...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.


How we Eat

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks CoverI'm reading a fascinating non-fiction book right now called The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.  I requested it from the library after randomly seeing it listed in the library reader newsletter (I think) and I'm so glad I did.  Within the first couple of pages I felt as if the words had come out of my own head--supermarket voyeurism (guilty!), inspired on culinary trips abroad (indeed!), and now realizing that teaching people how a few simple kitchen skills--especially becoming more fluent with those knives--can save money, time, and calories (plus other perks).  I'm only into the third chapter or so, but I've come to learn that some of the biggest challenges people face with cooking--besides finding time and gaining basic skills--is certainly nutrition knowledge, getting motivated to use the fresh ingredients they commit to buying (whether at a farmers' market or grocery), getting sucked into buying club "deals" that will supposedly save money but instead overwhelm them with the sheer amount of food they end up "squirreling away" then wasting...and much much more drama.  Fascinating stuff to me.  I guess I've taken a lot for granted in knowing how to cook, but feel like I need to take a more careful approach when teaching my new "Cooking Circle" scratch cooking classes.  There are a variety of people in my classes coming from diverse backgrounds and with different goals.  As my mother always emphasized when she introduced demonstration speeches in my high school speech class (yes she was my teacher), "never say 'it's easy.'"  Easy doesn't mean the same to everyone.  What I think is simple might be a huge chore or obstacle for another.  Glad I'm gaining some new insight as to how to proceed with my instruction.

On that note, the American food waste problem truly is huge.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency:
One of my favorite kitchen wall hangings
"In 2010, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, more than any other material category but paper. Food waste accounted for almost 14 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream, less than three percent of which was recovered and recycled in 2010. The rest —33 million tons— was thrown away, making food waste the single largest component of MSW reaching landfills and incinerators."

It's also been noted that the average American throws away 14% of the food they purchase each year.  This doesn't even take into account the food we produce annually that's never harvested, but goes bad in the field for one reason or another.  It's no wonder I get so upset with my child when she pours herself a bowl of cereal and milk then decides not to eat it.  I won't have that kind of waste in our house when I know there are people going hungry not only in third world countries, but on our home turf.  The "there are starving children in Africa" line we so often heard as kids can still hold true no matter how tired I was of hearing it or how many times I probably rolled my eyes when that line rolled off our parents' tongues.

What am I getting at?  If I wasn't already thinking about it, I'm thinking critically now about using every last scrap of food we bring into this house.  As I see it, if we can't eat it then at least it can go into the compost bin to be "recycled."  One of the accessories of our new kitchen was a tiny under-the-sink garbage can that's no more than a gallon in size.  I try to take it out every two weeks, maybe weekly if we entertain.  I touched on this issue in a post a little over a year ago and am still working on it.  Especially after all of the "trash" we generated from our remodel and a recent outdoor project, I need to get this family back on the wagon.

Finding eggs under the
bean teepees
Bloodys, Veuve Clicquot, and Fromage,
Happy Easter/Passover!

Bloodys with homemade and local ingredients.
We had a delightful Easter celebration with some friends on Sunday.  I actually made a Jewish brisket to bring a little Passover celebration to the table as well because one of our guests was Jewish.  I had my mind set on a recipe that my Jewish boss used to make when I did a short stint at a bakery in Chicago.  A  Milwaukee friend finally passed along a comparable recipe.  I put the 8-lb., grass-fed, dry-aged brisket from last weekend's farm visit into the pot on Saturday afternoon and cooked it for a few hours that night then a little more before our friends arrived for Easter Brunch.  It passed muster and my friend compared it to her Bubby's recipe so I was happy.  And we had lots of leftovers for the week.

Making "Jell-O Beans" from scratch with juice + gelatin

Searing the brisket before it goes into the pot for hours
of tenderizing bliss.

