...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.


Beating the Heat

Robin's nest atop our front awning
It's darn hot out there.  Curious things are happening with this drought.  My daughter seems to be coming down with a cold (what!?! in summer?!?) maybe because of all the time we've spent cooped up inside in the forced air.  And the insect pressure on my garden is more intense than ever.  Knock on wood, I've had very few pest issues in the six seasons we've grown vegetables.  I thought maybe it was that they just needed a few years to find the place, but have since learned that with this lack of normal rainfall the plants are severely stressed and therefore more susceptible to pests.  My cole crops (broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi) are being defoliated by flea beetles and I just realized this morning that even though my zucchini and pattypan squash are going gangbusters right now, the honeybees are sharing the flowers with a ton of cucumber beetles.  (It makes me itch just to think about them while I type.)  So far I have only tried the organic method called "squishing."

On a more positive note, the protective tulle I've put around my gooseberry plant has mostly helped keep the critters out though I discovered a small hole in this netting the other day when I saw a chipmunk fleeing with full cheeks.  I picked as many gooseberries as I could and found that they were very close to being ripe.  I'll be sure I prepare them to somehow balance the sourness via a natural sweetener.  Today I picked the first blackberry from our front yard bushes, which are loaded with fruit and backed by my complete confidence that the critters won't have any interest in them.  The golden raspberries are also coming along nicely.  As I predicted in late spring, it will be a good fruit year (minus the cherry thievery) at the homestead.

Pixwell Gooseberries!
We've been keeping ourselves cool lately by hanging out at a couple county parks wading pools, splashing in our own tiny inflatable backyard pool, eating lots of fruits with high water contents (most not locally grown yet, but worth seeking out), and spending time in the cool basement working on crafts and sewing projects.  On our nation's birthday yesterday, a day typically spent lounging or playing outdoors, we took cover from the extreme heat immediately after the neighborhood parade.  Between naps and family movie night (I recommend the movie "Toast" about food writer/chef Nigel Slater's interesting childhood relationship with food) V and I managed to squeeze a simple craft into the day.  I've been trying to engage her in at least one craft per week; this idea came from the Cool Crafts for Creative Kids.

Glitter Galaxy

In my opinion, this is one of the few good uses for corn syrup besides making homemade bubbles.  I found the jar/lid for 45-cents at American Science and Surplus where they have them in all shapes and sizes.  The glitter and metallic confetti I picked up nearly for free at a rummage.  This project cost close to nothing, but provides "hours" of fun--even my husband was enthralled by the final product. 

Jar with lid (we used a plastic jar since V's just 3, but you could use a glass jar for older kids)
Light corn syrup
Glitter, metallic confetti, aluminum foil
Optional: plastic space alien or other far out objects (we used a button that looked similar to a UFO)
Markers and stickers to decorate the outside of the jar, is you wish
Super glue (especially for little ones who may be handling the jar and curious to open it)

Using warm water and soap, clean and remove any labels from your jar then dry it.  Fill jar 2/3 with corn syrup.  Add a few tablespoons of glitter and metallic confetti.  If you do not have glitter and confetti, cut the aluminum foil into tiny bits.  Roll the bits into balls to create planets.  If you have a plastic alien or any other spacey objects, add it to the jar.  Fill the jar to the top with water.  Put some super glue around the lid then screw it on tight!  Shake up the jar for a magical meteor shower!

Yesterday also allowed me some time to work on a sewing project or two.  I'm trying to make both Vera and myself a couple of summer outfits before our family vacation to SC at the end of this month.  I had this thrifted scarf in my fabric stash for the longest time and finally decided to turn it into a very cool (for HOT weather) top for her.  I worked with the fabric's striped border to make the straps and the "band" around the shirt's top.

I fell in love with the bold colors of this thrifted scarf
How fun are these hot air balloons!
Sun top, formally a scarf
I've also been entertaining myself by taking a couple of classes through the Milwaukee Rec. Department (versus teaching others all the time.)  I hadn't tried my hand at basket weaving since the annual spring Pioneer Days festival at my grade school 25+ years ago.  We used packing strips to weave a small basket, which I may use as a garden harvesting basket.  At first I was all thumbs then found my rhythm and realized I quite enjoyed the project.  I have a friend who's taken a similar class in the area and we've planned a craft day soon where we hope to use some recycled materials to make more baskets.  Look out now, I'm going to weave every long rigid piece of scrap I find into a useful vessel!  Just what I need is another hobby.

My first basket.  Very therapeutic!
Wild berry season is early this year as are most seasonal foods around these parts.  I more or less missed mulberry season--especially because I found that the usual tree from which I harvest in the park was whacked down recently.  But I've been out a couple of times to pick wild black raspberries and was able to gather enough to supplement my salvaged cherry crop to make a dessert for our Independence Day celebration.  You could probably use any kind of berry in this dish, but cherries and raspberries seem to go especially well with chocolate.

Cherry and Wild Black Raspberry Revel Bars--Gluten-Free
Makes at least 1 dozen

These could certainly be eaten by themselves, but I went a bit overboard in providing the dessert at a potluck on July 3rd.  Served them with home-canned Brandied Peaches and Sassy Cow Creamery's Pear Ginger and Salted Caramel ice cream flavors available at our local natural foods co-op.

1 c. butter, softened, divided (I used half butter, half coconut oil)
2 1/2 c. packed brown sugar, divided
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. xanthan gum
1/4 t. salt
4 eggs, divided
1 1/2 t. vanilla, divided
2 1/2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour, divided
1 1/2 c. rolled oats
6 oz. semi-sweet mini gluten-free chocolate chips (I prefer Enjoy Life brand)
2 c. combination of fresh sweet cherries, pitted and raspberries
Adding chocolate almost isn't necessary, but certainly welcome!
1/2 c. slivered toasted almonds or pumpkin seeds, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil or parchment; set aside.  In mixing bowl, beat 1/2 c. butter on medium to high 30 seconds.  Add 1 c. brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt.  Beat until combined, occasionally scraping bowl.  Beat in 1 egg and 1/2 t. vanilla.  Beat or stir in 1 1/4 c. flour.  Stir in oats; set aside.

For filling, in saucepan stir remaining 1 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/2 c. butter over medium heat until combined; cool slightly.  Stir in remaining 3 eggs and 1 t. vanilla; lightly beat with wooden spoon.  Stir in remaining 1 1/4 c. flour and the chocolate chips.

Set aside 3/4 c. oat mixture; press remaining into pan.  Spread filling, top with cherries and raspberries, dot with reserved oat mixture, and sprinkle nuts.  Bake 25 min., until top is light brown and filling is moist.  Cool on rack 1 hour.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.  Lift from pan; cut with serrated knife.  Store, covered at room temp.

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