...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.


A New Perspective on Food and Cooking

Wild chickweed on the chopping block at our campsite
It's not often that I rave about and recommend books.  Also, I'd gotten out of the habit of reading food-related books (not specifically cookbooks), but I've been greatly inspired lately by Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, which I mentioned in a recent post.  Her words and ideas have given me a new perspective on cooking not only in terms of using every last bit of food, but also in keeping it simple yet delicious, satisfying, and beautiful.  Not since reading Reay Tannahill's Food in History, which solidified my interest in food and culture; Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, which propelled me toward culinary school; or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which reinforced the notions I'd gained about the importance of clean, local food have I felt such a shift in the way I think about how I purchase, prepare, eat, and enjoy food.  Adler's story reads like an M.F.K. Fisher book with more prose than standard recipes and precious little anecdotes and tidbits to savor along the way.  I highly respect the author's experience--formally trained or not--and would easily put her high on my list of "food people" I'd love to meet one day.

I carried this inspiration into my crisper drawer the other day and chose to try grilling some cabbage.  I doused it generously with olive oil, salt and pepper, then Ben grilled it along with some shiitake-marinated chicken for our Memorial Day feast.  After pulling it from the grill I gave it a generous splash of white balsamic vinegar (Adler is known for generously dousing and splashing things with lots of olive oil and vinegar.)  It was our first attempt at grilling this dense cole crop, but we managed to enjoy it as part of a simple evening meal.  Even better was the day after when I sliced and added some of the leftover grilled Savoy cabbage to a cold lunch salad (with mixed greens, Romaine, parsley, pickled beets, diced apples, a little homemade mayo, some house white wine vinaigrette, and a bit of olive-oil packed tuna).  The cabbage gave the salad incredible flavor.  I'll certainly be tempted to grill off and chill even more cabbage next time just to savor it the following day.  Perhaps cabbage will be the otherwise ordinary vegetable I glom onto this season and find news and exciting ways to enjoy and appreciate it.

Last week I finally managed to get into the woods to hunt for ramps.  Knowing I was especially late in foraging them--even though this is the usual time of year I would, they were well on their way Earth Day weekend--I didn't come up with much, but exactly what I expected.  The bulbs were beautiful and juicy, but the leaves were nearly non-existent.  I was hoping to make some ramp sorrel pesto with the leaves as I have in past years.  I did get the chance, but only came up with a cup or so.  But as I was preparing the pesto in my food processor I was also trying to deal with a host of other fresh veggies and leftovers in the fridge before our three-day holiday weekend camping trip.  I had used some refrigerator-stored homegrown kohlrabi for a slaw the Sunday prior.  We nibbled on it all week and I added it to many a wrap for lunch, but there was still lots.  I decided I could pesto-ize it as well.  I ground it up in the food processor, giving it a generous dousing of olive oil (Tamar would be proud) and turned it into a coarse, but tasty condiment that I think will be a nice addition to a burger later this summer (or spooned onto a grilled brat in lieu of sauerkraut?!?!)

Ramp Pesto top row, Kohlrabi "Pesto" fills the rest
Though I may not have gathered enough ramps to process a batch of pickles as I originally planned, I have used more of them fresh this year than before.  Sometimes I'm so focused on getting seasonal fruits and vegetables preserved that I forget to savor their original flavors just a day or two after acquisition.  A new cookbook I'm obsessed with is Wild Flavors by Didi Emmons.  It's sparked more ideas for how to use my wild harvests, but also how to tackle the overgrown lemon balm and sorrel in my own garden.

Ramp and Spinach Pie with a Quinoa Crust (Gluten-Free)
Makes 4-6 servings

I adapted this recipe from the aforementioned cookbook, which called for a millet crust.  I have a boatload of quinoa so I made the substitution.  The spinach was also a liberty I took.

1 1/2 c. uncooked millet/quinoa
1 T. butter

1 1/2 c. ramps (or about 2 leeks), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 c. packed with spinach, chopped coarsely
2 T. butter plus more for greasing (I save the butter papers for this purpose!)
1 garlic clove, minced
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c. whole milk or half-and-half
Salt and pepper
1 c. grated mozzarella (or other favorite flavorful cheese...I used fenugreek-laced goat cheese)

To make crust: Bring 3 c. water to boil, add millet/quinoa.  Simmer 15 min., covered, then remove from heat.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Stir butter into grains and let rest 5 min, uncovered.  Grease cast-iron skillet with butter (or at least 8x8-inch Pyrex baking dish).  Place millet/quinoa in skillet and, using back of large spoon, press down to form uniform layer, bringing it up the sides as much as possible.  Bake millet crust 25 min., or until light brown crust develops at edges.  Remove from oven.  Turn oven to 350F.

