...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.


Baking up Memories

Lucille's Cooky Bible
There have been some busy bakers in our kitchen over the last two weeks.  Somehow it's taken me over 10 Christmases to fully delve into my grandmother's cookie books and dedicate some of our holiday baking to her.  She was a cook for a living and a baker in her spare time.  And she would make what seemed like pallets full of homemade treats around the holidays to complement the bowls of store-bought fairy food and red, white, and green gumdrops and other candies on display at every end table (it's a wonder how in the world great dental health runs on that side of the family.)  As a grade schooler, teen, college student, young adult it was a sugary wonderland.  As I've stepped back several years, I now understand why my sister and I felt compelled to perform high-intensity dance routines (including full-on toe touches) in the living room.  Yikes!  Sugar rush!

As I've gradually gone through my Gram's boxes of recipes in the last decade since her death I've been delighted to see that she saved recipes, made notes, and added dates just like I do.  (Must be the German gene for careful record keeping about which I've heard so much.)  She also added housekeeping and moneysaving clippings.  This was all clearly from an era when people had more time on their hands--or at least fewer of the distractions we have these days. The moment I cracked the cover of her Betty Crocker Cooky Book (the publishing date is not to be found because the inside cover and other pages with possible indicators are plastered with clipped recipe, but circa 1960 is a good guess) there was a rush of memories.  My grandmother's handwriting, the dates she made these cookies, and the washed out vintage photos of things I'd eaten growing up all sent me into nostalgia mode.  Wow!  The last thing to do is prepare some of these goodies and taste the memories as well.
Recipe clippings plaster the inside cover.  
My Gram's handwriting
Handwritten on the inside back cover.
My Great Grandma's Sugar Cookie Recipe, which I
successfully converted to gluten-free this year.
My Great Aunt Irene's attempts.  She's still around to tell.
Jim Dandies--definitely making this blast from the past.
V went through these books with me (including the annual Wisconsin Electric holiday cookie book w/ energy-saving tips) and picked out what she thought "looked" good.  We came up with a diverse list of cookies, bars, and candies to prepare this season, though we may be entirely too ambitious.  But I thought I'd try to uphold the tradition of making way more than we could possibly consume before the next sweet holiday in mid-February.

Vintage packaging ideas
Vintage ads from the Milwaukee Sentinel, 1965
V's at the perfect age to start grasping baking, the physical work anyway--I'll teach her more about theory later.  Last year she helped stir chocolate over a double boiler and pound peppermint sticks for the ever-addictive peppermint bark, but this year's she's really embraced the detail work of batch baking.  Her patience and skills in helping mix the dough have improved greatly from last year and--maybe it's a Montessori thing--she loves the repetition required for preparing cookies to go in the oven.  She's able to focus fairly well on the intricacies of putting tiny thumbprints and dollops of jam in the center of mounds of sticky dough.  Cutting out shapes is her specialty.  And eating dough, licking the beaters is her favorite.  We still have some decorating to do this week, but I'm confident that no matter what amount of frosting and sprinkles gets caked onto these cookies, they're going to look beautiful.  They may not be as precise and consistent as Lucille's, but the taste memory will be present.  It seems we're establishing a new tradition so we can work on perfecting recipes and techniques over the next decade plus.
My list 2013, her list 1999--note that she admits to
supplementing w/ some from a church cookie sale.
The next generation of bakers at the helm 
Detail work
She stuck in her thumb...
Using our homegrown/homemade gooseberry jam
A little taste for the baker--note the mess around her mouth in every pic.
Gluten-Free Chai Spice Cutouts
My Great Gram's Sugar Cookies
It would pain her that I made them gluten-free, but I
was happy w/ how they turned out
…Lay them straight
More photos to come as we pound out the last few batches this week.  Of course, we're not going to eat all of these ourselves.  We'll put some out when company comes this season, but we also intend to contribute some to the pool of cookies for bus drivers and crossing guards to be put together at school today.  Next week we're hoping to make our way around the block delivering to certain neighbors.  Better to share, especially when it's sweet treats.


