...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.


The Beauty of Spring

Time for Trout Lilies
I decided to commemorate Earth Day by myself.  Well, without another human companion, that is.  I had the opportunity to enjoy a few hours alone on Saturday morning (actually a day early) as Ben took Vera out.  As much as I wanted to get involved in a river cleanup or some other organized Earth Day activity, I thought long and hard about how much I needed some peace, quiet, and a chance to re-connect with myself.

I started my day with some freshly juiced green stuff, which I've been doing a lot lately especially after hearing Daniel Vitalis' theories about nutrition via the film Hungry For Change.  With my juicer now front and center in our new pantry, I have easier access to this mode of daily revitalization.

My typical green juice these days: spinach, celery, cukes, cilantro/parsley,
green apples, and lime.  So fresh and clean tasting.  Can't wait for even
fresher green stuff from the garden!
Fresh Green Juice!
I also enjoyed my favorite breakfast: gluten-free bagel, cream cheese, avocado slices, and a big handful of local sprouts.  Pure yum!

My favorite breakfast!
I grabbed my husband's SLR camera, jumped on my bike and made the short trip to the nearby woods where I checked out the spring flora.

"Who's woods these are I think I know..."
Shelf fungi

Yellow Violets

White Trillium

Then I jaunted just a hair more southward to the thrift store, where I had time to peruse at my leisure, which I never have time to do.  It's usually a quick trip with Vera which ends up in too many impulse buys.  I had a few things on my list, but didn't expect to find yet another pair of Dansko shoes around my size (I've had such great luck finding secondhand Danskos, which are so comfy for me). I'm always searching for a good solid pair of shoes to wear in winter with tights, leggings, legwarmers, and the like.  Though it's off-season, I snatched them up.  They needed a new little piece of elastic at each buckle, but for $4 I had no problem taking them to my cobbler for this quick fix.  They are just a hair on the big side, but with layers of tights and warm wool socks, they will be perfect.  And all the more reason for me to get to knitting some awesome clog socks for next season.

Secondhand Danskos.  With a little repair, they're all shiny and new!
But I'm NOT really thinking about next winter already.  In fact, I'm savoring the gorgeous days of early spring we've been having and appreciating the few rainy days in between that will water and help our seeds grow.  The snap peas are about an inch out of the ground already, we have lots of radish and spinach mustard sprouts, as well as a tiny now-visible row of mesclun mix.  Baby beet greens and swiss chard have already reached our kitchen since they overwintered and came up early and strong this year.
I've been on a huge cooking kick lately and have lots of recipes to share.

Sugar Ann Snap Peas emerging in the bed V and I seeded.
French Breakfast radish sprouts
Operation eat down the fridge and pantry are still in effect.  I have a good amount of local roots in my crisper so decided to work those into a recent meal on the grill.

Red and Chioggia (candy-striped) beets
Grilled Beets
Serves 2-3

One of our farmer friends is always exploring new ways to prepare beets.  He inspired this super simply side dish that really brings out the sweetness of the beets.  You don't have to peel the beets, but since mine had grown some fine hairs from storage, I decided to go at them with the peeler.  We decided that these would be on the menu on our next camping trip.

5-6 medium beets, peeled (or just scrubbed)
2 T. butter or olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat grill for high heat.  Place beets on foil and drizzle with oil or cut up pieces of butter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Wrap foil over beets securely.  Place packet on grill grate.  Cook 30 min. or until beets are very tender (it's hard to "overcook" them.)  Cool about 5 min. before serving.

Season, oiled, and ready for the grill!
On the topic of beets, I had a bag of frozen grated beets in the basement freezer.  I just taught a Veggie Burger From Scratch class last week at the Urban Ecology Center so I was in the mood/mode to make some of my own.  This is one of my favorite veggie burger recipes because it has so many wonderful supplemental ingredients.  I realize the ingredient list is long, but worth every item.

Beet This Burger
Makes about 8 patties

Pattied up and ready to freeze or bake/grill
If you don't have a food processor, all of the veggies could be minced or finely diced instead.

