...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.


Happy Halloween

Our Jack-o-Lanterns
Happy Halloween to everyone!  It's been a fantastic season of celebrating.  We read so many Halloween library books, dug up information on Halloween lore and traditions, carved pumpkins, drank cider, ate a little chocolate, and wore out V's costume.  (Definitely got our $3 worth.)

Preparing to carve pumpkins in the basement craft area
I decided to be different with a yellow carving pumpkin
Power tools.
Ben carves away
Pooped after trick-or-treating!
Though we had a Happy Halloween weekend of trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving I've been thinking more about our friends and family on the east coast who've hopefully braved the storm of Hurricane Sandy.  Still hoping to hear from a few people, but it sounds like most of them are safe.  Something I realized this week as everyone was posting online about his or her weather-related safety status was how many bloggers I follow that I never knew their locations.  Apparently many of them live on the east coast, especially near NYC.  Makes me realize how this virtual world we spend so much time in can still leave us so unaware and slightly disconnected.

We've had some stellar waves at the lakefront here and lots of wind, of course, but no real grounds for complaints.  We did manage to get outside for a hike on Sunday.  I can't believe that in the last decade plus that I've lived in Milwaukee that I never experienced the beauty of Grant Park in South Milwaukee.  There are some gorgeous trails that suddenly lead one to a peaceful beach at Lake Michigan (which seems like it'd be much cleaner than our main beach near downtown.)  We agreed that the park would be a great place to return for seasonal hikes; certainly good for viewing spring ephemerals in a few more months (or several more months as it may be.)   

Reflections of the sky in the stream through
Grant Park's Seven Bridges Trail

I can't believe it took me this long to find
this beautiful place!

A little color amidst the drab brown
One of the beautiful bridges in Grant Park

Nothing much to report here other than getting excited about the indoor winter farmers' markets (Milwaukee County and St. Ann's Center) starting in our area this weekend.  Be sure to check them out if you're available as well as the West Allis Farmers Market which runs through the week of Thanksgiving.

Cooking up the remains of our garden and still enjoying lots of flavorful salad greens from our raised beds.  Green tomatoes are being cellared until they turn.

Tomatoes gradually ripening on the cellar rack.


Cleaning and Gleaning

With my husband's motivation, we successfully tackled the majority of our fall yard cleanup last weekend.  The weather was gorgeous--warmer than I thought as we peeled layers with each passing hour of vigorous outdoor activity.  While B took care of the raking and sweeping, I attacked the vegetable garden and gleaned what I could from the tomato plants and greens that are still thriving.  I have yet to weigh the tomatoes, but I collected a 5-gallon bucket (and then some) full of green ones that I plan to cook down into my favorite sauce.

Green Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 servings

Since I always make this at the end of the growing season when I'm in "use it or lose it" mode, the recipe is subject to being greatly expanded.  It's versatile enough to be a pasta or pizza sauce as well as a soup (see below.)

1 lb. green tomatoes
½ c. extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ t. hot red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot and cook down until the tomatoes are soft. Transfer to a blender and blender until smooth. This will be a very smooth, silky sauce that is good over pasta, in lasagna, or turned into a soup. It freezes well.

Curried Green Tomato Soup
Makes 4-6 servings

2 T. grapeseed oil or other high-heat cooking oil
2 large carrots, peeled and medium diced
½ yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 qt. green tomato sauce (see recipe above)
1-2 c. vegetable stock, depending on desired thickness
1 T. red curry paste, diluted in 1 T. water
salt and pepper to taste
Whole milk yogurt for garnish

Heat oil in a small hot stockpot. Sauté carrots, onions, and celery until slightly soft, about 5 min. Add green tomato sauce and vegetable stock and cook until vegetables are completely soft, about 10 min. Puree in a blender or food processor. Add additional stock if desired. Add the curry paste and additional seasoning as needed. Serve with yogurt garnish.

I also pulled all of my large (read: spicy) arugula (for pesto), more baby hakurei turnips (for pickling), and even my brocoli stalks and remaining leaves.  I used the latter a la Tamar Adler and cooked them in a large pot of highly salted water.  Since some of the stalks were truly woody, I then did my best to scoop/cut out the softened core and compost the remains.  With these broccoli bits, of which there were a lot, I made a pesto from a loose recipe I created.

