...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.


"End" of Summer Fun

Cozy places to plunk down in the garden
We still have another three or so official weeks of summer on the calendar, but with the new school year right around the corner it's hard not to feel that the season's over.  Perhaps the days of sleeping in (till 6:30 AM) or leisurely playing outside all morning are almost gone, but in our neck of the woods there is still a crazy amount of summer fun to be had.

Last weekend we hosted an event through our congregation's Feast for Funds program.  "Preserves and Pastries with Afternoon Tea" was the plan and since it was a 90-degree day, iced tea was on the menu:

Preserves and Pastries with Afternoon Tea

Homegrown Herbal Iced Tea (LUH Lemon Balm and Mint)
Stone Creek and Sven's Coffee
Blueberry or Sumac Spritzer (Local/Wild Fruits, Home-canned)
Wollersheim Winery Dry Red or Prairie Fume (Prairie du Sac)


Wisconsin Cheese Assortment with Rhubarb Chutney and Crackers
(LUH Rhubarb, Local Cheeses)

Mini Quiche with Swiss Chard, Preserved Roasted Peppers, Goat Cheese
(Yuppie Hill Eggs, LUH Swiss Chard, Pinehold Gardens Peppers--Home-canned)

Sunchoke Biscuits with Heirloom Tomato Preserves and Chive Butter
(LUH Sunchoke Flour, Chives; Sandhill Organics Tomatoes)

Crostini with Smoked Trout, Onion Fennel Relish, and Local Sprouts
(Rushing Waters Trout, Home-canned Relish, Wisconsin Broccoli Sprouts)


Sorrel Shortbread and Basil Ice Cream Sandwiches
(LUH Sorrel, Basil; Yuppie Hill Eggs, Organic Valley Cream)

Lemon Thyme Coffee Cake with Lavender Dandelion Glaze
(LUH Thyme, Lavender; Local Wild Dandelions)

Chocolate and Homestead Jam Bars
(LUH Blackberries, Currants, Gooseberries)

Cranberry Orange Biscotti
(Wisconsin Cranberries)

It was a pleasure for us to host a small group of friends from our spiritual community, give a tour of our garden and, most importantly, prepare food for these amazing friends.

Prepping Biscotti and Crostini for the event
Soon to be Tomato Preserves
Iced Tea and Pour-your-own Spritzers on the "patio"
Bottles of homemade concentrates for
Blueberry or Sumac Spritzers
Or wine if you prefer
I absolutely love putting together a spread of food for any occasion
In our amazing dairy state, it's not hard--in fact, it's a
joy--to put together an all-local cheese board
Mini Quiche is easy when you keep some homemade
frozen dough on hand
Homestead Jam Bars
Wisconsin Cranberry Biscotti
Sunchoke Biscuits with fixin's
The following day we got to sit back and be entertained at our CSA's annual Harvest Celebration.  It was a rainy day, but we slipped on our wellies, raincoats and stuck it out to enjoy the always-awesome, mostly-vegetarian potluck, crafts for kids, cooking demonstrations, and catching up with our farmers and other friends who love local food.  It's always a great opportunity to get Vera running around with those chickens and for her to visit Peaches, the Ossabaw Island hog.  

Caught in the rain inside the greenhouse.  If we have to stay here for an
extended period of time at least we won't starve.
A grasshopper friend trying to stay dry
in the greenhouse

Our CSA farm--feels like home
Trying to milk the "goat."
Speaking our our CSA, while I was coming up with the weekly set of recipes for their newsletter I dug up one of my absolute favorite recipes from a decade-ago stint at Konohana Japanese restaurant that once graced Milwaukee's Brady St. neighborhood.  Just smelling the combination of roughly chopped ingredients in the prep. bowl took me right back to the fun times we had in that kitchen.

Asian Carrot-Ginger Dressing
Makes 1 qt.

Since this was a restaurant recipe the original quantity was huge.  Even after dividing it by four it still makes a full quart of dressing, but if you love it as much as I do, you'll find yourself pouring it on everything--or at least way overdressing your salads with it--a la some people's obsession with Ranch Dressing.

1 clove garlic, peeled
3/4 lb. onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 lemon, zest and fruit (but not pith)
1/2 c. grapeseed oil (or other neutrally-flavored oil)
3/4 c. soy sauce of fish sauce (if you're soy-free)
3/4 c. rice wine vinegar
2 T. granulated sugar or xylitol
3 T. ketchup or tomato paste
Pinch of black pepper
2 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 oz. carrots, peeled and sliced

Put all ingredients in a blender (in batches) and mix well.  (Dressing may separate as it sits in the fridge, so be sure to stir before using.)