So back to the "waste not" story.  As my friend was helping clean up, she sliced the rest of the brisket to split the leftovers with us.  Then she bagged up the "scraps," which consisted of a bit of fat and some end pieces of solid meat.  Asking where she should put it I told her honestly to drop it in the freezer because that's where we usually store the "nasty bag" of scraps that might otherwise stink up the trash because we take it out so infrequently.  She joked--as she likes to tease me about our quaint homesteading activities (that day I'd been lamenting about not having time to dye Easter eggs and she said "well, if you hadn't been making your own Worcestershire sauce (which we used in the Bloody Marys) then you might have had time...")--that I was actually going to use them for sausagemaking or something later.  I laughed along at the moment, but later thought that I could actually use them up.  One of my husband's best friends had raved about a "Reuben burger" he'd had somewhere in our fair state recently.  Between that input and ideas from our brunch guests who have a new burger joint, I thawed this leftover meat and ground it along with some frozen leftover corned beef from St. Patrick's day into my version of this patty.  I ground the sauerkraut and cheese into the meat, but I'd suggest placing them on top of the cooked burger instead to avoid excess moisture and a burger that falls apart.  Otherwise, try adding some breadcrumbs and/or egg to pull it all together.  It's a loose interpretation, but with some homemade Thousand Island dressing and a good (gluten-free) bun, it was delicious and you'd never know there were "scraps" in there.

Grinding the scraps into burger (at least we
know what scraps are in our burger.)
Other doings on the home(stead)front:  Finally attacked some of the yard/garden this week.  I did some absolutely ruthless pruning of our grapevines and turned up some eager crafters after listing the vines on Freecycle.  Also went at the front yard perennial bed, which was another example of letting something go long enough that it doesn't matter anymore.  We'd been telling ourselves we needed to get out and rake the leaves from the front hill for weeks.  Last week we finally decided that enough green stuff was poking through and would soon be covering the hill so we would just keep the dead leaves in place and avoid 1) working unnecessarily 2) buying mulch this season.  It's a win-win!

Ripping up the backyard to resurface--sigh--not add
more food-growing space.
Also got the bike/trailer shined and pumped up this week and V and I took a ride to the library yesterday.   Despite repeated suggestions by my three-year-old to put on hats and mittens, I hopped on the bike in short sleeves, a jean jacket, capris, and shoes without socks and on the ride home--against the wind--didn't know if we'd actually make it.  Had to take it block by block.  That was one of the times when I brought our homebirth experience to the front of my head.  If I could get through THAT pain, then I could manage to push through this biting cold and get home, by golly!  Whew!  Talk about a lesson in humility for mommy.  It was just what we needed, sort of.  At least now I know how to focus my leg workouts at the gym in the next few weeks.  I have every intention of biking a lot more often than last summer with my 30-lb. kiddo in tow.

Finished putting our basement back together this past weekend after Ben and I repurposed our old kitchen cabinets down there last week.  The project took most of two days and reminded me of the marathon cleaning sessions I'd have in high school when I was told to pick up my room.  It would take me days because, inevitably, I would find some distraction--old photos, journals, and notes from friends, old tapes I hadn't listened to, or just something "better" to watch on TV.  This project wasn't dragged out for quite the same reasons, but did result in the same dramatic "reveal" when it was all said and done.  Usually I have a pretty good vision of a project like this and I can quickly put my ideas and all the pieces into place, but after getting the cabinets up and surveying the area still available for all the "junk" and craft supplies that lived there before, I really had no idea in which direction I was headed.  It was a great exercise for me to just go with the flow, let the spirit carry me, see where I ended up.  It was SO out of my comfort zone, but I persevered nonetheless and am now quite happy with the workspace and storage space.  Ironically, now that I have the space I haven't stepped down there since the clean-up to do much more than laundry.  I think it's like a real marathon (or what I'd imagine the aftermath of that is) where you need to let yourself recover before heading back to the routine.  I'm looking forward to scheduling monthly crafting days with a friend who has mid-week days off, lining up some kid-friendly projects with Vera and some of her buddies, and putting to good use all of those bits and pieces I've saved for "recycled crafts."  (I can't store one more pop tab, cardboard TP tube, plastic bread tie, or orange netting bag in my cabinet!)

New workspace...with some random "mood" lighting
Nice big work table.  Now to avoid the clutter...
A place for everything...
...and everything in its place.
Here are the last of the kitchen photos.  The desk area is complete and we're well settled.  Overall, it was fairly painless to be displaced.

Desk area in the new kitchen
...in relation to the pantry

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