To make filling: melt butter in skillet over medium heat.  Add ramps and sauté 6-8 min., stirring occasionally.  Add spinach and garlic, cook 1-2 min.  Whisk together eggs and milk.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Spread ramp mixture over crust.  Top with cheese then egg mixture.  Bake pie for 30 min., or until custard is set.  Serve warm or at room temp.

A camping weekend took us up to the gorgeous duned shores of Lake Michigan at Kohler-Andrae State Park.  It was great to get away, unplug, catch up on some reading, and just putter around the campsite and state park for a couple days rain and shine.  I enjoyed "eating from the trail" and got my hands on some stinging nettles, garlic mustard, and chickweed that all made their way onto our plates.  We had fun cooking on the campfire and campstove.
Dunes at Kohler-Andrae looking a lot like Cape Cod
Beach Time!
Over in the Meadow
Morning coffee walk along the Black River Marsh
Woody woodpecker was here!
Chickweed to eat!  Coincidentally I was JUST reading about this.
Garlic Mustard--if you can't beat it, eat it!
Stinging Nettle to eat
Busy bees going into a wild hive--my first experience seeing one
Olive and Ramp Tapenade with dippers at the campsite
Pasta with Ramp Pesto, Asparagus, Nettles, and Chickweed
Lamb Burgers with Sauteed Garlic Mustard, Ramps,
Garlic; Olive Tapenade, Cottage Cheese
Gorgeous sunset on our last evening there
Of course, we hit the ground running upon re-entry and I've felt somewhat discombobulated this week as Tuesday was my usual Monday.  That morning I did a garden consultation for a very talented friend who will trade her photography skills to shoot some family photos for us in a couple of weekends.  I had no idea how much fun I would have helping someone else see their yard's and garden's potential and envision raised beds of edibles.  The best part, our kiddos had a built-in, spontaneous playmate!

My mostly-edible window boxes:  Chard, Pac Choi,
Nasturtiums...along w/ sweet potato vine and
thunbergia to creep up to the living awning
We're well into salad-eating season from our garden.  I'm excited to use lots of our homegrown green stuff  to continue my regular green juicing routine as well.  Looking forward to a somewhat loose weekend in Bay View with a graduation party and HMN family picnic planned as well as two plant sales scheduled for this Saturday.  I love our neighborhood!

Our fresh salad greens/herbs mixed with some raw red cabbage
A sink full of fresh Swiss Chard


Healthy Snacks for Kiddos

There's not too terribly much to report lately, but one thing V and I have been working on is getting out of our rut of string cheese and rice cakes to make some homemade healthy kid snacks.  I stumbled upon a library book, Super Simple Snacks: Easy No-Bake Recipes for Kids, while browsing last week and decided to add it to the already unbearably high stack we'd chosen to cart home after story time.  All of the snacks we found in these books were no-cook and super simple to prepare.  Being a nut for supplemental foods I tweaked the recipes slightly so they were less sweet and more packed with nutritional punch.  V loves them and is hopefully training her palate not to crave the ultra-sweet snacks and desserts so common--especially for kids--in our country (and my own taste memory).

Monkey Tails
Makes 4 servings (but easily halved or doubled)

The name of this recipe was changed to accommodate our ongoing obsession with monkeys in the LeFort household.

2 bananas, peeled
4 craft sticks
6 oz. plain whole milk yogurt
~2 T. pure juice (we used some cherry juice from our home-canned fruits)
~1 T. honey (optional)
1/2 c. combination of almond meal, unsweetened shredded coconut, and cacao nibs, all ground to crumbs in a food processor

Cut the bananas in half crosswise, push sticks into the flat end and set aside.  In a small bowl, mix the juice and honey into the yogurt.  Place the crumbs on a plate.  Dip the bananas first in the yogurt, rolling to coat the whole banana.  Then roll in the crumbs; place on another plate or platter to freeze for about 1 hour or until solid.
Ready for dippin'
Monkey Tails!
Peanutty Power Balls
Makes 12-15 balls

One could certainly use any kind of nut or seed butter here, in fact I used part pb and part tahini.  For a special, occasional treat, mini chocolate chips could be added or substituted for the raisins.  I also prefer a soy-free protein powder and have found a white-sugar-free pea protein powder I like.