Holiday Focus

The holidays are upon us; the season really took us by surprise this year.  It's been 5 months since we got rid of our television so without all holiday commercials beginning right after Halloween we almost missed the fact that holidays had arrived.  Which is sad because it just shows how much influence advertising has on all of us--even those who are trying not to pay attention to it.

Our holiday glow
Once again we are offering our daughter a taste of what various cultures and faiths are celebrating this time of year.  All the legwork I did last year to dig up information, books, and events paid off and I have the basic curriculum in place.  The Multi-cultural Interfaith holidays we celebrated last year were a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Between all the activities and events we have on the December calendar this year we are hoping to find peace and calm.  Every year I feel more and more disappointed at how commercialized the Christmas holiday has become.  Whether you celebrate Christmas as a Christian or enjoy the spirit of the season in other ways, this time of year is an opportunity to slow down, reflect, give, be thankful.  It pains me to think about all the time people waste at the malls, all the money that's wasted on cheap stuff that breaks or gets tossed to the donation pile just months later, and all the debt people take on to give "happiness" to their kids.  There's got to be more to the season than that.  I am certainly planning to give gifts to family and loved ones, but we're focusing even more this year on non-material gifts.  I'm not even going to extra mile to make gifts or buy local handmade because I just don't feel like any of us need more "things" in our lives.  (Can you tell I'm currently in another mode of paring down, giving away, making the outflow more than the inflow?)

A little sparkle--vintage paper stars from the thrift store

This holiday will be special because we're not traveling at all.  We'll have a couple days to host my parents then a small break before a couple days of hosting my husband's family.  It will be my first time preparing a big Christmas dinner.  After our first Thanksgiving without either of our extended families we realize how important family is to our holiday celebrations so we'll savor every moment we have with them.

This season we're also working on our "Gratitude Tree."  We started it at our Thanksgiving table and decided we'd keep it going throughout the month of December at least.  But I wouldn't mind having some sort of gratitude jar throughout the year.  I used a bunch of paint swatches I had squirreled away to make tags then rummaged through my box of scrap twine, yarn, and ribbon to find hangers for them. I'm keeping a jar of tags and a pen near the tree so that whenever anyone feels grateful they can write down their name and thanks, and hang it on the tree.  Oh how full this tree will be by New Year's Eve!  It's been really amazing to hear what thanks our 4-year-old has.  She wanted to hang 10 tags on the tree on Thanksgiving alone and whenever she told me she'd thought of something else I expected it to be her favorite toy or clothes, but she came up with "Mommy and Daddy," "turkey," "my house," "my yard," "friends," "lights in our house," and "rainbows."  I expect this attitude could change for better or worse as she gets older, but we'll savor what we've got right now.

Our Gratitude Tree
We still have a long way to go in terms of teaching gratitude though.  There are plenty of days when this preschooler seems like an ungrateful brat, but I have hope that she's on the right track.  I've also been trying to find some volunteer opportunities for us during the holidays--which are hard to come by for the littlest ones because of liability.  But I've found that even the smallest ways we can find for her to help out are having a big impact.  We've "adopted" a couple kids and an elderly person via our neighborhood community center and are buying them gifts, which they may not receive from any other source.  We also attended a 25 Days of Grinchmas launch party last week at a local bookstore and are eagerly filling in our chart of good deeds (now to maintain that throughout the year…)  Of course, Random House may be ultimately trying to sell copies of their book (one of my favorite holiday stories, by the way), but it's creating awareness for young people so I'm okay with it.

I wish you all the happiest, healthiest, and most peaceful holiday seasons.  May you find joy and satisfaction in what you already have and enjoy spending time with the people you love most.  Peace!

My great-grandma's glass ornaments.  One of my
favorite holiday traditions.


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I'm planning my cooking and preservation classes for 2014.  If you're in the metro-Milwaukee area, please take 10 minutes to fill out this survey so I can tailor my classes to better fit your needs.  Stay updated on the schedule via this blog or by signing up for my e-newsletter (see side bar to sign up.)  Thank you for your feedback.

