...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.


Venturing out and Using that New Kitchen

Early bloom.  Let's hope we have a fighting chance of harvesting the fruit.

Signs of early spring--cherry blossoms on display.

I think I can safely say that the kitchen is complete...okay, maybe not totally settled.  We still have to put together one more desk chair and finish setting up that area.  But the kitchen and pantry have been fully functional for a few days now.  Other accessories have been arriving each day and I can definitively say that I am completely over anything that "requires assembly."  We're finding our rhythms and routines in this new space and are so far finding it to be just what we wanted/needed.  I'm back to regular scratch cooking every evening, but have yet to bust out any baked sweets.  I don't know what's keeping me other than time constraints.

Compact, moveable, collapsible kitchen cart to give us
a little extra prep. space when needed
One of my favorite new posters.  Amen!

Curb-surfing score you might recall for a long ago
blog post.  Now there will be no surprises for dinner.

Over the weekend we got away from the mess--the house is still in spring cleaning mode to remove the layer of remodeling dust everywhere--and just breathe away from the city for a while.  Not to mention we were LOOOOONG overdue in visiting some dear friends and farmers northeast of Madison in Fall River--just outside of Columbus, WI in Columbia county.  They run both a Scottish Highland cattle farm and bed and breakfast on 280 acres, which include a 60-acre restored tallgrass prairie and wetland.  I met farmers John and Dorothy nearly 10 years ago when I was a chef intern at Michael Fields Ag. Institute.  None of us can believe how that time has passed so quickly!  They provided beef for our wedding rehearsal dinner in 2006 and attended our celebratory but we'd only seen them once since then.  Getting together last weekend felt like we'd never parted.  They welcomed us into their home--through the back door like family--we shared a couple of delicious homemade meals, caught up on the last few years' events and introduced them to Vera.  Other than a brief day-trip to Madison for the Dane County Winter Farmers' Market, a brief jaunt to the Madison Children's Museum, and lunch at a restaurant sourcing local food--including beef from our friends' farm--we kept it low-key back at the ranch where Vera met the cows and steer and we spent time reading and relaxing in the parlor.
A little treasure I found at the farmers' market.  Local oil!
Lego mania at the Children's Museum
Upcycling bottle caps on a pillar
Recycled art area.  The more I looked at it, the worse I felt about things I'd
tossed out.  Could be bad or good!
Book Bench
Old wall-hung fridge fronts to attach works of art.
What a great use for an old bread strap.  Might be a find
at the flea market this season.
Upcycled plastic shopping bags make a great valance
I want to put one of these painting windows on a fence
in the yard this summer
Wicked awesome crawling adventure!
Setting out for a farm tour
Beautiful Scottish Highland out in the pasture
The windmill
Hoophouse spinach
Could be straight out of Ireland/Scotland
V and her farm cat buddy she named "Ferdinand"
Can't leave the poor thing alone
Picture window in the barn
Ben and farmers John and Dorothy getting the lay of the land
The "ice cream farm" where we stopped on the way home
Yum--Farmstead Ice Cream
Since I've returned from our brief respite, getting the kitchen and the rest of the house put back together have seemed like priorities, but little by little I'm getting the garden and yard up and running for the season.  The warm spurt a couple of weeks ago made me feel behind in these tasks, but now that we're back to our "normal" early spring weather I'm not feeling quite as overwhelmed.  Vera and I managed to plant peas on a sunny day last week and dig up the overwintered parsnips and salsify, finally completing the garden yields for 2011! (See sidebar.)
Muddy Parsnips
Today I pruned the cherry trees and tried my hand at seeding a vegetable bed using the Square Foot Gardening method.  More than anything with this new strategy,  I'm interested in the aesthetic qualities versus just production.  It will keep things lively at least.  The next big task will be pruning the wild grapevines (and I mean WILD!)

My little one has been super helpful in the kitchen this week.  In fact, the past two evenings after quietly looking at picture books for a good 15-20 minutes, she crept into the kitchen to sweetly ask "can I help?"  Though I'm not planning to teach my kid cooking solely via the food processor, it's currently a small appliance she can safely manage and greatly enjoy.  Plus it genuinely moves me forward with meal prep.  We're sharing a recipe from the vegetarian meal we prepared the other night.  I didn't think I'd be super excited about the convection option on my new range, but Monday night it helped us get a home-cooked meal on the table and into our bellies with time to spare before heading to a meeting.  The potatoes were stored on our cellar rack and the golden beets were from our CSA Farm--another set of dear farmer friends (we keep realizing over and over how many farmer friends and couples have enriched our lives!)

Golden Beet and Potato Gratin (Gluten-Free)
Serves 6-8

Adapted from a recipe I found in "Every Day with Rachel Ray" that I "borrowed"
 from the gym.  I used the taco shells in place of breadcrumbs partly b/c I had some stale ones in the pantry and partly to provide a gluten-free alternative.  Placing the shells in a bag for Vera to crush with her small rolling pin, having her crumble the cheese and grease the baking pan (with a butter paper) were great ways to get her involved.  She also did fine at the helm of the Cuisinart with the slicer blade.

1 bunch scallions or 1 large leek (root and dark green parts removed), sliced
5 T. butter
Salt and pepper
1 lb. potatoes, scrubbed
1 1/2 lbs. golden beets, peeled
1/4 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 c. vegetable broth
3/4 c. half-and-half or heavy cream
2 c. blue corn taco shells, crushed (one could just use breadcrumbs as well)
3/4 c. crumbled cranberry Monterey Jack (could sub. feta, goat cheese, or other favorites)

Mmm, Cheesy Beets!
In medium saucepan, melt 3 T. butter over medium heat.  Add scallions/leeks, then season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Cover and cook over medium, stirring until tender, about 5 min.  Let cool.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 9-inch square baking dish.  Using food processor fitted with slicer blade, slice potatoes and beets.  Arrange one-third evenly in prepared baking dish.  Spoon half of leeks evenly on top and sprinkle with 2 T. flour.  Make another layer with half of remaining potatoes and beets and remaining scallions/leeks and 2 T. flour.  Top with remaining potatoes and beets.  In liquid measuring cup, mix broth and half-and-half/cream; pour evenly over casserole.  Cover snugly with foil and bake until vegetables are tender, about 1 hour 15 min.  Melt remaining 2 T. butter and toss with taco shell crumbs/breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle cheese on top along with taco shells/breadcrumbs.  Bake uncovered until golden, about 15 min.  Let stand 5-10 min. before serving.  

Little Friends I'm finding around the house.  Gotta love the special touch
only a little one can add to your life.

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