found at the Dane County Winter Farmers' Market a couple of weekends ago.  The flavor was intense but my 3-year-old enjoyed it so I went with it!

Straight from the oven
1 lb. ground chicken
4 T. parsley
4-6 cloves garlic (the more the better!)
2 T. fresh basil or 1 T. dried
1 T. fresh oregano or 1/2 T. dried
3 large eggs (or 2 eggs + 1 T. flaxseed meal, which is what I used)
1/4 of a preserved lemon, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. gluten-free breadcrumbs/cornflakes/cracker crumbs
2 T. chicken stock (concentrated if you can find it)
Salt and pepper to taste

Place ground chicken in large mixing bowl.  Pulse remaining ingredients in food processor until well-combined then mix by hand into chicken.  Shape into balls (I use a #60 scoop) and line up on baking sheet.  Bake at 350F about 20 min. or until fully cooked (cut one open to check).  Keep warm until time to serve.

Drizzled with a little olive oil to serve
Spinach Pesto:
Makes 1 c. (more than you'll likely need here)

4 C. packed rinsed spinach leaves
3 large cloves garlic
1/2 t. dried basil
1/4 olive oil
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese
1/8 t. salt
1 t. lemon juice

Place a few spinach leaves, garlic, pine nuts, basil, and a little oil in the food processor.  Cover and puree until leaves begin to look crushed.  Continue adding spinach leaves few at a time with small amounts of oil to processor.  Use spatula to scrape down as needed.  Add Parmesan and salt.  Cover and process until pesto mixture is smooth.

A bit pot-o-pesto-pasta
Gluten-free spaghetti (I love Tinkyada brand!)

Meanwhile cook pasta in highly salted water until al dente.  Drain then toss with desired amount of pesto.  Serve with hot chicken meatballs.

And one last recipe for today that uses more of our preserves creatively.

Family Style--come and get it!
African Curried Coconut Soup
Serves 5-6

Adapted from a recipe in Outpost's Graze magazine.  I used a jar of our homemade salsa verde in place of some jalapenos and tomatoes called for in the original recipe.

1 c. brown rice
2 T. coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (we used 1/2 c. homemade pickled green peppers)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 t. curry powder (or more for extra spiciness)
3 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 c. cooked chickpeas (canned is fine though I used dried/soaked/cooked beans)
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 c. baby collards or other greens, chopped
1 14-oz. can coconut milk

Put brown rice in a pan and cover with 3 c. water.  Cover and bring to boil, then simmer 20-25 min. or until water has been absorbed.  Set aside.  In meantime, heat oil in medium stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, peppers, garlic and cook, stirring, until softened about 5 min.  Add curry powder and mix well to coat vegetables.  Add broth, chickpeas, salsa, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 min.  Add coconut milk and greens and cook until greens are wilted and soup is heated through, about 5 min.  (I suggest adding the rice to serve, otherwise it may take up to much of the liquid and any leftovers may be more "casserole" like than soup-ish.)

I'm working on a couple of crafty projects in between cooking and gardening around here these days.  Stay tuned for those adventures.

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