Cooking and Preservation Classes for 2014


The Calm Before the Storm

Early Fall calm
Was walking home from school drop-off this morning with a neighbor/friend and we established that these next few weeks could be the "calm before the storm."  Even though our little family has pared way back on the holiday craziness of shopping, gifts, decorations, hosting parties throughout the month there is still much unavoidable busy-ness.  Even if we choose to take the upcoming season more slowly,  it doesn't mean everyone else will. There are still plenty of obligations to attend events, concerts, parties, and other celebrations.  And we look forward to doing so, but will have to do our best to rest and breathe deeply in these weeks leading up to it all.

Yesterday was a wonderful slow, quiet, and somewhat spontaneous day with my daughter.  It is rare that I can put all those words together when describing how she and I spend our time with each other Since I've started working before the crack of dawn on the two days I work outside of the home I've found that I hit a wall early in the afternoon.  Therefore I try not to schedule much on those afternoons.  Yesterday after an appointment following mid-day school pickup we ran an errand then found ourselves lingering in a used book store in our neighborhood, hanging out at a local coffee shop reading books and sipping "warm chocolate," running into friends/ neighbors and spending time catching up with them.  The only thing pressing was my parking meter outside.

Although my daughter rarely takes naps anymore we try our best to have "rest time" in the afternoon.  When quiet time in her room didn't work out I pulled a new trick out of my bag.  I'd been referred to them a few times before, but finally tried yesterday after a push from a friend last week--Sparkle Stories!  (There are currently a whole bunch of free Halloween stories one can download.)  V has long loved being read to, paging through books by herself, following a short audio book at home, and listening to some longer audio chapter books on long cars ride lately.  But Sparkle Stories are a little different in that she's encouraged to sit still--not going anywhere like in the car when one can look out the window, not futz with anything, and just picture the story in her head.  She sat for more than 45 minutes yesterday curled up on the couch just listening to a story.  I took the opportunity to curl up next to her and read a library book I'd just picked up.  It was beautiful.  So quiet, so still except for the steady rhythm of her breath from across the couch.  When she finished I asked her some questions about her story.  I can only hope this will continue to improve both her listening skills and imagination.  And it will most certainly give me a chance to regularly read and be still--I find that if I'm home alone with an opportunity to read I get easily distracted and am up and down a lot.  Yesterday I felt more compelled to be still myself.

Time together in nature
After our mom-daught story-time we both felt an amazing calm.  It lead right into making dinner together, which she's been asking me about more recently.  Actually, I believe the question was "how come you always have to make dinner every night all by yourself?"  I explained that A) I don't HAVE TO make dinner--I do it because I love my family and B) I would love to have some company.  We worked together on a recipe I'd come across last week and had in my queue after hearing many rave reviews about the "cauliflower pizza crust."  Bacon Cauliflower Cheese Sticks--they were fantastic!  Not only a great way get more crucifers into my little one's belly, but the closest to a "healthy" version of the "original cheesestix" we so frequently gorged on in college.  To make this cheese-laden meal a bit healthier we added a salad, which V made entirely by herself: cutting/tearing, washing, spinning the lettuce, cutting the carrots, green peppers, and black olives to garnish is.  I was full of joy the whole time she was helping me.  Perhaps it was the great day we'd had already together which added to her willingness to help or maybe we've hit a certain point in her four-ness where she's much more interested and competent.  I'm willing to deal with the extra mess if it means she can start learning to cook at a young age.  I told her maybe in a couple of years she can make a whole meal herself (a la Free-Range Kids).  One of the best parts of our joint efforts in making dinner last night is that I was able to work on cleaning as we went while she prepped.  We had the dishes cleaned up more quickly afterwards and had time to all snuggle up and watch It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on this Halloween week.

Hoping for many more of these kinds of slow days very soon.  And hoping we can make them last well into the busy holiday season that will soon be upon us.



I'm back!  (Let's see if I remember how to do this.)

I've had just over a 2-month lapse in posting.  Where have I been?  Did I fall off the face of the Earth?  Not quite.  What have I been doing?  Lots.

As I alluded to in my previous post I've been juggling various aspects of life: parenting, gardening, preparing healthy food, travel, freelance work, friend time, and me time.  The summer was loaded with fun and also a lot of work.  I just didn't find time to keep all the balls in the air AND journal about it.