Broccoli Pesto

Broccoli leaves and stems, cooked until tender
Lemon zest or preserved lemons
Garlic cloves
Toasted almonds or pinenuts
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a a food processor and pulse until well chopped.  Drizzle olive oil down the feed tube and process until combined.  Enjoy immediately, refrigerate with an additional layer of olive on top, or freeze is small portions to eat throughout the winter.  

I used this pesto as a spread for some quesadillas along with mashed pinto beans, sauteed ancho peppers from our garden, frozen local corn, and Muenster cheese (or whatever cheese you like).  With gluten-free brown rice tortillas they were darn good.

I've gotten more guts lately for D.I.Y. projects including a recent haircut for our daughter.  Since school started she's wanted nothing to do with any clips, pigtails, headbands, or anything else we've tried to keep the scraggly hair out of her face.  I've always loved this page boy/wedge/pixie cut, but didn't dare cut her locks until now when I took the aforementioned as a sign.  When I was in junior high, my mom and I had a short-lived though successful dog grooming business.  I crowdsourced a bit to see how many people thought that qualified me to chop off my kid's hair.  Although the clippers and a buzz to poochie's back are probably much less detailed than this sculpted cut, I think I did okay (though we do have an appointment tomorrow for my hairdresser to "clean up" the back a tiny bit.)  The main thing is that V loves it.  And so do mom and dad!

The perfect chair for the occasion
Not bad, though this photo does a little justice
to the choppity chopped parts on the bottom
We're ramping up for Halloween of course so we took V to the Pumpkin Pavilion at one of our neighborhood parks on Friday night.  The beauty of these masses of glowing pumpkins never ceases to amaze me.
Community efforts
Creative folks we have in this neighborhood
Just do it!
Otherwise, things are quieting down on the homestead.  We are feeling a definite shift into the colder months.  I've spent a good amount of time in the last few days quietly pondering, listening, and discussing certain life issues.  Heading out this morning for coffee with a friend with whom I haven't spent enough time lately.  Hoping to continue the dialogue and work through my thoughts of how to make this world a better place, even if it starts with small, quiet steps.


Green Your Halloween

A gorgeous autumn day at the pumpkin patch just after the storm.
With this haunting holiday just around the corner, I'm always most frightened by the various forms of excess it brings.  We've ventured to the pumpkin farm to make our selections (because we missed the last farmers' market) and now my plans to make the holiday somewhat healthy, happy, and low impact will soon be realized.  Way back in late August or early September--on a thrift store jaunt for some actual things on our list--we realized they'd already begun to display Halloween costumes.  Thought I might make something for V this year, but once she eyed a ladybug costume that was only a couple bucks, I couldn't turn it down.  It was reused, inexpensive, practical, and something she might play with well after the holiday until we pass it along to the next person.  I'm also saving myself some sweat and tears by going with pre-made.  (Perhaps one day I'll follow in my mom's footsteps and make homemade costumes year after year.)

Feeding the goats at the pumpkin farm
One thing I'm not afraid of is admitting I'm concerned about the excess intake of sugar; artificial colors, dyes, and sweeteners that can often be too much for anyone to stomach let alone the growing body of our little one.  I realize people have varying opinions on this once-a-year chance to "be a kid," and I respect that, but I do not wish to contribute to it.