1 c. grated beets (raw)
1 c. uncooked quick or regular oats
1/2 c. walnuts
1/4 c. almonds
2 T. sesame seeds (as you might see, I used black sesame seeds here, but white are fine)
1 T. chia seeds
1/4 c. green peppers, coarsely chopped (I used our homemade pickled peppers)
1/4 c. celery, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. cooked quinoa, oats, or other grains (great way to use leftovers!)
1 t. dried basil
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. dried sage
1/4 t. dry mustard
2 T. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 T. nutritional yeast

Place beets, raw oats, nuts, seeds, peppers, celery, and onion in food processor fitted with S-blade.  Pulse or mix until fairly well chopped, w/o any big chunks.  Put in large mixing bowl.  Add cooked grains, herbs, spices, fish sauce and nutritional yeast and combine thoroughly.  On lined baking sheet (I use a silicone baking mat), place metal ring/cookie cutter/tuna can with ends removed and press scoopfuls of burger mixture into each ring.  Remove ring and repeat with remaining burger mixture.  Even if you're cooking immediately, it helps to freeze these slightly to firm them up.  Cook covered in toaster oven for about 20 min. (can uncover and add cheese for last few min. of baking) or oven bake, or cook on foil on the grill.  To freeze, once solid pack into freezer bags or containers, seal, label, and date.

Filled with nutritious goodness!
Looking like store-bought, but so much healthier!
Metal rings I used to shape the burgers
I also found some ground chicken in our freezer and put myself in the mood to make "Spaghetti and Meatballs" one night last week.  Here's my interpretation.

Lemon-Infused Chicken Meatballs with Spinach Pesto Pasta
Serves 4-6

Once again, if you don't have a food processor, just finely chop/mince indicated ingredients for both meatballs and pesto by hand.  This was another great way to incorporate some of the incredibly flavored preserved lemons with which I've fallen so deeply in love.  I used an aged goat Parmesan that I found at the Dane County Winter Farmers' Market a couple of weekends ago.  The flavor was intense but my 3-year-old enjoyed it so I went with it!

Straight from the oven
1 lb. ground chicken
4 T. parsley
4-6 cloves garlic (the more the better!)
2 T. fresh basil or 1 T. dried
1 T. fresh oregano or 1/2 T. dried
3 large eggs (or 2 eggs + 1 T. flaxseed meal, which is what I used)
1/4 of a preserved lemon, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. gluten-free breadcrumbs/cornflakes/cracker crumbs
2 T. chicken stock (concentrated if you can find it)
Salt and pepper to taste

Place ground chicken in large mixing bowl.  Pulse remaining ingredients in food processor until well-combined then mix by hand into chicken.  Shape into balls (I use a #60 scoop) and line up on baking sheet.  Bake at 350F about 20 min. or until fully cooked (cut one open to check).  Keep warm until time to serve.

Drizzled with a little olive oil to serve
Spinach Pesto:
Makes 1 c. (more than you'll likely need here)

4 C. packed rinsed spinach leaves
3 large cloves garlic
1/2 t. dried basil
1/4 olive oil
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese
1/8 t. salt
1 t. lemon juice

Place a few spinach leaves, garlic, pine nuts, basil, and a little oil in the food processor.  Cover and puree until leaves begin to look crushed.  Continue adding spinach leaves few at a time with small amounts of oil to processor.  Use spatula to scrape down as needed.  Add Parmesan and salt.  Cover and process until pesto mixture is smooth.

A bit pot-o-pesto-pasta
Gluten-free spaghetti (I love Tinkyada brand!)

Meanwhile cook pasta in highly salted water until al dente.  Drain then toss with desired amount of pesto.  Serve with hot chicken meatballs.

And one last recipe for today that uses more of our preserves creatively.

Family Style--come and get it!
African Curried Coconut Soup
Serves 5-6

Adapted from a recipe in Outpost's Graze magazine.  I used a jar of our homemade salsa verde in place of some jalapenos and tomatoes called for in the original recipe.