1 c. nut or seed butter (I used 3/4 pb, 1/4 tahini)
1/2 c. nonfat dry milk powder or protein powder (I used half dry milk, half protein powder, which added a hint of vanilla)
1/2 c. raisins
1/4 c. raw honey
1 c. combination of almond meal, flaxseed meal, and chia seeds

Mix all ingredients except meal(s)/seeds in a food processor or mixing bowl and mix until well combined. Place the crumb mixture in a bowl large enough for dipping/rolling.  Shape into balls--I use a mini "ice cream scoop," place on a plate or scoop/roll and drop right into the crumb mixture.  Coat balls fully with crumbs and put on a clean plate.  Cover with wrap or put into a container with a lid and chill about 1 hour.  Great for packing on the go!

She always wants to help and this was a perfectly manageable task

Mmmm, peanut butter balls!

Betcha can't eat just one!

The garden seems to really be popping in the last week.  We're harvesting salad mix and I finally went on my ramp hunt in the woods yesterday.  To say the least, I didn't find many decent ramps, which is just what I expected since I'd been procrastinating.  I knew that they were looking ready way back on Earth Day weekend.  The bulbs I dug up looked great, but the leaves had much to be desired, so I may not get to make any ramp and sorrel pesto this season, but will certainly savor the bulbs I collected.

I've noticed that the fruit trees and bushes in our yard are looking extremely promising at this point.  There are lots of unripe red currants and gooseberries--which I've finally managed to get "protected", our sweet cherry tree is loaded with green cherries and hopefully well defended with the dozens of shiny holiday ornaments I've been gathering from local rummage sales, the apple trees have several fruits on each (which is a lot for the still young dwarf trees), and the bees have been busy on the blackberry bushes.  On that note, I know that there are more beekeepers in our neighborhood since the city ordinance passed last year and I know specifically that there are some hives within a mile south of us.  Of course, we had a mild winter and early spring, but I can't help but think it's really the bees that have made the fruits pop more.

The only other noteworthy excitement around here is my rummage sale fun the last two weekends.  I am keeping a minimal amount of loose change and bills tucked away in a zip-top bag and that's what I have to spend on these weekend excursions around Bay View.  Last weekend we hit twice as many as we had planned and I came across a super cool summer bedspread.  I originally grabbed it thinking it'd make a lovely tablecloth or picnic blanket, but when I got home I found a tag indicating it was a Bates bedspread, made in the U.S.A., Maine apparently.  I gave it a try and it fits perfectly and warms just enough on the handful of too-warm evenings we've already had.  I love the colors and how they coincidentally go well with the unintentional yet omnipresent rust, spring green, and lake blue combo that seems to be our second floor decor.  Can't wait to see what we'll find the rest of the summer.  Though I may have to blog about my idea for a fashion and fabric fast...

I love this fabric!

The Boudoir
All vintage or thrifted pillows as well


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!


A Stroll Through the Spring Garden

A skinny, but strong asparagus stalk
V and I started the week with a rainy walk through our spring garden to see what's popping up.  I was overjoyed to see that my second attempt at growing asparagus is going well.  The last set of crowns collapsed the first season they would have been ready to harvest.  These skinny, but strong stalks are amazing as they can literally grow inches in a day.  It's been fun for Vera to keep her eyes on them.  Kids don't have as much patience for progress as adults might so this is the perfect experiment.

Mesclun mix (L), India Tendergreen Mustard (R)
Lush Herbs: Lemon Balm, Oregano, Cilantro,
and Lemon Thyme
V's Peas will be ready to trellis soon
Garlic along the fence (looks like one stepped
out of line)
Very strong Swiss Chard that overwintered
Strong, happy rhubarb
Gave up growing any annual veggies in this raised
bed, trying perennial fruits.  The blackberries did
very well out front last year so I planted three more
bushes here.
I also tried my hand at making some "raw bagels" this week.  The recipe I found called for sprouted kamut flour.  This ancient grain is a type of wheat, but from what I've found, it happens to be fairly low in gluten.  (Perhaps this could be applied to my theory that gluten intolerances have grown in popularity because of how our domestic, hybridized wheat is processed.  These older varieties of wheat might be less offensive.)  Since I don't actually have Celiac disease, I thought I would give kamut a chance since it was highly recommended in the recipe because of the "chewiness" it gives to make these bagels seem somewhat like regular baked bagels.  So far it hasn't disagreed with me too terribly.