The biggest (as in, most time consuming) thing that happened this summer was that I spent (and continue to spend...as the growing season goes on) hours and hours at a private preserving gig for a client who has a 17th century hobby farm in Ozaukee County.  I was fortunate to spend time every couple of weeks at this Monticello-like homestead harvesting vegetables, checking in with the livestock (doves, hens, bees, geese), and enjoying the beauty of the place then bringing all the produce home to preserve for him. (Getting to work out of my own kitchen is fantastic.)  So I've been doing a TON of preserving this year, but just not for myself.  I'm still managing to put up the bare essentials: jams, tomato puree, dilly beans, applesauce but come winter I'm sure we'll be missing the plethora of home-canned options in our pantry.

We also spent loads of time this summer doing fun things like concerts in the park, the zoo, playgrounds, bike rides, and other outdoor activities.  My daughter took up violin lessons and ballet so that's been on our regular schedule.

Where do I stand right now? At this point in time my urban homestead is looking sorely neglected.  It was an amazing year for fruit and we picked and put up lots of cherries and blackberries, but I was never able to stake my tomatoes, keep up with picking beans, manage the deadheading of flowers, or eat all the greens in our garden before they bolted.  When I planned/planted my garden last spring I had no idea how much time this incredible freelance opportunity would require so I powered ahead and ordered seeds, started seeds, planted seedlings, planted, planted, planted.  It's been more than I could handle and at this point I welcome colder weather when I can put it to rest.  As far as I can tell I'll be doing this freelance work again next year (it's proven be be very flexible and sustainable) so I will have to scale back on things at the homestead.  But at least it offers me a starting point.  I've been reigned in and I'm okay with that.

I'm continually asking myself  "where do I go from here?"  Along with the aforementioned activities I've been having fun giving our daughter all sorts of experiences.  We love to go to musical events and theatre together and that plan continues well into next spring.  I've also been trying my best to keep up with world events and politics and industry trends and parenting ideas and since we got rid of our TV in June I've had to find other avenues for doing so (never so thankful for PBS live streaming online and other remarkable news sources/blogs.)  I've settled into a good groove and am now devouring information as fast as I can.  I feel more in tune to the world than I have in 10 years.  But that also takes time.

I've given myself plenty of guilt the past couple of months for not living up to the standards and goals I originally outlined for myself (and it's taken a lot of admit that.)  But I like where I am right now in terms of family time, experiences, my opportunities to cook/preserve, the time I have with friends, and me time so I'll go with it.

This summer was incredibly pivotal in that regard.  I began to identify the shape I want my life to take.  I continue to consider how and where my blog will go, but in time I know I'll figure that out too.

I certainly haven't abandoned any ideas and values I hold about sustainability, but that's just it.  I have to make this all sustainable for it to grow and thrive.  We're at a stage in our daughter's life, as parents, in our "careers," where the universe is telling us that this shift (even temporarily) is okay.

Some day soon I may get back to posting recipes and photos and gardening/homesteading ideas, but for now I am taking a small step back and breathing and shifting gears a bit.  If nothing else, just to see what it feels like.  I figure as long as I can still do that while cooking healthy food for my family and satisfying my needs for growing things and crafting a little every now and then, I'm okay.

It's a process.



Loving life (and the birthday pinata my husband bought per my wish.)
It's been an interesting summer so far.  Not exactly what I thought it would be, but full of fun and adventure nonetheless.  I was gone for nearly half of the days in July, right when my garden decided to take off.  The string beans and cherries and gooseberries waited for no one so it's felt a bit stressful to keep everything picked and pruned.  Only a few days have been slow-paced like we expected, but we'll take any that we can get.  I've hardly done any preserving for myself since I've had a private preserving gig with a client a couple of counties north.  And I've only been to a handful of local farmers' markets let alone our own neighborhood market just 1 1/2 blocks away.

BUT I've been perfectly happy this summer despite our days going a little more wildly or quickly than planned. I've spent a good amount of time with close friends, I got to see my parents and spend time with Ben's extended family, V and I have shared so many adventures and learned new things (violin, ballet), and I have had a decent amount of personal time.

Today is my 35th birthday. It's somewhat significant to me because it's the youngest age I remember my parents being. According to my doctor "now you're finally an adult!" I've been celebrating "birthday month" since mid-July instead of just consolidating the fun to one day. And I'm already thinking of all the adventures I want in my next year.