1 c. brown rice
2 T. coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (we used 1/2 c. homemade pickled green peppers)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 t. curry powder (or more for extra spiciness)
3 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 c. cooked chickpeas (canned is fine though I used dried/soaked/cooked beans)
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 c. baby collards or other greens, chopped
1 14-oz. can coconut milk

Put brown rice in a pan and cover with 3 c. water.  Cover and bring to boil, then simmer 20-25 min. or until water has been absorbed.  Set aside.  In meantime, heat oil in medium stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, peppers, garlic and cook, stirring, until softened about 5 min.  Add curry powder and mix well to coat vegetables.  Add broth, chickpeas, salsa, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 min.  Add coconut milk and greens and cook until greens are wilted and soup is heated through, about 5 min.  (I suggest adding the rice to serve, otherwise it may take up to much of the liquid and any leftovers may be more "casserole" like than soup-ish.)

I'm working on a couple of crafty projects in between cooking and gardening around here these days.  Stay tuned for those adventures.


Making the Most of It

Sweet Cherry Blossoms give me hope for the harvest
Saturday was the most glorious, bright, shiny day I've been available to enjoy in a long time.  We started our weekend on Friday night having friends over for a casual homemade pizza dinner then had the rest of the weekend to kick back if we so chose.  Nothing on our schedules was staring us down.  I imagined that this was what a "normal human family" usually feels on a lovely Saturday.  I've been trying to slow down for some time now and trying even harder not to overschedule our family, especially on the weekends, which is typically the only time we are all together for any significant period of time.  It's been hard for me to say no to certain projects and opportunities. Historically, I've wanted to "do everything" and please everyone, but have often neglected the needs of my loved ones and especially my personal needs for peace, quiet, and time for reflection. From our UU congregation's Sunday sermon, I absorbed the idea that I need to re-connect with myself, first and foremost, then with my family, my friends, my community.  It may sound slightly selfish to some, but I've realized over the last three+ years of being a mother that if I'm not mentally, physically, and emotionally fit, I cannot be the parent I need to be.  Fortunately, I have a wonderful life partner who helps me understand this and offers me opportunities to achieve this (though I don't easily accept these offers.)  Saturday I found myself feeling a bit "lost" at times--meaning I didn't know what to do with myself because there was nothing super pressing on the plate.  When it comes down to the end-of-the-day question (that my daughter loves to ask first thing in the AM) "So how was your day?" I typically equate success and satisfaction in my day with physical productivity.  (Perhaps it's an underlying feeling of "guilt" for being the one to "stay at home.") But everyone who knows me well knows I don't have to qualify any of this (though they might agree that I should take more time for myself.)  I'm overdue in shifting my measure of daily achievements to include a check-in on mental well-being also.  I recently said "I'm considering doing a little more of doing a little less."  I haven't booked myself with as many cooking/preservation classes as in past summers.  I'm hoping to enjoy my family, friends, and homestead as much as possible this season (and the rest of 2012--and beyond--I'd hope.)  

On that same note, we've decided that since the big kitchen expenditure of late, that we'd focus our energy on living more austerely for a while.  And with summer on the horizon, let's focus on entertaining at home and on a budget.  It's something we should commit our lives to anyway--and perhaps we have more than the average American--but I'm always up for the challenge of living on even less than one thinks one needs.  I'm beginning with eating down our pantry/freezer.  Partly in an effort to see how long I can go without a major grocery trip, but also in preparation for the next growing season, which is already upon us.  

So I began with what's in the fridge and a few things on the cellar rack in the basement that had reached "use it or lose it" status.  And you know I don't like to waste food.  Because of the aforementioned lack of overscheduling, I have more time to relax and cook slowly and more intentionally in our new kitchen.  Here's what I've come up with so far.

Boiled in salted water
Makes one small jar

This recipe was adapted from what seemed like the only recipe I could find in this world for pickled salsify.  I wanted to use the crop I just harvested from our overwintered bed.  It's a fairly sweet (and sour) recipe, but since it's just a refrigerator pickle, it could certainly be tweaked before jarring.  "Scraping" the salsify can be easily achieved with the edge of a spoon just as one would do with fresh ginger.  This way you don't lose as much of the actual veggie as you would with a peeler.