Shaped and ready to dehydrate
Into the dehydrator you go
After the first round of dehydrating.  Next we cut, then dry some more.
I will let you follow the recipe online if interested.  And here is another link to explore if you're interested.  I did, however, have to add the suggested additional flax meal (and also a bit of coconut flour) to the first recipe so it wasn't so sticky.)  I'll leave those choices up to you, if you venture down the raw bagel path.  It was the first time I had used my dehydrator for "cooking."  I love the flavor and texture of these little "biscuits," as Vera calls them.  I chose to dip them in a combo of poppy seeds, extra coarse kosher salt, and garlic sesame seeds, which really upped the yum factor.

The "everything" bagel
Still finding bits and pieces of time to sew.  Last weekend there was an epic nap on Vera's part, which allowed me to finish another sundress for her on an otherwise dreary day.  This one I made from a random thrifted pillowcase.  It's not the standard "pillowcase dress." I actually laid out pattern pieces and treated it as a piece of fabric versus the quick-sew method using the case mostly in tact as one would with the more traditional method to which I've linked.  I love the checker pattern of this material, which throws me back to the 80s.  Just need a pair of of kid-size Vans or, better yet, jelly shoes and we're set!

From Pillowcase to Sundress for about $1 in materials
Looking forward to a lovely weekend getting more seeds into the garden.  Hoping to plant beans and maybe some cucumbers/summer squash.  Enjoy your day whether you're celebrating Mother's Day or not.


Spring Renewal

Rainy Day Project: Caterpillar made from an egg carton
The house is clean, the shades and windows are wide open, planting of the garden is going at a satisfying pace.  Though today's "heat" makes it feel a little too stuffy for me this soon, I'm feeling a sort of "renewal" now that we're a little more than halfway into spring.  With the increased temperatures the last couple of days, the basement has quickly become the coolest place in the house.  I usually hide out down there at my sewing table in July and August to avoid the sweltering temps of midday, but I've already taken a wee respite down there.   Bits of time to sew have revealed themselves lately.

Before our kitchen remodel I'd gotten well into a project making some pajamas for Vera's baby doll.  Since then she and I stumbled upon the motherlode of random doll clothes at the thrift store--including tons of jammies.  Once I finally put the basement back together and returned to sewing I was faced with picking up where I'd left off with this miniscule project.  I remembered why I'd last laid it down--I was at a point where I'd ripped a lot out and was trying to go off-pattern to fix a few things.  It was becoming extremely frustrating and not the least big enjoyable.  And being a person who regularly practices the FIFO method of rotation ("First In First Out") in both the restaurant industry and at home, I do try to finish certain projects before moving onto the next.  I know this is not everyone's process--and not even mine 100% of the time--but knowing how I'm capable of procrastinating, it's a good idea for me to adhere to this as often as I can.  On that note, I'd found that this doll project was a thorn in my side and since Vera had ceased to ask when I was going to finish Alice's jammies (since we'd acquired all the secondhand pj's), I decided it was time to bail on the assignment.  An amazing weight was instantly lifted from my shoulders!  Since then I've fixed several items in my mending basket, cut out and finished a sundress for V and cut out and started another dress for her.  Amazing how that doll outfit was such a roadblock.

My first feeling of renewal has been sewing again--and upcycling which, of course, makes something old new again (and hopefully better/cooler).  This dress I made for Vera was a woman's 3/4 length skirt at the thrift store.  I loved the fabric as soon as I saw it and thought it could be easily upcycled into something girly.  The fabric is very viscous, but even after going through the names and definitions of every kind of fabric under the sun, I can't remember what type of fabric it is.  It reminds me of crepe, but without the texture.  I know that my mom used to make me a lot of summer dresses out of it; it's extremely moveable, comfy, and soft--the perfect outfit for dancing around at summer concerts in the park.  Next up is a sundress made out of a pillowcase, though not the standard "pillowcase dress" so popular and easy to sew.  Stay tuned for that.