Last year was the first time we actually went trick-or-treating.  Our block has gained a reputation as the "Gold Coast" for candy and because our neighborhood's t-o-t is on a separate night than the citywide extravaganza, we see tons of people who drive in from all corners of the metro area.  This year a neighbor requested to block off a 7/10 mile stretch of our street.  They're calling it the "Miracle Mile."  Whew, that's a lot of candy.  In the past when we've stayed home to hand out treats we've run out in the first hour (of three) even with one piece per kid and four or five econo bags from the big box store (cue Ben pulling out a bulk bag of local organic carrots in a purely desperate attempt to keep the ghouls at bay...apparently a dark porch no longer means "we're not participating" or simply "we're out of candy.")  Last year V lasted about half of the allotted t-o-t time and when we returned she had a blast handing her collected goodies back out to the other kids (after we once again ran out way before we planned.)  Because of the shear volume of treats that go out our door we've realized we can't afford to hand out the organic hard candy or fair-trade chocolates we bought the first year in our 'hood (BIG lesson learned.)
Field corn at the pumpkin patch
This year, along with many likeminded friends and moms, I'm handing out alternatives.  I ordered about 500 super funky, gender-neutral, fun-for-all-ages adhesive bandages from Smile Makers (the website from which you'd order stickers and other goo-gaa if you ran a doctor's or dentist's office catering to children.)  I also found a new bag of ghoulish rubber finger puppets at the thrift store, which I may hand out to any familiar neighbor kids who show up on our stoop.  Other friends are choosing to hand out pencils, stickers, spider rings, and other fun seasonal goodies.  I'm excited that our treats will be functional as well as low-sugar.  If (big IF) we have any leftovers, we won't have to worry about them staring at us all week saying "eat me."  Instead we'll have our first-aid kit stocked for the season.  (P.S.  If all that's not enough of a selling point, our stash cost me probably 1/3 of what others have spent to accommodate the candy needs of the masses of costumed visitors.)

Pumpkins pumpkins everywhere
Another alternative if you can't resist trick-or-treating is that after the kiddos have reserved a few treats for themselves, find a local dentist who will participates in the Halloween Candy Buy Back program.  Kids get coupons for cool stuff and their candy gets sent to our troops overseas making their days brighter knowing someone's thinking of them.  This is also an opportunity for kids to practice "giving back."

Heading out to the pumpkin patch
For other Green Halloween tips this is just one of many websites I'm sure one can find these days on the topic.  It doesn't have to be all sugar-coated and wasteful, which to me is more SCARY than anything.  Regardless of what you choose, remember to be safe and have fun!

Making a very careful selection



One of my culinary heroes, Tamar Adler
So you've heard me go on and on a few times about how amazing I think Tamar Adler is.  Her first book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace changed the way I think about cooking at home and made me think even more critically than before about using every last part of the vegetable.  She was my inspiration as I contributed my thoughts to this article and continues to be my muse, especially as we enter the cold months and resort to preparing foods that will not only warm our souls, but our home kitchen in the process.  Apparently, it was because of my comments about her on this space that I received an exclusive invitation to meet her a couple of weeks ago.  This summer I made my second appearance at Kohl's Corporate for a preservation class.  The wonderful women who organized that event noticed my fanaticism for Tamar and invited me to join them for her cooking demonstration and book signing, an event that was otherwise for Kohl's employees only.  I felt most honored and was able to rearrange my work schedule to fit this in (so many people to thank for making this meeting possible.)  Not only did I get to meet Tamar, but I, along with a few others, was able to help her prepare and plate the dish for tasting at her demo.  I'd hoped to get some follow-up info from her that I could include in this post, but perhaps I came off as too obsessed and scared her away.  Oh well.  I'm hoping to travel out to Brooklyn in the near future and visit the burrough that she calls home.

Prepping for her demo
Going to show everyone how to make the most delicious pesto with
those broccoli stems
Tasting the cooking water for proper seasoning
Perfectly-seasoned potatoes 
Lights, camera, ACTION!
Gorgeous local fingerling potatoes for the demo 
Lots of mouths to feed
Broccoli pesto bruschetta with broccoli
and fingerling potatoes.  So simple, so delicious
Since then I've been busy doing instead of telling here on the homestead.  We have yet to turn on our heat so I made sure this week to clean my oven and hood while I could still open the doors and windows to air out.  Also had to reorganize the basement after my amazing husband's paint job.  We're all feeling like that space is larger, brighter, and certainly less gritty.  (I tell ya, I think I'll keep this guy.)