Another recipe I submitted to the CSA newsletter is below.  I love serving this as a vegetarian entree.  And the leftovers are great.  Today I had yet another realization that I'm slowly turning into my beloved mother when my lunch consisted of a mixture of four different leftovers we had in the fridge.  Something my mom would call "mish-mash."  And it was delicious topped with the dressing above.

Potato Salad with String Beans and White Beans
Serves 4-6

Great way to use a ton of the beans still pouring out of our garden
Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers.  

1 1/2 lbs. potatoes
1 lb. yellow wax or green beans
1/2 c. olive oil
3 T. cider vinegar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
2 T. chopped fresh basil
1/3 c. thinly sliced sweet onions
1 15-oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained or about 1 c. dry white beans, soaked and cooked

Put large pot of salted water on stove.  Cut potatoes in half then into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Add potatoes to water and bring to boil; cook until just tender, about 10 min.  While potatoes are cooking, cut stem ends off beans and snap in half.  In large serving bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt, pepper.  Stir in basil and onions.  When potatoes are done, lift out of water with slotted spoon and place in serving bowl.  Return water to boil.  Add beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 min.  Drain beans and add them to bowl.  Add white beans and gently toss everything together.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  This salad is delicious warm, at room temp., or chilled.

Nature's Riddler heirloom tomatoes.  Have had to pick
green and ripen inside to have any chance of stealing
a bite from the chipmunks and raccoons.
As you may recall, the weeks before the aforementioned party, I was working to get the yard and garden in shape.  I know everyone would have forgiven me if I hadn't, but it's those events that I depend on to give myself a nudge and quit procrastinating.  Once I tore out the insect-wrecked patches of zucchini and winter squash, I seeded our fall crop of brassicas, spinach, salad mix, beets, and cilantro, which are now well underway.  There's no telling if we'll have a mild or extended fall, but I'm hoping I can still get another really fantastic crop out of my garden.  I feel like last year I literally dropped the ball after August or September--never got the coldframe in place to overwinter greens for spring, never completed the clean-up and bedding down of the garden for winter, never had real closure for the 2011 season.  I'm feeling fairly on track for a clean break this year.  It's something I depend on to really settle into the winter and "hibernate," so to speak.  Stay tuned for an update on that progress.  At this point we're still enjoying the string bean harvest and handfuls of heirloom tomatoes we've managed to snag from the critters.


Loving the "Love Apple"

Indigo Rose tomatoes, still ripening
Like some of you (I'll assume) I wait all year to eat tomatoes.  I prefer the taste and quality of local, homegrown tomatoes especially heirloom varieties.  There is nothing like the perfectly tender, bright red (or purple, yellow, orange, striped green), sweet and acidic, delicate orbs that begin popping up at farmers' market 'round late July.  There's nothing there that's bred to withstand the impact of a bumper and gassed for ripening during transport thousands of miles away.  These late summer fruits are grown to be savored and enjoyed as close to picking (both in time and proximity) as possible. We haven't had more than a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes from our own bright sunny patch yet, but some of our plants are dripping with the promise of slicers and salad tomatoes for at least another month.  Fortunately we have connections.  Last week after a day spent working in the Chicagoland area my husband stopped for dinner at the homestead of one of his best friends--an organic farmer who, with his wife's guidance, was pivotal in bringing Ben and I together.  Apparently in their pocket of northern Illinois it's been the best tomato season ever in the history of their establishment!  And that says a lot since I have fond, fond memories of all the luscious heirloom fruits pouring out of their field when they called East Troy, WI home.  Our friends are always graciously sharing their abundance; last Wednesday was no different.  A gorgeous box of multi-colored heirloom tomatoes (gently) hit my kitchen counter and I took off putting them into as many dishes as possible--mostly in their raw and--in my mind--most enjoyable state.  I've made classic Caprese salad, blended Gazpacho, Tomato Basil Corn Salad, and BLTs (my favorite...which will forever be tied to a memory of sitting at our aforementioned friends' kitchen table at their WI farm eating this seasonal delight on the most nutritious white bread we could find, while I was basically being interrogated on how things were developing with my then-new relationship with this fine gentleman freshly returned from Chile...a story I fleshed out in the-speech-that-never-happened at our rehearsal dinner.)  Ah, I love how food can hold so many memories.
What a beautiful way to say "Honey, I'm Home!"

Tomato Basil Corn Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette
Caprese salad: Heirloom Toms, Fresh Mozz, Fresh
Basil leaves, and Basil Oil

Can't get enough of this flavor combination
Mmmm, Basil Oil 
On the topic of food memories, yesterday after hitting the playground pretty hard, Vera and I shared a snack of peanut butter, bananas, honey, and sunflower seed sandwiches served open-face.  My mom used to prepare this for us all the time as kids.  The components may or may not have changed much since the 70s and early 80s when my mom was a health-food nut herself--natural pb, bananas (now "fair trade"), raw honey, raw sunflower seeds, whole-grain bread (now gluten-free for me), but whatever original pieces remain, the first bite of this sandwich always take me right back to the kitchen table on 4 Mile Rd.