1 lb. salsify (scraped and cut into 2-inch pieces)
1/3 c. brown sugar (firmly packed)
3 T. white distilled vinegar
1 T. butter
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. black pepper

Cook salsify in a small amount of salted water 10 min. or until tender; drain well.  Set aside.  Combine sugar, vinegar, butter, salt, and pepper in a medium saucepan.  Add salsify; cook over low heat 20 min. or until thickened, stirring occasionally.  Pack gently into a clean glass jar and screw on lid.  Let cool then refrigerate.

Cooking in the "brine"

Squash and Pumpkinseed Muffins (Gluten-Free)
Makes 2 dozen muffins

Adapted from a quickbread recipe in Process This! by Jean Anderson.  It still seems like a good bit of brown sugar so one should enjoy sparingly (although it IS 24 muffins.)  The way I figure it, if I make these and call them "cupcakes" and serve as a "dessert" then overall they likely have less sugar than a typical dessert.  One could try making mini-muffins as well for a more moderate serving size.
Bright orange batter from the beautiful squash!

2 c. pumpkin seeds
2 1/2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar (or granulated xylitol)
4 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. xanthan gum
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. cubed winter squash, steamed until quite tender
1 stick butter (4 oz.), melted
1/4 c. coconut oil (could fully sub. coconut oil though might = more dense product once cooled), melted 
1/2 c. kefir (dairy or coconut)
3 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. (gluten-free, soy-free, vegan) mini chocolate chips (completely optional!)

Two yummy pans
Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease or line 2 12-count muffin pans.  Spread pumpkin seeds on a tray and either toast in toaster oven or in regular oven for a few minutes until lightly browned.  Cool until easily handled.  Pulse seeds in food processor with 2 T. flour 12-15 times until chopped (light nut meal).  Transfer to large mixing bowl.  Add remaining flour, brown sugar/xylitol, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to processor and pulse quickly until well mixed.  Transfer to bowl with seed meal.  Add squash, melted butter/oil, kefir, eggs, and vanilla to processor and pulse 5-6 times, just enough to combine.  Pour squash mixture into dry ingredients and fold in gently until all dry ingredients are incorporated--do not beat or stir or it will become tough.  Though the batter should be "stiff."  Add chocolate chips, is desired.  Scoop batter into prepared pans and bake 25-30 min. or until a pick inserted in center muffin comes out clean.  Cool slightly then remove muffins from pan to cool completely on a wire rack.
A little bite with some coffee
Quick Lemon and Garlic Quinoa Salad
Makes 4 servings

Adapted from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family.  Time to eat down our 5-gallon bucket of quinoa and use more of that cellared winter squash.  This was also a great way to incorporate the preserved lemons my friend and I made back in February.

1 c. dry quinoa
1/2 t. salt
1 3/4 c. water
1/2 c. cubed winter squash, steamed
1/3 c. minced fresh parsley
1/4 c. sunflower seeds

3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 preserved lemon, diced (optional, but it adds incredible flavor to this salad)
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. fish sauce (or soy sauce), if NOT using preserved lemons, you may add another T. fish/soy sauce

Rinse quinoa and drain.  Place rinsed quinoa, salt, and water in 2-qt. pot.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer 15-20 min., until all water is absorbed.  Tip pan to side to make sure all water has been absorbed.  Let stand 5-10 min. uncovered, then fluff with fork.  Place cooked quinoa in large bowl.  Add steamed squash, parsley, sunflower seeds.  Mix thoroughly.  Combine dressing ingredients; pour over quinoa and toss well.  Serve at room temp. or chilled.

Though Saturday was much more leisurely than any day I've had in a long time, I still managed to pull myself away to borrow a friend's truck to haul some brushy yard waste to the dump for recycling and also crossed one task off my rainy day list (though it was the furthest from a rainy day that I could dream).  Dividing my spider plants had lingered on this list for at least two years!  Imagine how root bound it was!  I found some fellow Freecyclers who were willing to promptly pick up these splits as well as a few other pass-alongs from my gardening shelf.  I spent time planting a few seeds this weekend and am finding that my little one is going to be quite the helper in the yard and around the homestead this season.  Let it begin now and let us savor every moment however quiet or loud!

Taking the laundry outside
Sorting the clothespins
Hanging her own clothes on the homemade line
Little clothes on the line


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


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.