I've been reflecting lately on the last decade or so, at least--the time I've been in Milwaukee. And thinking about all my self-discoveries. Most recently--like within the last week when my husband and I got some "us time" and since I read this little tidbit--I have finally realized and am beginning to understand/accept that I am truly an introvert. This revelation is probably something  my closest friends and family have known for years, but it's taken me longer to recognize it. And now that I have, so much makes sense in my life. It's like someone handed me a shining platter and said "THIS!" as if the meaning of life was written all over it. I could take this new information and do one of two things:

1) Use it as an excuse to crawl further into the little hole that I sometimes retreat to
2) Keep doing what I'm doing, but stop feeling guilty when I can't cultivate every new friendship, follow through on every "yeah, let's get together sometime" that is uttered, and attend every social event to which I'm invited.

I think I'll choose option 2. It'll continue to be just as challenging for me to get out into the community--especially to participate in all the community-building and urban homesteading activities to which I subscribe. But I have to do it at my pace and without creating a lot of extra anxiety for myself.

On that note, I'm considering how I want this blog to continue.  As I've previously noted, it's been a challenge this summer to balance living life and writing about living life.  Perhaps I need to narrow my focus here so I don't feel pressure to choose between the two.  I hope to keep all of my loyal followers, but perhaps you will allow me a grace period so I can regroup.

Thanks and Happy Birthday to me.


Batteries Recharged

Back from the longest vacation we've taken in years, feeling fully recharged.  And, with the help of many, we're up and running at about 90% by now while still enjoying the effects of our break.

We went to Boston and Cape Cod as we try to do every couple of years to visit Ben's extended family.  It was V's first time exploring one of my favorite cities and we found a great balance of adult/kid-friendly activities, touristy/off-the-beaten path tours and sites.  Here's the very tip of the iceberg in photo summary:

Our guest house on the border of Boston's Back
Bay and South End
V at the "Make Way For Ducklings" bronze
Swan Boats
Gorgeous windowboxes on Beacon St.
Beautiful Beacon Hill brownstones
The Carousel at the Frog Pond in Boston Common.  V caught the last ride
and was filled with pure joy.
Dipping our toes at Copley Square
Historic brownstones in our neighborhood
Community garden plots everywhere
Super cool idea for a cuke trellis.
My favorite community garden (Part 1)
Community Garden (Part 2)
Cambridge bookstore
Taza Chocolate factory tour in Somerville
I highly recommend this $5 tour.
Making organic stone-ground chocolate in the traditional Mexican way
Dosa Factory for lunch and shopping
Downtown Crossing old and new architecture
Jellies at the New England Aquarium 
Already planning our next trip 
A North End classic, now with gluten-free options
Paul Revere and the North Church
Public Transit
Greenway over the Big Dig, our first time enjoying it
Lavender and Sedum
Amazing Church of Christ Scientist 
With just two days to show V the city, this was the way to go
And something for Ben to enjoy as well

On to the Cape and the Wellfleet Mass Audubon
Salt Marsh Exploration at Wellfleet Mass
Audubon, V found a horseshoe crab on her
first try
Girl in a puddle
Razor clam shell
Natural art on the beach
Skate egg case
Beautiful shells
Beautiful beach day at Corn Hill (bay side), Truro
Sitting in the surf
Wine Tasting
Gorgeous beach at dusk
Beautiful sunsets
Our oyster shucker in the 4th of July
parade handing out fresh Wellfleets
Free-for-all fireworks on the 4th
Provincelands Dune Tour
Fresh Stripah (the guys caught about 12 lbs. of Striped Bass to fill
the freezer for a while)
Horesehead and Harbor Seals at Monomoy Island
Cockle shells on the beach
Lawbstah, Steamahs, and fried clam strips
Longnook Beach (oceanside), Ben's favorite
One last beautiful sunset with Provincetown and Pilgrim Monument in
the distance.

I've found some time to reflect lately and am thinking about where my blog is going.  It's been a challenge finding time to enjoy life while documenting it here.  Stay tuned, but I may be posting slightly less this summer (I know, just when peak local food time begins.)