One of my favorite taste memories
Connecting the generations with a snack
There haven't been as many sewing projects underway at the homestead this week, but more culinary experiments.  My days and weeks go in waves like that.  On Sunday I was determined to seal up some local veggies so I made Pickled Carrots and Daikon from a recipe in Marisa McClellan's new book Food in Jars, which I'm borrowing from the library.  I'm happy to say that my batch looks much like the photos she displays.

Spices for Daikon Carrot Pickle
Coriander seed, Black Mustard seed, Red
Pepper Flakes, Star Anise
Very Small Batch of Pickled Daikon Carrot
I also processed another batch of my classic Dilly Beans and finished sprouting some grains for Chad Turner's GRAWnola recipe.  I didn't have the buckwheat he calls for, but I have loads and 5-gallon buckets full of quinoa so I decided to try the substitution.  It took me a few days to sprout the quinoa in a Mason jar with my new sprouting lid--found at my local natural foods co-op.  And then once I finally got all the ingredients together I realized it was more than the two measly solid racks on my dehydrator could handle.  So I made the executive decision to dry the granola in the oven on the "WARM" setting in "Convection" mode.  I can't be sure that it was under 118 degrees F (likely 150F at least), which is required for it to be considered "raw," but I've at least been through the recipe once and now I know what to do differently next time.  I'm just glad to have some homemade breakfast cereal around again.  Everyone here loves granola in the AM, but we ran out weeks ago and I was majorly delayed in making more.
Sort of "GRAWnola"

As the summer--in terms of the school year--winds down, I'm beginning to have thoughts of fall and all the romantic things that come with it like big warm sweaters, hearty stews and soups, hats, layers, trips to the apple orchard, cider (!)  I know I should be more present, but I've been highly influenced by the stacksful of library books we picked this week and last (feeling simultaneously grateful and spoiled that we have books from three different area libraries in our possession right now--we have such a great system here!)  We chose books about the seasons, one about closing the garden for the winter, and another about skiing and animals that live underground where it's cold.  So how could I not start thinking about knitting again, making a pot of chili, and mentally considering our Thanksgiving plans?  Soon enough.  For now I should breathe in the last month of this glorious 70-degree weather (b/c it's going to last and be just perfectly warm/sunny for the next few weeks, right?)

We are taking advantage of these last moments of summer but getting to the bottom of our Summer Bucket List.  We'd been talking for two years about a rendezvous to the beach for an evening picnic.  We made it happen on Friday and found it to be a great buffer between the work week and jumping into all the things that require our attention at home.

B and V noshing before sunset
Sailboats on the horizon
The remains of my stellar "pedicure" from
Only the essentials: Dolly Lolly, nature pouch,
light jacket, and the ultra-useful Mr. Peanut backpack
Beach Shoes?
Enjoying my sweet girl's curiosity
We'll be finding sand in our things for days
Also feeling grateful today that V's been spreading her wings a bit and playing independently at the neighbor's house for the second time in a few days.  It gives me a chance to relax, catch up, and collect myself and gives her the opportunity to practice her manners, sharing skills, and self-control.  My girl's growing up.  And so far I'm fine.  


Time to Relax and Catch Up

It was a fairly productive week in the craft corner.  I'll attribute that to the personal time I had in the mornings while V at camp, which allowed me to feel rested and rejuvenated.  When the little one's nap time rolled around I felt motivated to sew instead of otherwise scrambling around the house.

The rest of my mornings spent on the eastside and downtown this week took me to a used book store, a  variety store moderne, an Italian specialty store, and back to the central library.  So if this week was any example the things I really love, I suppose that means I couldn't live without good food and books.  Ah yes--being surrounded by those things (and family, friends, peace, quiet...) are what bring me joy in life.

Although I mostly sewed for my daughter this week, I did happen to pick up a lovely vintage fabric remnant at Fischberger's yesterday.  V's always asking me what I'm going to make for myself, though it's truly more fun to sew for her right now.  I think I may put this fabric aside for a few months and consider using it to make a fun summer skirt for next year.  (I have the perfect "nude-colored" ballet top to accompany it.)

Loving this vintage remnant.  Perhaps I'll make something for myself...
At my return visit to the library today--where I spent the majority of my time scratching down the titles/authors of new books and adding them to my looooong reading list at home--I came across a craft book called Crafting with Cat Hair, which I didn't believe until I flipped through it.  What an interesting idea for using a "renewable resource."  Reminds me of my one-time attempt to card/spin dryer lint, which was an epic fail.  But kudos to those who attempt this pet-friendly hobby.  How very sustainable!  (Note to self: we still don't have a valid reason to get a kitty.)

