...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.


Digging In

Asparagus, growing by the minute!  
This week has finally been mostly about gardening.  We needed a good stretch of time and decent weather to really get the ball rolling.  A lovely Mother's Day weekend allowed me time to plant lots of bush bean seeds, a small corner of pole beans, and lots of summer squash.  Monday we put Vera's selected seeds into the raised bed in front.  Of course, she chose to grow pumpkins and yellow squash, which both need a good amount of space.  We're hoping the pumpkins will creep down the front hill of perennials with their long vines and bright fall fruits (at least I made the call for pie pumpkins!)  We also threw some spare sunflower seeds into V's allotted space and caged them off with hardware cloth hoping the critters will stay away long enough for the seedlings to thrive and Vera to experience their sky-high seed heads.  (I don't believe we've grown sunflowers around here since before she came along.)  On the topic of tall plants, the asparagus has been growing inches by the day and its straw-like stalk will soon be taller than V, literally.  She's loving the progress!  The gorgeous weekend also motivated us to get our "patio" set up.  Basically we have a rather unattractive concrete slab outside our backdoor that serves as our al fresco dining room in warmer months.  The thru-ways of the patio are rather inconvenient so that we can either have the lounge chairs and side tables out or the patio table, but not all of it at once.  Since we still have to stay off the grass--though it's growing in nicely--I've opted for setting up the lounge chairs on the slab.  At least then I have a place to sit and read while Vera plays.  With our raggedy, shedding, recycled plastic Persian-style rug that Ben's threatened to toss for the past two seasons (I personally think it's still quite usable and have promised over and over to be the one to suck up the scraps of it that get tracked inside), it makes for a quaint and cozy outdoor living space.  Until we decide to flatten the garage roof to make way for a rooftop deck/patio/growing space, that's what we've got to work with.

Simple pea trellis of some dumpster-dived red twigs
V has a new "toy" outside as of the weekend.  I got the idea from the Madison Children's Museum when we were there in late March.  They had a whole window wall for painting, but I managed to find a nice small single-pane at our local ReStore.  Ben came up with the idea to hang it with chains so that it can be raised higher as Vera grows.  The "trough" underneath--which was an idling planter from my garden shelf--holds yogurt containers of diluted finger paint (with daytime lids with a hole in the top for the brushes, and nighttime lids to keep water and other undesirables out), a telescoping squeegee (also a ReStore score), sponge brushes, old toothbrushes, and a reused spray bottle.  She had a blast yesterday in her swimsuit painting, washing, and repainting the glass surface.  (Truth be told, I'm just grooming her to be a star window washer around this place in a couple of seasons.  Ha ha.)  The best thing about the painting session yesterday--aside front the fact that I got to kick back and catch up on my stack of periodicals--is that the activity evolved into painting her own hair to making "soup" to washing her trike.  I love being able to get outside more these days.  She hasn't even asked to watch Sesame Street in weeks.

 Love the purple paint of the thigh...
Paint, spray off, repeat...
Last night we enjoyed some of the first garden harvest.  My current library book An Everlasting Meal, which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, has been so inspiring.  I made potato salad on Sunday evening and saved the well-salted potato cooking water (which also happened to have some olive oil and rosemary in it from some leftover cooking class potatoes) to cook the beans for this soup.  I could have eaten a plate of these legumes alone.  Perfectly seasoned and I didn't waste a drop of this liquid.  Our eat down the fridge/pantry/freezer project continues and has been altogether fun, interesting, and shocking (to rediscover ALL the food that's squirreled away here).

White Bean and Kale Minestrone
Serve 3-4

Adapted from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family.  I used some "pickled" garlic cloves saved from a jar of dilly beans, fresh greens and herbs from our garden, and forewent the cheese garnish.  I used dry beans that I cooked ahead of time, making the rest of the soup preparation very quick.

Garden Greens and Herbs for our evening soup
5-6 leaves of kale, swiss chard
1 T. olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 c. cooked white beans, divided
2 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock, divided (plus more for desired consistency)
1 T. tomato paste
4 fresh sage leaves
Handful of fresh lemon balm leaves
1 t. sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 T. lemon juice
1/4 preserve lemon, chopped finely (optional)
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)

Wash greens and separate stems from leaves.  Chop leaves into thin ribbons, chop stems.  Set aside.  In a large stockpot, heat oil and sauté garlic briefly over medium heat.  Add about half of cooked beans and half of stock.  Puree remaining beans and stock in a blender along with tomato paste, sage, and lemon balm.  Stir pureed beans into soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix kale/chard stems into soup and let cook a few minutes.  Add leaves and simmer until wilted (about 10 min.)  Add lemon juice, preserved lemon (if using) and enough extra stock/water to reach desired consistency.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve topped with cheese, if desired.

Lastly, I wanted to share a tidbit of antiquity with you in anticipation of the Elkhorn Antique Flea Market season which kicks off this coming weekend (though I sorely regret that I have to miss the first one!)  I was paring down my book collection the other night and came across a couple of "antique" cookbooks that I never use though have fun occasionally paging through.  Had them in the give away bag, but remembered that one belonged to my Grandma and even had the stamp from the First Wisconsin Bank library (she was cafeteria manager at the bank in the 60s or so) and decided I couldn't bear to give it away.  Inside the front cover I found notes from Lucille about what holiday cookies she baked in 1963, '64, and '65 as well as a leaflet from Knox Gelatine explaining how to stretch your wartime butter allowances.  How interesting!  I'll treasure this little slip and hang on to the book a bit longer.

1942 wartime leaflet.  Do not be alarmed!

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