Before--woman's skirt

After: Girl's sundress with pockets
I have also felt a great sense of renewal with cooking lately.  I don't know what it is since our new kitchen space was completed, but I'm feeling much more calm and less rushed as I cook.  I've also made a new habit of serving all meals family style instead of plating everything in the kitchen and bringing it to the table as we did for so long.  This way everyone can take what they want and we seem to linger slightly longer over dinner--never a bad thing in my mind.  Plus it's fun to use more of the great serving dishes I've had squirreled away for too long.  In trying to "eat down the fridge" (which I've since learned has been someone's--if not a national--project in the past) I've been forced to come up with some pretty simple dishes because I may not have all the ingredients to make something more complicated.  I must say that I quite fancy this new style of cooking.  I just finished reading the Kathleen Flinn book I recently mentioned.  Between that and another book I was randomly led to via the library's County Cat, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler, I may be in the process of changing my cooking style quite dramatically.  The latter book is the perfect follow-up read to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, though it was purely by coincidence that I stumbled upon it (as well as the former).  Adler's writing and cooking style remind me a little of both M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child.  Her chapter on eggs that I read at the playground today had me running home to clean out a few more fridge ingredients and put together a fluffy omelet with black olives, pickled Brussels sprouts, olive-oiled anchovies, spinach, and cheese for lunch today.  I never would have imagined it would taste any good, but with a generous accent of homemade mayo laced with honey-mustard, it was divine!  It seems that every year in the garden, at the farm, or the local farmers' markets I glom onto some new (or formerly ubibuitous) vegetable and make it summer's favorite.  Through these two books, I have a new appreciation for simple yet delicious cooking and can't wait to see if, in fact, I feel any less pressure, but more creativity, in preparing meals and what I will do with all those gorgeous and delicious locals fruits and veggies.

We also experienced the first taste of local asparagus last weekend when Ben brought a grocery bag of it home from our farmer friends' place in Brodhead, WI.  My dinner plan was well underway at that point, but I quickly steamed some of the beautiful green stalks, chilled them then prepared the aforementioned mayo-honey-mustard "sauce" for dipping.  I nearly had Vera convinced they were some sort of "green french fry."  Last night, via the inspiration of my most recent library book, I frees-styled and came up with some gluten-free pasta with asparagus pesto (pine nuts, blanched asparagus, spinach, mozzarella, green garlic, preserved lemons, dried basil, s&p, pasta water...) and steamed asparagus topped with a soft poached egg, which contributed a beautiful natural "sauce" to the dish once the yolk was pierced.  So simple to prepare and I used lots of random bits from the pantry and fridge.

Mmmm, poached egg over Asparagus Pesto Pasta
Loads of burly greenhouse spinach have been coming our way all winter from our CSA farmers who are determined to get me to finally use up my "market dollars" from last season.  Some of these leaves are 1 1/2 times the size of my hand--perfect for making "rolls."  Spinach rolls filled with salmon salad (mayo, broken up pieces of cooked salmon, dilly beans, capers, etc...whatever you like).

Huge leaves of yummy spinach!
Spinach Rolls stuffed with Salmon Salad
Last week I got the sun oven out for dinner and--though it was mostly cloudy that day--had a succulent whole chicken cooked by dinnertime.

Shiitake-Crusted Baked Chicken
Serves 4-6

Adapted from a recipe in Jean Anderson's Process This!, it could be prepared in a regular oven as well as I've indicated in the directions.  For those sun-oven fanatics, you know what to do.

Sun Oven, here we come!
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms, ground to "powder" in a food processor or spice grinder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. chicken stock
2 T. fish sauce (or soy sauce if you're vegan)
2 T. sesame oil
2 T. dry sherry
1 whole roasting chicken, gizzards removed, rinsed

Preheat oven to 400F.  Combine all ingredients except chicken until a "paste" is formed.  Rub under chicken skin and over whole chicken, inside and out.  Place breast up in a roasting pan and place in oven to bake anywhere from 30-50 min. depending on exact size of chicken and oven.  Check with a meat thermometer after 30 min.  Pierce the thickest part of the thigh and also the thickest part of the breast, juice should run clear and thermometer should register at 160F internal temperature.  Remove from oven, let rest about 5-7 min.  Slice and enjoy.

I've finally gotten more proactive about protecting our perennial fruits this season.  I tied tulle around the red currant bushes last week, threw a sort of Spiderman web of netting over the gooseberry bushes, and hung some shiny holiday ornaments in the cherry tree (half-price score at a church rummage over the weekend).  Let's hope I see some return on my investments.  There are lots of fruits already forming, I can already taste them...and hopefully we will get that chance.

$3 for three boxes
We'll have "Christmas" in July
Wouldn't this scare you if you were a hungry bird?
The rainstorm's finally coming now.  We're inside for the afternoon to prepare some goodies for daddy's birthday tomorrow.  I wish a similar sense of spring renewal to all of you.  Try to find hope and simplicity in this season and carry it into summer and beyond.