The sewing I did for V this week included an art smock for home; her old one will be sent to school.  I had this airplane fabric for years--probably acquired it back when my nephew was a wee lad and I enjoyed sewing jammies for him for the holidays.  I know for sure I got it at the thrift store.  The smock was a super easy pattern I found secondhand and I rather enjoyed edging it with all the double-fold bias tape, which I realized I haven't worked with nearly enough, as fun as it is.

Art Smock or Apron--not oil-cloth or anything, just cotton
Almost a little hospital gown-ish from the rear
The second project the latter part of this week was a quick and fun stretch knit dress for V.  Again, a secondhand pattern as well as secondhand fabric.  No notions needed other than thread.  It may be hard to tell from the photo, but it's a very subtle pink color that I would call "ballet pink" like the pale shade of their tights and leotards.  Truth be told, in the past I've been fairly nervous--okay totally freaked out--about sewing on stretch knits.  I've finished a project or two with this type of fabric, but was never 100% satisfied with the look of the final product.  So for once (SHOCKING!) I read further into the preliminary directions on the pattern and learned that if I used a very narrow zigzag stitch instead of a straight stitch that the seams would give a little bit and the final garment wouldn't look so puckered as I've experienced before.  It worked like a charm and I have to say I may now be hooked on knits.  I've been so inspired over the last six months by the wearable art of Courtney Courtney and so began amassing a stash of "found" or cast-off jersey knits since just after the holidays.  I have a particular women's T-shirt with flower screen print that I found at a rummage and I'd like to use it to make another one of these simple dresses for V.  With a long sleeve shirt underneath and leggings or tights, it could even be taken into winter.

Simple, delicate dress in "Ballet Pink."  If V will have it,
I'm thinking black tights, black Mary Jane's and a simple
black headband.

I want to make eight more of these.
Yesterday was also baking day.  There were some fresh, plump figs calling my name at the Italian grocery yesterday so I went for a little basket of them.  My immediate idea was to draw from one of the flavor combinations made popular by the first pastry chef I worked with--and would call my mentor--at the former Jean-Pierre Bakery.  Fig and Fennel it was and I translated this combo into some gluten-free muffins.

Fig and Fennel Muffins (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)
Makes 1 dozen

Not only are these breakfast treats GF and DF, but also free of white sugar.  I used a combo of maple syrup, sorghum syrup, and honey, but have noted how to consolidate below. 

I love these sweet, beautiful fruits!
1 c. coconut kefir (can substitute regular kefir or plain yogurt)
1/2 c. + 2 T. oat bran
2 large eggs
3 T. sweetener--can use maple syrup, sorghum syrup, or honey...or a combination of the three
2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 1/4 c. oat flour (could sub. additional APGFF)
2 T. fennel seeds
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. xanthan gum
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. grated dried lemon peel (or 1/2 t. fresh zest)
3/4 c. fresh figs, rinsed, trimmed, and chopped
1/2 c. toasted walnuts, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F and line/grease muffin pan.
In small bowl, combine kefir and oat bran to soften.  Let sit; mix remaining ingredients.  In bowl of food processor, combine eggs, sweetener, oil.  Process to combine.  In another bowl, combine flours, fennel, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and lemon peel.  Add wet ingredients to dry and process just long enough to combine.  Fold in chopped figs.  Fill muffin cups and top with toasted walnuts.  Bake 20-25 min. or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool then enjoy with preserves.
Fig and Fennel Muffins anyone?
I like them warm with butter--so much for dairy-free!
Hoping for a PBS spot we can call "The Ballerina Bakes."
One other "project" I recently "put together" wasn't much of a physical effort, though took some brainpower in order to consider my available resources.  I was feeling like I needed a bigger and better place to hang my earrings since the narrow piece of undecorated peg board I'd been using for a few years was getting crowded.  I started by looking for something to buy via Etsy and my search for "earring tree" not only brought back memories of some cheesy earring holder I'd gotten from Claire's boutique as a kid, but also turned up a couple of super creative ideas like this and that.  The style of organizers using a frame with screen made me realize that this wooden curio I found at the flea market a few years ago and used to store bits and pieces at my former desk could be rescued from its pre-donation position in the basement (meaning I'd been thinking of getting rid of it, but hadn't officially decided to put it in a donation bag and part with it) and repurposed.  Not only does this new earring holder have plenty of space for my bangles and dangles, but a convenient set of shelves inside for other bits of jewelry.  And it didn't require me to shell out any more money (though if I HAD purchased one I most certainly would have used Etsy.)

Et Voila!
Getting ready for another weekend of family time, tackling the garden, farmers' marketing, and getting together with some friends.  Summer's drifting away, but there's still a ton of activity in our fair city.  Enjoy your corner of the world in the days to come.