Also, it's "harvest time."  I've been canning like crazy, sometimes taking three days to complete a batch of preserves depending on what pockets of time pop up.  Homemade ketchup is in the kettle right now.  I'll be glad to pack it into the larder as it's consumed my week: chopping and cooking it all down on Wednesday, pureeing and cooking down more on Thursday, finally sealing it up on Friday.  Let's hope it lasts us till next year.  (I've got two ketchup fiends who particularly enjoy this condiment with grilled cheese.)  I also pickled several jars of our salad turnips and fall radishes, which made me realize that another benefit of growing what you eat is that you can bottle up the baby-sized bulbs, which had to be pulled anyway for thinning.  You won't usually find those size turnips at the farmers' market.  I also canned several jars of roasted red peppers I purchased at our neighborhood farmers' market.  After this ketchup there might be a few more batches of odds and ends, but otherwise the canning season is more of less on the decline.

(L to R) Pickled Golden and Chioggia Beets, Pickled Hakurei Turnips,
and Pickled Daikon all in the same clove/cumin brine.
Roasting Peppers on the stovetop for pickling/canning
We've barely begun to close up the garden and yard.  I'm always a big procrastinator with this process either because I don't want to face the idea that winter is around the corner or that I've just about run out of steam for the big shut-down.  One thing I'm determined to do this year is get my coldframe in place planted with spinach or mixed greens for spring.  It never happened last year and we really missed he early crop of delicious greens in March.

Until then I'm going to keep enjoying the fall colors as I have this year more than ever.  I took V to the park the other day to snap some photos of this season's glory.  And she had a pretty good time playing in the leaves.
Stunning colors in one of our neighborhoods' many parks.
New England Asters and prairie grasses in bloom.
Zoning in!


The Week (and a half) in Photos

I'm not necessarily planning to completely turn over my blog to just photos, though I must say I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate getting a quick glimpse of one's week in photos on some of the other food and craft blogs I follow.  There are lots of busy mamas, cooks, crafters, and gardeners out there who don't always have time to narrate their stories from the week, but are dedicated to serving their loyal followers somehow.  That's how I feel this week.  Lots has happened over the last week and a half since I last posted so instead of stressing myself out by playing catch up I'm taking this spare moment I have (Friday nap time is still in tact) to "show you" (channeling my speech teacher mother again..."show, don't tell") a little bit of what we've been doing.

Huitlacoche is a delicacy in Mexico.  I was lucky to find some on an ear
of corn from the farmers' market.
Huitlacoche all chopped up.
My neighbor from Monterey, MX suggested I use the huitlacoche to
make traditional empanadas.  I made a not-so-traditional filling
adding some of the ingredients my husband enjoyed in empanadas while
living in Chile.
  These empanadas were gluten-free so a bit brittle.
I had to leave them in rounds b/c they were not foldable.
Gluten-Free Vegan Banana Cupcakes with Lemon Glaze were a hit at
the annual block party.
Egg Shell meal inspired by these ideas.  I'm just getting started, but have
so far thrown a spoonful into smoothies.
A green string bean has  invaded my tomato bed.
Applesauce time! Our apples from the orchard are all loaded up in the kettle.
Nice to have plenty of space for canning.  Preserving apples and
tomatoes have been the true test of ease of cleaning for my new stovetop.
It passed the test with flying colors.  What a relief!
Hopefully this will be enough applesauce for the year.
Remnants of a simple roasted root vegetable dish.
Roasted radishes, turnips, red and golden beets
Chicago in a flash!  Went to a White Sox game with friends.
Back to the grind.   My amazing husband is taking
on the daunting task of painting the basement floor.
A sink full of freshly picked turnips, radishes, and beets
Chopped Beet Greens to dry and grind into a raw smoothie powder
And the bottoms left over for pickling
Baked Potato Bar night.  Why didn't I think of this sooner!
Carefully handling the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" that
came in on some turnip greens.
I also had a chance to have coffee with a fellow food blogger this week.  It was a true pleasure to chat with this extremely talented baker face-to-face and get to know her a little better.  I'm grateful to have the time and opportunity to do that in this new phase I've entered.  

A week ago today I got to meet one of my culinary heroes, Tamar Adler at an exclusive sustainable cooking event and am hoping to post some photos and an interview with her very soon.  Stay tuned.